Sul, 1st of Simbre, 3E998
The Black Lagoon sailed the eight days back to Darkshelf, arriving in the early evening. The Heroes 4 Hire unloaded the 19 rescued slaves into the care of Lord Neistor‘s men, and stowed the Orcish Flame Cart alongside their horse and wagon at the Livery Stables. The next day, the team discussed with Neistor their desire to return to Anchorhead for a short while to attend to personal businesses, and together they all agreed to return in a month’s time to continue action against the slaver network… the pause giving Neistor time to depose the rescued slaves, analyze the documents and maps recovered, and have Kwon vet the intelligence gathered and reconnoiter.
Zor, 5 Simbre, 3E998
The Heroes, minus Karraway and Greves who remained in Darkshelf, sailed aboard the Black Lagoon arriving back in Anchorhead after another three-day journey. Once back in their usual rooms at the Onyx Fountain Inn for their three-week stay, Alton Beeblebrox immediately checked out and moved into Madame Woo‘s House of Woo and returned to his life of unforced prostitution. Needless to say, Madame’ Newman was more than happy to see him back in town, even for a short while. Lt. Diplo Norixius spent the majority of his time with the chef at the Onyx Fountain, continuing his education in the culinary arts and picking up a few recipes along the way. He also shared his time teaching Illyia Baham the techniques for wielding twin Jians in combat, as well as Dajjal how to shoot a Hand Crossbow proficiently.
Mol, 2nd of Octos, 3E998
Heroes 4 Hire boarded the Black Lagoon and sailed the three days back to Darkshelf to meet with Neistor and learn of the next leg of the operation. There, Neistor told them of the hilltop fort along the route heading north out of Highport, and that Kwon had already reconnoitered the area and verified the intelligence gathered from the slaves and the captured documents. He would be waiting them at the Yellow Flag Tavern to brief them further, and a new contract was negotiated for the operation. The party boarded the Black Lagoon again the next morning for the eight-day sail to Highport.
Wir, 11 Octos, 3E998
The Black Lagoon arrived in Highport just before sunset, and the Heroes 4 Hire met Kwon at their appointed table in the Yellow Flag Tavern. Kwon was accompanied by a slave, who escaped the stockade while Kwon was surveying it. Kwon made contact with the escapee, and brought him back to Highport for interview and transfer back to Darkshelf.
The slave had escaped by dropping a makeshift rope of rags and sheets out a second-story window in the outer curtain wall of the fort, after he had managed to sneak his way out of an underground dungeon, out of the main keep, out of the inner bailey and into the abandoned second floor of the curtain wall. Kwon had personally observed his descent from the window, and was sure no one had seen him leave. Therefore, the rope should still be hanging from the window in the blind spot.
The next morning, the Heroes 4 Hire, with Kwon accompanying them, purchased horses from the Livery at the edge of Highport, and began the three-day trek to the slaver’s stockade. The first day they crossed barren plains, the grass long dead and sparse trees devoid of leaves. The omnipresent mist of Morytania varied visibility from a half-mile to as close as a few hundred feet on occasion, and the team could not shake the constant feeling they were being watched. They set a watch while they camped for the night, and the next two days brought them into the Drakansgreb Mountains where their unease continued.
Sar, 14 Octos, 3E998
The team arrived near the fort around midday and set up an encampment over a half mile away and across the main highway, to ensure they would not be visible from the stockade. Kwon’s weeks of observation had noted that while the fort was well-manned, well-defended and well-patrolled, the exterior surrounds of the stockade were not patrolled at all. Most of the team immediately went down for a long rest, while Illyia, Dajjal and Kwon scouted the stockade for the rest of the day and into the night. Between their personal observations and several passes by Nightshade and Luna, they got an idea of numbers, positions and patrols by the hobgoblin guards, including identifying a sergeant that led the main, random patrol.
It was well after midnight when the full party awoke and prepared for their assault. They took the better part of an hour devising a plan of attack, and then gathered their gear for the fight. Kwon would not be joining them so that he may protect his anonymity for whatever and wherever the trail led next, but would provide an overwatch function so that he may get help should things go awry. The team moved to a concealed position a couple hundred yards from the stockade along side the approaching road, a spur from the main highway accessing only the hill fort.
0200, Sul, 15 Octos, 3E998
With the remainder of the team safely hidden away in their ready position, Beeblebrox, Illyia and Dajjal sneaked up along the same direction from which the slave had escaped, descended the ditch and climbed up the other side unseen. There they found the escapee’s makeshift rope exactly where he had left it. One at a time they climbed it silently and entered the open second-story window in the stockade’s stone curtain wall. Once inside, they found a long abandoned floor of the curtain wall, covered in decades of dust and cobwebs. Curious as to why the guards avoided this level of the curtain wall, they spread out quietly to investigate. They found old unused furniture and beds, some long decayed barrels and crates of supplies and rotting foodstuffs, and in the dusty floor they found a single pair of barefoot prints, leading from the ascending staircase to the window in which they had just entered… indicating they had indeed found the slave’s escape route and were now following it in reverse.
Dajjal set up near their entry window to maintain sight toward their concealed ready position, and concentrated on Luna circling outside and above the stockade keeping tabs on the patrols along the wall and towers. Meanwhile, Illyia and Beeblebrox followed the slave’s prints to the stairs he had climbed to get to the level, and began to descend them to the door that, according to the slave, went outside to the interior courtyard between the curtain wall and the main gatehouse. In their effort to remain stealthy, they missed a set of tripwires halfway down the stairs, and two giant, glass globes fell from the shadows near the high ceiling at either end of the stairs and exploded. The one at the base of the stairs exploded in a brilliant flash of light and shattering glass, which temporarily blinded both the elf and the halfling. The one at the top of the stair burst into many thousands of tiny glass beads, which cascaded down the stairs covering the steps. Once their eyesight returned to normal, the two began down the stairs again, but slipped on the beads and tumbled the rest of the way down to the door below.
Luna observed the reaction of the hobgoblin guards above on the curtain wall, who had obviously heard the commotion of the trap on the stairs. The body language indicated the guards had definitely heard it; it also indicated, without a word being spoken between them, that neither had any intention or inclination to go check it out. The body language, as it were, said, “I didn’t hear anything. Did you hear anything?” “Nope, I didn’t hear anything.”
With the state of decades of disuse and the guards obvious unwillingness to set foot on it, the Heroes 4 Hire were left puzzling what feature of second-story commanded such fear. Nonetheless, Illyia and Beeblebrox set up at the base of the stair, just inside the exit door, to join Dajjal in their vigil awaiting the cue to begin the assault. Meanwhile, Diplo summoned his paladin’s steed, a giant eagle, and ascended in the misty nighttime to a circling holding pattern above the stockade, just out of sight, to await the signal for his attack. Greves and Karraway waited hidden among the boulders a short distance outside the drawbridge, and Nightshade accompanied Luna in circling the compound in surveillance mode.
0300, Sul, 15 Octos, 3E998
After an hour of waiting, the cue finally arrived… namely, the random patrol with the sergeant spot-checking the guard placements. To open the overture, Nightshade swooped down toward the patrol as Illyia cast Magic Missile through her at the sergeant, striking with all three darts and killing him instantly. This was followed immediately by Luna’s attack run and Dajjal remotely cast a Fireball through her at the very same group, centered on the very same sergeant. The detonation killed eleven and critically wounded two, and served to not only signal Diplo to begin his attack run but also to draw the guards attention away from the direction of the coming attack.
Seeing the flash of the Fireball, Diplo dove the giant eagle in from the west toward the westernmost tower of the gatehouse. Once there, he and the eagle caught the four-man ballista crew unawares and gawking over the southeastern corner of the tower at the commotion below. The swooping attack killed one outright and sent the other three plummeting to their death over the side. He continued the same swooping attack to the eastern tower before that ballista crew could react, and again killed one outright and sent the other three falling to their deaths. Two tower-top ballista crews eliminated, Diplo climbed the eagle back to a safe altitude under sporadic and ineffective archer fire.
After firing the Magic Missiles, Illyia slammed open the door and dashed, with Beeblebrox riding piggyback, across the inner courtyard toward the sallie port through the gatehouse, attempting to beat the guards’ reaction to drop the open portcullis. As he approached the gatehouse, he found an uncircumventable morass of mud in front of the gatehouse and began to sprint through it. Halfway through, an Ankheg sprang forth and snapped at him with its nasty mandibles, barely missing him. Illyia and Beeblebrox ignored it, and sped through the open portcullis to the other side of the gatehouse. The ankheg followed a short distance into the sallie port to give chase, and spat a line of acid at them as Beeblebrox leaped from Illyia’s shoulders toward a second-story arrow slit.
And with that, a pregnant pause was taken in anticipation of the stockade defenders’ pending counterattack.
Can the Heroes 4 Hire sustain the kill rate they started? How many defenders are hidden within the stockade? Who the hell parks an ankheg on their front porch step?
Find out next week, on, “TGC: Heroes 4 Hire!!”