The situation for the Unchained looked dire from the outset, with Theran slavers closing in immediately on their position by the frozen stream, and Troll Sky Raiders suddenly dropping in on the edges of the cliff face above them all. The Theran slave ship had slowly swung wide and come to rest against the snow-crusted cliff side immediately above Vridich the Nethermancer, driving through a frigid updraft creating a rising wall of snow.
The defensive perimeter started by the Unchained simply never completely formed. As the slavers moved in to close with the Unchained, the Trolls leaped effortlessly down to attack them, swinging large troll swords which splattered blood and gore everywhere they happened to hit. The front rank of the Unchained charged forward to engage the slavers and help the Trolls destroy them, while Vridich cast Spirit Darts and Hannah stood next to the cliff. Both Luck and Urgral climbed or leaped quickly up the hillside to board the slave barge and take on the Theran Nethermancer face-to-face. Suulin used the opportunity to throw a set of bolas, which struck and injured the Nethermancer leaning over the rail of the slave barge. Dremnin also took a shot at the Theran with his crossbow, but his shot went wide.
Remembering the old saying that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, Skram, Fafnir and Suulin rushed forward to engage the Therans in melee, while Dremnin moved up closer to shoot, but alas missed again in the swirl of combat. Vridich, however, managed to connect with another eldritch bolt, causing one enemy to howl in pain. The Trolls on the hills chose this time to leap down on top of the Therans and proceeded to smite them handily, even landing three of their number on the deck of the slave barge to assault this symbol of Theran cruelty. On the slave barge, Luck first tried to free the slaves and inspired them to seek retribution on their former masters, while Urgral charged up to the Nethermancer and whacked him mightily with his weapon. Fear showed openly on the face of the Theran, and behind him a black portal suddenly loomed eerily. Urgral then received two surprises as he prepared to follow the retreating Nethermancer, for Luck acted first and followed closely on the heels of the Nethermancer, both beings disappearing into the portal, which suddenly snapped shut and disappeared just as quickly as it had appeared, taking both Name-Givers with it. This left Urgral alone on the deck with three Troll Sky Raiders and benches full of cowering slaves.
Thinking that the Sky Raiders were there to help take out the Theran, Urgral received his second surprise, for instead of helping the Dwarf, the Trolls bellowed at Urgral menacingly and demanded that he lay down his arms. Muttering curses on Luck for abandoning him on the deck, Urgral knelt to the deck and laid down his weapon, only to try and spring up in a surprise escape attempt a moment later. The Trolls were ready for this move, however, and the nearest one bashed Urgral roughly back down onto the deck again.
The rest of the battle below was over shortly after the fight on the slave barge, with the Trolls smashing the Therans into rapid death or submission, and the Unchained falling back to their original position by the cliff. When the Trolls closed in on the Unchained, they called for the heroes to lay down their arms. Skram has been hit twice by one Troll in a toe-to-toe fight, and he took one last swing at his opponent before he laid down his great hammer. The best blow by the Unchained on the Trolls came from Vridich the Nethermancer, who somehow caused the leader of the Trolls to flee in magic-induced terror through what appeared to be a simple stare. Though the war leader quickly recovered and came back to try and kill Vridich for besting him, the other Trolls prevented their leader from killing the captive elven Nethermancer. As the Trolls spoke with one another, Dremnin drew upon his magically-fueled talents to quickly acquire the Troll language, so that he understood what their captors were saying.
With all the Unchained and remaining Theran slavers yielding to the victorious Trolls, the captives were quickly stripped of their weapons and gear, bound, then placed aboard the drakkar Wind Viper for a ride back to the Trolls’ home. Special attention was given to ensure Vridich was tightly bound, blindfolded and gagged with an old Troll sock, so that there would be no more trouble from this elven magic user. Dremnin watched the ground below as the ship sped across the sky, and felt he could place them in the eastern reaches of the Twilight Peaks by the lone active volcano. The landscape marked it as Mt. Ang’rak, according to Fafnir. When the drakkar finally landed, the prisoners found themselves securely bound hand and foot, and were led down a mountain and through a village to a building with no windows. There they were thrown, still bound, to await their fate. Fafnir huddled up with his companions and told them that while many Troll Sky Raiders were both vicious and blood thirsty, he believed that the Unchained were actually being held by one of the more civilized groups, possibly the Stoneclaws. In the darkness of the windowless hut the Dwarf told them that if what he suspected came to pass, each of us would face a test, and that we must speak only the truth. These words proved to be prophetic, and the Unchained would be glad for them soon afterwards.
At that point, the door opened and the large armored human who had fought them entered, flanked by two trolls, and he selected Skram and a Theran slaver to come with him. Fafnir tried to remind Skram to speak only the truth, but received a solid backhand smash from one of the Trolls for his trouble. With the departure of Skram and one of the Therans, the hut became filled with nauseating odors as the Therans soiled themselves with fear.
Soon the door opened again, and the same three beings entered, this time selecting Dremnin and another Theran. Dremnin said, “Don’t be afraid, daughter. It’ll be okay.” He was pulled forward to the door, where the human in charge pointed at little Hannah said, “Bring her too.” Having seen Fafnir get back-handed for saying something, this group walked in silence to their fate. With their legs now freed, Dremnin and Hannah walked along with their escorts to an open area where a large stone wheel-like slab, covered in runes, laid on its side in the center of the open space. The stone was surrounded by trolls and various other Name-Givers who stood in silence, and the bloody remains of the Theran who had accompanied Skram lay to the side in a heap on the ground. Hannah was kept at the side of the square and Dremnin walked out to the stone and sat upon it as instructed. An unharmed and completely unbound Skram sat unmoving at the sidelines looking at Dremnin.
A hooded troll stood and with a word caused the runes on the stone to suddenly glow blue with power. Then the human Sky Raider, whom the Trolls addressed as Stilicho, came closer and spoke to Dremnin in good Throalic, asking, “What is your name?”
The Scout answered firmly, “Dremnin.”
“Only one name?”, came the next question from the Human inquisitor.
“Yes, I have not yet earned my second name”, Dremnin replied.
The human translated Dremnin’s Throalic responses to the leaders at the sidelines. “How did you come to be in the Twilight Peaks?, the human asked again.
“I was enslaved by the Therans and escaped, only to be set upon again where you found us”, came the Scout’s response.
“Where is your home”, the inquisitor asked next,
Dremnin replied, “It is a tiny hamlet called Diamede, near the town of Darranis on the Coil River.”
“What is your trade, and what is your skill?”, came the next two questions together.
“I am a Scout by trade, and my skill is map making”, Dremnin replied evenly. The questioning was paused while Dremnin was provided parchment and ink and told to sketch a map from memory. He quickly drew a map of his homeland far to the northeast.
After inspecting it to his satisfaction, the human began again. “Are you marked by a Horror, or do you serve one of the mad Passions?”
“No, I am not Horror marked to my knowledge, and I follow Floranuus.”
Then the human eased up closer to Dremnin and looked him straight in the eyes and asked, “Will you serve the Steelskull Clan honorably, or do you prefer death?”
Knowing what little he did about Troll culture, Dremnin replied, “I will serve you, but what of my daughter?”
“She will join you if she passes”, came the human’s response. “You will be assigned to the household of Jorund the Scout.”
And for Dremnin, the ordeal was over.
At that point, the hooded figure nodded and the trolls rejoiced, with the pronouncement by the human, “You are newot now, assigned to Jorund, and if she passes, your daughter will be assigned there as well.”
Dremnin was led over to the side to sit by Skram, while the terrified Hannah was led to the same large stone to sit where her father had sat. Dremnin called out to her with encouragement, saying, “Just tell the truth, Hannah”. They asked her what her name was, and she replied, “Hannah.” “How did you come to be in the Twilight Peaks”, they asked her, and she replied that she had been born a slave, and that she was traveling with her father. When asked what her trade and her skill were, she replied, “Well, I don’t really have a trade, but I know how to cook, and my father is teaching me to sing.” Then they asked her about being Horror marked, to which the little girl answered, “Not anymore.” This answer, when translated into Trollish, caused the hooded Troll to rise and look at the girl closely, but he soon sat back down and waved the proceedings to continue. “Do you serve one of the Mad Passions?”, came the next question, to which she replied truthfully in a little girl voice, “No sir”. “Will you serve the Clan faithfully?”, came the final question, to which she squeaked out, “Yes.” The ruling was in her favor, and she was allowed to rush headlong into the waiting arms of her loving father. “Well done, little one”, Dremnin said, and he held her close to comfort her, and so that she couldn’t see the quick but messy death of the Theran slaver who went next.
And so it continued, as one by one the Unchained came before the Trollish assembly, answered their questions, and each swore allegiance to clan and moot. Suulin was last, and the petrified girl had to practically be carried out and placed on the great stone, but Skram saw her pain and used Slave Signing to give her comforting words which made her more calm. When asked her trade and skill, Suulin used a loaned musical instrument and told the entire story of the Unchained to the Assembly, a throng which grew noticeably larger as the story was being told. As it was told in Throalic, Stilicho continued to translate the verses into Trollish, and when it was done, the trolls applauded and welcomed Suulin into the Clan. After the last of the Unchained passed the tests, Skram asked the venerable Tago Steelskull what was to become of their possessions, as many were rewards for valiant service. The blind troll replied that the goods would be kept by him until such time as he felt they might be return to the Unchained. Until that time, they would remain under his care for safe-keeping. The last of the Theran slavers was then dealt with and their bloody remains cleaned from the great stone. Only one of the Therans had been successful; a conscript.
That night there was a great feast, with all the new newots being welcomed into the clan, and it was during this feast that Skram was invited to speak to the venerable Tago Steelskull about a matter of common concern. As for Dremnin and Hannah, at some point late in the feast, a gentle tap on the shoulder let Dremnin know that his new family was ready to meet them. Behind them stood the troll Scout, Jorund, who led them to his hut at the edge of the village. Inside it was dry but unkempt, a fact which Dremnin would show Hannah how to remedy. He had helped his mother as he was growing up, so he knew how to keep a neat house. Dremnin assured Jorund that he and Hannah would cook and keep the home place neat, which drew a grunt from the troll Scout. Dremnin informed the Scout that he could speak the troll tongue, and that if Jorund preferred they could speak in that language, but that Hannah could not understand. Dremnin also asked the troll if he had a last name, to which the troll replied, “It is Farseer.” And so life began to settle into a happy routine for father and daughter.
During the next month, Hannah went to the hut of old Runa, the old troll woman who taught school and kept the children of the Reach. Suulin had been assigned to Runa after the ceremony, so Hannah did not feel so alone when she first arrived. Over time, Runa and Suulin began to teach Hannah as they helped the other children with Troll language and customs. It was a good life for her, and at night she returned to the hut of Jorund the Farseer, as he was known, and kept it neat and tidy. As for Dremnin, he spent his time trying to keep up with the long-legged Jorund as he went about a Scout’s business around the clan’s lands, and began to navigate using maps. Dremnin learned that there were small villages around the area, some with other Namegivers who were not troll, made up of humans, orks and dwarves, who had moved out of the main village when they achieved full standing in the clan.
Jorund maintained small campsites around the area for use when he was out on walkabout and couldn’t make it back to the main village. They were well supplied with dry firewood and water skins, making them an ideal place to lodge, and Dremnin did his best to keep these sites well-stocked. Having time to get to know the troll Scout, he learned that Jorund was a journeyman Scout, and very proficient in his craft. Each of the Unchained, in fact, found themselves well-treated and cared for, though they were expected to earn their keep in the process. Every now and then Dremnin saw Skram, who has been assigned to the home of a troll fisherman. He had never seen Skram looking so well and happy, and after one day seeing the little female t’skrang walking with Skram, Dremnin laughed and finally understood. What had appeared to be a tragedy at first had turned into a blessing for the Unchained.
At one point when Jorund and Dremnin were out near a great volcano, presumably the same one Dremnin had seen from the air, toward the edge of the clan’s lands, he spotted a most peculiar sight. At a great distance he beheld a being behaving as though he were mad, yelling, gesticulating wildly and urinating off the cliff side, sometimes acting as though these actions were directed at Dremnin. When Jorund showed himself again, Dremnin asked about the crazy being he had seen. Jorund said that this is an Ork named Harn, who is also member of the Clan and who now bore the name Black Harn. He has moved out there to live a solitary life in the caverns of the volcano. Some said he was marked by a Horror, so when they returned to the village, Dremnin sought out Urgral the Horror Stalker.
At a feast that night, Dremnin mentioned Black Harn and his behavior to Urgral, and in the process caught the ear of Tago Steelskull. The ancient troll came over and mentioned that he had heard the two newots mention the name of Black Harn, and said he’d like to speak to them on this. Dremnin cleared a place for Tago to sit and refilled his tankard of Skoad, then the old troll told the tale of Black Harn, who had come to the Clan from an allied Ork leader named Jarl Bloodsong, who had helped form the new ork nation of Cara Fahd. The Ork had left his whelp with the clan for upbringing as a measure of faith and trust in their alliance; this child was Harn. He grew up as a spirited child and left the clan to find his way in the world, and apparently became Horror-marked in his travels, causing the self-destruction of three villages as he traveled. Freed from the mark by a Master Horror Stalker, Black Harn had sworn to find and kill the Horror that used him to slay so many.
Later that night, Urgral asked Dremnin if he would take him to see this Black Harn fellow, and Dremnin agreed. After both received permission to go, they set out together for a journey of several days duration, and eventually found their way to the lair of Black Harn. The Ork Horror Stalker saw promise in Urgral and agreed to train him to the next circle of advancement, but only if the dwarf would swear to go with him to kill the Horror that had caused his life so much pain. Urgral agreed, and received his training, while Dremnin mentioned that he’d like to go along to help when the time came.
Later in the month, Dremnin and Jorund had led an expedition of Trolls into the highest peaks of the mountains to capture Crest Wolf cubs, and while returning to the village, Dremnin spotted a pillar of smoke rising into the air in the distance. He pointed it out to Jorund, and the two raced down the hills to determine what had happened. As soon as they came close enough to see, they spotted a burning clan village that looked as though it had been raided. Charged by Jorund to warn Rorik, Dremnin took off for the village at a dead run.
By maintaining his best speed at a run, Dremnin soon arrived at the main village and sought out Rorik Steelskull to report the burned village. As his chest heaved breathing in air needed from his long run, Dremnin reported, “Master Rorik, Jorund sent me to warn you that one of the outlying villages has been raided and burned.” A look of anger flooded the leader’s face, and his eyes grew as hard as flint. He called out in Trollish, “TO ARMS! Gather the Clan warriors and summon Grimlock. We will go and see what has happened to our people. The Troll leader began to move with purpose toward his drakkar, and turned to ask Dremnin, “Which way lies the village?”. The newot scout told Rorik the direction of the burning village as he ran to keep up with the long strides of the Troll leader. “You will remain here, newot”, Rorik said in a more calm voice that left no room for questions, “and help see to the safety of the village while we are gone.”
It looked like the Unchained would be tested this day on both their loyalty and the depth of their oaths as newots. “Floranuus grant us all great and glorious victory this day”, he prayed aloud as watched the drakkar lift and sail towards the distant village.
3rd Circle Scout Adept