A First for Many

A Hostage Situation

and the treachery it revealed.

After spending some days gathering political information, the party discovered who was important, who would tolerate them, and who actively hated them. Furthermore, they discovered that this rod was quite unique. As far as they had learned, the rod was actually a magical mace. They knew it had a command word, but they had also discovered that they only had three chances to guess the command word before it locked up. Gregor went to meditate while Dobby went looking for someone who knew how to raise a Wyvern.

After about a week of resting and researching, a courier entered Peloria, and he immediately recognized the adventurer’s and addressed them. He was a courier for Duchess Adeline Ashdrake, and she apparently requested them for a time sensitive task. Knowing that this was one of the few political powers that didn’t actively hate them, they decided to postpone the necromancer quest and head to her aid instead.

Thus they embarked towards the border city of Westwall. But on the first day of traveling, the party was beset by a roaming band of six orcs! Belladonna noticed them first and warned the party, but not before one loosed an arrow into Hofniel’s arm. He immediately retaliated with Pelor’s Roar (a sonic burst) against the three on his side, which dazed the middle one and damaged them all. Heisenberg used the distraction to slay an orc on the other side, while Queso cleaved through two more while guffawing. Elora, not wanting to be outdone, sunk her dagger right between a deafened one’s eye. Heisenberg then decapitated the dazed one and Queso skewered the last. The rest of the trip to Westwall was uneventful.

Upon arriving, the courier greeted them at the gate and informed them that Adeline was waiting for them on the ramparts in order to have a private conversation with them. The party was ushered there, found her waiting, and they introduced themselves. They were informed that, due to their political alignment, she believed that the party could handle this task on the down low while being reliable. She handed over a note she had received. Her son, James Ashdrake, had been kidnapped for a ransom of 10000gp. She provided a quick physical description of him, and told them that James was a brash and foolish hot head who tended to gamble at a joint outside of town. She clearly had no intention of paying the ransom, and wanted the adventurer’s to deal with it.

Hofniel asked if they could be provided with counterfeit gold pieces, to which she agreed. She also gave a signet ring to the party so James would know they were sent with her blessing. While they waited for the fake money to be crafted, Hofniel asked Adeline if she knew anything about the mace, which Hofniel was now naming Pelor’s Radiance. She responded that, if it was what she thought it was, then the Duke had only possessed it since he is a cousin of the King. Back during the Chevre war, then Duke now King Stark had used a powerful mace. It was specifically crafted for him by an elite team of mages, and had been instrumental in their victory. This, however, was the extent of her knowledge.

After the counterfeit coins were finished, the party decided to first drop by the gambling house that James frequented. They decided that only Belladonna and Queso would enter, while Elora, Heisenberg, and Hofniel stayed outside guarding the fake gold. They agreed that the code phrase would be “Who cut the cheese?” should anything happen. Thus Belladonna and Queso entered. Inside, they found all sorts of different low lives, most of which were playing some dice game. There also was the barkeep who seemed to be in charge. The dynamic duo went to the barkeep, ordered some drinks, and asked about the game everyone was playing. After wetting their whistles, Belladonna then asked if he had seen James Ashdrake recently.

At this, the keep narrowed his eyes and asked why, to which she immediately replied that James owed her some money. This brought a twinkle to his eye and he laughed, claiming he owed a lot of people money. He then said he could maybe say more if she coughed up 100gp. Not willing to part with that much gold, she counter offered with a gamble. If she wins at dice, he tells her. If not, she owes him 100gp and he says nothing. So they play their game. Belladonna tried to use some sneaky hand moves to help, but she was never any good with die [rolled a 1] and the barkeep was not pleased.

He grabbed his mace and put it on the counter. At this, his five guards from around the room turned their attention to the duo. He demanded they get out immediately, but Queso was having none of it. He stood up, placed his hand on the hilt of his sword, and introduced himself as Queso Grande. This visibly shook the guards. Queso continued to inform the keep that this would get ugly if things didn’t go well. The barkeep then pleaded with Queso to just leave, but he demanded some information first. The keep agreed, and then Queso asked where he had last seen James.

The barkeep claimed that he had seen him a few weeks back with some guy from the Black Fire Mercenaries. Queso thought the name sounded familiar, and had also ran out of questions. So, instead of just calling out to rest of the party outside, Queso just screamed, “Who cut the cheese?!?!”, which startled the guards. A few seconds later, the rest of the party burst through the front door, ready for some action. Just before the blows began to fall, Queso told them he didn’t know what else to ask. Recovering from their recent heart attacks, the party calmed themselves and asked more questions, such as what he was doing with the Black Fire Mercenaries and if James owed the mercenaries. The barkeep didn’t know much more, so the party left. As they exited, Queso knocked over his drink on the counter, and Hofniel through a few gold coins in apology.

So the party embarked to the drop point, which was located just outside of the city of Falcon Watch. But, midway there, an interesting event happened. As they were traveling down the road, they spotted up ahead a broken ox cart with a peasant crying near it. With their new notorious status, the party immediately expected something to be up. They yelled angrily at the peasant to second guess whatever shenanigans he was up to. He cried even louder that he was up to nothing, it was just his cart broken down on the highway. Hofniel had a feeling that the cart was just a setup, and Queso went forward to rough him up a little.

Low and behold, as Queso advanced, the peasant let out a cry and two men jumped out from the cart, while two more jumped from blind spots on either side of the road. They had fine armor, and the last one was wearing a white theatrical mask with two exquisite blades. Queso cried out his name, while engaging in the fight. Two of the band fired arrows while the other three closed in. Elora put one to sleep while the other two attacked. The masked adversary danced around, feinting and slashing deeply at Queso. Heisenberg was able to land a blow, while Belladonna engaged one that was coming to flank Elora. Hofniel once again asked for permission to touch, but this time imbued Queso with a new move: Grande Queso Grande. With his even larger and more muscular status, Queso effortlessly slew the closer enemy, before making the masked enemy a streak of blood splattered over 20 yards.

At this monstrous sight, the two archers high tailed it, leaving the sleeping assassin. After binding him, a very short interrogation revealed that they had been hired by the Duke to kill the party. It appears that Duke Torvald had set a bounty of 250gp for each of them dead, or 500gp for each of them alive! The group secured the bounty letter and the little goods they carried (including some nice poisons). They let the last assassin live, but not before Heisenberg placed his signature H upon his forehead. Thus, they continued to the drop point.

When they were at a significant distance from the drop point, the group sent Belladonna ahead to do recon. Using her scouting intuition, she located two men who were staking out the place, which was a small, shallow cave in a hill. The plan was then set: everyone but Queso would sneak in their blind spots until the surveillance team was mostly surrounded. Then Queso would place the fake coins in the drop site before walking away and hiding on the other side of the hill. Hopefully, the two would take the coins back to their hideout, where the party could then plan a rescue.

The plan worked brilliantly… except for when one of the mercenaries went up to the sack of gold, inspected it, and gave the kill signal to the other! At that point, both men started bolting in opposite directions. The one still in the hiding spot turned and ran toward the west. Heisenberg was closest to him, and was able to close the distance before he was noticed, then Heisenberg pinned the man down. To other ran to the east around the hill, but Queso was able to easily out pace him. The rest closed in and were able to secure both of the prisoners.

Hofniel and Queso then decided that it was once again time for some “Good Guard, Bad Guard”. Queso began with a fantastic bad guard, by staring one of them down, then without breaking eye contact, hoisted the other mercenary by two fingers in his nostrils. Hofniel then came in with the good guard, and interrogated the one on the ground while Queso stared. The adventurer’s learned that these two were definitely sent to recover the ransom and were to bring it back to their keep in the north. However, their commanding captain was none other than Captain James Ashdrake, the supposed hostage! He had been a member of the Black Fire Mercenaries for some months apparently.

At this turn of events, the party knew they would need a new tactic to pull this off. There was much debate about how to proceed, but it was finally settled. They decided to bind their two captives and free them on the return trip. Elora would take one of their uniforms and cast a disguise spell in order to infiltrate the keep. Belladonna would hide in the coin sack, while Elora would play it off as the ransom. The remaining three, Heisenberg, Hofniel, and Queso, would wait nearby to run in when things got hairy.

Well, the plan worked great, until Elora actually got to the door. With a knock, a little eye slit opened in the gate and the guard ask for a password: a password which the party had forgotten to retrieve during the interrogation. Elora tried to pass it off that she was clearly whoever she was supposed to be impersonating, but her voice cracked, which led the guard to open a trap door that was in front of the door! Down tumbled Elora and the sack containing Belladonna. Unsure how to proceed, the men continued to wait for their time to shine. After a while of waiting, the guard came out, accompanied by another guard who apparently identified Elora as his friend. They lifted her out of the pit, but when they also retrieved the sack, the original guard was alarmed when he felt a small person inside instead of gold!

Thus all pandemonium broke loose. The three men bolted from the bushes while Elora avoided one attack and Belladonna did a sneak attack from the sack, nearly dropping one of the guards. Hofniel did a standard jump over the pit, for he was not very coordinated. Queso, wanting to demonstrate him impressive jumping prowess, jumped over the pit, then over Elora, then while spinning in midair, over the closest guard, safely landing on the other side! Heisenberg, not wanting to be outdone, attempted a similarly grand jump. However, his jump was weighed down by heavy armor, so even though he did clear the enemies, he did not do it with as much flair. Queso let out a small guffaw under his breath.

Hofniel protected himself from attack while advancing deeper into the fort. The guards let out a cry, then Queso silenced one of them, and the party thought he could be left alone to take on the other one. Thus, the rest of the party advanced into the fort. They could hear some commotion through a large, main door. Queso, however, wasn’t doing great against the second guard. He was injured multiple times while also dropping his greatsword. Apparently he guffawed too soon.

Elora dropped to the ground to try to look under the door. She could see another eye staring back at her! She took a defensive posture behind the corner next to the door, Hofniel readied a spell to cast inside, Heisenberg turtled up in front of the door, and Belladonna stayed hidden on the left side of the door. Suddenly, the doors swung wide, revealing some crossbows that immediately attacked the party, inflicting minor damage. Furthermore, the party could hear groups of men on either side of the door. Immediately in plain site, was a very heavily armored individual in front of a table, and at the back of the room behind the table was James (identified by his pretentious facial hair) and a wizard, which everyone somehow knew was named Francis.

The wizard wielded her staff, then stones appeared and took on a humanoid form that began slowly advancing towards the party. Elora cast sleep from around the corner, and the heavily armored mercenary slumped to the floor. Hofniel cast his calming spell, and it definitely calmed James, while its affect on Francis couldn’t be determined. Then, Hofniel spoke the words he thought would be most frightening to James, “Your mother sent us.” This rattled James less than anticipated, and he was still bent on ending their lives. While the enemy was distracted, Belladonna managed to use a scroll of invisibility and silently entered the room. Then, Heisenberg and Hofniel stood in the doorway (not quite in the room) and Elora peeped from behind the corner periodically. Hofniel then tried intimidation, informing them that Queso was right behind them. At that very moment, Queso was STILL engaged with the same guard, but definitely getting closer to joining the others.

At this point, the party could easily tell that Francis was definitely more experienced in these situation than James. But thankfully, everyone was holding back from attacking. Elora tried to daze Francis, but Francis deflected the spell. Hofniel tried reasoning, claiming that James was clearly in over his head. It would be best if he just came with them peacefully, then Francis could become captain of this fort. He also added on that there was another team waiting for them outside (a bluff that amazingly worked). James began pacing around seriously thinking over this plan. Elora then successfully charmed Francis. All the while, Heisenberg stood guard while Belladonna sneaked behind both Francis and James.

Finally, Queso finished off the other guard. Then he cut off the guard’s head and brought it to the standoff, taking a prominent spot in the middle of the room. Hofniel continued to try to persuade James to just come with them. It was on the verge of working, when Francis’ patience expired. She cast a paralyzing spell on James while instructing the rest to continue with the original plan.

At the moment of betrayal, Belladonna sprung from her invisibility and sent a debilitating barrage of blows to Francis. Queso tossed the head while advancing to the elemental, dealing it a blow. Heisenberg joined the fray, easily dispatching of a couple of enemies before focusing on the elemental as well. Hofniel tried his best to help drop the enemies, but his first blow happened to miss. Elora, the devious minx, cast a mage hand, used it to pick up the severed head, and dropped in on one of the remaining guards. Francis, not pleased with the backstabbing, turned around, harshly grasped Belladonna, and began to draw upon Belladonna’s life essence while she healed her own wounds. Hofniel got in a strike! But much more impressive was the rate at which Heisenberg and Queso defeated the remaining enemies. Then, Elora emerged from her corner, rushed towards Francis, and unleashed a scorching ray which engulfed Francis in flame. The party then heard some snoring and thankfully remembered to put the last mercenary out of his misery.

When the battle was over, the group bound James before he could move and investigated the room. On the table was a map depicting forts and alliances with the Black Fire mercenaries. It revealed which duke and duchess sided with them or against them, and gave the name of a Prelate Dirren Kas who was holed up at the Mysterious location where they thought the necromancer was. When James could finally move, he further revealed that Kas was the regional commander of the Black Fire mercenaries, which were apparently a front for some radical cult bent on overthrowing the king! The adventurer’s knew this information would only help if the enemy didn’t know they had it. Belladonna forged a copy of the map, slightly burned the original, then folded it and hid it on Francis’ corpse. The party then had James tell them where the horses were. The fort was then plundered of as many good as they could carry, including some very helpful books from a library and a war chest containing much gold.

The heros then mounted up, (returned to free the captives), and traveled back to Westwall.

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