Orphans of Eberron

1a - A Cold Road
A lone Dragonborn travels south in search of hope.

Rhogar heard the screams of his Dragonborn people, his father, and his family all around him as the orange flames and the black smoke enveloped them, the hot resounding roar of the beast high above nearly drowning them all out. His fear threatened to overwhelm him, but the words of his father repeated in his head… “Sometimes the smart thing to do is also the bravest.” It was this long forgotten string of wisdom that kept him sane as his entire world was being incinerated around him. His heart wanted to fight with everything it had, but his mind knew better. Rhogar fled, and as he did the burning faces of his family appeared above him in the sky, Each face was set upon a long sinewy neck covered in scales and united in one body that flew on dark leathery wings that covered the land in black shadow. The creature swooped low and each giant face opened up to reveal a million yellow fangs that surrounded Rhogar and snapped shut, piercing every inch of his flesh—

Rhogar awoke to the sound of a deafening mournful roar. It took a moment to realize that it was his own—Beads of frosty sweat covered his scaly face and he scraped them off absently with one blue clawed hand, and breathed heavily.

Would the nightmares never end?

He looked around and barely recognized the road he’d been traveling for what felt like a million moons now. The narrow rocky cliffs that had pressed in on him from either side along the pass had begun to widen considerably as it began to slope downhill. Low dry shrubs had begun to appear as well, a welcome change from the dearth of vegetation—the utter lifelessness of the trail so far. The small scraggly plants gave Rhogar a mote of hope and he realized that his breathing had slowed and the nightmare was now but a dim and fast-fading memory.

Rhogar hefted his trusty double-headed axe, the only vestige of his former life, and slung his pack over a shoulder and began to walk south. In the darkness of the early morning he could just make out the flickering golden lights of a village nestled in the valley far below.

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1b - A Grim Gatekeeper
Rhogar discovers a village that has lost its most precious treasure.

The darkness of morning slowly faded into the pink/blue light of dawn as Rhogar approached the strange gates of a tiny walled village with an old weathered sign that read, “Lochsburg.” The gates themselves seemed to be ramshackle creations built with a careless haste, made from a random assortment of debris. Broken wine casks, old horse carts, and iron stoves were but a few of the items that seemed to comprise the makeshift gates and, indeed, the entire wall which encircled the village itself. Rhogar had seen such measures taken before in times of war, when materials grew thin one must make due with what is at hand. For all the work put into it, Rhogar could hardly believe that it would keep anyone out for very long, if one was bent on getting in.

As he got closer he noticed an old human man sitting on an overturned barrel and leaning on a rusty halberd. The man wore what appeared to be newly, not to mention poorly, made leather armor and hoisted himself up to a standing position as Rhogar got closer. The main’s face was pale and drawn with long wrinkles, his beard looked haggard, and his eyes were set in deep cavernous grey pits and he stared out at Rhogar with something that looked like a mixture of hatred and sadness.

“I hope you’re traveling west from here!” the man’s gravely voice blurted out.

“South… or so I’d hoped.” Rhogar said cautiously.

“Hope?! HA! Your hope is about as good as anyone else’s around here, which is to say – it’s NOT!” the old man spat out the words and a flash of utter sorrow passed over his face. “I’ll tell you what I told the last stranger to try and get through, go to HELL!”

“My name is Rhogar, I mean you, nor your town, any harm. My word is my honor, friend.” Rhogar placed his weapon on the ground and knelt before the man in supplication.

“Ah… dammit, the name’s Garret, I can see it in your face that you mean what you say. But the villagers here, they won’t let you through even if I did. I’m under no illusion that you couldn’t fight your way through me if you’d wanted, course you’d have a mob of childless mothers and fathers with nothing left but vengeance in their hearts to contend with, and even you couldn’t stave off a terrible thing like that.” the old man slumped back down onto his barrel. “Best if you just headed west, or you’re welcome to try and find a way around the village, it’s been done before.”

“You mentioned childless mothers and fathers? Has your town been struck by plague?”, Rhogar stood back up and slung his axe over his massive shoulders once more.

“No… that perhaps would have been more merciful than what did happen. Our children were taken from us, stolen by a man we had come to trust and call one of our own. He was an Eladrin fellow by the name of Cessil. He saved our village from a band of goblins once, or at least at the time that’s how it seemed. We’ve come to realize it was probably all an act, a way to gain our trust. Well, it worked, to say the least. We aren’t fighters, we’ve never had to be. But this past season a band of goblins laid siege to our village. Cessil came and fought them off nearly singlehandedly. Afterwards we called him brother and before long he’d set up residence in our town. He told us he wanted to teach our children about the dangers of the world, how to fight them so that our village would remain safe for generations to come. We realized that it was true , we were helpless against any evil that would look our way. We agreed to his proposal and he set about meeting with the children every week. One day we awoke to find that they were gone, all of them, just vanished. We found cart tracks on the road heading west, but every villager that has gone off in search of them has never returned. Just this morning I tried to stop another handful of angry fathers from going, but in the end I can’t blame them, I’d do the same… So, that’s that, the people of this village can’t properly mourn the loss of their children because they can’t be sure that they are dead, and it is nearly impossible for them to have hope that they will ever see them again either… we’re all just stuck somewhere between hope and loss, and not able to feel much of either…”

“I’m sorry, I’m no stranger to loss. As for hope… what if I could find your children? Or at least bring back some word of what’s happened to them?”, Rhogar felt as though he was standing taller for the first time in months.

The old guard shook his head and said, “You can try. I can barely stand to hope that you’d find anything, but you seem to be more capable than any of our men and women. Hopefully you’ll have more wits about you than they have as well, or at least wit enough to know when to run at any rate.”

“Yes…”, Rhogar replied slowly and his eyes seemed to be staring off to somewhere distant. A long moment passed and he snapped back to the present. “You… you mentioned other strangers on the road? Is this something that’s happened recently?”

“Yep, just this morning, in fact. A tall hooded man came here, same as you, only he seemed to appear out from the underbrush, rather than the road. He claimed he was a hunter looking for game to the south. I told him no way in hell he was going to go through our town to get there. He asked some questions and I obliged him. Funny thing, when I mentioned that Eladrin fellow, Cessil, to him he grew anxious and then disappeared like a ghost into the forest to the west.”

Rhogar nodded gravely and unslung his axe. “Perhaps his game isn’t animal in nature… Thank you, Garret. I’ll see if I can bring your town some peace, even if it is only in mourning.”

Rhogar then turned on his heel and stalked warily down the western road until Garret could see him no longer.

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1c - A Predator's Prey
Rhogar meets a mysterious Ranger and uncovers an ambush.

Rhogar followed the dirt road west until tall green pines began to spring up on the north side. A sound caught his attention and he paused to listen more carefully, it was the sound of water lapping gently against a bank somewhere nearby. Rhogar squinted and through the trees he could see a flash of light playing off of its source, a pond or a lake to the northwest. He surveyed the road before him, the dirt path seemed to twist off toward the lake to the west. THe south side was now a steep rock hillside that seemed to have spilled a handful of boulders out onto the road long ago. One boulder in particular loomed giant and beautiful in the morning light.

“Stay where you stand friend, or you may die a surprising death.” an urgent whisper from the trees to Rhogar’s right. He spun around with his axe and swiped at the air where the voice should’ve been.

“Easy!” An Elf emerged quietly from the underbrush with an unstrung bow held high above his head. “I mean you no ill, friend, but there lies an ambush for us just ahead, hidden just beyond those boulders. A dwarf and at least one human. Turn back now or stay and help, but do not ruin my chance to get the better of them!”

Before Rhogar could respond the Elf had strung his bow and nocked and arrow from his quiver into it. The Elf began to fade back into the forest and paused momentarily to gesture for Rhogar to join him. Rhogar nodded and followed the elf into the woods. The ranger moved like a cat through the dried pine needles and twigs, he pointed as he went letting Rhogar know where to step in order to stay as quiet as possible. Before long they came upon a copse of trees that provided a higher vantage point of the road below.

The vantage revealed that the giant boulder was providing cover for an armored dwarf and two shabby looking humans. To Rhogar they looked more bored than alert, but they were definitely hiding from someone.

“Who are they?”, Rhogar whispered.

“No idea, but their ambush seems pretty indiscriminate. I can pick one off from here.” the Elf said and raised his bow to take aim.

“Wait.” Rhogar places a hand on the elf. “These could be villagers from Lochsburg… the guard told me they’d set out just this morning.”

The Elf looked annoyed but shrugged. “Then, what do you suggest?”

“A distraction… we’ll see how they react first.” Rhogar grabbed a handful of rocks. He plucked the largest one out of the pile and threw it toward the rocky hillside on the far side of the divide. The rock struck and unleashed a slide of small rocks which tumbled harmlessly down the hillside.

The Dwarf was first to his feet and brandishing a shiny mace. “Ye two! Get ready t’go warn Vroman, A’ll take of this.” The humans nodded and scrambled clumsily to their feet.

The dwarf jumped from behind the boulder out onto the road to see nothing. He looked surprised and glanced around nervously. “I don’ see nuthin’, ye’d best go warn Vroman anyway…”

Rhogar nodded once to the elf and before he could nod again the elf had let an arrow fly. One of the humans was running to the west before the tip of an arrow appeared through the front of his chest, and he slumped forward onto his face. The other human looked down and his eyes grew wide, he fell back in surprise just in time to miss another arrow which whizzed by inches from his face.

The dwarf spun around and saw the fallen scout, “GO! As fast as ye’can! Ah’ll cover ye’!” The dwarf jumped toward the copse of trees, “Get out here ye cowards! Hidin in th’trees, have ye no bravery?”

Rhogar leapt down from their hiding spot with a roar swinging his axe down upon the dwarf and sinking it deep within the dwarf’s shoulder and said, “You know, sometimes…”

The dwarf howled in pain but shook his shoulder free and swung back at Rhogar with his mace only to be met by Rhogar’s thick scaly hide, ”... the smartest thing to do…”

The elf unleashed another arrow, this time his aim was true as it found a home deep within the fleeing human’s eye socket.

The dwarf growled and struck out again with his mace catching Rhogar on the side of the face. Rhogar grunted under the blow but turned back and continued, ”... is also the bravest.” Rhogar ducked underneath the dwarf’s next strike and spun around in a full circle and leveling the other bladed end of his mighty axe into the dwarf’s neck just as one of the elf’s arrows struck into the dwarf’s open mouth. The stubby body staggered comically back on its stout legs and finally dropped to the ground as a bloody pool grew wide and red around it.

The elf emerged from the trees to stand next to Rhogar who knelt to search the dwarf’s lifeless body. He rose up again holding a small wooden token painted red. “Hrm.”

“I like that saying, friend.” the elf offered.

“Rhogar. And thanks, it was my father’s.” the dragonborn held the token up for the elf to see.

The elf shrugged as if to say, I’ve no clue. “Call me Martin.”

“Martin. Let’s see if we can find this Vroman character, and if he has any answers.”

Martin nodded as Rhogar slid the token into his pack and the new companions continued cautiously along the muddy shores of the lake to the west.

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1d - A Finding of Fathers
Rhogar and Martin discover the fate of the Lochsburg search party.

The lakeside path became increasingly muddy as Rhogar and Martin continued west until it was shin-deep pools of muck. The lake itself sloshed a murky brown as well and the southern hills had closed in on the road becoming steep rocky cliffs. Martin was quick to point out that their chances of coming across another ambush were looking better and better. Rhogar nodded in agreement and the pair stopped as soon as they came across a narrowing in the road where two tall orange rock outcroppings thinned it to the point that they’d have to travel single file to get through.

“I do not like this.” Rhogar grunted and gestured to the narrow path. He hefted one sludge covered leg out from a particularly deep puddle of mud. “Also, how in hell is this muck not bogging you down?”

Martin looked down at his own feet which seemed to stand atop the muck without so much as sinking an inch. He looked back at Rhogar with a smirk and shrugged once again. “I don’t like it any better than you. If I were to set an ambush, I couldn’t wish for a better place.”

Rhogar looked around at the high cliffs to either side and the brown lake in disappointment, “Getting around it doesn’t seem likely either… unless you can walk on water too?”

Martin shook his head, no, and then it snapped sharply to one side and he placed one finger to his thin lips. Rhogar watched as the elf seemed to be listening to something that he couldn’t hear. Martin brought his head back up and pointed to a rather large pool of muck to the south side of the road before nocking an arrow. Rhogar nodded once, shifted his axe, and crept with difficulty through the mud toward the pool. As he got closer he recognized the shapes of two men beneath a thick sheet of mud, he could see it undulate as the hidden figures breathed.

Rhogar swung his axe around once more, slinging it into the leather catch on his back. His two huge clawed hands then thrust into the puddle, grasped both men by their necks and lifted their sludge covered bodies up high above the ground.

“What RATS are these!!!” Rhogar roared, his draconic face twisted into a visage of rage as shards of frozen spittle flew into the wide-eyed faces of the men.

“Don’t kill us!” the shorter of the two men squealed in fear.

The taller one glowered and sneered, “Do what you will, child thieves!”

Rhogar felt surprise and looked over his shoulder back at Martin who had two arrows pulled back in his bowstring but seemed to be lowering them slightly at the comment.

Rhogar shook the pair of men with his mighty arms and growled, “Where are you from!?”

The short man flinched as his teeth seemed to rattle in his head, “We’re from L…”

“Don’t tell him a damn thing.” The tall one interrupted.

Rhogar pushed his face closer to the men and his reptilian eyes seemed to scrutinize everything about them. A moment passed and finally Rhogar lowered them to the muddy ground and let them go. “You’re from Lochsburg. You’ve got the same shabby leather armor as Garret… settle down, we’re here to help.”

“You are?”, the small one looked hopeful.

“Not likely.” the tall one mumbled.

“I swore an oath to Garret to find out what happened to your children.”, Rhogar explained and absently began to pick the mud out from under his scales with one claw.

“What about him?”, the tall one asked suspiciously pointing at the elf.

Martin lowered his bow and re-quivered his arrows. “I hunt the eladrin traitor you call Cessil… for my own reasons.”

At this Rhogar peered back at Martin and raised a scaly brow in his direction but said nothing.

“So, you’re really here to help? Oh, thank the gods… thanks the gods. We lost the others, Garrin, Cole and Wes… they…” the short one faltered.

“They were killed by dwarves.” the tall one said, and his companion lowered his head.

“We came across one of them back down the road a ways—for such small stature we somehow managed to leave him a head shorter than we found him.”, Rhogar said.

The tall one seemed to smile a bit at this. “Good riddance, and… thank you. For all that’s been done to us, our anger is impotent at best… we are not fighters, never have been, though I wish for all the worlds that we were now.”

The short one nodded brightly, “But that’s why you’re here, right? You can help us with our trap!”

Rhogar gave the small man a quizzical look.

The tall one sighed, “There’s a slave caravan along this road further west. A handful of dwarves and some kind of giant monster pushing a caged wagon full of children.”

Your children?” Rhogar asked.

“If only, but no… they’re not human.” the tall man shook his head.

“They’re like you!” the short man erupted and pointed at Rhogar.

“Dragonborn whelps imprisoned!?” Rhogar nearly roared and clenched his fists until his claws pierced the palms of his hands.

“We couldn’t stop them. The other three attacked the dwarves and were smashed down before they could get a strike in edgewise… But the caravan came through this pass, and well, the ground here is weak, we were going to collapse a sinkhole where the pass is most narrow and cut off their route… a weak plan really—they’d have a bridge built over it in no time I’ve no doubt.” the tall man explained.

“It may work to our advantage yet.” Rhogar said. “Let us cross first and then collapse it behind us. It will keep anyone from coming up on us from the east. Should we manage to rescue the children you’ll need to improvise a bridge to get us back, can you promise us that much?”

“Yes, of course!” the small man nodded.

“If you manage to rescue any children, I’ll build you a bridge of gold myself.” the tall one smiled brightly for the first time since they’d met him and even managed to wink.

Martin nodded to the two humans and then quickly ran ahead lightly atop the mud while drawing two more arrows.

Rhogar grasped both men by the shoulders and nodded as well before following.

The smaller man waited until the two warriors were out of sight and then asked, “Do you think they can really do it?”

The tall man rolled a large boulder down from the rocky hillside and heaved it heavily on the ground nearest to the thinnest part of the pass and watched as a muddy hole opened up and swallowed it. “I don’t know.”

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1e - The Unstoppable Cart
Rhogar and Martin assault the slave caravan.

Martin was the first to see the caravan. The narrow pass opened up wide once again and the muddy earth continued in a long track toward the mouth of a cave set into a mountainous hill. Along the muddy strip a large hulking grey beast was bent over the wooden edge of a wagon pushing it somewhat awkwardly through the mud. Atop the wagon itself was an iron cage that seemed to be chained in place. Inside the cage a handful of dragonborn children lay heaped atop one another in a dirty pile. Some mewled sadly while others slept. Past the wagon three stout dwarves helped pull the wagon through the muck with leather harnesses. Martin stopped and took cover cover behind a nearby boulder and waited.

Rhogar caught up and Martin quieted him with a gesture, pointing out to the scene before them. A low growl seemed to roil from within the dragonborn’s throat and Martin steadied him with one hand.

“The smart thing. Remember?” Martin whispered and nocked two arrows.

Rhogar nodded and the low rumble within subsided. Martin crept over the muddy patches quickly approaching the caravan, motioning for Rhogar to follow at key intervals. Rhogar stalked slowly, but quietly, behind avoiding the muddiest parts of the road until he found firm footing on an adjacent strip of rocky soil. He turned to Martin and nodded once more and watched as Martin unleashed a quick double volley at the large beast. The first arrow skimmed off the beast’s rugged hide and ricocheted wide out into the lake. The second arrow, however, thunked home into the beasts mottled back sinking almost all the way into its flesh.

Rhogar winced slightly waiting for the inevitable roar of the injured monster to peal out… but it never came. He looked up at the beast which seemed to not notice anything had happened at all and just continued to push the cart forward through the mud. Rhogar looked over at Martin confused. What happened?

Martin gave one of his trademark shrugs but looked just as surprised as Rhogar this time. I don’t know!

Rhogar regained his composure and pointed at the dwarves. Martin nodded and unleashed another quick succession of arrows toward the dwarves. Again one arrow managed to strike true, sinking deep into the leftmost dwarf’s shoulder. This time a loud dwarven curse erupted from the target and the other two dwarves were out from under their harnesses with weapons drawn. One sported a stubby crossbow and almost immediately took aim at Martin, while the other one advanced on Rhogar with a menacingly large hammer. The injured dwarf howled as he turned around to see what had struck him and reached back to snap the shaft of the arrow off from his back before drawing an axe and shield.

Martin saw the crossbow shudder as a bolt flew from it toward him, he dodged sideways but caught the brunt of the shot in one leg. He stumbled to the ground and rolled back upright again and took aim at his original quarry once more.

Rhogar charged forward toward the hammer wielder and pulled his axe up from under one arm carving a long slice diagonally upward across the dwarf’s body, rending a nasty gash in his armor.

“Ach! That was a present from me pa!” the dwarf exclaimed and spun away giving his hammer momentum for another strike.

Martin loosed another two arrows which seemed to bounce off his quarry’s shield harmlessly. “Gods!” the elf swore.

Rhogar pulled his axe back down over his head for a finishing strike only to catch the hammer dwarf’s spinning strike in his face. “Gar!” he roared and backed up a space, bringing his axe forward defensively.

The giant grey beast continued forward with the wagon pushing it another few feet closer to the cave entrance on the far end of the road.

“We need to stop that cart!” Rhogar growled and he could see Martin nod on the periphery as another crossbow bolt narrowly whizzed by the elf’s head.

Martin used the opportunity to unleash another arrow into a chink in the shielded dwarf’s breastplate and watched in satisfaction as the dwarf reeled back from the blow. Had he not been a dwarf that shot would’ve sent him sprawling.

Rhogar feinted with one end of his axe and grinned as the dwarf with the hammer took the bait moving away and into Rhogar’s followup which cut him right across the face. “Sorry about that.” Rhogar teased, “I suppose you got your face from your ‘pa’ as well?”

The dwarf only howled and spat a mouthful of blood in response.

“Martin… the cart!”, Rhogar yelled once more and watched helplessly as the beast pushed on through the mud toward the cave.

Martin leapt forward toward the shielded dwarf and stabbed him square in the throat with an arrow before kicking him to the ground. His keen elven senses caught every gurgling gasp for life as the dwarf struggled on his face in the mud. Martin continued past the body and toward the wagon. How am I gonna stop that beast?

Rhogar felt another wallop from the hammer strike him hard against his chest and gasped as the wind rushed out of him. He felt his vision begin to swim and lashed out once more with his axe in desperation. The blow was lucky and opened up a wide gash below the hammer wielding dwarf’s breastplate. A waterfall of blood poured forth and Rhogar roared in triumph as the dwarf fell backward clutching the wound.

Martin’s quick legs took him a few feet further before another bolt took him in the side, sending him to the ground in agony.

The dwarf reloaded his crossbow once again and leered at the elf, “Yer head will make a foine trophy for Vroman’s wall, elf!” The dwarf then leveled the weapon at Martin’s head.

Martin winced and then heard a reptilian bellow so loud and ferocious that he thought he might go deaf from the sound. He peered toward the source and saw Rhogar planted several yards away with his draconic maw wide open and a blast of frosty wind erupting from within. The blast peppered the crossbowman with shards of ice and a layer of hoarfrost began to cover him from head to toe. Rhogar let out a last burst of icy mist that coiled around the dwarf.

“Go! The ice won’t last, get to the cart. I’ll hold him off.” Rhogar lifted his axe once again and advanced on the frozen dwarf.

Martin scrambled to his feet and ran determinedly toward the wagon and its bestial engine. He loosed a few more arrows into the back of the beast as he ran to no avail, the beast took no notice and continued to push forward. Martin reached the wagon which seemed dangerously close to the cave now—Who knows what lurks within just waiting for its payload?

Martin slung his bow over one shoulder and drew a longsword from it’s sheath. He jumped up onto the cart and swung a smooth arc across the giant beasts face, a thin red line appeared but the beast didn’t even flinch. Martin looked into its hideous visage and the beast’s eyes were a stark unblinking white. It heaved once again and the wagon was again once step closer to the mouth of the cave. “The beast, it’s under some kind of spell, we cannot harm it try as we might!” Martin yelled to Rhogar.

“Well, figure something out!” Rhogar roared and planted his axe into the dwarf just as it was regaining movement again. The dwarf twitched and dropped its crossbow. Rhogar swung around again but not before the dwarf removed a club and took him to task.

Martin nodded and examined the setup. The beast had manacles around its thick wrists that were chained to the wooden cart. The cage itself had a giant iron lock on its door. Martin lifted his sword once more and chopped at the lock to no avail. He jumped down back onto the mud next to one of the giant wagon wheels and thrust his sword in between the spokes, holding on until the wheel locked up. His sword clanked into place against the underside of the carriage and he let go. It seemed to work, a little. The beast continued to push on the cart, but without nearly as much success. The cart twisted into the mud.

Rhogar delivered a mighty sweep of his axe as the strangled cry of the final dwarf fell before him. Rhogar yanked his blade from the dwarf’s dying body and lumbered toward the cart.

Martin dodged out into the front of the wagon and pushed with all his might to rotate it away from the cave entrance. Rhogar joined him and together they shifted the massive cart off it’s muddy track The beast gave one more mighty push and shoved the cart against a pile of boulders. Rhogar hefted himself up onto the cart and took his axe to the iron lock over and over until, with a mighty crack, it snapped open.

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