Fall of the Warlock Kings

Race for Dragon's Howe
In which they find horses, and ride for their worth

Continuing along the road to Dragon’s Howe, the party was eventually engaged by a small advance scout troop from the Great Army. Though they tried to talk their way past the hobgoblin riders, their elf archer backup, and their pack of battle hounds, they failed, and were forced into a struggle. The battle went their way, with the hobgoblins slain, the dogs cut down, and the elves allowed to retreat after answering some questions. They took the hobgoblins’ horses and were able to make better speed, though this was in some degree spoiled by the appearance of a small inn, with tree trunks laid across the road in front of it, and orc bandits awaiting anyone they could pillage. There was a more brutal fight, with Xerkos, Grouse and Soreaii lying slowly dying as the last three fought the last couple of orcs, and finally mananged to kill them and save their companions some moments before their deaths. Battered and weary, they had no choice but to push on toward Dragon’s Howe, which they spotted an hour or so later, with an advance cavalry unit hurrying to cut them off. But their horsemanship was good enough for them to make the town gates before they closed, and Miri, with some help from Soreaii, was persuasive enough to get them taken the to Baron’s keep instead of jail. The letter from Magistrate Pellin was shown, and although the cavalry units outside the walls made it too dangerous to leave the town on the roads, the Baron’s eladrin Chancellor, full of his own knowledge, revealed that there were secret paths out of the city, old dwarf tunnels that would lead a mile or more away. The Baron proposed a night’s sleep while the tunnels were open and supplies gathered, and the deserters agreed to continue on to Amara, with a new letter of commendation from the Baron, while Dragon’s Howe strove to hold out for enough time to allow the Amaran army to crush the Great King’s Army against the sturdy walls and hillsides of the town.

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Butcher Butchered
In which our heroes win their first fight

They are safe in the inn, perhaps, but the fight takes to the streets, where the locals, perhaps warned by the first crossbow bolt killing one of them, don’t participate. Instead, it’s a slugfest, with goblins and hobgoblins dropping like flies, but the dwarves standing firm, and the Butcher himself pretty fierce. There’s a lot of blood spilled, though not from Miri or Utgar, but in the end, only Grouse finds himself down for the count, Grouse and the enemy, that is. There’s not enough time to destroy the Butcher’s body, because Magistrate Pellin arrives with some of his guard to say that the town in under attack all over, and he would ask, in return for not having turned them in to the Great Army as deserters, that the six deserters carry a message about the Army stirring to Amara, or at least Dragon’s Howe. They agree, and set off across a countryside crawling with patrols and scouts, narrowly avoiding detection to reach the cave where their treasures are hidden. Inside, however, are stirges who have made a lair of it, and the fire beetles that feed off the blood-drained corpses left behind. Another fight, this one more handily won, in which Utgar takes the worst of it and has to run, and Haltar almost finds himself dropped from bloodloss. But the beasts are slain, and after their treasures are retrieved, they march on. On the next day, everyone pushes hard except for Grouse, possibly because he’s carrying a whole wheel of cheese, and falls so far behind that by the time they make the Draconic Road, he’s exhausted. The next day, after camping in an abandoned farmhouse, they see refugees fleeing the coming conflict, and over the horizon, the dust that can only be cast up by an army on the march. The Army of the Great King, having swallowed Yel Arai in only a week, is already moving on toward Amara. Will they be in time to warn the Duke, or at least one of his commanders?

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Trouble is Coming

It’s just a normal day at the inn, late afternoon, the sun setting behind the Black Mountains. All anyone can talk about is the army to the south, the smoke still rising from Yel Arai, though thinner trails of it now. That’s when the half-orc shows up, with two hobgoblins who look alike enough to be twins, and a dwarf with a smile on his lined face, but not a nice smile, more the smile you make before you strike that killing blow. And Miri knows him, had seen him more than once hanging around the captain’s tent, this half-orc whose father was a purebred hobgoblin. He’s the Butcher, a priest of the Lord of War, the Lord of the Crimson Nights, the dark slaughterer who most recently walked in Yel Arai’s blood-soaked streets. Haltar knows him, too, has seen him, and the beast in Haltar raises it’s hackles, for the Butcher kills men for delight, not for cause.

But it seems almost casual, their approach. A drink at the bar, a few meaningless questions, a wonder about the next village to the north. And then they’re gone. Right away, though, because they were all military, because they’re with the Army of the Great King, everyone knows it’s trouble. Tauria was too small to bother with, they thought. Apparently not. So Grouse starts to get everything ready, gather up the gear and such, and there’s a thump at the door, which Soreaii checks…it’s a villager, his body skewered by a crossbow bolt, and there they are, coming back already, the Butcher and his followers, a second dwarf now, and a few goblins, and they’re coming for the inn, that’s sure, and the dragonborn in the door opens his mouth to breathe…

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Death of the Archmage
The last of the great ones dies

It was a minor skirmish, so the reports say, just across the Hetos River in the Dal Desert. The dwarven Archmage Kurol Kalan, last of the formidable Mage Cabal that once served the Great King, commanded half a thousand mixed troops seeking after a rebel band that had struck at a supply depot of the 7th Army. What exactly happened is unclear still; the highest ranked survivor of the Great Kingdom was a just-promoted Lieutenant whose story cannot completely be trusted. However, what has been said is that the detachment was ambushed by a force larger than itself, not in theory a concern with the Archmage present, but that something, which perhaps was a beast with wings, of great size (the word dragon was whispered but discarded), struck at the Lord Kalan. The struggle which ensued was titanic, and destroyed much of the army, ending only with the withdrawl of the greatly wounded beast. The Archmage, however, was felled, dead on the sands, and as always in such a case, a battle broke out for possession of the body. If the Great King’s forces could obtain it, they could bring the Archmage back, but if not…

The rebels, whoever they were, obtained the body. The last of the Cabal is dead, the southern forces of the Great King deprived of their greatest arcanist. And yet, a few days later, the Army of the Great King struck north, and seized Yel Arai. Something is shifting in the Great Kingdom, and perhaps one of the Mage Cabal was an unwanted presence…

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Trouble Across the River
The Prequel

From the top of the single tower that stood in the ancient, ruinous castle-keep of Tauria, Magistrate Pellin stared to the south. In the dim light of the setting sun, vanishing now behind the distant mountains, he could see the smoke rising from across the river, from the city of Yel Arai. Only thirteen miles away, that small distance and the thin band of water were all that separated Tauria from the armies of the Great King, now that Arai had fallen.

The dark-skinned human at Pellin’s side grunted. “Magistrate, we must send word to Amara.”

“Yes, of course,” the magistrate murmured. His tongue licked around the scales at the edge of his mouth. He was nervous, verging on terrified, but he hoped the human was not so familiar with dragonborn as to notice. Why had someone in the Great Kingdom started the army in motion again? Who had taken that step, since all accounts agreed the Great King was not in command any longer? “Has your mount had time to recover?”

“You would send me back? Magistrate, I question the choice. If the army comes—.”

“If the army comes, Specialist, one human more or less, no matter how proficient, won’t matter much. I have a scant dozen watchmen under my command, a monastery that can perhaps furnish a single prayerful warrior, one half-trained wizard who came here because there was no competition for his skills, and farmers with pitchforks. There is no way that I can slow down the Great King’s host, if it comes. But you might be of use elsewhere.”

The human grunted again. He was a large fellow, with massive arms used to pulling the huge bow that Pellin had seen among his gear. A bow that he would greatly like to press into service, but Amara couldn’t afford such a pointless loss.

“As you say, then, Magistrate.” The human bowed low and departed down the worn stairs.

Magistrate Pellin watched as the glow of the sun faded, and the glow of fire became more evident. They were burning Yel Arai. Either they meant to come quickly, or the matter had gotten far out of hand. If the latter, perhaps he had time to contrive some method of, if not victory, at least delay.

He had not, after all, mentioned all his resources. There were, if he could convince himself he dared use them, and if they would consent to be used, the newcomers….

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