Pelor's radiance shines a little brighter on the Northern wastes today, but the sharper light casts deeper shadows, and the fiercer sun scorches more easily all who walk un-carefully in its light.
Having settled for a little longer the question of the dangerous magic metals of the eastern way, our group turned at last our attention to what we figured as the source of the Hobgoblin threat that had harried us so often in our travels and that had been so eager to occupy the stronghold at Hightower so close to Aiwan: The "war camp" that had been described to us by the Blackfoot goblins, and whose smoke had been spotted off to the west when first reaching the northern hills.
Oz and Aldo, ever the most helpful and interested in the 'goblinoid' portions of our adventures, came along on this outing with me, as did Jorven and one of our newer members, Snorri, who is quickly proving himself a most valuable ally in the thick of battle, even if his… enthusiasm for violence puts me sometimes ill at ease, more often even than Oz's occasional moments of, hmm, moral disinterest.
As we traveled through the hills into the north, Oz and I mounted, the rest on foot, we had the mixed fortune of stumbling directly into the path of a mounted patrol of eight hobgoblins, presumably from the very camp we were journeying to attack. Unfortunately we had no advance notice of their appearance, but thankfully they also had not spotted us. A scrambling fight began.
Knowing the tendency of these foes to flee on their horses when combat went sour for them, we strove in this matter to keep them from escaping and warning the camp of our approach. Oz pulled a new trick from his bag, attuning with the grassland around us to animate a large patch of weedy tendrils just as the patrol charged us, tying down their horses and limiting their movement heavily. Some got stuck trying to pull free from the grass while others managed to force their way out of the circle and into our waiting arms, but their formation was shattered and one by one we cut them down in short order.
While these hobgoblins are foul creatures of evil, the horses they possessed seem no worse for being ridden by such masters, and as they began to disperse after the battle, we managed to corral five of the eight, and herd the remaining three to bolt in a direction opposite the warcamp, leaving no trace of the patrol to return and warn them of our coming. Now all our party was mounted, and we could make much greater speed.
After a few more hours of travel we spied our first glance of the encampment. Up on the tallest hill in the area, perched above a fast-flowing stream it was, ringed all around with a wooden palisade. Until now, we had been unsure of what type of defenses the hobgoblins had established, and so this sight was mostly a relief. The camp was surely well defendable against open assault, but the palisade was not even twice my height, easy enough to climb, and hardly impregnable.
From here on we stuck to the gullies and lowlands between the hills, working our way slowly closer while staying out of sight, until Aldo could dismount and sneak to the top of a hill some three hundred feet from the walls and get us a better scouting report. At this closer distance he was able to discern that an inner layer of palisade separated off the largest building from the rest of the camp.
Assuming this was probably their leader's hall, and knowing that while a snake with its head removed at the first blow may twitch still, but is ultimately doomed, we set a plan in motion.
Tying off our mounts in a thicket out of sight in a depression in the land, we approached under cover of midnight until nearly to the foot of the last hill. Then with the aid of a scroll purchased from Aeven, Jorven cloaked us all in magic un-sight, and our close formation scrambled up the hill to the foot of the palisade behind the large hut, unseen by any watchers on the walls. Aldo and Oz scrambled up the logs, tied off a rope at the top, and our group lifted ourselves over the edge, landing on a platform that ran along the top edge the whole length of the palisade.
We dropped down into the grass behind the large building, not a soul in sight and only the sound of our armor and gear creaking in the night. As Aldo silently scouted around the edge of the building, the last whorls of the invisibility magic dispersing around us, he spied three horse-sized dire wolves sleeping lightly in the space in front of the hut, and noted that only a space in the palisade, not any inner gate, divided this building from the rest of the huts below.
With this information gathered, he and Oz quietly pushed open a back door they had found into the hut and looked around in the darkness, finding many trophies and weapons on the wall, animal skin rugs scattered on the floor, and a number of benches arranged around a central firepit, now extinguished.
They heard another door creak and ducked behind the furniture just in time to see the chief hobgoblin emerge from what they immediately assumed was his bed chambers. Figuring there was no time like the present to begin our assault, Aldo popped up from his cover and loosed a bolt at the chieftain, with Oz quickly following his lead. They scored two brutal hits, and from the wounded howls of the chieftain we knew the battle had begun, and the three of us rushed in to aid our campatriots.
The battle that followed was relatively quick, and though the chieftain's mate emerged from the bedchambers to aid him, and the chieftain himself doffed a few potions to heal and blur himself in combat, they were quickly taken down. Snorri cut down the wife as she attempted to heal her downed husband, and the chief died on the ground, wracked with spasms from the acid Jorven had pierced deep into his chest with her wand. An unceremonious and painful end for these two, but those who wage war on stouthearted men and the other races who love the sun's light deserve no better fate.
Now, however, our night began in earnest, as we heard the howl of the dire wolves, awakened by the sound of the fight, as they pawed at the front door. We quickly dragged the two bodies back into their chambers, trying to remain undetected for as long as possible, but a night watchman opened the front doors just before we could close the inner portal and saw our party. Aldo loosed another bolt, his well-aimed crossbow punching a brutal tear through the hobgoblin's throat and he fell back, dead in a single blow.
The damage was done, however, and the three wolves now had a way inside. They charged at us as Aldo fell back, and we had a brutal fight with them through the bedchamber door, with Oz blocking the way inside, hewing with his axes at their clawing limbs, even fighting from the floor with the beasts when a lucky blow dragged him to the ground, while Snorri and I aimed blows at any wolf foolish enough to stick its snout through the doorway, and Aldo and Jorven loosed their attacks from afar.
The wolves were taken down in quick enough order, certainly less of a threat than the awful lion from weeks past, and we had a brief respite from the siege. Aldo ran to the front door and shut it, but not before noticing the growing crowd of dim shapes in the dark, including three that were definitely not hobgoblin sized. It seems the ogres we killed at Hightower were not the only ones these creatures had recruited to their forces. We had little time to act before the hulking giants would surely crash down the door.
We all scrambled at once then, Aldo picking at the chest at the foot of the chieftain's bed and finding it locked, while I stripped the corpses of any valuables and found a key in the process. Tossing it to Aldo, he opened the chest, and managed to dodge mostly out of the way when a spray of darts sprung from it, the trap un-noticed in our haste, and took only a few small pricks. He and Jorven then sorted through the numerous contents of the chief's treasure hoard, identifying the magic items for later and shoveling all the coins and gear and scrolls into our bag as quick as we could.
As we heard the first crash of an ogre crashing his bulk at full speed into the door, we had come to a moment of decision. We might have time to flee with our treasure, the hobgoblins now leaderless, and avoid further danger. But we had not come to be assassins, we had come to eradicate one more cancer from the lands of the north. Pulling one of my pints of oil from my bag, unused since we had found the everburning torch, I shattered it upon the roof where it met the wall, dousing the thatch in oil, and set my flint and sparks to the straw. The flames had just caught and begun to lick their way up the inside of the ceiling when the door gave in and the ogres burst into the hall.
Though there was some indecision among the party as to whether we should flee or fight, in the end I was confident, having taken out two such creatures without too much danger before, that we could best these foes, and taking up position to protect Aldo and Jorven, who had quickly fled back out into the back yard, I urged the two stout dwarves to make a fighting retreat back outside the back door, and fight the larger foes in another chokepoint.
This fight was as fierce as that with the dire wolves, and I can now say I understand all rumor of the enmity between dwarves and giants, as Oz and the ogres raged in close quarters. My pink-bearded friend, and Snorri too, avoided numerous blows of the ogres clubs by merge inches, or made perfect last millisecond parries. One by one, we slayed the oversized brutes.
The fire had spread in our battle, and the hall had filled with smoke. The blaze threatened to engulf the whole structure at any moment. Aldo made one last sprinting pass through the main chamber to check for any missed treasures, as Snorri and Oz claimed their trophies from our eight kills (sigh).
Emboldened by our victory over the ogres, we decided we should certainly do more damage to the war camp than just the one building, but decided to use the attention we had surely earned to our advantage. We climbed back up the platform we had come in over, noting over the roof of the hall the crowd of hobgoblins trying now in vain to quench the growing inferno, and, still unspotted by the bulk of their forces, hopped back over the palisade. Staying as close to the wall as possible, and thus un-seeable by anyone inside unless they craned their whole neck over the edge, we made our way around to the front gate, which would now be nearly behind the direction in which we were sure all the hobgoblins would be paying attention. We prepared a brace of firebombs from our remaining supply of oil, and climbed the palisade once more.
In our eagerness, no one in our party spotted the hobgoblin guard standing not thirty feet to our left on the platform as we climbed over, or if Oz did he had not the time to warn us as the rest of the group ascended. Thankfully, the guard was staring raptly towards the blaze higher on the hill, and saw us not. He turned only at the sound of my boots thunking onto the wood, and Aldo had managed to retrieve his crossbow and quickly silenced yet another watchman before he could make more than a grunt. His body slumped against the inner wall of the palisade and we were inside, undetected, yet again.
Taking a moment to light the cloth fuses of the firebombs, and divide them amongst the party, we slipped down into the camp proper (Oz for some reason decided he should jump straight from the palisade platform onto the roof of his chosen hut, the showboater) and set fires in the thatch of five more huts. Just as we each finished, a few hobgoblins came down from the chieftain's hill, presumably to collect more water from the central well, saw the new fires, and raised shouts of alarm.
We had about a minute to reform our party in the central plaza, as the bulk of the hobgoblin popoulation formed up into a clump and advanced towards us.
It was only now that a few of the more attentive members of the party pointed out what I had not noticed, the sound of crying come from the buildings around us, including those we had set alight. Then, the details of the approaching crowd became clearer: It was not a formation of soldiers, but a mob of hobgoblins, bedecked in cloth, not in armor, bearing pitchforks and spades and torches, not weapons of war. A sudden realization came upon us then, that this was not the fortifications of an army, but rather a hobgoblin village!
The slimy goblins had lied, surely hoping to take advantage of our enmity with the hobgoblins to trick us into purging this settlement and weakening their enemies! I felt a great rage within me then, as well as a shuddering, doubtful horror. Burning children is not a valiant act, even children of such a foul and evil race, and villagers are hardly an appropriate foe for battle-hardened veterans. Deeds as these are not why I ventured so far from my home.
But we had barred no doors, prevented no women or children from simply fleeing the fires, nor yet killed anyone who was not armed for battle, and it was too late to talk down the angry mob advancing towards us. Now it was a matter of survival.
Reading from the last of the scrolls we had bought Jorven summoned a storm of sleet on top of the mob, blocking all vision as the winds and icy particles swirled in the night, and Oz created another patch of magical entanglement beneath them, buying us twenty-odd seconds of tense peace as the mob fought its way forward, out of sight. Oz perched on the edge of his roof, just within the storm. I put away my spear and armed myself with sword and shield against the coming onslaught, Snorri took the time to set fire to a few more buildings, while Aldo and Jorven shot bolts, of steel and acid, into the black tempest, the results impossible to discern.
Then the crowd broke free of the plants and the sleet with much ragged, raging yelling, and enveloped Snorri and I. Chaos was unleashed. Within the storm of combat I slashed blindly and widely, cutting through tunics and hewing the wooden shafts of their improvised weapons, slamming my shield out to try and clear room, dazed non-stop from the constant blows landing from all directions on my amor. I saw from the corner of my eye Oz step off from his roof with a shout and land in the middle of the crowd, a veritable whirlwind of axe blades, while the barbarian cries of Snorri echoed through the village alleys as he cleaved the hobgoblins down two, three, four at a time.
I barely managed to stagger out from the crowd just before I blacked out from the never ending shock of the impacts on my steel, and quaffed the potion at my belt, before the two dwarven bladesmen thinned out the crowd to the point that, at last, the villagers realized they had lost this fight, and fled in all directions.
We let them go, hopefully to collect their children, and pursued them not as the town emptied out, leaving us standing in the plaza, the blood pooling in the grass. Soon the only sounds left were the crackling of the fire and the guttural noises of pain from those hobgoblins still dying on the ground.
As the wind picked up and began to spread embers from roof to roof, we made a pass through the remaining area, finding a few carts and loading them with our trophies, and all the supplies of value we could find throughout the village. It was not much in money, really, especially compared to the chieftain's hoard, but they were quality goods, if a little rough in make, and it seemed senseless to let them go to waste in the fire after all that tasteless bloodshed.
We found too a cage, further into town in another plaza, containing six goblins, prisoners apparently of the turf war we had become embroiled in. Oz and Aldo let them go, and surely this tale will spread and only further our infamy amongst the goblinoids of this land. So be it. Maybe if the rumors paint us as unstoppable monsters in their eyes, they will try less to spread from the mountains towards Aiwan, and more villagers might spare themselves the wrath of the cleansing fire.
Dragging the carts behind us as we left by the back gate and returned to our horses, we prepared our train for the journey ahead, and left behind the village, now entirely consumed by fire as even the palisade blazed in places.
As dawn broke, we crested one last hill and looked back to the blackened ruin. This was not a night of valor and purity, and its outcome does not make me… happy, but you must first venture into darkness before you can there bring light, and I know the greater good of Pelor is well served now that one less threat is within reach of Aiwan's walls. These hobgoblins from the first had made the aggressive moves, ambushing us in Hightower and in the wilds, and seeking to establish a stronghold so close to the great wall by retaking Hightower in force. We have only responded in turn. Evil spreads if a good man does nothing.
I close this entry noting a growing dissatisfaction with our "truce" with the goblins, an arrangement I only just tolerated from the start. Fighting a mutual enemy is one thing, but now I feel our band has been used by those loathsome, sneaking creatures, and I am sure the time will soon come when "peace" with them is no longer a burden worth bearing. We shall see…
We turned back towards home and descended from the hills, leaving only smoke.