“What have I done?”
In all my days I have never felt such regret! The weight is such that breath seems hard to come by. I have done unthinkable things these past days… though the thoughts and actions could hardly be called my own. Brother Kain spoke with such certainty of his faith in my aim, and I betrayed it when the Seibel caster once again transgressed on my mind. Now the paladin sits limb from arm, my only hope lies in magic that we might reattach the severed hand… that we might undo my great error.
How could I allow this to happen?! I know I swung under influence of spell, but what does this say to the spell of friendship. I would think such a bond unbreakable, by curse or by blade. Yet in the moment of truth I failed my friends…
I failed them…
“Kill your friends…”
Came the voice in my mind. A command so absurd I nearly heaved a great laugh in response, for why would I do such a thing? Why would I take up arms against my companions? Why attack those who have saved my back so many-a time, and I theirs? But alas, laughter did not leave my lips, nor did I speak of the absurdity of such an order. I instead tightened my grip on mighty Barrowgar, and swung with all of my might at Kain’s celestial steed. I witnessed the pain in its eyes… the confusion within its mind. It had thought me an ally, and I slayed it without even a thought. I knew my enemies well, and I would use their weaknesses as my advantage.
I saw Captain Jack weave a spell entangling me in fleshy black roots. I wanted to break free and cleave off his head.
I saw the fool Jeremiah search the room for an unseen assailant, bow in hand. The bow… a cowards weapon. I would show him what true combat meant. I would split his head in two like a piece of kindling.
The Good Doctor waved his fingers from atop the balcony. I never trusted the fey stranger, and only now do I have the clarity to accuse him. He see’s me as an experiment… as a vermin to be tested upon so that he might gain some sick knowledge of our realm. He cannot think without his head, he will share the captains end.
And how I’ve misused the term “brother” in reference to the Paladin Kain. He is a madman, nothing more. Talking to himself and claiming it the voice of god… I will relieve him of his insanity and of his life.
Ty’nak, the mysterious monk. When we met he spoke of his hatred for the Thri’kreen, and his work to free the slaves. He has done nothing but flip across the battlefield while I took the brunt of every attack, wrestling with foes while their blades and claws found my flesh. He is a coward of the highest sort… one who poses as a warrior but contains the heart of a kitten. Your death approaches.
Lastly Kiros… no Victor. Such a liar he wouldn’t even tell us his true name! He conspires with the Seibel’s! He brought me here to be taken in by this cruel family… to be bound and thrown back into slavery! Such shame could never be delivered with enough weight to crush you the way you deserve.
“The Blade is dead…”
It has been nearly two years since I had my freedom reclaimed and handed to me by a complete stranger. Two years since I learned to stand firm against the wrongs of this world. Two years since I took my own oath against slavery, as Enduar had before me. For two years I dreamt of fighting along his side once more; to see Barrowgar and the Northern Dawn swung in concert against the forces of oppression. But alas, I learned today that such times will never come. Enduar, the man to whom I owe my life has fallen. Nay, he was murdered… assassinated in his sleep. No respect was shown to him in his death. He should have died in battle, fighting for his beliefs. Instead a thief stole his life in the night.
Were there a way to slay every last caitiff with the edge of disgrace, to stab them with cowardice and spill their blood with remorse, I would see it through. I would wield shame like a fire to cauterize such betrayal from this world.
Alas, no such weapons find my grip. Only Barrowgar answers the plea of my desperate hands, a grip so familiar, so deadly.
What allies I have gained!
The Path of Ascension is to an Ud’Krel warrior, as the unrelenting vow of a Paladin, the vengeful promise of one who has lost, the promise of redemption granted by a god. It is the way toward greatness. Enabling my climb into Hral’s ranks, are my companions I have found myself with. Their courage gives me strength to stand tall against the most foul denizens this world has ever known. Their bravery matches that of legend, of the tribe from whence I’ve descended. Countless times I have fallen in battle, breathed what I thought was my last breath, only to be saved by those I call my brothers. I live on to fight another day, and their valor is matched my the wickedness of my blows, the rage within my soul, and the will I impose on all who would stand against us. I’ve been crushed my giants, thrown like a rag-doll my colossal monsters, swallowed by fire-blooded worms, yet they were there to cut me out… to lift me up… to mend my wounds. To place Barrowgar back into my grip, and to have their strength bolstered by the return of my might.
Even the term “brother” seems to fall short.
…After all we have been through. We’ve fought through the extensive cave systems beneath the desert and proven our worth to the Anuniens. We traversed the great sands and nearly became worm-meal. We’ve seen our comrades fall to disease, only to arise our enemies. We took fight with a mighty race set on oppressing an entire continent. We’ve survived ship assaults, journey’s to the realm of the dead, cliff-side bombers, and massive stinging spiders. Through the caves of the firey mountains we fought constructs and beasts, and proved our worth to two of Ostrav’s most mighty kings. We’ve faced mechanized walkers, viscous alligators, sniping archers, and colossal tree-beasts, but none have broken our will. Yet here we sit, within the troll capitol, near to another goal. And all we can do is tell the other where we have faltered. I do wonder how a bard writes songs when all he remembers are others wrongs, and how a Paladin holds faith to pray when all he see’s is others failings.
Every step we take, I feel further from my goal…
My companions mean well, courses of action concluded through scrutinized reasoning. Yet what are we to say of the rationale of the heart? My very veins yearn to see my brethren free, as is the oath I took on the path of the kensai. I feel my weapon, imbued by my faith and dedication to my ideals, growing weak the further I stray. I owe my very breath to a man I didn’t know before he saved me from the slave camps. Such debt now weighs heavy on my shoulders. It’s crushing me. My strength, rage, and fervor unable to carry this burden, I am in fear of faltering. Through our travels I have no doubt continued my ascension through the ranks of Feu’gal’s army, but for the first time in my life I’ve come to question its importance. The Ud’Krel spoke of The Unending Strife with such passion and admiration… but did they hold such conflicting oaths as I do? No doubt each path could run in parallel, but I’ve come to a fork, and no flip of a coin or roll of a die will steer my steps.
Perhaps Barrowgar will council me in this time of indecision, thus, I shall pray.
Too long have I allowed these pages to go unfilled…
Too much has passed to give proper homage to the great deeds seen through…
Let it be known through this scripture… writ in the blood of a fallen dragon, chopped down by Barrowgar’s wicked edge and sent beyond, that though my pen laid in wait, my blades have been hard at work. To my foes torn asunder, dead in deep riverbeds or the bellies of great caverns, I pay my respects for your aid in my ascension. For without your willingness to battle and bravery in the face of the doom I have dealt, I would be not but a lost soul adrift on a sea of cowardice and shame. War, not peace has become my prayer. It is my mass, my atonement, and my repentance. Let us pray…
In the mysterious laboratory…
The Good Doctor managed to find some potions which, after some inspection, he identified as some sort of elixir of mana regeneration. Having been close to parched from our previous encounters and seeing no opportunity for rest coming soon, Dr. West quaffed several of the vials, and told us he did indeed feel more apt to cast spells once again. Finding nothing else of use in the room, we left the strange lab and walked back into the flooded corridor through the field keeping the tide back. The sensation was strange indeed, walking face first into a wall of suspended water. Once in the hall we turned down one of the side-corridors which was also vacant of water by the same mysterious force. Not complaining however, we once again stepped out of the flood and into a dimly lit hallway. The hall continued for some time and to the right a doorway stood open. Stretching from floor to ceiling, some fifteen feet high, a cylindrical container filled with what looked to be some sort of glowing blue liquid proved the only source of light in the room. Stranger yet was the dancing lights of a multitude of colors within the container. To the sides of the room, the dim light cast by the strange centerpiece played on the faces of what appeared to be statues of hard stone, perhaps granite. Upon further inspection, and unable to identify the races of the bipedal creatures that the statues had been chiseled after, I turned by attention to the far side of the room where a forge sat. The furnace still hot from recent use, I put to work my knowledge of weapon-smithing to glean that the denizens of this crypt must have been skilled with hammer and anvil. The forge was well used, but the tools around it were of masterwork quality. Strangely The Good Doctor took a liking to the smithing hammer, and though I tried to convince him of my need for such tools, he insisted that he keep it. His intention would soon become apparent. We discussed for some time, our next course of action. According to Jeremiah, the tank in the center of the room read “Do not break” in Anaurian. Seeing no need or understanding of why we would, I obliged the warning. We did however have an interest to inspect the glowing orbs further, thus The Good Doctor cast a spell of teleportation to transport some of the liquid as well as one of the glowing orbs into a vial on his person. Taking the vial in one hand and the smithing hammer in another, Dr. West moved to a statue and prepared to strike it! The group jumped to attention, halted his movement, and after a long talk convinced him not to go through with his “experiment” and quickly left the room.
Further down the hall…
We entered a massive room. The ceilings some 100 feet high, and filled with great marble columns, the air felt extremely dense as we stepped through the threshold into yet another strange space. We took up tactical positions as we began to spread through the room. What happened next I still fail to understand. Ty’nak and Captain Jack had headed off to my left and as usual, I chose to take the central (and more direct) route toward whatever wait for us in the room. I was walking forward, with clear room to every direct when I felt a sudden smack against my face. I nearly fell backward but managed to keep my footing as I realized I had ran into one of the pillars I had believed to be some ten feet to my left. Shaking off the strangeness of the mishap, I turned once again to walk toward the middle of the room. Focusing extra hard this time I was certain I was heading forward. I took about ten paces before I realized that I again had been deceived and was in fact moving backward in the direction of the door entering the room. My companions seemed similarly as baffled, though The Good Doctor and Ty’nak seemed to be navigating the room quite well… or were they? Were they actually standing where I was perceiving them to be – was I? Brother Kain then took my hand and feeling guided by Bob stepped into the room. I followed him for a while and seemed to be going where he was leading when I felt a tug at my wrist. I held on to the paladin and continued to walk until I realized I had again walked in some wayward path and had in fact dragged Kain with me. Feeling utterly frustrated and even a little sickened, Ty’nak came to the rescue by delivering a rope to us, and pulling us to safety on the far side of the room.
Stepping into the next room, and praying for battle coming quick…
… my wishes seemed immediately answered as we caught sight of our next challenge Standing in the back of a fair sized room stood strange golem-like creatures. The two in the front were much larger, with six smaller ones behind. I drew my weapon and moved up in a defensive position, Ty’nak coming quickly to my side. Their intentions clearly hostile, four of the smaller golems, now seen without arms, took aim with their stubby limbs and blasted my companions still in the doorway. Most seemed to suffer little damage, but many were knocked over in the volley. Immediately after, the two large golems advanced on our forward position one attacking each Ty’nak and myself. I had readied myself for a coming attack, but the construct proved more agile that I anticipated and it hit me with a moderate blow. I took aim with Barrowgar and not wanting to doubt my opponent, took a very measured, but less damaging swing at the creature before me. My axe cut into it and though I didn’t put much power behind the attack, the weight of my mighty weapon carried it through to strike hard on my massive opponent. To my left I caught sight of Ty’nak tumbling in an acrobatic spin past the attempted attacks of his enemy and moving into a flanking position with me. The other large beast, now distracted by my monk companion proved an easy target as I enraged, loosing all of my strength into a great blow into the creatures side. Not wanting the large beasts to advance on my companions of lesser-martial-ability, I quickly stepped back over to re-engage my first target.
I felt a movement behind me and to my left and quickly looked back to see Ronan charging in – great-sword above his head, crying out to his god, and swinging with abandon at the golem I had just badly injured. Unfortunately its attention had shifted back to my side after my attack, and it also sighted Ronan and dodged his attempted attack. Between the side and massive arm of the large combatant I faced, I could see two of the smaller golems waving their fingers in obvious spell-casting. The large creature to my left seemed to be revitalized by the spell, as I guessed that they had healed him. I wished to strike the casters down but could come up with no good way to get through my opponent. In a moment of clarity I realized I did have a way, and it lay in my palms. I thought back to our earlier encounter with the goblin logging machine and vowed to mimic its purpose. If I can’t get AROUND this golem, I will go THROUGH him.
Another volley of energy came at my companions behind me who again were tripped by the blasts. Lying on the ground The Good Doctor cast a spell of his own, restoring us by mending our wounds. I saw a quick flash of movement between my two opponents and realized it was Ty’nak – again flipping through to avoid attacks, to gain melee with the healing casters. I took another focused swing on my opponent but he dodged this time. Seeing Ronan to my left in melee with the other large golem, I chose to leave my current combatant and join the fight with my orcish brother. Distracted by Ronan I swong with all of my strength at the golem and again scored a massive hit, had it not been for the heal earlier it surely would have fallen. Yet as quickly as I had inflicted the massive wound it seemed to close up, clearly receiving another heal from the casters. Another volley of energy flew in behind me but this time caught me in the wake as I was knocked prone. Taking advantage of my vulnerable position and wanting to return the favor, the large golem stuck me with a wicked blow which I could not deflect. Surely the golem must have thought be dead, for after the hit he turned to face Ronan, now on the far side of the creature, giving me a change to re-gain my footing. Cursing the healing casters I soon bit my tongue when I felt the warmth of a heal directed my way from the also prone Ty’nak. Feeling rejuvenated I quickly stood, moved forward, and attacked hard using most of my force in the blow and scoring another huge hit on my target. Again the ranged golems fired a volley on my position as I, as well as the golem I had been facing, were knocked prone. My position however was still extremely vulnerable as the golem to my right managed to keep his footing and could easily attack me. Not wanting to provoke his attacks by standing, and seeing the other golem in a similar position, I gripped Barrowgar, sent it over my head, and swong with all of my force bringing my arms between my legs as my axe cut clean through the golem at his waist. Feeling empowered by my kill, I stood only to be forced to catch my footing by yet another attack from my ranged foes. I remained standing after the first blast, but was knocked over again by the second. Again I stood and moving up to the last of the large golems, I felt as if I arms were sapped of their strength. My rage had fled my frame, leaving me in a weakened state. My empowering gauntlets aiding my strength, I still had enough power to swing my weapon with some effectiveness and in fact downed the last of the large golems with a swing of my axe. Their ranks depleted, our foes attempted to flee, taking defensive positions in the corner of the room. They proved to be little more than a nuisance however, and we soon downed the last golem, one of the ranged sort, in the far corner of the hall.
Journey to the swamplands
Finally reaching an agreement between both the great dwarven kingdom in the north and the mighty goblins who inhabit those same mountains, the party turned out attention southward to the races of the eastern marshes known as the Berling Swamp. Again my senses are assailed by things never experienced. The overwhelming dampness of the region has come hard-pressed to find seat in my mind. The moist soil, the stagnant pools. My upbringing offered me no experience of such bodies of water. Just as the first river I crossed shook my understandings of the world, and as the ship-ride north to the Flaming Mountains rocked my resolve, so too does the water-rich lands of Berling exceed my understandings. Jeremiah tells me that great rivers flow even beneath our feet, a concept which though I have little reason to doubt, I find hard to comprehend. Feeling my greaved boots sink into the dampened earth only verifies the rangers words.
My amazement doesn’t stop there however, for it is the wildlife that truly captures my awe. In the encampment of East Point little interaction with the creatures of this realm were possible. The lands around the camp were barren already and within the walls scorched all-the-more by the centuries of slave labor endured by the dirt. Insects were present but warm-blooded beasts were sparse. An occasional carrion bird would circle overhead, waiting for another orc to drop from exhaustion thus giving up his nutrients to the ravagers of the high plain. Bodies were hauled off in carts to avoid disease, though their final resting place was a mystery to no one. West of the camp the sky was ever blackened by a thousand vultures swooping down to pick the bones of my brethren, dumped and left to rot in horrible disregard. But here in the Berling Swamp, life is ever abundant. I find myself in long conversations with my ranger companion about these incredible creatures – about the nature of balance, and the balance of nature. How each crawling bug impacts the life-system of the next in the chain. Through this, I have come to wonder if my oath is enough. Perhaps I should vow not only to protect the sentient from enslavement, but to protect the balance of life itself. I plan to meditate on such things in the coming days. In no better place could the task be achieved than in the wet-lands – the cradle of life.
On the second day through the swamp we met our first great challenge, as we were assaulted by a troop of large goblinoids later identified as hobgoblins. Brownish-red hair protruded from openings in their armor which seemed well crafted and maintained. They were well armed, and even better trained. What little I had understood of the creatures led me to believe them to be a rather unthinking bunch – a concept quickly debunked by their tight tanks and battle formations. The majority of the troop and those of the front line brandished steel shields and long swords, behind them, lighter armored foes stood with pole-arms at the ready. Seconds of attempted parlay lead only to their charge to our position, one met with a great clash of arms. Our casters found themselves hard pressed to cast within the range of the halberd wielding goblinoids making combat far more pressing that previously assumed. Though their anti-casters stood as a great challenge to our magic users, the martial prowess of the troops warriors held little challenge for me. Each arc Barrowgar swept caught hobgoblin weapons, armor and flesh. Rending and sundering my opponents with ease, I allowed myself to slip into that primal state of my ancestry. Though my strikes often proved fatal to my adversaries, I took several cuts in the process, injuries quickly healed by my companions thus keeping me in the fight until the last of the goblinoids had fallen.
Swamp Loggers (not the show on Discovery)
Our weary legs refreshed after an eve’s sleep following the defeat of the hobgoblins, we packed our supplies and continued on deeper into the marsh. The retreat of flocks of birds signaled the approach of another adversary later in the day. Through the woods stomped a somewhat familiar, though much larger version of a goblin steam suit. Much like the high-guards of the goblin kind adorned in his court, this mechanized suit or armor was powered by steam, with large smokestacks jutting from an iron back on the constructs back. Its hands however showed its purpose for being here, as one harm was equipped with a giant spinning multi-toothed blade, sure to cut trees and any resistant foes down with ease. The other arm was equipped with a claw-like hand, presumably for lifting and stacking the machines quarry. Most peculiar though was the form sticking from its top, a rather diminutive goblin sat – or bounced rather – operating the many knobs and levers used to control the thing. We announced ourselves as friends to the goblins, of our respect to ‘Hralalalalalalalala’ and our recent agreements with their parent nation to the north. The pilot was having none of it however and its back quickly opened up to reveal a crew of goblin loggers charging at us. Truth be told, I had hoped it would come to blows, that I would have the chance to fall this contraption come to rape the beauty I had just come to appreciate. Some of the loggers wore straps of some mysterious explosive across their chest and charged in with reckless abandon. The sappers along with their axe wielding companions fell easy, having little fortitude to withstand even minor blows, let alone Barrowgar’s bite. I waded through the throng, picturing the goblins to be little sapplings starting to grow in some blighted glave, one which my axe would rend in two with pleasure. Falling loggers left and right I approached the the mighty suit now in my mind a wicked and twisted tree, one who’s poison spread though its roots to desecrate the land. Just as I reached the suit, it billowed out a massive plume of smoke quickly blinding me and filling my lungs with a wicked burn. It took me several seconds to recover, at which point more loggers poured from the back of the land-raper and took aim at myself and my companions. I swong my axe in a low arch taking one of the sappers heads clean off, the momentum of the blow sending the decapitated body part into the face of one of his companions. Still distracted by his friends untimely end, I took advantage of his hesitation. I summoned my strength to hault Barrowgar mid-swing, a motion lesser men would find impossible, and thrust my axe forward in a stabbing motion. The tips of my axe stuck cleanly into the throat of another goblin who’s now severed artery spat blood in a crimson mist to cover my extended arms. In this moment of carnage my rage was unleashed and I scored my first good hit on the mech suit. I cut into a joint at the things hip, sending steam and ebon fluids pouring forth. The suit, having previously been preoccupied with my nearby companions seemed to squat in preparation for another smoke explosion. I dived away but my reaction was too slow and I was caught once again in the choking fumes. Confident that I knew the warning signs this time, I dove in again and chopped away at the metal beast. More goblins yet poured forth from the contraption though I kept my aim on the suit this time. Its saw hand, though surely dangerous were it to score a hit moved slow and exaggeratedly proving rather easy to dodge. After several more hits, the mech seemed to crouch again. I retreated in time this round and the burning plume caught only confused goblin loggers in its wake. Seeimg my chance, I took down several of the blinded minions and scored a final vicious hit on the suit. The combined attacks of myself and my companions brought the thing down in a giant heap soon after.
After another soggy-nights-sleep, and a trifle with a pack of rather nasty swamp gators the following morn, we finally laid eyes on a troll village, tucked into a cleared grove and built on slightly higher and dryer ground. After much discussion of our course of action, and knowing Jeremiah’s previous offenses to the trolls, with was decided by vote, though I chose against it, to attempt to hide his identity. We were quickly spotted by a youngling-troll, who after showing our non-hostile intentions, lead us to the leader of the village.
This leader was wise and extremely strong, and he quickly saw through the attempted guise of my companion. Forced to level with him, the approach I originally intended, we explained our reason for coming, and asked for a way to prove out intent and worth to his people. Thus we were charged to search the burial place of a follower of some long lost necromancer. I took up this task immediately as did my companions and we traveled some ways to the burial ground.
Down we went into the catacombs of a surely undead ridden mausoleum. The first room we came to was huge, with ceilings some fifty feet high, at its center a large pedestal who’s center glowed as a ball of lighting. Our first step into the room seemed to trigger some form of trap, and the hall began to flood with water, the only entrance closing behind us. I immediately moved for the center pillar and climbed it to escape the rushing tide. After only a minute the water had risen some ten feet. This substance which I had previously held in such high regard for bringing about an abundance of life, now threatened to end mine early, and in a fashion non-befitting of a warrior such as myself. I pulled my companions up on to the pedestal as The Good Doctor granted me the ability to fly. Seeing an ornate statue on the ceiling of the room, I quickly flew up to investigate. The form was that of a great cat, mouth open in a threatening pose. I reached, pulled, and pushed for buttons or levers and after much frustration finally bashed the thing with my axe. Having no luck with brute force, my companions spread out to search the room, one quickly finding an exit on the side opposite of that we had entered. I held my breath and crashed into the water from above, as we all swam desperately in hopes of finding our way out of this watery death-room. Sure enough we rounded a corner and came on a peculiar site. The water seemed to end as if stopped by some force-field. We quickly entered the room and gasped for breath. Our respite was short-lived however, as we had stumbled into was appeared to be a laboratory of some form. The walls were lined with all forms of strange things. Jars and vials filled with mysterious and seemingly otherworldly things. At the far side of the room however, sat something even more dis-concerning. Atop two wooden tables, strapped down with leather bindings, lay two trolls. It was obvious that the patron of this room had experimented on them, for they bore incisions and cuts across their bodies. They recognized us as help and cried for it. Their rescue being our charge, I obliged their request. Almost immediately they began to cry out that “they couldn’t control it” and began to attack us. We tried for some time to immobilize them but eventually seeing no escape, we were forced to end the tortured souls lives.
The great Kensai Enduar spoke often of the need for diplomacy. That without talk, one could not know the intentions and desires of their enemy. Often times, differences could be worked through without force or arms. I took these words to heart, for he who gave me freedom deserved nothing short of my complete dedication. And yet, these parlays… these diplomatic discussions tire me endlessly. Again I feel myself questioning these “leaders” ways. I understand their apprehension of course, but I also feel that threats that would steal an entire worlds freedoms should be taken more seriously. We have been able to break through now to two leaders of the races of Ostrav after far too much arguing. Perhaps I should view things in a different light. If we as a group are the fellowship to bring about the unification of Ostrav, certainly we all have our minor roles to play within it. When it comes time to free the orcs, no doubt Ronan and I will be leading the charge, both through diplomacy and through blade. My role in the party otherwise is that of protector. I am not as versed in charismatic ways as some of our group, but I do understand the motivations of those we are charged to convert. Still, Barrowgar speaks with a thunderous clap, louder than any words that could pass through my lungs.
Perhaps in this understanding of place, of my duty to my companions, I can find a greater understanding in my purpose in this world. I will never be a king, rule doesn’t suit me. If I am elevated to a place of honor on this plane through my ferocity in combat, then let that be my place in my society.
I speak with the wicked dual blades of my axe. With the visages of Hral and Feu’Gal gracing its edge, their words cutting into my opponents, I, and my gods have had much to say in the matter.
The Paladin Kain once again lying lifeless on the cavern floor…
…we covered his corpse with a blanket and set up camp for the night. In our slumber we were overtaken by a troop of dwarves. They questioned us about destroying their guardians, and once coming to an understanding, set out for the dwarven kingdom to speak to their leader of the coming plight. We traveled for what felt like days days, though the passing of time was impossible for me to measure. Life underground is an existence I will never fully comprehend. Finally we reached our destination, passing through giant gates, heavily fortified by stone and an amazing assortment of siege weaponry. Our escort led us to the dwarven leader where once again we would be caught in a mind-numbing parlay. Convincing these leaders of our cause was tiresome. I understand their reason for suspicion, but nonetheless feel annoyed by their inability to grasp the severity of the situation. They feign worry for the good of their people, when they would sacrifice their existence, along with the fate of Ostrav, because they are unwilling to let go of their petty conflicts. Minuscule indeed does the war between the dwarves and goblins feel when juxtaposed with the fate the world faces and the wicked hands of “The Masters”.
To win the trust of the king, we once again stepped into the arena, for if we were sent by their god, surely we would not fail in a tested combat.One method I found my self in agreement with was the goblin and dwarven concept of trial by fire. Even the Anienian’s chose to test us in combat… something I would never turn down. Once again Barrowgar would become the Usher to the souls that would fall at his glorious edge. Across the arena floor stood wicked looking humanoids, holding tight formation, showing a clear intelligence. As soon as I entered combat I allowed my inner self to take over. I once again became a creature of action and reaction. Little thought heeded my movements, but I found power and fortitude in the primal. I had once again become the hunter. I gripped Barrowgar tightly and swung as never before dealing blow after vicious blow to the combatants. Finally my practice, strength, tactical whit, and viciousness came together to show the true battle prowess I possessed. I felt almost feral, and in it, I felt freedom.
Poison still coursing through my veins, I nearly fell unconscious as the last spider fell.
My rage being sated, the pain of the toxins that had been injected into my skin from the giant arachnids became overwhelmingly painful. I sat for some time fighting nausea. When I gained my wits, Kain and The Good Doctor lay lifeless in the corner of the room. A large portcullis at the end of the room screeched up, opening to reveal a diminutive goblin. He seemed excited to see us surpass their test, and told us their plan to burn our companions corpses. We convinced them otherwise, that we would rather perform our own funerary rituals thus our companions forms were saved for the time being. We were escorted to the court of the king of the goblins. Honor guards stood flanking his side, equipped with some sort of over-sized metal armor, seemingly empowered by steam or coal, or some sort of material burning in large packs on their backs. We talked with the Goblin King for a long period of time, sometimes gaining headway in our task, while other times it felt like we kept regressing. I made a point that seemed to be met with his agreement, yet he managed to again twist it into something of gaining advantage over the dwarves… whom he referred to as “the fungus”. Finally we seemed to convince the Goblin King of our, and the world of Vesmir’s plight, and he decided to go along with our plan. He sent us off to the armory where I received an impeccably crafted Mithril Breastplate, along with a girdle that seemed to further empower my strength. We left the city in the direction of the dwarven capitol.
We came to a large cavern, its only outlet on the far side of the room, flanked by two giant statues carved in the likeness of dwarven warriors.
We guessed that the statues would become animate if provoked, or triggered somehow, so we took great caution on our approach. Our suspicion was well warranted, and the statues groaned to life, shaking the cave with every footfall as they moved to assault us. I charged in without hesitation laying a mighty blow into the torso of one of the monoliths. Sparks and dust flew, I blinked my eyes to protect them from the flying shrapnel and when I opened them back up, the statue was gone. The remainder of my team seemed to focus on the other being and so, wanting to focus our damage on one target, moved from the giant I injured earlier to help my companions. In moving away from the vanished giant, he took a swing at my back, proving to simply be invisible. Luck was on my side, and he missed, heaving his mighty stone axe into the floor instead of my skull. Still in motion to the new target, I charged in with reckless abandon and heaved another mighty swing. This one missed, but just barely. From behind I heard the voice of Kain calling for assistance. I turned just in time to see my paladin friend get crushed by a swing so vicious, it would have fallen the greatest of warriors. Standing some ten paces away did not keep me from being showered by the paladins blood, bones, and brains. An anger so complete took me over, and I swung to fall the giant I stood apposed to, but my rage got the best of me and I missed again. Finally one of my companions downed the nearer giant, while Jeremiah stuck the other monolith with a mighty arrow shot, falling the last of our enemies.
I found myself face first in a shaggy rug…
…the scent of a hearty stew filling my senses. I was back in Vahlseru, in our room at the local inn. I looked around to assess the situation. My companions were strewn across the room in similar fashion. Captain Jack unceremoniously emerged from the corner wardrobe covered with quilts while The Good Doctor, as if by careful calculation, lay somewhat comfortably on one of the cots. In the doorway the halfling Tuck stood confused, head shaking. “Did it work?” He asked? Tuck had not traveled with us because of halflings natural aversion to magic, we found ourselves all wondering the same thing. I crawled over to Ronan and after a firm shaking, we locked eyes as he grabbed my wrist with the firm strength I new the orc capable and twisted it to an arm-bar. We had a laugh at that, embraced, and picked ourselves off the floor. Tuck informed us that he had procured a ride on a Dwarven Caravan to the capitol city of Glavni. We slept well that night and with the caravan ready to leave, we mounted the wagons and began our ascent to the mountain city.
The path we traveled was narrow and treacherous, the raging river “Schyte” ran quickly to our left. Our first day and night went by without event. Early the next morning a caravan, but all appearances dwarven, approached from the south, descending from the mountains. The dwarves on the passing caravan wore heavy shrouds covering their faces. A great unease rose within me, and I hailed one of the dwarves in hopes of response, what I got was more than I had bargained for
The drivers shed their cloaks to reveal their forms for what they were, goblins unleashing visceral howls! A flash of light blinded my vision before I could act and I felt myself in flight. In fact falling would be a better term, as I smashed hard against the wall of the mountain knocking the wind from my lungs. I quickly gained my wits and assessed the situation. The Good Doctor had been blown clear off the path and into the river, Kain was hanging on the cliff-side near to a similar fate, the rest of my companions shared in my fortune and managed to stay on the path, or what remained of it. The very side of the hill had been blown off by a great explosion. Only debris and gore could be seen of either caravan, and as I moved to aid the paladin, the true gravity of our situation became apparent. From the hill above and across the Schyte river, a troop of goblins appeared wielding wicked looking crossbows taking aim at our group. Letting out a similar scream, the goblins fired a volley of arrows at our troop. Meanwhile, stuck up “Schyte Creek” without a paddle, The Good Doctor seemed to struggle in the Schyte water, taking some into his lungs as he called out for aid. The dirt brown rapids washed him downstream until he managed to levitate from the septic flow (sorry dude, I had to).
I drew my longbow and returned fire onto the goblins, taking specific aim at the apparent leader, wielding a larger and much more devastating bow. My missiles proved effective, and along with precision casting from my companions, we managed to down several of the goblinoids. Next thing I knew, Ty’nak flew into view taking a b-line for the ledge across the river, choosing to join in melee combat. The Good Doctor, having levitated from the Schyte waters continued upwards, and finally managed to hold parlay with the goblins. We explained our intent at travel, that we had a message for their leaders, and after much discussion they decided to take us to their city, but the trip would not be made conscious. We were to take sleeping potions of a sort, and after inspection by the alchemist Tuck, I quaffed mine and drifted off.
I awoke in a room, nay a cell, cold and hard
I lay in a side cell of a large chamber. Across the room I could see three similar cells, within them Dr. West, Jeremiah, and Ty’nak similarly awoke in confusion. At the top of the room a whole in the ceiling revealed an upper chamber in which a goblin stood. A great headdress adorned his crown and he explained to us the need to pass the test of their god before we spoke to their leaders with any level of certainty. Thus, we accepted the challenge. The gate before me rose, the ground before my cell was immediately covered with a sticky thick web. I ran from the back of the cell and made a great leap landing safely on the other side. My safety was shortlived as a swarm of tiny spiders assaulted me. I could see two huge spiders across the chamber attacking Jeremiah and Dr. West, backing them into their cells, yet the bites of the smaller arachnids nauseated me, making movement difficult. My barbarian anscestory took over and I flew into a rage, my increased constitution helping me to shake off the nausea and charge my large spiders. Gaining flanking over the large spider I swong with a powerful stroke and dealt a mighty blow to one of the two greater spiders. My companions and I fought bravely, but a grave error occurred when Kain attempted to heal a poisoned Dr. West. His healing hands seemed to inflict pain instead of healing it, and the Good Doctor passed out from injury. We fought longer, finally downing the smaller swarms and nearing the end, thought our victory at hand. We did win in the end, but not before another error was made, again from the paladin Kain. So used to his healing role was he that he forgot about the anti-healing effects of the poison as he cast another mighty spell on Arkam. They both fell when the spell was cast, at the same time I slew the giant arachnid. It wasn’t until I fell out of rage that I realized the grievous wounds I had sustained, and nearly lost consciousness to the pain.
“Brodan Hogar my brothers…”
…I stated, having payed my homage to my fallen companions. With the certainty of their passing to the Unending Strife, I settled my emotions to contrast the rhythm of our rocking ship. Yet as quickly as they found rest, they were stirred again by the words and clear intent of The Good Dr. Arkham West. He sought to bring them back… to steal their souls from their duty in the afterlife. Though I longed to fight in glorious battle alongside the Anuraian Bogrunner and my Orc brother Ronan Ragefang, the concept offended my beliefs. My friends had fallen in bravely fought battle, little more could they ask for in life. And yet, The Good Doctor wished not only to cut into their lifeless bodies, but planned for us to retrieve their spirits. The promise of glory in the plane of the dead perked my interest, and after much prayer to Hral and Feu’Gal I gave into my companions plans and offered my assistance in whatever way I could. If my gods wished for the fallen to be raised, it would be allowed so. West disappeared into the bowels of the ship, his mysterious biopsies underway.
The northern coast reminded me of my Ud’Krel ancestors… nay, of the contrasts of their very existence. As the duality of my kind exemplified all of their ways, so did the beauty of this place stand in stark juxtaposition with its harsh nature. The cold north breeze blew hard on my face, reassuring my still new-found freedom. And yet with its reminder, the remembrance of my oath howled admonished on the wind. “Set them free Zekthal, this is your charge…”
Several days of travel later we reached our destination of Vahlseru en-route to Glavni, the Dwarven capitol. Shortly after our arrival, we acquired a room at the local inn, the stage on which Dr. West would perform his ritual. Later that night, having gathered provisions for the unknown trek, we joined hands around a makeshift runic circle in the middle of the hardwood floor. The bodies of both Ronan and Jeremiah lay lifeless in the center of the circle. Sutures holding together the wounds inflicted by our enemies on the ship, along with the incisions through which The Good Doctor had performed his medical analysis, their corpses lay as grim reminders of our mortality, and nearly rocked my resolve and wish to travel to the plane of the dead. Along with it, questions of this alternate reality raced through my head. If this were indeed the afterlife, would I meet The Harvester himself there? Surely Barrowgar would laugh at the mockery of a weapon I have named after the Usher-god himself. Yet instead of fear, I embraced the potential for gain on the Path to Ascension, and joined in the casting. Although inert in the ways of casting, my concentration seemed to help the group perform the task, and after several failed attempts I felt my body lightening, as if the weight of the world and the burdens carried had been lifted from my frame.
The weightlessness soon passed, replaced by a sensation quite the opposite.
My body felt heavy. The very armor I had donned only minutes before seemed afford a tremendous load on my shoulders. Barrowgar my trusted great axe encumbered me as though I were a commoner, clearly over sized for my current strength. Apparently I was not the only one who felt this change. The others, especially those of martial prowess seemed to be most effected by the curse.
I was suddenly rocked from my thoughts as I beheld the Anaurian and the Orc standing, in very similar positioning to the room of the inn, at the center of our casting circle. Yet that is where the similarities ended. We stood on a great causeway, one suspended in air by some unknown force. The stepping stones of the road were likewise held in mysterious suspension, as if an unseen mortar held them in place. Surrounding us and filling the air was a great mist, shrouding our vision beyond a hundred paces or so… and the most peculiar thread protruded from our chests, like finely woven gossamer threads. Arkham supposed that these be our ties to the material plane. After a short explanation of our trip and subsequent arrival we found ourselves moving along the path in the direction of our “life threads”.
From the some distance ahead came figures from the mist…
Their forms somewhat slim, their armor of craft similar to that of the fabled elves, these humanoids spread out on the path ahead, clearly blocking our travel. They addressed us as trespassers, though I could not see their mouths moving… Hell, I couldn’t even see their faces! Through their accusations we attempted at parlay, explaining our plight, the reason for our intrusion, and our want for travel through their domain without quarrel. They stood firm on their goal. Those who had passed were not to be allowed beyond this point. We who came in search for them would be allowed to leave immediately at the cost of the souls of our companions. With that offer Captain Jack turned back to the party, winked, and took the deal. The party moved forward, leaving our charges behind, but only to gain tactical advantage on the guardians. Advantage sealed, we lashed out against the wardens, but they were quick to act. Many dodged our attacks and it quickly became clear that we were in for a fight. With a flick of their wrists great stepping stones of the path vanished from sight, revealing unknown distance below. The captain
and Ty’nak stood together on a platform, Jeremiah and Ronan on yet another, with the paladin Kain sharing the tier on which I stood. We quickly moved to gain flanking positioning on the single guardian on our platform and attacked viciously. What I first thought was the back of my enemy was suddenly his front, as the guardian seemed to be able to fend off attackers from multiple angles. Looking past our enemies form, I saw Kain in similar revelation, struggling to make contact. The being suddenly sent out a blast of invisible energy rocking me off my feet and over the edge of the highway. Had I my normal strength, such a blast would have but blown my locks of hair, yet I was blown over like a blade of grass, easily and without warning.
I was falling… this was to be my end.
Out of the corner of my vision I caught vision of Brother Kain in similar straits. I quickly gained my wits and secured Barrowgar to my waist. Kain suddenly righted himself through what means I knew not, but he quickly moved to remove a rope from his belt. Still falling but in some amount of control, Kain threw me the rope, which on the second attempt I caught and secured around my forearm. Kain’s momentum slowed and I swong in a great pendulum beneath him, nearly losing my grip at the apex. Kain finally levitated to the surface, revealing the battlefield cleared by my companions. After brief rejoice, we ran in the direction of our life-threads. We were being chased by a being of pure fear and anger, I felt it in my very bones. We ran like never before, and at the last minute passed through the pale back to the material plane, its maniacal laughter following us through.
Having survived the first assault from one of the “masters”, we headed off the road to make camp and rest out the night. Sleep would not find us so easily, and we were ambushed in the night by another several of the “masters” Several of these being seemed weaker than the one we faced on the road, but one was equally as powerful, but not large. He did however possess arcane ties. He used his spells to aid him in mobility across the battlefield, and shot beams of energy at Ronan to quell his casting abilities. Our parties strength and mana began to fail. It became certain we were going to fall, and just when I had accepted my fate and offered my life fully to the gods, from the earth a great elemental lifted our of the soil. On its back, a gnome dressed in flowing and colorful robes. He presented himself as Grim. It because immediately apparent that he was known to the masters and with a wiggle of his fingers, combat ceased. Glim reasoned with the masters, calling on a long standing favor to save our lives. I was grateful for this, and eagerly followed him into the earth to his hideaway.
There, we learned more of the history of the masters, of their subjugation of all of Ostrav, and of a great plan Glim had held for years. We, and specifically Ronan, was to be the catalyst of a great war against the ancient masters. We surmised that in order for us to have a chance at standing against the masters, we would need to unite all of Ostrav. Thus, we would have to figure out how to turn ancient enemies such as the kobolds and dwarves… the anaurians and trolls, into allies. Agreeing that we still had much to learn and contemplate on “how” we would go about it, but not wanting to loose any time, we headed out for the town of North Tuldrock, deciding we would talk on the way.
We set out and soon reached Tuldrock and spent the next week working and preparing for the coming trek. After the week, we boarded a ship and set off toward the dwarven lands.
We worked long hours on the boat. Somehow even though never having been on a boat before, sickness did not take me. Many of the deckhands were orcs, perhaps it is within our blood. The trip was relatively uneventful for some days until a storm overtook us on the fourth day. The storm however, did not come alone, we sensed the presence of enemies. Our ship was rocked by the great gale, and Dr. West was knocked overboard. Many of the party ran to the rail to help him. Knowing my help to be of little use, I held my ground and stood ready for an assault I knew to be inevitable. Sure enough, we were boarded by a squad of frog-like warriors, long polearms in hand, with sorcerers at their back line. I immediately dove into combat, their long weapons having reach advantage over even my great axe. The Doctor, now back on deck, began casting spells to manipulate our enemies mind, but he lost the spell due to the great storm rocking the galleon. This would be an unfortunate trend for the rest of the battle. I began taking vicious hits from the warriors, and scored some myself. Tuck moved in to close combat, several times affording flanking position on the frogs. The warriors with their weapons were able to trip us, and on several attempts succeeded in doing so. Our casters continually failed to cast their spells, I hit on several occasions, but missed my fair share as well. Our party managed to heal with great efficiency, but not faster than we were taking blows. Soon it became apparent we were in over our heads. Eventually we tasted our first loss on the field, followed by another, when Ronan and Jeremiah. From the depths of the ship, a drunkard came to our aid, and not a moment too late. He fired arrows into our enemies and eventually ran into the fray, taking serious damage as well. Our enemies numbers began to thin as Barrowgar severed limbs from bodies. Our mana and health completely depleted, we tightened our ranks, focused on our enemies, and eventually drove the entruders off of the ship. Surely the gods shined on me this eve, as the greatest honor I have yet seen in battle was bestowed upon me.
Having finally rid ourselves of the affliction supposed affliction within our veins, and prepared to escape the ungodly world of Botankine, the party came to the conclusion that we still were indebted to George, even in his fallen state. Thus, we set foot with the Flaming Mountains as our goal. We were to reach the dwarven lands and help defend, for an unknown time, their lands and honor from the goblin and kobold horde. Dr. West opted to follow us, and even aid us on our way out of the underworld, stating that he had research intended in our realm. Understanding the course of his research was beyond any of us, either by his own intent of confusing us with a language foreign to us, or due to our own ignorance. Nonetheless, he was for the time being, our best way out of this god forsaken pit… and any help in the matter was gravely appreciated.
Once exiting the Botankine, a sensation un-liked, and unlike anything I had ever experienced, we quickly attempted to gain our wits about us, get a general idea of our directions, and head off to the north in hopes of finding either the base of the mountains or bodies of water. During the night we were assaulted by vicious beasts, later referred to as “Ankegs”. Dr. West cast a very helpful spell, temporarily pacifying several of our combatants. Unused to our new party member and flying in a rage, I nearly charged one of the un-hostile creatures, but quickly turned course at the last second to charge another. I must remember to keep my wits when in my blood craze in combat.
Finally falling the creatures, and with no shortage of spells or lifeblood, we rested for the night. In the morn’, we set out once again and finally bumped into a road. Heading what we believed was north, we eventually ran into a woman beside her cart at the road. She told us of her plight, of her trusty work horse going lame and having to end its life, its subsequent burial, and her dire need to deliver her grain to the market in town, a days travel away. We opted to help her, hitched up Tuck’s lizard, and pushed the wagon down the heavily rutted road. Eventually needing to find sleep, we rested again, Stacey assuring us that she, a single woman and farmer, could fend of ankegs on her own. This comment did nothing to settle my nerves and in fact had the inverse effect. I found myself untrusting of a woman who, by my logic, could kill our party (if the ankegs were so easy for her) with no explanation of how. Ronan questioned her and came to find that she had studied at some form of arcane school, form none other than the Ancient Masters. I immediately knew we needed tread lightly around Stacey, for having an orc caster in our party could likely cause much unwanted attention. Even through Kain’s suggestion of discretion in the matter, Ronan, staying unwaveringly true to himself, told Stacy of his arcane abilities. With the blink of an eye she disappeared, and what stood before us now, some fourty feet in front of the wagon meant for our end.
The being, human in apparent construct and yet many times the height and girth, told us that he was “sent by the masters”, and that he must “cull the herd” referring to Ronan. Furthermore, he stated that any who know an orc capable of the arcane must as well be “Dealt with”. We tried for some time to parlay with the being, to show it the flaws in its rationale, but to no avail. Eventually tiring of its unwavering attitude, I simply stated to the being, “What would you do with Ronan, and those who know of him”. His sole response “You all will die here today”.
I charged in with reckless abandon, Barrowgar leading the way and narrowly missed the master as he dodged to the left. Ally Tuck, having the same suspicions as myself had got himself in flanking position with me before the battle began and thus scored a hit on the being. The rest of the party charged in and began to waylay the being. He cast a mighty spell attempting to knock those adjacent to him down, and succeeding on several accounts. I for one managed to maintain my footing and scored a nasty slice to the things ribs. Ronan cast a wicked spell of fire that rocked the giant. Next the master stepped back and channeled a beam of bright energy draining Ronan’s mana. Seeing the creature on weak legs, I swong with all that was in me, with all of the rage and strength of my ancestors and struck the giant with another nearly crippling swing from Barrowgar. In the following seconds the creature fell, but immediately vanished from our plane. We were relieved to have won the hard fought battle, but enraged at the attack, and the disappearance of the corpse.
Though our attempts at diplomacy proved futile in the end, we did glean much information from the supposed “master”, to be considered for future adventuring.
Having dealt with the wolf-thing, the party made haste back to Katheryn and the petrified glade. Once reaching it, we retired for the night. In my sleep I was roused to find “George” bending over backwards, his limbs contorting in strange directions and odd proportions. The halfling approached him with caution, and was struck at by our companion, whom it was now clear was taking form of a wolf-man, similar to the one we vanquished in the cave. I flew into combat, having to desire to face another such creature again, my blows attempting to subdue our companion. After quite a scuffle, we downed him, tied him up, and took him to Kathryn. I allowed my companions to tie me up as well, knowing I had been bitten by the fowl beast.
Kathryn informed us of our plight, a disease that seemed to turn men into wolves. She also told us of a way to travel, through plants possibly… my understanding was meager. What I did know was I had no interest in turning into a wolf, and though I questioned the standing of those of my race in the “Botankind”, we took to the foreign tunnels after the dryad cast a spell. We were to find “Belladonna” to cure the disease. We were almost immediately confronted with a traveler, dressed in silly clothing, and talking just as strange. He informed us of his name Good Dr. Arkham West, and told us he could lead us to a place to get Belladonna for a price. The halfling promised a helping hand to the “Good Doctor”, he accepted excitedly, and we were on our way.
A short while and many blinding turns later, we arrived in a trade stop. The absurdity of this place extended beyond what I thought possible, as we met merchant after merchant, asking ridiculous things for trade, like our limbs, eyes, voices, and letters from the alphabet. I offered locks of my hair, knowing their history with orcs and thinking it to be of value. My offer was respectable, but still much less than the price to require the herb we sought. Finally Tuck and Kain made deals to secure us Belladonna. I ate it hastily, almost instantly I felt the affliction leave my veins.
…After a short break from the battle, our wits and strength regained, we continued on further into the tunnel. Tuck mentioned that he should be on point, his keen halfling eyes able to spot traps with ease… and yet I brushed it off and continued in the front of the group as always. As if on cue, some way down a narrow hallway the ground collapsed beneath my feet, sending both George and I tumbling into a pit of giant, much infested spikes. I may have not seen the trap, but I deftly reacted and managed to keep my footing and balance, landing between several large spikes. George however was not so lucky and was cut deeply by one of the blades. The spikes were man-made no doubt, as was the construction of the pit. I climbed my way up and, throwing a rope back to the other said, held tight for people to use it to scale the wall across the pitfall. Ty’nak crossed with ease, but most of the rest of the party gingerly, and with several slips made their way to my side of the pit. Most notably the paladin Kain to a nasty spill, receiving a gash from the spikes. Kain made his way up and out but then collapsed of what seemed to be a sickness. The zealot was healed, recovered, and the party moved onward.
The room beyond us opened up into a massive expanse. Even with my darkvision I could not see the far walls, but giant pillars of stone, looming monoliths twisted and dark from the agony of ages stood before us. Having learned my lesson I allowed Tuck to take point and we made our way along the left hand wall into the room. Suddenly the side of one of the pillars blew out, sending a shower of rock and debris everywhere and pinning Tuck, his mount, and Ty’nak beneath the rubble. Kain immediately moved to start digging them out when our ears were blasted with an ungodly noise. I managed to shrug it off with some ease but the others seemed temporarily deafened by the act. Next came the attacks… we were assaulted by what, at the time I couldn’t tell. It looked to be a wolf, but had humanoid features. It moved with such speed and agility we couldn’t seem to strike it, even when readied for its spring.. it seemed to come from every direction. As Kain dug out Tuck and his lizard, and Ty now freed from the rocks, I heard a voice ring out. “Why do you come here to my domain, you kill my children! Speak now!”. I answered with a powerful boast. “Come closer wolf-man, enter the domain of Barrowgar and I will allow him to do the talking”. Suddenly, my mind was aflame, but not with pain, with memories. All I could see was fire. It burned at everything I loved. I saw the flames engulf the ancient masters of the Ud’krel, wiping their existence and any knowledge of them from the earth. I saw myself, stripped of my honor, re-bound and re-united with the slave masters of East Point… weak with malnutrition and broken pride. I knew nothing but fire.
When I came to I was in the corner of the room, some hundred feet from here my mind had been assaulted. Barrowgar lay on the floor before me. Ty’nak looked back to me, to my weapon, and with a wink of recognition (that I had come to) turned to hold the line they had formed in defense. I stood, re-gripped Barrowgar, and ran to my comrades sides. Having some experience against the monster now, we readied our blades, fists, and arrows, and waited. Apparently, in my daze I had missed an attempted parlay between the wolf-man and my party, which had ended in Tuck’s attack against the unwavering wizard. I nodded with approval of the halfling, his actions spoke volumes to me.
From the darkness the wolf-thing blitzed in, but this time Barrowgar found blood, and he was thirsty. I landed a wicked hit on the man, blood flew, but he retreated. Again he attacked, again my axe landed true. He tried the other side of the line and with no success returned to my area. This time Ty’nak readied himself for the attack and when the wolf jumped in, managed to grab the beast. A few quick moments passed, Kain surrounded the wolf calling for a truce, as did more of the party. As quick as a lightning strike Ty threw the wolf over his hip, landing him on the ground and pinning him beneath his weight. Knowing the wolf-man to be extremely deft and witty, I acted on impulse, and not wanted to see him escape to attack the party again, I heaved my axe over my head. His blades as sharp as the will of the gods, Barrowgar, as in Ud’Krel history, ushered this warrior from this life to the next, taking his head with ease.
My newly forged weapon in my hand, I made my final preparations for the trip out of Tulufan. We opted to not pay for “first class” seating on the caravan and instead walked behind. The sun was unbearable, wearing armor, even with the sunscreen the halflings had sold me, was completely draining my energy. Some hours into the trip, the caravan ahead paused, a worm rider came back to inform us of a possible threat from “desert dogs”. The threat proved true and we were assaulted by a pack of the beasts. A rear guard for the caravan and worm-rider trainee Tuck joined us in battle. At the same time, the caravan was hit by a sand worm the likes of which we thought only existed in legends. As soon as we had dispatched the swarming pack, we broke ranks and ran for what looked to be a petrified forest roughly a mile to our south. Having destroyed the caravan in a single chomp of its might y maw, the worm turned its attention to our party and began pursuit. Our strength began to wane and Ty’nak cast a powerful spell creating an illusion of sound some distance away, passing out in the process. Immediately the worm turned for the distraction. Dragging an exhausted Ty’nak we continued our run for the ruined forest. The duration of the spell ended and the worm turned back toward us. A surviving worm rider from the caravan defended our flank and held off the worm giving us enough time to finally reach the rocky landing, but eventually fell to the legendary worm.
Completely exhausted, we rested for a short time then headed toward the large stone tree at the center of the old forest. Upon reaching the tree, we were addressed by a charming feminine voice. Stepping from the tree, her form revealed, Kathryn, an ancient and somewhat ghostly dryad warmly greeted us, asked our intent, and offered her “grove” as a place to rest. Talking with her for some time, we made out that the grove was abandoned by what she called the “Ancient Masters”, a group of powerful high druids who were forced to reseed from these lands due to an invasion from an evil force. Her next words rocked me to my core. She said the terrible monsters that stripped her forest were in fact Orcs. She had never seen one, so Ronan and I didnt attract any unwanted attention, but the idea of these savage orcs disturbed me. I had heard of the ungraceful existence of ancient orcs, but never did I think they could be capable of such rape of the land. The Ud’Krel were no conservationists, but they understood that the earth provided for them, so sustainability, especially in their own lands, was not beyond comprehension.
Upsetting still was the way Kathrynn seemed to shift from an etheral form to physical and back. I confronted her about her shifting form and she in turn accused me to of showing my true form because I cover myself with cloths and armor. I knew my armor, my weapons, to be extensions of my body so I took the shot with a shrug and continued the conversation.
Kathryn charged us to help to rid her “grove” of the devilish desert dogs for the Keepers were to be returning soon. The promise for battle and glory found there of pumped into my soul, and I accepted the request anxiously.
We made our way to the entrance of a large cave with the aid of a fey dog named Bonnie, a companion of Kathryn. Venturing into the cave we made a not-so-graceful decent below. We entered a room with what appeared to be large rocks spread throughout the space. Ty’nak hopped up onto one of the rocks and much to his, and all of our avail, the rock shifted and rose, showing itself as a wakening desert dog. A loud screech was emitted from them forcing all of us to drop our weapons and cover our ears. Once I got my senses about me, I stuck out with my newly purchased spiked gauntlets but hit nothing but air. I was hit several times by the biting, flailing dogs before I opted to take their attacks and reach for Barowgar. Reunited with my hands, I swong the massive weapon through the air, the huge great axe seemed to let out battle cry of its own as it cut the air of the cave. Barowgar caught more than just air however, and desert dogs began to fall to my blows. So caught in the moment was I, that I felt myself enrage. I gave into my animal instincts and flew into a rage. I took hits left and right due to my recklessness but dogs fell at my feet. My companions fought and cast bravely and we won the battle in the end.
I awoke some time later, surrounded by my weary companions…
We were lead to the chamber of the elder of the city where a long discussion took place of our intentions now that we had passed our test, several of us chose miners to be our “apprentices in the ways of Bob”, to be shown how to live honorably in the eyes of the questionable god of these people. We also discussed a course of action to find relative peace between the black ant colony an the cave dwellers. After reaching a decision, George opted to be tested by Bob and handily dispatched two of the larger battle ants, similar to the ones I had faced. Soon after we rested, gathered previsions, and prepared to set out to the surface. Before doing so we were offered gifts, weapons. Similar to the energy beams these people could summon from their palms, these weapons were hilts or shafts of which brilliant energy would protrude if offering a prayer to Bob. This struck a moral chord with me, but I took the weapon, I would make a decision for its use later.
Escorted by two scouts, we ventured back to the chimney in the lake and scaled its surface. Hours later, we saw the first daylight in several moons (though I couldn’t count how many). We spoke with George about our discoveries, and our diplomatic solutions to the problems. The black ants would prove their worth to the mysterious underdwellers, thus being left alone. The blacks would also vow to help humans find salt and in turn would be left alone to… do what ants do. Leaving the miners behind us, and George satisfied, we traveled to the black queen’s layer and discussed our solution with her. She was wise, and she took to the plan. We escorted the queen back to the underground city where with ease she dispatched the warriors who would test her of Bob’s will. She and the elder then spoke for some time and came to an agreement. With the respect of the cave dwellers, the appreciation of the black queen, and the fulfillment of a finished job to George, our pockets weighed with a hefty payment, we took to the town for some much needed R&R, hitting the tavern for some always quinching ale, and some stores for arms and armor.
Later that evening, sitting under the stars of the high desert I had a deep moment of self reflection. I knew within myself that I believed fully and completely in Hral and Feugal, and that some day, by the blade I would fall, and I would, having fought honorably, be carried into the afterlife to serve in the eternal battle… fighting along my ancestors. What I did not know, is if Bob did in fact exist, and if so, what his stance was on things that I felt greatly opposed to such as slavery. In Ud’Krel society, one was gauged by the acts he committed, honor by deed. That being said, one having not been tested was never viewed as fodder or of no worth. The Ud’Krel had an incredible respect for life, even that of their adversaries, where as this underground race clearly practiced some form of slavery. Moreso, they believed all beings to not even be worthy of life without passing a test of will or strength. The concept offended me. I knew the weapon I had been given in veneration was one of great power, one that would surely help me on my personal crusade to end slavery, but the hypocrisy of using such a weapon weighed on my heart. It was in that moment, under the veil of night, my ancestors above in constant and beautiful warfare, that I vowed to never give into the promise of power or wealth, either by great artifacts or title of man, if it was not the will of my gods, and of myself.
I rushed back to the blacksmith as he closed up shop and discussed forging a great axe of which my ancestors would be proud to wield. In the way of the Ud’Krel, the weapon would be made even larger than normal, it would take me some time to adjust, but I knew my strength and will up to the test.
The next day I awoke and immediately set out to work on the weapon…
The smith had agreed, I would construct the handle and the mountings and he would shape the blades. These people practiced a form of smithing unknown to me in which the bones of blue dragons were carved into instruments of destruction. The bones, hard as steel, still carried the electrical charge of the dragons elemental likeness. As I worked the metal, the grip began to take shape, along with the edges which the blades would connect to the axe. On each side of the shaft, a silhouette of the faces of Hral and Feu’gal would be carved. Once the blades were attached, they would appear to almost be sprouting from the mouths of the great orc gods, as if their words and will alone were able to offer complete destruction. Nearly a week passed, and the smith began his work of mounting the blades to my work. I took this time to meditate and come up with a name for my new weapon. Thinking back to the legends of old, one name stood out above all else in fit and prowess. A servant to the twin brothers and mighty ethereal orc warrior, this demi-god was said to be the escort to those passing on to the unending strife. Many names and titles had been bestowed on him through the ages. The Usher of Fallen, Arbiter of Final Honor… but to me he was known as one name…Barowgar. Thus my new weapon, forged by passion, veneration, duty, and servitude would be name as such: Barowgar, the Harvester of Souls
The hunger continues…
My stomach stirred in knots as the party began discussing our next course of action. The casters were taxed from spell use and most of use were only at a portion of our strength. We chose to make our way back to the shore of the underwater lake, and pace of some 200 feet to the south in an attempt to again create food. We gathered around Ronan once again as he began to pull from the weave a source of sustenance for our battered bodies. In a flash a darkness surrounded us. I thought for a second that my ancestral dark vision had failed me, but everyone reacted to the gloom so I knew it not to be effecting only me, but the party as well. through the darkness I could make out the forms of two humanoids. George acted first by charging toward them. He was caught off guard by the length of their weapons and with a single strike he was cut down. After a shot from Jeremiah I charged in to the aid of George but instead of attacking, stayed back several paces to study my new opponent and ready my defenses. The one of the right lunged at me, and with an unknown power, a blade of energy struck me fast. It seemed to ignore the plate and chain of my armor. I swung with all of my strength but the deft fighter dodged my attack. He struck again and this time took me down, watching my allies fight to my side, I feel from consciousness. If this is the way Hral and Feu’Gal would have me, at least I fought with honor.
I awoke with a pounding headache…
I reflexively tried to move but Kain, having administered aid to me, advised me it was best for me to stay unmoving, that I had been badly injured in the battle and any strain on my body could send me back into unconsciousness. To my relief Ragefang had gotten off the spell and my friends helped to feed me some delicious bread sticks with an interesting sause atop them. Shortly after eating I drifted off, and was awoken to a new energy growing within me. One of my companions had healed me, and my strength began to return. We made our way back to the island we had originally scaled down to for rest. After several watch shifts, and everyone being healed back to their full potential, we journeyed out once again.
Jeremiah once again found the tracks of ants…
…the same path we had been on before. Again, we moved some 30 strides to the right of the path and began trudging our way through the ever thickening mushroom forest. We soon made our way to a large chasm. A great valley had been cut through the cave floor, a raging river passing through it. Jeremiah informed the party that we were indeed still on the trail of the ants, and that the ants likely form “living bridges” to cross such expanses. Wondering how in the hell the bard knew such things was beyond me, but I trusted in his knowledge of lore. Many very tall mushrooms shot up from the cliff below, one could imagine jumping from top to top to make it across the expanse. Seeing no other option, we began our risky crossing. Ty’nak took the lead, his monk ways helping him to navigate the slippery mushroom tops and make wide jumps. George, Jeremiah and I had made it a short distance when Kain began to cross. Although our plan seemed well formed, having people on each top helping to aid eachothers jumps and balance, Kain slipped and fell into the abyss. We thought our friend gone until we heard his struggles, some twenty feet below hanging on to an off-shooting branch of the giant fungus. It was then in that moment of panic that our casters came up with a brilliant idea, “we should just fly over”. After several failed attempts at a joint casting, Kain clinging on below, the party was granted the gift of flight, and we hurriedly crossed to the other side. I wished the enchantment had lasted longer, I felt like the dragonfly’s I used to befriend back in East Point. I always envied them and their flight, and I longed for many years to simply grow wings and fly beyond the walls.
One the other side…
…Bogrunner again picked up the trail and we continued on our march. The forest was even more dense, it forced our movement into a single file line. Not far into the fungal forest, Ronan and I, our keen dark attuned eyes, made out forms moving above us on the underside of large mushrooms. At the same time we began hearing loud and resounding “booms” from beyond, the sound of drums resonating in the great cavern. They seemed to not be hostile, so we continued on our march, our weapons at the ready. More of the dark forms appeared around us, we were soon outnumbered four-to-one. Leading point, I narrowly avoided fine webbing that had been laid across our path ahead as behind us, the forms descended on fine lines. Ragefang raised his hands as a show of peace and spoke in an attempt to parlay with the beings. They were in fact, the same beings we had faced earlier, and who had struck me down with their strange energy blades. The beings asked our intent, and we explained to them the purpose of our excursion. After minutes of dialogue, we had gleaned that these beings were in fact worshipers of the same god (at least by name) as Kain. Bob they told us, had given them all of the earth beneath the sands, and that those captured in the caves were now being made to prove their worth to bob through trials of strength, honor, and virtue. All strangeness aside, I felt again that the gods had shined on me, and Ronan and I offered to champion for the captured surface dwellers. They informed us that in order for one to champion for another, he must first prove himself worthy of Bob’s adoration in the same manner they were asked to. I knew this to be my cause, and I offered myself to them, in hopes that by winning their good graces, I might fight for the lives of the lost party.
We were lead to a massive hole in the ground and repelled down within…
A large city of the creatures spread out before us. We were first lead to who seemed to be the leader of the cavers. He took us in, likely judging the means by which we would be tested. After, Ty’nak, Kain, Ragefang and I (those who opted to be tested) were quickly lead to the testing grounds where we were offered baths and fresh linens before our trials. I would not turn it down and was soon dressed in the white ceremonial robes assigned to me. It disheartened me to remove my armor, knowing the test ahead. The cave dwellers had informed me that the trial may be in different forms, so I prayed to Hral to send me a test of strength or combat… I knew the matter of these tests could surely mean my life.
I stepped into the arena…
Rows of seating above, I was like a gladiator in a great underground coliseum. My prayers were again answered as two of the larger ant creatures descended into the pit. I wondered where the others were, in separate pits likely, preparing to test their wills and bodies in one-on-one combat, or testing their minds in creativity and speed of casting. I gripped my great axe tight, backed into the corner to avoid flanking, and stood ready at the defensive. The creatures charged in with abandon, I struck one hard, being ready for its attack. I dodged one attack, but the other ant managed to grab me with its mandibles and pick me up off the ground. Again the feeling of rage I felt a day prior coursed through my veins. With the strength of the Ud’Krel in my muscles, I broke free the ants grasp and backed into another corner. I knew if I were to be flanked it would mean the end of me. Again the ants came in. My first attacks were futile, the ants dodging my mighty swings. I was stung a pair of times, I felt my health begin to wane. Taking a bit of power off of my swing, I more accurately connected with one of the insects, the one I had stuck earlier, and it fell under my assault. In the same movement I dodge and incoming attack from the other. I knew I only had one chance to get this right, fighting without armor had greatly diminished my ability to defend myself. Thus, I remembered in that moment, the glory of my ancestors and summoning all of my strength, I stuck down upon the final ant with a blow that would resonate the whole of the arena. The ant was crushed beneath my fury. I was elated to have survived, and to have found great honor in battle, yet as my anger subsided, I gave in to my injuries and collapsed onto the arena floor.
I found myself stepping into a mine…
…the very type of place I told myself I would never be found, in the service of anyone or anything other than my oath. And yet, through a series of events my path to glory has lead me here, to the dried stuffy air of a great salt mine beneath the sands of Tulufan.
Our fist day into the cave allowed me to glean the combat abilities of my new companions, there is no doubt I have found myself capable friends. After many fights with giant ants, some nearly as large as small horses, we found our way to what seemed to be the queens chamber. Suddenly my mind was assaulted with emotion. It felt as if someone had placed their own being within me, and I was feeling what they felt. Above all else however, a voice, calm and assertive addressed me. It asked why we showed them hostility. After a short conference between the party, we realized our folly in assuming all ants to be of the same hive, and vowed to help these black ants by driving away the crimson ants, who seemed to be the aggressors.
The word of god…
Finally leaving the chamber, we first chose to head back into town in an attempt to recruit more help for our cause. After talking with Mark the barkeep, I began searching for a large troll wearing armor and wielding sword and shield. I was told he too was on a quest for glory in battle, he sounded like a great help to the party. Our search led us to the upstairs of the inn where, knocking on a door, Kain found himself engrossed in another conversation about his god with a strange patron Shelly. Not having much for the talk of his god, or for transvestite sociopaths, I stood back and let him handle the situation. Turning my back for a second, Kain slipped into the room. I pounded at the door for “it” to release him, and finally had to recruit Mark to drive the beast from my friend… I can only imagine what transpired inside. The ruckus we caused however landed fate in our laps, Hral had blessed me on that day no doubt, for in the next room down the troll stirred, and rose to see what the commotion was all about. After a talk of our intent, and the honor we would surely find in battle, the troll, “George” joined our party.
We traveled back to the caves and journeyed farther into the mine. Around every corner I had hoped to find an orc for saving, a slave for whom I could do the same duty Enduar had passed to me. The cave system seemed to go on for hours. The ant queen had told us that the red’s would be found deeper and thus we delved, some four hours into the caves, finally leading us to a landing above a great underwater lake.
After much deliberation, we chose to climb down the rocky slope to assess the shore below. Much to our avail, our armor encumbered our decent so we removed our chains and plates and began the climb down. Some of us made it without consequence, other less skilled climbers found themselves in a not-so-graceful tumble down the slope. Alas we reached the bottom, and after Kain and Ty’nak weaved their magical healing into the more clumsy of the group, we began donning our armor.
Battle, now we are talking…
Out of the darkness came more vile bugs, these of the eight-legged sort. They did not come from the water but rather from the cavernous expanse above us, ascending down on ropes of silk. Several of the party found themselves entangled in webs, but we fought hard and finally won out against the arachnoid assault. Finally suiting back up, we crossed a large expanse of water to find ourselves in a grove of giant mushrooms, some as tall as the trees of the hills I first fled to after my escape. They had no less of an impact on me either, I was in awe of their sheer size.
Hours had passed since our last meal and so Ronan began to conjure us a great feast. My stomach turned knots in knots of hunger as he worked his skill to summon food from nothing. Mid way through the conjuring ritual, we were again assaulted, this time by a large group of the crimson ants. They had heard Ragefang casting, and had come to stop him no doubt. Something took me over in that moment. It was pure anger, rage, and hatred. Toward what? The ants… perhaps, the absence of food in my ever twisting gut, likely. It mattered not the cause for my anger, but more the focus. I felt my muscles surge with the power of my growing rage, and I focused every ounce of it on the blade of my axe, and the hardened exo-skeletons of the bugs it would soon find its way into. I fought with reckless abandon. Not the calm and precise methods taught to me by Enduar but rather, with the ancestral might of my brethren. Each swing of my mighty axe was true, crushing ants left and right in my flurry. One of the larger ants grabbed Jeremiah to run off with him. I didn’t think my rage could grow more, but in that moment it did, and I charged in to save my friend. Again my axe lopped off head from torso, limb from body. So enraged was I that looking back, I remember little of the details of the battle. Only the musky smell of the pheromones the ants released under my crushing blows is strong in my memory. By the time the red had left my eyes, corpses of ants lay strewn across the cavern floor. Ragefang had lost his spell, but my anger sated, I focused on regrouping and a bit of rest.