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“Get off the road!” Tad whispered, as he, Khrystos, and Vincze approached the fort along the winding dirt road. Just then, the front gate lifted, and a party of bandits on horseback rode forth, following a flock of five cackling crows. Desna was clearly on the heroes’ side, because they went unnoticed hiding in the chapparal along the roadside. After the bandits passed, the Defenders dusted themselves off—all except the white wolf, Toboe, who hid deeper in the brush, awaiting the call of his mistress Jane, soaring high above in eagle-form, together with Skyduster.
It was hard to believe that just a few hours earlier, they were all comfortably gathered as Vincze conducted a Harrow card reading (see Vision 7 of Vincze’s Visions ). Immediately following that, she and Jane activated no less than nine spells—and Khrystos drank one potion—to prepare the group for the day’s events. Vincze also used her Dust of Illusion on Tad, disguising the large half-orc as a human bandit. The group knew that, with these dweomers in place, it was too late to turn around—the protective magicks they had activated would expire within a few hours. They broke camp and quickly headed east towards the fort.
Overhead, Jane reviewed the plan of attack as she circled, watching the fort carefully with eagle-eyes. At the last minute, the plan had changed slightly, at her request: unwilling to leave her elk-mount, Jakul, behind, she suggested that the others bring him into the fort as an offering for the Stag Lord. “A stag for the Stag Lord!”, she smiled. So, instead of leaving Jakul, the party instead left their horses tethered in the woods, together with Tad’s pet cat, Agamemnon. After traveling with them for a bit, Jane said her goodbyes to her beloved animals, assumed eagle-form, and took to the air.
Down on the barren plain below, Tad, Khrystos and Vincze approached the Stag Lord’s front gate. The midsummer sun was high in the sky—it was hot and dry, but Tad had insisted on attacking in daylight so that his human companions could see better inside—eliminating the bandits’ “homefield advantage” and minimizing the shadowy hiding places for any rogues that might dwell there. The guard in the northwest tower called out to them. Khrystos held up his silver stag amulet and answered with the fort’s password: “We bear the heads of the Greenbelt Defenders!”, a phrase that sent shivers down the player characters’ spines. “Do you, now? Come show them to us,” the guard replied. The front gate opened, and the adventurers were ushered into the bandits’ courtyard. Khrystos explained that they’d brought a tribute of booze for the Stag Lord, and handed the bandits some bottles. “What’s with the elk?” asked one of them. Khrystos replied that it’s a tribute for the Stag Lord. One bandit grabbed Jakul’s reins and started leading the elk into the fort, saying “I’ll take him out back and butcher him.” The party was surprised—they hadn’t expected this!—and Tad said, “I’ll come and help you.” Meanwhile, Khrystos and Vincze were led into another room.
“New recruits, eh? Who sent you?” Khrystos and Vincze looked at each other and Khrystos blurted out, “Kressle. She escaped the Greenbelt Defenders and has established a new cell up north.” The bandits were a bit shocked at this news, but seemed to buy their story. Changing the subject, Vincze smiled and gushed, “I’ve always wanted to meet the Stag Lord”, and wondered if he might join them for a drink? The bandits stared at each other until someone finally growled, “He’s busy.”
Meanwhile, around the corner, the bandit who was leading Jakul suddenly stopped and produced a knife, bringing it up to the elk’s throat. Tad quickly sucker-punched the would-be butcher, but he wasn’t able to prevent him from crying out a warning to his colleagues: “FOES!”
What happened after that was so quick, it’s difficult to give a blow-by-bow account. Here’s a summary of what transpired next:
Following Tad’s lead, Jakul impaled his would-be butcher on his antlers, though Jakul was injured in the process. With Jakul safe for the moment, Tad ran up a nearby staircase, towards the northeast tower, to intercept the Stag Lord’s lieutenant, Ox, who (responding to the alarm) was rampaging around a corner, brandishing a massive wooden club.
In the adjoining room, Khrystos and Vincze were immediately set upon on all sides. A figure hidden in the shadows, whom they guessed was another lieutenant, Dovan, began to pull a rope, opening a gate in a wall… revealing a beast that hooted and roared more with every passing second! Vincze cast a Web upon the gate to prevent it from fully opening, but to no avail—within a few short seconds, a huge owlbear emerged from the opened gate, and mauled a nearby bandit while she looked on in horror. She downed her potion of Sanctuary in a desperate attempt to buy her some time (which it did), exclaiming, “What are they doing with an owlbear?!” Meanwhile, Khrystos was taking quite a beating from two bandits. He successfully deflected one of them by using his fey-blood-powered Laughing Touch; then, he dropped a well-placed Entangle spell between himself, the bandits, and the owlbear. Dovan, meanwhile, was nowhere to be seen… Where had the rogue ran off to?
Seeing trouble below, Jane landed, assumed elf-form, and healed Jakul a little bit with her magic wand. The next round, she noticed Dovan heading straight for her! She fended him off and he dashed into the adjoining room, disappearing into the shadows near Khrystos, who was still fighting with two bandits.
Vincze shouted to Khrystos, “I don’t want to leave you here!” But Khrystos nodded and waved her away: “It’s OK! Go! Get away from that owlbear!” Seeing the bandits positioned between the owlbear and Khrystos, she acquiesced and ran outside into the courtyard, where two bandits had run already. The owlbear followed them all and mauled one of the bandits as he attempted to open the front gate. Vincze quickly cast Levitate on herself and rose to the top of the northeast tower, carefully avoiding a hail of arrows. As she ascended, she announced “We are the Greenbelt Defenders! Give up the Stag Lord to us!” She then watched in amazement as Aggie the cat slipped through an opening in the palisade, and crossed the courtyard. When a bandit approached the curious cat, Vincze was astonished to see Aggie disappear into thin air! She then watched Toboe (having avoided a pack of zombies en route!) climb over the fort’s palisade (aided by a Spider Climb spell that Jane had cast on him) and dash into the room where Khrystos had been cornered. Vincze turned, loaded her crossbow, and finished off the guard in the northeast watchtower, with a magical Diviner’s Fortune assist from Trixie.
Across the courtyard, Skyduster dropped an alchemist’s fire onto the northwest tower guard, and then finished him off with his razor-sharp claws. Another kill for Khrystos’ feisty owl familiar!
All this time, on the landing adjacent to the northeast watchtower, Tad had been tangling with the Stag Lord’s behemoth lieutenant Ox—while fending off arrows from that tower’s guard. Tapping into his ki pool, Tad finally managed to knock the brute off the landing. Ox landed, unconscious, in the same room Khrystos was struggling with his bandit foes, just as Toboe appeared. Seizing an opportunity for a coup de grace, the wolf ripped out the large man’s throat. Seizing a similar opportunity for a sneak attack, Dovan burst forth from the shadows and stabbed Khrystos in the back, seriously wounding him. Khrystos turned and successfully blasted Dovan with a Magic Missile—a difficult maneuver, since he was forced to cast on the defensive. The very next round, however, Khrystos was laid low by one of his bandit opponents, and fell unconscious to the floor. He awoke a few seconds later, healed and restored, with Aggie’s tail brushing against his head—had the strange cat somehow healed him? Suddenly he, Aggie and Toboe looked up as Tad lept down from the walkway above, kicking Dovan in the head before landing gracefully on his feet.
Around the corner, Jane had troubles of her own: Akiros, the Stag Lord’s third lieutenant, entered the room from a hide-covered door in the back wall, and headed straight towards her. Trying desperately to buy time, she cast Soften Earth and Stone on the wall adjacent to him, which caused the already-weakened roof to fall on the man’s head. When the smoke cleared, however, she saw that Akiros was still standing, so she summoned a stirge (a bat-winged, mosquito-like creature), which successfully attached itself to the lieutenant’s head—distracting him for the moment.
Jane inhaled sharply as she observed another, ominous figure emerge from the hide-covered door… a tall, strong man, his face hidden by a stag-horned helm! The Stag Lord himself had finally entered the fray. Turning to face her, he ruthlessly sank two arrows into her faltering elk mount—almost killing him.
[Here ends Pt I]
[As I wrote up this summary, I couldn’t help but notice that each of the four player characters’ strategies in this battle “fit” into a distinct “theme”. In other words, each character fit a particular ARCHETYPE:
The GUARDIAN- JANE, the elven druid, is a True Neutral protector of the natural world. She watched over her friends as an eagle-eyed sentry. She then defended her corner of the fort like a she-wolf defending her pups.
The SURVIVOR- KHRYSTOS, the human fey-blooded sorcerer, found himself surrounded by enemies, but against all odds, inexplicably rose from the ashes. The sole survivor of his slaughtered Greenbelt tribe, this man appears (like the proverbial cat) to have nine lives.
The DAREDEVIL- TAD, the half-orc monk, fearlessly jumped from one opponent to the next. With little regard for his own safety, he threw the first punch, defeated the Stag Lord’s most formidable lieutenant, and rescued both Jakul and Khrystos.
The UNTOUCHABLE- VINCZE, the human diviner, escaped injury using a clever combination of protective spells and potions. The magical mastermind of the party, she literally floats above the crowd. This runaway fortune-teller from a Taldorian royal court is becoming an expert at keeping out of harm’s way.
… Just my two cents!! –SLG]
Next episode: Stag Party!