Rise of The Runelords: Varisia's Angels

A Deal With The Devil
A Promise Kept, A Promise Broken

The room flickers with as flames burn the mould away on the surface of the pool. 


Ignoring the side doors we clearing the pile of skulls away from the main doors, scooping them reluctantly into the water. The double doors open to a short junction. Each end terminates with a cell, sealed with a portcullis and each containing an ominous circle of shimmering runes.

In one circle a pile of red ash, in the second, the huge emaciated frame of a Demon, prone and crumpled within the confines of the invisible ward that imprisons it. We think it dead until it’s barrel like ribcage heaves ever so gently with life.

Then it rises to face us.

My immediate urge is to run it through, while it is vulnerable… But Mahd, steps forward to stay my blade. Keeping the conversation short we learns that this Demon, Avaxial was entombed here eons ago by the Thessalonians ruler Karzoog and unsurprisingly. Wants us to free him. I almost laugh but it’s clear he knows why we’re here… and claims that in return for his freedom, he and he alone can help us repair the dam and prevent the impending catastrophe!

I’m thankful we’re agreed to refuse his offer and leave him, hoping that somewhere behind us is an answer that doesn’t involve a choice between freeing this horror, or allowing a flood to kill thousands.

The doors outside open to a small chamber with a magnificent site. A scale reproduction of the dam, too perfect to be a mundane, even showing the eastern breach. We barely have time to wonder at this marvel when a chitinous form emerges like a nightmare from the skull carved walls- A Giant Scorpion made of bone!

Whether guardian or vermin I know not, but it immediately strikes Athene with its tail, and lifts her off the ground, arms pinned with a long fore-claw. 

I step forward swinging but the creature’s plates deflects every blow!

Mahd steps back with a scroll, and lightening arcs across the room, sparking off its shell.

Though injured, it still has Athene in its grip, and strikes me this time with its tail.

Head spinning from the caustic poison, I rush forward a little recklessly and take off one of its legs!
Mahd summons her tentacle trap but the oily limbs can’t get a grip on the composite bone shell.
It clamps tighter down on Athene, blood spattering the floor she goes deathly pale.
I call on Iomedae’s healing energies giving Athene back vital energy and purging the poison from our systems.

Mahd casts another spell, and a cloud of bright glittering particles explode in the room, stunning the creature!

It releases Athene who drops to the floor.

And grabs me instead! 

I flail overhead, stuck as fast as Athene was moment before.
She drags herself off the ground, retrieves her greatsword and attacks!

The first blow takes off its tail, then she stepping in close she drives the blade down, through it’s thorax, pinning it to the floor.


It shudders, releasing me and crumples in a heap.

We investigate the model, hoping that it might help us reverse the damage but it appears that this device is a skrying tool, not a controller… and that the demon is indeed the key to this dilemma. In order to save many, I may have to truck with Demons.

We return to Avaxial’s cell who waits patiently with a knowing smile. Athene using her uncanny ability to discern lies, we interrogate the fiend for an hour, hoping to find another way out…

Held in place and drained slowly of their life force, the very souls of he and his now dead companion were being used as a kind of battery to power the mammoth gates above us. When his cellmate could take no more, he and allowed the magic to consume him. Avaxial himself has precious little willpower remaining to endure.

It is a compelling account that draws pity even from the Inquisitor. I would too if this was not a hellspawn! I must watch her more closely.

When it seems there is no other option, I use my diplomatic arts to negotiate the terms of a possible contract. This creature, particularly in his current state seeks only to return to his own plane and we agree to free him in exchange for the information we need to repair the dam and carefully assurances that he will not cause harm to anyone on his release. When it seems we may all be in agreement, the Demon fixes me with his fiery gaze…

“Very well mortals, I will agree to your terms but I will only exchange my oath with her!”

The Demon can see my purity as I his evil.
He knows what I am and that even in this, cannot, will not lie.


But this is a promise will only make after careful thought.

As Mahd scours the room one last time for a last minute reprieve from this deal, I back out of the room, find a quiet alcove in the pool room, and in the light of the dying flames, kneel down and pray for guidance this time, rather than forgiveness.
Does making a deal with a Demon constituent Sin? 

Is such a deed inherently corrupt, even evil?
Even if it’s the only way to save hundreds if not thousands of innocent lives?

I can see the dam, now throbbing with demonic energy.
I can feel the pressure on my ears of the surging water level against the broken gate.
I can hear the screaming of those who flee in vain from the floodwaters….
And then the sun breaks through the clouds.
Then, a blinding figure against the backdrop of Skull’s crossing is Iomadae.
She is not smiling but she only nods in ascent.

I stand and return to the cell decided.
Athene seems impatient but wary.
Mahd it muttering something herself.

“I Silva Thann, pledge upon my honour to release you Avaxial from your prison in return for the knowledge to stop the breaching of the Dam and your own vow to return immediately to your plane without directly or indirectly harming another creature on this plane and should you dis honour this oath I promise that I will hunt you down and destroy you."

The demon grins and swells, a sulphuric smell washing over us


“As I will you, Paladin… Agreed”
“The only way to stop the dam breaching is to feed these Runes another soul, someone or something must take my place”

I should have known!
And yet I had no other choice. I cannot be angry.
I wrack my brain. Perhaps a stock animal? No, I can feel the power of this Demon, even in his state, I can see it will take more…
When the Demon is gone, it will be my turn to take his place.
I only hope my sacrifice will hold the gates.
Perhaps Mahd will think of a way to release me one day…

I step to the lever which will release Avaxial from his cell.
Athene looks unsure what to do…
The Demon stretches his wings, as best he can in the confines and looks hungrily at the passage out.
Then Mahd is chanting magic.

A charge in the air, a flash of light, is that a summoning spell?

A dire badger stands in the empty cell amidst the ashes and snuffles a sneeze at the cloud it has thrown up.

I ask out aloud, “Mahd?”

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” The Demon howls.


Athene and I look at each other confusedly as Mahd turns around with a smug look on her face. There is a sudden pulse of energy in the room, blue light glowing from the Runes.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” The Demon howls again.

I implore with Mahd to release him…

Then the Badger squeals and convulses.
The Demon arches his back screaming in pain, an unparalleled agony.
His corporeal form starts to disintegrate skyward, like an upside-down hourglass.
He points at me and bellows…

_ “YOU, you’re to blame for this!”_ and is gone in a swirl of acrid ash.

Then the Badger stops squealing and the dam shakes.
A grinding noise echoes throughout the corridors and the rumble of surging water stops.

We rush into the model room and the dislodged skull gate is back in place, a steady but gentle stream of water where a great torrent once was.

I look over at Mahd, a satisfied look on her face. 

I don’t know how I feel…
Guilt? Betrayal? Shame? Shame that I feel relieved? 

I feel like I should berate her, or chastise her… But…
No.
What I really feel is like I had my cake and ate it too…

She made no Oath with this Demon, nor did I think to include her in mine. And luckily, neither did the Demon!

View
Hard to Kill
Tunnels & Trolls

Flagstones wet with rain and ogre blood, we stand before a tower, rising above the Dam and blocking passage beyond. The door is nailed shut as if knocked down and rebuilt many times before. Perhaps survivors remain alive inside holding the monsters at bay? We can only hope…

It takes two determined shoulders to bring the door down, revealing a wide, square foyer. Overrun with vines and moss and mould, the debris strewn floor is also the scene of no less than four dead, mutilated and dismembered ogres. I wonder what manner of creature could do this and I remember the justice we rended at Fort Rannik.

So enemies of the Ogres lie within, but are they friends… or foes?

We stand poised at the doorway when a chorus of terrible howls seems to answer my thoughts.

Not a moment too soon, Mahd summons a greasy floor trap as four, towering, green skinned humanoids lumber in from recesses at the perimeter- Trolls!

Mahd screams at us to use fire on the creatures and summons a tumbling ball off flame.
The first two fall down in a heap at the edge of the magical slick and Athene pounces and hacks away as Mahd’s fireball rolls through them.

I ignite Redemption and turn on the other two, Wynter alongside me.
Swing and counter-swing and the troll goes down squealing at the flames.
Beside me Wynter pulls her prey down, tearing out its throat.

Athene steps back from two dead trolls… And one of them stands up again! Athene and Mahd go back to finish the job as the troll at Wynter’s feet also stands up again.

This time I drive the sword deep and hold it there until the flames consume it.

After a fruitless search of the room we stalk the damp corridors, through Troll nest and abandoned room until we come out onto a landing with a stunning outlook and a deadly drop where the floor has fallen way.
A door bears the graffiti Wet Pappa Grazuul, a villain’s title if I ever heard one… and head down a flight of steps into the dark (at least for me).

We emerge in a large antechamber, a rectangular room with three doors at the far end, the centre one blocked by an enormous pile of skulls. A large pool near fills the centre of the room, its murky depths carpeted with aquatic fungus.

Athene and I edge around on opposite sides and are rewarded for our suspicion. Bursting form the water is a huge, scaly, fish finned brute wielding an equally huge triden- Scrag Troll!

It turns on Athene, nearly impaling her with a single, driving blow. The weapon reverberates with a burning evil light over wielder and wounded alike… The perfect weapon for a creature who can regenerate I suppose…

Wynter looks about to leap in the muck but (thankfully) thinks better of it; that titan is not standing but swimming, deep water indeed!

I lunge out at the Scrag Troll but it’s still intent on finishing the Inquisitor.
Athene, bleeding badly looks around in confusion and fear … Then makes a decision and turns on her attacker with a blow that nearly slays the monster outright!

The Troll howls and dives back beneath the surface with a bloody gurgle.

In unison we immediately pour oil into the pool and with a touch from redemption turn the surface into a carpet of flame.
It won’t last long, but long enough to discourage any hasty return.

View
Unto The Breach
Four Skulls, Two Heads, Five Ogres.

Leaving the Mayor to direct the clean up of Turtleback Ferry (and hopefully not find himself drowned by cultists) we make our way to Skulls Crossing, to inspect the Dam (hopefully, still) holding back the Storval Deep.

The rain has eased if not stopped, the road wet and unstable under hoof and arrive shortly at the Dam. It is an amazing if (at least to me) puzzling site. It is a structure on the scale and age of the fallen bridge in Magnimar; enormous and alien. It speaks of a once wise and proud society, that is, except for the ominous motif that dominate the exterior.

The length of the dam is posted with five enormous skulls (perhaps gates) and on closer inspection, it appears the entire surface is carved with a ghoulish carpet of skeletal figures ,crawling up and down the face of the Dam wall.
What people, except a monstrous or tyrannical one would choose such a theme to decorate this example of advanced civilsation?

The damage we have come to undo is easily apparent, a breach on the eastern side where a literal torrent of water is tumbling over, still swelling the river below. As we climb a set of giant sized, rain slicked stairs cut into the cliff face we spot equally giant figures walking the dam wall… Ogres!

Continuing much more carefully now, we scale a sheer wall (with some difficulty in the conditions), onto the ledge of a cave mouth where bleached skulls, painted with runes are staked into the ground. We creep inside the high roofed fissure but and stop when we hear two guttural voices, conversing in Giantish. Mahd translates…

Gorger’ and ‘Chaw’ apparently regret what they did to join the Skull Taker Tribe, though they are less troubled by the human flesh they received as a reward. That last comment is quite enough for us and we rush in to kill the two creatures…

Two voices maybe but only one creature- A huge two headed Ettin, duel wielding morning stars, fresh blood spattered on their chins. Athene and I rush forward and the is over with two blows. The room is what we’ve come to expect of such monsters, littered with bloody human bodies and gnawed bones. It appears that this creature was quite the hoarder though and we uncover a small treasure hoard including scrolls and a powerful Phylactery for channeling.

A tunnel seeping with water from above leads to another sheer wall, which leads to the Dam itself. The wide stone walkway is dangerously wet from rain and run-off from the distant breach, with appallingly low walls given the great expanse of water one side and the three hundred feet drop on the other.

And we are not alone… Five ogres led by quite the brute are hacking away at the walls with their Hooks, that is until they notice us scrambling up the wall. They bellow and charge, we rush to meet them, Mahd summoning her Archon ally. Avoiding the perilous edge we meet them with another brief clash of steel but we are seasoned ogre fighters now and dispatch them with relative ease… Now… Unto the breach…

View
Leviathan
Deluge, The Black Maga and Foolish Men.

Leaving Myriana, we turn on Yap with a barrage of questions. Though the Pixie doesn’t have all the answers, we learn that the monster Kreeg and his Ogre army indeed passed through here, using that petrified Dryad as bait to draw out Myriana, torturing and killing her as an entrée to the carnage at Fort Rannik.
Yap doesn’t recognise any of Captain Baden’s possessions, but he does identify the staff section as being made from cold iron; a metal that the fae fear apparently.
I don’t like it much myself to be honest.

Unfortunately Yap knows little of the territories beyond this corrupted swampland so it looks like we’ll be traveling blind to the Hook Mountain.

We return to camp and spend the next day resting. I’m anxious that our delay will spell peril for Turtleback Ferry but we’d be foolish to advance into such unknown danger fatigued as we are.

The downpour endures and by the time we mount up to leave, the river has swelled alarmingly. When we reach the Ford we need to race across before it, and any chance of passing across is completely inundated.

Then Athene notices something odd… the river, it’s running backwards! Surely, even with this rain it cannot be natural? What devilry is at work here?

We arrive on at the namesake of our destination on the opposite ban; a giant upturned turtle shell, bobbing violently in the surge. The Ferryman looks doubtfully at our horses and we’re forced to leave them with his son who leads them to higher ground. I trust Shadowmist but there’s no time to argue with the man.

Wrapping on my magical (Aquatic) cummerbund, we climb into the bobbing bowl. Heaving on soaked, thick ropes alongside the Ferryman and bailing out the rain, we cross the treacherous river without incident, arriving at settlement in near total deluge.

The shoreline has engulfed half the town, entire homes submerged, animals and people, running with arms full of sodden possessions… .

But where to start!?

As if in answer a chorus of shrill cries cuts through the chaos. A huddle of children, stranded in a ferry shell is drifting out with the current.

As Athene and I trudge towards them through the waist deep water, a giant river snake rises out of the depths and strikes into the bowl like it’s bobbing for apples.
The children shriek and scramble away, nearly capsizing their vessel.
The snake reels back, a small boy dangling from it’s clamped jaw.
Mahd is too far away behind a wall of blinding rain.
No time for arrows, nor to swim.
We have precious few options before this creature will disappear with its prey.

Then Thera, Athene’s owl swoops.
I hadn’t noticed before, but she has grown! Not enough to lift the giant reptile but enough to make it release the child and pursue her! Which us time to close the distance.

Wynter and I try to shift the shell but it’s snagged, so instead I join Athene going after the snake.

Thera’s in trouble as the serpent coils around her, dragging her down. This time though, we are close enough to help.
Gripping the wet hilt I take a single mighty swing that takes the snake’s head off.
Thera flies free with a loud screech and we push the shell of still screaming children to saftey.

Neither rain nor river level eases nor the plight of the townsfolk.

Athene shouts and runs through the tide towards the church, now a makeshift hospital crowded with the injured.
We join her without knowing the threat, until she points at a massive dark tree, uprooted and tumbling in the tide of other flotsam towards the church.

It will surely destroy all in it’s path, brick and flesh but again we are helpless to stop it!

All that can be done is to scream at the occupants to flee and try and evacuate those we can.
We arrive just ahead of it and climb atop the church roof, frustratingly with nothing, mundane or magical to stop it.

I have a fleeting, futile thought to wade in and brace myself against it but then disappears beneath the surface… That was no log…

Bursting out of the raging river, as tall as the church spire, is a dark, slick skinned leviathan ancient and terrifying. A ring of enormous, writhing tentacles whip out around it. A long, twisting serpentine neck with a great fang lined maw is fishing about for a target.

It howls at the world, an alien noise that turns the blood cold- The Black Maga!

It is a creature of pure malevolence, emanating evil and it is we who stand in the way. It’s great, teeth lined mouth sweeps across our front line and spews fourth a noxious black cloud that rolls over us.

Mahd’s magical minions burst fourth from the water around it and we all weigh in… That is except for Athene and Wynter who both seem to be struggling from the Maga’s breath.
Arrogantly it remains stationary it’s thick hide near impenetrable.
Tentacles wrap and crush. With Wynter barking insensibly and Athene looking around confused it is some time before we finally start to deal out some damage on this beast, but it’s more than a match for us.

I’m forced forced to channel Iomadae’s healing energy as Thera is smashed against the church wall, tumbling into the water unconscious.

Then I’m grabbed!
I’m looking around for it’s open mouth, sure again to be swallowed but I instead I’m tossed away, long and hard.

By the time I rise, lungs full of water, ribs aching, the mighty monster of the Skull River lurches away, angry waves rolling in its wake.

We have routed it, if not destroyed it.
But… Perhaps we should be thankful to have done so against such a creature.

The rain, the surging river seem to suddenly quieten with the disappearance of The Black Maga. The river’s direction corrects itself and those stranded on top of their shacks are able to leap down and run to dry ground. We wade into the church come infirmary where the Mayor still stands a little dumbstruck at the appearance of the monster.

He explains rather disturbingly that this ancient evil is singular minion of Lamashtu (surely no coincidence) and legend to reside in distant Storval Deep. Is it a long way from home, or is this the misinformation of rumour.

The Mayor seems convinced that the dam at Storval has began to fail. If that beast is here now, perhaps it already has!
He pleads for us to attend but I’m not sure what we three can do, unless Athene’s engineering knowledge might come in use ?

We agree to pass by there on the way to Hook Mountain but first, we share our fears of the cult at work amongst his flock.

I think the Mayor is traumatised. He dismisses our cautions with an almost negligent dismissal of the threat at hand.

We have done all we can then and with so many issues requiring our help, we leave the fool to his work…
View
Ghosts
Rebuilding, Farewells, New Dangers and New Horrors.

With Fort Rannik back in our hands, we mount a picket line of ogre heads to ward off any thoughts of a counter attack, Kreeg, the Magi and Hook-jaw a fly blown a centre piece at the Northern gate.

Then begins the grisly task of clearing the keep, room by room.
The carnage is appalling, more blood than it seems possible to spill, human bodies turned to grotesque purposes and wanton destruction at every turn.
We disassemble and remove the worst of the vandalism, Ogre bodies piled on the still burning barracks, human lined up for proper burial later.
It must be extraordinarily difficult for Jak and Kale but they seem determined to purge this horror and rebuild, brick, body and mind. I for one would prefer to forget much of what we saw…

Amidst the horror though, in two rooms at least, there are answers, and perhaps more questions…

Like so many others, Commander Lamatar Bayden’s quarters, were turned over and defaced, but the clumsy ogres missed a hidden cache beneath a now shattered wine store.
Inside is a pair of supple, magical boots, a collection of surprisingly poetic love letters to a woman named Myrianna and a lock of silvan hair in a golden locket.
Myrianna is apparently a Wood Nymph from the nearby Whitewillow marshlands. According to Athene, these powerful fae are inherently good creatures who play muse to mortal subjects, often leaving such tokens as this lock of hair…
Whilst this apparent ‘love affair’ is news to the Rangers, It certainly sheds new light on what Jak describes as the Commander’s regular ‘communion walks’ and instils a genuine hope that Bayden might even be sheltered there, safe and alive!
It can be no coincidence that the attack occurred during one such outing by the commander, intelligence no doubt shared by Caven or other traitors in the keep.
We take the letters and locket, intent on passing through this Whitewillow to see if Bayden is indeed there and if not pass on these letters to her. Jak insists we also take the boots which apparently allow free passage through such mires as the Whitewillow.

This talk of fae makes me uncomfortable, my father often teased me that he found me in a faerie circle whenever I asked about my mother and such nonsense always bothered me…

We finish our sweep in Lucrecia’s lair, and make a more disconcerting if significant discovery.
In a chest we find a list of over two hundred names titled the ‘Favourite customers of Paradise’ with an ominous footnote saying ‘Those who have agreed, to grant their greed, to the masters need’.
Caven’s name is there, circled, so I hand it to Jak in the hope of identifying any other traitors.
His face goes a little pale.
No Ranger’s names, but every other one belongs to a resident of Turtleback Ferry- Nearly half the town, Including the man with the Sihedron tattoo on his leg!
We have the idea to look over Caven’s body in the tunnel outside and indeed find that same tattoo on his wrist.

Are they ALL cultists or just those with tattoos?
Perhaps these people are being groomed?
Perhaps these are the most vulnerable?
Whatever the case, we must get word back to Turtleback Ferry and warn Mayor Maelin Shreed (whose name does not appear in the list) that wolves may be loose amongst his flock.

Also in the chest we find a note accompanying two gifts for the Lamia from someone signed ‘M’ (I wish these villains had the courage to sign their full name). One is an elvish spellbook and the other a section of spiked steel rod, with a faint magical aura.

I have a horrible thought that ‘M’ might be this Myrianna, but say nothing, not wanting to dash any hopes that Bayden might still be alive.

We decide to make haste back to Turtleback (I wonder if that’s where Lucrecia teleported too?) and reluctantly choose to leave our new friends to rebuild alone.
A stoic Jak, Shae and a demonstrative Kale see us off at the gate.
We promise to send assistance and supplies as soon as we can but whether we’ll return ourselves is not so certain .
Looking around at the bodies and the still smouldering ruins, it seems a massive task, but it’s a task in the right hands.

We ride back to Turtleback in a sudden unnatural rain, deciding to strike camp, just short of the settlement. We are truly spent after the battle and if we must fight two hundred brainwashed cultists, I’d prefer to be well rested.

Unfortunately though, it seems the night holds no such respite…
We wake to a strange, oncoming, drifting light and a high pitched chittering. Preparing for a fight we are surprised to see a tiny, iridescent figure with gossamer wings and fine elvish features- A Pixie!

The befuddled and bemoaning creature is in quite a state. Introducing himself as Yap he claims that his mistress Myrianna is suffering some terrible illness and knowing us to be allies of the Commander insists on our help… How he knows our connection to the Commander though I do not know?
I suppose our meeting with this fae queen has been brought forward…

We follow him through the forest, over rivers and into the mire of the *Shimmerglenns*… when the rain suddenly stops.
The way is thick with mud and groping tree roots.
The land laced with powerful magics but magics that are changing.
What once must have been a place of wonder is now corrupt, twisted, decaying.

Ghostly lights flicker in the boughs.
Shadows creep at the corner of the eye.
Strange voices whisper from the dark.

A hooded figure slides form the shadows before us.
Mahd jolts, visibly shaken, the rest of us little better, and then it’s gone, only silhouettes of gnarled trees where it stood. We reach out with our senses and find nothing , no evil, nor magic. It’s like it was never there…

We march on knee deep into a wide pool of water, except for Athene in the Commander’s boots who’s skims the surface like solid ground.
Half way across, a haunting chorus of voices swirls around us, that becomes a circle of long dead, spectral fae. They flitter around the perimeter and then they’re on us in a sudden rush like a spine chilling wave. Athene screams but again, quickly as they appear, they are gone again…

A little further on and there’s a wrecked ship. Beached on a muddy bank, many miles from the coast the ship is little more than a husk, but how did it get here? A mystery for later we move on again to arrive at a truly terrible site…

A Dryad in its humanoid form, petrified and submerged in the ruin of a huge tree, limbs smashed and scattered all around. Her face is distorted, with fear or perhaps pain and it appears that she is the source of the voices…
“She should not have fallen in love…” she says from silent eyes… and surely it is Myrianna of whom she speaks.
Athene and Wynter check for tracks and discover that this is actually the work of Ogres. Perhaps they caught this creature as it shifted form one form to another? I no little of such woodland spirits…

But it all, just raises more questions.

We ask our guide about each new horror but he can only mumble about his mistress and the fall these lands. I wonder if he too is affected it in a way we cannot understand.
It doesn’t bode well for Myrianna, perhaps she too is a victim of this ogre incursion, but she is the villain, the ‘M’ from the letter.

Yap slows to a halt as we enter an ominous circle of willows…
A terrible, spectral form arises from the earth with a scream.
The ghost of a once otherworldly beauty drifts before us.
Rendered limbs floating dismembered alongside the gaunt frame of a once faeland princess. It is Myrianna…

Eye’s dark in undeath, hair like oil, whipping and snapping with each cry she floats before us, screaming accusations.
Blaming us for the fall of Fort Rannik and the death of her lover, Commander Lamatar Bayden (at least we now know his fate), she demands in her broken voice that we go to Hook Mountain and recover his body, where by her magics she can resurrect him.

Athene and I both eye the creature with some suspicion.
If the Myrianna that was stood before us I would not hesitate, but what of this creature?
What are her real plans for Baden’s body?
Is this creature in league with the cult?

We ask a few questions, trying to sense her motives but they only seem to infuriate her.
There is something about her, something that I do not wish to anger her so I back down.
I cannot help but stand in awe of her power, she might be evil but there is something else I detect in her, the anger of the righteous, of the good.
But it is an anger on the edge, one that might teeter over into the dark.
Perhaps by helping her we can return Bayden, her and this place back to the way they were?

I am satisfied for now, for even if we would fight this creature, in our current state, in her territory, we would most likely be throwing away our lives in an uncertain fight.
Besides, we would seek out the commanders body regardless of her ill mannered request and if should suspect her of anything untoward on our return, we can fight her then.

I back out, behind Mahd who gas already cleared the circle.

But Athene remains behind…
She obviously doesn’t share my instincts and demands more answers…
Myrianna swells again, a primal force, and screams a bone-chilling tirade at Athene that leaves her dumbstruck…

I rush back in averting my eyes as Myrianna looms closer and literally drag the inquisitor’s paralyzed form from the grove and the spectre dissipates…

I hesitate for a moment between an arch of two twisted willows, and take a few steps back in, placing the chest with it’s letters and locket on the ground and quickly withdraw.

Now to get some answers form that Pixie!

View
Taking it Back
No End to the Ogre Menace!

We stand in the foyer, a killing field of Ogres outside, twitching, seeping, the burning barracks still crackling and smoking beyond.

And then we move again.
Athene and Wynter lead the the Rangers outside to locate Lucrecia’s serpentine tracks and sure enough they find them… leading back into the keep above!

We double back and charge upstairs… Headlong into an ambush!

Athene sneaks a look around the corner, reeling back with a yelp, struck by a volley of wicked glowing barbs.
No time to hesitate though.
We leap into the corridor where a trio of evil awaits.

An ogre bigger than any before, jaw replaced with a hook lined metal hinge; a repulsive Ogre Magi and behind them the Lamia grinning, both her and the Magi reflected half a dozen times with magic.

Athene, Wynter and I charge them.
Mahd steps out with the rearguard who kneel and ready bows.
A short, violent exchange.
Steel rings on steel, on flesh.
Illusory forms steal potential deathblows.
A destructive arc of electricity from the Magi gives us pause.

Despite our deeds earlier, despite our experience and the small army behind, I truly wonder for the first time if we have not met our match.

And that’s when the door behind, where our companions hold the line, smashes open with a terrible, inhuman roar.

I steal a glimpse behind to see a gigantic monster, fourteen foot tall, all muscle, with e a two handed ogre hook, dwarfing even Hookjaw; who looks up at his new ally and bellows KREEEEG!’

Mhad doesn’t have time to think as the creature, berserk with rage nearly slices her in half.
I want to go to them but I cannot leave Athene, and can only hope to their superior numbers.
Archers turn on the monster as Kale steps up to defend Mhad… and goes down with a single blow.

I scream at Wynter to aid them. She seems reluctant to leave me at first but the winter wolf obeys.

I can see Athene shares my concerns, a rare flicker of fear in the eyes above the veil.

No, we must not falter.
We WILL prevail.
We will flight on, one blow at a time.

Mahd barely able to stand can’t have much in reserve.
Scanning our desperate situation she seems to be wrestling with what to do and falls back, desperately looking through her spellbook as Jak and Shae keep the pressure on.

And then I see for a brief moment, an opportunity.
If we fall back now, we might be able to rally and I call for us to ‘Retreat!’.

But whether she didn’t hear, or she can see some hope that I cannot, Mahd summons a dire weasel which hurls itself with Jak’s cougar at this Kreeg.
I don’t like to run anyway…

The giant Ogre seems to look around incredulous at the ring of animal attackers that surround him, almost amused… and that was his mistake.

As he wheels on the weasel, Wynter leaps forward and rips his hamstring open.
The giant goes down in a heap and is rolling on the ground, set upon on all sides by fang and fur and I can’t help but stifle a mad laugh.

Athene too must have been distracted as Hook jaw steps in under her guard and nearly rips her side open.
Shae and Athene’s owl put themselves between her and the attacker.

The distraction is well timed.
I turn and smite him and the metal mouthed viallain goes down.

I can taste the turn now.
But it’s far from over yet.
Athene pulls back as Jak fires rapidly at the cluster of mirrored sorcerers.
Another bolt of lightening in reply.
Lucrecia slithers forward, a wall of knives and nearly eviscerates me.
The Magi throws another bolt as I look over at Athene, she and I both literally one unlucky blow from death.

I pray to Iomadae to give me the strength to continue and healing light washes over me.

Kreeg stands up amidst the circle of beats and my heart drops.
Lucrecia seeing this too, seems to think her victory is at hand and mocks us.

But we will not concede now.
Nor will Wynter.
White fur bright red to hind quarters, she leaps like a salmon, smashing against Kreeg’s chest and tears his throat out.

We all turn and face Lucrecia…
There is the briefest moment of silence and the battle turns.

Athene and I rush her, both slicing through her scaly hide.
She’s on on death’s door now and she knows it…

Speaking words of magic, infuriatingly, she opens a rift in mid air and steps through to another location, disappearing from sight.

I can’t help myself and curse to the gods aloud… but we are not finished yet.

Electricity still crackles over the Ogre Magi’s hands, her short matted hair standing on end. She is backed into a corner but quarter is not and option for her or us.

Drawing on incredible arcane reserves she continues to blast away but it is only a matter of time. Arrow, blade and tooth, press her into the back of the corridor and it is there that we take Fort Rannik back.

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Hold the Line
Sorcerer, Lamia, Ogres and Ogres and Ogres.

Lucrecia’s insidious, seductive tones wash over us. The enchantment is strong but not as strong as Iomadae’s blessing which protects us.

Kaven drives the blade in my back but the plates hold.

Jak and his glassy eyed fellows still have their weapons sheathed and I reluctantly leave them to deal with the traitor.

I push past into the room, Wynter close behind, where Mahd’s Archon servant is already in the fight. Athene remains behind holding Kaven at bay. It appears our new friends were affected by the snake woman’s charms, I only hope they don’t turn on Athene!

As we surround her she transforms, Xaneshia’s sister in body as well as name. The serpentine form of a Lamia rears up and draws a pair of wicked daggers.

With a blur of blades she nearly slays the Archon outright but we return with a volley of deadly blows and it seems for a moment that this fight will be a short one. And then she disappears…

We hold ready to defend ourselves but a door behind Wynter opens- the cowardly sorceress flees!

Mahd grants us all speed and we pursue her upstairs into a long, wide, door lined corridor, streaked with blood and smelling of death. I stop and reach out, hoping to sense her evil but as I do, still invisible, she slams open a door, calling in a deep guttural language.

Our companions all, I’m thankful, come in behind me and assemble at that open door. It’s a long barracks hall, broken furniture strewn about, stinking of sweat and blood and Ogre!

Four of the massive brutes await with long clubs and hungry expressions on their gnarled faces.
Wynter and I charge in to meet them as Jak knocks an arrow.
My foe clearly doesn’t expect his diminutive target to stop short and lunge in under his long reach with my great sword and I slice his belly open in a single stroke.
As he goes down, Wynter tears the throat out of a second.
The next two step up as Jak’s arrows strike true.

Then, throughout the fort, we hear the stomping and bellowing of a host of Ogres streaming in from all sides.

I can’t see Athene or Shae but Mahd is pouring arcane energy into the passageway ahead where I can hear Kale in a fight of his life.
Jak turns his attention that way too, his cougar even rushing into the fray.

Trusting them to hold the line I turn back to my opponents as they come in hard.
My foe misses with his a still bloody hook but Wynter is struck.

Our reply is swift but deadly and the barracks are clear.

We step back into the main corridor where a desperate struggle ensues.

Behind us, Shae is firing arrows into a room where Athene sounds locked in battle.
Ahead, Kale, sorely wounded, stands shoulder to shoulder with the Archon and Cougar against the largest Ogre I’ve ever seen!

Beyond them, another two brutes are struggling against Mhad’s black tentacle spell while she tries to avoids the deadly reach of the one fighting her minion.

Then light spills into the fort.
Beyond the grappling Ogres out of site, Lucrecia has opened the massive double doors to the Fort, screaming in that guttural tongue again…

Her intention is clear though, she’s calling for reinforcements…

Athene, victorious, comes limping up with Shae but she’s doesn’t look good.
Kale too has fallen back, bleeding badly but the beast they’re fighting is done.

We should win this fight, but if the army outside pours in now the battle will be lost.

I have to slow them down.

I run for the foyer, leaping over the arrow filled body of the first ogre, and under the swing of the second (still held fast) Wynter in my wake.

No sign of the Lamia but the gates swing wide.

Outside in the open courtyard at least a dozen ogres crowd around the burning Barracks. .
At Lucrecias cries though, the least dimwitted among them turn to me.

I doubt the gate will hold for long, but perhaps I can buy enough time for us to rally.

I say a silent prayer as Shae puts a final arrow in the struggling ogre behind me and I rush forward at the same time as half a dozen lumbering ogres, unslinging their weapons.

I leap for the doors.
Only a few feet now.
Wynter steadies herself with a huff.

But I manage to pull the doors shut and slam the bar down just as a tide of heavy bodies smash against it.
The planks buckle, nails pop, we won’t have much time…

I step forward, Wynter and the Archon closing the gap either side.

Mahd and the archers (including Kale) line up against the wall notching arrows.
Athene is a bloody mess, desperately milking meagre healing from the wand.

The doors crash again.
Hinges crack, beams splinter.

Then it comes down.

As a wall of sinewy muscle, broken teeth and rusted weapons reels back from the ruined gates, we step up, a column of steel and fang.

Wave crashes into shore.
I’ve never been so exhilarated, nor so scared.
But Wynter pushes close and a small army stands behind me!

We hack and bite and smash as another clutch of black tentacles erupts to engulf the pressing throng, splitting them in half.
Arrows fly, punching through grey flesh wherever a gap opens.
A ball of flame erupts and rolls through the struggling, pressing ogres.

The first line goes down!
Iomadae be praised we might just do it!

We step forward to meet the second wave.
The expertly placed tentacles force them to fight us single file on the flanks.
The eager Archon edges out and I’m forced to follow and close the gap.
We need to be careful now!

The second line goes down.

Wynter continues to maul and snap, fur red from muzzle to midsection.
The ground is slippery with blood and giant muscular limbs tangle the ground like tree roots.
Arrows continue to fly as the fiery sphere crashes into the third line.

Then, there’s only one, a sickening brute, unmoved by the carnage around him.
Tasting victory, from the fort we charge.
A volley of arrows shower the witless creature as Athene, perhaps hoping to redeem herself pushes through the throng and with a single mighty blow, fells the monster like a tree.

Sweating, bleeding, heaving, only devastation surrounds us.
We fall back through the ropey, bloody carpet of grotesque over-sized corpses, back into the foyer and form up again.
A moment passes and no more appear.
I drop to my knees and give thanks to Iomadae, waves of divine healing light passing over all assembled.

A few moments more. Still no more.
We are all ready to finish this and run out into the light to find the Sorceress!

Silva

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The Best Made Plans
Father's, Plans, Fire, Water, Electricty & Backstabbers.

Mammy Graul and her Ogrekin ‘boys’ lay dead.

There’s something odd about that Tendriculous. More than it’s inherent oddity that is, a kind of vaguely humanoid form at its roots… I don’t know much about these things but it doesn’t seem right. Whatever it’s origin, I shudder, when I think how close I came to being consumed by it,

And, I assumed that monstrous plant was the treasure Mammy mentioned but not so. Searching the basement we discover a chest full of all valuables and a stash of Ranger’s belongings. We bundle up both and investigate the last rooms upstairs.

We pass through what can only be described as a series of grisly ‘workshops’, dedicated to bone furniture, traps and taxidermy. We also discover another chest nailed to the floor. This one however is trapped with a war razor (another link to the Skinsaw Cult no doubt) and by the number of sheared fingers amongst the coin, evidently employed as a cruel game of sorts.

A weight lifts as we emerge outside and Shae appears to greet us.
All is well with the Rangers and we reunite them with their possessions.
I hand a burning torch to Jakardos to light the farm buildings aflame and lead a prayer for the souls lost within. I cannot truly sanctify this place but hopefully Iomadae will hear me words and guide them home.

We prepare to move out but Jak is strangely melancholy and refuses to budge.
I ask Shae how to handle the situation, who seems to suggest a firm hand.
I approach him and he sits, lamenting his losses. I remind him that he is possibly the highest ranking Ranger left alive and that with our help he may have a chance to redeem himself in both body and in mind. Though I can’t appease his ill mood completely, he rallies enough to follow us away from the Graul farm.

Collecting our mounts we find a safe clearing to set up camp. We heal our wounds, share the first good meal this crew has seen in a long time and pray.

We discuss the fall of the fort and the ease by which it was taken.
I boldly suggest that there may have been a traitor at work, but Jak seems quite adamant that such disloyalty would be impossible.
His perplexity it seems, is the unusual discipline and organisation of the Ogre forces that occupy Fort Rannik. I share with them our similar experiences with Goblins and the undead and a little more about us and our reasons for being here.

After supper we address the issue of infiltrating the fort and Jak draws a map which illustrates the difficulty of our mission.

Built against a sheer cliff it is surrounded by a moat, a 15’ stone walls with a pair of gatehouses.

They suggest one of two ways in.
The first is a Slues gate in the south wall that should get us in, but requires a long run across open ground once inside.
The second is a series of tunnels behind the waterfall which they claim were not uncovered by the invaders. Though populated by a family of shocker Lizards Kaven explains that they are generally docile if left alone.
Unfortunately both options require us to approach across the open field surrounding the fort against enemy forces who can see as well in day as night.

We decide to leave tactics for the morrow after we scout out the fort and gather more up to date intelligence. Before sunrise we ride in, sharing mounts, all quiet with our own thoughts. Jak is nearly catatonic, except for the regular bended elbow of a leather flask of spirits.

I sidle alongside unnoticed, snatch the container and take a swig (making my eyes water a little). Jak breaks from his lethargy as I hand it back and mumbles that he doesn’t wish to run away again.
At first I think he means their routing at the fort but then I remember something Shae said, and mention as much to him. With a little more prompting he reveals his relationship with Shae and it’s not what I expected…

Many years ago, as an adventurer not unlike us, he found himself defending an elvish village from a Dragon and it’s Ettercap servants. Though they repelled the monsters he was the only survivor of his group and grievously injured. An elf-maid found him, and nursed him back to health.
The two fell in love and Jak became the would be step father of her daughter and our companion- Shae.

When the Dragon returned, Shae’s mother was killed and Jak, distraught, abandoned his adopted daughter to her kin. It certainly explains Shae’s angry comments and I can’t say I blame her.

But we need him now, and not like this.

I’m not sure what one so young as me can offer such a man of the world, but I appeal to his responsibilities, to his surviving men and the future of his order. I remind that repentance lies in taking back the fort and I offer the observation that whatever has passed between him and his daughter, that Shae has not abandoned HIM and that he may indeed have a chance to prove himself and gain her forgiveness.

My words seem to have an effect and though his shoulders still bear the weight of these past few weeks, he sits a little taller in the saddle, eyes clearer, more alert.

We arrive in a glade within walking distance of the fort and make camp. Athene, Jak & Kaven creep up to scout out the situation and return an hour later with a full report.

The Fort still bears the signs of the Ogre assault; fallen fortifications, sunken ramparts and decomposing bodies of Ogre and Ranger alike.
The Southern Gate is sturdy and well manned. The Eastern is a shambles but a poor tactical entry point.
Ogres man the walls and grounds but their patrols are lazy and irregular.

Athene made one significant observation though, that puts all the pieces together.
A ramshackle wooden garrison, newly built but so poorly constructed that the Rangers abandoned it, is currently full of Ogres. More significantly, it’s made of wood and within striking distance of the forest edge… A well placed flaming arrow or Mahd’s magic might provide the perfect distraction for our small force to approach the waterfall undetected!

After some deliberation (and some understandable reluctance from our Ranger companions) we decide that Mahd will fly in invisible and set fire to the structure directly. It’s a bold plan but Mahd doesn’t seem concerned; I only hope there’s no complications, it’s very lonely on the other side of the wall… and I’d hate to see that new layer of hair singed off.

Mahd sneaks up into the tree-line while we take up positions near the Waterfall. It’s a tense wait, blind to the action, but sure enough, five minutes later there’s the rumblings of a commotion inside and total bedlam by the time Mahd lands in front of us!

As the sentries pull back towards a growing column of black smoke, to actually savour the chaos, we skirt the cliff face to the waterfall undetected.
The pool at the base is a grisly scene that I fear will undo Jak and the others. The mutilated corpses of men and women litter the banks and float in the water, blood staining the sand at the lapping edge.
We pass behind the rushing wall of water into a secret door cut into the bedrock. On the other side it is dark and cool, the sound of falling water muffled by the cave wall. We make our way forward, a veritable army.

We pass through a weapon’s cache to resupply but magical arrows are not the only shocking discovery when we disturb a pair of those Shocker Lizards. Electricity arcs between the large reptiles dealing out a nasty shock but thankfully they flee without further incident.

We march through a couple more passages, arriving at a long corridor covered with more of the critters, glowing blue in the dark. We step over their sparking tails trying not to slip on the guana soiled stones… But they too are not interested in us and we pass though unmolested.

We find ourselves at the entrance to the Fort basement, our mission thus far a success and open the door…

A one time storage area it is now opulently dressed with fine rugs, plush cushions and exotic trinkets. At the centre of the room, unsurprised by our entry is a slender, pale skinned woman with red hair and an expensive jade dress.

She addresses us each in turn by name, introducing herself as Lucrecia the same ‘sister’ of evil mentioned in the correspondence of Xaneshia.
She has indeed been following our exploits and like all her ilk before offers us a place of honour in her evil crusade… and as all before her she learns that we are above such temptation!
She seems to want to banter but our only answer is to draw our weapons., at which point
That’s when she congratulates someone behind me and I feel Kaven’s steel in my back!

Silva

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Mammy
Family of Freaks, Charnel House, Swallowed Whole.

Shae stays at the barn to guard the Rangers while we approach the homestead. The windows are boarded up, the walls carved with scenes of violence and torture. The veranda is decorated with humanoid remains, including a chair of bones.

We step blindly onto the porch and pay for our folly.
Two spring loaded saw blades burst from the floorboards and slice through the party. The cunning and cruelty of ogres is legendary, and we’d do well do be more careful…

Proceeding more cautiously we find that the front door is indeed trapped and we creep around to the side entrance, which opens to the first of many horrors we will witness…

A fly blown, roach infested kitchen, awash with gore and rats gnawing on a platter of hacked off digits and a basket of dismembered limbs. Despite our experiences thus far, it’s all we can do to stomach such a sight…

Then a dining room of skull topped chairs, a mutilated, red haired, human head atop a table cloth of human leather.

The monstrosity of this place is almost as artistic as it is holistic, but even amidst the horrors, there’s one strong source of evil and we push on… to find Mammy Graul in her bedchamber.

Draped in a filthy red curtain and clutching a desiccated human hand, we find her appalling, corpulent form reposed (seemingly unable to move) in the corner on a her sodden bed. The walls are stacked with buckets of fly ridden filth. An easel is propped up at her bedside, paints crushed from organs and limbs, brushes made from bone and human hair. Against the opposite wall stand three open coffins, each with the long dead remains of deformed Ogrekin, mouths sewn shut with greasy, hair and each bearing evidence of their fate, arrow shafts, trampled limbs and a split skull.

She chastises her ‘children’ for allowing us to get this far and launches her dismembered hand across the room at Athene, challenging us to leave.
She howls to her boys for help and three rotting forms lurch forward from their coffins and attack!

The room weighs heavy with arcane energy as Athene summons her Archon ally and threads us all with speed. Mammy counters with a spell, that duplicates her repulsive figure five times over.

Along with the Archon, Athene and I cut our way through the frail zombies to surround her illusory forms. When the Archon fells her second to last mirror, she calls out for her children to ‘protect the treasure’ and disappears from sight.

We must track her down before Mahd’s magic dissipates and make haste through the charnel house.

The foyer, lined with grisly trophies is empty, except for a vile couch of humanoid flesh and animal bones.

A filthy straw laden bedroom, stinking of excrement and scattered with more hanging fetishes.

Then the nursery. A mockery of the mundane with skull stacked bookshelves and murals of monsters and savagery. In the centre of the room, playing with crude wooden toys and animal carcass dolls are two Ogrekin whelps. One bloated and hairless, the other in a dripping nappy, strangely untouched by deformity (if not by abuse). They both stand and fight but it’s a short one.

The last door on the ground floor is a reunion…
With an unintelligible bellow (I’m sure I hear something about ‘dawgs’) the hook handed handed oaf that started all this is waiting and charges us with a heavy spear.
He runs the Archon through which disappears in flash of holy light.
We force our way in and surround him.
He swinging hard but he’s outclassed. Not only is his spear magical but a he wears a belt of strength, not unlike the one Athene purchased…
Who eyes it with a very, tight-lipped expression as I buckle it on.

Stairs lead up and down but Mammy’s potent aura is below.

Creeping down we are greeted but a truly unique sight.
Whether natural of man made, the huge, humid basement is lined with a thick and pungent carpet of mould, moss and swampgrass.
At the back of the room lurks Mammy, another huge Ogrekin and a pair of gnashing Donkey Rats.
And merging from the centre of the room stands, an enormous, twisted stump of vegetation, covered with fungal caps, broad leaves and tendril like vines.

We shuffle to a stunned stop for a moment, as our enemies wait for our move.

Tendriculos whispers Athene… and charges in!

She doesn’t get two steps before a huge vine whips out and wraps around her, holding tight.
A purple, teeth lined maw peels opens at the top, emitting a musty, acidic smell.
The vine tugs at Athene as if trying to drag her forward but she resists.
Thera flaps about her in a panic as the rat creatures wheel around on her too.

Wynter and I charge in.
Athene wrenches free as Mammy’s necromantic hand launches into the air and lands its spectral touch.
Wynter rips at the roots while I drag the lapping flame of my blade across its trunk, drawing a writhing shudder.

Then, one of the thick knotted vines, like braided rope, wraps around me in a vice like grip.
Armour plate crumple, muscles burn.
The Ogrekin is closing in on me now and Wynter squeezes past to intercept it.

The next few moments are a blur.

I’m lifted off the ground like a sack of grain, stomach turning.
It holds me aloft and in one swift motion, drops me into it’s flapping maw.
I see stars, then darkness. Like being wrapped in a blanket underwater.
A thick ooze wells up from somewhere and I feel my limbs going numb…
No, I must fight it.

This… Is not… How it ends!

Amazingly I still have a hand on my sword but I can’t wield it.
I hear only my own desperate breathing.
My gaoler writhes and twists, as I wriggle for air pockets.
Hand still on the hilt of my sword I reach down to dagger at my belt.

The trunk jerks violently, perhaps my comrades outside?

A gap, not much, but enough to get my dagger free.
A soft, thinner wall where I can see the light outside.
With all my new found strength I plunge the blade in and punch through!

I can hear shouts outside now, Wynter’s yelping, Athenes cries too.

It’s hurt.

I brace myself and drive the blade upwards, tearing a long wide whole in the belly of the beast.
It convulses, vines whipping and crumples down around me like a curtain.

With all my might, I force my way through the gap , emerging like a new born.
Dripping in pungent sap I stand amidst the wreck of vegetation and look across into the scowling face of Mammy Graul hovering off the ground and hurl my dagger.

The scowl turns to shock when the blade plunges into her ready bosom.

I tear myself from this corrupted womb, swinging my sword around.

Beating at flames around her and wrestling with writhing tentacles below, I see that Mahd has not been idle… and cover the distance to Mammy Graul.

And there, her expression turns to fear as I smite her!

Her disemboweled corpse drops with a gory crash as a disturbing hybrid of seemingly intelligent flames and grease black tentacles consume her.

I turn around to see the shouting has stopped, that we are alone and victorious.

Silva

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Eight Legged Freak
The Graul Family Farm and Interesting livestock.

Tracking the fleeing Ogrekin and followed by the liberated cougar, we filter onto a game trail which winds its way through thick vegetation to a farm at the centre of a massive clearing. It’s barn and homestead are not Giant’s work, but with large corn husk dolls (stuffed with hay and human hair) hanging from the low tree branches, neither does it appear to be the plot of any local farmer.

Sensing evil I approach the Barn and listen carefully… Shuffling…. Murmurs… Panting…

Then a terrible bellow from behind me!
I turn to see a huge Ogrekin bursting from the line of corn.
I stagger as he rips through my armour with his heavy Ogrehook.
As the others rush to my aid, the beast, referring to himself as Crowfood, cannot hope to withstand us all and goes down with a magical arrow in his eye and a single uncharacteristic whimpering of ‘Mummy!’.

After applying our new healers wand, we form up at the barn doors and pull them open.
Inside amidst the massive space and ageing hay, a host of hounds comes charging fourth with three Ogrekin driving them; an albino, one lumpy with with tumours and last with a vestigial arm. Each monstrously different yet brothers all the same…

Athene and I square off against a wall of fangs while Mahd summons a minion amidst their ranks and despite the fearsome site before us, our honed tactics make short work of them.

Stepping through the litter of corpses we try the massive doors at the rear of the barn but they’re jammed shut. We climb the rickety stairs either side, to two high doorways.

They open to an incredible sight… The catwalks line a massive chamber some 50’ square, with long, rope-like silken strands, stretching from wall to wall in a tremendous funnel of web.
In one of two cells against the elevated back wall we can see the shackled, emaciated forms of three men, so weak they do no stir at our entrance.
And the centre piece, a gigantic, monstrous spider with strange almost ogre-like features made all the more horrendous by its size- Ogre Spider.

It sits in it’s lair, perfectly still, a terrifying sight…
Surely we cannot defeat such a creature…
If we move carefully, perhaps we can get the prisoners out before it stirs…
No, too late, Athene leaps into the pit to fight the eight legged monster…

Mhad sends her weasel scuttling over the edge as she summons a huge, strange, dog-like like humanoid with a greatsword- an Archon!

There’s no choice now but to fight, I only hope we’re up to the task.
Wynter and I leap down too, a long drop but we both come up fighting.

We dance around its long, hairy, stamping legs, tendrils of web and the remains of its victims and Athene is bitten but shakes off the venom.
The Archon deals a mighty blow at the critical moment severing two of its legs. As the arachnid wobbles, I roll beneath it’s bobbing thorax and drive my flame licked blade deep through its chitinous hide.
Sprayed with icor, I slide out again.
It convulses once and topples dead into its web.

We quickly run back up to the feeding cages and drag out the poor souls within. All are in a sorry state but are able to stand and speak.
They are indeed members of the Order, Jakardros, Kale and Kaven. The cougar skampers past us to Jakardos, indeed his animal companion! To our surprise however, that is not the only reunion…
Shae pushes her way through and stalks up to Jakardros (is this why she insisted on coming?). There’s a moment of tension as they confront each other but I cannot read the situation; are they lovers or enemies? Or both?
Whatever their differences they decide sensibly to bury their animosity until the current situation has been dealt with.

Jakardros relates their sorry tale. A scouting party, they returned after an extended mission to Fort Rannik only to find it under siege by Ogres! Despite regrouping and staging a counter attack, they were outnumbered and outclassed and were among the few to escape. Their predicament went from bad to worse when they and their routed fellows were captured by this, the ‘Graul’ family.

Interned in the spiders nest for many days, their numbers have dwindled one by one as their comrades have been taken away to Gods’ know what fate.

Too injured to continue I heal them and arm them with what weapons I can spare.
Bolting the barn doors behind, we go back out into the field and approach the farmhouse and whatever horrors lay within.

We can only hope that some survivors remain, if not… They will be avenged!

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