In (my) final session of the Iron Kingdoms campaign, our heroes find themselves captive in the very underground complex they had come to explore. In this report I will describe the events leading up to Carlass’s death and final sacrifice. This isn’t the last session of the Iron Kingdoms campaign – I think there were two more – but I’m travelling and haven’t been able to join them, so I don’t know how the story resolved in the end.
Alyvia’s effort to elude capture by unleashing a surprise grenade attack had failed, but ensured the entire group a solid and effective beating for her troubles. They woke from their enforced unconsciousness in a prison cell designed for adventurers: shackled hand and foot with special silver-imbued manacles that electrified them whenever they attempted even the tiniest of magics, chained to the wall with similarly enchanted loops of tempered steel, and all their equipment taken from them. Carlass immediately released a booming signal call to Hrif the Younger, to warn him of her predicament; within minutes this earned her a beating from a huge Ogrun guard, followed by a steel gag that prevented her from fell-calling. They were entirely at their captors’ mercy, reduced to the status of mere mortals.
After an untold period of time their employer Catrina was taken away from them. She returned beaten and cowed, and told them that their captors had demanded all the information she had on the cave complex where they were being held; apparently the Ogrun were looking for something, and her mission was connected with it. They all assumed the same thing – that the Ogrun sought the steamspire. They would have to refuse to bargain.
The Ogrun, they discovered, were merely slave-wranglers for some darker and more sinister figure. This was some kind of monstrous or demonic wizard-creature, which was accompanied by a slim, lethal-looking hunter-demon that none of them could identify. They only saw these higher powers from afar when they were dragged out of their cave prison after a few days, and paraded in front of the leader of the slave-wranglers. They were dragged out of their hole into a huge, open cave that was a hive of mining activity. Gangs of wretched-looking slaves were being forced to-and-fro in the caves, and Ogrun wranglers treated them terribly as they were forced through the caves. Most were carrying mining equipment or pushing cars full of stone that was being dragged up from underground, but from the activity and the contents of the cars it was soon clear that no one here was looking for ore. They were digging for something.
The characters were pushed roughly before the lead wranglers and offered the same choice as Catrina. Since they knew nothing about her maps and workings, they could only refuse to assist with the slave-wrangler, who offered them freedom in exchange for knowledge of the maps. When they refused they were broken into two groups and driven off in chains to the mines. Carlass and Sharajin were put into one group, with Catrina, Alyvia and Captain Breaker forced into the other. Somewhere deep in the mines the groups separated, and they lost contact with each other. Their last message to each other was simple: escape, and find each other.
It was clear that no mercy would be shown to anyone in these deep tunnels. The slaves were being worked mercilessly to death, and when they collapsed were beaten savagely until finally they could work no more. Judging by the states of decay of the slaves, very little time was available to the characters to escape. Seeing this, and noting that in their chain gang there was a dwarf who was obviously a warrior of some kind, Carlass and Sharajin chose to act immediately. Their plan was simple: Carlass committed a minor infraction sufficient to attract an Ogrun with a whip, and Sharajin would grab the whip once it was uncoiled, using it to drag the Ogrun in and kill him. By engaging with him in this way she would ensure that the other Ogrun could not use his pistols. While she did this Carlass would use her pickaxe to free herself or Sharajin from their bonds.
The plan worked, but Sharajin was not strong enough to draw the massive Ogrun into the kill. However, as they began their plan the dwarf saw their efforts and attacked the other Ogrun guard, attempting to capture him in the chains. Carlass managed to free Sharajin, but they were outnumbered and she could not take on the Ogrun alone. In an act of desperation, Carlass put her face on the rock of the cavern wall and ordered Sharajin to break off her steel gag using the pick axe. Sharajin failed to smash the mask, but she also destroyed Carlass’s face, smashing in her cheeks and shattering her jaw into tiny pieces. Of course this was no trouble for Carlass: as Sharajin charged into battle, still manacled at her wrists and unable to use magic, Carlass hauled the intact mask over her now pliable face. She then set about her other manacles, as her face forced itself to heal. Screaming in pain, Carlass smashed her ankle chains apart as her face reformed to perfection. She turned from her efforts, free but still chained at the wrists, to find herself facing an Ogrun with a pistol. She screamed her fell call at him, but it had no effect. In response he shot her twice in the chest, and she was forced to regenerate again – the second time is always more painful than the first, and again she howled in rage as her broken body restored itself. By now however the tide had turned, and the last Ogrun broke and ran for the surface. They quickly freed the other slaves and the dwarf, who had killed her own Ogrun guard, and ran towards the fork in the tunnels where Breaker and Alyvia had been separated from them.
Things had gone better for Breaker and Alyvia during their escape, but in desperation one of their slave-wranglers had dragged down a portion of the roof before he died, and now water was beginning to flood the tunnel. This act of vindictive and petty destruction had served the Ogrun not at all, but revealed a spike of silver that Catrina begged them to take out of the wall. By the time they had dug it out the walls were collapsing, and they barely made it out alive. They reached the fork in the tunnel ahead of the rapidly-rising tide of frozen subterranean water. Everyone now rejoined, they fled up the tunnels away from the encroaching water. Once they were sure they were safe, they hid themselves in side tunnels to recuperate.
Over the next few days they hunted Ogrun slavers, killing them to take their gear and supplies. Only Carlass was able to eat, though – they could find no food, and none of the others were willing to feast on the bodies of their dead. They also could not find a way to break the manacles on their wrists, so could not use magic. After a few days of this, and getting increasingly desperate, they decided to get back to their equipment, and try to find a way to escape. Reconnaissance showed them a large cavern where their gear was kept, which could only be reached through a smaller cavern with Ogrun guards. They decided to act.
They lured the guards in groups into a tunnel, and killed them in this tunnel. Unfortunately, killing the Ogrun was tough and they forgot about the demonic hunter and its wizard-demon master; they thoroughly exhausted themselves killing the Ogrun, and so were standing, spent and desperate atop a pile of Ogrun corpses, when the demonic hunter arrived. After a moment to gloat over their predicament, it attacked. They were unready, and could barely fight for exhaustion. First it hit Carlass, gutting her with a single blow, before moving across to strike Catrina. Catrina was torn to shreds immediately, her body cast around the cave like so much meat. The beast then turned its attention on Breaker, but couldn’t kill him with a blow. The dwarf attacked it then from behind, but it knocked her back and nearly killed her with a single blow before returning its attention to Breaker. Now Carlass hauled herself upright, despite her massive injuries, as only a trollkin can do, and called down a desperate curse on the beast – a curse that channeled all her rage and all the desperate futility of her ancestors and her extinct tribe. Her curse reinvigorated Alyvia and Breaker, who were able to make a final desperate attack. Alyvia’s attack missed, but it distracted the hunter long enough to give Breaker the opening he needed. Even though all he had was a pathetic Ogrun scimitar, he managed to eviscerate the demon, and tossed its broken body aside to run to Carlass.
Carlass was done for. The remains of the group were staring helplessly at her body when a new force emerged into the hallway: the leader of the slave-wranglers and another squad of Ogrun. Our heroes gathered together and prepared to sell their lives dearly in a final hopeless battle.
The two squads were facing off against each other when they were interrupted by a huge howl of inchoate rage. The party recognized this howl – it was Hrif. He smashed his way through to them and grabbed Carlass’s body, lifting her pitiful corpse tenderly to his face, as if he thought it might not be her, or that his sobs and howls would bring her back. They did not, and it was her, and deep in his chest a kind of rumbling steam-engine sound began to stir. Our heroes knew this sound – it was the sound of Hrif’s rage. They began to back away. But the slave-wrangler didn’t know or care, and he sent his men to destroy the trollkin axer.
Our heroes took this moment of distraction as an opportunity to escape. They knew what Hrif would do once he was angry, and they knew there was no place for them here. They dashed past the battle as it began, heading for their equipment in the main cage. Behind them they heard screams, horrible meaty rending sounds, and the deepening cadence of a trollkin’s final rage.
When they returned from the cave, bearing all their gear, the Ogrun and their leader had been reduced to a black and red mess, but an even worse sight greeted them. The demon-wizard had returned, accompanied by strange spider-like guardians, and was taking great pleasure in slowly murdering the trollkin, piercing him with long, delicate spears that obviously caused supernatural pain. The trollkin was fighting back, screaming with rage and trying to strike at his tormentors, regenerating whenever they struck him, but the spider-like creatures moved too fast and would cut him without being touched. He was obviously doomed, and clearly didn’t care: he stood over Carlass body, tears streaming down his bloody face, huge axe dripping ichor, chest and arms splattered with his own and others’ blood, screaming his dying rage to the world. Our heroes saw their chance, and fled the cave carrying the silver spike while the wizard-demon was distracted. It took some time for Hrif to die, and they fled far along the tunnels to the sound of his slowly-weakening cries.
Finally they were able to escape into the sunlight, but they didn’t stop there. They kept running until they were too exhausted to go further, and then ran some more. Finally they reached their ship, only to find it under attack by pirates of the Scharde coast. They leapt aboard to command the defense, but now their spirit was only for flight. As fast as they could they lighted out of there, bearing the silver spike with them. Dawn of the following day found them making all haste over the seas towards civilization, tears streaming down their faces as they looked back at the island whose caves had nearly consumed them all. They had left behind two of their loved ones, and a deep and dark secret.
They vowed vengeance and, turning their backs to the island, sailed back towards the five fingers. The next time they visited the Scharde islands, it would be with a plan and an invincible force. From now they were steeled for vengeance…
Fn1: In consultation with the GM and the other players, we agreed that my curse restored one feat point to all the PCs who were still alive. We also – after some argument with the player responsible – identified that Breaker still had one feat point left, because he had miscounted a feat point he didn’t actually use earlier in the battle. This mean that all the PCs had one feat point to boost a single final attack, and Breaker’s player had two. The monster we were fighting was so thoroughly ferocious that these feat points were our only hope: if the attacks boosted with these points didn’t work, a TPK would follow.
Fn2: Against all the odds indeed, because killing this demon with a single blow would be almost impossible given its armour. But Breaker’s player rolled an 18 on 3d6, followed by a 17 on 3d6 (I think – anyway, two huge rolls). We all saw it happen!
Image credit: these pictures, again, by Breaker’s player Eddie.