Mid July – Early August
It is seventy three days since escaping the Master. From that time, fortune favors my wanderings as I united with a mighty cohort of explorers. When the time comes, our combined forces shall bring the surcease of the Dark Lord, but only after we have tempered and twined our abilities, honing them to a finely crafted eldritch edge.
Perhaps I should explain my optimism. It would be difficult to imagine a better band of compatriots, stalwart and true. These are not my people by birth, yet slavery in the accursed silver mines of the Master yields instructions that bonds of brotherhood forged in combat are stronger than the prejudices tying one to blood and race, and that the value of coin and gem are to be reckoned less than the worth of actions and deeds: Reverend, the fighting priest of Torm, battles with courage and self-sacrifice against all tyranny. Though human, Reverend is a valued ally against the Master. Kaden Broadfoot, also, one of the shorter members of our band – halfing druid compassed with care concerning the tally of his deeds – wields power belied by his stature. Is not his life’s balance already recorded the trail of the wandering stars, as it is for all? The dwarf Norik Morast, a noble and paladin, is one who measures above the stature of most other dwarves; not for reason of station or physical dominion, but for grace of character. Undoubtedly, as I have heard within the song of the great celestial orbs, in time he will lead his people to greatness. A gnome also journeys with the group, Nibbles. As mischievous as others of his race, for he is certainly not wanting in that regard, yet those nimble fingers and his pious prayers have benefited our band on several occasions. Trigal, a human from the northern wastes, both barbarian and king, recently joined us. His quest instills great hope in me for mankind, as he searches to avoid the callousness of heart and cruelty which oft enters into the heart of men. May the heavens’ light illuminate his journey. Last, but by no means the least, is one who would by others of my race be regarded as a pitiable creature. He travels with the group, lending his considerable arcane abilities and martial talent to the deadly pool assembled for the cause of justice: Wojtek Wyvernjack is his name in the common voice. He is half-elf (Should the term be half-human? Perhaps such a one should be known as something altogether different? Time in the mines as a slave has greatly altered my perceptions of others…) Calculus of the stars suggests his fate is vital to both elves and humans, as his linage and acts already attest. Our bond as a party is beyond the orbits of the spheres, perhaps even integral to the mathematics of the planes. Indeed, consider our actions in this, the latest verse in our saga.
Not two fortnights ago, our band returned from the conquest of a mighty dragon. For all the volume of poison gas which spewed from green beast’s mouth and fell magic which obstructed our path, we prevailed and returned to the haven of Crossroads. Once there and settled for a deserved rest and hosteling at the temple of Torm (our gratitude to Reverend for securing the accommodations), a summons was issued that Norik should appear before Crossroad’s Lord Governor Foster.
Lord Governor Foster was concerned with the taxation of Dunlap, a hamlet some two and ½ day’s journey to the north, in the Grey mountains. Two adventurers were dispatched six months prior. Alas, these returned not, neither with word nor apportioned levy. While I believe the Lord Governor to be more concerned with coffers than citizens, he determined (for evident convenience sake, no doubt) to send another deputation north to inquire regarding the tardy taxes and his two absent agents. He mentioned that Dunlap’s Governor, Brillbee Fulbright, sent word after last season’s harvest that a band of brigands molested the region. Stars only know why Lord Governor Foster did not respond immediately by sending the High Sheriff to investigate; they remain silent on the matter. I supposed that one might claim an army of the dead compounded by the complication of a militia comprised of cowardly conscripts some two months ago could explain the Lord Governors preoccupation with other matters than the affairs of Dunlap. So it is that a half-year has passed and Lord Governor Foster sends another foray forth to secure the pledge of Dunlap’s fealty.
We journeyed without incident for two days, taking in the beauty of rolling countryside. During the day we strode across gentle hills that gradually transformed to mountainous terrain beneath our feet. At night, whilst the others slept blissfully in the safe confines of my magic sphere (with regards for the research of that ancient sage, Leomund), I pondered the passage of the celestial display spread above in the indigo sky. There is much to see in, upon, and above this world.
A few leagues from the village of Dunlap, the mountain’s pass narrowed, thinning our line to single rank. We continued forward in file until a thing most curious occurred: the very mountains themselves thrust upwards before our feet, blocking our path! Clearly, the rock wall before us was magically summoned, and intended to make the mountain pass a box cannon death-trap. Steep and piled with rubble, the pass was blocked off. It appeared we were trapped with the only exit behind us to the south.
A voice echoed through canyon from the east wall, “Ho, now! Deliver your gold and proceed!”
Fortune had smiled upon us, as the very brigands reported to the Lord Governor of Crossroads all those months ago were here demanding tribute. How ironic that they who would be masters of the road would soon be mastered themselves. It was clear that the conclusion of this meeting would be less than desirable for some.There were two brothers, human twins, demanding toll for use of the pass. One was tall and willowy, a druid in fact. Bald of pate, with a red tattoo marking his face, it was he who called forth the rocks of the earth to block passage on the road. His brother, a large, hulking brute, looked as if our very presence was an affront to his sensibilities. This gargantuan man only fumed as Reverend refused to submit to the extortion.
It is not clear who unleashed the first volley, but it was clear that we were determined to continue to Dunlap without yielding to the highwaymen’s demands. Wojtek launched a salvo of arrows upwards from the canyon floor towards the twins, striking a twisted creature hidden in the brush. Its sharp cry, an oath of revenge for the wound, was expressed in the goblin’s language. As we soon learned the bandits filled their ranks with numbers from the vast hobgoblin tribes located in the eastern mountain ranges.
I thought better of my plan to magically step across the distance separating the bandit leaders from our cohort, rather choosing to call upon the element of fire instead. “Volida Ekrixi,” rang my words between the gorge’s stone walls as I flicked a ball of bat guano and sulfur in the air toward the pair. A brilliant fireball exploded above our adversaries, also striking their three hidden hobgoblin companions as well. Over their heads, for a brief second, the sky flared with the intensity of a miniature sun, then faded as quickly as it appeared. How the canyon rang with concussive force! I must refine the mixture of materials for this spell, as the explosive energy was somewhat less than desired. From the western side, more hobgoblins barked in surprise at the reverberations caused by the detonation’s report.
Reverend deftly wheeled his horse about and drove past our line to head out of the canyon, southward. Riding hard to make the plateau from which the criminals launched their attack, the priest chanced upon a quartet of huge wolves, trained mounts of hobgoblins. Reverend yelled sharply, “Worgs!” Tactically a sound maneuver, they were attempting to close off our only egress from the skirmish. Ha-ha! If they only knew that they were where we wanted them!
Having shouted warning of the danger approaching from the rear, Reverend pressed upwards on the mountain’s side, driving his warhorse forward. He would arrive in time to see the bandit-druid phase from view.
Obviously, things were not proceeding as the brigands planned. When my fireball exploded above their heads, the druid uttered his despair. Did he not think that others command the weave of magic as well? Hobgoblins launched their arrows, but proved they were inferior marksmen. We may have been the ones boxed in, but they were the ones who were trapped. Had I not observed in prior evenings’ skies that the stars shined in our favor?
Their taste for battle was waning, though it was not yet slaked. With what speed did Trigal bound up the crag of the valley’s eastern wall! Can a human move so fast without the fabric of the weave clothing him? Trigal was a blur as he moved past the twins’ flank to face them head-on. With a mighty swing the barbarian-king sent the larger of the two humans backwards, sliding down the cliff face into the gorge below towards our hearty band. No sooner had Trigal shoved the brute down to the basin that he bound down the wall of the pass after to join the fray.
On the floor of the pass Nibbles sprang to action. Though constrained in the center of our column, the cleric of Garl Glittergold petitioned his deity for divine assistance. After calling for a blessing upon those adept with sword and shield (Norik, Reverend, Trigal, and Wojtek), he then smote the largest robber with the energies of divine righteousness, Nibbles was as fierce as any warrior could wish. Whispering a short prayer, Nibbles shimmered with the celestial light of his god, his presence dividing in two proving incontrovertibly that consciousness and form can exist in two places at once.
Wojtek climbed up the western ridge to face the foes thereon. He found two hobgoblins, with wicked arrows cradled in their bows, ready to shoot down upon the rest of us. Engaging the one closest, Wojtek called our attention to the foes on the canyon’s western ledge. I shouted the magical incantation, “Inflam Rolla”, and simultaneously threw a ball of candle wax mixed with a pinch of brimstone and powdered iron towards the ridge. A slowly spinning ball of flame appeared between the two hobgoblins, searing them both with its hellish heat. One of the hobgoblins screamed, retreating as swiftly as stunted feet would carry it.
At this, the Worgs stalked into the pass looking to fill their bellies with our carcasses. You may well surmise that we were not keen upon the idea of being kibble for these cur mongrels. While Norik and Trigal used an interesting combat tactic wherein one would draw the attention of the bark-skinned berserker while the other then seized the opportunity to press the battle hard against the enemy. While they battled, I unsheathed the magical blade Oomaravvi, the Voice of the Lion. Using the intelligent long sword many call Roar, I channeled its energies to sound with the potency of the king of beasts. Our enemies quaked at the mighty growl; the valley resounded with the roar of desert’s lord. And the Worgs wined as whelps separated from their dam. Well, at least two of them, as they cowered in the back as far as they could from the action.
After an unsuccessful search for the bandit’s spineless druid, Reverend drove his steed down the sheer cliff over which not twenty seconds before Trigal set the larger of the twins sliding. It is a testament both the Reverend’s horsemanship and the courage of his mount, that they were able descend and attack as avenging servitors of Torm. Reverend directed his horse to trample upon the bear-skinned behemoth. Between the combined might of the good priest, Norik, and Trigal, as well as the righteous prayers of Nibbles, the muscle-bound twin was put down once for all time.
With the main body of opposition dispatched, dealing with the Worgs proved but minor fare. Reverend’s horse lost footing on the rocky terrain, yet the priest managed to roll off his mount to station himself between one of the Worgs and his fallen stallion. Reverend carried the momentum of his roll through to the swing of his war hammer, crushing the head of the Worg.
Yet one Worg remained a threat. It snapped at the fallen warhorse. Not wishing to see fine horseflesh become the meal of such a hideous beast, I pointed my finger and shouted, “Inflam Ranga!” A searing bolt of flame jetted from my extended fingertip, solidly striking the Worg in the fat of its repulsive belly. A crazed pain was visible in the creature’s eyes the very moment it exploded in a hail of enflamed fur and greasy flesh.
With the threat ended, we tended our wounds (such as they were) while we waited for the enchantment that called rocks to block the path to pass. These bandits were well provisioned and carried coin. Odd that they thought robbery of our band a desirable action.
We carried forward towards Dunlap. Most villages are cautious of outsiders and adventurers, and Dunlap proved no different. All of the inhabitants were reluctant to discuss with us local events, and referred us to Governor Fulbright. Even Nibbles’ persuasive enchantments proved to be of negligible effect. Though with charms he managed to chat up one of the village women, she was less than forthcoming with any particular details. In the end, Norik and I headed for the town’s administration hall.
We were met by Davies, a club-footed porter who led us into Governor Fulbright’s audience chamber. Therein the Governor made entrance accompanied by his personal bodyguard, Sir Hobbes, also called “The Hammer”. Governor Fulbright indicated that the brigands encamp about a day’s travel north of Dunlap.
“Payment,” he said, “is whatever you can take from the bandits, less the taxes bound for Crossroads.” Brillbee Fulbright had nothing to relate to us regarding the whereabouts or fate of the two deputies from Crossroads. However, he offered us free room and board in the village’s sole tavern. Though I would have preferred to spend the evening beneath the stars’ fair light, I conceded to the concerns of my comrades.