INTO THE FORTRESS
The party surveyed the situation as they girded for battle. They were outnumbered over fourteen-fold by the hobgoblins alone, and said hobgoblins were entrenched in an ancient dwarven fortress. Needless to say, things looked grim. Still, they had no choice: Viscoth’s hired crew had kidnapped one of the youths that could be the child for whom they were searching, and he had to be rescued. Viscoth could not be allowed to get his hands on the destined one.
A frontal assault was out of the question – they would be slaughtered. Fortunately, they had a knowledgeable guide: a scout in Grimin’s Riders knew of tunnels that would lead them into the bowels of the fortress, and from there they could ascend and deal with the hobgoblins in smaller numbers than their full army. This was the approach they chose.
They entered a tunnel system 3 hours up the mountain path and swam under a rock barrier to reach an entrance to underfortress. They cut their way through several rooms and hallways of hobgoblins and their goblin lackeys, climbing ever upwards and slowly but steadily whittling away at the army they knew lay before them…
THE ABSENCE OF PLUMBERS
Soon they reached a large multitiered ramp, wide enough for two men abreast. Could this have been a path leading from the fortress down to the stores deeper in the mountain? The party didn’t have much time to contemplate the possibility, because barreling down the ramp came two… flaming barrels? As the party climbed the winding ramp, killing more hobgoblins and goblins, they heard from above a thundering roar and more barrels crashing their way. Some of the barrels exploded when they crashed into someone, and some were stuffed full of goblins – most died on their careening, bumpy ride, but a few were well-padded by their comrades’ corpses and survived to harass the unlucky adventurer who couldn’t avoid their path. The barrels came faster and faster as the party climbed, separated by ill fortune with barrels and armor encumbrance. When they reached the top they were greeted by a giant hairy ape, who roared and retreated up another ramp. Fighting fire with fire, Timothy enlarged Corbin, who went toe-to-toe with the beast and took it down.
The party, now all at the top of the ramp, paused a moment to catch their breath – but not too long. They were deep into enemy territory. They set off through the corridors once more, cutting down the goblinoids in their path, and sending a few screaming into a chasm as they overcame one of the fortress’s natural defenses. They climbed a tall ladder, now on the main floor of the fortress, and faced down a group of goblins and hobgoblins. In the melee, one of the goblins managed to light a large explosive near a pillar. As it came down – and the ceiling with it – the party ran forward… only to found themselves:
OUTNUMBERED, OUTGUNNED, AND CORNERED
As the dust from the crashing passage cleared, the party found themselves in a corner of the fortress’s main courtyard, surrounded by the remaining dozens and dozens of hobgoblins in this century of the Legion. Certain they were staring down their own impending demise, the heroes nonetheless gritted their teeth and stood side-by-side, their backs to the corner; if they were facing death, they would face it on their feet in an effort to rescue the kidnapped youth, and bring down as many hobgoblins as they could with them.
Directly across the courtyard from the collapsed passage was a half-dozen hobgoblin cavaliers riding ankhegs. Several decades of hobgoblin legionnaires and archers were arrayed in the courtyard. Atop each of three archer towers in the center of the courtyard was a wizard, a shaman, and an archer. Behind the towers were two catapults. Beyond all of this rose the fortress and the mountain, a winding ramp leading into the fortress. A scorpion was set up on the ramp at each end of the courtyard, high above, with firing teams taking aim. These artillery pieces fired heavy armor-piercing bolts which could stick into and slow down their targets. And somewhere, watching, was Grumush…
A pack of goblin dogs rushed in to harry the party as the cavalry charged, and Timothy enlarged Jason to meet them. Jason also donned the Angel’s Tear as a pendant, hoping to both draw fire from his comrades and tap into any additional divine favor it might offer – they would need every advantage they could get. While the lances of the ankheg-mounted hobgoblins bit deep, Jason, Corbin and Henry were able to unseat and slay the cavalry. The scorpions had opened fire and were tearing into Jason, the largest and most inviting target, who gritted his teeth and refused to be slowed by their weight.
With the cavalry down, the legionnaires advanced – and the heroes rushed in to meet them. Most of the decades were swordsmen, but there was a decade of archers in the back that continually peppered Jason with arrows. The party split: Zaylan and Gwarryn, who had taken the shape of a large cat, climbed atop the archer towers to stop the mages and shamans, while everybody else split up to kill the legionnaires as quickly as possible. Wraya was hard-pressed to handle the wounds of this pitched battle, as both she and Jason began expending their divinely-granted healing power. Timothy had cast nearly every spell he had prepared, and was swinging his short staff. Henry, Corbin and Jason split to divide the attention of each decade.
Slowly, the forces arrayed against the party fell… but they all exacted their toll in blood. Every member of the party was heavily wounded, and healing magic was in short supply. As the last of the hobgoblins in the courtyard fell – save one, who was offered mercy by Corbin if he surrendered – and the party took cover from the scorpions behind the archer towers, drumbeats began to ring out from the fortress above: now that the heroes had been softened up and expended nearly all of their power, Grumush and his personal guard, the elite members of this century, were entering the arena.
Gravely injured, pinned down by the scorpions, and without almost any spells or other powers available to them, the party was in a pretty bad spot as about 30 hobgoblins marched out of the fortress. They had to plan, and find the best way to defeat Grumush with their limited resources. While taking stock of their situation they caught a stroke of luck: one of the scorpions jammed. Still, the drums of Grumush’s march down the thankfully long and winding ramp were beating ever closer…
Timothy, who had already cast every spell he had memorized, had perhaps one trick left up his sleeve. However, he needed the Tear, which meant he needed Jason’s trust – no small thing after his apparent eager bargaining with Viscoth in Valor Pass. Still, he had to try, and he presented to Jason the scroll he had written that would be the center of his plan: shocking grasp. Jason grasped the plan, so to speak, and with Apollo’s gift of vision he was able to ascertain that Timothy was not evil. Knowing that at desperate times sometimes desperate actions must be taken, he entrusted Timothy with the Tear… though he said that he would stay near him and reclaim it after the plan was executed. As Jason gave the wizard the Tear, Wraya looked on in rage…
Timothy read his scroll, stood up and shouted to Grumush as his company came down the mountain face: “YOU CAN HAVE THE TEAR! WE’RE DONE! JUST ONE REQUEST: COME ON DOWN HERE AND LET ME SHAKE YOUR HAND!”
Unfortunately, Grumush’s reaction to this was exactly the opposite of what Timothy and Jason had hoped: he ordered two decades of his men to march at double time, and he and his elite guard lept from the ramp, floating slowly to the courtyard floor!
With the plan a bust and his spell still charged on one hand, Timothy gave the Tear back to Jason, who again donned it. The party prepared for one last stand. As the two groups closed in to do battle, the heroes learned they were not alone: their guide had commandeered a ballista on the wall and fired it at the ramp as the marching hobgoblins passed the remaining scorpion! The ramp crumbled and those hobgoblins would be no more trouble.
Grumush had surrounded himself with warriors and several spellcasters, all of whom were maintaining enhancement spells on the mighty centurion. Corbin and Jason, who called upon Apollo to aid him against this foe, engaged Grumush while the rest of the party began to take out his support. While everyone was locked in melee, a stealthy hobgoblin who had escaped from the battle at the ruins of Lodrin crept in and stole the Tear right from around Jason’s neck – despite it being over 10 feet off the ground due to the enlarge effect!
Even with some of his shamanic support gone, Grumush was too great a threat to ignore: with everyone in the party grievously wounded, he knocked Gwarryn unconscious. As Wraya used her healing gift to stabilize his wounds, the cocky thief attempted to backstab Jason with a poisoned knife.
Though Grumush dealt out deadly blows, the combined force of the whole party soon staggered him, and he fell. With him dead, Jason turned to the thief, weapon ready, and demanded the Angel’s Tear. The hobgoblin, surrounded, dropped his weapon and gave the tear to Jason. Unwilling to kill an unarmed foe, and indeed weary of bloodshed – as well as weary from bloodshed; his armor was riddled with slashes and arrow holes – he began the long journey up the ramp into the fortress to find the captive. The thief took this opportunity to run away more quickly than anyone in the party could follow.
At the top of the ramp was the Rider who had guided them up the mountain and fired the ballista at the hobgoblins on the ramp. He was cutting the ropes that bound the captured young man. Seeing that he was safe, Jason touched the Tear to his forehead…
...but the stone did not react.
Though happy that they were able to save the youth, Jason was crestfallen that he was not the destined one. He noticed the slight look of disappointment on the paladin’s face and smiled: “You must be looking for my sister.”
It was at this time that Wraya reached the room. She accused Jason – to whom she referred only as “Paladin” – of being careless with the divine gift of the Angel’s Tear by giving it to the wizard, and blamed him for its near-theft by the hobgoblin. Despite Jason’s protests that he trusted Timothy and his plan and insistence that the thief would have managed to get the stone from anyone if he’d pulled it from his neck at that height, she reiterated that she did not think the Tear was safe with him and would not budge: she swore an oath that if he gave Timothy the Tear she would demand to be the one to carry it. Jason, bewildered by her lack of trust in the traveling companions they’d grown to know and unable to guess on what plane that kind of vow made sense, refused. The two decided to pray to Apollo for guidance, and in their prayer both felt that Henry would keep the Tear safe.
Still, the damage was done, and despite having won the day it was under that cloud of mistrust that the sore and bloodied party staggered down the mountain to Ridge Peak…