The Heist: part II
Malgorzata puts her feelings into action and launches a fireball against the Bard, incidentally catching the Barbarian in the blast. The Bard, given the option of hiding the behind the stolen box (for a +2 to his save), does so; the box takes the brunt of the blast and is destroyed, spilling molten gold and cracked glass at his feet. The helm in the box was clearly fake!
The Druid decides that’s enough of that and drops a fog cloud over the witch. The Barbarian turns to deal with the three charging knights, taking a defensive stance as they charge. It mostly works; he only gets hit by one lance, and then dashes behind them and cleaves two from the saddles.
The Baronet has realized he cannot outrun the Ranger, so he turns to fight, lowering his lance and charging back up the road. The Ranger draws his bow, doing serious damage as the Baronet closes.
The Wizard mysteriously appears, having been practicing his Invisibility spell for the last week (i.e. he missed the last session), and summons a swarm of bats against the entangled knights. But these men are ranked and do not fall easily to such attacks. Then the swarm dies, caught in a burst of flame: the fire-witch is burning a path through the entangling grass. Her men and horses suffer from the flames but their rank keeps them in the battle.
Soon men, horses, and an angry fire-witch are pouring out of the entangle. The Bard then turns the tide of the entire battle with a single spell; he blinds the witch with a well-turned curse. The lady cannot see to target her foes with her deadly fire magic now. The Bard and Cleric move into capture her while the Barbarian battles more knights, the Druid transforms into a great bear, and the Wizard summons another swarm.
But Malgorzata is not out of tricks yet. Sensing the approach of her enemies she targets the only thing she can with her next fireball – herself! The blast knocks the Cleric and Bard to the ground, unconscious and close to death, and kills Malgorzata’s horse. It does her no harm, though, as she has already cast a defensive spell.
The Ranger engages in a protracted duel with his Baronet, slowly losing to the man’s inferior swordsmanship despite needing only one more solid blow to end the fight. The Barbarian finds himself surrounded by knights and the Captain raining down blows on his head. One knight makes it to the Wizard and stabs him badly. The Wizard risks a spell, getting stabbed again for his efforts, and manages to put the knight into a magical slumber just in time, as the next blow would have seen his death.
The battle seems to be going in the knight’s favour, until the dire bear joins in. The great beast tears through the knights like paper. Even two lance charges are not enough to stop the monster. A knight breaks free and scoops up his mistress to carry her to safety, but the bear gets him too. The Wizard is trying to revive his companions with healing potions when the Barbarian goes down to the combined assault of the Captain, a knight, and their warhorses. The bear turns its attention to the witch, grappling her to stop a repeat explosion. He smothers her but the woman is surprisingly sturdy, stabbing at him with her dagger. The Wizard shoots her with a magic missile, ending her resistance. The bear immediately turns to engage another pair of knights.
The Ranger has finally dispatched his foe and gallops back to the main battle. Half the party is on the ground and even the bear is looking the worse for wear when the Captain gallops through the battle, snatching the unconscious witch from the ground in an epic feat of horsemanship. For a moment his way is clear, and then more magic missiles bring him to the ground.
The fight is over but not without cost. Over a dozen knights and two Baronets are dead; the lady’s maids are long gone, fleeing back the way they came; and the party is almost out of spells and badly injured. Once everyone is at least restored to consciousness they search the bodies carefully, but the only items of value are on the witch: a few magic trinkets (including a Cloak of Charisma that the Bard greedily appropriates) and an iron key. But no helm.
The party is at a loss. They bind the witch and toss her in the cart, heading back towards the city. Eventually Malgorzata wakes up. Blind, stripped of armour and finery, with hands bound behind her back, she still retains her spirit.
“You are all dead men,” she tells them. “King Sylwester will see to that.”
The Bard earnestly explains that they mean her no harm; indeed, they are here to rescue her and offer her refuge in far-away Flefiquielp.
“All that will gain me is the assassin’s blade,” she spits. “Sylwester will see me a corpse before the season’s end and give the helm to one of my cousins.”
When the Bard argues that they intend to get the helm as well, she scoffs at them. “You have done it in rather the wrong order, don’t you think?”
Nonetheless, realizing the precariousness of her situation, she grudgingly concedes that if they can gain the helm, she will still be of value. To that end she gives them the bare minimum necessary: the location of a secret gate into the castle. If they succeed, she will be a valuable prize to deliver to Queen Rian; if they fail, then she will be free to return to Sylwester.
The Bard easily bluffs their way back into the city and the Golden Wing Inn, with no one the wiser about the witch hidden in their cart. Shortly after midnight they sneak out of their rooms, fully healed and spelled, and are off to the castle.
The first obstacle is a simple moat. The Ranger leaps it easily, opens the secret door, and slides out a handy beam obviously meant for crossing it. Uncertain of their ability, most of the party consumes Spider Climb potions and thus traverse the beam easily. The Barbarian trusts to his own skill and fails badly, falling into the moat with a splash. He crawls up the other side, soaking wet but otherwise unharmed.
Now the party strolls through a castle in the middle of the night, looking for passage to the dungeons. They encounter a pair of washerwomen who step aside to let them pass without comment… until the Barbarian squelches past. Immediately they open their mouths to scream, stopped only by a timely sleep spell from the Wizard.
Deeper they go, encountering a pair of guards that are also alerted by the Barbarian’s bedraggled state. This time the Bard sleeps them, forestalling the Barbarian’s murderous impulse. They evade several other encounters, until finally they reach their destination.
Four knights stand guard in front of an iron portcullis. The Wizard casts sleep; two fall to the ground. The Bard casts as well, and a third falls. The fourth, however, draws breath to raise the alarm. The Barbarian charges forward and cuts the man down.
A careful inspection reveals that the gate is magically trapped. The Cleric tries to dispel the magic but fails; the Bard, in an astounding feat of intuition, guesses the magical password and puts key to lock to open the gate.
Now they face a small room with eight iron-bound chests and one silver-lidded pedestal. A small metal panel labelled “Emergency Procedure” hangs on the back wall.
The Druid begins dismantling the chests via magic, and gold coins spill across the floor. The Barbarian, realizing that time is running out, steps forward and snatches up the silver lid, shrugging off the effect of its cursed defence. Underneath is a golden pillow with the indent where a helm used to rest… but no helm.
He turns to the metal panel and opens it, but cannot read the instructions held within. The Bard steps forward and reads, “In case of emergency… explode.” This triggers the Explosive Runes spell, almost killing the Bard and injuring the Barbarian. As they stagger back the Ranger enters and makes a careful search of the room, discovering a false panel in the wall which opens to reveal, finally, the Helm of Brilliance. He snatches it, only to involuntarily yelp out, “I am a thief!” But the fit passes, and he strides from the room with the prize in his hands.
The rest of the party stops scooping loose gold coins into bags and they all head back upstairs. They almost reach the postern gate without incident, but then encounter another pair of guards. These men pass the now-dried off Barbarian without comment, but when they come abreast of the Ranger, he suddenly shouts, “I am a thief!” It appears the Confessional Curse has stuck.
A brief round of fist-fighting ensues before the party can flee out of the gate and back across the moat. Realizing they have at most minutes before the sleeping guards awake and raise the alarm, they find a deserted stretch of city wall. The Ranger and Barbarian now put their own Spider Climb potions to good use, scaling the wall and tossing down a rope to haul the others over.
Walking back to their boat, Malgorzata finally surrenders. “Put me down,” she says, as the Barbarian has been carrying her over his shoulder, “and show me the helm.” They let her touch it, and she sighs. “Very well, then.”
A patrol of knights catches up to them shortly after sunrise, galloping down on them before they can react. The Barbarian takes up a defensive stance and invites their charge. He appears to have learned from the previous encounter, as this time every single lance is turned aside by his shield and armor. Now the party has a crowd of horsemen upon them, but the Wizard simply drops a fireball on the knot of horsemen with the Barbarian at the center. The spell only singes him, but it means death for the low-ranked knights, and the two remaining knights are easily dispatched. This time the party is merciful; they loot the dead, but leave the merely injured to recover on their own. Then it’s on the boat and out to the safety of the sea, where the Cleric restores Malgorzata's sight and frees the Ranger from the Confessional Curse. The Barbarian passes the time by intimidating the fire-witch, assuming she won’t blast him on a wooden boat in the middle of the ocean.
At Queen Rian’s court they receive a royal welcome. The Queen is honey and sugar to Countess Malgorzata, explaining that it is time for the three human kingdoms to unite under a single ruler, and that ruler is Queen Rian. With the aid of Malgorzata’s helm, none can stand against them; and then once united, the full force of the human realms can be hurled against the splintered goblin kingdoms.
Malgorzata is dubious… until Vicar Neve assures her that yes, she can in fact repel the dragon. This confirms the new international order. When Rian asks for a final time what Malgorzata wants to become a willing ally, she answers.
“First, I want this man“– she points at the Barbarian – “whipped until he cannot walk. Then I want my daughter, my sister, my cousins, and my husband brought out.”
As a crowd of knights springs on the Barbarian to carry out the punishment, Rian turns to the rest of the party. “You have fairly earned your reward, though perhaps not as cleanly as could be hoped. But now I have another favour to ask. Return to Arkoommeamn and bring out the Countess’s kin. This time, however, feel no need to spare your swords. Should you slay King Slywester himself I would count it a boon.”