If no one stopped them, that was.
To get up to speed on the rest of the adventure, check out the previous chapters:
- Chapter 1: Blood and Butterflies
- Chapter 2: Murder and Glass
- Chapter 3: The Sin Pit
- Chapter 4: Tussles in The Tangle
- Chapter 5: The Assault on Thistletop
- Chapter 6: Secrets Behind The Curtain
- Chapter 7: Murders At The Mill
- Chapter 8: Halflings and Ghouls
- Chapter 9: Fox in The Hen House
- Chapter 10: Something Rotten in Magnimar
- Chapter 11: The Crumbling Tower
- Chapter 12: Demonbane
- Chapter 13: Trouble at Turtleback Ferry
Finished? Excellent! Now then...
Retaking Fort Rannick
|We can't exactly knock on the door and ask nicely.|
While the Black Arrows are drinking deeply of their newfound freedom, eating for the first time in days, and having their wounds seen to, they tell the tale of how giants came down from the mountains and took them in the rear. Undermanned for years, and with their captain off in the forests for days at a time doing the gods only knew what, they didn't have the resources to stand against the creatures. A few had fled, but were trapped by the ogre kin before they could raise the alarm.
Fortunately for their saviors, there was a secret way into Fort Rannick. A side passage through a cave that just might let them get in unseen to spring a surprise counterattack.
A cunning plan was drawn up in the dirt, allowing them to see just what they were up against. There were a dozen ogres all told, though perhaps more now. While some watched the front gate, they didn't stand guard as men would stand guard. Vicious and brutish, the giants weren't soldiers. But if they were all alerted to a threat, then they might descend as one to crush it.
Unfortunately, the band quickly realized that was not an exaggeration. Because while Thok's hunter's instincts allowed him to move silently through the treeline near Fort Rannick, followed by Bostwick and Zordlan, Zhakar was never much of a woodsman, and his soldier's profile stuck out among the trees. Spotted by the ogres at the gate, they roared, and leaped off the wall. Eager to fight a lone figure they'd caught trying to sneak away, they anticipated a swift victory.
They were in for a rude awakening.
The giants were still a dozen paces from Zhakar when Thok's first arrows flew, slamming into the ogres and driving them sideways. Confused and angered, one ran toward the woods where Zordlan was drawing an arrow for his bow, and the other ran at Zhakar, his club raised. Snatching his short sword, Zhakar ducked and dodged around the massive club, cutting at the brute's arms and legs, always managing to stay one step ahead of the trunk. It wasn't until their captain joined the fray that Mirelinda loosed her magic, though, rocking the ogres back on their heels. Pressing their advantage, the brutes were soon slain. Before any of their compatriots could come to investigate, the companions fled into the small cavern behind a waterfall.
Cut Off The Head, The Body Will Die
The caverns were dark and quiet, but also empty of most dangers. Zhakar knelt and clucked his tongue, scratching a mating pair of shocker lizards whose haphazard discharges rolled right off of his skin while the others snuck through to the other side of their territory. A revenant rattled its chains in a forgotten crypt, but it showed no interest in crossing the confines of the consecrated ground.
|Other than that, cave was fine!|
The secret entrance of the cavern led into the courtyard of For Rannick... a place strewn with bones, and dismembered bodies. Some of them were animals... the others didn't bear thinking about. While one hunchbacked ogre stirred a pot and fussed with a drying rack, Zordlan drew a wand from up his sleeve, and whispered a word as he touched each of his companions with it. They quietly slid up the inner wall, one by one, crawling up the stone like spiders as the ogre cook stirred his pot and crumbled strange spices into the brew.
Once they were on the upper walk, they carefully stepped into the top floor hall. The place where the captain of the Black Arrows had his quarters, and where the men kept a chapel for those who served in the mountains. The hall stank of blood, and of the thick, cloying odor of something still living there.
The captain's quarters were first, where a pair of ogres were half caught in the act of copulation. Though surprised, they fought hard, with one half of the couple letting loose her magic and the other slamming a huge ax around the small space. Thokk managed to slay the warrior, leaving his own share of blood on the floor, and it was Bostwick who distracted the spellcaster long enough for Zordlan to drive his steel up under her arm and into her heart.
The fight had been brief, but they had no way of knowing if the sound of ogres mating and fighting were different enough to raise the alarm. Zhakar laid his left hand on Thok's shoulder, knitting the flesh together, before they opened the chapel. Inside was a slaughterhouse, where bodies had been desecrated, and then used as the components in some twisted ceremony meant to glorify a profane goddess. Another ogre, bigger than the others and drenched in blood, turned to see who had disturbed him. He launched himself forward, howling as battle was joined.
Zhakar grabbed the descending spear head, wrenching it aside with his gauntleted hand. Green fire lit in his eye, the skin flaking away as it pulsed, revealing the gleaming steel beneath. His sword chimed as it cleared his sheathe, and bit deep when he sank it into the ogre. Surprised, and enraged, the creature fought on, blood pulsing from its side. Zordlan ducked a swing of the huge spear, angling to take their enemy in the rear, but the creature's thick hide turned the point of the elf's rapier. Mirelinda retreated from the creature, a long, willow wand flinging bolts of magic at the monster. Thok fell for its feint, and felt the whole weight of the spear slam through his side, driving him from the room. Just as the Numerian fell against the wall, Zhakar's blade slid between the ogre's ribs, and the mad flames roaring in the creature's eyes went out. It fell to the ground with a thud that nearly shook the walls.
What Lies Beneath
Though gravely wounded, Thok was on his feet after a slug of the sweet water potions the companions had brought all the way from Magnimar. Which was for the best, as Fort Rannick was far from reclaimed.
|Gods and devils, how many of these bloody things ARE there?!|
While the ground floor of Fort Rannick was not overrun with ogres, there were perhaps a dozen of them idling in the grand halls, and building nests in the unused rooms. In no mood to leave their new home, the giants fell one by one before the steel and spells of the companions. Rather than feeling as if they were drawing closer to victory, though, the entire fortress seemed to be holding its breath. As if there was something lurking... something that was merely waiting for them to find it.
That thing waited in the bowels below.
In the dungeons below Fort Rannick, a woman awaited them. Standing in an open cell bedecked with comforts, her red hair shone like a blaze, and her smile was radiant as the battle-wearied and blood-streaked Zhakar came down the steps, blade in hand. Thok stood behind him, his initial pleasure at the sight of the woman fading into suspicion, his grip on his spear tightening. Zordlan was more pleasant, but even as he spoke he did not sheathe his rapier.
If rumors were true, this woman should have drowned in the lake months ago beneath an overturned ferry. Why was she here now?
Her question, of course, was why the companions had traveled so far to see little old her. They'd been heroes in Magnimar, after all, why come to this little corner of nowhere? Unless, of course, they'd read her sister's letters and decided they wished to join her?
|Oh son of a bitch, not another one!|
The lamia matriarch revealed her true form, and asked if the companions would consider joining her and her masters. Such service was certainly preferable to death at her hands in this godsforsaken rock pile.
In response, Zhakar merely raised his empty left hand toward the creature. His hand glowed bright as day, and the light narrowed to a pinprick in his palm. For a moment the dust in the room stilled, and a beam bright enough to leave purple afterimages across his companions' eyes streaked across the dungeon cell, and slammed into the creature. It smashed through her resistance, and she screamed as her eyes were burned blind in her head. Clutching at her face, the matriarch slithered back, lashing out blindly before she bellowed a single word, and vanished with a crack of imploding air.
"The answer is no," Zhakar said, as he lowered his smoking left hand. He flexed the fingers, waiting until the last motes of light had winked out of existence before he turned to his friends. Zordlan stared, all but open mouthed. Mirelinda wasn't far behind. Thok grinned, proud of his friend for commanding the light that he knew had lived within him all along. "Let's go get the others. Tell them we got their fort back."
Though the fortress has been retaken, is the giant threat truly over? What other dangers lurk in the hamlet of Turtleback Ferry? Find out on the next installment of Table Talk!
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