What party happened under these wattles?
At the end of the last session, our heroes had successfully destroyed a disease cult near Separation City, though at a high cost in disease and wounds, and without capturing its ultimate leader. They now knew, however, that this leader could be found somewhere in the distant town of Store, and had a better idea of his plans for Separation City.
In this session, we find our PCs at loose ends for the first time since they arrived in Separation City. Greeted as heroes by the residents of the town and having restored the healers to their rightful place, the PCs were able to relax and receive some much-needed healing, as well as take part in a great Steamlands tradition: the wattle-viewing party. All around Separation City the wattle trees had come into bloom, and the city had turned golden in the reflected light of their heavy blossoms. Parties were held under stands of these trees, and the PCs were invited to every party they passed on account of their heroic deeds. In between visits to the healers, the whole party was able to remain constantly drunk and fed.
Unfortunately, most members of the party were too sick to travel, and so after three days of convalescence it fell to only two of the group – the elven scout, Laren and the dwarven troll-slayer Azahi – to leave town on their next mission, while the other party members rested to recover from the ghoulpox they had been inflicted with in the previous adventure.
The next mission began easily enough: as part of their reward for freeing the town of its disease cult, the party had been offered the services of a single healer, to live permanently at their onsen. Laren and Azahi took on the responsibility of escorting the healer to the onsen, and also checking their onsen was still functioning well. They took with them the 10 monkey-men who they saved from pustulent death, for these monkey-men had now bound themselves to the party and would not leave them.
Laren and Azahi and their charges reached the onsen with no trouble after a short journey, and soon had the healer resting in the onsen. The monkey-men they dispatched to the steam valley to the rear of their spa, with the intention of establishing a new village there. The monkey-men would grow mangoes and keep watch over the narrow valley.
The next morning the pair learnt that the onsen’s remaining guards had seen evidence of goblin patrols in the hills nearby. They set out immediately to find these goblins and destroy them. Azahi’s grudge against greenskins is so furious that he refused to wait for the convalescing party members, but insisted that just the two of them go to war, taking with them three monkey-men as support.
They soon found goblin trails, and Laren was easily able to track them to their lair, a small cave system in the hills a few hours’ march from the onsen. Even though these goblins appeared to have been resident for at least a year without causing trouble, Azahi refused to leave them be, and so they attacked. The plan was simple: Azahi moved as stealthily as he could to the cave mouth and attacked the two goblins on guard there, with Laren providing covering fire. The battle opened with the immediate death of the first goblin, but the second raised a ruckus and refused to back down, and as Azahi engaged him a giant spider descended from the cliff face above the cave mouth and attacked him from behind. Unfortunately, Laren’s first shot missed spider and goblin and skewered Azahi perfectly in the back, and before she could find her aim she had already badly wounded her own ally.
Fangs the size of milk bottles…
The battle lasted a couple of rounds, and though Azahi was in no danger of losing while Laren supported him, from deeper in the cave network they could hear more goblins preparing for battle. Azahi had only just dispensed with the spider and the remaining goblin when a mob of four more goblins came charging into the cave from a narrow tunnel at its darkest recess. These met their immediate doom on his falchion, and though he could hear more sounds from below, none charged up the stairs. He called in Laren, and they braced themselves for more battle.
A tunnel led from the rear of the cave deeper into the complex, heading down in a spiral to a lower cave in which they could hear eight goblins preparing for battle. Thinking it wise to act first, Laren used her elven trick shot, firing an arrow that curved perfectly down the spiraling tunnel to meet its mark somewhere in the deeper darkness. They heard a scream, a goblin yelling “no, don’t do that…” followed by a gurgle, smashing glass and a sudden explosion of flames. After some more screams and the sound of barrels of water being splashed around, the goblins came charging up the tunnel. Only six emerged into the top cave, and one of them obviously badly burnt; Laren and Azahi slaughtered them at the tunnel mouth, though not before Azahi took some more damage. Though they were winning, Azahi was taking wounds and refusing to back down, his expression grimmer than Laren had ever seen and his resolve firm. They would die here, or conquer.
They descended the tunnel and emerged into a scene of chaos. The cave at the tunnel bottom was a guard room, largely empty but for some weapon racks and a table. Lying on one side of the room were the badly burnt corpses of two goblins, surrounded by smashed lanterns and soaked in water. It was clear what had happened here: Laren’s trick shot had mortally wounded one, who had staggered into another. The arrow protruding from the first had penetrated deep into the second, and in his agonized flailings he had knocked over the lanterns that stood on a rack next to him, accidentally torching both of them and spilling some flaming oil onto a third. The remaining goblins had upended all their barrels of drinking water to douse the flames, and then in their rage they had all charged unthinking up the tunnel to their doom. The cave stank abominably of burning oil and roasted goblin, a stench that Laren had never experienced and Azahi remembered only from the time his family, starving, had been forced to grill a plague-ridden fox one winter. Both of them, gagging, fled the cave and headed deeper into the complex.
At the bottom of the tunnel they found a supply cave, common in many goblin complexes: an underground stream ran through the middle of it, and next to the stream was a pile of mouldering giant mushrooms, giving off a dim phosphorescent light. Crates of old loot and a few goat carcasses littered the room, but there was nothing of interest. However, Azahi remembered an old tale amongst dwarves, that with the right preparation the gobins’ mushroom lights could be rendered explosive; and Laren, using her nature lore, was able to come up with a rough concoction of urine, salt and blackpowder that would do the job. They prepared a single bottle of exploding goblin-mushroom, and followed the tunnels out of the storeroom into the deeper darkness.
Here they found their target: the goblin chieftain with the last eight warriors of his tribe. Azahi waited some way up the tunnel, and Laren threw her exploding mushroom bottle from the shadows. This landed right amongst the chieftain and his crew, exploding with a ferocious light and stench. Laren fled up the tunnel to take a position behind Azahi; moments later the eight goblins came charging up the tunnel, their chieftain behind them. Four of these goblins were badly burnt, but the chieftain was taking no chances. He sent them ahead urging them on at sword point. He was a huge beast of a goblin, fully half again the size of a normal man, decorated in a bizarre mix of stolen armour, heavily scarred and almost black with years and grime. His beady eyes shone with rage in a grizzled face twisted in a rictus of hate; his left shoulder-guard was covered with the dried skin of a dwarven face badly removed from its hapless owner. Smoke drifted from various parts of his burnt clothes and hair, and he screamed in rage as he ascended the tunnel.
The eight goblins met Azahi with a thunderous crash, and in moments he had dispensed with four of them in a frenzy of short, savage chops of his falchion. Laren skewered several of them, but the chieftain charged into the gap Azahi had made, beating his own allies aside as he entered the fray. Unfortunately Azahi’s wounds were too great for him; before he could deliver the killing blow the chieftain felled him with a massive chop across the back of the head, leaving only Laren to finish the battle. As he stood baying his victory over the slumped troll-slayer, she shot him in the face. Even this didn’t kill him, but it did draw him back to his rage, so that instead of severing the head of his defeated foe he charged for the elf. She ran daintily up the tunnel, leading him back to the monkey-men where they stood guard; they surged past her to join combat, and she turned and fired back into the fray.
The chieftain was brave and brutal, but he was already badly wounded and no match for three enraged monkey-men. One he slew with a cruel and vicious slash to the shoulder, but then the other two were onto him, ripping and tearing and hooting and smashing, and they did not stop until nothing remained of him but a bloody smear. Laren stepped over the remains and ran to Azahi’s aid, relieved to find him still alive though bloodied. His injured state saved her from witnessing the grimmest part of a troll-slayer’s duty: had he been well at the end of battle he would have proceeded into the breeding caves at the rear of the complex and slaughtered all the women and children too, but he could only sit slumped in exhaustion against the wall and watch in helpless anger as those innocents fled up the tunnel to take their chances in the wilderness.
Laren and Azahi had prevailed, but at great cost: Azahi nearly dead and one monkey-man lost. They gathered up the goblins’ pitiful treasure and left the cave to return to the onsen, where their newly-installed healer would be able to repair Azahi. Laren was uninjured but for this, and for her first hasty shot into battle, there was bad blood between them, the old enmity of elves and dwarves briefly rekindled. Nonetheless, they had proven themselves a good team.
Back at the onsen they were greeted by a messenger from Separation City, who told them bad news: rumour was abroad of a stranger in the graveyards, and the lady von Jungfreud suspected a survivor of the disease cult still lurked about town. She wanted Azahi and Laren to return to town to investigate and capture this last survivor.
Truly there is no rest for the righteous; nor, indeed, for our heroes…
Photo credit: the image is by Andrew Babington.