Characters: Ariel, Conscience, Gwenn, Maynard, Tesla, Logan, Marissa
Your party is in Jasper after having traveled from Ragnar as part of the Geldall force to support Jasper in defense against the orcs. You spend the day resting, resupplying and getting to know your new accommodations. Late in the day, Pablo visits your barracks with three other guards in tow.
"I hope you are all settled in because I've got some work for you. Pietra, Nagrin, Savali, and P'lar, I'd like you to go with Sergeant Baral and his team to help guard a valuable shipment of ore to Ragnar.
Ariel, Conscience, Gwenn, Maynard, and Tesla, I have another assignment for you. The local temple of Nani has a problem. Their main priest is traveling and the worship services were left to the priest's main acolyte, a young lady named Tara. This acolyte seems to be missing.
She was last seen in the temple at last week's mid-week evening service and the temple worker I talked with thinks that she saw Tara the following day (9/26) in town. The temple worker can't remember if she saw Tara any time later last week. When Tara missed this week's start of week morning service, some of the temple workers attempted to find Tara concerned that she might be ill. She was not in her quarters and no one remembers seeing her in the last few days.
The temple workers are quite distraught about this and are worried that she might have been attacked by orcs. It seems that she liked to take walks alone in the evenings to commune with nature and her god.
I'd like you to investigate. If there is an orc involvement, you will need to track them and attempt a rescue. Gwenn, you are the most experienced member of the team so I'm putting you in charge of this mission. I'm also assigning Logan and Marissa to your team since they're familiar with the town and you will likely need local knowledge. Any questions?"
The party travels to the temple area and finds the temple worker Jenna. Jenna tells the party that Tara liked to walk east out of town towards the mines. She would sit in the foothills with her prayer book and pray to Nani using the light of the setting sun until the first stars come out. She usually did not return until well after dark. She often said that the fading red light of the dying sun transformed the words of her prayers in to pure love.
Jenna says that with Vicor Horace away, the temple workers are basically just performing the two weekly services since they have no full priest on staff. Horace had left Tara in charge since she was his first acolyte and had the most divine training. Jenna remarks in a half-joking / half-reverent manner that they are making due while Horace is off saving the world!
Jenna cannot think of anybody that would want to hurt Tara. She was well loved by the other temple workers and the congregation due to her sweet nature - she had the blessings of Nani on her. "May Nani protect her now!"
The party then travels to the main east/west road and makes their way out of town. As they pass an inn on the main road, they notice the owner sweeping the front patio and he nods to Marissa. Marissa calls for the party to stop and walks over to the owner.
"D'bar, have you seen that young acolyte Tara recently?" Marissa asks.
"I know I saw her last Thursday as she was walking up the hill for her evening prayers. I know she was missing at service on Sunday. Are you lot searching for her?" D'bar asks.
"Yes. Did she seem OK? Did you see any strange characters following her?"
"No. She stopped and we chatted about this week's service and that she has a special message and that I should not miss the service. I was disappointed when she was not there and am more than a little worried that she has not been found."
"Did you happen to see her come back into town last Thursday?"
"No. After dark the place was hopping and I was so busy I didn't notice anything. Good luck. May Nani be with you all and with her!" D'bar says as he returns to his sweeping.
"Thanks for the info," Marissa says.
The party then heads on up the road looking for the place that Tara would leave the road for her meditation spot. Between the information D'bar and Jenna provided and Logan's tracking skills, the party finds the spot and travels over to a smooth rock with a tree behind it that Logan is sure is her mediation spot.
Maynard hears something rustling and discovers a well-worn prayer book flapping in the wind. Maynard, Ariel, and Gwenn examine the book and are shocked to find that there is a foul necrotic taint on the book like it was hit by some powerful curse.
Searching around the area, Gwenn sees a glint of metal from a gulley behind the tree and discovers an odd shaped crushed piece of metal. Logan and Marissa notice that the type of metal and some of its misshaped form look a lot like the metal men that attacked the town. They do notice that its eyes are missing and Gwenn notices the same necrotic taint on this clump of metal.
Expanding their search area, Tesla and Conscience come upon the remains of two dead orcs. Calling the party over, they examine the orcs to determine what might have killed them and can discover no marks of violence. Maynard senses the same necrotic taint on these bodies.
Logan suddenly realizes that this spot is less than a mile from the mine that the metal men were entombed. He also notices a trail of orc footprints heading up the hill so the party begins to track the orcs. After an hour or so, the party notices that the tracks lead into a cave in the hillside above. Pulling out their ever-burning torches, the party advances into the cave with weapons ready.
The party enters the cave and finds a total of 8 orcs in the cave. Marissa kills one of the sentry's and Gwenn engages the other. As the party makes their way into the cave, two of the orcs appear to flee out a side passage while others engage the party in battle. Oddly, the battle goes way too easily and with just a few minutes of fighting, all of the reaming orcs lay dead around the party. Gwenn bends down and senses that same necrotic taint and it appears that they were already pre-damaged or were vulnerable to the damage done by the party or maybe could not heal themselves - it is hard to tell exactly which.
The party examines the cave and discovers 200GP in coins as well as a nice mace which Ariel takes. The rest of the cave is filled with orc gear and it looks like the cave has been occupied for some time given the amount of trash and filth. They examine the second exit which leads to a concealed exit to the mountainside. Logan is able to make out obvious orc tracks heading up the mountain but also sees that this trail has been worn down by repeated use. The trail is far enough from the road that it is hidden from view. It seems that orcs have been using this cave as a lair to keep an eye on the town and the road.
The party travels up the orc trail for another few hours till they near a slot canyon. Gwenn worries that that canyon might be the perfect ambush spot so she directs the team around the long way around in hopes of approaching the canyon from the rear. Just as they expected, the canyon is filled with an orc force waiting for anyone to enter the canyon from below. The party jumps into action taking the orcs and their dire wolf mounts by surprise.
This group of orcs consists of 3 mounted orcs on dire wolves and the 2 orcs that escaped from the last encounter. The party concentrates their fire on the wolves while Maynard attacks the 2 weakened orcs. Although the wolves and orcs cause the party some grievous wounds, teamwork and good tactics soon give the party the upper hand. As the wolves are taken down, the party switches their focus to the orcs and within a few more minutes of furious battle, the final orc falls.
The party searches the bodies of the dead orcs and they find 500GP and a nice dagger which Conscience takes. On one of the weakened orcs, they discover a small scrap of blue fabric. This fabric looks just like the priest robes worn by the followers of Nani. Finding nothing else of value, the party easily follows the foot and paw prints that led up the mountain.
After several hours of walking, the path levels out to a small wooded plateau. They hear the sounds of orcs talking and Logan and Tesla sneak up to see what the orcs are doing. They discover a group of 8 orcs sitting in a large circle engrossed in conversation. Logan senses that they are scared of something and might be arguing about what they should do. Creeping back, Logan and Tesla tell the party what they’ve seen. Since Tara was not with these orcs, they decide to skirt the camp and continue up the orc trail.
Later in the day, the party hears the sound of a bird but Logan realized that it is not a real bird. Investigating, Logan and Tesla discover a band of Dwarves eating. The dwarves invite the newcomers to join them. Tesla speaks some Dwarvish so she discovers what the dwarves are doing and then asks if the rest of the humans can join the gathering. The dwarves agree and the entire party sits around the fire and enjoys a meal.
The dwarves tell the party about feeling an evil in the area and that the orcs are frightened of it as well. They felt the evil pass by several days ago and know that something foul is afoot but have not seen the source of the evil. Their main job is to keep an eye on orc activities as a forward observer force. That way the orcs cannot get anywhere close to the dwarf village hidden in the mountains.
One of the dwarves mentions the name Gar and Gwenn realizes that she knows Gar (the dwarf that she and her party rescued from the orcs on the other side of the mountains). Once they dwarves realize that Gwenn was part of the rescue party, they thank her and tell slightly exaggerated versions of the truth like it was an old folk tale. It seems that the dwarven rumor mill has been in full operation.
The humans and dwarves share guard duty and the night goes uneventfully. The next morning, the dwarves head out just after sunrise bidding the party farewell. The party packs up and then continues up the orc trail. After an hour or so, they begin to see carrion birds and detect a foul smell. Cautiously, the party travels on to discover the rotting bodies of 30 orcs who appear to have died in mid charge. The necrotic taint is so intense that everyone senses it.
Logan determines that they died between 3 and 5 days ago. The party then makes their way around the bodies and continues up the path. After more climbing, the trail ends at the entrance of a large cave. As the party decides what to do, Maynard looks up at the mountains and sees dark castle that sits beside the road at the gap in the mountains. Amid the misty haze, he thinks he can see a small column of smoke coming from one of the towers. It will take at least another hour of walking to reach the castle so the cave needs to be dealt with first.
Tesla and Logan again creep in the cave only to find it deserted. The party follows and they discover an encampment large enough for 30-50 orcs. Searching through the cave, the party finds 1500GP but no magic or other goods worth taking. The cave looks like it has been used in the last week or so and the gear matches the gear worn by the orcs the party has seen along their journey up the mountain.
It seems likely that this cave was home to the force the party found dead below. It also seems likely that this string of camps along the road was part of a small network of orc camps. However, whatever they have been following seems to have dealt with many of the orcs before them.
The party then makes their way to the road and climbs up to the gap where the castle is. As they near the castle, the party makes out the sound of movement in the guard house where the castle meets the road. Tesla creeps up to see what is making the noise only the see a humanoid figure with its back to her using magic to move items around and organize the mess in the guard house. Besides the magic, there seems to be some glow emanating from the figure's face. There is an old musty odor of death coming from the figure and, its movements seem somewhat jerky, and its robes seem splattered with old, dried blood.
Tesla creeps back to the party to tell them what she saw. Then the party moves up to attack the figure. As they approach the guardhouse, Maynard looks up at the parapet of the tower and notices that the smoke has a red tint to it and he gets a glimpse of what looks like long blond hair being blown by the wind.
A loud bang coming emanates from the tower top followed by the sound of a female voice laughing that somehow chills the party to the bone. Not knowing what to expect, the party charges in to attack the figure. The figure whirls around and it appears like a shriveled dead human body except that it is moving and instead of eyes, there are glowing spots of cold yellow light.
The party is pretty successful in the first few attacks but the figure screams out a terrifying call and then flings a bolt of energy at Logan who just manages to dodge it. As the battle continues, additional figures join the fight and the true power of these creatures becomes evident when one reveals its true vile nature with a horrific visage that sends out a blast of fear. This blast sends the party reeling and separates Gwenn from the rest of the party. The party quickly recovers and manages to take one of the figures down. The next figure to arrive points its hand at its fallen comrade, makes a bone rattling cry, and the fallen figures stands back up to rejoin the fight. Another figure claws at Gwenn and not only damages her but also weakens her ability to recover from the damage.
As the battle rages on with the party slowly gaining the upper hand, Logan is taken aback when he suddenly realizes that know knows one of these figures! Before he can say anything, there is another chilling cry from the tower above. This time the voice is fully audible and familiar to Logan and Marissa. The voice of Tara monstrously transformed yells out, "Arise my children and defend the gate." In response, there is a chorus of wails from inside the castle and the sound of many footsteps. As the first of this force arrives, the party decides that retreat is the best plan and they manage to make their way out of the guardhouse.
As the flee down the road, Logan looks back and clearly makes out the figure of Tara standing on the tower in a blue priest's robe laughing maniacally as the party runs down the road. After they get far enough away to take a quick breather, Logan tells the party about what he noticed - one of the figures looked exactly like a townsperson that has been missing for several months. He was among a force of several hundred mages that were hired by the prior owner of this castle named K'tala. Those mages where never seen again. When K'tala sent his army of metal men to attack Jasper, it was assumed that K'tala had killed the missing wizards when he was finished with them. Logan also confirmed that Tara was the figure on the castle tower.
In some respects, the party has completed their mission and not only found Tara but also dealt with an orc threat. However, it seems obvious that there is more at work here than simply a missing acolyte and a few orcs. Not knowing what to do next, the party decides to return to town to tell Pablo what they know so far and seek guidance on what to do next.