Kireth watched his own hands shaking through unnearthly chill with a mild sense of amusement and curiosity.
When he heard the frame of the wooden trebuchet creak, groan and then crash he felt the eyes of the others
turn unto him, teetering on the edge of the ice.
Through an iron will he brought his limbs under control and stepped coolly away from the shattered holes in
the ice of the creek, bending down and picking up the broken arrow that had been lodged in the zombie’s
Flush with anger, he tried to control himself by studying the thing, turning it over and over in his hands
until he regained some sense of warmth.
Khalin surveyed the scene. Tradden’s whirling dervish of destruction had been an impressive sight,
and the dwarf breathed a sigh of relief as he saw Kireth’s trademark frown return, along with some
strength to his limbs.
‘Well done everyone,’ the dwarf nodded warmly to each of the group, nevertheless drawing a
diversity of reactions. ‘There’s little chance of a rest now. If this is the Mouth of
the Sleeper you can bet every orc within a league knows we’re here. But let’s at least
press on with some caution.’
Zero had trudged across the ice, still looking a little pale at how close Kireth had come to falling. The
dwarf clapped the rogue on the arm as he approached. ‘Take a quick look at these orcs, Zero, would
you — see if there’s anything on them that gives us a clue to what they’re
up to, or how many there might be.’
Khalin turned round to find Tradden. ‘We’ll take a look a little further up this hill and see
what we can see,’ the dwarf suggested. ‘That should give Zero time to see if he can find
With that the warlord began a slow and wary trek up the snomy slope, Tradden bounding after him to catch
Zero watched them go for a moment before turning to the nearest corpse — the charred
hobgoblin, the larger of the two, and what Zero presumed had been their leader. It hadn’t even had
chance to make any move before Kireth had blasted it with fire and Zero himself had finished it off.
The mage hadn’t left a lot for Zero to search through. Its skin was blackened and armour had been
melted onto its skin. The rogue retrieved his bolt from the creature’s throat, wiping it clean
in the snow and melted slush around, before rising and moving across to the second of the hobgoblins.
This one was in better shape, giving Zero the chance to turn out its pouches and search for any pockets.
The rogue turned up a few silver coins that the goblinoid had been carrying, along with some herbs or
spices or “magic dust” in a couple of pouches that he threw towards Kireth. He also picked
up the hobgoblin’s gnarled staff, a little tentatively, before passing that carefully to the mage.
There were no markings or symbols upon the hobgoblin’s light armour, not anything that looked out
of the ordinary. Or at least compared to any of the other hobgoblins they had met so far.
The orcs, however, were a different story. Gingerly stepping back onto the ice, with one eye flirting
back and forwards between the two dark holes, Zero glided towards the nearest orcish brute. It was large
and powerful dressed in dark leather armour that was shoddily made. Within a couple of moments Zero
had found little of value within its limited pockets bringing a low sigh of resignation from the rogue,
realising that further examination of the remaining bodies would likely be fruitless.
Unlike the hobgoblins, however, the orc was covered in markings. Predominantly over its neck, but also
leading up to one of its eyes were crude marks, tattoos, or perhaps even scars. The marks were coarse
and dark, rounded circles almost like that of eyes, but with a cut or slash across them. The one on its
own eye seemed to be more like a scar than the others, perhaps even weeping a little in the cold.
[Zero finds 4 silver coins]
Zero shivered, standing back up and headed back towards the northern bank.
Whilst Zero looked over the bodies Khalin grabbed a handful of snow and washed off the unmentionables
from the business end of Aecris.
‘Come on, lad,’ he beckoned to Tradden. ‘We made a right old racket and no
mistake — if there is anyone or anything within a couple of leagues of here they know
where we are. Let’s go and scout up there before we completely lose the initiative.’
Ignoring the moans of the young fighter the dwarf and the human started to climb the rise leading up from
the far side of the bank, starting to move stealthily at the warlord’s signal. Slowly they climbed
the incline, through the slushy snow caused by Kireth’s magics and around and over the debris
strewn from Tradden’s attack on the trebuchet.
[Khalin Stealth Check: 1d20+4: 22] - success!
[Tradden Stealth Check: 1d20+8: 25] - success!
After around thirty or forty yards the slope started to level off and there was a hint of a clearing
in-between the trees at the top of the rise. Still moving stealthily the two scouts approached
[Khalin Perception Check: 1d20+4: 22] - success!
[Tradden Perception Check: 1d20+8: 25] - success!
On closer inspection the strange gnarled trees were arranged in a circular formation, almost forming a
“barrier” around a central clearing.
Without approaching too closely Khalin peered forwards and could just about see a couple of statues, atop
a raised hillock in the centre. The statues resembled a cloaked figure with face and arms raised to the
sky, with perhaps another broken one close by. There were also a couple of lifeless twisted trees in the
centre of the hillock. Behind the statues were shadows — it was hard to tell, however,
whether there were things in the shadows. Khalin thought there were but was wary that his imagination
might be playing tricks on him.
Khalin had also noticed, as perhaps only a dwarf would, that the hillock itself was a bit odd. It
didn’t look natural — the shape was weird and there was something else about it
that he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
‘Alright…’ he hissed to the watchful Tradden, ‘let’s head back down!’
Kireth had to keep his anger in check, now was not the time. He focused elsewhere. Rolling the arrow he
had plucked from the undead over in his hand he studied the signature markings carefully. There was
little doubt but he fished into his pouch nonetheless. Yes, the same.
First the ring, now the arrows. Coincidence was becoming a little too coincidental for his liking. He
walked over to Zero and flipped him one of the rusty arrowheads. ‘Ever seen markings like that?
May be not exactly the same, as these are very old, but perhaps similar? Perhaps decendants? Similar
Zero looked long and hard at the arrowhead. Its design was eerie and familiar. He pondered, running
through his memories, before finally settling on one. With a low register in a fearful key, he reported,
‘This design was on those amulets we found beneath that mansion back in Deepingwald. This was
just after Tradden and I met up with all of you.’ He rubbed his chin. ‘And… there was
a letter, stained with ink. It mentioned new recruits and mind-washing and something about snuffing out
light and basically making everything horrible.’
As the wind started up, blowing through the gnarled trees, Zero attended sharply, as though he were
Kireth nodded, as if confirming his suspicions, before slowly walking over to the remains of the
The hobgoblin had done well to avoid Kireth’s magic when all around it had been incinerated. The
mage had to give it credit for that. Some innate resistance, perhaps, as Kireth had determined the
hobgoblin’s staff was just a limb of one of the gnarled trees, nothing magical or special.
Kireth had still been able to pick the creature up and throw it backwards, though, over the width of the
creek. His power was growing.
He looked up when he saw Khalin and Tradden coming back down the slope, and readied himself for whatever
lay ahead without a word.
Khalin and Tradden returned to the riverbank, the dwarf’s brow furrowed in thought.
‘I’d assumed this “Mouth” was a cave,’ the warlord mused, ‘but up
there looks like more like a barrow.’ He raised his eyes towards Kireth — the
half-elf looked more dour than ever. ‘I’d feel happier if you’d take a look Kireth,
see what you make of it. But we must be cautious, I fear there are reinforcements abroad.’
The dwarf regarded the others, and determination and steel returned to his eyes. ‘We came here to
put this evil to rest, once and for all.’ Khalin looked long into the eyes of each of his
comrades. ‘Well, now is the hour. Whatever lurks up there, it has never faced the Pride of The
He thumped the head of his craghammer into his gauntlet with purpose. ‘Ready yourselves,
friends,’ he smiled confidently. ‘Let’s go!’
Khalin turned and moved cautiously up the slope, Tradden falling in quickly behind and motioning the
others to follow. Kireth sighed and simply strode up the slope with confidence leaving Zero and Beltak
to shrug at each other, draw a deep breath, and venture onwards.
After Kireth’s flame and the many boots of the hobgoblins, Tradden and Khalin, the slope had been
slowly turning to slush, but the rising wind, whisling through the stark branches of the grotesque
trees, sang a cold tune, and the melting snow was rapidly turning back to ice. It made the going slow,
as the group needed to keep their eyes open in front of them, not down at their feet.
[Khalin Stealth Check: 1d20+4: 16] - success!
[Kireth Stealth Check: 1d20+5: 16] - success!
[Tradden Stealth Check: 1d20+8: 19] - success!
[Zero Stealth Check: 1d20+14: 17] - success!
[Beltak Stealth Check: 1d20+4: 14] - failure!
Unconsciously, the group spread out as best they could as they climbed the slope, each stepping slowly
and carefully on the icy surface. Only once did one of them slip, Beltak losing his footing and falling
down on his knee with a crunch on the brittle surface.
However, although Khalin was fully aware that if there was someone at the top of the hill they would know
that there was another group here in battle, their cautious approach wouldn’ betray how many their
group contained and the timing of their ascent.
As they neared the top of the slope Khalin raised his hand, motioning the group to halt its progress and
take stock of the rise before them.
[Khalin Perception Check: 1d20+3: 11] - failure!
[Kireth Perception Check: 1d20+3: 20] - success!
[Tradden Perception Check: 1d20+5: 6] - critical failure!
[Zero Perception Check: 1d20+11: 15] - success!
[Beltak Perception Check: 1d20+7: 22] - success!
All could see the clearing before them, ringed by more gnarled trees on all sides in a giant circle or
oval. Some twenty feet or so into this clearing was a steep embankment, leading sharply upwards quickly,
hiding the very top from view. However, the tops of a couple of statues could be seen, their arms lifing
up towards the sky.
Scattered over the hillock were some thick bushes and large, old, gnarly trees. Ideal hiding places for
any enemies. Khalin and Tradden, already having viewed the scene seemed more concerned with what may
be atop the hillock, but the others, seeing for the first time, noticed things the pair had not.
Zero pointed sharply at the statue to the east, his keen eyes spotting a humanoid form lurking within
the shadows from the dawning sun. Beltak directed glances over to the west, at one of the bushes growing
on the raised slope, its thick branches rustling contrary to the wind. Kireth, all traces of his scowl
removed, cocked his head to one side, looking at the encircling trees.
[Kireth Nature Check: 1d20+3: 20] - success!
The mage spotted a number of large black birds within the trees — the first they had
seen anywhere within this wood. They were quiet, though, unnaturally quiet, and all of them had their
dark, beady eyes focussed upon the group.
Cautious and stealth as they were, however, the group were spotted. A sharp, guttural cry came from the
top of the hill, presumably from the figure within the shadows of the statue.
The battle on the hill began.