From the Abyss into silence
100 LA, Arc of Shareel 26
An unnatural silence hung in the air. The Aruun near Stone Deep was known to be a place where natural life recoiled but this silence was something more sinister. At first the Heroes attributed the strangeness of this silence to the effects of the deafening winds of the Domhain but, after a few more minutes, they realized it was something more. The jungle, the Whisper itself was silent. During their time below the surface, something had muted the voice of Erethor.
The eerie void was filled by a strange voice. Staring at you from a moss laden branch, the Heroes could see Co’reethe leeper. His usually vivacious eyes looked sullen. “Return. Druid’s swamp.” Pointing at himself, Co’ree steps eagerly to and fro. “Follow. Whisper-Gone.”
Waiting to see if the Heroes understood, he shuffled slightly in the tree, seemingly anxious to lead them back to the Hamlet of Druid’s Swamp
The four-day journey seemed much longer. The rainy season had begun in the jungle making everyday hard going. Sleeping was less comfortable than before and more work too. Beyond these inconveniences, the lack of the Whisper troubled the Heroes, particularly Sparrow and Kreel. The void created by the Whisper was occasionally filled by chilling sounds: a long bout of weeping, shouts of pain and worst of all, a maniacal laughter that had more than once uttered each of the Heroes’ name between breaths.
Breoul head of the Hamlet of Druid’s Swamp greeted the Heroes upon their arrival. Unlike their first visit to this place, the serenity of the Whisper Academy was replaced by armed Danisil standing guard. Much of the population of the Hamlet of Druid’s Swamp was either in arms or in hiding. Breoul guided the Heroes toward Echo’s Gate, the great Oak and heart of the Hamlet. Upon reaching its roots, he sat down and inhaled deeply.
“Friends, we welcome you. Your return from the depths brings hope to us who live in such dismal times. I am eager to hear of your adventures in the Domhain, but before you speak, let me tell you of what has come pass in your absence. The Darkening has returned and what is more, has spread. Few messages were passed along through the Whisper before all this unfolded. We heard, perhaps a week ago, that Aelgar has died, so too has the noble Mahogin. Days later, a message from Ossion was sent, that he has heard rumours of a great army rising from what he called a necropolis and that a bastion of evil lurks in the Dead Marshes. Then the Whisper was silenced. I fear for our troops defending against Grial’s orcs. Without the Whisper, they have lost a great tactical defense. Speak friends, what news or queries have you?”
The Heroes spoke if their discoveries within Stone Deep. Breoul’s enthusiasm was tempered by his dread. After much deliberation, the Heroes decided to head north, toward Three Oaks to see what aid they could be there.
Grim Tidings: Fell Heralds of the South
100 LA, Arc of Dorsham 12th
Following the path north toward Three Oaks for nearly 10 days, the Heroes noticed the brush beside the path had been pushed through. Strange indeed that anyone would choose to walk through the brush when the path was so close, and even stranger that it seems no attempt has been made at stealth. A gruff laugh was heard ahead and voices spoke in the orcish tongue.
The Heroes headed into the clearing, attacking the orcs they could see. Sadly, there were orcs nearby that the could not see. These orcs, all of them, were Fell and far tougher than the usual orc soldier. Such a revelation made the Heroes wonder where the enemy had come from and where he was going.
100 LA, Arc of Dorsham 23rd
Cresting a bald hill by night, the Heroes were taken aback. A light like dawn burned in the north. This light was distant but distinct, too massive to be missed. Kreel shook his head in wonder knowing that what the Heroes saw was the infamous Burning Line. The ever burning fire Grial’s orcs fed in an attempt at finally breeching Erethor’s defenses. The Heroes hearts sank at seeing its scale magnified by the darkness. Looking just east, another dread filled their heart. As though the earth had opened, belching up devils the fields, they saw campfire after campfire. Thousands of fires burned in a terrible glow. This can only be the army of Commander Jorg Kinslayer Orc leader in the East.
High above these unholy fires, some other light shimmered. Easily mistaken for stars, these white lights shone at the forest’s edge. Elf fire to be sure, but impossibly high up. Marching onward dim outlines of trees could be seen, massive trees, the likes of which exist nowhere else in Eredane. The Heroes approach the fortress known as Three Oaks. Three massive oaks dwarfed the trees around them, standing proudly at the forest’s edge, defiantly against the Burning Line’s threats and Commander Jorg Kinslayer troops. Here was the fortress that had never fallen. Guarded by the noble Elf Commanders Trevalin and Lord Dashtir.
Weathered Elf guards drew bows on the Heroes briefly but seeing the were elf-friends, they lowered their weapons. Allies were in short supply and they had little time to parlay. They hurriedly lead the Heroes by secret ways into the fortress of Three Oaks and up the massive, vine staircases into the fortress itself. Standing alone for a moment, The Heroes wondered at the many injured elf warriors laying in cots and being tended to. Vigilant guards stood at the ready, their armour dingy and their once splendid robes tarnished. Fatigued and dirty, they had little cheer, merely looking at the Heroes as a token of acknowledgement. Soon, a familiar figure appeared. The mighty Lord Dashtir emerged from a small building nearby. He greeted the Heroes, nodding first to Kreel and Sparrow. “The Shadow will fall!”
The Heroes responded, “And the light shall return!”
“Come, I have been told some weeks ago that you might be sent here. We’ve much to discuss.”
(The following is an excerpt from the war journal of Lord Dashtir)
100 LA, Arc of Dorsham 23rd
I met with the Heroes long into the night. They had much to tell and I much they needed to know. Their intelligence, coupled with our own, lead us to suspect that Sunulael may be turning healthy orcs into undead, swelling his own ranks of loyal soldiers while depleting those of Jahzir and Grial Fey-killer. I cannot admit much regret for the death of another orc – or another million for that matter – but each orc risen as Fell under Sunulael’s banner becomes a more deadly and implacable foe.
Despite this dire news I took a certain modicum of desperate hope from this turn of events. If we can not through our own strength destroy the enemy from without perhaps we can, through guile and intellect, facilitate it’s destruction from within. The great generals of Izrador’s army working for their own ends and their own selfish schemes is naught but welcome news for us. The first cracks have appeared in their once-united front, we now need only find the right wedge to help rend it asunder.
What troubles me most is this mysterious Master in Grey. I have no inkling who this person – or creature – may be and this unsettles me greatly.
100 LA, Arc of Dorsham 24th
The fog of the night before was burnt away. I took the sun’s strength and the clearness of the sky above as a good omen for our success this day. I went to the highest balcony of the city to overlook the massed orcs below and was surprised to find one of the Heroes there, the elfling Sparrow. He too, it seemed, wanted to take the measure of the enemy. No words passed between us – this moment was one for neither pleasantries nor bravado – we simply stood together and dwelt on our own thoughts as we watched the thousands of orc camps break and arm for the coming battle.
An hour later we were massed and ready to meet the enemy. Our own thin ranks seemed ludicrously inadequate, almost insignificant, compared to the endless sea or orcs before us. From atop my horse I could see rank upon rank of them rolling across the plain and, in the distance, Jorg Kinslayer himself. I would gladly give my life to strike but a single blow against him but he cowers at the rear.
I sounded my horn and we charged. First blood was struck by one of the heroes, that same elfling Sparrow. Whether fueled by bravery or folly I know not but he bolted ahead of the army, leapt atop a towering oruk four times his size and gutted the beast before it took three steps! His companions were right behind, savaging the oruks with blade and bow. Their skill and ferocity was astounding to watch. I understood now how these heroes were able to delve the demon-haunted depths of Stone Deep and emerge alive.
I have seen oruks slay seasoned warriors with a single stroke of their massive weapons, I have seen them struck by a dozen arrows and carry on fighting as if their wounds were little more bothersome than the stings of insects, but I have never seen them decimated so easily as they were this day. Kendra and her curious chain weapon knocked them prone and bashed in their skulls. Valana pummel one to death with her bare fists. Kreel rained death upon them with power and accuracy I’ve rarely seen. Little Sparrow was a blur, gutting and slicing them with the speed of a hunting bird. Vala’im dropped three with a single blow! Truly, this was the work of heroes worthy of the name.
With the aid of these heroes the tide was turning. With Jorg’s southern flank in shambles we began to wrap around and start pressing the enemy on a second front when near-disaster struck. Saroula had returned from the south. She and her guards had clearly traveled hard and fast to reach Three Oaks, which could only mean that her mission had been a success but that the news was dire.
“Saroula returns! Protect her at all costs!” I bellowed to my troops, yet once more it was these great heroes who saved the day. With no concern for her own life Helka plunged into the ranks of the oruks and snatched Saroula from their grasp. Throwing Saroula over her shoulder Helka struck down one of the fearsome beasts and, dodging blows and black orc arrows, delivered her safely behind our lines. I foolishly allowed myself to be distracted by this and nearly paid for it with my life. Were it not for the Heroes coming to my aid I’d have been pulled from my horse and slain by the orc and oruks that surrounded me.
With his battle lines in chaos and his oruks dead Jorg sounded the retreat. This was not a true victory, only a reprieve, but Three Oaks will stand for another day. Truly, Aradil chose wisely when she chose these Heroes. Were it not for their skill, their bravery, and their dedication I doubt we would have won the day.
The light shall return!
Captain Saroula had spent hours healing. Despite the wishes of her elf guards, she wished that the Heroes and Lord Dashtir enter. Surprised by the many races before her, she looks to Dashtir in wonder. He nodded knowingly and bid her speak.
“So these are the heroes of Eredane who pulled me from the jaws of death. I thank you. My journey south and the death of my loyal guards would have been for naught if I lay dead on the battlefield.”
Her blue eyes gleamed in the light of the lamps. Brushing back loose hanging curls of thick red hair, she revealed a bandage around her neck. The Heroes surmised that this was the nearly fatal arrow that nearly drew her from the land of the living. Grimacing and sitting up she continued.
“I have been told that you faced incredible odds to save me, at a risk to your own lives. If such a coalition of Fey and Man can stand up against the Shadow we can win this war. You are truly the Hope of Erethor.”
Sipping from a wineskin, she paused then looked to each of the Heroes’ faces, “It is time I discuss what I found in the South. I’ve made a map. Lord Dashtir, I ask that you give it to these noble warriors. Follow it carefully. I found the cavern of the Dragon, though I did not see the beast, only the balls of fire that it left in its wake. I heard it though. I heard it’s fearsome cry and it’s unholy howl. I also found tracks. For some time I swore we were fighting a phantom, but no. It is a physical thing, merely one that attacks at night and cannot be seen. I have already spoken with Lord Dashtir. He will create a distraction in the North of his front come dawn. When you see Jorg’s troops move northward, a break in the southern line will appear. That will be your chance. Hurry through and look for the landmarks. The land becomes barren quickly and you’ll easily make your way. May the will of the Forest protect you on your quest. Slay the dragon and save the South from damnation.”
Flame and Shadow
100 LA, Arc of Dorsham 28
At dawn silver trumpets were heard in the north. Lord Dashtir commanded his forces and pressed the orcs nearest the Burning Line. Watching from a distance, the Heroes were amazed how swiftly Jorg’s soldiers moved toward the battle. A hole in the southern most extreme of the enemy front was revealed. Looking quickly at the map provided by Captain Saroula, the Heroes spotted the first landmark on the horizon. Not wasting this chance, they proceed carefully ahead.
The next days were spent moving from woodland to wasteland. Hills and flat-lands dominated that neither region. Orc patrols seemed all but non-existent. Still the Heroes remained vigilant. At last, the yawning mouth of a cavern was seen.
The cave descended steeply underground. Darkness surrounded the Heroes. Only Valana and Vala’im could see until a torch was lit. Soon enough, the Heroes found themselves at the bottom of the passage. They were startled at the size of this cavern, its dome reached 60 feet high and was equally as wide in diameter. Fires burned ahead. Peering out into the wide cavern, they saw three fires burning in a triangle. Another cavern seems to continue downward beyond this point.
Choosing to invsetigate the flames, the Heroes were stunned to realize these fires were living beings. Fire elementals! Behind them, a shimmering shadow appeared, large and terrible. The dragon, the dragon they had come to slay was seemingly made of shadow. It attacked them then seemed to disappear. It was barely visible in the dim light. The battle that followed was a dread test for the Heroes yet the Shadow Dragon was not invincible. A thing of flesh and blood, it was tripped by Kendra in an unlikely turn of events. From here, the Dragon’s fate was sealed as the Heroes teamed up to end the beast’s life. In short order the mystical scales of the slain dragon were removed from the skeleton of the creature and brought back, a trophy to Three Oaks!
Return to Three Oaks – Dragon Slayers!
100 LA, Arc of Dorsham 34
The Heroes returned to Three Oaks and noticed the fog lingering near the Burning Line had drifted south in their absence. The woods, it appeared, were Darkening once more.