Brigand Five: An Unflankable Story

Chapter 18: Killin' Kobolds, Pt. 2

As the newly birthed slaadpole wriggles around on the ground, Morningstar Nightingale swats at it with his morningstar, Nightingale. He backs up just in time as the slaadpole launches itself into the air and locks its jaws onto the neck of the nearest kobold, who stumbles back into his tent. Meanwhile, Quinn hears a voice in his head, offering treasure in exchange for a means of escape. Quinn deduces that the panther with the gem embedded skull is the source of the voice. The promise of treasure is enough for the thief and he picks the lock. The displacer beast immediately bounds out of the cage and into the darkness of the trees.

The fat kobold reaches into his vest, removing a jar and hurling it at Othfir and Artho. As the jar shatters on the ground, Othfir hops out of the way; but Artho and a nearby kobold find themselves secured to the ground as thick moss grows up around their feet. Othfir charges towards the kobold mixmaster, his fury club steaming. The raging dwarf sweeps the kobold's legs out from under him and follows up with a fatal blow to its head. The winged kobold tries to drop a head-sized stone on Arradon, but the elf takes a quick step out of the way and retaliates with an arrow to the creature's gut. Seraphina, who remembers that slaad gestation period is three months, calms down enough to blast the flying kobold out of the air with a barrage of magic missiles. The corpse drops to the ground leaving a trail of smoke in the air.

While the red slaad continues to burn, the newly awakened ogre wrenches the bars from his prison with one tug and stumbles out into the battle angrily. The kobold's numbers have dropped to three, one still deep in slumber, and they decide retreat might just be the way to go. One makes it out of the camp, but the other falls out of the tree it was in. Othfir finishes it off with an explosion of kobold parts. Geandur approaches the ogre and yells at it to be cool and help them out. The ogre instead begins stomping on the campfire.

Quinn is caught off guard when the displacer beast appears and pounces on him. Instead of ripping out his throat, it drops a small stone slab on his chest and bounds off into the woods. While the ogre moves on to one of the tents, Geandur engages in a magically-enabled conversation with the imprisoned snake. The barbarian makes a deal with the serpent and lets him out to feed on the kobold corpses. Then the looting begins.

Othfir raids the vest of the kobold jarmaster, finding one broken jar and four intact ones filled with various concoctions. Seraphina finds a pair of magical boots of the winterlands, a periapt of wound closure, and two identical wooden Githyanki sculptures. Quinn discovers that his stone is an Ioun stone of awareness. Arradon finds a box filled with beads and two rings. One ring is determined to be a ring of water-walking. The other feels oddly warm. Arradon puts the rings on, but when holding his hand near the burning coals, he feels the urge to snatch one up. He burns his hand and the ring's gem cracks. To be safe, the elf takes it back off.

Finally, the heroes gather back to the caravan where Calsius tends to Artho's wounds. With combat behind them and loot in their pockets, the crew is back on their way to Moroth.

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Chapter 17: Killin' Kobolds, Pt. 1

The atmosphere is that of intense awkwardness as the heroes ride along with Namas Hestral and his tiefling crew. At first, the conversation is limited to introductions; the heroes have already met Calsius, so Namas introduces the brooding, loose-robed tiefling next to him as Brük and the bald, wild-eyed tiefling driving the wagon as Artho. Geandur’s mistrust of Namas inevitably leads to questions about the diplomat’s sister. Looking troubled, Namas tells the heroes of Ja’thorane, the island where he grew up with his sister, whose name is revealed to be Xieth. He tells them of the tragedy that befell them when the island’s aboleth-tainted volcano erupted, spreading diseased ash throughout their village. After leaving the isle, Namas took a leadership role, while Xieth became more and more obsessed with the disease that killed so many of their people. Namas explains that the last time he saw his sister, she was carving the Glyph of Vholpest into her forehead, to better channel her learned disease magic.

Geandur mentions his own island’s tragedy and Xieth’s hand in it. When asked if he’ll get between Xieth and Geandur’s revenge, Namas seems unsure, but says he doesn’t plan to. The conversation moves to their current plans and Namas explains that they will all be fugitives for the time being. Until they can clear the heroes’ names, they will need to find any towns or villages willing to provide them shelter. For now, they are headed to Moroth, the tiefling city by the sea. Namas explains that it will be a hot environment, but that the city’s leader is aware of the current predicament and willing to help. It is then that there is a knock on the front panel of the caravan.

The panel slides open and Artho informs them all that they’re in kobold territory and that they should stay alert. Arradon joins Artho up front and Othfir climbs atop the wagon to keep an eye out. The two heroes immediately wonder where Artho’s mind is at, as it’s clear that they’ve already been in kobold territory for a bit. There are huts perched all around them in the trees above and a couple campfires can be spotted through the trees up ahead. But before the crew can come up with a plan, a shrieking kobold voice echoes through the air to alert the rest of the creatures to the heroes’ presence. The squawking kobold is silenced when Othfir hurls a javelin through its chest. As it topples from the tree, Othfir catches the javelin and the corpse slides down the weapon. Gripping the javelin with both hands, Othfir swings it, launching the kobold carcass down the path into the sight of its camping comrades.

As the lifeless kobold bounces to a stop, the kobolds take one look and spring into action. The heroes and tieflings do the same. Arradon dashes out to where the body of the kobold stopped and fires a burst arrow into another nearby kobold. The tip of the arrow bursts, filling two more foes with fragments of iron filaments. Quinn is the first out of the caravan and ducks behind a tree before firing an arrow through the back of another kobold’s head. Seraphina also approaches one of the campfires and raises her arms, releasing a wave of slumber. Five kobolds drop to the ground, snoring. Geandur pulls out the halberd he swiped from the council prison and runs out to the sleeping kobolds. With a quick sweeping motion, he cleaves two of them in half. Othfir joins his barbarian cohort and pounds the head of another snoozing kobold into oblivion.

It is then that Arradon hears a strange voice in his head. It asks the elf to set it free and that it would help in return. Arradon realizes that the voice is emanating telepathically from a nearby row of cages. In the cages are a large panther with six legs and a long spiny tentacle on each shoulder, a red-skinned frog creature with nasty claws, a massive snoring ogre, and an enormous serpent. The elf pinpoints the voice as issuing from the panther. He ignores the voice and draws another arrow. From a nearby tent, a kobold bursts out with a small blade. A moment later, Morningstar fires a net arrow and the kobold flies back into the tent, wrapped in thick ropes. Othfir and Arradon continue their massacre, while Artho joins the fray and beheads a kobold with his dual blades.

Seeing the cages, Seraphina hurries up to see if there are any prisoners to free. Peering into a cage, she instead finds herself face to face with the red frog creature. There is a quick blur of movement as the creature lashes out with its claws. Seraphina realizes, a moment too late, that the creature before her is a red slaad. The knowledge of past lessons flow back into her memory and, as she clutches the wound on her arm, she remembers that the red slaad carries eggs in its claws to inject into its victims. Stumbling out of reach of the cage, Seraphina releases a storm of frantic curses and profanities. To make matters worse, she hears a voice in her head asking for assistance in getting free of the cage.

Morningstar sends a pair of kobolds flying with a force arrow, while Geandur and Quinn run to Seraphina’s aid to find out what the mild-mannered aasimar could be raving about. Othfir kicks over a water barrel and between him, Arradon, and Artho, a few more kobolds are slain. Out from a tent steps a particularly fat kobold in a large pocket-covered vest. At the same time, a voice shouts out in draconic as another kobold swoops down from the trees, this one with a pair of scaly wings. Quinn fires an arrow at the flying kobold, while Geandur hurls a flame cocktail at the slaad, followed by his javelin. As screeches issue from the burning cage, Morningstar takes a defensive stance as two kobolds advance on him. Suddenly, one of the creatures doubles over in pain. Before the cleric’s eyes and like an omen on Serphina’s head, the kobold’s chest explodes and a huge, blood-coated tadpole slides out onto the ground.

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Chapter 16: Wrong Side Of The Bars

The battered tiefling has disappeared from view amongst the zombified dwarven miners and the heroes are frantic. Othfir reverses the cable car so that it’s just out of reach of the corpses. Quinn, feeling adventurous, hooks a nearby cable with Arradon’s grappling hook and jumps off the still mobile trawler with Geandur. He loses his grip from the rope, but the ever-powerful Geandur manages to catch him before he plummets to his doom. On their way down, Seraphina spots a figure burst through the zombies and crawl into a minecart. As Quinn and Geandur roll onto the ground, the aasimar flies after the minecart as it propels itself into the darkness. As Morningstar’s field of radiant energy begins to fade, the heroes join Othfir and Arradon in the cable car. Seraphina breaks off pursuit and flies to the cable car as well, grabbing the grappling hook on the way.

The slow ride to the top is a frustrating one, their quarry having slipped through their fingers. Unfortunately, their moods are not destined to improve as the entrance to the mine is filled with guard dwarves instead of miners. Lord Frostpeak is also present and he wastes no time in ordering the arrest of the heroes. Frostpeak’s command is instantly met with shock, anger, and confusion, but Othfir’s rage rises above them all. His shouts echoing for all to hear, he invokes his royal lineage and questions Frostpeak’s loyalty to his dwarven blood. This gives the guards pause, but Frostpeak continues glowering and begins listing charges, including destruction of mining equipment, inciting chaos, and the theft of his orb of communication. Geandur reminds the stubborn leader why they were here to begin with and tells him of the zombified miners. Frostpeak claims to have no reason to believe that this atrocity wasn’t committed by the heroes themselves. The guards tighten the perimeter as the dour dwarven leader tells the heroes that they will be taken to the council to stand trial. Knowing they have allies on the council, the heroes reluctantly agree to come quietly.

The disgruntled heroes are locked in a prison cart and are driven down the mountain with a few other caravans. Early on, Geandur and Othfir break all the manacles, and Quinn is glared at for stealing Frostpeak’s orb. As they travel towards the Sphinxwood, Geandur starts chatting with the guards driving the cart. They seem conflicted and tad apologetic, but Othfir remains insulted by their disloyalty. While Geandur tries to gain the guards’ favor, Othfir whistles to a nearby bird. He scribbles a fragmented message on a scrap of paper and instructs the bird to take it to Razmus. Seraphina spends a long time meditating and experiences a vision. A green fog hovers above a stony landscape. A cloaked dwarf steps into view and waves away the fog. He then kneels and constructs a tiny mountain from the sand. From inside the structure, eight ants crawl into view, five black, two a dull red, and one a bright red. Suddenly, the sand mountain and ants are plunged into a great sinkhole and Seraphina awakens to an overzealous poke to the face from Geandur.

Seraphina reveals the dreams she’s been having and their possible relation to future events, such as the burning of the Mossington silos. Concern arises that the council may fall to an attack. After several days of travel, the prison cart descends into the dark underbelly of Orphael’s Crescent. The heroes are passed on to the council prison guards and locked in cells. Geandur tries to make conversation with a nearby guard, but he simply walks away, much to the chagrin of Othfir. Seraphina sense that the prison is protected against magic, and suggests a lock pick. Quinn and Geandur try their hand but the lock doesn’t budge. Hours of counting the minutes between guard appearances go by. When a set of footsteps stop at their cells, the heroes look up expecting a guard.

Instead, a tiefling with pale blue skin and reddish hair stands before them. The heroes recognize the grey-clad fellow as one of Namas Hestral’s entourage. The tiefling introduces himself as Calsius and explains that they need to follow him out of the prison. Despite the non-magic aura, Calsius is able to magically open the cells. As the heroes follow him down the corridors, it appears he has also magically charmed several of the guards as well. As they walk, Calsius explains that all is not well within the council. He claims that there is a traitor among the councilmembers and that the heroes cannot expect a fair trial under the current circumstances. They are stopped briefly when a burly prisoner tries to catch Morningstar and demands that they free him as well. He threatens to alert the guards if they don’t heed his demands and Othfir approaches the cell to negotiate. Instead, the dwarven barbarian grabs the prisoner and slams his face into the bars between them. The oaf knocked unconscious, Othfir motions for them all to continue.

Before leaving the prison, Calsius enchants the heroes so that they appear to be council guards. Mere moments later and they’ve walked through the entrance of Orphael’s Crescent. Calsius leads them into the woods, assuring them that their belongings have already been secured. Soon enough, they reach a large caravan where a bald tiefling sits singing a little tune. Upon seeing the heroes, the singing tiefling asks if they’d like to buy some pots. Calsius waves off what is apparently the tiefling’s cover and ushers the heroes into the caravan.

The inside is lit by a lantern and is modest, but comfortable. Two more tieflings sit waiting for them and the heroes recognize Namas Hestral as one of them. The jet-skinned leader of the caravan looks resigned and regretful, and he opens the conversation by apologizing. He tells the heroes that he should have stepped in earlier, that they knew there would be an impending disaster. He knows the heroes are telling the truth about the events of the Palefort Mine, and, with a sigh, he explains that the diabolical plagueomancer they’ve been chasing is none other than his own sister.

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Chapter 15: Coming Down With Something

Our heroes hurtle further and further into the dark abyss. The dislodged, dangling cable car collides with a great sloped wall, leaving the occupants slightly dazed but unharmed. Geandur and Arradon, swinging from the cable itself, aren’t so lucky and slam cartoonishly into the stone wall. The hooded woman has lost her human appearance, revealing herself as a tiefling with skin the color of dried blood and a pair of small curved horns protruding from her forehead. Her hair has fallen to the side and the symbol engraved into her forehead confirms that she is the one Geandur has been searching for. As Geandur and Arradon approach their companions, the air around the tiefling shimmers for a moment and she suddenly vanishes in a cloud of necrotic smoke.

The heroes look around intently to find their foe, but all they see is panicked dwarven miners. Othfir grabs one of the cable car operators and demands that he ride back up and summon the guards, as well as Lord Frostpeak. While the cable car slowly ascends, the heroes continue scanning the ladders, minecarts, and scaffolding for the tiefling plagueomancer. The frightened miners fall silent when a smooth female voice echoes through the cavern.

The tiefling’s voice surrounds them all, nonchalantly acknowledging that the heroes caught her in the act. She is at a loss, however, not knowing the heroes or what their beef is. Geandur angrily declares revenge and brings up his home in the Southern Isles. The tiefling gives a laugh of recognition and reminisces fondly about creating the disease that she unleashed on the barbarian’s treasured island. The heroes, meanwhile, continue searching. Despite the voice’s magically-enhanced volume, the heroes know the tiefling must be close by to be able to hear them. Stalling for time, the heroes keep her talking.

They snarkily decline to answer her question about their hometowns, but she is all too glad to reveal her dastardly motives. She speaks of death and the power it holds, as well as the monumental thrill of wielding the ability to craft and manipulate such a power. She also tries to play into Geandur’s bloodlust, claiming that he too must already see that wielding death is indeed true strength. When he protests, she ominously reminds him that she wasn’t the one who killed the population of The Southern Isles, she merely spread the disease. The weight of this statement is mystifying to the heroes, but hits home for Geandur.

Meanwhile, Arradon has climbed a short ways up the tiered mine wall and Quinn has wandered into the darkness and located Arradon’s grappling hook, feared lost forever. Morningstar tries and fails to calm down the miners, while Seraphina and Othfir grow weary of the tiefling’s smug demeanor. It seems the tiefling feels the same as she bids the heroes adieu saying that she's left them a gift. As the words echo through the air, a strange mist begins to materialize and descend upon the heroes and miners.

The heroes find that the mist stings, but that it has a much worse effect on the miners. The dwarves begin to scream as their skin begins to decay and hang from their bodies. Simultaneously, a deep sound of grinding metal and stone fills the air. As the dwarves continue suffering, a massive steel trawler begins to rise into the air. Quinn acts quickly and hurls the recovered grappling hook through the air, securing it on the trawler. As Quinn climbs to the top, Geandur and Morningstar run to catch the rope before it leaves the ground.

The trawler is filled entirely with coal except for the figure of the tiefling. Quinn, having gone unnoticed, flings a dagger. The blade plants itself in the tiefling's shoulderblade and the heroes are treated to an echoing cry of pain before the voice-enhancing spell dissipates. Geandur quickly reaches the top as well, followed by Seraphina who has taken to the air on her ethereal wings.

Unfortunately the dwarven miners have entered the realm of the undead and have begun advancing on the heroes. A zombie dwarf grabs Morningstar's ankle and pulls him from the rope. As the trawler pulls the rope out of reach, the zombie beats Morningstar unconscious. Othfir drags a zombie cable car operator into one of the remaining cars. Swatting away the zombies arms, he finds the activation wand and sets the cable car into motion. Arradon fires a duo of arrows to take down the undead dwarves around Morningstar while Seraphina unleashes a barrage of magic missiles at the plagueomancer herself. No sooner do the bolts of energy hit their mark than the aasimar dives down to the fallen Morningstar, healing him just enough to bring him back to consciousness.

Geandur, filled with rage and a lust for vengeance, rockets across the expanse of coal and slams into the tiefling. The two of them tumble over the other side of the trawler, both managing to catch themselves on the side. Geandur recklessly lashes out with a hand axe, landing a blow and managing not to plummet to the ground below. Meanwhile, the zombie miners have begun climbing up the wall towards Arradon, as well as aboard Othfir's cable car. Othfir uses the undead operator as a plow and knocks most of the zombies off, but a couple remain holding on to the edge. As the dwarven barbarian dances around on rotten fingers, he shouts for Arradon to hurry up and climb on the cable car. Quick as one of his own arrow's, Arradon dashes through the throng of zombies, catching hold of the ankle of one of the miners clinging to Othfir's cable car. Between the two of them, they're able to rid the car of their undead foes.

Seraphina flies back up to aid her allies on the trawler, while Morningstar heals himself with both potion and spell. Holding out his sacred shield, he unleashes a dome of heavenly energy, filling the zombies with fear. Up on the trawler, the tiefling takes an easy arrow from Quinn before vanishing in another toxic cloud and appearing back on the trawler. Geandur climbs back aboard and positions himself with his enemy between him and Quinn. The tiefling takes another stab from Quinn before turning to Geandur. Breathing heavily and bleeding profusely, she tells him she hopes he'll think on what she said and that perhaps they'd meet again. With that she vanishes in another necrotic cloud.

The plague mistress has disappeared from view, but the telltale sound of friction reaches Seraphina's ears and she watches their foe slide down a cable towards the swarm of zombies. Othfir and Arradon spot her and with a characteristic calm and immense skill, the elf fires an arrow and the form of the tiefling drops from the cable into the mass of zombies.

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Chapter 14: Buzzkill Mountain

Another long rattling ride on the Deepcore Transit lies between the heroes and Palefort. After the cramped hours finally pass, the heroes are directed to a zigzagging stairway carved into the stone wall. They reach the surface and find themselves gazing up at a huge statue of a dwarf hewn from the mountain itself. The dwarf leans upon a shield, which is split down the middle to form a great open doorway. As the heroes approach the gate to Palefort, a dwarven guard asks their business. Seraphina explains the potential threat and that they are backed by the council, so the guard hands her a dark, glowing orb. With instructions to head to the Palefort Citadel, the heroes enter the city.

The city of Palefort is hewn completely out of the stone of the mountain. Stone roads lead to various homes and buildings, but are surrounded by precarious darkness. Mine carts and cable cars are quite commonplace, allowing dwarves to travel more easily to the multi-leveled roads. Dim light emanates from stones embedded in the rock around them. The heroes stand out among the dwarven citizens, who cast them dour stares. Othfir explains, however, that the dwarves of Palefort are all just naturally grouchy. Soon enough, they arrive at the Palefort Citadel, a three-story building that marks the high point of the city beneath the mountain. Once inside, the heroes make their way through dwarves carrying armfuls of scrolls and stop at a long desk at the back of the hall. The dwarves seated there are busy stamping documents and one looks up at the towering visitors.

In a very brief exchange, Seraphina hands the dwarven clerk the glowing orb, which is exchanged for a small stone tablet engraved with a dwarvish symbol. The clerk points at a door and the heroes approach, Othfir dropping the stone tablet into a slot allowing them entrance. Two flights of stairs later and the heroes are in a very plain stone waiting room. After an awkwardly silent fifteen minutes, the heroes are allowed access into the only office in the room. Waiting for them is Grehlm Frostpeak, Lord of Palefort. Frostpeak is exceedingly tall for a dwarf, rising higher even than the five foot Morningstar. He is dressed in grey, yet impressive, robes and his blue-grey hair and beard flow like a tide of thick, silken spiderwebs. His office is large, but mostly empty, save for his desk several chairs, a shelf topped with a few books, various scrolls, a beautiful axe, and a glowing blue orb atop the desk.

The frowning Frostpeak invites the party to sit, despite the shortage of chairs, and asks their business. Seraphina informs  him of the potential threat and the council’s support, but she is not met with cooperation. Frostpeak instead tonelessly asks for proof, and barely listening to the aasimar’s response, tells them that the city’s guards cannot be spared for every slight scare. He allows them to conduct their investigation though assures them that they will not be provided support from the guards and warns against interrupting the routine flow in which Palefort operates. The atmosphere becomes a little tense when Geandur starts getting sassy, but Seraphina is able to usher the barbarian from the room with the rest of the party. In the hurried, unfriendly exit, Quinn can’t help himself and snatches the glowing blue orb from Frostpeak’s desk, stuffing it in his robes before anyone else can notice.

The heroes get directions to the Sconce & Cinder, the largest of the city’s inns. While Morningstar does some worshipping in his room, the rest of the heroes grab a drink. Geandur chats up some dwarven ladies, blending flirting and investigation. Meanwhile, Othfir talks to the bartender. They both end up with similar stories: a human woman with black curly hair was inquiring about the popular areas in Palefort. Her forehead was obscured by her bangs and she didn’t stay at the inn. Geandur recognizes the description as the human form of the tiefling plagueomancer. On the advice of the bartender, the heroes leave to inspect the entrance to the mines, deeper into the mountain. The entrance is a great stone precipice lined with cable cars. As the miners are between shifts, the cable car operators stand waiting. The heroes are denied entry to the mines, but do receive confirmation that a human woman was spotted nearby the day before.

Geandur and Quinn go back to the Sconce & Cinder, for more in-flirt-stigation and to inspect the stolen blue orb, respectively. The rest of the heroes try to find any sign of their infectious foe. Barely visible is a set of human footprints, but there is little to gain as they quickly blend in with the hundreds of dwarven bootprints. Eventually, half of the cable cars descend into the abyss to retrieve the day shift miners. Quinn learns from an elderly wizard shopkeep that the orb is a communication device and leaves the stolen property there to have the enchantment on it reset. The thief joins the throngs of miners, as does Geandur, as they all head towards the entrance to the mines.

Before too long, the heroes are surrounded by dwarves, the day-shift miners heading back to the city and the night-shift miners crowding in to descend for a long night’s work. Arradon, spotting a rocky outcropping high above them, gets Othfir’s assistance to hurl his grappling hook up to the potential sentry-point. Unfortunately, as the elf swings out over the unending darkness, the hook breaks loose and begins to slide. Arradon is able to use his momentum to swing back to his comrades before the hook drops from the platform above and plummets into the abyss. Othfir laments the loss of the hook with the discouraged elf, while the passing miners shake their heads at the odd behavior. Geandur arrives and begins to emit echoing squeaks into the air. Seraphina asks what the hell he was doing and he explains he was telling the bats to keep an eye out for their quarry.

The dwarven riptide continues and the heroes desperately scan the crowd for any sign of the tiefling. Suddenly, shrieks filter down from the bats above. Geandur translates – “She’s here!” The barbarian spots her, a cloaked figure crouching among the dwarves, black hair flowing from the hood. Quinn, following Geandur’s outstretched finger, dives into the swarm of dwarves. At the same time, Geandur lets out more squeaks, instructing the bats to attack the hooded figure. As the heroes try and push their way through the seemingly endless flow of miners, bats begin dropping out of the sky, targeting no one in particular, but causing mass chaos among the unsuspecting dwarves. Quinn reaches the human figure and realizes he has no idea who this person is or why he’s chasing her. Instinct takes over and he swipes a nasty-looking dagger from the figure’s belt.

Desperate, Geandur shouts at Quinn to stop her. The figure turns, revealing a woman’s face suddenly fraught with confusion and panic. Quinn tries out his new dagger and sinks the blade into the woman’s side. Clutching her wound, the woman stumbles through the mob of bat-swatting dwarves. Quinn is right on her tail and the two reach an empty cable car. Othfir joins them as the woman reaches up and makes a twisting motion with her hand. The grips holding the car to the cable explode and the lift is suddenly only hanging by one support. Seraphina and Morningstar leap into the dangling car as gravity takes over and the whole structure hurtles down the cable and into the darkness.

Geandur and Arradon push their way to the nearest cable car and force their way aboard. The operator heeds Geandur’s demand to descend after the falling car and pulls a lever. The car’s top speed, however, is actually pretty slow, and Geandur loses his temper. Swinging his sword in a raging arc, he first strikes fruitlessly at the grip and follows up with a slash at the cable itself. The blade slices through cleanly and the cable car begins to plummet. Geandur quickly takes hold of the cable, as well as Arradon’s arm. The operator isn’t so lucky and disappears into the darkness with the falling cable car. Darkness also awaits the two heroes, however, as the swinging cable takes them deeper and deeper into the cold abyss.

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Chapter 13: One Stop Shop

Surrounded by the remains of the gnolls, our heroes approach the travelers. In charmingly simple accents, they express their gratitude and aim to be on their way. Geandur and Seraphina, however, find their demeanor suspicious. While questions are asked about the cargo and their destination, Morningstar sneakily cures one of the heavy gashes on the bloodiest man. This confuses the fellow, but his slight relief is short-lived; for Geandur begins punching the men in the face to get answers. Seraphina plays good cop and tells them that everything is ok, that they can talk freely without consequence, and eventually, one of the men confesses that they stole the wagon and its contents from a dwarf coming from Lodegrove.

The heroes refuse to split the cargo with the thieves and make them a deal. They can leave with their lives, but they will leave with nothing else. As they walk sadly into the woods, Othfir yells at them to find jobs in Mossington. The heroes split up between the two wagons, though Quinn is forbidden from riding in the wagon with the sack of gems. Before long, they come across a sullen dwarf sitting on a stump. The dwarf’s name is Urgreth and he is the owner of the stolen cart and goods. He was headed to the council with his delivery, but the heroes convince him to return to Lodegrove with them so he can get an entourage.

They soon reach a clearing and are met with the sight of beautifully hewn stone houses and buildings, the city of Lodegrove. At Geandur’s request, Urgreth drops them off at the blacksmith forge, a circular building with smoke issuing from the hole in the center. The grateful dwarf bids them farewell and tosses them an emerald as a token of appreciation. Quinn snatches the gem out of the air before anyone else can react. The rest of the heroes allow him to hold on to it and they all head into the forge.

Upon entering, Geandur asks for Durged. There are a trio of dwarves inside, two of which look to the muscle-bound smith in the center hammering on an anvil. The renowned blacksmith Durged stops hammering and strolls out to meet the heroes. Geandur hands him a note he got from the blacksmith in Tanivas. Durged nods and accepts the note’s counterpart, a wrapped parcel. The smith says it will take a few days to attune and suggests the heroes have a look around. The heroes are all too happy to do so. Geandur places another order for armor that resists necrotic spells and leaves the blacksmith his axe to see if he can make it cancel magic. He also purchases a holy bastard sword. Othfir buys The Fury Club, a horned hammer that is fueled by rage. Morningstar buys a suit of armor that can absorb ice attacks. Quinn buys a dagger of flame and Arradon places an order for a grappling hook.

After departing, the heroes locate the resident enchanter, who resides in a stone dome. The dome is topped with a chintzy gem that rotates just above the stone, all the while playing the smooth tunes of dwarven crooner, Fronk Stonatra. The inside of the dome has been magically bleached white and several counters are topped with various gems, rings, and other sorts of jewelry. The enchanter, Willard, greets the heroes, sporting a pair of thick spectacles and white shocks of beard and hair. Seraphina is far more interested in these wares than the blacksmith’s and readies her coin purse. While she shops, Quinn buys a brooch to help resist magic and Arradon has Willard enchant his bow. After selling the emerald to Willard, Seraphina purchases an amulet to boost her magical power, a few rings to store spells in, a poison spray ring, and commissions the enchanter to weave in a magical resistance to her cloak.

After their shopping spree, the heroes decide to relax for the evening before setting out the next morning to Palefort. Geandur finds himself at The Boot’s Bottom, a popular inn and tavern filled with raucous and inebriated dwarves. He spends the night being outdrunk by the dwarves and loving every minute. The other heroes head to The Gricksbane Inn, another inn and tavern built around a massive preserved worm-like grick. The barkeep entertains the patrons with an oft-told exaggerated story of how he slew the very grick of the inn’s namesake. Othfir follows up the story with one of his own war stories of spiders and illithids and blood galore. Arradon, Seraphina, and Morningstar sip on their beverages while Othfir and Quinn guzzle theirs, and the evening ends in Othfir inquiring about Morningstar’s diety and Seraphina meeting Quinn’s pet mouse, Kitsa.

The next morning, the heroes meet up in the city and Othfir has a hearty laugh at Geandur covered in scribed dwarven swears, slurs, and other such insults. They head to the center of the city, reaching the massive pit where the miners work, as well as the station for the Deepcore Transit. A dwarf at the station loads the heroes up in a large minecart and magically propels the cart into the darkness of the underground. The rushing wind and subtle grind of the cart’s wheels eventually become background noise; many hours later, the cart slows and the heroes arrive at a station perched on a stone column that descends into the abyss. A friendly dwarf named Wrodi greets them and begins the process of switching the cart to the track to Palefort. As they talk with Wrodi, the heroes stretch their legs and hope they can reach Palefort in time.

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Chapter 12: Visions And Violence

Following the horrific events at the Tanivas medical center, our heroes get a bite to eat. They decide the best course of action is to take their disembodied hand to Razmus for further information and disposal. They plan to leave the next morning, but before turning in, Othfir stops at D'Arvin's shop to pick up his experimental javelin. D'Arvin calls it the backfire javelin which is capable of launching its tip upon impact. Geandur also makes a stop at the local blacksmith to pick up a mysterious parcel. 

The next morning, the heroes gather at their wagon and hitch up their faithful steeds, Clip-Clop and Really Quiet. However, they notice a strange bundle in the back of the cart. Geandur begins prodding the bundle and discovers that it is a young man. Geandur picks him up and shakes him while the others ask why he's hiding in their wagon. The fellow's name is Quinn and, moments before, had pickpocketed someone and hid in the wagon for safety. The heroes don't trust him, but they agree to smuggle him out of the city when Arradon has a sense of familiarity about him. 

The heroes hide Quinn under some stanky orc blankets and armor, and they leave the city without further incident. When Seraphina finally lets Quinn come out from the wagon, the thief smells just as bad as the blankets. They all arrive at The Eye Of The Sphinx as the sun is beginning to set. Spoon stops gardening to give them a wave and goes to fetch Razmus himself. The wizard greets the heroes and they explain they've got more contaminated body parts to destroy. While Quinn stands nervously to the side, they also ask if he can determine how the disease started. In a happy coincidence, a friend of Razmus is currently visiting and may have the means to shed some light on the situation. 

The heroes meet Tathelle, an older human woman, dark of skin and light of hair, and all have a dinner of rabbit stew. Tathelle has them all gather outside and sit in a circle and begins to conduct a druidic seance centered on the decomposing hand. The heroes' minds are transported to a place above the earth where they gaze upon a mountain range. A blur of motion and the viewpoint is now on a path on one of the mountains. A hooded figure walks ahead of them and another shift in viewpoint reveals the face of a tiefling woman with a familiar symbol carved into her forehead. The vision zooms out again, revealing that the tiefling is on her way to Palefort, a dwarven mountain city built into the rock itself. 

 As the vision dissipates, Geandur silently fumes at having seen the face of his true enemy. Othfir knows of Palefort, home of Vlad Quartzblood of the council and that there is an underground transport system the dwarves use to connect their cities. This would make the quickest route to Palefort a seemingly out-of-the-way trip through Lodegrove.

Tathelle tells the heroes of plagueomancy, a primarily dark form of magical study that was most certainly used in creating the degenerative disease the heroes witnessed. She also mentions that a mutual cohort of both her and Razmus is a studier of plagueomancy. The elf goes by the name Carro and is somewhat of a nomad, constantly moving to spread his healing. With this knowledge, the heroes head to sleep, planning to journey to Lodegrove in the morning. 

After a myconid-prepared breakfast, the heroes set off towards Lodegrove. Around midday, Morningstar and Quinn hear the sounds of combat up ahead. Ignoring Quinn's protests, the heroes speed up and soon find the source of the noise. Four men and a wagon are surrounded by a pack of seven ravenous gnolls. Arradon pulls the wagon off the road, out of sight, and the good samaritans dash into the fray. 

Geandur shrugs off his thick wool jacket and runs headlong into the back of a gnoll with his sword. The creature scrabbles at the blade protruding from its chest, while Arradon looses two arrows into the backs of two more of the monsters. Morningstar ensnares a fourth gnoll with a net arrow, and Othfir and Seraphina run to combat the savages head on. While Othfir swings at a particularly swift gnoll, Seraphina takes a look inside the wagon for any more people. She sees a pile of beautiful swords and a sack of sparking gemstones. She finds this odd, but one of the wagonmen moves to nervously block her view as he fires his crossbow into a nearby gnoll. 

Arradon and Quinn pepper the gnolls with arrows while Geandur unleashes his lion totem rage.  He slices down, disemboweling the skewered gnoll before him. A quick movement and his sword finds purchase through the mouth of another of the beasts. The barbarian cleaves upward, splitting the gnoll's head in two and rushes to his next quarry. While the ensnared gnoll rips his way out of the net, Geandur engages his next victim in a storm of whirling steel. The gnoll effectively sliced into cubes, the barbarian finishes his massacre by impaling one of the unfortunate creatures to the ground and following up with a final stomp to its skull. The heroes win the day, finishing the battle as one of the wagonmen stabs an arrow-filled gnoll, and Othfir blasts the lower jaw from the remaining beast with a toxic blow from his hammer.

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Chapter 11: Home Sick

The morning after the rescue of the town of Mossington, the heroes awaken having slept fitfully. Seraphina finds herself severely hungover; Othfir, however, is on the other side of the scale, mopping up the spilled ale in the Hearty Haybale with a mop and squeezing the dregs into his mouth. Geandur attempts to cheer up one of Mossington’s ladies with a little seduction, but she is not in the mood and word spreads among the women to avoid any so called help from the barbarian. One of the council dwarves is preparing to report back to the council and Seraphina stops to send another message. She had a dream of toxic fog in ominous shapes. The dwarf promises to deliver the message and heads out.

Meanwhile Geandur has come across the mourning widow of the late mayor. He is able to distract her for a little by asking about the history of Mossington. She tells him the legend of Mossington’s beginning. The story says that a heroic halfling was in the midst of battle, and in his greatest moment of need, he called out to the halfling goddess of the heavens for aid. The goddess sent the stars themselves to scourge the halfling’s enemies. The battle won, the stars left their mark upon the land that would become Mossington and took the form of the fruits that grow among the buildings.

Balas, sporting the world’s biggest shiner, has instructed Willander to remain in Mossington with one of the groups of archers, while he and Orpec return to Tanivas with the rest of their company to report. The heroes decide to join them and bid farewell to the halflings, promising that they will overcome this tragedy.Balas spends the journey mostly in silence, not even noticing that Geandur had swiped his majestic red cloak.The heroes out of either pity or spite talk just loud anough about how great the plan was that Balas came up with.

A day or so later, they allarrive at Tanivas. They are met immediately by Pilau with her bodyguards. The heroes report on the horrific events of Mossington, Othfir describing his own violent killings of the orcs in great detail. They give Balas credit for the plan, though Geandur whispers to the mayor that she should strongly consider who she trusts in her leadership roles. The heroes then head into town to replenish supplies and in some cases, treat hangovers. Arradon, Morningstar, and Othfir stop in at D’Arvin’s Arrow Shack where Arradon and Morningstar have the gnome create some toxic arrows with the venom they harvested from the scorpion. Othfir asks if the crafty gnome can make some improvements on a javelin, a challenge that D’Arvin wholeheartedly accepts. Meanwhile Geandur asks the town blacksmith if he can work with  the late Tym’s twisted metal blade, as well as the scorpion armor. The blacksmith says he’ll see what he can do.

Seraphina, having eaten a lettuce-wrapped slice of lamb from Mutton To Hide, is no longer feeling hungover, but is still feeling  lost and worn out by all the bloodshed. She goes to the pastures and sits among the oversized sheep. She removes the vial of myconid spores from her bag and gazes at it curiously. She lets a small puff out of the vial, inhaling it. Moments later she hears a couple disembodied voices. The voices speak to no one in particular about how wonderful grass is and how they hope not to be shorn since the weather is getting cold. Flummoxed, Seraphina projects a question in her mind, asking the speakers to stand up. The voices delightfully claim that they’re already standing.  As the voices fade, Seraphina looks around for any myconids, but only sees Geandur approaching.

Geandur drops down next to her and starts up a conversation about her magical skill and his mistrust of magic. The young aasimar isn’t really in the mood to talk to the bloodthirsty barbarian, but having no energy to argue talks a little bit about the mysterious nature of her powers. The conversation turns to the bloody nature of their journey and Geandur reassures Seraphina that killing will get easier. This dowsn’t comfort her much, but Geandur promises to teach her ways to hold up mentally and emotionally against the horrors of battle.

While Othfir drinks himself to satisfaction, Geandur heads to the local brothel and Seraphina gathers Morningstar and Arradon to check on the diseased patient. Fenton Kutcher says the patient has bled some more and has recently started rasping wordlessly. The heroes take a look for themselves and find that his right hand is also twitching, fingers stretching erratically. Seraphina hands Kutcher a quill and asks if maybe the poor fellow is trying to communicate something. The doc suits up in his plague-doctor gear and walks warily through the two doors into the quarantined room. The quill is placed into the twitching hand. Seconds later, the arm shoots out, lashing out at Kutcher with the quill. Kutcher freaks and scrambles out into the hallway, slamming the two doors behind him. The heroes then watch in horror as the handrips itself from its arm and begins scuttling around the room. Seraphina runs off to find Geandur, the team’s resident disease expert.

The poor teen has to search the brothel to find Geandur, who is enjoying a lap dance at the time. Seraphina gives the dancer a gold piece and tells her to leave. She complies and Geandur grumpily asks her what the deal is. She finally convinces him to come to the lab and they run into a drunken Othfir on their way. While they were gone, the diseased body took another turn for the worse. Its ears had grown and stretched and awful shrieks were coming from its mouth.

Against the groups better judgment, Geandur demands the key from Kutcher and storms into the patient's room, the doors closing behind him. He uses his sword and skewers the disembodied hand. He yells at Kutcher to get a container to put the hand in, while the body continues to shriek. While the doc runs off, Geandur yells at the body to shut up. Instead the body's head pulls itself off the body, continuing the shriek and flail around on the floor. Geandur lights up one of his molotov cocktails and tosses it on the head.

Kutcher returns as the shrill screams die down. He hands Geandur a bucket. The indignant barbarian demands something with a cover like a pickle jar. Soon enough, Kutcher returns with a jar of pickles. The heroes eat the entirety of the pickles, Morningstar downing the remaining juice. Geandur finally stuffs the slightly twitching hand into the jar, and the heroes consider their options after this bizarre incident.

Later that evening, while cleaning the Mossington remnants off, Seraphina realizes that the voices in her head were the giant sheep, and she facepalms, feeling foolish. 

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Chapter 10: Half Baked

Alone on the battlefield, Chief Tym is furious at his comrade's betrayal. He continues slicing at his foes as they surround him. Othfir and Geandur join the attack, trying to bring down the raging chieftain. Seraphina flies off towards the silos to assess the screaming situation. Morningstar spots a cowering dwarf and a couple trembling swordsmen and goes to sort them out. He determines that Chief Gora cast some sort of enchantment on them before peacing out. Arradon finally reenters the fray, having gotten fed up with dealing with Balas and the Tanivese archers. He wastes no time in firing on the massive orc, planting an arrow in Tym's throat. Spotting a familiar opportunity, Othfir hammers the arrow through the chief's neck and finally killing the towering monster.

Meanwhile, Seraphine has discovered three orcs setting fire to the three silos, where the screams are coming from. She uses her celestial presence to try and intimidate them into stopping, but only one orc rides away fearfully on his worg. The other two set their silos ablaze and run to the other side to spread the flames. Seraphina flies after them and releases a wave of thunder, launching the two remaining orcs off their mounts. The arsonists collide with the silos, dying instantly. Unable to sustain her magical wings, Seraphina lands and conjures a juicy steak in the distance to distract the riderless worgs.

The fire is quickly enveloping the two silos. Othfir, Geandur, and Arradon dash towards the scene, the dwarf shouting for the reinforcements to hurry after them. One after another, the two barbarians collide with the door of the center silo, the hinges’ screams joining those of the trapped halflings. Seraphina runs to the unburnt silo and spirals her way up the staircase around it; meanwhile, Arradon takes the third silo and fires a force arrow into the silo’s padlock at point blank range. The resulting wave of force destroys the lock and hurls the elf backwards to the ground. Othfir uses his hammer as a battering ram to finish off the door to the center silo, while Geandur goes to assist Arradon. While a crowd of terrified, and in some cases burning, halflings burst forth around Othfir, Seraphina ties her rope to the stairs and lowers it into the other silo. Unfortunately in her panic, her knot was poorly tied and she watches her rope slide into the silo and disappear from view.

Geandur pulls open the doors to the third silo and finds himself felled by an avalanche of corn. While the corn begins to burn, he realizes that the halflings are still trapped above the corn and can’t get out. Seraphina assures the halflings in her silo that they’ll be alright and runs back down the stairs. At the same time, Othfir is on Halfling-extinguishing duty, using his new thick jacket to put out several of the fiery halflings. Geandur pulls himself out of the corn and ascends the stairs to his silo. Arradon moves in to replace him and start shoveling out corn, but loses his footing and falls into the cooking kernels. A quick game of musical silos is played, as Seraphina moves to the center silo, Othfir moves to the corn avalanche, and Arradon runs to the unburnt silo. All the while, Geandur has tied his rope to his waste and is impatiently dangling the end of it to the halflings within. Unfortunately, they cannot hold their footing on the slowly sinking corn and they cannot get ahold of the rope. As he pulls up the rope, shaking his head, Seraphina uses her frost ray to extinguish the flames on the center silo. Arradon uses another force arrow to blast the lock on the untouched silo, this time ready for the thrill of being thrown back by the wave of energy. Othfir yells at the reinforcements to hurry while he shovels handfuls of corn out from the silo.

Before long, the flow of corn turns to a flow of halflings and everyone is back on extinguishing duty. Finally, once the halflings and silos are no longer on fire, the heroes, reinforcements, and horrified citizens make their way back into the town. Cleanup and consolations fill the streets. The barbarians begin burning the orc bodies, Othfir swiping Tym’s top hat as a souvenir before rolling his huge corpse into the flames. Arradon finds a young halfling consoling her brethren and asks what happened before they were locked in the silos. She relates the surprise attack that the orcs sprung, leaving them no chance to get word out for help. She heard them talking about making Mossington a base of operations centered in the town hall. The elf gives her his well wishes and gathers the heroes to head to the town hall.

Before they reach the town’s largest building, they run into Balas and the rest of the Tanivese archers. Seraphina immediately goes off on the leader of the bowmen and before Balas can truly protest, Geandur gives him a hearty sock in the jaw and knocks him out cold. Willander laughs at this, telling the heroes they’ve all wanted to do that for ages. He then apologizes, explaining that Balas was set on waiting for the orcs to come to them instead of advancing. The archers join the rest of the town with the cleanup while the heroes enter the town hall. The main chamber appears to have been set up for a feast. Ale is splattered around the room, food litters the floors, and chairs lie from corner to corner. The horror hits them when they realize that orcs had also been feasting on the halflings themselves.

The heroes post a few of the swordsmen outside to keep any halflings from seeing the carnage while they clean up the chamber. However, the remnants of the orcs’ brutality is too much for Seraphina and she finally succumbs to the overwhelming amount of bloodshed. Geandur leaves her his flask of whiskey and while her wails echo around the hall, the other heroes go outside to meet with a trio of halflings that have come to speak to them. The young woman who Arradon spoke to is there, along with an overall-clad farmer and a weeping woman with curly grey-brown hair. The young woman explains that weeping one is the mayor's wife, now a widow after the orc invasion. Geandur gives the mourning halfling a hug while the other two halflings address whether or not they should stay in Mossington, since it may not be safe anymore. The young woman, Dyla, thinks they should leave, but the farmer seems content to stay in their town. The heroes give them encouragement, telling them that they will get through this tragedy with the help from their allies, Tanivas and the council. This seems to put Dyla at ease. The bawling of Seraphina cuts out momentarily, when she drunkenly transports herself to the astral plane unintentionally. A minute later she returns, still immensely tearful, and the heroes escort her to the town's inn. The innkeeper was another casualty so the heroes make themselves comfortable. However, comfort remains elusive as the orcs have raided all the food and ale in the building. Othfir curses the existence of every orc in the universe as his hunger screams in fury.

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Chapter 9: The Battle Of Mossington, Part 2

The battle is raging. The heroes are faced with an orc, two worgs, and a massive unfettered scorpion. Seraphina, still hovering over the battle, casts a phantom illusion deep into the brain of the scorpion. Unbeknownst to the rest of the crew, the scorpion believes it is buried under a massive avalanche. To them the creature is only twitching and flailing about. Geandur and Morningstar exchange blows with the worgs and remaining orc. Morningstar also releases a bout of healing magic and his allies begin to feel renewed. Othfir, who was out of range of any healing, feels renewed in a different way, as he exacts his brutal revenge on his orc attacker, knocking him over and obliterating his skull. Soon enough, the only hostile creature in their vicinity is the scorpion, still flailing pathetically. As Geandur and Othfir approach the large struggling insect, an uncharacteristically harsh voice bursts from Seraphina, demanding that the scorpion remain untouched. Slightly unnerved, they turn towards the center of town.

The sounds of battle draw the heroes in. Othfir shouts for the archers to advance and angrily swats at some flowers. Geandur dashes right into the center of the main street of Mossington, switching from his sword to his axe. He finds himself in the midde of a group of dastardly orcs, including each chief of the two orc tribes. The chief of the Slashed Skull tribe is mountainous. He is surrounded by reinforcements from the council, but the men and dwarves seem to be no match for the chief. The chief of the Red Fist wields a barbed whip and with an orcish shout, conjures a bed of spikes amongst the reinforcements. Geandur soon finds himself surrounded as well by orcs and worgs alike. Meanwhile, Morningstar and Othfir climb onto the rooftops, while Arradon goes to see what’s taking the archers so long. A peculiar discovery is made however; amongst the moss on the rooftops, small fruits appear to be growing. Both Morningstar and Othfir have a taste and feel renewed and invigorated respectively.

Othfir looks down at the battle below. He sets down his hammer, hops onto its head, and then hops off the roof itself. One of the council swordsmen is shocked when one of his orcish opponents disappears beneath the weight of a dwarven barbarian riding his hefty hammer. Geandur, meanwhile, dodges and parries attack after attack from the orcs. But one can’t block forever and he takes a slash from behind. Morningstar draws one of his force arrows and fires it into the throng surrounding Geandur. The resulting wave throws orc, worg, and Geandur backward onto the ground and into walls. This frees up the barbarian to face the chief of the Red Fist. The wiry orc shaman looks Geandur in the eye and in a voice rippling with magic speaks the word, “Run”. The magical command fails to take hold in the barbarian’s mind, and Geandur simply stares at the chief, asking, “What?”.

The throng of orcs begins picking themselves off of the ground, but Seraphina summons a powerful sleep, and three of the orcs topple back over in slumber. The Red Fist chief climbs to the roof of the nearest house and, seeing the turning tides of battle, shouts to his fellow orcs to go burn the silos. Two orcs hop on their worgs and ride off to do as they've been told. Morningstar has since fallen from the roof and has acquired some orc attackers. One is killed on the spot as Othfir uses his battering ram to launch the orc-sized ragdoll across the cobblestone street. Seraphina, still floating in radiant majesty, unleashes a barrage of magic missiles, pummeling the chief of the Red Fist. Geandur climbs onto the roof to finish the job, while Morningstar blasts the other chief with a bolt of energy.

The chief of the Red Fist sees that the odds are not in his favor. He creates another patch of spikes, killing one of his own orcs, and looks at Geandur with a glint in his eye. He shouts to Chief Tym, the hulking top-hatted orc, wishing him luck and offering half-hearted apologies. With that he jumps off the roof. Upon landing on the ground, the chief turns to stone. With horror and frustration, the heroes watch as the stone orc blows away into sand. Despite being surrounded by the corpses of his foes, Chief Tym curses his counterpart's name, Chief Gora. As the angry shouts of Tym pierce the air, another horrid sound joins the chorus. The sound of screams flow through the air, coming from the direction of the silos.

 

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