If Aldo Lightfoot was concerned, he didn’t show it. The cutter was coming at him fast and hard, and Skidblahdnir had a full belly. Her small hold was packed with everything Aldo had taken from the lighthouse, and she was low in the water, slow to turn. The orcs on board looked determined. They manned heavy crossbows mounted on the ships rail, and chanted something that was indistinguishable over the crashing waves. The boats neared each other and the first bolts flew. One stuck the mast, the other hit only the wind. The orc captain shifted the rudder and swept his vessel to the port side. 2 more bolts were loosed, but did not find a target. Aldo didn’t know which god favored him, but he was thankful all the same. He ordered his crew to prepare to be boarded.
Two more bolts would miss their mark before the orcish captain would roar in frustration, and order the crew to board. The crude hooks were effective despite their appearance, and snared Skidblahdnir readily. Orcs streamed over the rails coming at the crew 2 to 1, but they held their ground. The three beat the orcs back, creating a hole in their line. Sensing an opportunity, Aldo ordered his men to board the cutter. He and Targ Orngart leaped the rails with a battlecry, and began cleaving orc flesh back to back.
Solvi Mithrilfist tried to follow his comrades by heroically leaping the rail, but his dwarven legs could not carry him the distance. His knees collided with the wood, and he remained dejectedly in place. He cursed in Dwarven under his breath with a remark that Dwarves were not made for jumping. To his relief, the battle came to him. Orcs crowded the rail swinging wildly at him with broad, crude blades. He struck one in the face and it teetered over the rail, falling between the vessels into the shifting space below.
Aldo looked about, expecting to see Solvi joining the melee. He was surprised and a bit worried that the cleric of Thor hadn’t charged headlong into the fray. Suddenly, in his search for his comrade, he spied a hairy green orc pointing a heavy crossbow in his direction. He was shoulder to shoulder with the enemy, with nowhere to go. If that orc’s aim was true, Aldo was surely in for a bad day. Just then, Targ’s scimitar cut through the air to strike the foe in the neck. Blood poured through the orc’s fingers as he clutched the wound in vain, eventually tumbling backward over the cutter’s rail into the merciless sea. Aldo glanced backward to see his savior. He gave Targ a silent nod of thanks, and continued the assault with his gnomehammer.
Targ’s new scimitar was being put to the test as he vanquished one foe after the other, coating the blue blade in the thick dark red blood of his enemy. He may have been half-orc himself, but he had no reservations about cutting down these monsters. Slaying one, he was struck in the back with a heavy blade that cut through his hide armor. He whirled, catching the orc in the face with the tip of his sword, removing a great deal of it. Blood poured down the orc’s makeshift chain shirt in sheets, filling his boots and pooling on the deck. He was finished and knew it. He dropped to Targ’s boots, who kicked him into the open trapdoor where he fell below deck in a heap.
The numbers were thinning. The orcish captain looked nervous. He shouted a command and a big, burly orc threw open the wooden door of the forecastle. He stepped out and began swinging an unusually large mallet in Aldo’s direction. But the hammer was slow, and Aldo was a Whisper Gnome. For those that have met a Whisper Gnome, not much else need be said. Aldo rolled about the deck, making a mockery of the savage orc and his unwieldy hammer. Aldo had even enough time between attacks to see how Targ was faring. He soon wished he hadn’t, for Targ was being overwhelmed.
Targ was taking on more orcs than he was used to battling. The orcish quartermaster had Aldo busy, leaving the bulk of the crew to mob on Targ and Solvi. Targ was cutting the savage orcs down one by one, but it wasn’t fast enough. Desperate, and thinking quickly, he conjured a flame and hurled it at the single mast of the Orcs’ cutter. Flames exploded over the rigid wooden mast, climbing upward like elemental serpents. The rigging was the first to burn. Flames traveled along the ropes and ignited a number of sails. Targ fought ferociously and slowly backed toward his own vessel. Aldo was coming too. The quartermaster had fallen, and Aldo was not above leaving a sinking ship. The two bounded the rail, and assisted Solvi with the handful of orcs that had leapt to Skidbladnir to get a better swing at him.
The Orcish captain was barreling down the gangway with a cruel blade drawn. He bounded over to the yawl and delivered a barbaric assault upon her crew. He was faster, and much more skilled than his brethren, and fought with an unmatched fervor. Solvi was the first to strike him true, landing a hammer blow to the captain’s jaw. This stunned him well enough for Targ to slip his blade into the gaps of the orc’s armor, finishing him.
Their captain was slain, and the quartermaster was finished as well. With no chain of command, the orcish sailors were growing nervous. Their grunts betrayed them. Captain Aldo and company took full advantage. Defending the ship became a renewal of the assault upon the orcs, who scatted like ashes. The ones that did not flee into the sea, ran into a hammer or blade trying. Only one remained, and he was near death. Aldo issued an order to sheath weapons, and cease the assault. He personally interrogated the prisoner.
The enemy ship was burning, but still afloat. The flames were still contained mainly to the mast, so Solvi didn’t see any reason to not loot her. He gathered the weapons scattered upon the deck, and tossed them over to his vessel. He then cleaned out the captain’s quarters of a small chest and a few charts. Below deck were rows of timber lined with iron manacles. The sides of the belly were lined with row stations. In the stern was the hold,in which he spied a few gallons of ale. He gathered it up along with as much dried meat as he could carry, and Careful not to drop any jugs, he made his way back to the Knarr before the flames became too intense.
When he arrived on board with the loot, Aldo was finishing up with the interrogation. The grunt didn’t know much, but he spilled what he did. They crew of the cutter were slavers. They would pick up humans from Four Kingdoms, and sell them in Entruag. “I found these is the Captain’s quarters,” Solvi said in gnome to Aldo. He passed him the charts he had hastily gathered from the cutter. They were in orc, but Targ was happy to translate. The documentation confirmed the slavers were docking in Four Kingdoms. Better yet, the chart detailed precisely where the slave camp was located. It appeared to be just south of Davinport, perhaps nestled in the foothills of the Border Mountains. The charts also plotted a course from the camp, to a port called Griznuk in Entruag, and from there to Tupelo in Muogamarrah to resupply. Aldo was a Moog himself, hailing from Tapur, the largest port in the waste. He knew too well what kind of unsavory things go on in Tupelo. He walked over to the orc captain’s body and flipped the corpse on it’s back. Aldo’s small hands quickly searched through the dead orcs pockets and pouches, finding some coins, a tooth, and a bit of meat. He was pleased when he discovered a small scrap of paper, and unfolded it with haste. More orc gibberish was scrawled in an angry hand. Again, Targ translated.
“Before you pick up the new meat, send four warriors to investigate what lies beneath the ruined mountain fort, south of the camp. That babbling meat used to be one of those adventurers, he might not have been lying.”
Aldo stuffed the paper in a pocket and moved his attention to the chest. It didn’t take long to crack it open, and they found over 200 gold pieces inside of Old Kingdom mint. Aldo distributed the booty, and the crew sailed back to Davinport. Docking, they turned their orcish prisoner over to the Port Authority, before heading to the check in station. The harbourmaster’s assistant sat at his desk, checking in a vessel. When his business was done with the human captain, he turned to Aldo. “We’ve cleared the lighthouse of monsters. The wizard was killed by his own experiment. Your port authority guards suffered a similar fate as well.” The assistant’s lowered his head. After a moment he said, “This is dour news, and I thank you for investigating, but the beacon is not lit. The deal we made—-” “Don’t remind me of the bargain I made,” Aldo cut him off. “The beacon remains unlit because it requires a cantrip I have no access to. I am here to ask you where I can find such a mage.”
The pudgy, balding, assistant gave Aldo the address of another wizard who might be likely to fill the lighthouse operator’s vacant role, and Aldo made haste with Solvi in tow. Their directions were leading them into the market, and so Targ stayed behind. The crowds of the market made him uncomfortable, so he only did business there when it was vital. Aldo found the wizard’s shop in the northern square, and pushing aside the flap, stepped inside. The interior was dark and dusty, lit only by the last rays of sunlight streaming through a single window. An old man with a long white beard rocked in a chair in the back of the room. “Alistair the Wise at your humble service, lords”, He said, “what do I owe this pleasure?” Aldo introduced himself and his mate and replied, “We have need of an adept to light the magical beacon in the lighthouse, and to tend to the beacon in the stead of the previous operator.” “That’s a serious task for an aged man such as I,” Alistair replied. “But I will be willing to consider in certain circumstance.” “Such as?” Aldo asked. A sly grin spread across the wizard’s wizened face, all but hidden behind his shaggy beard. “I have been working on a special potion to manipulate the emotions of the drinker. Specifically, the emotion of love. I’ve been through several iterations of the tonic with… limited… results. But now I think I’ve perfected it. I need someone to test it and tell me if it works.” Aldo was curious, “Why can’t you test it yourself?” “That doesn’t matter, what does is that I am willing and able to light your beacon, and am willing to trust your word that you will test the elixir on your travels and report the results to me.” If Aldo was concerned with the mage’s vagueness, he didn’t show it. “Deal,” he said. “Meet me aboard Skidblahdnir in the port. Pier nine.”
Aldo and Solvi left Alistair’s shop and made a few other stops at the market. It was closing and they had a few errands to run before they could find an inn. Buying a few supplies, they realized they still had about a dozen different nations’ currencies in their purse. For the sake of order, they visited a nearby moneychanger.
The Moneychanger’s Guild had representation in Davinport, so Aldo headed there. The guild was reliable, and much less likely to use crooked scales. The moneychanger himself was a stocky, bespectacled gnome. He was too busy frantically searching through every corner of his shop to notice the two approach. Aldo cleared his throat, and it caught the gnomes attention. “What do you need?” he blurted rather rudely. “Well”, said Aldo, I have a number of stones here that I need to turn to gold, and I have some foreign mint as well.
“Let’s see them, quickly now,” the gnome pushed, fumbling with his jeweler’s loupe. He rather unceremoniously appraised Aldo and Solvi’s gems, and exchanged the coins. “Now I am very busy, so please let me close!” he grunted, before ushering them out of the shop and slamming the door. Odd, Aldo thought. But soon after, forgot the strange man. He led his dwarven comrade back to the ship, where Alistair was waiting. They boarded the knarr and ferried him to the lighthouse. They stayed to see the beacon lit, and brought him back to the mainland. Once they were again in Davinport’s harbor, the trio discussed their plans.
The markets had been closed for only about an hour, and dusk was only beginning to set. The night was young, and Aldo wanted to try and find that slave camp. The three gathered their things, and prepped themselves for battle. If the orcish chart was to be believed, the camp was in the borderlands between the valley of Southern Gresden and the foothills of the Border Mountains. Aldo wasn’t sure how difficult finding a hidden orcish slave camp could be, but he set off with his crew anyway. Southward they traveled, under the light of two waning moons. Suddenly,one of them heard the hooves, and another saw the dust in the distance. Riders were approaching them fast.
Aldo ordered the two to hold their ground, and the horsemen quickly closed the distance. They were human, and they wore the navy blue and yellow of the Gresden City Watch. They slowed when the lead horseman noticed the trio, and he signaled the troupe to stop. “Hark,” he said loudly. “Turn around now. Only bloodshed and savagery lie in that direction.” “What happened?” Aldo asked. “Orcs, too many of them.” them man replied. “They killed the Lieutenant. I am all the men have left to lead them. We are badly injured, and if healing is not administered soon, two of the men will die.” The horsemen were indeed injured. Blood flecked their armor and soaked into their tabards. Two men were draped over the backs of saddles, carried by their countrymen. Aldo could hear the desperation in his voice. Those gravely wounded were the leader’s friends. “These two are healers,” he said. We will tend their wounds. Aldo explained what needed to be done to Solvi, who obliged his captain. Soon the men were warily pawing at the skin where their guts used to show, and for all the blood on their armor, the men would live. “You have my eternal gratitude,” the leader said. “You’ve made a friend of the watch this day. If there is ever a way we can repay you, visit our barracks in Davinport. What are your names so we can give them to our captain?” Aldo told him and heeded his warning one last time. He knew there was danger ahead. In fact, he hoped to feel his blood race this night. Once the watchmen rode off, the three pushed southward.
Weaving through the foothills, the party began to smell smoke. Soon after they could see it rising from the hillside. The slave camp was near. Targ cast a spell of camouflage upon himself and scouted the area ahead. His spell allowed him to blend in with his surroundings, which at night made him effectively invisible. He slowly made his way around the obstructing hill to see several orc hovels clustered together in a small valley. The perimeter of the cam was fortified with palisade walls, and several orcs could be seen. Targ counted at least 20 inside and at least another 6 guarding this entrance alone. He reported back to Aldo with his findings. Aldo discussed the matter with his crew, and decided to continue circling wide around the camp and heading south into the mountains.
The orcs were too high in number for Aldo’s current comfort level, and he decided to investigate what was alluded to on the orc captains scrawled note. It mentioned a ruined fort here and perhaps something more. He wanted to make sure whatever it was, he found it before the orcs did. After what seemed like two hours climbing in the Border Mountains, the party discovered the crumbling parapets of an ancient fort silhouetted against Corra’s largest moon. The walls were surprisingly intact, but the portcullis lay rusting and overgrown on the rocky ground. The gaping hole where it was formerly located was badly eroded, and the ground was covered in castle stone in varying stages of crumbling. There was a single fort built into the mountainside, mostly obscured by the wall, and four towers at each corner of the wall. Bricks were missing in various quantities throughout, making the ancient walls resemble Alexan cheese.
Aldo put a hand up to stop the others from entering, but it was unnecessary. They heard it too. Scuffling footsteps coming from beyond the walls troubled them all. But not because they thought the orc may have beaten them there, no. They were troubled because these footsteps could be felt as well as heard. Aldo signaled his crew to remain quiet, and the three crept forward. The moonlight lit the ruins with surprising clarity, and it did not take long to locate the source of the thunderous steps. A massive, two-headed man standing no less than 10 feet tall was lumbering about what was once the courtyard. He seemed to be engaged in some kind of argument with itself. The faces had a seemingly random assortment of tusks point in various directions, and the noses were upturned like that of a hog. Unluckily for our three adventurers, as they observed it the giant’s gaze drifted quite randomly upon them. Surprised, it flew into battle immediately. One hand grabbed a spiked maul larger than a man. The other hand scooped up an uprooted tree trunk. The crew of the Skidblahdnir charged into the fray, circling the monstrous giant. The massive weapons of the beast smashed down upon the ground in thunderous reports. The party was quick enough to avoid the full force of these attacks, but the giant seemed to be able to use both hands with equal skill and matching ferocity. It was as if each head had control of the respective limbs. The crew dodged the blows raining down upon them, but were sustaining damage. Each successful hit form the giant could easily be the one to end them and they knew it, making the melee tense and fevered. Finally, The giant was knocked to his knees, allowing Solvi to smash one of the heads with his warhammer, caving in the dome like a ripe melon. The giant flattened to the ground, his breathing labored. The one good eye of the other head glanced from one of the crew to the next, knowing his end was at hand and waiting for it. Indeed, it was delivered.
Another battle was won, and the party took to the task of cleaning their gear. Tusk had received a grievous blow during the fray, and Targ was rushing to his best friend’s aid. Suddenly, the crunching footsteps of a normal sized person could be heard in the gravel outside the ruins. Quickly, Aldo ordered the party to retreat to the shadows of the nearest tower, and there they waited for the stranger to show himself.
Who is this mysterious wanderer? Could it be the orcish raiding party? Or perhaps something even more sinister? The party is weakened and at much of a disadvantage from this last battle, and if battle is to be met again on these terms, it could spell their end! Find out what happens next time in The Land of Corra!