Part 9: Chapter SevenAfter sufficient poking and prodding by Athtar, the group is finally ready to pursue Phillip. They head west along the road toward the Dragon Statues that are the closest thing to a town gate for Dragonholt.
Braxton is leaning against the black dragon statue, a knife in one hand and half an apple in the other. "There you are," she says, wiping the knife on her breeches and slipping it into a sheath at her belt. "Let's be off quickly, I'm worried for Phillip."
The party passes beneath the twin dragon statues and begins their hike toward Eventide Forest. Urk turns back once as they go, in time to see a cloud pass around the sun and cast the statues into shadow. "THAT PROBABLY NOT GREAT OMEN."
Starting the questbook "Whispering Leaves"!
They trek west along the road from Dragonholt, passing through the orchards and rocky plains until reaching the edge of the Eventide Forest. They follow the main road on a long loop around the steep cliff face that forms one border of the forest, trading time for a better chance of finding some sign of Phillip - no one on horseback would have taken the direct path.
Two time passes on the quest timer for each time taken today in the village
After perhaps an hour of travel, they come across the first sign that something might be amiss. A normally gentle brook is swollen far beyond its banks. Phillip's path would have crossed the stream at a ford here, but there's no sign of the path under the churning brown waters. Some hundred paces downstream is a tangle of roots and boughs, perhaps from where the flooding knocked down a tree.
A) Attempt to cross the stream here
B) Look for a safer way across
C) Examine the area for any sign of Phillip and Talbot
Minar looks across the choppy waters of the stream and frowns. "This river doesn't look all that fordable, to tell you the truth."
"They were on horseback," Athtar offers. "That would make the crossing easier."
"Easier for them, not for us," Minar shoots back.
"URK CONFIDENT BETTER FORD COULD BE UP OR DOWN RIVER, BUT NEED TIME TO FIND." The orc sage glances at the position of the sun. "URK NOT FEEL GREAT ABOUT TRADEOFF URK PRESENTED WITH."
"Are we even sure they came this way? It'll be a big enough waste of time and pain in the ass crossing this thing once, if we have to double back it's going to take all day."
"Well we can't spend all day scouring the near bank either," Athtar retorts.
"No need." The party turns and sees Deepmind kneeling in the dirt. "Already got the trail."
Deepmind has Awareness, therefore Time does not pass
She points to the soft riverside earth at a set of hoofmarks. Two horses passed this way yesterday morning, and then came back later in the evening. The hoofprints moving toward Eventide Forest are deeper than the ones coming back.
The trail plunges directly into the tumultuous stream here. This is where Phillip crossed, but the water looks rather dangerous after the recent rain.
"So we do have to ford the river," says Aria, cautiously. Athtar has already begun shifting around his gear in preparation.
"Urk's probably right about there being another ford..." Minar suggests, but his confidence has mostly drained.
A) Ford the stream here
B) Look for another way across
The water is deeper than it appeared and the current stronger. Many times during the crossing one of the party loses their footing and staggers into stones or drowning trees, splashing into the water and soaking their packs.
Everyone loses one stamina. Anyone without either athletics, endurance or survival loses two additional stamina
Urist, bringing up the rear, pulls himself dripping onto the far shore and collapses for a brief rest, while around him the rest of the party pants and wheezes.
"Well, at least it was quick," Minar sullenly mutters, squeezing the water from his boot.
Sufficiently recovered, the party continues on to the Tree of Tales.
"It seems peaceful," says Braxton. "You'd never know we were fighting for our lives here not that long ago." The group files into the site of their earlier battle, the great oak seemingly unconcerned with their comings and goings.
Aria looks over the clearing for obvious signs of Phillip or his manservant cum bodyguard, Talbot. The clearing is ringed by a handful of paths, each stretching out into the forest. "I don't see anything. Do you think maybe-"
Braxton gasps and, following her line of sight to something large and dark, adds her own gasp. It's a corpse - a human man in Lady Regina's livery - Talbot.
"Well, shit," sighs Minar, kicking a rock.
Braxton watches the clearing vigilantly as Urist and Urk crouch down to examine the body. They were wrong: the man is still breathing, just barely, and his eyes snap open with a crazed stare.
"The young master," breathes Talbot. Each breath burbles in his throat, as if through water. The arrows protruding from his chest rise and fall as he reaches for Urist with a fumbling hand.
"A potion!" Urist hisses, wrestling with the dying man. "He must have a potion, quickly!"
"TOO LATE FOR THAT," Urk intones, grim-faced. "MAN WILL DROWN BEFORE LUNGS COULD HEAL."
"Bandits. They came," he wheezes, "out of the forest." His free hand motions in a vaguely eastern direction. "Their leader wanted Phillip... alive... I drew my sword, but... too slow... Tell her ladyship..." Talbot lapses into silence, lies back, and breathes no more.
Braxton cups her hand over her mouth in grief. Urist respectfully closes the man's eyes. "We should notify the lady and the village guard on our return."
"How terrible. Master Phillip is alone with those Bandits," says Braxton.
Athtar seems not to notice the pall hanging over the party, his gaze fixed on the easterly direction Talbot had indicated. "There must be some trail to follow. Come, there's nothing more we can do here."
A) Search the clearing for more clues
B) Examine the path for tracks
"Hold on just a moment, now," says Urist, getting to his feet. "There's still quite a lot of forest left in that general direction, any clue we could find around here might set us on the right track."
"Like, maybe some tracks?" asks Minar, with a meaningful glance toward the trails leading into the woods. "That I could track, in those tracks over there?"
Urist sighs and ignores his impatient companions. As he approaches the tree, he sees a modest leather satchel propped against the trunk. He crouches down to examine it and soon concludes it must belong to Phillip, as it contains a small leatherbound book emblazoned with his house's heraldry. It also holds an uneaten meal of apples, sausage, and cheese, a pen knife, pen and ink, and other odds and ends.
Urk pokes her head over Urist's shoulder. "FOOD COULD BE POISONED. URK WILL CHECK." She relieves Urist of the discarded lunch while the Dwarf thumbs his way through the journal.
"This might be useful," he says, waving the book over his head.
Minar snorts. "Yeah, maybe he wrote about being kidnapped mid-ambush."
Braxton leans toward Aria and whispers "Is he always like that?" The bard just shrugs.
As Urist straightens from the satchel he finds an arrow embedded in the trunk of the great oak. He pulls the arrow free and finds that the wound in the tree looks fresh, the wood a shining white. The arrow is fletched with grey goose feathers and seems well made.
A) Examine the paths for tracks
B) [Athletics] Climb the tree in search of other clues
C) [Devotion] Commune with the spirits of Eventide Forest
D) Read through Phillip's journal (time will pass)
Minar crouches by each path on the edge of the clearing, looking for signs of passage. Behind him the rest of the party mills, poking and prodding at bits of the clearing or scraps of evidence.
A heavy boot print and scuff marks in the soft earth distinguish a northwestern path from the others. Discarded in the leaf-litter nearby is a dagger marked with Phillip's family crest. "I've got the trail," Minar calls over his shoulder, before discretely pocketing the dagger.
As he straightens up from the dirt and the party files in from behind, Minar spots movement and a flash of red in the trees! Someone or something is there, moving away from him.
A) Call out for whoever it is to stop!
B) [Athletics] Leap quickly to intercept!
C) [Survival] Move cautiously and track whoever or whatever it was.
Aria sprints past Minar into the trees and sees a human-like figure fleeing through the leaves away from the party. Ignoring the calls of her partymembers to slow down, she pursues and is quickly on her heels. With a great leap, she throws herself upon her, and her momentum sends them both sprawling to the ground.
Aria loses one stamina
Aria looks down to see she's caught a yowling and spitting Hyrrinx woman. Her brown fur is mottled with grey, and her tufted ears are tucked flat against her head in what she assumes is an expression of hostility and fear.
"I didn't have anything to do with what happened to those humans!" she growls. "Let me go!" Her posture and demeanor are threatening, but she is clearly favoring her left leg.
The rest of the group catches up, huffing and puffing. Deepmind comes up short a few steps before falling awkwardly in step behind Urist, seemingly hiding behind the broad Dwarf. "OH RIGHT," says Urk, appraising Aria's captive. "URK REMEMBERS FORESHADOWING ABOUT HYRRINX FROM SONIA'S JOURNAL."
"Great! Got any ideas?" Asks Aria has she wrestles to keep the stranger under control.
A) "RELEASE HER"
B) "WHAT HAPPENED TO HUMANS?"
C) "WHO YOU? WHAT DOING?"
Don't leave Urk hanging, now.
"JUST NEED A LITTLE INFORMATION ABOUT HUMANS," reassures Urk. "WHAT DID HYRRINX SEE HAPPEN? WHERE THEY GO?" Aria releases her grip slowly on their captive as a show of good faith.
The hyrrinx woman edges away from Aria cautiously. "Some of the bandits who live in the ruined castle to the northwest came, and they shot the old human. The human cub tried to run, but they beat it and took it toward their castle." She looks away, her ears and tail twitching. "There was an elf with them. He said something about 'the boss' wanting the cub alive."
With a sudden rush of speed, she climbs high into the branches of a nearby tree. She gives the party a final glare before leaping to another tree and moving west through the forest.
"We have to go after her!" Deepmind blurts out.
Athtar looks puzzled. "We have our lead, this castle lies to the northwest. We have no need to bother the hyrrinx further."
"She's... injured," Deepmind offers, struggling to keep her voice even. "Maybe she can tell us more about who the bandits are, or how to sneak up on the castle, or... something."
"BANDITS OBVIOUSLY WORK FOR KYRIC," mutters Urk.
A) Return to the trail and head northwest.
B) [Awareness] Follow after her
Athtar turns to Minar. "Do you have everything you need to locate this tower?"
Minar rubs his chin, considering. "Yeah, I think with the tracks and a direction I should have no trouble."
"Then I see no reason to bother the poor woman further. We have to keep to the mission."
Deepmind hisses in frustration, feeling around for an excuse, but as the moment passes and the Hyrrinx gets further away her shoulders merely slump down.
Athtar leads the group back toward the trail, where Minar soon finds the footprints again and tracks them toward the northwest, as expected. Before very long, he finds a silk handkerchief in the center of the trail. It looks like it's been trod into the mud, but when he smooths it out it has an elegant "P" embroidered in one corner.
The path turns to the north and follows along a winding brook. Upstream, the brook widens into a cliffside pond fed by a small but vigorous waterfall. The path winds around and up to a series of rocky cliffs and scrub-clad slopes. The pond and waterfall are surrounded by a moss-carpeted glade beneath a canopy of trees thick with hanging vines.
As the party approaches the pond, they hear shouting and crude laughter dimly from the direction of the waterfall.
"Someone's coming!" hisses Minar over his shoulder.
A) Hide nearby
B) Prepare to ambush the approaching bandits
C) Pretend to be a bandit
Deepmind steps brisly to the front of the group and makes a sharp gesture to the side of the path, in a thick ditch of undergrowth. The party quickly fumbles their way into the ditch, and after a moment's appraisal, Deepmind rolls in after them.
After a few moments, humanoid silhouettes behind the waterfall become two human women, emerging through the curtain of falling water. One carries an axe; the other has a bow slung over her shoulder.
The woman stops beside the pond, and the archer produces a pipe and begins to dig in a belt pouch. The axe-wielding bandit scans the glade with a discerning eye, watching for any signs of danger.
Deepmind has Stealth
The woman's gaze falls on the ditch. She squints and tilts her head as if analyzing what she is seeing, then turns her attention to her companion. "Don't smoke too long, Grey. Kyric will throw another tantrum if he thinks we're not patrolling like he asked."
"CALLED IT," says Urk, before Deepmind gives her a quiet kick.
"Ah to hell with Kyric and his new toy," says the archer. She packs some tobacco into her pipe, lights it, and takes a draw. What does he want with the kid anyway? Kidnapping a noble brat seems like a sure-fire way to bring the guard down on us."
"The family clearly has money. Maybe he thinks he can ransom the boy," responds the larger woman with the axe.
The archer takes a long draw on her pipe. "Nah," she says before exhaling two streams of silky, grey smoke through her nose. "I heard him shouting at the kid about rights or something. Threatened to kill 'im, Kavi. No ransom for a dead brat."
The larger woman shifts her weight. "Who knows why that posh bastard does anything," she mutters. "Come on. We need to patrol and report back."
The party waits until they follow the path downstream and out of sight. Finally, Deepmind emerges onto the trail and gestures toward the waterfall. Creeping quietly now, the group follows in her wake.
Passing under the waterfall leads to a trail running against a spray-sligh rock face and then through a narrow gap in the rock. The sound of the rushing water echoes and twists around the party as they descend, then climb again, and soon emerge into a narrow valley.
The valley is a rolling field of tall grass and wildflowers flanked by steep rocky slopes draped with leafy vines. At the far end of the valley stands a crumbling stone tower ringed by a low fieldstone wall. Both the tower and wall are spotted with patchy grey-green lichen. Trees grow along the valley's ridge, branches and vines hanging over the edge above the tower's roof. A low mist still lingers in the valley where the sun hasn't yet burned it away.
Standing stones and thick brush run along the valley's edge on the right. About half way between the party and the tower, a vine-choked aqueduct brings a trickle of water into the valley, feeding a still pool where a modest herd of goats is grazing.
Several bandits idle in a collection of tents and lean-tos not far from the tower, watching the goats and apparently napping. More bandits lounge by the tower's only door, clearly on guard. They don't seem to be extremely alert to infiltrators.
Athtar rests his hand on his sword hilt. "Let's see how these bandits fare with the element of surprise turned against them. Braxton, with me."
The Orc knight nods and moves to join the Elf when Aria rests a restraining hand on her shoulder. "Hold on! We still don't know for sure Phillip's here, if we charge straight in they could move him, or hold him hostage, or - I don't know, even kill him!"
Braxton hesitates, looking uneasily back to Athtar, who seems pensive. "What do you propose?"
Aria draws a finger along the edge of the valley. "We can move from cover to cover right up to the outer wall without being noticed, then be into the tower without raising the alarm and find Phillip. Then at least if we have to fight our way out we'll be able to protect the boy at the same time."
Athtar is apprehensive, looking down at the camp. "If we're spotted, the advantage of surprise is lost. If they get the chance to bring numbers to bear again..."
A) Fight through to the tower (Does not exhaust activation)
B) Sneak along the edge of the valley. (Does not exhaust activation
Following Aria's lead, the party ducks to the right and takes cover behind a weathered grey standing stone. None of the bandits seem to have noticed them, so they carefully rush from there to a ticket of what seems to blackberries.
"DEFINITELY BLACKBERRIESH," confirms Urk, through a full mouth.
Moving from cover to cover, they pick their way along the edge of the valley. The sun is somewhere behind the valley's walls, leaving them in chill, mist-shrouded shadows as they move like ghosts.
Pausing beneath the crumbling aqueduct, Aria peers out at the valley to take stock of the situation. Suddenly, there's a movement just behind her. She fumbles for her bow as something comes through the brush!
But it's just a goat.
The goat bleats and bounds past her, down toward the pond at the end of the aqueduct. There it joins several of its fellows.
Aria spots several bandits moving about the valley, some headed for the waterfall and others standing guard at the tower, but no indication that they've spotted the party yet.
Creeping past the aqueduct brings the group close to the edge of the pool it feeds and its grazing goats. One of the goats - the same one that startled Aria earlier - comes trotting toward her, bleating and flicking its stubby tail.
"Shoo!" Aria hisses, waving frantically as it nibbles at her cloak with dextrous lips, murmuring in its goaty way. Soon another goat approaches, then a third. The entire herd is starting to notice the commotion and bleats for food.
"At least you've finally found an appreciative audience," suggests Minar, as he tries to nudge one of the goats away from Aria's pack.
The bandits would have to be very stupid indeed not to notice all this caprine attention.
A) Attempt to sneak past the goats
B) Feed the goats
C) Startle the goats and cause a panic
As the goats gather curiously around the party, Athtar pulls a small crumb of bread from his pack and offers it to the closest animal. Seeing him munching happily away, the other goats immediately release Aria and rush closer to the Elf, their attention now completely fixed on him. Soon, he has a large and attentive goat audience.
"Now begone, goats!" Athtar barks suddenly, yelling and waving his arms in wild gestures, startling both the goats and the rest of his party. The herd sets off running toward the bandits and their encampment. In moments, the goats are knocking down tents, bleating from atop the wall around the tower, running hither and yon with boots dangling from their mouths, and generally causing mayhem. The bandits scurry after, shouting and flailing ineffectually in an attempt to restore order.
One of the goats, however, a brown-and-white buck with impressive curved horns, seems unimpressed with Athtar's gambit. He lowers his head and gives the party a proper charge, ramming into Urist and Minar then spinning away with a kick of his sharp little hooves.
"Come on!" shouts Athtar to his companions. "While they're dis-" but he soon realizes they're not listening to him, streaming past as the aggravated goat buck gives chase, bowling Athtar himself over with another butt of his head. He chases the group most of the way to the bandit tower before seeming satisfied that they've learned their lesson.
"At least the bandits are too busy to notice us," pants Braxton, peering cautiously back toward the milling goats from behind the wall.
"Oh, my gluteus maximus!" groans Urist, unceremoniously applying an ointment to his injured rear. "That goat had the precison of a surgeon!"
Aria scowls at Athtar, who tries to keep his embarrassment in check. "Next time you get a bright idea, try sharing it with the group first, okay?"
Everyone loses three stamina
Despite the hitch, the party has found themselves lurking beside the tower. The three bandits previously loitering in front of the door are now attempting to herd the panicked goats. The tower wall is partially collapsed, with an intact window leading to an upper floor. The walls are lush with vines that might be sturdy enough to hold up to weight.
Aria gives one of the vines an experimental tug before smiling. "Last one up has to buy dinner at the Swan tonight!"
"Dinner's free at the Swan," Minar points out.
"So it's an easy bet."
Urist takes one look at the multi-floor climb and winces, still rubbing his injured backside. "I hate to suggest the obvious, but could we consider taking the front door for once?"
A) Walk in through the unguarded door
B) Climb the outside of the tower
After a few more performative groans and complaints from Urist, Aria lets go of the vines with a sigh. "Okay, just this once, the front door."
The party sidles carefully up to the doorway, their eyes fixed on the chaos of the camp to ensure no one spots them on the brief sprint from the tall grass around the wall to the open and unguarded door. A goat trots by, unconcerned, while a bandit holding a blanket haphazardly around his bottom tries to corral him. No one is left to pay the party any mind, so they stroll inside.
The ground floor of the tower is seemingly two semicricular rooms. This room is lit by tall, narrow windows. A stone stairway winds up the external wall to the left. Aside from a few empty baskets, the room is devoid of furnishings.
In the middle of the central wall is a door that must lead into the other half of the ground floor. The door is made of sturdy wood, but there's no immediate signs that it is locked.
A) Examine the doorway
B) Climb the stairs
"Come on!" calls Aria over her shoulder, taking the stairs two at a time. "Last one up the stairs is buying dinner at the Swan!"
"You found a way to make the stakes even less exciting," calls Minar from behind as the rest of the party hurries up the steps.
The tower's upper floor is a single large room. The stairway winds along the west wall, down to the ground floor and up to higher rooms of the tower. The east wall is crumbling and mostly collapsed. A window is set into the south wall of the room, overlooking the valley.
Against the north wall stands a decaying weapon rack. A tarnished axe and a bent spear lie at rest, but nothing of real value. A large wooden table and a smattering of chairs are laid out near the stairway. A large wooden cage stands in the center of the room, crudely but solidley built, with a heavy iron padlock on it.
Less than ten time has passed
A young man - no, a boy - sits on the floor in the cage. His features are delicate, and his green eyes glimmer with unfallen tears. he looks up as the party approaches and leans agains the cage bars.
"Master Phillip!" Braxton cries out, relief evident in her voice. "Thank the spirits you're not hurt." Athtar, for his part, lets out a long breath.
Phillip's expression changes, now filled with hope. He pulls himself up to a crouch. "Oh thank goodness! You'll let me out of here, right? Please hurry; my mad uncle could return at any moment." The boy's eyes glimmer with tears again. "Oh thank you, thank you! I was certain I was going to die here!"
The cage is made of heavy wooden beams, apparently of more recent construction than the rest of the decaying tower. A heavy iron padlock secures the door, but the cage doesn't seem to be bolted down, secured only by its tremendous weight.
"STEP ASIDE, SCRAWNIES," grunts Urk, stepping up to the cage. "THIS ORC WORK."
A) Work with Braxton to lift the cage
B) Fetch the axe and break open the cage
Working together, Urk and Braxton each take hold of the cage along opposite sides. On three, they both lift with all of their might. The cage slowly tilts, a gap forming beneath. Phillip waits until the gap is large enough to crawl under. Then after a moment of hesitation, he quickly slips out of the cage.
The orcs drop the cage to the floor with a raucous crash. Athtar helps Phillip to his feet. "Thank you," he says, looking over the group. "Thank you all. Now let's get out of here."
"Not so fast!" The voice cuts through the room like a chill wind. The party turns as one and sees a broad-shouldered man with a scar running across his face standing at the stairs - the same man who led the bandits they encountered at the Tree of Tales just days ago. He holds a black crossbow in one hand, the point of its quarrel gleaming in the evening light. In the other, a scrap of red cloth.
"Uncle!" says Phillip. His eyes go wide as he stares at the crossbow. "So you've finally come to do it, then. Remember uncle, the spirits hate kinslayers worst of all."
"Stay behind me, Phillip," Athtar urges, stepping to protect the boy. His hand rests on his sword, but he has not drawn it.
"You've forced my hand, Phillip,." The bandit leader shakes his head. "If only you would see reason. Join me. Throw your support behind my claim. Support me over your sister as heir. Your mother was never supposed to be the Countess. That's my title she holds!"
The party begins inching around each side, hands resting on weapons, nervous glances passing back and forth. No one draws quite yet, but a growing rumble can be heard from Urk as she grips a rune inside her pocket.
"You're a monster, Uncle Kyric!" shouts Phillip, stepping out from behind Athtar to look his uncle in the eyes. "You killed Sonia, didn't you? Admit it!"
"Enough," says Kyric. He pulls the trigger on his crossbow.
A) Push Phillip out of the way
B) Step between Phillip and his uncle
(This one miiight be a little important, so I'll leave it up for at least the night and get to it some time tomorrow. Be sure to weigh in!)
Without hesitation, Athtar steps in front of Phillip. For an instant time seems to flow like honey, as the Elf watches with a curious sense of detachment as the glimmering point of Kyric's quarrel comes spiraling toward his chest.
Athtar does not have two of Agility, Brawling or Devotion
"Ath!" cries Deepmind.
The world turns red. There is not pain so much as blankness as Athtar finds himself lying on the cold stone floor. He tries to sit up and is suddenly immobile with pain, gasping and curling uselessly around the shaft protruding from his chest.
Athtar loses ten stamina
Athtar has been reduced to 0 stamina - his Agility skill is disabled
"Tch!" spits the bandit leader before turning on his heel and disappearing down the tower stairs, an arrow loosed by Minar missing him by inches. The wildlander races after the bandit and fires another arrow in vain down the steps, but Kyric is already away, gone to rally his men.
Deepmind kneels beside the fallen knight, hands hovering uncertainly over the bolt in his chest. "What do we do?"
"Don't remove it!" Urist yells, desperately clawing through his satchels. "The shock could kill him - we need to-"
Phillip kneels on the other side of Athtar and rummages in his pockets for something. He produces a small bottle filled with red liquid, breaks the wax seal, and brings the bottle to Athtar's lips. "This will help while the wound is fresh!" he explains, and once the potion trickles down the Elf's throat he nods to Deepmind. She hesitates just a moment, then grips the shaft with both hands and pulls.
Athtar's eyes shoot open as he lets out a wordless grunt of pain, but the bolt is not followed by a gout of blood. The wound is already beginning to stitch, pushing a broken link of chainmail out as it closes. "Come on, we'd better leave," says Phillip, and he and Deepmind carefully help Athtar to his feet.
Athtar regains 7 stamina
White as a sheet, the knight is still in no condition to move unassisted, so his two shorter helpers quickly pass him up to Braxton, who steadies her colleague. "You'll hear no argument from me," she agrees. "But how? I can already hear Kyric assembling his bandits." Sure enough, shouting and the clatter of weapons is building from below.
Urk and Minar work quick to toss a few chairs down the stairs below and overturn the table, blocking up the doorway. "WON'T HOLD LONG. OR NOT AT ALL IF KYRIC HAS MAGIC."
Phillip glances at the stairs leading higher in the tower and then at the party. "What do we do now?"
A) Ascend higher into the tower (does not exhaust activation)
B) Escape through the collapsed east wall (does not exhaust activation)
Deepmind rushes over to where the east wall of the room once stood and looks down at the ground between the tower and the valley wall. The outside of the tower wall is lush with vines. A couple paces from the base of the tower, the fieldstone wall rings the area. Beyond the wall, the ground is dense with leafy foliage. It might be possible to climb to safety, but the tower wall does not look greatly sturdy.
"They're breaking through!" Minar calls over the din, bow drawn in preparation for the first bandit to work his way over the debris. Aria draws up next to him, and Urk draws her runes. "If we're gonna do something we better do it fast!"
A) Climb down the vines
B) [Craftsmanship] Secure the climb with rope
Urist retrieves a length of rope from his pack and secures it to the heavy cage in the center of the room with trick knot. Then he tosses the rope out the hole in the wall and abseils down it, bracing his feet against the tower wall and sliding easily down to the ground.
Deepmind watches him sail down to the ground. "He can't find a healing potion when someone's shot but he can find fifty feet of rope on command?"
"LATER," Urk exclaims, running past to grab the rope and slide down. "OR NEVER? URK NOT PARTICULARLY CARE..."
One after the other the party drops down the rope, until only Deepmind is left, with the roars of the bandits now echoing up the stairs.
She hesitates just a moment, spotting the dropped red rag Kyric was holding when he came in. She quickly scampers over to the rage and snatches it, then leaps back to the rope and makes good her own escape.
Once the party and Phillip are safely on the ground, Urist gives the rope a proper tug and the trick knot releases, spilling the rope down to coil at his feet. He also spots movement above as several bandits approach the opening in the wall and look out over the valley. Fumbling, he grabs Phillip by the arm and scrambles back to cover.
Urist does not have Stealth
One of the bandits sees the party and tries to point them out to the others, with only middling success. Eventually, after shouting and pointing and eventually grabbing a compatriot's head and manhandling her until she's looking right at Urist, the bandit makes his point, and soon a group of miscreants issues forth from the tower's door.
"Run!" yells Aria, leaping up from the brush and legging it back out of the valley. Nobody argues as the rest of the party struggles to their feet, with Braxton all but carrying Athtar over her shoulder.
Some of the bandits have long, powerful bows, and they fall back and begin lobbing arrows at the party from halfway down the valley, their shafts thudding into the mist-shrouded earth around the group as they approach the cave leading to the waterfall.
There's a bark of pain from Urk as an arrow tip catches her in the shoulder. "URK OTHER SHOULDER!" she bellows, grabbing awkwardly at the shaft. "WHAT ARE THE ODDS BOTH SHOULDERS?"
Everyone without Agility loses three stamina
Urk is reduced to 0 Stamina, Athletics disabled
Stepping through the waterfall and into the forest glade, the party wastes no time before leading Phillip through the forest toward the southeast.
The group races through the forest, the bandits somewhere behind them baying like a pack of hunting hounds. They reach the great tree, where Talbot's body still lies, and Phillip points toward the path back to the village. "This way," he says.
Aria grabs Phillip by the hand and drags him in an entirely different direction, following the party's route out of the forest the last time the bandits were chasing them. This way features a difficult climb up a steep cliff, but it's faster than the path Phillip suggested and doesn't require crossing a rain-swollen stream.
After running through a narrow gulch and racing along a rocky ridge toward Dragonholt, the noise of the bandits dies out. When they reach the bottom of the cliff, Phillip pauses to catch his breath. "I don't hear any bandits," he says. "That was a good idea, taking this route. Of course they chased after me down the road I took to get here."
"We mostly just didn't want to cross the crick again," remarks Minar, before realizing what he said and quickly correcting. "Creek."
Aria laughs as her companion's face turns slightly red. "Normally I'd take the opportunity to make fun of you for that, but..." Athtar gives a groan as his half-healed bolt-wound seeps blood into his tunic, while Urk tries not to yell out as she works the arrow from her shoulder. "Why don't we go home instead?"
With no bandits actively shooting them this time, they carefully hike up the cliff face and make their way through the thinning forest toward the rambling orchards outside Dragonholt. Once they make it to the apple trees, they pause, and Phillip helps himself to a few early apples. "This is good," he says. "Those bandits never fed me; I'm starving."
Phillip suddenly chokes out a sob halfway through his apple. "Oh, spirits be good," he moans. "I was about to ask Talbot to remind me to pay the farmer for these apples. But Talbot's dead now." Phillip folds in half, his half-eaten apple rolling away. "Sonia and Talbot, and damn near me. How many more corpses will it take for my snake of an uncle to be satisfied?"
Aria moves to comfort the boy, but before she can, Phillip wipes at his face, blinking away his tears, and straightens up. "Enough," he says, fresh resolve flashing in his eyes. He pushes away from the apple tree he'd been leaning against and tugs at his tattered finery. "I can fall all to pieces later, when I'm safely home."
The party continues through the orchard and passes beneath the dragon statues. Somehow, the statue of black stone seems larger and more fearsome than it did when they passed beneath it earlier. Shaking off the thought, they reach the village green. The bandits wouldn't dare chase them into the village. Hopefully.
"Whispering Leaves" is complete!
(Good job saving Phillip! There'll be a short break before we resume day three in the village, so give some thought about what you'd like the party to get up to. Probably some rest and relaxation will be in order with all the damage they've taken.)
Man, we took a ton of damage this time around. We did rescue the kid, so yay for us. I'm guessing to recover disabled skills, we have to let the injured ones get to full stamina?
One disabled skill is healed per character per night, so these injuries should heal right up, but be warned - if someone gets that injured early enough in an adventure and takes more hits, every hit (taken as a whole, -3 stamina isn't three hits) disables another skill.
Epsilon Moonshade posted:
I come back from a few days away from SA to see that Urk is still the best.
So, I'm curious - was I correct in my guess that dicking around too long in the village (or anywhere, really) meant that we wouldn't have been able to save the kid?
I normally don't like to reveal too much about alternative outcomes, but I will note that when you found the cage there was a check to make sure the quest timer hadn't reached ten. And Kyric sure seemed determined to use that crossbow...