Magics were cast upon the meager haul of items that the party pulled from the Groaning Ruins. Of them, only a finely-crafted shield bore any magical dweomer. Selling off the candelabra they found brought them a mere 10 gp: a poor reward for their troubles. Lastly, but most impressively, the party went down to the cold storage room cum morgue in the Mad Manor’s cellar to try and work the magic of the Blood of Amencia on the dead Grumble Battleaxe. Hands were held, prayers were intoned, and the glowing gem was placed upon the dwarf’s cold, still breast. As the party observed, the glowing gem began to pulsate slowly, eventually taking up the rhythm of a beating heart. Once it reached the tempo of a healthy dwarven heartbeat, Grumble’s eyes sprang open, the glow dimmed, and a network of cracks appeared in the divine gemstone. A slight glow remained, possibly signifying that the gem still has some power left. It was entrusted to Lyrax for safe keeping prior to their departure for the dungeon.
The party delayed their trip for a day so as to allow Anwar to scribe some new spells into his collection and to accommodate Hoover’s training. The adventurers’ plan to track the bandits to their hideout relied on the half-elf’s skill at following trails and without him they’d undoubtedly be back to poking around idly hoping for the best. During this downtime, the barbarian, Dardath, who had been spending much of the past weeks brawling and debauching in Blackpool town, reacquainted himself with the band. His purse was much depleted and he was determined to be a part of the Ghost Beggar raid. When Anwar and Hoover were done with their tasks, the raiders, consisting of Anwar, Dardath, Hoover, Raijek, Waren, and Rondo Fleagle, headed back into the foothills of the Crowhaunts looking for revenge and plunder.
They arrived at the canyon without incident and headed towards the switchback trail that looked to be the most likely path to a possible hideout. The party had never run into trouble in the box canyon before, but they remained cautious as they headed deeper into the defile—a precaution that was about to pay off. Hoover’s keen elven ears detected the sound of a winding windlass coming from the large copse of trees that grew close to the southern wall of the canyon. A moment later, a pair of quarrels hummed out of the seemingly dense woods, striking Dardath and Raijek. Injured, but not downed, the two led a charge into the trees to confront their assailants. As Raijek crossed into the grove, the rest of the party noticed that he seemingly vanished and no sign of movement could be glimpsed amongst the boles. This did nothing to slow their charge, but it seems that the dungeon and its environs are never lacking in mysteries.
Once the party entered the copse of trees, they found four Ghost Beggars and engaged them in battle. Three of the bandits were quickly slain before the fourth dropped his crossbow and surrendered. The party, pleased to have someone to interrogate for a change, began doing so with the promise of tying the bandit to a nearby tree and leaving him alive if he told them what they wanted to know. This led to a lot of back and forth between the bandit and the party, as well as amongst the party themselves. The bandit agreed to the binding, but wanted a knife so that he could eventually cut himself free (he was concerned about being easy prey for monsters). The party was originally fine with this stipulation until it was argued that they couldn’t be sure if he would tell them the truth. It was decided that they’d let him go with all his gear if he led them close enough to the bandit lair so that they could verify his information. He agreed and the party, with the bandit in the lead and unbound, headed up the switchback trail and over the canyon lip.
A short journey down the trail led close to where the bandit claimed him and his fellow gang members laired. At this, the party began discussing what to do with the bandit. Some were in favor of tying him up until they cleared the lair; other weren’t sure. Seeing that his continued freedom and possibly his life were again being dickered over, the bandit decided to take his own future into his hand (or his feet rather) and took off down the trail like a pack of hellhounds were at his heels. His moved so swiftly that even the ranger and monk were surprised and he quickly put distance between the mostly armor-clad party. The twisting trail made it difficult to get a bead on the fleeing bandit, so even missile weapons were unable to stop him. With the party in pursuit but far behind, they watched in dismay as the Ghost Beggar dashed into the camouflaged mouth of a cave and heard him raise an alarm.
The band entered the lair a half minute later to find two bandits blocking their path. The space beyond the cave mouth had been turned into a crude stable, serving to house a half-dozen horses. Four tunnels exited the cave and a few flickering torches illuminated the gloomy grotto. The party’s former prisoner was nowhere to be seen. A battle erupted as the two bandits charged the party, but the leather-clad outlaws couldn’t do much against the more experienced and armored adventurers. As the two bandits fell under the party’s attacks (“Surrender and we’ll let you live!” they cried as they hacked the bandits to pieces), four more outlaws poured into the cave from the north. The fighting men of the party closed with these new assailants and an invisible Anwar kept an eye out for more while Waren started saddling one of the steeds in case a sudden departure was needed. As the fighters clashed, Dardath was heavily wounded, but they party managed to slay three of their assailants. The fourth, unable to join in the battle due to a bottleneck in the tunnel, was seen slipping back into the cave the bandits had entered from, seemingly intent on outflanking the adventurers.
As the third bandit fell, another trio charged down the tunnel to the west, intent on repulsing the adventurers. A battle line was formed across the tunnel entrance and it wouldn’t be long before these three were also slain, leaving the party a few moments to catch their breath and prepare for the next wave of attackers. Dardath was restored to health with the party’s last potion of extra-healing and the other injured members took the time to bind their wounds and consume an invigorating round of wine.
A full twenty minutes passed and no new attackers appeared. Anwar use this time to sneak about some and get a better idea of the layout of the cave system, while Hoover kept an eye on the cave mouth and Rondo turned his infravision down the yet-untraveled eastern tunnel. Waren continued saddling horses.
The bandits still refrained from counterattacking even after more time had elapsed, leaving the party to speculate that they were either fewer in number than originally anticipated or were waiting in ambuscade for the party. The band cautiously began to plumb deeper into the caves.
A bounty of stolen bags, barrels, crates, and sundries was found in the next cavern. Several week’s worth of plunder lay heaped against the walls of the chamber, but most of it was valuable only in bulk. The party would find no easily portable valuables here. Anwar slipped out the cave’s northern exit while the rest of the party ransacked the containers. The sorcerer learned that a larger cavern lay to the north, one that showed no signs of being occupied. It was a natural cave, thick with stalagmites and stalactites, and the wavering glow of torches could be discerned coming from around a bend in the cavern.
After he returned to the party with this discovery, the adventurers headed down a tunnel that exited the loot cave to the southeast, for it was in this direction that the flanking bandit seemed to be headed. Just off this tunnel was a small cave that served as storage for the cavern-stable. A small farrier’s outfit, spare saddles, and a sizeable pile of bagged horse feed occupied the cave. Dardath stepped forward and swung his axe into the pile of sacks—and was rewarded by a scream and a fountain of gore as the flanking bandit found his hiding place become his final resting place.
Moving further down the tunnel took them around a bend where the odor of human waste was heavy in the air. The tunnel terminated in a cave that held buckets filled with feces and urine, but also contained a set of chairs and a table that were dust-covered and decrepit. They seemed to be decades old and were definitely not used by the bandits. A tunnel exited the cave to the north, but it too was dusty and disused.
The party reconvened at the stable cave to plan their next move. Rondo went to explore the western tunnel and had a nerve-wracking two-on-one battle with a pair of bandits intent on sneaking up on the party. He successfully dispatched his attackers before the party could run to his aid, proving that his continued employment was helpful to the party’s long-term survival. Exploring more, the band found that this tunnel led to a dusty cavern that held dry-rotted, empty barrels of ancient origin. It was obvious that the bandits had little use for this part of the caves. With three paths now available for the party to head deeper into the caves, they choose the most-travelled and headed towards the natural cavern Anwar had found north of the loot cave.
Once there, the party found that several low tunnels, each no more than 3’ or 4’ feet high, exited that cavern, and that a more accessible tunnel led to small watch post—one seemingly abandoned in haste. Another low-ceiling tunnel exited this area and the party suspected that it was through this that the ambushing bandits had skulked. Rondo and Hoover dipped low to confirm this and did indeed find themselves back in the disused cave with the empty barrels.
Deciding to rejoin the party by way of the stable cave and loot cavern, the mismatched duo head east…but stopped abruptly when they heard voices coming from the stable. A trio of bandits had just return to the lair and was staring at the carnage they came home to. Rushing out of the darkness, Hoover and Rondo did battle with the bandits only to discover that the dice chose this moment to become fickle. The two second level fighters had a hell of a time dispatching the three outlaws, and one even managed to escape out of the mouth of the cave before the melee ended with the dwarf and half-elf injured but alive.
The sound of battle brought the rest of the party back to the stable and the adventurers took one final rest before plunging back into the Ghost Beggars’ lair. Although battered, the party was determined to lance this boil of inequity before they returned to Blackpool. They returned to the natural cavern and headed towards the flickering light. Unfortunately, nobody was prodding ahead with a 10’ pole and Dardath found a crossbow trap the hard way, taking a pair of bolts to the upper body in the process.
Immediately thereafter, the party got a clear look at the cavern from which the torchlight came. An obvious living quarters and common room, the large cave held numerous bedrolls, cook fires, footlockers…and six sword- and crossbow-armed bandits laying in wait. In another cave mouth, one set high above the cavern floor, stood a menacing figure dressed in heavy armor and a robed man who began gesticulating as soon as the party entered his view. Every so often in these game of ours, the success or failure of a battle comes down to a single die roll. If the dice go one way, the heroes gain the upper hand and evil is defeated. Should they go another way, the villains carry the day (or at least make success an implausibility). This was one of those encounters. With four crossbows aimed at them and a magic-user about to unleash a sleep spell upon them, it would bode extremely ill for the party if they lost the initiative in the first round. The dice clattered…and the bandits won.
Bolt sailed across the cave, striking Raijek and Dardath. Then, the robed man completed his spell and everyone but the invisible Anwar fell into a slumber. With the entire party seemingly incapacitated, two of the bandits strode forward to slit their throats. Anwar, risking it all, kicked the inert form of Waren, simultaneously rousing the sleeping cleric and spoiling his invisibility. His sudden reappearance surprised two-thirds of the bandits, but a crossbow bolt ruined his own sleep spell. Waren continued the awaken chain by jostling Rondo, who passed it own down the line. Incredibly, the party was able to get back up on their feet and fight but it was a near thing. Anwar’s second sleep managed to drop two of the bandits before they could kill any of the still unconscious adventurers, and those who were awake held off the rest long enough to get everyone roused. As the battle raged on the cave floor below, the two men on the ledge above watched dispassionately. When the last of the bandits fell under the attacks of the Planewalkers, the two stepped back into the cave and vanished from view.
The battle ended with one slumbering bandit at the party’s mercy and a sparse three-score copper pieces amongst the bodies. The once-again invisible Anwar climbed up the rickety ladder that led to the cave overlooking the living area and found a luxurious living space (for a cave) with two exits leading out of it. There was no sign of either of the men who occupied it moments ago.
Victorious, albeit by the skin of their teeth, the party began to debate their next action. Heavily wounded and deep inside the bandit lair with an unknown number of enemies still about, the band was split. Should they flee now and return rested or continue to press their luck to recover as much treasure as possible before it inevitably vanishes with the soon-to-be fleeing bandits?
The solution to this dilemma will become known when we meet again in two weeks.