The four rangers were summoned to the Admiral’s cabin. “The Inverted Isles are out of bounds for a while until we find out where these Venschians have gone. And we’re stretched with the more experienced rangers looking for them and the orc raiders you saw. So we’ve a simpler task. Check out these islands for dragons, will you? The mountains at their centre look ideal for gems and gold, and our minerologists want to have a look. Here’s the requisition for your knorr and three crew.”
He bent back to his paperwork. Kiera, MCU 464890 (Mobb), Hadley and Saleran looked at each other in disbelief. Dragons? The admiral looked up and sighed. “No, I don’t want you fighting the things, just scouting out whather they are there, still, and what they are.”
Wizard’s Hat Island
The island reared from the sea like a wizard’s wilted, wide-brimmed hat. The sea around the island was calm, curbed by the gently shelving sea-floor. Around the edge of the island were flat swamps, turning from salt-water to fresh-water and then to tree-crowded low hills. In the middle of the islands were tall, fractured, snow-capped mountains around which clouds clung like a calf to its mother.
And through the clouds plunged bats with tails.
“How far away do you reckon those mountains are?” asked Mobb (Mobile Combat Unit 4648-90).
Saleran gazed at the mountains for a while. “Nine? Ten? A dozen miles?”
“Then they’re not bats”, said Hadley. “That’s it. I’m off. We’ve got our intel.”
An argument ensued, Saleran and Mobb pointing out that a scouting mission that returned purely with the answer “Yes, we saw dragons” was never going to go down too well with the Admiral. Hadley shrugged. “Let’s go there, then.” He pointed toa range of tree-covered hills that seemed to lead to the mountains across the swamp. “At least they’ll be dry land.”
The knorr neared the hills as they sloped down to the sea and the rangers began to look for a likely mooring-place where they could wade in to start their mission. Around the headland appeared a heavily-lade longship, it’s red sail billowing in the unruly wind. Sunlight glinted off the steel helmets of the ‘crew’. Moments later it slowed, its yard came round, and it turned towards the ranger’s knorr.
“Negotiations anyone?” asked Saleran. He bit back his words as the sail unfolded, revealing a black mark of Gruumsh in the centre of the sail: orc raiders!
The crew panicked. “We must hide in the swamps! We cannot outrun a longship, even one so heavily laden as that.” The rangers set to helping them, and the knorr jibed and headed into safety of the nearby swamps. Saleran pointed out a creek, it’s sides closely reaching over the vessel; Hadley climbed to the masthead and along the yards, pushing off the branches before they could become entangled in the rigging; Mobb grabbed a pair of massive oars and begun rowing quickly as the crew manned the steering-oar and the other pair of oars. Kiera ran to the bows, calling out depths and hazards.
The knorr slid its way silently and slowly through the swamp. Kiera spotted two pairs of eyes resting in the water, which gradually resolved themselves into a single pair and a pair of nostrils some distance away. The creature was huge an dwell-rounded beneath the water. She pointed it out to Saleran. “It’s just a big horse,” said the wizard, “probably adapted to this island.” They skirted round it cautiously, and found it was protecting another, much smaller.
The water changed and they entered an area of reed beds, low trees and bushes clinging to cumps of islands rearing from the water. Mobb continued rowing with mechanical precision whilst the crew collapsed over their own oars. The knorr slid through the reeds, Hadley dropping over the stern and covering up their passage behind them. The knorr slid to a halt and as Mobb scraped off the leeches clinging to Hadley’s body, the crew and rangers unstepped the mast.
The sound of animals in the swamp resumed, interupted only by the sounds of distant argument in a foreign tongue. The rangers had escaped.
Swampe and the Demise of Hadley
Looking around the ranges spotted a ruined wharf on the edge of the swamp. Further along a pair of destroyed coracles were drawn up onto one of the many tiny islands. A strand of smoke could be seen a short distance away, visible even in the breeze. A figure could be glimpsed hiding in the reeds a short distance away. It called out some words in a strange language. After no-one responded it called them out again.
Being drawn to investigate, the squad climbed out onto one of the many tiny islands, Saleran to the left, then Kiera, MCU 464890 (Mobb) and Hadley. “Go! Return to your vessel and leave!” cried a voice, this time in Common. The tone was sibilant and high-pitched, vaguely fluting.
Hadley stepped forward. “Why should we?” he asked.
“Leave our home,” came the reply.
The group shrugged, spotting a few creatures hidden in the undergrowth on the edge of the swamp nearby. They made no move to go and stayed to see what happened.
A mistake. Crossbow bolts flew, dropping Saleran to the ground. Moments later small, upright, drake-like beings flitted from cover, jumping from tussock to tussock and letting loose javelins as they ran. Another stepped forward into the clearing ahead, apparently half-crazed, but wearing a suit of armour from laminated scales.
Mobb and Hadley surged forward, leaping across the mire to do so. Keira quickly healed Saleran and summoned her bear-spirit to the fight. But the crossbows sang again and, once more, Saleran dropped to the ground; javelins flew and Mobb and Hadley picked them from their armour. Then another of the creatures stepped from cover and turned into a small dragon.
The battle was bloody, Keira controlling as much as she could with her bear, but she was distracted by Saleran’s vulnerability. Mobb engaged the insane warrior, hoping the others would keep off the skirmishers. Hadley flitted from tussock to tussock to miniature island, trying to get a decent strike. It was all to no avail. Though they struck creature after creature, the rangers could not bring one down, and were getting teh worst of the battle. Hadley fell into the swamp, rose again, but was struck down by a javelin and burbled as he sank beneath the water. Keira used her most precious power, bringing the party back from their injuries, and allowed them to struggle on.
Finally Saleran fought off his attackers and turned his spells to those attacking Mobb; Hadley was nowhere to be seen. With the spirit-bear, Mobb and Saleran all focussing on a few assailants, they were finally driven back, Saleran putting in the final strikes with a few well-placed magic missiles. Feigning to crow over their victory, the survivors searched for Hadley and found him, face-down beneath the waters of the swamp.
They had little time to mourn. Smoke rose from nearby, and sounds could be heard of something approaching wailing. One of the sailors jumped from the ship, his face red as he helped them carry Hadley’s body aboard. “I should have helped,” he said. “Let me take his place.”
The grime-covered survivors looked at each other, wearily, and nodded.
Woods, a Dead Dragon and Saleran’s Bane
The villagers were found cowering amongst the undergrowth a short distance away. The group were threatened by wizened wyrmkin with spears. So they retreated, searched through the ruins of the burnt-out of village and retreieved anything they could find, and returned with any younglings toys and useful implements they could use to break the ice. Discussion was difficult, but soon the party settled on draconic, teh only language the wyrmkin seemed ot understand.
The orcs, it seemed, had arrived recently and slain many of the warriors and hunters. A party had then left, going further inland, and the wyrmkin expressed relief that their “lord” would soon deal with them. Discussion soon showed that “Lord” meant “Dragon”.
Unpeteburbed, the group grabbed some canoes and followed the orcs path into the swamp. Only a short distance further on they found a river which led into firmer ground and woods. At a bend in the river paths led into the woods and, alongone of these paths, a pair of orcs stood, apparently on guard. The party rapidly disembarked, and set themselves up in the small clearing where they landed. The orcs shouted, and from the woods came answering cries. Orcs were everywhere!
The fight was tough, and perhaps a veil should be drawn across it as the focus shifted constantly and too many of the orcs were able to continue fighting the party. An Orc shaman, berserker, several raiders… a tough squad. It finished with a dead wizard, Saleran Coldhearth, who tried to push away a group of orcs with his Thunderwave to rescue Mobb, but was fatally backhanded by an orc berserker into the river.
At last the orcs were vanquished, one escaping, and the group looked at what they had found. It was a nest of a young dragon, now dead amidst the bodies of many orcs. Some items of interest were recovered, but the group returned to the boat in a sombre mood.