Order of the Spear

Maybe this city isn't worth the effort...

It seemed like a government building of some sort, and older than the ruins around it. Linfors’ search for a trapdoor of some sort led to the concealed portal, which Cohen determined to be limned in magic. The subterranean room beneath was almost bare, aside from a few tables & shelves, holding a small collection of what looked liked scalpels and other medical, or torture, implements. While the rest of the squad looked for anything of interest in the entry chamber, Linfors explored the secondary hall, which turned out to be a cell block, of six small cells, each holding at least one occupant – several obviously undead, and one, while not, clearly abnormal – how often does one find a perfectly healthy-looking young man, covered in dust, in antiquated clothes, standing cross-armed in a prison cell under the ruin of a building in a city inhabited by wights and left abandoned by man for centuries? Right. Not often.

G

Cohen’s reaction to the man made it clear that he was evil and powerful, and well above 4th Squad’s pay grade – best to leave him in his cell. Wishing to stick it to the undead, man, however, Cohen called upon the Uberfather to consecrate the area, and in so doing not only roused the jailed undead – to little effect, since their bars held – but suddenly brought into view a roomful of spirits, turned corporeal, and clearly unhappy about being blasted with the breath of the Uberfather.

The fight that ensued was hardly epic in nature, as the skills and teamwork ability of 4th Squad is beyond reproach, known across the land, and pretty much on the next level already. The spirits – two rooms full! – fought back, but were swiftly dispatched.

The team climbed out of the basement, closed the door, and covered it in dirt and debris. It was best to leave it alone, then agreed.

Back at the Netherwylde depot, the team found near disarray, as the company of regular troops and Watch augmentees were, pretty much, wandering around stupidly. After a dressing-down and detailed reworking of the duty roster and rotation, 4th Squad go to sleep, only to be woken up hours later by the sounds of a fight, below in the tunnels. Rushing to the scene, they found two soldiers fighting, and one stumbling around stupidly. The corporals on duty? Phoning it in. The few sergeants? Nowhere to be found. One of the combatants? Not one of the soldiers or Watch members. After a swift interrogation, the truth was uncovered: they’d been infiltrated from the other side of the gate, from Flar. The queen, it would seem, had changed her mind, or had only orchestrated a ruse to trick them as to her real intentions and timeline. At least several enemies had made it through the gate – now blocked with rope, boxes, and enriched wheat flour – while the morons in uniforms sat, blindly, ignoring their duties.

What now?

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Planning our next move

Over a meal, Linfors starts the conversation, again, about what to do next.

“It seems that our troops will be encamped in this city for some period of time, and that a permanent presence here is needed. Our new dwarven allies are also going to be around here for a bit, too.

Cotd

“I think we ought to clear this city. We have two locations here that need either guarding or are worth guarding – the entrance to the Darklands, and the Netherwylde gate. And who knows what else of value is around here? Sure, it’s a tumbledown ruin in most places, but it has streets, foundations, and other things on which a proper city could be built. I think it has potential.

“Cohen’s correct that the undead here will likely be a big challenge for us; maybe too big. But do we know how many there are? Do we know their source of power? Do they have any weaknesses we can exploit? Every force has its strengths and weaknesses. If we approach this like we would dealing with any other enemy, I think we’ll keep our heads clear. Being dead gives them some advantages, it seems. And I’m sure it also presents problems for them, too. Let’s not let that…feature…of them cloud our judgment.

“Anyway, we’re here, now, and there is a clear case for securing this place.”


DM: have there been undead or other attacks on the Aynemeren forces while we’ve all been here, whether we were present in the city or not? How about the dwarves? How does Firestone feel about the Darklands, and undead? Have there been sightings? We need info on this place and those creeps.

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Onward and Upward...

It seems that the new allies, Count Symon and Yarl Mandrake, make Queen Astrynna change her mind. After a few probes of the forces on the other side of the portal, she attempts to parley. When this fails, she apparently opts for a change in order of list of kingdoms to subjugate.

Yarl Mandrake of Firestone returns home with the promise of alliance, the 4th squad are again heroes, and the return home to Hanlowell is slowed only by a pitstop in Ralspur for more celebrating. Count Symon promotes the squad into the regular army, yet still retains their services for his personal guard- as is his right. It won’t be long until the rest of the army takes notice and calls them into service. But what trouble can our heroic quartet get into before such a time?

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Made it through; made some friends

4th Squad made haste, traveling overland to the Netherwylde portal, conning their way past the guards, and then jumping into the shimmering void before they were caught. They thought they’d appear back in the City of the Dead, but instead appeared in an altogether different place, and in the middle of a melee.

D2

Filthy, feral elves outnumbered heavily-armored dwarves, and seemed on the verge of overwhelming them. Cohen tried what one might call ‘optimistic diplomacy,’ and was met with arrows. Jacen’s attempts to activate the portal, by manipulating the rusted control levels, got him nowhere. Osweald and Linfors joined the fight, on the side of the dwarves, once it became clear that the Elven junkies had chosen their side for them.

The fight was intense, but the addition of 4th Squad tilted the odds against the elves, who were finally dispatched to the last.

Introductions were made and it turned out that the leader of the dwarven team was their king, who’d been on some sort of inspection tour of his lands when they were fell upon by the elves. This king, of the realm of Firestone, situated high in the mountains, was vaguely aware of Aynemere, and after going back to his hidden mountainside cave keep, and consulting his maps and scholars, they all agreed on the relative locations of Firestone, Aynemere, and other kingdoms about which they knew. An overland trek home would take months – time that Aynemere did not have if the queen’s 2-month invasion timeline was to be believed.

D1

Firestone, a worshiper of the war god, was eager to join a worthy fight, and so offered up a legion of his troops, with him at its head, to assist Aynemere against the queen. After a night of moderate revelry, 4th Squad, the king, and some 1500 dwarf warriors adjusted the settings on the Netherwylde gate, and waited for it to open, transporting them back to the building within the City of the Dead. This they did successfully, to the relief of Command Sgt. Balthazar, and his surprise, as well, at them bringing 1500 dwarves with them.

Aynemere had an ally! Word was dispatched to Ralspur; Count Symon of Hanlowell came forward to formally receive Firestone. A messenger was sent to the king himself.

As Firestone’s vast army made camp outside the City of the Dead, it was up to the Count, maybe with the advisement of 4th Squad and Command Sgt. Balthazar, to determine what to do next.

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The Queen's New Clothes?

Jarom had the information the team needed, and provided food, too. What a strange place this was: a obviously new town, built to provide for the needs and diversions of an army suddenly assembled, made up of people from across the known world and also of races rarely seen in Aynemere.

The slavery was also something none of them were accustomed to – nor comfortable with. Linfors knew that, someone, he needed to do something. But the mission came first, and maybe the mission would enable him to reach this personal goal.

They walked around the town, surveying it, getting an idea as to its size and layout, and detected a tail while doing so – no big deal; no harm done.

The walk to the Queen’s palace/residence/base of operations was uneventful. They passed several small groups of travelers seemingly returning from their destination.

Arriving, they found the scorched, blighted land, the massive stone upwelling of a keep, and saw the massive army encamped. They entered the dark passage, descended, saw 3 of their number get shocked repeatedly until Linfors saw the key to the riddle in the spelling. They passed, descended some more, and found the Queen on her pillows with her thugs.

Queen

Yeah, she was pretty hot. Pretty ferociously mega-hot-erific, actually. The addition of the two half-orc eunuchs…that they could have done without, but creepy midnight army-of-doom queens have their idiosyncrasies, right?

They talked, they negotiated – sort of – and then Osweald thought it would be a good idea to risk getting all of them beaten down by some of the queen’s goons.

The fights were actually short, due to several lucky shots by the team, and the queen’s ‘champions’ fell quickly. Their credibility confirmed, the queen accepted them into her service, impressed by the promise of over 1000 dark dwarf warriors rallying to her banner.

The team had a secret, however…one with a time suspense. Their polymorph potions were going to wear off in under 2 hours…maybe even considerably less…and they needed to get going. They bid their farewells, made plans to bring their bogus army to her service, and took off with as much dignity and speed as they could combine.

How would they get past the guards at the tunnel entrance? What would they do on the road if they were called out? How much time has elapsed since they’d entered the keep – they had experience with going into creepy places and coming out with a disconnect with time in the outside world…

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I guess the NetherWylde is real

Linfors Wyglen was more amused by the fact that he;d been wrong than anything else. He was relieved on two counts: the team agreed to not try and continue into the Darklands; and their journey through the rest of the City of the Dead had been uneventful – that is, not filled with hordes of screeching wights. And so finding what seemed to be an office for those who would use the NetherWylde for travel, and finding a gateway – that’s how he saw it – still functioning was fine by him. Father always said that it was better to be wrong and have things turn out okay, than to be right and dead.

Now, this town of Flar – that’s what he assumed it was, for lack of any evidence otherwise – was a strange place. Foul, actually. The language was foreign – that was no big deal. The obvious flaunting of status and wealth by the nobility was vulgar; father always said that to lead is to serve, and that dandy in the velvet finery was enjoying himself too much. And the tavern with the serving – or, more accurately, servicing – girls was simply an abomination. The commoners were clearly separated from the nobles – again, how can the leaders understand the needs of the people, and maintain their trust, without mixing with them in the public square? And the girls’ jobs were…just not right. Linfors imagined Holly at the Sea Nymph, and longed for the simplicity of home. Relations with a woman were a private affair for a man, not a public display – father said that, too.

His right hand itched where the faeburn ended in his palm. His left hand moved toward his sword hilt, and came to rest with his thumb tucked in his belt near it. There were some people for whom only a taste of violence could serve as a tonic. Linfors, disciplined enough to recognize the need to not jeopardize the mission, wanted an opportunity to give these people what he knew they deserved.

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Right between the eyes...
...or between the lines at least.

While the Fourth Squad and CSgt. Balthasar continued to discuss the contents of the missive, Osweald poured over the parchment, reading it again and again. He knew he was missing something, the page itself felt… like it witheld something more. On the third pass he began to see them. The glow of hidden letters written next to words. The Duergar commander, or Arngrim as he recalled the title, must have scrawled runes interpreted from the text that the “Queen” sent. Yyrsa, or Duergar fae runes, were off to the side of important details, or drawn down to a footnote of longer text. The letters provide directions to the Netherwylds on the edge of the Forbidden City and through to the town of Flar. Also written in Yyrsa are instructions to “seek Jarom in Dovahsu’um…” what is Dovahsu’um?, yes! Dragonsbreath! “Seek Jarom in the Dragonsbreath?” Huh. “Tell Jarom there is Yol Lok…” burping wind..? That isn’t right. Hot clouds? No, oh yeah! Fire in the sky! “Tell Jarom there is a Fire in the sky.” “Jarom directs onward.”

The gift requested in the letter, is noted on the side as “Da Lahvuu,” which I think means: Great Gift. These dwarves must have been carrying it when the Arngrim was mortally wounded. Knowing them, they may have hidden it close by with their gestadanorum (innate Duergar abilities).

We should look in the pool of water to see if it’s hidden here.
There’s a final note near the bottom, but I don’t remember this word: voth’Sul, which is a date, and I think it is this month, but I can’t remember. I think it was this week that this queen was expecting them.

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Spawn of the NethyrWylde
and ill omens or coincidence??

Continuing on from Ralspur to catch up to CSgt Balthazar brought the 4th squad to the mouth of a cave on the outskirts of the Forbidden City. In a brief break in the fighting, our four heroes reinforced the remaining three members of the 2nd squad.

The brief exchange of dark language between the dwarves yielded no fruit and a blast opened wider the mouth of the cave showering all with rock fragments and killing two junior Watchmen.

The 4th squad charged in through the rubble, leading with light cast onto a rock- which was soon darkened again. Within the darkness the fight carried on. Dark magic animated the corpses of the 1st squad within the cave, but the Watch soon prevailed and the wounded duergar were dispatched with heavenly forth!

In the middle alcove the necromancer was soundly pounded, but she got the last laugh when she exploded in a shower of acid. Luckily Osweald remembered from his childhood that these nasty buggers had the tendency to go pop and warned his comrades.

At the back of the cave they discovered the unconscious body of a duergar warchief. Mortally wounded, but still hiding the correspondence from a surface queen named Astrynna attempting to forge an alliance with the mercenary leader named Crutnal which translates to Flayerslayer.
It speaks of a meeting place on the other side of the Netherwylds in a town called Flar.

On the way to the cave, within the Forbidden City, the undead hanging from the trees triggered Cohen’s memory of a passage he’d read in the tome they had recovered. It remarked about strange signs and portents heralding the coming of Mortelum, a celebration of Woldenock, or the Underworld. It was dreaded by worshippers of all faiths. Not a regular occurance, according to histories, it comes only rarely and without prediction. That is…until the signs finally appear…

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The Burden of the Crown
We were young once, and soldiers...

…“we can’t just disregard an order from the crown?”

“I won’t leave my post!”

Sandstone!

The sound of the staff wrapping upon their chamber door echoed loudly within the private quarters of the Fist could only be Ryme, the Chatelaine of Hanlowell. The four bodyguards halted in mid-discussion and Linfors moved briskly to open their door. Standing within the threshold was not the chatelaine, but the Count himself. He was dressed in traveling clothes, armor, and armed.

Linfors moved out of the doorway and Symon entered the room. “It was wrong of me to be offended that the king would overrule my protestations. I rule by the blood in my veins and by his good graces. Please forgive me for placing you in a terrible position.” As he spoke the count looked into the eyes of each of his personal guards and friends. “Ralspur is my responsibility and if Command Sgt. Balthazar requires assistance to carry out the duties with which I have tasked him, it is then my duty to support him as he serves me and ultimately the crown. Once again, please forgive me for forcing you to choose one loyalty over another. Gentlemen, we ride!”

With that, he turned and left the young soldiers staring at one another.

When the door closed behind the count, Jacen let out of woop and clapped Cohen on the shoulder, “We’re getting out there! Maybe Allex does still hear your whinings after all.” To which Cohen replied, “Ugh. Jacen, its Allyxann. Would you address your king as Gunn? Nevermind, you probably would!” The dwarf was looking down at the floor, his bushy brows covering his eyes and making him unreadable, but the mighty hands at his sides were shaking ever so slightly. Linfors, still not happy with his dark friend’s words and actions, but after seeing Osweald’s visible relief at not being separated from his only family, made a mental not to take time out to teach Osweald some tact. After all, his father used to say, “Until a dog refuses to learn, he is still teachable.” Or something like that.

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Reassigned
or, how Osweald manages to piss off everyone, eventually

The team’s identity and story checked out with Command Sgt. Balthazar. Although fantastical, they had enough evidence to go with their good names that their account of the last year was accepted, and they were welcomed back to Ralspur and the Watch with open arms. After a few days of rest, and getting to know the newly-enlarged Ralspur, with its new residents and buildings, the team was informed that they’d been reassigned, to Hanlowell, to serve as the recently-crowned Count Symon’s personal guard.

Reluctantly, they departed for the regional seat and arrived several days later, after an uneventful trip. Promoted to Sergeant, then installed as the ‘Fist’ of the county, and given new uniforms and insignia, the team settled in as Symon’s guard, keeping his household secure, accompanying him on trips and in his daily business, and getting to know the city. The Market section was a pit of crime and filth, and it was the team’s desire to clean it up. The Count said he’d consider it. Otherwise, things were calm and uneventful until an obviously-annoyed Count informed them that they’d been ordered back to Ralspur for some errand. Although it was not a permanent change, it irritated the young Count, who obviously wanted them to stay with him. Despite his irritation, his excellency did give the team a choice to follow the request – that’s more how he framed it – or not.

Osweald took it upon himself to clear up the air by trying to stare down the young Count, and informing him that they – not just him, but certainly the entire team since he clearly knows their hearts and minds better than they do – never wanted this lame job in the first place and that they were forced to come here.

Linfors attempted to frame the dwarf’s stinging, totally unsolicited rebuke in more positive terms, and fell flat on his face, rhetorically, so stunned by Osweald’s sudden change of demeanor that he was.

The Count, to his credit, did not explode immediately; rather, he stormed off to his personal quarters, likely insulted and, possibly, hurt, by those in whom he had invested so much esteem. It was suggested that the team leave, immediately, in order that things could calm down before they sought to repair the vast damage done by their foolish, gruff companion’s comments.

Linfors, stunned to silence, quickly penned a letter to the Count as an apology, and made ready to depart with the others. He was deeply torn by his sense of allegiance: Balthazar and Ralspur were his first real leader and home. And yet the Count had truly demonstrated such trust and esteem, and had provided them with an incredible opportunity to make a difference and move up. There’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of an opportunity you’ve worked for, father always said.

And so with a heavy heart, Linfors unpacked his travel bag and made sure his uniform was in order. He burned his first letter in the fireplace of the team’s common room, and penned another, consisting of only the following:

To my esteemed Count,
I have no words to cover for those of my squad mate. All I can say is that, with utter certainty, they do not represent my view of my work here, and for you. I have decided to stay here, as your personal guard, in keeping with my orders and your needs. I will leave only if ordered to do so. I speak only for myself, and humbly ask that I be considered as an individual, based on my work and words, and not those of others.

With that, Linfors bid farewell, good luck, and a swift return to Jacen and Cohen. He could not bring himself to even face the dwarf, so disgusted was he with the betrayal of his words.

He watched from the steps of the keep as the other(s) rode off, and to turned to resume to his post.

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