Through The Portal

Going to Fort Caldbren
In which the heroes set out to the North

After their meeting with their contact with the Free, The Heroes met up back at their inn, the Crown of Stars, and discussed their plans in the drawing room of their suite, reasonably certain that they had not been followed.

“So, what do we do now?” asked Selibna. Everyone looked around at each other. “Well,” suggested Quintessence, “let’s go take a look at this warehouse of theirs. Maybe we can find a way to just grab some alchemists’ fire and run.”

Tess and Grant went over to Warehouse 4. From down the street they were able to watch as a pair of guards walked counterclockwise around the corner of the building. Some time later, a pair of guards appeared on the far side, still walking counterclockwise. Whether or not it was the same pair of guards was impossible to tell due to both distance and the uniforms. More watching from the same vantage point did little to clarify.

“Hmmmm,” mused Grant, “perhaps if we could find a way up to the roof we could see more. Help me find a fire escape or something.” The narrow alley did indeed have a ladder leading up past windows to the roof of the apartment building they were sheltering by.

Up on the roofs, the odor of humanity, smoke, and various foods mixed together to an almost palpable extent. Chimneys, makeshift shacks, and even a “courting” couple were visible and provided enough of a distraction/camouflage to hide their passage across the roofs to directly across from the warehouse.

There they saw two guards standing by the main doors, a pair large enough to fit two wagons side-by-side with a little room to spare. As they watched, the two guards on duty exchanged some unheard pleasantries with the circling guards as they passed. It still wasn’t completely clear if these were the only guards on patrol. “Maybe the other side?” asked Tess.

Three minutes later, they were on the other side of the warehouse, again up on the roof of an apartment block. There was a small back door, barely ten feet wide, again with a pair of guards on duty. A little movement on the roof of the warehouse betrayed the presence of someone up there. Now that they knew what kind of thing to look for, Tess and Grant could see at least three or four people up there. After a few minutes of observation, the two concluded that they must be more guards. This not only meant that there was a way in through the roof but that getting in and out without hurting any of the guards was going to be that much trickier.

“So that’s probably going to be difficult to break into,” concluded Grant back at the Crown of Stars. Everyone looked around again. None of them found the idea of brawling with the town guards especially attractive, even with no intent to harm.

To be continued.

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Heading Out
In which our heroes head out into the larger world

The heroes got ready to set out from Fort Presund headed towards Burlewick. They had asked Lieutenant Zarzuk’et for directions and he pointed south while telling them to take the west road. The heroes decided to ask Captain Caul Thorpson for directions instead. The Captain told them to head west, past The Gauntlet and to follow the road for some twenty days. They would know Burlewick when they got there. He also warned about “large spiders” on the road.

As they were getting ready to leave, a new face approached and asked if he could join their party. The person was Illidair, one of the villagers from Dalesend who had come through the portal with the initial wave to help repair and guard the fort. Illidair was not much of a warrior (and had been mocked for his lack of strength), but his faith in Sarenae was rock-solid and they knew that his connection to the divine could prove helpful in case they ran into trouble later on.

The heroes indeed set out, skirting The Gauntlet as they did the prior time by going most of a day’s march north, crossing the spine of hills, and coming south again to find the western road. From there, it was several days of travelling along a bleak wasteland steppe of rolling hills.

The only interruption happened on the fourth day out from Presund. Travelling along the winding road, several party members spotted what looked like a body in armor off of the road. Several decided to go and investigate. In spite of approaching with caution, once Phyrin was within a stone’s throw, two spiders, each twice as big as a horse, jumped out of their hiding spots and attacked!

It was a tough battle. Izolda was severely wounded from a spider bite, but she returned the damage in full with a spear thrust that went straight through the spider. With help from the rest of the party members, the heroes prevailed, with Phyrin striking the final blow on the second spider. The party regrouped and scoured the area for more menaces but found none in this blasted land. They did find three more human(ish) skeletons as well as the skeleton of some kind of draft animal.

The travelling after that was simply one of endurance. Fortunately the land began to return to what might be considered normal after another day or so, with the regular progression of the seasons returning. The trees, no longer stunted and twisted, had some of their orange, red, yellow, and brown leaves still on them. A day of hunting by Slim and Androginos provided the company with a family of fall-fed deer and enough acorns to make something resembling flatbread for the expected remainder of their journey.

And last it did, all the way through the 21st day when, in the space of only about one hundred feet, the grass that they had grown so used to in all its fall-golden glory quickly changed to tall green wheat, like that seen in midsummer. Off in the distance stood what looked like a watchtower, apparently on the same road that they were on.

As they approached almost to within hailing distance of the tower, armed soldiers appeared over the nearest rise, all of them with weapons to hand. The leader challenged the party with “Who the hell are you? Where do you come from?” Andro replied with “Who are we? Who the hell are you?”

“I am Corporal Helhean,” he answered. “I ask you again. Who the hell are you?”

“We were sent here by Captain Thorpson! Fort Presund needs reinforcements and supplies!”

“Great, go tell Bitter River in Burlewick! Get your asses moving, you got about thirty miles to go!”

“Can we stay here for the night?” asked Selibna.

Helhean thought for a moment. “You lot can sleep in the mill. That asshole,” he said, pointing to Andro, “can sleep outside.”

“What if I promise some entertainment? It must be dull out here,” she replied.

“Well, alright. You can sleep inside. We don’t have any spare bunks, though.”

One by one the rest of the party made their cases for sleeping inside. Eventually even Andro was given the opportunity to sleep in the wachtower after Seli quietly bribed one of the guards who then spread it around a little. The night passed uneventfully with everyone doing a little something for the guards at the outpost, from Illidair healing a few injuries to Seli’s entertainment, to Andro keeping to himself.

In the morning, refreshed from a night spent under a roof for the first time in the better part of a month, the heroes set off for Burlewick. It wasn’t two hours later that Izzy noticed a column of smoke rising behind them from the direction of the watchtower. Columns of smoke began rising from the next watchtower along the road to Burlewick as well as what were presumably the next ones in line.

The heroes began to hurry back towards the watchtower they had spent the night at. By the time they arrived nearly an hour later, the fight was over and the damage had been done. Thirty or forty orc and goblin bodies lay scattered around, the mill was burning down to its foundation, there were arrows lodged in almost every opening, and three bodies were shrouded in the shade of one of the walls.

After making sure that all the attackers’ bodies were properly dead, Illidair did what he could for the survivors, healing those that were wounded. The heroes then set out for Burlewick. They stopped again halfway to the next tower, this time to talk to the reinforcements galloping towards the fray. The heroes introduced themselves and were met with an, “Oh, you folks.” The heroes apprised the reinforcements of the new situation and the two groups went their separate ways.

A day of hard hiking later and the heroes arrived at Burlewick just after sunset to find the gates to the town shut. A brief pounding later and one of the heavily barred windows above the portcullis opened. “Who are you? What do you want?”

“We’re from Dalesend!”

“Where?”

“Fort Presund!”

“Oh, you guys. What do they want?”

“Parts and technical crew for the forest moon!”

“What?”

“Supplies, reinforcements, and repair materials!”

“Fine, what do you want?”

“We need to speak to Bitter River and-”

“He’s not available! Try again in the morning!”

“Fine, where can we get some lodging?”

“Well, there are a bunch of taverns, but the Crown of Stars is probably the best.”

“Fine, would you let us in?”

The heroes were let in and made their way through the city. It had high, strong walls and was packed to the gills with storehouses, manufacturers, and housing. The housing, especially, filled the three concentric rings around the town hall wherever it could be packed in around the six massive warehouses. The Crown of Stars was in the inner circle. Inside, the heroes found a fairly nice tavern. The ale was reasonably fresh, the food while plain was also fresh, and there were even rooms available. The heroes promptly paid for rooms with some even paying for warm water for a bath (although given the lateness of the hour, it was not very warm).

Refreshed by an easy night inside a town with good food and (for some) a bath, the heroes went in the morning to speak with Bitter River. His secretary/assistant sent them in and Bitter River received them in his office, which was located in an enclosed room on the roof of the town hall with only the central watch tower above them some one hundred feet off the ground.

Bitter River, it turned out, was a middle-aged man who seemed to be prematurely grey, either from the prolonged spell-casting it was rumored that was the source of Burlewick’s fecundity or from the mountains of paperwork that surrounded his desk. Bitter River did not stand up to greet the heroes but instead asked what they wanted.

The heroes related the recent history of Fort Presund as they knew it. Bitter River sighed and ran his hands through his hair. “Fine. Fine, I’ll find the… Right, it’ll be taken care of.” He made some notes on a paper. “Anything else?” The heroes handed over the receipt from Captain Thorpson. Bitter River sighed, counter-signed it, and told them to show it to his secretary who would get them their payment in actual coin.

“Anything else?” he asked.

“We were wondering if there was anything we could do around here to help.”

“Free?”

“Um…”

“Right, well, I know Redthorn, one of our librarians, mages, whatever he wants to call himself today, he’s looking for some escorts to a lost fort somewhere up north of here. He’ll be in the mage tower most times. If you really want to waste some time, you can look into whether or not we have a Thieves Guild. I swear we do, enough stuff goes conveniently missing, but no one’s ever been able to find me any proof. All their notes are in the library. Mage tower. Whatever.”

The heroes took their leave of Bitter River and were led down three flights of stairs to the
basement of the town hall, where the strong room was located. Two keys and three magical wards later, the assistant counted out 1000 gold pieces, triple-signed the receipt and gave it to the heroes along with their reward. He also gave basic directions around town, including to the smiths.

Andro in particular wanted to find the best smith. The best smith was reputed to be Skunnar Broadfist. Andro found him, a dwarf of shorter stature than usual but with the mass apparently repositioned into his torso, making him broad indeed. His singed blonde hair was plaited in threes and hung to his waist. Andro showed Broadfist his ancestral Elven blade, Anglickel.

Broadfist looked it over and nodded. “An old blade indeed. Looks like it needs a good seeing to. New hilt, definitely a good polishing, and I think the polishing over the years have thrown the balance off a bit, but I can take care of that. Anything else?” Andro produced his bow and asked if it could be made with a stronger draw. Broadfist grimaced and shook his head. “Gonna have to be a complete rebuild if you want that. I’ve got a bow with stronger limbs if you’d like to buy it, I could even give you a good deal if you want to trade in the one you’ve got.”

Andro agreed, they settled on a price for the blade and the bow, and Andro departed with his new bow and with a promissory note for the work on his blade.

Illidair used his time to go check out the town’s temple. There he met Yawga Farmer, the halforc head priestess, who gladly talked to him about the town and about Erastil, her patron deity, in particular. Erastil, it seemed, was the town’s patron deity, which made sense for the deity of farming. The temple was dedicated to him, but had a pantheistic side-chapel dedicated to the Gods of Good. According to Priestess Farmer, the town was responsible for feeding “hundreds of thousands” of soldiers and civilians in the surrounding country, with wagon trains sending supplies of wood, food, and magical hundreds of miles to various outposts, forts, and cities.

Tess, Seli, Slim, and Izzy, meanwhile, went to the mage tower/library to see what they could fine out. Elmund Redthorn, a tall and gangling elf with brown hair, met them. “How may I help you folks today?” he asked, before adding, “Especially you, my lady,” upon catching sight of Tess.

“We heard you were looking for some folks to accompany you on an expedition up north,” said Slim. “Ah, yes!” said Redthorn, not taking his eyes off of the floating lady. "I have found quite a few references to a fort several hundred miles north of here. Quite what its name is no one seems to agree on, but references to it begin to fade almost four hundred years ago and are nowhere to be found within a couple human generations. I think it’s possible that there may be some useful magic items buried there that we could dig up and being back! "

He continued to talk like this as Slim wandered off to find the section with the old reports about investigations into the Thieves Guild. After a bit of searching, he managed to dig up a dusty file of reports, the latest dated a little over a year ago and stretching back at least a couple decades if not longer. Multiple times, the investigators had tracked stolen goods from various warehouses (no pattern) to either the Broken Cart or the Lyre. There the trail had turned cold. Investigations into the Crown of Stars, the Empty Gate, the Dog & Cart, the Fields A Plenty, the Bloody Sword, the Orc’s Head, the Two Rubies, and the Black Pond (the other inns in Burlewick) turned up nothing. The only things that could be ascertained were “The Free” and “The Brothers”. What the relationship between these two was, whether the Brothers ran the Free, whether they were successor or rival organizations, or anything else was unknown.

Slim, notes made and pocketed, went back to where Redthorn was showing off his knowledge of the city. “-unless there’s a siege, of course, in which case it gets fed to the soldiers.” Slim managed to separate the women (especially Tess) from Redthorn and told them what he had found while they walked back to the Crown.

Once everyone had returned from their errands, debate started up about what to do in town, or even if staying in town was warranted. It was eventually decided that an expedition to the north, even to retrieve weapons, was not necessarily on a time crunch while an active thieves guild (or two?) could do serious harm, allow in enemy agents, and even grow if not stopped. Plans were drawn up for scouting the Lyre, mainly because it sounded like “liar”, in an attempt to track down the Free.

When they got there, Seli decided to approach one of the men at the door. “I’m thinking of having your establishment with my presence tonight. Put in a good word for me?” The man looked her up and down, shrugged, opened the door and shouted “Tits!” That got the attention of everyone inside. Then Izzy stepped through and whatever you want to say about her looks, it was her muscles that stood out then. Everyone was going back to their drinks when Seli entered. Then Izzy cracked her knuckles and several customers got whiplash while trying to decide what to focus on.

Seli played a few sets to the great delight of the clientele. When she had finished, she went looking for the sleaziest patron in the bar. She found him at a corner table, one hand on his drink and the other out of sight. Over the course of a quarter of an hour, she and Izzy found out that while he had a great many ideas about them, he had no idea what the Free even were.

Andro, meanwhile, decided to find the most dangerous looking person in the bar. He found the man sitting alone as well. Andro pulled a chair up and sat down at the table. The man stared at Andro and said, “The last person to do that got a knife to the eye.” Anything pause. “I like a brave man. How can I help you?”

Andro laid their problem out in suitably vague terms. The man mused for a moment before giving him an address in an even worse part of the town, saying to meet a contact there tomorrow night at moonrise.

The group reconvened the next morning and decided on a plan. Andro and a few others would go to the meeting while the more obviously good members of the party would stay a couple blocks away and act as backup of need be.

Andro went ahead and acted as point man, lounging against a wall. After some little time had passed, he decided on a whim to use a gland from one of the spiders they had killed on the way in to poison an arrow or three. Within thirty seconds, a voice at his shoulder whispered, “Norgerber sends his regards.” A quick exchange of identities and a vouching for his companions later and the lead group was brought inside a building, down some stairs, through a hidden door that no one saw how it was opened, and in front of a half dozen individuals.

“Good evening,” the leader said. “We are the Free Enterprise. I have heard that you wish to join our ranks.” The group indicated that this could well be the case. “You’ll understand if we don’t trust you right away. We have some… issues with how we cannot earn what we deserve to earn and this has caused some… friction with some of the locals. What we need you to do is to go to Warehouse 4 and procure for us the sack of alchemists fire. After that, we will talk again. You know where to contact us once you have our product.”

The members of the group left the room and the secret door closed behind them. They made their way back to the Crown where the backup group meet them shortly after, having decided that someone would probably watch them immediately after the meeting to see if they ran to the authorities.

Andro and the others from the lead group laid the problem out before the others. “Well,” said Seli, “what’s the plan now?”

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Supply Run part II
Hide-and-seek, cattle stampede, and the Battle of the Gauntlet

The heroes ventured further into the cave, following the sounds of shuffling and the occasional squish of guano. It was one of these squishes that proved providential, as when the party came to a five-way intersection, Andro noticed a footprint in guano, showing which way the shaggy being had gone. At that moment, however, the heroes heard the lowing of cattle from a separate direction.

Most of the heroes went towards the cattle sounds, with Androginos and Izolda Thundersnow staying at the intersection to make sure the party didn’t get ambushed. Venturing a couple hundred feet down the passageway, the other heroes found a small natural cave where, surprise, cattle were standing. This was apparently the pantry. Phyrin decided that the best way to get the cattle out was to ride one and lead the others out. This turned out to be a partial solution, as he accidentally kicked the ox he was riding in the kidneys.

The viewpoint the cow gave him (several feet in the air) gave him a glimpse of something in the corner, something which Slim’s poking around had revealed at just about the same time. This turned out to be a very nice chest that had dark and aged wood bound with well-polished iron. It was, however, locked, so Slim threw the chest on his shoulder and followed the cattle down the passage, back towards the exit, seeing as Phyrin had managed to get the ox under something like control.

It was about this time that Izzy and Andro were ambushed by their attacker. Izzy’s chucked light spell showed that their attacker was a troll, a troll with an unusual intelligence in its eyes. Andro and Izzy waded in against their attacker as those who had gone to find the cattle came pounding up the passage. An overenthusiastic Phyrin sent the cattle stampeding past the intersection into unexplored sections of the cave.

As Samarindle jumped in to help her teammates, Selibna began to sing a song about the Celestial Five fighting an unknown terror in the dark, thus bolstering the fighters’ spirits. And bolstering they needed, for their foe attacked not just with a troll’s strength but also with magic. This stopped quickly when Sam hit it in the face with a burst of fire, quickly driving it off. Phyrin’s struggle with the cattle finally yielded at least a partial halt, which his teammates were soon able to assist.

The heroes finally emerged from the cave, having encountered no more foes, and with their treasure and their animals in tow. The cattle looking slightly more pharaonic than desired, the heroes gave them some time to graze before driving them back to the supply train. There they were greeted by a surprised set of guards who nonetheless welcomed them all and soon had the cattle with their fellows in as much safety as could be arranged.

The next day, the supply convoy set out for Fort Presund, their final destination, with two wagons of iron rations, one wagon of arrows and spares, and a wagon of cut stone for repairing the walls. All were desperately needed by the fort, and all knew that they were travelling into The Gauntlet with almost a quarter of their usual escort and nearly half the optimum number of beasts of burden. The reduced guards meant that the orcs and goblins inhabiting The Gauntlet would almost certainly attack with overwhelming numbers, while the reduced cattle would not only be easier targets but would have a harder time keeping their speed up, especially if they once became slowed.

As the heroes and soldiers approached the Gauntlet, Sergeant Sly told everyone to keep the speed up, to not stop for anything or anyone, no matter what. The wagons had to get through and there were places where one wagon that was stopped would obstruct everything behind it. He then put the food wagons first, since without the food the fort was doomed. The arrows came next, followed by the stone, which was desperately needed but less so than everything else.

Quintessence then hit on the idea of disguising herself as an orc and claiming that she had captured the supply wagons. A quick make-up application later, and Tess was striding purposefully towards the two orc sentries at the entrance to the Gauntlet.

“Stop!” one of them shouted. “Who you?”

“I am great warrior Tess!” she replied. “I capture these wagons! Let us through or face my wrath!”

The two orcs looked at each other as the wagons kept rolling with their few cattle and their oddly human escort. Could these be ‘friendly’ humans? “You wait here. Stop wagons. We go get chief!” When the wagons did not stop, everything began to happen all at once.

“Push forward! Keep pushing forward!” shouted Sergeant Sly. The wagon drivers dutifully started goading the oxen to pull harder at the already straining traces. The two orc sentries began to run up the hill with as much speed as they could muster

At this point, a great many things happened, pretty much in quick succession. Orc sentries ran down and began raining arrows while others advanced on the column with sword and shield. The heroes formed a wall in front of the wagon train, pushing forwards through the press of enemies, desperate to keep the wagons from stopping. Goblin archers rained arrows on the cattle in front and the healers used every device at their disposal to keep them going.

Eventually the train pushed through the line of attackers with Slim and Phyrin forming a rearguard against the few survivors. A few minutes respite for catching their breath and repositioning was all that they were granted, however, as harder lay before them and they knew it.

The path bottomed out in the middle of the mountain pass and now began an uphill climb. The cattle visibly strained at their traces, trying to keep up with the commands of their drivers. Up ahead was the exit and freedom. In between them and the exit were already two dozen orcs and goblins. Up high were archers beginning to shoot down on the defenders and cattle alike while down low were warriors actively blocking the way.

The heroes waded in with arrows, bolts, spells, and blades. Even Seli summoned a warpony to distract the enemy (it was unfortunately killed almost immediately). Izzy pulled out a spell of fog which shrouded the column, but only if it stayed put. A snap decision was made to shelter the column in place, especially since the healers were running low on spells to keep the oxen on their feet. Indeed, one had already dropped to its knees twice only to be brought up by spells and potions.

A press of soldiers pounding up from the rear brought a slight relief to the beleaguered heroes in the front, at the cost of one of their number.

Then the tide turned. A group of enemy archers, trying to get to a better vantage point in the fog, stepped off the edge of the overhang and plummeted to their deaths. Another group of archers were whittled down to nothing by crossbow wielding guards. Finally the enemy chief had had enough and decided to flee. Unfortunately for him the heroes were out for blood and he was quickly run down and killed.

The supplies got through to Fort Presund and none of the heroes were killed, although Sergeant Sly lay dead. He was buried with full honors.

The heroes were given the thanks of the fort’s garrison who now looked on them as friends and allies rather than mercenaries at best and interfering civilians at worst.

Captain Thorpson gave the heroes a chit for all of the armor and weapons collected off of the dead enemies, apologizing for the necessity but explaining that he did not have access to the necessary funds to pay them outright. However, his superior officer, Bitter River over in Burlewick, did have the funds. Their going there would also save him the necessity of sending a messenger to ask for aid and supplies.

The heroes decided to leave the artifacts with Emeraldleaf before setting out.

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Supply Run
Rescuing the Convoy

The heroes, after divvying up the loot from the last set of adventures and generally getting more powerful, took a well-deserved rest. There was some question about whether or not some of the supplies back through the portal to Dalesend. Upon waking up and looking around, Lieutenant Zarzuk’et approached the heroes and asked if they would do him a favor. Since he had just barely enough soldiers to man the walls and just barely enough rations for the next few days, would the heroes mind going out and guiding/guarding the supply convoy on its way back?

The heroes agreed and set off after making a couple arrangements (Slim has asked the Fort Presund smith to make him a double-bladed sword) using a map that the lieutenant drew for them. The map, as it turned out, was not that accurate. Not only was The Gulch off to the east instead of northwest, but the road tended to zig-zag and wander a lot more than indicated.

The party, by using its collective knowledge, scaled cliffs, climbed trees, found some unhealthy (kidney-processed) water, used the stars to navigate, and eventually heard combat coming from just over the horizon. After cutting more than half a day off of the travel, the heroes snuck over a hill and were very nearly shot by the guards left at the supply convoy. They were so sneaky, in fact, that they snuck past the cave troll that was about to assault the supply convoy and did immediately after the heroes had finished convincing the guards that they were friendly.

Just as the heroes were about to jump on the guards’ side of the barricade, there was a roar from the opposite side of the circled wagons and the guards announced that they had a second cave troll to fight again. The leader shouted for the heroes to deal with the current one while they went after the newcomer.

The heroes dealt very expeditiously with the cave troll by casting Color Spray directly into its eyeballs and then cutting its head off. That threat dealt with, the heroes ran to assist the guards. The guards had reinforced the barricade on the far side and were fighting the troll in a fairly military manner. The front rank was using spears while the back rank shot crossbows. This worked for a few moments while the heroes themselves took shots at it or ran around to flank it, as both the guards and the troll seemed to be having a hard time coming to grips with each other.

Then the guards pushed back too hard and the barricade collapsed into its constituent logs. In response to this fresh opening, the troll waded into the guards, killing three outright. The heroes were finally able to get up to the troll, variously reinforcing the front rank or attacking it from the sides. Between the reinforcements and the bard encouraging them from behind, the heroes managed to keep the guards from breaking and running. In addition, the cleric healed the three downed guards, which probably helped. Judicious use of fire and another dose of Color Spray dropped the troll and another swipe from the axe removed its head but not before the troll well and truly killed one of the guards.

Sergeant Sly introduced himself and thanked the heroes, asking what brought them there. After a very brief recap, Sly asked the heroes to help his soldiers stand watch, especially since they were now down one more soldier. Apparently the trolls had grabbed all the corpses in previous attacks, especially since the majority of the cattle had been taken already and the three remaining had been placed firmly in the center of the barricades. The heroes agreed and kept watch over a still night, especially once the incidental fires from the attack had been doused and Slim had scouted out the surrounding area.

In the morning, it became apparent both from talking to the soldiers and from the tracks in the surrounding area that there were more than two trolls active in the area. The soldiers refused to abandon the convoy to come troll hunting, because any that came back would certainly take the remaining cattle as well as the supplies meant for the fort (mainly food and arrows). They also refused to load up one wagon and their packs with the supplies as the vast majority would have to be left behind, resulting in the same thing.

The heroes decided to go troll hunting instead. The tracks all eventually led in the same direction. While following the tracks, the party and a troll surprised each other. You can guess how that one ended too.

After losing the tracks over a large stretch of rocky ground before finding them again some hours later, it eventually became apparent that the cave trolls were coming from the cave on the map provided by Zarzuk’et (even though the cave was to the north, not the west like the map said). The heroes walked up to the entrance and Phyrin went inside to be promptly attacked by a cave troll which was seconded by something further back that was larger and seemed to smell even worse. Tess dealt with the cave troll in the usual manner after which point the second assailant retreated into the dark passages in the back of the cave.

After a brief series of hide-and-seek attempts, the players and DM decided by mutual agreement to leave the session there. Play will pick up again at this point next session.

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Introduction
In which our heroes venture forth

“You, the party, are all members of the same village. This village exists on top of a mesa roughly three miles across. The village has existed this way for the last several hundred years. Legend (and some surviving written accounts) have it that several hundred years ago there was a great war fought between the good and evil gods with humanity (and metahumanity) acting as their proxies. Towards the end, there was a massive, cataclysmic event. Parts of the world, such as your village, were raised high into the sky and the land below became uninhabitable. At least, that’s what the legends say. No one who tried to go down has ever come up, and some young fool usually tries at least once a generation.

Your village is isolated from any outside influences. There are those who believe that there are no others. They say that the final attack failed and that all other towns, villages, and cities were destroyed and only through the grace of the gods were you spared. A permanent fog exists roughly one hundred feet below the edge of the mesa, obscuring any attempts at seeing what goes on below. Your only sources of water are a well that extends four hundred feet down and the rainfall from passing storms.

Immediately after The Raising, a rectangular, stone “gate” appeared in the surviving woods just outside your village. Warriors came through, recruited the remaining willing souls for one final attack against an evil stronghold, and left with them. The gate remained “alight” but dormant for exactly one year after the last person left. After exactly one year passed, the gate turned off, becoming a dead construction of stone. It existed in this state for hundreds of years, although one person from your village was selected every year to live next to the gate and sound the alarm in case it ever turns on again.

Two days ago, the gate turned on.

Nothing happened aside from it lighting up, but even this is massive news. Arguments quickly developed about what it meant. The Gatekeeper and the half-dozen members of the town watch have been posted next to the gate ever since, waiting to see what happens. Finally the mayor announced that an expedition should be sent into the gate to see if they could bring news through from wherever the gate actually leads to, make contact with with someone or something on the other side, or at least find out what happened to your ancestors so many years ago. If no one is able to be contacted, the expedition is to see if new supplies can be brought through to your village.

For although you have enough food and water to support your town of 400, trees only grow so fast and metal decays. Almost all of the metal that your village possesses it has had for many generations and has been repurposed and recycled. Even new blocks of stone are almost unheard of, as the villagers are hesitant to dig into the mesa, fearing that they may go too deep and allow in whatever it is that lives in the fog and has killed the explorers.

Your village will be able to continue supporting itself almost indefinitely as long as the population does not grow much bigger. But without fresh sources of harvestable timber, stone, metals, and other resources, it will sooner or later turn into a collection of humans and sheep living underneath trees.

While magic does exist, no one has actively practiced any kind of offensive spells for years aside from trying once or twice a lifetime to see if they could cast them. Those few that can are placed under the tutelage of Silvermoon, the oldest elf in the village. Spells that involve any kind of travel do not exist. Every time spells involving travel have been attempted, they have fizzled at best. Fifty years ago, Dren the Elder tried repeatedly to cast a spell of flight and ended up explosively discorporating.

The mayor has asked for volunteers to go on this expedition, adding that he will not force anyone, seeing as what remains on the other side of the portal is completely unknown. You few have volunteered to go through, find out what has happened, and see what can be brought back.

You are all carrying a pack of supplies, a weapon made from what materials could be scrounged up, and wearing what armor the town guard had left after so many years. Halfdan Hammersmith has lit your torches, intoning the same thing he does every time he lights a fire in the village. “As my forefathers were commanded by their forefathers, back unto the Raising, let not the last light of this town go out, for without its warmth and protection, we will all be lost. May it serve you well.”

The Mayor has stepped forwards and said, “You, the bravest, the most adventurous amongst us, are possibly the last hope that we have. Go forth and find out what happened so many years ago. Bring us word if it is safe on the other side, so that those who wish to leave and start a new life in a new place may do so. Bring us whatever materials you can, so that those who wish to may stay here in better ease. But most of all, bring us word of what happened in the war between the gods so many generations past.”

You have said goodbye to friends, lovers, and family, all of you painfully aware that this could be the final goodbye. The portal stands before you, a doorway of a smooth stone found nowhere else in the village, twice the height of an adult human and twice again as wide. The word Presund is written on the side. The portal is filled with a smoky, swirling light."

The heroes went through and found themselves in a small building housing a portal identical to their own but with Dalesend written on it. As they exited the building, they saw that they were in some kind of fort, albeit a run-down and possibly wrecked one. Three of the four guard towers had been broken while the fourth was nearly so. There were also two large holes in the walls around the fort. The heroes explored the fort, fending off attacks by lots of beings trying to kill them, mainly goblins with a few orcs thrown in.

Further exploration found a large party of goblins ransacking the officer’s quarters. After a long fight, the goblins were defeated and a bunch of papers were found inside a broken desk. The papers proved to be a journal from Captain Silverleaf. In addition to notes about the surrounding enemy forces, supplies, and repairs, there was the following letter:

“If you are reading this, then we have failed to hold back the horde. I only pray that the little vermin don’t find these notes, although Ellehu knows none of them can read. Still, the fact that you are here means one of two things. You may be a relief force that came too late, and for that I forgive you. The countryside around us is swarming with evil and I know it takes time to navigate. You might also be from one of the towns beyond the gates. If you are, know this. The war which locked you away has never stopped. There are pockets of resistance everywhere, mainly in compounds like this one. Some of them are fortunate enough to be located around resources like somewhere food can be grown or mines for stone and metal. Ours is not one of those. We receive monthly supply shipments. Usually. The only reason we are here is to guard the gates leading to your towns.

If you are truly from there, then I was forced to use our Last Hope scroll. I or one of my soldiers (in the event of my early death) will have given their life in order to cleanse this compound and the area immediately around it of all evil. I know not how far or even what the particulars are, just that I was told in a note like this one that the scroll is to be read in the event the compound is about to fall. The scroll will also open your gate so that others may come forth and continue our fight.

You have two options now. You can go back to your village and destroy the gate. I’m told that hammers, chisels, and ropes will bring it to pieces if enough strength is applied. That will keep you safe for as long as good holds some kind of presence in this world.

You may also join the fight and try once and for all to destroy the evil in this world. That will also keep your village safe, but for all time. I beg you to consider this option. We need every soul that we can get in this fight.

In case you do decide to help, the following options must be brought to The Sanctum in this compound to cleanse the taint of evil that hangs over this place. I cannot be too specific in case someone evil reads the list, but this should be a good start:

The blood of the Pure
The symbol of the Brave
The Last Light

May the Gods guide your steps, whatever you decide.”

Further explorations found the library (a smoking hole in the ground) and the chapel. In the basement of the chapel, the heroes found The Sanctum. Exploration of The Sanctum revealed nothing but a massive aura of magic. Just as the heroes were leaving the chapel, the encountered the forces of Captain Caul Thorpson, which were a relief and supply force sent to Fort Presund. Capt. Thorpson left his supply wagons behind and force-marched with all the soldiers he could to Presund after seeing the Last Hope scroll activated.

After a brief conversation, the heroes went back to Dalesend to explain what had happened. The townsfolk were concerned and held an immediate townhall meeting to figure out what they wanted to do. After some input from the heroes, the townsfolk decided to leave the portal standing but form a barricade around it. A dozen townsfolk agreed to come back with the heroes so they could help repair the fort while the soldiers stood guard.

After a brief rest from their exertions, Thorpson asked the heroes if they would explore beyond the other two portals. The heroes agreed and entered the portal marked Oswardon. In there, they found themselves in a stone antechamber with a heavy wooden door on the far side. Through the metal grill in the door, the heroes talked to an elf called Emeraldleaf (“leaf” being the Elven equivalent of “Smith”) who said that, since the heroes could not prove that they were on the side of good, he could not let them out of the antechamber. The heroes agreed to find some way of proving themselves as good and left.

Stepping through the portal marked Brinhurst, the players found themselves not in a tunnel of milky white light, but a tunnel that shaded to almost pure black before dropping them off on the edge of a town that was entirely ablaze. The heroes ventured into the town to look for survivors and were ambushed by a pack of orcs. During the fight, Samarindle discovered that she had very long and very sharp claws. The fight was hard, but in the end the heroes prevailed. In the loot sacks carried by the orcs, the players discovered a statue of Shelyn which bled in the presence of the holier members of the party.

After another check around Brinhurst, the heroes found no survivors and so went back through the portal to Presund and from there to Oswardon. At Oswardon, Emeraldleaf recognized the significance of the statue and let them in to the city proper. Oswardon was built on a mesa smaller than Dalesend and supported a much smaller population consisting almost entirely of elves. The main purpose of Oswardon seemed to have been to guard a holy symbol in the basement of the church. The symbol is of Cayden Cailean and appears to be a very fancy drinking tankard with plenty of detail. All Emeraldleaf knew of its purpose was that this was the Symbol of the Brave and that it would help combat evil. The heroes transcribed the symbol and went back to the Sanctum in Presund.

There the heroes used the statue of Shelyn to scribe the symbol of Cayden Cailean onto the floor in the middle of the Sanctum and lit the blood on fire with the torches from Dalesend. As soon as they did so, the stones above their heads moved aside, guided by some unseen hand, an intense white light erupting from below them, spearing up through the air before flattening itself against the cloudbank. The light pulsed, growing stronger, never receding to its previous intensity but growing brighter and more intense with each heartbeat. It eventually exploded outwards, passing through all of their bodies before heading out to the horizon. When they could finally see again, the stones were in place above their heads.

As they exited the basement, the heroes could see that the skies above them were clear. Stars twinkled down upon them. They were filled with a sense of security, of peace, of home. Off to the Northeast, they could see the edge of the clouds, the lights still reflecting off of them.

At least, they felt secure until some of the stars began to spin and fell down out of the sky, streaking towards the fort at an inconceivable speed. Instead of hitting the ground and obliterating the surrounding environs, though, they fell down around Tess and started spinning around her waist, faster and faster, forming a blur. After a few seconds there was a thunderclap and a flash of light, leaving no stars behind. Tess, however, was now floating just ever so slightly off the ground. Whatever happened, you’ll have to ask her about it.

In the morning, after a much deserved sleep, Lieutenant Zarzuk’et approached the heroes and asked if they would mind going back to fetch and guide the supply train back to Presund since they would all have to stay and secure the fort as best as they could.

The heroes agreed and set out through the gatehouse into a scrubland populated with stunted and somewhat twisted trees, sparse grasses, and the occasional rocky hill. According to Zarzuk’et, the quickest way there will be overland, not along the path, but the path will be the only way to get the wagons back. His crude map showed roughly where the wagons were left off to the northwest, a nearby cave, and an area of the path a mile from the fort called The Gauntlet which he told the heroes to push through as fast as possible.

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