A First for Many

A Hostage Situation (DM Edition)

Having retreated to the safety of Peloria, the friends settled in to plan their next move. The group wisely decided to set aside some of their gold for intelligence gathering, with a large portion going to help the refugees from the southern lands. Dobby set off to determine how she was going to hatch the Wyvern egg, and Gregor the monk decided to meditate on the recent events for a while.
In time, their efforts bore fruit, giving them a better sense of how they were perceived by Erath’s various nobles, including the Duke’s and Duchesses. Understandably, assaulting Torvald created some political angst particularly in the eastern regions, with Duchess Ashdrake in the southwest being the only definitively friendly noble. This was in part due to their recent rescue of Peloria, a town which fell in her jurisdiction.  Various lesser nobles in the Western region, particularly the devout, also seemed to have a favorable impression of the group as one might expect. Additionally, the found that the rod they had “borrowed” from Duke Torvald doubled as a heavy mace, rather convenient for Hofniel. However, the magical properties of the mace were locked behind a command word.
While planning their approach to the hitherto ignored necromancer, the team was approached by a courier of none other than Adeline Ashdrake, with a matter of some urgency. The team, not wishing to lose their one significant potential sponsor, made haste to Westwall where the Duchess reigned.
Their journey was marred by an orc ambush along the road. Belladonna noticed the creatures shuffling along the treeline, calling out to the rest of the group, but not before Hofniel sustained an arrow to the arm. The party quickly leapt from their horses to engage, while Hofniel bellowed Pelor’s roar, a sonic shout that did devastating damage to three orcs, felling one. Heisenberg calmly ran another orc through on the opposite side, while Queso, in classic Queso fashion, sliced through two orcs like butter. Meanwhile, Elora launched a dagger directly into a stunned orc’s eyesocket, and the team quickly and easily eliminated the remaining creatures. The group was able to make it the rest of the way without further issues.
Finally, they arrived at Westfall, the combined city and fortress that guarded the westernmost pass to neighboring Chevre. Nestled between the northern mountain range and an enormous lake, Westfall was very defensible. The courier greeted them at the gates of the massive castle, which was built directly into the side of the adjacent mountain. They were directed to the ramparts, where Duchess Ashdrake waited. Bedecked in glittering full plate and carrying an ornate but weathered war-hammer, Adeline was clearly no stranger to conflict. After formal introductions, she informed the group that they had been chosen for a delicate task, both for their peculiar political situation as well as their proven resourcefulness. It seemed, the Duchess’ son was missing, with only a ransom note asking ten thousand gold for his safe return. Ashdrakes, she informed them, do not give in to ransom demands, though naturally she wished her son’s safe return. Further discussion revealed her son, James, to be something of an aggressive, hot-tempered young man with poor impulse control. She had ascertained that one of his favorite haunts was a gambling den on the outskirts of the city, and suggested the group begin their search there. Pondering, Hofniel asked the Duchess if they might obtain a sack of fake coins from her to which she agreed, sending word to the town blacksmith. Switching gears, Hofniel asked the Duchess about his new mace, now named “Pelor’s Radiance.” She rubbed her chin thoughtfully, remarking that, if this was in fact the weapon she thought it was, that it had quite an intriguing history. The mace had been used by Duke Stark Pargraven in the Chevren-Erathian war some fifty years ago. Stark would later become king, and the mace itself seemed to only have been in the hands of Torvald since he was cousins with the son of Stark, Treville Pargraven, the present king of Erath. The mace itself had been crafted by powerful mages specifically for the late king. The group thanked the Duchess, obtained the fake coins, and set out for the gambling den.
As expected, the location was a seedy building tucked behind a copse of trees. Various unsavory individuals drifted in and out, and sounds of yelling and laughing emanated from within. Not wishing to be too terribly conspicuous, Hofniel, Elora, and Heisenberg chose to stay outside at a safe distance, awaiting a designated call sign from Queso, which was to be, unsurprisingly, “Who cut the cheese?!” Belladonna and Queso entered the establishment, presumably with Queso as her bodyguard. Queso wisely kept his mouth shut at first, not wanting to tip off the locals that he was Chevren. Belladonna hopped up to the barkeep and, after ordering drinks, casually questioned him about James Ashdrake. At first the barkeep seemed very suspicious, until Belladonna informed the man that James owed her money, which drew some raucous laughter. She then proposed they roll dice for the information, with the terms being that if she won, he’d tell her everything he knew, and if she lost, she’d pony up one hundred gold pieces. She attempted to subtly influence the dice roll, but unfortunately, her effort was easily spotted by the man behind the counter. He snarled and hoisted a large mace onto the counter, making it clear that Belladonna was leaving minus the gold she had gambled, or else. Queso, however, was having none of it. He calmly placed a hand on his enormous blade and announced who he was. This caused a visible ripple of apprehension, even among the hardened thugs present. The barkeep, his tough facade broken, begged the pair to simply leave, but the barbarian wanted more information. The barkeep told them he had seen James hanging out with some Black Fire Mercenaries. Queso, having the memory of a goldfish, could not recall where he had heard that name, and rather than simply sending for his friends, he shouted out the call word, yelling “Who cut the cheese?” in front of the increasingly startled gamblers. The remainder of the party barged in, weapons bared, when Queso stated calmly that he just needed to ask them a question. The situation rested on a knife’s edge as they asked the barkeep a few more questions, without ascertaining much in the way of new information. Queso simply swatted over a glass on the table sauntered out, as if daring anyone to do anything about it. Poor Hofniel gave the innkeeper some gold pieces, being sorry for the mess.
And so, off they went to the drop point outside of the city of Falcon Watch. Along the way, they came upon a broken oxcart, it’s axle shattered, blocking the road. Our adventurers were quite on edge now that they had become so infamous, and so proceeded with great caution, yelling out to the peasant to come clean. This only seemed to upset the fellow, who proclaimed innocence- until Queso charged forward to call his bluff. As the party suspected, it was a trap, with multiple men springing from within the cart and behind nearby hills, including one garishly armored individual wearing a harlequin mask, wielding two sinister blades. Arrows flew, while Heisenberg, Queso, and Belladonna fought back. Queso and Heisenberg could not seem to land a shot against the exceedingly nimble masked man, who landed a vicious strike against the burly barbarian. Hofniel wasted no time, politely requesting to touch Queso, in order to turn him into…an even larger Queso. Now a towering force of pure unbridled destruction, he obliterated his dancing opponent with a gut-splattering swipe. After soiling themselves, two of their opponents fled. The rest of the party easily cleaned up the remaining assassins, with one asleep, thanks to Elora’s magic. Upon interrogating the last, no longer sleeping bounty hunter, the discovered that they were wanted dead or alive- 250gp dead, 500gp alive, by edict of Duke Torvald. After Heisenberg carved an “H” on the man’s forehead, they allowed him to leave otherwise unharmed.
Finally, they made their way to the drop site, off in the woods some distance from Falcon Watch. Belladonna wisely scouted the area for a couple days, not only finding where a couple of Black Fire mercenaries had set up in tree stands to observe. The team came up with a plan, quietly taking up positions to flank the hidden mercenaries, while Queso hoisted the fake gold to the site hidden away beneath a boulder. He walked just far enough away to be out of site, and they all waited. After about an hour, one of the mercs dropped from the tree to inspect the loot…and immediately became aware of it’s counterfeit nature, giving the kill signal to his comrade. They both bolted, but thanks to careful positioning, Heisenberg and Queso were able to grapple them both to the ground, after which binding them was a simple matter. Hofniel and Queso began their classic routine, this time with Queso hoisting one of the guards by his nostrils, eliciting much screaming and squirming, while leveling his steely gaze upon the second. Hofniel was then able to calmly pry information from the trembling man, who now doubt wanted to keep his nose intact. They discovered that the captain commanding the fort was, in fact, their wayward James Ashdrake, and he had been involved with the Black Fire mercenaries for some months. It was clear at this point he was helping extort money from his mother. They also ascertained the location of their fort, a day’s travel north of them. A long debate ensued before coming to an agreement on their strategy. The captives were bound, set next to some bowls of water like caged dogs, and left in the shade to be set loose on their return.
The stalwart crew approached the weathered fort per the captive’s directions. Elora, with the aid of magic, disguised herself as one of them; full Black Fire attire and all…with a little suprise, namely Belladonna, hiding in the sack she carried, pretending to be gold. The rest of the crew hid, at the ready, in the nearby woods. Approaching the door, Elora saw a slat open and was immediately asked for a password; something the team had forgotten to get from the mercenaries before. Attempting a bluff, Elora tried to impress upon the guardian that she didn’t have time for such trivialities. However, her voice cracked, and the guard hit the switch that opened a trapdoor beneath her feat, causing her to fall into a pit. To her credit, she never broke character, and when a second mercenary joined the first, she was able to convince them that she was indeed who she claimed to be, and so they hauled her from the pit. However, when they grabbed her bag, they realized that rather than gold, a small person lurked inside. Belladonna leaped forth like a cat and backstabbed the nearest fellow, nearly killing him. At this point, the heroes hidden in the brush sped forward; Queso did an acrobatic somersault through the air, landing behind on of their adversaries, while Heisenberg attempted a similar jump, also clearing the pit, but without the grandeur of Queso (he was wearing heavy armor at the time). Hofniel made a simpler entrance, and together, the group defeated the first two guards- almost, anyway, as for some reason, Queso had difficulty dispatching one of them, while the rest of the part moved to the far door, having heard commotion from within. Elora placed her ear against the door and heard whispering about “setting up crossbows,” rightfully concluding they would be walking into some bolts the moment the door opened. Trying to ascertain more information, she tried to peek under the door, only to see someone else peeking right back at her. Bracing for confrontation, Heisenberg took point, turtling up as a good tank does, while the others stood to the sides, ready to move on a moment’s notice. Eventually the doors flung open, twin crossbows firing at Heisenberg simultaneously, with one bolt doing a small amount of damage, the other plinking harmlessly off of his armor. Inside, they saw an armored warrior manning the crossbows, with a scraggly-bearded blonde male in fine armor behind a table next to a staff-wielding sorceress. They instantly realized the man was James Ashdrake. Attempting to parley, Hofniel stood in the door frame, explaining calmly to the perturbed James that they were there at the behest of his mother, Adeline. Being no fool, he did this AFTER casting “calm” on the lad, with Elora quietly putting the foremost armored guard to sleep. They could hear more guards inside, on either side of the door, and so wisely did not fully enter the room. The sorceress, henceforth inexplicably named “Francis,” conjured a small Earth elemental from the ether as a barrier between her, James, and the crew. She maintained a hostile expression throughout Hofniel’s eloquent soliloquy. Eventually the brave cleric was able to convince James to stand down and surrender himself…only to have Francis slap him with a “hold person” spell and initiate violence, namely with a lightening bolt straight into poor Queso, who had just managed to join the party after finally finishing off the last guard. Understandably annoyed, Queso blasted through one of the flanking guards and into the rock monster, with Heisenberg finishing the earthen monstrosity off with his silver sword. In the meantime, Belladonna invoked their scroll of invisibility and snuck up behind Francis, unleashing a devastating dagger-strike that nearly felled the mage. Unfortunately, the teetering sorceress was able to use a vampiric touch to siphon life force from our halfling heroine. Seeing her small friend being nearly killed, Elora exploded with rage and magical energy, invoking a searing volley of fire magic that incinerated the hapless Francis. The rest of the adventurers were able to neatly clean up the last standing Black Fire mercenaries, leaving them with James to question once his holding spell wore off. James was seemingly filled with regret at his actions, and offered no resistance spilling the beans on Black Fire- namely, that they were a widespread para-military organization that was gathering allies and influence within Erath to initiate a coup of the rightful king, Treville Pargraven. He also knew the name of the necromancer they had been tracking- “Dirren Kas,” apparently as creepy a fellow as his profession would suggest. As it turns out, he was a regional commander for Black Fire. A war chest in the compound contained lots of gold for the heroes, in addition to lots of stockpiled food and other dry goods that the party loaded themselves up with. Elora got her hands on a handy staff of summoning and some spellbooks, while Hofniel and Queso nonchalantly relieved James of his masterwork half-plate armor and greatsword, respectively. Queso renamed the new blade “The Bigger Cheese Knife,” the clever-for-a-barbarian sequel to his “Big Cheese Knife.” Elora was able to forge a copy of the strategic map the mercenaries were using, which gave them a better idea of who the traitors were targeting as potential allies. With all that accomplished, the fantastic five gathered their horses (as well as those from the compound) and headed back to the sanctuary of Westwall.

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