Caught in the Middle

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Recommended Levels: Low (1-7)
Adventure Background:

Three centuries ago, on the Prime world of Irrihil, the orcish shaman Bar-Makhat Red-tusk scribed the Song of Hungry Mist, a powerful necromantic incantation that allowed him to enslave the souls of long-dead enemies, bringing them into the Prime as wraiths or vampiric mists (in the case of more powerful deaders). Unlike most such incantations, however, the Song functions only on the Outer Planes - thus, Makhat was forced to travel the Ring by way of an astral conduit around which he had built a fortress, and then to use his magics on the Petitioners of Atar-Alar, the holy Realm of the Irrihil orcs. Old Braid-Beard, the Realm's chief Power, felt the disturbance and chose a Proxy from among the Primes who venerated him.

That proxy, a powerful shaman named Bar-Kamuri, eventually found Bar-Makhat and slew him in a titanic battle between orc and undead. Bar-Makhat's fortress was razed, his scrolls were burned, and access to the plateau on which it sat was forbidden to all but the Keepers of the Black Secret, an order of orcish warriors founded for the express purpose of patrolling the area.

More recently, Temon, a human wizard whose kingdom had been at war for years with the Irrihil orc tribes, snuck onto the plateau hunting for secrets with which to defeat the horde. What he found was a ruined fortress, an astral conduit, and a hidden copy of the Song of Hungry Mist which had miraculously survived destruction. After realizing what the song could do, Temon found his way into Atar-Alar and disturbed the rest of many orcish warriors, including, tragically, Bar-Kamuri. Temon quickly advised invasion, and while his kingdom's armies took the orcs head-on, the wizard and his army of shades took them in the flank. Incensed that someone had dishonoured their ancestors, the Keepers of the Black Secret split from the battle-field and tried to slaughter the wizard, who tried to escape through the astral conduit into Atar-Alar.

It didn't quite work out that way. Old Braid-Beard gathered the other Orcish Powers of Atar-Alar and with great effort tore the astral conduit in twain just as Temon and the first 9 Keepers who had tailed him jumped through it. The conduit torn, the Keepers and wizard alike found themselves marooned in the Astral. Unused to astral travel, the orcs could not keep up, and the wizard escaped through the first Colour Pool he saw - which happened to lead into the elven realm of Arvandor. With a divine hint from Old Braid-Beard, the Keepers eventually found the pool and stumbled into the elven realm, only to lose the wizard's tracks. Now the orcs are lost in the tangled wilderness of Arborea, and about to have a very unpleasant meeting with Arvandor's finest.The Adventure:

The PCs are in Arvandor to meet with an Eladrin for whatever reason the DM can devise. While traveling through the forests, they stumble upon a group of 9 orcs, one so badly injured that he needs to be carried. The orc party comprises a Shaman (injured, but still capable of running), three archers and five foot-soldiers (two injured, one probably mortally). They are puffing like bellows, and it's obvious that the orcs have been on the run for some time.

When they see the PCs, the orcs' eyes widen, and they shout in despair. One of the warriors, adorned with a red and white badge, tries to parlay, but the PCs do not understand his language. Canny PCs will realize that their language is not, in fact, Orcish in the traditional sense. If the PCs have a way of making themselves understood (Tongues, etc.), let them use it. If they do not, let the Shaman cast it.

The orc warrior introduces himself as Marimakh, and in a quavering voice (remember, this is Arborea.. Ham it up like mad) explains that they are in search of an evil wizard, but being pursued by slim human-likes with fierce eyes and deadly arrows who will not let them rest. Obviously, these are elves, but if the PCs identify them as such, it will make no difference - the Orcs have never seen such creatures before, and have no idea why they are being hunted. "We've done naught to them!" the warrior will cry mournfully, "Yet they hunt us with such hate!" The orcs will be uncomfortable talking to humans, their age-old enemies on Irrihil, and have never met a humanoid that is neither human nor orc. Of course, they're aware that they are quite far from home, and are uneasy enough with the Planes that they are predisposed to ask ANYONE for help, be they bariaur or abishai.

It should become quite obvious to the PCs at this point that the Orcs are not exactly run-of-the-mill. They're carrying their wounded instead of abandoning them to the elves' tender mercies, the language they speak is quite clearly not Orcish, and they have no clue what the elves hunting them are. If the PCs ask, the orcs will explain that they're hunting a “Disturber of the Dead". The DM should cut off this parlay after establishing that the Orcs are not quite normal, but before they manage to explain in any real detail what has happened. The method of interruption, of course, is a hail of arrows with red fletching - the colour of war.

If the PCs try to parlay with the elves, they will talk, but they pay no heed to protestations of innocence. The elves are quite caught up in hatred and fear, magnified by the nature of Arborea, and they will not listen to anybody they do not know. If the PCs protest or throw their lot in with the orcs, the elves will attack them as well. Most good-aligned PCs will be hesitant to fight, because the elves are, of course, basically good and ignorant of the nature of these particular orcs. Also, although only one elf parlays, they cannot possibly know how many are hiding in the woods. If the PCs ally with the elves, the fight ends quickly and the elves let them go about their business. However, it should be clear to the players that this is a pretty evil thing to do. If they ally with the orcs, the PCs and orcs should eventually be pushed to retreat. If they have tried to fight against the elves, the orcs will be their fast friends and talk of owing them a great debt. The escape should be a harrowing one, but the PCs quickly realize that the orcs are expert woodsmen and they manage to stay a few steps ahead.

A canny PC will realize that the Eladrin they have come to see might be able to convince the Elves to cease their hostilities if she can be convinced the orcs mean no harm. If they try this course of action, lead them to a grove marked by a single white tree. This is the home of the Eladrin Maya. The elves, if they are still hot on the PCs' heels, will not follow them into the grove, figuring that Maya will take care of everything without further elven bloodshed. However, Maya IS reasonable, and if the situtation is explained to her she will heal the injured orcs and go talk to the elves. What she says goes, but if the PCs have slain even one elf, she will lead them directly to the first portal out of Arvandor (the nearest to her grove is likely the one the PCs came through, if they reached Arvandor by portal) and explain that they may leave with their lives, but should never come back. Elves have long memories, and will avenge their kin - especially in hot-blooded Arborea.

Alternately, the PCs could try to find their way to the nearest portal. This path is almost guaranteed to end in a fight, as the elves are quite knowledgeable about their realms, and will guard all of the portals they know of, including any the PCs might have come through. If they insist on finding a portal that is unguarded, they can - but this portal should be unguarded by virtue of it leading someplace very, very nasty (Niflheim or the Demonweb Pits would be thematically consistent, but the latter is probably too dangerous). If they escape in this manner, allow them a breather during which the orcs explain in detail their quest.Denouement:

The dark of these orcs is as follows: they are, in fact, basically good creatures, if a tad hot-tempered and warlike. If the subject of Atar-Alar or Old Braid-Beard comes up, the orcs' description of their holy land or their Power might lead canny PCs to stumble on the realization that the Realm is in Ysgard, and that these orcs actually venerate Odin in one of his lesser-known manifestations. The orcs are not aware that orcs are supposed to be "evil", and if this is explained to them they will insist that it must be a misunderstanding, and that their folk are always judged too swiftly.

If the PCs have slain the orcs by allying with their elven hunters, they should have a rather nasty time on their next few trips into Ysgard, as Odin tries to avenge his faithful - he will do so through petitioner agents, and his anger will manifest in a stormcloud that follows the PCs every place they go; Ysgardian berks are aware of this sign of anger, and they will either have nothing to do with the PCs or (more likely) they will attack, secure in the knowledge that they're guaranteed to wake up the next day whether they live or die. If the PCs have slain too many elves, they will be banned from Arvandor, and possibly hunted by its vengeful inhabitants, who simply cannot comprehend that anybody should choose the life of an orc over that of an elf. If Maya has convinced the elves that these are no regular orcs, the elves will not try to take vengeance on the PCs for any loss of life, but will still ban them from their realm. In the best-case scenario - no elven casualties and an explanation by Maya - the elves will apologize, and may very well reward the PCs for keeping them from making a grave error.

Of course, if the PCs and Keepers have made friends, there’s still the small matter of hunting a necromancer across the planes – and the orcs have nowhere near enough knowledge to do so on their own. Finding one person in the planes is a dicey proposition at best, but the trail is there if the PCs are smart enough to look for it – and eventually, if they make enough noise about seeking the sod, a Dustman will approach them and explain that his organization has heard reports of orcish petitioners being raised as spectres and sent off to the Prime to fight.

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