Dragons of Blackminster
The Journals of Agraven, three volumes, were written 237 years ago, in a time when the Earldom of Ustergard was still part of the Kingdom. Before the Orcs of the North had swept south, looting and pillaging in the name of Lillith.
What you already know about Shar Gazoth, Ustergard etc.
The mountain range in the south-eastern region of Ustergard, known as the Thunder Peaks had long been known to house the Ancient Orcish Citadel of Shar Gazoth. There are stories of Shar Gazoth going back to long before the Coming of the Gods (2,017 years ago). The southern Orcs, known as Thunderkin, were red-skinned Orcs, related to the Red Orcs of Asherak (from a distant island race of orcish pirates thousands of miles to the south). These Red Orcs were technologically ahead of the other races in architecture and metal-work, particularly in ship-building. Beneath the mountains they discovered a vast cave network which they carved into a stronghold. Over the centuries, their slaves extended it, deeper and wider.
There was never really a “horde” of Red Orcs, perhaps only ever 1,000 or so, but they gathered other races as allies (including a renegade clan of Drow) and slaves. They also allied with an ancient sect calling themselves “The Keepers of the Dead”, seven Necromancers (rumoured to be immortal) who raised vast legions of Zombies and Skeletons.
107 years ago, the White Orcs of the North, swept over the Wall and conquered all of Ustergard. There were many thousands of Orcs, accompanied by Wargs and Winterwolves, Ogres, Trolls and even Hill Giants and a few Frost Giants. These forces had been gathered and directed by Lillith, the Dark Goddess of the Frozen North. In order to remain in the material world, Lillith’s spirit inhabits the bodies of a series of kidnapped women, each lasting about 10 years. She rules from the Tower of Glass, a huge icicle, in the frozen wastes.
When the White Orcs, led by the Anti-Paladin Stagmork, poured down from the White Mountains, they had already made an alliance with the Red Orcs who attacked Ustergard from the south with a legion of undead. It seems the Red Orcs themselves had been in a bit of a decline for the last couple of hundred years. Stagmork entered Shar Gazoth and became its Lord.
250 years ago, for a period of about 20 years, the Red Orcs had managed to make raids all over Jade through the use of a magical Mirror that let them open a Portal to another mirror. Despite their relatively low numbers and despite huge military effort from the Earldom of Ustergard to guard the borders of the Thunder Peaks, the Thunderkin Orcs sent spies carrying an attuned mirror to anywhere they wanted and then their raiding party charged through, ransacked the target and then retreated, always either taking away or destroying the attuned mirror so they could do it again.
237 years ago, after about 20 years of these unstoppable raids, the Wizard Agraven of Eastport led a party of adventurers into Shar Gazoth to destroy the Portal Mirror. The Journals of Agraven describe that mission.
More recently, about 15 years ago, a party of adventurers led by Ragnar Red-Axe descended part-way into Shar Gazoth, in pursuit of the kidnapped Arch-Priest of Oban, Claivicus the Wise. At that time, Clavicus was the elected First Priest, religious ruler of all the churches – Oban, Mithras, Mortus & Durin. He was kidnapped by agents of the Southlands and brought to Shar Gazoth, where they intended to keep him alive while one of the Dragonlords took his place (The Dragon-Lords have an ability to perfectly impersonate someone, as long as that person is their captive).
Ragnar and his allies learned of the plot and followed the “pope-on-a-rope” into Shar Gazoth and brought him safely back. Clavicus died a couple of years ago and the Synod of Churches has not been able to agree a replacement, which is why there is no current First Priest.
The whole of the Thunder Peaks are protected by a magical barrier against scrying and teleporting (except for via the Great Mirror). Ragnar’s method of getting into Shar Gazoth had the party pretending to be captives. They were fortunate enough to have Skorian (the only “good-aligned” Drow in the history of Jade) and Artos (the only renegade Talon – ninja from the South-lands) and so they were able to pretend to be allies bringing captives. Even this trick only got them through the West Gate and half-way down the Great Western Stair. There they ran into a couple of the Keepers and an army of Undead. Further down they caught-up with Clavicus crossing a mushroom jungle and from there they made their escape back up the stair, slaughtering the Western guards. Once free of the borders of the Thunder Peaks, they were able to teleport back to civilisation.
Agraven’s Journal I (Getting there and Getting In)…
Ustergard in those days was a relatively peaceful land – part of the Kingdom of Gard. There were hundreds of towns and villages. At the Northern border, the Wall stretched across from the River Stone to the eastern coast. The Wall was studded with many Forts to protect the lands below from the White Orcs.
Most of the land below the Wall was peaceful, but there was also a ring of Forts and good military roads around the foothills of the Thunder Peaks, defending against raids from the Thunderkin Orcs.
Agraven and his companions – three fighters, a rogue, a ranger and two priests (one of Mortus and one of Oban), sneaked through the mountains, avoiding any large Orc war parties and killing small ones. They followed an orcish hunting party to a well-hidden cave behind a waterfall. They managed to kill the hunter’s Wargs at the cave and pursued the hunters themselves down winding stairs and a narrow tunnel where the raging water echoed in the right-hand wall, finally catching them and killing them at the shore of a lake where the water poured from the cavern roof like a silver curtain.
The Journal gives clear directions to the waterfall valley.
The lake was one of many in a vast mushroom jungle. Larva bubbled up to the north of this jungle and after a day of pushing through, it became sticky and sweaty as any of the jungles of distant Kush. Giant insects dwelled there and Agraven was forced to fight many times against giant ants and cave fishers. To avoid some orc foragers, they also wandered into an area of red capped – yellow-spotted fungus trees, where the spores hung in the air and caused hallucinations.
When they came to the pool of larva, they followed it down stream (there was a slight current flowing left to right) and after a day found a bridge across. There were a couple of orc settlements not far from the larva pool and the orcs had blind dwarf slaves who worked as mules for the foragers.
Over the bridge they came to the first of the Keeps, fortifications surrounding a choke point where the only way was through. Orcs and Ogres dwelled at the Keep and Gargoyles roosted on the ledges.
Some of our heroes managed to sneak through to the tunnels other side while the others attacked in force. When the intruders seemed to be getting the upper-hand, a few of the orcs tried to flee, one on a Warg but the party’s scout managed to bring them down before they escaped to raise the alarm.
Journal II (Deeper and Deeper)…
Gradually they left the larva pools and jungle behind them and emerged onto what the orcs called the Great Stair. From a captured orc they learned that far above them was the West Gate.
They descended a few hours to another Keep, some of the time there were actual stairs, sometimes just a ramp down, or even spots where it turned level or even turned up for a mile or so. Some side passages showed movement and walking skeletons. Once a war party of Orcs on Wargs and a couple of Drow on Spiders were spotted coming up the stair and they were forced to duck into the side passages. The War Party passed by but they were forced into combat with the undead, attracting a few flameskulls and shadows too. The Mortus Priest was able to speak with dead and learned they were part of an army being tended by the Seven Keepers – but fortunately Agraven was able to avoid running into a Keeper.
The next Keep was guarded by Drow, a small fort called Tanglespire. There were spiders, drow and driders living here. Very alert. Their scouts watched as some orcs came up from below and were stopped to have their papers checked and what looked like Zone of Truth spells being used.
Finding no easy way to slip past, they made a frontal assault, set the place on fire and ran on deeper.
Their ranger was able to tell which way the majority of footprints had come, but the caverns beyond Tanglespire turned into an endless maze of twisting tunnels, some at crazy angles. They were attacked a couple of times by giant maggots with many glittering eyes (that seemed to confuse their victims), who moved rapidly in the 5ft-diameter swiss-cheese tunnels and were able to burrow easily through rock. They never discovered how the orcs and drow passed through this area without being attacked.
They were forced to leave the path again when the drow pursued them and spent two days wandering lost through the maggot tunnels. Eventually, by climbing down they found their way to a limestone/stalactite/stalagmite chasm miles wide and 40 feet across and 100s of yards deep and high. They decided to fly/climb down and were attacked by living stalagmites with long rocky stone arms. They lost the ranger here as he fell into the chasm and was never seen again.
The bottom of the chasm led nowhere but was filled with foul-smelling sludge. There were many twists and turns on the chasm and they were attacked by poisonous oozes who killed the Mortus Priest.
Eventually they heard the distant sound of mining from behind some of the stalactites and were able to break through into a cave leading to mine-workings. One of the Keepers of the Undead was directing zombie miners – they seemed to be collecting a peculiar glowing blue gem and the mine-tunnels followed the veins in long curling spirals. Most of the tunnels came to an abrupt end but eventually they found one that broke into a paved street! This was at last a part of the ancient Citadel.
Journal III – The Citadel and the Mirror…
Now they were in the Citadel (which was already alerted by the Drow), Agraven used a Seeming spell to disguise the party and they moved through the city streets towards the centre. One of the fighters was a half-orc and spoke Orcish. Most of the activity was around the upper and western side – presumably attempting to guard against intruders.
They located a garrison of warriors preparing to make a raid on a distant City. They overheard the conversation and realised they were going to go through the Mirror the next day.
What the Orcs called, the Chamber of Mirrors, turned out to be a large building with a domed cathedral roof – perhaps 100 feet high and 3 or 4 stories.
They managed to fly and spider-climb to the upper level, a parapet around the dome where there were several archways leading in. The upper chamber was full of blood-drinking bats who swarmed onto the intruders.
They found a door (magically locked and trapped – but Agraven could dispel both spells and the others smashed it down) leading to a short flight of stairs. The toughest battle of all occurred here with red Orc wizards and priests trying to protect the Mirror. They summoned many creatures and called up ogre and troll guards from the lower floors.
They managed to break through to the Chamber of Mirrors and Agraven magically barred the door.
This is where they discovered that some trap mechanism, because they had not opened the door properly, had revealed a two of Mirror of Oppositions and the greatest fight of all took place. Fortunately two of the heroes were not duplicated one due to a spell of Non-detection and the other due to an amulet granting the same power. Somehow the good guys defeated all the duplicates (two each!). It was during this fight that the real Agraven told his friends to kill all of the Agravens which let them realise which was the true one.
Frantically the Orcs tried to break through the door, Agraven first tried to destroy the Portal Mirror (ver self-sacrificing of him) When that failed, he managed to attune himself to it and then attuned the Orc’s Mirror to the mirror in his own home (a mirror he had studied and memorized fully). With only seconds to go they managed to grab much loot (including one of the Mirrors of Opposition) and leap through the Portal Mirror.
Back in Eastport, Agraven quickly coverd his own mirror. If you can’t see through, you can’t complete the ritual of opening. He hid and locked-up his mirror and the Opposiiton mirror, effectively preventing the Orcs from ever using their Portal Mirror again.