Library of Howling

5.Mercenaries for Hire

Bandits North

The party attempts to wrap up affairs at the church and questions the bandit leader some more, and he reveals a hidden tunnel to another room in the catacombs. Faster, one of Bear’s Rage’s guards, is elected to slide down the tight hole into the hidden room and find the other exit out. Billhook meets Faster outside the Church, and Faster leads the group to the hidden entrance to the catacombs in a muddy ravine.

Once entering the hidden room, the party discovers various food stuffs meant to feed the bandit group for weeks, some linen, and a magical circle drawn on the floor. Bill collects some ink and quill from a writing desk, and Switches Way and Marble Riches attempt a crude drawing of the circle. Afterward, Marble summons a ghost of a monk whose remains are housed in the catacombs, but things turn sour when the ghost attacks Marble, who is then forced to banish him back to the afterlife. It seems the circle increased the substance and perhaps the power of the ghost, but its usefulness to the bandit group and the dog men is a puzzle to the party.

The group decides to leave after stripping the room bare of anything useful, and after departing, Red Earth caves in both the ravine side of the hidden entrance and the small tunnel side from the interior of the catacombs, forever sealing the room.

After finding their horses and remounting, the group heads back to Red Fern with booty and prisoners in tow. Once there the prisoners are turned over to the garrison and Bear’s Rage decides to request the service of the party in attempting to remove the bandits on the northern road to Howling. The group agrees to such a campaign, but says Bear’s Rage will have to speak with Emerald Shines on the matter first. Bear also says that the coffers of the garrison cannot currently afford the bounty on all the bandits, but three hundred schillings will be sent to Tail when the money is acquired from the kingdom. After selling a good bit of the food found in the hidden room to the local innkeeper, the party departs for Tail alongside Bear’s Rage and his two guards.

The trip to Red Fern is fast on horseback, and the heavily-armed party is not accosted at all on the way. Once arriving, Emerald greets the party with a feast in celebration of their victory over the bandits. It seems his men, being the ones to dislodge the bandit threat, was quite a coup for him, and he is quite pleased that his standing is rising in the world.

Bear speaks to Emerald about the party working the northern roads as hired mercenaries, and Emerald agrees to the deal, citing the fact that his ship he plans on using with the party has yet to be completed. The party returns the rented horses to Emerald as well as trading him all of their booty (food and linen) from the recent haul. Emerald decides that, between the booty and his rising reputation, he will supply each member of the group with their own horse which he purchases for them, along with heavy green cloaks to keep them warmer in the northern climates.

Switches agrees to continue along with the campaign, along with Eagle Fiercely Watches, and soon the party departs Tail and moves over to Howling itself. Cutting through Howling and following various paths up north, the party moves into the mountains. Various stops are made along the way as Bear’s Rage tells them they are going to the northern bandit campaign’s general’s camp where they can interrogate captured bandits in much the same way as they did in Red Fern.

There is a small village north of Howling called Broach. It is where one turns to take the mountain pass over the Dragon Spine Mountains. The group met a bard there named A Nest of Willow and Birch, which is shortened to Willow’s Nest in the north. He tells the group about a story about the Curse of the Mountain King which he believes is a history of the people who lived in the caves of Howling before men moved there. He has never heard specifically of stories involving Ratmen. He tells his story in payment for hearing their own story in how they cleared the Southern Road of bandits. Afterward, the group speculate on the news and motives of the bandits.

The only other thing of note which happens on the trip is a stopover at an inn which is being protected by an armed mercenary group who the innkeeper cannot really afford, but keeps around anyway. Various ugly looks are passed between the party and the mercenaries, but things stay civil.

Finally arriving at the General’s camp, the party is introduced to General Boar’s Hide, a burly fellow with a long beard who seems very gruff and overly serious. The party requests to interrogate the bandit prisoners, which the General allows, though he wishes to stay to watch the interrogation himself.

The two captured bandits are held in a small tent, and after having the guards vacate the tent the General and the party are left alone with the two men, one sane, and one not so quite sane. Marble performs some magical exorcisms on the sane man, while Bill uses the magical Skull found on the dog men at the church to reach out to the man to make him more likely to help the party. Marble sees the “hole in the head” effect on each man, but it is as the hole is melting and preying upon the men’s sanity in the process. Marble is able to free the man of his mental shackle, and the bandit immediately starts telling the party that he knows of a cave hideout nearby as well as the Master being located in the swamps to the north. Bill shifts the Skull’s power to the insane man and has Marble stop and exorcise this man before they continue speaking just in case there is an entity listening in on them. Once that is done, Bill tells the General and Bear’s Rage that the insane man can be done away with, as he is basically in a vegetative state.

The party decides to move on the cave complex and has the bandit lead them to its entry way. Sneaking around the sides of the cave entrance, Bill and Eagle spot two archer guards outside the cave, and Bill can also hear two other voices inside the cave. Bill and Eagle return to the party who has tied the bandit up to a tree and left him to wait for them. Bill formulates a plan of attack. Bill, Eagle, and Never will sneak up to the side of the cave in a flanking maneuver while Bear and Moonchaser form a defensive shield wall for Faster, Marble, and Red to fight from behind. Red will strike first, throwing a boulder near the closest archer, while Bill’s team waits for the men to emerge from the cave. If a large group comes out, the whole party will retreat away from the cave and form up; otherwise, Bill’s team will be responsible for taking out the men coming out of the cave. Everyone agrees to this plan, and the groups form up.

Red fires the first volley, a large boulder which smashes near the first archer and is followed up by a bow shot from Marble which takes the bandit out of the fight. The second archer jumps up and is shot down by a second arrow from Marble. The fray outside, though quiet, alerts the two men just inside the cave, and they give a warning to their fellows inside and then move out the mouth of the cave armed with axes. Eagle gives fly an arrow shot which pierces the farthest man and takes him down while Bill jumps from hiding and impales the second bandit through the shoulder with the Motrisvaul taken from the dog men under the church. Peeking into the cave, Bill can see nothing, so he calls up the group from down below.

After arriving at the mouth of the cave, the group forms a defensive line, and Red performs a scanning spell which lets him see nothing inside the cave at the moment. The group forms up with Moon and Bear in front leading with shields while Eagle and Marble stay behind them with bows out. Red, Bill, Switches, and the guards Never and Faster bring up the rear. The group stops short of the hallway opening out into a larger room with a hallway straight ahead and curving to the left for Red to once again scan the area.

Red’s scan finds a group of three men just around the corner to the right of the group, and Bill waves Bear and Moon around to push into them. The rest of the group fans out behind Moon and Bear, covering both hallways and the three men, but the party quickly overwhelms the three bandits in a flurry of blows and projectile fire.

Moving farther down the newest hallway, Red’s new scan shows a larger group of people in a new hallway to the left and potentially more to the right while an opening straight down at the end of the hallway remains unknown in its contents. Bill and Marble move near the left hand entry and see a group of people making their way down the narrow hallway. Bill waves Marble to the other side and Eagle and Moon move up to cover the opening creating a near impenetrable wall of steel for the bandits to try and pass through. The bandits, seeing the blocking motion, retire back down the hallway to hide.

Bill uses the bandit retreat to steal a glance into the room at the far end of the hall and is promptly met with multiple arrows fired toward him which manage to miss. Seeing a mass of five armored men , three of them in ringmail, in the room but no remaining bows Bill decides to push in now rather than risk being caught defending multiple directions in the narrow hallway outside. He charges into the bandit on the far right. Marble, seeing the charging motion of Bill, moves into the room also and is soon followed by Eagle and Moon.

The fight inside the room breaks down into a frenzied melee as Bill drops the bandit in front of him. Marble had dropped his bow and moved in on Bill’s left to help defend him and found himself matched against a ringmail-wearing bandit with a shield which seemed to deflect every attack Marble could throw. The bandit was left with little time to make a counter-offensive; however, he managed to use his shield to good effect even as Red joined in the fight at the doorway.

Bill, however, had another dog man hiding behind the ringmail clad bandits, and made a move to be rid of it just as it assailed Eagle with its foul mind-control magics. Eagle was left trembling, unable to attack or defend himself during the entirety of the fight. Bill moved to strike the dog man and found himself blocked by the largest of the ringmail-wearing bandits. With a mighty thrust, Bill shoved the magical spear head into the bandit and found that the blade of the spear sliced through the bandit’s armor as if it wasn’t even there. Moon and Red each felled a bandit, while Marble finally managed to score a leg wound on his man and dropped him to the floor where he was finished off.

The party crowded around the dog creature in an attempt to capture him, but the dog man fended off their stunning attacks and made a run for it. During his escape attempt, Bill managed to wound it in the leg, and Moon grappled it into submission, after which it was tied up and gagged/blindfolded.

Back in the hallway, Bear’s Rage and the guards held the entrance to the last room with the people there refusing to emerge from cover. Arriving from the recent battle with the bosses, the party decides to take the head of the human leader and roll it into the room with the remaining rogues. This move prompts the quick surrender of the rogues, and marks the fighting as finished in the cave.