Unprepared for a mental assault from persons unknown, the Aspect Party vacated the failing Koraki buffer zone after visions of betrayal incapacitated the Group save for Stoat… An occurrence that mirrored one which played out to deadly effect at the Inner Sanctum prison of the Aspect of Undeath. Concerned over these events, Maldus Communed with Selandi, proving Undeath’s innocence regarding the visions, but learning that the Party was being watched via Scrying and that his long-held crystal ball and associated intelligence Dokari were somehow a danger to the Group.
Meanwhile, Prince Sevlen had a new task for his agents, sending them northward to seek answers behind reports of kidnappings, murders and dark sacrifices with potential relation to their current dealings. The subsequent investigation cleared the innocent Order of Light cleric Senden Edarn of murder charges and revealed the involvement of the Church of Endless Night, as well as hobgoblins under the ultimate command of Azak Naggetrek, Sun Slayer of the Knight of the Black Pit…
Diaday, Twenty-second of Reaping, 1044 Y.K.
With their available information indicating the composition of Sulgaruk Vaktohg’s remaining hobgoblins as being divided into a number of smaller mounted units, the Party considered its plan of action very carefully. The loss of Vaktohg would surely have a sizable impact on the area’s Krangi, but to what result? Would the humanoids collect themselves and withdraw? Carry out hit and run attacks against Almven? Brood and scheme in the depths of the Voldorwoods perhaps?
Whatever the Group’s course, it would need to ensure the safety of Almven and its people, while retaining the Party’s ability to stand against any hostiles they might encounter. Lastly, there was one additional consideration, one the Group could not afford to neglect. Maldus’ commune with Selandi had revealed that the Party was being watched by way of scrying. If the hobgoblin aggressions in Korak and Cosdol were linked as it now appeared they were, observation by the enemy could prove problematic, and make things far more dangerous.
The discussion concluded with the decision that the Group would send a patrol to scout the area, leaving the rest of their number in Almven for security purposes. The members of the patrol – Maldus, Alamir and Rarnok – donned the few readily available amulets warding them from scrying and divination magic and set out alongside the local man Vrasvaln. A woodsman and trapper by trade, Vrasvaln was well-acquainted with the area and seasoned at reading tracks.
As a final precaution, Maldus also relinquished possession of Dokari’s Crystal Ball to Stoat, leaving the Party’s projected ally in the halfling’s care. Being immune to the effects of illusions and mental manipulation, the Aspect of Resolve had been deemed the best candidate to bear the orb, particularly in light of the response by Selandi during the recent commune that the item was in some way dangerous to the Group – not to mention its past connection to Argenon Remel, now known to be The Dark One’s Aspect of Torment.
The patrol headed first to the scene of the previous day’s battle. If any of the riding squads had returned, their tracks would tell the Party how many had come, which way they had gone, and other useful pieces of information. From there the Group could formulate its strategy in response to the situation – assuming one were even necessary. With any luck, the hobgoblins would be so awed by the efficiency of the strike against Vaktohg that they would be fearful and abandon the area.
Arrival to the site of Sulgaruk’s fall however, gave the patrollers a different sense, one that hinted at further trouble and the eventual need to locate and deal with the remainder of the humanoids. The bodies, previously left in the aftermath of being relieved of equipment, had been piled neatly and given some manner of burning funeral. Any tracks left by the perpetrators had been carefully removed, and the various tents and tools of encampment were gone.
Concern over the relative proximity to the woodcutter’s camp bid the patrol to turn there next, hoping that all was well and to learn of any sightings the men might have concerning the hobgoblins or the burning of the bodies. Such hopes were dashed however, as entry into the mill’s clearing quickly exposed another pile of bodies – that of the local woodcutters. The patrolling Aspects bid Vrasvaln stay and dismounted, drawing weapons and moving to examine the area.
The attack had been brutal, with no effort made at concealment. Positions of the fallen men illustrated a quick encircling of the mill, with the majority of the cutters simply rounded up and put down. Stragglers and fleeing persons were slain where they had been overtaken, save for one grouping that had been given a particularly gruesome end on the large blade of the log-splitter. The doors of the office and equipment storage areas were busted open and all was deathly quiet.
Nearing the first storage structure, the trio of Aspects found themselves assaulted from above, as the boiling contents of a large container were poured over the roof’s edge and onto them. The scolding material served as the first avenue of attack, with the resulting shouts of surprise signalling the concealed ambushers about the yard that the time had come. Krangi warriors quickly emerged from their hidden places around the camp and moved to fight.
Amidst the mid-charge arrows and a second boiling attack from above, the Aspects cast their augmentation spells as quickly as they could, gaining haste, enlarge person and a host of other temporary enhancements. The rooftop boiler fell first, as Alamir made certain to repay his heated deed with steel. Rarnok meanwhile, called upon his powerful magics, conjuring a deadly cloud kill effect on top of nearby enemies. Maldus tended to his allies’ wounds, undoing damage inflicted to the Aspect of Valor by coordinated pole-arms.
With their position slowly improving, the Aspects pressed the attack, utilizing their spells and weapons to maximum effect. A Flash of Lightning from the Aspect of Life robbed three adversaries of their sight, while the Aspect of Time used his foresight to avoid a Web from the hobgoblin’s sorcerer. Valor maintained the rear position, wielding Serun’s Blade to lethal effect. Despite their initial advantage, the Krangi were losing ground, and warriors steadily.
A horn blast signaled mounted reinforcements as the humanoids sought to turn the tables back to their favor. Black powder explosives cratered the ground near Maldus, being thrown at the Aspect of Life from atop a large pile of logs. Alamir, finished with his current foes, raced toward the newly arriving enemy, charging the mounted combatants head on and engaging them without hesitation. In the meantime, the Aspect of Time had bested the last of his present targets and moved to assist Valor.
Siccing a Spiritual Weapon on his grenade-slinging opponent, Maldus unseated the oncoming riders with a powerful Searing Light, cutting them down to size just in time to be cut down by Alamir and Rarnok. With their reinforcements bested, the last of the humanoids attempted escape, as the enemy captain escorted the blinded hobgoblins alongside his mount. A Wall of Thought from the Aspect of Life ended the affair quickly, bringing the three disabled warriors to the Group’s mercy. The captain, clearly the organizer of the woodcutter slaughter, was put down for his crime on the spot.
The patrol’s return to Almven was a hectic one, as the sight of hobgoblin prisoners frightened the public, and word that the beasts had annihilated the woodcutter’s camp enraged the town’s men and agonized the women. A growing mob spoke of retribution and killings, but was abruptly cowed as one particularly vocal local was given a flatblade taste of The Civilizer, Serun’s Blade – proving the sword to be aptly named. The stunned public did nothing as Alamir moved past them and to Stoat for an update.
For his part, Maldus strived to help the public, Sending to Nilu regarding material components for as many Reincarnations as the elder druid could muster. If he were to have his way, the Aspect of Life would see to it that every workman slain at the mill was returned to life. Hilg’s former mentor, occupied in talks with the water elemental Tide following the Party’s last request, made no promises, but offered to do what he could.
Elsewhere, Stoat informed Alamir of events during the patrol’s absence, including the loss of the day’s Scrying on tracker Holcrel due to Dokari’s refusal. The elven illusion had apparently felt slighted at the prospect of being left behind and had forsaken the task for the day. Was this the beginning of the orb’s danger spoken of during the Commune…?