The Story So Far
The Village of Red Briar
Red Briar resembled an armed camp, thanks to the War Chief, Swift Sword. He’s convinced of an imminent attack from the Blood Axe tribe, the Over-Sea Folk, the now-disappeared Shadow Foot tribe, the Stone Home tribe in the mountains, or possibly neighboring Ashen Hand villages. He trust no one … except Saddle, who humored him as long as possible.
Gray Cloud, the Peace Chief, acquiesces to Swift Sword’s every whim, and the Shaman, Drums Loudly, rants about vague portents of doom.
The Village of Solace
Solace, the “village of the dying”, rests at the bottom of the Old One’s Hill. It isn’t so much a village as a shantytown. Young healers and shamans from other villages minister to the dying, most victims of the Wasting that comes with old age; neighboring farms donate supplies to keep the inhabitants comfortable. Solace has no walls, and only accidental guards.
A medic caught sight of Saddle, Thinks Much, Oaken Arm, and their guards. He went to get the closest Solace had to a leader: So-Re Yellow Hair.
Forty years ago, a chief of the Ashen Hand rescued a human girl from a Blood Axe raid that killed her parents. Her name was So-Re, as the People pronounced it; they named her Yellowhair and raised her as a member of the Ashen Hand. She went back to her people when they founded their village of Kalar Vale, across the river. They declared her a witch and attempted to burn her. Her adopted tribe rescued her, but not before the fire scarred and crippled her. She settled in Solace. Scholars from the Ashen Hand often visited to learn the language and customs of the Over-Sea Folk.
In the presend-day, Yellowhair approached on a wheeled cart. Saddle told her his mission, and asked how he could meet the Old One. She referred him to her adoptive father, Ten Bear Axe, now drawing his last breaths in Solace. Ten Bear Axe, in turn, told him to wait at the foot of the path to the Old One’s door; if the Old One stood in the doorway, it was safe to go up.
The Old One
Saddle stood at the foot of the path for nearly an hour before the Old One appeared in the doorway: a tall, angular figure, swaddled in unbleached linen, even its face unseen within the depths of its hood. Saddle trod up the path, and into the doorway.
The Old One’s chamber had no lights. Sunlight from outside revealed a floor and ceiling of packed earth, braced with stone beams. Its only furnishing was a rough-hewn stone chair near the back, and, behind it, a hide-curtained doorway to further, unguessable depths. The Old One sat in its stone chair, and Saddle sat on the earthen floor before it.
The Old One’s speech sounded like a barely-heard whisper, yet intelligible as if it were right in one’s ear. It asked what mattered most to Saddle: his village, his tribe, or his world. Saddle, a true Ashen-Hander, replied his tribe, and the Old One asked whether he had the wisdom not to use a weapon that saved his tribe and damned the world. In that case, Saddle replied, he would not use the weapon.
“Your true enemy lies in the West,” the Old One declared at last, “in the Wastelands beyond the mountains. Look for allies among your enemies, and enemies among your allies.”
With that, the Old One stood. The interview was over.
Welcome to Stormhold
Saddle, Thinks Much, Oaken Arm, and their two bodyguards approached Stormhold, a settlement like none they had ever seen before. Across the farmlands rose a stony hill, an outcropping of the Copper Mountains just beyond. A high, white wall encircled the hill like a crown. Just visible within the outer wall were a few tall buildings and an inner wall, likewise of white stone, with trees and buildings peeking out from behind it. In the center of the inner wall rose a citadel, the home of the High Chiefs, guarded by five towers around the perimiter, and a high tower at the very center.
Having climbed the winding road to Stormhold, they negotiated past the surly but somewhat lazy gate guards to the maze of roads beyond. Never had they seen so many of the People in one place. The main road opened up into a bustling, noisy marketplace. Instead of bartering, the people of Stormhold bought and sold with small metal ingots, oblong with a hole at one end to thread onto a leather lace, and stamped with a mark of authenticity from the High Chiefs.
Realizing they had little to barter, the group found themselves wondering how to find food and lodging. Oaken Arm and the guards found room in the soldier’s barracks, and Saddle decided to try his luck at the local Shaman’s Lodge. The “lodge” itself was a multistory building, with a supercillious guard at the front. Only the sight of the Shining God’s Sigil convinced him that they had important news for the Chief Shaman.
Sun Behind Mountains, the Chief Shaman
Saddle and Thinks Much were shown into the Chief Shaman’s room. The Chief Shaman, Sun Behind Mountains, was an older and larger orc, with a deep, mellifluous voice. Saddle told him his story, with a little unease; as he looked around the room, Saddle notices Spirit Traps and other tools used in dark rituals to bind and enslave spirits. (True, an honest shaman could use a Spirit Trap to seal away evil spirits, but still …) Saddle’s unease increased further when Sun Behind Mountains beheld the Sigil; he did not draw back, but if anything gazed at it avidly.
Nevertheless, he pledged all his support to their mission. He would call a High Council meeting to discuss the events across the river, and the warnings of the Old One. He also provided room and board, and any clothing or equipment the pair might need.
Armor from Heaven’s Hammer
Taking advantage of the Chief Shaman’s generosity, Saddle and Thinks Much decided to upgrade to scale armor. The Chief Shaman’s majordomo accompanied them to the shop of Heaven’s Hammer, reportedly the finest blacksmith among the Ashen Hand. (Stormhold boasts of having the best and brightest of every field within its walls.)
Heaven’s Hammer herself promised to forge the scales, and took some initial measurements for the armor. As she did so, she warned Saddle and Thinks Much that Sun Behind Mountains reputedly shows too much interest in the Wastelands, and wonders of the Ruined Cities. She also advised them that of the council, only Swift Lightning, the aging High Sheriff, was a man of unimpeachable integrity. She then left her apprentices to take detailed measurements, and promised the armor in two days.
Now even more apprehensive, Saddle and Thinks Much returned to the Chief Shaman’s lodge.
Council of the High Chiefs
Two days later, Saddle and Thinks Much picked up their new armor. Dropping it at the lodge, they dressed in fashionable Stormhold clothes (provided by Sun Behind Mountains) and proceeded to the Citadel.
The vaulted ceiling of the High Council chambers soared heavenward. Antique statues and tapestries ringed the vast space, lit by sunlight through stained-glass windows. More than fifty people, including merchants, scribes, and others of uncertain occupation, sat at the huge table before the twin thrones of High War Chief Stone Shield and his wife, High Peace Chief Copper Chalice. Of the comparative throng, though, only a few seemed to have power: the High Chiefs, Sun Behind Mountains, General Iron Hand, the general’s ally Raining Cloud the scholar, and Two Gold Fist whose monopoly on Copper Mountain iron made him wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice. (Swift Lighting still has influence because of his position and years of service, but the others have more allies on the council.)
Once again, Saddle told his story, with Thinks Much and Oaken Arm corroborating. The Sigil shocked everyone save Sun Behind Mountains. Iron Hand asked detailed questions about the Blood Axe tribe, and about the black-powder weapons the Over-Sea-Folk used. Raining Cloud asked more about the Over-Sea-Folk, in particular Thinks Much’s and Audrey’s rumors about the Imperial Legions. Sun Behind Mountains underscored the Old One’s warning about the Wastelands, and advocated an expedition to go there. The High Chiefs asked little, mainly about the Blood Axe threat and the mood in other villages. At last, the Council dismissed Saddle and company to deliberate.
A day later, they handed down their decision: recent events, while disturbing, did not warrant a trek into the Wastelands. The Council believes the best course of action would be to shore up its defenses, and advise other villages to do the same.
The evening after the Council’s decision, Saddle found a note in his lodgings:
The fools in this town don’t realize their danger. Meet me at sundown in the North East corner of the market. After some discussion, Saddle and Thinks Much went.
Many stalls were packing up as the sun set, and others offering alcohol and other decadent delights had set up business. At the meeting spot, a tall, broad-shouldered orc detached himself from the shadows, dressed in rugged clothing and animal skins. He introduced himself as Long Shanks.
He said he knew what happened in council, and he believes it’s a great mistake. He also knew for a fact that the humans can and will sweep away the Ashen Hand, just as they did the Shadowfoot. He wanted to lead an expedition into the Wastelands to find a weapon powerful enough to stop the Sarkennian empire, and secure the Ashen Hand forever. He needed a “couple of lads” to watch his back. He freely admitted he wasn’t an educated man, so he thought a shaman and a scholar would prove useful when dealing with ancient artifacts.
After that prologue, he asked:
“So, are you in?”
Still struggling with the low player count, and with challenges for a shaman and scholar.
This session, not unsurprisingly, was wholly roleplaying save for the occasional skill roll. It was pretty taxing for me. I also think my acting needs work.
The big challenge will be next session, where the campaign starts its second act.