The Sons of Gruumsh
The Story Thus Far…
Table of Contents
We began in the City of Phlan. The heroes had been adventuring together for a year or so in the old ruins beneath that city, and had gained a reputation for themselves with local authorities. They were summoned to the office of the half-orc Kella Voskorm, current High Councilor on the ruling Council of Ten. She received a request for assistance from the Lord Envoy of Melvaunt. He was in need of an impartial group of investigators to look into the recent disappearance of five young nobles, heirs to some of the most powerful merchant houses in the city, including his own. Because of the constant in-fighting that goes on between the Houses of Melvaunt, none of them were willing to trust the investigation to the local authorities. Due to their past services, Kella thought the heroes would be able to help defuse the situation.
The party set out on the following morning along the Phlan Path, headed for Melvaunt. At about midday, they came upon a merchant and his daughter being attacked by bandits. They charged into the fray and easily defeated the bad guys. All were killed except one. He was able to give them a little information about the bandits’ activities, and the name of their now-dead leader, Corwyn Jaffe.
Among the loot they took off the bandits, they found a broken, curiously carved jade stone. Bob used mend to make it whole again, and studied it carefully. All he could figure out was that the runes on it were from the lower planes, and some of them spelled out the name Vorbyx. The stone appeared to be a key of some sort.
The party pushed on through the night, escorting the merchant and his daughter with their wagon. The travelers reached Melvaunt as dawn was lightening the sky. They immediately checked into an inn to get some rest.
In the afternoon, they began their investigation into the disappearance of the young nobles by interviewing the different families. The missing heirs were Oreal Nanther, Argens Bruil, Kalman Leiyraghon, Elaint Marsk, and Kara Calaudra. As it turned out, the five had been secretly meeting together to go adventuring out on the moor, looking for artifacts belonging to an ancient humanoid kingdom that had once occupied the land of Thar. They had gone out several nights before by the north gate accompanied by the dwarf Dorn Crownshield, who appeared to have taken them under his wing. Their destination was a place known as the Watchtower of Vorbyx. The party would have to travel out onto the moor to pick up their trail.
First, since the name ‘Vorbyx’ was popping up, the party also took some time to research who he was. Vorbyx figures prominently in the myths of the humanoids of Thar. The orcs believe that he was an orc, while the ogres believe he was an ogre. Whichever he was, he united the humanoids of Thar, and established a powerful empire in the region. At the height of his power, he built a fleet of ships, and took his army across the sea to attack the human city-state of Northkeep. Legends tell that his priests united to call upon the power of their gods, who created a cataclysm that sank Northkeep beneath the waves.
Although the battle was a victory for the humanoids, they did not continue south to attack the elves of Cormanthyr, as one might have expected, nor did they ever again attempt to spread beyond the moorlands of Thar. No legends tell of the death of Vorbyx, but there are stories of later rulers, and the empire continued on for a few hundred more years without him before it fell apart under pressure from invading humans. There is an ancient prophecy which originated among the ogres that Vorbyx would one day return to reestablish his empire. The original prophecy was written in the ogreish tongue, but the standard translation reads as follows:
During the Time of Chaos…
During their investigation, the party also met a halfing shopkeeper named Ulblyn Blackalbuck who convinced them to free a group of contraband slaves who were being held in the basement beneath a local tavern. They infiltrated the tavern, found the entrance into the basement, fought several smugglers who were guarding the slaves, and managed to free them. In thanks, Ulblyn provided them with rations, tents, and a pack animal for their journey out onto the moor.
With barely any sleep, the party set out the next morning in the rain towards the Watchtower of Vorbyx. They were still some miles away when night overtook them, and they had to set up camp. During the night, they were attacked by a small raiding party of orcs.
Setting off again the next morning, they arrived at the watchtower at about midday. The watchtower is actually a pinnacle of limestone rock, flat on the top with stairs cut into the side. Cave openings could be seen part of the way up. The tower did not hold their interest, though, when they saw a murder of crows wheeling about in the sky, and several wargs on the ground, feeding on dead carcasses. As they approached, the wargs retreated from their food, and the party was able to investigate the site. Aust determined that a fight had taken place between a large party of orcs, and a smaller part—probably the young lords. The only non-orc body they found was that of a dwarf, probably Dorn Crownshield. It appeared the young lords had been taken prisoner.
Although the trail was several days old, the party began to follow it in hopes of rescuing the nobles. They were stalked by the wargs, and eventually had to fight them off. The next day, they came upon an orc camp, and engaged in a brief fight, taking two of the orcs prisoner. They learned that the young nobles had been brought to the camp several nights before, and had stayed there overnight before being led away. The orcs who captured them were taking them to the fortress of Xul’Jarak.
Two nights later, while still following the trail, the party was greeted in the middle of the night by an orc named Haravak. He was the son of Grond, who had once served as mentor to Aust, teaching him about the ways of nature and survival on the moor. Haravak had come in search of Aust to tell him that Grond had been slain by an ogre named Keg. Haravak has sworn an oath to slay Keg in revenge, but he wanted Aust’s help. In return, he would lead the party by the shortest route to Xul’Jarak, and watch their horses and gear for them while they rescued the young lords. The entire party agreed to help him.
He was also able to tell them why the young lords had been taken. A mountain orc by the name of Thrull was claiming to have been chosen by Gruumsh to unite the orcs of Thar once more into a great empire. He had gathered representatives from the most powerful tribes to attend a ritual that would bestow the Blessing of Gruumsh upon him, and signal his fitness to rule. The key part of this ritual would be the sacrifice of the young lords. Their noble blood would induce Gruumsh to grant Thrull his favor.
The next day, the party traveled to where the ogre lived with his wife and two sons. The following morning they set an ambush for the ogre and his wife when the two went out in search of food. It was a difficult battle, but the heroes slew Keg and nearly killed his wife, Hora. She fled, but not before swearing her own oath of vengeance against the party.
True to his word, Haravak led the party straight to Xul’Jarak. The fortress rests on an outcrop overlooking a wide valley in the foothills of the Galena Mts. They arrived at the site just as night was falling to see the valley floor dotted with campfires. Two armies of orcs had gathered for the great event.
As the party took shelter in a nearby cave, a fierce storm blew down out of the mountains. Thunder rolled across the valley, and lightning split the sky. It seemed the perfect cover under which to infiltrate the fortress, so leaving Haravak with the horses, they crept across the valley to the base of Xul’Jarak.
Getting inside the ancient fortress proved less difficult than one might have supposed. In ages long past, an army had laid siege to the fortress and broke down part of its walls. Thrull was attempting to rebuild the fortress, but there was still a wide gap through which the party was able to sneak. The guards were more interested in staying dry than performing their duty, and had no notion of anyone attempting a rescue mission. Several of them fell to surprise attacks before a general alarm was finally sounded. At that point, the party was in a fight for their lives against what appeared to be a formidable number of foes, one of whom even had a pet wyvern. The element of surprise, along with Elvira’s axe and a couple of well-placed fireballs, proved decisive though.
The upper fortress was cleared out, but the young lords were being held in a temple complex far beneath the earth. The party had to descend into the depths, taking out guards along the way before they could get to Thrull. They were unable to do all that without having to rest, and Thrull became aware of their presence. He sent his minions in search of them, but the party had taken shelter in a hidden passage. Not finding them, Thrull assumed that they had used magic to flee, and would probably return. He did what he could to repair his defenses, and even sent an envoy to the orc armies in the valley to recruit more help.
Unkown to Thrull, the armies had apparently heard something of what was going in the fortress, including certain acts of betrayal by the orcs of one faction against another. Rather than coming to his aid, they battled among themselves, leaving scores of orcs dead. Haravak watched the battle from hiding, and was able to report on it to the party when they returned much later.
After resting, the party continued their descent, until they came to the room in which Thrull was barricaded. He was waiting for them with his minions when they came through the door, and a fierce battle ensued. In the end, though, Thrull and his minions lay dead on the floor. The party was able to find and release the young nobles, but they weren’t done yet.
On the wall in the temple of Gruumsh was an intricate carving with strange runes. In the center of the carving was a hollow spot that looked a perfect fit for the jade stone the party had found on Corwyn Jaffe. Fitting the stone into the hollow, the carving glowed with an eldritch light, and the wall opened to reveal a stairway leading down into the depths of the earth.
The party descended the long, winding stairs, followed by the reluctant nobles, who had no choice but to stay with their rescuers. After nearly an hour, the stairs finally lead out into a deep cavern complex. As the party explored this strange underground area, they met with a number of monsters who appeared to have been summoned into the cavern to serve as guardians. After each one was fought and defeated, the party was able to find a piece of the fabled Hammer of Vorbyx. Once all the pieces had been found, they returned to the main cavern where there was a glowing stone containing an impression that looked as though it was made to receive the hammer. Around the edge of the stone was the prophecy about the return of Vorbyx. The party put the pieces of the hammer into the appropriate spot on the stone, and in a flash of light the Hammer of Vorbyx was reassembled—and promptly disappeared. A sound like the sound of breaking glass was heard, and then a loud voice echoed through the caverns, reciting a slightly different version of the “prophecy”. (These translations can be so tricky.)
From the Dominion of Chaos…
A creature, half-ogre and half-demon stepped into the cavern from a side tunnel, holding the Maul of Vorbyx in his hand. He thanked the party for returning him from the Abyss, and then offered them the choice of dying or becoming his servants. The party naturally chose to fight. The creature was both skilled with the hammer he wielded and able to cast powerful spells. Had he succeeded in charming Elvira, the party would have been in serious trouble, but she was able to shrug off the enchantment, and land several devastating blows with her axe. Deciding that the time was not yet right for chastising the unfaithful, Vorbyx chose to vanish instead. The party tried to prevent him from fleeing, but he was able to escape up the long stairway, and close the door above with them trapped inside. Fortunately, Holden was able to stoneshape a new exit when the party finally reached the top.
There, they reunited with Haravak, noted the remains of the orc battle, and beat a hasty retreat back towards Melvaunt. Haravak was able to tell them that he had observed Vorbyx when he emerged from Xul’Jarak. The demonic creature had taken to the air and flown off to the southwest. The party went to the southeast, hit the Glister Road, and joined up with the first caravan headed towards Melvaunt. Haravak took his leave of them to return to the his tribe, the Red Fangs.