<u>Session 18: Saerinith 1, 4717 AR-Saerinith 11, 4717 AR</u>
After some last-minute preparations, the party set out. It was a 500-mile journey to the Camp, which lay just to the east of the Tusk Mountains on the border between Belkzen and the Realm of the Mammoth Lords. Your sojourn would take you through the hill country separating Belkzen, Lastwall, and Ustalav and then into the Tusk Mountains. The first stop was Freedom Town, a 3-day journey.
On the first day out from Vigil, Mag proved her usefulness to the party by summoning an illusion of a hunting Black Dragon to drive off two Chimerae (one with a blue dragon head and one with a red dragon head) before you had to actually fight them. The party had a good chuckle as the illusion was so life-like that Gambler, Drebb, and Belflin all believed it as well. The rest of the journey to Freedom Town was uneventful.
You entered Freedom Town on a rainy, dreary day. The town was a community of 400 or so souls, and consisted of a small wooden fort surrounded by a poorly-constructed palisade and wooden dwellings on the banks of the Aren River, a tributary of the Esk. Its inhabitants are mainly outlaws, exiles, and escaped slaves who wish to be left alone—including a fair number of orcs and half-orcs who have left their tribes. Mag and Atish recalled a little bit about the town’s history.
Freedom Town was founded in 4694 AR by members of the Sharpes Gang, a criminal organization active in Lastwall, Ustalav, Nirmathas, and Molthune. They fled Lastwall after being accused of a massive blackmail and confidence scheme involving the sale of counterfeit magic arms and armor to high-ranking members of the clergy of Iomedae. Having already been run out of all the other neighboring nations, the gang decided to temporarily relocate to the only place where they knew nobody would follow them: Belkzen. They settled in a small river valley 3 days’ journey north of Vigil, and quickly discovered that there were thousands of acres of rich, untilled farmland for the taking, free from government regulation and taxation. The only problem was the local orc tribes, but a solution to even this obstacle presented itself not long after the settlement’s founding. Grask Uldeth, who had gained control of Urgir only a few years earlier, had been planning on opening up his city and was looking for a way to see whether his people could interact non-violently with non-orcs. When his scouts informed him of the presence of the Sharpes Gang, he saw the perfect opportunity for a trial run, and negotiated an ongoing payment in exchange for non-interference. Although he had to decapitate a few sub-chiefs who balked at the idea of peaceful coexistence with humans, the agreement has held and has allowed Freedom Town to grow from a fortified bandit hideout to a full-fledged settlement.
Entering the town, you all were surprised to find that there was temple to the arch-Devil Mammon here (the Union of the Silver Palm). This greatly concerned Atish, who used magic to inform Sister Sarah back in Vigil of this interesting development. She advised that the temple was fairly new and that the High Priest there had gained a foothold by offering low-interest loans to the townspeople and catching many in a debt spiral that they could not escape. She advised you all to stay out of the local politics.
The only inn in town was called “The Sauced God” (in honor of Caedan Cailean) and when you arrived there you witnessed a peculiar scene—a Goblin attempting to sell a treasure map to the High Priest of Mammon. The priest was not interested, but struck up a conversation with the Goblin, who was named Ignatz. He related how he had discovered a hidden Dwarven community, but when his tribe members could not verify his story, they exiled him. He was now selling the map for 100 Gp. Over the objections of Drebb, Drinna purchased the map. It showed that this supposed community was about 6 day’s journey along your path. Mag recalled that there had been a Dwarven Skyhold named Kuldokar just to the south and west of this area, but it had been sacked by Orcs about 8,000 years past.
Leaving Freedom Town on the 4th, you resumed your journey. The next three days took you through increasingly rugged foothills until you were well and good in the Tusk Mountains. On the late afternoon of the 4th, you all passed through the Gap of Valballus, a wide, low mountain pass that connects the Hold of Belkzen to Ustalav to the east, and runs between the Tusk and Hungry Mountains. As it provides one of the few easy means of traversing the often-impassable terrain that separates the two regions, the gap sees heavy traffic by both raiding orcs sacking the largely undefended Ustalavic settlements in Canterwall, and Varisian caravans and brave merchants heading to and from Urgir or other points beyond Belkzen’s borders. During this time, Mag used a spell to scry on one of the Dwarven guards that Ignatz had mentioned. The guard wore a strange sigil of a lizard perched on a scroll, which Atish identified as the symbol of a minor Dwarven deity known as Kols. This deity was a god (or goddess in some traditions) of duty, honor, tradition, and lore-keeping. Otherwise, you could get no other information.
Once you crossed the Gap of Valballus, the weather turned miserable, with rain and thunderstorms plaguing your every step. On the afternoon of the 6th, you were forced to seek shelter by the weather, only to find the cave already occupied by a fellow traveler. He welcomed you to share his fire and his meal of rabbits. He was dressed as an itinerant priest of Pharasma (goddess of death, birth, and prophecy) and introduced himself as Father Callahan. He claimed that he was on a mission from Pharasma to seek out and banish a wandering undead spirit known as the Burning Child that haunted this region. This spirit had been born from the anguished soul of a child burned alive by raiding Orcs about 500 years earlier. It now manifested where large battles occurred and incinerated both sides. Father Callahan asked for your help, but there was something about the man’s story that Drinna and Mag in particular weren’t buying. After discussion, Atish convinced the party to help him, only to get him to reveal any evil plans he had in mind.
The next morning, Callahan led you to a nearby summoning circle and there called up not only the Burning Child, but also two other foul spirits. Father Callahan also turned you at this point. The foul spirits were identified as a type of rare undead known as Festering Spirits, which were the remnants of condemned murderers who had been denied a proper burial. After the battle, you discovered that Father Callahan was actually a priest of Urgathoa (goddess of undeath, disease, and gluttony). You surmised that he had somehow been able to gain control of the Burning Child and was ambushing local travelers. The Burning Child had been dispelled for the moment, but could reappear at any time. Because Drebb had some of his health siphoned off by a Festering Spirit and because you all had used many of your spells, you retreated back to the cave and rested another day.
Resuming your journey on the 8th, you all came to side trail that led west up into mountains on the 9th. Here stood an aged trail marker that indicated the side trail led to someplace known as Valorforge, but two letters have been scratched away. The sign now clearly pointed the way to “Valorfoe.” Mag and Atish recalled that Valorforge had been one of the line of fortresses known as the Sunwall, which was among the greatest defensive barriers ever established in Avistan. These forts had been created to hold the Ustalav/Lastwall border against the Orcs of Belkzen about five centuries ago, but against the orc hordes the Sunwall could only stand so long. When Valorgorge fell, the well-trained soldiers of Lastwall retreated to a second line of defense, while the Ustalav contingent held its ground—at the cost of every soul within. Now known as Valorfoe, the abandoned castle is shunned even by the orcs who previously took it. The place is considered cursed and haunted.
Intrigued by this mystery, you all decided to investigate. Valorfoe was about two miles up the trail. All that was left of the fortress behind its crumbling walls were the grand hall, the solarium and commander’s dining room, and the north tower. You all proceeded to the grand hall first. There was clearly a great battle here in ages past. This grand hall was a 100’x100’ chamber, with dim light filtering in from numerous broken out windows during the day. A long table and its chairs had been shattered to flinders, and there were dozens of orc and human skeletons, along with old and useless breastplates, steel shields, long swords, daggers, javelins, and falchions. Curiously, though it was staffed by both Lastwall and Ustalavic troops, the human remnants were only of Ustalav troops. Atish used his magic to detect the presence of undead and determined that this sight was haunted. He temporarily banished the haunting presence by channeling the power of Sarenrae, but determined that to completely rid the hall of this evil, it would need to be consecrated by a deity dedicated to the cause of Law and Goodness and that the remains of the being who caused the massacre must be interred on the site as well.
The party then proceeded to the solarium and commander’s dining hall. These chambers had been looted, and you all were assaulted by the insane ghost of the former commander. Several of you had the very essence of your will and personality drained away by the corrupting gaze of the ghost, and Gambler was nearly drained of all his strength by the ghost’s sword attack, but Atish, Drebb, and Mag saved the day, temporarily dispelling the spirit. Searching the chambers, you all found a tattered journal from Commander Krell detailing the final days of the garrison. It told of how the garrison have been blessed by a radiant spirit that was freed during an expansion of the dungeons and how the Lastwall regiment fled like cowards in the face of the approaching Fire Rain Orcs. The Ustalav nobles stayed and defended the fort to their last man. You also found a locked iron strong box containing 700 Gp, 50 Pp, 2 fire opals, and 3 emeralds. Atish determined that Commander Krell’s soul could be put to rest permanently by purging the great hall of its haunting presence.
Battered from your experience with the ghost, you all retreated to camp and heal up and the next day resumed your exploration of the fortress. Going to the north tower, you found the upper levels collapsed and an ancient door jamming the main entry. Two blows from Drebb’s axe took care of the door and revealed a 50-foot-by-50-foot chamber with some stairs leading down to the dungeons. The room was filled with debris and bodies. As you made your way towards the stairs, you were assaulted by a dozen Wights that had been hiding in the rubble. You dispatched these foul undead, but not until several of you had been subjected to the life essence drain attacks of the beast. Atish was able to restore Mag’s lost life essence through prayers to Sarenrae, but he, Belflin, and Drebb were forced to rely on their own fortitude to restore their vitality after another session of rest. After recuperating on the 11th, you were now ready to proceed down into Valorfoe’s dungeon.