The group now decided to explore the Old King’s Highway and find what they could further from Tarnak’s fort in that direction, hoping that the change in search would yield better results. The twenty-third to twenty-seventh of Lumendi was unfruitful and led only to a skirmish with another thylacine that almost killed Eumelia‘s riding dog and six wolves that disabled Kalevi’s horse and knocked her down. Their arrival back at Tarnak’s alerted them to a potentially missing wizard that was expected to be dead by this point, so they knew to keep an eye out for him.
They headed out on 28 Lumendi to search the rest of the highway. On the night of the 30th, they encountered a group of bandits camping by the road. For a few minutes, both sides hid their alliances until the group decided to be truthful. They told the bandits that they were looking for the Stag Lord and had already downed two of his lieutenants. The bandits, noticing the quality of their weapons and Bryn’s half plate, knew they would die in a direct battle. Instead, they struck a compromise. The bandits agreed to move to Kusnaya’s old camp to the west and hunt game until either the Stag Lord visited them or the adventurers appeared with the Stag Lord’s mask. If they prove that the Stag Lord is no more, they promise to lay down their weapons and leave banditry for good. They gave the location of the Stag Lord’s fort and left in the morning. Surprisingly, it was just east of the old statue of Eidos they found close to the hot springs to the north.
The group chose to finish exploring for the week before returning to Tarnak’s for preparations. The next day, on the first of Balchadi, they found what looked to be an old grave. The weathered markings suggested that a barbarian was laid to rest there. Galienne‘s magical observations revealed a slight aura underneath the makeshift tombstone. Only Bryn was willing to dig for the item, but on the condition that he got to keep it. The rest agreed. After about a half hour of digging, Bryn successfully exhumed the grave, finding the old battered bones of the warrior. Galienne found that the ring on his finger was the magical item. It was a simple enough looking wooden ring that avoided decay. On the side was the image of a snake and frog locked in combat. Galienne’s knowledge of magic identified it as a ring that improved one’s swimming ability. After covering the grave back up and resting the night, the group returned to Tarnak’s.
On 3 Balchadi, they talked with the prisoners to convince them to leave their evil ways. With the Stag Lord in mind, the group decided to bring the elven warriors and dwarf cleric with them as backup. Galienne went to talk to Tarnak about horses while the rest spoke with the elves sent by Erramir. While the elven lieutenant did not agree to go, he did pledge the three archers under his command. Galienne returned, letting the rest know that it would take a week’s time to receive the horses. They agreed to explore one more week before the siege. Their exploration was thorough but uneventful.
8 Balchadi brought the arrival of four black horses with riding saddles. Galienne paid the bulk of the cost, with Kalevi only able to pay for two of the saddles. Galienne felt that it was an investment to have four more horses for the sudden need to pull carts or move people in the future. Tarnak was suddenly struck with the idea to build a second story on his stables, but Ilsa told him to wait and think about it before committing to it. He also remembered that some money came in from Thrasind as a reward for removing the bandit threat. The group took it, though a bit confused since they didn’t fully eradicate them. They left for their goal, the three archers in tow, and headed towards the old Eidos temple. They found Orrik the next day and convinced him to come along, providing him the fourth horse, on the stipulation that he and the elves would stay in the back. The group had no other thoughts, only wanting them for backup and cover fire.
On the tenth day of Balchadi, they reached the Stag Lord’s fort. They dismounted about four hundred feet back and hid the horses in a partially covered old building. They saw sentries on the walls, but they were looking at the rocks to their left, not at the hillside that lay in front of them. The door to the fort was closed and appeared hard to open from the outside, so they knew they had to weasel their way in. The four decided to dress up as bandits, relying on Eumelia’s skill of disguise, and approach as though they wished to join. When they were inside and ready to cause a commotion, Kalevi chose to signal to the backup party to approach and fire on the fort in order to create enough confusion to reach the Stag Lord. They were not willing to approach further than 200 feet so as to avoid fire from the sentries up above with their shortbows. Everyone agreed, and the four made their approach, Kalevi at the lead in case there were any traps that the bandits were relying upon.
About 150 feet from the entrance, the group was surprised by four undead humanoids popping out of the ground. Galienne recognized that they were zombies and relayed to the group that they were rather slow and susceptible to cuts. Kalevi and Bryn worked on downing the zombies with their weaponry while Eumelia borrowed a dagger from Kalevi and fought them that way. Galienne, trying to hide her ability as a cleric, resorting to her wand of healing energy to damage the zombies, but dropped it twice. When there was only one zombie left standing, four more popped up. Kalevi started giving over to her orc blood with her anger. They downed the new group and looked up at the fort. The bandits were watching them, small purses and glittering coins exchanging filthy hands. The eighth-orc called up at them, “By the bones of bloody Gilmorg, we beat your test! Now let us in!”
One replied, “You’re not done yet!”
True to his word, in a few more seconds, another group of zombies appeared, only to beaten quickly by the group. They were tired, but time told that that was the last wave of them. Groans were heard by the majority of bandits who had clearly bet on the zombies. The bandit from before asked them their business. They said that they wanted to join, but the bandit countered by asking why they approached this way when others should have warned them about the undead. Kalevi quickly bluffed, stating that they must have wanted to play a joke on them. When the bandit inquired into tribute, Eumelia offered up her jade statue, an art piece she kept from a previous encounter. The bandits were impressed, although it was unclear if it was because it was made of solid jade or because it was a nude female.
Once they were inside, they were told to wait until the Stag Lord woke up. The group made mental note of the bandits inside. There were three on lookout, one matching the description of Palthis, the elf lieutenant who wanted him alive for humiliating him on the way to Tarnak’s. A man with shining chain mail sat as a guard to the Stag Lord’s room. He would not permit entry. There was another man armed with a rapier and a poisonous stare that bothered the group. On the top, there was a large man playing with a lot of dragon and knight toys. They judged by their appearance and their silver stag amulets that they were also leaders and potential threats to deal with. There were four bandits in the mess hall, the wall covered in old graffiti that suggested that a dark cult had settled here long ago. That explained the zombie presence. After analyzing their position, Kalevi went up and flashed her greataxe in the sun, making small conversation about her love of the weapon so as to keep the watching bandit unaware. After about a minute, the bandits reported a dwarf and three elves approaching. The elves loosed their arrows, catching the bandits unaware and hitting true, one unlucky fellow skewered to the palisade with a well-placed arrow. The old man by Kalevi went down, and another bandit pulled out his bow, asking her to do the same. Kalevi pretended to fire back, deliberating missing them by several feet, as the rest of the group ran up. Galienne stabilized the old man with her magic while Eumelia pulled out her enchantment wand. Before the standing bandit could question Galienne‘s ability, he was caught in Eumelia’s magic and immediately became friendly, enamored with the gnome. She asked him to take them to the Stag Lord under the pretense that they would protect him. The bandit agreed and told the big lummox with his toys to accompany them. The lumbering man agreed, and the six of them headed downstairs.
Standing in the hallway towards the Stag Lord’s room, the dark duelist stood by the side next to the pen of an angry owlbeak while the man in shiny armor stood at the end. He asked about the situation, and the charmed bandit explains that there is a small force outside the fort firing on the bandits. The shining bandit smiled darkly and turned on the fencer, cleaving him and leaving deep gashes in his body. As his aggressor threw him aside, he meekly replied, “Damn, I was going to betray you,” before passing out.
Kalevi took the opportunity to hit the large idiot while he was unaware but missed. Eumelia made use of the distraction to convince the charmed bandit to help them take down the Stag Lord. The big guy took a strong hit from Bryn, and when he tried to drink a potion to heal his wounds, the martially inclined opponents saw the opening in his defense and downed him quickly. The turncoat asked the group what their purpose was, to which Kalevi replied, “Who do you think brought those archers?”
The group unfortunately missed their chance to catch the Stag Lord unaware. Two arrows flew out from the Stag Lord’s room, catching the charmed bandit in the eye and heart, killing him instantly. The owlbear went into a frenzy at the arrival. Eumelia used her ability to speak with animals to understand its dismay. It told her that he wanted to kill the Stag Lord. Eumelia relayed this to Kalevi who then released the owlbear. Bryn moved to the door and let the backup group in, their arrows peppering the lesser bandits. Orrik called upon three celestial hounds to attack the Stag Lord. The traitor, owlbear, and summoned beasts formed a physical barrier in front of the bandit lord. The group pulled out their ranged weapons and shot at him. Eventually, the Stag Lord fell to a final blow from the owlbear. Raging, the owlbear ripped out his heart through the wounds in his back and ran out the door.
The deserter, panting as he emerged out of a barbarian’s frenzy, spoke to the group. He gave his name, Aganor Swift, and let them know that there was an old man in the basement that aided the Stag Lord and needed to be eliminated. The elves and dwarf chose to stay outside because arrows would not be useful in such a small area. They descended the stairs into the basement, Aganor leading. The light off of Galienne‘s heatless torch showed a badger hanging over the ceiling. The animal began to attack, but Galienne’s spear proved most useful against it. Its death revealed the body of a withered old man, stripped of clothing and nourishment. Galienne’s magical sight revealed an aura of abjuration in the darkness beyond her torch. Kalevi’s sight, unhindered by darkness, revealed the aura belonging to a stone door with the impressions of two daggers in the panels. Withdrawing the relics given by Erramir and Tharrid, she put them in the door. It slid open to reveal well-crafted tools and fine building materials, not insidious artifacts as the captains expected. They chose to close the door for now and report their findings later.
Kalevi grabbed the Stag Lord’s helmet as collection of money and loot commenced, remembering that it was needed to persuade the last group of bandits. They loaded up everything on a cart found in the fort and headed out. Aganor wished to join them, asking that his association with the bandits was left unmentioned. They agreed and headed back to Tarnak’s fort after burying the bandits’ bodies and offering a quick prayer to Shekastra.
Their return was not what they expected. The lone fort was surrounded by two large groupings of tents. The flags standing within the masses indicated that House Borrin and Erramir had organized them. Riding into camp showed refugees tired and dirty, lounging in and between buildings. They dismounted and walked into Tarnak’s inn, greeted by the owner and captains. Ilsa was worried that she was not feeding the gentlemen correctly, but they assured her that her hospitality was more than enough. As they sat to spoke with the captains, onlookers crowded outside the windows with the occasional recognition of the Rat Slayers escaping. THey first explained what they had found, showing that nothing dangerous had been discovered, but nothing wonderful like the coveted mithral metal was present either. Erramir and Tharrid, through his great-granddaughter Florris, then explained the presence of all the people. Dullunar was suddenly overtaken by a coup shortly after they had left on their assignment. The racist druid was but the tip of the iceberg, as the party he worked for suddenly disrupted the merchants’ guilds and took power, quickly eradicating all non-humans and humans who socialized with them. Many lost their lives, and those who escaped did so without any possessions or plans. They ended up following Erramir and those of House Borrin after they quickly sank their ships and fled. They saw the gnome captain Gambion leave on his ship but knew nothing else of him. There were about forty to fifty humanoids in each camp with more expected to come. The captains estimated around three hundred to four hundred refugees.
The captains knew that neither one was strong enough to completely lead all the refugees from Dullanar, especially when Erramir still had loyalty to his kin to the east. Aganor proposed that the adventuring group should lead the refugees and protect them. He knelt down and swore fealty to them at that moment to show his conviction. They agreed to this situation. House Borrin and Tarnak also swore fealty, the former because they had no strong tie to the dwarven lands to the north and the latter because the group protected him much more than Tharsind ever did.
With this development, the group decided that the best place to build a city was at the old bandit fort. Both the undead and bandit threats were gone, and the ruins would provide a good foundation for new buildings. They lent the extra armor and weapons to the more able-bodied refugees for protection and made their way up north. The prisoners had now been convinced to turn from their evil ways and set free to colonize the new area with the rest. On 14 Balchadi, the weary people arrived at what was to be their new home.
They knew that strong leadership would be required to make the city a success. The four adventurers chose various leadership positions to represent their strengths in organization and listening to the people. Aganor, Orrik, and Florris were chosen to provide defensive power to the city and the wilderness around it. Tarnak and Ilsa took more mundane posts of guiding the city’s treasury and learning. Palthis chose to keep the peace within the fledgling village. Kusnaya, now reformed, took the post of keeping an eye out for any potential threats from Dullunar or other humanoids and dismissing them quickly. The tools and materials within the ruins behind the locked doors were used to construct the first houses. The dawn of a new kingdom had arrived.