The fortress was within sight. The party was assembled—Neudvin, Tyberia, Caimbuel, Deridian, myself, and even the kobold—we made our final preparations, decided upon our strategy, and we waited.
The sun had set, behind the forests in the West, and the time of our attack had come. Saddled horses met their riders, and we set down the meandering road to the fortress. Our plan was simple, Caimbuel would enter the fortress, open the gate, and the rest of us would rush in to greet the bandits with steel and arrowheads. But even the simplest of plans could be foiled.
We were close, nearly there, when dead hands burst forth from the earth beneath us. Zombies, the living dead. We should have known the Stag Lord was not so foolish as to leave his fortress so readily assailable. A trap we had sprung, but Caimbuel, without delay, took action. Disappearing into the darkness, he ran to the fortress.
After being taken by surprise, we rallied. Swords in hand, Neudvin and I began delivering them to a final rest. But it was Deridian who proved invaluable in dealing with these soulless distractions. Waves of warmth spread through the ether, healing and comforting to us, devastating to the zombies. Yet as we destroyed them, they continued to rise from the earth. Luckily, Caimbuel pulled through.
The gate to the fortress opened a little; not enough to ride through, but we squeezed inward. Leaving the zombies that had greeted us outside the fortress, we sealed the gate and immediately set lines. To my surprise, we had taken the bandits by…surprise. Unorganized, dysfunctional, their early attempts to repel us were feeble. But soon they nearly overwhelmed us.
What the bandits lacked in organization and discipline, they made up for in sheer numbers and raw strength. While most were weak, some hit hard. The ring of steel on steel sounded throughout the fortress as their weapons clapped against our full-plate. But when they managed to find the weakness in my armor, the effect was devastating. Countless blows and cuts I suffered throughout the battle. But Erastil was with me, and Deridian proved an invaluable ally. When I fell—and many times indeed did I fall—I felt the wounds suddenly close as Deridian’s healing, or my own, saved me.
But let me not get ahead of myself; early in the battle I called out for Ox. Kressel, one of the Stag Lord’s first lieutenants we encountered (and executed) told of him. A man that was arguably stronger than the Stag Lord himself, that served at the Stag Lord’s right hand. I called for him, challenged him to come face me. And he did.
A massive beast of a man, his only weapon a large club. He did not come at our line from the front. Instead, he came at our flank, but I turned and met him there. He was strong, but slow. He fought without thought. Swings, wide and wild. It was not long before I vanquished him; with one swing, I blew past his club, knocking it aside, and severed his head from his body. The finality of his death pleased me, this man was beyond redemption.
Retaking my place on the battle line next to Neudvin, I saw the unthinkable; a cage, off to the right, was opened, and from within came an owlbear. At first I wondered, “how had they tamed and trained such a beast?” But my question was answered as the owlbear beat aside the bandits that were stacked before our battle line. It wasn’t long till we met the creature. Its reach was long, but Neudvin and I got close in. Using our swords, and with the help of the others, we brought the creature down.
At this point in the battle, I remember thinking that we must be nearly done. Few bandits were left, perhaps the Stag Lord was among the already dead? And then I felt it; a lancing pain in my shoulder, followed by a deep burn. The fletching on the arrow looked expertly done, by I could not see the bow that fired it. Two more pierced my plate, then Tyberia, using her magic, conjured up a thick fog.
Having not nearly enough time to treat the wounds I had suffered, I rejoined Neudvin on the line. Another had made his presense, a man in armor. He fought with a strange mix of brutality and care, against Neudvin and I in the fog. But we did not focus on him for long, as the guest of honor finally arrived.
Wearing a helm made of the skull of a stag, the man who must’ve been the Stag Lord appeared before us in the fog. Lacking any coverings or apparent armor, his craggy body was allowed to display it’s strength. The bow hanging on his back, it must have been the source of those three painful arrows, I had thought to myself. Ignoring the armored other, Neudvin and I focused on the Stag Lord. With all our might we were bound to bring him down.
Erastil and all the gods were with us in the battle, for it seemed that my sword would not miss nor waiver. Not only that, but the armored man, whom I had assumed to be one of the Stag Lord’s lieutenants, turned on his captain. The betrayal an obvious surprise to the Stag Lord.
A succession of cuts, stabs, swipes, and arrow piercings brought the Stag Lord to brink of consciousness, and I pushed him over the edge. I quickly checked to see that he was alive, still breathing, I didn’t want to kill the Stag Lord (not yet anyway). I ordered the other man, the Stag Lord’s betrayer, to drop his weapons, I was to place him under arrest. He seemed confused, and resisted at first, but he soon became exhausted and compliant.
I spared no time shackling the Stag Lord with all three of the manacles I had in my possession. Keeping a careful watch on them both, I surveyed what I could. The rest of the party seemed just as victorious, and just as battered and beaten, as Neudvin and I had been.
As the dust began to settle, the armored man identified himself as Akiros. He presented an Erastillian holy symbol. He told his story: his fall from grace, his search for atonement, the opportunity to get close to the Stag Lord, and eventually bring him to justice. With caution, we welcomed Akiros to join us.
There was one other thing Akiros mentioned: the Stag Lord’s father. He lived beneath the fortress, in a small cave system. Dangerous and brutal, like father like son. It was rumored that the Stag Lord’s father beat and maimed the child, till he was old enough to overthrow him. Would he end up being more dangerous than his son? We left that as a question to be answered the next day.
We secured the fortress, secured our prisoner, and took some much needed rest.