DunJohns and Dragons

Ocean of Water, Ocean of People

The party set off on Ireni's new ship. The party were stopped by a Firhelmese naval patrol led by a Sgt. Gallo Ruhorne. After confirming that they were working with Astaroka, the party plumbed him for a bit of information about Priem; he had little good to say about the city, disliking its mercenary nature and weak rule of law. He also warned that the islands to the east of Priem were common haunts for pirates. Ireni lost sleep ensuring the crew was always on watch for corsairs, earning her a brief bit of friction with Yuna.

Ruhorne and Ireni weren't wrong; a dilapidated fishing vessel converted into a pirate ship gave chase to the party's vessel. Captain Ireni led it on a short chase, but fearing the exhaustion of her crew, decided to turn her ship and fire its broadside ballistas at the vessel. Aided by the skillfull archery and magic of the rest of the party, the ship was quickly scuttled and destroyed. Its captain, a goblin who had gained the loyalty of a large ogre, was quickly mutinied by its bugbear crew when its bodyguard was slain.  Ireni chose to leave the sinking crew to their fates, likely drowning and exposure.

Alfonzo Volg contacted Yuna through his sending stone, informing her he'd secured docking at the harbor in Priem for them. He also let them know that the Rift they were seeking had already been discovered in the city.

Vani befriended the nonhuman portion of the crew, Kharrak, Barkam, Elwan, and Arder. They were a bit unsure what Ireni's deal was, and many hadn't seen a genasi before. A few of the sailors were uneasy upon learning about her hatred of pirates. She quickly earned the respect of the rest of the sailors by shooting a seagull out of the air and expertly shooting an apple off the head of a very brave (or very stupid) deckhand.

Uli spent some time playing cards with the crew, and Ireni decided that half of her sailors would remain on board on a given day in Priem, while the other gained shore leave. This was considered fair by the crew, and they quickly got to planning out their respective days off among themselves.  They had a much higher opinion of the city than Ruhorne did, citing Priem's many diversions and general freedom as the reason why.

Priem was every bit the hive of activity that the rumors suggested; after docking, the party pushed through an expansive market selling every manner of supply and good they could think of. Arriving at the Barrister's Guild, the party entered a large building and were directed to Alfonzo's personal account manager, a young woman named Edna Flim. 

Locating her office basement, a closetlike space filled with papers and scrolls, the bespectacled scrivener gave them a brief overview of the city, as well as a map detailing its major divisions of power. She explained that the rift was being held by the messenger's guild, and time with the portal was available by appointment for the outrageous sum of 700 gold for 4 hours. She also pointed them to the adventurer's guild, which, after a brief membership fee and proof of competence, could provide the party with lodging and access to many jobs suited to their skills.

The party stopped by the Wizard's Guild, which turned out to be a highly guarded citadel with exclusive criteria for entry. The guard stationed by the gates explained that the magical items and scrolls present in the guild were powerful enough to level the whole city if placed in the wrong hands, and that lower level magic courses were handled by the university.  With a bit of gentle persuasion by Jade, the guard suggested they seek out Arrold, a half elf who had fallen out of favor with the academic guilds for doomsaying about the rift; while both he and the Academy want it out of the messenger guild's hand, he apparently does not want it to be studied; he believes the rift to be an instrument of the apocalypse.

 

There's a lot to see in Priem; doubtless, not all of it is pretty.

 

 

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Lit Fuses

The party spent a few days around Volg Keep, preparing to answer Vani's invitation back to her village. Yuna kept busy, visiting many old contacts including:

Claire Volg: Thinking about moving to a city and starting a career in music. Taught Yuna Violin Basics

Beth: Gave up magic, joined the militia and took up archery.

Aimee: Sleepless and losing weight, but focused on becoming a powerful wizard under the tutelage of Natalia Volg.

Dewbloom and the Pixies:  Yuna received a congratulatory High Medal of Valorous Achievement for seeing to the arrest of Megga Mundt, the woman who captured Dewbloom for her pixie dust.

Concerned over Jandar's brusqueness towards her as she inquired about the Drow House La'Frei,  Yuna spoke with the party about her suspicions about the enigmatic elf. Yuna wasn't sure how Jandar knew she was a princess, remembering the elf that had betrayed her in her first run-in with the Drow.  They also brought their concerns to Claire, who promised to keep an eye out and inquire with her parents as subtly as she could.

Uli suggested she send her old traveling buddy, Giovanni Bagni, to the Outer Realms rift. Giovanni was dispatched and will send correspondences in invisible ink back to Volg Keep to keep tabs on Jandar.

As the party left for Vani's hometown of Ghosla, Uli reared up her horse and dashed back into town. She returned with a baby pit bull dubbed Maximus the Second.

On the way to the village, Vani let Yuna and Ireni know that they would probably be met with a rough atmosphere in town due to Ghosla's incredibly tense past with the nearby settlement of Mountain Elves. The village, close to the west where the orcs had spilled out of the mountains, had been well-fortified with tripwire and sturdy walls.

Vani had a heartfelt greeting with her grandparents, Odo and Alandria, and had a slightly tense reunion with her friend Cabe, who disapproved of her striking out for such dangerous quests without asking for more help. It seemed more out of worry than pride.  Vani's family grudgingly accepted Yuna and Ireni with their granddaughters' vouching, and Alandria agreed to mingle a bit and calm the more suspicious members of the village down.

A small festival had been arranged in honor of Vani's return and victory against the orcs at Throughway Keep. The party participated in a number of fun activities, most of them while drunk following a drinking contest with some farmers. During this event, Yuna noticed a family of halflings known as the Bodifumps wearing elven jewelry; when she pointed it out, they looked perturbed and took it off.

A brief rundown of the activities:

Turtle Racing: Bet won by Vani, taking 10 gold from the rest of the party.   Pie Eating Contest: Won by a very full Vani    Drinking Contest: Uli was a close second, won by a farmer.   Archery Contest: Won by Vani after a close tiebreaker round with Yuna, receiving a well-made belt with a gnomish buckle.  Bear Wrestling:  Vani cuddled with Honeysuckle, who enjoyed the attention and petting. 

The group also drunkenly performed a <s>smash mouth cover</s> for the tavern, just managing to avoid making clowns of themselves. Odo was very tickled by the performance by his very un-musical granddaughter, and tossed some gold onto the stage. Uli had a nice drum solo that earned her a few silver pieces.

Vani made Cabe challenge Honeysuckle in the wrestling match to make up for his argument with her. To her surprise, he succeeded with flying colors. They spent the night talking and catching up, and Vani asked what was up with the Bodifumps.  Cabe replied that they claimed a merchant really liked their shoes in the capital and had been showering them with riches, a good chunk of which they used to help the people of Ghosla. The party resolved to talk to them in the morning.

The hung over (save for Yuna) party recieved a rude awakening in the form of a surprised mob at the north gate; a unit of mountain elves had approached with weapons and seige shields, holding a halfling trader and her bodyguard hostage. The elves claimed they'd found them carrying elven jewelry.  The captain explained that he did not think them the theives; a mountain elf named Fossa was suspected of hiding inside Ghosla. A former ranger, he had been murdering his own kind for weeks until he was spotted in the act and forced to run. 

Vani, Cabe, and the party filled in the mayor about the Bodifumps. Heading to their home, Cabe found them in their wine cellar…along with Fossa. The elf politely requested to be let go, promising he would let the wood elves know he was no longer in the village. The party wasn't sold. He then suggested that they go with him to kill the mountain elf unit and recover the kidnapped halflings. At that point, Uli stepped forward to restrain him.

Fossa was difficult to hit, even when backed into a corner, and as blood was drawn his neck bulged with veins and his eyes took on a dilated, glassy look. Yuna landed a stunning strike, letting the party pounce on him and restrain him very, very well. Checking under his cloak, Yuna was horrified to find that he was wearing a jerkin sewn from the faces of elves he'd killed. When he came to, Fossa insisted that he only ate elves and had caused no trouble in the village.

Dragging him out of town, Fossa shouted that the Bodifumps were complicit in harboring him, stirring up chaos amongst the townsfolk. Yuna and Uli tried to get more information out of Fossa before the mountain elves took him to be put on trial.  The captured halfling trader and her bodyguard were released to the village, as promised.

Fossa mentioned a 'Great Cat' that had been devouring people in Astaroka for a century. Stumbling upon it feeding one day, the creature apparently saw 'potential' in Fossa and granted him a drop of his blood, heightening his abilities and stoking a supernatural hunger. He also implicated the captured trader in harboring him.

The guilty halflings explained that they helped Fossa because he never hurt a halfling and was funneling his loot into the village; they had no idea he was doing more than robbery and the occasional murder. The village leader exiled the 6 guilty townsfolk from Ghosla permanently.

Before leaving, Odo and Alandria passed on an arrowhead to Vani, crafted by her father from the feathers of a griffin he'd slain and given to her mother. The arrow was in Maja's hand when the orcs attacked Ghosla in the past.  Fighting back tears, Vani accepted the gift.

Vani also made up with Cabe, who had decided she would be fine venturing out into the world on her own. Vani slipped some owlbear meat into his pocket, which he would later discover before his nightly bath.  Yuna painted a portrait of the party and presented it to Vani's grandparents, who could not decide where to put it. It was decided that it would move location monthly.

The party returned to Volg Keep to find that Natalia and Alfonzo had created a device that used the strange 'compass' found near the portal to pinpoint other rifts to the Far Realm. Using it, they generated vague locations on the map. They presented the party with small magical jars that could contain small bits of the magic of the portals for further study; the more they know, the better they can control the rifts. They also gave the party a sending stone to communicate with them while they're traveling.

Arriving at the docks, the party met with Pule Volmi, who explained that Argus Forsythe had funded the construction of a small ship for the party to use. Volmi presented Ireni with a spyglass made by his family's workshop. An ecstatic Ireni boarded the ship, named Yuna first mate, and declared that they would be setting sail immediately to track down the other portal rifts.

 

The wind is strong enough to give life to the sails. Adventure awaits.

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The Threat From Beyond the Veil

Investigating the defeated Drow, the party learned that 'Priestess Kavra' of House La'Frei had been spearheading an investigation into a series of rifts to the outer realms, a 'plane' of existence that no one knows very much about. Harnessing a small species of glowing, insectlike creatures from the rift in the orcish temple, the drow managed to infuse orcs and goblins with Llolth's essence, turning them into subservient monsters.  

The brunt of the drow forces had been sent back to wherever house La'Frei is headquartered in the underdark, where another rift was written to have been found. Also present in the chamber was an astrolabe-like device with one of the insectoid creatures in its core. It was found to be able to point the way to other weak points in the weave of reality.

Leaving Kiri and her retinue to call in reinforcements and begin securing the mountains, the party set off to investigate the nearby forest.  Many of the trees were dying or showed signs of rot. Beyond several llolth-orc corpses, the party found a single drow smoking atop a large boulder.  Ambushing him, the group quickly learned the hard way that he was in fact a Firbolg in disguise, and his seat was his earth elemental guardian.

The friendly Firbolg Isz was a traveler from Yuna's homeland of Issylra, having left his people to pursue field research into ways nature can become blighted and corrupted. The party eventually decided to tell him the full story about the rift. Yuna wrote him a note allowing him to conduct research on it as long as he reported to Kiri and the party.  He gave Ireni a preserved marsh lily from Issylra, claiming that anyone who was more interested in the flower than her appearance as a genasi might be an interesting person to converse with.  He sold the party healing tonics and gave them a wand of light as a token of his gratitude for allowing him to examine the rift.

The party made their way to a ruined tower that a very old hill giant had taken up residence. The party ambushed him and his pet owlbear, then searched the tower, finding a few relics of the human kingdom that used to be present in the area.  Additionally, Uli found a ring of acid resistance, Yuna quite a bit of gold, and Vani a very expensive platinum chain.

Leaving, they found that a large pack of ghouls led by an intelligent ghast had taken up a former orcish settlement near the mountain passes. The ghast allowed them to leave, as he and his pack were eating their fill of orcs and drow.

The party reported back to Volg Keep; Alfonzo and Natalia Volg began an investigation into the 'rift compass', while Jandar departed immediately to study the rift and guard it from drow. Vani received a note forwarded from the halfling Cade, a childhood friend, from her grandfather, who had heard of her exploits in the defense of Throughway Keep. He invited her to Ghosla and promised a feast in her honor.


Any manner of innovation can come from study of the Far Realm, but so may new and unknowable dangers. There are few with power, good and evil alike, that could resist the temptation of such potential…

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The Priestess and the Portal

The party set out from the ruined keep to continue pursuing the Drow.  Arriving at a large stretch of orcish hovels forming what was likely a crude 'city' of sorts for the creatures, Ireni was dispatched in the form of a bird to examine the area. She discovered a fair number of 'changed' orcs and goblins were lurking in the area. Vani suggested to use fire as a distraction, and after some discussion Yuna lit a few hovels aflame with her magic. 

Moving quickly, the group moved through the settlement and found several ropes and chains set up to allow access to the mountain keep to the north. Inside, there was little but signs of a long-past battle. Skeletal remains of normal orcs and their corrupted counterparts littered the entirety of the area.

Making their way to the heart of the keep, the party found an altar dedicated to the principal gods of the Orcs, holding the preserved remains of what looked to be an Orcish Warchief. Occupying the chamber were the drow the party had been chasing, along with two Drow women. One, a priestess sporting the symbol of Llolth and that of a dagger wrapped in chains. The other soon revealed itself as a Yochol, a servitor demon beholden to Llolth's will.

The Priestess was busy looking over some sort of magical experiment at a table. She spoke with the Yochol, which insisted that the upcoming confrontation would be a test to prove her might to Llolth. Kavra, the priestess, opened a bottle with a strange, insectoid creature. It vanished, and the glow in the room intensified into an eye-searing rift that seemed to allow the Yochol to possess the corpse of the Orc Warcheif.

The ensuing battle was swift and brutal. Yuna swiftly crushed the drow mage, Jade set fire to many of the drow with fireballs, Ireni created sunlight to blind the drow, and Vani eventually pierced Kavra's heart with a well-placed shot from her bow,  Shellcracker, but not before trashing the research table.  Uli and Yuna worked to finish off the possessed orc, which disgorged the Yochol.

The Yochol muttered about Kavra being a disappointment and suffered the attacks of the party for a few moments before turning into mist and flowing out of the cave. The party is left in peace to rifle through the bodies of the drow and investigate the portal and the strange research being conducted.

 

What in the planes was so important that Llolth would spare some of her most powerful servitors to oversee?

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The Secrets of the Ruined Castle

The party followed the drow into a dilapidated castle that looked to be hundreds of years old. Its outer walls had been utterly demolished, and even the keep itself had multiple points of entry. Scouting ahead as a spider, Ireni found a pair of hulking, demonic creatures with single, bulbous eyes and more of the goblin-spider hybrids guarding the first floor of the keep.  Conferring with Belial, Jade was commanded to gather some of the creatures' blood; though his soul was on the line, he almost forgot when all was said and done. If he contacts Belilal again, he could get his opinion on what those creatures were.

The group decided to knock the roof of the keep down onto the creatures. Ireni employed her decanter of endless water, given to her by Marcus and Claire Volg for her help against Gorbos, to dislodge the stone from a safe distance.  Aided by the sudden rockfall, the party defeated the guards handily. Stairs to the castle depths were found, but the party decided to pull back and attack the drow at daybreak.

 Pulling back to Kiri's party for the night,  Yuna noticed the Manticore that had escaped earlier flying overhead, looking for a chance to catch the group unaware. The party returned to the castle with the dwarves the next morning. Kiri commented that the stonework of the castle did not look orcish.

The party descended into the basement to find that the drow had abandoned the castle. Searching through the ruined, empty rooms, they eventually found a burial vault with several stone sepulchers and a dead, badly desiccated drow corpse.  A pair of hostile spirits appeared, and the sounds of a battle long passed echoed in the party's minds.  The king and queen of a long destroyed kingdom were reliving the last moments over and over again, mistaking the party for the orcs that had seiged them hundreds of years ago.

The party did not attack, and Yuna attempted to learn more, assuring the ghosts that she and her allies were not orcs. The ghost asked for proof, posessing Yuna and looking through her eyes. The party held fast, choosing not to restrain  Yuna or attack the remaining specter.

The possessed Yuna traveled through the castle, taking stock of the ruins of her castle. Upon heading outside, the Queen realized she had been dead for hundreds of years. Yuna, through an incredible act of willpower, managed to reach the ghost, showing her memories of other human civilizations and the defeat of the orcs at Throughway Keep. Making peace with her fate, the ghost left Yuna.

Returning to the vaults, the party found the ghost of the king placing his and his wife's royal jewels atop a sepulcher before following his Queen into the afterlife. With their torment ended, the party vowed to donate the jewels to a historian and give the rulers' bones a burial in one of the sepluchers.

The question now; where did the Drow skulk off to?

A restless spirit.

 

 

 

 

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Lolth's Servants

The party returned to the caves to find that Kiri Forgemantle had left a note. One of her men did not return from scouting the caves, so she gave pursuit. After a brief rest the party found the dwarves beset by giant spiders. Kiri shouted that they could handle them, and instructed the party to give chase to a group of drow they had discovered.

The party chose to help the dwarves, easily dispatching the spiders. Scouting ahead,  Ireni and Yuna found a drow mage ready to sacrifice another drow on some sort of elaborate runic symbol painted onto the ground.

The party engaged, with a furious Yuna attempting to bring down the mage conducting the ceremony. Ireni did her best to damage the markings.  The drow retreated, and though damage was done to the ritual, the sacrificial drow chose to take his own life to complete it.  A hideous demon known as a Vrock was summoned, but was defeated with the combined efforts of the party and the dwarves, in no small part to Uli and Ireni keeping the creature distracted.

The party noticed the drow were fleeing towards the hills to the north. After a rest, the group set off, eventually bumping into a starving Manticore that attempted to bargain for dwarf and human meat. The party staged a ruse after Yuna found it was deceitful and unwilling to let the group pass.  Uli pretended to be bound, attacking the manticore as the rest of the group moved in.

A second manticore was lying in wait to ambush the party by tipping boulders downhill at them, but the first one was eventually slain by Ireni's direwolves after Uli used a grappling hook to bring it down.  The second manticore fled, knowing it was outnumbered.

Yuna ascertained that the drow could have retreated to a ruined castle further to the north in the orcish lands. Meanwhile, Uli and Vani got to work skinning and cutting up the manticore, and are currently lugging well over a hundred pounds of monster meat in their backpacks.

A vrock, fresh from Llolth's layer of the abyss.

 

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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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