[2 Kythorn 1372]
In the aftermath of the battle against the orcs and minotaurs, a badly-wounded Markus seeks healing from Cain. Mellia investigates the room that the minotaur charged from and sees several lanterns hanging from the ceiling, massive weapons on the wall, a large pile of hay serving as a bed, and another door on the west
wall with a pair of levers next to it. Through a small peephole in the door, Fargrim's darkvision shows a huge chamber on the other side with several pits in the floor and very narrow pathways between them.
Surmising that they might be slave pits, part of the group moves to investigate. Cain's experiments with the levers shows that they raise and lower a pair of portcullises that bar the only wide walkway traversing the slave pits to the chambers and doors on the far side. However, the loud raising and dropping of
the portcullises at an unexpected time leads over a dozen irritated orcs to stream out of the barracks to see what has interrupted their slumber. In seconds, a battle begins as the orcs fire heavy crossbow bolts across the pits and Ralkin and Markus return fire. Ralkin is forced to retreat after taking multiple hits, while Fargrim prepares to charge through the portcullises once Cain raises them, and Mellia (invisible) starts trying to rescue the slaves. Some of the orcs grab long, wide planks from a storeroom to try to traverse the
pits and engage the adventurers hand-to-hand, but Cain sets fire to the planks and forces them back. After several volleys back and forth, the orcs are eventually defeated by missile fire and an effective Shatter spell cast by Cain.
The rescued slaves report having been taken from all over the North--some were townsfolk in Nesme, others were travellers from Silverymoon, some were even captured at sea. Three of the slaves in particular stand out. A silver haired elf named Sapphira is quite insistent on gathering her possessions from the
storeroom and departing immediately to inform her "superiors" about what has happened. A caravan mercenary named Hugin offers to help the PCs hunt down the rest of the orcs in the caves, but decides the other rescued slaves are unlikely to survive the journey out of Startop Mountain and through the Evermoors unless he escorts them. Before leaving, he answers Fargrim's query about Bearos by stating that he knows the man was considered a "special delivery" for the Bleak Theater as he was otherwise useless as a slave given his crippled legs. Only one of the slaves is willing to stay: the nervous and frightened gnome Katanya
Glimer says the orcs have also captured her brother, and that she won't leave without him. The rescued slaves indicate that there are many more slaves in the caverns, as they do shifts in the mines. However, the constant darkness makes it impossible for them to relate the layout of the area.
In one of the slave pits, Mellia spots a corpse clutching a book. The corpse animates and slays two of the rescued slaves who are sent in to retrieve it before Cain channels Kossuth's might to destroy it. The book turns out to be a small journal written by a man named Tragon Wainscottle. Wainscottle writes of
spending years under the tutelage of a Silverymoon blademaster named Isobe Noboru (wielder of the legendary Ninefangs) before deciding to leave and seek out adventure in the Evermoors. A later entry, dated less than a month ago, describes how Wainscottle travelled to where the Laughingflow disappears in the middle of the Evermoors and discovered a walled settlement of lizardmen, kobolds, and other humanoids. The creatures were using a foul-smelling substance that bubbled up from a rift in the ground to smelt strange looking blades. Wainscottle speculates that the forging operation must be designed to
outfit an army, and that a small band would have better luck reaching the place through the treacherous swampland surrounding it than a larger group would. In his last entries, Wainscottle describes being nicked by an arrow made out of the strange substance during his escape from the settlement. He travelled to
Startop Mountain for aid as the wound continued to throb and even rot his flesh, only to be captured by the slavers and sold to the orcs below. However, Wainscottle realizes in the last entry that his condition is hopeless: even the orcs are afraid and disgusted by what he is becoming.
Returning to the main hall of Startop Castle, the adventurers discuss the diary. A connection is drawn between the weapons forge described and some imagery in Fargrim's dreams. Markus states his intention to leave for Silverymoon, perhaps catching up to the already-departed slaves on his way. Mellia is angered at
this idea, stating that it will do nothing to help the group achieve its goals: finding Fargrim's lost friend or the Crown of Horns. While the debate on what the group should do continues, Ralkin slips below and investigates the other door leading off of the guardroom where the adventurers fought the orcs and
minotaur. The kenku hears shouting somewhere on the other side, and, summoning Mellia, the two hear growling somewhere in the distance.
Somewhat injured and low on magical energies, the group seeks to avoid another immediate confrontation. Ralkin rigs a trap that will drop several pieces of armor if the door is opened to serve as an alarm. Leaving Markus in an adjacent chamber to stand guard, the others rest in the keep's main hall. A couple of
hours later, however, the swordsman is lost in thought and fails to hear the door open and the armor fall. In seconds, he is set upon by a host of enemies streaming into the small circle of light cast by his torch: several orcs and foul, mastiff-like hounds with thick, greenish-gray fur. Markus screams as he is surrounded and dragged to the ground. In seconds, he is unconscious and bleeding. In the main hall, Mellia hears Markus' screams and wakes the others. Ralkin moves quickly to investigate, but he too is quickly overwhelmed by the swiftly moving deluge of aggressive orcs and their hounds. The adventurers' prospects look bleak indeed: two of their number have already fallen, and the enemy shows no sign of stopping. Summoning all of her eldritch might, Mellia channels a once-in-a-lifetime burst of power to charm the attackers into thinking they've received orders to return to the orc caverns. With the way now clear, Cain rushes to the fallen Ralkin and Markus, and manages to staunch their wounds just seconds before their injuries could prove fatal.
Director's Commentary (July 1, 2014)
Continuation of some quality dungeon-crawling. The encounter with the PCs arrayed on one side of a large room full of treacherous walkways and pits, with a crowd of orcs on the others, was pretty fun and definitely something different--it really made skill with ranged combat come into the fore. Cain was clever in incinerating the planks the orcs were planning to use in order to charge the PCs.
The rescued prisoners helped advance the plot in several ways. The PCs received further confirmation that Bearos was headed directly for the Bleak Theatre, learned that there were other slaves somewhere nearby working in mines, received directions to the mysterious Forge, and (placed specifically for Markus) got a hook about a blademaster academy in Silverymoon.
I've mentioned in the past that the PCs were much higher level than this area of Startop Mountain/Castle Whiterock was designed for. Still, they came damn close to suffering a full TPK when they set camp and allowed the orcs to go on the offensive. If it wasn't for The Wife's once-a-year red chip, things would have been totally disastrous. Even then, Markus and Ralkin were saved with only a round or two left before they would have bled to death. An exciting way to end the session and put some fear into the PCs, though fortunately they would soon regroup and venture into the caverns again.