After our encounter with the dragon, we decided discretion was the better part of valour. We buried what little was left of Norton and started walking, aiming to be a long way away before the dragon came back to find its hoard gone.
We had started our exploration of the mountain near Odo's Rest, some weeks back, and we had nearly completed the circuit. I was looking forwards to seeing the place again... but as it turned out, our return was not quite what I'd expected. As we walked the path to Odo's Rest, we met one of the townsfolk – I vaguely remembered him, a fellow named Clenor – coming the other way, looking exhausted. As we soon discovered, he'd been scared half out of his wits, and at first all we could get out of him was “The town... fire... kidnapped... help!”
OSH: “I'm doing my gap year.”
Eventually we managed to calm him down enough to hear that Odo's Rest had been attacked, with some sort of flying things and fire involved, but there was little he could tell us; it had been dark and chaotic, and by the sound of it he had fled early on.
We agreed to see what could be done. It wasn't long before we came across two more travellers, but these two were in rather better shape. One was a human named Johann, the other an elf; his full Elvish name was rather too long to include here, so I'll leave it at 'Elle'. They had been exploring the mountain, much like ourselves, and we welcomed their company.
That night, Ilde and I took second watch – it passed without incident – and then handed over to Bimp, Grot, and Elle. I woke to the sound of yelling and fighting. We learned afterwards that Elle had heard two voices speaking Draconic on the path below and walked down to investigate, whereupon the speakers attacked him.
I woke quickly, but by the time I was on my feet Elle was already down and bleeding badly. The creatures were unfamiliar to me – lizardlike, with four legs and two arms. I ran in, but underestimated their speed; my punch glanced off the first one's hide and it very nearly did for me. It was wielding two axes, and slashed me badly with both of them, although I just managed to avoid its lashing tail and sharp teeth.
By now most of us were gathered around the lizard-creatures, doing our best to take them down. Johann was standing back, and summoned up a ball of fire that engulfed the smaller of the two. To our surprise, it fell to its knees in front of Osh and started apologising, calling him 'Master' and begging forgiveness. Osh, somewhat confused by this, whacked it in the back of the head with his axe until it passed out.
The other one was surrounded by myself, Ilde, Bimp, and the dogs. While its attention was elsewhere, I took my best guess at where its kidneys might be and kicked it as hard as I could, channeling the power of the loas into my blow. Kidney or not, I must have hurt it; it dropped both its weapons and reeled, and we took the opportunity to whack it some more as Johann summoned another ball of fire. The creature started to fall, calling “Master, please call off your servants!”
Bimp: “Do you want me to make a Wisdom save against myself?”
Unfortunately, neither Bimp nor Ilde speak Draconic, and by the time they realised it was a surrender the creature was already dead. The other one was unconscious, and we took the time to tie him up. Studying it, Johann declared it to be a 'dracotaur', which as far as I can tell means 'something a bit like a dragon and a bit like a centaur'. Which we'd pretty much figured out already, but it's always nice to have confirmation. On one of them we found a note, reading “Do not leave your guard post under penalty of death”.
When our prisoner woke up, he still seemed to be under the impression that we were working for 'the Master'. We refrained from contradicting this belief – it seemed a better way to question him than letting Bimp indulge her usual tendencies – and we gathered that he had been ordered to guard treasure, but the 'Masters' – apparently not the same as the 'Master' – had told them to do something with the prisoners.
At about this point Bimp attempted to 'help' the interrogation, by which of course she meant 'torture the prisoner'. We discouraged this – I was glad to have some backup from Johann – but not before she'd injured it with a spell.
[Sometimes, Bimp tries my patience.]
I suspect this contributed to an incident that followed, in which we discovered that even bound the creature was not completely helpless. When we offered it a drink, it spat a noxious goo that splattered us and ignited – fortunately, not for long, but it still left some minor burns.
In the end, we had gathered as much information as we could, and were left with the question of how to deal with our prisoner. We couldn't very well take it with us, and if we let it go it would be a threat to us – not to mention that both the townsfolk and its former masters would want to kill it, and with good reason. Bimp, of course, had suggestions, but Johann offered the creature a quick and painless death and it agreed. I am still uncomfortable about the idea of killing a creature that had surrendered – even if it didn't realise who it was surrendering to – but I'm not sure what reasonable alternative we had. Certainly, if we had handed it over to the townsfolk, it would have met with a nastier end than we gave it.
Around this point, Clenor poked his head into the tent. He caught sight of the dead dracotaurs and took fright; I was just trying to calm him down when Osh nudged one with his foot to make it move, and then threw it at him. The poor fellow lost whatever was left of his wits and ran away screaming. I had to drag him back before he came to harm, and by the time I got him back to camp he was catatonic.
[Come to that, sometimes they ALL try my patience, for all that they're my friends.]
Eventually we decided to leave him with some food and money, since he'd made it clear he was too afraid to return to Odo's Rest. We broke camp and made for Odo's Rest. Not too far along the road, we came to a dead body – a human in ragged clothes and bare feet, who looked to have been hit with an axe, most likely by one of the dracotaurs we'd since killed.
Past that, we saw plumes of smoke up ahead, which we took for cooking fires. It was getting dark, so we decided to move off the path and camp for the night. During our watch, we heard travellers arguing on the road below – one with a deep voice speaking Orcish, one with a harsh voice speaking Draconic, and one with a human voice translating between the two. It was hard to make out the words, but it seemed to be an argument about their orders. We decided to leave them alone for the time being.
In the morning, not long after we got going, we saw a human running towards us – a woman, dressed in rags, with bare and bleeding feet. I ran down to the path to intercept her, and brought her up to our position.
Behind her, obviously in pursuit, came an ogre and a dracotaur. The dracotaur was less heavily armed and armoured than the ones we'd fought previously, but the ogre wore a mail-shirt and carried a nasty-looking club studded with nails and reinforced with metal strips.
They stopped at the spot where I'd met the escapee – I realised they'd seen the trail of blood – and started heading towards us. We were quite some way above them, and let fly from long range with arrows and spells. I managed to hit the ogre from quite a long way off – my crossbow is an effective weapon, for all that it's slow to reload – and we hit it half a dozen times, but it still made it all the way to our position. Ilde leapt down to charge it and took a nasty knock from the club (I am still trying to persuade my companions that where ogres are concerned, we're better off staying at range for AS LONG AS POSSIBLE) but it was clearly hurt; I ran in and punched it in the knee, it staggered, and Elle hit it with a burst of magic that finished it off. Meanwhile, the dracotaur had taken on Ilde and Lightning and come off second-best; it turned to run, and I chased it down.
ILDE: “I'm going to make explosive arrows with grass in them.”
This escapee was able to tell us rather more than the last one (who, she mentioned, had indeed fled very early on). It seems a pack of dracotaurs and ogres had swarmed into Odo's Rest, taking prisoners and killing those who tried to fight back. They had taken about twenty prisoners to work as slaves in a nearby mine.
We asked about numbers; she told us there were about six dracotaurs and eight ogres – two of them blue-skinned ones – along with a mysterious master who gives them orders. After the ones we'd already killed, that left three dracotaurs and seven ogres. I doubted our ability to take all of them on, but we decided to scout out the mine and consider our options. We thought it likely that they might send out a patrol to see what had become of the previous ones; if it was small enough we'd ambush the patrol, and if they sent out too much of their force we'd take the opportunity to raid the mine while they were away. Our escapee was unwilling to tangle with the ogres again – I can hardly blame her – so we gave her food, money, and some spare shoes to get her to one of the other towns nearby.
She had given us directions and drawn a map of the mine, and it wasn't long before we got to a suitable vantage point. We could see two hefty-looking ogres standing guard at the entrance, and as we watched another patrol came out – another ogre much like the guards, one dracotaur, and a blue-skinned ogre who appeared to be in charge.
We thought we could probably handle the patrol, if we got the element of surprise, but didn't much fancy adding the two guards into the mix. We also didn't want any of them running back to the cave to raise the alarm, so we worked out a plan. The rest of my companions would stay uphill, following them as quietly as possible. I would also travel uphill, but move ahead of the rest. When I was far enough ahead of the patrol, I'd get myself noticed – drawing their attention away from my companions – and then move downhill, drawing them down off the path. My companions would come down to cut off their route back to the camp, and shoot at them from a distance,
All in all, it worked pretty well. The ogres spotted me a little sooner than I'd intended, but I was still far enough ahead to make the plan work. I ran like the clappers and they chased after me – the blue one flying through the air, but thankfully not very fast, as the others chased me on foot. Then my friends started shooting, and the dracotaur and the guard turned around and ran for them while the blue ogre kept trying to catch me.
I wasn't watching what happened uphill – I was concentrating on keeping out of the blue ogre's reach, but close enough to keep him distracted. From what I hear, Ilde and Lightning wiped out the dracotaur as soon as it got near them, but they had some difficulty with the guard. The ogre had already been shot several times, Osh had got in a good whack or two with his axe, and Lightning had bitten it in the groin, but it went into a frenzy and managed to knock out both Ilde and Osh. Only prompt healing magic from Bimp saved their lives. In the end it fell to magic and the effects of its wounds, but it was a very close thing. I felt some guilt at not being there to help them – but honestly, I think I did more good by keeping the blue ogre occupied chasing me.
Speaking of which, at about the same point the guard fell, the blue ogre realised I was a decoy and turned to go after the rest of our force. It really would have done better to stay on foot, instead of using its magic to fly; it made a perfect target up in the air, and with the guard out of the way we concentrated our fire on it. It quickly realised the danger of its position and cast another spell to make itself invisible. However, Bimp had already called up a weapon of mystical force that continued to strike at it, and this pinpointed its position for us; we continued firing, and Elle knocked it out of the sky. The creature was unconscious but its wounds were healing as we watched; Johann called up another ball of fire and burnt it to ashes.
We counted ourselves lucky to have all survived. It was a very satisfying victory for all that – after the number of times we've gotten in trouble by dividing our forces, it was most gratifying to trick our enemies into making the same mistake.
By my count there were now about two dracotaurs, five ogres and a blue one, along with their mysterious boss. Still too much for us to take head-on, but perhaps we could grind them down a little further after a night's rest.
During the night, the first watch saw what they reported as a large and angry dragon down near the mine. I was on second watch, and although I didn't see a dragon, I did hear rumbling noises and see an occasional flicker of fire from the area of the mine.
In the morning we headed back for the mine, rather nervously. On the ground in front of the entrance was a charred body – it looked like a dracotaur – and one of the burly-looking ogres stood guard at the mouth.
Bimp cast a scrying spell that let her see a little way inside the mine. As our escapee had told us, the tunnel forked near the entrance. Standing at the fork were two dracotaurs, arguing with two ogres and a small green dragon. This was a little confusing, because our first watch had seen a red dragon the night before.
Still, as long as they were arguing, we decided to take what we could get and started shooting at the guard on the door. He seemed to be having difficulty working out where we were firing from, and called out another of the ogre guards to help.
Meanwhile, Bimp – still scrying – reported that the green dragon had slapped the dracotaurs and then turned into a blue ogre. We were unsure whether it was a dragon pretending to be an ogre or an ogre pretending to be a dragon, but the latter seemed more likely – perhaps it had been posing as a dragon to hoodwink the dracotaurs? - and in the meantime we kept firing.
The blue ogre came out and shot at us with a large longbow, but between the distance and our cover it missed badly. The guard had retreated into the doorway, but we managed to hit the first guard again – I'm not sure whose arrow it was – and he went down.
At that point, Bimp reported that the inside of the cave had gone dark. We could see an unnatural-looking darkness just inside the mouth, and not very long afterwards a mob came rushing out. There were about two dozen humans, with two dracotaurs ahead of them.
I stood up, letting the light of Bahamut shine through me, and called the humans to us. They ran towards us, and I whispered to Bimp to scan them for magic, just in case the ogres were trying some trickery. But there was no magic about them, and we told them we'd come to save them; meanwhile one of the dracotaurs had fled and the other had fallen to his four knees. We were feeling generous, and told him to make himself scarce, which he did.
We didn't fancy waiting around to be ambushed by the remaining ogres, and the prisoners told us there were no more survivors in the mine, so we set off down the mountain to Odo's Rest. At the outskirts of the town we met a band of ten villagers, armed with whatever weapons they could scrounge, about to set off and mount their own rescue attempt. I'm glad they didn't have to; I doubt they would've been a match for the ogres. But then, the same is true of ourselves, and yet we managed it.
In hindsight, it becomes a little clearer: although we knew we were no match for the ogres' full force, they had no idea of our strength. All they knew was that their patrols had disappeared, including several of their leaders, and that they were now facing a frontal assault on their lair; the remaining ogres had sent the prisoners out as a distraction while they ran for an exit. I am sure this tale could be made into an annoying platitude, but I shan't take it; what matters is that the prisoners were freed (except for one who the ogres had killed before we got there, alas), and we were all still alive.
We found ourselves very welcome indeed in Odo's Rest, and we've taken the opportunity to rest and replace some of the equipment we lost in the altercation with the slime-monster some days back. Perhaps next we'll recruit some of the townsfolk as backup and hunt down the remaining ogres?