Mid Morning, Caves of Chaos, Moldain Vatermont 11, 1000AC
Bjorgulf noting Helga’s high cheekbones and plate armour called to her in the Northern toungue “You are not one of my countrywomen are you?”
Helga met his gaze, having faced the challenges of brash northern warriors in the past. “No, brother, I am Helga Fjarlasdottir, from Landersfjord in the Kingdom of Vestland of the house Ottar. I am the king’s neice, and my father is Jarl Eric Gudmundson.”
Bjorgulf looked out of the cell door at the dead bodies of the Bugbears and then at Helga, noting the pegasus medallion of Freyja around her neck. Kart and Gwydion were leading two elves and two humans out of the cell opposite. He grunted, nodded once and slowly walked into the next room with the other demihumans who were pulling on any scrap of clothing they could find.
The elves introduced themselves as Allandros and Telanith of the Vyalia, travellers here on a mission for the elves there to note the build up of humaniods in the central Altan Tepes. One of the humans spoke with a local accent, and had the look of a Thyatian. He introduced himself as Nerva Tullius, a local trapper captured whilst hunting near his homestead.
The last human was tall and bronzed, his long hair tied back and so as mussed as the others. His deep voice was accented and strange “I am called Popate Sunseeker. I am of the horse clan of the Atruaghin peoples. I travel to the east to find meaning from a vision I received.”
“We should interrogate the goblinoids.” Kart suggested.
“Max should use the Howler.” Agreed Gwydion.
“We will try to scrounge some clothing from the bugbears,” announced Allandros.
Kart turned to the Heldanner. “I have some silk trousers if you want to use them.” Kart’s smile was teasing. Bjorgulf grunted and pulled a fur around his groin, hefted a mace from a bugbear, feeling its weight in his grasp.
Whilst Max moved into the room the elves had come from. Lining the walls there remained three kobolds, a goblin and four orcs. Brandishing the Howler she roughly barked questions at the prisoners. “What are your names, where are you from?”
The kobolds fearfully announced each other as Gak, Nog and Pova, of the Grey Rats. They were captured when the bugbears lured them into a trap. The orcs mentioned their names as Hoarg, Nuk, Yakk and Luk-Yakk. They were of the Horned Heads and they were taken captive in a clash witht he bugbears and being kept as hostages to prevent incursions against the Chaos Horde.
The last was a single goblin. He laughed in Max’s face and refused to tell her anything. “I can’t wait until a bugbear sees that weapon!” He jeered.
“None who have seen it have lived to tell the tale.” Max retorted. The goblin quieted.
“Next room.” Gwydion directed, noting the details in a small pocket book.
The second room contained two gnolls, Opis and Frint of the Horned Heads, three hobgoblins Vagloss, Lunkajag and Ogarog from the Vlack-Kag and a single bugbear.
“I am Kruggh, formerly of this tribe.” He met Max’s eyes evenly and spoke in Thyatian.
“He’s not reacting to the morningstar.” Noted Helga.
Gwydion’s mouth opened as breathed in to paused to think. “Why are you chained up?”
Kruggh looked over to the gypsy. “I was marked to die for challenging our chief’s authority one too many times. I did not agree with his barbarity as I have always had a different outlook from my kin. I have never respected Bartziluth either, if you are asking. I care not for a weapon he may or may not have wielded.”
Kart, Gwydion and Helga looked to each other. The dwarves and Emily were looting weapons, armour and coins. Max seemed nonplussed about Kruggh’s announcement.
“Would you be willing to help us?” Gwydion asked Kruggh.
“More than gladly.” Kruggh replied levelly. “The residents of these caves are degenerate raiders, murderers and thieves the lot. I would welcome earning your trust. Do you have a map of the caves? I can show you where there are more slaves, if you are here to rescue them.”
After he had pointed out the Hobgoblin caves on the map, they all agreed to release Kruggh. After another short period of trepidation, the bugbear armed himself and awaited his orders.
“What should we do with the rest?” Kart asked. “I don’t think we should release them. They will alert the others. I also don’t want them to starve to death.”
Any reply was interrupted by a thud and frenzied scurrying from upstairs, followed by the sound of running.
The freed slaves followed their saviours, heading quickly up the stairs.
On heading upstairs it was clear that the body of the chief, named Haggak (as per Kruggh), had been disturbed. There was a trail of bugbear sized foot prints in heavy lamp oil imprinted on the stairs above. Someone had slipped down the stairs, landed on Haggak and then run up the stairs again.
“There’s someone up there.” Noted Helga. She pointed the remaining unarmed escapees to collect the swords and equipment left lying in the room.
“We locked the chest of silver away upstairs, in the side room. Unless there’s a secret passage, there’s only one place the bugbear could be.” Emily reminded them that the only other room was Haggak’s personal quarters which they had ransacked efficiently earlier that morning.
They went up the stairs and followed the trail of oily footprints. They continued through the chief’s quarters to a blank wall. Allandros stepped forward. “We should be able to find the mechanism.” He and Telanith started poring over the wall.
“Well while they are busy the rest of you newcomers grab a sack.” Emily commanded. “Grab what silver you can carry without slowing you down.” She opened the storeroom and then the chest, stepping aside with a flourish.
Whilst the elves worked, Helga and Gwydion decided on a new marching order. The Dwarfs were assigned to the front row, with Bjorgulf and Emily behind them. Kruggh, like the others in his tribe, could use a crossbow and was slated behind Bjorgulf and next to Helga and her bow. Helga would then still be able to sight her targets over the front two rows. Max and the dogs were in the third row followed by Gwydion and Kart, with the lightly armed and armoured elves, Popate and Nerva designated as a rearguard.
Readying themselves the front rows marched forward and were suddenly assailed by the sensation of spinning. “Stop!” cried Dargar, “Go back, there is magic here!”
The back rows made room for a retreat and the front rows stood where they were. Dargar and Gareth were deep in discussion. Dargar announced their findings. “We should be able to tell which direction we are facing, but for some reason every time I move I can’t recall where I came from.”
Unfurling the map Emily noted that they were likely in the region of the Minotaur cave.
“We’ll mark which passages we head down then.” Kart burrowed into his backpack and uncased his large piece of chalk. The party started moving down the passage until the walls started to open out into a cavern. From the darkness an ominous glow appeared from multiple dim red lights and dark scuttling shapes.
The dwarves advanced until they reached the beetles to allow the following rows into the room, managing to get bitten and scratched in the process. Emily moved around and dispatched a beetle as it crawled over Dargar’s shield.
Stepping forward, Bjorgulf swung his mace in an arc through the air and started screaming obscenities. He started beating at the bugs and managed to hit one so hard that it landed on the other side of the room.
Kruggh and Helga launched quarrels and arrows into the insects. Awaiting a lull in their fire, Gwydion and Kart quickly entered the room, skirting the walls.
“The beetles are now outnumbered.” Kart stated. It was true. Apart from an initial flurry the beetles appeared to be no threat. “Lead on. I will mark the passage we take so that the others can follow.”
Gwydion nodded and opened the hoods to his lamp, holding his ruby hilted dagger loosely in his other hand. The footprints were less oily at this point but certainly had collected dust from the floor, and were still easily recognised. Each time the path opened into a chamber, more passages would fan out. Soon the footprints were not discernable.
“We should head back.” Noted Gwydion.
Kart looked around and realised their tactical error. “I only marked the passages that we entered, not the ones that we had left.”
“Okay,” reasoned Gwydion, “well, as the magic is preventing us from recognising the passageways, how about we wait for the others to catch up and we can mark the entrance and exits of each of the passages we take.”
“Even better..” Kart began whilst removing a spool from his pack. It was heavy waxed sail maker’s thread. “We can loop this around a spike and unravel it as well, so no-one can rub off the chalk.”
They waited quietly, longer than they expected. When the creak of armour and quiet chatter of their comrades emerged from one of the passages, some of the combatants were carrying glowing glands cut from the beetles. Kart marked the passage they arrived from.
“I’m glad you’re alright.” Noted Gwydion.
“No thanks to Bjorgulf!” Grizzled Gareth. “He is a loose ballista.”
“The beetle moved. You got in the way.” Bjorgulf summarised.
Helga must have been quiet about the subject until now. “I think he was on the edge of going beserk.” Bjorgulf bristled.
“There’s no point arguing about who trusts who at the moment.” Gwydion mediated, “We’re lost. When we’re out of the cave we can sort this out.”
The conversation died down and people headed down a passage that they hadn’t arrived from.
Now that there was a system, they were confident that they wouldn’t travel in circles here forever.
One cavern opened out and Gwydion took the time to listen down each of the new passages. There were bird or bat noises down one of the passages, and so they veered away from those rooms. Two turns later, they noted a bright light.
“That’s got to be the entrance!” announced Dargar before a large bellow emerged from behind the party.
A large minotaur had torn into the back ranks of the adventurers, goring Nerva on a horn and severely gashing Popate with a charge. The minotaur carried an engraved spear and managed to swipe at Telanith, slicing him along the forearm.
The quickest reactions were from Helga and Bjorgulf. Helga launched an arrow which caught in the thick hide of the shaggy, looming beast. Bjorgulf pushed himself past Kruggh, Max, and Gwydion leaping bodily at the Minotaur with a reckless wildness surprising everybody.
The rest of the group made way for the combat. Max dragged the unconscious trapper to her and applied a poultice to his injury.
The brawny minotaur stabbed viciously at Bjorgulf and caught the Heldanner in the flank with the tip of the sharp spear. The bellow of anger from the northerner was bloodcurdling. His movements became reckless, incoherent and frenzied.
With a pair of blows from Gareth and a large gash from Dargar, the minotaur was starting to bleed freely.
Suddenly Bjorgulf turned his attacks towards Gareth, who had just stepped between himself and the minotaur.
“He is beserk!” warned Helga.
Kruggh launched a quarrel into the minotaur’s throat, the spear clattering to the floor. The sounds of combat continued as Gareth tried to parry the attacks of the frenzied northern barbarian.
Rising with purpose, Max prayed quickly and commanded Bjorgulf “By the power of Halav, calm yourself!”
The effect was instantaneous. The mace clattered to the floor and Bjorgulf wiped the foam and blood from his mouth.
Gareth watched warily, only lowering his weapons when it was clear that the combat haze had left Bjorgulf’s eyes.
“Take the weapon.” Gareth instructed Dargar.
Gwydion faced up to the Heldanner “We are near the cave entrance. We should send you off on your own Bjorgulf. You are a danger to anyone near you.”
The beserker grunted.
The bard continued. “We will not send you to your death and we will let you take the silver and a weapon, but we are not friends and do not wish to cross your path again.”
There was a strange crash echoing down the passage where the light came from.
“I thought that was the minotaur the last I heard it.” Telanith mentioned.
Emily agreed “Something is happening out there. We need to see what it is.”
Kart and Emily moved forwards, marking the path to the entrance. Picking their way through bones and trinkets left strewn down the entry path, they reached the way to the edge of the cave and waited for their eyes to adjust to the light.
In the meantime the others followed behind them.
Looking up the valley there was a large mass, or perhaps three large groups of humanoids. It was difficult to estimate due to their varying sizes but perhaps between one hundred and two hundred Humanoids were gathered around the entrance of the bugbear cave.
Three large ogres had felled a tree which seemed to have collapse the entrance to that cave. Orcs, some gnolls and some hobgoblins were tipping rubble into the spaces around the tree-trunk to close any remaining egress there.
A conclave of important looking humanoids and their personal guards were meeting.
“We need to leave soon, or we shall be trapped.” Kart relayed to the group.
“Okay Bjorgulf, get out of our sight.” Gwydion commanded. “We’ll give you a head start as you will be travelling on your own. You’d be better off turning right at the cave entrance and leaving over the crest of the valley.”
They sent Bjorgulf out and started discussing the tactics for their escape.
“Hey!” Called Emily. “He’s going straight towards them.”
It was true. The barbarian was jogging loosely towards the humanoids, mace carried loosely in his hand, sack jingling over his back.
“That scoundrel. He’s about to sell us out. If they find out we’re here we’ll be surrounded and dead, or worse.”
“Hold on! Let me through!” announced Otto.
The gnome scampered up and rested his crossbow on Emily’s shoulder.
“When I count three take a deep breath and hold onto it as long as you can.” He instructed before making the count.
The Barbarian was almost within parlaying distance of the humanoids and had slowed his run to a trot.
A click and thwip emerged from Otto’s crossbow. “You can breathe.” He updated Emily.
By the time he finished speaking, there was a tiny blossom of blood on the back of Bjorgulf, one hundred yards away.
Echoing across the valley was Bjorgulf’s cry of rage, as he dropped his sack and waved the mace crazily in the air. The blood rage had taken him.
Unfortunately for the berserker this offensive action was noted by the humanoids who took no time in slaying him with volleys of arrows as he approached their ranks.
One of the larger hobgoblins, clearly a chief amongst them, beckoned the three ogres and pointed towards the cave Bjorgulf emerged from.
“That’s Rhuum, the chief of the Chaos Horde.” Kruggh announced.
“They’re going to collapse the tunnel here too.” Gwydion said “I don’t think that we can chance that there are other exits.”
“If we tip our hands, we will fight them en masse.” Gareth assessed. “We would need to kill these four quickly and retreat back into the caves. Perhaps if they followed we could use the magic of the caves to our advantage.”
Gwydion proposed “I’m going to make myself invisible, slip out of the caves and see if I can aid us outside. At least if you get trapped we could go for help and you could head back to the bugbears cave.”
“Good idea. I have that spell as well. We should have more than one of us out there. " Kart agreed. “Emily would you like to be invisible too?”
“I was thinking of going outside too. Magic away darling!” Emily beamed.
Ignoring her flirtations, Kart worked quickly, his words echoing Gwydions sonorous lilt. Soon both Emily and Gwysion had winked from view.
Gwydion’s disembodied voice informed them. “I’m going to head to the trees to the right. For the moment, Emily why don’t you hang onto my cloak and we can separate later if we need to.”
Without further ado the light dust from their movement had filled the cave entrance, marking their egress.
Helga eyed Gareth. “We need you and Dargar to face the ogres. Max- can you heal Nerva and give him a crossbow and a quiver?”
Gareth caught on quickly. “We meet them just outside the cave entrance, taking down the ogres and hopefully the chief. If things go badly, we back down the passage and draw them in, hopefully getting them separated and kill them off at range.”
Otto chimed in “We’ll have tipped our hand. The rest of the humanoids will come to either attack us or seal us in or perhaps both. Between us we have more missiles than enemies. We’ll need to only shoot if we have a good shot. If we run out of missiles we should try to back off as far as possible or we’ll become outnumbered quickly.”
The ogres were about fifty feet away. The dwarves shuffled into the shadows of the cave entrance, ready to charge. The bows and crossbows were drawn.
“Now.” Stated Gareth and he charged out in tandem with Dargar. The ogres were surprised by the attack and their counterattacks were ineffectual. Dargar rolled between one pair of ogres, sweeping his battle axe into the calf of one of the hulks. Gareths mace glanced off an ogres hide before his axe crashed through another’s kneecap.
Above their heads arrows sank into the shoulders and heads of Dargar’s target. The monster brought a club down which was deflected at the last minute by the dwarf’s shield, knocking him backwards.
Another volley of arrows and quarrels streaked above Dargar, finally bringing down his opponent as another club caught him across the chest, lightly denting his armour.
The Rhuum was angrily signalling to his hobgoblin troops to reinforce the ogres when a quiet step came from behind him, beyond his perception.
He felt a fire in his flank lancing up and through his chest as Emily sank her adamantium shortsword through his back. She twisted her blade as she withdrew it and the gush of blood was like wine pouring from a flagon.
The hobgoblin fell to his knees and pitched forward as her invisibility spell finished.
“Run!” Gwydions voice came from the air near her.
“What about the armour!” Emily was pointing at the exquisitely wrought mail, only slightly marred by the single rend in its back.
Gwydion knew that Emily wouldn’t leave if there was a chance that the treasure could be taken. He noted arrows arcing in their direction. “Help me drag him into the trees and then get out of here.”
She was anticipating this and told him to remember any belt pouches. Arrows struck where they had been standing and it appeared that the halfling had hefted the fully armoured hobgoblin above her head and run away on her own.
The last two ogres were being worn down. One was striking his club at Kart who was spending his time jumping clear of the blows at the last minute. As Gareth leapt clear of his assailant he stepped to where Kart had anticipated his next jump.
With a mighty wallop Kart was knocked backwards, already bloodied and blackened by the sheer force of the blow. Arrows felled one ogre and the last was sliced clean through the thigh by Gareth.
Hobgoblins had closed the range for their shortbows and had started landing arrows near the dwarves and Kart and so they retreated into the cave mouth far enough that the arrows could not hit them.
Gwydion had undressed the corpse of Rhuum, dragging the chainmail to some bushed near the Gnoll caves. Emily had disappeared, sneaking through the dark shade in the copse of trees. Looking back, Gwydion could see the kobolds, orcs and goblins milling around behind the hobgoblins who were advancing towards the minotaur cave.
Gwydion noted that if the tribes co-operated, his friends were likely to be captured or killed. He headed straight down towards the tribes, humming thoughts of insults in his head.
The hobgoblins had stumbled across their dead and dying, and started funneling into the cave mouth. The heroes plan was working well enough.
The elves were leading the retreat, winding back the waxed thread. Max with the Tower Shield and Dargar behind his round shield were sheltering their own archers against the hobgoblins. From time to time a charge of the hobgoblins would reach the front line to be rebuffed by Gareth and Dargar.
As the hobgoblins packed in they diverted down side paths and became lost in the maze of twisting passages, diverted into the lairs of beasts or attacked from behind as the party caught up with them.
On the surface Gwydion hurled insults whilst standing between the three humanoid camps. Although he was sowing distrust there was no overt aggression between the humanoids. “This is a trick!” Noted one of the kobold shamen in Thyatian, trying to mollify his troops and their erstwhile allies. Gwydion saw the kobold begin to chant an incantation and he ran as far as he could form the spot he had last spoken. An arrow streaked past the kobold spellcaster from an aggravated orc.
Deep in the hobgoblin caves Emily wandered through the dark halls attempting to locate the remaining slaves. She had pulled the Mask of the Hunter across her face, but despite her heightened senses, quietly cursed herself for breaking the invisibility when she attacked the hobgoblin chief. So far she had been lucky: she had not run into any of the inhabitants. Crossing her fingers behind her back she hurried into the darkness.