At the end of last session, we left the heroes mopping up the last resistance at a small camp of orcs deep in the Loftwood. The battle did not last long and as they had planned the PCs let one of the orcs flee.
As he retreated to a safe distance, the orc turned and taunted the party shouting that soon the Bloodspear ritual would be complete, that then Thrull would be confirmed as Gruumsh’s chosen one and that he would lead the orcs north into Ratik. This worried the party as they did not know how long the ceremony would take to complete. Most believed that it was a matter of days and that they should find Xul-Jarak as quickly as possible.
As they searched the area for any more clues, Hemgor and his warrior comrades arrived and swelled the party’s ranks to ten. An uneventful night followed and afterwards the party continued deeper into the forest by following the most used trail leading away from the camp. Much of the day was uneventful, but toward mid afternoon the party were suddenly beset by a gigantic tiger. Almost the size of a horse, it pounced from hiding. Two swipes of its powerful claws knocked Hemgor’s comrades to the ground. Belivar sensibly dismounted and sent his eidolon into battle. Although the creature managed to slightly injure the tiger, the tiger erupted into a blinding display of speed and almost destroyed the eidolon. With no choice, Belivar dismissed his beloved beast and cast haste. By then Hemgor was also down, having bravely held the beast at bay for a few precious seconds. Adoven was busy healing his fallen companions when an archer emerged from the forest and started shooting at the tiger. By now the tiger had suffered a few minor wounds, but its ferocity showed no signs of dimming. Krorz cut at the beast with his axe, injuring it badly, In return it badly mauled the half-orc; only his racial tenacity kept him on his feet. Adoven again healed Krorz who in a fit of almost suicidal bravery slashed at the beast, badly injuring it. This final injury was too much for the tiger and it fled.
As they tended their extensive wounds, the party spoke to the archer who had tried to help them. He introduced himself as Haravak, a ranger of Ratik patrolling the woods to keep an eye on the orcs. He knew roughly where Xul-Jarak was and offered to guide the party there. He also told them they were lucky to escape the tiger – one of the major predators of the wood it was stalking this section of the forest hunting the orcs that invaded its territory.
The next day, the party – led by Haravak – reached a great depression in the middle of the forest. Somewhere within stood Xul-Jarak. Fog wreathed the ground and the farther the party descended into the depression the thicker it became. As dusk fell, Krorz climbed a tall tree and spotted the fortress squatting atop a shard of black rock several miles to the east.
The next morning through a light drizzle, the party continued deeper into the forest. Signs of orc infestation became more and more common and the heroes continued cautiously. Toward the end of the day, the reached Xul-Jarak (luckily without encountering any orcs) and set about observing the fortress. Two – three stories high and standing atop a shard of some black, volcanic rock it seemed a hard place to infiltrate. Although one breach pierced its walls, its double gates were shut and orc sentries patrolled its walls. Keen to not openly assault the place, the party scouted about the area under the cover of the pervasive fog searching for a handy secret way in. Luck was not with them, however, and the didn’t find anything to help them.
A long and far ranging discussion then ensued. Hemgor either wanted to launch a frontal assault or retreat while others urged a more subtle approach. As they did so, a black raven settled in the branches above them. Krorz noticed the bird acting strangely and alerted his companions. Worried that an orc wizard’s familiar has found them they drew their weapons but then the bird starting cawing in common “Kara captured, in dark cave, hungry! Sacrifice!” The party deduced that the bird was the familiar of Kara Calaudra – one of the adventurers they sought. Speaking further with the bird they further deduced Kara and her surviving companions were to be sacrificed as part of the Bloodspear ritual. The bird urged them to rescue the imprisoned adventurers, but when it mentioned a blue dragon laired in the courtyard the party nearly panicked. Many now thought that attacking the fortress was a suicide mission and counselled a retreat to Ratik. Such a move would no doubt doom the trapped adventurers to a horrible death but Hemgor in particular believed that Ratik needed to be warned. He penned a brief note and tied it to the raven’s leg and urged it to return to Ratikhill and Lord Nanther.
Klara now spoke up. Clearly, they needed a better idea of the fortress’s layout. Krorx seemed strangely unkeen to scout the area alone, but did offer his potion of invisibility to Belivar’s eidolon. With little choice, Belivar assented and sent his pet into the fortress. It easily scaled the walls and began a quick scout. It found a throne room in which lounged an obviously powerful orc warrior. Worryingly for Belivar, the orc was speaking with two humans who were obviously Hextorites from North Province.
At Klara’s urging, Belivar then directed his eidolon to attack the blue dragon sleeping in the courtyard, hoping that it could kill the beast before it awoke. This plan went badly wrong, when the eidolon approached the dragon. It awoke – seemingly aware of the approaching invisible creature. It tried to bite the eidolon, which dodged the attack and Belivar then dismissed his servant.
Moments later, a mighty dragon roar echoed through the courtyard and a sudden flurry of activity on Xul-Jarak’s battlements indicated the alarm within the fortress had been raised…