You’re Not In Kansas Anymore
Arriving at Winterhaven the party decide to keep as low a profile as possible considering the number of enemies they have been racking up of late. A sensible policy you would think, and one that lasts approximately five minutes after coming in through the main gate – the time it usually takes for Mordzan to get into some sort of trouble.
This time it involves the hyperactive elf offering to fight any of the town guards for no other reason than it might be a bit of fun. The guards seem up for it too, and after various wagers have been arranged they bring forward their champion, a vast bulk of flesh called Anton, as wide as he is tall and with forearms like treetrunks he starts aiming brutal haymakers at Mordzan’s head. For while it seems that the elf’s speed of foot and acrobatic antics might be enough to stay out of range of the boulder-like fists but a couple of swinging thuds to the stomach soon put paid to the dance and Mordzan is laid out flat, much to the delight of the guards who have earned more in the last minute than they have in the last month.
Anton, meanwhile, is more than happy with his share of the spoils – a carrot – something he holds in the highest regard and is keen to share it with the reviving Mordzan, with whom he seems to have become quite attached.
Now absolutely everyone in town know the party are here it doesn’t take long to find Sir Oakley, who seems somewhat bemused at the high visibility of his new companions, and fills them in on the mission to the abbey to purify the temple, the ancient base of the legendary followers of Bahamut who once protected the Vale from all-comers before going down in a great battle 150 years previously.
With the heroes’ presence in town so effectively announced it is not long before they are brought in front of the master of Winterhaven, Lord Ernest Podraig, who outlines his own pressing concerns regarding the Abbey. He believes it may be becoming a base for a powerful force of Bloodspear orcs who might foreshadow the next invasion to threaten the Vale, just as they have done in the past, when the tribe would descend from the savage lands beyond to mountains to once again lay claim to the Vale.
Without the means to make aggressive military moves, Lord Podraig recruits the party to scout out the abbey and come back with a map of the orc base and an estimate of the sort of strength the orcs have to hand. With this information, he hopes to at least know what he is up against. A task the party is only too happy to take on since they’re going there anyway. And so, with only a night of prayer for Benedict and Sir Oakley, who seems determined to recalibrate the young paladin’s somewhat unusual interpretations of the god’s strictures, at last, the party are off on their latest quest.
After a day and a half of hard marching through rough moorland terrain the adventurers get sight of the abbey and its surroundings. The main abbey buildings are perched on a plateau on top of a hill, the flanks of which are dotted with the buildings and tracks of the ruined village that once supported the sacred order. Surrounding this settlement is a defensive wall that circles the base of the hill. The elves also notice a heavily wooded area to the south of the village, a richly green and dense area that suggests some sort of fey stewardship.
While the village is ruined, it is definitely not abandoned, as wispy columns of smoke rise from dozens of campfires. Moving closer and engaging the heightened senses of the elves, dozens of figures are spotted moving around the site. Definitely orcs and at least a few of the ogres such as the ones the party fought off on the road to Winterhaven.
The parry consider their options in order to carry out their quests – Sir Oakley knows of a secret stair that rises to the plateau at the rear of the hill – an ideal spot to spy on the orcs unseen while also giving him the chance to carry out his ritual. But the elves in the party point to a spot near the wooded area where there seems to be a breach in the wall, near to an impressively tall watchtower that commands a great view over both the village and the approaches to the abbey.
Stealthily approaching the area the party avoid detection and creep over the wall. Drawn to investigate the watchtower before advancing further into the abbey grounds they find it strangely barred to all attempts to enter it. It is soon apparent that some exotic magic is at work when Bodin’s brute assault on the tower’s wall causes strange blobs of black acid to erupt from the brickwork to attack the assailants. Easily dispatched, the party continue to be frustrated in their search for a way in until Glaudr links the strangeness of the tower to the strangeness of the card he has in his possession. Holding it up to the wall, a portal opens up, through which the party naturally dive through.
Wthout going into too much detail for fear my mind might break at the recall of such mind twisting horrors – the party find themselves in the middle of some sort of intrusion into this world by another world – a world where nothing makes sense and chaos rules, a world populated by foul unthinking monsters – and a world with no apparent exit, although, after battling their way through mind-bending vistas of cosmic terror that bear no relation to the tower they thought they were exploring, and now faced with some vast bally thing covered with eyestalks and a reality that shifts in focus like the sun shimmering off a desert floor, it seems unlikely that our heroes will ever know the comforts of their own world again.
Only Thorn and particularly Glaudr have some insight into what they have got themselves into – the Far Realm – a place so strange it has driven mad those who have chosen to study it – while Madran recalls tales from the underground, which he had dismissed as overblown nonsense before, which identifies the beast they now face as nothing less than a Beholder- a mad and ferocious monster that is renown for slaughtering parties with much more experience than our heroes.
Look, it’s not like I told them to investigate the Watchtower – I had to tell them it was there but they could easily have gone up the secret stair, or investigated the grove, or just gone home and taken up farming, growing carrots with Anton. I did not suggest that investigating the watchtower was in any way a good idea.
I just want to make that clear.
This is not my fault!