The night passed uneventfully, with Torrent again watching over Krystin and again apparently not transported by the girl’s dreams during the night. Torrent remained withdrawn and distant from the rest of the party. Privately, Nameless spoke to Snow and Baffin of his concern that Torrent, brooding about a future as a revenant serving Leska, may no longer trust the party known in that future as the Five Traitors. The gnoll warned of the possibility that Torrent may undermine or betray the party in some way. Although Baffin already blamed Torrent for leading the party into two consecutive ambushes in Gate Pass, the bard was not yet distrustful of her motives, despite her recent behavior.
Continuing their journey to find the Lyceum, the party reached the eastern foothills of a mountain range near mid-day. As they prepared to turn their horses south and travel in the mountain shadows, the party sighted approaching riders in the far distance to the south. Retreating at once, the party hid themselves in a wooded area and observed about 30 Dassen soldiers, their military pennants fluttering in the wind, moving north at a leisurely pace.
After a few hours of hiding and waiting for the soldiers to pass out of view, the party resumed their ride south. As evening fell, the party halted in a patch of woods and rested for the night. Despite the desire for secrecy, they used a campfire to ward off the cold winter’s night and used their horses to screen the light from any eyes looking from the foothills.
The sun arose after a quiet evening. Torrent allowed herself a smile as she helped Krystin prepare for the day’s journey, and Baffin breathed an inner sigh of relief. The bard had been preoccupied with trying to reach out to Moog and bring him out of his self-imposed isolation. Realizing that Torrent and Moog were particularly devastated by what had occurred in Krystin’s dreams, Baffin had given the stoic individuals some time and space to overcome their shock. With Moog now slightly reconnecting with the party, perhaps the bard would again approach Torrent.
Two nights ago it was good to see Moog battling alongside the party again, rather than lashing out in frustration or pulling away from everyone. And bless the goliath for his brilliance in solving riddles. The Watcher in the hills obviously possessed powerful magic, and the party barely passed the last and hardest challenge. Praise Avandra for Moog’s timely contributions in skill and might!
As the party rode south, they spotted a group of approaching riders and quickly hid themselves in the slopes and ravines of the mountainside. Nameless, however, remained close to the path to spy upon the riders, who turned out to be 25 more Dassen soldiers. This time the military unit was pulling a large, covered wagon with reinforced wheels and heavy with cargo. Although the gnoll could not discern any clear evidence, he returned to the party with his suspicion that the riders were not actually Dassen soliders, because the uniforms were ill-fitting, very uncharacteristic of the Dassen military. Fearing a Ragesian plot, the party decided to track the riders to their evening camp and investigate.
After giving the soldiers a lengthy and safe head start, the party followed and set up their own camp about half an hour from the soldiers’ camp. Nameless, Snow, and Baffin decided to sneak closer to the soldiers to learn more about them and their cargo. Approaching with caution, the three comrades found the soldiers were camped in the open with no attempt to hide, but had a picket of sentries encircling their camp. With a combination of skill and luck, the party crept past the sentries and hid in some bushes at the camp’s edge. There, they could see a fire, several lean-to’s sheltering soldiers, and the wagon surrounded by four guards.
Nameless shadow-walked to one side of the wagon and noosed the guard quietly into unconsciousness. Carefully, the gnoll rematerialized, and with one claw, sliced a small opening in the canvas covering the wagon. The glint of gold caught his eye! And Baffin’s! Losing mission focus, Baffin frantically motioned for Nameless to acquire the wagon’s contents. Needing little encouragement, the gnoll delicately lengthened the cut and pulled out two gold bars. Blinded by greed, Baffin urged Nameless to get more, and the gnoll successfully brought out two more bars.
Suddenly, the guards around the wagon began to rotate positions. Baffin waved frantically at Nameless and signaled it was time to get out. One guard would see the fallen guard and likely Nameless, and another guard would notice that his replacement was not moving into position. Too late, the bard realized they had learned nothing about the true identity of the soldiers.
As Snow and Nameless silently slipped away from the camp, Baffin panicked and fell face first to the ground. Just when a successful stealth mission was in reach, the real Baffin returns! Shouts erupted from the guards: “Intruders!” Spurred on by adrenaline and fear, Baffin picked himself up and began running, as did Snow and Nameless. Some of the guards and sentries closed on the party, while others moved to protect the wagon of gold. Waking soldiers chased after the three adventurers while others raced into defensive positions.
After a quick entanglement with one sentry, Baffin broke out of the picket. Nameless harassed the soldiers into focusing on him, while Snow and Baffin ran away from the camp in two different directions. Soon, the gnoll was leading the soldiers on a merry chase in a third direction. Baffin paused to hide and check for pursuit. Finding none and trusting that Nameless could elude his pursuers, the bard looked for Snow, who also escaped the pursuit. Hearing the confident howls of the gnoll, the pair of remaining adventurers made a roundabout return to their camp, and Snow was careful to hide their tracks.
Back in camp, Snow and Baffin reported what had happened, and everyone prepared to leave. They decided to wait an hour for Nameless and then continue their journey to the Lyceum, in the belief that Nameless knew their destination and could easily track them down. Staying at the camp was too dangerous with the soldiers searching the area.
Nameless did not reach camp after an hour. The party waited another half hour, and he still did not show up. The worried and nervous party was about to leave when they noticed two soldiers approaching. Leaving now would simply draw attention, so the party, instead, set an ambush. Deeper in the woods, Baffin lured the soldiers toward him by sitting behind a campfire while strumming a jaunty tune on his lute, and the rest of the party hid in the shadows and woods at the edge of the light. Although only one soldier moved within easy striking distance of the party, the ambush was a complete success. One soldier was captured, and other was under Moog’s ministrations. With Moog’s help, Baffin questioned the survivor, and the party learned terrible news: Nameless failed to escape and was killed by his pursuers!
Seeing the party in shock, the soldier warned, “You should let me go and give up. You’re all going to be caught soon enough. Your furry friend is going to tell us where you are and where you’re going anyway. It’s only a matter of time.”
“Wait,” interrupted Baffin, “What are you saying?”
“You heard me,” snarled the soldier. “Your friend is being tortured by the mage right now. Your incursion into the camp made the mage so angry that he resurrected your friend so he could torture him and find out what the hell happened. So you’d better give up now.”
“Hold on. Tell us what you know, and maybe we will let you go,” replied Baffin in reasonable tones. “If you don’t tell us, well, see my giant friend over there and what he’s doing to your buddy …”
Lying naked in the freezing cold and watching Moog decorate his Ragesian comrade, the captive spilled his guts. As the soldier provided information, Baffin calmly gathered the man’s clothing, methodically folded them, and placed them near the captive. The party learned that the soldiers were actually Ragesians disguised in Dassen uniforms and had stolen nearly 7000 GP from the Dassen military in Seaquen. The Ragesians were transporting the stolen gold north to support the Ragesian Empire in its war against the Shahalesti Empire.
Baffin, feeling the man had kept his end of the bargain, went to release the bonds, when Moog’s axe suddenly crashed down and beheaded the captive. Inwardly outraged by his comrade’s brutality, Baffin felt lucky that Moog was on his side and had good aim. The bard also knew that Moog had suffered tremendously at the hands of the Ragesians and after falling into Krystin’s dreams, may have lost his soul forever.
There was no time to waste on pondering the situation … Nameless had to be rescued. The party left the scene of their ambush, rode toward the Ragesian camp, and stopped about 300’ away, where they dismounted and hid their horses in a small patch of trees. While Krystin stayed behind to watch over the horses, everyone else quietly approached the Ragesians.
As the rescuers closed on the camp, they sighted a few soldiers guarding the perimeter, then more soldiers around the gold-laden wagon. The party paused to try to pinpoint where Nameless was being held, and suddenly an anguished howl of pain tore through the night. Nameless!
With that awful cry piercing their hearts, Moog and Baffin immediately charged the soldiers, and everyone rushed forward to rescue their stricken comrade. Although outnumbered more than 2 to 1, the party grimly hacked their way through the Ragesians to reach Nameless and the mage torturing the prostrate gnoll. Moog, Vennman, Ophelia, and Torrent furiously attacked the soldiers on one side of the camp and allowed Snow and Baffin to concentrate on attacking the mage and getting Nameless free. Soon the two party members secured their comrade’s release, and the battered and beaten gnoll joined the fray. Despite his wounds, Nameless viciously repaid his Ragesian interrogator and then some, butchering the mage’s body in a violent explosion of anger and hatred.
The party began slaying the Ragesians one by one, and finally, the last two soldiers turned tail and fled. While Snow and a hobbled Nameless gave chase on foot, Baffin – aware of his poor conditioning – ran back to the horses. After jumping on one and seizing the bridle of another, he galloped back to join the pursuit. The bard overtook Snow, stopped, and handed the free horse to her, and with the two of them on horseback, they quickly caught up with the fleeing Ragesians. The exhausted soliders dropped their weapons and surrendered, and Snow and Baffin tied them up and loaded them onto their horses.
As the two party members, with their captives, rode back toward the camp, they were intercepted by Nameless. Before Snow could drop her captive as a present for the gnoll, he took matters into his own hands, dragging the Ragesian from the horse and ripping the man’s head off in a spray of blood. Baffin, who had been interrogating the other Ragesian, smelled the sudden odor of human waste rise from the terrified man.
Disgusted by the excrement practically in his lap and the savage execution, Baffin nudged his horse into motion to keep Nameless at bay. The bard had been trying to learn more about the Ragesian infiltrators in Dassen, and he had negotiated in good faith with the captive. Snow helped Nameless onto her horse, and as they tried to catch up, the bard spurred his horse to go faster. By the time they reached the camp, Snow and Nameless were charging after Baffin and the captive.
“I’m not going to let you slaughter this man!” shouted Baffin.
“He’s Ragesian scum, and he deserves to die!” shot back Nameless.
“But he’s just a soldier following orders. You can’t blame him for everything done by the Ragesians. It’s the leaders and commanders that are to blame.”
“If the leader is to blame, then everyone in the pack is to blame for not changing who leads the pack.”
“Humans don’t work that way. They just want to go about their lives, and they get dragged into conflicts created by leaders and are forced to choose sides. I’ve convinced this guy that he’s done with the Ragesian military, and he won’t be fighting for them anymore.”
Snow and Nameless were now chasing Baffin in circles around the camp, because the bard was also not bringing the captive anywhere near Moog. When it was clear that Baffin refused to endanger the Ragesian, the two pursuers gave up. The grateful soldier guided Baffin to where the Ragesians stabled their horses, and after reminding the soldier of his promise, the bard released him, let him take one horse, and gave him 120 GP to start a new life.
Baffin returned to camp with the remaining horses. Surprising everyone, including himself, the notoriously greedy bard argued that the gold had to be returned to the Dassen military in Seaquen. Snow dropped her jaw in shock. Nameless angrily countered that he had earned the gold; after all, he had died for it! Although Baffin ached with sympathy for his friend and with frustration from the party disharmony, he began hitching the team of horses to the wagon.
“You want to kill Ragesians? The gold can be put to better use by the Dassen military. They can kill a lot more Ragesians in the war, than we can. This money will arm and equip them to kill Ragesians and protect the innocent citizens of Dassen. It has to go back.”
Not at all satisfied, Nameless nonetheless repaired the wheels of the wagon, which he had earlier sabotaged, and then the disaffected gnoll climbed into a tree to rest and recover from his horrible injuries.
A dejected Baffin watched his friend and comrade. The bard’s giddy euphoria upon first seeing the hoard of gold had come crashing down, and now he was filled with exhaustion and regret. Regret over the party involving itself in this business in the first place, regret over wrecking their escape, regret over Nameless getting killed while covering for his screw up, and perhaps worst of all, regret over blocking his friend’s understandable claim on the gold. Baffin prayed the morning would bring Avandra’s blessing to revive his and his comrades’ spirits.