BK
01
CH
08
SC
03

The Forest Ruins
Out of the Shadow

…continues from Book #01, Chapter #08, Scene #02

Synopsis

The 20th Day of Ches in the Year of the Sudden Journey
Descending into the gloom of a long forgotten ruin in the northern forest the party have found and vanquished a tale of kidnap and sorcery! Finding the missing elf Gilmorril and preventing a priest of Orcus opening a portal to unleash the horror within on the land, the heroes are now exhausted, bloody, and injured and have to deal with the prisoners they have released.

Cast List

Scene Length

This scene starts on Tuesday 24th January 2012 and is expected to be completed by the end of Sunday 29th July 2012.

Players are expected to be able to post at least once a day.

JAN
24

Storyline
Ruined Keep

01

Rangrim slumped down next to the prostrate Kireth, clouds of rubble-dust billowing around him.

‘What by the gods was…’ his voice trailed off and his head jerked upwards towards the gap in the chamber above. In the chaos he had forgotten the plight of his friends.

Leaping up he sprinted across to one of the bloody chains and began the long climb upwards to the chamber above.

JAN
24

Storyline
Ruined Keep

02

Khalin slumped to the ground, his legs splayed out before him, panting for breath. Was the ordeal finally at an end? After a moment or two he composed himself and, brushing stone dust and blood from his armour, glanced round to assess the state of the party.

Rangrim was off and away to reunite with his friends, Zero looked remarkably chipper under the circumstances, but the others were battered, bloodied and bruised, scattered about in disarray.

Khalin turned back to Kireth, still laid out on his back. ‘Is it over?’ he asked.

JAN
24

Storyline
Ruined Keep

03

‘I bloody well hope so,’ said a sweaty Zero, jogging over. He knelt down beside Kireth. ‘You all right, old boy?’

JAN
24

Storyline
Ruined Keep

04

‘I… I’m not sure,’ said the mage, looking at his dirty and bloodstained hands. Slowly rolling onto his side, kneeling and then standing, he brushed the remaining rubble from his person.

‘Thank you Zero. It felt… felt like the end back there. Tradden?’ The glassey eyed fighter turned his head, still not totally back in the land of the living. Kireth nodded at him.

‘Did our tormentors leave anything of use?’

JAN
24

Storyline
Ruined Keep

05

‘Heh,’ Khalin chuckled at the elf’s comment, predictable to the end. With that he pulled himself to his feet, and began scanning around the chamber.

‘We should check on Gilmorril, find out what else he discovered out here,’ he continued.

[Khalin Dungeoneering Check: 1d20+4: 11] - success!

There didn’t appear to be much left within the chamber after the chaos of battle. Skeleton bones were crunched and mixed in with the rubble from the statue. The braziers still burned with an acrid smoke — particularly the one over on the raised platform to the west near the bone altar. The mirror to the east was shattered. The priest had disappeared within the portal. The remains of the wights over to the southeast were slowly decomposing now that their necrotic bindings were slipping away.

JAN
24

Storyline
Ruined Keep

06

Tradden wandered over to where his shortsword lay in the rubble and picked it up.

‘That was a big statue,’ he stated simply, showing that cognition was starting to occur once again.

JAN
24

Storyline
Ruined Keep

07

Zero winced at his battered friend’s appearance.

‘Oof,’ he exclaimed, ‘you’ve looked better.’ Then he beamed his broad, bearded smile, ‘Glad to see you’re okay.’

JAN
24

Storyline
Ruined Keep

08

‘As am I,’ offered Khalin earnestly. The dwarf seemed for a moment like he might say something more, but then appeared to think better of it and continued to survey the wreckage about them.

‘We should get moving,’ he continued presently, clearly keen to leave the scene of devastation and suffering behind them. ‘Are we all in shape to climb?’

JAN
25

Storyline
Ruined Keep

09

‘Just give me a moment,’ said Tradden, swords now stowed on his back, bending down to put his head between his knees for a moment and generally trying to get back on some kind of stable mental-track.

Standing back upright he stretched, and then winced at the groaning and creaking that came with it. He shook his head.

‘That mirror you just obliterated Zero?’ he said, wandering over to the eastern side of the hall. He turned back in the rogue’s direction. ‘Did it look… familiar at all? I am sure I have seen it before. Wasn’t the one we found at that crater a bit like it?’

He stood over the shards, now spread in a bird-like pattern on the floor.

[Tradden Perception Check: 1d20+5: 19] - success!

There wasn’t much left of the mirror itself, the glass lying shattered into small pieces across the floor. The frame, however, did look familiar, and a few traces of dirt here and there confirmed to Tradden that it probably was the one they had seen at the dragon burial site.

‘Hmm, looks like the same one we found at the excavation site. That does not bode well for our freind Rindall. What do you make of it Kireth — must be magical, right?’

JAN
25

Storyline
Ruined Keep

10

Kireth looked at the shards. ‘Have been magical, Tradden,’ corrected Kireth, ‘have been’. He brought to mind the other mirror Tradden was referring to. ‘You know,’ he started, ‘mirrors are often used as communication devices. I wonder if that was the case here?’ He then continued past and on up to the altar. ‘Let’s see what this is all about shall we? Any secrets you want to share?’

[Kireth Perception Check: 1d20+3: 16] - success!

As he strode to the west and onto the raised platform Kireth could still feel the evil and power permeating the atmosphere. The smoke from the brazier stank where Zero had cast the priest’s book and it was with a little regret that nothing but charred remains were left.

The altar itself was made of bone, though from what beast Kireth could not tell. Carved inscriptions on the side spoke of demons and undeath, but there was nothing striking that the mage could ascertain.

JAN
26

Storyline
Ruined Keep

11

Tradden did nothing for Kireth’s overall impression of him at this point by simply standing there with his mouth open and otherwise an ‘???’ expression on his face.

JAN
26

Investigative Rest
Ruined Keep

12

While the heroes caught their breath they began to search through the area, paying attention to even the smallest details.

Zero looked into the nooks and crannies of the chamber casting worried glances at the carvings upon the walls of demons and skeletons. His task was to look for any secret doors or concealed entrances, and he was rather hoping he wouldn’t find any. Particularly any that had one of the demon carvings upon its face.

Tradden looked through the rubble of the Demon Lord statue, poking the smaller shards with the point of his sword and then went across to look at the smaller statues upon the eastern dais. They were reflections of the larger statue, but with their skull-capped wands pointing into the small pit above which the mirror had stood. Within the pit were a number of stark white bones, any flesh picked clean long ago. It was difficult to tell what manner of beast or creature they belonged to, but there were many of them, jumbled up within the pit. He shuddered, and headed over to the base of the chains.

Khalin checked the bodies that remained. Some of the skeletons were now powder, either through hammer or spell, or by the crushing fall of the statue. Rusted swords and bent breastplates lay at their sides. The wights were slowly starting to decompose now that their arcane bindings were released. Neither were particularly attractive, but Khalin did notice a cloak on one of them that caught his eye. It still held its colour, and was not frayed at the edges with the ravages of time. He bundled it up and took it across to Kireth.

After looking at the altar Kireth shook his head. Whatever ritual had taken place here had its key taken away with the destruction of the priest’s book in the brazier. What lay beyond the portal, however much it chilled him to the bone, still intrigued him, and he would one day master its secrets. He walked back to the portal for one final glance, summoning up the courage to feel the now solid surface, still cold to the touch.

Glancing down he saw the broken and twisted remains of the priest’s rod, its skull-cap jaded and lifeless. Absentmindedly he picked it up, toying with it in his hands.

‘We’ve found this,’ said a voice from over his shoulder. Kireth quickly hid the skull-cap away in the folds of his cloak without thinking, and span to regard Khalin.

‘Yes?’ the mage spat, somwhat annoyed to have been interrupted in his thoughts.

Khalin didn’t seem to notice and continued. ‘Looks like a mighty fine cloak. Doesn’t look too worn or damaged — I suspect it is magical.’ The dwarf held out the cloak for Kireth.

[Kireth Arcana Check: 1d20+12: 24] - success!

Kireth didn’t touch it, merely stared at it for a few moments in concentration whilst Khalin held it out limply, not knowing what to do.

‘Elvish,’ stated Kireth. ‘Perhaps the wight used to be an elf? I imagine it would provide the wearer some slight protection and muffle their movements.’

[Party have found an Elven Cloak]

Elven Cloak +2 (Level 7 Common)

This cloak of swirling leaves, crafted in the elven tradition, increases your stealth.

Price: 13,000 gp

Item Slot: Neck

Pre-Requisite: Any

Property: You gain an item bonus to Stealth checks of +2. You gain an item bonus to Fortitude, Reflex and Will of +2.

With that he headed over to join Tradden at the chains, ushering the others to join him.

[Party has spent 2 hours 48 minutes]

JAN
26

Storyline
Ruined Keep

13

‘So, who goes first?’ asked Tradden, looking up the large iron chains, slick with blood, and a good fifty feet of climb.

When he looked back at the others, they were all staring at him. It made him uncomfortable.

‘Oh, all right,’ he sighed and grabbed the nearest chain. He started the climb slowly, hand over hand, keeping his footing in the links and trying not to slip on the blood.

Kireth followed and then Zero, puffing after just the first few feet. With a last long look at the chamber, thoughs and feelings whirling through his mind, Khalin followed up at the rear.

It was tough going. It had been five hours or so since they’d last rested properly Khalin estimated and his belly was starting to rumble. The aches, pains, and cuts did not help either. He could only pray to Moradin that there were no more enemies in this infernal place.

By the time he got to the top the others were already talking to Rangrim. The dwarf had been enthusiastically greeting those of his friends who were conscious, who perhaps he thought he’d lost, and helping tend to those that were still in bad shape. Khalin noticed that a white blanket or shroud had been found from somewhere, and had been lain over the corpse of the halfling.

Most of those that had been incarcerated behind the dais had been brought through to the main chamber and were in the middle of the chamber on the floor. Rangrim was talking to Tradden and the dragon-man, who he was introducing as Rhasgar. Rhasgar was sat on the floor, a crude wooden split strapped to his leg. A dark-haired lady stood behind him, a linen dress casually flowing to the ground, tending some of those that still lay upon the floor.

There were several unconscious bodies — a halfling, a horned-devil-like creature, the huge man with the orcish features, another human lady with powerful muscles, an old grey-bearded dwarf, the elf that had been chained upon the dais, and an older human male.

‘I think they’ve been through enough,’ the dragon-man, Rhasgar, was saying to Tradden. ‘We’re going to have to get them out of here and get back to Winterhaven or Fallcrest somehow. Bahamut knows how — its got to be at least a tenday from here if not too. Plus there’s Korosphylax and Aethelinda to worry about.’

JAN
26

Storyline
Ruined Keep

14

Khalin surveyed the scene with a mixture of wonder and bemusement. More folks from the supposedly ’lost’ continent. But his face fell somewhat as he regarded the friends of Rangrim who lay unconscious, and the fallen halfling.

He stepped away from the chains and approached Tradden, Rangrim and this Rhasgar, a strange-looking fellow to be sure.

‘Khalin Grundokri, at your service,’ he introduced himself affably to the dragon-fellow. He turned to regard both Rhasgar and Rangrim. ‘Are your friends not all accounted for?’ he enquired earnestly.

JAN
26

Storyline
Ruined Keep

15

The dragon-man looked up at Khalin.

‘Excuse me if I don’t get up,’ he looked amusingly down at his strapped leg before offering a clawed hand out to the dwarf. ‘I’m afraid it’s not that easy. My name is Rhasgar, Paladin of Bahamut, protector of honour and justice within Winterhaven.’

He then looked wistfully across at the others. ‘They’re all here,’ he stated flatly, his eyes straying to the white shroud covered body. ‘But one didn’t make it.

‘We’re glad you came. Many thanks for your help. I’m sure that something terrible has been averted, and we should all be grateful for that.’

JAN
26

Storyline
Ruined Keep

16

‘I am sorry about your halfling friend. We entered the chamber and, well, the priest was on him so fast…’ said Tradden.

JAN
26

Storyline
Ruined Keep

17

The dragon-man nodded. ‘I am sure you would have helped if you could. He deserves a fitting burial though, I will not leave him here. His brother would not allow it anyway.’

He looked around warily. ‘We need to make plans on how to get out of here, and the quickest way to get healing help for the others. We need food and clothing where we can, too. Who knows if there are more goblins around — we need to be vigilant.’

JAN
26

Storyline
Ruined Keep

18

Khalin nodded. He looked again at the casualties beyond them. ‘How bad are their wounds? Are they likely to be able to travel soon?’ Curiosity eventually won out though and he continued. ‘Forgive me, as we told Rangrim before, we are unfamiliar with Winterhaven and these lands. We were led to believe no settlements were left on the mainland — beyond Blackengorge on the western coast — that these countries were dead and lost. It lifts our hearts to hear that is apparently not the case.’

JAN
27

Storyline
Ruined Keep

19

Rhasgar raised his eyes at Khalin’s words, turning to look at Rangrim, and then slowly around to the human woman behind him.

‘Rangrim has mentioned this to me,’ he said turning back to the warlord, ‘though we are not sure what this portends. My dwarven friend was somewhat confused — you say you came by ship from some distance away?’

Khalin nodded, the eagerness for history and lore igniting within him.

‘And there is a settlement out to the west?’

Khalin nodded once more, bending down onto one knee.

‘Are there healers there, or at least medicines?’ the dragon-man continued.

‘Well, there’s a temple to Pelor, and they have healers there, but…’ Khalin started.

‘Then perhaps we should head west,’ interrupted Rhasgar. ‘I don’t think we’ll survive the Stonemarch in this state. What is the lay of the land to the west, and how far is this settlement?’

Frustration almost boiled up in Khalin. This dragon-man seemed more concerned with the well-being of his friends than, well, years of history and lore. The events of the past few hours tumbled down onto Khalin’s shoulders and the realisation struck him he was lucky to be alive. The dragon-man was right, they should get the injured to a place of safety and healing first. Questions could be asked, and hopefully answered later.

The warlord paused for a moment. ‘Forest and scrub mainly, down this long vale towards the sea. We believe around five leagues or so, a good day’s march, probably two or three with the injured. We met a few beasts on the way, a ground wyrm, wolves, and a few goblins and kobolds, but nothing more.’

‘Good, then that’s settled,’ replied Rhasgar. He looked back to the woman behind him. ‘How are they all, Miri?’

JAN
27

Storyline
Ruined Keep

20

The lady turned to face the dragon-man and Tradden’s heart leapt. For the third time in a tenday he found beauty and his new muse and love. Dark hair, a pale complexion, and stunning eyes made it hard to breathe, and he started a coughing fit.

‘They’ll all make it,’ she began with a soft but assured voice. ‘Sorrow,’ she continued, with a glance at the devil-horned creature, ‘is breathing a bit roughly. I think she’s the one in need of most help. Bekio would do better to stay asleep until we’re out of here and we have a proper time and place to explain about his brother.’

Rhasgar nodded in agreement, looking at the prostrate unconscious halfling, and then across to the white-shrouded dwarf.

‘As for the others, the dwarf and the half-orc seem to have recovered the quickest. They may even come round in an hour or two. The girl and the old man look like they’ll be out for a bit longer, and the elf’s in pretty bad shape. We could do with fresh air and clean water for a start.’

‘Then we should get out of here best we can,’ grumbled Rhasgar. ‘Where’s Aukan?’

‘He went looking for our stuff,’ piped up Rangrim. ‘Think he’s behind the dais tearing the place up.’

‘Well, when he’s back, let’s get moving. Looks like we’ll have to carry people,’ he looked up at Khalin. ‘Unless you’ve any better ideas? Aukan can take Bekio and Ulmo.’

Rhasgar looked the group up and down, judging their skills and strengths.

‘You, Tradden wasn’t it?’ he asked.

Tradden’s head snapped around from staring at the woman. ‘Er, yes?’

‘Can you carry the half-orc?’ Rhasgar questioned, inclining his head towards the large man with orcish features. Tradden’s nose wrinkled a little, but pride overcame any revulsion. ‘Yes, of course,’ he replied in earnest.

‘Khalin, can you carry the old dwarf? Miri, are you able to carry Sorrow? I would myself, but I still can’t stand properly.’

Miri nodded.

‘Rangrim, do you want to pick up the other human? He looks pretty solid for an old man, but I’m sure you’ll be able to get him across your shoulder.’

Rhasgar turned back around the the group, eyeing up Zero and Kireth.

‘I’ll take the lady,’ offered Zero, quick to interject. ‘I’m sure she’ll be lighter than she looks.’

‘Excellent, then that just leaves the elf. Mage?’ The dragon-man’s eyes sparkled at Kireth, waiting for an answer.

JAN
27

Storyline
Ruined Keep

21

Kireth looked back at the dragon-man, his eyes did not sparkle ‘Yes?’

JAN
27

Storyline
Ruined Keep

22

‘Perhaps you could carry the elf? It seems there is only you left without a charge.’

JAN
27

Storyline
Ruined Keep

23

Kireth took his time to consider this. The pause was noticable but finally he said, ‘I will.’

JAN
27

Storyline
Ruined Keep

24

Tradden sidled over to Zero and whispered in a sideways motion.

‘Pssst — we should swap!’

The fighter didn’t need to see the rogue’s face or hear his dismissive chortle to know that the answer was ‘No. No way!’ The two shared a chuckle.

JAN
27

Storyline
Ruined Keep

25

Rhasgar paused himself for a brief while, studying the half-elf in his billowing robes.

His thoughts were interrupted by a crash from behind the dais of splintering wood and iron striking stonework. There was a grunt, perhaps of success, and a huge goliath of a creature appeared from the southern end of the dais.

‘Looks like I’ve found our stuff, Rhasgar,’ the figure said with a deep bellowing voice. ‘Those priests and hobgoblins must have been planning to keep them for their own ends.’

JAN
27

Storyline
Ruined Keep

26

There seemed to be an almost audible sense of relief from Rhasgar’s group and the dragon-man muttered a prayer to Bahamut.

‘Well, at least we have some good news for today, Aukan! Let’s get ready to move out.’

The goliath disappeared back around the dais and started bringing forth a number of pieces of arms and armour in his giant arms. Some were placed into sacks, to be carried alongside the unconscious bodies, and others were begun to be strapped on. There were some pieces that obviously didn’t belong to those that Rhasgar and his friends knew, so they were all placed in a separate sack to give to those that owned them when they woke, or to be distrubuted if they had no owner that was alive. Aukan took the large sack, picking up both halflings, and own huge maul with ease after donning some stained leather armour.

Rangrim removed the bloodstained and torn leather armour Zero had given him and offered it back to the rogue. It was clear from Zero’s expression that the piece was no longer wanted, and Rangrim simply shrugged and tossed it into the pit where it fell to the ground in the chamber below. He passed the warhammer back to Khalin, with thanks, and strapped two shorter hammers to his thighs after getting into some supple leather.

Miri grabbed a knife from the pile and a small round orb. Gathering a simple cloth dress from the pile she disappeared around the dais to put it on. Tradden’s eyes followed her until she disappeared from view.

Rhasgar came out the most impressive. He strapped on a number of metal plates to form a formidable armour, leaving the greave and sabaton unfastened around his broken ankle. He strapped a huge shield and a curved scimitar to his back and held a helm in his arms. Using a piece of wood that Aukan had found behind the dais, he limped forwards urging everyone to follow with their burdens.

Heading to the west, through the doors and up the stairs, the large group slowly made their way through the chamber. A bedraggled bunch, exhausted, bloodied, numb, burdened, and spent.

JAN
30

Storyline
Ruined Keep

27

The journey back through the ruined keep was a blur to the group. The weight of their burdens slowed them down immensely — the pace at a crawl. The journey was quiet, too, as each of them concentrated on their own thoughts, trying to block out the pains of battle and the weight they carried.

They left the cathedral of shadows as a closely gathered group, Rhasgar in the lead, his makeshift wooden crutch tapping the way forwards for them all. Ascending the stairs to the west they reached the foul smell of the warren of the ghoul and the remains of the zombies. The putrid stench of decay barely registering on the group’s senses.

Turning north they limped slowly into the room with the giant statue, being wary to keep as close to the western wall as possible to avoid its oustretched sword. The general wariness of this caused the group to spread out a little — Rhasgar trying to keep the pace up at the front, but Kireth and Zero straying towards the back as their charges began to weigh down heavily on their shoulders.

As the group continued northwards along the corridor, they passed the carrion crawlers’ stables, staying clear of the smells and rotten food left out, before coming to the junction at the end of the corridor containing the well.

At his point Khalin piped up, remembering the scrolls and parchments in the Hobgoblin Warchief’s chambers, and laid down the old dwarf against the wall before venturing cautiously into the rooms to grab the parchments and stuff them into a handy leather scroll case.

The others seemed glad of the rest. Although some of their burdens were not as heavy as others, they bearers were all fatigued and realised that even getting out of the keep would be a struggle, let alone venturing further through the wilderness.

On Khalin’s return the group continued their heavy passage back to the surface turning west and then south up the stairs into the maze-like passages where they had found Rangrim in the hidden room.

Although the runes inscribed upon the floor in this chamber might now be inert they took no chances. With torches aloft they plotted their moves carefully, ensuring that none of them trod on any of the strange inscriptions. The journey then seemed simple, further east up the stairs into the goblins’ barracks, and then around the simple pit trap that now seemed so long ago and to the strains of fresh air that wafted down the staircase entranceway.

In all a journey of no more than three or four hundred yards had taken a good half hour. The implications did not go unnoticed.

‘If we carry on like this it will take days to get back to Blackengorge,’ Khalin stated, placing the old dwarf down against one of the stone pillars. ‘There must be a better way.’

‘We can’t take days,’ replied Miri with a worried tone in her voice. She was kneeling over the devil-horned creature, the one they called Sorrow. ‘She’s not going to last days if we don’t get her healing aid. Neither is the elf,’ she added. ‘Their wounds are infected. If they wait for treatment they might never recover.’ Tears welled up in her eyes.

JAN
30

Storyline
Ruined Keep

28

‘Well it’s dark out there,’ interjected Rangrim, shuffling down the steps, ‘but it’s clear and the moon is out. About midnight at my best guess. Bloody cold though.’

Both Miri and Rangrim looked over at Rhasgar, the expectation of wise intructions on their faces.

JAN
30

Storyline
Ruined Keep

29

The dragon-man seemed about to speak when there was a cough like ‘ahem’ from one side of the group. Tradden stepped forwards, the half-orc still carried on his back. Despite being the heaviest of those being carried the young fighter didnt seem to be bothered by the weight.

‘What about…’ he began, as if still thinking the question through, ‘…what about if two of the more able of us, say me and one other, take the two most wounded and make a dash for it as fast as we can. We might benefit from someone to come with us as a scout, but it would mean we could make fast progress. Get them back to Blackengorge as quickly as possible? I know the downside is that those left would be slower as a result. Maybe you could make a litter of somekind to help? Just a suggestion. Its not like we know anywhere nearer, is it?’

There was silence for a moment. This was always a bad move on behalf of civilisation anywhere because Tradden often felt the need to fill it. In this case he tried to showcase his slightly-better-than-basic healing knowledge.

‘Or, are there any herbal remedies we can use that might be around here? Erm, not that I am familiar with such things…’

JAN
30

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Ruined Keep

30

Kireth spoke up, rather quickly, ‘I understand your idea, Tradden and, if we could guarantee we will not run into trouble, it is a good one. Unfortunately, we cannot make that guarantee and I for one do not relish the thought of running into said ’trouble’ when two of our more able-bodied are absent.’ He paused for a moment and actually looked sincere. ‘We’re just in no shape to be splitting forces.’

JAN
31

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31

‘Does anyone know of any settlements out here?’ Zero asked.

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31

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32

‘We should probably stick together — agreed,’ mused Khalin. ‘But if there was a way to get word ahead to Blackengorge that would be advantageous. We should also consider if we want to travel by day or night, because sooner or later we are going to need to rest again. We have strength in numbers, but that is balanced by our wounded.’

He turned towards Rangrim and Rhasgar, his brow furrowing in thought as he considered Zero’s question.

‘Rangrim, you said you’d been brought a fair way. Did you have any maps or other knowledge of these parts?’

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31

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33

Rhasgar looked at Zero and then at Khalin, his sharp eyes glittering in the torchlight. Rangrim was about to speak but the dragon-man spoke first.

‘We are beyond the Stonemarch. There are no settlements out here, there have been none for centuries they say. As for maps, well, they are blank for this area. There is nothing here. Nothing except elusive ruins it seems with hardly anyone brave enough to cross the Stonemarch and fear the dragons’ wrath. There are orcs and goblins — they will live anywhere they can — and there are the restless undead. But, no, there are no settlements. None except the one you say now exists.’

FEB
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34

Again there was silence.

Again, there were consequences.

Tradden piped up. ‘Sorry, just couldn’t help thinking you just said ’Dragon’. Are we talking about the same thing here? Big scaly, flappy thing? Breathes fire?’

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Rhasgar stifled a small chuckle when he realised Tradden was serious.

His eyes narrowed at the young fighter, and took on a steely glare. ‘You say you have never heard of Korosphylax or Aethelinda, then?’ He paused, perhaps for dramatic effect, or perhaps to judge if Tradden were speaking the truth.

‘These two dragons — scaly and flappy, yes — have ruled the Stonemarch for decades. It would be folly to venture further west in our current plight. We are in no physical state to flee dragons.

‘To your other question, no, these two do not breathe fire. Not as far as I am aware, at any rate. They spew forth streams of acid, I am told. Enough to dissolve carts, horses, guards, and goods. They are best avoided if one can.’

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36

‘Acid? Streams of? Ah Well, as long as it’s not fire we are alright!’ replied Tradden, with slightly unnecessary theatrics.

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Ruined Keep

37

‘It appears we have but a simple choice in the first instance,’ Rhasgar began, ignoring the hysterics of the young fighter. He seemed to single out Khalin as the leader of the group, concentrating on the warlord with a captivating stare. ‘We head east over rugged terrain, possibly a tenday or more march with the wounded, through countryside littered with goblins and the chance of meeting the dragons, carrying our wounded on our backs that may not make the journey. Or we head west, to your settlement, with the chance for us all to survive and strike back out east another day.’

He paused for a moment, weighing up the options, but the decision was easy.

‘It appears we have no real choice, though. We must head west.’

The dragon-man studied his own leg, wrapped in the splint, throbbing and aching.

‘The second instance is more difficult. The choice is harder. I feel, like you Khalin, that we must stick together. We are too weary to split our forces, yet speed is of the essence.

‘Are we all fit to travel now, or do we need to rest? I would rather strike out now even though going would be slow, rather than stay here. If there are more goblins out there than they may be headed in this direction if it is a known stronghold. I would rather not be here in this state if they arrive.

‘We do not have a woodsman in our group, but if we’re travelling through the forest as you say, I’d estimate we could move a league perhaps by sun up. Were there any landmarks we could pause and rest at on the way?’

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‘As to our route here… hmm. Well, we had a nice little secluded camp set out within view of some strange excavation site a way back in that direction,’ pointed Tradden, scratching his now designer-esque stubble with the other hand. The fighter had not put down the heavy half-orc. It was like it wasn’t there. The effect was slightly comical, or at least it would have been had anyone been in any kind of mood approaching humour.

‘Although we were concerned that it might be exposed if any goblins, there were a lot around, had heard the battle. Before that we had holed up an an abandoned cabin. Erm — there were wolves. Lots of them. Prior to that we had spent an uncomfortable period hunkered down against a large wall near a crumbling old gate. Wow — it feels like tendays ago!’

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Khalin stroked his beard, trying to remember distances. Finally, he spoke up. ‘I think it was a mile, maybe more, from here to the excavation site, then perhaps another two or three to the cabin. That, however, was without carrying people. We were waylaid by goblins on the way and fought drakes at the excavation site which depleted our energies. I would think it would be a league or maybe a league and a half or so to the cabin from here — probably six hours march with our burdens.’

Rhasgar studied Khalin intensely for a moment, gathering his thoughts. ‘Then we strike out immediately,’ he began, rising from the floor ungracefully. ‘If you agree, of course. A cabin with a roof and walls will serve us better than an open camp in our current condition. If we can get there just after sunrise, we can take stock and plan our next move.’

The warlord nodded in agreement. Splitting up in the dark was not ideal — perhaps once they were at the cabin, and the sun was up, they could send scouts out ahead if it was required.

‘Agreed,’ said Khalin. ‘We can share what rations we have at the cabin, and then plan from there.’

‘Good,’ responded the dragon-man. ‘Right, everyone, let’s keep going. Up and out of here, and then south.’

The larger group checked their equipment, heaved their unconscious comrades over their shoulders, and headed up the winding stairway into the darkness of night.

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Northern Woodlands

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The group seemed not to notice the chill as they stepped out into the blackness — the uncanny cold in the keep had dulled their senses somewhat to the elements. The fresh air, however, was a blessing and after a few gulped mouthfuls they realised the extent of the stench and carnage they had been exposed to. The air here was sweet and refreshed them no end. If they had not been bloodied and battered and at the edge of their endurance then they would have likely cried for joy at the taste.

As such they plodded onwards, concentrating on keeping their footing within the forest and the darkness. Rhasgar led out in the front, striding purposefully forwards on his crutch, the other arm holding aloft one of the torches to light the way. The rest were straggled out behind him in varied states of pain and exhaustion, with Aukan the goliath at the rear trying to keep everyone moving up where he could with a strong helping hand.

After two hours of marching, mainly in silence, Rhasgar called for a rest. All seemed to be relieved, and lay down their comrades carefully before stretching and rubbing the aches and pains.

‘We must be near the excavation site,’ whispered Zero to Tradden. ‘I’d rather not get too close to that place.’

The rogue didn’t get chance. It was only a few moments before Rhasgar called for the group to move on once more, continuing the trek southwards along a thin trail — presumably the one the heroes had followed north only days ago.

The familiar pace of the march became a mantra in the heroes’ minds. One step after another. Keep moving. Khalin fared best, his dwarven endurance allowing him to keep the pace and find the energies to cajole and lift the spirits of those around him. Tradden’s wiry strength allowed him to carry the half-orc well, but he was starting to suffer from stiffness and the awkward size of the brute. Kireth felt empty with the weight of the burden on his shoulders, he had no energy and nothing left to give — he was sullen and quiet, lost in the shadows of his own thoughts and spoke to no-one. Stubborn pride kept him moving, though, regardless of how much he wanted to throw down the elf and walk alone. Zero was also suffering, the rogue sweating profusely and complaining at every opportunity about the weight, the cold, the marching, the tree roots that were trying to trip him up on purpose, the low branches trying to slap his cheeks, and even the moon glinting through the forest canopy being allied against him.

The pace did not slacken for hours. Khalin’s enthusiastic comments had died down and even Zero’s complaining had been silenced. As the patches of sky visible through the trees began to lighten, the warlord judged they were close to the cabin and let Rhasgar know.

‘We’re close,’ the warlord began as he increased his pace to pull alongside the dragon-man. ‘My advice would be to keep our eyes alert for wolves, should any be close.’

‘A wise thought,’ replied Rhasgar. ‘They will smell our weakness.’

Rhasgar kept moving, with Khalin alongside him, then as if from nowhere the cabin rose in front of them in the clearing.

‘Your directions are uncannily accurate, my dwarven friend,’ congratulated Rhasgar, with the appearance of a smile upon his dragon-like jaws.

Khalin noticed the weariness and pain upon the dragon-man’s features for the first time. They all needed a rest, badly.

‘Wait here a moment,’ stated Khalin, and began to put the old dwarf down on the floor.

Taking the torch from Rhasgar he unclipped his shield from his back and drew Aecris. With the now-familiar craghammer in his hand he marched forwards into the clearing towards the dilapidated building.

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Abandoned Shack

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Khalin carefully approached the nearest door, listening out for signs of any enemies.

[Khalin Stealth Check: 1d20+4: 14] - success!

[Khalin Perception Check: 1d20+3: 23] - critical success!

The only sounds that greeted Khalin appeared to be those of the dawn chorus as the birds and wildlife around the abandoned shack were starting to come to life. The shack itself seemed to be empty and silent.

The warlord pushed open the northern door with the tip of his craghammer and slowly stepped inside. The interior appeared to be much as they had left it previously, the musty smell pervaded the small room and the broken pieces of furniture, almost comically arranged in the brightening dawn, were as they left them. The fireplace held the remnants of the fire that had been lit by Kireth, now just a pile of ash.

With a quick sweep of the torch Khalin was confident the shack was empty, and called out to the others to join him.

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The others followed Khalin’s call, all of them grateful for a moment of rest. The unconscious and infirm were laid in the shack’s bedchamber whilst the conscious set to finding sticks and logs for a fire. Within a few minutes a fire was going, a pot had been found, and a thick broth was starting to warm up over the flames.

Zero lay against one of the walls of the shack, rubbing his aching limbs and stiff neck, his eyes closing as he tried to fight off sleep. Tradden was being as helpful as he could, offering to fetch and carry and anything else he thought might be of use. Kireth found the darkest corner he could, pulled his hood around his face, and sat silently and unmoving.

Khalin removed some of the parchment maps from the hobgoblin warchief’s chambers from the scroll case and stretched them out on the floor. He beckoned Rhasgar over and started to lay out their plans.

‘We’re about here,’ Khalin suggested, pointing to an area towards the right-hand side of the map. ‘The forest thins out now and ends by the road about a mile south of here. We should be a little quicker travelling on the Old Road, but it’s still a long way, probably three or four leagues. It’s a good twelve hours march at our current rate, more so if we do not get much rest.’

The dragon-man simply nodded in agreement. It was obvious that he was at the limits of his endurance himself. The pain of limping along on his leg must be excruciating, but he had never once complained.

‘Then we rest for a while, as you suggest,’ Rhasgar offered. ‘But no more than a couple of hours. Enough to rest limbs and to eat well. We need to get Sorrow and the elf to your healers as soon as we can.’

‘Let us hope that Moradin paves the way clear for us along the Old Road,’ responded Khalin. ‘We are still in no position for combat and we will be travelling in the clear daylight.

‘Indeed. We must take that risk I am afraid. I see no other sensible choice. Miri,’ Rhasgar called out to the lady, ‘how are our patients?’

Whilst the group had been gathering wood and lighting the fire Miri had been tending to those that had been lain in the bedchamber.

‘They’re stable,’ she replied. ‘Or at least as stable as they’re going to be at the moment. Perhaps the half-orc might come round soon, he’s been talking in his sleep whilst he’s been laid here. Nothing much intelligible, I’m afraid. Sorrow and the elf are not improving though. We need to get them to the healer, Rhasgar.’

‘I know,’ sighed Rhasgar. ‘We’re going as quickly as we can, Miri.’

Khalin took the cue and stood up. ‘Right, everyone,’ he began. ‘We’ve got two hours rest here. Get yourself some food, rest up, and prepare for the next stint. We’ll head for the Gorge Wall Gate next, a full eight hours march or so.’

There was a groan from the corner from a Zero-shaped bundle.

‘We’ll stop on the way where we can, but we need to be making haste. Get yourself prepared.’

The warlord’s voice was controlled and authoritative and although there were groans and sighs the group all knew it made sense.

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Khalin was about to turn, to go to tend the wounded for himself when a clawed hand grabbed hold of his arm.

‘This settlement of yours, this Blackengorge,’ Rhasgar queried, ‘how long has it been there?’

‘About ten months or so,’ Khalin replied, ‘though we’ve only been there this past tenday. Our ship was lost at sea. It was supposed to be the start of many folk coming to these lands, but with the loss of the ship who knows if more will come.’

‘And you know nothing of these lands; Winterhaven, the Stonemarch, Fallcrest, the Vale?’ continued the dragon-man.

‘No, by my honour,’ answered Khalin proudly. ‘Though I crave to know the lay of the land and what has become of my dwarven brethren.’

‘Then perhaps we should share tales, my dwarven friend,’ Rhasgar mused, ‘although Sorrow is by far a finer storyteller than I. I’m sure she will help fill in the gaps that my clumsy words leave when she is well.

‘But, we should eat first. Nothing good can come of an empty stomach, they say.’

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Khalin moved swiftly to source some of the broth for both himself and Rhasgar and settled back down next to the dragon-man. Zero had already started to snore, but Tradden inched closer to listen to the conversation. Kireth did not move, but remained hidden under his hood, though no doubt was fully aware of the idle talk.

The warlord had already given Rhasgar a brief overview of Blackengorge and quickly offered a what little more information he had. The attacks by the goblins, further detail on the strange happenings under the mausoleum, the marshland, lake, and strange tower of mists. It was the Gorge Wall Gate that seemed to pique Rhasgar’s interest the most.

‘You say this wall stretched from cliffside to the lake, then? All of the way across the gorge?’ asked Rhasgar, studying Khalin carefully as he spoke. ‘Quite a feat of engineering. And to what end one might ask. To what end indeed.’

The dwarf felt as though he were on the edge of some precipice with knowledge waiting far below. His heart beat louder and his breath came faster as a giddying sensation tingled through his body.

Then, abruptly, the conversation turned.

‘I hail from Fallcrest,’ Rhasgar stated. ‘It is a small town, perhaps passable for a city within the Vale, as it certainly once was. Maybe a thousand in all live there, maybe two. Most of us,’ he continued with a wide gesture of his arm towards his own comrades, ‘now live there. It is in the centre of a Vale, the Nentir Vale, perhaps fifty leagues across from the Cairngorm Peaks in the west to the Dawnforge Mountains in the east and maybe thirty or so leagues from the Winterbole Forest to the north down to the Harken Forest in the south.

‘Our community may be small, but it is varied. Humans mainly, but elves, halflings, tieflings, dragonborn like myself, and dwarves all seem to live together fairly well. A bright light, one might say, in a sea of darkness. There are other communities like ours, out there in the wilderness. Some we keep in touch with, others we have lost contact. The grip of the Iron Circle and that of Karkoth ever tightens and we have remained vigilant to protect ourselves as long as we can remember.

‘Perhaps as long as our community remains small, and does not interfere too much with the outside world, we will not be crushed. It is only a century past since the Bloodspears descended from the Stonemarch and laid waste to the Vale. We are recovering still from that.’

‘I’m not sure I understand,’ Khalin interrupted. ‘What is this Iron Circle, this Karkoth?’

‘The Iron Circle are a cult, dedicated to devil worship,’ Rhasgar spat. ‘The Karkothi drive for power and mastery across the world, using whatever arms or foul magics they can. Between the pair they devastate the lands and each attempt to gain control in their own grip.

‘They started to come to power some five hundred years ago. Our Empire of Nerath was a peaceful one, then, stretching from the Stonemarch to the Dragondown Coast and east over the Midnight Sea to the Zannad Jungles, a shining example of what civilisation could become. But all civilisations must fall, it seems, like Arkhosia and Bael-Turath before it,’ he glanced over to the bedchamber and the prostrate Sorrow.

‘New powers arose, and spies infiltrated the cities, turning state upon state. We were driven back, west and north, even over the Stonemarch they say. A last stand by the King. A battle to end all battles. Legions of dragonborn and humans and elves and dwarves, all together, comrades in arms.’

The dragon-man, a ’dragonborn’ it seemed, had a faraway look in his eye. Perhaps it was pride in his forebears of battle, or maybe even a wish that he could have been there.

‘And what happened?’ asked Khalin, thirsty for the knowledge.

A sad look overcame the dragonborn. ‘A great wall had been erected, keeping out the hordes that Karkoth threw at us. Again and again they assaulted the walls, and again and again they were rebuffed. Thousands and thousands died they said, sinking into marshes only to rise again and assault the walls once more.’

‘The walls held?’ asked Khalin incredulously.

Rhasgar paused for a moment as if contemplating the dwarf’s words.

‘They might have, yes,’ he began. ‘They might have. Supplies were becoming scarce for us, but the walls might have held, the battle could have been won.’

‘They did not, then?’ surmised Khalin.

‘No, they did not. But they were not toppled by force alone. A company broke ranks on our side. They turned and fled, joining the women and children on boats that were being prepared just in case, and sailed away. Their positions on the walls were overrun, and despite a last hurrah from the wizards, the King was slain and we were scattered to the winds as their ranks tore through us.

‘The Empire fell that day and civilisation turned to chaos. It has taken nearly five hundred years to rebuild what little we have now. The years have been dark and dismal, though we have never been subjugated — both the Iron Circle and the Karkothi seemed content just with our decimation.’

‘We hold a similar tale,’ offered Khalin. ‘The same battle, perhaps, with the last stand, a ’Great Retreat’. The two cannot be coincidence, it must be the same.’

‘Do the tales offer you the name of the company, then?’ asked Rhasgar.

Khalin thought for a moment, attempting to remember what history he could. ‘No, as far as I can remember they do not.’

‘They who survive live to write the annals, they say,’ stated Rhasgar, ‘though I do not hold you responsible.’

‘Responsible?’ questioned Khalin. ‘What do you mean?’

Rhasgar locked Khalin’s eyes with an unwavering stare.

‘The company that broke ranks. The cowards. The traitors. They were a dwarven clan. Clan Grundokri.’

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Khalin had been listening intently to Rhasgar’s tale, hanging on every word of the story of civilisation won and lost, of cities’ rise and fall. At the dragonborn’s final revelation the warlord recoiled as if struck.

The noble dwarf glanced down a moment, his head moving slowly from one side to the other, eyes wide, as he digested the words.

His reply was barely a whisper at first. ‘You lie.’

But the volume and timbre of his words grew as he continued, slowly at first, ‘We risk life and limb to save you and your comrades,’ the dwarf couldn’t help an involuntary glance at Tradden as he spoke, before quickly returning his gaze to the dragonborn before him, ‘and you repay us by casting tales of treachery and dishonour at my door! At my clan!’ His voice was by now almost a roar and the others arrayed about the cabin looked up in surprise.

This was infamy. The mere thought of treachery and cowardice made the bile rise in Khalin’s throat. He had journeyed into this wilderness in search of the lost dreams of the dwarves of old, and now the tale felt like it was turning into a nightmare. He snarled at the dragon ’man’ before him. ‘You know nothing of dwarven honour!’ The accusation was hurled firmly at Rhasgar, but again Khalin stole a glance aside, this time at Kireth.

[Khalin Insight Check: 1d20+3: 19] - success!

When he looked back at the dragonborn he could feel some understanding in those eyes. Rhasgar was telling the truth, albeit perhaps from only one side of the story. A rage that had been building up within the warlord started to subside. He looked at his weapon Aecris, the craghammer wielded by the dwarven Lord Garrack, who had his own tale of dishonour, and began to turn away in disgust and shame.

‘My clan are no traitors, nor cowards,’ he stated in a low but firm voice. ‘This, I swear, I will prove.’

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The dragonborn eyed Khalin watchfully as the warlord’s shoulders appeared to slump.

‘My dwarven friend,’ started Rhasgar. ‘After the darkness and shadow of that ruined keep I do not doubt your honour nor your bravery. However, if you wish to explore these lands you appear to so desire to see then you must be prepared for what you find. Even after all of these years, more than four centuries, there are names and deeds that are still remembered from those dark times. Not everyone will have the opportunity to see your honour and bravery in action and will judge solely from a name. As Rangrim did when he met you. I, for one, would welcome you at my side in battle, but there are those that will seek out things that are not there and try to make them real.

‘When we journey back to the Nentir Vale my advice would be to keep your clan name to yourself, lest it bring ruin upon you.’

Rhasgar laid aside the now empty bowl. ‘As for honour, I believe I know more than you think. In my ancestors’ past there have been many times of honourable and dishonourable deeds, none more so than when dragonborn waged war against tiefling.’ He cast another look across at Sorrow. ‘I believe I go some way to make amends for past misdemeanours. This road is open to all of us.

Now rest. You have much to think about before we continue our journey.’

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Tradden strode into the centre of the room at this point.

‘Yes, well,’ he began, clapping his hands together in a ‘hey guys — we are all friends!’ kind of way. ‘It’s been a tough old day alright ladies, gents and, er, dragonborns, but we all need the rest. Now, last time we were here there were lots and lots of wolves in these woods. Lots. They were, would you believe, barging their way through the walls. Some of them were invisible… Anyway, I know we are all completely knackered but I think we should set two people watching, barricade the windows, doors and holes as best we can and keep our weapons at hand.’

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Tradden’s words broke some of the tension in the air and there were general nods of agreement. Khalin hefted his warhammer thoughtfully and headed to the front door to keep watch and to keep his own tongue, Aukan the goliath headed towards the back door and settled down next to it, his hands firmly on his maul.

The young fighter began to place various pieces of broken furniture up against the windows as best he could and then settled down himself to regain his strength.

It had only seemed moments before a hand clasped his shoulder accompanied by a weary sounding sigh from Khalin. ‘C’mon, lad, it’s time to go.’

‘But we were about to rest,’ Tradden blurted as he shook his head to clear his vision.

‘Hmm,’ grunted Khalin. ‘You did rest. Now on your feet, let’s go.’

Around the cabin people were getting ready to leave. None of the injured appeared to have woken, but Miri seemed content that none of them had worsened.

‘At least it’s bright outside,’ stated Rangrim, settling the limp body of the human male over his shoulder. ‘Not too cold today, either. Who knows, we might make good progress.’

The day was indeed bright, and somewhat warm for the time of year. The extended group gradually headed south through the thinning woodland with raised spirits, perhaps with the exception of Khalin, who did not seem his usual jovial self.

It did not seem too long before they stumbled upon the remains of the Old Road, overgrown cobblestones providing firmer footing in most places. They turned west and headed along the gorge, eyes and ears open as best they could under their burdens.

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The Old Road

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The initial cheer seemed to be short-lived. The bright day soon turned overcast as clouds swept down from the north bringing with them a chill wind. Along the cobblestone road there was little shelter, the trees had thinned and the countryside had reverted to the familiar scrubland. The group stopped alongside the track where overhangs created a windbreak at frequent intervals, resting their weary shoulders and legs, but the combined urges from Khalin and Rhasgar kept them going.

They paused for a longer rest at what they guessed was midday. A small hollow, surrounded by trees gave them respite from the biting wind for some moments, and they munched on the dwindling rations they had remaining. Although the heroes had set out with a good amount of rations between them, they had not anticipated having to share them, particularly with a giant the size of Aukan.

‘Roast boar,’ sighed Zero, resting up against one of the trees. ‘That’s what I’m going to have. A bath, a change from these stinking clothes, and a roast boar. One of that Skillet’s best.’

Tradden nodded. Zero had mentioned a bath and food several times now, and it was starting to become irritating. The rogue had complained incessantly, although with no malice, the length of the trip from the abandoned shack. It had made Tradden’s skin itch and his belly rumble.

‘You’ll get your boar I’m sure,’ Tradden replied, noting Khalin motioning for them to get up and continue. ‘For me, I just want a bed,’ he added, pulling the half-orc over his shoulder and setting off once more.

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The clouds gathered and darkened as they trudged to the west. Through the gloom Zero thought he could spy mist and shadows swirling around to the south and Khalin confirmed that might signify the marshlands that he and Tradden had visited only a few days before. It now seemed an age ago.

Fortunately, the rain, or snow, held off and the company managed to make good progress along the Old Road. They took another extended break as dusk crept up on them and ate the last of their rations.

‘An hour or two at most to the gate,’ suggested Khalin. ‘We’re nearly there, lads. Let’s keep going.’

The dwarf’s words rallied all that heard, but Kireth could sense the weariness and despair in them.

Darkness began to fall as they moved on and with it the cold grew in strength. It sapped energy from already wearied limbs and stung their faces when it whipped up into squalls.

Torches were lit along the train, with Rhasgar lighting the group from the front and the inexhaustible Aukan providing light from the rear.

When the crumbling walls of the Gorge Wall Gate finally came flickering into view there was an audible cry of relief, particularly from Zero. The end of the trek was near and the group joyously filtered into the clearing near the gate, their faces sweating and breath condensing in the air.

Sheltering in the nooks and crannies of the stonework, Khalin addressed the group.

‘We’re no more than a league away now. Two hours at most on this final stretch. We’ve done well to get so far so quickly. Let’s take a moment’s rest before we continue.’

After ensuring that the old grey-bearded dwarf he carried was comfortable against the stones Khalin marched off to the south along the line of the ruined wall. Only a couple of hundred yards to the south he paused at a clump of the wall that still partially remained. Perhaps it was here that the deed that would haunt his thoughts had happened, perhaps it was from here that they had turned and fled. He placed his palms flat against the wall and touched the stonework with his forehead. He remained like that for some moments, lost in thought.

A shriek of a bird, wheeling above, broke his contemplation — a raven, perhaps, or an eagle. So late at night. Then he heard the low howl of a wolf, rising up to an unseen moon above the clouds. There was another, this time closer, but Khalin was already running back to the group.

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Everybody was suddenly very busy. Tradden did his bit but all the while he was thinking. Always thinking, that boy.

[Tradden Insight Check: 1d20+3: 5] - failure!

‘I reckon,’ he suddenly announced, ‘they will come from there, and probably there, and there.’ He pointed to various directions. ‘We can block them here, potentially flank here and turn them there.’ He looked pleased with his tactical assessment.

For a moment both Khalin and Rhasgar stopped for a moment. Previous tensions forgotten about for a split second the dwarf and dragonborn met eyes. Then they both laughed.

‘I hope you fight better than you plan, young sir!’ offered up Rhasgar.

Then everyone carried on. Tradden just stood there for a moment, suddenly at a very quiet centre of a hive of activity.

‘I was just saying, s’all.’

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For once it was Zero that spoke up, frustrated by the delay to his bath and boar.

‘Move into the space between the walls here,’ he ordered, surprising Khalin and Rhasgar. ‘Bring the injured and pile them near me.’

The rogue drew his crossbow and made a stand in the middle of the ruins, directing those bringing limp bodies to his side.

‘Kireth, you stand near me. You others, block the entrances. Don’t let anything through. Use your torches to light the scrub outside, I don’t want anything sneaking up on us.’

There was a certain thrill for the young man in having his orders followed to the letter. The warriors took up defensive positions in the gaps in the walls as more howls carried on the night air.

‘Here they come!’ shouted Tradden, as he spotted four wolves to the south.

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[…continued in Book #01, Chapter #08, Scene #04…]