So Sallum and Safira, the brother and sister team of mounted warriors returned to Millford with the halfling sorceror Deriadan Redkettle. The siblings had recently been working with their mounts to get them more accustomed to combat, and were seeking to press on in their battle against the goblin raiders who had been plaguing the farmlands to the North East. They had taken part in the burning of the Rag Tree, where the goblins had been lairing, and were now back to see what effect their victory had had on the vile creature's movements.
When they arrived in Millford, they found the village on high alert, for the raids had increased in violence and severity. Knowing that Millford was a way point for the road patrols from Fort Standish, they sought out the Sergeant and spoke to him. They found him in the tavern, in council with a group of his riders, and were invited to sit and tell what they knew. When it became known that they were aware of the location of the goblins' forward camp, it was decided that they would lead a detachment of riders there to scout and perhaps strike another blow at the raiders.
The following morning, brother and sister and halfling, and eight fighting men armed with crossbow and battle axe and armored with chainmail, set out on horseback towards the site of the Rag Tree. Their mounts bore them swiftly across the grasslands, and soon they were in sight of the tree, now black and skeletal since it had been burned, and eerily silent, save for the distant croaking of ravens in the forest.
When they approached, they saw that a crude screen of lashed branches had been laid over the cave entrance tucked among the roots of the tree as a sort of blind. It was short work for a couple of the men to lay this aside, and they stood looking down into an inclined tunnel leading into the darkness. Redkettle took out his lantern and lit it, and they hobbled their horses and went down, with Sallum and Carruthers, one of the horsemen, and Safira and Redkettle in the lead.
When they reached the bottom of the incline, suddenly the earth gave way beneath their feet, and the adventurers found themselves in a painful tangle of limbs at the bottom of a twenty foot deep pit. Above them, they heard the hooting and jabbering of goblins, as a tower shield cut with arrow slits was hastily rolled into place at the lip of the pit to the East. A hail of black, pitch dipped crossbow bolts flew and struck down the two road wardens standing at the lip of the pit trap, before the remaining warriors unlimbered their crossbows and returned fire.
At the bottom of the pit, the four looked up to see the crossfire of quarrels, and set about climbing up out of the pit. Mercifully the pit was rather square in dimension, so it was a simple matter for Sallum to brace against the corners and use roots to climb up. He hastily tied a rope to a root and tossed it down, perhaps too hastily, as it looked like it would slip loose if pulled too hard. Safira decided to rely on her own strength to climb out, and was just over the lip of the pit in the corridor to the west, across from the tower shield, when she heard an alarming pattering of clawed feet and a fierce chittering. A swarm of dire rats, hideous beasts as large as herding dogs, had come from the depths of the tunnel, ravenous for fresh meat. The siblings were set upon by the beasts, and suffed horrible bites, as at their backs another warden fell to a goblin quarrel.
Redkettle then managed to get himself up to the lip of the pit with the wardens, and turns to cast a spell to aid Sallum and Safira. A burst of colors caused a few of the rats to fall dazed, but not enough, and one bit Sallum so gravely that he passed out. The halfling followed up with a missile of magical energy, slaying one of the rats that Safira had wounded, and giving her enough opportunity to grab her unconscious brother and leap the corner of the pit to the upward ramp. Carruthers climbed up from the pit, and the group decided to beat a retreat, with Redkettle tossing a vial of alchemist's fire at the tower shield to cover them. They hurried up the incline, dragging their wounded as the goblins hooted and banged the butts of their crossbows against the planks of their tower shield.
The group ran a short distance and then spent time binding their companion's wounds, making sure that none of them would bleed out. They were grateful that it was still day, as the goblins would not venture from their lair as long as the sun shone. Seeking to get more reconnaissance before they hied back to Millford, Safira and Redkettle and a couple of the wardens rode a circuit around the tree, searching for hidden escape tunnels or secret doors, which they fail to discover. As the daylight began to wane, they propped the wounded up on their horses and rode back to the village. On the way they nearly disturbed a grizzly bear over a kill, but gave the beast a wide berth, and avoided provoking it further.
Back in Millford, they settle in at the inn for a few days rest and receuperation. The siblings are stricken with filth fever from the scaberous bites of the rats, and spend the time quite ill. Mercifully, Nana Begler, a kindly hogwife who's herd was among those saved from the depredations of the ankheg showed her gratitude by taking care of the stricken warriors during their sojourn, tending their wounds and brewing herbal curatives and cooking amazing amounts of bacon for them.
After three days, the adventurers were hale and hearty and ready to return to the lair of the goblins. The eight man detachment mounted up, and they rode out once more.
When they reached the blackened tree, they approached the cave mouth and looked down it. At the base, two large dark shapes moved, with glittering red eyes full of malice and mouthfuls of white fangs, bared at the intruders. Worgs!
The huge monster wolves began to lope up the tunnel incline, baying for blood. The horsemen scattered back to their mounts, with Sallum and Safira vaulting into their saddles to make ready to face the foes. Sallum spurred his horse, and charged down into the tunnel, his horse furiously kicking at the one on the right, as the one on the left bounded past, snapping and snarling at the horses flanks. Safira drew her bow and rode across the field in front of the hole, firing arrows down at the approaching beast, as the other wardens finally climbed into their horses, with the warden Nelwood fighting to keep his horse from rearing as Redkettle clambered up into the saddle in front of him. Sallum began to back his horse out, leading the attacking beast up into the light, as Safira and the wardens made short work of its companion. When it had been drawn into the light, Nelwood rode up and lopped the beast's head off with his axe, as Redkettle threw a javelin into it's side, slaying it .
The wardens wheeled back to steady their beasts, and the halfling leapt off his mount to retrieve his weapon and stuff the dead worg's severed head into a sack. As he glanced down the tunnel, the halfling froze, as he saw four more of the black pelted monsters, crouching low and stalking up the tunnel toward them. With a cry of alarm, he cast another of his blasts of jangling colors, blinding one of the approaching worgs as the other three broke into a run.
Nelwood reached down and roughly grabbed the halfling by the scruff of the neck and pulled him into the saddle in front of him, wheeling away as the three worgs burst from the tunnel mouth and fan out to attack the cavalrymen (and cavalrywoman). The snarling beasts slammed into the riders, one managing to bowl over Adair's mount, crushing the hapless warden beneath his horse's bulk, while another managed to do the same to Biggleston, however this time the rider was able to leap clear before being injured. The riders brought their mounts around, and had soon encircled the furious worgs in a ring of kicking hooves and swift battle axes. When one of their number fell to Sallum's guisarme and the crushing hooves of Safira's horse, the other two attempted to flee, but were overwhelmed and slain.
The riders then dismounted to tend their wounded and take worg tails for bounties. The final worg that had been blinded by Redkettle's magic was nowhere to be seen, having doubtless fled back down the tunnel.
The group decided to push on, venturing down into the caves, now well warned about the pit trap at the bottom. They found a tunnel leading East and West, and decided to follow the Eastern corridor. Just off of the base of the tunnel to the surface, they found a ten foot wide alcove that contained a curious lever, a board coming out of a slot in the floor, which they guessed was the locking mechanism for the pit trap. They also found some worn ruts in the dirt floor, which they presumed would be from the wheels of the tower shield, which was nowhere to be seen.
They followed the tunnel for several yards, and presently they came to a side tunnel leading to the left. Following it, they saw the charred planks of the shield wall, and Henderson the warden was felled by a crossbow bolt as the goblins behind open fire. The group hurried back around the corner and drew up their plans.
Moving together, Sallum held his shield before him and advanced up the tunnel with Redkettle in tow, as Safira and the wardens covered them with bowfire. When they reached the tower shield, Sallum blocked one of the arrow slits with his shield, as Redkettle cast another blast of blinding color in through the other slit. They were rewarded by the sound of two goblins slumping to the floor, stunned by the clashing, disorienting blast of the spell, as their companions fled down the tunnel behind the shield. The wardens then raced up the tunnel and set about hacking at the barrier with their axes and pushing, finally knocking it over and crushing the senseless goblins beneath.
Behind the fallen shield wall the group found a T junction, to the left, a sturdy wooden door, to the right, a long tunnel leading into the depths of the earth. They decided to concentrate on the door, and spent some time hacking at it ineffectively with their axes when they found it locked. Michaelsford, one of the wardens, turned and hoarsely whispered an alarm, as he spotted a dark, snarling shape slinking up the tunnel toward them. Another worg! The beast charged, bearing the hapless warden down to the ground and worrying at his throat, as the adventurers turned and gave battle. Sallum stabbed at the beast with his guisarme, Safira fired shots from her bow, and Redkettle blasted the beast with a chilling ray of frost. The remaining wardens rapidly surrounded the thrashing beast, and did it in with their axes. After a moment of stunned silence, the tunnels began to echo with hooting and jabbering, and the adventurers decided it was past time to make their retreat.
As they fled out the tunnels, they came to the junction of the side tunnel and the main tunnel that led from the pit trap. As they raced past, Jeffries, the youngest of the wardens, heard something he thought was a human scream coming from the long tunnel they hadn't followed. Deciding to investigate, Sallum, Safira, Redkettle, and Jeffries ventured down the tunnel as softly as they could manage in their armor. What they came upon was a scene of horror none had imagined was possible.
The tunnel widened into a large chamber, vaulted by tree roots. The floor was covered in a tangle of vines and large, flaccid leaves, rather like a pumpkin patch, although the mottled, globular pumpkins were not the cheery orange one would expect, but instead a bruised, crimson red darkening to a purplish black. Among the vile fruits of this garden, humanoid figures writhed on the ground, with wine colored stains down their chins and chests. They were dressed as peasants or travellers, and one was wearing the tabard bearing the crest of Fort Standish, but their bodies were twitching and distorting, their skin blackening and becoming leathery, and sprouting black wiry hair. Their ears were becoming pointed, their hands and feet becoming claws, their teeth becoming jagged, their faces flattening into snarling masks. Most seemed to be shrinking and shrivelling, their human clothes hanging loose about their wasting frames, but the one in the tabard was growing, his uniform splitting over twisting, hairy muscles. The brute looked up at the stunned adventurers, his bear like nose twitching, and they could see murder boiling up in his red, glittering eyes.
With a roar, the creature, which towered at least a head taller than a man if not more, tore loose the peg in the ground it had been tied to and charged them. Sallum braced with his guisarme and stabbed it in its heaving chest, as Jeffries swung his axe and beheaded the creature. Silent with horror, the group hastily retrieved the thing's tabard and head, and fled out the tunnel to the other wardens and quit the goblin lair, now bearing terrible news for the authorities at the Fort.
They rode with all haste, after strapping the wounded into their saddles. As they rode along the edge of the treeline, they spotted an indistinct figure stumbling among the tall trees, but gave it no thought as they galloped onward.
Suddenly, their headlong flight was checked by an ambush in the tall grass of the plains. A rabble of hobgoblins, grinning under their leather sallets, stood and pulled a black tarred rope taut across their path, at the order of a hulking bugbear wearing a knit cap and a wolfskin vest and brandishing a huge, ugly morning star over his misshapen head.
The front row of riders was unhorsed as their mounts were bowled forward over the rope, as behind them the horses carrying unconscious wounded screeched to a halt. The rear guard split into two groups and gave battle to the hobgoblins as the brutes dropped the rope and drew their crude, cleaver like longswords. Sallum got his horse back on it's feet and vaulted into the saddle, charging the bugbear and his hobgoblin henchmen as Jeffries bounded past with Redkettle in the saddle in front of him. The halfling urged the warden to not stop and make speed, as their news was too important not to get back to the Fort. Safira regained her mount and began to fire covering fire with her bow. The wardens who had broken to the left soon made short work of their assailants, but on the right flank of the battle the hobgoblins were effectively knocking out the riders with their sword blows.
Sallum was finding himself overwhelmed by the bugbear and his hobgoblins, taking blows from all sides but unable to fend them off as his shield was strapped to his back. Dizzy from blood loss, he heard his sister's distinctive whistle, and looked around to see her leading a charge to escape as the horses responded to her signal and joined her in a stampede to freedom. The horse warrior spurred his mount and broke through the mob of monsters encircling him, taking a few last opportunistic blows but staying in the saddle. The hobgoblins and bugbear bellowed impotently after them as they made good their escape.
The group made their way back to Millford at top speed, collapsing in town wounded and exhausted, but thankfully having lost never a man. Redkettle raced to the Sergeant with their discovery, and was put on a fast, fresh horse with a warder and sent back to Fort Standish.
There, he related his tale to Captain Costigan, who listened gravely to their findings and thanked them for their bravery. He paid the adventurers handsomely for their kills, and a bit extra for the intelligence they had gathered, and the authorities at the fort pondered what this new information meant in their battle with the goblinoids.