Greyhawk: Gem of the Flanaess
Part One - Chapter Seven: Blackthorn
It was on Godsday, the 25th day of Goodmonth, in the Common Year of 580, when the Company of the Green Dragon discovered the so-called “dungeon in the forest”, but which was known by its occupants as Blackthorn. Knowing that they would need to be fully rested and that the spell casters in the group should have a full complement of spells, they decided to set up a camp and rest for the night before venturing into the cave. But they also realized that both the band of orcs they had killed two days before, and the band of ogres they had recently killed, in particular, might be missed by other occupants of the cave. So, as a precaution, the band also decided to set up their camp about 2 miles away in order to try and prevent their presence from being detected by search parties. As a further precaution, Lord Lockswell did what he could to cover their tracks, though there was nothing they could do about the bodies of the six dead ogres that were not far from the cave entrance. It was hoped that if these bodies were discovered by occupants of the cave, they would assume that elves or the forest rangers had killed them without finding the well-concealed cave. That night, the band made sure to light no fires and Lord Lockswell stayed with them to help keep watch. Perhaps due in part to their precautions, the band made it through the night with no disturbances, and at sunrise the following day began making preparations for their entry into the cave. Once the band was ready, Lord Lockswell wished the band good luck in their explorations and parted company with the band. Lockswell had done his part in the adventure and needed to return to his manor to report the location of the hidden cave so that other rangers of the forest would be aware of it. After a walk of about an hour and a half, the band arrived once again at the entrance to the cave. The entrance was actually a large sinkhole 30’ across that descended into a huge natural cavern below. But all the band could see from the top was darkness, so they considered dropping a stone with a light spell into the hole. It was fortunate for them that they thought better of this and decided to climb down the makeshift rope ladder without a light. Corvyn led the way and the others followed behind about 10 feet apart. After descending into the shaft about 100 feet, at which point the rope ladder was swaying sickeningly in the air, the band saw that the sinkhole opened up into a large cavern where very little light from the forested canopy above could reach. They climbed down another 150 nerve-wracking feet through the darkness on the swaying rope ladder, and with no walls or floor in sight, until finally reaching the cave floor. All the while they could hear the distant sounds of hammers and picks hitting stone, of rocks being tossed onto piles of rock, and of the cursing and grunting of humanoids as they labored away. Once all the band members had reached the bottom, and it seemed apparent that they had not been discovered, Kelgor with his darkvision, led the way towards the sounds. After about 100 feet, Kelgor whispered to the others and said there was a passageway in the cavern wall ahead, on both sides of which were large piles of loose stone. More rocks were being thrown onto these piles by orcs which were apparently excavating a stairway leading upwards. The band, not wanting to leave any enemies behind them, decided to attack the orcs and headed for them. As soon as the orcs saw the band coming they cried out an alarm and prepared to defend themselves. But the band quickly closed as Corvyn commanded his sword to flame on and light the way. The band was able to trap the orcs in the narrow entrance to the stairway, allowing only two or three orcs to attack at a time. The orcs meanwhile, wore no armor and only had digging implements and rocks with which to defend themselves. So right from the start, the orcs were getting slaughtered by the band. But more and more orcs kept coming at them, clearly being urged on by their much larger overseers behind them. In fact, when it became obvious that the orcs were at such a disadvantage, their masters tried a different strategy by trying to force the band to give ground. But this proved to be very costly because as the orcs were being pushed from the rear, they were being cut down at an alarming rate in the front, mostly by Corvyn and Kelgor. Eventually however, simply due to the fact that so many dead orcs began to pile up in the stairwell, the band gradually began to fall back. But by the time the masters of the orcs, what turned out to be three ogres, appeared in the entrance to the stairwell, there were forty dead orcs piled up around them. A short while later, there were three dead ogres to add to the pile. Following what was up to this point the greatest battle the band had ever fought, the band was feeling pretty confident about themselves. Little did they know however, they were about to out-do even this impressive feat. But first they spent some time healing their injuries, most of which were self-inflicted when they swung wildly or lost a grip on their blood-soaked weapons and accidentally flung them out of reach. When they were ready, the band proceeded up the stairs, which made several switch-backs and eventually came to an end perhaps 20 feet or so from the surface. Obviously, the orcs had been carving these stairs to serve as an easier exit to the surface world. The band then back-tracked to the cavern and searched it, finding nothing of real interest but another set of stairs leading down. These stairs, much like the previous stairs, were worn from heavy use, and descended another 250 feet. They then ended at another natural cavern that was brightly lit up by a magical fountain of water than issued from the center of a moss covered floor. A wall of planks, apparently fashioned from giant mushroom stalks, obscured most of the cavern from view as it led over to another set of stairs leading down. It was assumed that this wall was erected by the orcs to shield them from the bright light of the fountain. But the band found a gap in the wall and, while averting their eyes from the intense light of the fountain, made their way towards it. With a little experimentation, the band soon discovered that the water from the fountain, which came to be known as the Fountain of Pure Light, had the ability to heal injuries. But it could not be stored in anything, for as soon as it touched anything, even the ground, its magical properties quickly disappeared. On the far side of this cavern, the band found another set of stairs, much less worn than the others, leading upwards. Again, not wanting to leave any possible threats behind them, the band headed up these stairs, which the band quickly discovered had a very rank odor drifting through them. After climbing up about 250 feet, the band then learned why it smelled so badly, as they came upon the lair of a few dozen ogres. Inside were 16 ogres which had been eating, drinking, gambling and sleeping. But very few of them had been taken by surprise as the band’s light source soon gave them away. Most of the ogres hurled javelins at the band while a few charged at them. The band however, retreated back into the stairwell hoping the ogres would pursue them. But after two ogres were cut down, no more would enter the stairwell. So the band retreated back down to the cavern where the fountain was, hoping the ogres would then follow. There the band healed up and readied themselves. Soon afterwards, the ogres were heard coming down the stairs. Just as they had done previously against the orcs, Corvyn and Kelgor met the ogres head on at the bottom of the stairs. The ogres tried to bull rush them and push them back into the cavern, and they probably would have succeeded if the band had not just cast a number of spells that increased Corvyn and Kelgor’s strengths and aided them in making a defensive stance. As it was, the band was only momentarily pushed back, and against all odds, it was the band that was soon pushing the ogres back as they were being cut down. When all but six of the ogres had been killed, the remaining six turned and ran back upstairs. One of the six was cut down as it tried to escape. Now it was the bands turn to pursue the ogres and they followed the ogres all the way back up to their lair. Once they were there, they abandoned all positioning strategy and charged into the room, attacking the now cornered ogres. This proved to a costly tactic as the ogres dealt out considerable punishment in return. But, in the end, the Company of the Green Dragon proved to be victorious. When the battle was over, those that needed it made another trip to the fountain to heal up. They then gathered in the ogre lair and searched it for any valuables, finding some coins and a few magic items in the process. They also discovered a concealed door which opened on to another set of stairs leading down. At this point, the spellcasters in the group had used up most of their spells. But since Zeke and Tadwin both had magic rings of sustenance, they could regain their spells with just a couple hours of rest. So the band rested a while to allow them to regain spells. It was at this point when the rest of the band learned about one of Brom’s most recent developments, which was the result of his further mad experiments in alchemy. For some time, his fellow band members had noticed a strange bulge protruding from Brom’s upper back, but had not asked him about it. Now, however, they stared at Brom with gruesome fascination as he revealed to them a large tumor that had emerged on his back – a tumor that Brom, through his research in alchemy, had intentionally grown. To make matters more disturbing was that this tumor had a sentience of its own and could even detach itself from Brom’s body and later reattach itself. When it was detached, as the band now witnessed, it resembled a monkey and could scout around and keep watch. A few hours later, once the band was ready, they decided to take the stairs that they had found behind the concealed door rather than the more heavily traveled stairs leading from the fountain chamber. These stairs went down more than 750 feet to a ledge more than a thousand feet underground, by Kelgor’s estimation, although it seemed like miles underground to the rest of the band. This ledge ran alongside a wide, deep and fast moving stream of water about 50 feet below that cut through a huge underground gorge. Here the band paused for a bit to decide which direction to go. The ledge going downstream led further away from the caverns above, while upstream headed back in the direction they had come from. After studying the area for a bit, Kelgor told his companions that he believed following the stream would take them much deeper underground and quite probably into the underdark, whereas heading back in the opposite direction might eventually reconnect them with the caverns from below. So the band decided to head up stream. The band traveled along this ledge for quite some distance until they reached a narrow stone bridge that spanned a smaller tributary stream, which fed into the main stream. By Kelgor’s estimation, he thought it quite likely that this tributary stream was the runoff from the magical fountain above, though by this point the water would have lost its magical healing properties long before. The band crossed over the bridge and eventually came to an area where they could see a faint glowing light up ahead. Here, Brom snuck ahead of the rest of the group and soon came upon an area where the underground gorge opened up into a massive cavern. In this cavern, the ledge widened out into a large shelf where hundreds of orcs were camped out. Brom estimated there were at least three hundred orcs there, more than half of which were currently sprawled out on filthy mats or huddled around smoldering cooking fires. The rest, more than a hundred of them, were digging away at a rock wall on the far side of the shelf in an effort to widen out the shelf even more. The stone from this excavation was being carried to the ledge and dumped into the stream far below and presumably carried away, thus giving a visual clue as to how powerful a force this stream had behind it. Overseeing these orc slaves were about a dozen ogres. After taking all of this in, Brom made his way back to his companions and told them what he saw. They debated then on what this might mean and what they were going to do about it. From all appearances, it looked as if the orcs were creating a pathway from the underworld to the surface where hundreds, perhaps even thousands of creatures could travel into the Gnarley Forest. And the only reason that made any sense for them to widen out the shelf alongside the stream, since it was obvious they were not mining for gems or precious metals, was to create an area large enough to serve as a base camp for an army. While the band could not be sure about what exactly was happening here, the thought occurred to them that what they were witnessing was a possible prelude for a massive invasion from the underworld. And though they couldn’t be sure of it, if this was the case, then people on the surface world needed to be warned. The band briefly considered attacking the orcs, since they had been so successful in their last two battles. But fortunately, they realized how crazy the idea was, since all the orcs would have to do is push them over the ledge into the stream below. Even if they could avoid drowning in the fast moving stream, they would certainly be carried deep underground, perhaps miles away, and separated from each other. And if they could survive that, the thought of becoming slaves to drow or duergar, or even worse, was enough to dismiss the idea as far too risky. So, with nothing worthwhile left to explore, and a very good reason to return to the surface, the band decided it was time for them to go. With that in mind, they back-tracked all the way back to the long stairwell, climbed it all the way to the ogres’ lair, and headed back down to the fountain chamber. But upon reaching the fountain chamber, they were suddenly attacked by six ogres that charged out at them from behind the artificial wall of planks. The ogres reached the fountain before the band did and so had the fountain at their backs and to their advantage. This again was a challenging battle for the band as they did not have the tactical advantage that they had in previous fights. To make matters worse, a couple of the ogres were able to step back into the spray of the fountain during the midst of the battle and heal up their injuries. One of these ogres in fact, after having been dealt a lethal sneak attack by Brom, fell into the fountain and seconds later stood back up fully healed! Only by drawing the ogre out of the fountain were they able to kill it. When the battle was finally over, the band healed themselves up in the fountain, and headed for the exit on the far side of the cavern.