Smug and Smash parted ways with King Codrus and his entourage as they returned to Denvuh, intent to make good on their promise of escorting her out of Malachi’s tower and to the relative safety of the refugee camp. Culgeka questioned Smug’s decision to further accompany the very woman who had held him captive, but it soon became apparent that fighting side-by-side with Smash through the trials of Malachi’s tower had changed his disposition toward her, and perhaps her disposition toward him as well.
Upon the party’s return to the refugee camp, they went immediately to the Eye of Gruumsh to deliver Gruumsh’s petrified eye, fulfilling the first part of their agreement with the cult’s leader. The Eye of Gruumsh then bid the party good night, to prepare for the gathering of refugees which would occur the following morning and bring the final pieces of their agreement into place.
Before the peace of sleep could claim them, Dyrdruh arrived at the King’s tent. She explained rumors had swept through the camp that the party brought back a survivor from the Stormcrow rebel encampment, and that the survivor was Denvuh. Dyrdruh revealed the woman to be her sister, and thanked them for returning her safely. Sensing there may be more to Dyrdruh than it first seemed, Lorzod pressed her for more information and discovered that she and her sister were not only Stormcrow, but also the daughters of Solemn, the late Stormcrow chieftain who had died valiantly in battle against the Yuan-Ti, protecting his people but leaving them without definitive leadership. With none to lead them, the Stormcrow had fallen into infighting and dissent, which drove even families apart. Lorzod asked her to embrace her heritage and stand with Codrus in the morrow to unite the Stormcrow, for they would rather ally with her than be forced to trust the Eye of Gruumsh. Ultimately, she declined, revealing that whether or not the Eye could truly be trusted, she as leader of a united orcish people could never knowingly lead them into a war which, she believed, would destroy all the beauty within the cultural heart of the orcish people, leaving only insatiable rage in its wake. Respectful of her decision not to claim her birthright, Lorzod and the party retired to sleep, unsettled by Denvuh’s words and their revelation that in drawing the orcs formally into Ruul’s war they might very well be party to the destruction of a way of life and the birth of something sinister in its wake which could neither be predicted nor, perhaps, contained.
As Codrus and his entourage slept uneasily, the fires of war continued to burn throughout the Nentir Vale: the newly mobilized, but significantly outnumbered, Ruul militia marched ever westward, toward the Nentir River, in hopes of harrying, long enough for Codrus to bring the orcs into the battle, the Yuan-Ti legions pushing ever eastward and crushing everything that laid between them and Saruun Khel.
The following morning, the refugees gathered. The Eye opened with a moving speech, fueling the excitement of the gathered orcs, and ended with the revelation that the fallen warlord, Gruumsh, whose dream of orcish unification had remained with the Eye in spirit after his death, would return from the land of the ancestors to lead his united peoples to victory against the Yuan-Ti if they would but put their differences aside and unite as one blood. The Eye of Gruumsh cast his eye patch to the ground, and slipped Gruumsh’s petrified eye into the barren socket. Before all gathered, the Eye of Gruumsh transformed into none other than Gruumsh himself. At this moment, Buteo noticed a twisted shift to the energies in the air, and cautioned the king that what they observed could in no way be natural.
The gathered orcs did not know, or seem to care, but erupted into a furious cheer at the rebirth of their greatest warlord. Codrus then made good on his end of the agreement, kneeling before Gruumsh and apologizing, on behalf of Ruul, for his unjust slaying, and then asked that he lead his people into battle against their mutual enemy as an ally of Ruul. Gruumsh took the king’s hand, lifted him to his feet, and they stood before the gathered orcs for the first time as allies.
The moment of unity was very nearly short lived, for it was then that Gruumsh’s guards brought onto the stage the weakened Denvuh, in chains. Gruumsh then turned the party’s reason for returning her to the encampment on its head: he informed the orcs that she was the last survivor of the Stormcrow rebels who had hoped to sabotage Gruumsh’s dream, and that the party had captured her and brought her back to the camp to face her just punishment: death.
Lorzod stepped forward, notched an arrow, and leveled it at Gruumsh, saying without fear, “If you harm even one hair on that woman’s head, I will kill you.”
Silence rippled through the crowd.
Shock, with a touch of evident respect, rocked Gruumsh’s face.
Codrus tried to explain to the crowd that Denvuh had helped them defeat the Stormcrow, but Gruumsh countered his pleas by insisting that, while her redemptive actions guaranteed her a place among her ancestors, the mortal punishment for betrayal must still be carried out.
As the crowd’s opinion stayed firmly locked with Gruumsh’s decision, Kazakorn stepped to the king’s side and, guiding the conversation with his own able tongue, turned the king’s plea toward pursuing an alternate form of punishment such as exile. To this Gruumsh countered that in her weakened state exile into the wilderness would simply be a slower, crueller death sentence, and that a quick death by his blade was the more merciful of sentences.
Buteo advised the King and Lorzod that this was an internal issue among the orcish people and that Ruul had no right to influence its outcome. Still, Lorzod refused to back down and Codrus found himself in the unenviable position of having to choose between his loyalty to his ally, or to the newfound alliance with Gruumsh.
Codrus acquiesced to Gruumsh, and the desires of the gathered crowd.
But when Gruumsh attempted to carry out the sentence, Lorzod took his shot! The orcs flew into a riot, screaming out for Lorzod’s blood. He tried to fight off the mob even as his allies ran in and tried to save him from the throng. Gruumsh joined the fray, lashing out at Lorzod. Kazakorn took an active role in defending his friend, lashing out at Gruumsh and drawing blood!
Wielding an unknown, alien power, Gruumsh struck Kazakorn down with a single blow.
Culgeka took advantage of the moment of distraction, attempting to subdue Lorzod and drag him away—but the strength of the gathered crowd proved greater than his own, and he was forced to watch as the raging crowd pulled Lorzod from his grasp and ripped him limb from limb.
With the battle at an end, Gruumsh demanded Kazakorn’s life for attempting to kill him. Codrus pleaded that enough people had died today. Gruumsh then plainly stated, “You will give me the kobold, or our alliance is at an end.”
Gritting his teeth, Codrus consented.
Gruumsh cocked his head, looked the king up and down, and said, “You are truly ready to sacrifice your man to me, in exchange for our support in your war?”
“Yes,” Codrus replied, without hesitation.
After a moment of taking the king’s measure, Gruumsh sheathed his blade. “Perhaps if you can make such hard choices so readily we stand a chance against these Yuan-Ti yet.” As he strode from the site of the battle, he said over his shoulder, “You may keep your man, but the Stormcrow woman is mine.”
Tasting bittersweet victory, the party gathered Kazakorn’s unconscious body and wasted no time in fleeing the orc encampment, before more damage could be done. As they traveled, Culgeka caught sight of a lone figure following them and ventured into the field to meet them. The figure lowered her veil, and Culgeka found himself staring into the tear-filled eyes of Dyrdruh.
“There is nothing left for me there,” she said. She asked to accompany them on their journey, and Culgeka brought her to Codrus, who welcomed her company. They resumed their journey.
Meanwhile, the armies of Ruul crossed the Nentir River and met the Yuan-Ti legions for the first time in the field of battle. Against this backdrop, Gorn once again summoned Hungrig, Loodra, Kuonu, Melgar, and Graz. Impressed with their handling of the Kobold rebel leader, he offered them a new assignment—the safe escorting of a goblin emissary, Twicks, to Codrus, as well as the delivery of a sealed letter into the king’s hands.
Thanks to Graz’s able tracking skills, it didn’t take more than a day for them to catch the king’s trail—but hot on their own was a Yuan-Ti scouting party, who struck with vicious mercilessness. It was a quick, brutal battle, but the five warriors survived the skirmish, proving their mettle once more. Several hours later, they arrived at the king’s encampment with Twicks and the letter intact.
Twicks revealed to the king that he had come to negotiate the terms for goblin commitment to the war, but as Codrus opened the sealed letter he discovered a more pressing concern: Yeenoghu, most feared among the gnolls, had come out of hiding to meet with the king. He presently waited in Saruun Khel, but would wait for no more than a day before disappearing into hiding again.
Unwilling to lose an opportunity to levy the mythic warrior’s support in his war effort, Codrus ordered the return to Saruun Khel, for the meeting with Yeenoghu…