The Heroes 4 Hire awoke in the middle of the night, startling at the sound of the horns that Sheriff Thorbald’s deputies carried for signalling, blaring a desperate warning across darkness. They grabbed their weapons, most leaving their armor behind, and rushed down into the village square to see what was amiss. The other responding villagers, and the elder council, all seemed to be flowing toward the northern edge of the hamlet. The team followed, and when they reached that edge of the township, they saw it: several farms aflame in the distance. As they and the elder council found Thorbald, nearly a mile north of town in the middle of the farmlands acting as a one-dwarf headquarters, one of his deputies arrived, with some spattering of blood across his armor, and reported: contact with a small raiding party mostly of hobgoblins and a few goblins; that the three northernmost farmhouses were torched; and, that there were several farmers dead. He also reported that the raiding party had fled into the forest heading north, in the general direction of the ravine, and he and his fellow deputies had set up a defensive line there, and if the Sheriff wished them to pursue.
Thorbald did not, and opted to utilize his limited manpower to put the fires out, maintain defense of the town, and assist the council with organizing recovery efforts. The Heroes 4 Hire watched all this in stunned silence, assured that this assault was retaliation for their actions the previous day, during their first outing to the ravine and its caves, and their near annihilation of the goblin tribe. They assisted where they could, dousing fires… carrying the dead for burial. It was several hours before they returned to their comfortable beds in the River Bend Inn, and struggled to return to sleep.
When the Heroes awoke the next morning , they were rather motivated to get back to the ravine and the caves. They came down for breakfast, gathered their gear, and headed up to the caves for more exploring and investigating the whereabouts of the missing farmers. Fate however… and the inhabitants of the caves… had other plans.
The party approached the ravine along their usual route, namely the trail that led from the main road between Southpaw and Hellespont. But when they finally reached the thicket-riddled ravine floor they suddenly came under a hail of arrows from stands of bushes and trees higher up the ravine wall. A squad of Hobgoblins, and some of the remnants of the Goblin tribe decimated the day before, had set up a “welcome back” in the form of an ambush. The team immediately took cover under their own stand of trees without absorbing a lethal amount of arrows, and returned the favor with a few arrows of their own.
With their advantage neutralized, the detail of hobgoblins decided to charge, but the goblins decided to stay put and continue peppering the area with arrows. Heroes 4 Hire spread out and received the infantry charge, inside the stand of trees to remain sheltered from the goblin’s continued shots. They were outnumbered by the hobgoblins, and they were fighting from a pinned-down position by the goblin archers. The fight was intense, and the party looked out matched… until Lt. Norixius took advantage of the hobgoblin’s martial training and military discipline, always forming up in linear ranks for battle, and stepped around the end and blasted the line with his lightning breath weapon, killing five and wounding two more.
Their numerical advantage now gone and the tables completely turned, the remaining hobgoblins retreated, only to be cut down before they made it back to a cave mouth by the Heroes’ arrows and bolts. The goblins also ran, making it into a cave entrance with which the party was not yet familiar. Nursing their own wounds but with the battle won, the team decided it would be best to let them go and take a short rest in their protective stand of trees to heal and recover while they watched for other threats.
After an hour in their little grove of respite, the Heroes 4 Hire observed more hobgoblins exit the large cave mouth into which the goblin archers had retreated. Out of the group, four hobgoblins accompanied a large, muscular female hobgoblin wearing a suit of half-plate and goblin with a top-knot wearing a chain shirt, who hoisted a white flag on a spear and proceeded to walk toward the party. The team held their attack, and the Hobgoblin Captain approached with her detail and the Goblin Chieftain to parlay.
She wanted to know why the goblin tribe was attacked, why the adventurers were here and what they were after. The ensuing discussion was tense but civil, and the team told her of the missing farmers, the thefts and the burning of the northern farms the previous night. She assured them that the goblin tribe, their cousins, did not have the farmers the Heroes sought, and then she stopped in mid-word… staring hard past the team toward something behind them. They turned, and a hunting party of orcs, eight strong, appeared out of the forest edge along the top of the northern side of the ravine, walked along a small footpath down to a cave mouth high up the slope. The large orc leading the way remained transfixed on the hobgoblin captain in a hard stare down, made a snorting ‘up yours’ gesture with his head followed by a comment below his breath in orcish to his fellows that brought a round of sneering laughter, and then disappeared into the cave.
The female captain continued, unfazed. With finality, she stated the if it were her and she was missing people, she knew exactly where she’d start looking, her eyes still locked on the mouth of the cave the orcs just disappeared into. She then turned smartly on her heel and walked back toward her cave, her detail in tow, and the small goblin chief incensed and enraged that she was just going to let them go. With a swift gesture similar to that of a mother who had finally had enough of her child’s complaints, she shushed the goblin without saying a word, and the group disappeared back into their cave home.
With the short rest out of the way, the team decided to take the hobgoblin captain’s hint and go ask the orcs…. impolitely. They formed up outside the orc cave and waited as Nilok and Shazana scouted stealthily inside the entrance. They came across a series of shrunken heads, framed in small niches in the cave wall on the face of the T-intersection, looking out the entrance. Nilok did a double take, as he noticed that one of the heads was not shrunken, but in fact an orc guard looking at him through a crevice camouflaged by the other niches. An alarm was sounded, the Heroes rushed into the cave, and a grand melee ensued at the intersection from all sides. The orc tribe’s lair was alerted, and H4H fought their way out of the intersection and into room after room, clearing out the orcs while keeping their own injuries to a minimum. An orc child managed to escape the main chamber and disappear down a dark hallway deeper into the complex.
With the majority of the tribe slaughtered, the team searched their way down the last darkened hallway, found a storage room full of goods, and then moved to check the last doorway in the cave system. Nilok listened at the door, heard nothing, and then quietly opened it to peek in. Split second reactions saved the rogue’s life; the Orc Chieftain was behind the door, battleaxe ready, and attempted to cleave the elf’s head from his body, missing him by the breadth of a redheaded pubic hair. The party rushed the room and engaged the huge orc and his four mates, and discovered the young orc who had escaped the earlier encounter. The fight was brutal. Diplo was dropped, only to be saved by a timely Lay On Hands by Calyx. Calyx fumbled her spear. The chieftain fumbled his battleaxe. Calyx picked up his battleaxe. Nilok was nearly cut in half by one of the female orc’s battleaxe, but saved by a Potion of Healing administered by Beeblebrox. Beeblebrox was dropped by another female orc, but managed to stabilize (by rolling his way out of the death saving throws) to an alive, albeit unconscious, state. The Chieftain fell, two of his mates fell, the young orc again managed to escape in the fray and fled the cavern in its entirety, and the remaining two female orcs surrendered… only to be interrogated by the team and then executed by Dajjal.
The Heroes 4 Hire quickly searched and looted the bodies and the chamber, finding a hidden stash in a niche in the wall behind a tapestry. They collected their booty and their unconscious halfling, and departed for Hellespont. They hiked the miles back to the village carrying their injured compatriot, and were greeted midway past the northern farms by a resounding horn call from Thorbald’s deputies, a sad, somber note announcing their return… with casualties. The hamlet responded immediately, with the townsfolk rushing out to meet their newest friends and protectors. Father Tristan and his staff led the charge, taking Beeblebrox from them and casting a Mass Cure Wounds, healing the lot of them and waking the monk from his slumber.
The team decided to take the next day off, and spend it rest, recuperating, restocking and relaxing. Krinae Nilok, however, was suspicious that there was something he’d missed in the chieftain’s room, something he had been too hurried in the rush to get Beeblebrox back to medical attention in Hellespont to have properly searched and discovered. So he departed at dawn, making his way through the farmlands northward to the ravine, shadowing the main road but staying well off of it and into the woods. Enroute he spotted two different observation positions manned by goblin scouts, watching the road and trail approaches to the ravine, and he dispatched them silently and hid the bodies. He then circled the ravine and came in from the northern edge, slipping unseen into the orc cave they had cleared the previous day. The orc bodies had been policed up, heaped on the fire pit in the main chamber and burned, and the rest of the cave had been cleaned out in its entirety, leaving no piece of furniture or storage crate behind. Nilok sneaked back into the chieftain’s room, also cleaned out of furnishings and decoration, and re-searched the place from top to bottom, finding nothing. Still suspicious, but with no physical proof, he decided he had pressed his luck as far as he was comfortable with, and returned to Hellespont the same way he came.
DM’s Note: Damned luckiest set of rolls I’ve ever seen. He should have never been seen nor heard from again.
What will the Heroes find when they return to the ravine and its caves? Where are the missing villagers? Will the rogue’s luck run out?
Tune in to find out, next week, on “TGC: Heroes 4 Hire!”