After successfully taking control of the Ghost Beggars’ main quarters and running off the bandit leaders, the party paused to take stock of their situation: should they flee with the monies and intelligence they accrued or see their raid through to the end, bitter or otherwise? “We stay,” they sighed wearily.
After hogtying their captured bandit securely, the party positioned themselves around the main cave and in the leader’s quarters to cover all the entrances while they ransacked the place. The footlockers in the main cave held worthless personal belongings, as the bandits seemed to mistrust their fellows and kept their wealth upon them. The leader’s quarters held a stout chest, albeit one whose lock lay upon the ground next to it as if it had been hurriedly opened and cast aside. Rondo volunteered to examine the chest and discovered disheveled clothes and a small sack containing gold and silver. It was obvious, however, that something had been removed from the container and carried off.
Hoover’s eyes scanned the floor of the leader’s den and he detected a single pair of footprints departing the cave to the east. That trail lead to a tall passage that could be easily navigated by the humans in the band. To the west lay a short tunnel, one standing but 4’ in height. It was possible one of the leaders fled that way, but the adventurers were unwilling to follow the cobra into its hole. They gathered up their loot and captive before heading east in search of whoever fled in that direction.
The passage led to an ancient kitchen, dust-covered and decayed. On a hook from the ceiling swayed a much out-of-place bird cage which seemed a recent addition. Peering inside, the party saw a dead cockatoo, its feet pointed towards the ceiling and a dagger sunk into its chest. Whoever fled this way had killed the bird in cold blood. What a fiend! The dusty floor attested to the cad’s path of flight, and sensing their quarry was gaining ground by the minute, the party stepped up their pursuit.
Passing through a few more caves with little time to take in their details, the party found themselves back in the bandit’s latrine cave. From there, they made a beeline to the stable cave only to find that two of the steeds that had been so recently saddled by Waren were now gone. From outside the cave, our heroes heard the sound of hooves in rapid flight and growing fainter by the moment. Hoover, Raijek, and Dardath leap upon the three remaining saddled horses and took off after the escaping outlaw, leaving Rondo, Waren, the invisible Anwar, and the sleeping bandit prisoner in the stables.
Outside, the party on horseback saw two steeds fleeing down the trail towards the nearby forest and drove their own mounts hard to close the distance. A frantic race erupted between the pursuers and the pursued, with the fleeing outlaw keeping just ahead of the party. The adventurers were able to close the distance enough to clearly see that they were chasing a bald and robed figure who rode one mount while leading a spare behind him. They had found the bandit sorcerer, but where was the leader?
Despite their efforts, the trio was only able to close the distance enough for Raijek to make a desperate shot at the magic-user with his crossbow. Despite the odds, the monk struck his target in the shoulder, but the fleeing mage stayed mounted. Dardath hurled a javelin in hopes of bringing down the bandit, but it sailed harmlessly into the trees. The sorcerer made it to the forest and, even with the blood trail and Hoovers’ best efforts, the three adventurers soon lost their quarry’s trail amidst the dim woods, dry stream beds, and numerous trails. Frustrated, they headed back to the bandit caves to inform their comrades. Little did they know their friends were facing problems of their own…
Back at the caves, Waren was in the process of saddling the remaining horse (with Anwar “supervising”) as Rondo kept watch on the cave’s entrance when the sound of clanking armor alert the trio they were not alone. Stepping from the gloom of the western tunnel was the bandit leader. Dressed in plate mail and bearing not only two swords, but a bulging purse on his belt, the outlaw looked at the now saddled horse and then grinned at the trio standing between him and freedom.
Rondo charged the bandit with the hope of bowling the outlaw over with his patented Dwarven Combat Roll—but ended up flat on his back and barely able to deflect the longsword aimed at his prone form. Waren produced his mace and shield and charged towards the embattled pair while Anwar snuck around to approach the bandit leader from the rear.
Unable to rise under the bandit’s hail of blows, Rondo brought his knee up and caught his assailant in the codpiece, rolling a “20” in the process. The sound of crunching metal plating was heard and the bandit doubled over in pain, allowing Rondo to regain his feet and Waren to reach the melee. Anwar, invisible, got down on all fours behind the groaning bandit.
As the outlaw feebly defended himself from Rondo’s next attack, Waren, having planned this with Anwar, rushed the bandit with shield outstretched, blasting the still unsteady man with a mighty blow. He stumbled backwards only to encounter the snickering mage and was bowled over onto the ground. Rondo stepped down hard on the outlaw’s main hand, pinning his longsword to the floor. “Surrender yet?” the dwarf inquired.
The bandit king snarled and drew his short sword with his off hand, earning a blow in the process. Unfortunately for Rondo, despite his bad position, he was able to thrust his blade in between the dwarf’s armor and Rondo went down bleeding. Anwar, still behind the bandit, pulled out a shovel to bash in the bandit’s head, thought again and produced a flask of oil, looked about to see no lit torches, then put it way and drew his scimitar. While that was occurring, the bandit and Waren were locked in battle.
Anwar was able to score a hit on the bandit’s unprotected back and Waren bashed the outlaw fiercely, but the cleric of Donblas was struck hard in return and fell unconscious from the pain. Although heavily wounded, the bandit locked eyes with the now alone Anwar and gripped his weapons menacingly. Anwar lowered his scimitar and stepped away, giving the bandit free passage to the saddled horse.
The bandit king laughed, complemented the turbaned sorcerer on his intelligence, and leapt into the saddle before riding out of the cave as if a pack of hellhounds pursued him. Unfortunately for the bandit leader, he chose to ride down the trail towards the forest below, not knowing that Hoover, Dardath, and Raijek were headed back that way.
As the aforementioned trio reached the edge of the forest, they saw a mounted figure riding hell-bent down the trail. As it got closer, they were able to see it was not one of their comrades and paused to allow the rider to close the distance—the better to launch a volley of missiles. Dardath’s barbarian heritage got the best of him, however, and he broke cover to charge the fleeing bandit screaming. Hoover sighed and put an arrow through the bandit’s skull, dropping the outlaw to the ground dead. The Ghost Beggar bandits would no longer be a threat to the Kinan-M’Nath. After stripping the corpse of valuables, which included several gemstones and the keen-edged short sword, the three returned to the caves to find Anwar ministering to Rondo and Waren. Battered and triumphant, the Society of Planewalkers returned to Blackpool to claim their reward from Azix Tsam, the “gray-man” who first put them onto this task oh so long ago.
When the party arrived at the gate of the walled town, they found that the usual cadre of four guards had been doubled and that these men were looking much more alert than usual. The guardsmen stood down once they recognized the members and the watch serjeant informed them that Say’skel the Mottled had commanded the Society to attend him the moment that all their members were assembled in town. The weary adventurers rode up to the Mad Manor and began to unwind. Anwar took the gems that the band had acquired from the bandits down to Shortshanks the Appraiser’s office in the basement, only to discover that the halfling had no interest looking at the stones until the adventurers had visited Say’skel. “It doesn’t pay to keep people who throw balls of fire around waiting, you know,” he advised.
The adventurers gather all their mobile members (and a few assorted hangers-on) and headed to the Keep. There, they found themselves hurried inside, but not before getting a glimpse at the ongoing process of replacing the keep’s wooden palisade with stone walls. The workers had been busy for the walls were three-quarters finished. Inside the keep, the band met with Say’skel in a rustically decorated side hall and he informed them that developments had occurred since they last spoke.
After sending for a specialist from Ilrahtyr to speak with the spirit of Norrim Gaz, the Storm Crow agent the party had slain in Modnar’s cellar, a foreboding plan had been uncovered. The Storm Crows were in the area because they were selling weapons to the hobgoblins of the Kinan-M’Nath. It seems that a particularly charismatic and powerful hobgoblin has fired the flames of expansion amongst the goblinoid tribes and decreed that it was time for a new nation-state to arise in the Uncertain Lands, one with a hobgoblin aristocracy. To that end, the hobgoblins were planning on pushing across the border into the Principality of Dhrin to annex its cultivated lands and its citizens. The Storm Crows intended to grow wealthy in the coming conflict and were doing their best to meet the armament demands of the warmongering hobgoblins.
It was further learned that a small force of hobgoblins had already gained a foothold in the region just across the border from Blackpool. An expeditionary force had occupied a portion of Stonehell Dungeon and was intent on turning more of that ancient prison into a hobgoblin fortress from which to launch sorties into Dhrin. The close proximity of this goblinoid redoubt was of overwhelming concern to Say’skel and Lord Warden Cryt. The Lord Warden would pay 100 gold marks apiece to anyone who could locate and dislodge this hobgoblin threat from the dungeon before it became too entrenched.
Another option was presented to help curtail the hobgoblin threat to Blackpool and the rest of the borderlands. The Storm Crow agent had revealed that their initial negations with the hobgoblins had occurred at a stronghold located beneath a large forested hill some two days upriver of Blackpool. Known as Hob’s Hill, this wooded mount stood on the western bank of the River Phol. The nearest “civilized” settlement to the hill was a rough-and-tumble outpost called Fort Wolfshead, a place frequented by prospectors, fishermen, trappers, and barbarians, most of whom avoided Hob’s Hill altogether.
Lord Warden Cryt surmised that, rather than lopping off the “sword-wielding arm” of the hobgoblin threat, striking its head clean off would prove more decisive. He was therefore willing to pay 250 gold marks each to anyone willing to travel upriver to locate, scout out, and, if possible, disrupt the hobgoblin stronghold beneath Hob’s Hill. Travel could be arranged, but the agents would need to provision themselves. Half their payment would be provided upfront to allow for this. In any event, time was of the essence and something had to be done soon.
Say’skel stepped from the room to allow the Society to discuss the Lord Warden’s proposals. There was some talk of tackling both missions at once by sending half their number north to Hob’s Hill while the rest assaulted the redoubt in Stonehell (which is precisely why I had Say’skel summon all the adventurers. Resource management is an important skill in these games and I was interested to see what the guys would do with their numbers). In the end, it was decided that a portion of their membership would travel to Stonehell to deal with the hobgoblin expeditionary force and possibly gain some intelligence regarding the stronghold under Hob’s Hill. They requested magical aid and received a potion of healing with three draughts in it. Their request for an official writ identifying them as agent of the Lord Warden was turned down, however, for the following reason:
The spirit of Norrim Gaz was able to identify one of the other two Storm Crow agents operating in the Kinan-M’Nath. That agent was a human magic-user who went by the name “Jaben Frost.” Frost was a young male with pale blond hair and a penchant for wearing ice-blue robes. He was active in and around Stonehell Dungeon, but his exact whereabouts were unknown. The third Storm Crow agent’s identity was unknown to Gaz, meaning that almost anyone might be working for that foul league. Since Lord Warden Cryt and Say’skel believed that the Crows were unaware of how much the forces of civilization in the Kinan-M’Nath had learned, they didn’t want to tip their hand by sending writ-bearing agents about who would be bound to raise the suspicions of the enemy.
As it turns out, the secrecy of these missions was already in jeopardy. Word had leaked out that a Storm Crow agent had been slain near Blackpool. This news caused a cloud of fear and paranoia to settle over the frontier town. Everyone in Blackpool knew that the presence of a Storm Crow was an omen of evil things to come. Suspicion of outsiders was rife, there was a run on arrows and weapons, and even guard dogs were hard to come by as the residents prepared to defend themselves. This accounted for the increased and more vigilant guards at the gate.
The party left the keep and began to prepare to return to Stonehell. Unfortunately, their departure was delayed by four days as they waited for certain members to complete their training. Whether this delay will have nasty consequences remains to be seen…
The party, composed of Aieglos, Anwar, Baragkus, Grumble, Kaldar, Krunk, and Waren, along with two recently hired linkmen, Dirk Sodbuster and Rolf Sheepminder, returned to the dungeon. Having procured a trio of hounds, the party intended to revisit the strange woman known as Klydessia of the Sisters of the Argent Moon to see what they might learn about the second level of Stonehell and the hobgoblins who laired there.
Things were going well for the adventurers and they were closing in on their destination when they reached the crossroads that led to both the former orc lair and the cricket caves. It was then that Kaldar’s ears detected the soft padding of feet coming from the direction of the caves. The party prepared to defend themselves, gripping their weapons and raising their shields. That’s when the first ferret of enormous proportions peered its cure fuzzy head around the corner and blinked at them with its adorable albeit beady little eyes.
Then came another ferret. And another. Each bounded into the intersection like a fuzzy coil of springs and before the party knew it, they stood facing eight of the 3’ long weasels. (I’ve decided that a pack of giant ferrets is officially known as a “tussle.” I don’t care what science might say.) The fuzzies started chittering as they got a whiff of the three dogs that accompanied the band, their lean flanks suggesting it had been awhile since the weasels had eaten. This agitation was enough to send Krunk over the edge and he charged the tussle with weapon held high. Baragkus followed in his wake.
A pitched melee broke out between the two fighting men and the ferrets, with one of the spring-loaded fuzzy wuzzies landing a critical hit on Krunk. The thought of being slain by a bunch of oversized house pets send the berserker into his first frenzy and he began hacking at the cute widdle nookums. Waren and Grumble, situated in the party’s second rank, took out the occasional ferret that dodged between the warriors to try and get at the hounds.
Aieglos, looking to get a shot in at those ferrets not locked in combat at the rear of the tussle, had Dirk and Rolf set the 10’ ladder they were carrying against the wall of the corridor and began to scale its rungs. That, my friends, was a tactic I did not expect to see, but I suspect it won’t be the last time that I see it. Fortunately, Krunk’s berserker madness defeated the last of the fuzzy threats before the ladder offensive could see actual combat.
As the berserker cooled down, wounds were dressed and the barbarian quaffed a hearty draught of wine. But, just as the band was preparing to move on, they caught the sound of something else headed their way…