Jeysen, Baernabas, and Benjin set out to the northeast in search of the elven settlements. In a few short days, they came across a shambled village. The architecture suggested it was elvish, and the first resident they met was indeed, an elf. He introduced himself as Tulip, and welcomed the travelers. He apologized for the state of the village, and explained they’d fallen on hard times lately. Benjin asked if it had been the work of raiding orcs, and Tulip explained that it was more than just that.
The regional lord, Lord Ambrose George, had responded to their reports of raiding orcs by sending knights to defend the elven villages. The knights were successful, but to Benjin’s disgust, they demanded a reward for their services afterward. The elves were just so grateful to be rid of the orcs that they paid the tribute. These events, perhaps because of the extra work of the knights, seemed to lead to Lord George increasing their taxes shortly afterwards.
Soon enough, however, this cycle repeated itself. This small town, which for the last fifty years had been experiencing modest growth and industrialization, was beginning to deteriorate. The orcs would come and raid, the knights would defend them, and efforts to rebuild would be hampered by yet more increases in taxes by Lord George. Again and again this would happen, but as the Lord seemed to operating in isolation (the lord to whom George swore his fealty, Lord Yancey Richard, had a rather hands-off approach to governing), the elven people of these woods had no recourse but to pay their taxes or risk losing protection.
Moved by their struggle, Baernabas offered a gift of $50 (mostly in cash, but also in valuable goods). Tulip was grateful – it would be enough to appease the tax collectors when they arrived next. Baernabas was ready to move on, lamenting that things were the way they were, but not feeling that Lord George was acting unjustly – after all, he would have to compensate his knights for protecting the smallfolk. Benjin, however, sensed that something more sinister was afoot, and convinced the group to wait for the tax collector to arrive, so they could discuss matters further. Baernabas and Jeysen agreed to stay.
Benjin kept the first watch, but was having trouble brewing his coffee, and so did not hear the approaching orc horde until it was nearly too late. The noise of the attack was enough to rouse Jeysen and Baernabas, who woke rapidly and joined Benjin in the fray. Jeysen sprang into action, deftly slaying an orc, and attracting the Orc Leader’s attention. Benjin, angered by this fresh attack and moved to act in defense of the innocents in the village, rode into battle on his steed, charging toward the Orc Leader, and driving his lance through it, felling it in one ridiculously, needlessly brutal blow, exploding him in his armor. The shock of the impact was enough to slay the orc’s mount as well. Benjin’s own steed, carried forward by momentum, knocked over and trampled two more of the orcs. Jeysen’s magic sword flashed as he slew yet more orcs.
The surprise counterattack divided the orc party, half staying to fight the travelers, while the others continued with their raid. As Benjin pursued them, Baernabas began hurling every slur and insult he could think of at the vile orcs that so repulsed him. He invoked his deity’s righteous might, swelling to twice his normal size. This sudden change didn’t deter the orcs, blinded by rage at Baernabas’ vitriolic words. Before much time had passed, Baernabas had cleaved two of the orcs down the middle with his waraxe. The orcs seemed ill equipped to take on a team as seasoned as this, and each of their attacks were either stopped by armor or dodged outright. Before long, the thoroughly outmatched orcs were whittled down to only one, with any potential damage to the town almost totally prevented. The last surviving orc, fearing for his life, was eventually convinced to lead the team back to his base camp.
At the camp, which consisted of simple tents and a low-burning fire, didn’t appear to have anyone on watch (likely since everyone was out on the raid). They quickly spotted two tents obviously belonging to someone of rank, likely an officer. Jeysen used his natural stealth to approach the tents and peek inside, but the lights had been doused and he could see nothing. Baernabas tried next, using his dwarven darkvision to his advantage and thanking Fharlanghn that he’d had the foresight to enchant his clunky armor with magical silence. Inside the tent was not a sleeping orc, as expected, but instead… a sleeping human! Baernabas retreated in confusion and anxiety, and his haste was enough to rouse the sleeping man, who began shouting for help.
Baernabas reached the others with enough time to explain what he’d seen – including an armor stand in the officer’s tent, bearing a flame symbol that Benjin identified as being Lord George’s sigil. After determining that the orc had in fact led them back to the right camp (and dispatching the now worthless hostage), they realized the truth must be that Lord George had sent the orcs as well as the knights!
The officer and his fellow non-orc officers approached the travelers, ready for a fight. After some posturing and threats, the officers chose not to heed the warnings, and their strongest fighter challenged Benjin to a one-on-one duel. Benjin easily turned away his first and only attack, countering with a single blow that knocked the officer to his knees. In short order they’d all been tied up and loaded into a cart for transport back to the village.
By morning, the officers had been locked in a thankfully newly constructed jail in the village.
Tulip had identified them as none other than the tax collectors, confirming that the whole cycle was a deliberate ploy by Lord George. The team briefly considers going over Lord George’s head, and getting Lord Richard to intervene, but Jeysen knows better. He often made it a point to understand corruption and put an end to it where he could, and learned much along the way – which meant he knew Lord Richard would be of no help. Lord George’s region existed in something of a political vacuum, too far removed from Lord Richard’s greatest areas of influence to be properly controlled. It would take direct intervention by someone acting independently to put an end to Lord George’s chokehold on the smallfolk.
They leave just before midday for Rock Waters, Lord George’s seat of power. It takes nearly a week of travel. When they arrive, the city shows signs of wear and decline. A stop at a nearby foodstand indicates that prices are incredibly out of control, suggesting that Lord George’s tax money doesn’t seem to be making its way into circulation… They would need to directly consult with (or perhaps, “re-educate”) Lord George regarding his economic policy. They devised a plan to pose as foreign dignitaries who had come to offer an alliance with Lord George, offering a tribute to seal the bond. They would rely on George’s greed to gain an audience.
The gatekeepers were easy enough to fool, and they quickly summoned Joer Elle, Master of Scheduling. Elle, a sickly, dour looking man, seemed not to be concerned with whether they had an actual appointment with Lord George once they mentioned they’d be making a tribute. He made an exception for them, explaining that they should feel honored to meet Lord George without an appointment.
The throne room, which ought to have been bustling with people as Lord George held court, was instead an empty, dusty shell of its former self. Benjin noticed a layer of dust across everything in the room… clearly it had not been used in a long time. Joer Elle left them there, ominously telling them to wait for Lord George there… but as the door closed behind him, a gong rang out in the distance… and the throne began to sink into the floor! The pit it revealed gave off a bright golden glow, and the breathing of some huge beast could be heard below. Baernabas recognized the breathing, remembering the last time he and his comrades had faced such a thing… he barely had time to warn the others before it emerged – a huge dragon, red and scaly and vicious!
Baernabas began to stammer out some kind of explanation for their presence, addressing the dragon as Lord George (of whom they had previously known next to nothing). The dragon chuckled, explaining he’d killed Lord George long ago. The great beast lunged upward then, not entirely clearing the hole in the floor before Benjin summoned his magical steed and mounting it. Baernabas began reciting a prayer for protection as Benjin charged forward and Jeysen drew his weapon. As the dragon inhaled for a hideous breath attack, Benjin managed to drive his lance into the thing’s flank, wounding it greatly. The dragon released its fiery breath in a bellow of pain, fury, and … possibly excitement? The fire seared his would-be slayers, particularly wounding Jeysen. Baernabas was struck with the notion to banish this dragon to the Ice Elemental Plane, where this fiery behemoth would surely suffer the most, but the dragon’s magical hide repelled his efforts. Jeysen hurried in to assist Benjin, who was riding back for another charge while the dragon swiped savagely at the retreating steed. The dragon took that moment to try and finish prying itself from the hole in the floor, giving Benjin enough time to charge in, channeling his faith, and drive the lance into the dragon’s soft underbelly, slaying it! HOLY SHIT