The Tide of Shadows - Chapter 9

Adventure Date: February 19, 2011

Last Updated: April 14, 2011

“Doesn’t look like much, does it?” Kat commented as she examined the blank parchment. She tossed it aside as she read over the note with orcish scrawl.

The portal had long since closed, and the party had finished binding their wounds. They set about to find a way to reopen the portal to gain entry into the citadel. The alternative was not appealing – wading through several tribes of orcs, scaling up a sheer wall that held unknown defences, and battering through whatever forces lurked within the citadel itself.

Pelias was examining the blank parchment when he had a moment of insight. “This might be a Secret Page,” he said excitedly. “All we need is a command word or a spell to pierce the illusion masking the parchment.”

“Do we have such magic?” Raven asked. The others looked at Pelias and Scuro. Both shook their heads from side to side. “Then we’ll have to find the command word.”

“Easier said than done,” Scuro said dryly. “It could be anything!”

“Don’t give up yet, Ro-Lund-Do,” Shribryn admonished. “Remember, the orcs are not known for their intellectual staying power. The command word would have to be simple and easy to remember.”

“Maybe there is a clue in the hand-written note,” Ska’arr said. “What does it say, Kat?”

Kat read the note carefully.

“Here is what was promised
All you need is within your hands
The Masters are confident you are up to the task
Everything is as foreseen”

Raven scratched her head. “Not much to go on, is there?”

Pelias took the note from Kat and placed it on the table for all to see. “Maybe it’s not obviously stated. It may be a riddle – a hidden phrase to prevent anyone from gaining the command word too easily.” They began looking more intently at the note when Ska’arr grunted.

“Hand me the parchment.” Passing the blank page to Ska’arr, he spat out a word. Suddenly, a map appeared on the parchment.

“What did you say?” Pelias asked.

“Hate, in orcish. The first letter of each line spelled out ‘HATE’.” Ska’arr shook his head ruefully. “Shribryn was right – the most basic concept that all orcs know and understand.”

“How are we to use a map?” Raven asked. “I was hoping we could reopen the portal and step through. A map gives us nothing.”

“Not quite,” Pelias said. “There was also a scroll with a single spell on it: Teleportation. Give me a few moments to examine the map. Once I’ve committed it to memory, we’ll be able to teleport our way in.” I hope.

Kat and Shribryn stood on either side of the tent’s entrance, checking to see if their presence had been detected. There were no signs that the rest of the orcs had noticed the fierce combat that had occurred in their command center.

Scuro examined the potions they had recovered from the orcs they had slain. Examining their colour, viscosity, and clarity, he gently dipped the tip of his nail into each, tasting a minute sample. He managed to identify several and passed them out to the others. The rest that he couldn’t solve, he placed within his satchel to peruse later.

“I’m ready,” Pelias said. The map had shown a single room. Not knowing whether it was within the citadel or not, they were going to take a leap of faith – they didn’t have much choice. “Gather around me and hold hands. This could be a bumpy ride.” Loosening their weapons, they faced out and formed a circle around Pelias. Taking a deep breath, he began to cast.

The magic began to writhe and crawl about in his head; the words to the spell started to slip away. He could see the words on the scroll, but he couldn’t think how to pronounce them, how to give them the correct enunciation that was all-important. They were fast becoming meaningless gibberish. I will not fail!

Digging into hidden reserves even he had not known existed, Pelias summoned forth power from deep within. The words to the spell suddenly made perfect sense. He knew how to pronounce them. “Gisei, kenshin, sessou.” The words on the scroll began to shine with a silver-white radiance. The radiance flared out, encompassing all of the Shadow Stalkers. Reality flickered from place to place. They were in a tent, they were in a stone-walled room, they were in a tent, back and forth it went. Though it felt like an eternity, it only lasted a moment.

The spell stabilized and they found themselves within the room outlined in the map. The room was square, with each wall measuring twenty-five feet. Winches and chains stood in the corners near a wall, and a staircase sat in the middle of the room leading up to a landing and then further up. Three cots were placed against the southern wall. On the opposite wall, two doors stood closed. Between the winches, the wall held two arrow slits. The room seemed to be a gatehouse.

Pelias felt his stomach roil and he fought down the urge to vomit. “That was closer than anticipated,” he said. The party was surprised at the effect of the teleportation spell. But not as surprised as the orcs who were posted inside the gatehouse.

Two orcs had been looking out the arrow slits and a third was descending the steps when the party appeared. Taken off-guard, the orcs never had a chance. Whisper dashed forward and rolled, her shortsword leading, skewering the first orc through the heart. Shribryn moved towards the staircase to intercept the descending orc when a glittering dagger flipped end over end and caught it in its throat, cutting off its guttural roar. Whisper stood up from her crouching position, a reckless look in her eyes.

Ska’arr saw red. Whipping his chain about, he caught the third orc in the side, caving in its ribs and launching it violently against a wall. Its body left a bloody smear that trailed down the wall in a gruesome manner. Ska’arr smiled to himself. He needed to destroy more orcs.

Shribryn stepped over the dead orc on the stairwell and made her way up to the upper level. She heard the tell-tale scuff of a tattered boot on stone and knew that there were more orcs laying in wait. She could hear their ragged breathing. One, two, three, uh oh. “There’s trouble up here!” As she shouted back, she heard the twang of a crossbow. Throwing herself flat against the wall, the bolt cut her arm deeply. If she hadn’t moved, the bolt would have pierced her heart. “Lots of trouble!”

The orcs knew they were detected and gave up on trying to be quiet. “Lift! Lift!” they yelled in their guttural tongue. Lift what? Shribryn thought. Dismissing the thought, she dove forward and tried to somersault past the orc that had moved to the top of the stairs. The orc moved to intercept her and swung down with his cleaver, narrowly missing Shribryn’s head. Stopping mid-roll, Shribryn got back to her feet and drew her blades. “Time for Plan B.”

A large form pushed passed her. Raven had seen Shribryn get blocked and had run forward full tilt. Dropping her shoulder, she slammed the orc in the gut, pushing it back forcibly. As she straightened, she saw that the room was full of orcs. One of them struck her with a mace across the shoulder, causing Raven to wince.

Two orcs at the back of the room had been struggling with a large vat of boiling water. Shuffling forward, they yelled at the other orcs to move. Before their compatriots had a chance to move, the two orcs threw the contents of the vat towards the staircase. Orcs screamed in agony as boiling water splashed all around, burning their flesh. One of the orcs collapsed, its body overcome by the shock and trauma of boiling water washing over its entire body. Water splashed over Shribryn and Raven and ran down the stairs, but most of the water had hit the orcs in the room.

Ska’arr and the Beast ran up the stairs and took up a position in front of Raven. Battle madness had taken hold and Ska’arr was eager to smash the orcs. A blur of motion passed by Ska’arr. Startled, Ska’arr saw that it was Kat who had run past at a preternatural speed. Orc weapons lashed out towards her, but they were all swung too slowly. By the time they had completed their arcs, she was long gone.

Scuro and Pelias moved up the staircase to join the others when Pelias sensed motion behind him. An orc had tried sneaking up on him and struck with a rusty short sword. Fortunately, the orc’s thrust had been clumsy – otherwise, Pelias’ spine would have been severed. Instead, Pelias felt a burning sensation as the blade slid into his back, but he knew it wasn’t fatal.

Turning quickly, Pelias saw that one of the doors had been opened and several orcs had slunk in. A reverberating gonging noise could be heard deeper in the citadel. The general alarm had been set off and the orcs were mobilizing to contain the threat.

Knowing time was limited, Ska’arr stepped forward whirling his chain. Catching an orc across the neck, the chain’s spikes tore a deep furrow from which blood erupted. The orc collapsed to the ground and promptly bled out. Another orc stepped forward to take its fallen comrade’s place. Lord Farragut leapt from Ska’arr’s backpack, launching himself at the orc’s throat. With a startled cry, the orc lashed out his fist and caught Lord Farragut squarely in the chest. Knocking Lord Farragut back, the ferret rolled once and began to twitch – he had been badly winded and was temporarily out of the fight.

Pelias needed a distraction. Summoning energy, he had hoped to create an illusionary sound of soldiers entering the room from the opened door. But dodging the knife that slashed at him, he lost his focus and the spell energy evaporated from his mind.

A wild beat of thumping noises could be heard above. Raven’s fists struck out, lightning fast, and struck orcs in their unprotected throats, shattered their flimsy armor, or burst their organs. Raven was moving from stance to stance as if she was practicing her martial arts – she felt no fear, no pain, no joy, no emotion as she shifted with the flow of combat. Her focus was almost her undoing. Stepping forward, her foot landed in a puddle of blood. Slipping, her headband slid down her face and obscured her sight. Even blinded, she struck out at the orcs around her.

“A little help!” Pelias cried out as he saw more and more orcs enter the gatehouse. Raven turned quickly and leapt over the handrail to the floor below.

Scuro, who had been moving up the stairs, changed directions and started heading down towards Raven. “I don’t normally like getting my hands dirty,” he muttered, “but my servants need help.” Pulling out a wand, he tapped Raven on the shoulder. Immediately, she felt power wash over her as new strength coursed through her body. “See to the others,” Raven shouted. “I’ll handle this!” Pelias and Scuro rushed up the stairs to lend whatever help they could.

In the room above, mayhem reigned. Orcs died every time Ska’arr’s chain lashed out. Moving deeper and deeper into the room, he saw sets of filthy mats where the orcs slept and a couple of chests near the mats. A metal frame was set up above a fire pit – it was meant to hold two large vats. Two doors were on the southern wall, on either side of the fire pit. Heading ever deeper, he saw another stairwell leading down that seemed to be the mirror of the one they had climbed up. Clearing the room of orcs, he took up a position at the head of the stairs, the Beast at his side. Gore and blood were splashed all around the room.

Kat, seeing that Ska’arr and the Beast were taking care of any opposition, went to the first door and listened. She heard the thrum of feet and the harsh words of an orc. “We have company on the other side.”

Shribryn moved to the door. Pulling out a small stick, she told Kat to guard the other door. “I’ll drop this and blind them. If they try to get in this door, we’ll have the advantage.” Gripping the handle, she flung the door open and threw the stick. The moment the door opened, Shribryn knew she was in trouble. She heard the twang of five bows a moment before she was perforated by five arrows. Thrown back, she crashed to the ground and began convulsing.

“Shribryn!” Kat cried out. Even as she moved to help Shribryn, the second door swung open and four arrows flew into the room. Two of the arrows struck the Beast in the side, the force of the impact bowling him over. Whining weakly, the Beast lay still and bled profusely.

Scuro reached the top of the stairs and made a quick assessment. Running to the open door near Shribryn, he slammed it shut before any other missiles could fly through. Turning his attention to Shribryn, he laid his hands on her and focused positive energy into her being. It felt unnatural, but he knew it was necessary – who else would do his dirty work? Shribryn gasped as she regained consciousness. Her body screamed in agony, but she forced herself to her feet. There was still work to do.

Pelias had made a run for Ska’arr and the Beast. As he reached the Beast, two orcs stepped through the doorway and struck at him. Once, twice, blades cut deeply into his side. Stumbling, he gripped his wounds as his life blood poured out between his fingers. He started to feel cold when suddenly, a vast feeling of heat erupted from within his body. The energy rushed through him, healing his wounds and revitalizing him. The orcs seemed taken aback that the mortally wounded human seemed to have recovered unexpectedly from the cuts dealt to him. Pelias took a step back and focused his ire on the orcs. Glowing missiles leapt out of his hand and struck one of the orcs. Dismayed by this further turn in events, the orcs readied themselves to finish off the strange human.

A blur flew through their field of view. The wounded orc gasped and looked down at the shortsword that was lodged in its guts. Kat looked up at the orc and winked. Whipping out her blade, she struck at the second orc.

Raven faced off against the last of the orcs in the gatehouse. All of its brethren lay at the human’s feet, their skulls shattered, their organs ruptured, their bones broken. With a mad cry, the orc rushed at Raven, its sword swinging down to bisect her. With casual ease, Raven stepped into the attack. Dropping to one knee, she struck, using her forward momentum and a twist of her torso to add force to her strike.

Fingers straight and stiff, Raven drove her arm ahead with all her might. Before the sword could complete its arc, Raven struck like lightning, driving her hand through the orc’s soft middle. In the blink of an eye, she had seized the orc’s spinal column and yanked it back out, ripping it apart. The orc pitched backward, slumping down in a spreading, crimson flood. Looking about calmly, she checked to ensure no other orcs would catch the others unaware. After several heartbeats, she knew that no orcs remained, or they were not brave enough to face her. Running back up the stairs, she went to find a challenge worthy of her time.

Scuro quickly opened the door he had recently closed. Through the smoke cloud he made a single clicking noise with his mouth and closed his eyes and listened intently for the echoes. The clicking sound expanded far out before he began to hear traces of its echoes. Sensing no signs of any enemies on the other side of the door, he closed it gently and went to join the others.

Two more orcs stepped into the room. One struck at Pelias while the other struck at Ska’arr. Both sidestepped the strikes, even as Kat leaped between the two orcs. The shortsword in her left hand caught the first orc in its lower back. Pushing fiercely, the blade ripped its way up into the orc’s vital organs. The shortsword in her right hand lashed down, catching the second orc on the forearm. Cutting it badly, the orc managed to stumble back before Kat could make another strike.

A glittering dagger plunged into the orc’s chest. Though not immediately fatal, the dagger had managed to pierce the orc’s right lung. Reaching down to remove the offending weapon, the orc was surprised when the dagger disappeared and reappeared in the hands of a human female. Young and frail, she stared at him with sightless eyes.

Roaring in rage, the orc leapt forward to strike the female, but never got the chance. A chain wrapped around its throat and tightened quickly, crushing its shout even as it crushed its throat. Falling to the ground and bleeding profusely, its face turned purple as it tried to gasp for air through its ruined windpipe. Another orc entered the room and was quickly killed by Kat’s twin thrusts to its chest.

Pelias went to the Beast and lay his hands on the poor canine. Pulling out the arrows, he clapped his hands on the wounds and staunched the flow of blood that gushed out. Pelias’ eyes glazed over as a holy nimbus surrounded the hand clenched to the Beast’s side. He sought the calm center, the place without thought, and cloaked himself in instinct. He felt searing pain, the Beast’s pain, seep through him. Pelias’ eyes closed – he took it into himself. Hardening his will, he endured the Beast’s suffering. He stood, a rock, in a torrent of hurt rushing into his body. Pelias felt himself soak up the Beast’s suffering; at the same time, he felt an inner warmth flow outward through his hand to the Beast’s flesh. The glow disappeared, as well as the pain in the Beast’s body. Though it had lasted only a moment in time, it felt like an eternity for Pelias.

After their wounds were bound and treated, Kat wanted to explore the upper area. Approaching one of the doors, sensing, judging, she peered out, saw no one, relaxed somewhat, and proceeded through the threshold carefully. The doorway led to a walkway lined with a parapet. Moving towards the citadel itself, on her belly, she carefully looked over the edge of the walkway. She was looking into a large courtyard twenty feet below which had been mostly cleared of rubble. The northwestern corner of the courtyard had a huge pile of rubble, and based on the poor condition of the wall, she could tell where the rubble came from.

“Anything interesting?” Kat almost jumped out of her skin. “Oops. Sorry.” Raven had soundlessly crouched down beside Kat – she wore a shit-eating grin. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”

Elbowing Raven in the side, Kat signalled for them to head to the opposite side of the walkway. Looking out over the parapet, they could see the amassed army of orcs camping outside the citadel’s walls. “Not much to see from here,” Kat concluded. “Let’s head back inside.”

The others had searched the fallen orcs’ bodies and found some gold and managed to salvage falchions and several suits of studded leather armor. The one common thread all the items had was a symbol marked each of them – a single, large eye. It was the symbol of Gruumsh, their high god.

As the useful and useable items were separated from the junk, Kat went to the chests that sat near the orcs’ sleeping mats. Plugging her nose against the smell of the mats, she gingerly searched the chests for any traps. Finding none, she used her dagger to gently pry the chests open. The stench of the mats was dwarfed by the stench emanating from the chest. All that lay within the chest were incredibly ratty and rotten orc gear, some clothes, some pieces of armor, all rotten. The smell of decay was overwhelming. The only parts of the gear that was somewhat maintained were the symbols of Gruumsh.

“There’s got to be something useful in all of this,” Pelias said. Closing his eyes, he extended his senses outward, searching for magical auras. Surprisingly (actually, not really), none of the orcs’ items radiated any magic. Pelias was extremely disappointed.

Ska’arr had been pacing impatiently as his allies searched for clues and treasure. Finally, he said, “Enough! I’m heading down to the gatehouse and I’m going to sabotage the gate’s mechanisms!” Heading to the nearby staircase, Ska’arr quickly descended to the gatehouse below.

“You are not going alone!” Kat called after him. “Last time you went on your own, it almost cost us dearly! We almost got caught between two forces!”

They all heard Ska’arr’s grumbled response. “’Almost this, almost that’. Live a little, will you?” The others chuckled a little as they followed Ska’arr and Kat down to the gatehouse. Ska’arr was staring intently at the winch mechanism, looking at it from many angles, and scratching his chin. He kept mumbling to himself, but no one else could hear or understand what he was saying.

The others checked the room for any other clues or items. Finding nothing, Shribryn went to the first door and pressed her ear gently against it. She focused intently, trying to catch the smallest hint of sound that would indicate an ambush on the other side of the door. She heard nothing. Calling over to the others, she signalled that the way was clear. Everyone acknowledged except for Ska’arr.

Raven grew suspicious of Ska’arr’s behaviour. It seemed unstable, and she worried that, come the next combat, he would do something unpredictable. His hatred of orcs has unhinged his mind. Raven watched Ska’arr closely – she knew he was up to something, but couldn’t figure out what.

The others sensed Ska’arr’s unstable behaviour as well. Kat poked Ska’arr in the ribs to get his attention. “Hey, big guy. There’s orcs on the other side of the door.” She pointed at one of the doors that led to the courtyard. Ska’arr immediately became excited.

Rushing to the door, he closed his eyes while thrusting his arm forward. Pantomiming opening the door, the door opened silently and revealed the pock-marked courtyard beyond. A gentle rain continued to fall, partially obscuring their view, but not very much. Peering about, they could see that the courtyard had multiple doors spread on all the walls. The double doors to the east had been torn out of their moorings, and firelight flooded out from the room behind them. A stone well stood near the ripped out doors, but they didn’t dare approach it yet, not when they could be spotted easily.

In the northwestern corner of the courtyard, they could see piles of cut stones sitting beside wooden pallets. Above the pallets, they could see a large wooden crane on the upper level. The stones were probably to be used to repair the damaged walls. The northern double doors were partially open, and they could see firelight streaming out between them.

Scuro whispered, “Though there are no orcs in the courtyard, we have to assume they know we are here. They did set off the general alarm.”

Shribryn whispered back, “What do you propose?”

“Let us close the door to the courtyard and make some plans,” Scuro replied. “I do not like the idea of orcs sneaking up behind us again and catching is within a vise.” The others nodded their agreement, though Ska’arr did so reluctantly.

Closing the door, they realized that they had left a large part of the outer wall unexplored. Though enemies could be anywhere, the citadel was incredibly quiet. It was quite unnerving. Opening the second door in the gatehouse, they saw that it opened into a narrow corridor which ended abruptly in a pile of rubble. Kat explored the area briefly looking for any hidden doors or mechanisms, but found nothing. She saw that the corridor was unstable and could collapse at any time.

Closing the door gently, they decided to check the other side to see if a gatehouse had been built there as well. Climbing the stairs once more, they headed across the room and went to the other set of stairs. Descending them quickly, they found a gatehouse that mirrored the first one they had entered.

“What next?” Raven asked.

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