As Caitlin and Monsarana rode up the slope in pursuit of the fleeing patrol, they heard a distinctive rattling thump as the castle's drawbridge was lifted. They rounded the corner to discover the patrol's six survivors milling in confusion in front of the very closed main gate, bawling demands to be let in up at the unimpressed guards above. They were addressing one man in particular, whose name appeared to be Crumpsall and who seemed to be in charge, but he was adamant that he wasn't letting "the infected" back into the castle.
Opposite the bedroom was a comfortable sitting room, with soft chairs and a deep fireplace; next to the bedroom was a map-room with large tables covered in maps and others stored in tall boxes. Yoshin spent some time in here, looking for "My Secret Plan for Conquering the World that The Heroes May Not See® Vol II" but the nearest he could find was maps of Sir Arenlor's lands, marked up with suggestively proprietary notes. He passed some of these to Krizzen and opened the last door.
Inside was something he recognized instantly - a wizard's workroom. Benches lined the walls with experiements and glassware, bookshelves lined the walls with neatly ranked books in them, and a large pentagram summoning circle was carefully inscribed on the floor. As a sorcerer, Yoshin's magic came more from within than from books, but he spent some time carefully going over these and slipped a useful-looking scroll into a pocket. Then he turned his attention to the pentagram. He didn't feel it was safe to leave Velran with a working summoning circle, so he started to scuff the lines with his boot.
Unfortunately, what he didn't notice was a secondary, defensive enchantment on the pentagram. With a flash of light and a puff of smoke, a figure materialized in the midst of the symbol as the alarmed Yoshin backed away with a low cry. Clearly fiendish, the newcome was scaled, horned and clawed, bat wings unfolding as it materialized, evil black eyes locking on the intruder with malicious intelligence. Only one thing detracted from the terror of its' appearance. Slightly less than 2' height....
Many adventurers would simply have attacked, but Yoshin, ever cautious, went for negotiation. Ladeling on flattery with a shovel, he managed to convince the creature that he and Krizzen would free the creature if they managed to deal with Velran. Unable to act against its' hated master directly, the quasit nonetheless tacitly agreed to help them by pantomiming a hopelessly slow attempt to attack them as they escaped the summoning room to which it was bound - while vowing to eat Yoshin's kidneys if he broke the agreement. Safely back out in the hallway, Yoshin and Krizzen's attention was belatedly attracted by the sound of approaching, armoured feet on the stairs...
Outside the gate, the argument between Velran's patrol and captain Crumpsall came to an angry end, and the six now-unemployed riders turned and galloped away. Caitlin and Monsarana backed to the edge of the roadway, and the men likewise seemed keen to avoid them and hurried past, one tearing off Velran's sigil and hurling it to the ground in disgust as he did. Caitlin glanced up at the ramparts and noticed a ballista being moved into position above. There was no arguing with that sort of firepower, and she and Monsarana also turned and rode away from the gates, down the slope and back towards the miserable village, hoping Yoshin and Krizzen had been bought enough time to do what needed to be done.
A short and one-sided battle raged for several minutes, with the hapless men-at-arms trying to fight their way up the stairwell in the face of an enraged lizardman with a massive greataxe backed by a sorcerer well-supplied with Magic Missile spells. The stairs were nearly choked with corpses by the time Captain Crumpsall shoved the last man aside and stormed up the flight, muttering "If you want something done, do it yourself..." At the same time, the first two men-at-arms, recovered from their burns, emerged from the rooms to either side and flanked Krizzen.
DM Note: Double Natural 20 critical from Krizzen, undefendable instant kill!
Rising magnificently to the challenge, the lizardman whirled Soothslayer and hewed Crumpsall's head clean off in a single stroke, following through to send one of the recovered guards tumbling back into Velran's bedroom - and straight into the rapier of Velran himself, who had followed Crumpsall. Krizzen shifted his grip on his axe, readying himself for a more dangerous foe, and made an exploratory attack, opening a small wound on Velran's arm. Velran flicked a gesture with his free hand, casting a spell. A pale ray of light sprang from his hand and struck Krizzen, who felt his strength drain away. Yoshin sent a Flaming Sphere bouncing at Velran, but he flattened himself to the stairwell wall and it went past. Before Krizzen could recover, Velran cast a Jump spell and leaped away up the stairs towards the roof.
After ten minutes or so's riding, Caitlin and Monsarana began to see the sorry shacks that comprised Caran Gehir's village coming into sight through the trees. Aware that the sight of armoured riders was automatically bad news for the peasants, Caitlin stopped and dismounted, tethering their horses to some trees, and the pair walked casually into the village.
It was a truly wretched place. Tatty, barely-weatherproof shacks surrounded a muddy centre, and mean plots of struggling crops filled fields hacked out of the surrounding forest. The only exception to this overall poverty was a large barn, near the centre, which looked new and well-cared for - the tithe-barn, where the Lord's share of everything grown here was gathered ready for him to collect. Huddled in the shelter at the edges of the village were the villagers themselves, poor, ragged, beaten-down and terrified.
With great care, Monsarana and Caitlin held out empty hands and introduced themselves, explaining that they were not from the castle but friends of good intent. Unhooking her rapier from its' baldric, Caitlin laid it down carefully, and Monsarana followed suit. Gradually, the peasants gained enough confidence to come and speak with the visitors, and Caitlin found herself speaking to their leader, a man named Robinton whose title of mayor was almost a joke of the blackest kind.
"What happened here?" she asked, gesturing around at the state of the place; in her experience, a village only looked like this after some kind of disaster. When he looked at her in dull surprise and said, "Nothing. We live here," she was shaken. "Some nobles," she said with spirit, "treat their people better than this." Robinton looked sceptical. "I am noble-born," she said, and felt their trust waver. "My vassals are well-cared for, and live good lives. Not three days' ride from here, this man's cousin -" she waved at the castle to indicate Velran - "is lord to a village of happy, healthy prosperous people. He is my especial friend, and would take you into his service gladly. Yet Sir Velran," she added a dash of scorn to the name, "would have murdered him and taken his lands and people - to treat like this!"
More and more villagers were coming into sight and listening to the young noble's passionate words. Monsarana nudged Caitlin and whispered very quietly. "There are a lot of these people," she said, "and they may not be soldiers - but some of them look pretty strong to me." Caitlin nodded, eyes dancing, and Monsarana took the floor.
A paladin is half knight, half priest, and knows how to speak both to people and to soldiers. The bulky half-orc's words struck fire in the breasts of those peasants that day, painting them a picture of how life could be under a different master, how those who are oppressed can raise themselves from the dirt and find justice for themselves. Muddy faces turned as the farmers glanced at each other, and sinewey hands gripped farming tools, crude but sturdy, heavy coarse blades on thick shafts more suited to trimming hedges but equally suitable for battle in the hands of those with the spirit for it.
There was a diamond-clear moment, felt by all, when the whole spirit of the gathering reached a crucial point and tipped over it. At once, from a gathering of listeners being persuaded to a point of view by the words of the two visitors, the village became a single entity welded together by a purpose, a cause for which they were prepared to risk everything. Eyes flamed with new determination and courage which had been crushed almost out of existence, and the heady joy of throwing off a lifetime of unquestioning obedience and taking control of their lives.
"Open the tithe-barn!" cried Caitlin in a ringing voice. "These people should be fed!" Monsarana moved through the village, using her medical skills and healing magic to help those most in need, while Caitlin supervised the distribution of the stored food to the hungry folk. It was only with some difficulty that she managed to prevent them burning it down by pointing out that it was a better shelter than most of their homes.
An hour later, she and Monsarana, a little dazed by the results of their actions, were riding back up the road to Caran Gehir at the head of an impromptu army of fifty armed villagers, Robinton at their head, rough voices raised in song...
Desperately, he gathered himself and sprang off the wall, out into the abyss of air over the courtyard far below. For a moment Krizzen thought he'd decided to kill himself, but then he arced high above the space to land neatly on the parapet opposite - and he remembered Velran's Jump spell, also still running. The dark knight stumbled for a moment, regained his balance, darted into the doorway of the nearby third tower, and was gone, leaving Krizzen and Yoshin atop the gatehouse with men-at-arms closing in on them from all sides.
Session Date: 29th Dec 2013