In an effort to locate slain Knight of the Black Pit Sulgaruk Vaktohg’s remaining hobgoblin forces without compromising the safety of the people of Almven, the Aspect Party had sent a patrol into the nearby woodlands, guided by the hired local trapper Vrasvaln. The three-man squad, comprised of Maldus, Rarnok and Alamir, initially found no sign of the humanoids – instead discovering their previous campsite to be dismantled.
From there the search had turned east, to the site of Almven’s lumber yard, where the grizzly discovery of the butchered woodcutters preceded an ambush attack by only moments. Despite the Aspect Trios’ victory over the Krangi aggressors, more hidden humanoids remained, leaving the Party to decide what to do with the felled lumberjacks, and the perturbed projection waiting for them back in town…
Pelsday, Twenty-third of Reaping, 1044 Y.K.
Breaking from their morning meal, the Party was met first by Almven’s constable Grutind Nornellen. He inquired as to the partrol’s battle at the lumber yard and desired to know if further danger existed. Though the fight had neutralized nearly half of the known threat, there had been no trace of the rest, and clearly the humanoids were willing to spill blood. This being despite the fact that slaughtering innocents was something of an off-color move for the hobgoblins, who were widely reputed to hold honor in the highest regard.
With the briefing complete, the Group moved outside, learning that the crowd of the previous day had reassembled. However, where there had before been anger and outrage, there was now the solemn quiet of determination, hope and prayer. Word was that news of Maldus’ pledge to seek a return to life for every fallen man had spread, and in response the public had gathered to collect the casualties and prepare them for renewed existence.
For his part, Nornellen would be accompanying the citizens to the lumber yard, as would a number of his deputies. The Order of Light cleric Senden Edarn had also volunteered to go, and many of the town’s shops and businesses would be closed as their proprietors or workmen went along. Cleansing the scene of the massacre had become a large affair, with the majority of the townsfolk involved in one way or another. As a show of their support, the Party offered the workers the services of Cosdrelita, who had proven capable of providing inspiration in times of need.
The morning was also marked by the arrival of a stranger to Almven, a man whom Maldus recognized immediately, and whom the cleric of Selandi had not seen in quite some time… he who had been the Aspect of Life’s friend as a boy, Daresh. In those days, merely a simple Dejy boy of the Voldorwoods, Daresh had obviously undergone drastic changes, having given up his tribal lifestyle to study the arcane art of wizardry at some point prior.
Reminiscence filled the earliest part of their conversation, followed by recountings of more recent days and finally descriptions of what had drawn each to Almven. The wizard admitted his intention to locate Maldus following his release from a lengthy ordeal of forced study alongside a powerful family artifact. News of the Party’s passing had been given to him by Ranva Tornel in Durven, directing him northward until the present, in which the two now stood together.
Maldus introduced his friend to the Party, and upon hearing of the wizard’s desire to assist wherever possible, the Group provided him copies of the rituals given to them by Soother Vrasthaldol and Champion Veldor in Crandolen – with direction to research the material as exhaustively as he was capable of. If the search led him to any information on “Aspects” or “empowered beings”, that material was to be transcribed and given to the Party at the earliest opportunity.
Nodding his agreement, Daresh collected his belongings and departed the Group’s company, leaving them to reunite with hired woodsman Vrasvaln to head out once more. Per their earlier agreement during the constable’s briefing, the Party would travel with the workforce as far as the lumber yard and see that all was safe before making off to conduct their search. The journey, though short displayed to the Aspects that additional weight of the crystal ball would encumber Stoat, so the companion item was returned to Maldus, much to Dokari’s liking.
With the workforce’s arrival to the lumber yard, the expected gasps and cries of pain were joined by a shocked scream and the shouting of alarm from townsfolk. Across the mill, a large mounted hobgoblin approached, calmly and openly. The Party reacted quickly, spurring their mounts onward to reach the humanoid before Nornellen’s deputies. As they neared the Krangi warrior, the Group noted his lack of worry, and exchanging of words soon followed.
The Hobgoblin, Tugazh, admitted to his part in the killing of the woodcutters, and stated it as being in payment for the strike against Sulgaruk Vaktohg and those lost in his defense. When threatened with retribution for his crime, the humanoid revealed his “ace in the hole”, a lone lumber yard worker who had been spared and taken captive. If Tugazh were harmed or prevented from returning to his fellows, the hostage human would be slain.
Angrily, the Group listened as Tugazh issued a challenge against those who had killed Sulgaruk Vaktohg and later the warriors sent to avenge him. He stated it as a “fight to the death” – with the ones responsible matched against Tugazh and his remaining companions. Without fear or hesitation, the Aspects boldly informed the hobgoblin that his challenge was for them, and that they hereby accepted with the utmost enthusiasm.
Having accepted Tugazh’s challenge, the Party followed as the hulking hobgoblin led them away from the camp and toward the deeper Voldorwoods. He explained that the fight would be an open and fair one, and as such was located far from Almven, so as to avoid interruption and unnecessary collateral damage.
Two full days of travel were required to reach the site, so the Group maintained eyes on Almven through Sending spells sent to Cosdrelita cast by Alamir. In the mid-morning of the third day, the Party and Tugazh reached the designated area and the challenge battle was set to begin…
Homeday, Twenty-sixth of Reaping, 1044 Y.K.
Using a small carried horn to sound the Group’s arrival, Tugazh announced that the challenge battle would now begin. He rode forward into the trees and shouted for his comrades to attack. The humanoids stepped forth from their concealed places and moved through the trees and brush toward the Party. Blocked line of sight from the heavy plant-life made an accurate count of the Krangi impossible, so the Aspects could only wait until their enemy drew close.
Maldus was the first of the Group to act, summoning a Blade Barrier to create a whirling wall stretching away from the Party, cutting the oncoming enemy into two lesser groupings. Stoat meanwhile used the casting as a diversion to hide himself within heavy vegetation nearby and readied his bow for action. The newcomer Arkus stood nearest to the hidden Halfling, while Alamir and Rarnok took up position to cover the opposite side of the wall from the first pair.
In similar manner to the previous battles against Vaktohg’s forces, the tables were squarely in the Party’s favor. Arkus proved once more his blade was a welcome addition to the Group and Stoat remained a deadly master of ranged combat. The armored behemoths Alamir and Rarnok were as juggernauts against the rushing enemey, and Maldus continued his role as invulnerable life-giver with offensive magic to spare.
As the all-too-familiar scenario played itself out, a new combatant entered the fray, disrupting the standard chain of events and adding a new degree of complication to the encounter. Firing off both Fireballs and Lightning Bolts, the Large form of a Horned Devil emerged from the treeline, flying overtop of the Group and lashing down on them with his heavy spiked chain. The Aspect of Valor felt the first sting of the chain, followed quickly by Life – who promptly found himself stunned by the evil creature’s attack.
The Aspect of Time moved next, placing an Invisibility spell on the stunned Selandi-worshipper, removing him from the enemy’s view – and hopefully from the line of fire as well. To Alamir he gifted the spell of Flight, and followed his ally into the air immediately after. On the ground, Arkus and Stoat maintained the Party’s position, continuing the battle against the remaining hobgoblins – now far fewer in number than when they began.
Despite the difficulties, things appeared stable enough; but the devilish rival had one more trick up his sleeve. An aura of fear sent the Aspects of Valor and Time into a flying flight of panic, freeing the Devil up to direct his attack against Arkus and the Aspect of Resolve. The grounded Party members could only just finish the last of the humanoids off in time to meet their new foe. Worse still, they were outside the range of Maldus’ area effect Aspect healing pulse, and with the stunned cleric invisible, had no means to locate him.
Unflinching, Stoat held position and activated his Belt of Battle, granting himself unmatched alacrity. The magic of the garment enabled him to launch a veritable hailstorm of projectiles from his heavily enchanted shortbow, a fact viewed most regrettably by the wicked chain-wielding devil. Arkus charged in next, resisting the fearful aura that had gripped his companions and slicing into the monster.
The devil however, was not to be so easily defeated. Injured, but unbroken, the beast raced past Arkus, bringing the wrath of his chain to bear on Stoat, scoring a solid hit and stunning the Halfling Infiltrator as well. Arkus, the newest member of the Group, now stood alone against the monstrous devil. The combatants squared off briefly, and finally engaged one another. Though a solid swordsman, and powerful in his own right, the Human was no match for the devil, and fell with a final swing of the chain.
Coming free of the stunning effect at last, Maldus surveyed the scene quickly and found the straights dire indeed. Risking his safety, he called upon his powerful magic to smite the creature down. The move removed him from the unseen state of invisibility, and fizzled against the devil’s innate resistance. Like Arkus before him, the Aspect of Life now stood against the Horned Devil alone. Tense moments passed as Maldus avoided swing after swing of the vicious spiked chain. With his spells resisted, he could do little but hope that the fear effect would wear off of Alamir and Rarnok before the beast got in a lucky strike.
Though the impairment on the Aspects of Time and Valor remained, one effect did wear off… that of the stun on Stoat. Striking anew, the Aspect of Resolve rejoined the fight, aiding Maldus against the devil and helping him to bring the wicked horned horror to its end. With the contest finally decided, only questions remained. The first? Where was the hostage…?