DunJohns and Dragons

A Dangerous Expedition

The party travelled to Astaroka's capital to meet with the Triumverate of Astaroka, Pule Volmi, Alfonzo and Natalia Volg, and Dwarven Princess Kiri Forgemantle. They were rewarded in gold for helping defend Throughway Keep. The evening was productive, but had its share of friction:

- The party helped settle a long-standing argument between Sybil and Illaryia Astaroka over resettling the war-ravaged portions of the country. Yuna and Ireni came down on Illaryia's side, wanting to hold the East of the country and recover cautiously. Vani and Uli favored Sybil's aggressive push West, concerned about the risks of surrendering so much land and resources. The rulers agreed to split the difference and recover half of the raided farmland and mines, using conscription to restore some of their depleted military's strength.

-Kiri Forgemantle's expedition would be joined by the party. They would receive a cut of the loot, the Dwarves would claim material wealth and mining sites, and Astaroka would receive information and items/documents of magical import.

-Ireni got into an argument with Argus Forsythe after he refused to put his name on the conscription order, fearing for his public image.  Vani clashed briefly with the Volgs over their lack of trained combat mages despite Volg Keep's defensible position and trove of magical knowledge.

With a week to prepare, the party gathered supplies and readied themselves for uncharted territory. Uli purchased a mastiff, whom she named Maximus. Vani received a powerful shortbow as a gift from Gurn Rockwright, a token of his thanks for getting him safely to Astaroka's capital.

On the way to the mountains, Vani had a troubling dream, the contents of which she shared with the party after they noticed her visibly shaken features the next morning.  In the dream, the sky was melting. The corpse of a one-eyed bear had been filled with strange, white orbs, merged by a mysterious force. Vani felt that the force would have melded with her as well. Uli speculated that the one-eyed bear could represent Grummush and Luthic, gods of the Orcish pantheon.

Kiri decided to take the expedition up through the mountains rather than through the pass between them, worrying that whatever drove the orcs out would find them if they took the easy route. The party found orcish bones and weapons littering the mountains. The skeletons were dotted with fine holes, as if something small had bored into or out of them. Vani could not detect any orcs in the vicinity, however.

The party split with the dwarves as the evening drew near; Kiri and her party would secure and scout a mountain cave to make camp for the day, while the party scouted ahead on the mountainside to see if they could get a glimpse at the lands they were venturing into. The group came upon a ruined set of orcish wayforts and rope bridges that connected to another mountain, one that would allow them a great vantage point at the lands beyond.

To their horror, the forts were filled with giant spiders, and horrible amalgamations of arachnid origin: Orc zombies animated by thousands of tiny spiders that writhed within them, and goblins that had sprouted sets of venomous fangs and eight black, bulbous eyes. Ireni was ambushed and the party nearly overwhelmed. Yuna and Ireni faced death more than once each during the conflict. The group was saved by judicious use of  potions, Vani's healing magic, sound tactics, and a brief distraction created by Uli's new hound Maximus, who did not survive the encounter.

Bloodied and chilled, the party crossed the pass and managed to get a look at the orcish lands beyond. But are they still truly held by orcs? The horrors they'd just encountered suggested something far more troubling had arrived.

 

A glimpse beyond the mountains.

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The Battle of Throughway Keep

Reaching Throughway Keep with the wounded Wood Elves and Willem, the party sought the help of the militia processing villagers into the keep's walls to find Willem's parents.  Through a small miracle, both of the boy's parents were unscathed, though they were troubled to learn the fate of their fellow townsfolk who kept watch over their son. Willem thanked Yuna and Sir Ulrich, expressing his interest in becoming a knight one day.

The party was given room and board in the Knights' Barracks. Also housed there were a small group of militiamen and archers being trained by full-fledged Knights and a pair of Wood Elves. Everyone settled in after a bit of shopping and cooking, with Uli and Vani managing to cook quite the meal for their comrades in arms.  Gerard and Agnes appeared in the keep later in the night, fresh from cutting a bloody swathe through any orcs and gnolls they found.

After meditating, Yuna spent some time on the barracks roof. Just before dawn, she heard the sound of a single approaching person, a knight named Sir Baker. She immediately sounded the keep's alarms and ordered an evacuation, explaining that her patrol was wiped out to a man by an extremely large band of orcs.  She had ridden non stop until her horse dropped from exhaustion, then ran the rest of the way to the keep.

The group formed up to defend the keep against a large force of orcs and ogres, led by a particularly clever orc in formal armor. The group was forced to defend on three fronts, with the ogres attempting to batter though the gates, the orcs grappling over the sides of the walls, and a small group of goblins with firebombs appearing from the sewer grates behind the bulk of the fighting.

The party fought valiantly, and after a pack of vengeful gnolls struck the orc lines from behind, were eventually able to slay the orcs' leader and the terrifying two-headed ogre creature that spearheaded the frontal assault.  Lost in the conflict were one of the wood elf archery instructors, half of the standing militiamen, and sir baker. The rest of the knights were beaten to an inch of their lives, but managed to hold the gates.

The party now travels for Astaroka's capital, the very place Throughway Keep was built to protect. Perhaps there they will find answers as to what spurred such agression from the orcs and gnolls.

The leader of the orcs was clearly intelligent; why was it so hell bent on taking the keep after meeting so much resistance?

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Conflict and Rescue

Eager to save the boy trapped between the Gnoll and Orc warbands, the party plunged into the thick of combat. As the heroes exchanged ranged fire with the Gnolls, their Pack Lord ripped into the Orc lines, summoning a pair of hideous Maw Demons from the corpse of a fallen Orc using a staff adorned with the skull of an elf.  Mark the Woodsman was nearly killed by the Gnolls' Hyena, but the combined efforts of the party and their allies prevailed without any casualties.  Ireni dispatched the Gnoll Pack Lord with a cleansing blast of Druidic magic.

Willem, a boy of 8 from the nearby farm town of Swallow's Perch, was rescued and taken under the wing of Yuna and Knight Ulrich.  He explained his town was attacked by orcs, and he was separated from his family as he was out playing in the fields when the attack began. The family that had taken him in as they fled was cut down just moments before the party arrived. Yuna held out hope that his parents are still alive, but Vani, having seen firsthand the savagery of the Orcs when they attacked her village when she was young, was less optimistic.

Against Sir Colmb's advice, the party made camp to rest, only to be ambushed by another party of orcs. After fending them off, the group finally earned their chance to rest.

Moving closer to Throughway Keep, the party found an ogre corpse littered with arrows. Identifying the fletching as those used by the wood elf scout Adrin, whom the party met at the start of their adventure through the southern forests, they followed a set of mysterious cart tracks deeper into the woods.

With Vani's help, the party was able to sneak up on another group of Orc raiders resting after a skirmish with the wood elves. Three captives, including Adrin, were tied up in a cart. The orcs were arguing with an enormous ogre named Urgo, who wanted one of the elves for a snack. The orcs, none too pleased to leave any elven captive alive, were only doing so at the behest of someone named Korrig, presumably their overall commander. The orcs said Korrig had lead the orcs into Astaroka, and through his guidance, they hoped to conquer and secure a beachhead for reclaiming their lands to the west. The orcs eventually compromised and agreed to cut the ears from one of the elven captives and feed her to Urgo.

Unwilling to watch such barbarity, Vani and Yuna struck at the unaware orcs, killing several of their wounded before they had time to don their armor and grab their weapons. Uli the barbarian entered a rage and engaged the Ogre. The healthy orcs and Urgo put up a better fight, but were eventually slain after a hard fought battle.

Ireni healed the badly beaten elves with her magic, restoring them to some semblance of health and coherency.  Adrin, Yeva, and Trella thanked the party profusely. They explained that they were the ones who killed the ogre by the road. They had been lying low in the forest for days, picking off orcs and ogres as they broke off into raiding bands to gain food, weapons, and loot before they coalesced into another attack. When asked about Corrig, the elves suggested that he may be an Orog, a particularly intelligent breed of orc who often serve as military leaders for their species.

The party suggested that elves join them on their way to Throughway Keep, as the Wood Elf lands are located past it, on Astaroka's eastern border. The elves agreed, and the group set off for the final push to the keep and the safety of its walls.

As night falls, the party approaches the keep, observing large numbers of farmers and miners at its gates, slowly filtering in with carts laden with the sick and wounded. If there were any doubts that the orcs were stepping up the speed of their assault on Astaroka, this sad sight dispelled them.

A thought hangs in the back of the group's minds; if the Orcs truly wished to seize Astaroka, they would inevitably have to take Throughway Keep…

Just how many orcs are lurking in the forests, poised to form up again into a proper war horde?

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Onward to Throughway

Vani Thorngage has reunited with Yuna and Jade after slaying gnolls in the forest with the dwarven blacksmith Gurn Rockwright. After swapping stories, the group set out to do research on some of the loose ends left by the assault on Volg Keep.

At the Bronze Boar tavern, Vani talked Gnolls with the hunters gathered there, learning they may have a demonic origin; some hunters claim they've seen demonic idols made of skin and bone in Gnoll ranks, and one even claimed that hyenas glutted with the meat of the dead dissolve to birth new Gnolls.

Jade conducted his contact ritual with Belial, asking if he knew what entity snuck past Gorbos from the Nine Hells. Belial claims that no demon under his direct command left, but his realm has a number of visitors not under his direct control.

Yuna, with some help from Jade, plumbed the Volg libraries for information about demons. While unable to pin down a suspect for what escaped the portal mirror, the party learned some facts about the Nine Hells and the distinction between Devils (Lawful Evil of the plane of The Nine Hells), Yuggoloths (Neutral Evil of the plane of Hades) and Demons (Chaotic Evil of the plane of The Abyss).  These factions do not like each other and often war amongst themselves.

The group spoke with the imprisoned Megga Mundt about her crow. Jade's link to Belial was enough to get her talking; she had used rituals to summon and bind a shape shifting Devil known as an Imp, but it was not the entity from the mirror.  She may have twigged onto the source of Jade's pact, but at the moment she has no means of investigating…

The elf Jandar, friend of Karlov Volg, returned to the Keep with a knight of the crown, Sir Colmb. On behalf of Volmi, he provided Vani, Yuna, and Jade with payment for their first quest. He showed off a preserved eye of a Yochol, a demon bound to Lolth. The eye was looted from the body of an orc. Whatever is beyond the western mountains, it was enough to force a fierce tribe of orcs and ogres out from their lands.

Jandar also helped fill in Yuna's drow marching orders map, showcasing that through the underdark, a detachment of drow had passed nearby. He also told of Lolth's realm, a plane of portals and webs, drawing in and disgorging entities to serve the Spider Queen's designs. When asked how he knew all of this, he explained he was taken via portal from another portion of the world. Because of monsters and other dangers, the societies he knows have yet to contact the ones the party are familiar with.

The group elected to join the war effort against the Orcs, traveling with Sir Colmb, Ulrich, Gurn, and Mark the woodsman to the east. Not many people living in Volg seemed keen on joining the militia; they'd had enough trouble without sticking their necks out. It would take a day or two of brisk travel to reach Throughway on horseback. Uli managed to convince Gerard and Agnes to travel to Throughway Keep after besting Agnes in an arm wrestling match, though they are not moving with the group.

The west of Astaroka has turned into a hushed no-man's land. Wrecked carts and gutted buildings were the only sign of human life for miles. The group encountered a pair of heart-eating mountain creatures called Perytons, and elected to slay them as they feasted on an orc carcass rather than risk having them return later on empty stomachs.

Vani, adept at tracking Orcs, noticed a warband of about 10 moving about to the north. As they grew closer, the halfling realized the Orcs had stopped. Vani and Yuna scouted over a nearby hill upon hearing the sounds of battle and a litany of menacing shouts and growls.

The pair found a wrecked cart flanked by two opposing forces; a mob of orcs and a mighty Gnoll Pack Lord with his bodyguards and an enormous attack Hyena held in check by a rope around its neck. Human, Orc, and Gnoll bodies are face down in the grass around them. To the two adventurers' horror, they spotted a small boy peering out from underneath the wagon, unnoticed for the moment by the monsters.

The hyena's nose twitches; it smells elf.

 

The planes.

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The Liberation of Volg Keep

The group has freed Volg Keep from the tyrannical reign of the Spectator Gorbos, a sentinel whose contract with the late wizard and ruler of the keep, Karlov Volg, had expired.  The young Marcus and Claire Volg were freed from captivity, and are now working at contacting their parents, Alfonzo and Natalia Volg and their advisor, the elf Jandar, who have traveled to Astaroka's capital to aid in the war effort against the sudden Orc invasion from the west.  Paid by the young Volgs in powerful magic items, the party awaits word.

It was a victory at a cost. Two apprentice wizards were killed in the ritual needed to destroy Gorbos' barrier after the apperance of a creature from the Shadowfell. 

Clearing out the sewers for entry into Volg Manor gave the murderous Gold Fang crime syndicate free reign to burn the town hall down in revenge against the Red Tusk mercenary group, thugs who had been tasked with keeping order in town by Gorbos after he released their leader from prison.  A few innocent townspeople were burned to death in their raid. Roxx and Patches, members of the Gold Fang, looted the Red Tusks' ill-gotten gains and fled the town in the chaos.

The party was troubled to learn that the source of Volg Keep's magical power was a mirror linked to an infernal realm. Even more worrying are claims that something managed to exit the mirror while Gorbos was still under orders to guard it.

The Warlock Jade has been freed from his pact with an Outer God in favor of servitude to the Devil Prince Belial. In exchange for his power and agreement not to ask any harm of his friends, Jade must follow Belial's orders. Refusal to do so three times comes at the cost of his soul.

With the criminals in Volg being rounded up by the family's reactivated sentry golems, the party wonders where their next adventure will take them, and if their companions who fled into the woods to hide from the Red Tusks will reappear.

Gorbos, in his symmetrical, watchful, perfectly magnanimous glory.

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