Order of the Spear

Monsters, lots of them
...kept coming...like a swarm of bugs

4th Squad was able to sleep, which was a surprise due to the heavy wind and snow outside the massive cavern. The cold – bitter and biting despite the fact that it was spring – seemed to keep the dead ettin from smelling too much, and in fact encased a good amount of the corpse in ice.

Near the end of Denn’s watch the scout saw a pair of weather-beaten figures moving unevenly up the stairs to the mouth of the cavern, and quietly alerted the others, who woke up slowly. Two orcs, apparently seeking shelter from the storm, made their way into the cave and were attacked by Tannis and Denn, who quickly dispatched the interlopers.

Later that morning the storm slowly abated, allowing the soldiers to see a snow-covered landscape before them, and a line of bugbears – six of them – headed up the same set of stairs. Bugbear01Acting quickly, Linfors, Cohen, and Oz dragged the dead ettin so it would hang over the edge of the cavern’s mouth and act as a menacing display of the squad’s badassity to the bugbears.

“Go find somewhere else to shelter or you get some of this, too!” yelled Linfors, trying to sound as menacing as possible. The bugbears seemed to notice, and muttered among themselves.

Human says we get shelter and and ettin meat, too!’ excitedly translated UrfTakur’Lach. The others, equally shocked at the uncharacteristically friendly offer, traded glances and questioning looks.

That’s not what he said, ’ countered F’gachtarkurbleaCH, the smallest of the six, in his typically whiny, accusatory tone.

Shut up smartass! I lead!’ retorted the seeming leader, and the bugbears, mostly nodding in agreement with the translation of promised food and shelter, continued.

Seeing clearly the malign intent of the monsters, the squad opened fire on the near-helpless goblin-kin, raining arrows, bolts, and spells down on them. Soon, several larger bugbear masters appeared – four of them – armed with whips and shouted commands, appeared behind the first group and drove them forward, up the stairs and eventually into the cavern, where a bloody melee ensued between the soldiers and monsters, as the bugbears shouted their ragged battle cries.

Where’s the food? ’ asked one, a surprised smile on his face as a small, black-faced humanoid tried to push him out of the cave and down the stairs.

Yeah…I thought we were invited!? ’ added another bugbear as he, too, was attacked.

The fight continued for some time and more monsters appeared out of the forest, to the point that eventually 12 bugbears were lined up on the stairs, yelling angrily and with great confusion over what they thought was a breakfast invitation, now gone horribly wrong. Once their blood was up, and the promise of food and shelter pulled back, they decided that a fight was the next best thing.

As if 12 hungry bugbears, feeling betrayed by Linfors’ less-than-stellar grasp of their language, weren’t bad enough for the squad to face, a loud grinding sound, of stone on stone, came from the back of the gaping cavern, and Tannis looked back to see several large skeleton-beasts, each with the skeletal head of a small dragon, and wielding very long, axe-bladed polearms, lumbering toward them.Skeletal dragonmen

Linfors, hearing the voices in his head, knew exactly what to do, and broke for the horses. Leaving the rest of the team to fend off what was left of the single-file line of bugbears marching slowly up the stairs in the bright morning sun, he ran for the black horse…the saddlebag…the sword! He knew he could control it and would save his men.

More fighting ensued – a lot more, actually, as the would-be breakfast guests were mostly slain and attention was shifted to the skeletal enemies. Linfors struck several mighty blows on one, dropping it, and then sprang into action against those facing his chums. Once the skeletal beasts were felled, Linfors saw a great opportunity for continued combat training for him and his men. He cackled, “Father always said, ‘Gotta finish what you started’” and gleefully plunged into a round of ‘Sarge Kicks Your Sorry Ass’ with the others.

Cut, thrust, parry, dance out of the way, cackle at the sorry performance of the others, repeat. Because the team attempted to disarm him or take him down without hurting him too badly, this went on for some time, despite the fact that Linfors was outnumbered 4:1. Finally, he was beaten down by Tannis’ heavy blows, and fell unconscious to the stone floor. Cohen, pretty steamed about the ‘training session,’ attempted repeatedly to break the blue-smoking sword, while the thing attempted to reason with him in his head.

’C’mon! We can kick some ass! Killin’ time, boy! It’s always killin’ time!’ Cohen refused to give in to the promised malt-liquor yard party of blood the sword promised. The sword, however, would not break, and so the young cleric tied a wire strap around the hilt, more or less preventing it from coming out of the scabbard. Wearing the longsword on his belt, along with the (other) magic short sword, he stood with his warhammer in one hand, a crossbow across his back, and his heavy steel shield on his other arm…looking like a walking armory with an itty-bitty shock of blond hair sticking out of the top.

While Wyglen slept, the others explored the open side chamber, from whence the skeletal horse monsters had come, and found large chunks of metal, along with some other stuff, before they moved out, taking with them only a few ettin fingers as trophies, and Linfor’s bruised ego.

Moving deeper into the mountains, and up into colder elevations, they found a massive tree, limned in ice, beneath which sat a frozen altar with an equally frozen man, silently stuck in mid-offering, a frozen cup of water in his hands. Linfors decided to keep watch outside while the others discovered a hidden door into tree and moved inside, up a spiral stair, on the trail of the loud cries of a baby. At the top of the stairs sat a great, frozen, bed chamber, with a dead elf woman on the bed, and a half-elf baby – or so it seemed – alive, crying, and still attached to the corpse by the umbilical cord.

Cohen, having experience with midwifery (although he preferred to call it other things, not enjoying the title of ‘wife’) ran in to try and help the baby, calmly advising the others in the details of childbirth. The team took in the utterly bizarre scene with thoughts like “ew!!” and “dude, that’s nasty” and even “she’d be hot if she weren’t dead, frozen, and still connected to that baby.”

Meanwhile, Linfors wandered around outside, blissfully unaware of the troubling scene found upstairs.

Dark Clouds
both literally and figuratively

Snowstorm Rolling thunder peals through the sky outside and the afternoon is darkened by heavy clouds. Lightning strikes briefly illuminate the darker recesses of the cavern. With the older carnage removed, the cave smell has improved somewhat – to tolerable. Not long after the sabre rattlings of the cumulus armies, the sky erupts into a melee with heavy rains, followed by hail. Then the all out war started, slushy snow and sleet blown by the wind reduced visibility outside the cavern to about 10 or 15 feet.
Waiting for the storm to pass, Cohen counts the money and catalogs the loot muttering to himself about the Woldenock. Ozweald makes busy by going over the blocks and circular engravings when he comes across an out of place inscription which he cannot decipher.
“You there! Heroes.” He mimics Captain Mandrake’s voice pretty well. “Ye learned ones, get over here and read this writing. We need to know everything we can about this place. Don’t want them nasty creatures spooning with you, now do you?”
On the side of a rectangular block is an inscription that was placed into the stone after its creation. Block-like letter style set deep into the rock, chiseled by strong hands.

Who does what? with what skill?

What the Ettin was Eatin'
cleanliness is NOT a priority!

Under the blankets and cloaks lies a nasty pile of body parts and pieces. Limbs and torsos from orcs to giants, complete with twisted armor pieces and loaded with maggots, rotgrub, and a stench that took some fortitude to overcome. Unfortunately the ettin cared not that his latrine was in such close proximity to his food supply and so the two combined made for a noxious blend of fumes.

After all the body parts were removed from the mess, piled down below the stairs and burned, the nasty vicious worms were avoided, and the useful separated from the not so useful there was a much smaller pile. Especially considering that a good deal of the size of the heap was stacked on an engraved rectangular box much lower to the ground than the others in the cavern.

All in all the take was still pretty good:
2 tattered Watch cloaks
3 bearskin cloaks
4 waterskins
4 large leather sacks
2 small helms
5 leather and fur headwraps
3 backpacks
3 pair of snowshoes
2 pair of ice claws
3 large sections of chainmail
3 ½ suits of leather armor
dwarven war axe
2 shields
2 wooden medallions with similar water carvings on them
3 short swords (2 scabbards)
4 daggers
4 iron bars (5 cp each)
elven long composite bow
6 masterwork bone shaft arrows (+1 to hit)
fancy black leather quiver (25 capacity)
over and under double light crossbow
3 runestones
3 pair of large fur lined boots
56 commons, 58 drabs, 87 bits, 1 noble

Preceded by Reputation
...but respect must be earned

En route to Eryksberg to meet the Sword, the team came upon a traveler in an unusual and defensible ring of trees. A runestone clutched in each hand, but pale with death. Other than a puncture wound in his right side, he bore bluish, pustules scattered about his body.

His only belongings were a broken longsword on his chest, a marked (the king’s sigil) dispatch satchel, a small silver stone, chain shirt, an empty wineskin, and a few hard biscuits.

Within the satchel was a sealed bone case which contained two sheets of parchment. The first was a poorly sketched map of the area and the other a sealed missive. The dispatch was written in a bugbear dialect.

It read:

Dread Lord Alabaster,
Greetings to you, my liege lord. Your plan is proceeding according to design. Soon we will be rid of the old guard and the new will rise to its proper place within the kingdom. Our strength grows and soon there will be enough distractions. The time has come, my lord, to initiate operation falling stars.
May the blessings of the goddess be upon you, my lord.
Until we meet again as societal opposites, my will is your own.

Just down the road the team came across two groups of commoners arguing over ownership of an unusually fine horse. One says he found it fair and square, but the other declared it was within his Hunt Claim. With some slight of hand by Tannis, a royal dispatch satchel was discovered within the saddlebags and therefore was now the property of the army. The men were given a chain shirt and another horse in compensation and all left happy.

The horse had a magical saddlebag with a secret compartment of holding.
After much hit and miss with Cohen’s tenuous lifeline to the god, Allyxann, he was able to divine the magical properties of the following items (sorry, no magic on the coins):
bag of coins (20 commons, 45 nobles, 12 luckies with the face of an unknown queen)
potion of lessor restoration (2 doses)
wand of entanglement (5 charges)
long sword of lesser life stealing (minor intelligence: named “Shadowmyst”), dark blue light drifts from the blade like smoke, hit = 1d6 hp drain, crit = 1d6 & temp hps to wielder
rod of summoning (possibly flawed and unstable – unable to determine creature summoned

The team arrived at Eryksberg to witness an eclipse, another magnetic pull, and the Sword skirmishing with several companies of unknown horsemen upon the Steppes of Allsland. Their initial meeting with Sword Captain Mandrake wasn’t quite as warm as Linfors would have liked, but the team was entrusted with an assignment to investigate the rumors of orc sightings within the nearby mountains.

Several days out, the heroes came upon a staircase in the side of a granite ridge. It led to a ledge above a 60’ drop and opened into a large cavern. Within were ornate carvings of all sorts of dragons in all their terrible glory.

As Cohen cast light upon his hammer, a chorus of yells came from the dark of the back of the cavern. An ettin of ferocious strength charged into their midst swinging a tree in one hand and a great stone axe in the other. Ettin jack of ironsThe team went to work right away. Cutting into the giant wasn’t easy, but taking him down was another matter entirely. The raging, two-headed monster swept into the soldiers with ease, knocking several off their feet and attempting to push them toward the ledge. Linfors gave into the temptations of the intelligent sword and began hacking at the monster with the magical blade. In and out, the team harried the massive giantkin. Osweald took off a finger, getting covered in blood in the process. Through the diligence of the soldiers, it finally fell forward onto the ledge and Cohen healed the team once again. Denn noticed Linfors locked in trance, quite obviously struggling with the sentient blade for control. Reacting quickly, Denn immediately charged, taking him down before he could lose the fight. The sword skittered across the cave floor and Linfors blinked as if waking from a dream. Some things may not be worth the risk…

Then the team headed for the back of the cavern where they had spied a large pile of what appeared to be the ettin’s horde covered in blankets and cloaks.

Linfors' Personal Diary
Meta, and shared for story purposes

I have met fools in the Watch, and traitors and murderers. I’ve watched towns and regions be left to sit without protection because incompetent officers, knights and nobles are too busy spending the treasury’s money on themselves. I’ve had to save the lives of and swear allegiance to well-meaning but utterly I’ll-prepared nobles who’ve no actual skill in leadership or war or government – only a blood right.

My family governs Wyglen, and it is assumed that leaders will come from the family. And yet uncle is older than father, and he was skipped in favor of father – we don’t appoint leaders mindlessly, and we are answerable to our people.

The king, in stories, is a great man. In person he is an old man, weak and addled in the head, if still regal in bearing. I respect what he represents….but symbols can’t make wise decisions. And his son is a jackass, surrounding himself with boot-licking dandies with smooth palms.

Father said that a man must take the hard right over the easy wrong. What does that mean for orders from fools, and concerning missions to nowhere and for nothing? Activity and progress are not the same thing, and I see so much of the former, and so little of the progress this realm needs secure our future.

He much time is left in this enlistment? How many more years of playing favorite hero to some stuff-shirt with pristine armor? And then what?

On the road to the Sword
You never know what you'll find...

It wasn’t long before the orders came from higher up. Promotion to the Sword was a big deal. Less than half the army made it this far. Being promoted to this Order was an honor. The heroes would move out in the morning and travel five days and four nights to the east. The destination was another fortified town, called Eryksberg wherein the Sword was headquartered. Prior to this, the furthest east any of them had been was The Vale of Veritas. New territory meant new experiences.

En route, three days out, early in the morning, Osweald returns early from his turn at point. He informs the group of sergeants of a small dale off to the side of the road. “It ‘pears to be occupied by a single traveler and his mount. Thought I’d be nice so I dint disturb him before we knew whether or not it was a trap, but I didn’t find nothin’ within a quarter mile in any direction. He’s got some good smelling chow on the embers of ’is fire.”
Gazing upward at his team of fellows, Ozweald says, “Well ‘stilts’, what ‘re we gonna do with ’em? Leave’em or should I give ‘im a heartache wakin’ to a Duergar?”

A Serious Undermining
...or Just Probing the Defenses?

Voices carried through the trees to Denn’s alert ears as he scouted ahead of the exhausted team. Adrenaline fumes carried the young Sgt., the sense of duty ran strong within this group. Trudging along the King’s Road toward Pitchfork, these few had seen more than their share of combat and sleepless nights in the past handful of days. Thoughts of the innocent women in their charge pushed him forward to discover the source of the noise.

He parted the foliage carefully and spied upon the conclusion of an apparent duel between a young noble in the livery of Viscounty Norwell and that of the team’s commander, Sir Brendan. Visc gavyn norwell The knight lay still on the cobbled road and the noble stood above him with a bloodied sword. The noble retinue stood in a half circle around a beautiful young woman on a horse. A noose around her neck. Viscountess corvina

Denn had seen enough to report back – and it wasn’t good news. The team came up the road as quickly as possible, Osweald on the left flank and Tannis on the right off in the trees. All they saw was the backs of the party riding off in a cloud of dust and the woman swinging from a tree.

She was soon cut down and after a few moments explained the events that had led to her being hanged. While at the lodge, Brendan had made a pass at her and was politely refused. The Viscount interpreted the events differently and accused her of adultery. He subsequently had Brendan’s men killed and arrested the knight to put him on trial in his own court. Upon arrival to Pitchfork, his men convinced him that he should duel the knight and save the trouble of a trial. Linfors quickly forgot all thoughts of Holly waiting patiently for him back in Ralspur when faced with this woman’s beauty.

The long walk to Hanlowell was eased by a merchant with one empty wagon who politely offered to carry them to the capital city. Tannis rightly guessed the offer was not only polite, but wise, in that Mallory the Merchant would have the Watch to help protect his journey. Count Symon was given the pertinent details and the team was introduced to the commanding officer of the Order of the Trident where their commissions were unfortunately being transferred. The team rested and accepted their orders to move to the town of Manzallore where they were put in charge of squads of their own. Denn quickly named his team, Sparrow’s Arrows, but the others were still pondering when after two short weeks a scout arrived to the command tent upon a foaming horse. Cohen, recognizing that the animal was almost blown, began to soothe it and healed the damage to its lungs before the beast could perish from exhaustion.

Nobel salamander

Runners ran from the tent carrying orders and the drums began to pound out a formation rhythm. The Trident marched a double-time north to the Wall where a tunnel was discovered which had apparently been melted through the rock underneath. Monsters were milling about on this side of the Wall. (Later, the team was to learn those tough lizards were called Flametongues. They are a favored pet of Salamanders used as pawns in battle.)

The team was given the responsibility of defending the right flank of the Trident and the melee ensued. Navigating the old ruins, the heroes led their squads forward to dispatch their hostiles, which included a very large Salamander, early thereby allowing the heroes to roll the enemy’s left flank and secure a decisive victory for the Trident.

Each member of the team was recognized for valor and bravery upon the field and the Captain awarded the heroes the Iron Trident – the highest honor in the Order. He told them over a dinner held in their honor, in full dress uniform, that he’d love to keep them, but that their skills were now demanded elsewhere. The team was told to expect orders to marry up with the Order of the Sword further east.

The Return Road
...or no rest for the weary!

Arrows flew from the windows of the store. Slowly, the team whittled the beasts down. Linfors discovered that striking a flying rodent with his runestone was just as effective as an arrow. Eventually, the wolves lay dead in the small square and the rats slowly dissipated and vanished.

While reverently moving the corpses of townsfolk and pronouncing their last rites, Cohen was hailed by a man wearing a cloak of the Watch. He and Denn were suspicious and sent Charlie after the others. Linfors interrogated the young man and determined that he was who he said and that he was from a town not far from Wyglen, Linfors’ home.

Rituals completed and store secured, the survivors and the Watch set off down the King’s Road to rendezvous with the knight at Pitchfork. The march was difficult and slow. They were forced to rest about midnight and formed a ring with their runestones to ward off the fae and protect the women.

A distant howl attracted their attention and caused the women to fret. The unnatural noise grew in volume until it was almost unbearable and then ceased suddenly. Which was when the enormous reptilian head floated around the last bend in the road. Ghostlike vapors drifted upward to a quickly solidifying body. Mist dragon

When it spied the group, it formed arms with long, terrible claws and came directly at them. It took all of Osweald’s training to not break the ring of stones protecting the small band from the fearful sight of the magical beast, but he resisted the urge to charge.
The breath of the newly formed dragon enveloped the circle of runestones and was repulsed initially. But the vaporous fire was more than the protection could handle and the stones burst. The flames came rushing toward them. Their shield gone, the team burst out of formation figuring if they were to die this night they would go down fighting. Cohen called upon Allyxann for healing and kept the team alive in the face of the mistdragon. Feats of heroism abound as the men of the Watch threw everything they had into the fight, but the damage of the monster would eventually expend all their efforts at healing.

Recognizing the doom of the team, Linfors began to draw upon the fae in ever increasing amounts. Risking himself and his comrades, he pulled in so much of the magical mist that he began to rise off the ground and his eyes glowed with a bluish hue. He dropped his sword and slammed both hands onto the dragons head. The beast shook for a moment as power transferred and the fiery explosion that followed was massive. Tannis and Denn managed to throw themselves free of the blast, but the others suffered the flames. Linfors fell back to the earth momentarily incoherent and covered from head to toe in wispy blue vein-like webbing. Within a thirty foot perimeter surrounding the battle site, the very trees were uprooted, splintered, and pushed back away from the center.

The webbing soon faded from his skin until all that remained was the first spot that curled up his wrist and forearm. He came to a few moments later and seemed fine. The team, their prisoner, and the women had all survived the ordeal. The remainder of the night passed uneventfully and they began down the King’s road once again.

Not long after, a lone figure stood in the road up ahead.
Femaleadept3 She offered the squad an exchange – their prisoner for a mother and her child. Tannis grew tired of the negotiations and stuck her with an arrow from the back of their column, thereby initiating combat. She promptly disappeared without a trace. Arrows began firing from the right of the road and fighting erupted in the rear of the column as well. Once again the team distinguished themselves in combat and all were felled but the woman who had reappeared briefly, but had vanished once again. The mother and her child were saved with a well-timed healing potion.

The team packed up once again and with the new victims in tow continued on their way to the rendezvous point. Just past midday the 4th squad and their fellow Watch member, Tannis, from the 7th Wall squad, were only a few hundred feet down the road from Pitchfork when voices could be heard in the distance…

Planning for all contingencies

LegoknightsThe Watch gathers bows and arrows in preparation to make a stand from within the unexpectedly well built General Store. As the 4th Squad takes up positions to fire from the windows of fortified shop, the veterans begin working through a plan to escape from the building and return to Pitchfork.
The discussion brings up some issues to be worked out: the few remaining survivors, the prisoners, their apparent lack of horses, large flying rats, wolves, enemy combatants, as well as meeting the rendezvous deadline in a day and a half. At a swift, steady walk it is possible to make that distance within the time frame, but not likely with the women in such condition. No doubt it will be a challenge to cross the distance while protecting the women and watching the prisoners too.
What is the result of the Watch’s discussion?

In the Light of the Day
or when things went bump in the night

The morning meal, checking the manacles, tending wounds, inventorying equipment, and opening the door upon a world owned by the Fae. The carnage that was left in the streets after the long battle has attracted some attention.

The sight of a badly mauled horse’s head lying on the ground still tethered to the hitching post coupled with the smell of death are the first to assail the senses. The insects are bad enough, but the wolves are another story. Still hungry from a long winter, they have come in plenty for such a bounteous feast.

In addition to the natural and expected, there are a number of ravenous looking winged rodents the size of large dogs feasting upon the remains. Each appears to be taking turns when enough wolves or rats arrive to imbalance the numbers.


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