The Company retreats back to the foetid guard room and discusses their options; push on, despite the unknown number of orcs still at large; rest in place, or retreat and find the source of the smoke or another unguarded entrance.

Lamb, bored of conversation, returns to the bridge area and proceeds to cut the ropes securing it. Several javelins hurled by the orcs on the other side are unable to prevent the bridge tumbling into the crevasse.

Back at the discussion, Homte suggests sending his lizard familiar to search for the source of the smoke. When the rest of the Company expresses surprise that he has a familiar at all, Homte reassures them that he has always had it, but previously it had been just a dead lizard in a jar.

Seizing the opportunity during the ensuing puzzled break in the discussions this causes, Homte returns to the entrance and releases his familiar. The rock face is no impediment to the magical (undead?) reptile, but the search for the smoke is terminated by the ominous beating of hawk like wings.

Back at the dwarf hold Homte resolves to rescue his familiar and dashes towards the mountain path. The rest of the company follow, the discussion decided in favour of retreat by default, with Alwin covering the retreat potshotting the orcs on the far side of the chasm with his sling.

The Company scale the cliff side to the mountain above the path and discover, several hundred yards further up, a natural chimney in the rock emitting wood smoke. Homte’s lizard, rescued from an avian breakfast, scampers down and discovers the 100ft shaft leads to the orc kitchens. Better still, the fire at the bottom can easily be avoided by a climber dropping into the room. As orc voices can be heard gathering for mealtime the Company retreats to a safe distance and encamps. It is agreed to wait out the day and most of the night before descending the chimney in the early hours to maximise surprise. Balkris’ suggestion that Homte use his expertise to prepare a poison and drop it down the chimney into the orcs food is enthusiastically embraced by the gnome. Alwin’s idea of poisoning the lizard and dropping it down into the cauldron below is met with stony silence. Alas, whilst Homte does have a fully equipped kit to administer poisons, he has neglected to secure any actual poison to administer. The observation that Homte should have bought some “with the money he got from selling the scrolls” does not improve his mood.

The chimney bellows smoke intermittently through the day and evening as the orcs take their meals but the hours pass uneventfully until the third watch of the night. Forewarned by sounds of a large body forcing its way through the undergrowth, Homte and Lamb are alert as a brown bear emerges into the clearing, drawn by the smell of cooking smoke. Lamb, on the other side of the camp and figuring their druid may be best equipped to deal with a wild animal (or is sleep walking and might be one), races to Alwin to wake him. Homte, alone between his sleeping  colleagues and the approaching bear, makes a rapid tactical evaluation and runs away behind some rocks.

The rest of the Company, awakened by the roar of the onrushing bear (aided by a gentle kick from Lamb in Alwin’s case), are powerless to prevent it seizing an unguarded and startled Veth in its jaws. Before any serious harm can be done, however, the bear is rapidly despatched. Certain recriminations are made at Homte as Lamb begins to calmly skin and dress the carcass.

During the delay to allow Veth to recover his faculties, Balkris alerts the party to the sounds of a hunting dragon from the valley below, in his opinion likely a black or green given the surrounding woods and lakes. With the exception of Homte, whose eyes light up and can be heard muttering “hoard” to himself, the Company takes this pragmatically – deal with the orcs first.

As Homte, assisted by Lamb and a climbing kit, ventures down the chimney encouraged by the comment “that spider climb scroll would’ve come in handy about now”. The kitchen below is deserted and Lamb signals the rest of the Company to begin their descent. Taking up a guard position at the rooms only entrance, Lamb is startled by Homte’s response to the suggestion that his familiar conducts a quick recce. Homte haughtily retorts that scouting role is his, apparently mightily offended and oddly worried he may be replaced by his own lizard.

The Company make the descent without incident, with the exception of Alwin, who is saved from a nasty fall by the climbing kit and the dregs of the orcs’ last stew in the cauldron. Homte scouts ahead, discovering a series of natural rock corridors and rooms, unlike the dressed stone of the dwarven fortress encountered so far. Entering the first room, Homte observes a number of makeshift prisoner cages and a cell leading off. With mounting horror he deduces that these have been very recently occupied by human captives, right up until the time the party observed the cooking smoke from the recent orc mealtimes in fact…….

Related imageIncensed, Homte returns to the kitchen and furiously accuses the Company of resting in safety above whilst the prisoners have been cooked and eaten below. Bemused, the group point out they had no idea of the existence of captives, that Homte was quite happy with the plan and, whilst it’s pretty horrific, they are here for a looting job, not a rescue. Not at all mollified, Homte begins ranting about “revenge” (whether on the orcs or the Company is unclear), focusing his ire on Veth. Veth, half his hair stiff with bear drool and one delicately pointed ear ragged and still oozing blood gently, stares incredulously. Taking Veth’s silence as moral turpitude, Homte continues berating him until Lamb points out their reaction is due to amazement that Homte is so concerned by the fate of captives he didn’t know but happily ran and hid when the bear was eating Veth.

With grumblings, the Company continue their explorations in force. From the makeshift prison room they hear sounds of construction from a passage leading in a direction they calculate will take them back to the bridge. Proceeding to the entrance of the next chamber they observe three orcs working on a repaired rope bridge. Figuring they may be able to divide the remaining orcs, they resolve a plan to take out the orcs and cut the bridge again, from the near side.

Amazingly, everyone sticks to it. Pushing the bounds of credibility, it works too.

Under a covering barrage from Balkris, Veth and Alwin, Lamb and Thanatos engage the two orcs guarding the bridge. Homte darts between and hacks at the ropes. As the two guards are despatched Homte severs the first rope, plunging the third orc to his death below. Pausing only to complete the demolition of the bridge, and for Veth to add two more orc heads to his bulging sack, the Company backtrack.

Ignoring the passages they calculate lead back in the direction of the barracks, they head deeper into the mountain and find a storeroom packed with boxes and crates. Veth wants to begin looting immediately, but Thanatos remains fast the Company’s deeply cherished principles and reminds him, “Kill first, loot later”. Alwin, discovering a side passage that has been puzzlingly blocked with a makeshift barricade of crates, suggests Homte’s lizard squeezes through to take a look. Homte, still miffed, makes a show of asking the lizard his opinion, and relays a vehement “fuck off” to Alwin. Everyone else assumes the pantomime foreshadows Homte claiming the lizard should have an equal share of the loot.

The storeroom exit also leads into tunnels heading back in the direction of the barracks, from where the sound of orcs can be heard, so the Company backtrack again. Following a worked stone tunnel to a door, Alwin and Homte continue their whispered discussion. “Scrolls” are mentioned repeatedly. The conversation seems to have worsened the gnome’s mood, if that is possible, and having unlocked the door, he reverses his position vis-à-vis scouting, and refuses to open it. He keeps quiet about the fact that this might have something to do with the way he displaced a key in the lock on the other side in the course of opening it. Reminding Veth of what happens when he goes through doors, the Company dismiss his volunteering from the duty and Lamb goes through first.

The room beyond is decorated with countless yellowing skulls hanging from the ceiling and occupied by three orc warriors, moving toward the door, and a shaman behind a far desk. Pausing only to laugh joyfully, Lamb bounds forward and bisects the first orc in a welter of entrails with a single blow. Thanatos, rushing to the fray, directs Veth to concentrate on the shaman. Veth makes a retort about the strategic considerations of effective counter-spelling that no-one understands and targets the remaining warriors with magic missiles instead. A shower of javelins, arrows and crossbow bolts cuts down the orcs before they can return a blow, but the shaman escapes through a concealed door.

As one body the company charges across the room, but are obviously not of one mind, as Alwin, Lamb and Thanatos pursue the shaman through the door whilst Balkris, Homte and Veth pursue the possibility of loot to the desk.

Alwin, Lamb and Thanatos are faced with a narrow rectangular room with walls decorated in carvings of dwarves working at forges. At the far end facing them is a large stone door with a pile of skeletal remains heaped against it, to one side is an iron gate and running down the centre of the floor is a natural fissure worked into stairs at the far end, down which the shaman can be seen disappearing. Proceeding cautiously the three hear the sound of running water from the crack and a buzzing sound, ominously rising in volume.

At the desk, Balkris finds two hefty sacks of silver coins, Veth searches for sorcerous items and Balkris, fluent in Orcish, flicks through a journal, quickly reading a number of entries referring to “stingies”……..