So it was another early summer evening at "The Nut". As other patrons came and went, a table at the center of the tavern was accumulating a crew of adventurers discussing what sort of expedition they would next undertake. Earilas the elven bowman was there, as well as Celenor the elven cleric of the Skull. Sallum the horseman arrived, accompanied by his sister Safira, who was known to be skilled in archery as well as riding. Kaylee Hawkins the ranger was there, as well as the golden tressed halfling druidess, who insisted her name was Fern, not Marigold or Goldy as she had previously claimed. The ways of the druids are inscrutable, so the group was happy to oblige.
After much discussion, they decided that a journey to the ruined manor of Eichenbaum would be too dangerous, and to travel south to the peat bogs would also be out of the question. The crew who had battled the giant rats in the cave on the outskirts of the fens had learned through talking with the patrons of the tavern that the peatcutters called that dark grotto the Shunned Cavern, and the adventurers well understood why.
Earilas spoke up, saying that he was interested in getting a closer look at the huge statues he and the group that had explored Eichenbaum had seen on the Slumbering Hill as they fled, so the band of adventurers resolved to set out the next day on the Pilgrim's highway and go to see this edifice, which was known to locals as the Blind Watchers.
The following day found the group of six adventurers, two horses, and a hireling groom to look after the animals setting out on the road. On the way between Poleton and Millford, they encountered a merchant in a wagon loaded with ironware and assorted dry goods, and purchased several lengths of hemp rope, some trail rations, and an iron cooking pot before heading on their way.
Farther down the highway the group was approached by two armed riders, who hailed the travellers and showed by their livery to be patrol riders from Fort Standish. They paused to check on the party's Letters of Marque, and finding them in order paused to discuss what was afoot farther up the road, in more dangerous parts near the Slumbering Hill and the Bleak valley. Of course the goblins were a growing threat, and loose bands of displaced gnolls were also a danger. The adventurers learned from the patrolmen that they should take especial care around gnolls bearing ritual scars upon their faces, as they belonged to a bloodthirsty faction of demon worshippers among the gnoll tribes. Armed with new knowledge, the group bade farewell to the riders and continued on their journey.
As the day was waning the group was in sight of the larger of two hills known as The Sisters. From behind them they heard a trio of booming voices singing bawdy songs, and turned to see three large men approaching along the road. From their simple workmans clothing and their elaborite beards and mustaches, it could be seen that these wayfarers were Handsmen, wandering pugilists from certain Commonwealth villages who made a virtue of fighting without weapons, and who often fared far from their hometowns seeking adventure and opportunities to test their strength. The group greeted them, and in conversation found that the handsmen hailed from the town of Musseldorf far to the west.
Their leader was a mountain of a man named Hercules Haas, ostensibly the strongest man in Musseldorf, who wore a bearskin cloak and carried a large metal weight hanging from a stout timber by a heavy chain as easily as one might carry a hickory branch. His companions were younger handsmen, a hulking brute named Ugly Mike and a one eyed stalwart known as Patch Mulligan. The handsmen had come out on the road looking for adventure, but had found the way blocked by fallen trees past the Slumbering Hills and decided to double back. After a brief parley they decided to join the group in their journey to the Blind Watchers, and so the party's strength was tremendously increased by these three mighty men.
That evening, in the shadow of the Big Sister, the group made camp. Fern, Celenor, and Kaylee slipped off into the forest, seeking wolves so that Fern might adopt a new animal companion. After an hour of expert tracking, they came across a pack of nine wolves, who bristled and growled at their approach. The druidess and cleric attempted to calm the animals with spells, but did little to ease their hostility. They did manage to change the beasts' attitudes from hostile to merely wary and unfriendly, and it was enough that the halfling could perform a ritual to bind one of the animals to her. She chose a young, healthy male who would soon have been driven from the pack anyway, and offered him some jerky as she chanted ancient runes of animal friendship. With her new companion in tow, they backed away from the pack and went their way.
The next morning the sun rose, and the group could see it shining on the huge seated statues that were their goal, miles off on the broad face of the Slumbering Hill. Inspired to continue, they broke camp and set out.
As they walked along the increasingly ill kept and overgrown highway, they sighted a broken down wagon in the ditch ahead of them. After Celenor sent his giant raven companion to give it a look, they decided to investigate more closely.
The wagon was of the gypsy type, more a small hut on wheels than anything else. It was brightly painted, and on the broad side bore a painting of a man in a conical hat presiding over a tiny stage full of colorful figures. On decorative scrollwork beneath the tableau it read "Professor Marvel's Most Excellent Cavalcade of Whimsey" The cart had a broken wheel, and had been completely stripped of all valuables, including the very metal fittings and nails, which had been prised loose and taken. Kaylee found a profusion of worg and goblin tracks, larger tracks that must have been hobgoblins, as well as strange, three toed clawed feet that looked as if giant chickens had circled the wagon as well. Celenor, while searching inside, discovered a spring loaded hidden panel in one of the inner walls, and found two stoppered test tubes in a rack inside. One was full of a thin amber liquid, and had a mark depicting a stylized rabbit underneath a hat, while the other was clear liquid full of specks of red precipitate, marked with a symbol of a cat's eye. He pocketed them, and the group considered their options. Kaylee established that the wagon had been there for maybe a couple of days, and there were no signs of any Professor Marvel or any other occupants about. They did, however, have very good tracks for the goblin raiders, and decided they would follow them instead of pressing on to the Blind Watchers. If a rescue could be enacted, well and good, and they would get to strike a blow at the goblins. The handsmen agreed that this would be a fine adventure, and so the group set out across the plains heading West, following the trail of the goblins.
Presently, with only about an hour or so of daylight left, they came to the treeline of the great Northern Forest. There, at the end of the trail, they spotted a most unusual tree. As they got closer, they realized that it was quite dead, and instead of leaves it had been densely hung with rags and scraps of cloth, forming an edifice that looked like a massive bag worm's nest. Celenor sent his raven to scout, and as she wheeled around the evil looking tree arrows were fired and struck the poor bird as she passed. As she returned to her master croaking the elvish word for danger, the shafts sticking out of her ruffled plumange confirmed it, goblin arrows. They had found the raiders' base of operations.
The group quickly drew up a plan, rushing before they lost what daylight they had. Several torches were unwound of their pitch soaked strips of cloth, which were hastily wrapped around a handful of arrows. The group fanned out, with Sallum and the handsmen on the far right, Earilas, Celenor, and Fern and her wolf in the center, and Kaylee and Safira on the far leaft. Earilas stepped foreward and staked his pitch wrapped arrows in the ground before him. Then, calmly and precisely, he nocked an arrow to his bow and allowed Celenor to light it, and fired it into the Rag Tree. The greasy strips of cloth burst into flame with a whoosh. The elf moved down the line, drew an arrow, lit it, and fired again. This time, he struck a concentration of rags, and soon the massive tree had been converted into a huge torch. A huge cacophany of cries and jabbering, accompanied by banging on metal gongs and the blowing of hunting horns, arose from the tree. A pair of worgs, each carrying a goblin on their broad, mangy backs, burst from the treeline and each charged one of the pair of riders on the party's side.
Meanwhile, the force of goblins who had been lurking in the Rag Tree dropped out of it, some breaking their necks when they hit the ground, others perishing in the bright flames that wreathed their wretched little bodies. Only one survived the fall and fire, and he darted down the cave mouth that the party now saw at the base of the tree by the light of the conflagration.
Earilas fired his bow at the charging worgs, hitting one of them as it passed. The giant wolves dove for the horses, but both Safira and Sallum deftly drew their mounts aside and deflected the savage beast's attacks. As a group the handsmen charged the worg, with Hercules Hass bringing his mighty iron weight down on the slavering beast's head. The huge animal, it's skull ringing from the impact, lunged at the mighty handsman, biting into his forearm as he batted aside the goblin rider's spear. His fellow pugilists then flanked the beast, raining blows upon it with their mighty fists, as Celenor's raven worried at the black pelted wolf with her claws. Sallum brought his horse around and began to stab at the creature. Across the field of battle, Earilas, Kaylee and Fern peppered the other great beast with missile fire. The overexcited goblin on the creatures back dropped it's spear, and dismounted to try to retrieve it. The little wretch was met by Celenor, who used an uncanny power of his order and stopped the goblin's heart with a touch. The dead goblin's mount, overwhelmed by the resistance it was facing, turned tail and fled the field, disappearing into the trees as Kaylee and Earilas fired vollys of arrows after it. Meanwhile, the other worg and it's goblin rider were worn down by Sallum and the handsmen. Fern's wolf charged into the fray and placed a killing bite on the giant worg's throat, and the unmounted goblin fell to a punch in the face from Ugly Mike the handsman.
The group advanced on the flaming tree, considering what to do next. They peered into the cave and could see the venomous glare of reflected goblin eyes staring back at them in the depths of the cave. The adventurers decided to withdraw after claiming bounty trophys from the dead goblins and worg on the field, as the light of the sun was failing and the goblins in the cave didn't seem to be willing to come out and fight, and they feared that an excursion into their stronghold would be too dangerous. The group resolved to head home and return another day.
However, the vengeance of the goblins was not long in coming. The group made camp about a league away from the flaming wreckage of the Rag Tree, and set watches to guard against danger. Late in the night, on the fourth watch, the task had fallen to the handsmen. Thankfully for their mighty voices, the pugilists awakened the group as a formation of dark, lupine shapes clambered through the tall grass toward them. At the edge of the campfire's light, they saw a phalanx of five worgs. Four of them bore angrily jabbering goblins on their backs, while at the lead a particularly evil looking brute of a work loped toward the camp riderless. Unnervingly, it was laughing in a harsh, ugly voice and speaking in goblinish, singing a childish song about how it was going to rend the party limb from limb, gnaw their bones, and drink their blood.
The party arose and drew their weapons, forming a hurried defensive line as the beasts closed the distance. Earilas calmly drew an arrow and fired it at the leader, and scarcely blinked as the shaft bounced off the beast's hide as if it had been a thrown flower. The monstrous worg laughed and taunted them. At Fern's side, the wolf was seized by a frenzy of anger and fear, causing it's hackles to rise sharply. Almost unbidden, the beast charged the lead worg, stopping it's forward momentum as the other beasts charged the party. The leader almost casually pinned the wolf down to the ground with a chuckle. It sneered in goblin.
"You'll not find my throat so easily, little cousin." At that moment, Earilas and Celenor's sharp eyes spotted an even larger beast, a truly hideous and huge worg, just at the edge of the light of the campfire, as their companions struggled with the jagged spears and gnashing jaws of the lesser worgs. With a shrug of its shoulders, the great beast changed form, into a tall humanoid clad in a dun colored dress and grey shawl, held closed by a blue skinned, gnarled hand. The female creature had a hideous, wrinkled, feral blue face with a long, pointed nose, and iron grey hair pulled back into a tight bun wrapped around shards of bone. With a snarl, the creature barked an order at the huge worg.
"Pookie! Come home!" The worg, who still held the struggling wolf under its paw, suddenly shifted and transformed as well, into a large, muscular goblin with blue skin, clad in dirty wolf pelts. Its features contorted in dismay as it turned toward the hag like creature.
"But Granny, I'm havin' fun!" The she creature stamped on the ground and repeated its command, with a palpable air of menace.
"Pookie! Come home!" With that, it shifted once again into the form of a giant, horrible worg, and vanished into the darkness. With a sigh, the blue goblin thing looked longingly at the pitched battle between the adventurers and the worgs, looked down at the wolf in its hands, and almost as an afterthought snapped its poor neck. It then transformed into its worg shape, and loped into the woods with it's tail tucked between its legs.
Meanwhile, the battle had been joined. Safira and Sallum both vaulted into the saddles of their horses, while the handsmen formed a line to face the wolves. The mighty men fought valiantly, but are soon borne to the ground by the gnashing jaws of the wolves. From behind the fire, Kaylee fired her bow while Fern threw sling stones. Celenor's raven took to the air and harried the quartet of beasts with her claws and beak in flyby attacks. Sallum, barely controlling his frightened horse, wheeled back and forth, stabbing with his polearm where opportunity presented. Fern took an opportunity and rushed to Hercules Haas' side, reviving the mighty handsman with druidic healing magic. Finally, Sallum managed a powerful strike at one of the worgs, peircing the thing's black heart. In it's death throes, the monster wolf toppled backwards, crushing it's goblin rider. From there the tide of battle turned, as the archers and horseman slew two more of the beasts. The final worg, bleeding from a multitude of cuts and punctures, turned its tail and fled, its angry goblin rider cursing and walloping the beast with its spear.
When the dust settled, the group found they had three more goblins and three more worgs to add to their tally of bountys. They set about binding wounds, and found that the other handsmen, through sheer physical strength, had stabilized and were going to pull through. Alas, another animal companion was lost to Fern the druid, and they buried the poor beast where it lay.
After keeping a close watch for the rest of the night, the group hurried South and caught the highway, and rushed back to Millford without further incident. When they returned to the Fort, they cashed in the trophies from their kills for a total of a hundred gold merits, split between them and their handsmen friends. They warned the Captain of the Road Watch that they had struck a blow at the goblins, and that it woud behoove the Commonwealth forces to fortify Millford for a time. So, with pockets jingling with new gold and tales of their thrilling battles on their lips, the group returned to the Red Acorn to purchase another round.
Follow-Up to Yesterday's Post
8 hours ago