Towering effectiveness

Surveying the scene of carnage, we brushed ourselves down, checked that none of us were still on fire, and then decided to investigate the tower.  The main doors looked completely blocked by rubble, and it was obvious that the main point in ingress was a window on the first floor, accessed via the scaffolding.  Heroically, despite my heavy wounds and missing eyebrows, I sneaked up onto the scaffolding and peered in through the window, which had been enhanced with a set of wooden steps leading up to it, proving that the cultists were using this as their primary access route.  Within was a chamber lit by eight torches and filling the entire floor of the tower.  Although, actually there wasn’t much in the way of a floor – most of it was missing, leaving a large hole into the rubble cluttered interior of the tower.  There were three occupants – two more of the guards we had seen and a strange, red-haired dwarf.  There were also some stairs going up to the floor above.

I dispatched Blinky to go and look in at the windows of the two floors above.  The one immediately above us was a dormitory, with a number more sleeping guards.  Above that was a study, with a wizardy type studying tomes up there.  I returned to my companions and relayed this information to them, which lead to a particularly long, and sotto voce debate on the best thing to do.  Various options were examined and discarded – fighting everyone at the same time; climbing the tower and fighting the wizard first, then working our way down floor by floor, all sorts of crazy ideas.  In the end we decided to attack the three on the first floor, while I cast Fog Cloud on the floor above so that anyone who woke up hearing the fight below would find it difficult to find the stairs and come down to help their friends.

We executed the plan and dashed in.  The fight was fairly short – one of the guards tried to escape by jumping through the hole in the floor, but the strange dwarf and the other guard rapidly fell to our swords, and even the escaping guard was dispatched with arrows by Feyabelle.  There were some strange creatures clearing rubble in the foundations of the tower that ignored us, so we decided to ignore them in return.  That saw them, it did.

We ascended the stairs and I cleared my Fog Cloud, and Arielle and I then started dispatching the sleeping guards above.  This didn’t go entirely according to plan, and they started waking up, but we still finished them off, but not before alerting the wizard on the floor above.  The wizard, who turned out to be some sort of Archdruid (the beard made it obvious), came storming down the stairs and started casting spells at us, starting with Sorrel’s favourite – Spike Growth.  I slipped under the stairs and hid so that I could make a sneak attack as he came past, using my Dagger of Venom.  Next round he gave a puff on his pipe and the smoke that came out transformed into smoky imps that attacked Arielle.  I prepared myself to attack him, but the others came piling up the stairs though and ruined everything by killing him before I got a change.  I did nick his pipe though.

We are now having a ruffle through the papers on his desk in his study above, and looting the place.  Hey, its what we do best.

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Poetry in motion

After hearing my account of the situation at the top of the hill, Sorrell decided that we should go and introduce ourselves to the two druids up there, and maybe find out what was going on. We therefore climbed the final stretch of the hill and started through the gap in the wall. I kept myself partially hidden in the shadows however, so that if things went wrong I would be able to intervene from a more unexpected direction.
Things started going wrong pretty rapidly however. Sorrell started with a fairly innocuous greeting to the druids, and expressed a wish to know more about the Circle of the Scarlett Moon. The response from one of the druids was a fireball spell lobbed right into the centre of the party. I was blasted off my feet by it, and severely wounded, and I noticed that Sorrell was similarly hurt. The other three seemed to be in better shape. Instinct took over at this point, as we all leapt into action. Feyabelle had her bow drawn in a single action and had loosed two arrows into the priest who was chanting. Arielle stepped into the shadows behind the wall and stepped out of the shadows on the scaffolding behind one of the guards, striking him from behind with surprise. I used one of my spells to create an illusion of a water elemental coalescing out of the group and surging towards the wicker man, which served to distract the first priest. Sorrell cast her Thorngrowth spell under the feet of the two priests and Thorg then used his Ring of the Ram to hit the chanting priest with a mighty force-punch. The combination of damage from the ram and the thorns was enough to kill that priest, but the other one quickly took up the chanting in his place. Arielle stepped away from the guard who had struck at her, and out of the shadows on the far side of the tower, striking the guard on that side who was similarly bewildered and failed to strike her with his sword. Feyabelle shot now at the first guard, who was wondering where Arielle had disappeared to. I attempted to fire a Ray of Frost at the priest, but missed, and his chanting now took effect as a fire elemental surged forwards from the wicker man. That didn’t stop Thorg cutting him down with a couple of blows from his sword though. Almost immediately, another guard with two flame-breathing hounds appeared from behind the pile of rubble next to the tower, where Arielle was continuing her mad jumping from shadow to shadow, as the guards desperately slashed at thin air. Seeing the threat to Thorg, I used a Web spell to pin down the hounds and the new guard. Meanwhile, he unleashed a flurry of mighty blows on the fire elemental, which fortunately was distracted by the illusiory water elemental that it obviously perceived as a greater threat. The guards on the scaffolding having been dispatched, Feyabelle turned he arrows on the hell-hounds, and felled them both as they struggled to free themselves from the webbing. The guard did free himself just as Thorg dispatched the fire elemental, and proved to be the next item on his menu. Suddenly there were no foes left standing. The whole fight had probably only lasted half a minute or so, in a whirlwind of destruction and mayhem. We were bloodied, badly singed in many cases (although our new druid friends had performed miracles to get Sorrell and myself back on our feet), but victorious.

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I can’t remember much because I was there, man

Back in Red Larch, Sorrel had been hearing rumours of a new druidic circle, called the Circle of the Scarlet Moon, who were going to be holding a ritual in the Sumber Hills to end the unusual weather. We decided that this needed investigating so joined some of the other townspeople in journeying into the Sumber Hills to find the location of the ritual. We found a hill with a tower on top, and a great wicker man, and many people camped around it. Sorrel and Feyabelle investigated, accompanied by me invisibly, while Thorg and Arielle waited hidden at the base of the hill. The first camp had a group of druidic followers, Varigo, Mahoon, Iniri and Fariya,  who welcomed us and shared their mead and wine with us.  They seemed dangerously naive about the whole event – but then we have more experience of the dangers of the Sumber Hills and the restless evil that we now know sleeps below it.  We expressed a wish to see more of the encampment, and Varigo accompanied us as he said he would take us to hear a minstrel who was camped further up the hill.
The next campfire had two more men, with a chained bear. Sorrel was very disturbed by this, and asked the bear if it was OK and well looked after. The men objected to Sorrel talking to their bear, and one attacked him with a spell. We attacked back, and I untied the bear (while invisible), which ran off, along with one of the two men, the other one having been killed by Sorrel in bear shape.  The running off was rather disappointing, as I hoped that the bear would cause a bit more excitement before it left.  Varigo was rather disturbed by the sudden outbreak of violence, so we rapidly moved on, leaving the dead man, as we expected anyone finding it to blame it on his bear. We were on our guard now though, as we had found the symbol of the fire cult on the dead man’s body.
On the way up the hill we bypassed another fire that our new friend said was occupied by two hairy and unfriendly men. We passed through another camp, with a somewhat friendly lady druid, and three rather nervous looking ranger-types. Not wishing for further incident, we hurried on. We finally reached the campfire with the minstrel, Gariena, who was accompanied by sprites.  Gariena welcomed us and we watched the sprites dancing. She was impressed to hear our tales of derring-do against the elemental cults in the area and gave us magical scrolls to aid us.
After that, I continued to climb the hill alone, and invisible, and found the courtyard at the top, with broken walls around the old tower, and the wicker man.

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A revealing interlude

While enjoying ourselves back in Red Larch and availing ourselves of all the amenities on offer (and I mean all of them), we, or rather I, as the most charismatic member of the group, was approached by a young halfling who introduced himself as Watson. He explained that he was a member of a family that owned a ranch up to the north, and were suffering from the attentions of a fire witch. He had been dispatched by his father down to Red Larch to find someone to help them deal with this fire witch, who was apparently living in an old Urthgart barrow that adjoined their land. I told him that he had come to exactly the right place, as my friends and I were just the sort of heroes that he was looking for, having had much recent experience fighting off just the sort of problems that his family was dealing with. I still needed a day or two to copy spells into my spellbook however, so we agreed that we we would accompany him back home upon the morrow’s morrow.
On the designated day then we set out for the Nettlebee Ranch on our hippogriffs, with Watson riding pillion with me. The journey would rather have been uneventful, but that was not to be, for we were intercepted near the Sumber Hills by a knight of the Order of Feathergale Spire, accompanied by four cultists of the Howling Hatred. Obviously our efforts against the cult of the air had not been as devastating to us as we would have wished. Having met both Knights and Howling Hatred before, we were possibly over contemptuous of their abilities, as the fight that followed was hard indeed. All of the cultists of the Howling Hatred proved to be potent spell casters, throwing lightning bolt after lightning bolt at us, and forcing us to spread out in order to avoid them catching more than one of us at a time with their bolts. We decided that the best tactic was to target their mounts (for they were flying on giant vultures) and this did indeed prove the best strategy, if a little underhand. They were rapidly dispatched, and their riders then had to chose between attacking us and saving themselves, mainly choosing the former. The only rider to save himself from falling to his death was the knight, and we quickly hunted him down on the ground and dispatched him.
We thus arrived at Nettlebee Ranch in a rather battered state, but a night’s rest soon restored us. We questioned Bertram (the father) and Wiggan (the grandfather) about the fire-witch and they explained that she was preying on their cattle, who were marked with strange brands and drained of blood, while the area of grass around the barrow had been burned and scorched.  Armed with this information, but at the same time with a strange feeling about the family, we trekked our way across to the barrow on the far hill above the ranch. It was an hour’s walk to get there, and when we did we were surprised to see that the grass looked like it had been scorched much more recently than the ranchers had said. The entrance was obvious however, with the huge stone that had covered it split in two. We ventured down the long tunnel that led into the heart of the barrow. Once in there, we fund a trefoil chamber with an altar in each niche, and a great bier in the centre. As we entered, the chamber lit up with a blue light, and a spirit appeared before us, of a tall, powerfully built man with great antlers on his head. He accused us of having desecrated his tomb, to which we hastily replied that we had no such intent, but were here to punish any who had desecrated it. He told us that those who had desecrated it were waiting outside, and at that moment the tunnel to the exit collapsed and an earthen figure errupted from the floor. We leapt into action against the earthen figure and defeated after a hard struggle for many of our weapons seemed to cause it no damage at all. At the same time the spectral figure, who had named himself as Javor, was clearing the tunnel of earth and we rapidly emerged with him on the outside of the barrow. We proceeded cautiously for we feared an ambush by the desecrators, but there was no one there.
Javor then explained that his desecrators were in the ranch below, and that he had summoned some of his people, led by a fearsome chieftain called Fennor, to come and punish them for their outrage.  Thorg asked how many of the family had actually desecrated the barrow and on finding out that there were only two of them, bargained with Javor for the lives of the innocent members of the family.  He offered to bring out the two guilty parties if the rest of the family were spared.  The spirit was happy with that but said that Fennor and her barbarian followers were less likely to accept it.  When they arrived, Thorg faced down Fennor, who as anticipated preferred a more direct approach of destroying the ranch and all its inhabitants.  In the end he agreed with her that the innocent members of the family would be spared provided we delivered the two guilty parties to them, but that the barbarians could also take all the branded cattle was recompense for the injury done.
The deal concluded, Thorg, Alleria and I proceeded to the farmhouse.  Sorrel and Feyabelle stayed on the hill above for they felt that the lives or deaths of petty halflings were not something that they cared to risk themselves for.  Indeed I felt that Sorrel’s sympathies possibly lay more with the barbarians, and Feyabelle regarded their punishment as a repayment for the danger that they had put us in.  Thorg however was implacable in his belief that the innocent should not be punished for the crimes of the guilty, and I was unable to standby and see innocent children and babes slaughtered for crimes that they could have no part or knowledge of.  We entered the house, and found the family cowering in the cellar. We descended and told them what we now knew, and presented them with an ultimatum. Either they would surrender the two guilty parties and the rest of them, including the children could go free, or they would all die. The children looked terrified, while most of the adults looked scared but defiant, although Alleria spotted Jayne the mother looking at her husband and father-in-law with an accusing glance. Confident that she now knew who the two desecrators were, she told Thorg, who challenged them directly to come out and save their children.  They denied everything, and when Thorg pressed them, Wiggan suddenly attempted to cast a spell upon them. Realising that negotiation was now futile, we smacked their asses (helped by me, who had been lurking invisible in the corner of the cellar the entire time). Beating Wiggan and Bertram unconscious (despite Jayne’s pleadings to save them), we carried them upstairs, having persuaded Watson and Jayne that this was their only chance of survival. Watson accompanied us upstairs and told us that his father and grandfather had changed recently, and were under some sort of influence. He led us up to the study, where we found a pile of correspondence from various members of the evil elemental cults, including a directive to bring us here and deal with us on the pretext of dealing with a fire-witch. When he realised that this was all a set-up and that he was a pawn in his father’s plans, Watson become convinced that we needed to hand them over. Since Javor and Fennor were by this time demanding the desecrators and hammering on the doors, we threw them out through the door for Fennor and the barbarians to deal with.
Javor however still demanded that we must also return the treasures stolen from his tomb. We were unable to find them, but he led us inexorably to a hidden niche in the cellar wall where we found a locked box. We, being Thorg, Arielle and I, for Sorrel and Feyabelle were still determined not to get involved, carried it up to the barrow, passing the slaughtered corpses of Bertram and Wiggan, where I managed to open the lock. Within we found various statuettes from the tomb, which we returned, along with some money, which we returned to Watson and Jayne, and a rather handy bag of holding which I slipped into my pouch when Thorg was not looking.  Watson noticed it was missing when we returned the chest (with all the money still in it – I thought that they needed that to get themselves back on their feet again having lost so many of their cattle, and it’s not like I don’t already have more gold than I can drink), but I kept a straight face and told them that the spirit had taken it as part of his recompense.  A lie, certainly, but I felt that I deserved some small reward for the risk that we had taken in saving the lives of most of the Nettlebees.  I also felt that they had some culpability in tolerating the crimes of Wiggan and Bartram.
After all this, we, reunited now as a full group, left Watson and the remaining Nettlebees, having done the best we could for them in the circumstances.  We did at least make sure that the barbarians had left before we left to return to Red Larch, although I feel that Jayne certainly still held considerable ill-will towards us.

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Pro-Am Celebrity Greased Bear Wrestling

The door crashed open, and two stone-armoured men with clubs strode in, followed by another with a glaive.  I was expecting some sort of disturbance of this kind, although I had neglected to hide in the corner.  Nonetheless, I had a strategy, which consisted primarily of casting Grease on the area around the doorway, both within and without the room.  The spell was fairly effective however, as the bloke with the glaive at the back went sprawling.  This didn’t stop him casting a spell however, and both Arielle and Sorrel found themselves wading through metaphorical treacle.  Feyabelle started shooting at the men in stone armour and a general melee ensued.  The proceedings were enlivened however when Sorrel lumbered slowly across the room towards the prone glaive-wielding spellcaster who had slid into the room in order to cast another spell on us (this one caused a minor earthquake).  Sorrel, unable to attack normally because of the slippery floor, opted instead for a full-body lunge, hoping to pin the spell-caster to the floor.  He soon felt the full force of a large brown bear on him, but, greased up by the floor, instead of being trapped, pinged out to the side like a bar of soap.  We where then treated, while we finished off the two stone-armoured men, to the hilarious site of a large bear and a wizard wrestling with each other in the grease pit by the door.  The bear finally got the better of the encounter, as was probably always inevitable, but I feel that we may yet have invented a whole new form of entertainment.

As we were finishing off the wizard, the next wave arrived – four more of the monkish types.  They leaped gracefully over the greasy floor and even greasier bear, although one was caught a glancing blow by one of Sorrel’s claws and went sprawling into the corner.  The fight against these monks was rapid and fairly one sided, and they were soon dispatched.  We had a brief rest while we waited for the effects of the Grease spell to fade and then examined the rest of the rooms on this corridor.  We found more sleeping quarters, with various personal possessions, and then a deserted kitchen and bakery.  Beyond all of this, we found the large central temple, with stairs descending into the room with the strange captive.  We discovered that a lever behind the altar opened the cage that contained the creature and converted the steps into a steep slope.  Obviously a fiendish device to trap unwary adventurers with the creature below.  Fortunately we are not unwary.

A plan was rapidly hatched, whereby we would descend and kill the thing in its cage by attacking it with missile weapons and spells.  Arielle stayed topside to prevent anyone sneakily pulling the lever while we were down there.  Feyabelle’s first step was to cast Thorn Growth centered on the creature.  I then zapped it with a Magic Missile.  Its response to this was to smash open the door of the cage, which wasn’t something that had featured in our plans.  Thorg used his ring of the Ram to hit it with a spectral ram’s head and force it backwards through the thorns.  Feyabelle shot at it; I shot another magic missile and then scampered up the stairs, wisely it turned out as it then charged towards us through the field of thorns.  Despite it, it seemed to show no signs of having taken any damage, although only one of its attacks against Thorg actually hit.  Sorrel then retreated up the stairs as well, preparing to cast another Thorn Growth spell once Thorg had attacked and then retreated – the plan that had developed was that we would retire up to the temple and trigger the trap, since this creature was obviously as much as we could handle in our depleted state.  Thorg took a final swing, and decapitated the creature…

We rapidly examined the area, and discovered some stairs descending of obviously dwarven make – this must be the entrance to the dwarven city below.  Deciding that we were too fatigued to continue below, and remembering that we had a number of captives to rescue, we decided not to descend.  We gathered our captives and the corpse of the knight up, and returned to the hideout where we had left our two loyal retainers and hippogriffs.  Then we returned on foot to Red Larch, since 5 hippogriffs could not possibly convey so many.

Great was the merrymaking when we returned, epic the tales I told, pounding the head the morning after.  Despite this, I have started transcribing the cache of scrolls I discovered into my spellbook – they have given me fresh insights into the magical arts, and some of them that I had formerly not fully comprehended are now understandable to me.

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After a rest in the crypt we decided to ascend to the upper level of the monastery to fulfil our promise to Renwick to rid it of the stone cultists.  We returned to the well room in order to use the stairs there, but on opening the door, were confronted by three of the evil grey dwarfs.  Thorg, for whom they are a mortal enemy, gave an oath and charged in – the fight was short, helped by some mighty blows from the enraged Thorg, although one of the grey dwarves was able to demonstrate their unnatural ability to grow in height, but was still cut down.

Fresh from this encounter we ascended the stairs and re-entered the distilling room quietly, hoping to surprise the two alchemists within.  We ourselves were surprised to find it completely empty of people, although we did find a large number of bottles of brandy, one of which I took for later use.   The room to the south proved to be equally empty, and some sort of fighting practice room, rather than the shrine we had assumed from the chanting we had heard from there previously.  It was while investigating the previously locked door on the other side of the corridor however that disaster struck. I had just completed picking the lock when the door opened, and I was struck hard, three times in a row, and sank to my knees under the flurry of blows.  Fortunately Thorg was behind me and leapt forward to protect me, while I discharged a volley from my wand of magic missiles and pulled back to nurse my wounds.  My assailant was a woman wearing an ornate eyeless bronze mask.  She twisted and struck with feline grace, but was no match for Thorg’s raw power, and indeed Arielle was able to strike with almost as much agility.  We soon overcame her, and dispatched her to her evil and depraved god.  Within her chambers beyond we found a scroll describing the rise of the prophet of evil earth, as well as some money.  Sorrell cast some healing magic on me, and we were able to continue.

The other two doors on this side of the corridor both opened onto the same long courtyard open to the sky.  There were two other side by side doors at the far end, and 4 large gargoyle statues on the northern side, flanking a gap which I assumed held the door to the temple that Blinky had seen earlier.  We didn’t fancy the look of the statues, so continued along the corridor and around the corner.  The doors on the south side of the corridor opened onto a deserted scriptorium, where we found some books that we thought might be of interest to Bruelthenor.  The door at the far end opened into the entrance hall of the monastery, which was equally deserted.  A door on the far side led into another corridor, with more doors on the south side.  This time though, when we opened the first door, we found a barracks room.  Two cultists were sitting at a table by the door, while another half dozen were asleep at the far end.  A sleep spell from me cast one of them into a deep slumber, and we rapidly dispatched the second, but his cry awoke the others, and so we were forced to fight them as the struggled up from their beds.  Again, they fought with the lithe grace that we had come to associate with Arielle.  Just as my companions had finished dispatching the last of them, the door to the room, which I had been watching, opened, and some stone-armoured figures entered the room…

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Down among the dead men

My companions were feeling somewhat fragile after the fight, so we decided to have a rest soon.  Resting in the chamber with the well seemed ill-advised though, as people might come down wanting some water, so we decided to look and see if we could find somewhere off the beaten track.  We threw the bodies down the well and I performed mighty feats of magic to get rid of the most egregious blood stains.  Obviously anyone coming in might be confused by the lack of the normal denizens of the chamber, but hopefully our intrusion would not be the obvious first explanation that would come to their minds.

Looking for a place to rest, we listened at and then opened the northern door.  Beyond was a short corridor with a crossroads, ending in a bronze door (no signs of rot).  We advanced to the cross-roads, and seeing nothing of interest down either branch, decided to have a short breather here.  After our rest, we advanced to the bronze door and entered the chamber beyond.  This proved to be a vast crypt, with decaying bodies propped in niches around the wall and a huge tomb at the eastern end.  As we entered the room, six of the corpses shuffled forward and attacked us, but were swiftly dispatched.  Having finished them off, we advanced on the tomb and were surprised to read the inscription on it, which announced that this was the tomb of Samular Caradoon.  We had always just assumed that he would be buried at Summit Hall.  Close investigation showed us that the lid had been recently moved, so we decided to open it up ourselves, heedless of the obvious possibilities that opening long-sealed tombs hold.  Obviously this one wasn’t long sealed, given it had been recently opened, but possibly that just increases the risks.  Anyway, heedless, as I said, of the obvious risks, and trusting in our own valour, we opened the tomb to find, not some undead monstrosity, or even the ancient corpse of Samular, but instead a much more recently dead knight of the Order of Samular.  This sparked a recollection in my mind, and I remembered that the delegation that we were trying to find had been escorting the body of a knight of the Order of Samular – obviously this was the self-same corpse.

We, however, had no wish to encumber ourselves with a corpse for the exploration of the rest of the monastery, so opted to leave him there while we continued to explore.  There was another bronze door on the south door, but this proved as impossible to open as the one on the floor above, and a brief fiddling with the maps showed that indeed they seemed to be in line with each other – possibly they opened into a staircase that connected one with the other.  I was still unwilling to risk one of the Knock spells from the scroll we had been given, since there was a good chance it it might fail and I wanted to retain at least one of them to transcribe into by spellbook at some time in the future.  For that reason we instead left through the door on the western wall.  This opened into another shortish corridor, which ended in an iron door.  We listened at this, and heard something beyond, so cautiously opened the door.

The chamber beyond was a large cavern with a floor partially of red earth.  The western end was barred off as a cell, with a stout iron door giving access through the bars, and a door on the far side.  Within the cage, fortunately, there was a hideous monster looking like a cross between an ape and a beetle, and with four eyes, one pair of which had been gouged out.  This creature started howling and crashing at the bars as it tried to get to us.  It was making a lot of noise, so we decided not to linger.  Before we left though, I sent Blinky up the broad set of steps to the south.  She reported that these led up into a large temple.

After this, we went back through the crypt and wandered through a maze of corridors which led around the original room with the well.  There were many branches and dead-ends – most of which showed evidence of recent working – it looked like the earth cultists were excavating the basement actively.  Finally we found three rooms that were filled with prisoners, who told us that they had been captured by the earth cult and set to work excavating for the earth cultists.  Among their number (seventeen it turned out) was a dwarf who introduced himself as Bruldenthar.  I remembered this name as being that of one of the emissaries from the north – a dwarven sage.  He confirmed that he was and proceeded to tell us much of the fate of the delegation (which I had initially failed to recall due to the many adventures I had partaken in recently, but then recalled as he mentioned them) – they were attacked by earth cultists and most guards were killed.  Some river pirates ferried them over the Dessarin river and were paid with his books. Later, the air cult attacked and stole away one of the prisoners.  He was put to work in the mines, and his other two companions had been taken down below to the ancient dwarven city of Tyar-Besil.  He also warned us that there were grey dwarves around who helped the cultists. He was relieved when I told him that we had recovered his books for him, and indeed had mercilessly slaughtered the river pirates and the air cult..

Having liberated the prisoners, we took them through the well-room and into the crypt, thinking of this as being the safest room in the complex, despite its macabre inhabitants (and although the earth cultists had obviously been there in order to place the dead knight).  At this point, it seemed likely to us that behind the unopenable doors probably lurked Samular’s brother Renwick Caradoon, who we had been told had transformed himself into a lich rather than die.  It would seem likely that he had retreated to the most decrepit part of the monastery and sealed himself in with Arcane Locks.  I used one of the Knock spells on the scroll to open the door, which it did.  We advanced up the stairs beyond.  Sat in a large laboratory at the top of the stairs was an ancient and desiccated corpse, whose eyes glowed with a keen blue light.  The sight was eerie and terrifying, but foreknowledge and expectation allowed us to master our fear.  Renwick was initially brusque and ordered us out, but I begged him to forgive our intrusion and mentioned our visit to the Knights of Samular at Summit Hall. This reminded him of his love for his brother and he forgot about compelling us to leave.  I established that he disliked the earth cultists occupying his monastery and had created a border with them that they did not dare cross, but would also be happy if they were removed.  He offered us a few ‘magical trinkets’, as he put it, if we would remove them, and also revealed that there was a stairway down to Tyar-Besil in the north-west corner of the basement – it seemed likely that this might be behind the door behind the monstrosity in the earth chamber. He did warn us that we might find the Earth Temple to be something of a challenge… With that he dismissed us and we promised to not disturb him again.  Relieved to have survived the encounter with so mighty and terrifying an interlocutor, we returned to the crypt to plan our next moves.

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We didn’t do that well

The next morning the elves arrived, late as usual.  We regaled them with more tales of our heroics the night before, and then departed on Cult Air back to Red Larch.  At Red Larch, Thorg toddled off to see if his new armour was finished, while the three elfesses drifted off to go and receive the accolades of the Emerald Enclave and Order of the Gauntlet.  I stayed in the bar of the Swinging Sword with Blinky, quaffing (and by Helm that owl can drink) and flirting with the barmaid.  The last laugh was on me though, as the three witches sashayed in thirty minutes later having received effusive but inedible thanks and a scroll with some spells on it that none of them could use (I’m guessing that no one in the Enclave or Order could use them either which is why it got palmed off on Huey, Dewey and Louie).  I had a quick look at it and instantly saw that it contained two castings of the Knock incantation, which isn’t one that I have in my spellbook yet, so offered to swap it for Reszur, the dagger of silence that we found in the catacombs under Red Larch a couple of weeks ago.  Arielle accepted on their behalf and pocketed the knife – I reckon I could probably have got it for less, but, hey, I’m feeling generous at the moment.  Soon after, a loud clanking noise heralded the appearance of Thorg.  He certainly looks better protected now, just not very quiet.

After a hard evening bringing the locals up to date with all our latest heroics, we rose relatively early and departed, initially for Womford where we picked up Therel and Theodorm.  The plan was that we would land some distance from the Sacred Stone Monastery and leave the hippogriffs hidden somewhere (maybe in a copse or cave) under their care.  We flew back to the Sumber Hills and put the first part of the plan, landing, into place.

The Sacred Stone Monastery turned out to be at the end of a long narrow defile in the hills, which opened into a natural amphitheatre ringed with cliffs.  The monastery stood in the centre, squat and ancient.  We circled round in the shadows at the base of the cliffs.  There was a garden at the rear, and one wing, next to it, looked dilapidated.  We decided that this was an obvious point of entry into the complex, as we would be less likely to be heard if it was deserted.  We snuck up to the garden gate and looked through the bars – the garden beyond looked overgown, and contained seven very lifelike statues, some caught in positions of fear and terror.  It seemed an unlikely subject for fine art, and a cult dedicated to stone seemed like the sort of people who might keep a basilisk for fun, so we decided not to investigate further.

Fortunately for us, there was another door to the east wing, on the far (southern) side from the garden.  It was not overlooked, so we were able to creep up to it unobserved as far as we were aware.  The door was locked, but I rapidly opened it.  The corridor beyond was dusty and unused, turning to the left thirty feet ahead.  A door to our immediate left revealed the sound of chanting when we listened at it, so we ignored it.  A door on the far wall of the corridor where it turned proved to be locked or barred, and with no keyhole on this side, so we ignored it.  Beyond the corner, the corridor entered an open area where four corridors joined.  Another door on our left also revealed the sound of chanting, so was also ignored.  A door to our right was unlocked, and opened carefully, to reveal a large room with several stills being warmed by large fires.  Two cultists were tending the fires, and did not see us open the door, so we closed it quietly and moved on.  The next door we chose was locked, and we were unable to open it.  The one next to it showed some stairs descending, which we took.  A landing ten feet down had some water buckets on it.  The stairs turned back on themselves and continued down, ending in a door.  We listened and heard some guttural grunting, but opened it anyway.

The room beyond contained a well, presumably the water supply for the monastery.  Several other doors opened into it, and in the centre, around the well, stood three orogs and an ogre.  One of the orogs asked for the pass sign.  None of us knew it, so Thorg, never one for complex negotiations, just charged in.  They proved to be tough and doughty opponents, and we were definitely rusty in the fighting department after several nights on the town, but Thorg was mighty with his (well, Thurl’s) greatsword, dispatching the ogre with a flurry of mighty blows, and I was dealing firebolts left, right and centre.  Before long, we stood victorious, if slightly bloody, on the field of battle — this is as much of this rubbish as I can take.  Blinky here, just to provide some objectivity in this account.  I have been summoned from the feywild by some pretty sad specimens in the past, but this lot take the biscuit.  Erky fired off about six firebolts and hit once I think.  I’ve met cuttlefish with more magical aptitude than he has.  And Thorg was lucky not to take Sorrel’s head off, some of his swings were so wild.  And the elves weren’t much better.  I’ve seen pixies that were more effective in combat.  Feyabelle might as well have been firing her arrows backwards for all the effect some of them had.  That said, when they did hit, they were pretty nasty.  And why is Sorrel fighting with a cricket stump?  Surely a battleaxe would fit the barbarian stereotype much better?  A truely sad, sad displa…  — right, that’s got that feather duster of an owl back in her cage.  As I was saying, I was truly heroic in the fight, and before long they all lay dead at our feet.  A rest is called for though, to lick our wounds, once we have checked what lies behind the doors.

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a Short-Chamber Boxer-Henry .45 calibre miracle

Our rest after the first attack was brief, but allowed us to tend to the wounded and get them into the farm house to rest.  Two of the three steaders with bows in Feyabelle’s group on the roof of the barn were wounded, so we moved one of the steaders on the roof of the forge across to help her out.

The next wave attacked in a similar manner, but with six orcs in each of the four groups.  This time, we started shooting at long range, and this time the two groups attacking from the west side didn’t even make it to javelin range before taking enough casualties to break off their attack and flee.  We switched our concentration of fire to the two groups attacking from the direction of the ridge.  Having concentrated on the other two, these groups did make it into javelin range, and a javelin killed one of the homesteaders on the roof of the barn – our first casualty of the encounter.  Another round of shooting, aided by some potent firebolts from me, broke the morale of both groups though, and they ran for the ridge.  We continued our fire as they fled though, and only one of the twelve in those two groups made it back to the ridge.

The two large orcs were still visible on the ridge and so, when another attack was not forthcoming, we had a short rest and sent Blinky to have a look and see what they were doing.  She reported that some of the orcs were resting, while others were piling branches, twigs and grass into heaps along the ridgeline under the direction of the two large orcs.  One of the large orcs only had one eye, which identified him as a devotee of Gruumsh, the orcish war god.  That might make him a potent opponent.  Blinky could only see around eleven orcs in addition to the two large ones though, which was good news.

We guessed that they might be going to use the piles as bonfires to generate a smoke screen, as the wind was blowing from that direction, and we were proved right about an hour and a half later.   The sun was setting in the west behind us, and this made it difficult for us to see far in the smoke that started filling our position, while probably silhouetting us against the sunset.  As the smoke closed down our vision, I leapt on my hippogriff and flew over towards the ridge.  It was unoccupied, so the attack had obviously started.  I landed and started to try and kick apart the fires and put them out with a combination of stamping and prestidigitation, while keeping a ear open for sounds of fighting from the farmstead.  For this reason, for the account of the fighting at the farmstead, I only have the testimony of my companions to rely on, which is obviously less reliable than my own keen memory.

Over at the farmstead, shapes suddenly loomed out of the smoke at close range.  Our shooting was sporadic and ineffectual in the smoke.  On the left flank, a great orc strode forward and brandished his fist in the direction of Thorg and the farmsteaders holding that rampart.  A spectral ram leapt from his fist and tore a great gap in the rampart.  Six of his orcish minions leapt forward past him for the gap, but Sorrel used her nature magic to cause thorns to erupt from the ground in a circle around the great orc.  Four of the orcs died as the great thorns torn their legs apart, and only two reached the remains of the palisade, where one was killed by Thorg.  The orc brandished his fist again and another spectral ram battered Thorg, flinging him backwards.  As he clambered to his feet and prepared to charge the orc, Sorrel outlined the great orc in a halo of light and a final volley of arrows from the scouts on the roof of the house (who had been sniping at him during the fight so far through the smoke) felled him where he stood.  The orc on that flank was swiftly dispatched by the spear-armed farmsteaders manning the barricade.

On the other flank, five orcs rushed the barricade.  Drina the druidess used her nature magic to cause entwining tendrils to erupt from the ground in front of the barricade, but only one of the orcs was restrained by them.  In their initial attack, the orcs killed all three of the farmsteaders manning the barricade, leaving only Erned and Allyria to hold that flank.  They dispatched two of the orcs in return however.  The one-eyed orc was also on that flank but did not advance, instead flinging some kind of spell at Feyabelle. It failed to affect her, and she shot him with an arrow in return.  The two dwarves manning the western barricade rushed across to help Erned, leaping over the barricade in their enthusiasm to get to grips with the orcs.  Between them, and Allyria and Erned, they killed the remaining orcs.  The Eye of Gruumsh however attacked Feyabelle with a huge spirit-axe, but despite the damage from that, she was able to fell him with a final volley of arrows.

Thus ended the seige of Dellmon Ranch.  We found a magical ring on each of the great orcs – one a Ring of the Ram (the effects of which we had already observed), and the other a Ring of Protection.  The farmsteaders offered us 25 gold pieces each for defending them, but having seen the devastation wrought on their homes and lives (and indeed the lives lost, although we had kept that to only four of them, which was not a bad exchange for forty-two orcs slain) we refused their money and suggested that they needed it more than we did to rebuild their lives.

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Feeling under attack

Having spent the night at Summit Hall, we departed on wing early in the morning, taking a packed breakfast with us.  After a couple of hours of flight, but too soon to have reached Dellmon Ranch by my reckoning, we saw a column of smoke rising from behind the next ridge.  Cautiously, I sent Blinky forward to have a look.  He returned and said that a farmstead was on fire up ahead, but with no signs of any raiders.  We moved up and landed a distance away as the hippogriffs were somewhat spooked by the flames.  Thorg barged through the open door of the burning stead itself, and found an unconscious half-elf with a head wound.  He carried him out, and as he did so, the half-elf stirred and muttered something about his wife.  Thorg did a rapid search of the blazing stead and the outbuildings and I sent Blinky to check the nearby area, but we found no other people of any race.  By now the victim had recovered somewhat, and told us that his name was Selwyn and that orcs had attacked the stead and seized his wife and two farmhands.  Blinky confirmed that there were obvious tracks of a wagon of some sort leading away to the north-east – in the direction of Dellmon Ranch.  Feyabelle rapidly set to following the tracks on foot, while we took to our steeds again and proceeded on wing, but flying low and well behind Feyabelle.  I sent Blinky out to scout well ahead, with orders to return if he saw anything.  He soon returned and reported that there was a wagon up ahead by a stand of trees, with two humans slumped against it and four orcs resting nearby.  I used a messaging incantation to relay this information to Feyabelle, and she snuck into a firing position over looking them.  We coordinated our attack so that as she let loose with her first volley, we swooped in and attacked at the same time.  The firefight was brief – Feyabelle’s arrows and my firebolts rapidly finishing them off.  We landed and released the captives, and then proceeded towards Dellmon Ranch at Selwyn’s request, as that was where all the local population were gathering having heard news that orcs were raiding nearby.  Thorg bared his shoulders and pulled the wagon alone the last couple of miles to Dellmon Ranch, making it look like he was just carrying a picnic basket.

Arriving at Dellmon, we saw much hustle and bustle as they prepared for the expected attack.  They had built earthen ramparts to connect the three buildings, and archery platforms on the roofs of the buildings.  Here we also found Ermon from Summit Hall, organising the defenders, who welcomed our arrival and asked us to help directing the defense.  Feyabelle confirmed that she could smell that there were many orcs nearby to the north-east, and closing rapidly, so we quickly prepared to be attacked.  I ascended to the firing platform on the main house, with four scouts armed with long-bows.  Feyabelle took the firing platform on the barn, with three commoners armed with shortbows.  Three more commoners with shortbows took the firing platform on top of the forge.  In the centre, Thorg and Ermon took the northern rampart, supported by Sorrel and [someone] (a fellow druidess), Arielle, and six commoners armed with spears, who made up in courage for what they lacked in skill.  The western rampart was taken by [Father] with four of his hearthguard, while the southern rampart was taken by [son] with the remaining three hearthguard.

The orc attack when it came was sudden and fast, but small.  There were only twenty of them, in four groups of five, and they attacked from all four directions at the same time.  We concentrated our fire from the roofs on the western and southern groups, and felled almost all of them.  Sorrel, Thorg and Ermon killed a few of the northern and eastern groups, and we wounded more as they withdrew.  They never closed to hand to hand combat, but rather just threw a single volley of javelins at us.  Several of us were wounded, but none severely or killed.  In contrast, fully eleven of the twenty lay dead when they pulled back, and they others had many wounds.  But they pulled back rather than fled – Feyabelle confirmed that there were many more, and we saw two much larger orcs on the ridge observing the attack – it was obvious that they were just probing our defenses and seeing how strong or weak we were, or whether we had any weak points.  I am sure that we have not seen the last of them by any means, but at the moment we are catching our breath and binding our wounds.

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