The Valley of the Fang seems within reach, but weather and mountains conspire to thwart the rune-heroes. On the fourth day in the Dragonfangs an avalanche roars toward the explorers as they cross a broad snowy slope. Mesmer has time to open a portal into a small extradimensional closet (a trick he learned in Galveholm). Finch and Mavriy sprint for the window hanging in mid-air where Mesmer beckons frantically. Finch tumbles inside as Mesmer closes off the portal. A tide of snow blots out the world beyond.
Krag and Mavriy are nearby but unable to reach the portal in time. Both half-orc and demonling are swept away by a thundering wall of snow. Xar and Leelo are too far to reach Mesmer’s magical shelter. Xar doesn’t run. Instead the mountain gnome tucks into a ball. Leelo follows his example.
Krag feels himself lifted and buoyed along by the unstoppable wave. The tumbling hurricane of white finally comes to a stop. Dark silence envelops Krag until he conjures some holy fire to melt away the ice and form a cavity of sorts. The half-orc exerts himself to dig. Which way is up? The killing cold quickly returns. Krag drifts off into a pleasant lassitude.
Silence returns as the snow finally settles. Leelo and Mavriy are lucky to be only lightly buried. Both dig out of the snow widely separated and 200 yards from where Mesmer’s disembodied head and arm wave just above a new layer of virgin snow. Mesmer and Finch climb out of their magical refuge and look around. Measured by the portal opening, almost seven feet of new snow covers the slope! Xar and Krag are nowhere to be seen.
Using a rope left trailing from Mesmers lifesaving null-space, the adventurers are able to quickly orient themselves and begin searching for Xar and Krag. Mesmer is the first to locate Xar buried not far from his original location. The mountain gnome’s natural resistance to cold serves him well. Xar emerges fit and ready to help search for Krag.
When the rune-heroes find Krag an hour later, he is blue and stiff, his extremities blackened with cold. Krag will be unable to function effectively for the next few days. The next day Mesmer carries him along on a floating disc of force, arms and legs hanging over the side as he’s towed along above the snow. Having a wizard in the freezing mountains is proving to have value after all! Never mind that it’s likely Mesmer or Finch who triggered the avalanche.
Xar’s run of bad luck continues. While guiding Finch across a narrow ledge, he’s struck by falling rocks. Finch wards away the hail of blows using a blue-swirling sheath of magical force. The rest of the day is spent in a camp below a cliff judged safe by Xar. Unfortunately it is not too be. Leelo is guarding the camp later that night when she spots a hulking shape moving along the cliffs above. Mesmer is simultaneously woken by the ‘ping’ from magical alarms placed around the camp and along the cliff.
Krag and Finch are pummeled by head-sized rocks cast down from the cliff by a pair of huge mountain ogres. Both manage to stumble half-asleep toward cover. Finch sends one ogre stumbling back holding it’s head in club-like hands. Leelo runs about the snowfield below the cliff sending arrow after arrow up into the beasts, but the individual darts seem to have little effect.
Leelo catches sight of a 3rd ogre moving down the slope between two massive boulders. The brute is obviously trying to sneak up behind the party. She can only afford to keep one eye on it as the main focus is the pair of ogres atop the cliff.
Finch again employs his eerie powers. The second Ogre succumbs to gales of insane laughter. Mavriy shadow-steps up to the cliff behind the prostrate ogre and attempts to roll if off the cliff, but the bellowing monster is simply too huge. The other ogre recovers and approaches Mavriy undetected until within only five paces. Mavriy gives up trying to roll the laughing ogre off the cliff. She wades the partially-frozen stream right at the brink where it plunges down the cliff and stands with her back to the edge with the second ogre bearing down on her. Mesmer conjures the illusion of a shouting dwarf warrior to distract the stupid ogre, saving Mavriy from at least one murderous blow. A second is deflected by her shield and heavy plate armor.
Krag has healed himself and Finch of their wounds. He turns his attention to healing Xar, who was also hit by a rock. Before Mavriy steps off the cliff to be caught by her companion’s feather-fall spell, the ogre accidentally flings his giant club off the cliff! Mavrey summons the power of Esus to smite the disarmed ogre with both shadows and wrath. The mighty ogre finally slumps dead into the snow.
Meanwhile the laughing ogre finally recovers, only to be simultaneously blasted with globes or raging fire flung by Mesmer and arcs of eldritch power from Finch. Mavriy uses her pole-scythe to reach across the steam and decapitate the burning ogre.
Thinking to take advantage of the confusion, the ogre lurking down the slope rushes forward in an attempt to grapple Leelo with outstretched arms. This was a serious miscalculation. The spritely elf rolls nimbly away from the clumsy beast. Leelo, Xar and Krag pummel the raging ogre mercilessly. Finch and Mesmer turn their attention from clifftop to slope. The lone remaining enemy is quickly hacked, burned, stabbed and pummeled into ogre tartar.
The weather turns bad. Exhaustion threatens and several party members are still wounded. The explorers hole up that night and all the next day in a snow-shelter constructed by Xar. Around mid-day Krag and Mesmer are on guard duty outside the shelter when Mesmer spots a winged white shape through a gap in the flurries of snow. A great serpentine beast is circling the camp! Both attempt to sneak back to the shelter unseen. Krag panics and becomes stuck for a critical moment. Inside the shelter the pair tell of what they saw. Xar’s pupils dilate as he begins a monotone chant. A death song, or a ward against evil?
A few seconds later the mountain-gnome snaps out of it and rushes from the ice shelter. After trading dubious glances, the rune-heroes follow. Over the next hour a chase through the snow plays out. Above beat the wings of some terrible beast hunting the party. Finally refuge is found within a deep cave where the party passes the rest of the day and night as well. Here Xar identifies the beast as a dragon, one of the children of Drifa, creation of Mulcarn and first mother of all white dragons still haunting the high frigid places of the world. Outside the weather has cleared. Tentative exploration reveals the dragon seems to has given up its quarry. The rune heroes are able to sneak away with carcasses still thawed.
A fall on the seventh day is rendered moot by Leelo’s feather fall spell. Xar was helping Mesmer negotiate a crevasse when the wizard panicked and pulled him off the edge. It’s obvious by now that this expedition would be impossible without an interlocking web of magic and skill. Should a key member be lost, leaving the mountains may become difficult or even impossible. Leelo fingers the magical feather given to her by Thessa, archmage of the Ljosalfar. Unfortunate that Thessa (the real Thessa…) left Ithralia before she could receive the promised green pearl in exchange. What could have caused Thessa to leave so precipitously? Could the Svartalfar and their new Illian allies already be threatening the Light Elf borders?
Fortunately, Leelo’s magical feather is not needed just yet. A successful day of climbing brings the explorers to the edge of a five mile long by three mile wide valley high in the northwest corner of the Dragonfangs. The valley is filled with pines, tall, spindly and widely spaced, but trees nonetheless. The air is warmer in the valley below, perhaps 50 degrees at mid-day. A mile from the south edge is a 500’ tall hill surmounted by a fang-shaped tor of bare stone 100’ high. This must be ‘The Fang’ of legend.
There is very little snow here other than around a small frozen lake at the eastern base of the hill. Unlike the rest of the valley, the lake is completely frozen and surrounded by a border of snow several hundred yards across. The western shore of the lake is concealed from view by an icy cliff. Small rivulets of thawing water trickle toward the hill and lake from the valley walls, but refreeze before reaching the lake. Other streams disappear from view around the base of the Fang.
There is a deserted camp just west of the Fang, recently occupied for an extended period of time by hundreds of humanoids. The remains of barrels, casks, shelf-halves and campfires are everywhere. Several hundred of the tall spindly pines have been chopped around the camp. A clear trail leads through the damp turf to the southwest end of the valley. No sign of occupation is evident, other than plentiful small game which Xar is able to catch, affording the party a hearty meal of stew. A welcome change after nine days of the insipid magic berries!
In the failing light the party verifies the camp was used by orcs, hundreds of them, over extended periods. The discarded bits of broken equipment are all of Sheaim manufacture. Mesmer summons forth his snow owl to scout the area. From on high a switchback trail becomes apparent on the west slope of the Fang, terminating at a roughly-worked cavern entrance. Also visible is a pile of ancient mine tailings along the north side of the hill. Any mine shaft or other opening is concealed by brush and clusters of spindly pines.
The next day the party heads toward the base of the switchback trail, but smells cook-fire smoke on the way. The day is spent searching high and low for the source among tumbles of rocks jutting from the turf along the southern base of the Fang. Finally Finch stumbles upon a deep crevice between two boulders jutting from the hillside. A trace of smoke weaves and wends up from a narrow opening at the bottom. The party chokes off the chimney with rolled-up turf then hides and waits to see who arrives to investigate. Hours pass. Just as the rune heroes give up and unblock the chimney, Leelo spots a group of orcs moving along the hillside. All are well-equipped with Sheaim mail and armor.
Everyone attempts to resume their ambush positions, but Finch is spotted while in the process of urinating down the chimney…seemed like a good idea at the time. The orcs seem well-trained and equipped. Four begin launching quarrels from crossbow, while four charge forward swinging bronze greataxes. Krag and Mavriy take glancing hits. A few seconds later, three orcs lie burned or bleeding upon the rocky turf. Krag knocks a fourth unconscious. The four crossbow-orcs immediately turn tail and flee back toward the west side of the hill. The fleet-footed Leelo leads the chase, but the orcs know this terrain well and slip away. Xar identifies clear tracks leading around to the west side of the hill where the switchback trail leads up to the cave opening spotted by Mesmer’s owl.
The party hurriedly returns to the chimney, where the smoke has dwindled to nothing. Mesmer conjures up a new cat familiar and sends it exploring. Unfortunately the cat makes a bad step and tumbles down the chimney for some distance before dying. Next Leelo is magicked with spider-climbing ability and invisibility. The invisible rogue climbs quickly down the slippery, sooty chimney. After 80’ of crooked twisting squeezes, Leelo reaches the ceiling of a roughly-worked cave. A bed of coals with spits and pots sufficient to feed dozens, perhaps scores, spreads out below the chimney. Looks like the last meal was probably served before the chimney was blocked.
Leelo creeps through the passage beyond, passing by a wicker-and-wood grate blocking a cell where two small figures hunch miserably. The caves are filled with stacks of barrels and crates of provisions, most broken open and emptied. A long hall of worked stone ends in a pair of heavy bronze-bound stone doors. These are obviously ancient Luchuirp craft. Similar architecture is common in the Luchuirp capitol today. Peering through the lighted crevice between the doors, Leelo glimpses one, perhaps two orcs in scale coats lounging in the shadows cast by natural stone columns. Beyond the orcs a wood and rope bridge spans a wide chasm. A pair of truly massive portals are half open at the other side. A pair of glowing braziers flank the portal.
The invisible elf returns to the wicker prison wall and silently opens the simple lock. Not much time remains before both magical climbing and invisibility expire. Leelo reveals herself to the two prisoners, each not much larger than a halfling or small elf. They turn out to be a male and female mountain gnome with white hair filthy and matted. Both are wounded and hungry but young and strong, still able to move and climb. Leelo leads them back to the cooking cave and boosts them up into the crevice. Both are skilled climbers and make way for Leelo quickly. Not a moment too soon as the sound of orc voices echo through the caves. Other than a minor slip halfway, the three are able to make it back to the surface safely.
The rescued gnomes cry out and run forward to embrace Xar. For a moment Xar’s icy veneer of calm is cracked. He stares at Leelo, unable to speak. After the party relocates to a different area in the valley (with Xar carefully concealing their tracks), Xar reveals that finding these gnomes was a personal motive for joining the expedition. “Xar-uth’tir and Xar-ryn’tan are my kinfolk, captured last month by an orc raid. I must see them safely beyond the valley. Will you spare rations and climbing gear to give them a chance of reaching home?” Xar-ke’rin learned of their capture from a wounded orc in the aftermath of the raid. Orcs are rarely seen on the east side of the Dragonspines, but have been making a comeback in recent years. Like the orcs in the valley, these renegades were also equipped with Sheaim gear, armor and weapons.
Meanwhile, the captured orc wakes. He speaks first in Ember, which both Krag and Xar know well. Krag recognizes caste-marks from an Ember tribe, but an attempt has been made to burn or cut these off. This orc and his fellows are renegade mercenaries lured by good pay, victuals, weapons and the promise of future loot. Over the past few seasons battalions of 200-500 orcs have trained and equipped secretly in the Valley of the Fang, then trooped off southwest through the mountains to join the growing Sheaim army on the west side of the Dragonspines. The orcs inhabiting the the Fang are a cadre responsible for maintaining the place and training rotations of new orc recruits.
Finch charms the captive with magic. The orc freely relates a great deal of intelligence. Not two weeks ago the orcs allowed a group of Sheaim to pass through their area into the depths of the mountain in exchange for a sizable payment of silver and gold coins and three pack mules loaded with supplies, including much wine. “It was some Sheaim devil-priest and cultists, a necromancer or summoner, and some other weaklings.” Apparently the orcs of the valley only answer to the Sheaim officer class, not whoever was in charge of this group, so a big bribe was required. The orcs don’t know or care what they wanted and haven’t heard from them since they disappeared down into the depths of the mountain where the orcs fear to tread.
The white frozen lake is the domain of ‘Frostbite’, a young white dragon who took up residence only one moon past. The orc warrior doesn’t know what his chief or the Sheaim plan to do about this problem, but knows that it’s a good idea to keep under cover when the dragon ventures forth to hunt. A number of orcs were lost last week when caught in a surprise snowstorm. It seems the valley is not cold enough for the dragon outside the vicinity of it’s frosty lair, except during bouts of exceptionally cold weather.
“Ulfe, our pet mountain ogre, would love to meet you. I’m sure Ulfe and my orc-chief Yarrack would let you into the ancient midget ruins…just bring plenty of gold and wine!” Krag gives his new friend a ‘goodbye hug’. The orc’s neck snaps like a wet branch.
The party is happy to heal, feed and equip Xar’s rescued kin. After guiding the pair out of the Valley, Xar returns. He says nothing of why he bothered to return. Leelo persuades Xar to speak of his motivation: “The elder rangers sent me out on a mission of indefinite length to gather knowledge of the world outside the mountains. And if the Sheaim triumph over the lowland-gnomes of King Gyr, I am to carry the lore of the Maseach to new shores.”