Of Stone and Shadow

Plan: A list of things that arn't going to happen

Plans are good; they make people feel confident, like they are in control. The wise man hopes the plan will work but the fool knows it will. The real difference is in approach. A fool makes a plan and sets out to enact the plan with the full faith that the world will conform to his plan so for a fool the plan is the important step, once he has his plan the rest is easy. A wise man knows that planning is the easy part, it’s mostly just thinking and talking, but the world loves nothing more than taking some lovely perfect plan, a masterpiece of ingenuity and the culmination of many hours of discussion and debate, and shitting all over it like so much waste paper in a canary cage. A wise man knows that his plan will probably fail and is ready. A fool knows his plan will never fail and provides the world with yet another humorous bar tale.

The latest party endeavors began with a plan. It started out complicated and was slowly refined, poked, and prodded until it became a streamlined thing of beauty. The work of three great minds all focused on one problem. The party gathered the pieces, enjoyed the successes of the previous week, and mended the failures. The best plans always seem to be the target of the biggest shit storm, and the world was loosening its belt and squatting into position, ready to drop a huge steaming pile all over the plans of these unaware fools.

It is important to stop a moment and describe the problem, as perceived by the party, and the elegant solution they came up with. The problem was that there was a potential treasure trove of secondhand gear and money sitting around on the floor amongst a pile of desiccated, slowly rotting, corpses. Further complicating this problem were the ten or so wildly mutated stirges that had created said pile of corpses. Previously the party had underestimated the danger of handling unknown wild animals, but this time they were going to go in prepared. Thus The Plan. The Plan was simple, incapacitate the stirges then loot their lair. The incapacitation was to be done by way of a large fishing net suspended from the ceiling in a small room with large doors on either end. The idea was to bait the stirges into the room, shut the doors, and drop the net, capturing the stirges. This gave the added benefit of changing the stirges from winged death into winged piles of money. After capturing the creatures the lair would be open season for all would-be treasure hunters. That is what everyone hoped would happen and in case things didn’t go as planed there were back up plans, and back ups to the back ups, but no one accounted for one important thing, the incontinence of the universe.

Things were off that day from the start. Rolniak, the drow wizard, had decided to recruit a bodyguard. He was a dwarf named Forimyr. He didn’t seem like a bad fellow and the plan was so good that it should have been able to survive the addition of a new, untested, party member. It was actually fortuitous that Forimyr had been recruited because Maellus sent word that he was once again unable to attend the meeting. After filling Forimyr in on The Plan, the gear was gathered and the group set out, ready to tackle their little piece of the world. By this time the route to the ruins was well traveled and familiar, and the party met with no distractions or problems until they reached the crumbling gatehouse. The party decided to scout things out before walking the cart of supplies through the murder infested main gate tunnel. After clambering over the broken sections of wall everyone was ready to check out the building when suddenly Forimyr noticed a herd of wild goats grazing on the hill side. Worried about the possibility of some tribal herdsman about, the group stopped to inspect the herd from a safe distance but quickly realized it was truly a wild group with no shepherd present. Everyone was ready to just write the goats off and continue on to the more exciting options of earning huge piles of gold and platinum, everyone except Forimyr. Apparently he had just acquired a new crossbow and felt that this herd of goats would be the perfect opportunity to test its range.

The rest of party watched with a mixture of annoyance and bemusement as the new dwarf cranked back the winding mechanism, carefully lined up his sights, slowly pulled the trigger back, fired a shot right past the goat he had been aiming for, and into the side of the hill. Stubborn and frustrated, (in other words just a dwarf.) Forimyr quickly cranked back on his crossbow and fired off a shot without all of the careful aiming. This time, either through luck or skill, he managed to hit the goat in the flank. Understandably this pissed the goat off and he responded by bleating, turning, and charging, along with his ten herd mates.

Faced with a stampeding goat herd the group did what they do best and fled from the instigator to positions of relative safety. Sturbin climbed to the top of the gatehouse, Liryl and Rolniak sprinted through the gatehouse tunnel and ducked behind the corner, while the little gnome wizard lept into the caged cart locking the door behind him. Meanwhile Forimyr, showing more wisdom than any of his previous actions ducked into one of the openings in the gatehouse. Three of the charging goats chased him down the hallway while the rest of the herd split with six of them going through the hole in the wall and the remaining two rammed the cart in an attempt to get the gnome.
As the bulk of the herd erupted through the hole in the crumbling wall they must have been surprised to see a lone dark skinned figure standing defiantly in front of them. Their surprise lasted only as long as it took Rolniak to raise his hand and release a dizzying barrage of color and sound. The resulting disorientation caused the entire group to skid to a halt at Rolniak’s feet. Liryl, Sturbin, and the gnome began raining arrows down on the two goats at the cart and Forimyr fended off the three who had chased him down the hallway. After dispatching three of the conscious goats the others fled off into the hills. After the goats had fled, Forimyr sheepishly joined the rest of the party among the unconscious and dying goats to apologize for inciting the stampede. With little other option, the group grudgingly accepted his apology, butchered the goats and continued on their way.

The trip through the ravine was uneventful and the party reached the clearing in front of the ruins unmolested. Wary that more goblins or bugbears might be in the region, the party cautiously approached the stone outcroppings and noticed a small hunched figure running through the broken portcullis. Knowing they had been spotted and fearing an ambush the group approached the entrance to the ruins with some trepidation. Peeking through the opening the group saw that the denizens of the hive had erected barriers to hide behind and were armed with crossbows pointing in their general direction. Heartened that they were not immediately fired upon, and hoping to avoid a fight the group decided to let Liryl and Rolniak attempt to parlay with the goblins and bugbears. Unfortunately the hive creatures were just as intractable this time as they had been the previous foray into the ruins. They demanded that the group meet with the queen if they wanted to enter the ruins. No one in the party thought this was a viable option, and the combination of greed and worry about being shot in the back led the party to one conclusion, it was time to fight.

Rolniak opened up the battle by calling a globe of darkness down to engulf almost half of the room, rendering four of the goblins and one of the three bugbear blinded. Sturbin lept out past one of the columns and attempted to bring down one of the bug bear with an arrow to the leg but only managed to graze and enrage him. Liryl and Forimyr moved into the room to get a better position for a charge on the bug bear when he left the globe of darkness and the gnome dropped chaos onto into the ranks of the remaining goblins and bugbear in the form of three giant leeches. Whatever confidence the party gained from the effectiveness of their opening maneuvers was quickly washed away when the enemy reserves entered the field. Three spider mounted goblins and a giant bugbear wielding a polearm came charging down on the party from the dark recesses of the room. As the bugbear herded the cavalry forward he swung his military pick through the air leaving faint red afterimages behind. The display of leadership and the deadliness of a potentially powerful magic weapon entering the field brought the focus of the entire party down onto this new adversary.

The new bugbear and two of the spiders moved to overwhelm Forimyr while the third spider charged Lyril. Lyril was able to fend off the spider’s bite but the goblin’s short sword slipped past her defenses. Forimyr was able to deflet both spider bites with his shield, dodge the two attacks from the goblins on their backs, and parry the morningstar attack from the original bugbear. All of those attacks might just as well have been diversions though, because it allowed the larger bugbear to swing past the spiders with his long polearm and get a solid hit on the dwarfs shoulder. With a new and more deadly target on the field the party quickly changed tactics.

Sturbin switched from the group he had been assaulting and ducked under one of the crude barriers to get cover from the enemy crossbows while he fired at the bugbear leader. While he scored a grazing shot Rolniak charged forward and began frantically chanting to try to bring down the spiders and Bugbear with a color spray. Lyril fled from the spider that had charged her, which made room for Reagan to charge it. For a moment it looked like Lyril was going to flee the fight, but when she got to the portcullis she turned and started firing her crossbow at the goblins around the edges. From the back the gnome commanded his leaches to attack and also set about harassing the goblins with his crossbow. Through all of this mayhem Rolniak managed to complete his spell.

Everyone held their breath as light and sound exploded out of Rolniak’s fingers cascading over the melee in the middle of the room. When the spell display cleared one of the spiders and its rider were slumped down unmoving, and the large bugbear with the pick was stumbling and looking around dazed. By his movements everyone could tell something was wrong since he didn’t seem to be responding well to the fight going on right in front of him. Taking advantage of the moment, and hoping to end the fight in one decisive maneuver, Sturbin stowed his bow, quietly lept behind the bugbear, and buried both of his axes into the confused creatures back and neck. The bugbear fell with a gurgle and stopped moving; unfortunately it did not fully have the intended affect. Instead of laying down their arms or screaming in panic the other goblins and bugbears continued fighting, only now Rolniak and Sturbin were completely exposed to the crossbow fire from the back line, a fact that the goblins did not fail to notice.

It only took four crossbow bolts to turn a moment of triumph into a scramble for cover. Within moments Sturbins armor was in tatters, Lyril was bleeding from multiple wounds, and Rolniak was harried to the point of fleeing for cover. Luckily for the party Reagin, Forimyr, and the gnome, now free of the rain of crossbow fire, were able to press the attack. Forimyr doggedly wore his foes down dropping them on by one, Reagin kept the attention of the last spider rider, and the gnome replaced his giant leeches as soon as the magic holding them in this realm dissipated. Things appeared to be going in the party’s favor, they had taken out a large portion of the enemy force and had sustained no casualties of their own, but suddenly everything changed. Fate released its bowels and everything went to hell all at once.

Lyril had already taken a few hits and the pain and blood loss had begun to take a toll. With no enemies in her immediate vicinity she took a few seconds to pull power and begin to close her wounds and revitalize her body. Unfortunately those few seconds were enough time for two goblins to notice her distracted state and take slightly better aim. The first crossbow bolt clanged off of her shoulder and while it did no physical did break Lyril’s concentration and caused her to lose the power she had been shaping. It also made her look up just in time to catch the second bolt straight in her lower jaw. The projectile hit with enough force to shatter the bone and pass through her lower skull. When combined with her other injuries this proved too much for the little gnomeling to handle and she fell, lifeless, to the ground. Seeing their companion mortally wounded, and most likely dead, made the rest of the party take the little goblins more seriously.

Sturbin and the gnome took revenge on the two who had caused the death of their companion. Reagan dispatched the spider he had been facing, and the resulting death throes sent the mounted goblin sprawling. Forimyr finished off the dismounted spider rider he was facing and then slit the throats of the spider and rider who had fallen under Rolniak’s spell. Faced with the renewed fury of the adventurers and lacking their cavalry the rest of the bugbears and goblins turned and fled deeper into the ruins.

With their plan now in complete ruins the group gingerly gathered the body of their fallen comrade and made a thorough search of the dead bodies, collected ears their bounty, piled everything into Lyril’s cart and head back to the city as quickly as they could. It seemed that fate needed to take a break after evacuating its collective bowels on the plans of the four mortals because they were able to make it back to Arkhein unmolested. Furthermore, the priest that had fixed the gnomes shoulder was willing to accept more of their hard earned gold to attempt to bring Liryl back from the plane of the dead and repair the damage to her body. With their dead taken care of, the party turned to the important matters of coin and plunder.

When Sturbin had searched the large dead bugbear he had found more than just the large powerful pick, the creature was also carrying an odd decorative knife and a fur wrapped ceramic bar with a carved grip. Worried about the possibility of malevolent powers, the party waited until they were back in civilization to examine the weapons. It turned out to be an unnecessary precaution as the weapons, while powerful, were also curse free. The large military pick and the ornate knife were exactly what they appeared to be, high quality magically enchanted weapons. The ceramic bar, however, turned out to be an axe with a blade of light that would only appear when it the grip was held. Forimyr, after feeling it’s power, claimed the pick, and Sturbin requested use of the axe.

Though they had not found the treasure they had sought, the fact that Lyril was not permanently laid low combined with the goods and coin they had found on the hive creatures had the party feeling like this was a victory of sorts. They were also more determined than ever to get back into the ruins and explore the stirge lair. The fight with the bugbears and goblins had brought two important questions to light. Where had that larger bugbear acquired such powerful relics, and more importantly were there more to be found?

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