The party debated several options, including packing the survivors off and sending them either downriver or to another settlement. Tars, the eldest son of the slain leader, Pidar, was not about to abandon the homestead his farther build—no matter how tentative its future seemed.
Fortunately for all, the decision was resolved when a party of fifteen woodsmen arrived at the settlement. Hailing from one of the few nearby homesteads, these men had caught sight of the flames in the night and marched through the darkness to come to the aid of their fellow settlers. With their help, the family of Fort Wolf’s Head would be able to begin rebuilding and bolster their numbers enough to feel safe should the goblins try and mount another attack. The party was now free to continue with their mission. If their mission was still attainable, that is.
According to the party’s intelligence, the traitorous Storm Crow agent was due to meet with the hobgoblin command on the 25th of The Bloom—that very day. Exhausted, with no idea where the hobgoblin citadel lay, and a good half-day or more of travel ahead of them, it was obvious that the party would miss the arrival of the agent. Not knowing how long he intended to remain at the Citadel, the band could only hope that he dallied long enough that they might find him in residence when they finally located the goblin stronghold.
After a brief excursion outside the partially destroyed walls of the homestead, the adventurers determined that the goblins had fled east, away from their intended goal. Some discussion was made about tracking them down, but time limits, fatigue, and the encroaching darkness sent the party back inside to rest.
The party spent the rest of the day and the following evening at Fort Wolf’s Head, resting, healing, and memorizing spells for their journey out to Hob’s Hill. On the morning of the 26th of the Bloom, the band departed the homestead and journeyed west, encountering signs of the wolf-mounted goblins, but these quickly disappeared as they got closer to the river. Luckily, their recently-acquired canoes remained hidden in the underbrush and they crossed the river without incident to arrive at the base of Hob’s Hill.
They landed on the shore of a peaceful meadow strewn with wildflowers and watered by a gurgling waterfall that cascaded down the slope of the hill. A brief search uncovered an animal trail that led into the thick forest that covered the mound, winding its way slowly up towards the crown of the rise. The party ventured into the cool forest shadows, eyes peeled for danger.
After an hour of travel and picking branches at random, the party found themselves under attack by stirges, but were able to quickly dispatch these with only minor injuries. They would not be so lucky later in the day when they chanced upon a pair of giant, droning bees, flittering about the woods in search of nectar. The majority of the group stood stock still or dove for cover behind the bole of a tree. Raijek the monk, however, decided to engage the buzzing apoidea and charged towards them with his claymore ready. Having caught their attention, he then fled back to the band and took cover behind his comrades. The bees were having none of it and remained fixated on the unarmored martial artist. A sting later saw one bee dead and the monk writhing on the ground, bloody froth sputtering from his lips. The other bee buzzed away, disinterested.
Having seen the signs of fatal poison once before, the party did their best to lave his wounds and draw out the poison. A healing potion was forced down his throat to no avail and a “Hail Chance” attempt to save him by giving the dying monk an unidentified potion revealed it to be a potion of giant strength—which did nothing to save Raijek. He then expired on the forest floor, the first party casualty in weeks.
The party took a moment of silence before Grumble and Mars slung the dead monk in between them and the party traveled on. The light was failing and they had yet to discover any sign of hobgoblins. They were not looking forward to a night spent in the dark woods with who-knew-what lurking around them.
The trail ahead seemed to enter a clearing and Korlack was sent down the path to see what lay ahead. The animal trail did indeed terminate in a rocky clearing that ran up the slope of the hill. At the base of the open area stood a cave mouth surrounded by tumbled boulders and brush; at the top stood a tall humanoid-shaped statue, much worn by weather and time. The magic-user returned to collect the rest of the party and they creeped along the edge of the forest before dashing towards the cave and into its dark mouth.
Relieved at finding shelter just as the sun went down, the Society did a quick, incomplete recon of the grotto, finding much tumbled stone and a pool of stagnant water. Bedding down for the night next to the pool, the party set up watches and awaited the coming of dawn. An hour before daybreak, their rest was interrupted by the five giant bats who made the cave their home returning from their nocturnal hunt. Angered at finding intruders in their lair, the five fluttering fledermaus laid into the party. With half the band stripped of their armor, the combat was more brutal than expected and poor Kaldar nearly died in the struggle. Most of the other party members suffered some damage before the bats were overcome.
The party took a long breakfast to heal up before resuming their trek. Outside the cave they headed up the hill to examine the statue in greater detail. The granite form stood 8’ tall and seemed to have once depicted a pit-bellied humanoid form with a languid expression. Two empty eye sockets showed signs of tool marks around the edges of the eyes, leading the Society to believe that the sculpture once held jewels in its visage. Cursing their luck at arriving several centuries too late to loot the statue, the party chose one of the four trails leading out of the clearing at random and began their search anew.
Their trail led them on a winding journey that eventually reached a rocky promontory bare of forest cover. From that lofty post, the party was able to get their bearings and they determined that they now knew their position on the map they had been provided with. They assumed their target lay further to the northwest and returned to the trail with hopes of finding a path that headed in that direction.
Their trek was interrupted less than an hour later by the sudden cry of Lyrax’s dog. Trailing the party, the hound had walked beneath a giant horned chameleon perched atop a branch in ambush. Its tongue had snatched the poor dog off the ground and into its gaping maw. The party whirled about the see the dog hanging halfway from the now-revealed lizard’s mouth. As they watched it horror, the chameleon slurped the rest of the dog down its throat and sighed contently. Unwilling to allow the wanton murder of a party member—even a less than reliable war dog—pass without address, the Society unleashed a hail of missile fire on the beast, slaying it as it descended to do battle.
A dog down in membership, the band continued down the trail to find that it terminated at a river. The freshet continued a short distance before plunging down an embankment to a small pool 80’ below. At the edge of the pool, another trail began, running deeper into the woods to the west. As it seemed to lead in the direction they wished to travel, the party carefully descended the slope via ropes and redundant safety lines. A length of hemp cordage was left behind to assist a sudden retreat back up the hill if they encountered danger ahead.
The trail led deep, deep into the forest. The party followed the winding path for nearly two hours and they began to suspect that they might be on the wrong leg. Just as they were preparing to double back and see if they had missed a turn-off, the sound of heavy footfalls and a baritone humming was detected heading in their direction. The party scattered into the woods and dove for cover.
They had just ducked out of sight when a hulking figure dragging a tree limb behind it stomped down the trail. The swarm of flies buzzing about its head and the jagged tusks protruding from its mouth marked it as an ogre, one of prodigious size. The massive beast continued down the path, obliviously caught up in its own meager thoughts. However, just as it passed the band's position, it stopped abruptly and began to sniff the air.
The party waited tensely, hands wrapped around the weapons and preparing for the worse. After a moment’s pause, they were relieved to see the ogre start up its journey once again. At that moment, Baragkus, tired of wandering aimlessly about on the hill, stepped out and hailed the brute with confidence that his recently identified magical helm would allow communication between the two.
Things might have turned bad for the valiant man-at-arms when he discovered that the enchanted helmet only allowed him to understand unknown spoken speech, not speak it himself. Luckily, the ogre had enough command of the common trade patois to understand Baragkus’ words of greeting. The two began a protracted exchange with the fighting man hoping to discover the location of the hobgoblin citadel and the ogre attempting to wheedle as much coin out of the lost traveler as possible. Offers were made and counter-offers proposed, and eventually the ogre revealed that the trail they currently stood upon led to the hobgoblin lair and departed with an extra hundred gold coins in his pouch. Armed with this new information, the rest of the party emerged from the trees and their westward journey recommenced.
Another two hours on the trail brought the party to the southern edge of a massive clearing. The ground here was rocky and only tuffs of scraggly grass poked its spear-like blades from the gray earth. The party began to skirt the barren meadow, keeping to the woods as they journeyed northward. The woods were quiet and an almost preternatural hush hung in the stifling air.
The band had almost reached the edge of the meadow when they detected two features previously obscured by the thick trees. In the northwest corner of the meadow, several white, featureless stones protruded from the ground. Cloaked in thick, thorny underbrush, these monuments hinted at being a long-forgotten cemetery, one untended for centuries. Directly ahead of the party, a thin trail exited the woods into the clearing and the sound of jingling mail and clanking steel indicated that someone was headed down it!
The party hunkered down and prepared to meet the unseen forces with steel. Through a break in the trees, they saw the orange skin and red uniforms of hobgoblins—a small patrol obviously on their rounds. For once, the party was to be the ambushers and not the victims of a trap. A volley of arrows rained out of the trees upon the patrol as the band’s melee men ran amongst the boles to meet the enemy. Half of the patrol dropped, yard-long shafts riddling their bodies, before the fighting men burst from the woods to cut down the remaining goblinoid soldiers. In less than a minute, the hobgoblins lay dead.
Cocking their ears to listen for possible reinforcements, the band seemed pleased to find their attack was undetected by any other hobgoblin forces and riffled through the dead soldiers’ pouches for coin and intelligence. A mere handful of the former and none of the later was found, but Baragkus, seeing his brawny physique was comparable to that of a hobgoblin, liberated one of the dead creature’s helmets and placed it atop his head, hoping to be mistaken for one of the massive goblins if observed by the enemy at a distance.
The trail the hobgoblins had been traveling ran east and up a slope, and the party suspect that their objective lay in that direction. With caution, they moved back the way the patrol had come and was rewarded with the sight of ancient, vine-covered walls in the trees ahead. The Hobgoblin Citadel had been found. Now all that remained was to infiltrate it and disrupt the threat to the Kinan-M’Nath. What could possibly go wrong?