4th Squad was able to sleep, which was a surprise due to the heavy wind and snow outside the massive cavern. The cold – bitter and biting despite the fact that it was spring – seemed to keep the dead ettin from smelling too much, and in fact encased a good amount of the corpse in ice.
Near the end of Denn’s watch the scout saw a pair of weather-beaten figures moving unevenly up the stairs to the mouth of the cavern, and quietly alerted the others, who woke up slowly. Two orcs, apparently seeking shelter from the storm, made their way into the cave and were attacked by Tannis and Denn, who quickly dispatched the interlopers.
Later that morning the storm slowly abated, allowing the soldiers to see a snow-covered landscape before them, and a line of bugbears – six of them – headed up the same set of stairs. Acting quickly, Linfors, Cohen, and Oz dragged the dead ettin so it would hang over the edge of the cavern’s mouth and act as a menacing display of the squad’s badassity to the bugbears.
“Go find somewhere else to shelter or you get some of this, too!” yelled Linfors, trying to sound as menacing as possible. The bugbears seemed to notice, and muttered among themselves.
‘Human says we get shelter and and ettin meat, too!’ excitedly translated UrfTakur’Lach. The others, equally shocked at the uncharacteristically friendly offer, traded glances and questioning looks.
’ That’s not what he said, ’ countered F’gachtarkurbleaCH, the smallest of the six, in his typically whiny, accusatory tone.
‘Shut up smartass! I lead!’ retorted the seeming leader, and the bugbears, mostly nodding in agreement with the translation of promised food and shelter, continued.
Seeing clearly the malign intent of the monsters, the squad opened fire on the near-helpless goblin-kin, raining arrows, bolts, and spells down on them. Soon, several larger bugbear masters appeared – four of them – armed with whips and shouted commands, appeared behind the first group and drove them forward, up the stairs and eventually into the cavern, where a bloody melee ensued between the soldiers and monsters, as the bugbears shouted their ragged battle cries.
’ Where’s the food? ’ asked one, a surprised smile on his face as a small, black-faced humanoid tried to push him out of the cave and down the stairs.
’ Yeah…I thought we were invited!? ’ added another bugbear as he, too, was attacked.
The fight continued for some time and more monsters appeared out of the forest, to the point that eventually 12 bugbears were lined up on the stairs, yelling angrily and with great confusion over what they thought was a breakfast invitation, now gone horribly wrong. Once their blood was up, and the promise of food and shelter pulled back, they decided that a fight was the next best thing.
As if 12 hungry bugbears, feeling betrayed by Linfors’ less-than-stellar grasp of their language, weren’t bad enough for the squad to face, a loud grinding sound, of stone on stone, came from the back of the gaping cavern, and Tannis looked back to see several large skeleton-beasts, each with the skeletal head of a small dragon, and wielding very long, axe-bladed polearms, lumbering toward them.
Linfors, hearing the voices in his head, knew exactly what to do, and broke for the horses. Leaving the rest of the team to fend off what was left of the single-file line of bugbears marching slowly up the stairs in the bright morning sun, he ran for the black horse…the saddlebag…the sword! He knew he could control it and would save his men.
More fighting ensued – a lot more, actually, as the would-be breakfast guests were mostly slain and attention was shifted to the skeletal enemies. Linfors struck several mighty blows on one, dropping it, and then sprang into action against those facing his chums. Once the skeletal beasts were felled, Linfors saw a great opportunity for continued combat training for him and his men. He cackled, “Father always said, ‘Gotta finish what you started’” and gleefully plunged into a round of ‘Sarge Kicks Your Sorry Ass’ with the others.
Cut, thrust, parry, dance out of the way, cackle at the sorry performance of the others, repeat. Because the team attempted to disarm him or take him down without hurting him too badly, this went on for some time, despite the fact that Linfors was outnumbered 4:1. Finally, he was beaten down by Tannis’ heavy blows, and fell unconscious to the stone floor. Cohen, pretty steamed about the ‘training session,’ attempted repeatedly to break the blue-smoking sword, while the thing attempted to reason with him in his head.
’C’mon! We can kick some ass! Killin’ time, boy! It’s always killin’ time!’ Cohen refused to give in to the promised malt-liquor yard party of blood the sword promised. The sword, however, would not break, and so the young cleric tied a wire strap around the hilt, more or less preventing it from coming out of the scabbard. Wearing the longsword on his belt, along with the (other) magic short sword, he stood with his warhammer in one hand, a crossbow across his back, and his heavy steel shield on his other arm…looking like a walking armory with an itty-bitty shock of blond hair sticking out of the top.
While Wyglen slept, the others explored the open side chamber, from whence the skeletal horse monsters had come, and found large chunks of metal, along with some other stuff, before they moved out, taking with them only a few ettin fingers as trophies, and Linfor’s bruised ego.
Moving deeper into the mountains, and up into colder elevations, they found a massive tree, limned in ice, beneath which sat a frozen altar with an equally frozen man, silently stuck in mid-offering, a frozen cup of water in his hands. Linfors decided to keep watch outside while the others discovered a hidden door into tree and moved inside, up a spiral stair, on the trail of the loud cries of a baby. At the top of the stairs sat a great, frozen, bed chamber, with a dead elf woman on the bed, and a half-elf baby – or so it seemed – alive, crying, and still attached to the corpse by the umbilical cord.
Cohen, having experience with midwifery (although he preferred to call it other things, not enjoying the title of ‘wife’) ran in to try and help the baby, calmly advising the others in the details of childbirth. The team took in the utterly bizarre scene with thoughts like “ew!!” and “dude, that’s nasty” and even “she’d be hot if she weren’t dead, frozen, and still connected to that baby.”
Meanwhile, Linfors wandered around outside, blissfully unaware of the troubling scene found upstairs.