A Past Soon Forgotten

Allies in Strange Places

With Ike Greil in tow, the party set forth from the destroyed fort. The road behind them has been wrought with pain and destruction. Several of the party members offered up silent prayers for safe passage the rest of the way out of the mountains.

The mountain peaks were out of sight, hidden behind a barrier of clouds. The ground, mostly uneven, was cracked with the growth of a thousand trees. A forest in the valley of the Cloud Peaks loomed over the party as their steeds plodded forward. It was not long before the road became a trail and the group was forced to travel on the narrow path in succession.

“It’s one abreast for a ways now,” Ike called out over his shoulder. “Don’t fret, we’ll get through this quick as you can say ’Never-”

“Halt!” a booming voice called out in front of them. “Touch yer weapons an’ it’ll be the last thing ye do.”

“Who goes there?” Ike called back. Wherever the voice was coming from, it was hidden in the trees.

“I’ll be askin’ the questions here, boy,” the imposing voice responded. “Off yer horses real slow like an’ we won’ gut ye where ye sit.”

Vlad, Emerick, and Arily all grimaced, their hands still twitching at the hilts of their weapons. “Commoners,” Vlad spat. Everyone’s eyes shifted warily around them, searching for anything that might give them a sign of their assailants.

“Do it,” Derek commanded as he slid off his horse. The others followed, albeit reluctantly.

“I am Ike Greil of Fort Gratis,” Ike called out. “We mean you no harm. We only wish to pass.”

A pause. “How do I know you ain’t lyin’?”

“I carry the sigil of the Flaming Fist, a mercenary company from Baldur’s Gate. I was once a captain in their ranks and have since forged my own mercenary company here in the Cloud Peaks. My fort was recently beset by orcs. I seek aid from the dwarves in these mountains to help rebuild my fort and put a stop to this menace. I know that these are but more words, so it is up to you to determine their worth.”

The figure stepped out from the trees. What he lacked in height he made up for in stoutness. The figure responded. It was definitely the same voice, but the dialect was completely different. “I am King Rothgar Swiftaxe of the Shieldbreaker Clan. These are my dwarves.” He gestured to the trees and a dozen dwarves armed to the teeth emerged. “Ike Greil, you have my assistance.”

Moving On

The group creeped out of the cave carefully, anxious that even the sound of their pounding heartbeats would set off whatever foul magic had gripped them so violently moments before. The forty feet to the cave mouth seemed like a mile. Outside the cave, they all breathed a sigh of relief.

“That is hardly what I call a good time,” Emerick said, wiping sweat from his brow as he and the others exited the cave.

“What did you see?” Am’uel asked.

“There’s reason to believe this cave leads to the Underdark,” Vlad responded. “Next time, barricade it with adamantium.” Vlad brushed passed Ike, heading for the stables.

“I’ll have some of the men board it up,” Ike offered. He turned to Am’uel. “Better place a guard here too, just to be sure.”

“A wise choice,” Derek said. “As disconcerting as this discovery is, I believe Vlad has the right idea.” He nodded in the direction of the half-elf. “Ser Am’uel no longer stands at death’s door and your other companions are no longer in need of our healing. It is best we move on while there is light yet left in the day.”

“Very well,” Ike replied. “We will leave in the hour.”

“We?” Derek cocked his head.

Ike smiled. “There is a small kingdom of dwarves that live in these mountains. If I am to turn this rubble into ramparts, I’ll need their assistance. Am’uel can lead in my absence. I can guide you through the mountains and then rendezvous with the dwarves. You’ll be my escort and your group will reach the other side of the mountains faster. In the end, we both benefit. What say you?”

“A fine plan,” Derek said. “I accept.”

The Darkness

“You can’t feel it, but I can,” Emerick continued. “The Underdark.”

Gali turns away from investigating the orc corpse and faces Emerick. He motions for Derek to be his voice. “You know nothing, tiefling,” Derek echoed. “The Underdark was destroyed over a decade ago; when the Spellplague began.”

Emerick snorted. “You really believe that, dwarf? Let’s take a stroll, shall we?” He brushed pass the group and entered the cave.

Inside the cave it was pitch black. Despite his superior vision, Emerick had to squint to see the walls to either side of him just a few feet away. The floor was smooth as if a river had carved it. The passageway smelled faintly of flowers. He realized his footsteps did not make an echo. Something wasn’t right…

Gali followed closely. Derek and Vlad blundered a few paces behind. “Use your breastplate, cleric,” Vlad commanded.

At the sound of Vlad’s voice, Emerick thought he heard a whisper from in front of him. How could Vlad’s voice echo, but not everyone’s footsteps? Then it dawned on him. “Derek, no-”

Incencdo” Derek called out. The cave was illuminated for a moment.

Then the senses turned upon themselves. Dark became blindingly bright. Silence became cacophony. The sweet smell of flowers turned to decay. But the pain. The pain was the worst. A fist grabbed their very souls and clenched, wrenching and twisting away.

Confuto” a meek voice aspirated.

Derek’s breastplate flickered and dimmed. The fist released its grip. Vlad and Emerick both wretched. They all laid there, panting and bewildered.

“What-” Vlad started to say, but Emerick placed his hand over the half-elf’s mouth before he could say anything more. He used his other hand to motion for the rest of the group to stay silent. He got up and beckoned them to follow.

A few lengths ahead, Emerick stopped and pointed. “There,” he said, no louder than a whisper. In front of them stretched a yawning chasm. No one could make out the bottom. “The Underdark.”

Dead Men Tell Tales if They Come Back From the Dead

“This is it,” Am’uel called out in his rough cut voice. “See, you can still see the corpse there before they overpowered me.”

The cave was in the corner of the fort against the strongest wall; the mountain. The mouth of the cave was bordered by splintered wood and crushed stone. The light from the day did not pierce far into the cave. Even Gali could not see the end of it when he stood at the yawning mouth. The orc lay, unseeing, just outside the cave leaning up against the stone. A large polearm protruded from his middle.

Arily bent down and examined the orc. “A spear through his black heart,” she said, pulling the weapon from the decaying body. It came free easily, bits of flesh and meat eager to part as well.

“Odd,” Elkas observed.“There’s nothing eating this poor sod.” Indeed, there was no sign of flies, maggots, worms, or other creatures having feasted on the orc.

“Elkas, get Emerick and Vlad,” Derek commanded. “They will want to see this.” Elkas nodded and hurried off. Derek turned to Ike and Am’uel. “What is the importance of this cave?”

Am’uel started. “We have never used the cave. History has it that a mighty castle once stood here. This cave used to connect to the castle’s cellars, perhaps as part of an escape plan. The story goes that demons entered through the cave- or the cellars, I know not which- and destroyed the humans living within. Now all that’s left of the castle is the keep, albeit in disrepair. We boarded off the cave and the entrance to the cellars until we have the keep and walls in working order. As you can see with our friend here,” he gestured to the orc, “some of the orcs entered through this cave.”

“Orcs aren’t that smart,” Emerick replied as he approached the group. “They don’t know how to sneak and feign and counter. They know how to smash and kill.”

“What are you saying?” Ike said anxiously.

“That your orc problem isn’t just an orc problem,” Emerick smirked. “There’s something just as viscous, but a whole lot smarter out there pulling the strings.”


Caim walked out of the infirmary without so much as a backwards glance. Everyone stared at Vladimir, the half-elf having not moved an inch, a bewildered look smeared upon his face. His glazed over eyes came back into focus and he shook his head violently as if to rid himself of a particularly dreadful thought. Vladimir stared back at the onlookers. “I’m leaving tomorrow morning,” he said in a crisp, efficient manner. He got up, brushing off imaginary dust from his vest. “Any of you that actually remember our mission are welcome to join me; we have lingered far too long here and the road ahead has grown no shorter. None of us know how Raksha will react if we do not make it back in time. I do not wish to see the wrath of Freedom’s Legion and I don’t believe any of you do either.” He turned and walked out of the building, no loss of confidence in his step.

“Logical to a fault, that one is,” Derek sighed. Gali gestured to Derek. “Aye, a little compassion doesn’t hurt, but he does have a point. We’re worrying over one man of status when we could be delivering reagents that could save thousands.”

At that moment, a commotion in the adjoining room broke out. A soldier appeared at the door. “He’s awake,” he said, breathless.

Derek and the others glanced at each other and moved quickly for the other room. When they entered, they saw the officer sitting up on his cot, a soldier supporting him on either side.

He looked up at the new arrivals. “Hello,” his voice was like sand, rough and scratchy. “Sir Am’uel Ebonstone, Order of the Dragon, and right-hand to Ike Greil of the Greil Mercenary Company.”

“You ought to be part of the Order of the Phoenix,” Arily responded.

“Am’uel, less talk and more rest,” Ike said, relief and worry both fighting to be the dominant emotion. “You’ve been out for days.”

“Nay,” Am’uel continued. He winced in pain as he tried to slide off of the cot. “Help me up. I must show you the cave.”

A Whisper of Hope

The infirmary slowly emptied over the next few days. Moans from the wounded came every few minutes now. The group all flitted from patient to patient, applying new bandages and reassuring words.

“We don’t have time to wait around for this man to die!” Vlad said exasperated, his face darkening. “It has been two days and nothing to show for it.” He slumped down into a chair, his head between his hands.

“Ike has promised his assistance as soon as we know for certain what the outcome of his officer will be,” Caim replied calmly. “If we are patient just a little longer, our questions will be answered.” Caim tried placing his hand on Vlad’s shoulder to reassure him, but the half-elf angrily shrugged it off.

“Patient?” Vlad glared at Caim. He spoke slowly, malice dripping from every word. “Orcs attacked this place once. They could be massing for another attack while we sit in this ruin for a ruined man. There are maybe two score of us, and I bet half as many that could effectively wield a weapon now. There could be hundreds of orcs out there. Our lives are at stake for a whisper of hope and that hope died long ago, just as he should have.”

Caim waited for Vlad to finish. “Belief, faith, will… hope,” he began. “Not a single action do we perform without first a belief or hope in that action. We cannot function without belief. We cannot live without hope. He yet lives because we hope he lives. We all live because we hope we live. So, Vladimir, take our hope away. Let us die. Orcs won’t kill us. You will.”


Ike had no idea that healing could be so violent. Holding his trusted companion down as he was being healed sounded like a simple task, but when Dereks’ hands were placed on his friend’s body, the wounded man’s entire being seizured as the healing light surged through him. A rasp, much like the sound of a rusty sword drawn from an old scabbard, escaped the man’s throat. The body continued to shake so much that Ike had a feeling his comrade would fall apart right before his eyes. And just when he thought he could not go on any longer, it stopped. The man had fallen from consciousness, the sporadic twitching of his limbs and ragged breath the only indicators of life yet within him.

“What now?” Ike asked, his chest heaving from exertion.

“Now?” Derek replied as he wiped sweat from his brow. “Now, we pray.” He looked at the others around the table; Gali, Arily, Caim, Ike, and a few of Ike’s men. They each met Derek’s gaze with apprehension. He looked down to the man on the table. The bones on his face were no longer exposed. A gray, flesh-like substance stretched across the man’s face, covering the wound. His good eye was closed, but the other was gone. No eye, no lids, just the gray substance gently swirling, pooling inward, hinting cruelly that a feature once existed there. His other wounds had caused him a great deal of blood loss, but they were not nearly so ghastly.

“He looks like death,” one of the soldiers whispered.

“And death may yet still claim him,” Derek replied. “I’ve done all I can for him. Ike, you should have one of your men watch over him. Note any changes in his condition. Come, let us tend to the other wounded.”


The last of the orcs’ screams were silenced as Derek made his way through the ruined entrance of the fort. The twenty foot tall solid oak doors had been smashed into nothing larger than kindling. He surveyed the surroundings. Most of the buildings inside the fort were destroyed. The survivors were gathering up the orc corpses and throwing them in the last of the fires. That’s when he saw Vlad standing triumphantly over a corpse much larger than the rest.

“I say, get your hands off it,” Vlad said, shooing away several of the soldiers. “I killed this beast single handedly, and I want my trophy.” He bent down, and cut off a digit from the ogre’s hand. The one finger was nearly as large as Vlad’s forearm. “There, you may now remove this foul creature from my presence.”

Derek saw Caim and Emerick approaching.“What’s going on?” he asked the pair, motioning towards Vlad.

“Oh, you shoulda seen it,” Emerick replied sarcastically. “Vlad got all fancy on the ogre and it nearly killed itself, swingin’its club like it was. All he had to do was poke it a couple times.”

“Derek, we need your healing,” Caim said. “One of their officers… Gali and Arily are doing what they can for him, but it doesn’t look good.”

“Show me,” Derek said immediatley.

They moved quickly towards what was once the infirmary. When they entered, Derek saw a dozen men laying on cots with wounds ranging from life threatening to mortal. He would help them as best he could as soon as he finished with this officer.

“Derek, is it?” the voice greeted him. It was Ike’s. He was standing in front of a cot, gray faced and grim. “A healer shouldn’t be on the front line like that. It’s good you made it out alive, but I fear my officer may not. If there is anything you can do for him, please, I would be in your debt.” He stepped aside.

Having seen a thousand wounds, Derek was in no way new to the visceral aspects of war. But this was different. he had to stop himself from grimacing. Half of the man’s face had been shorn off, showing more bone than not. His eye lolled uselessly in its socket. He knew immediatley what he must do. “If I attempt to heal him, it would mean excrutiating pain, and it would only serve to prolong his suffering. There is little chance this man will live.”

The men around the cot just stood there. It seemed for a brief moment that the entire infirmary had gone silent, the suffering from the other soldiers squelched in comparison to this man’s.

“Do…,” the silence shattered. The man on the cot turned his head slightly, his one good eye fixed on Derek. His voice betrayed how much pain he was already in. “Do… it. Much… to tell.”

Saving Saviors

Caim was against the wagon, stabbing mercilessly at any foe within spear’s reach, but for every blow he dealt, three came swinging back at him. Gali and Elkas were backed up against a large boulder, parrying blow after blow. Arrows from orcs afield filled the air like a swarm of bees, and the orcs in close did not let up, their twisted, savage metal searching for openings.

Derek slew three orcs before they broke their haphazard shield wall. Two arrows buried in his flesh, one between his armor plates just below the shoulder, the other in his shield arm. A mace nearly caved in his knee. The warhammer dented his breastplate and sent him reeling down to the ground. He was sure the next blow would be the end for him.

He saw the orc coming, but he couldn’t lift his arms. And that’s when he heard it. He could hear Helm coming to get him, to bring Derek to his hallowed halls, a divine stallion his transport. The orc looked him in his eyes and grinned wickedly. Calmly, Derek lay there, awaiting his transcendence. He could hear the hoofbeats getting closer, he could feel the vibration they sent through him. This was the moment he had been waiting for, finally to be sloughed from his mortal body and risen up, a divine servant to his God. The orc raised its sword high, a look of mirth and madness playing across its face.

But the stroke never came. The hoofbeats grew to such a cacophony that even the orc looked up… and lost its head. The rider came crashing through, a blade so sharp it decapitated the orc in a single swipe. And then more riders came, half a dozen of them. The orcs broke and ran for their brethren at the gates of the fort.

The rider dismounted and reached down to Derek. " Ike, at your service," he said. “Can you still fight?”

Derek pushed himself to a sitting position and asked for some space. “Go on with my companions and I will be with you in a moment.”

“Very well,” Ike replied, mounting himself once more. “Men, with me! Let’s rout these scum once and for all!” The riders shouted and charged off.

Derek placed his hands on his knee and they started to glow. He grimaced and cried out as the magic reconstructed his knee. He did it again and again for his other wounds. Panting, he struggled to his feet and limped after his strange saviors.

Maybe this was a Mistake...

Derek’s group quickly snaked their way through the debris, hiding behind both boulders and bodies alike. As they approached the enemy’s left flank, something caught Gali’s leg, making him nearly lose his balance. He looked back to see what had caused his misstep. An orc, riddled with arrows, was stubbornly clinging to life. It gurgled up black bile, reaching for him. Whether the beast’s eyes were slitted in hate, pain, or fear, the dwarf did not care. He bent down, parting his lips in a would- be prayer, and slit the orc’s throat. Evil would have plenty of time to suffer in the afterlife.

Vlad’s group was already in position. They waited for Derek’s signal; a flash of light from a thunderstone. Arily crept around cooly, looking for the perfect spot to loose her first arrow. Emerick and Vlad sat stock still, bows drawn and arrows notched.

“I think this as good a place as any,” Derek said, sliding behind a large destroyed wagon. “this is decent cover.” They were a good thirty feet from the nearest group of orcs.

“Here, take a couple of these,” Elkas said, pulling several javelins from the sling on his back. Caim grabbed a couple and nodded a thank you.

“Gali and I have our throwing axes, but thank you,” Derek replied. “Gali, the stone.”

Gali placed his hand in his sack, frowned, and produced nothing. The thunderstone must have fallen out of his pack when the orc grabbed him. He shook his head. Caim and Elkas stared at him, bewildered.

“Change of plans,” Derek said, reaching for his throwing axe. “On my mark.”

“What’s going on?” Emerick asked. “The orcs are moving. Have they been found out?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Arily replied. “Fire!”

Projectiles flew from both groups at the small hoard of orcs. Two or three staggered and fell. Twenty more took their place. They howled and charged at both of the groups.


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