[4 Kythorn 1372]
After Markus' departure, Mellia and Cain read the letters he left for them. As everyone is badly hurt and Ellywick has relapsed into unconsciousness, the group decides the wisest course of action is to stay where they are and simply run if any danger presents itself.
[5 Kythorn 1372]
In the morning, Mellia asks Cain what he knows about orcs, hoping to discover leverage that might be useful in interrogating their prisoner. Cain is able to provide some general information, but nothing on point. The adventurers then decide deception might be the best way to intimidate the stubborn orc into speaking: after laboriously explaining to Fargrim what a "pantomime" is, the plan is for Mellia and Cain to interrogate the orc while Fargrim takes Ralkin behind a boulder and pretends to verbally abuse and beat him. Before the adventurers can put their plan into action, however, they realize they're being watched!
An elf wearing forest camouflage and accompanied by a strange hound stands about fifty feet away from the group. He announces himself as Sha'dar, Warden of the High Forest, and explains he and his companion Nisria had tracked the scent of orcs to the party's campsite. A suspicious Mellia immediately starts to recite the eldritch words of an incantation to detect the newcomer's thoughts, an action that causes Sha'dar to raise his bow. The tense standoff is resolved when Mellia explains the purpose of her spell, with Sha'dar warning her that "if any harm comes to me, you will be the first to die." Still, lingering hostility remains between the two. Mellia then turns her spell on Ralkin and discovers his intent to kill the orc when an opportune moment presents itself. Mellia persuades him to agree to leave the orc alone for now.
The adventurers begin their interrogation of the prisoner. The orc keeps trying to get Fargrim to fight him ("fairly" this time), but the exasperated dwarf does manage to extract a rough idea of the layout of the caverns of the White Talon tribe, the name of its king ("Kaernga"), the fact that a gnome is being held to polish gems (potentially Katanya's brother, Flindle), and that a splinter faction of the tribe led by an orc named Drugila is apparently looking for a powerful magic artifact. When it seems like the orc has probably said all he is going to, Sha'dar orders his hound to kill him. Ralkin reacts quickly and tries to slash the orc's throat himself, but Fargrim manages to grab him and stop the attempt. Cain tries to stop the hound, but the beast is too quick and in moments has torn out the prisoner's throat!
Mellia berates Sha'dar for his actions, telling him that he has no honour and cannot be trusted. Sha'dar replies that his actions were not murder, and that Wardens kill only when necessary. Mellia angrily replies that she won't turn her back on the elf and that if he does it again, she'll kill him. Later, Mellia and Ralkin talk at a distance from the others, and Ralkin persuades her that it is safer to keep Sha'dar at their side where they can keep an eye on him.
That evening, Mellia places a ward around the camp and Sha'dar and his hound camp far outside of it. In the middle of the night, an explosion and flash of light occurs within sight of the camp, and a mysterious red-robed figure steps out of it. The figure hovers in mid-air and in a loud voice that echoes through the moor demands that Cain come before him. The cleric at first pretends to be sleeping, but eventually gives in and reluctantly goes to speak to the figure. He seems shaken when he returns, and immediately goes back to bed.
[6 Kythorn 1372]
In the morning, the others ask Cain about what had transpired the night previously. He says that it is "his past coming back to me" and that he is "running out of time" but is committed to seeing the group's current quest through.
Healed by rest and Cain's spells, the adventurers tie the still unconscious Ellywick to a horse and head for Startop Mountain. When they reach the keep at its summit, Ellywick is left on top of the guardhouse with a canvas over her to help keep out the rain and periodic hail. Cain ties up his horse to the ladder next to the guardhouse, while the others leave their mounts in the main keep. The adventurers then gird themselves for another battle with the White Talon orcs. Passing through now-visible secret doors behind the keep and into passages carved into the mountain, they approach the set of stairs leading downward into the orc caverns. They hear a low growl at the bottom of the stairs, a sharp command in orcish, and then the slamming of a door. When the adventurers descend into the guardroom where a battle was previously held, they find it empty. Cain, however, draws upon necromantic energies to discern multiple souls on the far side of the door.
Director's Commentary (August 28, 2014)
This session sees the introduction of Sha'dar, the new PC for the player who ran Markus. I always appreciate it with players are able to role-play different personalities, alignments, and classes, and Sha'dar was definitely very different than Markus. The other PCs did a good job of not treating Sha'dar as an automatic best buddy just because he was another PC, and the stand-off over how to deal with the orc was pretty exciting.
One of the hard parts sometimes in introducing a new PC is giving them a reason to join the group, and the group a reason to let the new PC join. Sha'dar's "adventure hook" was that he was charged with investigating and stopping the rise of undead in the Evermoors that was leaking into the nearby High Forest. This worked perfectly fine while the PCs were intent on investigating Startop Mountain, but of course didn't work at all when they later decided to wander around to various places on various errands, leaving Sha'dar to eventually depart the group.
Who was the mysterious red-robed figure that yelled at Cain? All is soon revealed. For now, I'll say that I always appreciate it when players write up some good allies and enemies from their backstories, as it allows me to introduce some NPCs into the game in a more organic way that has some immediate resonance with them. Of course, I'm sure I don't always role-play those NPCs in the way that the players imagined them, but that's inevitable.