From the slave pits, the party began their upward ascent, unsure which path to take and the timing to follow. When a filth-ridden helmet rolled down from above, signaling the survival of the orc who attempted to surrender earlier, the party quickly decided on haste. Through the grand intersection, Skuthropos heard that the assault from the clan known as the Bristlebacks was at the lower gates. Rika’s arrow joined a battle that would fight room to room, hallway to hallway, as the Rangers fought to the gate out. Artesia kept behind the column of fighting slaves, holding back messengers and runners from the western wing of the castle with arrow barrages, while Koboros helped keep the others thriving with magic coursing through their burning veins.
Passed a guard outpost in a supply room, passed a smithy with defiant orcs who were clearly not warriors, they barred down on the last remnant guards between them and the door to freedom, toward the mines where the last slaves were being kept and the sweet embrace of open air, missed dearly by Bubocrates. During the fighting a tremor cracked through the castle, knocking down Koboros. Rika, still exhausted from earlier, mustered her rage in a way more controlled than she had managed before, and was rewarded with a half-shifted form for her focus and effort. Yet when the last warrior was being chased down by Skuthropos, a new enemy walked out. He carried a greataxe with a wicked edge and flowing azure cloak. Despite an initial conversation with Skuthropos, the orc in piecemeal halfplate had to chase the warrior down the hall toward the doors that held freedom beyond. The slaves pushed the gate opened, but one fell to the hand axe thrown by the armored juggernaut.
Recognizing the danger, the party convened on the last orc that posed a threat to their safe escape. Toward the woman that the orcs called “God-bearer,” the orc hurled another axe, but Rika and Koboros both stepped in the way of its path, Rika gritting her teeth as the bitter iron slashed into her stomach. The mighty orc would land a devastating blow on Skuthropos before being himself falling. With moments to spare, the party swiped his cloak, two throwing hammers, and the grim axe, the first and last of which Koboros would quickly learn crackled with a magic aura. Standing in the open air, wrought metal door to Ironblood castle shut fast behind them, the Rangers took a moment to breathe in the late evening air. To the east, the Forest of Chaos stretched nearly as far as they could see. Halfway to the edge of the forest, the telltale smoke of the mine where the last slaves were being kept was stained red by the setting sun. Their underground odyssey was at an end, and somewhere in the direction of rosy fingered dawn, their comrade Rangers awaited their return.
The Bristleback attack left the Ironbloods devastated. As Lugrin walked the halls finding the corpses of his slain tribesmen. His armor still stank of the filth pit that the half-blood and his entourage had hurled him into. The boarmen took most everything of value from the castle. The Everflame Anvils. The weapon stocks. Most of the women took the children to the Bristlebacks rather than be taken as slaves. The ten he could save were there. Chief Grnuk, if he ever cared to return from the dragon’s lair, would rule an empty castle. Lugrin turned the corner, near the door to the mines. There, he fell to his knees. Who could have slain Tyguk? He was one of the mightiest orcish warriors the tribe had ever known, a veteran of dozens of battles. Lugrin walked up to the fallen hero, heart heavy at the prospect of rebuilding the tribe after this devastation. He reached a hand out to press to Tyguk’s forehead, a final act of remembrance.
Tyguk jolted upright at the touch, screaming in a combination of pain and rage. Somehow, despite devastating wounds, the Hero of the Ironbloods yet drew breath. “Surfacers!” He shouted with rage untold. Lugrin, taken aback for a moment, drew up the wand that could begin closing the greivious wounds across Tyguk’s body. “We will have our vengeance,” the warpriest promised. “Our chief has left for the company of a dragon. But Ironblood still lives with us.”
Tyguk laid back on the cold stone, the faces of the half-breed, the serpentine sorcerer, the two warriors with great curved bows, and the owl that darted with magic in its eyes and talons. “They will pay for their deed. By our dead gods, I swear it.”
Tyguk stood, and collected his blood on his fingertips. An oath of vengeance was painted in blood, and with a word, the blood boiled and burned. “We sought a god unborn,” the orcish hero said to his last ally. “Let us turn to the gods long dead. I’ve seen beyond the grave now; dead gods still whisper. Dead gods still dream.”