[i:09be37a2d6]Few dwarves ever go into the Scalecliff Mountains for ore. Few elves call the forested valleys home. The region has only one natural resource to offer most people… isolation. Seclusion. But the Scalecliff Mountains have one continuous export, and records of that trade go back as far as such records go. The main thing to come out of the Scalecliff Mountain range is legends. Four hundred years ago, one bardic epic teaches us, a party of dwarven scouts passed near to the Clawspire, one of the highest peaks in the range. They noticed a tower at the summit, where no tower had been recorded before. Wizards are known to build their homes in such places, but few wizards require towers so tall, so grim as the one the dwarves first spied. The words of Augy of the New Vein Mines are recorded in dwarven runes for all to read, should they doubt the tale… the wizard in that tower was no elf, no human… not even a dwarf (though rare, such as do exist!). A mighty ogre, towering over the dwarves with a snarling, brutish face but dressed in arcane robes, laid waste to the scouts and only Augy survived to let the folks back home know. Ogres wielding magic with the skill of a wizened elf would be unsettling news to anyone, but the dwarven clan only thought to avenge their fallen. Their battle, which ended with the ogre’s tower pounded against the Clawspire like iron against the anvil, can still be found on the lips of bards all over this part of the world. Even the nannies to the noble born use the tale, to teach young charges not to talk to strangers – and never be rude to strangers who come to your door! A thousand years ago, a flight of giant eagles was seen to come over the wall of the Scalecliff Mountains. The eagles dispersed over the forests, hills, and plains, and it’s said that some men went to hunt the birds, or to tame them. It’s also said that some men are more curious about the reasons of things, and set off to find the source of the birds. Eagles, of all sizes, were known to make roosts in the Scalecliffs, but such a massed flight of such a rare bird had never been heard of before. One party of explorers scaled peak after peak, looking for evidence of nests, and finally found evidence of a sort… but evidence of what they could never be sure. In a deep valley, known on every accurate chart as a wide basin with thick forests of virgin trees and little else, these explorers found the crumbling ruins of a city that stretched across the basin, with only the rare parks of old and ancient trees. The baffled explorers walked down the avenues of deserted city streets, noted the weeds between the paving stones, the collapsing houses, the animals who’d turned a massive city into their own nest… When they returned home and told others of what they found, everyone was eager to see this mysterious city that had never been seen before, but was older than any human city known. The witnesses would attest that the explorers believed what they’d seen, but even the original explorers had to admit that, when they returned to the peak overlooking the basin, all they saw below them was dense, ancient forest that had never feared an axe. In some elven communities, where the stories have only passed down a few generations, “searching for eagles” has more meaning than “a wild goose chase.” Legends are the export of the Scalecliff Mountains. Privacy is it’s resource. Nestled in those deep valleys and open basins, perched atop summits and crags, those who have no desire for neighbors often make the range their home. Even the highway carved through the site known as Rockwyrm Pass sees little traffic, compared to similar roads many weeks away that skirt the range all together. Still, those who live in remote or out of the way places often have need of things that cannot be acquired easily. If legends are the export of the Scalecliff Mountains, heroes are the import. About two years ago, the Village of Misty Mountain began to suffer the deprivations of banditry. Farmers who worked the fields nearby would go missing, or flee into town at the dead of night, begging for help to save his barn from burning. The bandits, though stealthy at first, soon began to operate in the open. The whole village and all the surrounding farms knew that their idyllic and private world was besieged by orcs. Such bestial creatures were always a threat to those who live on frontiers, and the people of Misty Mountain Village had never failed to combat the orcs and goblin bands that would pass through from time to time. This time, however, the orcs were in such numbers that the village could not fight, and they did not appear content to merely rape, loot, and raze before passing on to somewhere else. This time they seemed to have moved in to stay. For the past several months, a few villagers that managed to escape to the world outside the Scalecliff range have gone from village to village, town to town, asking everyone for aid. Travelers have been stopped on the roads and begged, if you cannot render aid then please, at least spread the word to ask for those who can. The Scalecliff range must once again bring in heroes. The Scalecliff range might once again give birth to legends.[/i:09be37a2d6] * * * Sevan DeVelunee, adventurer for hire and swashbuckler by trade, looked on the village of Misty Valley under the noon sun, wiping the road dust from his brow with an expensive-looking handkerchief. He had heard the call for adventurers in this area, as others surely had, and decided this place would be a good start on his road as any other. Hunting orcs would earn him much-needed coin, and perhaps his assistance would help the local farmers and villagers in these dark times. The prospect of fame, he admitted to himself with a smile, was a rather nice bonus. The newly-erected defences were worthy of notice, thought Sevan as he entered the village, and would have probably been examined further by someone who wasn’t in dire need of clean accommodations. Gods, how he hated the outdoors! “Let me have the hum of a city,” Sevan whispered quietly, drawing a glance from a passer-by, who dismissed him just as quickly. [i:09be37a2d6]Let me have the hum of Sigil.[/i:09be37a2d6] The walk to the centre of the village was shorter than Sevan had expected, but the need for a clean bed overruled the want to walk through the village. “My pardons, kind sir,” he asked a passing half-elf, “but could you please direct me to the nearest inn?” The half-elf, his mixed heritage barely noticeable, merely pointed to the large building not far and hurried away. Sevan, who usually felt at home with the half-breeds of society, merely shrugged and moved on. He wasn’t angry at his treatment. In fact, he wasn’t angry at all these days, or at least tried not to be. Some emotions were better suppressed, he thought, especially when they revealed his tiefling heritage for all to see. No, best not to repeat Squire’s Hollow. Some secrets were best kept for as long as possible, because sometimes they related directly to the length of one’s life. And Sevan had no wish to die just yet. Twenty minutes later he was sitting in his own room, carefully folding his clothes on the bed, and tentatively sat down in the wash basin. The water was cold, as it was expected from a cheap backwater inn, but at least it was there. Soap, on the other hand, was [i:09be37a2d6]not[/i:09be37a2d6] supplied by the inn, but in that Sevan was one step ahead of them. Few knew the importance of soap, but then from Sevan’s experience few knew how to use their noses properly as it is. Once he was clean to his satisfaction, and dressed again in his flamboyant attire, Sevan sat down on his bed, the one candle the inn supplied burning brightly to keep the shadows of the falling night at bay for a minute longer. Sevan carefully trimmed his beard and moustache to his satisfaction with the help of a mirror and a small pair of scissors he kept for just that purpose, and laid them aside when he was finished. An onlooker, had there been one, would have noticed that there was no apparent change in the man’s facial hair, but that, as Sevan would have told him, was the whole point. Blowing out the candle, Sevan lay down to rest. The tiredness of the road had set in, and it was time for a well-earned night’s sleep. Tomorrow, he promised himself drowsily, he would seek out a party of adventurers to join. A man alone against the orcish brutes had exactly the same chances of survival as a man alone in Sigil. None whatsoever. * * * It was late morning when Sevan was sitting downstairs with his new companions, and what companions they were! There was Aidan, a ‘hexblade’, as he called himself. A man of regal appearance but of surly mood, he had invoked instant dislike in Sevan. Arnthé Aparain, a half-elf fighter whom Sevan hadn’t had a chance to speak with yet, nodded to him when Sevan’s gaze met his. Sevan saw much in those eyes, and smiled and winked in reply. The elven mage, Narluén, was a strange one. He was young, by elven standards, and kept his reasons for taking up the village’s bounty his own. To each his own, Sevan thought, dismissing that issue from his mind. The second elf, a druid by the name of Sol’Nurvarlanna, a name which Sevan quickly shorted to Lanna, was sitting nearby. The dwarven cleric, Azgrim, was sitting a short, but noticeable, distance away from the elves. Close enough to not appear hostile, but far enough as to not being friendly, thought Sevan. Caleb, the monk sitting next to the dwarf, was a complete mystery to Sevan. The man spoke little, did nothing in excess to what he felt he had to do, and revealed, in short, absolutely nothing. The young woman, Jitma Mendachia, was sitting next to the surly halfling, Alton. The halfling was easily placed, a rogue out for a quick coin as far as Sevan could see, but the woman was a strange one. She called herself a Soulknife, and showed Sevan exactly when she conjured a glowing knife seemingly out of nowhere. Sevan tried to remember what little he knew of such matters, and decided to try and compare her abilities to those of psionics he had met in Sigil when he had the time. For now, he found himself disliking her, and it was more than just the knife that found its way to her hand a hair’s breadth from his nose. The last of the group was sitting at a table of his own. Starek Relner, a shifter by birth and a ranger by trade, was drinking his beer, doing exactly what Sevan was doing just now. He watched as Starek’s gaze passed over the other members of the group, until he finally met Sevan’s eyes, waiting. Sevan raised an eyebrow, and smiled in understanding to show that he understood the shifter’s sentiments perfectly. Starek looked away with no reply. His quick review complete, Sevan turned to the tavern-keeper, Otho. He was a large man, well-built, his face bringing to mind smiles, laughing, and tranquillity, and it would have shown such had the recent troubles not hit Misty Mountain Village as hard as they did, putting plenty of worry-lines on the large man’s face. Still, Sevan noted, he seemed to wear his currently stern countenance like an old friend, and Sevan guessed Otho had seen worse than this before. “I suggest that anyone needing provisions or general equipment visit Mercam’s store directly to the south-east of my inn,” Otho said, looking over the group. “He’s an old friend, and his prices are fair even in these times. If it’s weapons or armour you need fixed, then Derg to the north is the one to go to. He’s a half-orc, mind you,” he cautions, “but he’s been with us for us for a long time. We trust him, and don’t doubt that anyone who attempts to pick a fight with him will end up in bad trouble. He’s working day and night to supply weapons, armour, and ammunition to the townsfolk in case of an orc raid, but he might just have something to spare for you, be it equipment or the time to repair what you already have. “The large temple in the south-west corner of town is normally worth a visit just to take a look at, but if it’s spiritual guidance you’re looking for, Father Andrew will allow any who wishes to worship inside, provided it’s not evil deities they’re praying to.” “What god is he a cleric of?” asked Azgrim with interest. “He’s not actually devoted to any single god,” said Otho, “which is why allows the temple to be used so openly, and without prejudice. If you want to hear more about this sort of thing, I suggest you ask him. “Now then,” he continued, “there’s a temporary building set up in the old village green, to the northwest, to house the refugees coming in from the outlying farms, and a small tent city that sprang around it when the room in the building ran out. Directly north of those is Headman Abram Ory’s house, but he’s generally too busy with the town’s defences to talk with bounty hunters. If it’s something urgent, though, he’s a good man to go to. Also, there’s an apothecary in town, owned by Asaril. She’s an elf, an older than anyone living here. She can be useful if you need healing.” Sevan nodded, taking the information in. Beyond that, he and the others knew that other bounty hunters and adventurers have passed through the town. Most have already set off to start collecting the grisly trophies, orc scalps, already. Otho had said earlier that at least two separate adventuring companies have stayed in his tavern over the past week, and a number of lone-wolves as well, operating on their own. He had admitted with disappointment that after a while it became difficult to tell who was with whom. “The bounty?” Starek asked, considering the possibilities before them. “The bounty for lifting the siege on the town is unknown at the moment,” answered Otho, “but the Headman has promised it to be worthwhile. Each orc scalp is worth one silver piece, which is an average common man’s monthly wage in these parts.” “Hmmm.” Starek considered this. “Do you happen to have a map of the surrounding area?” asked Azgrim. Otho nodded, and passed on several cheaply-made copies of a local map. It was apparent that he was handing these out to anyone willing to lend the small town a hand, and from the quality of both map and paper apparent that they didn’t cost him too much. Sevan looked at his copy, remembering from some talk he had heard that there are enough orcs in the nearby woods for them to live like kings three times over if they but brought back their scalps. “Collecting scalps is a messy business,” Sevan muttered, “Oh, it will keep us in money, but lifting the danger is paramount.” That, he thought, and he wasn’t planning on orc-hunting for the rest of his life. “Thank you!” said Azgrim, looking at his own map. “Are there any wizards in the town?” asked Narluen, carefully folding the map and turning to the large inn-keeper. “There’s two,” said Otho. “One’s a gnome fellow, lives in the tallest house in town down near the church. The other’s a quiet man, named Orvid, who can be found at the temple, usually frustrating Father Andrew. Orvid is something of an unofficial second priest, you see.” “Did orcs never attack the village before this latest trouble?” Azgrim asked, still poised over his copy of the map. “Oh, sure,” said Otho. “There’s always some sort of trouble from the wilderness, but usually it was just a small raid, maybe a few pigs, once in a while a whole cow… About every few years someone might have a barn, or even a house burn down if he lived too far out, but this is the worst trouble to ever strike Misty Mountain in our lifetimes.” “Has magic been used in the battles?” asked Narluen, interested in what he could better understand. “Can’t rightly say,” said Otho, “as the orcs haven’t attacked the town itself directly. If they used any magic, I haven’t seen it. None of the refugees who passed through here mentioned magic, either, but then I haven’t questioned that many of them about the raids.” “Do you have any ideas as to the reason for the increased raids, friend Otho?” asked Sevan. “And did they begin at once, or did they grow over time?” added Azgrim. Starek snorted. “Orcs breed. Orcs attack.” he said, causing Azgrim to laugh. “None at all, I’m afraid,” answered the innkeeper. “At first it just seemed like a particularly intense spell of banditry, but as more and more farmers rode into town, with a few freshly made widows and orphans as well, we realized it was something worse. We’re at the point where it isn’t fair to call this simple raiding – we are under siege now. Maybe you folks haven’t been to the south yet, but we certainly haven’t received any adventurers from that direction. We suspect the worst.” “So, which farm has had it worst?” asked Narluen. “Well, the first farms to report trouble came from the south-east,” said Otho. “It sounds like the real trouble is down there to the south. Seems we should prepare for quite a battle!” said Azgrim with clear pleasure at the prospect. “What is beyond those farms?” asked Sevan with interest, keeping his own feelings on that matter for himself. Otho unfolded a map of the region, one that was, Sevan noticed, of better quality than those he had given out earlier. “There’s two major farms to the east of the village,” he said. “Plantations, really, and east of them is just a great thick wood. You can see Misty Mountain rising up over the trees further east and a little ways south. Nobody ever ventures that far these days, but we still have it on our maps from ages gone by.” “Interesting…” said Sevan, thinking this over. The halfling, Halton, listened with interest to what was being said, but kept silent. “To the east,” continued Otho, “the farm on the north is the Briarthorn farm. The Briarthorns came to town a few decades ago. They’re halfling brothers, Barnaby and Isadore. When they got there, we only had two other halfling families, the Greenboughs and the Underroots who live in the north-eastern part of town. The two families have been feuding for a few generation, it seemed, but the Briarthorn brothers each married a daughter from the two clans and made peace between them. They set up a farm out on the east side of town, but mostly they’re ranchers. They raise some of the biggest work dogs you’ve ever seen, and almost every farm in town has at least one Briarthorn hound in it. “We haven’t heard from the Briarthorns yet, and I don’t know if it means that they’re holding out fine or not,” said Otho, looking troubled. “Each of those farms is quite large, and easily defended, though,” he rallies. “South of the Briarthorn farm is the Bodemen farm. We [i:09be37a2d6]know[/i:09be37a2d6] they’ve seen trouble already. We received the first account of it being orcs that we had came from Hester, old Jebb Bodemen’s oldest son. Jester rode into town with an arrow sticking out of him, and was barely conscious enough to give us an account of what had happened. All the Bodemen boys are famous for being good horsemen, but Jester told us he had barely managed to escape with his life from an orc scouting party. The second Bodemen son, Jace, went out for revenge when he heard about it, and was never seen again.” “Jester survived then?” asked Azgrim, cutting Otho off. “Yes, Jester survived,” said Otho, not appreciating the interruption. “A few days after Jace’s disappearance, one of Bodemen’s dogs, Briarthorn raised I might add, brought back a bit of reins found in the wood, and it had Bodemen family brass on it. We don’t think Jebb’s second son was as lucky as his first. Bodemen’s only daughter, Rebecca, was sent into town as soon as Jace’s reins were found. She helped nurse Jester back to health and he rushed off back to his father’s side as soon as he could. Rebecca’s still in town, typically trying to help the refugees as best as she can, but she comes round here in the evenings on most days. There’s two more sons out there on the Bodemen farm, Jonn and Jubal, and hopefully the four of ‘em left are alright. They sent in all their farmhands and have been preparing for war ever since Jace was killed. They’re a ranch farm, so they should have plenty of provisions, but we haven’t heard from them since Jester left us to go back home.” “Is this another halfling farm?” asked Azgrim, and Sevan tried in vain to hide a smile. “No, they’re humans,” said Otho. “The Briarthorns are the only halflings to make a living on the farms.” “Has there been any trouble from the west?” asked Jitma, silent until now. “No, not yet,” said Otho. “That’s the Lowly farm out there; that place was fortified ages ago. Much to the west of the Lowly farm, the land just slopes away to a river chasm, and it’s rare for any trouble to come up from that way. The Lowly farm is the largest one around, and we haven’t had a single refugee from that way yet. “Up to the north are the Carters and the Nichols. The Carters grow cotton and flax, the Nichols are sheep ranchers. To the south is the Michum farm; Bently Michum’s not there, though. He spends his time in town… He’s a bit soft for a farmer. You can usually find loitering around Rebecca Bodemen.” “Hmm, it would seem trouble from the mountains,” said Sevan examining the map and making note of the locations of the farms in question. “Trouble comes from wherever orcs are!” exclaimed Azgrim, Starek nodding in agreement, and Sevan rolled his eyes. He was committed to them, he reminded himself, and he couldn’t run away just now. If this continued though, he thought, he might just consider this anew. “Well, Azgrim,” said Sevan, bringing a smile to his face. “We won’t accomplish much by waiting for them here, now would we? We must seek them out.” “I agree,” said Aidan. “Sitting here is getting us nowhere.” “I say we’d do best to equip ourselves here in town, and then go scouting to the south,” said Azgrim. “It sounds like that’s where the trouble comes from.” “Deer doesn’t look, gets caught by wolves,” said Starek. “Should ask those who’ve been out there first.” “A fair remark, Starek.” said the dwarf. “The Bodemen girl, perhaps…” said Sevan, musing. “Perhaps Jester told her something that would be of import to us.” “I say choose a detour,” said Jitma, “go from the south-east or the south-west. If we don’t run into orc patrols on our way then we will save time.” “I’m sure that weapons’-man must hear some news, if an orc is to be trusted,” said Narluen. “Listen, skirt boy,” Jitma told him. “I for one do not want to have every Orc in Orcville knowing I’m comin’. Strike them at their hears, before their eyes are any the wiser.” “Well then,” said Azgrim, “perhaps it would be best if we found out what information we can hear in town and then meet together again later. Unless we’re to traipse around in a mob asking questions!” he exclaimed, and the elven druid, Lanna, nodded in agreement. “A wise statement,” said Narluen, looking slightly surprised to see a dwarf is capable of making such. Starek looked at him askance. “Can’t help his parents,” he said. Meanwhile the monk, Caleb, was simply looking from speaker to speaker, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with anything being said. Azgrim, on the other hand, was pointedly looking sideways at the elves occasionally, as though assessing them. “I suggest forming two groups,” said Aidan. The others quickly agreed. Azgrim, Arnthé, Alton, Lanna, Aidan, and Starek decided to go and see the smith together. The rest would go to the temple, and eventually to the refugees.” “Innkeeper? You say that Bodemen will visit here later?” asked Narluen. “Rebecca? Yes she comes here in the evenings, sometimes sooner but by nightfall at the latest,” said Otho. “If you need to speak to her, or Bently, they’ll be here by then.” “I will stay here,” said Sevan, thinking quickly. “I feel I will be of little use with you this time, and one can try and gather more information here. [i:09be37a2d6]That[/i:09be37a2d6], he mentally added, [i:09be37a2d6]and this is where the good drink is located.[/i:09be37a2d6] “Friends, shall we meet again in the tavern this evening?” asked Azgrim. “Deal,” said Jitma. “I doubt we need [i:09be37a2d6]that[/i:09be37a2d6] much praying.” “Until then! Good luck at the temple.” Azgrim told the others. “Yes, Master Dwarf,” said Narluen resignedly. “I shall return this evening.” “I will await you here, friends, “ said Sevan. [b:09be37a2d6]edit: As you can see, it's finished. If anyone has any issues, small as they may be, with the way I saw your characters are portrayed (or even if I missed someone, which is possible, as I wrote this between 1 and 4 AM ), let me know.[/b:09be37a2d6] edit2: Added Garner's teaser, which I forgot about for a moment. edit3: Fixed a typo Ben (Electric_Man) pointed out. Good typo, though.