It is the final week of Sixmonth, and the Free-City of Pacht prepares itself for the Midsummer Festival to come: eight days filled with tournaments, races, parties, and prayers. But five citizens are not so joyous, knowing full well that The Water Cult threatens their city, though they know not how. Vadran’s holy communion with the spirit of the Dragon God reveals grave danger from this mysterious group and an astrological date — the night of the summer solstice. He and Haldis the Sage feel that the stars will be right on that fated evening for powerful magics to appear. They have the when. Now, they must discover the how.
Hasnim ebn Alzi asks a favor of his fellow adventurers who agree to help him on his quest. The Church of Saerin, Queen of Peace, has tried and failed to negotiate the release of one of their sisters from The Rust Heap Orcs, a tribe of merciless raiders and scoundrels. If Hasnim can rescue her, the priestesses will reward him by enchanting his ebonwood bow. But there is a catch. All who set forth on the quest must make an oath that they will not slay any living thing until the deed is done. The five adventurers agree, though concernedly, and prepare as best they can for the dangers ahead.
With new horses beneath them, they ride out along the northwest road, leaving Pacht for a time and hoping that when they return — if they return — new inspirations or opportunities will arise to aid them in the fight against Gray Lord Ravenix and those who would dare meddle with history.
A full day’s riding leads them to the western edge of the city-state’s territory at a village called Borderaux and Lake Katrax. Night falls, and they learn of a small island in the lake and the awful trouble the greenskins there have caused. Raids, kidnappings, and murders by these bestial people have forced the Pacht army, as well as their Atarach and Umbrook neighbors, to surround the lake with military detachments. The party wonders if these men might aid them in what they must do.
By morning, Hasnim has bought the services of some of the soldiers of the Free-City who crave the thrill of battle (and the jingle of coin). After having sat on their hands while The Rust Heap Orcs kidnap and kill, forty brave men sneak away from their posts in the hopes that mercenary work will bring them more glory than soldiering.
Meanwhile, Samael Thrushton III takes the ferry across Bridger’s River into Atarach territory, where he finds a small but well-run fort of disciplined troops. The winged crests and armor of that country, as well as the noble bearing of the men, speak to his soldier’s pride. He parlays with Captain Awan who is frustrated by the binding nature of the orders he must follow — to patrol and defend but not to attack. Samael contrives a workaround, having dealt with the pitfalls of bureaucracy before, and before long he is in temporary command of an “escort” squad of eight heavy footmen and a well-armed scout bearing a deadly arquebus.
On the other side of the lake, Miched Sanel Dufraine is not so liked by the gods, for he discovers that the halflings of Umbrook are far more interested in smoking their pipes at leisure than they are at striking at the orcs. Though their hearts are good, they have a cowardly streak, and he can only gain the help of Lurdle, their commander, if he brings back a large enough force of warriors to bolster confidence in the little men.
The next morning, he does. The five Questors cross the River Katrax with twenty-nine men and add fifty halflings to their number. Using the hidden tunnels that The Rust Heap orcs dug to break the blockade on the lake, the small army presses into the murky underground, picking off scouts as they come to them. After a tense hour of exploration, they reach the subterranean levels below the great fortress that gives the orc tribe their name, for it is made of gathered debris found floating downriver. The many floors of this castle of junk are all connected by a single shaft and a great elevating platform operated by a huge winch at the top. Miched climbs the massive chain, sneaking carefully past many of the greenskin guards. But his luck runs out at the last, and he is knocked unconscious by the winch operator before he can gain control of the device. The horns of warning are sounded.
Down below, a sure-footed halfling is sent up the shaft. He finds a bell-pull on the platform and rings it, once to raise and twice to lower. Aware of their oaths, Hasnim, Samael, Haldis, and Vadran must rely on the volunteer troops to take the brunt of the assault. On the elevating platform, they send up a platoon of soldiers who do well at first, but who eventually fall once the bulk of the orcish horde retaliate. Rust Heap troops come down to them, but are too few. The mainlanders retake the platform and, with their leaders among them, ascend to counterattack.
Miched awakens in the company of a woman, as he often does. Unfortunately, this one is Sister Beatrine of the Church of Saerin. She heals him while the orc chief and shaman are distracted by the ongoing battle and he severs her bonds while his enemies shout orders down the central shaft. As smoke and noise pour up from the fighting, he sneaks into the chief’s treasure chamber and shamelessly loots it, contemplating how and when to act.
Before long, The Rust Heap is burning, thanks to Hasnim and acres of dried-out driftwood. As the elevator rises, the orcs fall at the hands of an ever-dwindling force of civilized soldiers. Samael is compelled to take the place of a fallen trooper in the line of battle, breaking the oath of peace when he must kill or be killed. But there are friends in danger, and this is what must be done. They press on and up, pushing back the grunts and the elite shock troops with force, flame, and magical sleep. Once they face the shaman and the chieftan, a close-quarters battle turns chaotic. The heroes stun the chief while the Atarach soldiers finish off the sub-priest of Krex, but not before a stray ball of unholy flame ignites a poorly-thrown cask of oil.
Finally taking control of the winch at the top of the fortress, the survivors and their rescued hostage make the dangerous trip back down through the inferno, to the escape tunnels as The Rust Heap collapses in fire above them.
Those who still live part company in haste, but in friendship, too. Brave souls lost, but a quest completed. And though Hasnim will not gain the reward he sought, he may find in future that camaraderie proves far more useful.