In Kalsgard, Golarion’s northernmost city and the jumping off place for caravans moving over the roof of the world into Tien Xia, it was nigh impossible to find a local guide to direct a caravan across the icecap. Local merchant guilds, flush with trade dollars, had locked up all the experienced guides, and Mitch, Nisha and Kainyn were at a loss as to how to find and experienced guide to take them into Tien Xia.
They had but a sole lead: a woman named Ooksaka, who’d come to them beaten and bruised, told them her partner, a man named Ulf, knew the way to Tien Xia and was free to take contract. He’d do the job, Ooksaka said, but there was one problem: they’d have to find him first. Ooksaka said her brother had gone south to meet with some men who’d promised work, but had never returned. Ooksaka went to the same men a few days later, inquiring after her brother, but had been told he wasn’t there and physically rebuffed. She knew he’d been taken prisoner by these men, and if the group could rescue him, he’d surely be amenable to guiding them over the icecap.
They pressed Ooksaka for details, and she told them of an immense ulfen man that they immediately suspected was Asfig “Assface” Longthews, the apparent chieftain of a group of thugs whose primary identifying feature were the armbands they wore, each bearing the image of a stylized lion. They also thought he may be a thief, being the prime suspect in the recent disappearance of magical weapon. Longthews was also known for his height, being well over six feet tall and approaching seven, and the thief was said to be if significant height.
Ooksaka agreed to guide them south to the hilltop keep where she believed her brother was being kept, and gave them some information about the place, such as she remembered (it wasn’t much). It was soon after that Koya came out from her gypsy wagon with a problem: her large lockbox, presumably full of her jewelry and trinkets, was locked and she’d lost the key. Her son Sandru attempted to locate the dwarf Giel, who had a talent for undoing locks, but found him drunk and insensate in a dungheap. Sandru tried to bring him around enough to function, but after weeks with no alcohol, Giel had gone on a monster bender and would not be roused.
Just when all seemed lost, one of the caravan guards approached. “Madame Koya, forgive the interruption, but I couldn’t help but hear of your predicament,” said a man who called himself Esteban Kilpatrick. Sandru remembered him having signed on as a guard in Sandpoint, eager (‘perhaps overly eager,’ Sandru thought at the time), and being a competent archer and scout. “I have some luck with such things – may I attempt to open it for you?” Having no other real options, Koya conceded the box, and Esteban bent to work. But as Mitch observed, Esteban surreptitiously took from his leather jerkin a satchel that contain small metal implements, similar to the ones Giel used to open locks and disarm traps. Esteban, however, seemed to be purposefully hiding them from Koya and Sandru’s view. Mitch continued to observe the man, and was shocked to see that, mere seconds after he’d begun the attempt, he’d had the lock undone. But even more shocking was the man continuing to pretend he was struggling with it, returning the tools inside his armor until finally saying “voila!” and turning to hand the long-unlocked box to Koya. Pleased with the results, Koya offered him a small bag of silver, but this Esteban continued to shock, for instead of accepting the gift, he instead asked for one of Koya dangling chandelier-style earrings, made of spun gold and exquisitely crafted but worth far less than the silver coins in the small leather bag.
Esteban returned to his post on wagon number six, the rearward wagon. But Mitch, having seen the condition that Giel was in (and frankly, having had his doubts about Giel and his dipsomania for awhile now) braced Sandru with questions about the mysterious archer. Where was he from? Could he shoot? How was he as a scout? Sandru, to his surprise, found he knew fairly little about the man personally, although he could attest to at least moderate competence in those areas Mitch asked.
After brief consultation with his comrades, the decision was made. “You, Kilpatrick!” Mitch yelled up at Wagon Six. “Come with me.”
Esteban looked amused as he jumped down from his post at the top of the wagon.. “How can I help you?”
Mitch grabbed hold of the smaller man’s jerkin. “You can help me by shutting your trap and coming with me.”
“By all means,” said Esteban, without rancor. Once entering the firelight, Esteban noticed that several people had gathered: Mitch of course, but also his companions Nisha and Kainyn, along with Caravanmaster Sandru and a young Ulfen woman, a bit worse for wear, who was briefing the group on an apparent raid they were planning. Esteban’s ears perked up at once.
“They’re hiding somethjing there, I just know it,” Ooksaka continued. “They’ve got Ulf and when I went to get him they beat me up and told me to never come back.”
“What of defenses?” asked Kainyn. “A wall or fence?”
“No, nothing like that,” Ooksaka said. “They don’t have wall or gate, but they look to be building one – there are pylons around their camp, spaced evenly, that look like the supporting structures for an eventual wall. I never got past the pylons – I was met at before I reached it, and rebuffed. I did see their keep though – it was partially underground, made of stone but covered with turf on top. I saw only a single door to enter the place. “
“How far south is it from here?” asked Nisha. “Did you walk or ride?”
“I walked – it’s only about a half day’s walk to the south, although the land becomes pretty wild once we left the main roads. There isn’t much in the way of traffic that way, and I think they saw me approaching long before I was accosted.”
“The compound is at the top of a hillock,” Ooksaka added. “They can see far from that height, and there isn’t much cover. There are some patches of woodland, and the old forest comes near to their keep on the other side, but otherwise the land is rolling grassland and prairie, with patches of trees here and there.”
After some discussion, the decision was made to leave before midday the following day, allowing time for Mitch, Nisha and Kainyn to dispense of some trade goods they had brought up from Sandpoint and pick up some specialty supplies. The plan was to get near the compound a couple hours before dark, when Esteban would scout the place and look for ways in. The group would then proceed into the compound some time after dark.
Travel was uneventful for the most part, as the group traveled south, then easterly. There were fewer and fewer people on the road as they followed the path that Ooksaka set, although more and more trees. Soon they came to a secluded spot that overlooked a lonely crossroads – one fork continued south, while another, hidden from view by an inconvenient copse of trees, went up into a hillside. That one, Ooksaka told them, was the path to the Ulfen compound where they had her brother.
Still having a couple hours before dark, the group observed the crossroads as best they could, and saw a couple of interesting things: first, a group of five horsemen coming up from the south, one bearing a lattice with two ale-kegs strapped to it. Mitch smiled mirthlessly at the prospect of coming upon the kidnappers while they were in their cups. And second, Esteban spotted another two men, also horsed, approaching the line of pylons waiting to support a fence. The man approached the point where the path intersected the line of pylons, dismounted, spoke to some unseen interlocutor, and then proceeded into the compound leading their horses.
It was agreed that Esteban would quietly enter the compound an hour after dark, with the rest of the group (sans Ooksaka, who refused to approach any closer to the place) following thirty minutes later after Esteban had scouted the surrounding area and gotten into a tactically sound position. As he approached, Esteban noticed the place looked completely unguarded.
‘Sheeeeeit,’ Esteban thought with a smile – but the moment he passed he pylons, a strange flash of white light pierced the night (‘shit,’ thought Esteban) and even more disconcerting, a large lion (‘shit!’ thought Esteban) appeared and attacked, chasing Esteban at full speed down the path and leaving him clawed, bloodied and smelling faintly of pee.
Nisha patched up the scout, and they gave their initial plan a rethink: where stealth had failed, perhaps duplicity might do the trick. They all put on armbands, the ones with the stylized lions, and proceeded up the path. They arrived at the same place that Esteban had tried to enter the compound – no lion, thankfully – and the prepared to sneak through.
“Wait!” said Nisha. She was looking down at some vague lines in the dirt, apparently scratched there. Kainnyn came over and with an expert eye deduced that someone had, some time previously, scratched a rune of some sort there. Nisha helped determine the placement of the lines, while Kainyn determined the magical properties required. Soon, they pair had redrawn the rune in the dirt. Esteban tested it by running past the pylons, expecting the reappearance of the lion, but no lion appeared and soon everyone was approaching the low stone building.
The sounds of horses came from a large barn around back, easily a dozen or so, but they were quiet compared to the raucous celebration taking place inside the building. The sounds of laughter and cheers could be easily heard outside. Rather than approach from the front entrance, the group decided to circle around back, to see if a window or other door might allow them a more surreptitious entrance. Luck was with them: a dark rear door, locked and quiet, was there and Esteban went to work picking the lock.
it bent easily to his skills, and with a flourish, Esteban opened the door, letting Mitch charge in, laying about with his greatsword and catching two Ulfen men unawares. They had been having their way with a servant girl, but they soon fell to a combination of Mitch’s greataxe, Esteban’s arrows and Kainyn’s rigid claws. Nisha tended to the abused young woman, trying to put her at ease, while the rest of the group policed up the bodies and entered the next room, where mutton roasted merrily on the spit and two more Ulfen met their ends at the hands of of Mitch and Kainyn.
Nisha told the servants they meant them no harm and their were free to go, learning in the process the probably location of Longthews and his wife, a known witch. By now, the Ulfen revelers and surely heard the sounds of fighting, so the pretense of stealth was discarded. The door to the great hall crashed open: “Party’s over!” yelled Mitch, just as he buried his greataxe in a groggy Ulfen head.
Esteban leaped atop a table, slinging arrows at the men who, like roused wasps, were now coming to drive the interlopers from their nest. Kainyn entered, his long claws shredding throats and slicing flesh, but an Ulfen woman – Asfig’s witch-wife – laid a hex on him and he fall down with a thump. Esteban threaded an arrow through her eye before she could throw any more hexes, and Asfig himself fell to Mitch’s axe, while a newly awakened Kainyn finished off a couple more. The rest, those that could speak, surrendered.
The interrogation was short – where was the man, Ulf? At first they claimed no knowledge of him, but a short demonstration of the violence inherent in the system loosened tongues: he’s in the boat, back in Kalsgard (“… we came all the way out there for this?” muttered Kainyn). Rooms were searched.
It was Nisha would addressed the unpoken question of what was to be done with the prisoners. “They’re rapists,” she said simply, remembering the plight of the first young woman they’d encountered, handled so roughly by drunken louts. Nisha pulled a long dagger and, lifting an inebriated Ulfen man’s head by the hair, neatly slashed his throat. Blood poured out across the table as she let the head drop.
“You said you’d let us go!” cried one of the men kneeling a few feet away, hands tied.
“We did,” Mitch said, more to Nisha than to the man. he seemed to be cautioning her against continuing, but if she’d understood, she gave no indication. She killed another drunken Ulfen, her pale wrist now covered in blood.
Esteban raised an eyebrow at Mitch, then shrugged. “She’s right, my friend. They’ve no claim to mercy now, regardless of promises given in haste.” With a smooth, sure motion, Esteban sent two arrows winging toward the kneeling prisoners, one taking a man in his open mouth, another in the right eye. Their protestations died with them, emitting a high pitched wheeze as they fell backward and bled out.
By this time, Nisha had finished her grisly work as well, and they bent to collect what treasure was to be found:
830 gp (-80 for gifts to the freed servant women)
Magic Boots of Elvenkind Unidentified potion Ring of Protection +1
Weapons & Armor Masterwork short sword with a carved ivory pommel ( 2 masterwork battle axes 1 masterwork chain mail 1 masterwork heavy round wooden shield A magical shortspear +1 2 unidentified matching magical throwing axes Several of each: mundane chain shirts, round heavy wooden shields, shortswords 1 masterwork sickle
Trinkets 19 gold armbands emblazoned with a stylized lion motif 1 platinum armband emblazoned with a stylizeed lion motif worth 350 gp A jeweled box worth 150 go 3 fine felt cloacks, worth 15gp each 5 silver rings, worrth 10gp each An ornate whalebone tally stick, worth 75 gp
A gold ring worth 50 gp 50 feet of fine silk rope 12 fine riding horses, with accompanying saddles and tack various foodstuffs
Mitch: two as yet unidentified matching magical throwing axes
Kainyn: Shortspear +1
Nisha: Ring of Protection +1
Sharing the horses and a little money with the servant girls, the entire group made their way back toward Kalgard. Mitch was morose; Nisha thoughtful and resolute. But Kainyn and Esteban rode near the women they’d liberated, telling humorous tales and trying to put them at ease as all tried to erase the sight of drunken Ulfen, reeking of ale, bleeding their life’s blood onto a stained table and too stupefied to fight back or even understand the reason why.