Chapter 05: Covert Ops: Rescue

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Session Number: 5
Date: Monday 26th January 2015
Venue: Densial's
PCs & Players:

Balassar Brb1 (Tammi absent) (kills: none)
Besheeba Wlk1 (Alain) (kills: none)
Connor Brd1 (Yeran) (kills: none)
Johnny Rog1 (Craig) (kills: none)
Nicolai Clr1 (Fergus - remote) (kills: none)
Oskar Mnk1 (Ash) (kills: none)

XP Awarded: 75

Governor Nighthill explains that there is an old tunnel that runs from under the keep to the banks of the river to the south.

"What we're gonna do up 'ere is find a likely group that we can take quietly, and take back the one in charge," Johnny says. "Idea is, as far as I see it, is we find a small group - two or three - that aren't moving. That way, we've got a fair idea where they'll be when we get there. Maybe the Governor 'ere can give us a map so's we can figure out what road they're on. And then we can avoid those roads and come at 'em the quietest and safest way."

The group look out from atop the battlements. Spotted about the village, they see fires burning and lit torches, illuminating groups of raiders. They are everywhere; the village is completely overrun, including the south side of the river. Those closer to the keep can be identified as either kobold or human and their numbers are fairly plain. Castellan mentions that the evil races are known to be able to see in the dark; looking around, all the torch-bearing groups of raiders have human members. Using Johnny's criteria (two- or three-strong stationary groupings with a leader), the party quickly identify half a dozen potential targets, two of which are of particular interest: groupings of three humans, one due west and one due east. They point out the groupings to the Governor. "Can you tell us where they are on a map?"

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"Follow me." Governor Nighthill escorts the party downstairs to view a map of Greenest. He points out the tunnel's exit: in a wooded area to the south where the river forms a 'U' shape. There was no visible raider activity in that area that the party saw. The Governor then places pieces of chalk on the map to indicate the locations of the half-dozen groups of raiders the party are particularly interested in. The fenced building to the southeast is a church; the one to the northwest is the Mayor's residence. The Governor describes the church as pantheistic, and is likely a place that frightened villagers will flee to: it may harbour survivors.

Nicolai points out the pair of buildings on the south side of the river where other survivors may be hiding. Johnny is less interested: "That's not the job," he says. "No targets."

"It would probably be better to check it on the way back," Besheeba says.

"If there are some of the enemy there," Nicolai says, "it is also the most isolated place to encounter them. If we deal with it first, we don't leave enemies behind us."

"We gotta do this quiet," Johnny says. "We cannot go around looking for trouble."

"If there is an enemy there," says Nicolai, "then we capture them there."

"Does that enemy fit our criteria?"

"We can't know from this distance."

"Then why go there? We don't go nosying around in places on the possibility of finding what you want. You go for the thing in front of you that you can identify."

"There might be survivors there," Besheeba says, "but the thing is, we don't want to be escorting survivors while we are going towards our target."

"If there are survivors there, we leave them there," Nicolai says. "We get them on the way back. If there aren't survivors, and there are bandits, then we capture them."

"My priority is to find survivors," Oskar says. "Which is why I'm leaning towards heading towards the church."

"It seems most compelling to me to go for these buildings to the south," Nicolai says. "If there are survivors, we get them into the tunnel and to safety. If there is the enemy, they would be the easiest to capture and get into the tunnel. It is the low-hanging fruit."

"But if it is not the fruit that we want," says Johnny, "if we are trying to make blackberry jam and we come across f^(&ing apples, what do ya do then?"

"We make apple jam."

"With respect, elf, that's bullshit. We need somebody of theirs who knows what's goin' on. Now, look at it from their perspective, right? Is that where you're gonna have one of your sergeants - out past the river?"

"You would want someone more senior more central," Nicolai says. "That is a good argument."

"We can compromise," Besheeba says. "We can check and if we don't see anybody worth taking, then we leave it alone and go on to our original target."

Nicolai eyes Johnny. "What plan do you advise, Mr. Smith?"

"Well, if we know that there is somebody around about 'ere," Johnny says, pointing to a block of chalk east of the keep, "out in the open, I can see a way to get real close. If we come out 'ere," (the tunnel exit) "there's plenty of cover to get across unseen to 'ere." (south of the bandit group.) I scout it out, there's plenty of cover, we can take 'em before they even squeal. Then, it's just a case of going back the way we came, leaving everybody else well alone. That's what I would do, based on the objective of nabbin' a higher-up."

"What I suggest," Nicolai says, "is that we go to the tunnel exit, clear it, spend a few moments there surveying the house to the south, see what's going on there, and if there is nothing to draw our attention then we carry on with Mr. Smith's plan. If there is something we need to do there, we divert. And by need, I would say something like mobile scouting that may catch us on our return. But otherwise I am willing to go with Mr. Smith's plan at this point."

"I agree," says Oskar. "I want to see what is going on down there, but we can see it from across the river most likely. If we see no activity, we can ignore it."

Besheeba looks to two of the groups to the east. They are about 25 yards apart, with a building in between. "It is quite likely if there is a fight that the other group will hear and come as reinforcement. If we engage, we must be very quick."

Johnny surveys the map again, paying particular attention to the grouping of human raiders to the west, situated beside a tree next to a house. "That's where this place here might have an advantage. If we knock 'em out, we can make a run for it. We can have a signal and they can open the door for us. We'll be there in a flash. Whereas here," Johnny points to the groups to the east, "that's a heck of a lot of open ground to cover before we're back in the safety of the keep."

"Yes," Besheeba agrees, "especially since we don't want to tell them where the secret passage is if we are pursued."

Castellan interrupts the train of thought. "We are not opening the gate, so you can put that plan aside. And yes, please don't let anyone know that the southern gate exists."

"So if the game's up, that's it? We're out?" Johnny asks. "Is that what you're saying?"

"Yes. We can bring down the tunnel, we have the mechanism to do that, and we will if we have to. If you cannot return that way, you cannot return at all."

Besheeba takes a slow, deep breath and turns back to the map. "It was not one of the targets mentioned, but I think that the best group to attack is the one in the church, because it is far away from everybody else."

"There're bad 'uns about," Johnny says, remembering the view from above, "but we couldn't see 'em clearly enough from 'ere. We could go have a look…"

"I am reverting in that case to my original suggestion of checking this building," says Nicolai, pointing to the pair of buildings south of the river. "I believe it is the only way we have a hope of doing anything covertly - survivors or bandits."

"I have to agree," says Johnny, "but I don't think you're gonna find what you want there."

"So if we don't find what we want there, we haven't lost anything."

"Except if we find six kobolds and we make a lot of noise. Then they wonder how the hell we're out there without being seen, and suddenly there're 200 bandits all around the entrance to the tunnel."

"Unless you scout it..?" Besheeba suggests.

"If we make a noise here," Nicolai says, indicating the area south of the buildings, "Castellan, what is out there, south of the village?"

"Farmland."

Nicolai breaks in. "So if we make a noise there and we are discovered, we retreat south or southeast to draw any pursuit away from the tunnel entrance. And then come back once we have broken contact. I don't see any way that we can capture a group over here or here," (pointing to the east and west) "covertly, then get back to the tunnel entrance."

"That's 'cause you've never done it," says Johnny.

"I think possibly you could, but all of us? And I'm not sure that you could deal with a whole group by yourself."

"Admittedly," Johnny says, "I'm not normally looking for people…"

"I suggest we clear these buildings for survivors or enemy," says Nicolai. "If there are survivors we get them back to the tunnel. We capture any humans or kill all kobolds… If we encounter the enemy and make noise, we withdraw to the south, break contact and then do the same with these buildings here to clear the low-hanging fruit. Remember, it was still pretty noisy out there: sounds of battle and mayhem. Whatever noise we make won't alert them, I don't think."

"We should keep it simple," adds Besheeba. "I'm not against the idea… But we should have a simple objective, carry it out and come back for another."

"I agree," says Johnny. "I think we need to focus on what we're supposed to be doing out there. I think if we find survivors, and they're not under duress, we leave 'em. We go out and we do one job and then if that's successful we go out and we do another. If we go out and find a room full of kobolds and no sergeant, we leave 'em."

"I agree with that," says Oskar.

"And I," agrees Nicolai. "Recap: check out this building to the south for the nature of what's there, moving onto the buildings to the east doing likewise, crossing the river to the woods, reconnoitring the group here, if they are a useful group to capture, do so and retreat along the same path we got there from. All the while, where possible, we make use of Johnny's reconnaissance abilities."

"I can work with that," Johnny says.

"How might that play out, Johnny?"

"I stay a good 30 feet ahead of you. And you keep your flippin' lights off. Or else I'm silhouetted!"

"Can you see in the dark?"

"No, but I don't need to."

"We put a lot of trust in you, Mr. Smith."

"Well, it is me putting my f^(&in' neck on the line…"

The party discuss taking some token to identify them as being from the keep, but they cannot think of anything that the bandits themselves might have access to. Perhaps mentioning Castellan and Governor Nighthill might lend some weight.

As they are preparing to leave, Johnny looks up at Balassar. "Much as I like ya, turtle, I think you might be more of a hindrance to this particular mission. I think two kobolds on top of each other is not what we want right now."

Before heading out, Besheeba requisitions a crossbow and quarrels from the armoury. She also makes sure she has both the bandit's mask and cape from the previous encounter. Johnny applies smears of black paste to his face.

They head to the tunnel without Balassar. It is long, dark and damp, with a hint of night air. There is a rectangle of slightly lighter black in the distance: the exit, unsilhouetted by bodies. Johnny takes the lead, the others following 30 feet behind.

Johnny reaches the end of the corridor, finding it gated off. Outside are trees illuminated by starlight, and the still night air. He stops, crouches and listens. There is the sound of running water. Johnny lights his candle and places it near his feet, then examines the gate. It is either locked or rusted shut; the metal looks like it has suffered from years of neglect. Johnny retrieves a flask of oil from his pack and oils the gate's hinges, then the lock. He then tries to open it; unsuccessfully: the mechanism turns slightly but feels like it is locked. "Where there's a lock, there's often a key," Johnny whispers.

"I'll go back and ask if there is one," Besheeba offers. Johnny nods and Besheeba departs. She returns two minutes later with a key and hands it to Johnny. It fits and turns with a faint snick.

Saved ourselves a DC20 check!

"The key is not safe here," Besheeba says. "We have it, but if we are captured, they have it."

"Easy," Johnny says. "We lock the gate behind us, and hide the key nearby. Right, quiet now, I'm gonna check if it's safe to go out." He sits still and listens for a good half minute, then quietly opens the gate and steps outside.

The gate exits into woods surrounded by a southern loop in the river. Almost immediately, Johnny hears footfalls on soft earth. Mere seconds pass before the sounds reveal themselves: figures to the northeast about forty feet away, moving south along the riverbank. Many figures. They appear to be searching for something. Johnny ducks back inside the tunnel. "It's not our night, boys," he whispers. "Everybody on the ground!" He slowly shuts the gate behind him, extinguishes his candle and lies down, throwing his cloak over himself. Nicolai recollects the sounds and sigils that will bring down his deity's Sacred Flame, should it be needed.

Outside, a male is giving instructions and orders to the others: "OK, just wait… Check that bank. Check it thoroughly, look for anything. Is there anything in that tree over there? What's that? No, the other way. Go. Hurry up!"

"Criteria?" Oskar breathes.

"Well yeah," Johnny says, even quieter. "But there are eight of them."

The instructions keep coming. "OK, this way. You - go back the other way. No, that way."

"Silence!" Johnny warns. The voices continue, very close: maybe ten or twenty feet from the gate. "OK. Check that bank over there. Underneath those roots. Get in there! Come on, we have to keep moving." The voices begin to recede.

"OK, they're leaving," Johnny says. "Good. There were too many. That was not our mark."

"What if we follow them and take them from behind, one at a time?" Besheeba asks.

"How? With your ruddy great big blast of … whatever that was? Best case, we take out one or two. What about the other six? They'll hear! That is not our mark. Stick to the plan."

"OK. But I think it's unlikely that we'll find an officer with less than six underlings."

"We saw what we saw from the battlements," Johnny says. "Let's see." He stands up, listens for a time, then quietly opens the gate. Ten seconds pass, then he steps out, looking around. He turns to the others and nods. "Ready?" He motions the others to follow, whispering, "Stay low."

The others exit the tunnel. "That way," Johnny directs, pointing west, deeper into the woods. He locks the gate, then hides the key amongst tree roots a dozen feet away, pointing out the location to the others. "I'm guessing that lot will follow the river. You lot stay there. I'm gonna go to the south, see what I can see."

Johnny skulks to the southwest, following the treeline. The river loop is about five feet wide, easily fordable at any point. He returns to the others and directs them to the woods to the south.

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"Building's there," Johnny says, pointing. to the south. Its doors and windows are dark. "Wait here. I'll scout it alone." He moves slowly onto the riverbank, a shadow within a shadow. He crosses the river, and is gone.

Johnny stays low as he moves to the west of the buildings, mindful of stray light behind him. He hears the same voice as before, distant to the west. He crests a shallow hill brow and makes his way east towards the buildings. He flattens himself against the west wall of the southern building, near a window, listening. No sound. He quietly raises his head to the window and peeks in. It is pitch black inside. He moves under the window to the next and repeats, holding his breath. What was that? A slight sound from inside the south building - the slightest scrape of boot against timber? Too much to be vermin… He checks the south-facing windows of the other building, looking down upon his hiding place. They are quiet and dark. He peeks through the window into the south building: the interior is very dark; there is no light from within. He then moves to the corner and looks out to the east, seeing starlight fields. He can just make out the buildings in that direction. He moves to the back of the southern building, seeing rain barrels. To the west is the main door; he moves to it and listens at the threshold. Nothing. He moves to the eastern side of the larger building. There are more rain barrels and crates; these have been opened and the contents - firewood - strewn about. He moves to the northeast corner and looks across the face of the front building, seeing nothing. Moving to the door, he listens for a good minute, but hears no activity. The door has a latch. He returns to landing of the smaller building. Kneeling, he opens the door. There is a slight movement in front of him, in the darkness at the back. Then a twang, and a muffled thud as a crossbow bolt pierces just inside his right shoulder (5 damage!)

"Ugh," Johnny groans. "Yeah. Thanks for that. If I was in your position," he says, pulling the crossbow bolt out of his shoulder, "I would'a done the same. I don't feel any ill will. Look, I'm not your enemy. I'm from the keep. I'm not gonna come in, I'm gonna leave you here, real quiet, because at the moment, where you are is safer than out here. But look, help is on the way. Just stay put. Do you hear me?" There is the sound dead ahead of a bowstring being drawn taught, and muffled sobbing coming from the right. "Oh shit, you've got little 'uns. OK, fine. I'll leave ya be. I'm not gonna bother you. Guard them well." He places the crossbow bolt inside the threshold. "Is there anybody in there that can hold a blade? Cause I've got one that you can have. If it comes to it." Nothing in reply. "Well look, if you can fire a crossbow, you can hold a blade. Here, have these." Johnny places his two daggers beside the bolt. "When we come back, I'd appreciate if I had them back. I got a job to do, but I'll come back. Stay put. Keep icy cause they're all out here." He then slowly closes the door. "Just remember two things," he adds. "One: bandits wouldn't do this. Two: name's Johnny." He then leaves.

Johnny retraces his steps back to the others. "What happened to you?" Oskar asks. Nicolai adds, "Are you OK?"

"Fine. Bit of a misunderstanding. I would say there's a family in there. They're armed, but they're safe - for now. I didn't see any signs of struggle, so the bandits either haven't come over here or they've come here and been beaten off. But there ain't no enemy there."

"I'm not sure the bandits would have been beaten off so they probably haven't been to the outlying farms."

"I agree," says Nicolai.

"Probably right," says Johnny.

Nicolai says, "It makes me think they've had an informer that told them about the entrance that we used, and they've been looking for that. Otherwise surely they'd have been checking houses as they searched the river."

"Different teams do different things," Oskar says.

"Do you have anything for that?" Besheeba asks Johnny, looking at his bleeding wound.

"Not really, no. It's alright. On with the mission."

"From now on," says Oskar, "if you don't find enemies, just move on. Because either there's no one there, or people we don't need to help because there are no enemies."

"I did think of that," Johnny says. "I thought I wanted to be sure."

"There might be children," Besheeba says. "Children who could not defend themselves."

"I'd like to point out that I don't want to be sure … a lot. Because I can't take much more o' that."

"Would you be able to sustain a fight?" Besheeba asks. "We don't have any more of these potions…"

"I think we've got one," Johnny says. "One spare. But let's use it when we need it, and that's not now. So back to the plan. We go north."

"I think it would be better to check the other farmhouses later, when we come back." Besheeba says. "If there are children, we cannot leave them there but we cannot take them with us."

"No," agrees Johnny. "I suppose, If we've got the time, we might try encourage these ones to come across… We could do that. But it's dangerous."

"I could talk to them," offers Besheeba. "They will not take fright at a little girl…"

"With horns and a tail?" Johnny turns to Nicolai. "What do ya think?"

"Our original plan was that if we found survivors and there was no indication of immediate threat, to go on with the plan and head towards the church. I think we should stay with that, but aim to be getting these people to the keep when we get back."

"OK. They got little 'uns, but OK. No, you're right."

"There's going to be other little 'uns out there."

"I know." Johnny pauses. "Oh shit, look if it's twenty minutes before we come back and they're dead, I'll never forgive meself. I'm going back."

"No wait!" Besheeba says. "I'll go with you."

"Alright."

"You were the one that originally didn't want to check the house for survivors…" comments Nicolai.

"I know. But there's little 'uns. And I don't know that we'll get a better opportunity to save people than this one right now."

"Let's all go."

Johnny directs the others across the river and to the door of the back building. He then approaches the door, staying to the side. He quietly knocks twice on the door, then quietly says through the bottom crack, "'ere. I'm back. It's Johnny. Me and my friends have got a way to get you into the keep. It'll be safer than where you are. It's an underground tunnel. Castellan and Nighthill have sent us out. I recommend that you come in with us 'cause they're all around 'ere; I don't know how safe you're gonna be."

The door opens a few inches and a crossbow bolt is pointed at Johnny's forehead. Johnny backs away, hands out. "I'm only 'ere to 'elp," he says.

"If you're lying, I'll kill you!"

"Then I'll be safe. Look very quietly and calmly to your right; you'll see three of my friends. Please don't kill them."

The door opens and an older man steps out, holding the crossbow. Behind him steps out a younger woman, holding two daggers - Johnny's weapons. "Can you get us to the keep?" she asks.

"Can you be quiet?"

"I can, but the little ones are very scared."

"How many are there?"

"Four. We've been hiding."

"Good. That's probably the only thing that's saved your life. Have any bandits come this way?"

"No. We turned over the rain barrel and opened the crates and the door so it looked like someone had been here."

"OK. You know the turn of the river just north of here, I don't know if you've ever been in there but have you seen a gate?"

"Yes, but it's locked. We can't get through."

"Yeah, well, now you can."

"Is it open? We can go now!"

"Yeah, but we're doin' it quiet."

"The children can be quiet. Please, take us with you now."

"How old are your kids?"

"Ten, eight, six and three."

"I don't mean to tell anyone their business or anything, but kids are smart, right? Smarter than people give them credit for. Go in there and you tell 'em what we're doing. If they understand what they're doing, they'll do it."

"They've been hiding, they'll understand."

"Good."

The woman reenters the house and returns carrying a small child, with another in tow holding onto her belt. Two older children follow her out. They are both holding shearing scissors.

"I'll go ahead and make sure the way is clear," Johnny says. The eldest boy steps forward. "I will come with you and help protect you."

"That's very generous. Look, you protect you and yours. That's your job."

"I am very brave and very strong, and have shorn many sheep."

"And right now, you have to be very quiet and do as you're told, or everyone dies. I know you're brave. Now is the time to be quiet."

"I can do that."

"Maybe it's better that we run…" Besheeba says.

Johnny smiles. "Let's go. Give me ten seconds head start."

Johnny heads back with his allies and the family close behind. The 6-year-old girl is crying but the others are keeping quiet. Johnny retrieves the key, unlocks the gate and waits for the others to arrive. They do, soon after.

"Johnny," says Nicolai, "why don't you stay here while I take the family into the keep?"

"Sounds good." Johnny turns to the mother. "Miss? May I have my daggers back, please?"

"Of course. Thank you very much for bringing my children to safety." She hands over the daggers.

Nicolai leads the family into the tunnel while the others hide. He introduces them to Castellan, then returns.

"OK," Johnny says. "Plan A then?"

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