[The story so far]
Session 28 - The tomb of the iron god (viii)
Fizzing with renewed purpose after Montagne's apparent encounter with the iron god, Ferrus himself, the party set off to ensure their backs wouldn't be exposed before they headed back into the caverns to face the Hunger from the fighter's vision. They hadn't gone far when they heard a high-pitched cound like a squealing cat. As they got closer, Aurelius was able to pick out distinctly goblinesque cackling as well...
"Oh my goddess!" exclaimed Nausicaa. "Are they torturing a cat! We must stop them!"
"I think," said Montagne carefully but with glee, "I think that we should probably go and kill them all."
This time, to his great delight, no-one objected. In fact, he was almost left behind in the rush as the party seemed to have transformed into the medieval-fantasy paramilitary wing of the RSPCA. Pausing only to check weapons, and the number of goblin voices ("Six or seven" - Aurelius), they burst through the door yelling.
It really was a cat - being prodded with sticks by hooting and hollering goblins to make it run back and forth. As soon as the door burst open, it shot out between the adventurers (Nausicaa scuttled after it, rummaging in her backpack for the dried fish), who didn't hesitate but hacked straight into the goblins. Montagne swung his blade with such ferocity that he sliced one goblin in half and cut straight into the one next to it, before moving on to a third whom he also slew. Jean took the throat out of one and Gwen cleaved the skull of another in two. Oiseau killed his but Tybalt, as usual, proved ineffective so it was left to Dumnorix to swing his pollhammer in a rising blow that caught the last goblin under the chin, propelling him upwards to be crshed between hammerhead and ceiling.
It was all over in twenty seconds. They looked around to see the elf on her knees and the cat cautiously nibbling dried fish from her hand.
"I think he likes me!" she exulted, completely missing the looks of her comrades she'd abandoned to fight without her. "I'm going to call him Balthazaar."
"A small cat needs a bigger name," said Oiseau drily. "How about Balthazaar, Destroyer of Worlds?"
"Yes, perfect!" agreed the elf. The others gave their approval, ignoring the cleric's resigned muttering "I was joking." But to no avail - stroking the cat and rummaging for loot among the corpses took their attention.
BANG. BANG. BANG
"What the hells?!" The noise was coming from the other door in the goblin room. In fact it was shaking in its frame. "Get in here, NOW!" called Tybalt. Another BANG. Then a thick fluid started to ooze under the floor, pooling in cracks in the paving. Montagne and Dumnorix took up position either side of the door, readying themselves for it to burst open. The mood of celebration was gone; even Nausicaa stopped trying to pick up the cat when it fled back into the corner of the goblin room, scrabbling to get under some broken wooden cases. The elf drew her sword.
It all happened at once - the pool of liquid suddenly ignited with a whoomph and a shckwave of heat sent the two men staggering backwards. It was some sort of oil that had been lit on the far side of the door. Through the doorway they'd entered through earlier, crude arrows whistled, one striking Nausicaa and another hit Aurelius, immediately followed by another group of goblins led by a particularly large example of their foul breed. Counter-ambush!
This was frantic work. Blades flashed and no quarter was asked or given. The broken bodies of goblins scattered the floor but it was not long before Nausicaa was spitted on a goblin blade. Gwen leaped to avenge her, splitting the goblin in two, all the while yelling for Dumnorix. The cleric crushed his foe and sprinted around the back of their line to shield the elf's body with his own while calling on Alathea to heal her. His goddess responded immediately, sending rivulets of golden light tumbling down the cleric's arms to sink into the dying elf. She glowed briefly like a distant window with a candle on the sill before gasping and spluttering to her feet. Pausing only to thank Dumnorix, and hug Gwen, the elf/dwarf duo hurled themselves back into the fray.
Meanwhile, Montagne and Oiseau between them managed to cut down the large goblin and his nearest supporter, and the rest fled before them... under the cover of another flight of arrows and a hurled oil flask that erupted in great gouts of flame, forcing the party back as the surviving goblins made good their escape.
The final flight of arrows cost them dear. Aurelius lay sprawled on the floor, robes in disarray, an arrow lodged in his chest, and a pool of blood growing around him. [Down to exactly 0hp] "Oh no!" "Quick, Dumnorix, heal him!" "I can't, I'm already spent." "Pull the arrow out" "No, don't!" "Pack the wound with something, stop the bleeding!"
In the uproar, Jean kept an unexpectedly level head. He'd seen arrow wounds before and knew what to do without magical or divine help to call upon. First he wedged cloth around the wound to staunch the bloodflow, then he carefully cut off the arrowshaft, binding the whole lot in place with Gwen's help. The wizard was still alive, but only just. "We need to get out of here before they come back," declared Tybalt to general agreement. Montagne lifted the wizard (very carefully!) in his arms, discarding Aurelius' heavy pack to make him easier to carry. [Yes, leaving his pack behind. The pack that contained his spellbook. Oops!] The best plan, no the only plan, seemed to be to get out, and then head to the village they'd been told was nearby.
A brief argument on which was the quickest way out of the temple's underground passageways (back the way they knew or through an unexplored area which seemed the right direction and much shorter) was won by Gwen, the mapper, who pointed out that a short unknown path was probably safer than having to pass the goblin raiding party in a weakened state, and certainly quicker with Aurelius on the point of death. Decision made, they hurried forward, keeping a careful eye out for the goblins that had fled and ensuring Aurelius was a comfortable as possible. A crossroads was reached, "This way!" called Gwen and set off again. "Hurry!" Oiseau almost immediately triggered a pit trap and only just managed to keep his feet - the bang of the trapdoor opening echoed through the corridors. Had anything heard?
Yes. Yes it had.
A cacophony of angry hollering rushed up the corridor from behind them, accompanied by a couple of arrows, one of which stuck in the shield slung over Jean's back. "Go! Get Aurelius out!" Oiseau called, the responsibility for the noise driving him. "I'll be right behind you." He was already pouring
about a gallon of lamp oil out onto the floor and scrabbling with his flint and steel as the arrows whistled around him. The urgency of the situation was such that no-one argued and hurried on, except for Jean. "I'm not leaving you!" Shrugging off his shield he began shooting arrow after arrow through the growing billow of smoke towards the goblins, rewarded by a shrill scream almost immediately. He had little time to savour his success, however, as a goblin shaft sank deep into his thigh bringing him down to one knee.
Satisfied that the flames were now high enough to prevent the goblins pursuing them (up ahead a cry of triumph from Tybalt - "Daylight!" - told them they'd come the right way), Oiseau turned to help his friend and promptly collapsed onto him, face down, a crudely fletched arrow sticking out of his back! [Also down to exactly 0hp] "Help me!" shouted Jean and was rewarded by Dumnorix sprinting back towards them, the others by now having regained daylight; Gwen had been right and they'd ended up back at the chamber they'd first encountered coming down the steps from ground level.
Holding Oiseau between them, Jean and Dumnorix staggered away from the flames, arrows whistling past them. Fortunately, not a single one hit them; the goblins' aim must have been thrown off by the smoke filling the tunnel. They rejoined the others and, spreading the load of the two wound-bandaged fallen between them [who were having to make regular Save vs. Death rolls - each fail removed another hp, in the knowledge that reaching minus their current level in hp meant actual character death], as they limped and hurried away towards who knew what.
The next half an hour passed like a week for the battered and bloody adventurers, the sun setting and darkness thickening around them, each stumble bringing blood bubbling out of the mouths of their friends who were barely a hairsbreadth from crossing over to the greatest adventure of all. Step, step, step. In the woods around, rustling could be heard - goblins, or just a badger? Step, step, step. Was that hoot really an owl, or a signal for ambush? Step, step, step. Then Dumnorix could hold Oiseau up no longer and the cleric slid from his grasp... into those of Gwen and Nausicaa who took their turn.
Finally, they saw the village and, after a moment of inexpressible weariness later when they thought they'd have to fight the guard dogs, they were bundled into a small, simultaneously damp and smoky tavern filled with suspicious locals. Suspicious until Montagne used Aurelius' purse to broach a barrel of cider for everyone to drink their fill. After that they couldn't be more welcoming and a youngster was sent off to run and fetch the priest. Aurelius and Jean were laid out on tables and water dribbled between their lips when an old man in unkempt robes, sporting an untamed beard, and shaking with palsy was led in. The youngster handed him a tankard of cider which he drained in one draught, rivulets of the rough drink running down either side of his face and onto his robes. This steadied his hands; not palsy after all, but rampant alcoholism! Nevertheless, a few mumbled words and a wet-sounding belch later, fitful flashes of blue sparked over the two wounded me, knitting up the holes into knots of shiny scar tissue which pushed out their arrowheads and set the pair rolling onto their sides to cough up and spit out the blood which had been clotting in their lungs.
It was relief, more than joy, that finally overwhelmed them all. Relief, exhaustion, and vast quantities of rough cider. They were safe.
DM's thoughts - how they got out of that one, I'm not quite sure. They blundered straight into a trap, lost their spellcaster and used up their cleric's healing too quickly. The goblin shooting was verging on impossibly bad, statistically speaking, and the two "dead" characters made dozens of saves in a row. The tension of that final walk was great fun to game.