Early in the campaign, the PCs traveled north on behalf of their employer, Master Krueger, to settle a dispute with a somewhat wild group called the Grimvalings. Kinsmen of Master Grimvalt and his bride Bricta, they lived in a large dacha just beyond the northern borders of Strakannian land. Grimvalt despises foreigners and intruders, and the meeting turned bloody. Diego himself struck the head from Grimvalt’s hulking shoulders. Many weeks passed without word from the Grimvalings. Unbeknownst to the PCs, Bricta used her pagan druidic magic on Samhain to revive the body of her dead husband, whose head she had sewn back on. She then ordered her henchmen to start leaving diseased animals near the walls of Arianport, threatening contagion unless the murderer, Master Krueger, was slain or turned over. The threats caused a near riot in the panicked town so the PCs volunteered to visit the dacha again to somehow resolve the dispute. Using her magic, Bricta saw them coming and led the Grimvalings south to ambush the party on the road. With her is her pet brown bear.
FROM THE DM
I designed this encounter to be a simple warm-up, but a series of critical hits and critical misses made the battle memorable. The Grimvalings proved to be dangerous in the wilderness, but Bricta broke off the ambush early, for she planned to kill the PCs at the dacha.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Diego de Vargas: Fighter and party leader
Simi Longblade: Fighter, Diego’s right-hand man
Sir Tomo Daegun: Fighter, Diego’s noble friend
Gabriel Lucien: Thief, Diego’s spymaster
Darocles Soterion: Magic User, Diego’s salvage master
Ogedai: Ranger, Diego’s Illuk (think Mongol) ally
Young Gunther: Fighter NPC, Sir Tomo’s squire
Lothar: Diego’s senior sergeant
Nimius: One of Diego’s trusted sergeants
Stenka: Lucien’s new henchman
Catalina: Diego’s cousin and childhood crush
Alina: Diego’s new wife, daughter of Master Ludwig Krueger
The column of horsemen moved steadily down the forest road. It was warmer today than in recent days. Still, a light snow floated gently on the morning air, drifting about lazily, as if it had not made up its mind to descend. The ground rose gradually on both sides of the road, but the area seemed safe enough, for the forest receded about 30 yards. A large field of frost-covered grass and tiny purple wildflowers lay on both sides of the road, refusing any cover to would-be bandits. Diego and Simi rode at the head of the column, talking softly as they rode on. Lucien and Stenka rode in the rear, while Lothar, Nimius, two crossbowmen under Nimius, and one Town Guardsman formed the center of the column.
The silence of the morning was shattered by the hoot of an owl and the strange whoosh of arrow fire. Goose-feathered shafts rained down on the horsemen from the distant tree line, off to the left. Two horses were struck, throwing their riders. Diego’s horse was struck a glancing blow and reared up, but he retained control. Lothar was struck twice in the abdomen, the arrows protruding grotesquely from his breastplate. Caught by surprise, Diego drew his sword and whipped his head about to locate his attackers. Regaining his wits quickly and spurring his mount, he shouted for all to speed up horse and charge through the ambush. It was too late, for two more horses were hit, throwing their riders to the ground. Caught in a killing field, the crossbowmen and Lothar looked desperately for either targets or cover. They found neither. Lothar was struck again, this time in the left shoulder. In the rear of the column, Lucien and Stenka spurred their horses and charged down the road, but an arrow ripped through Stenka’s neck, nearly throwing him from the horse. Instead, his arms went limp as he slumped forward on the galloping steed, while blood gushed from his neck, spattering the mare in crimson gore. Then he fell from the saddle like a rag doll.
Nimius, alert and poised under fire, discerned that all the arrows were coming from the left, so he gathered the crossbowmen and the town guardsman together, faced them toward the enemy bowmen, and found them a small degree of cover. Then he raced toward Lothar, who was just then shot a fourth time while trying to dismount. Blood trickled from the hulking Strakannian’s mouth as he fell from the saddle, but Nimius was there to catch him. “Hold on, old friend. Don’t you die on me!”
Dragging Lothar to a small gulley, which provided just a hint of cover, Nimius was struck dumb by a strange sight to his right. A beautiful lady, dressed in a gossamer gown of forest green and glistening gold, stood tall on a large flat rock shelf overlooking the road. She seemed to have appeared out of nowhere, for he was certain that he would have spotted her earlier if she had been there all along. Stranger yet, she was not struck by any arrow, and she seemed to be singing softly in the midst of the chaos. His eyes narrowed. “Sorceress!” His eyes remained locked on her, but his fingers moved with lightning speed as if on their own. He stood up amidst the arrow fire and cocked his crossbow, loaded a bolt, and fired. His aim was steady and true, but the bolt splintered as it struck her chest, as if it hit a boulder. Though his hands were already at work reloading, a chill ran up his spine and he yelled, “Simi!”
His shout caught Simi’s attention, and the weapons master followed Nimius’ glare to the strange woman. Seeing his companions immobilized on the road, Simi did not hesitate. He wheeled his mount and charged headlong toward the maiden.
Just as he veered off the road, Simi’s mount reared in pain, sprawled sideways onto the road, and dumped Simi onto the dead grass on the far side. Rolling free, he scrambled to rise to his feet, but he found his feet caught on something in the undergrowth. Then his eyes grew wide as he watched the vines and small brambles curl around his calves and knees. Whipping his head right and left, he saw a blur of white, yellow, and brown movement as the entire field seemed to come alive at once. The frost-covered field became a writhing mass of tangled roots and brown grass. Still staring at his legs in disbelief, he pulled against snow-dusted vines, wondering if some strong wind caused the plants to move so. Finally, reality hit him head on. There was certainly no wind, and the field was trying to swallow him alive. Determination and a sense of urgency gripped him, and he ripped himself free of the entangling roots and dead grass. Springing to his feet, he stumbled back onto the road and across it to the far side, but here he felt something like spikes driving into his boots. He stumbled and fell, and the thick, needle-like thorns of grass pierced his leg as well. All the while, the mysterious woman sang, while arrows continued to rain down on the party.
Some 20 yards away, Diego’s horse reared in terror as a small brown bear emerged from a stand of pines and lumbered down the road straight toward him. Losing his grip on the reins and falling backwards, Diego hit the ground hard. Sprawled out at a grotesque angle, his back contorted in pain, he finally managed to ditch his shield and roll free of the horse. Adrenaline surged through his veins as he rolled onto his back and found the mammoth beast standing over him on two legs, growling angrily. Two seconds seemed an eternity as he lay frozen in terror, eyes locked on the beast’s enormous teeth, and his right hand grabbing blindly for his sword, which had clattered out of his grasp as he hit the frozen ground. Crashing back down onto its four legs, the bear lunged at Diego. Its front paw struck his helm hard, and Diego heard its knife-like claws raking across the steel. Then the other paw landed, and another, and another. Red-hot pain surged through his left arm, but Diego’s glare was fixed on those giant teeth, hovering just inches from his neck. He shuddered as the beast roared anew, its hot rotten breath washing across his face. His time was up. Time seemed to stop.
In the back of his mind, Diego swore that he heard a faint voice. It was a young girl’s laughter. No, a young lady’s laughter. His mind raced back to his childhood, back to his 14-year-old cousin, Catalina, the slim dark-haired beauty with whom he had so desperately fallen in love. Her voice now seemed clear in his mind. “Get up! Get up, now.” Still, time was frozen. Surprised by the thought of Catalina’s nearly-forgotten voice, his mind lingered in a distant memory. Then he heard the voice again, but this time something had changed. The lady’s voice, still soft, was pleading this time, and the tone was different. The accent was distinctly northern. Recognition finally came. It was Alina’s voice, urging him to move. “Get up, Diego. You must move now!” A foul wash of hot and humid air seemed to melt away her angelic voice. In its place were now the emanations of Simi’s gruff voice, acidic and booming. “Get your ass up now, you fool! MOVE! MOVE! MOVE!”
Diego’s hand closed on the leather-wrapped hilt of his longsword, and desperation overtook him. He launched himself sideways, raising the point of the blade and thrusting with all of his strength. Then the world went black, and a heavy weight crashed down upon him. He was not dead, for he could still feel searing pain, and he fought desperately for air. The giant, fur-covered behemoth writhed on top of him, crushing the air from his lungs and bruising anything not protected by armor. Steaming-hot liquid spilled onto his chest and face, blinding him as some ran into his eyes. Then he rolled free of the weight and heard the beast moan and grunt. His longsword was ripped from his grasp. As Diego lunged to his feet, half-blind, he found the bear on its side, the sword cleanly through its neck, just under the fierce chin. The beast rolled about blindly, snapping its jaws and swiping at the air with its paws. It rolled over as if to get to its feet. His head pounding, his bloodied arm throbbing, and his eyes stinging, Diego realized that his life hung on what he did in the next few seconds. With a feverish desire to live, he leaped for his sword, grasped the hilt anew, pulled it free, and drove the blade again into the bear’s neck. He threw all of his weight behind the thrust, driving the blade through muscle and fat, and then wrenching the blade left and right to widen the wound. He screamed aloud as he tore apart its throat. It was a feral scream. Kill or be killed. The beast gurgled on its own blood and slowed its flailing. Diego yanked the sword free once again and stumbled backward a few paces. He could barely see, but the sounds of battle still raged down the road. He heard shouting and the whinnying of horses. He turned and stumbled down the road, sword in both hands.
“Diego, we’re pinned between—Jodin’s Crown! What the Hell happened to you?” It was Nimius. Diego stood before him, longsword hanging limply in one hand, looking as if he had emerged from the bowels of a butcher shop. The whites of his eyes stood out starkly against the reddish-black mask of blood that covered his face. Blood-begrimed, wide-eyed, and stumbling, he looked like a lunatic coming fresh from a slaughter.
“Diego! Can you…”
“Never mind me”, he blurted, still wide-eyed and pointing over Nimius’ shoulder to the hauntingly beautiful and eerie lady on the boulder. “Kill that bitch!” With that he raised his sword and lumbered down the road, Nimius following right behind him. Yet, just as their charge began, Simi rushed toward the woman, grunting loudly as thorny daggers seemed to piece the soles of his feet. He dropped his sword as he ran and pulled a leather whip from his belt, the weighted metal tip falling to the ground as he ran. Screaming in pain and frustration, he leaped the last few feet toward the woman, snapping the whip in a desperate gamble. He landed at the foot of the boulder with a terrible crash, knocking the wind from his chest, but the whip emitted a sharp crack, followed by a deep rumbling that echoed through the valley. A few yards beyond his reach, the woman whirled violently as if she had been struck. For a second, she fought to keep her balance. Then, without a word, she whisked herself across the boulder with catlike grace, slipped down the far side, and cut through the grass, which seemed to part at her feet, until she disappeared into the tree line. Winded and grunting in pain, Simi could barely stand. Then an arrow slammed into his back, lodging in his breastplate.
Eventually the companions heard the sound of a nightingale, and all at once the arrows ceased.