Maze Rats 4 – The Staff of True Sight – Part 4

***Season 4, part 80 – Doubts and Curiosity***

The group dares a quick dash across the open range and seeks cover in the scrubs outside, at the foot of the hills. They are not spotted.

Quickly, they find the spot where they left Hugo with the horses. Hugo stands like a rock, as his protection was not needed. The horses have hobbled here and there to feed on patches of grass, but they have stayed together as a herd.

“This is almost boring,” says Reinhold. “Like a shopping trip in the city.”

Constance looks at her hand. “Almost,” she remarks drily.

Phoebe takes a good look at the staff. “Is this really the Staff of True Sight? It does not seem like much.”

Harmony reassures her: “It is highly magical, more so than most other items I have ever known. I would have to attune myself with it to analyze it properly, but ‘The Peaceful’ told us not to rely on the staff, as it is untrustworthy as Kesh himself. However, I must admit I am curious.”

“As am I”, admits Urula. “Unreliable or not, I want a vision.”

Constance is against it. “What I read about this Kesh is that he is a god of wild emotions and madness. Remember the Chalice of Insanity. I would not mess with him.”

“And yet,” says Reinhold, “returning with the wrong staff would be silly. We have to know.”

Phoebe asks Harmony again: “How magical?”
“Stronger than even the Idol of Kesh. It cannot be anything else than the Staff of True Sight.”

  • — Try it
  • — Leave it be and ride off

***Season 4, part 81 – Kesh’s Vision***

“We must try it,” says Phoebe finally. “If it is the wrong staff we must know now, not back in Woodbridge.”

Harmony and Ursula debate who should try it. They settle on Harmony, since she is more skilled. Ursula is there to watch her and break her connection to the spell if anything should go awry.

Harmony sits down, touches the staff, and goes into trance.
On the staff’s top section, a yellow eye snaps open, startling the others.

As the staff tries to get ahold of her, she rolls a WIL-save, reaching 10 exactly. She remains in control of the magical energies flowing around and through her. Then she dives into the staff and experiences a vision:

She sees the band of elves coming in from the west, led by Eldran Browngrass. The elves are yet more than a full day out, but Warbands are flowing towards them from the tent city.

Her gaze races on to Woodbridge, where she sees the magical energies converging on four main points — the Tower of Music, the townhouse of The Peaceful, the Keep of Count Hasimir. A fourth magical nexus centers on another big house she recognizes from passing it by. Smaller magical clusters are found all over and even on two ships.

Then her spectral eye races back to the tent city and to the group standing around her motionless form, and back into the staff and through her fingers into her.

The staff tries to grab ahold of her, but her WIL roll comes up 11, beating his.

Harmony gasps, and returns.

“Yeah, well, that is clearly the Staff of True Sight.”

She quickly retells what she has seen.

Ursula wants to try it too.

“I want to inspect this ‘Mother’ of the Elves.”

Harmony is not convinced. “I made it, but I do not know what could have happened, had I lost control of the staff. It wrestled with me for control of the magical flow.”

“You can watch me and intervene in an emergency, like I would have done for you. Please! I must try this before we give the staff away forever. And it will be useful for us to know what she plans when we return.”

  • — Let Ursula have a go
  • Get moving

***Season 4, part 82 – Moving away***

The team assembles all their gear and fix the spell in Hugo’s mouth back to protecting the group; then they move off. Night falls soon, however, and they must decide if they want to make camp here, quite near the tent city, or farther away. It seems logical to move away at least a bit first. So despite the darkness they go over the first line of hills.

Suddenly Oswald steps on something. He feels the ground and finds a small bottle.

Lifting it up to look at it, it looks like a medicine or potion bottle.

He pockets it, and the team goes on.

Covered by the first crest of hills, the party has to decide if they want to press on during the night or stay here and wait for daylight to go on. They are not tired — they are freshly rested — but the matter of light, and the question of wildlife, are issues that must be considered.

  • — Stay the night
  • — Go on and make distance
  • Loop around to go west, not east

***Season 4, part 83 – Unseen Wildlife***

The party uses the night to go around the camp in a wide circle, from the eastern side beyond the hills to the northwestern side. Struggling through the darkness, they hear the beating of the drums without pause. The drummers must be getting replaced ever so often, otherwise it would be impossible to keep that up all the time.

On the way through the wilderness they hear various animals stirring and going about their business of eat-or-get-eaten, screeching, chirping, clicking, and making other nightly noises, but none mess with them or even show themselves. Whatever goes on in the dark, stays in the dark.

It takes half the night to reach a spot with some pretty good cover that is west of the place of the ritual that was happening when the adventurers first got here, and north of the trails of the warbands that started to drift west, towards the elven party or, long after them, Woodbridge.

  • — Stay and watch
  • — Follow the warbands
  • — Make camp and sleep

***Season 4, part 84 – The Warriors are Gone***

Shielded by the vegetation, the magic users set up camp and nurse their various wounds. The fighters agree on a rotation and keep watch, lying in cover and peeking over the hilltop to see when, or if, the warbands return from the west, and what’s going on with the drummers.

The senseless, mind-numbing drumming is going on through the rest of the night and well into the next morning. Monotonous drumming that echoes all around the wildlands.

The watchers note that some goblins are keeping watch over the drummers, and whenever one of them starts to get sluggish with the incessant drumming, they replace him. In that manner, the pace and rhythm continue unabated, and, given the lines of replacement drummers, could theoretically be kept up for the next year.

They can also see, early morning, a team of eight armed goblins climbing up onto the highest hill in the area, over in the southeast, to man some guardpost. A while later, eight others return to the tent city. They have a lookout over on that hilltop, but camouflaged.

It is hard to tell how many warbands went west — around seven to ten hordes of different sizes. The camp is obviously thinner populated now. If Harmony’s vision is to be believed, they are going to intercept the elven adventuring party, which must have been discovered on their way.

Also according to the vision, they are so far out yet that the warbands will reach them only tomorrow, and to return here could take another full day. So if the team is going to wait for that, they are looking at two nights and then some in this spot.

The area where they hid the dead archer remains quiet all the while.

  • — wait two to three days for the warbands’ return
  • go west
  • — go east
  • — sneak into the camp again
  • — sneak up on the watchers on the hill

***Season 4, part 85 – Against the Wind***

The party decides to turn west and follow the way the warbands went. Everyone as well rested as possible and Ursula propped up by one more dose of medicine they pack up and head out. The warbands did not care about secrecy and left wide, clear trails through the wilderness. The adventurers think different and go slower, trying to be inconspicuous to make it easy to hide in case anyone comes back along these trails.

Carefully moving on, they watch out for any signs of life in front, but also behind them, in case someone was to follow the warriors and carry any messages back or forth. It is harsh going through the wild woods, but easier along the paths left in the wake of the warbands, so for starters it makes sense to follow in the tracks of the goblins.

During the afternoon there is a stiff wind starting up, blowing from west to east, and picking up strength, so by early evening they are leaning against the wind to duck through it. The sky gets overcast with huge, light brown cloud masses, the horses flatten their ears to their skulls, and the treetops are bending and swaying. There is a storm coming, but it is not yet here and will likely take several more hours before it strikes.

  • Find a sheltered place to spend the night now
  • — Press on as long as it seems safe and it is still day
  • — Press on through even into the night

***Season 4, part 86 – Sleeting rain***

The group veers off the track and seeks good shelter in a little trough in the lee of a couple of older trees. It is much warmer behind these stems, and the horses enjoy the relative protection too, lying down to keep out of the wind.

All of a sudden, hard, cold rain breaks, and the party huddles close to the stems to keep as dry as possible, while the horses keep close together to lend each other warmth and protection.

The rain keeps going for most of the night, so there is little peace and respite to be had, and none of them get much rest, but it is better than it would have been had the weather caught them out in the open.

When the sun rises the next day, the sky has cleared and the group continues west. They travel until noon, when they hear shouts and hollering from in front.

Again, they seek cover in the wood and underbrush, and then they see a gaggle of armed goblins who are running back east. Hard to tell the exact number in that quick moment, but they are more than five and less than ten.

  • — Stop them
  • Let them pass

***Season 4, part 87 – Siege***

Eight, nine …. No, ten! Ten goblins saunter past on their way east, the last two bickering and fighting about something. Soon the enemy group is gone out of sight.

Phoebe and her team pack up and come out of hiding to go on west. They travel the whole day, never meeting anything and never being challenged, until dusk sets in and they finally see light behind the next hill.
They veer off path into the wilderness to the right, hobble the horses, and creep up to the rim of the next valley.
It holds a ruin — an old fort or something similar, but broken up and full of holes, with the rubble of a collapsed tower. It is the central, weaker source of the light, as there are a couple of glowing stones outside of it. The windows are dark.

In a ring all around it, at the edge of the wood, are the warbands, reunited. They have closed a siege ring around the ruin and lit watchfires between them and the ruin. Across these fires they are shooting arrows at the ruin in random intervals and with little in the way of proper tactical organization. But the ring they have drawn around the ruin seems pretty complete, and anything going in or out at ground level has no chance to escape detection, not even invisibly.

“Do you think this is the elven party in there?”
“No doubt about it. What else could it be?”
“Damn Eldran, the fool.”

There are signs that magic has been employed – most obvious among them the partly molten and fused remains of about twelve goblin warriors who have perished in some zone of enormous heat. Thoroughly cooked and absolutely dead, they are a horrible sight in the clear area around the ruins. The other lingering magical effect is a piece of wall that is moving as if alive. Struck down before it are three fallen goblin warriors. Being a wall, the fighter can’t move around, but has the bonus of being invulnerable to arrow fire.

“They have spent spells, so the mages will need to sleep,” says Harmony. “If I was the gobbos, I would launch a mass attack this night, before they have a chance to meditate for new spells.”

“So, what do we do?”

  • Keep going west
  • — Make a plan to help the Elves
Getting out of this will be a tall order for the Elves.

***Season 4, part 88 – Cleaver Peaks***

After some debate, the team decides to avoid this conflict. In the end getting the staff back home seems more important than helping the faction that sent people to kill them, despite several voices in favour of helping.

The group avoids the clearing in a safe distance and heads out west again.

A full day they travel, until they reach the hills below the Cleaver Peaks, the mountain range that is the territory of the “Stone Lizards”, an orc nation. However, the landscape is quiet, and the night undisturbed. On the next day they hike up the east face of the Cleaver Peaks, also without incident. They stop before the toughest part of the mountain trail and find a good campsite between a couple of huge boulders, shielded from wind and sight — a campsite that has been used recently. The tracks suggest that the elven party spent a night here.

  • Use that same campsite
  • Seek a fresh place

***Season 4, part 89 – Nighttime Encounter***

The crew makes a fire and rests. Two keep watch in turn. It is Harmony’s and Oswald’s turn to keep watch when there is very suddenly a skidding of stones, a thump, some scratching, and as both of them stand up and go for their weapons, a big human appears at the entrance to the campsite. The firelight reflects off battered old armor, the person has a longsword affixed to the back and a short stabbing sword and dagger, both with a well-used leather hilt, at the belt. A round shield hangs from the backpack. The boots are worn and dusty. The newcomer’s helmet dangles from his belt. His face is scarred and his hair is wild. In his hand he carries a composite bow.

As the stranger steps into the firelight, Hugo moves forward to stand beside Harmony.

Seeing the party, the newcomer stops and looks them over quickly, counting their numbers.

From behind him, more scratching can be heard, someone else is following him.

  • — Attack
  • Speak
  • — Wait

***Season 4, part 90 – Fireplace***

“Welcome!” says Harmony. 

“Well met,” offers the stranger. “I did not expect such a large party here. No tracks at all.”

“Come in and share the fire,” offers Harmony, following the age-old custom of the wilderness.

He does so and beckons his two companions, until now out in the darkness, to join him.

All three look like seasoned fighters, all three carry as many weapons as Phoebe’s friends do. The one who showed up first calls himself Morrus, the leader. His companions are a brawny man, Griff, and a slow-speaking woman, Berry.

They explain that they are following a tip stating that there is an old orcen burial site somewhere to the southeast, and they intend to plunder it.

“Are you not worried how the orcs will react?”

“I am more worried about all the ruins in the west long sacked and plundered by adventurers fresh out of the tavern. The orc graves out here, deep in the wild lands, are sure to be undisturbed.”

As he asks the party’s destination, Harmony explains that they were out scouting to the east, and warns him of the warbands down in the forests and the packs of giant talon wolves in the eastern hills.

He thanks her and the newcomers share some of fresh supplies with Harmony and Oswald. “We will be out too long for those to stay fresh.”

As Harmony and Oswald wake Reinhold and Constance for the next shift, Berry offers to keep watch with them, while Morrus and Griff sleep.

Berry stares into the fire for a while, then she asks Reinhold to tell her more about their scouting mission, especially if there are other groups from out west around here somewhere.

  • — Tell her of Eldran’s Elves
  • Tell her that someone is out there
  • — Tell her you know of nobody else

***Season 4, part 91 – Robbers and Pirates***

“I am sure there is someone,” Reinhold says. Then he elaborates on how the goblins were spreading out and hunting for someone. “We were barely able to avoid them. They were clearly looking for someone, but not for us.”

She pokes in the fire with a stick.

“A’ight,” she says, “we think so too. A party of Elves, most like. Where could they be headed you reckon?”

Reinhold rubs his chin. “I don’t think there is much to be found beyond the hills out east. The only ruins we saw were long taken by orcs or goblins. That’s why we go back. I am sure you and Morrus will come to the same findings.”

She thinks about that.

He throws her off track: Slyly he asks about her relationship with Morrus, and after a moment of surprise she chuckles, takes a good look at him and they start talking more personal and less about the mission. Constance rolls her eyes and gives them some space.

Looking down onto the forest she can see little dots of fire here and there, but she cannot identify the place with the ruins under siege.

Come morning the two teams part ways on friendly terms.

Phoebe’s party goes up and crosses the pass. In the afternoon they walk down the western cliffs and see the good old goblin forests spreading like a carpet below them.
After another stop for the night they finally walk down and reach the goblin forests and spend another night at the edge of the woods.

“Four days more”, sighs Reinhold.

“Or six days more, but less dangerous” offers Harmony, pointing north. “We could go along the coastline. Avoid brigands and wild animals.”

“Less dangerous? Up north there is the Yellow Bark Clan and the Red Claw Clan.”
Harmony shrugs. “And in the forest is the Wild Hunters Clan and Ma Ten Coppers’ Tribe.”

“Ma Ten Copper’s goblins are tame! And there are no pirates!”

“But there are robbers. My man, did you forget how we were ambushed right on that trail only a handful of days past?”

  • — Go straight west through the forests
  • — Go north and follow the coastline

***Season 4, part 92 – Goblin Forest***

In the end, the shorter way wins out: Fewer days also means less time in danger. They set off to the west and dive into the shadows of the trees.

It is quiet and they meet not a single soul the whole day. During the night they hear the sounds of hunting and getting hunted out in the dark, but nothing disturbs them or their horses.

On day two the path goes through a small ravine, and when they come out of it on the other side they can see a guard post only sixty or seventy feet away. Six goblins are waiting for them, all of them wear something green, be it a headband, a sash, or just a piece of cloth tucked into the belt. Two of the six are standing ready with long spears, the other four relax comfortably among the trees, but rest crossbows in their laps. They seem mighty sure of themselves.

A classic roadblock.

  • Ride up to them to talk
  • Turn around and seek another way
  • — Attack

 ***Season 4, part 93 – A Golem!***

The party wavers and is undecided. Half of them want to turn back and seek another way, the other half wants to go forward. This stalemate ties them to their place, until the leader of the goblins jumps up and tramples the ground in frustration. “What is with you? Come you here right away, or do you want my boys to slay you and your horses? Onwards, onwards!”

A weird claim, at first, but then there is some rustling and snickering in the underbrush. It becomes clear that the way back is beset on both sides by hidden archers — an ambush that the group has passed on the way in without noticing. But to flee would have been like walking into the jaws of a beartrap.

Feeling like fish in a net, they move up to the roadblock.

The lead goblin checks them out and counts them. Then he sees the golem. “Oooh! I want that golem!”

  • Give him Hugo
  • Offer him gold instead
  • Ride them down and break through

 ***Season 4, part 94 – Earth or Stone***

For Phoebe’s team there is no question at all about it: Hugo must stay. They offer to pay for their passage, and after some haggling with the goblins, they settle on 5 gold for each of them — including Hugo. They pay, and the goblins let them pass. It would be a steep price for fledgling adventurers, but this crew can pay it and not think twice about it. The goblin leader notices this and is tempted to raise the price, but he would lose face in front of his men if he admitted a mistake, so he lets it slide.

Even before they reach the main settlement of the Wild Hunters Tribe, they have to rest for the night, and must pick a suitable place. And they find something out of place: the overgrown ruins of a monastery, with a small, collapsed temple, a square of walls, some of them also collapsed, and some half-broken buildings.
“That looks like a great place to stay out of sight and protected from the elements,” says Reinhold.

“A deathtrap is what it is!” grumbles Oswald. “How many of those things do you think are there in the area? I bet you that someone else will come here, and I bet you we won’t like them.”
“Space enough for more than one party,” Reinhold counters. “Where would you make camp?”
“I have seen a small ravine only 100 yards back.” Oswald points. “It was dry and protected from wind. Let’s camp there.”
“A ravine? That will mean sharing the bed with all kinds of creeping animals.”
“It is well hidden, behind this hill there.”

  • — Camp in the old monastery
  • — Camp in the ravine

 ***Season 4, part 95 – One-and-Twenty***

The group can’t decide.

So Reinhold and Oswald argue back and forth, and not even Phoebe can reign them in: Countless months of low-key enmity spill forth, and Oswald blames Reinhold for the death of Mortimer, back when they first met Phoebe. The wound is deep, as Reinhold blames himself anyway. He calls in question Oswald’s manhood – the most sensible spot for the fighter.

So they split. Oswald goes out to camp in the ravine, while Reinhold stays in the monastery for the night. Constance stays with Reinhold as a matter of course. Phoebe is oddly hesitant to decide, until Harmony takes her hand and draws her after Oswald. “I don’t feel well with the Staff in these weird walls,” she says. “Too many ghosts!”
Ursula shrugs, sullenly, and puts down her bedroll.
Fernsby looks back and forth, then sighs and goes out to the ravine with Phoebe. “She’s the boss,” he says, shrugging.

It is Reinhold’s turn at the watch when there are suddenly hoofbeats, lots of them, and a gang of bandits rides into the courtyard — Reinhold has just enough time to kick the girls awake and shoo them into one of the ruined rooms, he throws Ursula’s backpack after her, then he is caught standing over his bedroll and his own backpack.

“Ho! Who are you, city boy?” shouts the leader of the group. “And what are you doing in our hideout?”
“Greetings, brave rider!” calls Reinhold. “I am Reinhold the Strong, adventurer extraordinaire, seeking refuge for the night!”
“Extraordinaire and strong, huh?”
“Aye, I am the best Woodbridge has to offer. We will get right along, King of the Wilderness!”
Laughing, the leader dismounts and looks at the three horses in the corner. “So strong that you need three horses?”
Reinhold quickly counts the guys. One-and-twenty human bandits, calling an old monastery deep in goblin lands their “hideout”. Reinhold must admit that Oswald had a point when he opposed the choice of campsite.
“Their riders don’t need them any more. They will never ride again,” he smirks, trying to look like a cold, hard, blood-drinker who is absolutely alone and not in the company of two women.

Meanwhile, Ursula tries to help Constance to climb out through a gap in the back wall, slow and silent.

Both of them fail. Reinhold almost makes it, and the riders at least stay respectful. Still, they level crossbows at him and demand that Reinhold shed his arms, armor and other things. It is their hideout after all, and they can’t share it with just anyone, not even with the best Woodbridge has to offer … when they suddenly hear a noise from inside. A scratching sound, and some rubble unseated, stones clattering. “Someone tries to escape!” shouts one. 

The leader looks at Reinhold in anger. “Trying to lie to us, Extraordinaire? Go get them, boys.”

Reinhold gulps, looking at the multitude of arrows pointing his way. He has his armor on, and his trusty sword is at his side, though. And there is the wand, right there in the bedroll at his feet. He is also a good fast-talker. And he knows one thing for certain: He will not stand for Constance and Ursula falling into the hands of these unsavory characters.
He must decide.

  • — Try to talk it out
  • — Try to fight it out
  • — Try to hex it out
  • — Try to run

 ***Season 4, part 96 – Like a daughter***

“I am not the one pointing arrows at a man who might help!”
Reinhold blunders on, making it up as he goes along.
“I may be strong, but I am not strong enough to bring down a tent-city full of crazy treasure-hoarders.”
“Treasure-hoarders?” asks the bandit boss, waving at the men on his left to let him talk on, but also directing those on his right to go check out the back of the building.

Ursula values freedom higher than her life, so she has no desire at all to get caught. She dashes away behind some half-collapsed walls, leaving Constance stuck in the gap she was trying to climb. None too soon: Just as the roofrunner ducks into the shadows, a couple of bandits round the corner and find Constance. “A woman!” they shout, and go on to disarm her and drag her out of her predicament.

“She is my apprentice!” says Reinhold, as they bring the struggling woman out into the open.
“She is like a daughter to me.”
The bandit leader grins. “Then you will do whatever you can to make sure your little daughter stays safe, am I right?”
“Yes!” says Reinhold, “please don’t hurt her!”
This way, he has turned her into a hostage — which might be a better outcome than her being just a victim.

“Strip them down!” says the bandit leader, and his men take arms, armor, and any items from them, leaving the two just with their undergarments. For Reinhold it is especially hard to see his elven Sword Ecet i lindele in the rough hands of people who don’t respect it.

But there are more pressing concerns. Reinhold tries to shield Constance from leering stares by stepping forward and going on about the treasure hoarders: “They are to the east, but I must warn you!” he starts, and then goes on to describe the horrible danger that the goblin cult may pose. He takes care to exaggerate just enough to make them doubt his words, so they remain undecided between forcing him to show them the way and deciding it is not worth the trouble. Any definite outcome might be bad for Constance, so he wants to keep the balls in the air.

“Okay!” the bandit leader stops him.
“What is this?”
He holds Reinhold’s and Constance’s wands.
“Boss! There are three backpacks and three saddles!”
The bandit boss smiles a vile grin. “Another apprentice?” 
“She was, yes.” says Reinhold, looking dejected. “The goblins got her, and Frank too. His horse, too.”
“Shitty luck, eh? She also like a daughter to you?”
“Luisa was actually Frank’s real daugther,” Reinhold lies without missing a beat.
“Oooh.. a family tragedy. So sad. But now back to those things:” He waves the two wands. “What are they?”
Reinhold must think fast.

  • — Tell them the truth
  • — Tell them you don’t know
  • — Tell them they are riding crops
  • — Tell them nothing

 ***Season 4, part 97 – Violent turn***

“No clue, but fancy, right? Some of the goblins had them, and we took them from them. They make great riding crops.”
“You earnestly want me to believe you use these things as riding crops?”
“Well, they are not sturdy enough for anything else….”

Without warning, the bandit boss hits Constance in the face, with his fist. He hits her hard, and her head bounces back, blood gushing from her split lip. Both her and Reinhold are shocked by this sudden violent turn.
The bandit boss grins wickedly. “Now, again… what are these things? I can do this alllll night.”
He hits her a second time, but this time she sees it coming and jerks out of the way. The two men who hold her grab her harder to make sure she does not dodge any more hits.

Reinhold is fuming. He has lost Alma, he will be damned if he loses Constance too. What of Ursula? Is she watching? Is she on her way to get help? CAN the others even help against so many bandits?

He must give an answer, though, or the guy will start torturing Constance for real.

  • — Tell him the truth
  • — Buy time
  • — Attack him

***Season 4, part 98 – The Hero we Need***

“Okay, okay, okay!” shouts Reinhold and steps forward, to stop the bandit from hitting Constance. “I will tell you all I know.”
“About time, city boy!” Thankfully, the bandit turns away from manhandling the young woman.
“See, we did actually see one of them use these sticks, a goblin shaman,” starts Reinhold, pulling the story out of thin air.
The bandit looks doubtful, but Reinhold blunders on, keeping him occupied by telling a detail-rich tale of the master tent in the tent city, and the rack of sticks that the shaman had there.
The tale goes on for a while and it is difficult for Reinhold to keep it interesting. 
He makes a WIL-Save. 10
Reinhold is able to keep it up, dangling the great revelation around the next corner, and the bandits listen despite their impatience — they clearly think he is a damned fool and can’t wait to slit his throat, but they want to know how the story ends before they do that.

Then, with Reinhold’s storytelling skills stretched thin, it suddenly does end:
Hugo shows up. The big golem storms through the gate, swinging his sledgehammer.

*Battle Time*

Initiative goes to the bandits: They turn around and fill him with arrows. 6 of them hit and get stuck in Hugo’s body, mostly to no apparent effect. Only one of them hits him in the eye and seems to disorient him a bit.
But not enough to stop him from swinging his hammer in a grand arc; missing everyone, but getting the bandits around him to retreat from his immediate reach.

Hugo wins the next initiative. He barrels right through the open space towards the guys who hold Constance, and smashes one of them to the ground, splitting his skull open. Constance is immediately free as the other guy lets go of her, so she casts her spell, Concealing Honey. Gooey drops of yellow materialize all around her and form a sticky curtain that hides all that goes on beyond it — only vague shadows can be seen through the weird substance. Hugo, Reinhold, and several bandits, are with her inside the zone, shielding them from clear view from the outside.

Reinhold takes the opportunity to try and grab the wands from the bandit. Both of them roll 8s. The two men struggle indecisively, closely matched in strength and skill.

The bandits are up. Four attack Hugo, but the concealing honey makes it hard for them to get a bearing, and they fail to damage him.
The boss tries to wrestle down Reinhold, but he can’t shake off the adventurer.
Two of his men grab Reinhold to get him off their leader, and together they manage it. The next round, Reinhold will be pinned down.
The last one is goes for Constance – and stabs her for good! Down to 1 HP, Constance struggles to remain conscious.

The bandits outside hesitate to enter the concealing honey. They make a Morale Roll – and fail. The horrible yellowish effect is too otherworldly for them, and they retreat away from it for fear that it may grow and warp to get them too.

Hugo gets initiative again.

*Protector*

He sees that Constance is in immediate danger of dying, and his orders demand that he protects all members of the team. Hugo drops his hammer and lifts Constance up in his protective arms, then kicks the men grabbing Reinhold. His mighty kick shatters the man’s ribcage and throws him off the fighter like a ragdoll. Reinhold has a hand free, grabs the dagger of the other man and rams it into the bandit leader’s gut, hurting him for 4 HP!
Constance has no weapon, but kicks out, hitting one man as he prepares to hack at Hugo.

The bandits go — Four still attack Hugo – but their hits don’t have any effect. The one who tried to kill Constance tries for Hugo now. The unliving clay body eats the stab without reaction. The survivor on Reinhold tries to stab him with a throwing knife, but Reinhold blocks it with an elbow jab to the bicep. The roaring bandit boss fares better. He pulls the dagger from his guts and rams it up into Reinhold’s arm, doing 3 damage. 

Then total chaos breaks out, as reinforcements arrive and both sides roll 6 for initiative. Reroll: Both roll 5. Reroll: Both roll 5. Reroll: Phoebe’s side wins 6:3.
Hugo kicks the bandit boss and shatters his head under his plump foot, then stands above Reinhold to protect him from attacks, while holding Constance in the cradle of his arms.

Reinhold uses the distraction to stab his other foe with the same bloodied dagger, wounding him. Constance keeps kicking and hits the same man under the chin, taking him out of the action.However, it is more of a show-effect, as all attacks from Phoebe’s Maze Rats fail.

*Deep Cuts*

5 men attack Hugo.

3 of them make no lasting impression, but 2 score critical hits. Those are deep wounds, threatening Hugo’s physical integrity. One of his arms might come loose with a bit more damage, and a deep gash in his body makes him wobbly.

The bandits outside make another morale roll – and fail. Between weird magic and fresh enemies from the side they break and run, seeking to get out of there.

Hugo gets the initiative again, and kicks one of the men assailing him, breaking his spine. The bandit falls and gasps, slowly suffocating. Reinhold attacks the guy who tried to kill Constance, but the man ducks out of the way. Constance kicks for the next best face with enough zest to break a nose.

The party outside shoots after the fleeing bandits to make sure they don’t come back.

One gets struck down and dies with an arrow through the neck, another one gets hit by a sling stone from Ursula and limps on hurt.

Four are left within the concealing honey zone. The brutal one attacks Reinhold and slits him open. Reinhold staggers back, down to 1 HP, like Constance. The other three attack Hugo.

But once again they fail to overcome the natural resistance of the bulky automaton.

Now the initiative goes to the bandits. The ones outside disappear over the wall, seeking refuge in the woods. On the inside, the three hack at Hugo again — and one of them strikes lucky. His stab pierces the skull of the golem and exits through the face – it rips apart the scroll in his mouth, and Hugo’s lifelight dies down. He stands there, motionless, cradling Constance.

The last one hacks at the stumbling Reinhold again. He swings his sword in a wide arc, and buries it in Reinhold’s neck.

Wide-eyed, the rogueish adventurer looks at the blood he coughs up. The blade cut the band that held his good-luck charm, and the hare’s paw drops between his feet. His luck has run out. With a last look at Constance, making sure she still lives, Reinhold falls on his face in a heap of limbs.

“Noooo!” shouts Constance, clawing her way out of Hugo’s protective embrace, but failing.

Then the others enter the concealing honey bubble, bursting through the sticky curtain shielding their eyes, and fall upon the bandits. Ursula swings her metal axe at Reinhold’s killer, but he deflects the blow.

He is less lucky against Phoebe, though: She uses the opening Urusla provided and hacks him in the neck with her own axe. Gushing blood, he falls right on top of Reinhold, and their blood mingles in the dirt.

Oswald attacks one and fails, Fernsby undercuts a guy with a broken nose and opens up his intestines. Harmony casts Spawning Rot on the last one, who blooms up and erupts in foul pustules that turn his insides to the outside and end his life in shock and misery.

The adventurers get the initiative, so the last bandit has no time to contemplate a surrender. Fernsby decapitates him as Harmony sticks a shortsword into his belly. The fight is over. And Constance drops the Honey curtain.

  • Take everything valuable and retreat into the wood
  • Fortify this place and stay here
Hugo, the protector

***Season 4, part 99 – Funeral***

It is a somber mood after this “victory”. Reinhold was once the leader of Oswald and Ursula, and recently of Constance. While Oswald hated the guy, he still has to respect that Reinhold gave his life to protect Constance. Even in death, he outshines the sullen fighting-man.

Harmony checks Hugo but must accept that his damages are too great: Her golem is lost. But he was lost protecting human lifes, so it was worth it.

While Ursula and Oswald hold watch, the others throw the dead bandits onto a pile, set them on fire with the help of oil and wood, and rifle through their belongings, collecting a total of 114 gold pieces and various weapons fit for sale.

Then Phoebe and Harmony stand watch while Oswald, Constance, and Ursula bed down Reinhold in one of the crypts of the old monastery. As per his wishes, Ursula severs his head from his body to make sure he will never rise as an undead. 

In Reinhold’s possessions, they find a sheet that indicates that he lets all the goods he owns to Constance, with the exception of 200 gold pieces to be given to Alma’s parents, and the Sword Ecet i lindele, which he lets to Phoebe.

Getting handed this legendary sword, Phoebe cries for the man she got to know as a despised rival, but learned to value as a true comrade.

The bandits do not return the whole night.

Constance and Harmony sleep and gain powerful spells: Constance awakes with “Dream Wall”, and Harmony with “Binding Claw”. The night is not enough to heal her wounds, but thanks to a portion of medicine Constance regains 1 more hit point and sets off on the way home with 2 HP; hurting and dizzy, but not immediately at death’s door.

The group moves west and gets closer to the main settlement of the Wild Hunters Clan.

  • Avoid the Wild Hunters Goblins
  • Stay on the road

***Season 4, part 100 – Hidden ways***

They are quick to decide: In their current state they have no nerve to argue with a horde of goblin raiders. The team turns north, to go around the settlement in a wider arc, and hopefully without any encounters. To make this possible, the most silent and nimble of them, Ursula, is sneaking ahead. She makes sure that the others will not run into any trouble.

Ursula skilfully evades the clearings and little village-lets that are scattered around the main settlement. She takes the time to check out likely hiding places and notices a gaggle of goblins who are, for one reason or another, hiding in a cave mouth, and manage to avoid hat place so that their sentries never notice that Phoebe’s gang was ever there.

Ursula, the perfect scout

They spend a night without fire, and Constance is able to heal up to a sensible amount of 4 HP again despite bad dreams. After breakfast, they take stock and find that they still have 30 rations left – plenty to make the way back twice without having to scavenge or hunt.

Finally they get back to the road, west of the goblin settlement, and continue on their way toward Woodbridge.

Roughly one day from here is Ma Ten Copper’s “New Tribe” domain, which is at war with Toothtip and with the “Crystal Lake Tribe”. Then comes Toothtip, the goblin village that is closest to Woodbridge, and entertains good trade relations with the human realm; Toothtip can almost be considered a part of the Empire already.

— Openly cross through the “New Tribe” territory

— Avoide the “New Tribe” and go through the woods

***Season 4, part 101 – Hill Warriors***

The team avoids the “New Tribe” territory and goes through the northern hills, staying on deer paths and going along small creeks. At night they make camp, shielded by thick underbrush.

But their night is disturbed, as something moves in the darkness. It is Ursula’s turn of the watch when she notices the sounds of multiple people crawling around among the trees. Small and wiry – these are goblins. She sees movement left, movement right, movement in front, and she hears the rustling of leaves behind her, to the left. 

Ursula is about to wake Harmony, when two of them step out of hiding. Goblins, but not aligned with any of the known clans, or at least so they look. They look wild and untamed, and walk in fur boots. These are hill warriors who seem to indulge in the belief that this stretch of land was theirs.

One of them leisurely aims at Ursula with a nocked arrow, but the bow is not drawn.

The other one rests on a spear, showing off how relaxed and sure of victory he is.

  • — Invite them to sit
  • — Attack with steel
  • — Attack with Magic
  • — Wake the others

***Season 4, part 102 – Toll***

Ursula gestures for the two goblins to sit, and they do. The one with the bow keeps his arrow trained in her general direction, the other one lays down his spear as an obvious indication of non-violence. Then he starts talking, in goblin, and Ursula has no clue what he wants.

She signals that she does not understand and points to Harmony. After getting his shrug, she rattles Harmony’s foot until the Elf awakes. Ursula gently informs her of the situation, and Harmony rubs the sleep out of her eyes. Then she sits down at the fire and speaks with the goblin.

It turns out that they “own” this land here, and for passing through, they want to talk about toll. They say they have been following the party for the whole day, and were never seen, because they are the best and sneakiest wood-masters to have ever walked the earth.

They have taken note of what the party owns, and could have killed them all in an instant, but they have generously decided to allow them to live if they show the proper respect to a tribe as mighty and just as theirs.

So they have decided they want three of their horses, and they have seen that the party has more swords and knives than people, clearly more than they will ever need. So they desire one fine blade for each of them, with more than half of them swords. Since they are six, that means four swords, at a minimum. In addition, they have noticed that Harmony is an Elf, so to allow their ancestral foe, whose ancestors have been soundly beaten and torn down by their forefathers with the help of the gods, as a price to pass through their territory they also want the spear she carries, which is the Spear Ince Acsa, “The Path of the Bird”.

Harmony lists the demands to Ursula:

Three horses, four swords, two knives, and the Spear Ince Acsa, as a price for passing through their land unmolested.

Ursula flares up in anger, and only narrowly controls herself as the bowman keeps his arrow trained on her unerringly. Harmony tries to cool her down. The goblins await their answer with great interest.

  • Give them what they demand
  • Attack them with sword and spell
  • Haggle hard
  • Haggle softly

***Season 4, part 103 – Friends***

Ursula still ponders if she can slit the bowman’s throat before he loses an arrow at her when Harmony tells them an imperious No. She throws the goblin’s demands out in complete and offers a very different toll: “I recognize your right to this land and I am ready to offer you a shared meal with us here, as friends and equals. But I remember there is no toll among friends. So sit and eat to your heart’s content.”

The spearman laughs out loud in delight, and the arrow-man grins.

They accept the invitation, but also want a toll, although they drop the request for Ince Acsa.

Harmony haggles hard and projects absolute calm.
They respect that and warm to her quickly.
Soon it is clear that their main goal is to haggle, and they spend a good hour debating with the Elf.

They keep debating, even while they already eat with Harmony and Ursula, and the others from the wood come out of hiding and join the party. The party members wake as it gets louder, and in the end they all eat and drink together, and finally part as friends.

Since the food of the party has been depleted completely during the feast, the hill goblins return in the morning and give presents: Food rations, enough for two days.
And they warn the party not to go too far north, as there is a problem with red earthworms who trouble the land. Following the advice, the party moves on, and it takes them all of two days to pass through these parts. 

+++++

As the second day ends, they get close to Toothtip, the goblin village. They could potentially go there and sleep comfortably in an Inn, then buy a day’s worth rations and go home to Woodbridge in style.

Alternatively, they could rest in the wild woods and tackle the last day exhausted, without rations.

  • Sleep in Toothtip and buy food and lodging
  • Sleep in the wood and sneak past the village hungry

***Season 4, part 104 – The Thirsty Rat***

The team breaks out of the woods and rides into Toothtip. “That’s Phoebe!” shouts someone, and another one recognizes Harmony. There are several human adventurers and the local goblins, and they all recognize the signs of a long travel behind the group. A sizable mass of humans and goblins gathers and makes it a happening. They want to hear all about the adventure, but Phoebe stops them: “Not yet! We will tell it all in the Cunning Cock.”

The friends fight their way through the fandom and to one of the Inns, the Thirsty Rat. Form the outside, it is made up mostly of a stable, where they can hand over their horses – and an entrance to stairs into the depth. The common room and kitchen, and the rooms to rent are all underground, with vaulted ceilings to recreate the adventurous fantasy dungeon feeling.

To escape from nosy people trying to sound them out about their mission – and from painful questions about where good old Reinhold has gone, they eat quickly and retire early.

Great about the Thirsty Rat is that there are no windows to worry about: Privacy guaranteed, and no theft possible at all. That is what the place is most famous for, more so than the food or drink. Getting into the rooms they find very well made beds and cozy hammocks, both fit for long-legged humans.

“Since when are we that famous?” asks Oswald, dropping his gear beside his bed, and annoyed about the circus going on outside. Or maybe of the many questions about Reinhold. His old frienemy haunts him even as a dead man.

“I don’t like it. We are drawing way too much attention.”

“What are you worried about?” asks Fernsby.

“I worry as well,” says Phoebe. “If the Mother in Woodbridge hears about us she might send someone to stop us again. She will have at least a handful of Elves prepared to do whatever she wants, no questions asked.”

“Let me think… she will not hand out powerful artefacts, so any spy who starts going toward Woodbridge right now will only reach it in the morning,” calculates Harmony. “Her sending someone means that they can only meet us half way.”

“We could start earlier to avoid that.”

“Or lay an ambush,” Harmony smiles darkly. She has not forgiven the guerilla fight in the wood.

“But we can do that even if we start well rested. Just sooner on the way, to make up for our later start,” says Constance. Best to sleep well and be on our best tomorrow.”

“I want to get rid of that staff as early as possible.” says Ursula, and Fernsby agrees.

But the argument about resting well bears weight, especially after so many nights out in the wild.

Sleep and have a good breakfast to be fit and alert

— Start early and get a head start over possible traitors

***Season 4, part 105 – The Last Leg***

The next morning, the team eats and drinks well, pays their tab, and sets out on the last leg of the journey. They know the way – everybody knows the way between Toothtip, the closest goblin village to human lands, and Woodbridge, the closest human city to goblin lands.

Now that they ride, they constantly wonder if there will be a last second enemy effort or not, and if yes, when and where? The Elven “Mother” could hire anyone – Elves, Humans, Goblins – and either send them east to catch the party in the woods, or wait for them outside the city, or prepare an ambush inside the city.

“I hate this. I swear, this is the last job we will do for ‘The Peaceful’”, says Phoebe.

“He pays well and honest, though”, Harmony counters.

“We are doing pretty good, considering,” says Oswald. “We have met orcs, thousands of cultists, whole goblin tribes, and robbers. We are doing very well.”

Phoebe does not answer. She is well aware that Oswald is the one least affected by Reinhold’s death. Dark thoughts threaten to pull her down.

But then Harmony pulls her back to the present. “What now? Hide and watch who comes? Or do we ride on?”

— Hide

Ride

***Season 4, part 106 – Speed over Sitting***

The party decides to choose speed over sitting tight. Hiding may look safer on first glance, but it also gives the opposition more time to prepare. They ride straight for Woodbridge at a good pace, and indeed, the gamble seems to pay off: The only groups they meet coming the other way are human adventurers setting out to the east.

Nobody is trying to stop them. Maybe nobody did, in fact, inform the Elven “Mother” when they showed up in Toothtip. Maybe they will have smooth sailing back to the townhouse of “The Peaceful”.

In any case, as the sun sets and long shadows drag behind their mounts, they pass their familiar home base, the Cunning Cock, unmolested and can already see the wooden bridge and the southern gate of Woodbridge, welcoming them home in this small but vibrant outpost of the Kingdom.

— Ride into the City and up to his house

— Sneak around the city and enter from the north

— Stay outside and make contact in another way

***Season 4, part 107 – Cliff Gate***

The party crosses the wood bridge, but follows the wall east to the Cursed Tower to cross over to the fields at the foot of the cliffs. Going along the outer wall they travel around the city until they reach the Cliff Gate at the north of the city. A beautiful place that only the farmers see regularly, as the Cliff Gate is almost exclusively used by those who work in the fields. From here the Blessed Falls are visible, as they come out of the cliff and drop into the Blessed Stream, where a mist rises to create a perpetual rainbow. Not now, though, as the sun sets and paints the cliffs red.

Beyond the Blessed Stream lies the Bay of Stones, and the free, open ocean.

Phoebe reins in her horse and looks out to the horizon.

“What’s up?”

“Ah… I don’t know.”

Harmony grins. “I have seen that look often on Elven faces. You want to leave it all behind and sail away, right?”

“Hm.”

Harmony chuckles. “You know, we are not that different after all, you humans and we elves.”

Phoebe shakes her mood off and laughs. “Who ever said we were?”

Together they ride in through the gate, greeting the disinterested guards who wait to be relieved by the night shift.

It makes no sense to go east along the wall through The Pits and The Maze – that would only court criminals, especially at night. So to get to “The Hill” and to “The Peaceful”s house, they can choose to go west, through the market and the docks, or straight through the center of the town. Most temples, including the Elven temple, are in the center. But between market and docks is The Keep, the palace of Count Hasimir, who is notoriously difficult, and most sensible people feel uneasy close to the Keep’s walls.

— West past The Keep and through the docks

— Straight through the town, near the temples

Poll page:http://www.easypolls.net/poll.html?p=6071b998e4b06f4c09f9d31a

Adventure still ongoing.

The lead-up to this point:

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