With the Goblin ambush site neutralised, Chaplain Cooper muttered some obscure excuse and set off back down the road to Hommlet. The two orcs followed. The remaining adventurers were baffled by this, but concluded that their colleagues must have experienced some kind of religious crisis.
Captain Brond, Kai, Tuakiin, Jasmine and Rima remained, and briefly debated their next move. They quickly decided that their original mission – a reconnaissance in force of the goblin caves – remained viable despite their reduced numbers, and set off up the clearly visible trail through the woods that the goblins had evidently been in the habit of using.
Rima and Kai acted as forward scouts, while the rest of the party followed a few minutes behind. Kai’s scouting left a little to be desired when he set off a snare trap on the trail, with only his finely honed reflexes saving him from an undignified capture. Even so, the tree to which the snare was attached was now swinging back and forth, a clear alert to any observer, and at Brond’s cry of “Ambush positions!” the party scattered off the path and awaited company. All apart from Jasmine, who stood her ground on the pathway, preferring glamour to concealment.
It wasn’t long before two goblin scouts came to investigate. They immediately spotted Jasmine, but were baffled when she seemed to turn into a bush, thanks to the power of Rima’s bardic illusion. That was nothing, however, to their surprise at being swiftly cut down in a hail of missile fire.
With no goblins left alive to alert the main settlement, the party resumed its course, although Kai was now feeling a little more cautious and let Rima walk a few paces in front of him. His caution was vindicated when Rima stepped on a pit trap – brittle wooden boards set over a pit of spikes. Fortunately, Rima managed to gracefully leap to the other side of the pit to avoid being impaled, and the two scouts continued on their way. When the main party reached the pit they had no trouble skirting round it, though Jasmine’s comment that Brond had finally got his hole did not amuse the surly captain.
Reaching the end of the trail, the scouts discovered a stream emerging from a cave in a hillside, with a dense thicket to one side of the cave mouth. When the rest of the party joined them, it was time for a tactical assessment. The thicket was an obvious ambush point, and Brond favoured circling round the hill and climbing up to observe the rear of the thicket from an elevated position. Tuakiin preferred to hold off and rest for an hour to recover the fire breath he had deployed in the first encounter with the goblins, so Brond, Jasmine and Rima went hill walking while Tuakiin rested with Kai for company.
From the hilltop, the two goblins sitting in a clearing behind the thicket could plainly be seen. Engrossed in a game of knucklebones, they were oblivious to the adventurers above them right up until the two elven ladies shot them expertly in the head.
The guards having paid the ultimate price for their sloth, the party was now free to assemble by the cave mouth. In an effort to put off as long as possible the lighting of torches, which would surely betray the party’s presence, Jasmine and Rima scouted into the cave with the help of their elvish sight. A path ran along one side of the stream, and vicious snarling could be heard from a chamber to the right.
This turned out to contain three angry wolves, chained to stalagmites. Jasmine pacified them with some meat from her pack, and Rima used her bardic powers to talk to the creatures. Despite their foul tongues and limited worldview, they were able to provide valuable intelligence on the layout of the caves. Apparently a corridor off to the left led to a sleeping chamber, while the main path led to the abode of some large and fearsome individual, whose habit of throwing all his waste and filth down a fissure that led into the wolves’ chamber was a cause of particular grievance. In return for their freedom, the wolves agreed to help the party in a single battle with the goblins.
The sleeping chamber was the first target, if only to prevent any goblins therein from emerging behind the party and cutting off their escape. Brond, Kai and Tuakiin advanced up the corridor to the left, while Rima and Jasmine remained at the junction with the main path as a rearguard, assisted by the wolves. They noticed a wooden bridge suspended above the stream, connecting two corridors on an upper level – evidently this cave system was more complex than it at first appeared.
The sleeping chamber was lit by a cooking fire, attended by three hungry goblins and a nervous-looking woman in knightly armour, tied up beside the pot. Tuakiin charged in, bellowing fiercely, and Brond followed suit. Brond’s first rapier thrust quickly dispatched one goblin, but then things began to go pear-shaped. The second goblin survived impalement by Brond, pulling himself off the rapier and responding with a devastating sword blow that knocked Brond back to be felled by a thrust from the third goblin’s sword.
Tuakiin fared little better. He cut down the wounded goblin, but the other avoided his slashing blows – and arrows suddenly rained down from above.
Whether it was the glare from the fire or the precipitateness of their charge, neither warrior had seen the goblins in the upper section of the cave. Tuakiin fell under the hail of arrows, and both he and Brond would surely have died had not Kai shown his courage in rushing to their aid. Fortunately the young monk had had the foresight to bring a medicine bag, and was quickly able to staunch the bleeding, cutting arrows out of the air with bare-handed defensive strikes.
Still, the situation was desperate – but help was at hand. Hearing the sounds of battle, Jasmine came down the corridor, and from the mouth of the chamber began coolly dispatching goblins with her crossbow. Rima indicated to the wolves that now was their time, and they bounded into the sleeping chamber with the scent of goblin blood in their nostrils. Kai attempted to provide support with his mystical powers, but his bolts of fire proved more spectacular than accurate.
The goblin leader grabbed the trussed-up knight and snarled something that nobody quite caught. Before he was able to clarify his position, Jasmine had sent a crossbow bolt directly between his eyes, and his words were lost forever. The wolves made short work of the remaining goblins before leaving to seek their fortunes in the world beyond the caves, pausing only for a farewell nod to Rima.
After some magical healing – Rima reviving Tuakiin, Tuakiin in turn laying hands on Brond who sprang up crying “Where are they?” – the party retreated to the wolves’ chamber for a short rest. Their peace was short-lived, however, as a goblin scout came up the path by the stream towards their position. His armour defeated Rima’s attempt to silence him with her knife, and although Jasmine did eventually manage to chase him down and shoot him in the back, it was clear that the party would have to suit up and press on quickly, and Brond’s sandwich would have to remain half-eaten.
Climbing up onto the bridge, Rima found a goblin guard who had apparently slept through all of the previous commotion. With an efficient knife-blow she ensured he would never wake again, and as his blood trickled down into the stream she went off to investigate the upper corridor, with Kai and Jasmine following behind.
What she saw around the corridor appalled her. Two goblins busily knocking away the supports to a dam that held back a great reserve of water. Clearly they intended to flood the lower cave, drowning the attackers. With a cry of “Get the fuck onto the bridge!”,she drew her bow and dropped one of the goblins in mid-hammer.
While Brond, Tuakiin and the rescued knight clambered up to the bridge, Kai sent a firebolt whizzing ineffectually past the remaining goblin’s head. Fortunately, Jasmine’s crossbow proved more accurate, and the goblin fell dead before the dam could be breached.
The party now approached the inner chamber. Within, they could see stacks of crates and other goods, presumably the proceeds of the goblins’ highway robbery. Amongst these were two goblins, a ferocious-looking wolf and a great, hairy goblin-like creature taller than any man – a bugbear!
The party ducked back down the corridor and prepared to fight. Before battle commenced, Brond called out: “Goblins! We only want the big guy. If you fuck off now you won’t be harmed.”
There were angry shouts and sounds of a scuffle, and when the party looked into the chamber again they saw the bugbear with his back to them, shouting curses down the waste fissure through which the goblins had evidently made their getaway.
A man of honour might have difficulty shooting a foe in the back. Brond had no hesitation. He put a crossbow bolt square between the bugbear’s shoulder blades – but to his consternation, this only seemed to make him angry. The rest of the party joined the attack. Kai launched a fire bolt as part of a complex spinning manoeuvre, and this time to his delight it hit true, but the bugbear still advanced. Jasmine had the presence of mind to shoot the wolf dead before it could join the fight, sending a crossbow bolt directly between its eyes.
The bugbear engaged the adventurers in a wild and vicious melee. Whether out of rage at the loss of his pet, or because of some animus towards fey half-elven ladies, the bugbear chose Jasmine as his first target, slashing her brutally and dropping her to the ground, moments from death. But this was to be his last victim, as Rima’s arrow struck his throat and he fell down into darkness.
Though Jasmine’s wounds were grievous, she would live to fight another day. Exploring the chamber, the party found a treasure chest with some hundreds of copper and silver coins, two sparkling potions of healing and a valuable-looking jade frog. The crates mainly contained salted meat and a variety of weapons: Tuakiin and Rima helped themselves to new swords, while Brond showed himself to be a veteran soldier by taking the opportunity to resume his rudely-interrupted lunch.
Carrying the wounded Jasmine, the adventurers made their way back to Hommlet to rest and recuperate. Along the way, they agreed to help their rescued knight on her journey north, and Rima composed songs on their recent adventure, Jasmine’s fearsome shooting prowess and the ghastliness of goblins in general.