Months 5 and 6
The Grim Fist decides to take a break in Orléans for the latter half of Spring, and persuades the giantesses to accompany them (Galswintha begs in most unseemly fashion).
On arrival in the fair city, the Grim Fist makes an impression. Three giantesses wearing the current fashion, one of them with an elf maid - known among tailors as a benefactress non pareil - perched on her shoulder.
A pack of heavy-jowled mastiffs in cute little jackets; dire wolves in spiked leather armor; tigers in jaunty red scarves; cave bears in vests; and a giant hawk perched regally at the head of the pack.
A caravan of wagons, some piled with merchant goods, others loaded with small, iron chests, another with the corpse of a sphinx, and still another loaded with a small accountant’s desk, wardrobe, privacy screens, and enameled washtub.
And shortly behind, a small team of dung shovelers hired to prevent in-city untidiness.
The Grim Fist does several things in Orléans.
- Three of the wagons are burdened with coins of copper and brass, barrels of pickled fish, gallons of beer, fire logs, rolls of cloth, lamp oil, potter, and other cheap but practical things. They spend a day giving most of that away to the city's poor.
- They take another day giving away maps of the dwarven highway to Atanung in the mercantile district.
- They meet briefly with the Governor of Orléans to assure him that the Grim Fist is merely celebrating a path to Atanung.
Some character-specific events:
Galagunde d'Orléans, visionist (illusionist-6) and the one who introduced the party to tarantula familiars with Healing, leaves Chlodomer's service. She holds no real rancor, but she does not ever wish to be left alone in the wilderness again to defend giantesses she could care less for. Plus, Chlodomer's behavior around the lignemaids, dryads, naiads, Orléans city girls, and others has finally pushed her a bit too far. Nor did she ever care much about appearances - possibly a bad fit for a henchwoman of Chlodomer's! (She does take the bonus Chlodomer offers her, of course.) She takes her apprentice, Agalinda d'Orléans, with her.
Haramer’s fighter squad falls apart - some of the same problems as Galagunde, but there is also the issue that they were hired by Chlodomer, but they were then pawned onto Haramer … and the majority of them were a level below even that, working for a no-name fighter with no real charisma who was working for Haramer. Since most of them are quite wealthy in their own right now, they go off to start their own mercenary companies. They keep their expensive, high-quality spears and armor, of course.
Haramer loses two of the fighters working directly for him, but retains the other two.
Thorismund and Ingunde du Châtel (and their fighter-accountant, Louis d’Orléans) also leave Chlodomer, although on much better terms: Ingunde has been building up the cash to found a solid merchant business (and Chlodomer has known this), and with the pass to Atanung safer than ever, this seems the time to do it. Some members of the party pitch in on the first caravan, in return for a promised portion of the profits at a later date.
Chlodomer revises the line-up of hired mercenaries, and ends up with this:
Haramer D’Orléans hires and leads 50 heavy infantry pikemen (600/month); his two remaining henches act as lieutenants (and remain henches, of course). Chlodomer outfits them all in plate armor and quality (+1 damage) spears (2,700 gold).
Adela d’Orléans hires and leads 8 cataphract cavalry (600/month). Chlodomer outfits them all with quality composite bows and spare medium warhorses (5,200 gold).
Genofeva de Paris hires and leads 10 heavy cavalry (600/month). Chlodomer outfits them with quality (+1 damage) lances and upgrades them to heavy warhorses (3,600 gold).
Then he reassures the Governor, once again, that the Grim Fist has no designs on his city, and that this is purely for the next wilderness trip.
Galswintha and her mage henches hit the books for most of Spring.
She also noted that Gurund was uncomfortable with danger (and had even hired a bodyguard for himself). So she talks to Chlodomer and buys a share in the Grim Fist Orléans HQ, puts in an alchemy workshop (50,000 gold!), and then asks Gurund to hire some journeymen and apprentices and begin working for her in Orléans rather than in the wilderness. His first task? Research oil of dispel magic.
(This turns out to need sphinx feathers, and the dead sphinx is sufficient for seven magical research rolls.)
Galswintha leaves him with additional funds and orders to buy more sphinx feathers if he can; and to do business as an alchemist for those time periods that he can’t continue on her oils.
Galswintha also commissions a sizable carriage drawn by heavy draft horses, freeing up one of the party’s wagons.
Vulfelind meets briefly with Chludwig d'Orléans - head of the Thieves' Guild - whose daughter she had returned to him last time. He wants to make sure that she knows that he knows about their plans for Pegasus Mountain, and that as long as she remembers who's really in charge, he won't tell the Governor what's really going on. She smiles and nods and kisses his ring finger and worries about which of her henches is actually a spy. She also finally pays attention to what he looks like, and realizes that he is probably a wererat.
Vulfelind takes her henches to a tavern with private rooms, and has a meeting.
She tells them what just went on with Chludwig. She tells them that she had assumed the Guild kept an eye on her (“and if the Governor doesn’t already know we’re claiming Pegasus mountain, maybe he needs his eyes checked”), so no worries there …
BUT. Chludwig is a wererat, and he’s definitely Chaotic: he’s making threats like this against the people who saved his daughter! And while Vulfelind lacks the kind of devotion to Law (hah!) the other Grim Fist members possess, she prefers living in a world where the Lawful people are in charge.
Then Veneranda breaks down crying: Chludwig threatened her mother the last time the party was in Orléans - at about the same time his daughter was being returned to him. All is forgiven.
Vulfelind talks to the party, but they’re hesitant to take on a Thieves’ Guild leader in a major city who is cozy with the Governor, especially when the “spy” is now a double agent on the party’s side.
Vulfelind sighs and agrees, but still takes a vacation in Atanung (“anywhere but here”) to put it behind her.
Shadagrunde refines his hench and merc structure, taking Chlodomer's hard-earned lessons on extended hench chains to heart.
Two of Merideth’s clerics end up heading to the local Church chapter to offer their services, now that they have “several months of on-the-job experience with the heroic members of the Grim Fist.”
Shadagrunde’s line-up now looks like this:
Merideth le Chocolat has two henches (both cleric-4). She hires and leads 20 light cavalry (600/month). Shadagrunde equips them with quality lances (+1 to hit and +1 damage) and a spare light warhorse each (5,000 gold).
Grimaric d’Orléans hires and leads 100 light infantry (600/month). Shadagrunde equips them with quality leather and two quality spears each (23,000 gold).
Rinogand d’Orléans hires and leads 20 longbowmen (600/month). Shadagrunde equips them with quality chainmail and longbows (9,400 gold).
Aggulita looks for Lawful goblins and finds none - the Grim Fist has all two of them. Nor is Aggulita exactly “leadership” material. This upsets Aggulita quite a bit, and there is some heart-felt, roleplayed feelings before Shadagrunde lets Aggulita go off on a quest to find other Lawful goblins. Shadagrunde gives Aggulita the Goblin a sizable bonus (read: 9,000 gold to fund the expedition), and Aggulita gifts Grizzba with Gore, a fully-trained dire wolf mount.
By the end of it, the party has 208 mercenaries in tow, collated from a variety of small companies of all sorts. Galswintha returns from her spell studies, takes one long, disgusted look, and stomps her feet, “Party fund discussion, NOW.”
Agreements are reached:
- The party treasurer will be asked before the party treasury is spent, even if it's not frivolous.
- The armies are a party resource, because the party pot was spent on them.
- The specific henches in charge of the armies will remain as it is: they would have been the best choice in any case.
- Since they are a party resource, Galswintha gets to put them in uniforms.
That prompts another shopping spree - this time for brightly colored white-and-red tunics, high-quality marching boots and sleeping blankets, banners, matching helmets, and simple copper rings with the year and “Grim Fist” inscribed (instantly starting a party tradition).
And then Adela d’Orléans (Chlodomer’s) and Almalinda d’Orléans (Vulfelind’s) spend the last week drilling the army in parade marching.
The city’s entire supply of available military oil is bought out, and the Grim Fist marches back to Pegasus Mountain.
And the giantesses? Deeply impressed by how well civilization took to them, and weighed down with books on human architecture and stonework.
Month 7, Week 1: Sheltered Wood (#1308)
As Summer begins …
The party scouts by air with eyes of the eagle and a giant hawk … and discovers that there are, in fact, three entire brigand camps, the most central of which also houses two berserker warbands.
A precise estimate isn’t possible, but somewhere between 500 and 700 criminals appear to have made this hex their home, and are preying on an area a dozen or more miles wide. The Grim Fist are outnumbered 3-to-1 even with their mercenary army, and there is evidence that the three camps are all in cahoots, and will coordinate and assist one another.
Shadagrunde draws up a map; Chlodomer puts pieces on the map; and then Vulfelind moves those pieces around. Somewhere in this, a coherent strategy is formed, albeit one that is likely to have losses.
The giantesses are left out at Galswintha’s request: “They want to be architects.”
And then they receive a letter, delivered by a scared peasant:
My dearest friends, it has been a real pleasure to see you at work clearing the nearby woods. All of those bugbears and goblins! And ogres, if I have heard the correct rumors. This had made things immensely easier on myself, than if you had not come along.
A cousin of mine, however, tells me that you may be looking to clear my area as well - that you might, in point of fact, intend me some harm!
I am delighted to tell you that I laughed at the notion. Not that you aren’t capable, of course! I am certain you are capable enough, though I would make it cost you more than you might have wished to pay. But you, my friends, are heroes! Paragons of virtue!
And I? I am merely a man of means who has carved a niche in the protection of goods through the wilderness of this part of the world. Merchants pay quite a bit for my services, and are happier for having done so!
Why, we should be partners, not enemies!
And indeed, that is just what I would like to suggest: with your burgeoning army at my back, I need not fear the incursions of wilderness monsters, so that I can focus my efforts on the protection of highways for honest merchants; and with me watching the highways, you can focus your efforts at building what will, I am certain, be a glorious kingdom some day.
Albert le Renardière
Vulfelind smiles - and there are entirely too many teeth involved. To Chlodomer, she only says, “Albert is a wererat, care to wager?”
The Grim Fist and their army marches out immediately, with Grizzba and Vulfelind riding swiftly ahead to find and eliminate anyone Albert sent along to report back.
Day 8: A Bad Day for a Rat
In usual habit, Albert rolls from bed predawn and pads silently through the camp in rat form, finding nothing amiss. His day is already planned: his scout to the Grim Fist camp should be reporting in a few hours; a romp with his wives; another round of cash arriving from merchants in the afternoon. In all, pleasantly indolent!
He finds a guard napping, and nips an ankle as a reminder: his people should know better! The disease may kill the guard in a few days - a disease which always seem to catch the lazy in Albert’s camps.
His duty done, Albert pads back to his nest … and pottery falls from the sky, scattered across the center of camp. His nose twitches: naptha!
There is no hesitation: he becomes human and shouts the alarm, a split second before fireballs engulf the naptha soaked center of camp and wipe out a fifth of his force. His wives run from the wreckage, burned but alive, and he and they rush to the treasury.
Albert slams a potion filled with the essence of a hill giant, and directs his wives to the rack of healing potions, which they greedily consume. Then he grabs Mercy of Crows from its wall-sheath, shifts into ratman form, and slinks out to survey the battle …
An entire warband of berserkers lies dead and pinned to the ground by arrows. The other warband is losing a fight with cataphract cavalry. Corpses are burning everywhere.
His light cavalry - those remaining - chase an enemy force of same … until the enemy force charges right through a force of hidden pikemen who set for charge and decimate the brigand force.
He does not wait to see how his light infantry will do: Albert and his wives position to intercept the cataphract cavalry - the soldiers die messily and fast, too focused on the pursuing berserkers to spot the wererats lying in wait. Their leader, a fast archeress, puts an arrow through one of Albert’s wives, sees that it has no effect, and makes an astonishingly skillful direction change away from Albert and berserkers both.
To Albert’s momentary befuddlement, however, she slows down short of escape, and whistles piercingly.
And then ten heavy cavalry bursts from - seemingly - empty space, charge the full distance, and focus on knockdowns and slams, rather than going for kills. The wererat has to admit: against foes who cannot be hurt, slamming them through buildings is a good second choice. Unfortunately, however, Albert himself has the strength of a giant.
He trips the second horse to pass him, then plucks the rider of the third from his horse and thrusts his sword through the man’s heart. And then a man in white armor steps out of the same nothingness from which the cavalry arrived, and Albert stares death in the eyes.
Knowing his own skill and abilities, Albert briefly attempts to spar with Chlodomer. Few can match Albert’s skill - let’s be honest, few could harm him even if they could put a touch on the swashbuckling rat lord - but Chlodomer is almost as strong as the wererat, better equipped, and under the influence of beneficial spells. The fight begins to go poorly.
Albert calls to his wives to get out of the rubble and help him, and discovers that, at some point during his spar with Chlodomer, they’ve all been killed. Chlodomer pricks him again with that damnable dwarven sword …
Albert flees. Across the village center, around a corner, fade to shadows, clear a gap, uncover the trap door, quietly, quietly, re-seal the entrance, through the rat warren, and home free …
A pack of grinning thieves, whose portraits Chludwig sent him months ago, are waiting for him at his exit. His hidden exit. His oh-so-secret exit. One of them, Vulfelind, puts a flaming, magical crossbow bolt into his leg as he slows to a stop.
Albert puts on his most charming smile, “Lovelies, I have allies who will be unhappy if you don’t let me by.”
Vulfelind smiles. The pack swarms the rat lord with magic blades and malice.
OOC: There were some interesting priorities in this battle. Galswintha had her familiar Petite circle high in the sky and watch for injured horses - didn't matter whose side, she wanted the familiar to heal the horses.
And Vulfelind, once she found the secret exit, sent Veneranda, Almalinda, and Baldaswind to do their best to cover the field of battle with the staff of healing, and save as many soldiers as possible.
Neither of those things really affected the tide of battle, of course.
The cataphract cavalry were wiped out; the heavy cavalry took heavy losses; everyone else did reasonably well, although there was still mortality. Morale checks on the brigands helped everyone out, though - half the battle was fought not with weapons, but fear.
Vulfelind was very insistent, so I rolled for Mortal Wounds for every soldier; and Veneranda did actually manage to save most of them from true death with timely staff usage.
The berserkers, once the cataphracts were taken care of, did quite a lot of damage to the light and heavy infantry. The party finally lost the last of their invisibility over that, because they had to wade in and finish the berserkers off.
Day 8, Retreat
The Grim Fist and army retreat to a safe spot, recovering the wounded and dead. The mages are bedded down as quickly as possible, guards are set, and everyone prepares.
They know it will be at least a day before camp 2 can reach them. Camp 3 may arrive sooner, but doesn’t.
Vulfelind and gang show up shortly thereafter, and Mercy of Crows is identified: a two-handed sword +2, whose each hit has a 1 in 6 chance of aging a target by 5 years and healing the wielder of 1 hp. The sword is silently, but feels
Month 7, Weeks 2, 3, and 4
At dawn, mages prepared, the party decamps and … faces the combined might of two brigand camps.
Which, fortunately, is actually a smaller force (and lacking berserkers and a dozen wererats) than the primary camp.
They are remarkably close together, a mistake against the Grim Fist.
Shadagrunde drops a plague of insects on them. A quarter fall instantly, and those who flee the carpet of bugs face longbows and pikes, or if they make it past that, are run down by cavalry. Those still among the bugs scream surrender, and Shadagrunde separates the carpet and spares them.
The staff of healing is administered indiscriminately, and as a result, a much larger force of brigands is captured than might have been expected - almost two hundred are captured and tied up.
Shadagrunde presides over a respectful burial pyre for the dead brigands; and then the party marches the living (and Albert’s corpse) to Atanung.
Along the way to Atanung, Shadagrunde restores to life as many soldiers as he can, and in Atanung, they pay for as many additional restorations as the market will bear. They manage to save almost all of the army. Galswintha approves care packages for the families of the dead and crippled.
… then they discover that Albert le Renardière is the Bandit King, with a 12,500 gold bounty; and that he is the source of the wererat infection in the Thieves’ Guild, for whom with another 12,500 gold bounty. Vulfelind gleefully collects both and deposits them with Galswintha.
And after another brief discussion with the Party Treasurer, they hire more mercenaries, march back, clean the dregs of brigands from the forest, and loot the three brigand camps.
Month 8, Days 1, 2, and 3: Azure Hot Springs (#1708)
The party gets serious about the hydra. The party’s collection of water-breathing potions is put in a pile: 3. Galswintha and Deuteria can cast create air twice each, bringing the number of entrants up to 7.
Ropes are tied. Chlodomer, Haramer (wearing Chlodomer’s gauntlets of ogre strength), Genofeva, Shadagrunde, Merideth, Grimaric, Rinogand, and Vulfelind are prepared for underwater travel. Vulfelind goes first, stealthily, and with a fire beetle organ tucked in cloth to alert the others if she needs them quickly. The others rope themselves together with chains, and dive in.
The hydra, hiding in a side cave, spots them first … and skips Vulfelind and goes straight for Chlodomer, grappling and pinning him and then fleeing back down the side tunnel.
Fortunately for Chlodomer, the chains hold, and the others (except for Vulfelind) come along for the ride. The hydra’s ambush quickly becomes a one-on-many fight, and it has to stop fleeing in order to defend itself. Each round, the hydra nearly kills Chlodomer, and then Chlodomer removes one or two heads, and then the clerics heal Chlodomer, and the rest try to beat on the hydra.
This continues for three rounds … and then two heads grow back.
In aquatic-enforced silence, the warriors try to beat the tide of heads. As the last head falls onto the growing pile at the bottom of the cave, Vulfelind finally arrives and, seeing the situation, silently hands her flaming crossbow to Haramer.
And then, as the others valiantly keep the heads trimmed, Haramer begins cauterizing the wounds.
The hydra finally ceases fighting and sinks to the cave floor. Haramer re-cauterizes every neck, just to be sure, and then Vulfelind tracks damaged stalactites and heavy growth to find the monster’s lair.
Vulfelind is very amused to find gauntlets of ogre power, which she dons to help carry treasure out.
Day 4: Red Meadow (#1407)
The centaurs are very apologetic.
Very, very, very sincerely apologetic. Had they only realized that the Grim Fist were such mighty and magnificent heroes, they would have had no qualms about entering truce and becoming a part of the kingdom to be.
An alternative theory: they came across one or more of the ogre villages.
Day 5: Galaufchulis (#1610 → #1510) becomes Torn Tree Hill
At the giant oak tree, the party talks to the treants.
This is a slow process.
However, the party does manage to get across to them that they are building a nature reserve in the Oak Circle - one where they can be protected from human predation for as long as the kingdom stands.
The treants then talk to the rocs.
And then: eight treants form a circle around the thousand-foot oak tree, and with a great shuddering, the tree uproots from the hill and walks toward the Oak Circle. The rocs glare from their rocking perches, but otherwise seem content with the move.
The hill dominating the area is largely rent open by this, so the party renames it Torn Tree Hill.
Days 6 and 7: Utena’s Shadow (#1607)
That leaves the cloud giants. It’s not that the Grim Fist couldn’t wipe the cloud giants off the map in a straight up fight: it’s that the cloud giants are out of reach.
Or … mostly out of reach. With one giant hawk, three party members could make it up there. And Galswintha’s fly spell has just enough juice to get up, just not back down (however, she can cast two per day). They leave everyone else back at Pegasus Mountain.
Chlodomer, Shadagrunde, and Vulfelind take the Hawk Express Elevator … and Galswintha flies under her own power, promising herself to save her second fly spell and not waste it on a fireball.
When they arrive, rocks come sailing out in greeting, and a flock of giant hawks attack, screeching. The party drops and rolls onto the cloud stuff, and … wipe out ten giant hawks in record time, apologizing the whole way. More rocks, and the party storms the mostly empty castle, and finds themselves face-to-face with two amazingly angry cloud giants.
Shadagrunde goes down, hard, with a shattered leg, but not before landing a flame strike; and Chlodomer finds that holding off two storm giants makes for short work of hit points without a cleric. Galswintha says something unladylike and webs the giants for a short respite, then curses the giant in better shape with weakness, then fireballs them both, igniting the web … then runs and hides as they break out. Chlodomer kills off the weaker of the two just as he breaks free of the burning web.
The curse, thankfully, does its job on the other: with less likelihood of being hit, Chlodomer focuses on putting the hurt on the larger giant … and almost dies anyway (seriously, 6d6? ouch!) until Vulfelind drops down from above and manages a backstab, ending the cloud giant’s career as a singer, and his life.
They patch up Shadagrunde very poorly … but at least well enough for him to heal himself. And then the building begins to shake. They look at each other. They look at Galswintha … the fireball that guaranteed that Chlodomer would outlast the giant also cut off her path out.
Galswintha laughs, “You go on without me. If the castle lasts long enough, you can send Fierce on the Wind back up to pick me up. So, you know, hurry or something?”
They leave, and Galswintha sits at the edge of the disintegrating cloud to watch it all end … and spots the giant hawks she helped beat down.
A careful discussion with Petite (her Beast Friendship and Husbandry-focused familiar) later, they manage to recover a giant hawk willing to carry her down. They leave as the cloud finishes losing solidity, and the castle falls through.
Shadagrunde is in poor shape for travel, so they make camp, and in the morning, Shadagrunde casts restore on himself. They return triumphant heroes.