Following the rout of Dirren Kas, the whole group got together in Westwall to seek the wise counsel of Duchess Ashdrake once again. She took into account the recent events, and the continued threat of BlackFire. After discussion with the group, they agreed to discover what had happened to Lord Castor, the MIA lord of the modest town of Calver. With such evidence in hand, Adeline reasoned, they could approach King Treville Pargraven directly, hopefully getting into the monarch’s good graces in the process. At that point they could inform the king of the BlackFire treason. The Gala invitations from Kas’s lair could wait, as they had a two week window before that event. As they geared up, Heisenberg and Mendel the monk rejoined the group. The fighter had once again used his guard contacts to dredge up more information. As it turned out, they were being tracked by several well-known bands of mercernaries; the Reavers, led by a vicious half-orc named *; the Blue Falcons, a hilariously inept, ragtag band of misfits; and a shadowy organization with no commonly known name that Heisenberg was able to ascertain, learning only that their contact was one “Sillith the Hexmaiden.”
The team set out south to Calver, enjoying the beautiful sights of the glittering Coldhallow lake and the bountiful forests, even catching a glimpse of a griffon flying high overhead at one point. Sadly, the light-heartedness was not to last, as even at a distance they could see Calver was in ruins as they approached along the main road. Belladonna thought she saw something, or someone, scurry behind a building, likely an orc. The group very carefully split into teams, searching the delapidated buildings for clues and any undiscovered items. Belladonna carefully pocketed a magical headband, while the others found some potions and a lovely bottle of Elven brandy, but not much more. Signs of orcs abounded, from hastily abandoned straw mats to various strange bone trinkets. Dobby was able to commune with the birds and learn that the orcs had holed up in the lord’s large, defensible home, with at least a few Worgs with them. As they approached the wooden double door to the large stone manor, the noticed a pile of burnt corpses to one side, doubtless the remains of the villagers. Suspecting a trap, Belladonna checked the door for traps, inadvertently setting it off, causing several bolders to splinter the door apart. Our dexterious halfling narrowly avoided being squished. Inside, on either side of a long fire pit, multiple orcs stood ready for battle. At the end of the hall, their burly, two-handed axe wielding chieftan stepped forth, flanked by snarling, slavering Worgs. The tumult began, with our barbarian guffawing casually into the fray, slicing this way and that, while Heisenberg maintained a somewhat more conservative approach, deflecting blows with ease as he stood toe-to-toe with the green goons. Dobby made an attempt to befriend one of the giant canine monsters, only to enrage it to the point that it focused entirely on the poor gnome. Elora, for her part, decided it would be just peaches to get into a ranged weapon contest with the chief, landing a crossbow bolt square in his chest, much to the orc’s surprise. As Queso did what Queso does best, Hofniel thought it would be helpful to enlarge Heisenberg again, enabling him to effortlessly skewer one orc from above on his giant silver sword to toss casually into the firepit. Elora and the chief seemed hellbent on seeing who could be more like Boromir from Lord of the Rings, both sustaining multiple arrows/bolts, each one teetering on the verge of death. Hofniel scrambled forward to save Elora, casting healing magic in the nick of time-At least it would have been the nick of time, had Heisenberg the Huge not meandered over and casually stomped the orc chieftan’s guts out before he could fire another shot with his bow. Mendel the monk took down one remaning orc with a spectacular uppercut, shattering the sap’s skull like a melon. This gave him enough time to engage the Worg that sprinted toward Dobby, inflicting powerful strikes against the creature, but not putting it down. Queso tried to stop the monster, slashing into it’s mangy hide with his blade, but he just couldn’t finish the job in time. It bit Dobby savagely, nearly ripping the tiny druid off of her feet. It was then that Norbert the hitherto shy Wyvernling, aghast to see its “mother” under attack, launched into the building and delivered a vicious sting to the wounded Worg, ending it’s existence with a delivery of potent venom. On the other side of the room, Elora angrily bashed the other Worg’s head in with her staff, much to the surprise of her warrior comrades, who had been working hard to finish it off beforehand. Cleaning themselves off, the group advanced to the side rooms, only to find a few torn pages of a journal along with dented swords, broken armor, and dried blood stains- signs of a last stand. Amongst the wreckage was lord Castor’s split shield, identifiable by the oak tree painted on its wooden face. The journal indicated what the team had suspected- they had come under assault by orcs in the night, and had been hopelessly outnumbered. The journal made references to this kind of attack as being unusual for southern orc barbarians. Queso, while rooting through the dead orcs’ gear, inadvertently noticed burn scars in a splash patters on a few of them, just like the acid burns from the hellish creations of Dirren Kas. Having the evidence they needed, the group made the journey to Starkhaven to deliver the sad news of Castor’s untimely demise.
Starkhaven was immense, bustling with activity of all kinds. Clay shingled buildings with stone and plaster walls were painted a variety of colors, making the city vibrant and aesthetic. Tradesfolk of all stripes hawked their skills and wares at every turn. The group soaked up the sights, culminating in the tremendous castle of King Pargraven, flanked with banners of all kinds, with that of the king himself foremost, bearing a single white rose. Built close by was a towering spire that crackled with magical energy, no doubt the lair of Erath’s Order of Magic, the proximity of which made Elora bounce with glee. Dobby, for her part, found the prospect of making another animal friend irresistible, wandering off to hunt down an exotic animal trader to obtain her very own naked mole rat. Queso, noticing a tattoo parlor, immediately wanted to get a teardrop tattoo for every poor sap he had ever cleaved in half. Hofniel gently reminded him that would likely take a week. The group bought useful gear and upgraded their current armor and weapons as much as they could, personalizing it with some added flair (Hofniel made sure there was a sun on everything he owned, while Heisenberg preferred his items embossed with large “H”s. Eventually they made it to the castle, convincing the guard of the urgency of their news and their need to obtain an audience with the king himself.
They were ushered in, walking through a high-ceiling hall adorned with all manner of heraldry. Nobles and vassals held conversations here and there, attending to important business, no doubt. The adventurers were guided further into an expansive room, where the king and his closest knights held counsel. Bedecked in the finest plate armor, shields bearing the crests of each house, they were as something out of legend. In the center, hovering over a table, stood Treville Pargraven himself, who beckoned them to approach. He addressed Hofniel directly, instantly recognizing the son of one of his lords. All of them carefully bowed, following Hofniel’s example. Even the mighty Queso stayed on his best behavior, stifling his flatulence in an uncharacteristic manner. The conversation was terse, and nerve wracking. They presented their findings, and though the king seemed concerned at the loss of Lord Castor, he betrayed no emotion, acknowledging the team’s efforts to aid Erath, and, much to their relief, granting them a formal pardon for their assault on the Duke of Sorpigal. Treville wryly commented that, so long as they maintained unwavering loyalty to the crown, they could keep their questionably obtained mace, at least for the time being. Mentions of their misadventure with Torval elicited giggles from a few of the nearby knights, though Treville kept his stoic composure. Things became particularly tense when Hofniel realized the king was…purportedly..unaware of the Blackfire problem, being forced to explain the plot himself. King Pargraven made it clear he would look into the matter, but promised no more than that. At the conclusion of their audience, the king granted the group access to the finest artisans and smiths in his domain, to include the Order of Magic that Elora had so eagerly hoped to enter. Within they found access to enchanters, spell tomes, and the wise old astrologer Dinweld, on the top story. Wielding an enormous mobile of planets and stars with mirrors set at all angles to collect the sunlight through the glass roof, the astrologer could ascertain the exact location of a fallen godstone, at the behest of the gleefully drooling Queso Grande. Moving on, Elora bypassed the normal spellbook salesperson to obtain a cheaper copy from a fence, catching some questionable stares in the process. All in all, our heroes chalked up a success, now well outfitted and eager to pursue a greater challenge, which was sure to come.