IN THE FORGE
Mourendar and his cohorts stare at the iron gate and the dozen or so rabid orc zombies trying to squeeze through.
Mourendar: “Imrak, you and I shall crush the heads of the pinned zombies with your axe and my hammer. Sigurd, will you raise the portcullis slightly, and I’ll shout for you to drop it when the zombies begin crawling beneath it. Let’s hope this works well, I don’t wish to loose the planks to our bridge.”
It was a fair idea. Sigurd lifted the gate, the zombies that could sure enough tried to crawl under, reaching out for human flesh to eat and the hammers fell, flattening skull and brains. However in a frenzied state the mass of zombies kept pushing under the gate and began to raise is up with sheer force, knocking Sigurd back off the chains. Mourendar and Imrak slew a few more zombies easily before the remaining foes where through and were upon them. The harrowing fight was short with only four zombies walking, the last one tossed into the boiling lava by the tall Norseman.
Mourendar thought to himself – An army of the dead. That’s what Koros wanted. An army to take the hold. But what of these things? An army that can grow with every fallen soldier rising up to join the zombie ranks? In mass there would be no wall they couldn’t knock down. No front line they couldn’t trample. No siege they couldn’t outlive. But is this Koros’ work or something else…
Immediately the company moved into the mine room, looked down upon the one entrance and thought of how it might be secured when the sound of a horn , barely audible, caught their ears.
“The Horn of Valaya,” exclaimed Sigurd.
“Then we have guests,” added Imrak, turning in direction of the sound…
ELSEWHERE IN THE RUINS
Kwarjieh studied her two adversaries then spoke:
“I’m grateful for your assistance sir, and I truly hope we haven’t caused you undue concern! My name is Kwarjieh and my companions are Taro and Grunril (gesturing in their respective directions.) Assuming that you are sharing your quarters with us, may I ask your name?”
The bronze armored warrior replies, with an accent unlike Kwarjieh’s heard in the voice of an Old Worlder, “You assume much. I’m not satisfied.”
Kwarjieh turns to the dark-skinned brute: “I would like to apologize; I didn’t remember to pick up your throwing club, but I doubt the undead will find a use for it – and we may recover it later as time allows. Pray tell though, how is it you find yourself in the ruins and worse yet, by yourself?”
The dark-skinned warrior responds in a language unfamiliar to the party. Kwarjieh moves to Grunril, examines his wound and begins to heal the dwarf.
Valaya show mercy to your child Grunril; these wounds he received in your service and the fault was entirely mine! Alleviate his discomfort; bless the water I use to cleanse these wounds – may your tears wash away his ills.
The armored warrior lowers his spear, removes his helm. “Pardon my friend, he speaks only his native tongue, which I happen to understand. We’ll go first if that’s what you need, but make no mistake, I require full answers from you if you’re thinking of staying here. We’re mercenaries. We were hired by El Gatto. Do you know him..?”
INSIDE THE FORGE
No matter your upbringing, character, race, or world view, it’s a sight to behold. After crossing the lava chamber chasm you are led through a corridor of worked stone and walk into “the forge…”
The space is easily two-hundred feet on all sides with a barrel-vaulted ceiling of near fifty feet. In the center flows a tributary of lava that also breaks into a horseshoe shaped canal creating an island of carved stone in the center before flowing out into an exit cavern. This gives ample light and warmth. There are four bridges that connect the island to the entrance, two furnaces, and a sealed chamber. There is a guard wall some 15 feet high splitting the island in half, and obstructing a view of any work therein. Most remarkable are the orange glowing ruins carved onto wall, floor and ceiling…
There are also two large statues of Grungni in the southwest and east corners of the chamber and a set of closed double-doors in the east wall.
Moving towards you from the doors is a very tall human who introduces himself as Sigurd (Gene son of Eric).
Imrak: “Let’s hang here until we hear from Mourendar.”
Sigurd: “Good. I haven’t had time to set the table.”
IN THE HALLS OF SKORRUN CLAN
Kwarjieh, Grunril and Taro readied themselves after a night’s rest with Gilmann and K’Tush determined to make the journey with them. Kwarjieh had offered to lead them to a secret entrance under the hold but she did not specify the details to the two mercenaries.
The stalwart troupe prepared to carry out their plan of escape, ready for a fight as it was assumed the orc zombies were at the door. Kwarjieh gave Valaya’s blessing to the group and reached for the door. As the massive wood portal was inched back, only the empty and silent halls of the Skorrun Clan lay beyond. They stepped forward on the cold stone floor, waiting for the hissing sounds of the flesh eaters yet heard nothing but the low audible clank of Tilmann’s armor, echoing in his step. To the Exit!
They made for the far end of the hall and as the threshold advanced closer, they perceived a strong white light blasting the entire volume of the hall to right – from the desecrated the temple of Valaya!
In the light the skeletal remains of the orc zombies were piled along the floor in neat mounds. Kwarjieh looked back at her allies – they were awed, K’tush fell to his knees, covered his teary eyes. The bright light invited the dwarf priest inside…
Inside the small chapel of her patron deity, Kwarjieh is filled with a light that hasn’t touched the ruins in decades… The inner temple is no longer the bastion of orc filth and disdain, but blanketed in the purity of Valaya herself. Whatever evil had festered in the Skorrun hold has been extinguished and the shrine restored.
The carvings in Khazalid adorning the walls have returned to full artistic grace, the crude Gork and Mork statues of orc dung have been blasted out of existence, and on the spot where the statue of her holiness once stood, is an angelic image of the goddess herself.
Kwarjieh bows at the sight and hears a distinct soft voice vibrate in the air of the shrine:
No more shall the foulness stain these halls. The pestilence of these ancient ruins has awakened the ire of your gods and now the cleansing light shall shine forth. You must retrieve my staff and give it to highest priestess of your order. It can dispel the dead that have returned and remove the torment of those who have yet to die. When you have done this you shall reclaim this keep and guide its future. A gift for you to ensure your new friends choose the right path.
With the last word, the light dims, but does not fade. On the place where the image spoke, are two small gemstones. Enough for any soldier of fortune…
IN THE FORGE
Gus looked at his set of cards and then at the grimace of the tired Norscan. The apprentice wasn’t surprised he’d already taken Sigurd (Gene son of Eric) for most of what he was worth, but the dogged persistence of the brute impressed him. After all, it was the Norscan’s invitation to share quarters in the forge and he had quickly confessed a taste for gambling. Three pair. Gus was sure he had this play. Then, the horn of Valaya shook the walls.
Sigurd, stood up, dropped the cards on the table. “At last. At long last.”
“I’ll join you,” replied Gustavus as he slid his winnings into his belt pouch.
In the great entrance the two of them found Kwarjieh Headstone and her party waiting for the bridge. She had new company with her, but there was little reason to doubt her choice of friends. They welcomed her back and made haste to alert the forge.
Kwarjieh wasted little time calling the fellowship together in council. They met together, all assembled for the first time amid the lava flows and glowing runes of the central forge, twelve dwarves and five humans. The news was heartening. She revealed that the Staff of Valaya has the power to cure the vile plague and must be retrieved from the Halls of The Dead and placed in the hands of Balikina Furlisdotr to cleanse Karak Azgal of the foul disease of walking dead.
Gustavus withheld his excitement, though this was what he had been seeking these last few weeks. A dungeon crawl into the unknown…
“A toast to the fellowship then,” blurted Sigurd, raising a goblet. Kwarjieh stood and shook her head.
Kwarjieh: No… It’s time we take the mantle of honor of our true calling, if you wish to remain here and honor the task before us…
She glanced to Mourendar, certain he knew the charge, and continued: The fellowship was a brief beginning. Its task has been accomplished. From this day forward begins The Order of the Sceaf and Scyldingas of Valaya!