Hunt Through the Dark
...or how do you solve a problem like the King?
Session 9, The Hill
Belgarath, Kalasandr, and Kane moved at a leisurely pace along the Duke’s Road, the hike to Kelvin a refreshing break from the dank dungeons beneath The Hill. All carried a small fortune in coin, as they had recently managed to sell a valuable find, in the form of a powerfully enchanted dagger. It was irksome that they would never know what magic it had held, but it was hard to argue with the mountain of gold it had earned them.
“Look, I’m not saying one does not simply walk in to the Monastery, I’m just saying it’s not that simple…” Kalasandr said, panting with the exertion of dragging Waevryn’s litter. This was the second time he would try to pay the Patriarch of Kelvin to restore the vitality in her legs. His dedication to her was singular.
Kane sneered slightly in the thief’s direction, “Ah. And next we shall hear how one simply does not leave the donjon without an enlarged-”
“Hunh?” grunted Gareth, wondering where the elf to whom he owed blood-debt was going with that remark.
“I-” Belgarath attempted to interject, but the other two were having none of it.
“Oh, here we go! Brace yourselves…” pant, pant, “…the elf’s going to say something clever.”
“Starting a duel of the wits with a master of wit?” the elf replied. That one raised even Belgarath’s eyebrows, “You do not know the tiny limits of your own mental capacity!” declared Kane without even a hint of irony. The banter continued until the sun sank low, and while Belgarath had thought the two might come to blows, they ended the evening singing drinking songs by the fire over a wineskin of mead.
“The idiots!” thought the mage for at least the tenth time that day. He was greatly relieved that neither he, nor his trusted man, Mearl, had a sense of humour that could lead to such stupidity…
16th to the 22nd of Felmont, AC 999
Characters: Belgarath (Mage 2), Mearl (Belgarath’s Henchman), The Menagerie (Belgarath’s wardogs Argus and Cerberus, plus his owl Familiar, Stikini), Kalasandr (Thief 4), Solla and Waevryn (Kalasandr’s Henchmen), Kane (Elven Ranger 2), Gareth Ironhand (Kane’s Henchman), and 3 hunting dogs and 1 wardog belonging to Kane.
Mortal Wounds: Waevryn’s face was severely scarred by an enormous fly
Things began with the unusual move of Kane recruiting the dwarf the party had rescued from the Hobgoblins’ forge as a Henchman, even though dwarves aren’t considered animals. More shockingly, the dwarf agreed with elan once offered quality gear to replace what he had lost more than a year before. Gareth Ironhand owed Kane a blood-debt for rescuing him, poncy elf or no, and Gareth Ironhand repaid his debts!
The party then headed to Kelvin so Kalasandr could have Waevryn’s legs healed. The rogue had now spent a small fortune on the woman, though why he was so concerned with her being able to move her legs was anyone’s guess.
While in Kelvin, the party tracked down an Alchemist, one Asterius Medvedev Bogatsch, purported to be the finest in the city. From him they negotiated the purchase of a Healing Potion, discovering that buying magical goods was the flip side of making a fortune off of selling them. 500 gp later (or 1,000 gp, if you include the donation to the Church of Karameikos for Waevryn), and the party had obtained all the magical aid they were willing to pay for, and headed back to Guido’s Fort.
Upon their return, rumours again reached their ears of rival adventurers crossing the River in search of easy treasure. And, yet again, none of them seemed to have returned to the fort. Expecting to eventually run into these ne’er-do-wells, the party prepared themselves for battle, then had Boris ferry them and their complement of Henchmen over to The Hill.
The march to the Ruined Monastery was uneventful, and upon arriving mid-afternoon, they discovered the walls, courtyard, and most of the surface buildings were completely abandoned. The first they encountered any inhabitants was upon reaching the guardroom blocking the entrance to the dungeon, whereupon two Goblins promptly fled down the stairs into the depths. After a hurried argument, it was decided that party would wait on the stairs, hoping to hold the high ground against whatever enemies the Goblins would surely rouse against them…
…until, after more than ten minutes (i.e. 1 Turn spent waiting, and hence a Wandering Monster check), it became clear that the Goblins were not coming right back with reinforcements. But then, where had they gone?
Exceedingly nervous, the party inched their way down the stairs, tossing a torch to the floor at the bottom, and expecting Goblin ambush at any moment. Mearl and Gareth were pushed to the front (hey, that’s what Henchmen are for, right?), and the party descended. The blind T-junction at the bottom of the stairs was amusingly panic-inducing, but when a Goblin ambush still didn’t materialize, the party finally began to relax.
Having previously explored to the left from the bottom of the stairs (and not having Caasi present to insist on heading to the left), the party turned right, and then immediately left. The darkened corridor traveled straight with no apparent branches or doors, before ending in a lone door. As Kalasandr listened at the door, he realised he heard the sound of booted feet and guttural speech – from behind the party!
Marching order was hastily reshuffled as everyone turned to face the rear, with the dogs, all six of them, now in the party’s front. Around the corner strolled two Hobgoblins carrying a lantern, who were brought up short in shock at the sight of the party. Kane managed a hurried shot, wounding one of the Hobgoblins before they had a chance to react, and in a few more moments both lay dead on the floor. The party waited anxiously for any additional sign that they had been discovered, then returned to looting the room they had just found.
The chamber was filthy and foul-smelling, with the smoking remains of a fire dying in a large hearth. Above the coals hung a pot, with a greenish-black melange simmering away. Nearby stood a crude wooden table, along with several wooden benches and a pair of chairs. Upon the table sat several filthy, wine-stained goblets and a jug of vinegary wine. The room was about 30’ square, with another door directly across from the one they had entered through.
Kalasandr moved to the far door as the rest of the group searched the small room, and could hear a low, rumbling vibration from somewhere beyond the portal. It was rhythmic, and intermittent, though the nature of the sound was entirely unclear. An insect? Growling? A pneumatic forge? There was only one way to find out…
They opened the door and moved into the hall beyond. A couple dozen feet further, and an alcove that ended in a door opened on the left. The rhythmic rumbling was clearly coming from farther up the hall, but the party checked the side door, only to find it opened into a small cell. A quick examination yielded nothing, but Kane’s sharp elven eyesight noted something amiss with the masonry on the back wall. Poking and prodding, the party discovered a large block was loose, and with some effort, managed to remove it. Behind the wall was a crude, narrow tunnel, seemingly hand-carved with tools. Kalasandr bravely volunteered himself, and the rogue clambered into the confined space with a torch.
The tunnel wound a dozen feet, the narrow confines forcing Kalasandr to alternately clamber on hands-and-knees or bellycrawl to negotiate the passage. The far end stopped abruptly at what appeared to be another masonry block. With considerable effort, Kalasandr managed to wriggle the block into the space beyond, and then squeeze around it to peer about. The corridor the tunnel opened into seemed familiar, and, after glancing at his own map of the place, he deduced that he was near the forge where the party had freed Gareth.
Kalasandr slipped back into the tunnel, carefully replacing the block behind himself, then wriggled his way back to rejoin the party in the prison cell. It was concluded that some previous prisoner must have tunnelled to freedom. The party left the block at the back of the cell on the floor and headed back out into the corridor to find the source of the noise. A short distance farther revealed another alcove ending in a door on the left. It immediately became apparent that whatever was beyond this door was the source of the rumbling the party could hear. The door was locked, and Kalasandr quietly turned his skills on the mechanism. An audible “click!” signalled his success, and he eased the door ajar to peer into the room beyond…
Half-a-dozen large beds stood to the left of the door, and upon three of them were the hairy, sleeping forms of three Bugbears, the largest of whom was the source of what was now, clearly, inhuman snoring. Kalasandr slipped back into the hall, and the party came up with a plan: three of their number would attempt to slip into the room unnoticed, and slit the hairy beasts’ throats before they even knew the party was there! Belgarath, Kalasandr, and Kane all moved into the room, instead of just the stealthy thief, a decision that would prove most unfortunate.
While Kalasandr quietly slipped over the nearest bed and slit the throat of its occupant, Kane was much less so, and the clumsy Belgarath nearly tumbled to the floor, caught up in his own robes (rolled a surprise check for the Bugbears, modified based on Belgarath’s extreme clumsiness, and, not surprisingly, they were not Surprised; as Kalasandr had entered ahead and made his Move Silently check handily, I allowed him the Surprise Round). The sound woke the remaining two Bugbears, and the elven ranger slashed the one he had approached with his knife before it had a chance to react. The final Bugbear roared in defiance as it leapt to its feet, seizing a huge battle axe in its mangy hands. Thinking quickly, Belgarath cast Light on the eyes of the axe-wielding Bugbear, and it howled again, violently shaking its head in an attempt to clear its vision. Kane battled with the Bugbear he had already injured, as Kalasandr leapt across the beds to slash it with the Black Scimitar. Mearl charged into the room to stab the blinded Bugbear with his spear, then easily avoided its clumsy attempt to smash the haft of his weapon with its axe. Kane felled the beast in front of him with a swift thrust, then the weight of the party turned on the remaining, blinded humanoid. Swinging wildly and in vain with its battle axe, the beast finally fell to a crushing blow from Gareth’s warhammer.
As quiet settled on the room, more details of the space became apparent: 30’ on a side, with no other exits, a table and crude chairs stood in the centre of the room, the remains of a meal on the tabletop. An old, sturdy chest sat under the table. A search of the Bugbears bodies produced several keys, one of which opened the chest. Inside was an assortment of what appeared to be adventuring gear, with finely tooled leather armour, a well-kept shortsword, bow and arrows, and various other common items. Beside these sat a bag of coins, and a leather bundle containing what Kalasandr recognized as Thieves’ Tools.
Finding nothing further, the group again headed back into the hall and proceed further, once again reaching an alcove ending in a door on the left. This too was locked, but, upon trying the door, movement was heard from within. The party waited in anticipation, but the room was silent for a time. Finally, a voice called out, “Well, get on with it!” in slightly accented Thyatian. The door being locked from the outside, the group deduced that the occupant must be a prisoner, and warily unlocked the door with another of the Bugbear’s keys. Inside was a raven-haired young woman, lying on a plain wooden bench, her hands behind her head.
At the sight of the party she cocked an eyebrow, “Aren’t you a little hairless for a bugbear?”
Kalasandr immediately stepped forward, “I’m Kalasandr and I’m here to rescue you!”
“Reallllly…?” drolled the woman.
Kalasandr switched to the common street-slang used by thieves in the Duchy, noting his surprise at finding her here. The woman responded in kind, though somewhat haltingly. Satisfied, Kalasandr had a brief, whispered argument with the others, before it was decided that the gear and coins they had found would be turned back over to the woman. She quickly kitted herself, and then agreed to accompany the party temporarily as thanks for her rescue, introducing herself as Colleen DeFilch, a native of Darokin. She explained that she and four companions had traveled over the passes from the Republic in late spring, looking for adventure and easy coin. Upon reaching Guido’s Fort they heard tell that the humanoids guarding The Hill had been defeated by another group, and that the remaining treasure would be easy pickings. Much to their horror, the denizens of the Ruined Monastery were very much alive, and, worse still, were waiting for them in ambush, almost as if they had known they were coming. Their entire party was captured, and she had been separated from the others before her last sleep, all sense of time lost in the darkness.
With Colleen joining them, the group moved back into the hall, following a short distance further before it finally ended at a door. The smell of damp was in the air, and the sound of rushing water could be heard on the other side. Forcing the stuck and swollen door, the party discovered a large cavern, with a small stream running through it and draining into a hole in the floor. As they entered the room they caught site of a number of scuttling centipedes, and quickly withdrew, shutting the door behind them.
Consulting their map, it was decided to head back to the set of double-doors Kalasandr had previously scouted, in hopes of finding the hall of the Hobgoblin King. Passing several other doors, they reached the double doors without incident. They checked them carefully before discovering that they opened easily, leading to a large hall set with rows of benches. At the far end stood a massive idol of a now familiar grotesque shape, gleaming amethyst stones in its sockets.
The party entered and spread about the room as Kalasandr quickly mounted the statue and began working on prising the gems free. As he touched his crowbar to the first gem, the mouth of the statue fell open, and with a great, droning, buzzing sound, four huge flies flew out of the mouth and into the room, setting upon the party.
The flies were dispatched, but not before Colleen was badly injured, and Waevryn had her face torn apart; she would be severely scarred from her wounds. Kalasandr checked Waevryn (mostly to see if he would need to spend more on her), then, satisfied she would be able to shuffle back to the Fort with the rest of the party, went back to the idol. The party searched the rest of the room, with Kane once again spotting secret passages, this time in the south-east corner of the room. The first led into a tiny chamber with a hole in the floor, and a ladder leading down. The second, however, led into a well-appointed room. Kane stepped inside and was stunned to see a human figure, grey-skinned and hunched, sitting at a writing desk scribbling with a quill. The figure looked up, malice in his eyes, and Kane bravely ducked back out of the room to… warn the rest of the party – only to hear the opening and closing of a door from the secret chamber behind him. He looked back into the room to find it empty.
A heated argument ensued as the party debated whether to immediately pursue the fleeing figure – either through the secret door, or the double-doors in an attempt to cut the fugitive off – or to finish looting the place. They finally agreed to loot the place (in case someone else stole the phat loot they were stealing), Kalasandr working on the second amethyst gem, with the others tossing the secret study. Belgarath pocketed the papers from the desk, along with a small chest and its contents (a large cloak, a stoppered glass bottle that appeared empty, and a handful of coins).
Comfortable that they had lifted everything of value within reach (that wasn’t nailed down, and even some that was in the case of the gems), the party headed back the way they had come. When they reached the main junction, they waited for the fleeing figure. After a handful of uneventful minutes, the party headed down the main corridor in the direction they hadn’t yet explored. They passed several large, 20’ wide openings into some kind of large, unlit chamber beyond. Ignoring these, they then came to a single door on their left, with the passage ending in a second door some dozen feet further on.
Listening at the door, Kane heard the sound of Goblinoid voices. The party prepared for battle, and then Mearl tried to shove the door open with his spear, but the momentary exposure left him open and one of a volley of arrows struck him before he could duck back. He caught a momentary glimpse of upended tables forming a barricade across the room, with goblinoids crouching behind them. With a mighty yell, Gareth Ironhand charged into the room against the hated Goblins, arrows ricocheting off his plate armour. At the same time, Belgarath loosed his wardogs who ran to move around the barricades. The weaker members of the party remained in the hall, with Belgarath pulling out a Scroll of Web and considering the door on the party’s flank at the end of the hall. Should he? Perhaps he could wait?
The first pair of wardogs rounded the barricade, only to be blocked by a Hobgoblin warrior. Behind it, Goblins continued firing arrows into the room and doorway, none of them able to pierce Gareth’s considerable armour. Kane slipped into the room and moved to a corner where he could return fire against the Goblins. Belgarath’s strange decision to use neither the Web Scroll, nor a timely Hold Portal spell, to secure the door on their flank was a fateful one (it was the end of the night at this point, so there was no reason to hold back; it's meta-gamey, but unavoidably true, and Belgarath's player has a terrible habit of reaching the end of a session with spell(s) uncast, and then complaining about how useless his Mage is), as the door suddenly slammed open, the dark Cleric who had earlier fled standing behind a group of Goblins and Hobgoblins in the doorway!
Solla and an injured Mearl turned to face the new threat as the monsters charged the party. The situation became tense as the Hobgoblins behind the barricade managed to survive the wardogs’ assault, and Kane’s archery proved ineffective. In the hall, Solla and Mearl were both injured (Mearl now grievously so), even though Solla struck her opponent (with a natural 20, rolled by Kalasandr’s player). The Goblins were frenzied, with the Hobgoblins attacking from the second rank with their spears. Belgarath could no longer cast Web without entrapping his comrades, and all the other party members were already badly injured. All, that is, except for Kalasandr…
The thief leapt forward, lashing out between Solla and Mearl, cutting down the injured Goblin, then reversing his blade to kill the Goblin in front of Mearl (two natural 20s!). The injured fighter withdrew, with Gareth Ironhand coming out of the barricade room to move forward and fill his position in the line. Back inside the room with the barricade, the wardogs finally succeeded in dragging down the Hobgoblins, leaving only the Goblin archers, hemmed in on both sides. Amazingly, the Goblins drew their swords and prepared to defend themselves.
Meanwhile, Kalasandr stabbed one of the two Hobgoblins through the heart, and then slashed the second, injuring it (another natural 20!). Seeing this, the dark Cleric stepped forward, chanting words that made the party’s ears ring. He then reached out and touched Kalasandr, his hideous grin exposing teeth that had been filed to sharpened points. Kalasandr felt the hideous power flowing through him, but reaching deep inside himself, managed to shake off panic and resist the horrible magic the Cleric had used against him (the other players waited with baited breath as Kalasandr’s player rolled the die to Save versus Death… it came up with a natural 20, yet again! The player's fifth such roll in 4 rounds). The dark Cleric’s arrogant look dissolved into confusion as his spell failed to deal with the adventurer.
The Cleric then turned to the only remaining Hobgoblin at his side, chanting again, laying a dark blessing on the Hobgoblin with Cure Light Wounds. The party watched in horror as its wounds closed, and it renewed the fight.
In the barricade room, the wardogs tore the remaining Goblins to pieces, and Kane moved to join the others in the hall.
In the hall, Kalasandr narrowly missed the remaining injured Hobgoblin, but it was subsequently skewered on Mearl’s spear from the back rank. The dark Cleric slammed his mace into the thief. Gareth Ironhand stepped forward and slammed his warhammer into the dark Cleric’s side. With a final groan, the dark Cleric collapsed to the ground. Relieved to have survived, the party searched the immediate area around the room of the battle. Finding nothing else of interest, the decision was finally made to withdraw back to the safety of Guido’s Fort…