The party gets under way on the morning of Day Eleven. The percussive thumping heard last night remains a mystery. Magnus, Elroy Wick, Kulich, Goa Finnbjorn, Yorgenson Uberson, and Corun Dum’man look in all directions, but there is nothing new on the grassy slopes of the highland valley.
The day is grey and overcast. The river flows along the valley floor beside them, providing food from its pools and shoreline to skilled foragers. The valley is about ten kilometers wide now, rolling with hills and contained by steep mountains. After three or four hours of hiking, Goa and Magnus Spot a mountain pass cutting into the otherwise unbroken white snow teeth. The pass would lead west from this valley.
As the party fixates on this pass, they crest a low hill. Spread before them is a surprise that is difficult to take in all at once. Below them for a considerable distance ahead and to the sides, there lies the scarred earth of what had been a major encampment, now wholly vacant. Black fire-pits dot the landscape, as do refuse piles. The dirt is torn where tent-poles and spikes were hammered and removed; all across this plain the grass is trampled into the scuffed earth. Only the wind moves in the trash and bones.
Cautiously, the party advances into this wasteland, investigating the evidence left behind. The gruesome task of identifying the bones falls to Elroy Wick. He is disgusted to learn that many remains are human – the bones show cuts where meat was removed and presumably consumed. Corun Dum’man sifts the refuse pits and finds torn fabric symbols of “The Fist”. This confirms suspicions of a major Orc camp. A few tracks lead away north; hunting parties of Orcs that Magnus and his friends fought further up the valley.
This encampment was occupied until about a week ago. Succeeding on an INT check to keep count, the party tallies enough fire pits to safely estimate that an army of 1,500 to 2,000 Orcs spent time here. That is a larger army than the one surrounding North Point. It may be that this army came from the south and turned to take the mountain pass. Or the tracks may indicate that the contingent came from the pass and now proceeds south. The evidence is not conclusive either way.
As they survey the defiled site, the group makes a Spot check. Some members of the party noticed movement in the hills off to their right. They look but see nothing. It might have just been birds.
Leaving the encampment, the group heads south. When the foulness of the Orc grounds are well behind them, the party resumes foraging (Survival) to feed themselves. Mid afternoon comes and another Spot check. The Rogue’s keen eyes detect movement but Goa cannot pinpoint a source when she looks hard. It is as if they are being shadowed by something. Magnus convinces the majority of the party not to investigate, and so they continue to follow the river.
Six hours from the site of the army’s camp, the group approaches another homestead. There are three houses and accompanying outbuildings. The search is brief as there is nothing to find – everything was burned, as before. This time there is evidence that a large group camped here for a night and then moved on. Magnus does not like the site, so the party hikes on for an hour and then establishes a camp.
Sunset and then darkness. Corun and Yorgenson are on watch when, after midnight, the group needs a Listen check. Yorgenson Uberson and sleeping Goa Finnbjorn hear something; the Rogue awakens at the sound of rustling grass in the darkness. Something approaches. Goa and the Druid quickly rouse the others.
The campfire casts light out only about twenty feet. Wizard Corun casts Light of Mercuria on himself, doubling the effective light radius with his golden glow. A Spot check – Goa, Magnus, and Yorgenson notice the glint of light off armor, in two different directions away from their camp.
Elroy Wick calls out a greeting to whatever skulks in the darkness. Kulich has a bad feeling about this situation, and casts Protection From Evil on himself. Corun Dum’man casts Mage Armor on Magnus, as the Fighter does not have time to don his own armor. Then the Wizard challenges the interlopers to show themselves or be destroyed.
A Listen check is a success for Elroy (with a Natural 20 rolled for Listen for a total skill check of 26) and Goa. They both hear the unmistakable twang of a bow-string snapping from a Critical Miss somewhere in the dark. From a different direction, an unexpected arrow Critically Hits the Bard, almost killing him. Elroy drops to one knee, in severe pain.
More arrows fly from the darkness, missing Magnus and Corun. The fight is on as two groups, three Orcs each, charge the party from the front and from behind. Goa chooses one Orc and lets loose with her sling. Magnus charges that same enemy and lands a killing Critical Hit with his Heavy Pick for 44 points of damage.
Facing the second group of three Orcs, Druid Yorgenson Uberson decides to Summon Nature’s Ally. This assistant will arrive momentarily. Injured as he is, Elroy Wick begins a great singing performance (Perform : Sing = 23) worth 3d10 silver, and underscores the descant with Inspire Courage and Inspirational Boost. Kulich hurries to the Bard and taps him with Cure Moderate Wounds, healing Wick back to nearly full.
Corun Dum’man has a new spell in his arsenal; he blasts a burly Orc with Scorching Ray. More arrows wing from the darkness. The party thought these Orcs now in melee were the archers; not so. Magnus is hit by a shaft. Elroy Wick has barely finished the first verse when he is Critically Hit by another arrow. He falls comatose. In his fragile state between life and death, Elroy Wick has terrible visions of his destination if he dies here – the Windswept Depths of Pandemonium. There, his epic voice would be forever drowned out by ceaseless shrieking winds.
The burly Orc and his grim companion advance toward the Wizard. Two fat Orcs crowd Goa – one lands a hit on the Halfling. A badly-scarred Orc steps into melee combat with Fighter Magnus. Both Magnus and his Rogue friend Goa connect with their counter-attacks.
Druid Uberson’s Summoned ally, a black bear, appears from thin air behind the grim and burly Orcs. The bear lunges at the burly Orc. Yorgenson uses the distraction to strike at the grim-looking Orc; the attack is a Critical Miss and the Druid is the one to be hit. The Orcs do not seem happy to have a massive ursine monster behind them.
Kulich saves Wick’s life and career with a Cure Moderate Wounds. This revives the Bard. Corun Dum’man discharges one Ray of Mercuria against the burly Orc, dropping it. He fires his second ray against the grim Orc, hitting that foe and ending the spell.
The battle turns against the party. Corun and Magnus are both hit with arrows. The hidden bowmen are a damnable presence, making the fight no easier for the group. The Druid’s bear is hit by the grim Orc. One of the fat Orcs slashes Rogue Goa. Kulich is thankful as his shield deflects an arrow.
The party faces threats from seemingly every direction. The Halfling turns an ear to an odd noise (Listen = 32). It sounds like something very large is running their way. Goa suggests to the group that they may soon have a bigger problem.
Magnus needs to take his calamities one at a time. He starts by killing off the badly-scarred Orc. Then he sets eyes to the darkness (Spot = 25) and makes out the faintest outline of what is probably an Orc archer. They will die next. He takes off in that direction.
Yorgenson Uberson and his bear successfully coordinate their efforts against the grim Orc. Elroy Wick draws on his near-death experience to Inspire Courage and Inspirational Boost once again (Perform : Oratory = 32). It is an extraordinary performance, easily worth 3d6 gold, and absolutely must have attracted the notice of extraplanar beings interested in the fine arts.
Wizard Corun strikes the grim-looking Orc with his quarter-staff. The grim Orc responds by hitting the black bear twice; dealing enough damage to vanish it back to its home plane. Wick is hit by another arrow, but only for modest damage this time.
Goa and Kulich are holding off the two fat Orcs. Behind the Rogue and Cleric, Yorgenson and Corun Dum’man fight the grim-looking Orc. Well outside the firelight, Magnus adopts a Defensive posture, slowing his advance to a cautious pace. An archer must be very near by. From somewhere in the darkness beyond Magnus, everyone but Corun succeeds on a Listen check to hear a loud crunching/squishing noise.
Goa and Yorgenson trade blows with their respective Orcs. Elroy Wick expends a Cure Moderate Wounds spell of his own on himself, unfortunately having to cease his epic wordsmithing to cast the spell. Lörydyr catches an unfortunate slash from a fat Orc, and drops. Magnus is hit almost point-blank by an arrow, and discovers he is virtually on top of a sneaky archer.
Out of the darkness comes a sudden call for help in Orckish. This yell is cut short with a loud thump. Druid Uberson keeps his mind on the fight; he slays the grim Orc. Elroy Wick is more eager than careful. Drawing his dagger “Butter Knife“, the Bard recklessly hurls it into melee, intending to puncture a fat Orc but instead connecting on a shallow angle with Kulich’s shield. The Cleric takes no damage, but spares the Bard an incredulous look.
Weaving into flanking positions in the chaotic scrum, Goa stabs and kills one of the fat Orcs. Magnus shrugs off two more arrows and kills his archer nemesis. Unengaged Yorgenson turns to Corun Dum’man and heals the Wizard. As the effects of his spoken-word masterpiece fade out, Elroy Wick (Perform : Sing = 17) gives an enjoyable performance with an impromptu song of triumph. It is not his best work but will still pull in 1d10 silver from party treasure.
There is another sickening crunch from the darkness, briefly simultaneous with an inhuman scream. After slashing the remaining fat Orc, Goa then Kulich both notice that the burly Orc is slinking away into the darkness. Their Wizard friend had not killed it with his Ray of Mercuria.
The remaining Orc in melee is proving difficult to kill. Crowding around it, wary still of arrows that seem to be coming less frequently for some reason, the party nonetheless presses their attack. When Goa or Kulich glance again on hearing a gruesome wet tearing sound, they Spot that the retreating Orc has been torn in half by something that remains hidden from sight. For now at least, the mysterious force in the darkness seems to be on their side. Moments later, there is another heavy thud and wet crack.
Magnus has found and killed another Orc archer by the time Kulich has Critically Missed the fat Orc. Goa Finnbjorn Critically Hits and kills that same enemy. The fight seems to be over. There are no more arrows whistling out of the darkness. Now there is just the matter of the unknown entity prowling outside their range of sight.
Elroy Wick attempts to Spot it but sees only featureless dark. Kulich takes the opportunity to heal badly injured Goa. Corun Dum’man casts See Invisible on himself, but as darkness supercedes invisibility the enhancement has no effect.
Much to everyone’s surprise, from outside their circle of light comes a low rumble – a voice speaking Common. This deep, calm voice asks if the party is friend or foe. Thinking fast, Elroy Wick replies that his party are enemies of Orcs.
That answer seems to satisfy the voice. It emerges from the shadows into the firelight. Goa Finnbjorn is taken aback; the creature is twelve feet tall, lean and muscular, bald, with grey rock-like skin and deep-set black eyes. Almost without thinking she asks what it is.
The creature tells what it thinks is a Dwarf, that it is a Stone Giant. Not offended to be mistaken for a Dwarf, the Rogue kindly asks the Stone Giant’s name, to which it replies MALACHITE.
The party asks Malachite some questions, while the Stone Giant remains interested in them. They learn that the Giant has been shadowing them, watching to determine what the party’s intentions were. Corun Dum’man and his friends look like the former inhabitants of the burned-out farms in the valley. Those inhabitants were carried off by the Orcs as they plundered. Malachite has been killing Orcs when he can. He has no love for Orcs.
Elroy Wick asks if the Stone Giant knows of the human kingdom to the south. Malachite does. The Giant says that it would be a journey of four or five days at his speed, so the party expects they may be a week from their destination. They thank the Giant for his help in this fight. Malachite spares no words, and disappears back into the night. The party has wounds to attend, and dead Orcs to search. It will be daybreak in a couple hours.
(end of the session)