12. Fateful Keep – 19th June 2015
We had left off on our story with our group attacking the resident Duregar in the main Keep of the Horned Hold, along with the group of Dwarves that Ulrik had managed to secure, through charm and money, to aid them in their quest.
Banhart had joined the group, a rather confused mage who had appeared among the dwarves in the initial attack, having been teleported there through some manner of magical mishap and was now fighting alongside them.
The fight was fierce, since those Duregar who had remained had gathered and reinforced themselves in this area of the Horned Hold. Two of their number had fallen, but the group was by no means in an obviously easy position. To make matters worse, Ulrik and Ayanna seemed to lose consciousness and had to be dragged quickly out the door, while Titan and Heskan stepped into the places the two had recently vacated.
Many of the dwarf allies seemed to be in poor health, and Corvar took a moment to rifle through the unconscious Ulrik’s belongings, knowing he had some health potions. Taking them, he then quickly helped stem some wounds on his dire wolf, Brannoch, before passing the healing potions to the dwarves, knowing that if they fell, the group was in fairly serious trouble. Titan also uses his skills in healing before attacking the now-giant dwarf in front of him.
What followed was very much a heated battle, for although they outnumbered the enemy, those they faced seemed to be both better prepared, and harder hitting. The only stroke of good luck that the group got was when one of the scouts moved up onto the raised platform at the rear of the room and Macklemore, the leader of the Duregar, really didn’t like that, moving up after him and kicks him off, doing a considerable amount of damage.
Although they managed to do a great amount of damage to their enemies, with Heskan killing an arbalester, Titan making a killing blow to one of the giant dwarves and the thurge, while Mosco and Banhart felled a scout, the enemy also killed two of their dwarven companions; Kilthet, who would never again see his family again, nor carve any more chess pieces from pebbles, as well as Manalo, who Macklemore strangled to death. Never again would we hear of his cheerfully related exploits with the many and varied dwarven women he had bedded.
The group also seemed to be plagued by misfortune, both through their attacks doing little or no damage due to the Duregar’s superior armour or defences, or through random occurrences of poor luck. Banhart, when trying to intimidate one of the Duregar, for instance, managed to instead become terrified upon seeing a small spider nearby on a wall, and one of Heskan’s arrows failed catastrophically, splintering in his face, seeming to damage his hearing, not to mention Corvar tripping and falling to the ground when trying to fire his own arrows.
Despite the hardship of the fight, they continued on, and bit by bit, the Duregar numbers were lessened until it was only their leader Macklemore that was left alive. The group’s mood was improved by this, seeing that they could overwhelm the Duregar, despite his skill in combat. However they were not prepared for the quick movement their enemy made, stepping into the fire they had already witnessed him being immune to, and disappearing down a secret passage there. Escaping into, what they presumed, was the next room.
Many of the group in poor health, they would usually spend time healing and perhaps heading back to town after looting the area, if history is any predictor, however with an enemy freshly escaped such leisurely activities were out of the question unless they planned to leave the keep once more. With two of the dwarves dead, the rest of the mercenary dwarves seemed to have lost their earlier jovial and celebratory demeanor, and though resolved to see this through, were not as optimistic as before, and with good reason.
It was decided that they should take a breather for a few minutes to patch up their wounds as best they could, before moving into the other room, in which they had heard the sound of devils coming from. They knew this was likely to be the hardest fight, not only because of the devils, but because this was where Macklemore had likewise escaped to, likely to warn and pre-arm the Duregar in there.
While the rest of the group planned to move through the main entrance to the room beyond, Titan decided to follow Macklemore through the passageway in the fire, hoping perhaps to take them by surprise that way. Having spied a bath filled with water at the end of the room, he picked it up, hoping to tip it onto the fire and douse the flames. However a stumble on the stairs ended up with him dropping the tub and most of the water splashing onto the floor. Putting what water was left on the fire, the group were then witness to the huge companion rolling around on the floor to wet himself on the spilled water as best he could, before deciding that this was indeed sufficient.
So it was that they went for the two-pronged attack, with the main group, with Corvar’s dire wolf in the lead going through the main door, and Titan going through the fire to the secret passageway.
Macklemore was, of course, waiting for them, along with two hovering devils, and five other Duregar, including one that bore a startling resemblance to him. This would be no easy fight.
“You were fools to follow me!”
They were also dismayed to find the delicious smells of roasted boar coming from the room. Too late to save Ulthand’s dire boar, it was now roasting on a spit across the room from them.
The fight initially went well, with the Duregar missing several times, as well as both Macklemore and one of the devils being knocked down into the pits that held the remaining slaves.
Most of the group focused on trying to take down the Duregar guards, while Titan lingered near the fireplace he had come into the room from, intent on killing Macklemore, and then alternating to the Duregar guard that came to aid him.
This separation from the rest of the group proved to be too much, for soon Macklemore was joined by one of the devils, and in a devastating attack that had compounded on previous injuries, Titan struggled to retain his defences, but fell and was quickly pounced upon by the devil as he struggled to keep consciousness.
Things were not looking at all good for the group, for none of them could get to Titan to help him, for there were Duregar between him and the rest of the group.
This was then compounded by Corvar becoming stunned, Banhart missing with one of his spells, and then Heskan also missed with his skills, cruel memories from his past seeming to flash before his eyes, as tears started to streak down his face. He struggled to gain control of his emotions, but the memories seemed so clear that the tears only flowed faster, rendering him blind in the middle of their fight for survival.
The Duregar took full advantage of this lapse in fighting prowess, with a blast knocking Corvar, Heskan and Banhart prone on the ground, and one of the Duregar hitting Hamlet with a powerful attack. Across the room, the devil continued to claw at the downed Titan.
Seeing the tide of battle had turned fully against them, Corvar calls the retreat, commanding Brannoch back to him. The dire wolf took a vast amount of damage trying to return to his Master, all but stumbling up to him, blood pouring from his wounds. Heskan tries to lay one of his powerful traps, hoping perhaps to slow or kill one of their foes, but blind as he was, the trap failed to set properly. Hamlet had better luck, killing one of the guards before retreating with the rest of the dwarves.
Unfortunately Macklemore was not going to let them retreat so easily. He attacked Banhart, pushing him away from the exit before moving after him, swiftly followed by an attack by the other devil, who, much like had happened with Titan, was felled, struggling with consciousness.
Although, miraculously, he managed to draw strength and purpose enough to haul himself to his feet, it seemed like his shifter nature took over, for he seemed unwilling to retreat even when surrounded by enemies. In what might indeed have been something of a noble sacrifice to give others time to escape, or merely an offensive reaction against foes, Banhart chose to linger, attacking the Duregar and devils while the rest retreated.
With three Duregar, including Macklemore and his brother, between the group and Banhart, and others closing in, there was little hope of them being able to retrieve him, and certainly none of them getting Titan considering that all of those surviving were bloody and without any healing or health potions.
Not about to throw their lives away on a hopeless attempt, Heskan was the first to make it out, quickly followed by the bleeding Brannoch, and after a quick bluff to distract the Duregar who followed them closely, the dwarves helped Corvar shove the unconscious Ulrik and Ayanna into his magical backpack and dashed out the door.
Back in the room, I was the only witness, other than that of the Duregar and the devils to the untimely demise of both Titan and Banhart, who, unable to sustain life with such vicious attacks, especially from the devils, they breathed their last, becoming only corpses on the floor under the poisonous claws of the devils.
So it was that they made their way swiftly, and thankfully without event, back through the labyrinth to the Seven-Pillared Hall. Corvar made it known that he was not going to linger around there, and the dwarves were much of the same mind. They had lost both Kilthet and Manalo, and while their hearts burned for revenge, attempting to go back now would be a fool’s choice. Even staying in the Seven-Pillared Hall may well not be a safe option.
The dwarves talked of their home, now overrun by goblins and gnolls,and as they traveled, talking through the pain of their many wounds, they came to the decision to leave the Labyrinth and head back to their lost homeland and try to reclaim it. From there, they argued, it might be possible to regain their strength and return to garner proper revenge against the Duregar.
So they made it back to the Seven-Pillared Hall, splitting ways temporarily. Corvar and Heskan headed to the inn to patch up their wounds as best they could and gather their belongings from there. Corvar also wrote a short letter to Gendar, explaining that some circumstances had arisen, and the trade agreement they had made should be put on hold until the matter was resolved. He wrote another to the Temple Priestess also outlining the delay on their agreement due to the slaughter of two of their party.
They said a quiet farewell to Rendil, and Corvar passed on the letters to him to give pass on later that day. Cautious as ever, the Kenku seemed to feel that it was better to leave swiftly and quietly before any sort of ambush might be organized, for as much as he enjoyed conversing with the shopkeeper, he was under no illusions that such information would be worth quite a lot to someone, and Gendar was, if nothing else, a sensibly mercantile Drow not to pass up such an opportunity.
Meanwhile Hamlet, Mosco and Hanor had gone to the Deep Gem Company, their former employers, but also it seemed, friends or at least allies in the past. They told Ulthand of the demise of his boar, despite the valiant efforts to save it, they had just been too late. This seemed to weigh heavily on the dwarf, for great tears streaked his face.
“It is the end then. My poor Roderic. He had a good life, he did. But what am I to do without him? My heart just isn’t in this any more.”
The dwarves then told him of their plans, along with those of the adventurers that were left, to gather their kin and try and retake their town. They would surely need a priest to re-sanctify the temple, a place where Ulthand had once been happy, before the days of his prime when the excitement of the world to explore had been too great. “Yes.. yes I could do that. It has been so long since I was there. To make it ours again, that is a worthy goal. I shall join you then. Armarr can look after this place without me. He has been doing it fine without me since Bob was lost.”
So it was that four dwarves, not three, met Corvar and Heskan outside, before making their way swiftly from the Hall. They would go to Fallcrest, they decided, for it was a large town, and they knew of at least some of their kin were residing there. Hopefully they could gather enough force to retake their home.