Our adventurers have escaped the swamp. On the morrow, they journey with the elven rangers to the Vardor fortress, labeled a summer home for their ambassadors to the elves. The party is:
- Hilbrent Firebrand: Human Magic-user, Level 3 (Fire Spellbook)
- Don “Juan” Ashe, Human sailor (soldier) henchman, Level 1
- Talia Stormborne: Human Cleric of Vardor, Level 3 (Healing Spellbook)
- Irion Brightear, Halfling Musician henchman, Level 0
- Dwight Montgomery, Human sailor (soldier) follower, Level 1
- Elba Seron, Human herbalist follower, Level 0
- Benquil Barrison Del’Armgo: Half-Drow Thief, Level 3
- Mickey Heron, Human sailor (soldier) henchman, Level 1
- Algaeir Ashbow: Human Druid, Level 3 (Tracking and Archery)
- Lamila Umdril: Half-Orc, Half-Elf Fighter, Level 3
On noon of the second day, they reach the base of the mountain, from which they can see the Vardor fortress at the top of a winding path and stair. They decide to take all of their henchmen and followers along, sneaking toward the fortress with Benquil at the front.
They quickly realize that guards on the wall had seen them and decide to approach with Talia at the front as nonchalantly as possible. Confronted by the guards at the gate, Talia requests an audience with the master of the fortress, ultimately claiming they have been attacked by goblins in order to justify a plea for asylum in the fortress. A soldier goes to relay the request to the master of the fortress and the group is escorted to meet him in the main house.
Lord Warqua wears red and green nobleman’s clothes—puffy shoulders, cod piece, tights, and all—and a rapier on his hip. He wears ample jewelry and an air of superiority. Hilbrent also senses multiple magical auras on his person including some healing, probably some teleportation or ranged attack, and some stone skin. Lord Warqua agrees to allow them to stay after denying the presence of any goblins in the fortress. They women are given a statesman’s room in the hall with Warqua’s associates and body guard, while the men displace several soldiers, taking a garrison room each. They are told they can move about freely, but ask Warqua to give them a tour of the facility, to which he agrees.
They leave their followers and henchmen watching the rooms and the tour begins with a walk in the court, where they learn he is from new money and second generation nobility and that he rose on the coattails of Serlash, the recently replaced Prime Minister of Anaithwaite. They also notice a shadowy figure watching them through the windows on one corner of the house.
They request more of a look inside, hoping he will give something away by being with them. As they walk a hall of garrison dormitories, Algaeir and Hilbrent notice loose flag stones, likely hiding something, in the hallway. The rest of the tour is uneventful and they are left o their own devices.
They decide to double back to the downstairs dormitories where Algaeir and Hilbrent point out the flagstones. They decide to cluster and obscure a stone while Algaeir lifts the stone. There is a ladder there and Benquil (the only one with infrared vision) climbs down. He finds a couple of small rooms and decides to search them thoroughly. They seem to be rooms where soldiers come on their breaks to gamble discretely.
Meanwhile, Lamila, Talia, Hilbrent go to the room from which they were being watched in the courtyard. They knock and a large man in full plate mail answers. They can see an axe on his belt, a large shield on his back, and a heavy crossbow on his bed. He introduces himself as Umaugh, Warqua’s body guard, and assures them that he has seen no Goblins in the area. He comes off as a dedicated soldier and body guard. Hilbrent senses what seems to be an anti-magic or weakening enchant on him.
Finding nothing else, Benquil emerges from the hidden rooms and making sure no one is looking, Algaeir lifts the next flagstone, allowing him to climb down the ladder there. This area is much large and colder, he can’t see it all from the ladder. He wants to let Algaeir know and knocks to come back up, but Algaeir doesn’t respond, indicating that the coast is not clear.
Meanwhile, Lamila, Talia, and Hilbrent visit the two towers, finding nothing of interest in the watch tower and letting themselves up to Warqua’s room to take a look at his tower. They find him working at his desk and he greets them, inviting them to enjoy the view from his windows or the tower at their leisure.
Downstairs, Algaier can hear Benquil knocking and wants to create a distraction so he can get out. He approaches one of the soldiers eyeing him as he fletches arrows in the hall and attempts to cover his mouth while stabbing with his hunting knife. The soldier escapes the grab and draws a long sword, retaliating as he yells out. Algaeir misses the parry, taking 12 damage (of 32). He runs.
The soldier pursues, joined by a few others. Benquil can hear the commotion below and hears one of the soldiers order the rest to remain behind, still not clear. Algaeir flees to the kitchens and braces himself to fight, with his short sword now, while the kitchen staff flee. The soldiers approach cautiously, warning him to surrender. Seeing himself outnumbered, he capitulates. They tackle him, knocking him out and dragging him to a cell with a thud of wood on stone heard by Benquil.
Soldiers enter Warqua’s room, informing him of the incident and expressing orders to escort Lamila, Talia, and Hilbrent back to their rooms while they decide what is to be done. They go quietly, but eventually Umaugh comes to Lamila and Talia’s room asking where Benquil is. Lamila offers to help find him, telling Umaugh that someone had found a secret area and gone to explore it. She is allowed to come, on the condition of leaving her axe, and goes intending to show them the loose flagstones.
In the meantime, Benquil has been active, he quickly searches the area, finding two empty rooms, descending down a long tunnel a short ways before turning back, and finally approaching a dead end that is warmer looking than the rest of the walls. He approaches to search it more thoroughly and finds a hidden door which opens onto a narrow, low ceilinged crag ending in another very warm wall. During his search, he can hear soldiers open and search the gambling room.
Waking up in his cell, Algaeir sees the prison area is accessed by ladder. There are two other cells, holding an elf and a strange bird creature. He is on his game and notices a low secret hatch in his cell. He learns that the elf was captured and brought here after seeing some men in the woods, a man with daggers, a wrestler, and some porters. The bird creature only screeches. He opens the hidden hatch and looks in to see a pair of boots, Benquil’s boots. They converse quickly, agreeing that Algaeir should stay here and Benquil should pretend he fell into the hole unconscious, Algaeir hitting him to give him a believable lump.
When Lamila and Umaugh lift the flagstone, they see Benquil lying, apparently unconscious, at the base of the ladder. Umaugh climbs down, lifting Benquil out of the hole. Benquil feigns awakening and when questioned claims he was struck on the head while inspecting the loose flagstone. Lamila and Benquil are escorted back to their rooms.
While the others are sequestered, Umaugh visits Algaeir in his cell. He knows Algaeir was with Benquil and so asks him how Benquil ended up on the hole. Algaeir claims that during the watch change, one of the soldiers hit Benquil and threw him down the hole, then told him to sit on the flagstone and not say a word, threatening him. He goes on to claim that he attacked the captain in an attempt to threaten him and figure out what was going on.
Umaugh seems to accept this explanation, but he goes on to explain that he needs to ask the party to leave, they will be ejected immediately. Algaeir protests that it is nearly nightfall, can’t they have shelter until morning? Umaugh considers it and agrees to let them stay in the temporary storage room well beneath the fort, whose entrance is outside the walls.
Algaeir and all of the other men are escorted out of the walls and given their weapons back. Lamila manages to convince Umaugh to let the women stay in the manor until morning, since they’ve done nothing wrong. They ask to have their door left unlocked and guards posted, but Umaugh says he would be more comfortable if they were locked in.
As night gets on and most people have gone to sleep, Lamila attempts to quietly break the lock on her door, twisting the handle hard enough to mangle the lock. She looks out to find Umaugh has opened his door at the sound and is looking. She closes the door quickly, but Umaugh approaches and asks if anything is wrong. She lies that they just wanted some air. Umaugh chuckles and calls over the four guards lounging in the loft nearby. He orders two to stay by the door at all times and returns to his room.
Meanwhile, Benquil and Hilbrent climb aboard one of the two cargo lifts in the storage area and begin to pull themselves up into the fortress. As they go, the lift begins to smolder and catch fire. Acting quickly, while Benquil holds the lift up, Hilbrent casts a spell meant to put out the fire. He finishes after several seconds and the spell has no effect. This is baffling, until the new doubt allows them to realize that the fire now climbing the rope is merely an illusion, and it vanishes from their sight. They continue until they reach the main storage room beneath the kitchens.
Algaeir follows in the other lift, along with Dwight, Mickey, and Don, sending Irion to go inform the Rangers of what they have found. He’s a ways behind, and by the time they reach the store room, Benquil and Hilbrent are already in the kitchen, hearing steps on the floor above them, not far from Lamila and Talia’s room. Benquil quickly climbs onto a stove, using a short range gate wand created by Hilbrent on the way to the fort to create a gate through the ceiling to the next floor. He touches the portal, appearing in the hall outside Lamila and Talia’s room. He sees two startled guards and immediately slashes with his poisoned scimitar, scoring a decent hit, but not drawing visible blood through the soldier’s chain mail. He calls for Lamila.
Lamila bursts from her room, making a powerful swing and beheading both guards. Talia has had a vision in response to prayer and learned that evil men are here, including Umaugh, and that no one here can be trusted. She continues to pray for aide to the fighters as two more soldiers step toward the battle from the loft—stopping in terror—and Umaugh steps out of his room, axe and shield at the ready.
Putting to use his new Fast Hands ability, Benquil sheaths his scimitar, drawing his crossbow and shooting Umaugh. Suddenly, dark energy pulses outward from the middle of the hall, striking Benquil and Lamila powerfully with death energy. The soldiers and Umaugh are hit by the blast, but only at its edges. Umaugh steps forward, attacking Benquil, but Lamila shields him with her body, retaliating with a powerful blow, though his layered Plate/Chain/Padded armor significantly reduces the damage.
Sensing the powerful spell above, Hilbrent is eager to get up there and when he sees that Algaeir and the sailors have reached the kitchen he indicates the invisible portal and touches it, jumping into the fray. Algaeir, too, jumps in behind him, arrow on the string. Lamila swings for Umaugh, but misses. A soldier rushes Hilbrent, who uses Reactive Casting to preempt the attack with a burst of flame that kills the soldier. Benquil lays up his crossbow, drawing his scimitar and cutting for Umaugh, again hoping to see blood enough for his venom to take root. His attack rings ineffectually against Umaugh’s armor. Another soldier rushes Hilbrent, his attack, too, interrupted by a burst of deadly flame.
Algaeir fires into Umaugh, getting around the shield and punching into his armor. Umaugh attacks and misses, allowing Lamila to freely retaliate. She hits powerfully and Umaugh falls, apparently cut down.
We had to stop mid-battle. It will be a while before we get back together, but in three weeks we’ll see what becomes of our outnumbered heroes.