The Forgotten Tower
On the outskirts of Hadden, the band ran across a burned out farm and a fresh remembrance stone. After interviewing one of the neighbors, it was revealed that orcs had attacked the farm and burned it to the ground after slaying the family living there. The farmer reluctantly gave up an axe carried by an orc who was slain during the fighting.. an axe of fine and quite ancient dwarven construction.
On arriving in town the party heard news that orc raiders had been hitting the nearby farms hard, stealing food supplies and murdering the inhabitants. The city guard so far had little luck in tracking down the raider’s lair, so a bounty was put out on orc ears, 2gp a piece.
While Nala went to speak to the Captain of the Guard about the orc threat, Jeton sought out information about the axe they had found. A consultation with a sage in the town’s dwarf quarter revealed that the axe belonged to a family line believed to have gone extinct during the last rising of the Dark. When he learned where Jeton obtained the axe, he offered to pay well for any other dwarven artifacts that the party could wrest from orc hands. Nala, meanwhile, assured the Captain that they would put an end to the orc menace.
Though efforts to obtain a ballista to mount atop their wagon fell through, Tim was able to have some reinforcements made to the driver’s bench. Those completed, the party set out. Through a mixture of orienteering, arcane senses and plain luck, the ruins of the dwarven fortress were soon located, a bit more than a day’s ride from the city, perched atop a wooded crag. Past a rubble-chocked ramp they found the lower levels of the tower heavily damaged by whatever fighting brought it low, littered with dwarf and darkling bones.. with every humanoid skeleton missing it’s skull. They also found it to be chock full of orc raiders. It was later discovered that it was the orcs who had collected all the skulls in the fortress, apparently using them for some sort of macabre basket-tossing game.
The orcs seemed to be of a new tribe never encountered before, denoted by red dye covering their lower jaws. Call them the Bloodmaw tribe. Strangely, the tribe seemed to be an amalgamation of at least two other tribes, the Skullsmashers and the Gutrippers, both groups having given up their previous association to form a new tribe.. something Jeton reported as being unheard of, orcs normally either splitting off new tribes when the old grew too large, or subsuming conquered tribes. Only two orcs went without the Bloodmaw markings: their shaman, whose face was split vertically by a heavy scar, with each side painted a different monstrous design; and the apparent leader of the band, a huge orc whose body was covered in an elaborate pattern burned into his skin, which glowed like embers when he used some sort of magical attack to make the earth erupt around the party’s feet, and whose body burst into flames when he died (nearly robbing the party of his valuable ears). Perhaps more worrying, in addition to a variety of scavenged dwarf weapons, several of the orcs used weapons of strange alloys and bizarre inscriptions marking them as made by the derro, a race of mad, degenerate dwarves forced into the deep underdark during the Second Night.
Two of those degenerate dwarf-kin were spotted when the party came to confront the orc’s leader and his lieutenants in the final battle for the dungeon, one of whom was busy loudly berating the orcs for their idiocy in Common before combat began. Once the first orc fell, both darted away into a side passage which was sealed by the dropping of a heavy stone barrier. With the orcs defeated, the only way to continue on was to rappel down the shaft for the broken wagon-lift that ran through the fortress, descending sixty feet into the darkness. Attempts to light the way were foiled by more derro guarding the base of the shaft, forcing the party to climb their way in to combat. They survived, however, and bested the derro only to discover when they left the shaft chamber that they had descended into an abandoned dwarf village that occupied a huge cavern split by an underground river.
Exploring the cavern brought on more derro attacks. First from a group of knife-wielding dervishes led by a shadow-trained assassin who darted invisibly amongst their ranks, then from a pack of pain-leeching slarks and their trainer, who was flung into the underground river and washed away. The remnants of the towns inhabitants were found artfully arranged on the primary bridge over the river, their bones meticulously repaired via magical ritual and set in piles along the entire length.
The last of the derro were found in the ruined temple of Moradin on the far side of the river, where a priest in a steel skull-cap preached to his brethren to cleanse the cavern with blood, the surface dwellers or their own. He and all his kin were slain in the ensuing battle, and some of the damage done to the temple repaired before setting out to find a route to the surface.
That’s when the myconids showed up. The cavern seemed to be full of the strange mushroom folk when the party emerged from the temple, led by their rot-priest in a cloud of spores. Stepping into the cloud allowed those brave souls who chose to step forward to join a telepathic conversation with the creature, though expressed mostly in images and emotional impressions rather than words. After assuring the mushroom folk that they meant no harm and would urge the dwarves to do the same should they return to the cavern, the party’s questions were rewarded with a psychic replay of the last several months of the cavern’s history. The group saw the first derro scouts arrive in the cavern some months ago, followed weeks later by the larger band they had fought, accompanied by draft lizards heavily laden with supplies. Hidden in the shadows of the cavern entrance, a cloaked figure was observed watching the derro arrive, flashing tentacles beneath it’s hood as it turned to depart. Over the next few weeks others arrived: darklings of all stripes, goblins, bugbears, orcs, gnolls, beastmen and even trolls, accompanied by leaders with scar patterns similar to the orc they fought in the dungeon above. A small army gathered, descending from the surface or arriving via the cavern’s gate led by derro and troglodyte guides, before one day the derro priest emerged from the temple and began issuing orders. Supplies were distributed, including arms, armor and alchemical weapons of derro make, and then the army departed via the gate, dissapearing into the underdark. The derro remained behind, taking remaining supplies to the orcs above, until the adventurers arrived to destroy them.
Ascending a hidden stairway and navigating a corridor full of jammed and disabled traps, the party finally returned to the surface and loaded their loot and made to return to Hadden.