14 March (Continued)
After fleeing from the bugbear gardener and up the vines into the recently deposed hobgoblin chieftain’s throne room, the adventurers took shelter in one of the abandoned chambers near Goblintown. Aramis whispered prayers to the Raven Queen, beseeching his goddess to heal their wounds. She answered his pleas, and with their bodies restored, their determination returned. They made their way back to the hole that led back down below and heard voices from down below. Clearly, the goblins had posted another guard at the entrance to the grove level.
In a low voice Aramis asked, “Azal, do you have any alchemist’s fire left?”
She looked through her pouches and then shook her head dejectedly. “I can’t find it,” she said.
“Blast,” he replied.
“Aramis, crack the sunrod and let’s go,” suggested Bhavik. He motioned for the others to follow him down the hole as he began to descend.
The cleric waved Azal ahead of him then sparked the rod to life, immediately concealed it beneath his mantle. Unfortunately, the bright flash apparently drew attention from down below. “They’ve seen the light,” translated Azal. “They know we’re coming.”
“To the fray, then!” shouted the warden in challenge.
When the adventurers cleared the ceiling of the compost chamber that served as an entrance to the grove level, they saw that a pair of goblins accompanied the bugbear that had chased them out half an hour before. The hulking goblinoid taunted them as they climbed down, “Let them gain their feet. Then slaughter them.”
Both goblins advanced on Azal as soon as her feet hit the floor. She evaded the first one’s stab but not that of the second, and staggered back into the wall as the goblins jeered. Then the gardener advanced and opened a long gash in the tiefling’s side with its scythe. Cursing, Aramis spoke a healing word for Azal, magically stitching up the flesh that had just been parted by the bugbear’s blade. He then tried to bring his crook to bear against one of the goblins, but the wily creature sidestepped the weapon. Shaking off her pain, the tiefling tumbled around the surprised goblin and stabbed him deeply with a flamboyant strike. As she pivoted back a pace, the creature staggered, its blood flowing freely. Bhavik stepped into the space Azal had vacated and ended the bleeding goblin, then in his frenzy, slashed its companion across the midsection. Then he stomped the ground, drawing the attention of both of the goblinoids.
The bugbear complained loudly, “Quit dying, you weaklings!” The surviving goblin, rocked back on its heels from the sudden and ultraviolence, licked its thin lips and attacked Bhavik. The warden easily shoved the narrow blade aside with his shield, and just as swiftly brought it up to block an overhead chop from the bugbear. Snarling in anger, the bugbear shifted back a step to go after Azal again. Aramis closed his fingers around shimmering energy and flung it at the bugbear, but the surprisingly quick creature dodged the daunting light. He grimaced, then uttered another healing prayer for Azal, restoring her to full health. Then he boldly moved up to distract the goblinoid from Azal’s next strike. Her sly flourish stabbed deeply, and the tiefling grinned viciously as she dealt the first meaningful blow against the arrogant gardener. Bhavik tried to follow up with a thorn strike, but the bugbear evaded.
The goblin moved to flank Aramis, but the cleric managed to block its stab. It hissed angrily, but the bugbear said, “Good enough for a meaningless worm,” its tone demeaning. Then it dropped its scythe, fixed Aramis with a predatory gaze and dodged Bhavik’s sword thrust as it tried to loop its rope belt around the cleric’s neck. The warden’s distraction proved sufficient, and Aramis narrowly avoided the garrote. It snorted in disbelief then pivoted away from the flanking adventurers. Aramis took a step away from the bugbear then made the goblin hop back out of the way of his staff strike. Azal crossed the room and launched her magic dagger at the goblin, but it ducked under the blade. Both of these attacks drew the creature’s attention away from Bhavik, who brought his sword down heavily on the creature, drawing more blood. He turned swiftly, trying to gut the bugbear, but the larger goblinoid leaned back out of reach.
The goblin tried to stab the warden again, but he got his shield up in time. Unfortunately, while he did so the bugbear stepped up behind him and caught him with its rope. It crowed victoriously, squeezing the garrote tight and beginning to choke the shifter. Aramis shifted back another step and prayed for sacred flame to strike down the goblin, and the Raven Queen complied. As it fell, he requested her blessing for Bhavik and once more was answered in the affirmative as the warden felt renewed. The shifter caught a lungful of air and laughed, choking out, “We’ve got you now, big boy.” Azal moved up to flank the bugbear, but remembering their previous battle, stabbed hesitantly with her dagger. Predictably, the bugbear yanked Bhavik in front of the thrust, but she managed to pull the blade in time to avoid skewering her companion this time. The effort threw the bugbear off balance enough for Bhavik to score a meaningful blow with his sword, but he failed to break free from the creature’s terrible strength.
The lone goblinoid squeezed the rope tight around Bhavik’s neck again, but it seemed to be having trouble maneuvering him anywhere. Afraid to use his crook and risk injuring Bhavik, Aramis closed with the struggling warriors and tried to grab onto the hairy bugbear. Unfortunately, the creature shook him off. Then Azal spoke in Goblin, her tone menacing, “We know your tricks now. You’re already dead.” She fainted once, and when the creature didn’t lift Bhavik into the way she drove her blade home. This new injury proved enough of a distraction for the warden to break free of the bugbear’s terrible grip.
Astounded to be bested in a contest of strength, the creature reached down and retrieved it scythe, bringing it to bear against Bhavik and drawing more blood as the warden tried to regain his bearings. Even as it connected, the adventurers could see that it was breathing heavily and appeared to be nervous. Aramis uttered an Oath of enmity against the bugbear and began to avenge their previous loss, smacking the goblinoid heavily with his crook and raising it to defend himself and Bhavik. “Give me the flank, Azal!” cried out the warden before looking his foe in the eyes. “We’re puttin’ you down, beast!” The distraction cost the bugbear in blood as Azal stepped behind it and stabbed it again. It narrowly warded off Bhavik’s follow up attack.
It stepped away from the warden and tried to murder Azal, the source of most of its injuries. Unfortunately, the tugging grasp of the earth on its foot in answer to Bhavik’s call caused its swing to fly wide. Then the ground dragged it back into the flank it had just fled. It avoided the cleric’s next swing as well as the tiefling’s, but it could not avoid the warden’s final slash which opened its throat. It fell to its knees then slumped over dead, an incredulous look still firmly on its face.
Azal stood there breathing heavily but apparently uninjured. Bhavik spat up a little blood, wiped his lip clean, and asked, “A break, please? These wounds will not carry me through another fight.”
“Absolutely,” agreed Aramis, and Azal nodded as she crossed the chamber to close the door leading to the goblin common area.
As they rested, Bhavik took note of the hide armor on the bugbear’s corpse. It appeared to be surprisingly well-made, and the warden set to divesting the body of its former attire, which proved to be enchanted. He also noticed a bulging pouch on the creature’s side and tossed it to Azal while he donned the magical armor. Her eyes widened at the amount of coin inside, and put it in her pack to distribute later.
. . .
Once they had regained their breath, they made their way carefully back to the gallery, where they’d squared off with the bugbear the first time. They were unchallenged in the goblin common, and no guards or workers occupied the wide hall. A cursory search revealed no hidden twig blights, and both the eastern and southern arboretums likewise stood empty.
“Talgen must be to the north,” said Azal softly.
“Agreed,” said Aramis.
The tiefling cleared the northern door, and Bhavik opened it to reveal a similar-looking gallery. Another closed door in an eastern alcove revealed a second scorched and abandoned arboretum. “Looks like another dead end,” said the cleric.
With only a northern door left for an exit, the three crept toward it. They could all hear some sort of work going on behind the door. It seemed to involve something heavy and metal smashing into flora.
“Ready?” asked Bhavik. Azal nodded, shifting her dagger from hand to hand.
“Yes,” asserted Aramis.
Bhavik opened the door, revealing another octagonal chamber filled with plant life, glowing fungus, and goblins. Another bugbear, wielding a massive flail was among the smaller goblinoids. Aramis prayed for a daunting light which struck the surprised bugbear full in the chest as it turned to see what the disturbance could be. The radiant energy burned the creature badly, and it cried out in pain. Azal deftly entered the chamber and launched her dagger at the bugbear as well, but the blade deflected off the swinging chain of the wildly thrashing creature. She cursed as her dagger reappeared in her hand unblooded. “Come here, big boy!” Bhavik shouted as he charged the bugbear. The goblin workers could only blink as the warden dashed past them and stabbed their supervisor with his icy blade.
The two goblins Bhavik had passed on his charge jarred into action, one moving into flank while its partner failed to stab the warden. It stabbed the focused shifter in the kidneys, while Aramis impaled the bugbear with a lance of faith. The other two goblins joined the fray, but they failed to stab their targets – Bhavik and Azal. The bugbear, still too shocked to answer the threat properly, swung its flail just over the warden’s head. Azal then tumbled to flank one of the goblins surrounding Bhavik and almost gutted it in one stab. The warden ended the bloodied creature before spinning around and stabbing the bugbear in his frenzy. It narrowly parried the second sword stroke with its flail.
A goblin bulled its way through the plant growth to flank Bhavik, but it could not get past his defenses. The bugbear dodged another pair of Aramis’s radiant lances, while the remaining goblins moved to flank Azal. One stabbed her in the thigh while the other was dragged back and away by the warden’s grasp. The bugbear took a step toward the tiefling and swung its flail in a wide sweeping arc. The flail head caught both Azal and Bhavik off guard, and the force of the blow sent each of them staggering backward and to the ground. Azal shook off the blow, stood, and tried to stab the nearest goblin, but the bugbear had rung her bell but good and her stab missed. The warden recovered more quickly, thorn striking the nearby goblin and dragging it toward him.
The melee continued, until all of the goblins were dead, leaving only the bugbear. Alone, the creature changed to more defensive tactics, swinging the flail wildly in all directions and creating a barrier of the rapidly spinning chain. It fended the three off for a short while longer, but in the end, it fell to their combined efforts.
After it fell Bhavik said, “We must return to the surface. I’m certain that I cannot take any more abuse today.”
Azal nodded. “We must be warier of bugbears…”
“No doubt,” agreed Aramis.
“We’re coming Talgen,” the tiefling said in a fragile voice.
The priest approached her and said, “He can’t be much further, Azal.”
She shrugged noncommittally, while Bhavik looted the bugbear of its gold, a healing potion, and a pair of enchanted sandals. Heavily wounded once more, the heroes retreated to the secret room on the citadel level to nurse their injuries and recover from the brutality of the grove guardians.