RECAP: BDC, 7-30-21

Life was proceeding normally in White Moon Cove. Down the coast road, along the Wolverton Road, the cove militia worked to clear the incipient jungle from encroaching too far on the rutted paths. It’s late in the afternoon, and the merchants in the marketplace were taking down their booths for the evening.

Jarlebanke and Shepherd were in the Sleeping Triton, whiling away the hours playing the weekly games of chess.

[8 is the marketplace; 3 is the Sleeping Triton]

Sonja was making his way back home from another day at the mines, when he smelled something. ‘Wat’s dat, now,’ the dwarf murmured to himself. His eyes sought the source of the sent, and it was only moments before he saw the telltale column of black smoke that struck fear in every villager’s heart: burning thatch.

“Fire!” he yelled. “Some’un hail the militia!” Sonja ran over, and as he did, he heard echoing cries. “Fire,” of course, as others noticed the flames. But soon another cry was heard: “Orcs!” The Cove’s old enemy had returned, the Lonely Coast orcs, who had been repulsed and thought dispersed less than three years past.

Soon the cries could be heard even over the noise of the Triton’s common room. Shepheard heard it first, as Jarlebanke concentrated on his next move. “Can you hear it?” the cleric asked his friend. “Someone’s cried orc! We must retrieve the militia!” Both jumped from their seats, along with most of the Trion’s patrons, and ran outside.

And so it was: orcs had attacked the southwest side of town, and two cottages were already in flames. Townsfolk had tried to defend themselves, but the orcs were getting the better of them. Sonja, axe in hand, charged with a dwarven oath and struck down the orc nearest him, cleaving the creature nearly in twain. Shepherd and Jarlebanke stepped toward the fracas, both of a mind to put of the fires, but the orcs blocked their way. Jarlebanke’s magic missile spell only drew their attention. A hulking orc closed and dealt Shepherd a significant blow, nearly knocking him senseless. He retreated, but an arrow seemingly from nowhere pierced the orc’s skull.

It was a strenuous fracas and not without some setbacks for the villagers, but soon the orcs retreated in the face of casualties, determined resistance and a well-placed Fireball that only could have come from Jarlebanke’s erstwhile mentor, Corwyn Redcrow. It took a couple hours more to fight the fires and treat the wounded. Several townsfolk had perished, known to and mourned by all.

Late into the night, the town council met to discuss the incursion – their naïve assumptions that the coast orcs had learned their less two and a half years ago had been abruptly, and bloodily, refuted. They also had further, and grimmer news: nearly a score of villagers, including Sonja’s little brother and sister, and Jarlebanke’s sister, had been abducted by the orcs, presumably to end up slaves to some orcish hetman – if they managed to avoid an even worse fate.

“This is atypical for coast orcs – they may murder, but they never have taken captives,” one councilor observed. “Something must have changed.”

Sonja and Jarlebanke were, unsurprisingly, first to volunteer to give chase and, if possible, retrieve the captives. But neither was skilled at tracking. “Fear not – we have great trackers in the militia, and you shall be accompanied by the best,” assured the council. Several militia members had already stepped forward to accompany the aggrieved siblings.

There was more news: Prunus – known locally as Sweet Peach, a young woman who worked as a fishmonger – declared that she’d seen several villagers skulking into the forest very near where the orcs had later escaped. No one spoke but the implication was there: villagers – our friends, colleagues, family – may have been in league with the orcs.

Simon the tracker sought out the trail immediately, but there was almost nothing that could be seen before first light. The rest of the group took the opportunity to gather up supplies and equipment, as an orc hunt can (reportedly) be a multi-day affair. While they prepared, the council finished its enumeration of the missing villagers: an even score, nearly 5% of the town’s population. The council made it’s wishes quite clear: get them back or get vengeance on their abductors. Both, if possible.

By dawnlight, Simon was able to determine that there were tracks going both directions – orc and human footprints, travelling north along the coast road on the coast side. The sound of waves bracketed the group as they searched. Eventually, the beach hove into view, and the tracks led onto and down the beach. Here the tracks changed: Simon could tell that less than 20 people stayed back near the beach edge, while a significant number more went down to the waterline. Sweet Peach looked out to sea – her sight was excellent – and she said she could see two ships, lanterns alight, just near the horizon.

“They’re headed east,” she said. “They’re small boats, not caravels or longships. They’re too small to venture out into the depths of the Jerlea Bay. They’ll hug the coast.” She frowned. “Not as many know this, but word is that piracy and slave-taking has increased along the coast.” Sweet Peach’s frown became more pronounced. “We were easy pickings.”

Simon had picked up the trail, many booted feet heading inland, and since they group had no boat to give chase, they chose to follow the orcs, both to exact their vengeance and maybe gain some intelligence as to the location and motivation of the slave-takers. The trail led northward, angling back into the jungle. As they followed the trail, Shepherd realized the lands they were headed into.

“These are orc lands,” he said quietly. “Attacking the orcs in their home territory might bring the lot of them down upon us. We should observe only – no attacks.”

Izmet, a hulking swordsman marked by his slowness to talk, spoke up here. “I make no promises,” he glowered. But Shepherd was right: attacking the orcs here would bring down whatever tribemates they had in the region. Vengeance is sweet but throwing away their lives on a fool’s errand was simply stupid. Reluctantly, they turned back for the Cove. Revenge would have to wait.

Back at White Moon Cove, none could speak of anything but the previous day’s raid. A comprehensive list of the kidnapped had been compiled and it was as they had suspect: no children or elderly had been taken, young men and women, and strong adults, had been taken – prime slaving stock. Jarlebanke consulted his father, a lifelong fisherman, about what Sweet Peach had said about the boats. That information, plus the assertion that they were coastal vessels, put the old man in mind of the river, down the coast. He would take them there, if they wished, his father said. Shepherd asked his high priestess if she would consult Desna on the question, but ultimately discarded the idea.  

To the river, then. Once they arrived, Simon ranged the south bank, while the rest searched the northern edge, all seeking evidence that the slavers has passed this way. As the group made their way inland, they saw that the river widened significant a few miles from the coast, essentially forming a small lake. Sweet Peach, her eyes always the best in the group, spotted a dark patch on the far bank that, she speculated, could be a cave mouth.

Only fools rush in, and the men and women of White Moon Cove are no fools. They made their way quietly around to the other side of the lake, tantamount to the cave entrance (for that was indeed what it was – Sweet Peach’s eyes did not lie) and set up camp, observing the cave entrance all the while. While some rested and kept watch, others built a small but sturdy raft, and cut poles to propel it. This would get them, silently and unseen, to the cave.

At dawn they approached the cave, with the sun at their backs, and floated surreptitiously inside. The waterway widened inside the cave, and as the group’s eyes slowly acclimatized to the dim interior, they saw a dark beach at the rear of the cave. Sonja’s eyes, better used to the darkness that was prevalent underground, spotted them first: two boats, whaleboat-sized, tied to rock outcroppings on the beach. Their governing ropes were tight with the lackluster river’s tide. The beach itself was of coarse, muddy sand, and it wasn’t long before Simon discovered an extravaganza of tracks – prisoners for the most part but interspersed with a fair amount of booted prints. Not orc, Simon said. Human boot prints. But overall, not as many tracks as what he has seen at the beach. And here, there were also the telltale middling drag marks of shackles.

The prints led to a wooden door embedded in the clammy stone of the cave wall, a strange sight but one that told the group they were on the right track. Past it was a passage, which led to a large room with a massive stalagmite in the center of it. Another door, at the far end of the cave, gave mute testimony as to where the creatures who had made the tracks had gone. Nearby, however, some noticed a change in their – a small, faint but acrid and distasteful, coming from a nearby tunnel.

“Troglodytes?” asked Sonja

“There are no trog tracks…?” said Simon.

The door, surreally, had a three-key lock, something more accustomed to an aristocrat’s jewelry chest than a cave, and a desultory light seeped from under it. Sweet Peach pulled out a roll of chamois, laid it open on the ground, and extracted a long metal hook. More than one eyebrow was raised in response, but she bent to the locks with a sense of skill and experience. Simon covered her back, while the rest of the group took a moment to investigate the tunnel from which the nose-twisting odor originated. Even as they approached, Sweet Peach’s ministrations somehow caught on a hidden mechanism, and a low but strangely musical chime rang out. That was all it took to bring forth the troglodytes that had been hiding down the tunnel, filling their cold cavern air with their repugnant smell.

The battle with the trogs was a chaotic affair, vicious and not without some errors. In one instance, Sweet Peach (who had heretofore shown an unexpected level of practicality and competence) put an arrow shot into Sonja’s backside. But soon the trogs were dispatched, and Izmet scouted their fragrant redoubt, finding a rearward tunnel that led back to the beach. Sweet Peach again bent her efforts against the three-lock seal, eventually teasing the last one open.

Beyond the extravagantly locked door was a room containing a large pool and little else. Another door could be seen on the left side, accessible by a path round the pool, and on the right, a passage of rough-hewn stone led further in that direction. The tracks, which Simon could still easily read, went in the latter direction, and the group followed them, eschewing the door. As they made their way down the tunnel, the passageway floor turned from sand and worn limestone to solid worked stone, ramping upward into the heart of the hill. The stone, dark gray shale by the look of it, echoed menacingly under Sonja’s boots.

“I ken a wee bit of smoak ahaid,” whispered Sonja as his peered over the lip of the ramp. In response, a guttural squeak emitted from beyond, jabbering to unseen interlocutors. “Gobs, begorrah!” Sonja yelled, and charged up the ramp, singing dwarven killing oaths. All followed and found themselves in a largish chamber, festooned with small, filthy bedding and acrawl with goblins. Six charged the group, chittering ferally, while four others nocked short, bent, poorly fletched arrows onto the sinews of small, twisty bows. Goblins they were, defending their lair, and they fought hard but ultimately fell to the group’s tender mercies.