The party was anxious for this night as the last one was almost entirely combat and high energy - and then they had been taken out by a decidedly superior enemy. So they were curious, what was going to happen tonight?
I placed in a situation to decide to make a tough choice - be heroes and go out with no hit points and spells and energy against a dozen armed and cruel slavers - or don't. And they chose heroics. I was proud.
Write up follows:
We awoke slowly, so very slowly, and in a great deal of pain. The first attempts to stand were often disastrous, our bodies slumping forward and falling back to the mist soaked midnight dark earth. The whimpering cry of Gregor was plainly evident, the young boy having dragged himself through the dark, the mud, and the falling mist while chained to a 20 lb iron ball till he collapsed at Karis' side.
It was about two odd hours after Vanir's final spell incapacitated the entire group and the erstwhile mage portalled out of the standing stones. The entire party is low on hit points, spells, energy, and rest. Detheron wandered around in a daze, plying his skill and craft with poultices and bandages on just about everyone. Gregor talked about the groups' heroics and how afraid he was. Hani had been taken, snatched up by the wolfen thing shortly before Vanir decimated the party.
Besides the party and their animal companions and the young boy Gregor, there were also three other people here with us. Kalarig, the charmed archer that Puck had run interference with one of the groups arrayed against us while trying to enter the woods. And two of the originally summoned orcish warriors Detheron had called forth with the summoning stone still lived and fared well enough; named Amal and Osgar.
Kalarig informed us that he had been forced to "lead" the other party through the woods and could not return the party fast enough to help out during the battle, but after everyone had gone, he was able to double back and tried to enter the tentacle field to save his friend, Puck. Sadly he was caught and he too lost consciousness.
The party heard faint noises coming from nearby, the odd thud and muffled howl. Slow searching while the rest of the group got medical attention revealed the center of the menhirs was raised, had an old low stone altar on it, and was encircled by seven large 5' x 5' flagstones set on the earth itself. The noises were coming from there and sounded like people banging and calling for help. Karis and the two orcs, Amal and Osgar, checked under the stones one at a time until they found one that had a hollow beneath it.
Within was a cairn under the ground where 6 people had been hidden. They were filthy, smelled, and were suffering from lack of food and slight dehydration. An older man in his 60's, a woman in her 50's, two men in their late 20's and two women in their early 20's were taken out with much thanks and hand wrangling and bless yous. The older man identified himself as Lord Ulric Wolverton, and his wife Gretchen. His chauffer Gran and valet Packley were the two other men, and the two other women were his wife's lady-maids Kirka and Lyann.
The group spoke briefly with Lord Ulric who had Gran escort the two women and his wife back to Wolverton Estate. He then sent Packley to find someone called Deathspeaker Yondal and have him come here as soon as possible. Lord Ulric was surprised as he learned the party was the adventurers from Orihalcus but were not out searching for him or his family. They had been waylaid 3 days ago just outside of town and taken here where they were kept with little to eat and drink. Earlier that night the two dead slaves had been alive and been lardered with Lord Ulric and his people but it was only for fifteen odd minutes and then they were taken out and some sort of ritual went on above and the men were screaming…oh the screaming.
The group told Lord Ulric that his man Lornwylf might not be "honest" and it was discovered that the steward had been employed about 2-3 years ago. It was here that Lord Ulric went into a bit of story and history about his part in everything.
He doesn't keep slaves, but has a few indentured working his lands. A few years ago he was forced into a business arrangement with the Lycos Suns thanks to some blackmail information they had against his holdings. To keep the peace and protect the hundreds of people working his lands and employed under his demesne he was forced to provide a "way station" for the transportation of illegal slavery.
Ulric knows it was wrong. Said he was double crossed/blackmailed by Vanir and Lycos Suns but he didn't have a choice as if he tried to refuse to do business – they would hurt him, his family, and the people working for him. There was some old magic site on his lands and Vanir wanted to rent it out. Spread tales and stories about it being haunted, spooks, etc. They had some druidic contact named Tehpaguar and his coven, the Circle of Thorns, come here a bit over a year ago with some really big wolves and did something to the trees. Doesn't know where they live. Rarely if ever come to town. When they were done though, at certain times of the month unless you had one of those bronze amulets, you found yourself wandering home. About 50 of those were made he remembers
One of the most poignant things that Ulric said was: "I know I've done wrong. Not by having my hands stained with blood…but by doing nothing at all. If good people do nothing, then they aren't being good people after all. I can see by the sparks in your eyes that you're gonna turn me over to the Magistrate and I can't in good faith deny your reasoning behind it."
The party assured him that they wouldn't, as long as he used his influence to help make sure that Vanir and whatever "bloody" business they had to do wouldn't get them in trouble. Ulric seemed relieved and resolved and went on. "I'll face my punishments if I have to…but I did what I had to do, and made what deals with the devil Vanir I had to to protect my son from the hangman's noose. A man might do bad things, but a father won't see them as such when it comes to his child."
"Oh, Djohrgahd…where did I go wrong?"
Zoltan, who was picking through the many many many fallen bodies here stopped, tilted his head, and said in forced calm tones, "Eh…what did you just say?"
"Me? I was talking about Djohrgahd. My son."
Even NPC's can whip out the 500 lb gorilla at times.
Expanding on the tale at this point, Ulric told us about his son. Djohrgahd married a girl named Magda and they had a son named Ulsar. Ulsar contracted scarlet fever and died at age 4 and Magda died of grief afterwards. Djohrgahd drank a lot and joined up with some sorcerous types where they went on some adventures. They hit it big somewhere a dozen years ago and had some books and money. Two of them pissed away some time with some teamster and slaving business (Vanir and someone else). Djohrgahd owed one of them a pile of money for something and after Ulric stopped giving his son money, Djohrgahd took to stealing, gambling, and thievery.
Seems he got caught ripping off one of Delarrin's impressors 4 or 5 years ago and killing the Baron's nephew in Principia and would have gotten hung but Ulric sent the money to pay the debt and fine and had Vanir handle it and smuggle his son out, the slaver acting as an intermediary (so the family name wouldn't get dragged in). Djohrgahd grew to hate Ulric and there was a falling out about 2-3 years ago just before Delarrin's death. Vanir kept coming by and through Djohrgahd's name, commissioned the land, the wards, the use of the place, and tying the aging tired lord to the location and threat of illegal slavery.
Hasn't seen his son in a few years, Gretchen thinks her son died years ago. The Baron Umbaria still has a price out on Djohrgahd's head – 5,000 crowns – for the death of his nephew. And to date, no one knows Djohrgahd's familial name and Lord Ulric would like to keep it like that. Djohrgahd has been going by the moniker of Djohrgahd of the Wolf for years now.
There is some talking and stuff after this and then torches can been seen approaching. It is Deathspeaker Yondal and two of his apprentices. The Deathspeaker is a serious and weary looking man in his mid 40's with a tonsure and thick crow's feet. He looks at the party's hurts and Lord Ulric’s and the group fills him in on what happened.
When the story gets to the two men on the side of the menhir tortured and stapled there, he says they are in bad shape and their spirits are not at rest and they need to be taken down. The two apprentices do so. Deathspeaker goes around the party and casts Cure Light Wounds on everyone once, bringing some small measure of relief to everyone. Gregor is still wondering where is his sister? And the group talks about Vanir's parting words of blood of the innocents under the morning sky.
What do we do? Where did they go? How do we track them? We are tired and have no spells and healing and are all wounded. Ulric offers to let the party have horses from his stables if they want them to go and find the child. But the question is where? Kalarig is asked but he was hired to guard the woods and has no idea about a second camp or rendezvous place.
There is some looking at the two dead slaves and Deathspeaker Yondal asks Lord Ulric if he'd be willing to pay the price and the old lord nods his head and says he would. Yondal takes his hands in his own and prays to Hel to channel the blood of the living into the mouths of the dead so they may speak and Lord Ulric stiffens and the two dead slaves shudder and sit upright mouth's slack. Yondal informs the party they could get maybe 3 questions of the dead and that's it – and they should be ABSOLUTELY sure of their question – as they dead can only answer what they knew in life.
So the party asked some questions and learned that they needed to: "Head towards the setting sun for one hour hard ride, where the ground is cleft and deep, filled with the waters of the Stormlord Aegir – there with the bark sentinels standing silent with boughs heavy – you will find the sister of Gregor bound and frightened in a wagon of like minded children."
And: "The blue robed mage is most likely angry and rushed. The last twelve count of men still unslain most likely bend back and knee to hasten their departure from the place where these bodies had lived before coming here. They know they must race against the passing sun and the threat of discovery."
There was some thinking and outside of Cheshire Lake and the Millhouse, there is a LARGE lake called Deeplake - and according to the local apprentices here, the north and east side are heavily wooded. And it's about an hour from here. Bingo.
It was about 4ish now and sun rise is closer to 6/6:30. We are wounded and need to go to Wolverton estate to get horses, and most of us don't know how to ride, so we are cutting it close – IF we go after Hani now. We have also learned from the Deathspeaker that the local militia is embroiled right now in a strange rash of kidnappings all over Ponyboro. It's all connected. And as we discuss it – we realize that being a hero is about making tough and heroic choices.
Choices like riding out into the misty pre-dawn exhausted and weary to finish off the damned Lycos Suns and save the children. It’s little argument - we go.
The clock ticks as we make our way closer to Deep Lake and lose ourselves in the woods. We skirt the perimeter for a while until Zoltan, wearing the leather cap with the wolf's head on it has his hearing enhanced, and can make out the sound of the slavers nearby and "breaking camp".
Some scouting and recon follows until we learn there are three wagons already limbered and yoked to oxen and horses. One of the wagons is a slaver wagon with 9 children between 5 and 7, and there is a 10th, a girl chained to an iron ball there as well. The two other wagons are travel wagons and there seemed to be 12 or so slavers here – one of them Iohanas himself! From the looks of it, they should be going in less than 5 minutes.
The group sketches out a swift battle plan and then executes it. Puck charms one of the drivers (of the slaver wagon), Zoltan sneaks UNDER one of the travel wagons, Karis and the two orcs storm the left side of the camp. The slavers are surprised for the most part and the group makes good headway against them at first.
Crossbows fire and animals snarl and Kalarig does his thing with the bow and the party withers a few of the slavers away in the first minute. Then Zoltan disables the wagon with a grappling hook and tied rope against one of the wheels and Puck's Meteor scroll is read and flaming rocks start sailing throughout the camp. The enemy spellcaster magic missiles the party but she is targeted with quarrel and meteor until she is slain and falls into Deeplake.
Iohanas is battered and one of the wagons is set ablaze and the "charmed" driver draws his bludgeon and starts whacking the other slavers! With the great devastation in just a few minutes, 4 dead, 5 wounded (one of them Iohanas – badly) the others give up and drop weapons and the party trusses them up. There is talk of slitting Iohanas' throat now but it is discarded as not a good time. Kids are freed – one of them IS Hani who clings like mad to Karis, refusing to let the half-ogre go and sobbing hysterically.
The slavers also had numerous tradegoods and skins and lots of spendable coin and low value gem stones – which we took with glee. While leading LOTS of the long line of people back to town, we were met by Sheriff Yolanda and 12 of her mounted militia who told the party of the kidnappings and then Wolverton's man coming and telling about a circle of stones and a ritual and Lycos Suns and slaves and heroes and she just KNEW the party was involved.
We came back to town as heroes and outside of the courthouse in Town Circle the saved children went on their way to their frantic families who came out of the crowd to claim them and thank the party. Deidra emerged and with Gregor and Hani now with her, hugged Detheron fiercely and the two of them were lost alone in the crowd for a while in their embrace and passions.
Puck, now with TWO friends – Kalarig and Bosvild, figured he'd help the burned and denuded Gwyn by casting "Hairy" on him – but he did it IN public, in front of 6-700 people: peasants really, who really don't like mages. Fuck. The dwarf grew 12" of hair everywhere – but there was mixed reactions from the crowd. It was figured best that the party retire and rest (they needed it) and Magistrate Cottson would be "questioning" the slavers during the day and then talking with Lord Artis Daernhorse and the other 4 noble families of Ponyboro.
Group went to the house and Flora was happy to see them and the group all crashed except for Puck who went to speak with Dardis at the Orphanage of the Wilted Leaf, about the magery and the ritual that happened and what not. Didn't get much info – and was suggested that he might get more info at some sage in Cymbarton.
At his point we all retired to the peasant house and we all rested. Woke up about 4:30 in the afternoon feeling betterish. We went to the Temple of Frey where we were then told we had to speak with Magistrate Cottson afterwards. And that’s where we ended up ending it.
Good job everyone, we achieved a small victory – but not the big one. And that’s ok too.