45. The Forlorn Hope

Gordon ploughs on hopping and skipping through the undergrowth trying not to trip and go arse over tit.

Once he reaches the fight he quickly tries to assess the situation. Seeing the big lizard creatures the gnome is a little taken aback. Depending upon where Cynan and Zelmar have headed, Gordon will go for the other target and use his ColorSpray to disable the lizard and it’s rider. If the scouts are still lurking about taking pot shots or rushing in to engage and are within 30 yards, he will hit them with a Sleep spell before wading in to the lizards with his axe, “Where’s a druid when you need one, eh lads?”

Talo does his best to make up time – hustling as best he can to cross the distance. Once there he assumes his position in the fighting arrangement with the rest of the party. Talo focuses on getting to the fallen and blesses one after another to staunch their bleeding. Hopping to his feet, Talo rushes to the side of his comrades to provide the blessing of his axe to the face of their foes. The dwarven cleric erupts into a rage and hacks with wild abandon into the reptilian hides.

Cynan quickly looks around and spies Gildor down. Yelling his battle cry to try and distract the lizard and its rider he charges towards it, but not a headlong rush in case of tripping. He will try and straddle the downed elf protecting him till help arrives.

Kradorn dodges the lizards snapping jaws and parries the orc spear, his counter is poor but leaves a wound all the same. To his immense relief, Zelmar arrives and slashes a long wound across the monster’s foreleg. It roars out in pain, and the rider, seeing Zelmar, stabs at him with his spear. Zelmar parries the spear with his shortsword and impales the orc on his longsword. Kradorn meanwhile dodges another lunge by the lizard and stabs it in the head with his sword. The monster backs away only for Zelmar to stab his sword in its side again. The lizard twists and retreats as Kradorn and Zelmar close in, Zelmar makes a stab with his shortsword only for Kradorn to step in the way and get the blade across his ribs.

The Lizard is about to turn tail and run when Zelmar leaps on its back, pushing the lifeless orc out of the saddle and driving his longsword between the lizards shoulders, pushing with both hands until the blade is buried almost up to hilt. As the thing grinds to halt Zelmar pulls the blade free and follows Kradorn to help Cynan.

Cynan sprints towards the lizard and its rider, standing over the fallen elf but isn’t in time to stop the orc driving his spear into Gildor again. The paladin cries out in rage and is caught somewhat by surprise when the lizard snaps at him and locks its 50cm wide jaws around his torso. Metal screeches, tears and punctures and what feels like a hundred razor sharp teeth bite into Cynan.

The orc turns his attention to Cynan and stabs at him with its spear but Cynan manages to parry it and drive his smoking blade into the side of the lizard’s neck. It snaps at the sword freeing the paladin and Cynan is able to twist and push the blade into its mouth and out through its cheek.

The monster backs away and Cynan follows it, hacking at a leg (whose foot is planted firmly on Gildor’s body) and leaving a bloody, steaming wound. In moment the lizard is gone, turning and jumping 10m, clinging to the side of a huge mushroom stalk. The thing scuttles round the other side and with another leap is gone.

At this point Gordon arrives, his timing perfect as usual.
Cynan immediately turns his attention to Gildor, and seeing no sign of Talo, he prays to Ringheru to staunch the spear wounds and revive the elf. Gildor comes to with a shiver but is still seriously wounded.
Zelmar scans the surrounding forest looking for signs of the orcs or more lizards and spies two orc scouts about 70m away to the south-east.

A short while later Talo arrives and looks over the wounded, praying over Gildor and bringing him back to consciousness, though he is still Badly wounded.

“Well that didn’t work worth a damn. Saw the trap just a little too late.” Kradorn curses as he looks down at Gildor.
Wiping his sword off before sheathing and checking his wounds. “Well, think we did more damage then they did.” Kradorn mumbles. “Lets be done with this place. Save the villagers and dwarves then be gone from here.”

“Aye, enough of this. They know we’re here, they now know some of our capability. Let’s be done with pussyfooting about. If Saphiria can silence that ballista then let’s just charge the walls and gatehouse. Gildor and I can start hitting them with Sleep from about 30 yards out which might reduce the resistance some. If the dwarves can cover us with crossbow fire, I’m sure they will be more accurate than the orcs and get them to keep their heads down whilst we cross the open ground.” Suggests Gordon.

Zelmar approached Cynan: “I scanned the surrounding forest and spied two orc scouts about 70m away to the south-east. Do you want me to do something about it?”

Talo inspects the remaining injuries on Gildor and assesses his condition. The dwarf then blesses him again in hopes of mending his wounds as best he can.

Gildor shivers from the paladin’s healing and graciously thanks Cynan. No sooner than Cynan heals him then Talo does so. Gildor thanks the dwarf then apologizes to the group, “I don’t know what came over me. I didn’t mean to run off and get caught in a trap. Come Saphiria we need to gather up and plan for our next move. It looks like Zelmar has spotted a couple of the scouts Kradorn and I saw before. It was probably best things happened the way they did. Breaching those battlements might have been just as costly or worse. I thank you all for saving my life once more. I am indebted to you all.”

Talo prays twice for the injured elf, bringing him back up to fighting fitness with only a few cuts and scrapes remaining.

Munin turns up with his squad and listens as Gordon explains his plan. “My troops can cover you from the edge of the forest but I’ll not bring ’em out into the open against orcs with heavy crossbows sat behind battlements.”
“We will.” Storm assures Gordon. “You lead and we’ll follow but we need a plan of attack.” he turns to Cynan expectantly, the rest of the Lands End volunteers right behind him.

“By the ice halls of Skoti, once again we dither about like maids at their first dance” Cynan raises his hand in a placating gesture. “The fault is mine and mine alone, you made me the leader and I needed take charge. Therefore, this is what we shall do. We will use the plan Gordon suggested to storm the fortress, we can discuss this till the cows come home but at the end of the day we have no other option.
Once we have captured it we will search it for signs of prisoners, then we will head to the huts and the tower. I am assuming the tower is now empty as we killed the mind flayer earlier, however stay alert at all times. Munin once we secure the gatehouse bring your companions forward to support us.”
Cynan makes sure Gildor is fully healed then uses his remaining healing on Kradorn. “Very well, time is a wasting and we do no one any good standing around here, tis time to move”.

Kradorn feels Cynan’s icy cold wash over him and when the shivers have passed is left with only bumps and bruises.

Gildor points out, “I’ll not risk Saphiria to archers either. With those scouts still out there I don’t know if we could pull off using the disguise. Those scouts would probably signal it as a fake. Perhaps if there is a surviving orc we could persuade one to talk, they might tell us of another way in. I think I put one or two to sleep. We should check them for keys/maps. If Cynan allows, Gildor loots the bodies and ties up and gags those not dead with help from all the others. He interrogates them about any prisoners in the fortress and how to get in without being seen. He’ll knockout any orc that tries to call out for help or warn the others. He’ll gag them again too.

None of the slept orcs are still with the bodies of the dead lizards or orcs. It looks to Zelmar like unconscious bodies have been dragged away through the undergrowth.

Gildor again says,”Thank you Talo. I’m in your debt. I will try to not waste your efforts this day, but there is still more to do. I fear there shall be more blood shed if we try to fight our way into the fortress. Perhaps we will find another way.”

“Then have Saphira stay with the dwarves, and anyone else who is unsure of the plan may do so as well. However it must be done like it or not” Cynan cleans his blade and moves off to the fortress.

Talo bows his head and looks Gildor in the eye, “This was no waste. Had they been at our backs while we attempted those walls, we would have grievous losses. Your work was valiant! Well done! Now, let’s get back to it.”

Turning to Cynan, Talo says, “We can select a less-guarded portion of the wall and have Gordon with his spider-climb ring, go over.” He pauses and looks to Gordon, “Assuming this is alright with you. Meanwhile Zelmar and Gildor can likely scale that wall very quickly with the grappling hook to provide support as soon as possible. The rest of us less speedy climbers can bring up the rear on the rope. Kill the wall guard. Push to the gate. Open it and allow my war-kin in! Thoughts, Cynan?”

”Aye, lets get this done” says Gordon. “Munin if your troopers can keep them orcs heads down with a steady stream of crossbow fire it would be good, especially those either side of the breach. Gildor and I need to get about half way across before we can start hitting them with our spells so the more time we can be bought the better.”

As the warriors and the Lands End volunteers line up at the edge of the fungi forest and just before the signal to rush the gatehouse and breach Gordon casts Mirror Image to improve his chances of not being hit.

Once the charge begins the gnome knows he won’t be the fastest over the distance and tries to angle his charge towards the actual gatehouse, or slightly to the side, on the side where the scaffolding and breach are. Once within 25 yards and hopefully with some targets in sight, he will throw a Sleep spell at the battlements to put down any opposition that might be waiting for them. If he can close the remaining distance without incident, he will slip his Spider Climb ring on scuttle up the wall and over the battlements, to engage any orcs that might be there. If he has time and there are more than one or two rushing him, he will hit them with ColorSpray, otherwise it is trusty axe and shield. The aim being to fight his way to the gatehouse and open the gates for Munin and the other dwarves.

“No Talo it is decided, it is our failing that we discuss for ever and do nothing. Sooner or later we need roll the dice, it is that time”

“Well let’s get to it then!” The dwarf rolls his shoulder and limbers his axe-hand as he prepares to follow the rest of the party into the fray.

Gildor whispers to Cynan and the others, “So Gordon and I are going to get to the wall while the dwarves use ranged weapons to keep the orc archers busy. I’ll get the grappling hook in place and signal everyone that’s going over the wall to run over and I’ll help you up. Gordon will head on over the wall and cast sleep near the gate so the rest of you going over can make quick work of any orcs still standing near the gate and open it for the dwarves?” Gildor takes direction from Gordon and Cynan as they move out to storm the fortress, though to stay current with the plan and adjust accordingly. He assist with what little magic he has left when and where possible.

As Gordon and Gildor get ready to move to the wall he tells Saphiria, “Distract the orcs on the wall and Defend the Dwarves from behind.”

After their discussions, a 5 minute walk brings the party, the Lands End volunteers and Munin’s squad to the edge of the forest near the gatehouse. Everyone stays back far enough not to be seen and with final words of command and encouragement, backpacks are dropped, weapons drawn and armour straps tightened.
Following Munin’s suggestion the charge is begun from inside the forest, to give the orcs on the battlements as little warning as possible. However, Zelmar has noticed that the orc scouts have moved up parallel to the party at the edge of the forest and are signalling to the orcs manning the battlements. These scouts seem to be the same ones that have been shadowing the party since they stepped foot into the fungi forest.
Cynan signals everyone to keep quite despite an overwhelming urge to shout his usual oath and then begins the charge, sword drawn and shield held high. Gordon casts mirror image and all three copies charge too. Zelmar advanced as well towards the fortress.
The orcs are waiting for them, despite the surprise of the charge. Once the alarm is sounded (almost immediately) the orcs are waiting with loaded crossbows. A hail of heavy crossbow bolts brings down three of the Volunteers and Storm is wounded too. Two bolts narrowly miss Talo and one lands at Kradorn’s feet. Suddenly Talo feels very exposed.
Munin’s return volley proves deadly, three orcs killed and four wounded. The creatures quickly duck behind whatever cover they can find whilst reloading their heavy crossbows. One of the orcs killed was aiming the ballista and has to be replaced before the weapon can be fired.
The charge continues and the ballista’s spear sized missile lands somewhere behind the Cynan. The orcs immediately begin reloading the weapon as fast as they can, only to struck with a flurry of arrows from Mumin’s archers. The weapon is left abandoned. Half of Munin’s squad puts away their bows and drawing swords and shields, moves off after the party across the 50m of open ground.
When the orcs reappear with crossbows loaded Gildor is waiting with a sleep spell, the last three orcs on the left gate tower go down before they’ve had chance to aim their crossbows. None of the other 4 crossbow bolts come near to hitting their intended targets. Only one orc remains on the right hand tower with three more off to the left of where the party are advancing.
As Gildor and Cynan reach the walls with Zelmar and Kradorn not far behind, more orcs begin to stream onto the battlements, coming from the left hand tower or steps next to it. They’re carrying a motley assortment of weapons mostly axes and polearms with a few bows too.
Gordon doesn’t waste any time and a sleep spell brings the flow to a stop as quickly as it began. Gildor and Zelmar throw their grapples and while Gildor’s clatters back down, Zelmar’s finds a grip on the wall. Cynan moves over to the scaffolding around the left tower, while Kradorn takes out his bow and prays for an orc to stick his head over the wall.
Gordon breathes a sigh of relief as he finally reaches the wall and Talo keeps running, knowing he’s only seconds away from cover.
The three orcs on the left battlements cautiously peer over the wall with crossbows ready, giving Kradorn and Munin’s archers all the time they need to pepper them with arrows. Only one of them lives long enough gets a bolt off and while it hits, it fails to do any damage to the volunteer running behind Talo. Kradorn puts an arrow through an orc eye and Munin’s archers kill the other. Talo is just about to thank Clanggedin when he’s hit by a bolt shot from the right hand tower. His armour stops the missile from doing too much damage thankfully. Cynan struggles up the scaffolding, making hard work of it.
A horn, blown from behind the battlements calls out ominously.
An orc peeks over the battlements just above where the party have gathered, Kradorn takes off part of its ear and opens one side of its face with a sheaf arrow. Cynan clamber to about half way up the tower and Talo finally reaches the rest of the party, the Volunteers grouped just behind him.
Gildor, having gathered his grapple and rope tries again and finally gets it hooked onto something. Zelmar struggles to get a good footing on the stones and slips down again, while Gordon on the other hand just pops on his ring and is off up the wall.

Somewhere behind Kradorn, from beyond the treeline, something sounding suspiciously like a giant lizard lets out a roar.
Munin signals his soldiers to rush back into formation, turns his archers around and begins backing out of the cover of the forest. He brings his archers to a stop by the three wounded Volunteers.
Cynan swings down from the scaffolding and lands on the battlements by the tower just as Gordon clambers up from below. The last orc on the wall takes one look at Cynan and the 4 Gordons and jumps. Zelmar gets about halfway up the wall but Gildor seems to be struggling.
The five orcs gathered at the bottom of the steps which leads up the side of the gate tower to the battlements, turn and run. They seem to be in better armour than the rest but they doubt it will do them much good against Cynan’s smouldering sword. Unless the paladin wants to go after the orcs, the fight for the wall seems over.
Just as Zelmar hauls himself up onto the battlements and Gildor starts making progress up the wall, 5 more subterranean lizards and their orc riders burst from the forest, heading straight for Munin’s lines, still a good 40m from the wall.
Storm looks to Kradorn “Well, do we help?”