The mission was straight forward: escort a group of 60+ settlers over a mountain pass and into the fertile land on the other side so they can expand a village and claim plots of lands for their families. Of course that wasn’t the whole story, as the mission was just a cover by The Counsel to advance a few agenda points.
The real objectives are:
- Explore the keep on the other side of the pass. Rumors exist that the keep was built on Nachash ruins. Determine if this is true and recover any Nachash artifacts, if they exist.
- Determine if the keep can be restored. If it can, The Counsel will provide the necessary resources, and the group will be granted title by the Empire.
The first week of the trek went well. The party interacted with the settlers, who turned out to be a pleasant, hard working lot that were grateful for the escort to their new lives as landowners. They couldn’t show their gratitude with coin, so they expressed it with fresh cooked meals, small acts of domestic service, and the promise of the first bottles of a specialty pear ale, once the orchards at their destination brought on fruit.
The pleasant journey came to an end when the party came into sight of Yewfall, the last village nestled into the foothills, before the beginning of Crystal Gorge Pass, as the group witnessed the tail end of a raid on the village. Vicious horsemen riding horrific mounts with skeletal heads and rotting strips of flesh hanging from their flanks had already taken most of what they wanted. Bloody and mangled corpses of defenders lay scattered among the buildings, and several women were tied by their hair to the village’s well. A few raiders in slightly luminescent armor dragged the village’s barrels, bags, bales, and crates from buildings into the roads where their ghastly horses would swallow the goods whole.
At the far end of the village, the party managed to intercept a couple of horsemen, saving a village woman from being kidnapped. Combat with the raiders was very revealing. While the raiders were mounted, weapons would pass straight through them, but once they were unhorsed, the head separated from the body just as expected.
One the other hand, the beasts could be harmed with weapons and were susceptible to the faith of the Priest of Osiris. The ranger sunk a holy water-dipped arrow into the neck of one abomination. The priest focused his power on the protruding arrow and amplified the holy water to explode the creature’s head into a black spray of putrid flesh and bone.
By the time the party finished their battles, the raiders had ended the raid and were heading up toward the pass. The party, along with the villagers they escorted, helped the villagers tend to the dead and wounded. All told, five died defending the village and six women were taken by the raiders.
One raider was unlucky enough taken hostage by the party. His insults and threats of death unless he was released quickly turn to whimpers and promises to tell them anything, as the party got creative with a long board, a cloak, and an endless supply of water.
Once the raider’s attitude was adjusted, he told the group all he knew: The raiders are using the keep as a base of operations. They have support of powerful necromancers. Uchdor, the Bandit King (as he calls himself) who continues to gain followers. Their plan is to eventually take over Foothold. Once they were done getting info out of the bandit, he was turned over to the villages to stand trial for his crimes. Justice was quickly and efficiently (if a bit painfully) served.
Now with additional reasons to explore to keep, the party took off to cross the pass and track down the raiders. They lost a day at the Crystal Gorge Bridge, an ancient store structure whose center had collapsed decades earlier. As a temporary fix each year, a wooden patch was constructed to bridge the gap, but jury-rigging rarely lasts through the winter. Since this is the first mounted trek of the spring, the delay was necessary to eliminate a five-day detour around the gorge.
A strange discovery at the bridge was the raiders’ tracks. The tracks from the unholy creatures the raiders rode went across the bridge, disappeared at the edge of the gorge, and then reappeared on the other side of the broken bridge.
Once over the gorge, the raiders’ tracks were easy to follow, as they were the only ones in the snow. The pass itself was steep and switched back on itself several times. The tracks disappeared on the second day, as a snowstorm moved in and blanketed the pass in six inches of fresh powder.
After the snow, different set of tracks showed up, this set bloody, coming down from the pass towards the party, and then moving off the road towards a large tree. The tracks belonged to a wounded gobbo scout. He was friendly enough and told what he know about the keep, the bandits that now lived there, and the dragon that is at the top of the pass. The party traded some bandages for some excellent quality arrows that the gobbo had made himself.
True to his word, there was a dragon perched on an abandoned tower at the top of the pass. After a short discussion, the party decided discretion was the better part of valor, and the skirted the dragon as much as they could, leaving him to sun himself on the tower in peace. It might have been a trick of the wind, but after they had passed, it sounded like the dragon gave a deep rumbling chuckle.
The trip down the north side of the pass went quickly. The group arrived at the keep with a couple hours of light remaining and spent the time surveying their surroundings. The gobbo had told them the bandits were lazy and didn’t guard the keep well. From what they could see he was right. Rarely did they see anyone on the keep walls, and when they did spot someone, they were just relieving themselves or tossing garbage over the edge.
They decided to make their entrance through a breach in the southwest wall, but first a 200’ cliff needed to be scaled. The thief was up to the task and through good planning and poor defenses, the entire group made it up the cliff, through the wall breach, and into an abandoned building without incident.
Night had fallen and there was little sign of occupants, so the party climbed into the keep walls and walked into the front gate house with weapons drawn. With surprise and superior numbers, the adventurers then made fast work dispatching the gatekeepers, both alive and undead, without raising the alarm. The ranger made one grisly discovery. He knew one of the poor creatures that was now a zombie.
With the front gate cleared, they checked out an empty chapel, and the thief dispatched two sleeping guards in another building. They bypassed the stable that had a light burning inside, and headed for the great hall that had smoke trailing from its chimney.
With a plan in place, two members of the group yanked open the great hall doors as the simian Illusionist loped into the room and stunned a group of sleeping guards. The rest of the party quickly surround the stunned forms, preparing to cut them down in their beds, when the party noticed the “guards” were each chained together and secured to the floor. A hurried check found them to be not guards, but battered and beaten female slaves.
The commotion in the room scattered a colony of bats that took flight and left through the high windows, which alerted the guards at the top of the staircase on the far side of the room to investigate. The ranger and priest climbed the stairs and held the guards at the landing, but the guards were able to sound the alarm bell. Meanwhile the illusionist barred the outer doors, and searched for a way to free the slaves.
With the door and stairs blocked the thief looked for another way to join the fight. Climbing onto the guano covered loft looked like the best way to reach the high windows and sneak onto the keep walls behind the guards. A lifetime of athletics and training paid off as she leapt off the furniture, ran two steps up the wall, and grasped the loft in a perfectly executed maneuver. Until her worm-rotted hand holds broke off, plunging her more than a dozen feet into a back-flop cushioned by a decade long collection of bat poop.
The ranger and priest worked well together clearing out the guards at the top of the stairs, giving the thief time to recover from her poop bath. Taking the climb a little slower, her second attempt went better and the thief managed to make it out the upper windows and crouch on the roof in the darkness next to the castle wall.
Despite being covered in guano, the thief’s positioning was excellent and she was able to quietly ambush the reinforcements from a nearby tower, dumping their bodies over the keep’s walls. The ranger and priest cleared the final guard and took control of both the guard tower and great hall.
Now the party is regrouping to assess the situation. The alarm has been sounded, but it appears that all the nearby guards are dead. The group as a few minutes to plan and prepare before the replacements are roused, armed, and find where the party has holed-up. The doors to the tower and great hall are barred, and the simian has the keys to free the slaves.
What will they do next?