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Re: [SPOILERS] Campaign Chronicle - A Tall Tale of Five Exiles.

Thu 25 Apr 2019, 20:41

Chapter 6: The Taste of Murder

Around the fire they sat, sharing wine and food. Five riders and three wanderers for Belladonna and Erden did not dare show themselves to the men from Grindbone. They chose instead to hide in the bushes nearby, still within earshot so they could hear the conversation at the fire. Kratullos explained that the balance of power in his village was a brittle one and that he and his men were the only thing keeping the bone-ferrets guild and the thieves guild from killing each other in the streets. That was the reason for him to ride out and meet the newcomers who bested Esgar Farthing. He wanted the chance to recruit them first, before one of the other factions got to them. He offered them food and a place to sleep and a generous salary of one silver coin per day if they decided to take up his offer. All they had to do in return was to follow Kratullos orders and work to keep the peace in the city. Exactly what that entailed was not completely clear and the adventurers got the feeling that Kratullos was not quite sure himself. Vague remarks regarding crime-solving and the breaking up of fights were mentioned. Droll, Burzob and Nobel obliged. Erden, hearing of the promise of payment showed himself to ask some questions but eventually he ended up denying the offer saying he needed to see the village and sleep on the matter first. Belladonna still did not trust the guardsmen of Grindbone so she stayed hidden and followed the company on a sure distance as they all left for the village. Her friends did not reveal her existence to the guardsmen.

Captain Kratullos seemed like an honest and rightforth man but also somewhat unintelligent. He asked many questions, especially regarding the stories he had heard from Esgar Farthing. Apparently Esgar and Dyndria had survived the passage from Weatherstone to Grindbone and it seemed like the silver tongued swordsman had been good to his word.  The exiles told their tales of fighting the horror in weatherstone and the bloodling in the mist. Nobel denied the rumors that he could control the restless dead for he knew all to well that regular people were often suspicious of necromancers. When asked about the fate of Brother Ferebald they said that he was killed by one of the undead in the castle, knowing that it was almost half the truth.

When approaching Grindbone the exiles dreams were crushed. In their minds they had pictured a bustling village filled with shops and tall buildings. What they got was a run-down group of log cabins surrounded by a palisade. It’s location was somewhat impressive though. It was built on a grand hill with three tiers next to the fork of a stride river. It looked very defendable, and they understood why the village still remained despite being located in the middle of the Harga. As they approached they could hear screams from the nearby water mill. The screams came from a man tied to the great wooden wheel that was turning in the river. The man was tied down with his back to the wheel and both his arms and legs were broken. Kratullos informed them that the mill was the home of Master Hargan, the village dentist, torture master, healer and executioner. The man on the wheel was a criminal of the worst kind. He was a peddler that had cheated the Thieves guild by trading in silver coins that were filed down to reduce their weight. On the gatehouse of the palisade they could see several hands nailed to the wall in various states of decay. They also noted that the walls were built more to keep people in than out. All was explained when they saw the slave pens, right next to the garrison that was now their home. The slave pens was a smelly, decrepit pit of decay guarded by five demonic swinehounds of a breed they had never seen before. The slaves were kept in burrows in the ground and they ones allowed to stay above ground wore brands on their foreheads, forever marking them as property of the Bone-Ferrets guild. Burzob felt his blood churning in his veins as he had been raised with the stories of his peoples enslavement. He considered all slavery a great injustice and in his mind he vowed to raise Grindbone to the ground. But that would have to wait, for in the halls of the city militia they were served hot food and cold ale by a warming fire. Around them sat about twenty soldiers of which six were orcs who soon got Burzobs attention. 

In the meantime Belladonna approached the village with care but when she discovered that the palisade gatehouse was guarded she instead took to the farmlands for shelter. She was after all just an old dwarven lady. It should not be hard for her to find a place to sleep. Indeed she found a small farm and made contact with the master of the house. He was an imposing old gentleman by the name of Gunnar Bilecave and he was not easy to persuade having been raised next to the city of slavers and thieves. But when he saw Belladonna, heard her plea for a place to rest and noted her willingness to pay, he relented. However he demanded a pricy sum of three silver coins as she bore visible injuries on her face, and that could mean trouble was coming in her wake. He also promised that she could get a blanket for the night and a breakfast in the morning. As night fell and Belladonna went to sleep in the loft she realized that she never actually got the blanket and that made her mad. She lay there brooding on how to take her revenge on the greedy farmer who would dare trick her for the sake of a simple blanket. When the night was darkest she climbed out of the hayloft, past the sleeping farmworkers and shimmied the door to the house. Once inside she found her way to the kitchens. Around her she saw large wood fired ovens, an assortment of kitchen tools and piles of dough set to rise. She realized that there was enough dough there to feed a small village and a horrible, strange plan started forming in her demented mind. She opened her purse and started fingering through her assortment of poisons.

The next morning Burzob, Droll and Nobel took to sparring with the orcs of Captain Kratullos city guard. Erden tried to take bets on the fight by yelling about great odds and fun games. He succeeded only in attracting the attention of a man named Shulaban Snaketounge who told him that if he earned any money doing that he should make sure to give a cut to the Duke. The Duke was the leader of the thieves guild and Shulaban assured Erden that he was a reasonable man. In fact, Shulaban considered himself the Dukes closest associate and would be glad to introduce Erden to him. The split-tongued Shulaban was obviously one of the most dishonest men Erden had ever met, and so they took a liking to each other immediately. Erden told his friends he was leaving with a stranger to meet the thieves guild but the others did not listen. 

As Erden and Shulaban walked up over the crest of the upper parts of the village they saw a man sitting on a bench, apparently gravely ill. As they approached him he bent over and collapsed and they could see that his nose and mouth was dripping with blood. With the confidence of a man who had no idea what he was talking about Shulaban said that those were the typical symptoms of skull rattler plague and told Erden to stay away. That sort of thing happened all the time in these parts, or so he assured Erden. So they walked and left the man to his fate. As they approached the guildhall named Alderhouse Erden noted that it was one of the nicer houses in the area, painted in black, red and white. He also noticed that the guardsmen of the house seemed pale and unwell, so they stayed away from them too. The insides of the house were just as nice, with linen covering the tables and heavy, luxurious curtains on the windows. At a long table set with food and drink sat the duke himself with a plate of small tomatoes, bread and a piece of chicken which he ate in a vulgar fashion with the seeds and juices running across his chin. 

“Please sit newcomer for I have heard of your pursuits, you and your friends were the ones that bested Esgar Farthing in that ruin to the south. Please feed yourself with bread, fruit, butter and honey from my table. My name is Undar Alderman but my people call me The Duke. I have heard that your friends have allied with the so called City Guard, but that you have not, is that true?”

Erden and the duke quickly took a liking to one another but their discussion was stilled when the duke took a bite of bread. As he chewed his face turned into a frown before he spat and started cleaning bread from his mouth with a napkin.

“By the rusted earths I recognize this acrid taste of murder. This bread has been poisoned! Quickly, spread the word and arrest the baker at the Bilecave farm and bring Gunnar Bilecave himself in for questioning. I am sorry Erden but our discussions have to wait. I must immediately excuse myself to the outhouse, I suggest you do the same since you have partaken of the bread. This has been a crime against both of us and I assure you I would never stoop so low as to wittingly poison one of my guests. And rest assured the ones responsible for this will be brought to justice!”

Instead of going to the outhouse Erden started hanging around the guildhall, watching the chaos unfold. Indeed it seemed like many of the village inhabitants had eaten of the poisonous bread. Erden had only had a small piece of it and in retrospect he agreed that it had a funny taste. Luckily he did not feel sick at all and figured he probably owed thanks to some god for sparing him, but he did not remember which.

In the meantime Burzob, Nobel and Droll finished training as a young man came running, screaming his mouth off about poisoned bread. Feeling that they had a duty as members of the city guard they questioned the boy and found out that the bread came from Bilecave farm so they went to the Captain and asked if they could go there and arrest the farm owners. He said to go there and poke around and if anything seemed suspicious, ask a few questions. If anyone seemed guilty he said, tie them up and bring them back. So they did. While heading towards the farm they could see four men from the thieves guild heading out in the same direction as them. This was not a good sign for they had been warned about the thieves guild from Kratullos earlier in the day. However, after having a brief chat with the guildsmen they realized they had similar goals, arresting the baker of Bilecave Farm, and they could find no reason to argue about it so instead they all made common cause in heading there.

From the farm they could see a cart drawn by an ox heading towards Master Hargans old mill. The ox was driven by a man and a woman. Both were slaves as evident on the brands on their faces and in the cart they could see a man and an old dwarven woman, both of them were mad with fever and cramps, coughing so hard their eyes were stained with red. The woman turned out to be Belladonna but they could not recognize the man. Burzob asked many questions and it turned out that the man leading the ox was the baker they had set out to find. So they tied him up despite his struggling protests and together with the thieves guild they abused him, quite badly. Belladonna was taken to Master Hargan at the mill for medical care. Droll stayed with her while Nobel and Burzob and the rest of Kratullos men went to the farm to investigate together with the members of the thieves guild. The brought the baker with them. At the farm they found Gunnar Bilecave in the outhouse, passed out from blood loss and with his pants at his ankles. The thieves looted the farm since its owner was dead and told Burzob they found a small vial of acrid smell in Gunnars bedroom. They handed the vial over to him and informed him that it was just the type of vial seasoned poison makers used to store their most dangerous brews.

The case seemed settled even though the baker never admitted to anything. Gunnar Bilecave was left with Master Hargan and the baker was taken to Undar Alderman by the thieves. Nobel and Burzob agreed however that something was off about the whole thing. They could not see why the baker would have done something like this, and they knew Belladonna was exiled for having murdered her husband with poison since she admitted this to them on the day they were lowered down the Iron Lock. They decided that they would need to speak to her once she recovered.

In the meantime Erden was walking around the thieves guildhall watching the victims of the poisoned bread puking and writhing in agony. He discovered that it seemed like the thieves guild had their own healers living in a shack behind the guildhall proper. They were three women all clad in robes and veils showing only their eyes. The youngest one noticed Erdens glances and approached him with questions, presenting herself as the youngest sister Soraya. She wanted to know who he was and what he was doing at Grindbone and Erden answered in truth. She understood that Erden was a learned man and when he asked her if he could do anything to help with caring for the poisoned thieves she told him that there was a special herb that grew on the hillsides outside Grindbone. The herb had to be picked in the moonlight by a lone herbalist, for if more than two pairs of eyes ever laid their gaze on the herb at once, the plant would become shy and lose its magic. She would pay a handsome sum for such an herb, picked properly. She also insisted that if Erden took up her offer he should come tell her first so she could give him some advice and some herbalists tools. Erden was a greedy man but he was not stupid and realized something was really strange about the whole offer. He imagined that the woman wanted to bewitch him and sleep with him in the moonlight considering the last time he met a strange young woman in the forbidden lands. He politely said he would consider the young witches offer and then left to find his friends.

Erden found his friends at the Barracks where they explained the situation to him and that they needed to speak with Belladonna. She was still in the care of Master Hargan and droll was there to make sure she wouldn't escape. Erden realized that Hargan seemed like man who might be interested in buying the pickled hands and eyes Erden had found in the laboratory in Weatherstone and so he decided to join the others in going there.

Belladonna had regained her wits and was found laying in the grass outside the millhouse among the other victims of the poison. She was helped to her feet and told that she should stay calm and just hang around for a bit. Erden and Burzob approached Hargan and Erden sold him the pickled body parts for two shiny gold coins. When Belladonna saw the coins in the hands of Hargan she realized that her robes were lighter than they were before she went into his care. All the coins she had found in the harpies nest on the cliffside of weatherstone were missing! The farmer , Gunnar Bilecave had awoken and was interrogated by Burzob. Gunnar did not understand how he could be accused of such an awful crime as poisoning an entire village, especially considering that he had been poisoned himself and almost died. He said that his baker must be guilty, or perhaps it was the strange dwarven lady he had taken in the same night. Burzob did not like the farmers face so he roughed him up a bit and took him to the barracks dungeons.

Back at the barracks the group also interrogated Belladonna who admitted her crimes without hesitation. She said that Gunnar Bilecave was an awful man and that she had wanted revenge for being swindled by him. She also considered the entire town to be a very bad place filled with bad people and thus, poisoning the bread for them all seemed like reasonable line of action. In order to remove suspicion from herself she had naturally also eaten of the bread, not expecting to become quite so ill. The group considered this and decided to protect her, it would reflect badly on them all if one of them was found guilty of such a crime and they had the perfect opportunity to frame the baker considering he had not eaten of the bread himself. They made Belladonna promise to never do something like this again without asking the rest of the group first, and Belladonna promised without seeming completely sincere. When she told them of the stolen gold however they got a lot more angry. Why had she not told them before of the gold? Did she want to keep it all to herself? In any case they had to get the gold back from Hargan.

They went back to the mill and told Hargan in no uncertain terms that if he did not hand the gold back he would find himself on a hot date with Burzobs longsword. Hargan relented and gave the gold back, but kept the silver and copper as payment for having healed Belladonna. His claim was not unreasonable after all, if you came to his abode looking for healing and held grand riches in your clothes, it was in his right to reimburse himself for services rendered. But the sum was too large and he admitted he had gotten a bit carried away. He knew that if he was killed by  outsiders those outsiders would not have a long stay in Grindbone, and he informed these particular outsiders of this fact. He also realized that they band of outsiders did not seem deterred by this and that they might all be completely mad. Thus he gave them the money back with a promise that they would never get healing from him again.

During this time Nobel had gone out in the nearby forests to prepare a necromantic ritual. After being sure that he had not been followed by any superstitious townsfolk he started placing stones in the shape of a pentagram around a single candle. He started chanting and could feel the magic gathering in the air around him. He was nervous since he had never prepared such a ritual before. It was dark magic and he knew it, but he felt it was necessary considering that the town he had found himself in was so dangerous. He would need all the power he could find. The sweat was beading on his forehead as he spoke the last words of the chant and with a flash the candle flamed up and extinguished. The smoke from the wick billowed in the wind but did not pass to the skies. Instead it pooled into a large cloud above the pentagram and as the cloud grew all the plants and small insects around him started dying, their lifeforce expended to feed the unholy smoke. As the sorcerer breathed it in he could feel himself filled with power but also something else. There was a presence in the smoke. A creature that was now crawling through his lungs and into his blood. With a sharp stabbing pain in his heart and mind he started coughing and thought he managed to expel the thing before heading back to the barracks. He knew that magic always had a price, but was pleased that he had avoided paying it this time. Or so he thought…

End of chapter 6
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Re: [SPOILERS] Campaign Chronicle - A Tall Tale of Five Exiles.

Sun 12 May 2019, 22:11

Chapter 7: The Sacrifice

Nobel passed through the gatehouse just in time to see his friends leaving the barrack area. Approaching them was a man clad in rust brown robes. He held a clay jug from which he drank with difficulty, for it forced him to raise the iron mask that covered his face. The man behind it looked old and decrepit. Nobel feared the rust-church above all else so he immediately hid himself from the priest but made sure to stay within earshot. The priest approached his friends with a drunken sway as he stretched out his arms and began slurring words through the mouthpiece of the mask.

“Travelers, I have heard strange stories of five newcomers in our village, I have been told that they are brave and mighty warriors, strong of arm and quick of wit. I have heard that the dead themselves bow to their whims! Yet no newcomers have come to my temple. No travelers have approached the house of gods. And worst of all, no tribute has been paid! What have you to say to this? Are you all heathens? How do you dare tread on these rusted earths without paying your dues? You have spat in my eye by refusing to visit me, and thus you have spat in the eyes of the true gods! My name is Brother Hamedas and you must come with me at once! When you have paid and prayed I will give you knowledge of the teachings of Rust and Heme.”

The band of ruffians refused outright. They insulted and humiliated the weak drunkard and set him on his way. The priest was screaming that if they did not join him at the temple the gods would surely smite them down with a word and a curse. He also told them that he planned to perform a ritual sacrifice at midnight and that he expected the group to be there and bear witness. For some reason Belladonna decided to join the old man on his way back to his church, feeling sorry for the priest. He agreed that Belladonna could serve as a representative of the group and that they would talk over a glass of wine so Belladonna could return to them with advice on how to act during the ritual sacrifice that was to take place at midnight. When Belladonna and the priest left the rest of the group, Nobel approached them and told them that they did right to refuse the priest and that he was worried for Belladonna. 

By that time the sun had set and Erden realized he had no place to sleep for he was not welcome at the barracks since he did not join up with the city watch. So he went to the the local tavern. There he paid for a small bed and met with the bard Mannihiver who informed him that the ritual sacrifice at midnight would be a great occasion and that he should make sure to get really drunk beforehand as that was the best way to get in touch with the spirits. He was told that the priest had been given a slave to sacrifice, female of course. They shared a few jokes about what a funny coincidence it was that both the gods and the priests had a preference for female sacrifices. Then they drank some more.

As they approached the temple Belladonna and Brother Hamedas passed between two grand statues. One depicted a large head and was made from iron while the other was tall and slender and made from dry wood. Both were covered in stains of old blood and Belladonna understood them to be depictions of Rust and Heme. Brother Hamedas directed Belladonna towards a side room and told her to have a seat as he brought forth a clay jug and two glasses. To the priests delight Belladonna drank two glasses of wine in quick succession as she listened to his questions. He wanted to know about Erden and what was so special about him. He told her that he had gotten questions about him and was curious as to what type of man he was. Belladonna refused to answer but realized to her dismay that the wine must have been poisoned and it was not long before she fell into unconsciousness. The last thing she heard was the laughing of the drunken priest as he ensured her that she was in his power now and would soon be made to answer him whether she wanted to or not.

As midnight approached a cool wind blew in from the west bearing ash and dust. The skies were clear however and the town of Grindbone bathed in moonlight as its one hundred and fifty inhabitants gathered before the rough statues depicting Rust and Heme that were set in front of the cliff side temple.  A group of particularly religious villagers played the drums and chanted wordless rhythms to set the mood and the rest of the townspeople were drunk and merry. They all knew that Brother Hamedas always put on a grand show for the sacrifice in spring. As the doors to the church flew open the crown quieted down and the priest staggered out in full ritual regalia. His hood was up and his face covered with a mask. In the light of a grand fire he walked up to a stone table placed between the godly idols, swinging his censer with wild abandon as its smoke billowed in the wind. In his other hand he held a knife. It was obvious the priest was drunk, almost at the point of falling into stupor, but this did not seem stop him. He stretched out his arms and spoke with a powerful tone, slurring the words and swaying as he did.

“People, you all know why you have come tonight. This night we give the gods their due, for they have a great thirst. I remind you that we have suffered a terrible curse recently. Even those of us who did not eat of the poison bread have suffered from its effects! For we are a village and when one of us fall sick and can’t work we all suffer. But listen as I tell you, look not to each other to find who is guilty, for the one responsible for this catastrophe is Heme herself! Ask instead of yourselves why she would have cursed you and I know that if you look in your heart you will find the answer. If your heart is rotten, as I know many of yours are, listen instead to me for I am the mouth, eyes and ears of Rust and Heme, and so I will tell you, they have cursed us for you have been greedy! Your offerings have been thin and few, a measly couple of silver and barely any wine! But fear not for tonight I will slake their thirst for the days to come. It is time now, the winds are right and the planets are aligning! Bring out the sacrifice!”

From the church two men walked out with a slave woman in tow. She had been dressed up for the occasion in colorful robes and silver jewelry. Her eyes were glazed over and she did not resist as she was put on the altar. Nobel had by this time made his way to the front of the crowd, standing next to Undar of the thieves guild, Kratullos of the town guard and Misela of the bone ferrets guild. Brother Hamedas was by this time so drunk he could barely stand and as he raised his knife to bleed the sacrifice Nobel uttered a curse towards him, hiding it under his breath and fueling it with the life of the land he killed in the ritual he had performed earlier during the evening. But as he finished the last sentence of his curse and prepared to crush the priests heart something went wrong. The gods protected their chosen one as the curse instead struck Nobel himself. He fell like tree severed at the root, with froth gathering at the corners of his mouth just as Hamedas struck with the knife. In the commotion only Captain Kratullos noticed that Nobel fell over and presumed he had fainted in the climax of the ritual. He told two of his men to carry the sorcerer away. The show continued for as it turned out Hamedas had missed his first swing with the knife, instead striking sparks across the stone altar. He was forced to brace himself with one hand as he started stabbing violently with the other. The slaves blood ran quickly along the grooves of the stone table and pooled in two urns, one at the slaves feet which were directed towards Rust and one at her head which was directed towards Heme. Hamedas staggered over and picked up the urn meant for Heme but as he turned to spread the blood against her statue he was so drunk he missed and ended up flinging the urn of blood all over the crowd without even noticing. He then went over to the other urn and threw the whole thing, shattering it across the iron face of Rust. Then he went inside the church without a word.

Droll found Nobel left with his back against a rock as the crowd dispersed, leaving for their homes. The crowd was murmuring about Hamedas really having mucked things up this time. Droll yelled for Erden who quickly sobered up when he saw the state of Nobel. While debating what to do they realized that they could get no help from Master Hargan after threatening him with death over a bag of gold earlier the same day so they instead took the dying sorcerer to the healers of the thieves guild. The sisters Soraya took him in and promised to do what they could, but they did not have high hopes as they claimed that he must have been godstruck during the ritual sacrifice. They did not dare claim to be able to undo the will of the gods without a great deal of luck. As they left the sisters Droll and Erden realized that they had not seen Belladonna since she left with the drunken priest and decided that she must be sleeping with him, and was probably in no danger.

In the morning Belladonna woke as a ray of sharp light struck her face. Her limbs ached and her head was swimming. She had been chained to a pole but fortunately the chain was made for a tall person and thus they were a bit too long to properly trap her. After waking from the poison she had spent most of the night trying to escape her iron bonds but the links were strong and she had failed. The light shone in through the door that had been slammed open by a thoroughly hungover priest. He started taunting Belladonna with threats and demanded to be told everything she knew about Erden the Honest. In his ragged state the priest let slip that dangerous and important people were asking about Erden and he wanted to know why they found him so interesting. Belladonna was confused and refused to say anything, in any case she did not find Erden overly interesting and did not know much about him at all. She started taunting the priest who became enraged and threatened to scoop her eyes out with a spoon, but when he came close she tried kicking him in the head since her legs were not bound by the chains. The kick missed and Hamedas became furious, instead resorting to beating the heresy out of her with a fuming censer on a chain. Belladonna was too quick however and the strikes missed so instead, the weak priest went away to find some help in beating the truth out of his chained prisoner. Belladonna took the moment to grab a long and curved knife from a nearby table with her feet which she used to pick the locks on her bonds and when the priest returned with one of the village hunters she hid behind the door leading  them to believe she had escaped the church altogether. The hunter got orders to bring his friends and hounds and search for her in the village while Hamedas would pray to the gods. Belladonna could hear the entire exchange and decided she would kill the priest for his cruel treatment of her. She snuck up behind him and stabbed him in the ribs as he was kneeling in front of the idols of Rust and Heme. As she was standing over him with her knife bloodied the door creaked and opened…

In the meantime Erden and Droll had gone to the sisters Soraya for morning had came and they were worried for their friend Nobel who they had left in the sisters care. Outside the sisters hut they met with the middle sister Soraya who claimed that Nobel had died in the night. She told them that they had already buried his corpse since the dead often did not remain at rest, which was especially true for the corpses of sorcerers. Erden distrusted the woman and demanded to see the grave. The sister obliged the request and led Erden and Droll outside the village to a small forest that was nearby. Erden sensed that the middle sister Soraya planned to betray them and suspected that she might be a witch so he grabbed the bundle of cloth he used to store the Spire Nekhaka in his pack. It felt right to have it close at hand since he knew he was not a strong fighter. But his tongue was sharp and he remembered the legend spoken by Dalb that nobody could deny a request from anyone wielding the spire. If true, that was bound to be useful. They were led into a small glade filled with simple grave mounds and the middle sister turned around, still she only showing her eyes through her thick robes and veils. Suddenly she drew a knife and at the same time four big orcs armed with scimitars and shields appeared from the bushes around them. They had been lured into a trap. Droll drew his sword and met the orcs with surprising heroism, yelling at Erden to save himself. Erden had an ace up his sleeve however, and he chose to reveal it instead of abandoning his brave goblin friend. His triumphant moment was interrupted for as he drew the spire he was knocked to the ground by one of the orcs trying to grapple him. Erden rolled away and twisted before raising the spire as high as he could. He adopted the voice of a nobleman as he bellowed. 

“Stop this at once and hear me out for I am a wealthy King! Work for me instead and I will pay you in gold, unlike this hag that you are currently doing the bidding of!”

The orcs hesitated, charmed by the magic of the spire and instead of fighting they started haggling like mad. Erden promised the orcs four gold coins each for betraying the youngest sister Soraya and so they did. Incredulous at what was happening the Sister did not even think of fleeing before her own orc lackeys attacked her and chopped one of her legs off. But as soon as the orcs turned their backs on Erden he ran as fast as he could with Droll following him, not far behind. When the orcs realized that the wealthy king ran away they took up the chase, screaming at him that they would get their gold one way or another. But as they reached the edge of the forest they did not dare follow further for they knew that in the village there were powerful warriors that would not like to have orc bandits so close to their walls. Erden and Droll were happy to have gotten away. They thought that Nobel was most likely in trouble and might still be held by the remaining sisters. They also knew that the sisters were under the protection of the thieves guild so did not dare to attack them directly. Instead they decided to find Belladonna since they knew she was a sneaky sort and could be of great help in saving their sorcerous friend.

They went straight to the church as that was the last place they knew she had been, but on the way there they met with one of the village hunters. He had a slavering hound shackled with a chain and claimed to be searching for Belladonna. He wondered if Erden or Droll had seen her as she was suspected of having performed heresy. Erden and Droll said they had not seen her and that, in fact they barely knew her. She was just some weird old lady they met on the way to Grindbone. The hunter was placated and continued his search as Erden and Droll continued to the church. As they flung up the doors they saw her, standing in a ray of light streaming down from the rafters. Her knife was bloodied and raised high, but as she heard them enter she hesitated and the dying priest at her feet started groveling. He prayed that the gods would spare him. He cursed everyone close claiming that the gods would strike them down. And then he laughed as he croaked.

“The Iron Guard will be here soon, I could have saved you but now you are doomed. They ride night and day, never resting and never sleeping... “

His words were cut off with a gurgling sound as Belladonna executed the man.

End of chapter 7
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Re: [SPOILERS] Campaign Chronicle - A Tall Tale of Five Exiles.

Mon 27 May 2019, 23:21

Chapter 8: Even the land obeyed

Burzob had spent the morning repairing his shield in the primitive smithy owned by Captain Kratullos and as he emerged from the warmth of the hut into the midday sun he thought to himself that he could really get used to this life. Being in the city watch was not so bad. It was hard work for sure but it led to good things and besides, a large part of the job consisted of cracking the skulls of slavers and thieves. You also got to eat and wash every day and there were even some orcs in the group to share banter and orcish jokes with. There was only one thing that ruined the whole. The slave trade. Burzob had not been to the sacrifice during the night as he hated how the slaves were treated here. Something had to be done about that, he thought. He had heard during the morning that Belladonna was suspected for heresy and that a group of hunters were looking for her. He was not surprise. Belladonna did not seem like a trustworthy sort. Burzob could not help but feel a strange kinship with her though. They had entered these forbidden lands together and during their trials at weatherstone they had become a tribe or clan of sorts. That was something Burzob had never had before. His thoughts were interrupted as he saw Erden and Droll walking towards him. By the looks on their faces something was clearly wrong so he pointed towards the smithy and led them there to speak in private. They explained to him what had happened since they last met and that now they needed his help. It was a long litany of troublesome things. Burzob could hardly believe his ears when he heard that Nobel was missing and that the sisters soraya where in league with orcish brigands. The fact that Belladonna had killed the priest did not surprise him however considering the rumor he had heard. Also the priest clearly deserved to die. Erden and Droll told him that they had hidden Belladonna at the foot of the castle at the top of the village. Burzob agreed to help with finding the truth regarding Nobel and since Belladonna could not move freely around the village and Erden and Droll were known to the sisters Soraya, he realized that he would not get any help from his friends. Instead he brought one of the orcs from Captain Kratullos Guardsmen with him, a man named Churgan who was stronger than he was wise. He was a reliable sort however, smaller than Burzob and quite obedient. Burzob liked him. Erden and Droll went to the Tavern, saying that they needed to lay low and have a drink. 

Burzob went to the church first. He feared there would be evidence there that implicated Belladonna that would reflect badly upon him. If there was he intended to destroy it. Outside he discovered two thugs from the thieves guild who appeared to be guarding the place. He passed them by saying he was with captain Kratullos and had been sent to investigate. Burzob was not as dumb as others might think. Belladonna had made it seem like the priest had taken his own life,  but by looking at the bloodstains around the podium it was apparent that the suicide was more likely a murder. He smeared the blood stains and also took the opportunity to rob the church of a small lockbox that seemed to contain valuables. Then he went to the sisters hut. Churgan warned him that the sisters had protection from the thieves guild and that he was a bit afraid of them. He told Burzob that they smelled funny in a good way and it made him nervous. Burzob dismissed the warnings and taunted Churgan by calling him a coward and thus got him to come along to the hut.  

At the hut, the youngest sister soraya stopped him by the gate in the small fence. On the yard outside the hut sat several men obviously sick with fever and shakes. The youngest sister claimed that a sickness was spreading and when Burzob demanded to enter the hut to search for his friend the youngest sister said that he had no right and that if he forced himself in the door she would be forced to scream for the thugs at the thieves guild who were not at all far away. Burzob shoved her aside and kicked down the door and the youngest sister made good on her word which drew the attention of two men who came running to stop the assault. Burzob yelled for Churgan to capture the screaming medicine woman and so he did, grappling her with her arms behind her back.

In the hut was Nobel, sitting at a desk with a stack of papers seemingly strong and healthy. He was writing something in a large book and was rather surprised by seeing his orcish friend barreling through the doors. Beside him stood the oldest sister Soraya. She drew a knife and warned Burzob that what he was doing was folly. The orc did not listened as his blood started boiling, battle lust raging through his veins. He drew his sword, charged and managed to cut down the old woman before she had the chance to escape. As she fell her veils parted and Burzob realized that the old woman was in fact an orc. He was stunned and distraught, why would they masquerade like this? Then the thugs made it to the doorway, and they did not ask any questions. Nobel slayed one of them with a curse and Burzob cut down the other as the youngest sister broke free from Churgans grip and went running down towards the village center. Burzob took up the chase and Nobel tried to sneak away around the house before any more violent men appeared. Burzob caught the orcish girl and intended to capture her but killed her by accident. Belladonna who was hidden in the cliffs above the sisters hut saw the whole thing happen and when six more thugs came running out of the thieves guild to apprehend Burzob she decided to try and run in to help him. Chaos ensued, Burzob fought like a mad beast, slaying thieves to the left and right, but he was terribly wounded in the process. The word of the fight spread around town and when Erden and Droll heard of the commotion they decided they had to do something. The Slavers Guild also heard what was happening and arrived at the same time as Erden and Droll. From the thieves guild hall Undar Alderman stepped out weilding a great warhammer and armor. From the slopes to the east came Misela Illumar riding a large warhorse and weilding a loaded crossbow with one hand and a flail with the other. From the slopes below them they could hear the screaming of Captain Kratullos, begging everyone to stop the fighting and to try talking things out. Then Erden drew the spire from his pack and bellowed:

“Stop this fighting at once! I demand that you let us leave for I am the rightful king of this land. In the woods I have an force of a hundred men that will burn this town to the ground if you do not let me gather my friends and leave!”

The thieves and the slavers stopped their fighting as they were spellbound by the magic of the spire but Undar “the Duke” Alderman was a sly one and not so easily fooled. He questioned Erden. Pointing out the holes in his lies in front of the others. 

“Do you take me for an idiot you dirty aslene? Do I look like a man born with mud in his head where a mind should be? You are not king just as I am no fool. I thought we were friends and then you let your unruly beast of a companion slay my wise women in broad daylight? I am willing to forgive you however, for that is a mighty rod of gold you hold over your head. Give it to me and I shall consider your debts paid.”

Misela was also not fooled and seeing as this was as good a chance as any to crush her rivals in the thieves guild she also gave the party and offer:

“You all seem quite capable warriors, kingsmen or not. I implore you to not to listen to the lies of Undar Alderman. He is a cheat and a coward, work for me instead and I will let you live in luxury under my roof. Kill Undar and give his power to me and all that is mine will be yours”

The tension was thick in the air as Undar and Misela gathered their men with Erden and the rest of the exiles caught in the middle. Burzob was heavily wounded from the fight with the thieves guild. They had stabbed him through his armor and blood was pooling at his legs. Neither Belladonna, Droll or Nobel felt confident in fighting so many men at once. Kratullos kept screaming for this idiocy to stop. Just when Undar was to call the attack Erden once again raised his spire. He had noted that the spire had a hook at the bottom, like a standard made for being set in the ground. Remembering the stories that even the land itself obeyed the will of the one wielding the spire of rule he thrust it into the ground and ordered the land to swallow the thieves guild.

With a crack and a rumbling the land responded. 

A fissure formed from the spire to the guildhall in the blink of an eye before the ground erupted in an explosion of rock and dirt. Seconds passed like minutes in the chaos as people fled, panic in all directions. When the dust settled the entire thieves guild hall had been swallowed up and Undars corpse lay among the rubble, unmoving.

Misela and Kratullos were stunned. Their men afraid. This kind of sorcery was unheard of amongst them and they feared that Erden could call up his power again. Nobody stopped the exiles as they gathered their things and left. They were in fact given a gift of five riding horses by Misela who realized that it would not be wise to part ways as enemies with one who could make the land swallow a whole house. Just before they left, Burzob ran back and stole the only surviving sister Soraya, the eldest one. She was unconscious, wounded in the chest after being stabbed by Burzob. She seemed to have trouble breathing. It was late in the evening so they did not ride far before setting up camp for the night, still in sight of the walls of Grindbone.

They rested uneasy and did not make a fire out of fear of riders from Misela. Maybe she would have a change of heart. They interrogated the old orc woman and found out her name to be Shelur. She was saddened when hearing of the deaths of her sisters but did not despair, remaining oddly calm. She explained that she and her sisters were loyal to the emperor Hroka of the Urhur Kingdom to the north and that they needed wise and learned men who had knowledge of how to read, write and run a kingdom. She said that she could lead the exiles there and promised that they would not be harmed by the emperor as long as they sweared him loyalty and let him learn what they knew. If they refused her offer however, she said that they would have no help from her and that she feared neither pain nor death for she was very old. Burzob was keen on the idea to meet a whole kingdom of his kinsmen, the others were a bit more weary but they felt short of options. The only other settlements they knew of in the vicinity were the Hagglers House which they knew was a gathering place for the rust church. They still had brother Ferebalds map but it showed only the south western quarter of ravenlands whole and Ferebalds notes on the map showed no other settlements that seemed hospitable. Shelur Soraya was a knowledgeable woman and could tell them about many places on the map. The castle at the shores of lake Clay called Halls of Hordeolum was according to legends the castle of an old wizard who had built it for protection before the coming of the demon flood in ancient times. It was a cursed place and the exiles did not feel it was a place they wanted to visit. They did not bother with studying the map too closely and instead decided to travel north in the morning and go to the orcs even though the promise of a safe haven seemed too sweet to be true.

As they next day approached Belladonna was sitting on top of a nearby hill keeping watch over the land. She noted riders approaching from the west and felt a cold shiver run down her spine. She recognized them as the Iron Guardsmen who had come to weatherstone in search of Erden about a week past. She understood them to be extremely dangerous and realized that it would not take long for the people of grindbone to reveal to the riders in which direction she and her friends had fled. Her heart was heavy as she felt she owed a great debt to her new friends who had protected her despite her murderous impulses in the village. She woke only Droll, leaving the other to their rest. To him she explained that she would divert the riders, luring them away so Droll and the rest could escape without notice. Droll agreed to take watch as Belladonna rode away towards Grindbone to meet the riders by herself.

She rode to the gates and started yelling for the riders had already passed inside the town. She yelled that she had information about Erden and would tell everything she knew and soon the twelve riders came out to greet her, their rusted armors creaking with a sorrowful tune as they approached. The leader raised his visor and revealed his set of four eyes, the extra pair were attached to his cheekbones. With a raised hand not bearing a weapon he approached Belladonna with a saw toothed smile on his face. 

“Please tell us all you know little dwarf, and we will spare your life after you have repented your sins in front of the true gods.”

Before she had ridden out Belladonna had poisoned a throwing dagger she had taken from Undar Aldermans corpse and now she saw the time to use it. As the leader of the riders approached with his visor raised Belladonna begged him to come even closer before throwing her dagger, aiming for the riders exposed face. The dagger missed, bouncing of the knights helmet and falling to the ground along with Belladonnas confidence. She saw the riders and their frightful horses surround her and realized that she could not escape them. Despair gripped her soul as she froze in place. 

A while later, Droll was perched on the top of the hill, his eyes towards Grindbone. Outside the village he could see the black riders throw a snare over a tree in the distance, and in the midday sun the silhouette of a small dwarven woman was raised to hang from its tallest branch. He did not shed any tears, that would have to wait for the riders would do the same to him as they had to Belladonna if they caught him. Of that he had no doubt. He woke his friends and together they fled to the north, leaving Grindbone and the corpse of their  homicidal dwarven friend behind them. She was never buried.

The following day they rode through the Arina forest guided by the words of Shelur Soraya. Their hearts were heavy by the news of Belladonna's death. They swore to her impulsive stupidity. Burzob had many questions for the wizened woman, and she responded with what she knew. The news of a whole city full of orcs fascinated Burzob and he started nurturing dreams of proving his worth to the orcish emperor and maybe getting the chance to have children. It worried him that Shelur was clearly getting weaker as time passed. It seemed she had caught the disease that broke in Grindbone just before they left the village. Nobel realized that he was probably responsible for that, thinking about the ritual he had performed in the woods outside of the town and the strange presence he had felt in the smoke and in his blood. He did not let anyone know of it. The others were not so keen on going to find the orcs, but it seemed as good a place as any since Shelur assured them that the rust church had no power in Hrokas kingdom.

During the day they encountered a group a flagellants making their way toward Hagglers House but managed to avoid a confrontation with them. The closeness to to that legendary ritual site made them wary so they decided to press on to the north, into the darker parts of the forest to not get any closer to that ill fated place. After resting in a glade for the night Erden was taking the morning watch when he heard a strange rumbling song through the bushes.

“Toil and trouble, trouble and toil
Boil and bubble, bubble and roil
Baste it with butter and grease it with oil
Hurry be quick before for it will spoil
Toil and trouble, trouble and toil.”

He became curious and snuck away from the camp to get a better look at the singer. As he crept up through the bushes he caught sight of an ogre, just as it was sitting down on a mossy knoll. The ogre had a fat belly and strong arms. Its hair was black, long and  stripy. In a sack he carried what seemed to be a struggling man. The ogre beat the man in the sack with a club telling him to shut up. Once the man did so the ogre put the sack on the ground and then sat down himself. Then he started eating from a wheel of cheese he had strapped to his belt. Erden was charmed by the high humored brute and decided to approach, wielding his shark-like smile a his only weapon. The ogre was delighted by Erden as they picked up the ogre song together. It was instant friendship. Erden figured that the ogre could be a useful ally in the future if those creepy riders found them again. He brought the ogre back to camp.

The ogre was named Bork and was a happy fellow. He charmed the others by showing that the man in the sack was a rust brother he had captured and they all took part in breaking his bones with big rocks, it was a merry occasion for by this time they had learn to hate the rust church deeply. After the job was done they drank the last of the wine they had taken from castle Weatherstone and poured some of it on the ground for Belladonna. She was truly a mad one in life. They prayed that she would find peace in death. Burzob took part in the stoning of the rust brother but did not like the ogre as Burzob was jealous. He hated not being the strongest one in the group. He saw Bork as a liability and decided to speak with Nobel about it. Together they started conspiring that they should kill the ogre in his sleep. 

Bork invited them all to join him in Ravenhole just a few days journey to the north west. As Shelur Soraya had fallen unconscious by the disease they had no other guide and Erden was keen on recruiting a few more more ogres to do his bidding. Little did they know that their travels would not lead them to neither orcs nor ogres, at least not for now. When travelling in the forests of Ravenland you are at the mercy of the gods of chance.

End of Chapter 8