A long session which, in contrast to the two previous (combatless) sessions, was taken up mostly with a huge battle!
Barur - Noble Dwarven warrior, accompanied by his hirelings Barath and Angur
Darian - Wandering Bard
Arthanius Lex - Servant of Arg, member of the Order of the Hammer, witch-hunter
After the disappearance of Aergyl the Necromancer early in the morning during the last session, Darian, Barur and his henchmen gathered in the tavern to discuss events and to make plans for their next action. They decided to attempt a raid on the ruined village of Ballan, which lies to the south of Keet (where they are staying), on the slopes of Mount Garn. They had visited Ballan on two previous occasions, and had encountered the village's new inhabitants - bugbears. They were drawn to explore the manor house which they'd noticed on a hill at the rear of the village, surmising that this was perhaps the lair of the bugbears, and that there was probably loot to be had. They'd discovered that the manor was previously owned by a Baron Halld, and that he was friends with a well-known wizard, Elleg, who had dwelt in the region - meaning that the potential for valuable and interesting treasure in the ruined manor was guessed to be high! So, they made plans to head to Ballan early the next morning.
That evening, as the party were relaxing in the inn, a stranger arrived in Keet - a short, rugged, bearded man, dressed in a long leather coat, carrying a crossbow, and leading a lithe dog on a leash. He entered the tavern, escorted by one of the village guards, and strode directly up to the party of adventurers. Introducing himself as Arthanius Lex, he stated that he had come to investigate the strange goings-on in the village, and the escape of the Necromancer, whom he'd been informed had been an acquaintance of Barur's. The Dwarf, bemoaning further accusations for the deeds of his ill-chosen former companion, re-asserted his innocence in the matter, but did little to gain the trust of the witch-hunter, who remained very suspicious. He did however declare that he would accompany the party to Ballan the next day, in order to see if they really did intend to fight against the creatures of Chaos.
Leaving the inn, Arthanius asked the village guard to lead him to the house of Meredith, the local herbalist, who was also known to have had dealings with the Necromancer. The old woman told all she knew of the wizard, that he had seemed somewhat suspicious, and had spoken of strange matters, but that she had had the feeling that there was good in him, and that he was not purely a servant of Chaos. Again, the witch-hunter's suspicious mind was not pacified, and he left with the feeling that some strange plot was afoot in the village.
They all slept poorly during the night, due to the cold of the oncoming winter, and awoke early to see the year's first snow covering the ground outside. Barur's henchman Angur declared it to be "a cold day for killing". Before leaving the village they visited the guards' barracks, which stands on a hill behind the inn. Arthanius Lex was awaiting them there, and was gathered with a group of guards. He had managed to talk the guard captain around to sending three of the village guards with the party, as they'd need all the swords they could get if the reports about Ballan's new inhabitants were true. Thus they entered the wild lands: Barur, Angur and Barath, Darian, and Arthanius Lex with his hunting hound and the three guards: Aram, Dolg and Olm.
The 2 hour walk around the outskirts of the forest to Ballan was mostly uneventful. At one point they sighted a flight of crows above them, which the superstitious village guards believed to be the familiars of the wizard Elleg (who was also believed to perhaps still dwell in his tower on the edge of the forest away to the south east). The crows were taken as a portent of some kind, though the party were unsure whether it boded for good or ill.
Arriving at the ruined village, they found it lifeless and still, especially quite now it was blanketed with snow. The snow revealed no tracks ahead of them, so they surmised that whatever lived here had not been active since the snow had fallen in the early morning. They walked carefully through the village, Lex's dog sniffing and growling at various ruined buildings as they passed. Nonetheless they headed straight to the walled manor house on the hill. The rusted iron gates in the wall stood half open, and Barur ventured inside to find a garden wildly overgrown with thorny plants, two broken statues of noble warriors, and a path leading up to the front door of the manor. He noted that the windows of the manor were all boarded shut. They gathered at the doorstep, and pulled the creaking doors open, revealing an empty hallway with a door and a stairway on each side, and a set of magnificently carved double doors at the far end.
Lex stepped boldly forward, walking down the hall and opening the double doors, which led into what used to be the manor's great dining hall. The room was now filled with smoke, coming from the smouldering embers which lay beneath a steaming iron cauldron. A variety of wooden tables, chairs and junk also filled the room, but it was apparently uninhabited. Ever wary, Lex looked upwards to the ceiling, and noticed that a balcony ran along one edge of the room, allowing viewers on the next floor to look down into the hall. Afraid of what such viewers might do to them now, he sent two of the guards up the stairway to investigate. Also while scanning the ceiling, the witch-hunter caught a glimpse of a large black shape moving in one corner. Taking no chances, he let a crossbow bolt fly at it, heard the bolt thud into what sounded like flesh, and a muted scream of pain. The shape began to move.
The two guards crept up the stairway, and ran back down, gibbering that they'd seen "five monsters, dark gods, blood everywhere!". The battle began.
At this point, as the party was mostly gathered at the doors of the banquet hall, Darian, who was lurking at the rear, noticed that one of the smaller doors in the entrance hall, behind them, was beginning to shake, as if someone was trying to open it. Barur and his henchmen leapt up the stairs to confront the reported horrors, and Darian put his back against the shaking door in an attempt to block it. Unfortunately his strength was not sufficient, and he was sent flying to the floor, cracking his head on the flagstones, as a group of four bugbears wielding spears rushed to attack the party's rear.
Those on the upper level were confronted by the leader of the bugbears, a massive hulking beast of 8 feet tall, brandishing an axe and a huge shield, and wearing a dented breastplate. He was accompanied by two priests wielding bone rods, and two warriors with spears. The chamber appeared to be used as some kind of temple, as a magic circle was scribed on the floor, and an altar made of bones and congealed blood occupied one wall. The guards' report was correct - the whole room was splashed with blood of varying ages.
The battle was sorely fought, with the party surrounded and split onto two levels. The bugbear priests wielded powerful magic against them, summoning a blinding darkness, and shooting forth volleys of bone shards. Darian was stabbed and left for dead by the bugbears which had come from the door he'd attempted to block, but he bettered them, crawling up behind them and skewering one of them from behind. Barur fought the bugbear leader, an evenly matched battle between two veteran warriors, but after the magical darkness had passed, the Dwarf ended victorious. The defeat of their leader demoralised the bugbear hordes, and some of them fled.
The priests fought to the death, and were killed by Barur's henchmen, Angur and Barath - Barath using the unusual but successful tactic of throwing chunks of wood and bones from the altar at his opponents to disorient them. Several bugbears died with Lex's bolts in their skulls. When the last of the monsters were slain, the party assessed its losses. Two of the three village guards were dead, but the third, Olm, survived and had proven to be a stalwart warrior, single-handedly fending off attacks from three bugbears. Lex was badly wounded, but still able. Darian lay unconscious and bleeding in the entrance hall on the ground floor, but was still barely alive.
With the rout of their enemies, the party was torn between looting the manor house in victory and making a hasty retreat to the safety of Keet. They chose the latter course of action, fearing that a further confrontation in the manor would not go in their favour. But they planned to return later in the day, after leaving the badly wounded in safety, hoping that the fleeing bugbears had run far enough away that they wouldn't have regrouped by the time the party returned.
The next session will tell if their hopes will be fulfilled!