Beyond Bale Keep

Episodes 1-5: Bale Keep
**Heroes Emerge**

Episode #1: Into the Woods
With the war between the Republic of Dozelmair and the Dread Lands of Malforia hanging in the balance, a common foot soldier, Corporal Dimitri Xant, is recruited by his commander, Lord Eltron Goldtone, to lead a small troupe on a desperate mission to recover an ancient artifact the Dozelmarians hope will turn the tide in their favor. After a brief meeting with Goldstone and the enigmatic General Sybaris, Xant drafts a party of adventurers to travel to Bale Keep to retrieve a legendary “item of power” from the long-abandoned, ever-shunned Bale Keep. Bound together by signing an enchanted scroll, each sports a magical, blue tattoo on their right, inner forearm. The role call for the Bale Keep expedition:

Xant (Paladin)
Warren the Young (Mage)
Gromminique Ruptor (Dwarf Fighter)
Link (Ranger, brother of T.J.))
T.J. (Rogue, brother of Link)
Quincy (Cleric of Croitia, the God of Storms)
T’enlev (Illusionist)

Ranger Link leads the crew through the Tangles to the ancient edifice, where curses are said to abound. What exactly they are seeking, they have no idea, only that there is said to be a “godlike device.” With that in mind, they depart civilization, and plunge into the jungle.

Episode #2: Brotherhoods Forged and Torn
After a miserable, wet trek through the dense jungle, the party locates the keep ruins, where it ambushes and subdues a party of White Hand Orks. They befriend an enigmatic wizard, Calvus, who has arrived at the Keep “for study and scholarship.” While holing up for the night to avoid “Hoppers” (raptor-like creatures) and other sundry beasts (which descend on the bound Orks, who are subsequently slaughtered en masse), T.J., a greedy rogue in search of treasure, slips out a window (unbeknownst to the party) and walks right into the lair of a lurker. The party quickly realizes something is amiss, but by the time they locate and drive off the smothering creature, the hapless thief is dead. In the chamber they find what drew T.J.‘s attention — a brilliant, clear crystal containing what appears to be some sort of reddish liquid frozen in its center. Clearly magical, but its nature unknown, the party pockets the fist-sized gem for the time being, then returns to the above ground barracks that forms their current HQ. On the morn, all offer their sentiments over their partner’s burning corpse. The Keep proper awaits, the entray way an ornate door built right into the side of the cliff looming over the ruined battlements. As the party prepares to enter, a new partner arrives, a beastmaster named Loyd, whose origins and motivations are,as yet, unknown. The lone survivor of the Ork slaughter, a stupid, but willing Ork retainer christened Luritz, also joins the group, swearing fealty to the Paladin.

Episode #3: Deadly Portals
Confronted with something of a puzzle of a door, the party’s observations of the strange, glowing, glass Orbs dotting its exterior come to an abrupt end, as The party engages swarms of deadly vermin, thanks to the impulsive actions of just-recruited retainer Luritz. Gromminique yanks Warren out of the fire and plunges him into a puddle. After some bickering and embarrassment, the party gains entrance to the main chamber, where strange, great magics reside.

Episode #4: Deadly Portals, part 2
Once inside the keep, the enigmatic mage’s plans are revealed. The wizard and beastmaster turn on the party, with help from a “possessed” T’enlev. The mage and his minions are violently dispatched, and T’enlev freed from his mystical bondage. In the interim, Dimitriy Xant is treated to a vision of the keep’s past, thanks to the sad spirit of the last cleric of Bale Keep. The party sets about solving the puzzles of the keep, when cleric Quincy, overcome with typical curiosity, discovers — and uses — a teleporter. Fearing for Quincy’s safety, members of the party follow, all save Link, who explores the upper levels alone.

Episode #5: Rings and (Great, Big) Things
The teleported party members are transported to the lower chamber of the keep, where a glowing portal has opened, revealing an aspect of Breddith, Goddess of Pestilence and Disease. An unconscious Quincy is next to her, encased in spiders’ web. The vile creature absorbs an evidently willing T’enlev, revealing its seemingly unstoppable, evil power. But Blue Defender Warren makes the beast corporeal, using a strange set of bracers recovered from the mage. He is transported into the beast, where a cosmic battle is enjoined with the absorbed ‘Tenlev. Meanwhile, on the prime material plane, the battle begins. Empowered by divine strength, Corporal Xant plunges ahead, his faithful companion Gromminique beside him.

As the two warriors take on the beast, Link discovers the secret library of the cleric of Bale Keep, a place out of phase with reality. The priest’s manuscripts reveal the deadly secret of Bale – nothing more than a prison for Breddith’s aspect, which is expected to soon rise. Someone must bring the long dead defenders to life to confront the beast below…
The battle rages on beneath the keep. Xant strikes with righteous, god-like strength, while Gromminique’s swings his great axe (soon to be known as “Necksplitter”). Link bursts in the room, bringing with him the ghostly warriors of Bale to aid the party. The battle between good and evil hangs in the balance – Warren’s enchantment is fading. Soon, the aspect will be untouchable by normal means.

In typical heroic fashion, the heroes bring down the beast, dismissing its foul presence for good…or so they believe.

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Episodes 6-7: Ermlinger Creek (and after)
**A City is Founded**

Episode #6: Ermlinger Creek
There is little time to celebrate the victory over Breddith. There is no time to mourn (or bury) lost compatriots T’enlev and Luritz. As the keep crashes around them, the survivors of Bale Keep instantly travel to the site of the final battle of the Dozelmarian/Malforian War. They have returned with an incalculably powerful item – a mystical orb given them by Foenseth herself. The warrior-band fights its way down to the banks of the slim rivulet of Ermlinger Creek, where link places the Orb in the waters. The full power of the river goddess herself is revealed, as the creek expands into a huge torrent of raging water, swallowing up or dispersing the huge Malforian army. The war is over. Now heroes of great renown, the party looks forward to the days of peace ahead. Yet, though they scatter and go their separate ways, fate finds a way to bring them back together.

Episode #7: An Uneasy Interlude
Five years pass from the ending of the war. The settlement of Foursquare emerges on the banks of what is now called Reyetta’s Rill. The magic of the river goddess permanently expanded the tiny creek, and a rapidly expanding boomtown has emerged. Dozelmarians, Malforians, Chaaran dwarves and Clockwork Gnomes fill the streets. It is a time of prosperity and enterprise. Yet there are disturbing portents. Cleric Quincy encounters a dark beast while exploring the Dimvale. Dimitriy Xant, now a Captain, has been stricken ill. A party of Autumn Wards, from the White City, has traveled to the outskirts of Tanglewood. Rumors of strange activity beneath the fair city flood the boroughs. Perhaps peace is simply an illusion…

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Episodes 8-9: The Grey and the Dark
**An Ancient Evil Rises**

Episode #8: New Friends, New Enemies
The party is brought together again by Xant, this time by his disappearance. A reunited Quincy and Link head off in search of their old friend, deep into the forests in search of The Grey, the legendary elves of The Tangles. With their newfound compatriots Wade and Deyst in tow, the adventurers make contact with the Grey king, only to become ensnared in a sudden attack by horrid, flying beasts called Balicanths. In the ensuing battle, the king’s son is kidnapped. Worse, Link is lost, eviscerated by an untimely shot, and a pair of the wild beasts. With no way of resurrecting their friend, and little time to grieve, the party reluctantly takes up the secret charge of the Elven king to rescue his son from a beast called The Mordanth, an ages old enemy of the Grey held prisoner behind a weakening barrier. Gromm is reunited with Quincy and, together with the roguish Deyst (who evidently has the blood of kings in him?), they head into the wood to find the enigmatic (and chaotic) Kanen Set.

Episode #9: Darkness, Debts and Death
The adventurers make their way to the cabin of Set, where they meet the surly ranger and his amiable friend, the wizard Ethan Easter. Driven by friendship and debt, the group makes its way to the central barrier, a stone-portal leading to a deep chasm where Balicanths roam in droves. After a rocky descent, during which Set crashes to the ground from a dangling rope, the party is attacked by Balicanths. Ethan Easter arrives, with Warren in tow. Bad news from the Gimli mines: an earthquake has shaken he mountain to its roots. Gromm’s family looks to be in danger. Easter delivers Gromm and Quincy to the surface world, where they set out for the mines.

Meanwhile, Set, Deyst and Warren are confronted with a lake of acid, dotted with enormous (and evidently acid-immune) toadstools. An impatient Set mistimes a mighty leap, and plunges into the acidy abyss. He frame is boiled to nothing in seconds. The more cautious members of the party make their way across via an ingenious combination of rope and grapnel work. They retrieve the protected, magical moonstone from the acid water, and make the other shore, avoiding the Balicanths. The come upon a passageway lit in an eerie, red light, the great and possibly dangerous unknown ahead of them.

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Episode #10: The Mordanth of the Deepwere
**A Sacrifice is Made**

Ages ago, a great schism took place within the community of High Branch. Faced with the growing threat of humankind, its fecundity and avarice, the Elves there experimented with protective magics that turned dark. King Fireveldt’s brother, Deepriver, became a twisted vision of his old self. Now called The Mordanth, Deepriver set upon a nearby human establishment, wreaking wrongs darker than night and death. He then set his sights upon the throne of High Branch itself. After great loss of innocent life, Deepriver was overcome and captured.

The Elves abhorred taking the life of one of their own, no matter how changed he may be. Yet, something had to be done. The Mordanth was just too dangerous to contain by normal means. And so the denizens of High Branch instead used their most powerful spells to lock The Mordanth away. After which, they took a vow, en masse, to be ever neutral in their affairs, as it was the taking of sides that caused the calamity in the first place. They cast him through a Dimension Stone into the great underground of the Deepwere, an expanse of darkness and nightmare.

Years later, the extra-dimensional space was breached from without, and The Mordanth began using his Balicanths to overcome the barrier. Once one of the great pillars was weakened, all that was required was pure or innocent blood to break the barrier for good. The Balicanths brought to the Deepwere many victims, the latest of which included the king’s son, Starrisen, and two paladins, Eltron Goldstone and Dimitriy Xant. Ensorcelled and tied to great stone “X’s,” each was slowly drained of his life’s blood, which the Mordanth needed to destroy the imprisoning pillars, above.

Into this lair came Warren and Deyst. Having found their friend and the king’s son lashed there, the two play a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the Mordanth, trying in vain to convince the creature they are his contacts from the outside. The subterfuge works long enough for them to activate the Moonstone given them by Easter. The stone keeps the hordes of Balicanths away, and thwarts the Mordanth’s magic. The intrepid adventurers make their way through the swirling, evil horde. The creatures bash themselves against the Moonstone barrier, weakening it little by little. Though across the acid lake, there is still the matter of the ascent through the Dimenson Stone, which is far, far above the party.

But Ethan Easter has returned. The party escapes, using the old mages spells and devices. Once outside, there remains the specter of the Balicanths opening the barrier. The only way to permanently close it is to sacrifice the life of one pure and good. Eltron Goldstone offers his soul to close the portal, leaving behind a cryptic mission for Xant. Easter and Warren call upon their ritualistic reserves to close the barrier. With a resounding flash of light, the portal is closed, the Balicancths banished. The king’s son is rescued and returned, the adventurers rewarded. Yet, there is work to be done, still. Friends to find and support, and another journey to be made.

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Episodes 11-12: Yours, Mine(s) and Ours
**A Clan is Put to Sleep**

Episode #11: Orst-while Companions
In short order, Xant, Set (who evidently cannot be killed [thus explaining his reckless nature]) and Warren make their way toward the mines. A vision from the Goddess Mestamilsa brings new life to the Captain, while the rescue of Starrisen has brought a renewed sense of friendship to the cynical Set. The three wend their way through a shortcut and catch up to Quincy and Gromm on the road to the Gimli mines. The heroes of Bale unite once more, their sights set on the mines, and the unnatural disaster that lay therein. The front entrance destroyed beyond repair, the group heads to a side entrance, faintly familiar to Gromm. Faced with a heavy portcullis, and beyond that, a heavy door, the group is ambushed by massive Orst giants. A fierce battle ensues, during which the stalwart (and somewhat maniacal) Gromm is nearly killed. Yet, the fates smile down once again on the hardy heroes. A burst of magical power results in a cocoon of one of the Orst. The other is brought down by a combination of spells and steel. The party triumphs despite long odds, and makes its way to the relative safety of the mines.

Episode #12: More Depths, More Darkness
After an interlude involving a trap and a swim with vermin-crayfish, the party discovers the last survivor of the dwarven guardpost. Someone has summoned a Mandragora beast, a mystical creature whose keen puts dwarves to sleep. Having devoured most of the guard, the beast is content to sleep in its hardened sheet of ooze above the elevator down, the one way into the mines the adventurers know of. Light on magic, but strong on confidence (due to Kanen Set’s nimble rescue of dwarven warrior Ludwig von D’runkin), the party decides to rest awhile. They hole up in the dwarven barracks, contemplating their next move while Warren and Quincy recoup their spells. Of course, during this rest period, the Mandragora beast sets to foraging, heading to the larder across from the barracks. The party stays stealthily hidden while it searches for a feast.

The group are now veterans of many trials, some of which are wrought by their own hand. The ensuing battle with the Mandragora beast is no exception. Bored with waiting, the chaotic Kanen and Quincy draw the beast into the adjoining chamber, where it charges out, intent on dealing its sleep-song. Warren lets loose a tremendous salvo from his staff, bending, but not breaking the beast. It prepares to sing its song of sleep (and to dwarves, possible death). But fickle Croitia blesses Quincy’s magic with special effect. Her lightning bolt charms the creature, after which the steel-wielding members of the party set the creature down…in itty, bitty pieces. The feared adversary is easily dispatched. Once again, the party triumphs. Truly they are blessed by the heavens.

Armed with supreme confidence, the warriors of Ermlinger’s Creek make use of the dwarven elevator. Down, down, down they descend, through swirling bats, combating the effects of fatigue. At last they come to rest on the floor of a deep chamber. They have entered the mines proper. The smell of death and decay wafts through the corridor, assaulting their nostrils. The adventurers gird themselves, and head inside.
Once again, the host of dwarven guards who should be there, watching over the entrance, is gone. In their place, horrid visions of what they were. A small cadre of foul-smelling Chaarans, hovering in that semi-life of undeath, assaults the party on descecrated ground. Cleric Quincy calls on Croitia to turn them aside. The God answers, though the desecration is so great, the effect is only temporary. Once again, the stalwarts of steel, Gromm, Xant and Kanen, leap into action, dispatching the zombies Quincy was unable to effect. The battle rages on, as several of Gromm’s former brothers-in-arms fall, their spirits released.

Yet a few remain, their pestilent forms a grim reminder of what has happened here. As the party cleaves its way through the powerful enchantments warding these creatures and this place, they must be wondering, what has happened here? A feeling of deep forbidding falls over Xant, as he recalls the vision granted him by the Goddess – a dark form on a promontory, looking down on his compatriots, slaying them. Is this what lurks below, this dark vision?

But such thoughts must now wait. There are yet more undead violations to destroy. A signs of yet another great Mandragora beast lurking somewhere within.

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Episode 13: Sins of Omission (Returned)
**An Old "Friend" Pays a Visit**

As the party gathers itself to explore the deeper parts of the mines, they hear a fear-crazed caterwaul. Rushing into the great central chamber, a vast place dotted with dwarven living spaces in the walls (and many passages leading to places unknown), they find a babbling Gnome named Vrozh. Distraught over witnessing the death of so many, it is all Xant and Warren can do to calm him down. They bring the crying creature back to the relative safety of the connecting passageway, hoping to make sense of his blathering (and maybe gather some information).

Unfortunately, their plans go awry when folks like Quincy and Set are around. The two impulsive individuals head into the great chamber themselves, where they come upon the second Mandragora beast, and additional undead. Hearing the sounds of the fray, the more -level headed members of the party have no choice but to forge ahead to help their beleaguered companions.

Yet, all does not go well. A skirmish turns into disaster, as the party is overwhelmed and taken prisoner. Surrounded by horde beasts, and bound within hardened cocoons of nasty, hardened resin, they come face-to-face with the author of the Gimli-mine disaster. His name: Stirul Velnet, a corrupted combination of Ten’lev’s soul and Luritz’s body created from the magical death throes of Bale Keep. Stripped of their possessions, and forced to listen to Velnet’s sneering gloat over his victorious revenge, the party is left to the tender mercies of the horde – goblins, orks and bugbears all.

But true heroes are never without hope. Ludwig von D’runkin, assumed killed by advancing undead, rushes into the chamber, and frees the party, using the Silver Throwing Hammers of K’terran K’Tal. In short order, the party breaks free of its bounds and, using the element of surprise (combined with their mighty prowess born of many adventures), they break through the horde, sprinting down a passageway to freedom. This mad dash is not without its cost, however. D’runkin dies, bequeathing a small, metallic box to Gromminique (with a request to deliver it to his kin. Quincy is overwhelmed by Orks, who eviscerate her into a mangled mess. Kanen Set, armed with his trusty long knives, voluntarily holds down the passage while the rest of the party, tired, beaten and unarmed, runs into the unknown. As they sprint down the escape tunnel (directed by Gromm’s usually faulty memory), they hear the sounds of Kanen Set’s death knell. Having died the selfless Hero’s death so long denied him, Set at long last joins his beloved wife in the afterlife.

For Xant, Gromm and Warren, however, there is still a distance to be covered. They make their way to a chamber, where an old, rickety rope bridge once stood. Beyond that, a warning sign indicating death awaits if that passage is taken. But there is nowhere else to go, not with a hundred goblins on their trail. Gromm and Warren make their way across, but Xant is not so lucky. Losing his grip, he plunges down into the abyss, seemingly gone forever.

Goblinoids enter the chamber. Faced with a cut bridge, they begin peppering the survivors with arrows. But the dwarf and young Defender slip away through the passageway toward (as Gromm remembers it), freedom and safety. Before long, they find a clean, dry chamber, and there, stowed under canvas, most of their items. It appears the wildest stroke of luck.
It is, in fact, too good to be true. The items have been placed there as bait to distract them from the lurking guardian – a Roper! The creature lashes out at them, hurling tendrils toward Gromm, locking him down and drawing him in. Yet, as always, luck, ever fickle with the rest of known existence, but not with our heroes, luck saves them. They overcome the obstacle.

And so it goes that the survivors of the Gimli mines drag their broken bodies through and out of the Roper tunnel, where they are greeted by an ironically glorious day, a day made brighter by the discovery that Xant has survived his plunge. Landing in a rushing river, the knight fought his way out of his armor, and swam to freedom not far below his compatriots. It is only by divine guidance that he has come upon his remaining friends. Yet, even as the sun shines down on their broken forms, as they collapse from stress and exhaustion, there is little rest for the weary. The hordes of the Underdark will swarm these hills come nightfall. By then, the crew needs to be back to the relative safety of Foursquare.

In the meantime, they are at their lowest emotional ebb. Quincy has died, ignobly crushed by vicious Orken hordes. Kanen Set has at long last died for good. And the heroic Ludwig? Torn limb from limb by the soulless minions of the deep.

So many friends lost…and worse, Stirul Velnet has the substance known as Barkhat’s Blood. What does he intend to do with it? And how did Luritz and T’enlev become one and the same (AND a servant of Breddith, the group’s greater nemesis).

So many questions…but nightfall will soon be here. The exhausted troop has promises to keep. And miles to go before they sleep.

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Episode 14: The Coming (non) Storm
**A Brave Defender is Ridiculed**

Once the party returns and recovers, brave Warren addresses the Blue Defenders:

“My fellow Defenders, protectors of the weak, defenders of the innocent, I come to you today with a heavy heart and a worried mind. Some of you may be aware of my journey to Bale Keep six years ago. In that unhallowed mountainside, I met Breddith, the ancient evil god of vermin. My allies and I clashed with it, and we lost two friends. Despite those losses, we thought that what we did there had put an end to Breddith’s plans. We were sorely mistaken.”

“Very recently, I ventured to the Dimvale to tell my friend and fellow Hero of Bale, Gromminique Riptor, that his mines had collapsed. He left to investigate, and I stayed to assist in finding the Silver Sword, Corporal Dmitri Xant. He, along with the elven prince and another highly ranked Silver Sword, were being held captive by a dark undead creature that stole their blood. We barely escaped with our lives.”
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“After a short rest, we managed to catch up to Gromminique on his way to the Gimli Mines. There, we found that the mines were infested with undead. We were captured, my companions and I, and awoke to a horrible sight. Dozens, if not hundreds, of Underdark creatures, Bugbears, Goblins, Orcs, and more, surrounded us. Leading them, in the name of Breddith, was one of our old allies from Bale Keep, corrupted by Beddith’s dark soul. And he had Barhott’s Blood. It is a very real thing, not just some Dwarven fairytale as I had assumed.”
“Five people entered those mines. A powerful Cleric, a skilled ranger, a talented Fighter, an awe-inspiring Paladin, and myself. Only three of us emerged.”

“This evil legion is planning something. Something big. Something evil. I call upon you, Blue Defenders, to do whatever you can to protect the people of Foursquare from the dark times ahead.”

And so they have been warned, all of them. Yet…time passes…and nothing happens. The guardians of Foursquare, poised for an assault, dismiss the Defender’s “rants,” taking to calling him “Warren Doomsayer.” His reputation sullied, the (now not so) young spell-weaver retreats to the obscurity of arcane texts and research, along the way finding solace in the arms of his companion, Astoria, the daughter of a humble innkeeper. With no “great threats” on the horizon, she begins to pressure him for a firm commitment. And perhaps, with so many brushes with death, it IS time to retire from the trail.

And that is how it seems to be for all the survivors –for a time…

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Episode 15: Destiny Taps Two Shoulders
**A Treasure is Revealed**

Xant returns to service with Silver Swords, bringing with him his tale of rescue, and Eltron’s brave sacrifice. He is feted by his peers, promoted in rank to Captain of the First Watch, and quickly becomes enmeshed in the daily doings of the SIlverswords.

But politics is not for him. Before long, his status breeds resentment among other, more ambitious members of the organization which, combined with his great guilt over the death of so many friends (and his own self-perceived failures to protect everyone), forces him into retirement. Beset by constant dreams of Quincy and Kanen set, and still obsessing over Eltron’s cryptic message, he plunges into intensive study with Ivan Kolenov, a Dark Arts sage of Mestamilsa, where he pours over ancient tomes concerning the Goldstone legacy relic, “Ferrin’s Blade” (aka The Sun Blade). Charged with finding this device and “restoring the Goldstone name,” he find no concrete evidence of where to begin, and once more lapses into despair. Worse, a wound given him in the Balicanth cave, a wound that just won’t heal, gnaws at him painfully. He stoically pushes on, hoping somehow to uncover the nature of a destiny that seems forced upon him.

Gromminique Riptor returns home to Char’n Delminnen…for a time. Always dour and prone to fits of temper, he know becomes outright violent, causing harm to those closest to him. Before long, his dishonorable behavior (which includes maiming one of his sister’s by cutting out her tongue), leads to a death sentence. He is saved from the brink by members of house D’runkin, who owed him for delivering Ludwig’s token. It seems the small box, along with Gromm’s testimony as a (then) honorable prince, restored the old dwarf’s honor, and the family owed him. Gromm is escorted out of Chaar, where he is now believed dead and gone (and where scheming rivals have taken over his holdings through marriage to his eldest sister). Still torn and enraged, filled with dark impulses, he makes his way toward the only friend he has left – Dimitriy Xant.

Months later…

A trio of Ashtree Elves, led by an old friend of Eltron’s, Oryol of Ashtree, makes its way to Foursquare. Accompanied by trainees Bronwen of High Bark and Laurence Silverheart, the three are to find and meet Xant, and to “deliver a message.” The trainees have no knowledge of the whys and wherefores of the meeting (much less any message), and are further placed at a disadvantage when they are ambushed on the trail by members of The Kestral, a mercenary band. Oryol is killed in the brawl, but manages to pass off a scroll tube to Laurence, with instructions to complete the delivery and to “serve the recipient until your services are no longer needed.” The two novices also manage to capture one of the escaping operatives, an initiate from whom they derive small bits of information about The Kestral.

The fledgling warriors make their way into Foursquare, where they deliver the message to Xant. Now more scholar than knight, Xant and librarians Kolonev and Ork Ignidias Maxmillian discover two things. First, the message contains a map to the tomb of Ferrin Goldstone, the greatest of the Dozelmarian kings (and the one who abdicated to institute councilor rule). Second, they find that Gromm, weakened, weary and sick, has been “infected” by the magical throwing hammers he obtained in the Gimli Mines. The Mithril Hammerheads surround a magica; l “Zero Stone” which enforces a quest upon the wielder. The problem is, no one knows what the quest is. And the hammers are so old, the only way to find out is to talk to the long dead owner in the Halls of Hardhome, deep within Chaar. If the Zero Stones are not “cleared” of their quest, they will eventually sap Gromm of his life force (but not before driving him more mad than he already is).

Thankfully, there is a way to heal the dwarven warrior. In the mountains there is a rare herb called Hazewort. The problem? It grows in remote places, and only at certain times of the year. Naturally, this is the time, as fall begins to turn to winter. Yet, still, it’s a stroke of incredible luck. Ferrin’s Tomb lies in the same direction!
So, off the party goes, into the cold, broken crags of The Mountbane, that devouring land that defies the use of horses. Somewhere within the depths of Ermsagh Canyon is Ferrin’s Tomb. And to the west, the dark peaks of the Everrise Mountain Range hold (the heroes hope) the cure for their ailing comrade.

The group is six: stalwarts Dimitriy Xant, Warren Doomsayer and Gromminique Riptor. Accompanying them, the two young Blades of Ashtree, Laurence Silverheart and Bronwen of the Amberfist Tribe, and Max, the Scholar-Ork. The task before them – brave the elements.

And the Orst…

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Episode 16: Tomb Raiders
**Allies appear**

The journey to the tomb is uneventful, save for the appearance of a pair of travelers, a barbarian shieldmaiden named Ranzhen Stoneknife, and an enigmatic Kenku called Whistler. Xant immediately senses their evil aura, but as the two desire but a fire (and a way out of the mountains), they are allowed to join the quest. At the very least, they can provide extra security against possible threats.

Those threats appear as soon as the party hits the Ermsagh, when they are accosted by a tribe of Steel Elves, who demand payment for the party to pass through their lands. Canny negotiation grants the group access to the lower canyon, where their map soon leads them to a dead end – a bare cave evidently empty for a long time.

But, of course, there is magic afoot, and within short order, the group finds the secret entrance to the tomb. Leaving their mounts with Stoneknife and Whistler (which they have been leading along behind them for days, due to the rough terrain), the group heads into the legendary king’s final resting place. There they are met with a series of riddles to solve, each of which they handle (with varying degrees of ease). A great iron door at the end of the test chamber is opened, and beyond they find it – a tomb filled with the bones of the dead (including a huge, ancient dragon). There is also more treasure than anyone in the party has ever seen. A massive allotment of coins piled high in overflowing chests.

But there is yet the object of the quest to be found — Ferrin’s blade. In the center of the great crypt is a large sarcophagus with a heavy lid. The party moves the lid aside and find the perfectly preserved body of Ferrin Goldstone. Across his chest lay a sword. Surely this must be their prize.

Alas, but the sword resists all attempts to wield it. Each time someone touches it, they have the overwhelming urge to use it against their compatriots. Several party members attempt the task of overcoming the power of the sword. No such luck, though each of them at least resists the urge to attack friends. This comes to a crashing halt when Laurance, in his ill-fated attempt to conquer the sword, is possessed by it. In short order, he eviscerates poor Ork Librarian Ignidias Maximillian. He then turns on the rest of his friends.

Thankfully, he is subdued, and the cursed item tossed aside. The group follow’s the advice of Gromm, and reaches into Ferrin’s body. And there it is — a hilt alone, awaiting a blade. It is the Sunsword. Or part of it, anyway. The quest is a success.

But, no that isn’t all. The treasure itself proves to be a trap, as well, activating a magical ward that causes bones to assemble into undead skeletal guardians. The party hacks and crushes its way through them, emerging (again) victorious. They take their hard-earned relic (and loot), and head toward they exit where they find…betrayal!

Mercenaries have followed them, and are now demanding the sword. Worse, Whistler and Ranzhen appear to be among their number! Warren attempts to mislead them, using a fake sword obtained in the treasure horde, but no dice. The operatives know it is not the actual sword. It looks like the beaten, battered party is going to have to hack their way out of the cave when suddenly…

A group of brown-garbed clerics teleports in, weapons and spells at the ready. Calling themselves The Strazh, they offer the bandits one chance to beat feet. Now outnumber, and seeing a fair number of spellcasters ready to obliterate them, the mercs wisely leave. The party is then transported a short distance away to the safe haven of the order of the Strazh, the immortal, historical guardians of the Tomb of Ferrin Goldstone. Here, they rest, recuperate and gather information. In short order, their next course of action is clear:

*The Orst — a mix of goblinoids and giants, controls the territory. They also have quantities of Hazewort. The group makes this item #1 on their agenda, as Gromm is now completely overwhelmed by the hammers, and is weakened into a coma-like state.

*Ferrin’s Treasure is located somewhere on the upper steppes of Bal Brak. Dimitriy Xant must retrace the great King’s steps, if he is to know his true destiny.

So, after several days healing, and getting to know their new allies, the party (sans Gromm), heads to the Orstfell. Taking a stealthy approach, they locate an Orst encampment. They manage to sneak in and obtain the Hazewort, but not before being detected by the Orst. The group speeds away into the night, a horde of angry giant-kin and their ilk raging after them. The Hazwort is found, and now Gromm can be healed. All that is left now, is to scale Bal Brak.

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Episode 18: Clarity
**An heir (mayhap) is found**

After some time to rest and recover, the party makes plans for departure from the environs of the Strazh. Their mission discharged after centuries of fidelity, the ancient guardians have begun to fade into the rewards of afterlife. With the advent of winter upon them, and with a sense of melancholy the season pervades, the group bids adieu to their allies, and heads north to the lowlands, specifically, the hamlet of Clear Lake, a village that was once the temporary home of Ferrin Goldstone himself. With snow and ice blanketing the highlands, they will have to march their way back to Foursquare in a roundabout fashion. The appearance of flights of Ice Wyverns far above them further convinces them this is the correct course of action. Why bother with great lizards and angry Orsts, after all, if you can avoid it? A jaunt down the mountain, in unseasonably clear weather, takes them to Clear Lake, where tragedy has struck. The city has been raided and pillaged, with nary a soul left in it…or so it seems.

The eerie quiet of the town is shattered when a young girl sprints into view, shouting a single word: “GOBLINS!” Once again, battle calls, and the heroes of BBK become the embodied spirit of vengeance, setting on the pursuing beasties. In short order, several Ogre-sized Orst appear, and the battle is joined.

It isn’t much of a battle. The troupe dispatches the creatures handily, plowing through them like sharp blades through wheat. The girl, a half-elf as it turns out, is rescued. Shaken from the loss of all she knows, she is welcomed to the party. This addition seems more fated than lucky. For the girl’s name is Aurina Gem’Aruel. Both Warren and Dimitriy immediately recognize her last name as “Goldstone” in the old-tongue. Could this be a long-lost relative of Ferrin himself? Certainly, his visage on a great statue erected in the village center speaks of this. So, too, does her resemblance to Xant, who also bears some features of said monument. Are they BOTH of the Goldstone line? The strange emanations from Ferrin’s blade in her presence attests to this, as well.

Yet, these answers must wait. After putting out fires created from their battle, and an overnight stay in what is left of Clear Lake, the party decides to delay their trek to Foursquare to track the perpetrators of the village slaughter. The next day, they are off to the mountains, following a trail similar to the one that brought them down. Led by Aurina, they come to two paths in the lower mountains, just as the weather begins to turn bad. The resourceful group takes shelter from the storm overnight, before headed back to the crossroads, where they choose the path that takes them to the canyon of the White Hand — a xenophobic lot of Orst not usually known as far-ranging pillagers. After a brief attempt at parley with a pair of goblin guards, they find themselves ambushed by the creatures.

It is a slaughter…

Shrugging off a massive explosion from a pair of arcane grenades, the party coldly slays their opponents. Between the magics of Warren, the unerring arrows of Bronwen and Aurina, and the cold steel of warriors Xant, Gromminique and Laurence, a host of goblinoids fall to the ground. Even when the greatest of threats emerged, huge creatures the size of hill giants, the party smites them.

Yet there are so many. Eventually, the battle turns. Orcish archers appear on the bluffs above, augmented by a massively muscled Orge. Arrows and boulders rain down on the party, and soon, Bronwen falls. Laurence scoops her up and makes a beeline for one of the lair entrances, only to run into reinforcements, among them, another grenade thrower, armed to the teeth. Thankfully, Warren’s spell holds the creature before it can do any harm. Laurence and the mage dispatch the vanguard, leaving little more than the brief dispatch of the creature.

Meanwhile, Aurina, Xant and Gromminique hold down the fort on the plane of battle. The Orge from above slides down a rope, shouting vulgarities at the young half-elf, then spewing hatred at the fallen prince of Chaar when he emerges at her side. A pitched battle between dwarf and giant ensues, as arrows yet fly from the cliffsides. The battle-harded Gromm take an unfortunate blow to the his left eye, losing sight, but never determination. A massive exchange between the Wielder of Necksplitter and the creature called “The Exalted” rocks the canyon, shouts of battle echoing along with clashing steel. Both combatants, scarred and trailing blood, barely standing, are locked in a struggle from which only one will emerge.

Back in the cave…

Laurence strides forward to the held grenade-mage. At the behest of Warren, he slits the creatures throat, dispelling the mystical paralysis that binds him. It proves to be a massive error. The creature topples forward, crushing ALL of his grenade cannisters. A tremendous explosion, WHOOSHES through the cavern, shaking the area. As Laurence leaps to safety both he and Warren are caught in the cave-in. Within seconds, two more members of the party are down for the count.

Enter Dimitriy Xant…

With enough deaths on his conscience already, the hardy Paladin races toward his friends, arriving just in time to use Warren’s healing staff to stabilize them. Heartbeats later, he has pulled Laurence from the rubble. As he stares at them, unconscious yet alive, he realizes the party is in dire straights. Though the efforts of Aurina and himself have driven the Orcs from the bluffs back down into their hiding places, there is yet the great giant known as “The Exalted.” And Gromm looks all the worse for wear.

It is then that the heroes’ newfound compatriot concocts a brilliant plan. Utilizing her last dose of inivisibility dust, Aurina steps within range of the Exalted’s cleaving strikes, tossing the magical spray onto Gromminique. The bloodied and battered dwarf literally disappears before everyone’s eyes, leaving the Exalted to howl in anger.

Quickly, the Prince takes advantage of his newfound stealth, and, not long after, he, Xant and Aurina stand over the dead body of the great creature. Bodies, blood and gore are everywhere. Three members of the troup have fallen. Yet, again, they have prevailed. But what of the White Hand? There are so many more in the caverns below.

The answer comes all too soon, as the sound of stone grinding against stone is heard. Hammered by inestimable losses, and without their great Exalted warrior, the creatures choose discretion, and lock their lair up tight. And though there may be yet survivors from Clear Lake within those hated bowels, the group is in no shape to pursue their chosen quest. They beat a hasty retreat back down the mountain, taking up residence against the oncoming cold in the same cave they slept in the night before.

Once safely hidden away, with the watch set, Blue Defender Warren, and former Silversword Xant congress with Gromminique, the three of them the last survivors of the original party that set forth for Bale Keep over 5 years ago. Having seen so much success and fame, they cannot help but contemplate their failures, and the trail of death behind them. Convinced that any survivors of Clear Lake are long since gone, they resolve to make the long trek back to Foursquare, their next destination, the outpost of Fifth Sent. According to the Strazh, they can find shelter and provisions there.

In the meantime, a long night of soul searching awaits them.

*For Dimitriy Xant, there are still memories of the lost, and of the friends nearly lost in the battle with the White Hand. He begins to wonder if his hero’s heart is yet the thing that has caused all this pain. And this charge laid upon him, restore the Goldstone reign, what can that mean? Is he truly Ferrin’s heir? What of Aurina? Is she, too, of Ferrin’s blood?

*For Warren Young, Doomsayer and (now) Firebringer, thoughts of Ten’lev yet intrude. Surely he is still out there, still purseing his arcane motives. Though the storm has long since swept by, he yet feels the calm is but a prelude to another, greater storm. The still youthful wizard, now burdened by experience and loss, vows he will do something about it, alone, if need be.

*For Gromminique Riptor, an uncharacteristic bout of soul-searching begins. Shaken by the last battle with the Exalted, and now fully aware he is without a home, he begins to realize those with whom he travels are his only family (“Except for maybe Warren, who continually makes horrible choices”). A sea change sweeps over his heart, filling it with a yearning to atone, to do good again. He vows to leave behind his old identity. That night, Gromminique exists no more. From his ashes, Phoenix-like, a new creature emerges. The Prince takes the name of his fallen enemy, and becomes….The Exalted.

*For Laurence, there is that moment when the former realizes that, when he heroically carried his fellow Blademaster away from battle, he was perhaps doing more than saving an ally. Maybe, just maybe, there was a spark of feeling for the Elven mistress of the bow. Could it be that she who is above reproach, she who would selflessly sacrifice herself for any of them, could it be that his ally and fellow Blademaster, Bronwen, is now the woman he loves? For now, such thoughts remain hidden.

And so, too, does the future of the party seem shrouded by doubt. There are so many miles to go before they reach home again. Once there, how long will it remain home, with a throne to reclaim, and an old enemy to track down?

The snow falls outside the warm cave all night, obscuring all tracks and traces of what has been…

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