So you seek to hear stories of wondrous adventure? Then sit for a while and I will spin you a tale. Like my mother, I am a bard. You may have heard of my mother—she composed the Ballad of the Dream Weaver in Secomber many years ago. Perhaps you have heard of it? Regardless, the tale I have for you this evening is very different. For it is the tale of Loudwater and the Delimbiyr Vale. And this tale begins just a year ago...
"There are few places in Faerûn like the Delimbiyr Crescent. The Harpers whisper that the entire region is a favored haunt of the goddess Mielikki, while the guildmasters of Waterdeep covet the abundant resources that flow down the River Shining. The vale is the verdant crown of the north. At its centerpiece glimmers Loudwater, the City of Grottos, a luxuriant paradise where the triumphs of Western Heartlands civilization intermesh seamlessly with the beauty of the wild North.
"But as the cynic warns, every paradise has its serpents.
"Mielikki's blessed share the fertile valley with the forces of the Black Network, and though there is a declared promise of peace between Loudwater and Llorkh, no one believes the Oath of Orlbar will confine the Zhentarim forever. A wererat bandit lord named the Hark plagues the road to Secomber, and after almost a decade of light raids, the Hark's brood attacks with renewed ferocity. In late spring, the orcs of the High Forest started migrating en masse out of the forest, heading east toward the Greypeak Mountains, creating a situation that has shocked the residents of Loudwater. Some guess the orcs were spooked by the floating City of Shade appearing over the Dire Wood, while others speculate both may be symptoms of the same disease infecting that cursed wood.
"It is just before Shieldmeet, the Year of Wild Magic. The Delimbiyr Vale is a land full of magic, intrigue, and danger, and soon a band of heroes will put their own mark on its history."
In the case of some stories, it's good to start at the end and let it wind its way to the beginning. This is especially true when retelling the lives of heroes and tyrants. That way we can learn valuable lessons on how the road sometimes shapes the traveler.
Place: Along the Delimbiyr Route between Zelbross and Loudwater, in the Delimbiyr Vale. Time: Shortly before twilight; late Flamerule, the Summertide, 1372 DR. Weather: Windy and cool.
Blaz Merrymar was not a merry halfling. His own name, a good old Hin name, made him feel like a fraud every time he introduced himself. His own smiling face, a face you could trust, stared mockingly back at him from the sign painted on the side of his wagon. How could he be merry, when he'd lost so much of what had made him so? Corkaury, Wilimac, Ombert, and Gandolar, his own sons. Dalabrac, Osco, and Bryn, nephews just as close. All lost, all dead. No one to carry on the good old Merrymar name now. No one to be merry again.
A clan decimated, a brother's promise failed, a heart broken seven times over. The news had been too much to bear the first time, but the second time, so soon after, had been unthinkable. First half his sons murdered by savage elves on nameless forest trails. Then the other half, slaughtered by marauding orcs on the road. The road he travelled now. Blaz knew it was a risk; if there was another raid he couldn't leave Rinyon a widow and his daughters fatherless. But he'd insisted to Rinyon he had to replace the stolen stock before Shieldmeet. She'd seen right through it, of course, but had let him go. In truth, he couldn't bear to stay home, stewing in his misery where everything reminded him of his lost sons and nephews. His hobbies and enterprises held no interest to him now. He worked like one of Deogol's mechanical men, empty-headed and just following its program. So, he'd needed to go. And now, he was going back.
The road ran along the north bank of the great Delimbiyr, with the wide vale now a narrow neck squeezed between the great expanse of the High Forest and the small Southwood, with a scattering of blueleafs from both trying to reclaim the land between them and be joined once again. The caravan had left Zelbross behind, and now headed to Loudwater, and beyond it, for Blaz at least, Shining Falls. But more immediately, a common campsite they would reach by twilight. Behind his wagon were a motley band of travelers: small-time merchants like him, folk wishing to settle in the Shining Valley, caravan guards meant to keep them safe, and of course adventurers. Blaz wasn't sure the adventurers were meant to keep anyone safe, but he hoped they'd keep the bandits and the elves and the orcs at bay...
No. Blaz hoped they wouldn't, that the raiders would come and show their damn ugly faces, so he could demand why they'd taken his sons and ruined his business and destroyed his family. So he could fight them for Corkaury and Wilimac and Ombert and Gandolar… No. He didn't know what he would do. But he knew he would do something.
last seventhday of Summertide (Or was it sixthday or eighthday today? I do not even know anymore....)
I like the halfling merchant leader most amongst all the strangers in this band of misfits.
I cannot say that I have spoken a solitary word to him, but I can tell from his face that he has suffered loss of the same kind as I. The man smiles at us constantly, and I can see that every one of them is a lie. I can also see the determination in his countenance, though I do not know what it is for.
It matters little to me. I am just along for this ride.
Nothing particularly interesting happened today. The plant growth here along the river valley is lush and green, and something about the emerald rays shining through the leaves offers some comfort to me, though I do not accept it as a true gift. I can admire the beauty of it without thinking that the gods ordained it for my pleasure. It is happenstance, a natural occurance of the way the sun shines through Toril's skies. It is as mundane as every potion I have ever brewed.
Yesterday, I first noticed one of the other travelers with us. It terrified me at first, because I saw curly red hair atop a short stature and thought that it was Sili come to haunt me. I am beginning to see them everywhere. I pinched myself to find that I was not having a vision, but then the figure turned. It was another halfling, probably another merchant, but I have no real idea.
I cannot read Korr. How is it that I can read this halfling caravan leader better than my own brother? How is it that we grew up together, yet I cannot interpret his facial expressions? I want to talk to him about home, but I do not know how to begin. I hope that the fact that I accompanied him on this journey conveys to him that I do not blame him for what happened. If anyone, I blame his god.
I wonder sometimes if Kethra blamed him as she took her last breath.
Blaz told us that we are to reach a campsite by nightfall, and the light is already dimming and making it hard to write. I also have but two sheets of paper left to spare, so I shall put down my pen....
Ilrien pauses for a moment beneath the leaves, surveying the woods alongside the road. The noise of the caravans and people had long since scared away any game. A pity, that. A rabbit or squirrel would have made a nice change from travel rations.
Dusk, now, when the sun sets and darkness cradles the world. The caravan would be stopping soon, its motley collection of people circling the wagons against what walked in the night. Normally she would have travelled by night as well, not day, but she is alone and not so powerful as to scorn the protection offered by numbers. Not with the orcs leaving the High Forest to rove the open Delimbyr lands.
She turns and continues walking along the edges of the train of wagons. Maybe once they reach the campsite, she will go on a short hunt for herself.
A redheaded halfling was perched atop one of the wagons with her tight curls bouncing in rhythm with the bumpy road through the Vale. Her cherubic face took in the last rays of evening light. Juniper scanned the blueleaf trees that slowly moved past the wagon, thinking to herself if the trees had any undiscovered magical properties or eccentric culinary uses. Yes, Juniper was her name, thanks to her mother who was likely thinking of ingredients for her famous cheese rather than of traditional hin names. She sighed and admitted to herself that Juniper is not the worst name she could've ended up with. However, Juniper was happy to be many miles away from home and from the unending copious cousins, siblings, and other assorted family members.
She found her eyes unconsciously focusing on another halfling in the ragtag band of caravaners. Blaz, he did not have a typical cheery disposition Juniper was used to among her kin. He really should smile more... but then he'd become as unbearable as her clan, and Juniper was happy not to be reminded of them too often.
The halfling shrugged, took out her spellbook, and quickly scribbled a few words on the last page. She hoped the dinner would be hearty as she was starving half to death with only having four meals today.
Samophlange awoke with a start as the wagon he was sleeping in hit a pothole, causing his fellow passengers—hundreds of turnips—to pummel his being in a veritable avalanche of root vegetables. A muffled cry sounded from beneath the verdant landslide, and before long, Samophlange emerged, pointed nose first, as he dug his way to freedom. "Of course they placed the gnome in the turnip wagon. Thrice-damned cheapskates!" he muttered to himself as he threw one of the interminable roots to the other side of the admittedly rather small and cramped wagon.
He slicked back his black hair and peered through the opening at the back of the wagon tent. It looked like he had slept through most of the day yet again. He could hardly blame himself, though. The journey from Athkatla had been slow and tedious, with little in the way of exotic sights—mostly the open road, fields, more fields—and yeah, turnips. That might change soon, though, if the caravan buzz was to be believed. Apparently they were entering frontier territory, barely-tamed wilderness where mortal danger was a daily concern. Samo shuddered with excitement. His belly rumbled plaintively in solidarity.
Samo dug out his rather too-large backpack and fished out another pack of honeycakes that his family had insisted he bring, or else. He opened the waxed cloth and groaned as he saw yet another message from his mother scribbled inside: "Remember to bathe often." Samophlange scoffed. He'd bathe whenever he damn well felt like it!
A lone purple-white, fleshy vegetable rolled towards the wagon wheel, causing it to jolt upwards. Korrlan Splitbark sprung out of his seat, and the worn book he once understood slammed closed. "It doesn't make sense, anyway", he sighed, "not like it used to". Korr's faith in Ilmater, the Crying God, waned quicker than Selûne at the end of its lunar cycle. His nephew and niece, his friends and colleagues, and even the Revered Mother of the NeverwintanChurch of Ilmater had fallen to the Wailing Death. The hospital he had worked in became overcrowded, causing the supplies to run out completely. This is what had set Korrlan and his brother, Brace, on the road. It was clear to the young Ilmatari cleric what had happened, but not why they had...
Korrlan slouched, head in hands. He took a second to reflect on a situation other than his own. The halfling, Blaz, had lost his kin too; several sons and nephews, he claimed. Korr understood Blaz's situation, but somehow, it just didn't seem to mirror his own. Though downtrodden, at least the halfling had some spark of revenge-fueled passion pumping through his veins. Korrlan had nothing.
"Half a bell, now," Blaz called over his shoulder, expecting the others to repeat his message down the line to those who took up the rear. "'Til we reach the campsite. And a bell until twilight. Keep your eyes peeled for orcs. They've been seen about." he ended with a warning. He'd been unable to keep the note of weariness from his voice; the day had been long and the monotony of the road had done little to keep him from his thoughts. But his last words had been bitter, almost a growl.
Ahead, the road began to wind around low, tree-topped rises, forming a shallow S-shaped curve. It was hard to see clearly what lay beyond the next bend—a perfect place for an ambush, as every frontier traveler knew.
"I love bells!" the red-headed halfling girl exclaimed after the grumpy caravan leader decided to talk about music out of the blue. "How does one play half-a-bell I wonder" she mumbled. Juniper's eyes darted from tree to tree but she found herself thinking of components and wildlife and singing bells instead of actually watching out for trouble. Her ears, however, did a much better job.
Still eating his honeycake and peering listlessly at the horizon as he thought of home, Samophlange was annoyed to hear multiple people shouting something about bells. Annoyance quickly gave way to excitement as he heard the word "orcs". Could the danger and adventure he so yearned for finally have arrived? Samo leaned further out of the wagon tent and focused more intently on the treeline. He'd never met a real, honest-to-Gruumsh full orc before, but he tried to imagine where he would hide if he were an orc.
It wasn't even half a bell before the wagon train came to a sudden stop. A small, swift figure had scampered out of the brush and stopped in the middle of the road, waving a lit torch above his big-eared head, forcing Blaz to rein his pony in. "Halt, travelers!" the figure cried eagerly. Beneath the torch's glare, they saw an orange goblin in patchwork leather armor, with shield on his back, mace at his waist, and a crossbow pointed at Blaz. In the day's dying light, it was hard to pick out details, but two more crossbow-wielding goblins could be seen crouching behind bushes on either side of the road, and from the trees and brush, there was rustling and an ominous crack as a stick broke underfoot. "My name is Skar, and it's time to pay the Hark's Tax! You're outnumbered and surrounded, and if no one tries anything, no one gets hurt! We'll be taking your gold, your jewels, and, oh yeah, we'll be taking those turnips!" Skar added with a wicked snigger.
OOC: Goblins are ~40 feet away to the front and sides and in concealment.
Samophlange recognized the ruse immediately. He had, after all, seen it done a dozen times. As far as stratagems go, "the Taxman" was hardly the most elegant or original, but Samo couldn't deny its efficiency when sprung on an unsuspecting mark. Which he certainly was not. Samophlange knew very well that the goblins would be trying to exaggerate their numbers to scare the caravan into submission. From his vantage point at the back of the turnip wagon, there didn't seem to be very many goblins surrounding the caravan at all. Samo supposed they could be expertly camouflaged, but somehow he doubted that.
What's more, the star of this production—Skar—seemed oddly nervous for someone claiming to be in control of the situation, like he'd drawn a particularly bad hand at Three-Dragon Ante. Samo packed away his honeycake, strapped his hand crossbow to its holster, and slipped out of the wagon, making no particular attempt at staying unnoticed. He walked up to the next wagon over—Blaz's—and whispered, loud enough for the halfling to hear: "It's a bluff! Swear to Gond!"
"We'll be taking those turnips!" Eviler words have never been spoken, Juniper thought to herself in indignation. Then she noticed the crossbow aimed at the grumpy caravan leader - Blaz. She quickly fell on her belly attempting to hide from the view of the brigand. Something in the sounds that the robber's allies were making in the shrubbery sounded off. It reminded Juniper how she and her siblings in their adolescence scared a group of robbers away from the homestead by making loud noises as if the home was filled with partying folk. "There are not as many gobbos around as they want us to think!" She hissed while looking around for any of the traveling companions in the earshot.
Korrlan sat up to take notice of Skar, the menacing little goblin, whom demanded the traveller's food, gems, and gold. The young cleric drifted into his own thoughts, "Perhaps this goblinoid creature and his kin are starving. Perhaps they are only doing this as a means to survive, as we all need to..."
Distracted, Korr missed out on the context of Skar's threats and boasts. Somewhat lost, he turned to Brace. The oldest Splitbark brother had that look on his face, as if he'd called a friend's bluff during a game of poker. Korrlan offered Brace a grim nod and placed his hand on the handle of the heavy mace that lay to his side; he knew what would come next.
Sense Motive 24. He can certainly tell that Brace suspects the goblin is bluffing.
Brace nodded back to Korrlan, his expression now blank again. He had no mace at his side, nor any other weapon with which he was trained to fight. He felt for his father's dagger, however. He had never used it in combat before…. He readied himself at the back of the wagon, ready to act if he needed to, hoping to instinct.
Ilrien managed not to go for an arrow when a goblin started delivering threats, but she did turn to scan the woods. Just how many were there? And if it came to a fight, how many of the other travellers would fight, and how many would need to be protected?
Spot check 13
But Ilrien did not see anyone else in the woods, at least nearby and on her side of the road. The goblin bandits were clearly better at hiding than they were at sneaking, being small and practiced at the art, not to mention well-prepared for this ambush.
Surprised by the sudden threat on the road, Blaz had frozen, being shocked out of his thoughts but not into any kind of action. He was dully wondering if this was what Corkaury and Ombert had been confronted with, not orcs, but goblins. Was this Skar the one who had slain his sons? Then he heard words hissed his way, first the gnome insisting it was a bluff, then the lightfoot explaining why. Bolstered by the news, outraged that brave Corkaury, survivor of the Night of the Blood Moon, might've been felled by such trickery, a sudden burst of courage gripped his heart. Blaz would challenge them! Snatching up his crossbow and a small but hefty club, Blaz jumped out of his wagon, his boots raising dust in the dirt road. Wearing only tunic and breeches, he was middle aged and stout, and lack of appetite had robbed him of his plumpness and loosened his skin, but his heart was strong! Blaz marched up to Skar, shouting furiously "You damned goblin bastard! Did you murder my sons!"
But Skar, not cowed at all, cackled at the sight of him. "Oho, another half-man who wants to be a hero? They must've been your sons then! But then, they won't be your sons much longer. They won't even be halflings!" he crowed.
Confused and horrified, Blaz tensed, his hand clenched, the crossbow fired. And the bolt flew high over Skar's head. He ducked anyway, grinning madly. "Get him, Gvrag!"
With a great smash, a bush was ripped aside, and a massive bugbear barged out of the woods and rushed Blaz. One meaty hand seized him by the front of his tunic and yanked him high in the air. The other punched him in the gut.
"This half-man has looser skin than the others. We must be getting to the bottom of the barrel. Don't need to bring this one to the boss, do we, boys? Maybe we can have some fun!" The goblins sniggered and then Skar thrust the lit torch right into Blaz's feet, causing boots and breeches to smoulder. Blaz cried out in pain and frustration, and in grief that he'd failed his sons.
Skar turned back to the caravan and those watching in horror. "Hand over your riches now, and he won't suffer. Much. Or does anyone else want to be a hero?"
"Not for long!" Skar hissed, clutching his shoulder. "Shoot them!" Among the bushes on the sides of the road, crossbows flickered and snapped, bolts peppered the travelers, and the hiding goblin archers were revealed. One returned the hit to Ilrien, grazing her arm. Another shot went wide past Samophlange on the other side of the wagon. The other two saved their shots, for now.
Meanwhile, the bugbear thumped Blaz across the jaw, knocking him cold, and tossed him aside like a piece of trash. Gvrag had more worthy foes to fight now.
A crossbow bolt whizzed by Samo's head, burying itself in Blaz's wagon. "Hey! Watch it!" he yelled out instinctively as he made a mental note of where the exceptionally ugly goblin who had fired the bolt hid itself in the underbrush. Samophlange dove for the relative cover of a large rock five feet to his right and crouched down, putting stone between himself and his assailant. He drew his hand crossbow from its holster and fired on the biggest guy he could see—the bugbear. Samo knew from experience that disposing of the biggest guy quickly tended to make the other, smaller guys question their commitment to a particular fight. He called this "Samophlange's Biggest Guy Theory".
"Fighting was... certainly not a regular occurrence on the curriculum. However... the Revered Mother, before she passed, would bless us with words of wisdom, should our hands be forced."
Without saying any more solely to Brace, Korrlan rushed to the wagon ahead of him and climbed upon it. The young cleric raised his voice, and his holy symbol into the air, and called out to Ilmater, the One Who Endures. "The red cord that binds our hands shall snap, freeing them from their confinement. So seize that bow, unsheathe that sword, or reveal that dagger, and strike those that would cause needless suffering!"
OOC: Korrlan moves to E15 (using full movement), and casts bless.
Brace had no idea how his presence on the battlefield would be at all helpful, but he could not sit idly by while others suffered, and he felt a strange—almost supernatural—burst of courage on seeing his brother's and hearing his prayer to the Broken God. He flung himself out of the front side of the wagon and rushed past Korr to take cover behind the lead wagon, (close to the funny-looking little man from the turnip wagon whom he had heard called Master Skuttelgadget or something.) He fingered the array of flasks and vials on his belt, wondering if any of them might have an unexpected use in the near future.
Brace uses a hustle/double movement to get to G12 or nearabouts.
Biggest Guy he may be, but Gvrag wasn't any easier to hit, not when Samophlange planted his crossbow bolt in the dirt between his boots instead. "Ha!" one the goblins jeered. "You couldn't hit the broad side of a bugbear!"
"Like you can talk. You missed the gnome." his fellow pointed out, switching to the Goblin language.
"Yeah, but gnomes are smaller." the other insisted.
"They're as big as us!" He fired his own crossbow, but the bolt clattered off the milestone the gnome was cowering behind. "He's behind a rock." he pointed about before his mate could. [Goblin #2 attack 21, miss]
In any case, Samophlange had gotten the Biggest Guy's attention—Gvrag was now looking his way and loosening his spiked flail.
"Focus, you lot!" Skar hissed to his companions, then took off, dashing swiftly past the wagons in an attempt to answer his attacker. An elf archer would ruin anyone's day, leastwise his. He was still clutching the burning torch, trailing smoke and cinders behind him, so he thrust it at the elf to burn and dazzle her. [Skar: charges to C13, attack 6, misses Ilrien]
Meanwhile, Korrlan got everyone's attention by climbing atop a wagon and exhorting the travelers to action and courage with his prayer, the inspiring display was only slightly undercut by the sight of him standing on a heap of turnips. Somewhere, the Crying God would be chuckling.
Then one of the goblins answered with a crossbow bolt, the point ratting painfully on the priest's scale mail. [Goblin #1 attack 16, hit, damage 4 @ Korrlan]
Map Updates: Samophlange in I10. Korrlan in E15. Brace in G12. Ilrien revised to C14. Skar charged to C13. BTW, wagons provide cover, at least when not standing on top of them.
"It looks like the tall hairy one is the boss." Juniper murmured to herself as she crawled forward to the front of the wagon to see the foul-smelling bugbear better. The halfling focused on Skar, mumbling incantations and making several quick hand gestures towards the raid leader. "Let's make you feel hot and bothered!" She snickered as the Weave shimmered in her hands.
OOC: Skar -> Fortitude save. On fail - 11 non-lethal damage + fatigue. On save successes - 1/2 damage.
To Skar's senses, the burning torch in his hand seemed to burn hotter and brighter, making his orange skin redden and his head swim. Then, with an accusing snarl of "Magic!", he dropped the torch and shook off the effects. [Skar Fort save 15, success. Takes 5 nonlethal damage.]
Ilrien stepped back, away from the fire and the annoying goblin. A bit early to have to do this—but necessary—she called on her own magic, and the twilight shadows flowed over her body like a shroud before forming armor and a shield. Takes a five-foot step back and uses her Steel Shadows mystery, AC is now 18.
In the Goblin tongue, Skar spat a curse and shouted orders to his fellows, calling them out to aid him. "Down bows! Close in! Take the gnomes and halflings alive!" One descended the slope and came up behind his leader, before clearly trying to circle around Ilrien. [Goblin #3 double-moves to B14]
On the other side of the road, another goblin had the same idea, creeping out of the woods and around the milestone to get behind Samophlange. [Goblin double-moves to #J11]
Their tactic soon become terribly clear: unhooking his vicious spiked flail and whirling it around, Gvrag the bugbear charged right at the cornered gnome! He might not have been trying to kill Samophlange, but the distinction was moot as that heavy mass of metal slammed into his leather armor, winding him badly. [Gvrag charges to H9, flanking; attack 15, nonlethal damage 4 @ Samophlange]
As the spiked flail connected with his body, momentarily knocking the breath out of his lungs, Samo realized he had attracted far more attention than he'd ever wanted from a bugbear. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw a goblin creeping up right behind him as well. Apparently today was not a good day for the "hide behind a rock" stratagem that had served him so well in the past.
Samophlange deftly stepped away from both goblinoid assailants, toward the lead wagon, and used the modicum of space this bought him to reload his hand crossbow. He fired on the hulking bugbear once more, hoping to prove his theory.
Samophlange 5-foot-steps to H11 and reloads his crossbow. To hit Gvrag: 13 + 6 = 19 19 hits. Damage: 2.
"Gah!" Korrlan cried, as the crude crossbow bolt pierced his armor, drawing a thick line of blood. Almost mirroring the action of his goblin assailant, he let loose a crossbow bolt of his own towards him. But the reflected image would not be identical, as Korr's projectile would miss its target, and by no small amount. "By the Twice-Martyred, how can our aim not be true, even after Ilmater's blessing..."
The cleric leaped over the side of the right side of the wagon and took cover. "So He has left me, first in life, and now in... death. Gods be damned-", he began to murmur, but quickly halted the blasphemous thought.
Brace was fuming with a mixture of emotions and confusion at what was ensuing; it was hard to think clearly. Instinctively, his hand moved from his vials to his dagger—his father's dagger—and imagined an image of it plunging into the face of the pointed-eared beast that had shot his only living family member. But then he remembered the lessons of his master, Luth, to whom he had so long been apprenticed, lessons about pausing for a moment to think about the most tactical solution to a problem before acting. He had less than a moment, but the little goblin was certainly less important than the big hairy one. His hand returned to one of the vials and freed it from its pouch. Poking out from behind the corner of the wagon, he let it fly.
Breaking open against the bugbear's broad and bleeding chest, the vial released a soporific gas that immediately overwhelmed him. Gvrag snuffled and yawned, and swayed and swooned, and finally went down like a felled tree, hitting the dirt with a thud and very nearly crushing Samophlange. [Gvrag fortitude save 8, fail. Goes nigh-nighs.]
"You're done for, elf!" Skar spat and unhooked his small spike-headed morningstar. He advanced and swung at Ilrien—it should've been a hit, but the head was deflected by shadowy yet strong armor. "Get behind her!" he said in Goblin to his mate. [Skar: attack 15, misses Ilrien]
The other two goblins remained in the cover of the woods, where it seemed safer. One suffered a misfire with his ramshackle crossbow, but the other had much more success, putting another bolt in Korrlan. [Goblin #1 attack 21, damage 2 @ Korr. Goblin #2 rolled a 1, miss.]
Trying to remain unharassed, Juniper saw the bugbear swing at the gnome fella and hit! The halfling quickly closed her eyes and started chanting another spell. Suddenly the sound of broken glass and falling bugbear body snapped her out of concentration. "...Did I do that?... I must be a better sorceress than I thought to be!" She quickly looked around and turned her attention to the goblin leader once again. She shouted the final words of the spell and pointed her finger at Skar. A single pulsing globule of concentrated magic few out of Juniper's finger and crashed into Skar's back.
Ilrien takes another swift step back, raising her longbow once more- only to fumble it and drop the arrow instead of firing it. "Cleric, you might wish to rethink grandstanding on top of a pile of roots." Ilrien takes a five-foot step back, then fires: 6 to hit, clear miss.
Suddenly slammed in the back, Skar was winded and left reeling, unable to make his legs walk and his arms move at the same time. "Ow!" he complained, more annoyed than agonized. Still, he was not so stricken that he could not dodge the elf's next arrow. [Skar: staggered, limited single actions only]
Meanwhile, the third goblin ran around and behind Ilrien, passing easily under the head of a horse. Then he took a low swing at her legs with his morningstar, managing to penetrate her umbral armor. It wouldn't take long to corner her and kill her. [Goblin #3 moves to C17. Attack 18, damage 3 @ Ilrien]
While Gvrag snored noisily, the fourth goblin called out "Boss! Gvrag's down!" and bravely jumped forward to avenge the bugbear. He swung his morningstar at Brace, but the apothecary only just evaded it. [Goblin #4 moves to H12. Attack 12, miss]
As the bugbear fell over in a cloud of gas, Samo spotted his opening. He took a quick step closer to the toppled behemoth, coincidentally putting him back next to the rock he'd hid behind earlier. He reloaded his crossbow and fired it at the goblin that was harassing Samo's gassy savior. Samophlange 5-foot-steps to I10 and reloads his crossbow. To hit goblin #4: 8 + 7 = 15 15 hits. Damage: 1.
Korrlan saw a morningstar smash into the moon elf to his left, and a split second later, a jagged bolt coursed towards him. Again, the barbed quarrel hit its mark, though Korrlan did not cry out, but instead endured. With a quiet chant to Ilmater, he placed his hand on his chest, and a wave of divine healing washed over him. Korr had to draw Skar and the other mangy goblin away from Ilrien if he was to get her to safety. Spotting a concealed area, the cleric hurtled towards it, and ducked behind the large rock. Hopefully that would stop him from receiving a third crossbow bolt!
OOC: Korrlan casts cure light wounds: 1+1 + 1 (healing domain) + 2 (augmented healing) to gain 5 HP. Korrlan moves from E15 to G17. Path: E15 -> F16 (5 ft), F16 -> G16 (5 ft), G16 -> G17 (10 ft) due to elevation increase. Full movement used.
Brace did not expect his target to come to him, but it had lunged at him with a crude-looking spiked stick or something. With instincts that he did not know he had, he lunged back and released his weapon. At the same time, he heard a muffled low twang from around the corner of the wagon. Brace's blade made a single circle in the air and stuck point-in to the goblin's forehead, as a quarrel drove into the creature from the side. Brace drew his second dagger before he saw whether the little monster was dead or no. Instead, he glance over his right shoulder expecting to see his brother grimacing in pain, hunched in the cover of the turnip wagon. However, the young cleric was not cowering or hiding; he was risking himself to save the injured fey woman who had been traveling with them. "Korr?" he called out again, impressed with his brother's courage.
Struck by both a crossbow bolt and a flung dagger, the goblin was spun left and right, then dropped to the dirt. [Goblin #4 downed]
Seeing the priest jump off the turnip cart and run for the treeline, Skar sneered "So, the cleric is a coward! Let's deal with this broken elf, then with him." Though he might be battered himself, he felt in better shape than her. And he wanted to avenge her attack on him earlier. Skar lunged forward, trapping Ilrien between him, his partner, and the wagon, and made a surprise swing at her knees—and was thwarted again as his wicked morningstar was deflected by her shadowy armor. "Damn your booyahg!" he hissed. [Skar 5-foot-step to C15, flanking, attack 17, miss]
Meanwhile, no longer able to let a clear shot, the goblin crossbowmen in the woods stole down the slope and ventured down the road, exchanging their crossbows for morningstars. One ran past Blaz's wagon and appeared behind Brace, ready to hit him in the back! [Goblin #1 double-moves to E11.]]
The other hurried to the fallen bugbear's side, frantically checking on his fellow and trying to wake him! "Hey, Gvrag! You okay? Wake up. Wake up!" [Goblin #2 moves to I8. Checks on bugbear]
OOC: Map updates: Samo in I10, Korr in G17, Brace in F12. Goblin #1 in E11. Goblin #2 in I8. Goblin #4 unconscious & bleeding.
Crouching over the bugbear, his focus on waking him, the goblin could not dodge the crossbow fired from high above. The bolt struck him in the back, and he collapsed over his partner in crime. Gvrag stirred, made a grumpy yawn, rolled over, and went back to sleep. [Juniper hits Goblin #2, knocked out]
When Ilrien's clumsy blow failed to connect, she felt a pain shoot up her battered leg; the goblin's strike had been bad. She blacked out and collapsed, her world becoming the darkness she commanded. [Disabled at 0 hp and taking a strenuous action, Ilrien loses 1 hp, and is unconscious and bleeding at −1 hp]
"Ha! Typical elf, got no staying power! Now, get after that coward priest!" Skar ordered his comrade, especially since he was close to collapse himself. Being on the other side the wagons, he was unaware he'd already lost half his gang.
The goblin looked uncertain, but Skar did not, so he nodded grimly and turned and rushed after the priest, morningstar raised over his head. The priest had already climbed the slope into the woods, but not out of reach, and the goblin warrior delivered a brutal swing at his knees. [Goblin #3 charges to F17, attack 19, damage 4 @ Korrlan]
Blue: PCs. S: Samophlange; I: Ilrien; B: Brace; K: Korrlan; J: Juniper Red: enemies: S: Skar; G: Gvrag; 1–4: Goblins White: neutrals & unconscious. B: Blaz; H: Horse Boxes: wagons of one kind or another Black splotches: trees (light cover, +2 AC, +1 Reflex); Gray shading: undergrowth (concealment 20%); White spots: small rocks and turnips; Contour lines: elevation to difficult terrain (half movement).
Korrlan laid his back against a large, mossy rock, and became concealed by the dense foliage of the region. There's no way he'd be hit this time! Gaining confidence, he swiftly withdrew his heavy mace and shield. Korr had hoped that he would not be struck by another bolt, and indeed, a bolt never came. Perhaps Ilmater was smiling upon him for luring the truculent little goblinoid away from Ilrien, who now only faced off against Skar. His companions would be able to make it in time to help the elven woman, the young cleric convinced himself.
Korr couldn't catch a break. As he was about to surprise the incoming goblin, the spiked end of a morningstar slammed into his head from above, badly injuring him. "How?!" he called out. With the remaining faith (and health!) he had, he raised his masterwork mace into the air, and cried, no, he pleaded to Ilmater. "We have suffered, we have endured. By the Broken God, the Rack-Broken Lord, allow me to become your beacon! By He who dwells in Martyrdom, and to He whom the oppressed and enslaved call out to, guide my hand, to smite this creature!" For a moment, the clouds parted, shining light upon the young Neveren cleric. Korr struck down with utmost confidence and power, but his strike couldn't have gone wider. It was if a higher power was playing with him...
OOC: To hit with masterwork mace: 1 + 2 + 1 (masterwork) + 1 (bless): Critical miss! Korr has missed every attack, and has been struck almost every round. He is badly injured.
Samophlange was quite pleased with himself as he stood surrounded by unconscious foes when yet another goblin fell to the ground, impaled by that strange halfling lass's crossbow bolt. Yes, Samo thought, I am a real adventurer. Goblins and bandits beware! Turning to survey the scene behind him, Samophlange saw another goblin rushing that moody priest who'd traveled in the wagon behind him. He instinctively reloaded his hand crossbow and fired, supremely confident that his bolt would strike true. Samophlange reloads and fires on goblin #3. To hit: 18 + 3 + 1 (bless) + 1 (racial bonus) - 4 (firing into melee) = 19 19 hits. Damage: 3.
Swaying backward, the goblin easily evaded Korrlan's wild and hopeless swing, but this left him exposed to the crossbow bolt that scored the back of his armor. Recovering, he snarled something in Goblin, raised his crude morningstar again—then suddenly flung his arms wide and arched his back as Brace plunged the point of a dagger into it. [Goblin #3 at 0 hp, Disabled]
The other goblin had taken a clumsy swing at Brace, being too surprised by his sudden rush away. It hurt him to see the human strike his comrade, and wanted to go to help, but realized a better way to salvage this failing ambush. Spying the large wagon wheel, he set one big foot on a spoke, then reached a lanky arm up for the shutter. Soon, grubby yellowish fingers curled around the roof of the wagon... [Goblin #1 climbs up side of wagon].
Peering around and above the turnip wagon, Skar saw how the battle was faring: badly. The bugbear and two of his men were down, him and another nearly so. Hekkut had been wrong, this was no easy hit. He hadn't expected there to be adventurers. But, by Maglubiyet, he wasn't going to run like a coward. "Yeah, nah, not going to happen." he called back over the wagon. Quickly, he grabbed the stricken elf and dragged her behind the wagon with him; he was disappointed not to find any potions or booyahg he could use on her. "Give up your weapons, or the elf gets it!"
OOC: No new map this round, as there's not much to change. Brace moved to F16.
Seeing a gnarly goblin invading her hiding place, Juniper briefly considered showering him with magics. Instead she decided to help the woman in trouble. The halfling purged another arcane incantation out of her mind, sending another bolt of energy at Skar.
OOC: Magic missile at Skar 1+1=2 damage.
Without giving the rude and invasive goblin rip at her new fancy coat, Juniper plummeted off the wagon and dashed away from danger.
OOC: Moving to E15, assuming this is the farthest I can go with jumping off the wagon.
At the weird words of magic, Skar reacted, closing both hands around the shaft and bringing the wickedly spiked morningstar crashing down at the elf's unwitting face—just as another bolt of force blasted into his side, breaking a rib and knocking him aside. [Skar hit, knocked unconscious! Ilrien saved!]
Juniper jumped down from the wagon, but as she landed she rolled her ankle on the dirt road. Still, it seemed better than being brained by a goblin bandit. [Juniper Jump check 12, nonlethal damage 3]
Hearing his leader brought low, trapped between the two brothers and on his last breaths, the third goblin went for one last, desperate swing, battering Brace with his crude iron morningstar. And after that effort, he collapsed, unconscious and bleeding out. [Goblin #3 attack 18, damage 3 @ Brace. Loses 1 hp and unconscious]
That left one last goblin, clinging to the side of the wagon and rapidly reassessing his options...
Seeing his target go down, felled by a combination of his bolt and that apothecary's dagger, Samophlange glanced over his immediate surroundings and saw no goblinoids left standing. He was elated—Samo had fought thugs of all creeds and sizes on the streets of Athkatla, but never a genuine band of goblin bandits. He had never even seen a bugbear before; how exotic! It was just like the stories he'd read in chapbooks. Recalling a scene from one of them—The Hobgoblin Prince—Samo knew better than to let sleeping bugbears lie. He moved closer to the sleeping hulk, reloaded his crossbow, and pointed it at the bugbear's temple. Samophlange 5-foot-steps to I9 and reloads.
Glad for his companions' assistance, Korrlan scooted past the unconscious goblin and rushed down the hill towards the moon elf's aid. He would usually check for danger and try to get a response from his patient before acting, but there was no time for this.
Reaching the bottom of the hill, he quickly skidded to his knees, and carefully raised Ilrien's angular chin. Checking the airway, only the lightest of breaths were to be heard. Her leg was battered; Korr would have to be at his best if he were to stop the continuous flow of blood. He applied great pressure to her slender limb, and applied a bandage. The bleeding would continue, however. Korr reached a hand over his back, and ripped off his Ilmatari cloak. Wrapping it around Ilrien, and maintaining the optimal amount of pressure, the bleeding finally stopped. Color returned to the elven lass, and her breathing became stable.
Korrlan was glad to have eased Ilrien's suffering, and was also glad to have taken suffering upon himself. However, this wasn't enough for the young, puzzled cleric; he wanted to inflict it.
OOC: Korrlan uses the Heal skill to perform First Aid on Ilrien (DC 15). Heal check: 7 + 4 [Heal skill bonus] + 4 [Wisdom bonus] = 15. Ilrien is now stable!
Brace followed behind Korrlan to the body of the fallen elf and paused near his brother as Korr dropped to his knees and began ripping cloth from his clerical robes. "Korr, yes, help the elf maiden, but you need healing yourself." While speaking, Brace spotted another yellow goblin hanging from the side of the lead wagon, and then he felt the moisture from his own blood seeping into his shirt. That last goblin had struck him soundly, and only now did he realize that its weapon's jagged iron points had punctured his skin at the ribs. In the heat of battle, he had not even noticed the pain.
Better strike this other one before it gave a similar blow to him or someone else. He threw his second dagger, but a sharp pain in his chest when he did so caused his throw to veer right and strike the side of the wagon instead.
Move to B14 and speak as free action Ranged attack w/ dagger: 6 + 3 + 1 (point blank) + 1 (bless) = 11: miss
Lek, the last goblin still in the fight, flinched as the dagger thudded into the wood beside him. That was it! Immediately abandoning his attempt to climb the wagon, as it was pointless now, he dropped off the side and landed in the dirt. A quick look around told him the others had fallen, to be captured or killed by the humans and halflings. There was nothing he could do for his mates now, but they might still get a rescue or revenge, so he turned and ran as fast as he could into the woods, crashing through undergrowth and scrambling up the slope. He had to get away from the adventurers! He had to find and warn Hekkut, and then he had to get away from Hekkut!
OOC: Samo in I9, Korr in D16, Brace in B14. Goblin #1 in -11.
Recalling another line from The Hobgoblin Prince, Samophlange dramatically proclaimed to no one in particular: "Ilmater forgives. I do not." And pulled the trigger on his crossbow. Samophlange coup-de-graces Gvrag for 2 + 3 + 2 (sneak attack) = 7 damage.
With a sick crunch, the bolt pierced the bugbear's skull, and his brain. Gvrag grunted and died in his sleep, but in his dreams he was marched off to Hruggek's realm for an everlasting life of furious ambushes and glorious battles. [Fort save 3, rolled a 1; Gvrag dies]
The redhead halfling pulled herself off the ground. Sharp pain pierced her ankle and she almost ended up back in the dirt. Juniper used her crossbow as a walker and wobbled to Samophlange, who singlehandedly defeated the sleeping bugbear. "Good job! This one looked quite scary. Reminded me of my aunt too, but she was more hairy." The halfling pulled her crossbow bolt from the goblin she shoot earlier, took out rope, and started tying him up.
Meanwhile, ahead on the road, Blaz awoke with a pained groan, then spat out blood and a lone tooth. All his bones and bits ached, his feet were burning—and were still burning, his boots and breeches cuffs smouldering and smoking. With a start, he sat up and yanked the boots off, batting out the flickering flames. But his urgency gave away to anger and frustration, leaving him just hammering the road and finally sobbing in grief. He'd done nothing but get himself hurt, he'd done nothing to help his sons. What had that goblin said? Told him his sons were alive, taunted him with some terrible fate in store for them. And he could do nothing.
Ilrien blinked as she returns to consciousness, then sits up. She looks at the unconscious goblins, then at the two nearby humans. "I suppose I have you to thank for the medical aid?" She said, directing her words at the one wearing what she thought is a holy symbol.
"Indeed. I cannot ease your suffering any more, for first aid can only do so much" he stated, "and I don't have much more divine magic spells to cast". Korrlan briefly looked around to see if anyone else needed care. "Brother, did anyone fall in the battle?" he mumbled.
"You nearly did. I nearly did. But, no, all of us were spared. We are kept alive to suffer longer, I think, or perhaps…. No, I make too much of a random event.
"Your powers inspired me, Korr, and a few of the others with us. Know that. I see the redheaded halfling and the gnome from the turnip wagon still walking about, and they too joined in the fight. I see even Braz has not fallen. Think you that there be tonandurr bark about? His feet will benefit from it."
"I'm glad my powers did something, but it was your quick thinking that really saved our hides", Korr admitted. "After you put the bugbear to sleep, the others picked off those wretched goblins one by one. Perhaps you got a bit of mother's spark, after all?"
"Tonandurr trees around here? I suppose it is possible, but certainly not any further north! The hospital back in Neverwinter would ship it from Baldur's Gate to the south, though there were one or two trees that grew in local greenhouses. Let's reconvene with the others, I reckon they know more about the area."
Korrlan slowly walked in the direction of the curious gnome and the halfling spellcaster.
With a gunt of pain, Brace got himself back to his feet to follow his brother, giving a quick nod to the injured elf to assure her that they would be returning. Then he said, "Do not forget your own need, Brother! We must pull those quarrels from your body."
Humming contentedly to himself, Samophlange put his finger to the wind and quickly deduced where the one bolt that hadn't hit its mark went—in the ground not far from where the bugbear had first appeared on the road, then picked it up. Along the way, he also collected a ramshackle light crossbow from one of the downed goblins. He returned to the lead wagon, his brow furrowed as he carefully weighed and inspected his new crossbow. The halfling spell-slinger who had bailed him out earlier said something about her hairy aunt, interrupting his careful calculations. He simply smiled, put forward his hand, and said "Thank you. Samophlange Skitterwidget, adventurer, at your service." Gesturing toward the goblin she was tying up, he continued, "Do you do this kind of thing often?"
"Juniper Churlgo, a sorceress of some renown" the halfling shook the gnome's hand. She finished tying up the goblin up and replied to Samophlange's question "A girl doesn't kiss and tell." The goblin was now wrapped in sturdy hempen rope and tied up with a pretty bow. "Did you search the hairy big'un?"
Without waiting for a response, she grabbed the unconscious goblin by the ears and started pulling him towards the rest of the caravaneers and their pile of knocked-out bandits.
The halfling moved away before Samophlange could respond, so he simply said "Sure..." and took another look at the "big'un". Spying the bugbear's crude-looking morningstar, he briefly considered picking it up but quickly decided not to, then hurried after Juniper, grabbing the goblin she was dragging by the feet to help lighten the load. "Didn't find anything," he explained, "just a load of junk."
"Ah, yes." Korr uttered, looking down at the weighted shaft of one of the crossbow bolts, "The magical healing helped force the bolts out, but... I could do with a hand with this one". Before forgetting another detail, he turned to his older brother. "Remember that time when we were but youths, and you helped me pull out a splinter? Yeh, please don't say “Brace yourself ”... this time!" He thought back to when he and Brace were young and full of hope. Simpler, easier times.
Brace could not help but chuckle a little at his younger brother's joke and reference to their youth. They ultimately had their father to thank for the pun—and Brace's name. Father had always told Brace that the reason for his non-Illuskan name was that he had told Mother to brace herself in the final moments of birth pangs before he arrived in the world. She had slapped him then for his failed attempts to comfort her, but they laughed about it afterward and named him the Common word instead of after his great-grandfather, the original plan. Korrlan received that name instead.
By the time he had remember this story in full, the two of them had removed the quarrel. The other shortly followed.
Brace then moved away from his brother, as the latter applied pressure to the wounds. The apothecary walked to the dagger stuck in the side of the wagon and retrieved it. He stared at the bloody blade for a moment, in thought, then moved to the fancier dagger still protruding from the other goblin's skull. Placing his foot upon the smaller creature's chest, he yanked it out, then wiped the blood off both daggers on the grass.
He was standing near the gnome now. "You seem to be an adventurer, saer gnome," he said. "What is the proper thing to do with these bodies? Do we burn them? or bury them?"
Ilrien pushes herself up, then sits back against the wagon. Watching two humans- surely kin of some kind- walk away and tend their wounds. She tried to ignore the pain that shot up her leg when she moves, instead expending the effort to retrieve her bow...Ow. She looks down at her wound, then looks away. Ah-ah, ow. Perhaps just watching and listening was the better path now.
"An adventurer?" Samophlange replied to the apothecary, "uhh, yes. Yes, I am." He paused, trying to remember the proper procedure for dealing with bandit corpses. In Athkatla corpses tended to just disappear on their own, or they might get shoved into the canal lest the city watch find them. He suddenly remembered a scene from another chapbook, a romance titled The Vampires of Crimmor wherein a traveling Waukeenar priest conquers the undead... and love. "We should notify the clergy in the next town over so they can burn the bodies and consecrate the ground" Samophlange said with confidence, quite pleased with himself.
"Don't be silly, gnome-friend! We don't even have all the bodes dead yet!... Are we adventurers now?! This is exciting!" Juniper cheerfully exclaimed and proudly presented a neatly tied goblin with a bow. "He does feel quite wet though, he might be bleeding." The halfling looked around and sized the humans and a hurt elf. "Greetings! Juniper Churlgo, a sorceress of some renown. Charmed, I'm sure." She curtsied at the group of strangers in front of her. Wobbled on her hurt ankle with a smile that did not leave her face.
"A clergy you say, do you know of which deity?", Korrlan said, interested. He had hoped to meet with other Ilmatari priests, now that the Revered Mother and his colleagues had passed or had been left behind. Maybe he'd even meet a Twice-Martyred! Intrigued, he introduced himself. "I'm Korrlan Splitbark, one of the Adorned." He reached for his cloak to show the symbol of Ilmater, but remembered he had ripped it off to quell the elf's bleeding. "Let us four check on the elf, and then the halfling."
Forgetting to introduce himself, Brace walked with the others back toward Ilrien. He pointed at Skar's nearby limp form and said to the halfling lass in a serious tone, "You should tie up the leader as well; he still breathes. I expect to see a bow on him too."
Then he said to the others, "I am going to see if I can find any tonandurr; I do not know if I will recognize the tree, as I have only dealt with the bark, but maybe Tymora will smile on me. Do any of you know it?"
Survival check: 16 + 5 + 2 (circumstance bonus) = 23 (+2 bonus if anyone assists vs. DC 10) vs. DC 15: success
"Adorned in what?" The halfling wizard looked at the priest inquisitively. Juniper moved to the incapacitate goblin leader and poked him in the face. "Are we sure he's still alive? He looks paler than my great aunt was when she found out her daughter was knocked up." She grabbed Skar by his foot and started dragging him closer to the tied up goblin (that's where the rope was). "It would be so much easier if we just cut his tendons or crack his kneecaps. This guy is heavy like a well-fed calf!"
By this time, the other folk in the caravan, at the waist and rear of the line, had begun climbing out of their coaches and crawling out from under their wagons, full of relief to find they still had their lives and livelihoods. And they were thankful. Tentatively, they approached the heroes of the hour, though not so close as to get in the way of treating wounds or tying up goblins, though some helped to drag the bodies off to the side of the road, and they called out their gratitude. "Thank you! Thank you so much!" and "You saved us! You're heroes!"
Feeling overlooked and alone with his despair, Blaz at last picked himself up off the road and limped on bare and burnt feet back to his wagon and the elf lass who'd tried to save him. Her quiet defiance was the last thing he'd seen and heard before being knocked out. Now, it looked like she'd paid for that as badly as he had, if not worse. "Thank you." he said to her, softly and simply but emphatically.
He might have said more, but his attention was taken by the confident claims of the gnome and lightfoot. "You're adventurers?" he exclaimed as he turned to then, pleading hopefully "Please, you have to rescue my sons! Didn't you hear that goblin? They're still alive!"
Brace paused from entering the woods when the halfling approached them. "These three may be adventurers, but we are but a priest of Ilmater and a merchant and failed apprentice to an alchemist." He motioned to himself and his brother. "We might be able to treat your feet, but…. I want to help your sons, but we are not warriors of any sort. What could we do?"
Juniper finished tying the two goblins together with her trusty hempen rope. The hin wizard looked at her work. Skar's restraints - shabby work. The bow looked flaccid, and now the rope was stained with the other goblin's oozing bodily fluids. She looked up at the pleading halfling, and her mind quickly darted to Eustachia, her dear sweet little sister. A mere thought of having her kin being held hostage by dirty unwashed evil bandits boiled the little spellcaster's blood more than the first time she felt the arcane magics sizzle up her insides. "An old beardy sheepherder in Shadowdale once told me - There are only two precious things on earth: the first is love; the second, a long way behind it, is intelligence." Juniper looked around, waiting for a reaction. "Adventurers or not (but we sure as Hells are), any goodly creature, I think, should try their best to help. Look at the man. He has nowhere else to turn..." Juniper shook her disheveled mane of hair that looked like she had flames scorching her scalp in the last rays of the bright red evening sun. She was surprised to care so much for the fellow halfling.
There it was. The call to adventure, just like in the chapbooks. Samophlange felt an excited twinge in his stomach. He was technically supposed to be headed to Loudwater to conduct his business—that was the entire reason he was here, after all. Still, his instructions didn't come with an exact time schedule, nor did they mandate exactly how he was supposed to accomplish his task. Samo was sure he could afford to spend a day or two indulging himself with some more heroic adventuring. What could possibly go wrong? "I agree with my colleague here," he blurted out excitedly, "it is our duty as goodly folks to help out." He grinned, imagining the dangers ahead, the vast goblin treasure trove he could plunder, and the boastful stories he could tell in the Copper Coronet once he got back.
Korr thought to himself, "brother is right. We aren't adventurers, but maybe that is what we're about to become". He nodded at the enthusiastic gnome's assessment and said aloud "it certainly is our duty as goodly, and godly, folks to help out these halflings". He entered his turbulent thoughts once more, "this act would allow us to rescue and ease the suffering of Blaz's kin. Or better yet... inflict it on their captors ourselves". Korr faced his companions, new and old. "Let us set off on this task, but first we all need to rest".
"I shall help in what way I can, though I am doubtful that I can add much.
"Perhaps we can follow the goblin that got away, but what can you tell us about when and where they were taken? Was it earlier, on another journey down this very road? How is it that these bandits seem to have known you? Why was it that they seemed only to care about taking little folk like yourselves alive and slaying the rest?"
Ilrien keeps an eye on the movement around her, as the others who fought gathered. Winced, when the halfling leader came and thanked her- she had not done so much as the rest- "You are welcome."
As for the others who stand and chattered, she was silent. The gnome seems entirely too cheerful, though the rest are more appropriately serious. The simple plea, though, and the cleric's words ring true as a call to protect. And, perhaps, a lead in her search.
Blaz looked back and forth between them, as some declared they were adventurers and others denied it. But those were bloody wounds and bloody weapons he'd seen, and they were folk who'd stepped up to do something, anything, rather than cower. What else could they be? He nodded, satisfied and grateful, when they all agreed to help, however they could.
But at all of Brace's questions, on things he'd been wondering himself for tendays, Blaz grew flustered, even angry, snapping "How would I know why the bloody goblins did it?" But he caught himself; anger would not help his sons. He sat down wearily on the step at the back of his wagon, feeling relieved to get off his burnt feet. "Would you big folk rather drag a giant around or someone your own size? I don't know. But they took them, alive, for some awful reason." he said morosely.
Blaz let out a heavy sigh, and began his sorrowful story, but it seemed hard to get all the parts in the right order. "It was a few tendays back, the fourthday after the full moon. My sons Corkaury and Ombert, and my nephew Osco. They were with a Sweetwater Traders caravan, heading to Secomber to pick up some stock. It was attacked, probably right around these parts. I only heard about it after, from a rider. He said they attacked at night, that no one who survived got a good look at them, but it was probably orcs... I've been telling everyone it was the High Forest orcs." he admitted with a groan, rubbing a hand over his cheek in guilt. "Corkaury was a guard with the Red Boar Trading Coster—he fought the werecreatures on the Night of the Blood Moon, he had a silver sword given him by Stedd Rein himself. I know he fought those goblins, him and Ombert and Osco behind him." he said, eyes growing moist as he had to imagine their final moments yet again. "The rider said they couldn't be found after, and they couldn't hang around to look for, for bodies..." He glared hatefully at the prone and bound goblin Skar. "Seems he took them, instead, along with all the gold and goods. All just things to the likes of him."
""Oooh! Oooh!" Juniper bounced up with outstretched hand. "I once walked all over my mom's kitchen and tracked mud all over it. She gave me quite a whooping, calling me a dirt-tracker... Does this count?"
Samophlange's ears perked up as Blaz mentioned a familiar name. Yes, thought Samo, he had been right to volunteer his services. He might very well be able to pluck two turnips with one hand. Startled out of his daydreaming by the apothecary's question, Samo replied, somewhat flustered, "Uhh…, no. I once got lost in a root cellar." Samo gave a quiet sigh as he recalled the event. It hadn't even been a particularly large cellar.
Blaz was in no mood for humor, but he nodded and clasped his hands in gratitude. "Thank you," he said. "Thank you for trying."
But as much as they might want to go after the goblin right now, all of them had to accept they were too battered and too light on magic to risk facing the Hark's bandits again. Moreover, the sun was now setting, causing the trees to cast long deep shadows, and for unskilled eyes, tracking the goblin through the forest in twilight could be difficult, even dangerous. So, they would go on to the campsite, rest the night, and set off soon after sunrise. They left unspoken the grim realization that if the goblins had kept the halflings alive this long, then another day might not make too much difference.
With the bodies out of the way and travelers back on their wagons, the caravan rolled off once more, glad to leave the battle-site behind them. Another hour of travel with the sunset at their backs, and they'd arrived at the promised campsite. There was a wide, cleared campground, a spot for a fire ringed with rocks, supplies of brush and firewood, and logs and stumps to sit on. With a view to defense, the travelers circled the wagons and began to make camp under the twilight.
Brace helped his brother tend to the elf woman's wounds as others set up fires, and he rolled out his bedroll somewhat apart from the larger group, not in the mood to listen to the usual ghost stories and tales from the other travelers—not that he expected there to be such tales tonight.
Sitting on the rolled-out mat, he looked over the crude leather armor pieces that he had taken from the body of the fallen bugbear and one of the little goblins' crossbows and contemplated.
Samo spent the evening eating honeycakes, toying with his crude new crossbow, and re-reading a letter he retrieved from deep within his backpack. When nightfall came, he rolled out his bedmat and pillow and lay down gazing at the stars as he imagined his future career as a real adventurer. Tomorrow would bring new horizons and new stories to share with his compatriots back home. It would be a good day, he decided, as he drifted off to sleep.
As Brace moved away, Korrlan noticed that the dark-eyed elf was still uncomfortable, despite their efforts in tending to her wounds. The young cleric whispered a set of divine words, followed with a flick of the wrist, and then placed his palm over Ilrien's head. He was also badly injured himself, so he repeated the procedure twice to cure himself. Looking back, Korr saw his brother and the honeycake-scoffing gnome roll out their camping mats, and he quickly followed suit. He, however, joined neither Brace nor the other adventurers.
Korrlan sunk to his knees atop his mat, thought back to the recent past, and initiated a prayer to the Broken God:
Its flames spread across the entire city, but it was no fire.
Beings of flesh burned from inside and out, but there was no blaze.
For what I speak of is the Wailing Death, which rages more than any inferno.
I pray to you, Ilmater, to comfort those trapped in the confines of the city where winter never comes.
For if winter should come, all will be lost.
His mind still in turmoil, the youngest Splitbark tossed and turned, until he finally drifted off.
OOC: Korrlan casts cure minor wounds on Ilrien, curing 1 HP, and casts it twice on himself, curing 2 HP.
Ilrien was surprised, though accepting, of the two humans' attention. Surprised as well that so few others required a healer's care, though perhaps that made her own injuries worthwhile.
At the campsite, once the priest and, hopefully, most of the other adventurers were distracted by the dawning dark, she acted. Going over to the two bound goblins, she drew a knife and pointed it at them. "You two. You will answer my questions. Or I feed you both to red tigers."
Juniper had been glancing at the goblins every time she looked up from the spellbook—mostly because she did not want to lose her ropes if they managed to escape. With an immodest yawn, she put down the book and looked around. Juniper noticed the elven lass approach the prisoners. With a grunt, she got up from lying on her backpack and grabbed the quarterstaff. Approaching the elf she overheard a bit of the conversation. "You have red tigers?!" she squeaked.
With a lazy air, Skar opened one red eye and then the other and yawned in Ilrien's face with a gust of bad breath. In truth, he'd awoken some back—being bumped about while bound on the back of wagon would do that—and had watched his captors when he could and pretended to be asleep when he thought they might notice. He needed to learn all he could about them. He made a show of craning his head to peer around the elf and halfling. "I don't see any red tigers," he said, with a mocking curl of his lip and glint in his eye, "but if you find some, you go right ahead and do that." He called her bluff before closing his eyes and trying to snuggle back into the tree trunk he was tied to.
The other goblin had stared uncomprehendingly, evidently not even knowing Common.
Ilrien shifted to point the knife at Skar's face. Without changing expression, even at his quite frankly foul breath, she asked in an even voice, "Of course you do not see red tigers, no one does ere they strike. And they hunt in the night, not the burning day. So my first question: Where is your hideout, that prisoners are kept?"
"Invisible night red tigers?!" Juniper squeaked nervously looking around. "You better tell the tall lady everything she wants to know, shortrib! Something tells me the night tigers are hungry." The halfling looked at Ilrien, "Say, do you think your colorful night tigers would like a snack first? Maybe a goblin ear? Or a snapped-off magically frozen toe?"
Red eyes swivelled between the two, assessing their threats and likelihoods of carrying them out. They seemed almost serious. But if Skar was shaken, he wasn't one to show it. "Okay, you go into the woods, thataway." He looked around and nodded his head to the east. "Walk two hundred paces, or a hundred for you big folk, then draw a magic circle in the dirt, open a portal to the Hells, and you go there." He concluded with a smirk at Ilrien's expense. "Telling you is more than my life or soul is worth. So, your tigers better show up soon then. There's not much daylight left, and trust me, there are worse things than red tigers in these woods." Then he eyed Ilrien curiously. "Or do you turn into one? Full moon's still a few days away."
"If it's magic you want to see, I can help you!" Juniper cheerfully exclaimed. She quickly grabbed Skar's ear and mumbled a quick cantrip under her breath. With a spell incantation uttered, magical ice burst into the goblin's grotesque ear. Juniper pulled down, trying to break the frozen flesh.
OOC:Assuming Ray of Frost hits a restrained target: 3 cold damage
His big goblin ear was burned and blistered but still quite pliable. It wasn't nearly enough frost magic for what she'd had in mind. "Ow!" Skar yelped. "First you burn me, then you yank my ear? You're really bad at this, aren't you?"
Brace was trying—but failing—to sleep, so he heard the goblin's cry and rolled off his mat. He walked over to where the two women were talking with the raid leader. "What is happening here?" he asked quietly.
Ilrien stood up, saying to Brace, "I am questioning these two as to the location of their hideout, as well as the number of fellow bandits that might be there, and such-like. Juniper here overheard and is trying to help." She began to collect Skar and the rope. "But, since this one is uncooperative, I am going to string him up for the red tigers."
Juniper watched the goblins being hung up like two rotund young wheels of Waterdhavian cheese, ready to be aged and smoked. She realized she was starving, following all that adventuring she'd done today. The halfling asked Skar in decent Goblin language, "Do you happen to have any cheese stashed away in that pit of yours?" Oh! she quickly realized something and turned to the elf and human. "I completely forgot I know gobbo! The quiet one said something about a pit! With Tymora's luck, there might be some cheese there…." The halfling's stomach punctuated the statement with a loud growl, as fierce as any red tiger's.
"I am almost completely and unreservedly sure there's cheese! But I've never heard of goblins making cheeses. They probably stole it from innocent traveling merchants, those little miscreants! First they steal cheese, then they attack us for our lovely turnips…. What savages! Good taste though!" Juniper thought hard away from her stomach. "I believe the exact words were 'You didn't tell them about the pit, did you?' And then the loud-mouthed ice-ears here shushed him…."
Skar grunted a goblin curse, mostly about Juniper's mother. "You'll never find it!" he snarled, his defiance lessened somewhat by him dangling awkwardly from a rope. "You will only find vaws-hak if you try." They didn't really need Juniper to translate that—it meant "death".
"Sweet dreams." Juniper turned away and headed back to her studies. Quickly, she used her heels to draw a big arrow towards the goblins and wrote "free food" in Common… in case red tigers were real and literate.
Brace tossed and turned on his mat, unable to sleep. This was not new, but the lack of novelty made it no less annoying. Most of the others were sleeping now, he observed. He got up once again and returned to where the two goblins were hanging inverted. As an apothecary, he sometimes acted as a physician. He had no magical means of healing, as did his brother, but he knew that a human—and so likely a goblin—did not fare well inverted for long periods of time: too much blood rushed to one's head. He drew one of his daggers and cut the knot holding up Skar. The goblin tumbled unceremoniously—and likely painfully—to the ground, but he would not pass out and die at least. Brace felt no pity on the little beast, but he did not feel it right to make it suffer overly much either. He did the same with the other goblin. He turned to go back, a third time, to his bedroll.
Thudding into the dirt, Skar grunted and spat out a mouthful of it, before he rolled around into a seated position. He gave Brace a curt nod of acknowledgement, if not gratitude, then watched him go with narrowed eyes. He would test his bonds but could not find any way of loosening them, nor a sharp rock nearby.
That evening, the travelers took watches, with many pairs of eyes scanning the woods around under a gibbous Selûne, wary of escaping prisoners, vengeful goblins, forest monsters, and Ilrien's red tigers. They needn't have worried, however. The worst menace that night was a lone cricket, chirping persistently throughout the night, making it hard to get to sleep. And when they did, their sleep was troubled—at one point, Brace awoke with a short scream, but he passed it off as just a nightmare.
It would be easy to try to argue that they were not people, since they had yellowish skin and pointed ears and jagged teeth and barely passed my navel, but goblins have wives and families and jobs, do they not?
I would have expected to feel some regret or weight at taking life, but I feel no such thing. It is not just the fact that I was enranged when I did it, that I was trying to save my brother's life and those of the others in the caravan. No, I am not angry now; I have simply become immune to the shock of death. The blood, how was it any different than the oil of vitriol or liquid silver that I have bottled in Luth's laboratory? It is but a liquid made from the elements like all else; why should seeing it seep from a forehead as I remove my dagger mean anything to me? They tried to raid us; they died, as all persons do, and better that they die than us.
But is it better? Is it better to be alive? Why did I not simply let them take me, take us? Would that not be a faster way to join my Kethra? I cannot explain it, but still some part of me wants to go on, and I do not want to go on alone.
Korr is very shaken. He feels that the Broken God continues to abandon him, and I cannot blame him, for I agree. I tried to encourage him. Were it not for the power of his prayer at the beginning of the battle, never would I have left the wagon to fight. I envy his bravery, even in the midst of his doubts and anger.
He thinks that I played a greater role than I did, said that it reminded him of Mother. Pity I did not inheret her magical talents.
The small group of us who partook in the fighting to defend the caravan now find ourselves about to embark on a little mission together, at the request of Blaz. Three of the group seem already to have adventuring experience, but none of us are trackers. Two of them forced one of the goblin survivors to spill something about a "pit of death". Once packed, we shall head back up the road whither we were ambushed, thence to attempt to track the sole fleeing goblin whence he came, to find this pit.
Morning dawned, as did the time for Korrlan to meditate. He had neglected this period of quiet reflection as of late, for his mind had been overflowing with thoughts on how to justify his continued faith in Ilmater. Sitting upwards on his rollmat, Korr began to slow his breathing, until it became steady. For once, he entered a completely relaxed state. He had missed these tranquil moments.
Slipping away from serenity, Korr again reopened his annotated tome, which contained all he knew about the One Who Endures. Maybe with a fresh mind he would see a different perspective. "Chapter VII: The Orders," the intrigued priest softly said as he scanned through the contents. He had mostly read about the monastic and clerical Ilmatran organizations similar to his own. Such groups were the Order of the Golden Cup, who eased the suffering of others through the means of healing, and the Alleviators, who taught others how to deal with suffering. "Why alleviate suffering, when one can prevent it in the first place?" Korr muttered again, frustrated.
As the priest reached the latter half of the chapter, he raised an eyebrow. "Knightly orders? I'm no paladin!" he tittered. Korrlan had always been told by the Revered Mother not to bother with the second part of Chapter VII. Apparently, it simply wasn't relevant. He went to shut the book as he always had done at this point, but this time, he did not. Korr instead read on, and on, and on, until he reached the penultimate section, which detailed those of noble heart. These holy warriors made it their mission to hunt down those that would cause suffering. "Stop suffering before suffering occurs…," the cleric spoke, nodding understandably. A wave of enthusiasm overcame Korrlan, and he offered a prayer to Ilmater. This time, he would stop suffering in a different manner.
As soon as the sun had risen, the would-be adventurers readied themselves and set off, back down the road. Behind them, Blaz and the caravan continued on toward Loudwater; depending on how their quest turned out, they would catch up again on the road or meet up in Loudwater before Midsummer. The two goblin prisoners went with the caravan, for a meeting with the Loudwater militia.
The site of the attack was easily rediscovered, being marked by the goblin bodies. Rigor mortis and the first signs of decay had set in, and scavengers and insects had begun their gruesome work. They also found the place where the last goblin had fled and set off in that direction, but a single small goblin hacking the occasional branch didn't leave much of a trail to follow. They also had the tonandurr tree to find. Could they manage both?
Samophlange pinched his sensitive nose as they reached the site of yesterday's skirmish. Pursuing the lone goblin escapee's trail seemed like the logical thing to do, and it seemed his fellow goblin hunters agreed as they all moved to have a closer look. Samo, very excited at the prospect of more adventurous deeds, took up point. He wasn't much of a tracker—or even much of a woodsgnome for that matter—but he wasn't entirely unobservant either. With little in the way of visible signs to follow, Samo signaled for the group to halt and tried to engage all of his senses to better divine the goblin's direction, making a real show of it as he sniffed the air and held out his ear as if listening intently, all the while intensely scrutinizing the nearby area.
With his keen senses and keener curiosity, Samophlange picked out a number of telling signs: here a goblin footprint in soft earth, there a freshly hacked branch. It was enough to point them in the right direction, but the clues ran out as the goblin had stopped running madly and started being more careful. They could keep going and try to find this pit, or they could get lucky and find some other clue.
But first, they had a tonandurr tree to find. When Brace found a seed pod, he knew they were close. Searching the area, they found a few more and then the tree itself, tall and spindly amidst the birch. It stood in the center of an idyllic forest glade, where butterflies fluttered over the long grass. They could hear the soft wind whisper through the forest, rustling the grass and leaves and creaking the branches, carrying the hum of insects. It all seemed very peaceful.
The flame-haired halfling watched the expert trackers in action with held breath. The graceful gnomish tracker managed to find a track of the foul beast. Juniper had not a slightest idea what to look for even though she once easily found a lost family cow Galopea on one occasion when she was a wee lass. She clutched her quarterstaff and nervously looked around as if expecting a horde of angry gibberlings to swarm at any moment.
Korrlan lagged behind the rest of the group, thinking to himself about his recent revelation. He shook away the thoughts when he saw the raven-haired elf point out something on the ground and the wizardly halfling looking worried. "Is… is that a footprint?" he stuttered, as he ran up to the group. "Does that mean they're nearby? Are we well enough to take on another group of goblinoids?" He paused for a few seconds, thinking to himself yet again. "To stop suffering, we need to be fit enough to stop it, right?" he simpered.
This woodlands tracking business didn't seem that hard to Samophlange. He couldn't understand why rangers and elves acted so high and mighty about it. The trick was quite simple, actually: walk in the right direction.
As the group paused at the tonandurr tree and a peaceful silence fell over them—interrupted only by the chattering of the moody priest and the strange halfling—Samo took a few steps away from the rest of the group. He closed his eyes to tune out the others and listened intently to the wind. No, not just the wind. There was something else there, very faint, off in the distance somewhere—barely discernible through the soft sounds of the forest. A violin?
He turned back toward his fellow adventurers and motioned for them all to be quiet. He spoke, barely above a whisper, "Listen. I think someone is playing music nearby." He could hear it more clearly now, albeit still faint. The tune sounded energetic and cheerful, like something one might dance a jig to.
Ilrien paused in the clearing and began to turn around in a circle slowly, focusing not on her companions but on the woods around them. "I do not hear music, gnome, but something is not normal here. Whether good or bad, though, I cannot say." She closed her eyes and listened now for the music.
"Music?" Juniper mumbled, echoing Samo's words. She concentrated hard on the sounds of wilderness but the only sound she could hear was loud thumping of her heart. "I don't hear any music. Why would there be music in the middle of nowhere? Does this happen often in the wilderness?" Juniper wrinkled her brow trying to recall the passages about magical forest music from The Nymph Said No, the book she considered quite scholarly back in the day…. Not much came to mind. "Hmm… maybe I should track down the Goldhallow's followup books on the matter…," Juniper mumbled to herself.
OOC: Listen check - nat. 1; Knowledge Arcana check - roll 2+8, 10
Brace had not expected to find a tonandurr tree. In fact, he was not even trying to; he had given up on the idea. The purpose was to have used the bark to soothe Blaz's feet, but now the halfling was heading east with the rest of the caravan, leaving them on their first "quest". So, he was surprised to stumble upon some seed pods that he didn't recognize at first, while helping the gnome find the goblin's footprints. Lifting it to his nose and snapping it open, he recognized the smell. The dosage from a seed would be far too little to help someone with the body mass of a human, but seeds meant trees, and trees meant bark.
Sure enough, they stumbled upon the tree itself a short distance later, sitting in a sort of clearing. It seemed to Brace that they had almost been led to this spot, by a higher power perhaps? Odd. What were the odds…?
As Brace examined the trunk of the spindly tree, he heard Korr utter valid concerns about more enemies being present in these woods and being too physically weak with all of their recent wounds and injuries. Then the gnome claimed to have picked up the sound of music nearby.
Knowledge (Nature) check: 11 + 3 = 14: Success
"Fey?" the apothecary asked, to no one in particular.
Now that Samophlange had mentioned it, they could all hear it: music, very faint, lost amongst the forest sounds and buzzing insects, but unmistakably music, from a stringed instrument like a violin. There was something else too—chirping, like that of a cricket. Not that unusual, they'd suppose, but during the day? What was more, it was keeping time with the music, providing its beat. Even the insects seemed to be doing their bit, adding a hum and a buzz. It all came together in harmony, in a symphony. The notes were bright, the tune swift, and the urge to tap one's foot was almost irresistible.
Then, as Brace touched the tonandurr tree, it all stopped, plunging the glade into near silence. Then Brace heard soft staccato whines, from up amongst the branches.
As Brace searched in vain for the source, the chittering whines steadily slowed and deepened in pitch, until at last he could make what they were—words, spoken in Common but over-enunciated the way a very pompous person would speak loudly and slowly to a foreigner or a fool. Only in this speaker's case, loudly and slowly only made him somewhat softer and faster and less high-pitched than would be normal. "—hear me now? Aha, finally! Then pray tell me, peasant, why you have trespassed within the Principality of the GroefFeythrin and interrupted my performance. And make it good!"
As the speaker said this, it came piece by piece into view out from under the leaves, scuttling along a branch some eight feet off the ground. From four hairy insectoid feet and a cricket-like body rose a humanoid torso, wearing fine silken robes and medallions. Spindly arms and hands held a violin and bow. Lastly, his head showed pale blue skin, green hair and long antennae held back by a thin golden band, and a deeply angular face with a supercilious expression. And in total, he stood little more than fourteen inches tall.
Brace gave an awkward but obviously sincere bow. "Forgive us for trespassing, saer. We have entered your woods only out of the greatest necessity and your principality only by accident, as we stumbled upon the seeds of this tree, which I recognized might give the injured among us some comfort." He motioned to Ilrien's bandaged legs and his brother's torn and stained clothes. "We mean to find the band of goblins that waylaid us last nightfall. They took prisoner the sons of our caravan leader. We can immediately leave your region to return to the trail, though we do not know its borders and we have lost the trail…."
Brace lost confidence in what he was saying and frantically glanced around at the others, hoping one of them would continue this dialog for him.
Korr's brother, Brace, had already spoken to the strange creature, but Korr had a bit more to add. "My brother speaks the truth. We only came here out of desperation and did not mean to disrupt your spectacular performance," he exaggerated. "During the battle with the strange goblins, some of us nearly died, and many of us are injured still. However, we prevailed in taking down the goblinoids. Hopefully we can get to the bottom of these attacks, so that all the land can be safer, including, uhh…." Korrlan forgot the name of the place the strange grasshopper-man had mentioned for a moment. "…the Principality of the Groef Feythrin!"
OOC: aid another via Diplomacy: 1d20 + 0 = 16. Aid another successful. Brace adds +2 to his roll for a total of 21.
Samophlange's eyes gawked at the bizarre creature addressing the group. None of his chapbooks had mentioned cricket-folk, so he felt it prudent to keep his mouth shut and let the two brothers take charge of the situation. They seemed to be doing a splendid job at it. Having nothing useful to add, he simply nodded enthusiastically along to the diplomatic proceedings.
Juniper stared at the strange little critter with eyes open wide like two saucers. She quickly realized that staring was an improper thing a goat would do and clumsily curtsied at the insectoid nobility in front of the group. "The goblin scoundrels said something about a pit, your lordship. A goblin pit of death. Perchance you know anything about that?" She asked as politely as her farmer upbringing could produce.
Almost as soon as Brace had begun speaking, the strange fey creature seemed to lose all interest in what he had to say, growing distracted, even bored. At last, he lifted his tiny violin up to his pointed chin and started drawing the bow across it, improvising a muted but overly mournful tune for them. He seemed to be—yes, he really was—he was playing the world's smallest violin.
But at the end, after Korr and Juniper had also said their pieces, he relented and lowered the violin again, remarking, "Well, finely enough you speak for big folk, so the offense I shall forgive. Clearly you realize you stand in the presence of royalty—yes, I am Feythrin, groef of this land. You have heard of me, of course. And yes, I know all about the goblins and their holes. I know all that goes on within my domain and without. I do not know how those seeds can help you, but you may take those that fall on the ground and be on your way." He gave them a dismissive wave.
"Yes, we thank you, your… inconceivableness, but we actually do not know whither we are going, and the seeds themselves are not very helpful to us. Perhaps I could grind the seeds and extract their healing essenses and make a salve, but I do not have alcohol nor a mortar and pestle. Those are in my master's workshop many days travel hence. What we really need is fresh bark from the living tree to press against our wounds, for the healing essenses are in the sap that oozes from the bark."
To Juniper's eyes, it seemed to be a typical seed from the tonandurr tree because, of course, Brace had said it was. The tree itself seemed to be a remarkable specimen, tall and healthy and green in the summer sun—small wonder that a fey prince had chosen it for his seat of power.
Meanwhile, Feythrin sniffed and put on a show of thinking over Brace's proposal, before appearing quite affronted at the idea. "You wish to cut bark, from my tree?" he exclaimed indignantly. He narrowed his eyes in an interrogating gaze. "I suppose, by the same token, if I were to come to you with an urgent need for hide, you would gladly give up some of yours?"
Ilrien, quiet until now in hopes of avoiding drawing attention, spoke. "Surely there is some recent woodfall that bark could be harvested from? And could you please tell us where the goblins' pit is, so that we can find and put a stop to them before they manage to set anymore things or people on fire than they already have."
Brace tried to knock the seed out of Juniper's hands before she could put it in her mouth, but he was too late. "Sili!" he yelled. "I mean, Juniper! Spit that out now! The seeds are poisonous when whole; you have to extract the healing essences. You cannot just eat it; it will make you sick!"
Juniper was too quick for the Brace fella but already started regretting her curiosity. The awful taste of burnt almonds was not among the things that the halfling considered appetizing. However, she was sure that her family would try and flavor the cheese with that awful seed. Afraid of offending his Scrumptious Luminescence, she attempted to quickly spit the seed into her hand and dispose of the evidence of her rudeness without anyone noticing…, and the fact that Brace promised her sickness was not ideal either. OOC: Sleight of Hand: 15+4
She tried to bite her stubby tongue to make saliva wash the ungodly taste out of her mouth. "Whoth Thili?" she asked curiously with her tongue still between her teeth.
"Silly! You made me spit out his Royal Voluminousness's treats! It's a dire breach of insect royal protocol…, I think. So it's not even poisoned, just foul tasting?" Juniper hissed at the tall'n apothecary.
Feythrin observed this exchange with tiny curious eyes. "I shall forgive the offense—this time," he declared—and quite graciously, he seemed to think. Indeed, for all his arrogance, the grig had appeared momentarily concerned when Juniper ate the seed and almost relieved when Brace stopped her. "The goblins are no threat to my domain; I have dealt with them quite handily when they've dared set foot within. They usually go dancing right out again," he ended, his voice lowering with menace at what that might mean.
Then, after a few moments' thought, the groef relented. "Very well, I shall let you have your bark and the way to the goblins' holes too. Consider it a bonus. But, in all things, a price must be paid. You have interrupted my grand recital, so… you will entertain me. Any form of artistic expression you are halfway capable of shall do."
"But do your best, or I shall be very disappointed."
Juniper looked the elf up and down, as if sizing a prize hog at a Freedale fair…. "What songs do you know? Can you sing this one…? The ditty that goes something like hmmmm hmmm hm hmmmm?" Juniper tried to hum Pipeweed Dreams, a hin tavern song… but mostly ended up sounding like the rumbling of an upset stomach….
Ilrien shot Juniper a dirty look, then straightened and spoke. "I am no bard, but I did learn something of song in my home forest. Recently, a newer song reached us from the north that I found gorgeous." And with no further conversation, she went into song:
There is a place in the deep green wood
Where the dryadOlsheirie dwells,
Dancing where a keep once stood
Girt with magic of chiming bells.
Though to stray so deep is the act of a fool;
I regret no stride toward Starfall Pool.
Trees old and green, dark and still
Ring 'round an oak as old as time,
Fall down keep and rise up hill,
Rest and hear the dryad rhyme.
And on went the song, a winding, slow rise-and-fall of words that spoke of the beauty of night and of restful shadows.
Upon hearing Juniper's attempt, Feythrin dramatically whined and clamped his ears over his head—after all, a cricket had its ears in the knees of its forelegs, and so too, it seemed, did the grig, who crossed his front legs over his head to blot out the disappointing sound.
He lowered them in time for Ilrien's song, his eyes widening in delight and turning his legs out to better take it in. At the end, he clapped eagerly and chirped by rubbing his wings together. "Very good, very good! Almost impressive!" he cheered. "I know the real Olsheirie, of course. She is indeed as fine a dancer as they say. Particularly in tap."
Now, he directed his gaze at Brace, Korr, and Samophlange. "And do you three dare to entertain me? It really is a high honor I am granting you. You would not wish to pass it up."
After Brace declined his offer, however humbly, Feythrin tutted. "Oh, even a lowly human merchant holds a spark of creativity and performance somewhere. You need only fan it into a flame…. But no matter, what about the rest of you?"
Flustered, Samophlange blurted out the only song he knew by heart.
The wizard has a staff with a knob on the end of it. The wizard has a staff with a knob on the end Of it. The wizard has a staff with a knob on the end of it. The wizard has a staff with a knob.
The jaunty tavern song went on like that for quite a while, its lyrics veering into other descriptions of a wizard's staff. All the while, Samo clapped his hands and did his best to give a lively and animated performance. "The Wizard's Staff" was a real crowd-pleaser at the Copper Coronet, after all, but it was all in the execution.
As Samophlange launched into his much less salubrious song, Feythrin listened with an expression of utter astonishment. What kind of crude creature would dare sing a bawdy drinking song to a prince of the fey folk? But of course, Feythrin was a grig, and to a grig mischief was life, full of laughter and pranks and embarrassing the very kind of prideful arrogance with which he'd confronted them. So he smirked and sniggered and chirped his wings and finally burst into high-pitched laughter that echoed around the glade. "Hee-hee-hee-hee! Aha, well done," he congratulated, wiping his eye. "Though admittedly, I don't quite know what the lyrics refer to; I shall have to ask Olsheirie next time I see her. She knows more about such woody matters."
"Very well, you may take some bark, but no more than would harm the tree."
Survival check to examine tree and cut the bark, etc.: 5 + 5 = 10
Brace nodded respectfully and examined the tree carefully, trying to find living branches with minimal further branching, that is, those branches that would supply him with fresh tonandurr sap within the bark, with minimal chance of harming the tree's leaves if the wound from removing the bark did not heal well and the branch later became infected. He was not a botanist or an arborist, but he was comfortable in nature and thought that he had found a good branch to perform his cuts. Taking his father's dagger, recently sharpened that morning, he began carefully making the slits and then prying the bark away from the cambium. He made sure that the strips were only an inch in width, a fraction of the branch's circumference, to ensure that the branch had a good chance of surviving the wound.
Having gathered enough strips to tend to their own wounds, he crouched at the ground to prepare the bark for use, leaving the others to question the fey prince about the location of the pits while he set to work. Once he had the bark in hand, he knew exactly what to do and did it with superb precision, peparing a sort of bandage from each one with torn bits of cloth, using his sewing needle and thread to fasten the strips, phloem-side up. The bark itself he punctured at exactly the right places and with the right depth to ensure an even and slow transmission of the sap's healing essences to the damaged skin of each of the wounded. He did not look up from his task again until he had finished, ready to apply the bark to those who wanted it, including to his own damaged chest.
Growing distracted once again, Feythrin had turned his attention to Brace, watching him work with curious eyes and even improvising a little work song as accompaniment, one inspired by the rhythms of cutting and sewing, here sawing the bow across the strings and there punctuating with short stabbing movements. Ilrien interrupted him though, and Feythrin looked to her, saying, "Hmm? Oh, those filthy, horrible things. You shall find them within a stand of blueleafs, ten of your miles…." Pointing with his violin bow, he trotted around in a circle, finally pointing eastward. "…that way. Look for the crows; they will lead you right to them. Though, what interest you have in a rubbish dump I have no idea."
"Now, I really must return to my recital. For your courteous words, you're welcome to stay and listen, if you like?" And with that, he began to play his violin once more, beginning with a bubbly little bit before embarking on the full melody, his rapidly sliding bow producing a sweet and energetic jig and conducting the buzzing insects and the rustling leaves and the whispering wind itself into his orchestra. And he danced too, hopping and capering along the branch and kicking all four of his legs this way and that.
The tune was infectious, and made those who listened want to tap their feet—in fact, they couldn't help tapping their feet—and shaking their legs, and bobbing their bodies, and swaying to the left and to the right, and bursting into glorious dance.
Will save DC 12 or be compelled to dance as per Otto's irresistible dance, but you're free to dance your way out of the scene. :)
Samophlange, still in shock his performance had worked, instinctively felt that it was time to quit this place as the buzzing of insects grew in intensity. He had learned this lesson the hard way as a child when he was nearly eaten by giant cockroaches in the sewers of Athkatla. Samo couldn't quite understand what the fey-man was on about—to him, the music sounded less like a fiddle recital and more like a discordant racket of competing sounds. The fey Samo had read about in his chapbooks had been much more impressive.
He turned to the others. "I think we should leave before this performance gets any… uh, livelier." Samophlange hoisted his backpack back on and started walking in the direction the little bug-man had pointed.
Korr was surprised at how well his brother, Brace, had made bandages split from the bark of a tonandurr tree out in the wild. He was certainly living up to his surname! Korrlan took a couple for himself and applied one to his knee and one to his chest. His lingering pain had now fully passed, and he turned to Ilrien. "Tonandurr bark won't have an effect on elves, I'm afraid. I can spare some magical healing before we head off, if you desire."
OOC: Will save: 8 + 6 = 14 Korrlan is at full health
Ten more miles of adventuring…. This whole recent career change turned out to be quite tiring. The halfling hurried after Samo. Juniper realized she was being rude and quickly turned around to ebulliently applaud the grig's attempts at music.
The powerful music seemed to have little effect on Brace, so engrossed he was in his work, but after he handed off a couple of the bandages to his brother, he noticed that the two shorter adventurers had already started off, while the fey cricket prince was performing. He felt like he owed the prince the dignity of a listen, so he lingered. It really was quite fascinating to observe and to hear, and he wondered if he would have such an opportunity again. He waited and watched until Ilrien and Korr were walking away—tapping his feet certainly, but not quite giving in to the urge to jump and twirl—and then he followed after, giving his best effort at an applause to the grig before passing out of sight in the trees. The music followed them for some distance before dwindling off into silence. They were alone in the forest once again.
Ten miles was not a short walk, and after an hour passed tramping through the trailess forest, Brace's already low optimism was dwindling.
"I do not have much hope for this quest of ours, Brother," he said quietly, coming up beside Korr. "I have not spotted any crows, and the trees are so thick that I cannot make out exactly where the sun is to ensure that we are even continuing on the same bearing that we started since leaving the little cricket–man. We are also making such a racket that the goblins will know we are coming long before we arrive. Do you think that these other three are truly adventurers? Because I am thinking more and more that they know as little as we about such things."
But, fortunately for their spirits and for their feet, the forest thinned out after four miles or so, with trees growing shorter and further apart and with less undergrowth between them to block their path. The more observant among them recognized this as new-growth forest, planted only in the last few decades to replace what had been taken through logging. (Where the fey had his domain, it had naturally been the old-growth forest of before.) The regrown forest was better for nature than the cleared land, of course, but it was better for bandits too, offering more hiding places for ambush and escape.
Then, after a few hours, they saw the crows. The black birds were wheeling through the eastern sky, obviously attracted to something below. When they found a good view of the tree-covered land as it sloped gradually away to the south and east, they saw the center of the crows' interest—a stand of blue-leafed trees straddling a large and deep gulch, which cracked the earth and ran south, doubtless carrying a lesser tributary of the great River Delimbiyr. It was some five miles away and a few more hours' hike.
As the gulch came into view, Samophlange signaled for a stop and turned to face the others trailing behind him, giving the smuggest smile he was capable of—which, him being a gnome, was very smug indeed. "See? I'm willing to bet two copper pieces this is the place we're looking for." He turned back to survey the landscape ahead, narrowing his eyes. He continued, almost muttering to himself, "That's a disturbing amount of black pigeons, though…."
Still looking toward the horizon, he asked, "Brace, was it? Do you recognize those trees with the blue leaves?"
"Blueleafs, I suspect. There have been a few here and there along the road since when we left Zelbross. My late master was working on treating the wood with magic to make armor, but medicines were more his specialty. The leaves are used to make blue dye in clothing in the North; they even burn with blue flame."
Samo shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe the pigeons really like the taste of the leaves."
Adressing the others while putting on his decisive adventurer voice, he said, "By my estimate, we're a couple of hours away. If we're all good to continue I would suggest we approach in silence. There's no telling how many goblin assassins are lurking ahead." Samo's plan was, of course, inspired by the climactic finale of The Hin Avenger, where the hero had to sneak his way into the villain's mountaintop lair. He just hoped there wouldn't be quite as many dragons along their route. One dragon would be more than enough for now.
"Is this why they are blue and mad? They eat trees? I'd be mad if I were eating trees too." Juniper's eyes lit up. "Do xvarts burn with blue fire?!"
The diminutive wizard reminded herself about the goblins and their dreaded holes, ignoring that voice at the back of her head that told her of wonders of trees ablaze with azure. "Should we stick together and approach? Or try and spread out, in case the gobbos have 'booyag'?"
OOC: will save roll to resist compulsion - nat 20.
Ilrien raised an eyebrow at Samo's words, then said dryly, "Those aren't pigeons; those are crows. And seeing as crows feed on carrion, I doubt it is the leaves that have drawn them. More likely, whatever rotting carcasses the goblins have in their pits." She paused, then continued in a more business-like tone, "As far as enemies go, we are more likely to run into hunters or more bandits, not assassins—those live in cities. Any spellcasters will likely stick close to their base."
The trek had certainly not been a short one so far, and the cleric's enthusiasm for adventure had died down. He returned to his typical state, which was in deep, contemplative thought. Shut off from the outside world, he pictured himself back in the plague-stricken city of Neverwinter. "Should I have left?" he asked himself as he went through each and every possible scenario and outcome.
Head down in thought and not paying attention to where he was going or what Brace was asking him, he walked away from his brother and close to the elf. Korr snapped back into reality after hearing Ilrien say the word "bandit", and he motioned to the group to halt. "Let us have a quick rest," he said, holding his head. "If there are bandits out here, or goblin traps, we should scout the area." As the adventurers, if this is what they indeed were, stopped for a moment, Korrlan scrunched his hand into a ball. He then rotated his wrist and unfurled his hand finger by finger, as if tracing a magical symbol in the air. The procedure ended with a set of mystical words and an open-palm pressed against Ilrien's back. "You're looking much better, though still… rather pale… is that your normal complexion?" he questioned the moon elf.
Standing back up, he extended his thumb and pushed his rolled-up index finger into it, forming a pinhole. Korr then looked ahead, behind, and above, trying to spot anything out of the ordinary.
OOC: Korr casts cure minor wounds twice; Ilrien is now back at full HP. Spot check: 15 + 4 = 19
While Korrlan was performing his ministrations, Samo made a show of agreeing with Ilrien as he looked up at her, chin in hand as if giving her statement real critical thought. "Yes, of course. You're absolutely right. Probably no assassins out here."
Korrlan had asked for a quick break, so Samo dropped his backpack to the ground and sat down on a more or less suitable rock. "Let's not tarry overlong," he said to no one in particular. His gaze fell on the landscape ahead of them yet again. Yes, he was sure. Those were definitely pigeons.
Not tarrying overlong, the travelers took a brief break from their hike to heal and rest their weary feet. They had a small repast, breaking into their trail rations and dining on dried fruits and jerked meat, hard cheese and hard-tack. Brace had tried to gather berries while they walked but had no luck. But given what they'd had to go through to get bark from a grig, perhaps this was just as well.
Soon, they set off again, heading for the blueleaf stand, and before long found themselves amongst its fringe. The blueleafs grew some forty feet tall and had trunks so slender they bent in the breeze but grew so close together they supported one another via their branches tangled together in the canopy. Disappointingly, while the star-shaped leaves had a distinct blueish gleam, their famous glow was muted in the midday sun. Maybe at night they would really shine. But for now, the light was only gloomy and faintly tinged an eerie blue.
Following a game path as it wound its way into the woods, they found the air inside was stuffy and muggy. No doubt the canopy trapped moisture thrown up by the fast-moving river nearby, which they could hear but not yet see. Its roar, telling of strong rapids, drowned out all other noise but the occasional squawk of the crows coming from deeper in the wood. At last, the game path came to a fork directly in front of an unusually thick and seemingly out-of-place oak, surrounded by countless crows. As they moved around it on the right-hand path, they came upon a grisly scene.
Roughly carved into the oak tree's trunk was the image of a double-bitted battleaxe, standing upright, with wide-curved blades from which droplets fell. It faced a pit, several feet wide and ringed by the remains of cooking fires, where bits of charred wood and bone poked through the cold gray ash, and a flat-topped tree stump covered in deep notches and dried brown blood. The pit itself was almost five feet deep and littered with hundreds if not thousands of bones and body parts, some clearly cooked and gnawed upon, others raw with gore and gristle in various stages of decay.
One after the other, the crows dived down into the pit to steal some gruesome treat, flew out it with in their beaks, then sat upon surrounding branches to devour it and wait for their next turn. Now and then they fought, usually tearing the flesh apart or losing the prize—an eye landed in the dirt at Ilrien's feet. Others cawed warnings at the travelers who'd disturbed their feasting.
The grisly sight visibly unnerved the halfling who kept up with the gnome leader of the party. "Are there wolves or red tigers you reckon?" Juniper nervously looked around trying to detect a possible goblin trap or a hungry forest beast. "All this carnage is sure to attract something hairy and ravenous..."
The many goblin footprints were obvious to all, especially given their habit of wearing only filthy foot-wraps. They went back and forth along the trail and gathered around the disturbing shrine. Brace saw the left-hand path wound deeper into the wood, its destination out of sight but heading toward the gulch. Meanwhile, try as she might, Juniper neither saw nor heard anything new creeping around them. Whether that was a good sign, or a bad sign, remained to be seen.
The gruesome scene filled Samophlange with disgust. Rather than fear, he felt his resolve hardening; it would be good to stop whatever madness was going on here. It had no place in the world.
"I haven't heard of wolves being quite this... organized," Samophlange replied to Juniper. He had never actually seen a wolf, strictly speaking, but felt confident he was right. Unless these were werewolves. "Weregoblins?" he thought aloud, and made a mental note to remember the concept if he ever wrote a book of his own.
Having been informed by Brace what lay ahead of them, Samo nodded and said "It might be best if we moved on from this revolting place. By the way, does anyone recognize the symbol carved on that oak? There weren't quite as many goblin death pits where I'm from."
Juniper felt fear tingling up her spine like a bad case of sand fleas. The silence was more intimidating than jumbo-sized goldenstar. "Weregoblins!?" She looked at Ilrien. "You were not bitten, were you?"
"Hmmm... an upright axe dripping with blood", Korr wondered as he stared at the symbol. He had only seen this once in his clerical studies, but it was long ago. "I think this could be the holy symbol of Maglubiyet, the chief deity of the goblins", he suggested. He then turned to the others and narrowed his eyes. "This is not just a simple pit", he said definitively. "This is a shrine. A bloody sacrificial shrine."
"This isn't weres, this is a sacrificial pit of the goblins' making. A bloody offering for their bloody gods." Ilrien had stepped away from the eyeball in favor of looking directly at the symbol, then into the pit, her face twisting either in disgust, or perhaps at the smell.
Those who dared looked deeper into the pit saw, beneath the swarming, buzzing flies, the bones of countless creatures. Most seemed to be of deer and other local fauna, suggesting much butchering, cooking, and feasting went on here, but even at a glance, they saw humanoid skulls that revealed the darker purpose of this place. There were a few humans, a couple of orcs, and about a dozen goblins—likely not sacrifices but warriors fallen in battle. The most recent and most impressive was a lone ogre. Fortunately, as far as they could tell, there were no halfling bones placed here, yet. But Skar had been truthful about one thing—they had found only death here.
The travelers took a last lingering look at the grisly pit—the goblin bodies seemed to be as recent as the ogre's, suggesting they had fallen in the same battle. The goblins had no doubt been victorious against the ogre, but at a heavy cost.
At last, and with some relief, they turned their backs on the shrine and took the left-hand path around the oak. It took some time, but eventually they came to another clearing, this one much tidier, but no less strange. At the center of this clearing was another pit, several feet wide, its edge ringed with large, smooth river stones and its walls rough and riddled with roots and rocks. Thankfully, there were no carcasses and sacrifices stuffed in this pit. Instead, it descended over ten feet to a dry earthen floor, where a small tunnel led away to the south. So this was the pit the goblin captive had let slip.
Brace approached Samophlange. "I am not an adventurer like you, so I have never been deep in a cave, but I know a thing or two about survival in the wild, and a lot of caverns are formed near rivers, because of the water. That is, the older courses of the river dug them out from the rock. I can hear the water closer to us know. If this pit leads to goblin caverns, there may be an alternate entrance closer to the creek." Brace spoke in a whisper as he presented his theory.
Samophlange knew to heed the advice of an expert, even if Brace admitted he wasn't much of a caverneer. In fact, "listen to experienced travelers" was one of the "rules for adventuring" presented in the first chapbook Samo ever bought, Adventuring for Gnomes.
Matching Brace's volume and tone, he said "Should we go and scout it out?"
Samo gave a sage nod. "Elves are famous for their grace and subtlety," he agreed. Actually, only the elves in the stories he'd read were like that. The handful of elves he had met on the streets of Athkatla were typically drunken louts famous for their lecherous comments and their inability to pay back debts.
"What about halflings? Everybody knows that we are good at three things: thieving, eating, and being powerful mages!" Juniper tried to demonstrate her stealthiness and pounced towards the nearest shadow. As she tried to hide, a conniving dried branch found its way between her feet and the halfling collapsed in a whirling pile of red hair and the foulest of hin language curses...
Ilrien had largely tuned out the other's conversation in favor of observing her surroundings, but at Junipers noisy mishap whirled around. "Are you trying to attract the attention of any and all nearby enemies?" she spoke, quiet but forceful nonetheless.
Having thoroughly disproved that particular stereotype, Juniper felt, where her face lay in the dirt, an ominous rumbling and shaking. Something was happening! Then, right after Ilrien was done rebuking her, there was a violent crash from within the pit. A hidden hatch had flung open and disgorged a minor avalanche of rocks, sand, and sticks, as well as small sacks that burst open on impact, producing billowing white clouds. By the taste and smell of it, it was simple chalk. When it finally stopped, the bottom of the pit was covered in a mass of debris and the air was filled with choking dust.
An avalanche of hin expletives turned into the sound of literal falling rock. The flame-haired mage looked up and proudly announced: "This is exactly what I intended. Disabling traps is yet another skill we are good at." Juniper pulled herself up and started brushing dirt off her clothes.
"Now I feel even more strongly that we should move to the river. The clang will summon any goblins out to meet us; we have lost the element of surprise from this entrance, and if there is a second entrance, we may have drawn any goblins there away from it. But we should hurry."
"Yes, and swiftly", remarked Korrlan. He and his brother led the others towards the river; perhaps the sound of gushing water could help them avoid detection if the goblins arrived. As they got closer, Korr scanned the entire area (both up to and further than the river) the best he could using his signature pinhole technique.
Though there was no trail, the blueleaf forest thinned out enough and they only had to walk toward the roar of the rushing river. And then suddenly, only just stopping in time, they stood on the edge of a rocky cliff that sloped steeply downward. The blueleafs grew right up to the edge, and even over it, with some stubborn specimens clinging to the very cliff-face. Peering through the trees, some twenty feet or more below, the travelers saw a fast-flowing stream and a small pebble-covered bank, with a dark cave mouth leading back the way they'd come. Moored to an old blueleaf trunk was a rickety-looking raft, bobbing and bumping on the shore. Now they only had to climb down to it.
The Splitbarks looked at each other upon this discovery but exchanged no words. Then Brace whispered again to the gnome. "If the raft is still here, it likely means that goblins are still inside the cave. What do we do now?"
Samo whispered back, "We press on. The goblins are why we are here, after all." Besides, Samo thought, the goblins didn't seem that tough in their earlier encounter. He was sure this nascent adventuring company would overcome whatever goblinoids were lurking in the cave with great ease.
Brace was so excited by the prospect of entering a real cave tunnel that he didn't need magic from his brother to urge him on. He quickly examined the ledge for what seemed to him the safest way down and began climbing, using the blueleaf roots and branches as handholds and picking a spot where he could brace himself between two edges.
Ilrien watches, mildly bemused at the others' enthusiasm for climbing into a goblin-infested hole in the ground, before swinging her bow onto her back and nimbly climbing down herself. Climb: Nat 20 plus 0
One by one, and one way or another, the adventurers climbed down the cliff. Brace went slowly but surely, convincing the others to start down. With a natural rockface with handholds and footholds; protruding blueleaf tree trunks; a slope, however steep; and the water spray making the rocks slippery only in the last few feet, it was not an especially difficult climb, yet it was still a perilous one. One wrong step, one bad fall, and they might be dashed on the rocks below or carried away by the river.
Then it got harder.
Korrlan, still standing atop the cliff, scanned the opposite side of the gulch and glimpsed small, shadowed crevices or holes amongst the rocks, some way downriver around the bend. He was trying to work out whether they might be hollows for birds' nests or openings to more caves, when he got his answer—crossbow bolts, flying out at his companions!
One cracked against the rocks by Brace's head. It didn't hit, but the surprise made him lose his footing and start to fall. [Attack 5, miss] The other went wide of Juniper, a smaller, harder target. [Attack 2, miss] But the hidden goblin crossbowmen would find their targets soon.
The halfling squeaked as arrows clanked against the rocks around her. She attempted to move down to the bottom of the climb, moving her stubby appendages with fierce speed. As she tried not to become a pin cushion, she looked around looking for a cozy hiding spot.
Surprisingly agile, Juniper quickly climbed down the rest of the way, even jumping the last few feet. But Brace and Samophlange had found a much faster, if much harder, way down, bumping and tumbling down the rocks. Landing one way or another on the wet pebbles, they realized they could duck behind the boulders that formed the low wall of the cave mouth, affording them some cover from the distant goblin crossbowmen.
"Uh...", Korrlan muttered whilst looking down at the heavy metal strips that made up his splint mail, "I don't think I can climb down here with such armor weighing me down". Somewhat in a state of panic, he let loose a crossbow bolt in the direction that the bolts had come at his companions. "Need to get closer", he said affirmatively as the bolt went completely wide, "I could really do with a rope and grapnel".
OOC: Ranged attack with a crossbow. 1 - 1 = 0. Critical miss!
Samo wasn't sure what hurt more—the fall or the blow to his pride. At any rate, he quickly realized he couldn't afford to sit around and dwell on it—avoiding the sudden rain of crossbow bolts seemed far more pressing a matter. He tried to make his way to the nearby wall of boulders, readying his crossbow.
Samo uses whatever movement he has to get to safety, then uses his action to ready his crossbow.
Making it more-or-less safely to the bottom of the cliff, the adventurers scrambled for cover, ducking behind a rock or tree stump, in the shelter of the cave mouth, or within a convenient shadow. Meanwhile, the hidden goblin crossbowmen took more potshots at them—one bolt broke against the cliff far away, the other dipped into the river. Korr fired back, but had, if anything, even less success. It became clear the distance was too great, and the angle too poor, for either side to hit the other. Then, after a minute of anxious wait, it seemed the goblins had stopped shooting, evidently deciding not to waste their ammunition. The time was enough for Korrlan to make his way down, quickly as he dared with the weight of his armor.
Brace tried to ignore the pain throughout his whole body and strained to stare into the darkness of the cave and listen, but his eyes had not yet adjusted and there was still too much din from the commotion of the others near him.
Samophlange gave Juniper a sober look. "I doubt it. Goblins never retreat as long as they feel they have the advantage." Samo felt confident this was true; he'd read it in the surprisingly informative chapbook Goblins from Beyond the Grave. "Expect no quarter. And give none in return." Pleased with this suitably heroic statement, Samo entered the cave.
OOC: Samophlange moves about 10 feet into the cave, not further. He's not a hero, he just plays one.
Juniper poked her head out of cover and watched the fearless leader stroll ahead. Seeing no death from the above rain on Samo she walked out into the open. "Brace, are you hurt?" She walked to help him up, at the same time scanning the rocks for any salvageable crossbow bolts— by Beshaba's rancid breath, no such luck. OOC: Nat 1+1
"I think…that tumble caused my wound to open up again." The apothecary answered from a still prone position, then allowed the little woman to help him to his knees. "It feels wet between my shirt and this thick leather." He changed the topic. "Have they really stopped shooting at us?"
Brace and Samophlange could see nothing in the cave, bar a distant faint glow of sunlight—but this was to be expected, as it led back to the pit they'd investigated earlier, and a safer way down after all, at least after the trap had been triggered. The goblin base was evidently downriver, somewhere near where they were shooting from. Now that they were safe and knew where to look, the adventurers could just glimpse orange-skinned armored figures moving behind two small, dark holes in the cliff-face, occasionally peering out at them.
The raft, meanwhile, looked a bit rickety, but was serviceable and big enough to accommodate all five of them (it helped that two of them didn't take up much space). A long stout pole lay atop it, showing the raft was piloted by poling against the riverbed. They only needed to hop onboard, push their way down the river and to the other side, and hope for the best.
"Psst, is there anyone hungry in the cave?" THe halfling called out to the gnome. "It looks like we have two ways of dying horribly, via a scary-looking cave or wobbly-looking raft... It's like my great aunt who was betrothed to two men during a short period of time she looked presentable. Either man was a disaster from a disaster family. Never trust a Meadsbreath nor a Buttercrust! ... I don't like either of the choices we got here... Thoughts?" Juniper asked her companions.
Brace stumbled over to Juniper and Samophlange. "If the raft is tied on this side of the water, it means that there still must be goblins on this side, does it not?" he asked. "This is clearly a tunnel from up above down to the water, but perhaps there are side-tunnels or storage rooms down here in this dank." He drew his dagger as he searched along the dark walls of the tunnel, but he was feeling uneasy and in pain and only gave a half-hearted attempt.
Now that Juniper had mentioned it, Samophlange was feeling a bit peckish. Exiting the cave, he removed his backpack and fished out a piece of honeycake. Still chewing, he responded to Brace. "Doesn't look... excuse me." He finished chewing. "Doesn't look like it to me", he said, not really having checked very well. Samo was sure the raft would hold up just fine. "We'll take the boat and strike directly at the heart of the beast." He put his backpack back on and adressed the group. "Would any of you happen to be an experienced sailor?"
Korrlan was glad that Samophlange had decided to push on, but the cleric certainly wasn't a sailor. In fact, he couldn't even remember stepping foot on a boat... ever. "The raft it is", he said as he raised his shield, following on behind the gnome.
"Does it not seem odd to anyone else that a raft is just sitting here waiting for us? There would not be a raft here unless either there were goblins still on this bank to use it or else it is a trap for us. And the fact that they tried to fill us with arrows from the other bank means that we would be floating directly into their range. Now they are simply waiting for us."
Ilrien slips out of the shadow she was staying in, making her way to the raft. "Yes, there are goblins on this side. But it is just as likely that those goblins were the ones we fought yesterday as it is to be a new group." She pauses, then steps onto the raft with great caution and even more focus on balance.
Or, just maybe, the goblins maintained multiple rafts in order to transport all of them and the bugbear too, plus their anticipated looted treasure and turnips and whatnot. Brace found nothing but footprints in the tunnel: many sets leaving, only one returning. Whatever the case, one raft had been left behind, and sat there waiting to be boarded.
Ilrien took the first step onto the raft, and found it sturdy. Picking up the pole, she experimented with, well, poling it. It was quite simple: by pushing the pole back against the riverbed, she could propel it forward, and by pushing it against the rocks, she could try to keep it from being stuck or broken. It did require close attention and awareness of the currents and rocks and judging how much force to apply. And while the river would simply carry the raft downriver, there were many ways it could be caught or capsized. The others could assist, not by grabbing the pole, but by paddling or finding other means of pushing the raft away from the rocks.
As if by magic, Juniper's face turned a gentle hue of green the moment she stepped onto the light vessel. The raft hadn't started moving yet, but the hin wizard was already feeling seasick. "Halflings are not made for the open seas..." she mumbled, trying to steady herself. "My mother always says eat well, get fat, and you will always float..."
Ilrien waits until everyone is on the raft, then cautiously begins to push off towards the far shore. The current was a bit worrying, as it would as easily carry the raft into rocks and branches as through open water, but there was no other apparent way to cross. This would, in her view, suffice. Though not, it seemed, without the hafling throwing up. Hopefully she'd aim over the side of the raft.
As the moon elf pushed the raft away from the edge of the river, Korrlan attempted to control the situation. "Ok, everyone spread yourselves out and try to balance the raft", he directed. Thought it at first seemed balanced, Korrlan had neglected to take into account his own weight, as well that as his scale mail. The rear part of the raft slowly began to lift...
The moody priest seemed to have things well in hand, so Samo decided to place his faith in Korrlan's divine guidance. He plopped himself down at the very back of the raft, just as it began to lift. Suddenly scrambling, he tried to steady the vessel. Aid another: 2 - 1 = 1
Samophlange's meager weight did nothing to balance out Korrlan's, but as they all found their places, they managed to keep the raft level and not too much water sloshing onto it. It was harder to steer, too, but by working together Ilrien managed to push it away from the bank and Korrlan poled it into the middle of the river, where the current carried them closer to the goblin hideout. So far, so good...
Then a goblin-made crossbow bolt thudded into the raft, followed by another that sank into the water. Their friends were still up there too.
Now they were working together and getting a good feel for the rickety raft and the rushing river, Korrlan poled it downstream whilst the others paddled hard and kept it as steady as they could amidst all the rocking and bobbing, the splashing and crashing, and the occasional shaft and stone falling from the cliffs above. Some were stoic, others were worried, all wondering if they'd a bad decision, all knowing, at this point, they'd no choice but to take to the river and brave the raining bolts. They could see the goblin crossbowmen now, orange faces peaking out of a pair of holes in the cliff-face and taking aim...
Juniper grabbed the bolt, and only just missed catching another, that thudded into the log only inches from her arm! But now, at least, she had two bolts. But what would she do with them?
Then they saw it, rounding the bend in the river to the south—there was a second raft, and three goblins were on it. While one poled it, much more slowly as he tried to go against the current, the others leveled their crossbows and fired! One of the bolts nicked Brace.
OOC: You've moved 40 feet downriver. Goblin shooting nest is 20 feet up on the right-hand side, 80 feet downriver from your current position. They have improved cover, so they're very hard to hit. Goblin raft is 100 feet downriver.
To save time, I'll roll Korrlan's raft-handling Wisdom checks myself, including an average +4 Aid Another bonus from the party.
Brace is hit for 15 and takes 1 damage. I'm ignoring penalties to AC and attack due to raft motion, as it all seems to cancel out.
The halfling tossed both bolts into her pack and positioned herself that she could clearly see the upcoming goblin raft. Without bothering to get herself up she pointed her chubby finger at the rowing goblin. She closed one eye and stuck out her tongue to the side of her mouth, aiming intensely. A quick incantation and a missile of force rushed towards the goblin.
Although his confidence in Korrlan's seamanship was decreasing by the second, Samophlange felt he could do no more than hold on for dear life, especially now that goblin bolts were raining down on them from further downriver. The raft was moving too swiftly and unsteadily for Samo's aim to be even close to true, so he ducked behind Juniper, praying silently to Baravar Cloakshadow: Please... let the bolts hit the bigger ones instead.
Brace, clutching to the raft and expecting them to capsize any moment, aimed one of the crossbows that he had taken from the previous night's battle and pulled the trigger. A wave jerked the boat, and he felt pain in his left arm from the fresh gash as he tried to steady his aim. The shot strayed far and ricocheted off the canyon wall.
Ranged attack w/ small light crossbow: 4 + 1 = 5: miss
Ilrien halts paddling in order to draw, knock, and fire an arrow at one of the goblins with crossbows, of all things. The wildly shifting rafts might make this shot rather trickier than she was used to...but they couldn't really turn back now, could they. Ranged attack with a masterwork longbow: 15+3=18: if hits, then 6 damage.
Blasted by Juniper's bolt of arcane force, the goblin steersman stumbled backward and crashed into the water behind the raft. Swearing, another goblin scrambled to catch the pole, before she too was shot down by Irien's well-armed arrow. Controlled only by the current now, the raft was driven rapidly downriver, until at last it slammed into a rock and tipped upward. The remaining goblins were thrown into the river with small splashes and were whisked away downstream—not likely to be a threat again today.
In comparison, Korrlan polled the raft with expert care, veering this way and that to evade the shafts that fell around them. It carried them past the sniper's nest in the cliffs above until the river turned eastward and they were finally safely out of the line of fire.
They rounded the bend, and found a wide natural landing, where the rough water lapped loudly on the sand- and gravel-covered bank. The rock and soil walls reached deeper into the cliff, narrowing as they went, and ended in a dark tunnel mouth, with stairs leading up. On either side, a few smaller caves lined the cavern's walls, each no more than a couple feet in diameter. They looked as if some burrowing thing had created them.
Wasting no time, Brace splashed through shallow water and onto the gravel beach. He was happy to be off the raft and no longer in danger of the quarrels of snipers. He moved immediately to the left of the opening cavern's walls and pressed his back to it defensively, while trying to reload the tiny goblin crossbow that he carried. He had given up on trying to strategize anymore; they were deep into this now, despite his better judgment. Who knew how many goblin warriors were about to pour out of the cave? He looked toward their supposed leader, the gnome, and waited for some sort of signal from him.
Thankfully, he could not even feel the pain in his arm from his newest wound. He happened to notice the series of tiny tunnels in the walls. He was not especially learned in the tunneling habits of animals or monsters, but they felt familiar to him, and they certainly did not look natural.…
They scrambled through the water and onto the bank, where they all saw the prints in the sand: big goblin feet coming and going to the tunnel entrance and, beside them and heading to the burrows, something else, something long-toed, rodent-like, and large.
The sorcerous halfling eagerly skipped through the water towards the shore. She found the closest boulder and hugged it. "I shall never leave you, land." The greenish hue oh her skin was gone, replaced by healthy cherubic rosy glow. Juniper noticed Brace's furrowed brows and cautious gaze into the open maw of a dangerous-looking cave. She shallowed loudly, trying to get rid of a nervous knot in her throat. "Let me guess, were are going in there?"
Brace looked at Juniper and put his finger to his mouth to keep her quiet. He then removed his backpack and set it on the ground and took out some of his trail rations, dried meat jerky and some crumbly bread. He tossed it into the middle of the area between all the tunnels, hoping to see if any large rodents would come out to recover the food, and if so, be more interested in it then them.
As he clambered onto land, Samo shot Korrlan a dirty look and made a mental note to find some pirate-themed chapbooks soon, to better prepare himself and the group for the rigors of nautical adventuring. The cave entrance that loomed ahead may have looked foreboding to some, but to Samophlange it looked exactly as he'd pictured a den of stinking goblins would. He was excited.
Bending down to inspect the tracks leading into the cavern, he was immediately reminded of one of the (several) appendixes attached to The Rat-Catcher of Selgaunt. Samo didn't normally bother with novels—they were generally far too long and plodding for his liking. Still, he'd read this one, mostly out of a morbid curiosity at the author's seeming obsession with rats. That obsession extended to rat physiology as well, and so the appendix in question had contained sketches of sundry rat varieties, their tracks included. "Ahem," he said, ignoring Brace's shushing, "These are dire rat tracks. You can tell from the gentle curvature of the outer toe... and the size." Samo turned to Juniper, his face betraying nothing but steely resolve and confidence. "But this changes nothing. We should forge ahead. Lives may depend on it."
But, before they could forge ahead, they first had to deal with the dire rat guardians. Brace's fistful of food scattered across the bank between the burrows, and lay invitingly before the hidden scavengers. But would they take the bait? Or would they ignore it and attack the trespassers, as good well-trained guard-beasts should?
After a short but tense wait, they glimpsed dark, fuzzy bodies shifting in the shadows, sunlight glinting off long fangs and claws and beady eyes. Then the beasts crept cautiously out of their burrows—five enormous rats, bigger and more dangerous-looking than most dogs. The largest were well over four feet from the nose to the base of the much longer naked tail, and they had coarse spiky fur, powerful claws, vicious-seeming faces, and long wickedly sharp incisors that would do more than gnaw, but tear flesh apart. To those who'd seen dire rats, whether safely in books or unsafely in the flesh, these creatures were longer and leaner, almost like otters. They weren't to know it yet, but these were lightning rats, a local breed of dire rat adapted to life along and in the Delimbiyr River.
With twitchy, whiskery noses, the rats stretched forward and inspected the offerings, backed up sharply, then pounced on the prizes. It was good! They carried the meat away first, turning and darting back into their burrows, and it almost seemed safe to pass then, before they came back for the bread.
The rats didn't return.
Seeming safe to pass now, they only had to cross the space, go up the stair, and enter the goblin bandit lair...
OOC: Knowledge (nature) or Intelligence check DC 10 (common knowledge) to recognize it's not a regular dire rat.
Brace did not hesitate further and rushed as fast as he could past the rodent tunnels to press himself beyond them against the wall just before the cave opening, crossbow ready to shoot anything coming out into the light.
Juniper watched the human and gnome expertly recognize and swiftly handle the... ahem... dire situation. She shook her head seeing all the food being wasted and quickly followed. The halfling slowed her jog trot momentarily and announced "This reminded me of the Churlgo clan when the food is served during the Feast of the Moon. You have to grab the most food before siblings get to it, then run. I once bit by brother Crispin over an onion-and-mushroomcheese handwheel!... Say, do you think there are more rats around?"
Samophlange honestly couldn't believe that worked. He was about to compliment Brace when the apothecary suddenly rushed ahead into cave. Ah well, thought Samo, maybe next time. Never one for hesitation, he quickly followed Brace and Juniper inside. Once past the entrance, he whispered to the halfling, "It's certainly possible there are more rats about. Let's try not to attract their attention." He unbuckled his crossbow from its holster.
"I don't know much about rats of dire nature, regretfully. But I've heard that every adventure epic starts with a basement full of hungry rats the hero valiantly slays." The halfling imitated the gnome and pulled her own implement of ranged death.
Still exhausted after steering the raft, Korrlan attempted to determine the nature of the rat-like tracks, as well as their lingering stench. He couldn't determine much at all, other than that they were large rats, but the sight (and moreover, the smell) of such creatures brought him back to Neverwinter. "Hmmm...", he pondered, "when the Wailing Death was first released upon the Jewel of the North, there were rumors about wererats skulking the city". The cleric turned to Samo, and asked, "I don't suppose you have heard of such creatures, whether that be adventuring or otherwise?". As he waited for a response, Korrlan withdrew his mace and shield, and joined his brother on the opposite side of the cave opening, ready for whatever rat-things would come at them.
"I know this much: regular-sized rats are bad enough. If we can avoid tangling with their more vicious cousins, we should do so." Also, Samo thought to himself, pest extermination was undignified work for real adventurers, only to be undertaken when absolutely necessary.
While Korrlan wondered at the significance of the dire rats, Brace and the others rushed one by one past the burrows and into the cave mouth proper. Before long, they all had their backs pressed against the walls and they readied themselves for the next hurdle—those wide and roughly cut stone stairs that led up into the cliff. A pungent stink, of rot and worse, gusted down the stairs, until Korrlan began to forgive the dire rats for the dire smell earlier.
Then goblins scrambled out of side tunnels and took up positions at the top of the stair: the two goblin crossbowmen who'd no doubt been taking potshots at them earlier, and a third, who looked almost familiar—it was the one who escaped the ambush yesterday! He stood between the crossbowmen and pointed accusingly. "It's them! The ones I told you about! Get them!" He insisted in frantic Goblinish, but they were still reloading their crossbows. Another loitered behind the group, perhaps crowded out, perhaps cowardly.
OOC: The stairs lead up, and are wide (~5 ft) and low enough not to impede movement or combat (i.e., the module doesn't mention them). PCs have cover, +4 AC, from hiding by the cave wall. PCs act first. Go!
As Korr poked his head around the cave wall and scurried forward, he saw the eager goblins quickly cock their crossbows and load their bolts. Seeing the goblinoid wretches' enthusiasm growing by the second, even after one had been shot, the cleric knew he had to dampen their spirit. He waved his hand in a circular motion, and followed the motion by striking the same area with two quick flicks of the wrist. This time, he did not cry out to his deity to empower himself or his allies, but to bring bane upon his assailants. "Suffer...", he said under his breath, as he stayed close to the side of the cave wall.
Korrlan moves forward 15 ft, casts bane upon the goblins.
"They said they know who we are!" Juniper translated to the merry band. "It's nice being recognized!" The halfling stepped out from behind the human and aimed her crossbow at the closest goblin atop the stairs. One of the recycled goblin bolts hit its target with a wet meaty thump. Without looking at her handiwork, Juniper jumped back behind Brace and into the safety of the tunnel's curve.
OOC:crossbow shot 17+4, assuming that hits. Damage 4.
Though Brace missed his hasty shot, Samophlange had more success, his quarrel flying close past Lek's head and nicking his large ear. The goblin yelped and ducked, covering his head with one arm and trying to get his new sword out of its scabbard with the other, all while repeating his desperate demands to the others. [#3 takes 2 damage, slightly wounded]
But all four began to feel doubt, followed soon after by fear and pain, as Korrlan's spell gave them each an inkling of what their victims had suffered. The goblins started to weep in despair, and their hands shook. Just one of the crossbowmen, the cruelest, managed to shake it off. 'No!' he spat. 'Stuff your booyahg!' [#2, #3, and #4 fail save; bane: −1 attack and saves vs fear. #1 passes.]
Then Juniper shot him in the chest, and he dropped face-first on the stair. [#1 downed]
Ilrien had been relieved about entering the nice, shady tunnel after dealing with the open river and goblin ambushers. She didn't even mind the dire rats once Brace quite intelligently got the party past without yet another fight. But now there are more goblins, and of the same group of bandits as well. So she raised her bow and, from the safety of the shadows, took a shot, happily putting an arrow in one of the orange targets. 16+3=19 to hit, only 1 damage to the first second goblin crossbowman.
Cursing, dreading his fate, the struck goblin clutched his bleeding arm, but managed to lever back his crossbow, just in time. He raised it to his eye and fired down the length of the stair—Ilrien only just ducked back behind cover as the bolt whizzed through where her head had been. [#2: attack 14, miss.] "Aargh! Why didn't those damned rats do anything?" he complained in Goblin.
"I told you we shoulda fed them!" Lek shouted back, finally drawing his sword. Sized for a goblin, a gnome, or a halfling, its polished blade gleamed brightly, even in the dimness of the cave. Alchemical silver! This was the sword of Corkaury Merrymar that Blaz had told them about. Taking a brave step forward, he waved it menacingly in the air, shouting in crude Common. "Hey! You want halflings? Come get what's left!"
Meanwhile, the other goblin loitering behind now dashed in, scooping up the crossbow of his fallen comrade—now nothing more than something to kick off and out of the way—and tried to finished loading it. How did it lever back like that?
Ignoring the goblin Lek's taunting, Brace repeated his prior action, popping out of cover to release another bolt. This time, the missile struck Lek soldily, though Brace did not wait to see the result before pressing himself back against the cold stone and beginning to reload a third bolt.
Ranged attack w/ small light crossbow: 18 + 1 = 19: hit Damage: 1d6 = 3
Struck in the shoulder, Lek began to think better of his brave plan of standing there and shaking his shiny new sword about. He wished Skar was here; he was a better leader and tactician. He even wished Hekkut would come out and deal with this mess. Why was it just him?! 'Back, get to cover. We'll use the caves.' he urged his fellows in the Goblin tongue, pointing eastward and deeper into the caves as the next bolt flew over their heads.
As the goblins looked at each other with a distinct lack of confidence, Korrlan let loose a crossbow bolt as quick as he could. The bolt whizzed through the air, but unfortunately, it also whizzed past the goblinoids, and struck the back of the cave wall. Korrlan sighed heavily, "typical...". He quickly darted back to cover, alongside his companions.
Ilrien could not understand the goblinoid language, but she did not think the gesture the talky one made was that hard to interpret. Whether out of cowardice or some planned defense further in, she had no clue, but she didn't feel like finding out. She steps out of cover briefly to take another shot at the talker, before stepping back. 3+3=6 to hit Lek. Likely a miss
Ducking and dodging the arrows and quarrels flying their way, the goblins darted into the right-hand tunnel, the two with crossbows of their own firing hastily behind them to cover their retreat tactical relocation. One bolt grazed Ilrien, the other clattered off Korrlan's armor. [Goblin #2 attack 15 @ Ilrien, damage 2; Goblin #4 attack 12 @ Korrlan, miss]
'How dare you?! We would never kiss rats!' Lek spat back at Juniper in outrage, speaking in the Goblin tongue and apparently not realizing she'd revealed that she did too. Then he too scrambled out of sight.
Now, the stairway was undefended, the way was clear. But had the goblins retreated, or merely prepared a better ambush? What other surprises lay within their lair?
Brace darted forward to the very base of the steps and the darkening shadow of the cave's entrance. He knew that goblins were tricky creatures, and he hesitated. He knew nothing of how traps worked, but he feared that the steps might be dangerous to rush up without some caution. He did not know what he was looking for exactly, but he had a knack for finding things and observing the subtlest of details….
Juniper knew that the goblin protested too much and he was, indeed, a rat-kisser. The redhead looked at her companions and uneasily stepped forward pointing her crossbow at the cave ahead. OOC: Juniper moved to O13.
After taking Samophlange's words into account, Korrlan thought about rushing forward. However, it was possible that it wasn't "definitely the last of them", as goblins were known to spring ambushes on enemies that had let their guard down. Instead of rushing forward without a care, he sheathed his crossbow, and prepared to withdraw his weapons for a potential up-close encounter.
Ilrien briefly lifted an eyebrow in surprise when Juniper yelled in the goblin tongue, but given the goblin's indignant reaction, there was no foul play at work. Fortunate, that; otherwise things would have been awkward. She then turned to the steps that the rest watched with apprehension. So she started up the steps—while darkness was friend and cloak to her, it could also be armor and shield... Ilrien starts up the stairs, activating Steel Shadows as she does so (her AC increases by 6)
The heroes advanced up the stairs, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Brace cautiously checked for traps, but nothing about the rough-cut stone steps made him suspicious. Nothing, that is, except for the way the cave's darkness seemed to cling to Ilrien, giving her shadow of a warrior in armor and shield.
Ilrien went a little further, and heard echoing around the corner and down the stair the sounds of feet stamping on stone, frantic goblin cursing, and the rattling of a cage...
Convinced that the stone steps were simply that, Brace moved forward at a hustle, passing the elven woman on her left and reaching the top of the five wide steps. He pressed his back now against the right wall of the entrance tunnel, just at the point were it made a tee with a horizontal passage. Crossbow loaded and in hand, he listened for the sound of goblins to the east but, with his eyes, he stared to the west, where the passage curved sharply left. It was getting harder to see in this shadow; were he to go around the bend ahead, he realized that he would be completely blind. However, he did have sharp eyes….
Ilrien silently prayed to Corellon and walked forward, following Brace to look around the corner. She raised her shadow-shield as she did so, as much for concealment as for cover. Ilrien to J7. Listen check: 1+2=3 Spot check: 12+3=15
Brace and Ilrien both crept bravely to the tunnel intersection, cautiously checking both ways. The western tunnel was dark and silent, as expected, but the east was not—from there, they heard goblin cursing and a wooden cage rattling, and glimpsed a dull red glow rippling on the cave wall. It wasn't as flickering or as bright as fire, and they didn't smell smoke, so it wasn't from a torch or campfire. It must come from some other light source, deeper in the cave. But whatever the goblins were up to, it was becoming clear that if they didn't act soon, this battle was about to get a whole lot worse.
As Brace and Ilrien checked both left and right, Korrlan withdrew his heavy mace and strapped his shield to his arm. He moved between his brother and the lean elf. "I'll head in first. If this strange red glow is anything dangerous, the Crying God will protect me." Well, he hoped Ilmater would protect him, but he also wished to get up close so that he could cause some old-fashioned suffering himself. As such, he strode in.
Courageously stepping out of the tunnel, Korrlan's first sight was of the two goblin crossbowmen, their backs pressed to the walls and frantically reloading their weapons. They hadn't noticed him yet, but it was only a matter of heartbeats before they did. Beyond them, large speckled mushrooms sprouted in clusters from every crack and corner of the cave. The smell of rotting vegetation and waste was strongest here; evidently they'd not bothered much about sanitation.
But in the center of the cavern was a big, rickety-looking wooden cage, lashed together from thick sticks and twine, but strong enough to hold the beast inside—a massive beetle, the size of a large dog, black shelled and with bright glowing red patches on its head and abdomen. That explained the source of the light. The source of the noise, meanwhile, was the third goblin, desperately trying to unleash the beast. But the crude locking bar, as was so often the case when one was in a hurry, had gotten stuck. Lek swore and forced and rattled it, while the others shouted advice. "You have to jiggle it!" "Push it back and try again!" "I said we should grease it!"
The apothecary moved beside his brother around the corner, took in the sight of what he was somewhat certain was a giant fire beetle and of the goblin trying to loose it. He fired another crossbow shot at Lek but missed.
Move to K4 Untrained knowledge check: 15 + 3 = 18 Ranged attack w/ small light crossbow: 2 + 1 = 3: miss
With the cleric moving forward, Juniper felt a bit more safe. With a morale boost and nudged by curiosity, halfling dashed forward. Two goblins and the rude goblin opening a cage of some unknown glowing monstrosity. “Oh no, Rat-Kisser, keep your ugly dog in its cage!!” She feverishly tugged on Mystra's weave, shaping energies into a deadly missile. OOC: Juniper moved from J9 to J4. Magic Missile spell on Lak. Oh boy, 4+1 force damage’’
Risking a quick glance back over his shoulder, Lek ducked the crossbow bolt that came flying over it and through the bars of the cage. He turned back to the locking bar he was still struggling with, and had nearly drawn, shouting "Dog? It's a— Ack!" He couldn't duck the magic missile that slammed into his back and slammed him into the cage. When they'd first caught the big glow-bug scavenging in their lair, they'd thought it might be more useful for more than just lighting and disposing of scraps, but, if properly trained, as a guardian beast too. There had seemed no better time than now to put it the test. Instead, it lunged forward and with its mighty mandibles caught Lek's arm where it had fallen through the bars, and began to chop and chew. The precious silver sword slipped from his other hand, and clinked and clanked against the stone floor.
The last two goblins whipped their loaded crossbows up and aimed at their enemy.
OOC: Ilrien and Samo are up. I moved Samo to behind Juniper based on his last action of following her everywhere. :D
Peeking out from behind Juniper, the only thing Samo could see was the chattiest goblin from earlier meeting a grisly fate. Summoning up more courage, he looked around for a better vantage point—behind one of his bigger colleagues, of course. He scurried over to hide behind Korrlan's hulking frame (hulking from Samo's perspective, at any rate). He could now see two crossbowmen crossbowgoblins to either side. He especially didn't like the look of the one on Korrlan's left, and so he loosed a bolt in that general direction.
From where she was, the angle was narrow and the goblin half-hidden behind the cave wall, so Ilrien's arrow glanced off the stone with a noisy clatter. But it was enough to spook the goblin, and he fired a hasty shot back, almost in surprise. The bolt bounced uselessly off Korrlan's armor. The goblin turned and ran, stopping by the beetle cage. [Goblin #2 misses, moves to Q7]
The other took a step back and fired, but it too missed. He threw down the unloaded crossbow, and reached for a crude morningstar... [Goblin #4 to N6]
That was it: they were the last two left, they were outnumbered, their leader was down, the baneful spell had demoralized them, and they'd all had rotten luck besides. But they would take their chances though. The idea of retreating and answering to Hekkut seemed far worse. They would die as goblins!
"I don't think so", muttered Samo as he saw the goblin he had just fired at seemingly in full rout. He quickly reloaded, took aim between Korrlan's legs, and fired.
…unfortunately, just as Samophlange pressed the trigger on his crossbow, his arm bumped into Korrlan's left leg, throwing off his aim and causing the bolt to fly several feet wide. "Gah", exclaimed Samo, "stand still!"
Samo uses his move action to reload.
As the gnome popped down to fire his crossbow, Juniper followed suit, aiming at the same goblin as did Samo. Yet another bolt whizzed between Korrlan's legs. The halfling feverishly started to reload without leaving the spot. OOC:Juniper rolled 19+4 on crossbow attack. Damage:2 (crit on 19, total damage 4+2).
Korrlan stepped forward confidently, with his new philosophy in mind. Striking down the goblin would mean his companions would not suffer any blows, be it from a crudely-crafted bolt or a rusty morningstar. All the goblin had to do in return was... take the suffering onto itself, Korr thought with a snicker. "Ilmater, if you believe in me, as I believe in my new-found philosophy, guide my strike!" Korrlan roared, as he slammed down with his weapon in an overhead strike. His strike connected for the first time since his adventurers had begun; the goblinoid's cranium was crushed and shattered, and blood sprayed out at all angles. Korrlan was drenched in gore. His faith renewed, the cleric looked down at the obliterated goblin. Korrlan enjoyed that. He enjoyed that more than he'd ever thought he would...
OOC: Moves to M6. Attack with masterwork mace: 16 + 2 + 1 = 19. Finally a hit! Damage: 6 + 2 = 8
Where Samophlange failed, Juniper succeeded, her bolt flying between Korrlan's legs and between the goblin's shoulder blades. In shock and pain, he arched his back and flung his arms wide, and finally collapsed face-first onto the cave floor. [Samo misses, Juniper hits. Goblin #2 downed]
Then Korrlan advanced into the cave—perhaps to get out of the way before the others could try shooting between his legs again, and risk hitting something else. As the last goblin standing raised his rusty morningstar, the cleric smote him with all the force of his renewed faith. The Broken God might not support all aspects of his strange new interpretation of doctrine, but he did still believe in his troubled priest. [Korr hits, goblin #4 downed]
And that was it. The goblins were defeated, the adventurers had won.
Now they were no longer fighting for their lives, the adventurers could lower their weapons and properly look around. They were at the entrance of a dank natural cave, one clearly used as a camp or communal lair by the goblin bandits. Reed mats were scattered around a small still-warm campfire, and rubbish and waste were dumped in the corners, while the air was dense with the stink of rotting vegetation, filth, and now blood. Maybe the goblins didn't live like this at home, but then, at home, they had mothers and wives to prod them or clean up after them, and they weren't about to start cleaning up after themselves while away.
In the cave's many cracks, corners, and crannies, there sprouted clusters of mushrooms. They were big and speckled gray mushrooms, and in many cases their thread-like mycelium spread over the older masses of naeth. The caps of some of the mature mushrooms had been broken apart and evidently consumed, going by the half-eaten mushrooms on the ground, both fresh and toasted over the fire. It was a simple but efficient food chain.
In the center of the cave, of course, was the cage containing the giant fire beetle, whose dull red glow provided the illumination. It was busy chewing on whatever goblin bits protruded between the bars. It was better, and fresher, than the scraps the goblins had tossed it.
The goblin bandits wore grubby leathers and their crude rusty morningstars and small battered crossbows had fallen from their hands, as had the shining silver-bladed short sword taken from Corkaury Merrymar. Lek had waved it around bravely, but never got the chance to put it to use, let alone good use. Maybe it could still be of benefit today, if someone snatched it away from the fire beetle.
Meanwhile, the two crossbow-goblins had quivers from which spilled their quarrels. They had some two dozen ordinary-looking bolts between them, and ten fine bolts with tips also of gleaming silver.
A clay vial, pouch, and roll of parchment to be used as tinder lay by the fire.
In the east, roughly cut stairs led down, into darkness.
His crossbow loaded again, Brace moved immediately to the goblin upon which the giant insect was gnawing and pinned his head to the clay floor through his skull. He did not voice his reasons or make any other sound to his companions, but the act was one of mercy in his mind. The humanoid may still have been alive, and, while Brace wanted the goblins dead, he did not hate them enough to wish such a horrible death on them as being consumed when still living by the jaws of a monster.
Next he went to the vial, pouch, and parchment and carefully took up each to examine.
Brace sniffed the vial, nodded knowingly, and slipped it in a tiny pocket next to the others on his belt. He opened the small pouch, inserted his fingers and drew out a tiny stick and sniffed that as well. Nodding a second time, he closed the pouch again. He then walked over to his brother, while attaching the cords of the pouch to his belt.
"Brother," he said, handing Korr the parchment, which he had already partially unrolled. He said nothing else and moved over to look at the glint of reflected red light coming from the spilled quarrels.
Juniper pulled herself up from the sniping position and attempted to dust off her clothes, albeit unsuccessfully. She gave the filthy room a scan and decided that piles of rotting dung were not worth investigating. Her eyes slowed on the strange gnawed mushrooms for a second and sparked with curiosity. She decided to ignore them for a brief moment and focus on Brace, who decided to play around with a goblin corpse. “Say, this glowing animal doesn’t look hungry anymore. Do you think we could let it out of the cage before leaving? No-one belongs in a cage, not even a … whatever this thing is.”
As Brace moved over to the fallen goblin’s ammunition, the hin wizard also walked around the cave picking up a handful of bolts to replace those lost in the fray. She stopped at one particularly plump mushroom as her stomach growled. Juniper used one of the goblins’ bolts to skewer the mushroom and then another one, until the bolt resembled a lackluster kebob. The wizard took a closer look at the amazing delectable chef Juniper’s bolt-kebob while trying to remember what she read in her highly used copy of Poisons and Known Antidotes… But recalled no telltale signs of poisonous mushrooms that matched these. She smiled and put the kebob away to return to later.
”Anything interesting in the rat-kisser’s pockets?” she asked while shuffling back to the goblin massacre site.
Samophlange had busied himself recovering his spent bolts when he overheard Juniper mentioning the caged beetle-thing. He had never encountered its like before, but it certainly didn't seem very friendly or endearing. "It's possible the goblins locked this creature up for a reason," he said, "some monsters are just born bad. Then again, I have never seen one of these before." He paused as a thought occurred to him. "Blaz Merrymar did mention one of his sons had a silver blade. Could this be the same one?" He gestured to the silver sword that had fallen into the cage.
Roll 4d100 to recover bolts: 23, 85, 88, 39 (2 successes) Knowledge check to see if Samo realizes fire beetles are dangerous: 11 + 2 = 13
Samo shot Juniper a quizzical look. "Uhh...", he began, not sure how to begin to explain how ludicrous that sounded. On second thought, however, it wasn't an entirely ridiculous suggestion. "I think I've heard of similar cases in, uh, a scholarly work." The work had been, of course, a plainly fantastical chapbook wherein a wizard's apprentice had accidentally turned himself into a chicken: Magic Most Fowl.
Juniper nodded in scholarly agreement pinching her chin with a thumb and an index finger in contemplation. She, of course, was thinking of an outrageous hin operetta “Wild Weasel Lady of Beluir”, a precarious love story that involved a comedy of errors, a misplaced polymorph spell, several bedroom accidents, and a curse-lifting kiss guided by pure halfling avarice.’’
Wiping the blood from his face, Korr took the parchment from his brother. He fully unrolled it and started to examine, seeing if he recognised any languages or symbols. "This scroll is lined with divine symbols, but I'll need the help of divine magic to unravel its mysteries..." Korr said as he pocketed the parchment.
As his brother looked at the divine writings on the scroll, Brace picked up a trio of bolts. He licked one of the points. "Alchemical silver," he said. "Saer Gnome, is it true that such metal is poison to lycanthropes?"
Samophlange closed his eyes, giving the sagest nod he could muster in response to Brace. "That is correct, but only when the were-things are in their beastly forms." Samo was pretty sure of it, anyway. He had never actually seen a lycanthrope, but two of his associates had run afoul of a wererat gang in Athkatla's sewers a few years back. One night, over a round of mulled cider in the Copper Coronet, they had told Samophlange how they had handled the problem in excruciating detail—their graphic account of the proceedings had made the information stick in Samo's mind.
"...Although," he added, "I would be surprised if there are any lycanthropes here." Goblin werewolves seemed a step too fantastical to Samo.
"Nevertheless, you may want a few of these," said Brace, handing four silvered bolts to Samo. "You, too, Juniper, even if you do not wish to taste them." He tossed the remaining three at her hairy feet. He had more confidence in his voice than was usual for him. He then added the remaining bolts to his case, filling it to capacity with a few more mundane bolts from the goblins stash.
"We should not tarry," he then said to Samo. "But do any of us bear a torch? All I have is a tiny oil lamp, and we cannot expect a glowing insect to be present in every tunnel moving forward." As he spoke, he nonchalently grabbed a couple of the odd mushrooms and stuffed them into his belt pouch.
With an unconcerned shrug, Samo accepted the silvered bolts and added them to his quiver. He rummaged through his backpack and produced a hooded lantern, lit it using his flint and steel, and declared to the group: "Let's let caged beetles lie and forge ahead. I will take point, just stay behind me—and stay quiet." Pleased with himself for yet again managing to sound like a real adventurer, Samo moved eastward, past the cage and toward the tunnel beyond (while on the lookout for anything suspicious, including traps).
"Lycanthropes are not unusual in wild areas, but it is just as likely that the goblins stole silvered bolts. And I highly doubt a group of goblin brigands had the magic to turn a halfling into a giant beetle." Ilrien said quietly as she walked over from retrieving her arrow. "Are we going to retrieve the blade?"
Retrieving the silvered sword proved to be much easier than expected: it had fallen close to the side of the cage, and the fire beetle was easily lured to the other side while someone with small and nimble hands—Samophlange, say—reached in and snatched it out. It was a finely made short sword, sized for hin or gnome hands and with a gleaming silver-plated blade. On the hilt was a phenalope inset in silver depicting a red boar, seen face-on as if charging the viewer. This was evidentally the sign of the well-equipped guards of the Red Boar Trading Coster, commanded by this Stedd Rein character.
The adventurers had recovered their breath, retrieved their ammunition, and assessed and shared out their finds. Now it was time to move on, to find the kidnapped halflings and put an end to the bandit menace!
Before the adventurers lost sight of the trapped and poylmorphed chitinous halfling, Juniper aimed her crossbow at the giant bug's cage in case the creature gnaws at her. She was hoping to leave the cage unlocked for the bug to get out later, but do it stealthily so the beetle doesn't try and eat her cherubic face off. OOC: sleight of hand - 16+4. And the rushed after the rest of the team who were quickly moving further away and deeper into the caves.
With the care that the goblins had lacked, Juniper pushed in, turned, and pulled out the bolt keeping the cage locked. It was open now, but she'd been quiet and the big beetle was too busy munching on goblin leftovers, and leftover goblin, in the other corner to notice or realize how doors worked. When it tried to push against the walls of its cage later, it would surely find its way out.
Leading the way through the cave with lantern in one hand and sword in the other—like a true adventurer!—Samophlange advanced to the eastern tunnel. His lantern light cut through the darkness and when it fell, it illuminated roughly cut stone steps, descending deeper into the ground. So far, so good.
After some thirty feet, the tunnel split in two in a Y shape. Which way would they try first, left or right?
The fork in the tunnel didn't faze Samophlange for even a second. He'd encountered this exact situation dozens of times before—in his chapbooks, of course. He leaned back toward the others and whispered "We'll go left. You're supposed to always go left." He proceeded down the left tunnel, thinking to himself: or was it right?
Going left (or was it right?), Samophlange found a short passage, which after some fifteen feet or so descended into the darkness with another set of steps. But, before that, he had to stop short, as his lantern light illuminated a thin wire stretched across the tunnel, at about a gnome's shin height. A trap! [Search 21, success!]
Halting, Samophlange gestured for the others to stop. He whispered "Careful! There's a trap!" and bent down to inspect the thin wire. Still whispering, he told the others "Looks like a pretty rudimentary trip wire. Give me a few minutes and I'll clear the way." He set down his backpack and fished out his well-worn set of thieves' tools. With immaculate grace and the precision of a barber (well, he thought so, anyway), Samophlange set about disabling the trap.
If stepping on or pushing against the wire would increase tension, and trigger the trap, then reducing that tension would surely disarm it. Right? Samophlange snipped the wire and both ends fell slack from the holes in the cave wall. And from several concealed holes in the cave walls, from ground to ceiling on and both sides of the tunnel, small darts popped out and dropped uselessly on the floor. Each was hollowed out, rather like a whistle.
As the darts plopped impotently to the ground, Samo gave his colleagues a big grin. "Told you," he whispered in a self-congratulatory tone. The trap dealt with, he stowed away his tools, picked up his backpack, and continued on down the tunnel without pausing to make sure the others were following.
Not far behind Samo, Korr gave an impressed nod as the gnome easily disabled the dart trap. Korrlan was eager to push on, and didn't hesitate to let Samophlange know. "Now, let's see what awaits us at the end of the passage!" he purred.
With the whistling darts disabled, the adventures crept onward, down the winding rock-cut stair, and were soon plunged into darkness. Those without darkvision had to feel the rough cave walls alongside them and probe for each drop ahead of them, and it was little better those who could see the narrow tunnel. But soon, after some fifteen feet or so, a faint and flickering firelight began to illuminate the cave walls. They could hear movement: muttering, shuffling, whimpering. They were close!
Then they were, standing at the mouth of a fire-lit cave, where a strange and silhouetted figure scampered swiftly past and dropped a sack down a hole in the floor. It landed with a distant thud and a small smash, and the creature, seemingly heedless of their approach, peered down the hole to check the results, a tail whipping behind it. "You get those adventurers?" he rasped, not looking around. Above the hole, a complicated system of ropes and pulleys dangled from hooks driven into the ceiling; perhaps this was normally used to lower stolen goods down the hole, but now only a heavy bundle of rocks dangled ominously over the pit.
All around them, the rough cave walls were covered with countless peculiar pictographs, displaying figures, symbols, and scenes. Many were carved with a blocky and savage hand, but others were inscribed as carefully and elegantly as a wizard's spellbook. In the firelight, they seemed to twist and writhe in unnatural ways, almost as if alive.
But, most of all, the chamber was dominated by the strange stone statue that squatted in the alcove at the far end, from whose head the magical, smokeless flames emanated endlessly. Although crude and lumpen, it depicted a powerful rat-like creature, with long incisors bared and red eyes burning wickedly.
Sitting at the side of the cave were three halflings, bound and gagged, with faces haggard, pale, and frightened. It was not hard to see why—fresh bloody bites marred their arms.
Then the obvious source of those nasty bites suddenly rose and whipped his head toward the invading adventurers, gasping in surprise "You're here?!" He seemed to be some kind of rat-man, a mix of features of giant rat, like those dire rats outside, and a tall man-sized goblin, perhaps a scrawny hobgoblin. But he looked decrepit and twisted, with hair falling out, as if this fusion of forms was not a healthy one. He was dressed in grubby moth-eaten robes adorned with numerous pouches and waved a staff with a knob on the end at the trespassers. "But you're too late!" he cackled, "The goblins may have shunned the gift of Hekkut the Molted, but come the full moon, these halflings will make fine rats!"
Samo gave a very heroic "Eep!" and, acting entirely on impulse, chucked his hooded lantern at the horrifying rat-monster.
Samo throws his lantern at Hekkut. 5 + 4 = 9
Immediately upon loosing his projectile, Samophlange turned and, with the hurried pace of a seasoned adventurer, advanced in the opposite direction from the monster, eking (and quietly eeking) past Korrlan and taking up a tactical position behind him.
His beady black eyes widening in shock, Hekkut writhed swiftly and agilely aside as the blazing lantern hurtled past his shoulder—and sailed on, downward, and at last into the yawning black pit behind him, and disappeared.
For one long moment, all was silent as they all watched and waited, and wondered.
Until they heard a smash and a great woomph as burning oil splattered all around the inside of the shaft, sending a little fireball shooting up out of the hole. Afterward, flames licked and crawled up the dangling rope. "No! You fool!" Hekkut hissed as he saw his escape plan rapidly going up in literal smoke.
Then he ran forward, chasing with clawed hands outstretched to catch Samophlange, but the gnome was too nimble. So the outraged rat-man stopped short, dipped his fingers inside one pouch, then flung his hand forward, scattering colored sands and snarling out arcane words. It was like a rainbow poured out of his palm, a whirling funnel of vividly clashing colors that filled the tunnel and washed over Korrlan, Brace, and Samophlange, dazzling the eyes and the mind.
OOC: Korrlan, Brace, and Samophlange: roll Will saves DC 12. The rest of the party may act.
Juniper moved forward wanting to see better the speaker. She observed with awe Samo’s brilliant planning and strategy as the flames started licking the ropes. Then the ratgoblin plunged his hands into what she quickly recognized to be a components pouch. Her nose twitched- a telltale sign of Holy Mystra's weave being plucked nearby. “Nice trick, mister Hanky the Molten! I don’t know that spell. But I do know one just as fun!” A familiar incantation echoed off the walls of the cave and a glowing missile rushed towards the ratman’s ugly face and smashed into it, sending another echo reverberating across the cave.
OOC: Juniper moved positioning herself behind Brace - K5. Magic Missile spell at Hekkut the Molted. 3+1 force damage.
Though Korrlan, the strong-willed cleric of Ilmater, stood firm and shut his eyes against the colorful spray, behind him, his brother Brace and traveling companion Samophlange quickly succumbed. Their dazzled, overwhelmed minds shut down and their bodies slumped unconscious on the stair. [Will saves: Korr 17, Samo 6, Brace 5. Samo & Brace unconscious for 5 rounds]
But then Juniper's missile of force struck Hekkut across the face, making him reel and wince. "And you will join them for that, halfling!" in spat in a rage. "Your kind are already half rat!" [Hekkut takes 4 force damage, slightly injured]
"Oh, I think not, vermin." Ilrien practically spat out as she reached into the narrow, cool not-space where she found magic... and shot an arrow of shadow from her bow at the mad rat-thing. Casting Arrow of Dusk (ranged touch attack) 7+2=9 to hit. 2d4 nonlethal damage if it hits, which it probably did not.
As Korr endured the prismal spray, he saw his brother and the gnome immediately fall to the ground. He then looked to the bound halflings who were paralyzed with fear. Grimacing, Korrlan Splitbark strode forward towards the gaunt rat-like humanoid, Hekkut the Molted. "You", he said with an accusing finger, "You will never have the opportunity to cause innocents to suffer ever again!". With rage, the cleric called upon the power of the Broken God, and reached out towards Hekkut's face with both hands. Korrlan's hands glowed and shook with radiant energy as the connection was made... leaving the rat-man writhing and spasming. Whether that was in pain, or otherwise, the Ilmatari priest did not care. Hekkut deserved everything that was coming to him, and more.
OOC: Korr uses his granted power, pain touch (suffering domain). Melee touch attack (19 + 2 = 21) against a living creature, which bestows on that creature a -2 penalty to Strength and Dexterity for 1 minute on a successful attack.
Again, the agile wererat dodged the projectile, which flew past him and dissipated harmlessly against the bundle of rocks. The shadowy arrow carried no momentum, so it didn't even swing. But the flames were creeping ever higher up the burning rope... [Ilrien misses]
But he could not evade divine punishment at the hands of the Painbearer. Hekkut hissed and squealed, a blood-curdling screech at the cave ceiling and he beat his tail on the ground, as that glow poured through Korrlan's hands and out the wererat's eyes and ears. [Korrlan hits, deals pain touch]
At last, Hekkut slipped loose and shot the priest a look of savage fury. "Like you can talk, human!" he spat, then snapped at Korrlan's hand with his long incisors, hoping to bite and infect with the priest with lycanthropy. But he missed, still too weak while Korrlan had been all too ready for this reaction. [Hekkut: bite attack 2, miss]
But, while the pair struggled, a small rat dropped out of Hekkut's filthy rags. It hit the ground running, scampering around Korrlan and running straight at Juniper! [Rat appears, moves from G5 to I5. Provokes AoO from Korrlan.].
OOC: No new map, please see updates in caption above. Juniper, Ilrien, and Korrlan are up next.
"I think Hekkut just complimented me in a sick wererat manner? He worships rats, ergo him comparing me to a rat is a compliment. What a strange man.” Juniper mumbled to herself as she started loading up her crossbow with one of the looted silver-tipped bolts. Then she noticed a small hairy thing sprinting towards her. Juniper squeaked in panic, or was it the vicious beast rushing at her? The tiny wizard instinctively pulled the trigger. OOC: Crossbow - > Rat = 8+3+1, assuming 12 is a miss.
The shadow of an arrow missed, and Ilrien nearly swore in frustration. But battle slows for no warrior, elf or otherwise. She shot again, an arrow of wood this time, at the much smaller rat. She was fair certain it was a familiar and not another wererat... 16+3=19 to hit the familiar; 7 piercing damage
Dashing along the stone floor, Zuunt the rat zigged and zagged then veered and swerved, so when Juniper fired her crossbow in haste it narrowly evaded the silver-tipped bolt that hit the ground beside it. But Juniper had forced it left, where Ilrien was ready to let fly her arrow. It struck; the rodent rolled and squealed. If it had been any ordinary rat, that would've been it, but this magical beast proved much hardier, and flipped back onto its paws. [Ilrien hits. Rat seriously injured]
The Ilmatari cleric thought back to Brace and Samophlange; Korr didn't know if they were unconscious or worse. He could rush back and heal them, but he'd also be leading Hekkut straight to the downed pair. Korrlan had to hold the line whilst the halfling and moon elf defended the fallen. Without thinking further, Korrlan seized the opportunity to strike the goblinoid. Outstretching his arm behind his back, he swung his masterwork mace in an arc, smacking Hekkut in the side of his molted head with great force.
Though it was a forceful blow that turned the wererat's head, Hekkut merely looked back at Korrlan with a wicked sneer on his rattish face. "That the best you can do?" Then, deftly avoiding Korrlan's efforts to interrupt him, he snarled out some arcane words and flung his hand forward, blasting the priest with a bolt of magical force, similar to the one Juniper had hurled earlier. [Hekkut cast defensively Concentration check 22, success. Casts magic missile, damage 4 @ Korrlan]
Then he backed contemptuously away, retreating to the hole and to his escape route. He'd need his strength and his magic to make the journey back to the Hark's lair...
The rat, discouraged by Ilrien's arrow, also turned and ran back to its master's side.
OOC: Korrlan may AoO the rat again. Korrlan, Juniper, and Ilrien may act.
The magical bolt struck Korrlan, causing him to recoil. The cleric then looked upwards to find the wererat stumble towards the hole in the ground. As Hekkut began to retreat, Korr swiped at him with his mace, but the goblinoid proved too quick in his escape. Korrlan, however, was relieved. His decision to stay and fight had proved to be the right one. But Korrlan was not done, oh no, not by a long stretch. Letting Hekkut live to see another day could prove to be a costly mistake. Beaten, but not down, Korr strode towards mangy goblinoid for a final strike.
OOC: AoO, to hit: 7 + 3 = 10.OOC: Attack, to hit: 8 + 3 = 11.
Ilrien eyed the fleeing rats and then raised her bow and shot the smaller one again. But the creature was small and moving fast enough that her arrow clattered off the stone instead. 9+3=12 to hit. Miss
Once, twice, Korrlan swung his steel mace, but Hekkut dodged and ducked with casual ease. The wily wererat seemed too quick to hit, and when he could be hit, he could not be hurt at all, not with mundane steel. "Fools! I am invincible!" he cheered. Swiftly, he weaved another spell, and with it Korrlan's mind began to feel strangely clouded. But the priest found his resolve and shook it off. [Hekkut casts defensively, Concentration 18, success. Korrlan Will save 22, success.]
But Hekkut the Molted seemed to neither notice nor care. "To me, Zuunt!" he squeaked, as the smaller rat ran back up his leg. "We must be away, through the Flayer's Corridors, and back to the Hark! These halflings will deal with these fools for us come the next full moon, I think!" he cackled. And with that he jumped dramatically down the hole, his large rat-like claws latching easily onto the earth and stone sides of the shaft as he climbed down, hand over hand, deeper and deeper into the black pit. But not fast enough, not with the holy pain still in his limbs. Yet he pressed on; his freedom was close.
However, after Samophlange had hurled his blazing lantern into the hole, Hekkut had overlooked the flames licking the ropes and net of his elaborate rock trap, which had been intended to seal his escape route after he used this passage for the final time. After; not before, and certainly not during. The fire had crawled slowly up the rope, across both sides of the rock bundle, and quite quickly over the oiled pulley. And now, more and more, it all came apart.
Burned bits of rope rained around Hekkut the Molted and singed his remaining fur. Then it was a rock, clipping his shoulder and forcing him to halt. And then, with a great whoosh, the whole load of rocks released and plummeted down the shaft, atop the wererat wizard, tearing him off the shaft wall and engulfing him utterly as fell. "Nooo—" he cried, but was cut off as he was buried in a great heap at the bottom. The passage was sealed, and the wererat was surely dead.
If Samophlange was conscious, no doubt he would say he'd planned that all along.
Meanwhile, it took approximately eighteen firm shakes for Juniper to get either Brace or Samophlange to stir, though—they were not just asleep, but unconscious. And even when they recovered, their eyes were unseeing and their minds clouded for almost half a minute. [Brace and Samo stunned and blinded for 4 rounds, then stunned for 1 round, then are clear]
As the rock settled, Ilrien took a nice, deep breath and willed whatever was left of her shadowy armor away. Then she turned to the halflings and, attempting a smile, spoke softly in the Northern tongue, "Hello. We are here to help."
With a confused "Huh…wha-", Samophlange woke from his short trip to the Elemental Plane of Unconsciousness. Re-adjusting to his surroundings, he couldn't see any trace of the horrible rat-monster. "Did we win?" he said, to no one in particular. Brace made a ridiculous comment, and Samo, rapidly gathering his faculties, responded "Whaddaya mean blind? Sabruin, man, it's brighter than Lathander's arse in here!"
Shaking his head, Samo got to his feet with only a little bit of difficulty, muttering some choice words about the rudeness of tall folk.
”You’re safe! We’re safe.” Juniper tried to calm Brace. “The day was saved by Samophlange’s ingenious plan. The rat man won’t menace anyone from now on.” She helped the blinded man up. “If these are the abductees, then who was the beetle we left behind?… Adventuring is full of mysteries… Anyway, Brace, can your brother ask his god to cure these boys? The ratman implied they were infected, poor dears.” Juniper looked around to see if the silver bolt she fired was still usable.
The three haggard halflings looked wearily up at Ilrien's friendly greeting, stared at her wonderingly for several seconds, and then whined desperately for help around their gags.
The writing on the wall was a chaotic scattering of strange pictographs, of figures, symbols, and whole scenes, ever varying in their design and matching no familiar script. Hekkut seemed to have had some compulsion to scratch these, yet no consistency or scheme in mind. Rats figured heavily, especially around the shrine, with veneration of some rat-man god. Or was it Hekkut himself?
Juniper looked up at the curiously decorated wall. She squinted her eyes at the rat scribbles. "Is that a Hekkut? a deity of some kind? Not the ratman we just defeated? hmm… I wonder if these images have some magic in them?" OOC: Trying to see if there is anything magical about the scribbles. Arcana: 10+8.'
Ignoring the silly scribbles on the wall—honestly, he wasn't impressed—and also ignoring the bound halflings, Samophlange walked over to the gaping hole in the floor and looked down, trying to gain some clarity on the situation.
As he peered down the pit, Samophlange could not gain much in the way of clarity—the shaft was still filled with smoke and rock dust—the dramatic results of his mis-thrown lantern. Yet eventually he glimpsed the bottom, finding it lit by smouldering lengths of rope and heaped with rocks and bits of rat and tattered robes. One clawed hand struggled feebly, then fell limp.
Looking over the carvings, Juniper recognized some common magical symbols: the spiral, the star, the little fishy-shaped thing, and so on. But none of them came together in anything resembling a spell, ward, or any other arcane writing. Eventually, by the structure, grammar, and the fact of who had written it, she realized it was likely written in the Goblin language, only without any of the Dethek runes normally used to write it down. Rather, Hekkut seemed to have used a pictographic code of his own devising. With some deciphering, they might make it legible.
Korrlan, meanwhile, examined the shrine, with its crude upright rat idol and the images inscribed on the alcove wall behind it. The sun and tree showed a world above ground, but below ground, stick-like figures venerated a giant rat, and a rat-headed wizard or shaman blazed in glory, as if a prophet of some kind. He'd heard rumors of this sort of thing back in Neverwinter, along with the talk of rat-men in the sewers. Supposedly they had a god too, a nasty but cowardly creature called... Squeak? Squerrik? It sounded like a joke.
Mesmerized by the oddity of the rat wall, Juniper walked past the gagged halflings and continued staring at the code. "I think I can make out a few things up there." She pointed her chubby finger at the symbols. "It's a strange variation of Gobbo language, but it looks jumbled or even coded. Does anyone know anything about codes?" She moved her gaze from one companion to another, then towards the tied and gagged halflings, waiting for one of them volunteer their expertese.
"The writing is almost impossible to make out; it's like a bastard child of Goblin and... and something else." Korr mentioned. "However, I can certainly gleam some information from that", he said, pointing at the altar. "See those?" he said to Juniper, "those represent goblinoids... and that figure they're worshiping is a giant rat". "Could it be Urdlen?" he mused "wait no... could it be... Squerrik? I'd heard this deity was venerated by those sick wererats during the Wailing Death."
Ilrien kneels and begins ungagging and untying the halflings, careful with her knife in hope of not slicing them up any more than the wererat already had. Still speaking in quiet Northern, "It is well now, you- you are related to Blaz Merrymar? He sent us. Though we will see you released and safe in any case."
"I think the big rat person is dead down here", Samo said, louder than usual so that everyone could hear. He turned to the others while sporting a victorious grin, but saw them all busy with their own things: calming the halfling prisoners and obsessing over the crude wall-drawings. Feeling underappreciated, Samo sighed and commenced a project of his own: to comb through every last detail of the room for anything interesting or valuable.
Samophlange searched the cave, from top to bottom, in every crack and under every stone, and found absolutely nothing. He searched it a second time, and this time found absolutely nothing again. And then he wondered: that rat statue with the glowing red eyes had the glowing red eyes for a reason—red gems, set in the eye sockets and refracting the magical flame.
Finally ungagged and breathing easily, the three halflings gasped for air and spat out bits of threads and dust. 'Dad? He's here?' the youngest, Ombert, said hopefully as Ilrien mentioned the name of the Merrymar patriarch. Despite their deprivation and pain, all three had a family resemblance to Blaz Merrymar, with the eldest, Corkaury, even growing matching sideburns.
But he proved oddly resistant to Ilrien's help, even turning his bound hands away from her. 'No. Not released and not safe.' he said firmly, shaking his head in refusal and resignation. He nodded his head toward the bloody bite mark on his muscular arm; the sleeve had been ripped away, no doubt by Hekkut. Corkaury went on, his voice hollow and weary. 'That wererat got us. He said that hin make good wererats, and besides, the goblins wouldn't give up any of their own. He was just waiting for the full moon, but he bit us early when you heard you coming. Spiteful bastard.' he muttered, kicking a rock in frustration and suppressed anger.
'We put good men and women down after the Night of the Blood Moon.' he recalled grimly. 'I won't let this spread. Go. Just leave my sword.'
While everyone else was still distracted, Samophlange half-climbed, half-straddled the rat statue and jimmied out one of the eye-gems from its socket using one of his sturdier lockpicks. As it plopped out, he thought about how often the heroes in his chapbooks had performed this exact act of (justified) vandalism, and how it usually turned out to be a bad idea—often serving as a trigger for some elaborate trap. He scoffed at his own train of thought. Those were just books, after all, he decided, and jimmied loose the other gem, too. With a self-satisfied smirk, he slid down the statue and stashed the gems in his backpack.
"Aye, when a thrice-cursed red moon rose over the vale for three nights, three years back." Corkaury answered, wincing as he tried to ease an ache in his long-bound arms. "Werebeasts came screaming out of the High Forest, to hunt homesteaders and lay siege to Loudwater itself all through the nights. I was marching home with the Red Boars under Stedd Rein, halfway to Daggerford, when we got the word and hurried back, forced marches and hard riding all the way. Stedd broke out the silver weapons—gave me that one the gnome's got himself—and we fought them through the night. Savage creatures, rats and wolves and worse, clawing and biting, howling the Beastlord's name all the while. Still have nightmares about it, night and day." he said with a shudder, his voice almost a whisper at what he'd seen. His brother and cousin looked sympathetically to him. "We charged through them to save the Green Regent, but they were too many, it was too far, much too far. The Green Regent... didn't make it." he trailed off, shaking his head with the feeling of futility.
"We saved the town, they said, but it didn't feel like it. The weres just left, slunk away back into the trees as dawn broke. And afterward, people began to change. Then we were fighting our own. That's what they do, you see—they make us like them." he implored his audience, hoping to get them to understand the horror.
"After that, I retired and went home. Figured the family business would be more peaceful." Corkaury snorted in bitter ironic laugh.
Meanwhile, it took Samophlange some time to prise the gems out of the idol's eye-sockets. Then, no sooner had he slid off, the whole thing creaked and shuddered, and it seemed for one heart-stopping moment as if the stone rat might be coming alive! But then it cracked and crumbled apart, falling into a pile of broken clay.
Brace glanced over at the gnome and the crumbling rat statue. He didn't seem to care much that the gnome had so obviously pocketed the gems that had been its eyes. He moved closer to Ilrien and the halfling captives. "There may be hope for you and your brothers yet," he said. "On the way here, we met a fey prince. He may know of where we may find some wolfsbane. I am an apothecary. The plant is a poisonous herb, but I can use it to stop the disease before it takes hold. How long ago were you bitten? Just now as we were coming down the tunnel…?
Brace turned to the others. "There were two other tunnels left unexplored, were there not? I fear that more goblins remain—and more clues to what they have been planning. But these little folk have only a small window of time." He called to Samophlange. "Leader, can you guide me to the entrance? It is too dark for my human eyes. I can search the marshy areas around the water for the herb; perhaps, if Korlann say a prayer for me, Ilmater will favor me and I may find the plant that I seek in time. If we had time, I would suggest we go back and seek out the fey prince for knowledge of the plant's whereabouts in this area, but we do not have such time."
Unperturbed by the crumbling idol, Samophlange picked up his backpack as Brace started speaking to him. Samo wasn't entirely sure how anyone could get lost in these caves, but he figured the responsible thing to do would be to guide the apothecary out so he could find his herb. Although Samo found humans to be rather strange, he had a feeling his new adventuring colleagues were the well-meaning sort.
Samophlange had heard of wolfsbane, of course; lycanthropy was a common motif in the two-copper stories he consumed en masse back in Athkatla. He had even seen a drawing of the herb, once. "If you think it'll be useful, I can help you look for some wolfsbane. I've seen it before." He gestured for Brace to follow, and said "It shouldn't take long to get back to the river." With that, he started walking back down the tunnel they'd arrived from at a responsibly brisk pace.
Untrained knowledge check for wolfsbane: 14 + 2 = 16
"I—" Corkaury started, as if to protest, before stopping and wondering. In the days or tendays of captivity, he'd become so resigned to his and his family's fates, fates that had seemed sealed when that wererat bit each of them. Could he dare hope for a cure for all them? "Uh, yes, just a few minutes, when he heard the goblins shouting and fighting outside. They said something and he started packing up and biting us."
Brace followed quickly behind his short, large-eared companion, afraid to fall too behind and trip in the darkness. He called back to the others, "Be on the lookout for more goblins!" then, to Korlann, "Brother, a prayer for us!"
"Of course, brother", the youngest Splitbark whispered. It wasn't the ideal place for a prayer, but Korrlan hoped that the Rack-Broken Lord would hear him once again through the thick-walled cavern. Korr approached the halflings and his brother, sat down between them, and urged them to form a circle. He then spoke aloud, his holy symbol elevated:
"Ilmater, look upon them. Look upon those who have endured these troublesome times.
They did not sit back when action was needed, and their heroics saved countless lives.
Favour not me, Crying Lord, but the brothers Merrymar and brother of my own, Brace.
Allow them time, and guide them, for they seek the plants whose hoods are forever grape."
“More goblins?” The halfling momentarily snapped out of her deep thoughts of rat gods, cheese, and strange cave scribbles. "There are more goblins around?" She looked at the fellow hin. "Do you know how many gobbos were in these caves?"
"Huh?" Corkaury twisted toward Juniper; telling his story and recalling the bloody battle had left him weary and confused, his eyes focused on something far beyond the close walls of the cave. "Oh, hmm, I counted a score of them early on, not including the bugbear and the rat-man. But I heard they got into a fight with an ogre, must've been a few days back. Hard to tell time in this cave. There were a lot less goblins after that..." He tried to do the math, tracking the faces of the goblins he'd had nothing else to do but watch and plot an escape from. "Maybe a dozen?" And that tallied with the number of goblins they'd encountered.
Then, as Korrlan uttered his prayer, the three Merrymars bowed their heads in respect to the Crying God, knowing his blessing would give them the strength to endure this evil, the change they could surely already feel creeping through their bodies.
After Brace and Samophlange hurried away, the middle one, the cousin Osco, looked to Korrlan with fresh hope in his eyes. Perhaps they just needed the distraction and the conversation. "So, you're a priest of Ilmater?" he asked. "Are you with the Monastery of St. Ulrach?"
Meanwhile, Brace and Samophlange climbed the stairs out and returned to the short, winding, branched tunnel. Their first turn was to the right, the way not taken earlier. It ended in a cave, strewn about with small wooden kegs, sacks of grain, bags, bolts of cloth, small crates, rolled rugs, piles of blankets, and wheels of cheese proudly bearing the letters 'CC'. Some of these cheeses had been gnawed on, apparently by the fire beetle they'd seen caged outside. Surely this was everything stolen from the Merrymars and others. But there were no more goblins, and no wolfsbane.
They would continue on back to the main cave. But was the fire beetle still in its cage, or was it loose?
"I'm no herbalist, but I don't think we'll find any wolfsbane in all this junk", Samo said to Brace, gesturing to the stinky cheese in particular and curling his lip in disgust. "We should head back toward the river. It shouldn't take long now that all the goblins are taken care of. Just a nice, obstacle-free stroll out of the cave."
Korrlan stood up and addressed the halfling, Osco. "Thank you for joining me in prayer. To address your question, I am not of the Monastery of St. Ulrach the Twice-Martyred, but of the Neverwintan Church of Ilmater. He has allowed me to endure the journey and the perils that have come along with it, and I'm sure he will see that you endure too."
"Thanks." Osco said uncertainly, his smile slight as he was more hoping to gain that confidence than feeling that confidence himself. Hope was a hard thing to keep a hold, especially when it all seemed to be slipping away.
"I'd like to see the Hearthcircle of Yondalla one last time." Ombert said wistfully, before adding "And mum and dad and the sisters too, of course."
"We can't." Corkaury corrected his younger brother firmly. "We can't take the risk of, of changing amongst them." He didn't want to say it, not to them. He didn't want to turning and attacking and infecting their own family. He sighed, not wanting to dash their hopes altogether. "Only if we get the cure. Only if it works."
Leaving the ill-gotten cheeses behind, Brace and Samo returned to the central cave, where they found the beetle cage—and its door wide open! The giant fire beetle was not in it and was nowhere to be seen, but this was not altogether reassuring. But since it didn't immediately pounce on them, it seemed safe to proceed. The fire beetle seemed to have munched on a few more goblin bodies on its way out of the cave and to freedom.
They found it dead outside, torn apart by hungry lightning rats. The well-fed rodents were no threat to the adventurers as they passed by.
The pair trekked along the river bank until it widened into an area of damp green undergrowth and shrubs, including glimmergrass and others, and looked out for wolfsbane. They spied one promising plant, but it turned out to only be goblinberry, so they moved on. It was an anxious search: their time was short, and the longer their search took, the longer it would take to get back, and the less time they would have to prepare the wolfsbane. Would they find it in time?
Then, as they entered a meadow shaded by blueleafs, they heard some familiar music...
With more need than desire, the pair hurried towards the likely source of the mysterious music. But no sooner had they stumbled onto the site than it had dwindled away and was gone. And then they heard it again, without missing a beat, a dozen paces away for a human and many more for a gnome. So they jogged towards it again, and again the phantom fiddler had faded away.
Next, they heard the music emanating from the far side of the meadow, and ran across it as fast as they could to catch the fleet-footed grig that was surely enjoying leading them on a merry chase. And they got there, and heard only silence. Gone again!
But when they looked behind the blueleaf trees, they saw a plant with green pointed leaves, purple bell-shaped flowers, and shiny black berries...
"Thank Ilmater!" The apothecary glanced around for signs of the fey creature who obviously had chosen to help them, but he saw no signs of the diminutive noble. "…and thank you, Prince Feythrin," he said aloud.
Brace pulled the plant out by its roots, knowing that they actually contained more of the potent medicine than the sprigs the less educated in such matters would usually consume. He turned and ran back to the river edge and the cave entrance, leaving Samo to fall behind, forgetting in his excitement and urgency that gnomes could not cover ground so quickly as taller creatures.
"Oh-", Samo exclaimed as Brace took off running. He wasn't entirely sure what had just happened, but it seemed the apothecary had found what they were looking for. Suddenly realizing he was about to be left alone in a dangerous, fey-filled forest, Samo shouted "W-wait!" and sprinted after Brace as swiftly as his gnomish legs would let him.
Thankfully, Brace heard Samo's calls and slowed to a walk until the littler man could catch up. In the meantime, he drew his knife, figuring he could ready the plant for the administration of the drug. He examined the roots for the most swollen regions, root tubers, places where the most drug would be stored. He cut off bite sized chunks and filed away the outer layer of these carrot-like tubers, finishing the first "chew" just as Samophlange caught up to him.
The two hurried together this time back to the cave and its tunnels, where they found the others waiting. Brace let Samo share the good news. Instead, he continued his quick work on the plants. He also knew that it was only partially good news. Yes, it was true that wolfsbane could cure lycanthrope, but it was also toxic, one of the most powerful poisons known. The dosage would be crucial to success. Brace had made medicines for halflings before, but not as often as for humans. Nevertheless, he was certain, when he finished cutting down the third bite-sized root chew, that it was the best preparation he had ever performed for such an administration in his life; he sensed that the dosage for each halfling was as close to perfect as possible.
Apothecary check: 20 + 5 = 25
He held out the first filed down tuber for Corkaury. "Here. Take this and chew on it thoroughly, but do not swallow. Chew on it for at least a minute and then spit the rest out, but let your saliva absorb the poi… the medicine and swallow that. You may have heard others speak of eating the sprigs whole, but I promise you that this method is safer." Corkaury reached out, but Brace retracted the root to give one final word of warning. "I shall be honest with you, however. This will not be pleasant, for any of you, and I cannot promise success. It will make your eyes dilate and your vision will blur. You will become dizzy, weak, and your muscles will spasm. You may lose recent memories even or see visions, and the negative effects can last for hours. Some people even die, but I have done my best to give you what I hope is a non-lethal dose, and my brother here may be able to help ease some of your side effects. He is a healer." Finally, he passed it off to the rescued halfling.
The younger halflings looked fearfully upon the proffered pieces of wolfsbane root, but Corkaury quickly grabbed them and handed them out, giving them no more doubts. He threw his in his mouth and chewed, hungrily and determinedly, and Osco and Ombert soon followed, all of them grimacing at the woody, starchy taste. Yet they forced themselves to chew and chew, regardless of what it might do to them, whether or not it worked. None of them wanted to become like that thing that had tormented them all this time. Sickness, and even death, were surely preferable.
Finally, after a full minute by Brace's count, they each spat the mash out on the cave floor and with visible discomfort swallowed their saliva and the juices of the root. After that, though, they seemed no different. "How do we know if..." Ombert began, then suddenly swayed and groaned, as dizziness overtook him and made him nauseous. Meanwhile, Osco blinked rapidly, trying to clear an eyesight that had become blurry and painfully sensitive to torchlight. Hardy Corkaury toughed it out for longer, but became clear he was gritting his teeth against an aching head. And soon all three were twitching and shaking, his muscles spasming and hearts racing out of control.
And that was just the wolfsbane at work. What of the lycanthropy itself?
Suddenly Corkaury yelled out "The rats, the rats in the walls!" He looking around wildly at the rat carvings on the cave walls, which now seemed to writhe and pounce in the flickering firelight. He struggled against his bonds, reopening his bite wound and making fresh welts on his wrists. Then he stared right at Brace, eyes dilated and intense, as he shouted "Commander Rein, the werebeasts are going for the Green Regent! Your orders?"
Samophlange had never heard of any "Green Regent", so he figured it must be the name of some strange, local ale. "Sounds like this guy's had a bit too much Green Regent, eh?" he said and poked his elbow into Juniper's side.
The halfling observed the whole chewing cure debacle, eyes wide with curiocity. As Samo's finger poked her side Juniper shrugged "Is that what "Green Regent" is? A type of whiskey? I could go for a tankard of Luiren Rivengut myself… So what now?… I wonder if it tasted nice. I feel like i havent eaten anything in hours.”
"Brother, I can treat the effects of poison, but cure it, I cannot. I can heal the halflings should their wounds get too bad, but time is not on our side. If we are to journey somewhere, we should set off immediately."
Brace could tell that Korr's ministrations seemed to have limited effect; however, the "patients" were made to feel more hopeful, and that alone could go a long way. "The worst will have passed," the apothecary said. "I agree that we should get out of here before nightfall."
As they readied themselves, Brace spoke quietly to Corkaury. "We will not know whether the treatment worked until tonight or tomorrow night, unfortunately, but we can hope for the best. Are the three of you strong enough to travel?"
"Aye, sir, and fight!" Corkaury declared boisterously, threw a shaky salute at Brace, spasmed sharply, then fell over.
Osco stumbled blindly over to try to aid his cousin, and peered at the humans with unfocused eyes, saying weakly "He has these nightmares sometimes—thinks he's still fighting on the Blood Moon. And you said we'd have visions... Please, we have to get out of this place. It's not good for him."
Thus, the adventurers gathered up their things and helped the three stricken halflings up, carrying their light frames when they could not walk. They led them out of the dark and terrible cave where they had been held captive for so long, away from the filth and oppressive confines and rat carvings and memories of bloody battle, and out into the fresh air and dazzling sun light beside the burbling forest stream. It was quite a relief, perhaps for all of them.
Outside, the change of scenery and quiet words of reminder and support from Osco and Ombert helped Corkaury calm and return to the present. Meanwhile, the whole group made their way upstream, slower now with their patients, and back to the pleasant meadow where Brace and Samophlange had found the wolfsbane. The grig Feythrin was not there now, if the lack of music was anything to go by, but perhaps the fey creature would slink back later for mischief or discreet aid, or both.
In any case, it seemed a good place to set a camp the night. Because, by now, the sun was setting behind the western trees, casting long shadows and turning the sky orange and pink. And opposite it, in the east, the sky darkened and Selûne rose, bright and full and trailed by her glittering tears. One hoped the Night White Lady did not cry for the three Merrymars this night.
For their part, they had fallen asleep almost as soon as they had stopped moving, being too exhausted and sickened in both body and mind to struggle to stay awake a moment's longer. Sleep seemed a mercy. They lay at peace and no lycanthropic changes were yet apparent, but it was still a little too early for the Midsummer full moon. That would be when it reached its highest point, at midnight. Then they would know.
So the adventurers made camp, and kept watch, and waited to find out if they had cured them after all. Or if they would have three newborn wererats at their throats.
Feeling exhausted, Juniper collapsed like a sack of turnips ready to drift into slumber but then remembered that a true wizard had not time to sleep. Brac Bristletoes did not become who he—well she—was by sleeping, so the halfling got up with a whiny groan and took out her spellbook. She opened the first page but already was distracted by the snoring hin. Felling sorry for the lot, she took out her rations and two small cloth napkins. Juniper put some old hard Churlgo cheese, some nuts, and bread in each, tied them up and left a care package for each of the rescuees. She gave a concerned look to her comrades, took out her old goblin-staind robe and whispered: "Shall we?"
"I could do an Athkatlan ankle-tie," Samo whispered, "but I uh... left my rope at home." The Athkatlan ankle-tie wasn't a thing, of course, but Samo figured he could probably tie the halflings up well enough. How hard could it be?
Unfortunately, as it turned out, they had all left their ropes at home—except for Juniper, who had left hers tied around Skar and his buddy that morning. But fortunately, the three halflings were still bound in tight cords, just as Hekkut and his goblins had left them, since Corkaury had refused to be untied, and only those around their ankles had been loosened so they could walk, and these were easily retied.
So, steadily the full moon climbed ever closer to her zenith in the clear sky, until finally she hung directly overhead, her light bathing the entire meadow in silvery light. Midsummer had begun. If the halflings were going to change, it was surely going to be now. The adventurers watched and waited anxiously, alert to every shift and sigh the sleeping halflings made for any sign of a change.
Osco grunted, chomped hungrily, and tried to roll over.
Meanwhile, Corkaury turned restlessly and made fearful mutterings, names like Rein and Green Regent and warriors who had surely been lost. Then he began to struggle against his bonds, to thrash and kick, and to snarl, growl, and hiss, until it seemed as if he would be the one to change. But in time his episode subsided, into weary gasps and anguished sobs, and then silence. It had been no more than bad dreams of old battles after all.
But suddenly young Ombert squealed and contorted, his body twisting and changing in painful-seeming ways. His stout torso lengthened and turned lean, his limbs turned lanky, and his feet extended to a digitigrade form. Coarse hair sprouted all over his body. Meanwhile, his face pushed out into a whiskered snout, his ears grew large and pointed, and his eyes turned large, beady, and dark. A wererat! The new-formed lycanthrope writhed and fought against his bonds, trying to escape.
"B-besides, not all lycanthropes are all bad," squeaked Samophlange, clearly uncomfortable at the prospect of killing a defenseless creature. "How do we know he'll be one of the bad ones? I'm sorry, but I can't condone this." Taking a dramatic pause, he looked his fellow adventurers squarely in their eyes, one after the other. "If anyone feels differently, take my silver blade." After a few seconds of silence, he added "But I do want it back…"
Ilrien narrowed her eyes, now grown cold. "I suppose it would be possible to bring the aflicted one back. But understand, lycanthropy changes it victims. We cannot unbind him lest we risk releasing another wererat into this area, to plague resident and traveller alike."