The party stands in the central foyer of the outpost, thoughts swirling about the heated exchange with the assassins. Bits of rubble continue to crumble from the massive crater left by Ben’s punch.
“…Well, we best get going,” Valse says. “Left or right corridor?”
“Hold on a moment,” Ben peers down the left corridor. He leans back and shrugs. “The left one has a bend to the right, but that’s all that’s worth noting. I’m not sure on left or right, so I’ll go with whatever you lot pick.”
Valse flips a coin. “Left it is, I guess.”
The party proceeds down the left hallway. It seems to lead to a set of holding cells… there are guards nearby, but they haven’t noticed the group yet.
“Shall we try to sneak by...?” Valse whispers. “Maybe we could open these prison cells and start a riot.”
Before anyone can respond, the guards begin to turn around. The party quickly dives into cover—all except Rognalad and Big Hat.
Rognalad waves. “We are not the captives you’re looking for.”
“God damn it,” Criollo whispers. “Get back. We don’t have time for this.”
“You know what?” Big Hat says, “I think I have a plan!” Big Hat scampers past the guards, tripping them and taunting them childishly.
“You little rat, get back here!” The guards chase him down the hall and around a corner, out of sight.
“Well, that went well,” Ben mutters. He turns to Valse and gives her a nod. “Looks like we’ll be freeing those captives after all.”
“If we’re gonna do anything here, let’s make it quick before they get back,” Criollo says.
The party moves up to check each of the cells for prisoners. In one of the cells, they find a bald human druid man. Ben seems to recognize him from the shared dream…
“Aw for fucks sake…” Ben looks at the prisoner. “Out of all people… why you?!”
“Hm, you know him?” Criollo asks.
“If the gods have chosen others you know to be tested, then it’s likely they’ll want him to come with us as well,” Valse says.
Rognalad casts eldritch blast at the cell bars, melting them to purple slag. “Unlimited power!”
The bald man steps out of the cell. Ben waves to him. “Oi, Joe, what’s up?”
“It truly is regrettable that you think of me this way, Ben. I’ve been doing just fine myself, as you can see—hope you have been just as.”
“I suppose we should catch you up to speed,” Valse begins. “It seems that since you’re here, the gods have chosen to test you. We have a magical book that’s telling us what to do, and currently we have to travel to Ambstalt, the ancestral city of the humans, located on the shores of western Yomi. We also are meant to gain some sort of ‘gift’ by acting ‘good and lawful’. So far, the book seems to grow warmer when we act in that manner, and colder when we go against it.”
“Interesting…” Joe inspects the book. “Never before have I seen such magical properties…”
“Right now, we are investigating some sort of… revolutionary movement by the looks of it.”
“I swear…” Ben mutters, fists clenching. “When I get my hands on the sicko behind this movement.”
Valse puts a hand on Ben’s shoulder. “From the looks of it, we’ll likely find something out about whomever’s behind it in this outpost somewhere…”
Ben nods, grinning wickedly. “We’d better—I’d like to exchange a few words with them.”
“Goodness,” Joe states, “what is so bad about this movement, Ben?”
“They’re recruiting children, Joe. For a plan that’ll never succeed in a million years. They’re leading those kids into a slaughter.”
“Recruiting children for this revolution?! Well, if they have to rely on the young for their movement, then they surely have no chance in whatever they may be doing. That city is no laughing matter!”
Valse motions to the group. “In any case, we should get going. Let’s continue down the hall—we should catch up with Big Hat.”
The party proceeds further down the hall, entering some sort of barracks. Four guards stand near the other end of the room, and immediately take notice of the party.
Ben chuckles and slams his knuckles together. “You lot can do whatever you want, as long as you don’t kill them. I want to ask these folks some questions.” He cracks his knuckles. “Been itching to try out this technique the old man taught me too…”
As the guards approach, Ben enters a stance, charging Ki into his fist.
“First comes scissors...!”
Ki concentrates into Ben’s fingertips as he jabs at the guards like a cobra, striking them in their pressure points. He sinks his fingers into their soft spots, channeling his Ki to disrupt theirs. One of the guards instantly collapses unconscious.
“Heheh, works like a charm!”
The party, having triumphed over the assassins at the gate, makes short work of the guards. Yet when the guards began to realize they had lost, they slip some sort of pill into their mouth.
“What the--!” Ben stammers.
“Shit…” Criollo says. “Ben, I don’t think we’re going to be getting much information from them.”
Ben sighs cracking his knuckles. “Let’s just find whoever’s running this whole show and put ‘em down before they throw any more lives away.”
The party inspects the room. Valse notices a familiar hat on the ground in the corner…
She heads over and lifts it up—finding Big Hat, a spear pierced through his lifeless heart.
“…Big Hat?...” Norixus gasps.
“Aww…” Rognalad says, dejectedly. “I was gonna do that.”
Valse takes out a piece of parchment with religious text on it, and places it upon Big Hat’s forehead. It begins to set alight in white holy fire, which consumes Big Hat’s body—burning it until not even ashes remain.
“Sleep well, little one…” she says, hands clasped in prayer.
Criollo walks over, in deep silence. He picks up the hat off the ground and adorns it atop his head.
“So this is the Big Hat fellow?” Joe remarks. “A shame… I wish I could have met him…”
Rognalad licks his lips. “I heard they’re a delicacy in some places.”
Continuing to inspect the room, the party finds a small letter on one of the bunks in the barracks. Norixus opens it and reads it aloud.
“Johnson, your work at Folngrove has been exemplary. In about a week, we have decided to transfer you to our main operations in Ambstalt. We are proud to have a human such as yourself be so devoted to our cause. –Jadelight”
“An elvish resistance, accepting a human into their ranks?” Criollo asks.
“Johnson is that human the village didn’t like, remember?” Valse responds. “The one with the poltergeist in the basement of his hut.”
“I don’t like this guy,” Rognalad comments.
“That doesn’t answer who Jadelight is though…” Norixus says.
“Clearly Jadelight is some sort of higher-up within the ranks of this… organization,” Valse responds.
“Rebellions aren’t organizations,” James states. “They’re just rebellions.”
“You tell me what all this is, then.”
“Racially aggravated assault.”
“They’re clearly more organized than your average riot.”
Rognalad scoffs. “Even if their plan is utter dogshit.”
“Now…” Criollo begins, “Johnson must be quite special. Considering he’s a human, being accepted by an elvish resistance. It makes you wonder what his work entails.”
“You do remember that we found the insignia of this rebellion underneath his hut, right?” Valse asks. “If anything, he probably faked his death like the rest of them. He’s probably with the resistance rather than against them.”
“Yeah, probably,” Norixus replies. “Makes me wonder if he had that poltergeist on purpose to guard the room.”
“10 gold pieces says he’s a spy,” Criollo says.
“In any case, I’m sure we’ll find out once we go deeper into this outpost,” Valse states.
The party proceeds into the next room—a mess hall. A couple elf and half-elf children are sitting on the far side, eating sandwiches. One of them spots the party entering…
“Oh, hello,” Norixus says.
“Huh…? Who are y—”
The two children run off through the door on the opposite side of the room.
“We should probably chase after them,” Rognalad says.
“No chance,” Criollo replies. “They likely ran to more guards.”
James sighs. “Can’t we just beat them to death? Alternatively knocking them cold?”
Rognalad slaps James. “No, you braindead nonce, we have to be lawful. Don’t go assaulting children.”
“I’m not gonna assault the children you dumb fuck. I have standards. I’m talking about the GUARDS.”
The party takes a moment to carefully inspect the room. Three long tables line its center, with banners of the resistance insignia draped from the walls. On the right side is a door that leads to a kitchen. On the left is a large door atop a short flight of stairs, which seems to be triple-padlocked and sealed by a magical barrier.
“Dining room,” James said, plopping himself down at a table. “We MUST eat food at this dining table.”
“We probably don’t have time to eat food here…” Norixus says.
“We have all the time in the world.”
“I would not wager on having much time, James,” Joe states. “Those children could have gone and alerted some guards.”
“If somebody could like, dispel the magic barrier somehow, I could I just smash the padlocks,” James quips. “Rognalad, do you know anything to dispel magic barriers? Smashy padlock is the best option in the books by default.”
“No.” Rognalad deadpans.
“I don’t think we have much choice but to chase the children at this point,” Valse says, forging ahead.
The party continues through the door the children ran to, entering what seems to be a children’s quarters. The room contains some rudimentary amenities, including board games and plushies. An open closet sits on the left side of the room. Looks like the children went down the hall on the right…
Valse inspects the room. “They certainly don’t look like they’re being treated as child soldiers…” It appears that all the board games are retuned versions of popular board games, infused with revolutionary themes. The plushies are all of traditional elven design. The clothes in the closet all have patches on their sleeves with the resistance insignia, as well as a name tag underneath.
“Talk about propaganda…” Norixus says.
“Ah yes, my favorite type of propaganda,” James says, flipping through the clothes in the closet. “Subliminal messaging that HUMAN BAD, ELF GOOD. Perfect for molding the next generation of children.”
“If it works don’t knock it, I guess,” Rognalad quips.
“This is all pure indoctrination,” Joe says. “I find it sickening.”
“They didn’t skimp on it either…” Valse picks up a plushie and squeezes it gently in her hand. “These are decently high-quality. Anyway, let’s just keep moving…”
The party ventures deeper into the outpost, following the pitter-patter of the children’s footsteps. At last, they arrive at an armory. The two children they have been tailing peek out behind crates at the back of the room alongside a third, familiar face. Vaerill walks up, an amulet around her wrist, palm extended at the party.
Ben grins wickedly, stepping forward with a wave. “Heya, Vaerill!”
Vaerill’s eyes remain sharp, violet swirling around her palm. “You people should leave. You don’t know what you’re dealing with.”
Rognalad nods. “That’s right, tell us what we’re dealing with.”
“…I’m not telling.”
“Do you really think you can raze Ambstalt to the ground?” Ben advances on Vaerill, unperturbed.
Arcane runes swirl around Vaerill’s palm. “Don’t get any closer…”
“Or what? You’ll cast another ‘eldritch blast’ at me? The one you couldn’t even kill that rat with?” Ben spreads his arms out, grinning. “Do you think I’m afraid? I’ve come all this way, and I’m not stopping until I crush your leader’s skull beneath my boot.”
Crackling violet streaks towards Ben, exploding into his chest as he slides back against the ground.
Ben snaps back to his feet, bursting into laughter. “HAHAHAHA! You’ve grown in the short hours we last saw you. But like I said, I won’t stop.”
The two children behind Vaerill break open the weapon lockers behind them, brandishing strange metal weapons at the party. They appear dwarven in origin and are covered with inscriptions.
“Valse,” Norixus says. “See those? Can you read the inscriptions?”
Valse squints. “Yes… these seem to be Makina-infused weapons. The inscriptions appear to be some sort of serial number, as well as make and model. Makina is a catch-all phrase for certain types of advanced dwarven technology.”
Vaerill raises her amulet into her air. It begins to glow and hum with teal radiance. The before her shimmers as the ground rumbles…
Norixus begins to back away. “She’s doing something…”
The concrete begins to crack and buckle—before something explodes out of the ground!
Chunks of concrete and rock dust cake the room and choke the air as the party scrambles for their weapons. When the dust settles, a strange construct stands before them. Easily 10 feet tall and covered in heavy metal plating, it whirrs and creaks as it trains its spiked titanium fists at the party. Vaerill climbs atop its back like a jockey, pointing her palm at Ben.
Ben slams his fists together. “Hahahaha… HAHAHAHAHA! COME ON THEN!”
“Quite unexpected to come from a child,” Joe says as he readies his weapons.
“Come on, gang,” Ben snarls. “I don’t give a shit if these are kids, they seem to have the confidence that they can fight a war. From now on, we’re treating these people as the enemy.”
Rognalad stares at Ben, blinking. “…Let’s go easy on them, guys.”
“Why the fuck would I give them the sentiment of going easy when they won’t? If you’re holding back, go ahead and leave. These kids deserve nothing less than a genuine effort to kill them.”
“It’s best not to kill children, if we’re being lawful here.”
“Fine, you don’t have to kill them. But you better not hold back, or I’ll stomp you too.”
Joe sighs. “Whatever you might think, Ben, I refuse to slaughter children.”
Ben turns to Joe in anger. “Shut the fuck up with that moral high ground garbage. I won’t kill kids, but I won’t hold back either. Don’t blame me if they end up with broken bodies.”
Ben looks at the children, taking notice of the stash of dwarven weaponry behind them. “Heh. Once I get my hands on those… they’re finished.” He charges at the shield guardian, feinting a punch into a slide beneath its knees. An invisible hand swats him away as the air around the guardian shimmers teal.
“So that’s what we’re playing at…” he backflips away.
More violet streaks fizzle against the ground nearby.
“You’re pathetic!” he spits.
Something sails past at supersonic speeds. Ben’s ears ring—smoke drips from the end of the children’s weapons.
“HAHAHAHA! YOU’RE ALL GARBAGE! YOU’RE THE ONES WHO’LL RAZE AMBSTALT TO THE GROUND? You’re nothing… MORE THAN CANNON FODDER!!!”
He charges forward, his fist a comet. The hulking construct slams a punch into his gut. Ribs shatter like glass.
He tumbles and skips off the ground, skidding to a halt. Stumbling to his feet, he spits blood onto the ground. “That guardian is no joke. Those kids though? THEY’RE TRASH!”
Rognalad eyes the monk. “That animal is out of his mind.”
Minutes pass as the children and the adventurers do battle. The room reverberates with clanging steel on steel. The children remain without a scratch—the guardian’s forcefield kept them safe from magic and metal alike. The ground is dotted in body-shaped impact craters as the guardian swats the fighters like flies. Yet bit by bit, chip by chip, the guardian’s defenses collapse.
A red-hot fist of fury uppercuts the guardian’s head clean off its neck.
Having lost their metal chaperone, the children quickly surrender.
“Tie them up,” Ben says, panting as he wipes the blood and sweat from his skin. “I’ll watch over them—they try shit and…” he slams his knuckles together and grins menacingly at the children.
The party ties the children up. Ben picks up Vaerill and heaves her over his shoulder as she cries and whimpers.
“Say, Vaerill,” Norixus asks, “how were you able to use a shield guardian?”
Vaerill sniffles and sobs. “J-Johnson gave it to me…”
“Oi, Vaerill,” Ben says. “Do you know where Johnson is now? I have some unfinished business.”
“Y-Yeah… I can open that door in the mess hall…”
“Alright, let’s get a move on then.” Ben hums as the party begins to walk back.
The party returns to the mess hall. Vaerill takes her amulet and waves it over the door. The padlocks fall off with a clunk, and the magic barrier fizzles out.
“Atttagirl,” Ben says, setting Vaerill down and untying her. “Oh! One more thing…” he stares murderously at the quivering girl. “You best run back home to your parents now, Vaerill.”
She nods, frightened, and scurries off, crying all the while.
· · ·
The party moves into the next room. It appears to be some sort of medical bay. Hospital beds line the right wall—some look recently used. Strange vat-like devices line the left wall, filled with bubbling fluid. A single oak door stands opposite the entrance.
Ben inspects one of the vats. “Oi, Valse. Do you recognize this machinery at all? Is it dwarvish in origin?”
Valse ponders. “It seems to use some dwarvish components, but it’s mostly elvish. Looks like… they might be used for something related to soul magic?”
Ben’s eyes widen. “What do you mean ‘soul magic’? The hell are they doing?”
“I’m not too sure myself… I only have cursory knowledge of this sort of thing.” Valse pauses for a moment. “Anyway… we should keep moving.”
“Hell yeah. I bet that Johnson piece of shit is just through the next door.” Ben’s fist begins to glow hot with Ki. “I’m going to hit that fucker with every last bit of Ki I got.”
Moving stealthily into the next room, the party finds what they’re looking for. A tall human stands at a desk in front of a map mounted on the wall. Next to him is an elf in dark green robes with silver filigree. On a rack behind the human is a tall wolf-like suit, about 8 feet high.
The elf turns… they appear to be willing a black mask with a silver V on it, lining up with the ears. She speaks in a female voice…
“It seems we have visitors, Johnson…”
The adventurers step out from hiding. Ben waves at the man. “Yo! Johnson! We thought you were dead!”
“Uhm… so you’re Johnson?” Willington motions at the man.
The man brandishes his wand, pointing it at the party. “Yes… yes I am.”
“Awesome!” Ben raises his fists. “One more step and you’ll be swallowing your teeth.”
Willington looks between Johnson and the elf. “I’m assuming you’re with her?”
“And I assume that you lot are here to interfere,” the elf responds.
“Huh… isn’t she the elf that was on that poster in the foyer?” Rognalad slowly nods, gazing at the elf. “You must be the team mascot then?”
“Who I am is of no matter. Leave.”
Ben cracks his knuckles. “Mmm, I don’t feel like it. Not yet anyways.” He chuckles, glancing back and forth between Johnson and the elf. “Wanna tell me why you’re recruiting children in order to lead them to their deaths?
The elf doesn’t seem to care. “You lot are beneath me.” She hovers into the air, her robes swirling. A strange green magic begins to glow around her head, tendrils wisping away in the air. Roots spring up from the ground, sealing off the exit, as well as entangling the party. She disappears in a flash of magic that scorches eyes… By the time the party’s vision clears, Johnson has donned his suit. The beast of Folngrove—in the flesh.
Ben grits his teeth, rubbing his eyes. A wild grin spreads across his face, his eyes blazing with rage. “So this is how it starts, eh? COME ON THEN!!!”
“Concentrate. Focus. Let your soul flow into your fist…”
Flames spew from Rognalad’s hands, setting Johnson’s suit alight.
“Like cooling lava, let it set and harden within your knuckles…”
Johnson backs away, casting a spell to try and mitigate the damage.
“First… comes rock.”
Through the veil of flames flies a falling star—Ben’s fist burns with the power of his fighting spirit. With a roar, he buries the sun into Johnson’s gut.
“ROCK… PAPER. ROOOOCK!”
Johnson slams back into the desk, papers and splinters flying everywhere. He hacks up blood as he staggers to his feet—a gaping hole in his chest.
“HAHAHAHAHA! HAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH! YOU’RE STILL STANDING? I’LL FIX THAT!”
Streaks of violet energy sear Johnson’s skin. Ben lunges at Johnson, slamming punch after punch into his torn gut.
“After this, we’re destroying those vats. And we’re razing this place to the FUCKING GROUND! HAHAHAHAHAHA!”
Snarling like a rabid animal, Ben clocks Johnson in the face—before snapping him out of his daze with a colossal uppercut. Criollo charges forth, the spike to Ben’s set—slamming Johnson back down into the ground under his warhammer.
Johnson crawls to his feet, before leaping back. His body is barely intact. One hand clutches his belly, trying to keep his guts on the inside.
“You… you lot put up a good fight…” Johnson chuckles menacingly. He reaches into his pocket, and retrieves a vial, downing its contents. The sickening sound of shuffling bone and bubbling flesh reverberates. His veins glow red as a dying star. Wounds stitch together as his muscles bulge and flex. His eyes gleam with power… and bloodlust.
“JOOOHNSOOOON!!!” Ben yells with all his might, swinging his fists in a frenzy. With inhuman speed, Johnson catches Ben’s fist with his own—and slams him into the ground. An inhuman roar makes the party’s ears ring.
Johnson leaps at the party, his hands a blur as bladed claw weapons shred and slice. Misty blood sprays. Flesh tears like tissue paper. He’s leapt away from the party now, quick as he attacked.
Norixus staggers and collapses, his body covered in innumerable gashes.
“Cover me!” Valse rushes to Norixus, her palms wispy white with healing magic. “I’ll get him on his feet!”
“COME ON, YOU PIECE OF SHIT!”
Like a hawk, Johnson lunges forth once more—a whirlwind of fur and blades. Blood drenches the walls. Willington falls to his knees. Johnson’s suit drips crimson as he leaps away, panting and heaving to catch his breath.
“Get him! Hit him while he’s out of breath!”
The party members that can still fight close in like a pack of wolves. Sizzling violet rays and honed steel edges find purchase. Valse’s magic seals shut Norixus’s wounds. He blinks, staggering to his feet.
“…I have seen the comeback… Katigda, give my allies strength…” The dragonborn cleric prays with all his might. Radiant white emanates from him to Willington, undoing the blows that were dealt.
Johnson leaps away from the party once more. His body struggles and groans to keep up with the wear and tear—but he pays it no mind. He yearns only for spilt blood—be it theirs or his own.
With an animalistic roar, he slices across the party. Tendons snap and muscles fray.
“JOHNSON,” Norixus shouts. “PLEASE JUST LISTEN TO US!”
Flesh unravels and bones shatter.
“THERE’S NO NEED TO CONTINUE!”
Ben’s Ki grows dim as he falls. “Piece… of… shit!”
“He is too far gone,” Joe says, swatting at the beast with his quarterstaff. “No longer will he listen to reason…”
“Where is he… if I can just catch his next attack…” James readies his greatsword, calming his breathing.
Johnson roars as he darts towards the party once more.
“There!” He angles his blade at the perfect angle.
With a wet smack, Johnson’s head tumbles to the ground.