The party met up with a dwarven caravan, which was transporting dwarven wares from the city of Gilnorra to Northcourt. One of the dwarfs asked them to describe the person they were looking for, at which point Lissa pulled out some parchment and read off the physical description: Tall, middle-aged human. Dirty blond hair with a shaggy beard, thin face, green eyes. The dwarf said that he had sold an axe to a man fitting that description two days before, and that the man had said he’d be heading away from Gilnorra. The dwarf concluded he must be going across the Diamond Lake. He then gave the party directions and drew them a rough map. Portia thanked him for his support and flipped him a gold piece. He also warned them that the temperature would drop soon.
The party continued until they had to make camp. That night, the temperature dropped to well below freezing. However, the well-equipped party was able to withstand the cold until morning. After praying for spells, Lissa was able to cast Endure Elements on the whole party, making their trip through the mountains much more comfortable. They arrived at the place where the path took a sharp turn to the East, and went off the path entirely, climbing down the mountainside so that they were standing on a frozen river with mountains on two sides. Although most of the party made it down without incident, Lissa fell and cracked the ice slightly upon landing, damaging her pride. They carefully walked down the ice-covered river, with Ari nimbly leading the way.
Though the visibility was poor due to the snow and misty wind, Portia suddenly spotted a giant blue humanoid on top of the mountain, as it picked up a rock and hurled it at her. She shouted a warning to the other party members, who attempted to fight it with ranged weapons and spells while navigating the slippery ice. Portia kept tripping when she tried to move, but hurled insults at the giant, no doubt damaging its self-esteem. Augustus tripped, but crawled to the edge of the river and began to scale the cliff, planning to take the fight to beast. Another rock from the beast missed Ari, but broke the ice around her, causing her to fall in. Fortunately, her Endure Elements spell kept her from experiencing the worst of the freezing water. Once out of the water, Ari, along with Lissa and Tamera, attempted to pepper the thing with hits from ranged weapons, but did little damage.
Donovan, on the other hand, bombarded the giant with fire spells from a distance. He kept the giant from retaliating with rocks through his Enchantment spells, each time forcing the giant to throw it at something else. Eventually, the giant took too many fireballs to the face and retreated. The party decided to climb up the cliff as Augustus had done, to avoid the mobility problem they experienced while trying to fight on the ice. Eventually, they reached the mouth of the river (and edge of the cliff), where it opened up to a large, ice-covered lake. They climbed down and began to cross the lake, keeping an eye out for anything that might look like a camp. Once again, Portia spotted it first – an elevated cave in the side of the mountain, the inside glowing with torchlight. After Portia pointed it out to the other members, Augustus took out the supplies he acquired in Northcourt and began to climb up. Portia led the way, and found a guard just inside, sleeping peacefully with his back against the wall. She waited for the rest of the party to arrive, and they discussed what to do with him in hushed whispers. Finally, they decided Augustus should hold him while they woke him up and interrogated him.
Augustus slapped him awake and covered his mouth with his metal-gloved hand. “I’m gonna take my hand away, and you’re not gonna scream, you’re gonna quietly answer our questions. Nod if you understand.” The man nodded emphatically, but when Augustus removed his hand, he immediately yelled “CAPTAIN!” before being punched. Portia thought they should throw him off the edge, since they were done, but the others objected somewhat. Instead, Ari tied him up and Augustus held him in front as they walked down the cavern.
At the end of the cave, a bearded man sat on a rock, as several soldiers knelt with bows trained on them party as they arrived. The man scowled as they approached, saying, “McKinley, you got yourself caught? You half-witted clot!”
“Sorry, sir! It won’t happen again!”
“Captain Elbert Payne, I presume?” Portia asked.
The man surveyed the party, and concluded they must be after him for the bounty. “Will it matter to ye at all that I’m innocent?”
Donovan shrugged. “Well, it’s not really our responsibility to determine whether you’re guilty or innocent. That’s for the courts to decide. Regardless, the order is to bring you in so that your guilt can be determined.”
Lissa turned to Donovan and said, “Have you considered a career in law?”
Portia said, “So, not really, but we’ll listen to your story anyway.”
“Good,” Payne said. “Now, release my man and we can have a nice, civilized discussion.”
The party reluctantly yielded to this request, and McKinley was swiftly untied by the others.
“So, you say you’re innocent, then.” Portia began.
“Of course I’m innocent, ye dog-hearted flap-dragons!” The Captain snapped.
“What’d you call me?” Portia said, stepping forward.
“Wait, wait, wait, my apologies, m’lady, just military talk, I meant no offense. These ill-bred worms don’t understand any other language.” He motioned to his troops. “Anyway, of course I’m innocent.” He began to recount the tale:
“I was with my men, fighting off Orcs in the low country. We were camped there with the rest of the Valendian Army, including an assortment of oh-so-precious Silver Robes. Not that we needed them, my men were swimming in Orc blood! Anyway, so commands are comin’ a bit slow, and the Orcs try a charge. Huge numbers, more than we thought there were in the hills, all headed at our flank. And the mages were there a-castin’ and a-chantin’ and being generally useless, so I broke rank and shouted at my soldiers to follow. Oh, it was glorious. We really clobbered ‘em. But the mages couldn’t hold ‘em off, by themselves, on account of bein’ useless, so apparently two of their dainties bit it. Not that my group went without losses.
“So, once the Orcs are routed, I get back to this twig woman who’s cryin’ over her lost men, sayin’ it’s my fault and it’s gonna be my head for breaking formation. I mean, sure, it’s unfortunate, but I don’t think I was really at fault. I tell her so, and she goes off on me, and says that I’m an ignorant low-life waste of flesh or somesuch, and that she’s reporting to Captain Sharsek that night. So I figured I’d give her time to cool down and talk to her that evening. So I get to her tent late that night and what I see is a damned horror show – the twig’s been killed, but not just killed – clothes ripped off, gashes all over the place, terrible look glued to her face. Blood everywhere. A damned nightmare. And worst of all, it’s my knife stickin’ out of the poor cunny’s heart. And I don’t even have a minute to figure out what happened before some guards show up and try to haul me away. At this point, I’m thinkin’ – there’s not a court alive would fine me innocent. Plenty of witnesses saw us exchange heated words, I was caught at the scene of the crime with my dagger in her heart and her blood on my hands, and so I gently put the guards down and escaped. But not before I explained the situation to my unit, who vowed they’d follow me to the grave. For a bunch of pox-marked joltheads, they’re damn loyal. Smart, too. Out-foxed the country’s finest enforcers of law and order on our criminal journey.”
So according to the fine country of Valendia, I’m a murderer, a rapist, a deserter, and now an outlaw. But hey, who needs civilization anyway? I figure we can live off the wilderness here. A might cold in the winter. And all manner of beasties and giants live in this parts, there’ll never be a shortage of battles – a blessing for fightin’ men like my crew. Still, we’ve lost most of ‘em – 1 killed during our escape, 3 caught by the guards in various towns, 3 died to the Frost Giants we encountered a few days ago, 2 died of the cold…So, then, ya elf-skinned maggots, whaddya think of my sorrowful tale?”
Augustus sensed that something wasn’t quite right about the story, but that the man seemed sincere.
“If you’re innocent, I’m sure the courts will find you as such.” Portia said.
“No, didn’t ye listen, lass?” The captain said. “The evidence is stacked too high against me.”
“So what? I’ll be on your side, and hey, the King of Valendia owes me a favor. If you come with us, I promise no harm will come to you.”
The man was silent. “On your honor?” he asked finally.
“On my honor. It’s all I have left.” Portia said emphatically.
“Alright, I’ll go with you, then. We can set out first thing tomorrow.”
The parties decided to rest for the night in the cave, sharing rations and stories. During this time, Tamera told Donovan that she couldn’t believe they were doing this. His story was clearly bullshit, according to her. Donovan shrugged and told her that at least they avoided a fight and got him to come back, which would still get them paid.
They set out the next morning and trudged back across the lake. They came to the mouth of the river, and climbed up the cliff to avoid walking on the ice. They didn’t walk far before they saw a familiar face – the Frost Giant that had run off the first time, still scorched, but now with company. The scorched one stood across the frozen ravine from them and hurled rocks. Donovan was pleased that he’d get to send more fire at this one. Elbert and his soldiers got into battle formation, and the entire party was able to gain the benefit of Elbert’s commander spirit – his inspiring words and orders helped them to defeat the Frost Giants in short fashion.
Augustus, empowered by the commander and his holy might, unleashed a charging smite attack with his Heavy Mace, and Ari quickly finished the thing off. Augustus smote another one, and Elbert’s soldiers finished it off, but not before one of them fell to its Greataxe. Donovan finished scorching the other Frost Giant, and it fell into the ravine, breaking through the ice and sinking like a stone. They then continued on the way to Northcourt over the next three days. They rejected Elbert’s proposal for a forced march.
They arrived at Northcourt without incident. Once there, however, they noticed that the city was unusually bustling. Many people were gathered in the Village Circle, where a crier stood on top of the statue foundation and proclaimed, “Hear ye, hear ye, the lord of our fair land, our good King Arturos Knightblade, the last of his line, is dead! Assassinated in his throne room at the Royal Palace! Attempts to revive him by the High Clerics of reidman have failed. Dark days lie ahead for our kingdom!”
Upon hearing this, Captain Payne began to have second thoughts about his agreement to be taken in. He told Portia as much, and she said she didn’t blame him, as her favor with the king was now worthless.
“So, I’ll just be retreatin’ to my mountain stronghold, come and get me when you can prove my innocence.”
At this point, Lissa stepped forward, absolutely livid. “Are you actually thinking of letting him go?!”
Portia said, “I swore on my honor that no harm would come to him, and now there’s no way to guarantee that, so yes, I’m letting him go.”
“I’m not letting that happen,” Lissa said, pulling out her Halberd. Several of the party members drew weapons, and a tense moment of silence passed. Donovan broke it by casting a spell, unleashing an invisible assault of magic on the minds of Captain Payne and his men. The spell knocked out all four of his remaining soldiers, but Captain Payne resisted. Augustus attempted to bash him non-lethally, but the Captain nimbly dodged. Captain Payne responded by tripping Augustus and attacking Lissa. Portia charged at Donovan with her Scythe, to prevent him from further magical assault, yelling at Elbert to make a break for it. Her scythe cut deeply into the Wizard. Tamera, who had been shouting at the party to stop their fighting, then snapped and stabbed at Portia with her rapier, which she enhanced magically with her own blood. Donovan responded by shooting magical charging unicorns at Portia, pushing her back quite a bit. Lissa broke Elbert’s axe with her Halberd and attacked him. Augustus got up from the ground and smashed Elbert once, nonlethally, with his heavy mace. Now unarmed, Elbert decided to make a break for it. Ari continued to assault Portia, and she was eventually put down. Augustus then charged at Elbert, finally knocking him out.
The tense battle over, Lissa manacled Elbert. She turned to Donovan, still shaking with anger. “The only reason I’m not arresting Portia as well is because of our past adventures together. She may just be misguided here. I sure hope so, because she’s accomplished so much good before this that I’d hate to see her end up in prison.” By this point, some members of the town guard had arrived, and Lissa directed them to move the unconscious soldiers to the prison.
Ari, Donovan, and Augustus moved Portia to the inn, where they took away her weapons and armor, bandaged her wounds, and put her in a bed. Augustus healed her just enough to keep from waking her up. Tamera got very, very drunk.
Portia awoke the next morning, attempted to piece together what happened. She sat up, suddenly resolved, and began to look for her armor, tearing apart first her room and then Ari’s room to find it. All the while, Ari and Augustus tried to get her to calm down, but she would not be pacified. She trudged straight to the City Hall, with the party members following a short distance behind, partly to keep her from doing any more harm, and partly from curiosity. Portia walked past the guards with barely a word and managed to meet with the mayor, a Dwarven man named Brid Belack.
Upon meeting him, Portia knelt and said that for the good of the nation, he must release the criminal Elbert Payne into her custody, and hers alone. The dwarf was taken aback by her claim, and of course refused. However, after much persuasion, the dwarf drew up a document. He attempted to ascertain who her allegiance was to now that the King was dead, but Portia, not wanting any complications, dismissed him.
She then presented this document to the city jail, where the guards, in stunned disbelief, released Elbert Payne into her custody. Payne, equally surprised, was roughly escorted right through the town gates. Augustus shouted at Portia, “Where are you going with him?”
Portia did not turn around but said, “I’m going to Valens. You can come if you want.” She then scowled at Payne and said, “You better be innocent after all of this, or I’ll kill you myself.”
The party, still puzzled at where this was going, followed behind.
In order to defend her honor, Portia has bent laws and attacked members of her own party. In addition, King Arturos Knightblade has fallen, leaving a vacuum of power that three mysterious possible heirs now seek to fill. What will become of Portia and Elbert Payne? How will Lissa react when she finds that Portia has absconded with the prisoner? Find out next time, on D&D: Valendia II! cue cheesy theme music
((Note: Only really good role-playing lets your characters fight without players getting angry. Way to stick to your guns, all of you. Genuinely good session. Let’s just see where it leads…))