The Misfit Heroes, Part 1
You know you’re a freak show when the most normal-looking guy is dressed like an owl.
King Gelzar and the council made their proposal, and one by one the group of assembled adventurers accepted. Once their commitment to the cause was assured, the king’s mages lifted the glamer which had hidden their features from one another. Glancing left and right, then introducing themselves, were:
Rufous, a half-elf druid dressed in a fashion much like his owl companion;
Kosj, a half-elf rogue covered in shiny copper scales;
Felina, a hulking bugbear scout who wasn’t always that way;
Fergus, a red-skinned humanoid with the head of a dog, priest of Heironeous.
The group questioned the council members further regarding the logistics of the operation, how they would return, etc. They were given two metal spheres which would give them notice that a portal for their return would be opening sometime hence, at which time the group would need to find or fashion a stone arch to use as a frame for the portal. They were also told what information they should try to compile about their destination, to help determine its suitability. It was known that their destination was currently experiencing winter, so the team gathered cold-weather gear.
After making their final preparations and receiving parting gifts from the council (lucky coins among them), they stepped through a glowing stone arch and into a new world.
They emerged in a cave filled with ice and snow. Exploring their surroundings they found at the cave entrance a humanoid seemingly made of ice, observing them. The creature made no hostile move at them, so they began to converse. His name was Morain, and he said he was of a race called Immoths who travel and seek knowledge. He had noticed another, much smaller arch in this cave, through which animals had been sent previously. He had been watching the larger portal on this side for some time and was interested to know where the group had come from.
Trusting that the geas placed upon them earlier would preclude them from saying too much, the group explained their situation and asked if Morain knew anything about this world. Morain told them that he had been on this world for 4 circles of the moon, and that there were many dead people here. When he was asked about joining the group he politely declined. He took a lot of notes while talking, which he wrote on an ice tablet. After a while he said he needed to leave and broke off the conversation. He strode to the tiny arch, touched it, and it shrunk. He placed the now-tiny arch in his bag and walked out into the night. He left no tracks in the snow, turning east and disappearing in the darkness.
Having finished their discussion with Morain, the group set out. Outside the cave they found a crossroads. The eastern path led towards a glow on the horizon, so that seemed the most interesting choice. After a few miles, they began to smell burning thatch. Quickening their pace, they came upon a horrendous sight: a burning village, with bodies of beheaded humans and halflings littering the ground. Furiously searching for anyone left alive, they found a young girl hiding in one of the huts. Seeing the freak show burst into her home did nothing for her peace of mind, and she passed out in complete shock.
Checking the area, the group found two sets of hoofprints seemingly scorched into the ground. The tracks began and ended at the edges of the settlement, as if whatever made them had appeared out of nowhere and disappeared just as suddenly. With no enemy in sight and the only survivor still unconscious, the party gathered the dead and set them on a great pyre, swearing that their murderers would not go unpunished.
In the morning, they asked the girl (named Lasil) if she knew anything about what happened. She hadn’t seen anything herself as her parents had told her to hide from the beginning. But she recalled her parents worrying about “riders in the night”, female dwarves riding horses with fiery hooves, said to be the scourge of local villages. She told the group that she had an uncle in a different village nearby, so after finding a sleigh and horses to make better time in the snowy landscape the group set out in that direction.
Concerned that their unusual appearances (combined with the unhappy news they would bring) might rouse the villagers into an unwanted confrontation, it was decided that Rufous would go into the village alone with Lasil. The villagers were understandably upset by the news but thanked the group for rescuing Lasil.
Asked if they might have any helpful information, the villagers mentioned the same rumors of “riders in the night” that Lasil had talked about. In addition, they had heard of problems in the nearby mountains: a band of frost giants, with whom the local villagers had an uneasy truce, were rumored to have been attacked by “something” which had penetrated their stronghold. The giants’ stronghold would be easy to find, so the group decided that this would be their next destination. It was nearing the end of the day, so they decided to stay in this village overnight. Before retiring they assisted the local militia with defensive preparations and conjured continual flames around the village perimeter.
In the night, unearthly screams awakened the village. The adventurers burst from their quarters to see two identical female derro (dark dwarves) astride nightmares at the edge of the village. The twins bore wicked scythes, one crackling with electricity and the other smoldering in flame. Adorning their plate armor was the skull-mace symbol of Orcus. They cackled with glee about the pretty heads they were about to collect.
Rufous wasted no time and sent a crackling bolt of energy into the pair. The derro commented to each other that this was a different sort of village than they had expected. After one failed ride-by attack by the derro, the groups of combatants engaged each other primarily from a distance. Kosj peppered the foes with silvered arrows. One of the derro sent a bolt of negative energy into Rufous, draining his life energy. Fergus and Felina advanced to engage the derro in melee, but the dark dwarves used their mounts’ maneuverability and obscuring smoke to keep at a distance. This was fine with Rufous as the sky began to rumble, readying to provide lightning at his call.
Their efforts at physical entry into the village frustrated, and concerned at the prospect of crackling vengeance from the heavens, the derro used their magics to teleport directly into two of the huts to begin their grim harvest. Felina and Fergus quickly pinpointed their new locations, the smell of brimstone a clear indicator to their uncanny olfactory senses.
In one hut, Fergus and Kosj burst through the door to find one villager already down and others choking and writhing in the sulfuric cloud produced by the derro’s mount. Fergus was unaffected by the evil vapors, and his holy sword “Roxanne” carved a vicious wound into the nightmare’s flesh. Kosj choked on the fumes and was unable to work herself in to flanking position, but nevertheless managed to further wound the unearthly mount. The derro, unable to maneuver, tried to escape using her mount’s teleportation ability, but another slash from Roxanne felled the nightmare before they could disappear. On her own and outnumbered, the derro cried out to her sister, cast her own spell and disappeared.
Meanwhile in the other hut, Felina burst through the door and tried to pull the derro from her mount but the derro skillfully kept her seat. Hearing her sister’s cry, the dark twin similarly bade her mount teleport away. Felina made a desperate bid to grapple on for the ride but was unable to keep her hold.
The two derro, reappeared at the edge of the village mounted on the remaining nightmare, shouting “Eldrua will hear of this!” Rufous called down a strike of lightning that struck them, causing both to slump and disintegrate into a piles of slush interspersed with hair and ruby dust. Then the nightmare disappeared for good. After investigating the remains, Rufous determined that the derro were simulacra – magical duplicates created by wizard or sorcerer.
After the group tended the wounded and calmed the villagers, the rest of the night passed without incident. It was clear that the fight had to be taken to the source of these creatures. The group helped the villagers prepare their defenses the best they could, and hoped that whatever “Eldrua” was it would concentrate its efforts on the group and leave the village alone. After a Heironean blessing upon the village’s defenders, the party made their leave toward the frost giants’ stronghold.
Approaching the stronghold on a mountain trail, they were challenged from above by a frost giant astride a huge mastodon. Thinking that a bugbear might be viewed with less suspicion and therefore might provoke fewer boulders thrown, Felina was chosen to approach and parley with the giant. The giant, hearing from Felina that the party was looking for derro that ride horses with flaming hooves, told her that such a derro, a powerful wizard supported by demons and undead, had penetrated their stronghold, captured their leader, and left few alive to escape.
Finding common cause, the giant welcomed the entire party to approach and discuss this with his leader. The leader stated that the derro wanted their stronghold because it contains a hole to the Abyss. This gate had been of no use to the giants despite their best efforts to gain Orcus’ favor (Fergus noted this for future reference). But Eldrua was “more favored by Orcus” and was able use the hole to summon powerful demons.
Fergus described a recent vision of his, wherein human souls were being pulled against their will into a hole much like the giants were describing. In his vision, an eerie light shone from the hole, and an elaborate latticework structure interspersed with round objects rose from it toward the ceiling out of view. Perhaps that structure is the key to Eldrua’s success in reaching the Abyss.
Finding common cause (at least temporarily) with the giants, the group agreed to return their stronghold to them if they would agree to stop taking livestock from the local villages. The group doubted that such an agreement could possibly hold for long with such wicked creatures, but they needed to destroy Eldrua and her minions regardless.
They obtained from the giants a map of the stronghold, along with intelligence on the types of opponents they would find: undead giants, guardian giant-fiends, incorporeal undead, and perhaps a white dragon that could be a friend or foe.
The misfit heroes prepared for the assault.