Setting: Juniper, after Croaker and the boys have fled by sea.
The end of the Juniper Story arc.
The session starts with the squad (Stitch, Cranes, Rag & Ghost with NPCs Big Horse, Little Horse, and Foul) riding east along the valley, hunting for a handful of labourers who escaped Juniper with the Dominator's deadly silver amulets after Elmo's sack of the Black Castle.
After arriving in the small village of Sawdust, once a village dedicated to logging and a sawmill now little more than a sheep-market, they immediately noticed how unhealthy the villagers looked. They were all too pale, with dark circles under there eyes.
Finding seats in the small near empty tavern, with a meal and beer placed in front of them, they chattered about how to proceed. Only Ghost (a native of Juniper) and Rag speak the language well, Stitch is learning fast and Foul can swear in it and Little Horse knows how to proposition ladies (two -8s).
Ghost and Rag corner the innkeeper. Rag quickly strings together a Charm effect*, winning over the diminutive innkeep. The innkeep pauses to return a steaming pot of food to the kitchen, then joins them. After passing the usual pleasantries they get down to business. Why yes, he did see a couple likely prospects pass through here about a week ago. And yes, they did pay in fresh coinage, and unlike most labourers they didn't haggle or bicker over the costs, pretty unusual for men who rarely have two copper bits to rub together. But no, he didn't see any unusual silver heirlooms.
Outside Cranes and Foul keep an eye on the horses. They note a young woman of surprisingly short stature (a link to the innkeep) riding north on a pony carrying a small iron pot.
Big Horse returns from a look around the village. His cloak is stained by horse dung thrown by the village's aging Custodian, outraged by the Lady's looting of the catacombs of Juniper.
Inside the innkeep points out one of the occupants of the tavern, Thurbill, the local "merchant prince" who would be a likely source of coin in trade for silver jewellry, as he is the richest man in the village.
The squad-members inside talk to Thurbill. Yes, he has seen silver jewellry recently, and he realizes that he'll find no buyers among the natives of Sawdust, he will gleefully sell them to the squad.
He takes them to his shop. On the way the squad passes the village well. The well! Stitch is suspicious. So many people sick... ...it would require further investigation. In his shop Thurbill shows them the ledger entries detailing the sale, and unlocking his strongbox he shows them the jewellry. Three of the amulets! They promise to return for them later.
Late that night the squad slips out of the inn and gathers at the well. They post scouts, and lower Cranes into the well armed with a grapple and a lantern. Just above the waterline he wedges a dagger into the stonework and hangs the lantern. Bracing himself he begins dragging the well with the grapple. He hooks something! He drags up an arm. There's a body in the well.
A search reveals an amulet missing it's black stone eyes. There's a black castle down in the well!
He signals that he should be drawn up the well when the black claw-like hand grabs his ankle and hauls him down into the water. Struggling for his life against the demon he first tries to stab it. Failing to strike a telling blow, feeling his friends pull the rope yet not getting him free of the water he cuts the rope to the grapple.
Without the dead body's weight he begin's to rise, but the claws of the black demon are taking a terrible toll. He crests the lip of the well to tumble unconcious to the ground.** The demon leaps onto Stitch, Rag begins casting, and Big Horse, Little Horse, and Foul come to Stitch's aid. Ghost drags Cranes free of the combat, cutting him off the rope.
Rag's spell (Afflict) slows the demon up a little. Stitch disengages and runs to Cranes' side. Big Horse and Foul both land telling blows. This demon, a very small servant of the Black Gate, tries to escape to the safety of the well. It is brought down by attacks by the NPCs.***
Stitch stabilizes Cranes, who will be okay once he's had a chance to heal.
As the villagers awaken and run to to see what has occured they are confronted by the sight of the demon. Thurbill returns the amulets immediately, and the well is condemned. The group hears a pony racing off into the night. The innkeep's daughter!
Big and Little Horse are dispatched to Juniper with all speed. Foul stays to guard Cranes. Ghost, Rag, and Stitches follow the girl.
Stitches tracking skill comes in handy, and soon the trio find her trail into the hills above Sawdust. After a couple hours they find the pony, tied to a tree below a cliff path to a cave lit by firelight.
Ghost sneaks up to see what has occurred. He is shocked to see three deranged men with red eyes**** feasting on the corpse of the girl. As Stitch and Rag approach Rag steps on a twig. The loud snap alerts the wild-men. They charge out of the cave. One finds Ghost, and grapples with him, but not before Ghost and Stitch manage to lodge arrows deep into his body. The wildman and Ghost struggle, and Ghost manages to overbalance the wildman, sending him 30 ft below to the rocks.
Rag has prepared a spell before advance up the narrow ledge. He executes the "lynchpin" and unleashes an Afflict/Blind. The lead wildman is blinded, the second one is not. However he is oblivious to Ghost, whose +2d6 sneak attack rolls a big 17 points of damage, ending it's life.
The blinded wildman makes an incredible grapple on Stitch, succeeding the total concealment roll. The fall to the edge of the narrow path. Rag and Ghost try to help, but the combatants roll back and forth furiously, denying them a clean target. Stitch manages to lever the wildman off of him, and off the path. However the wildman grabs Stitch's ankle, and one failed save later both plummet down to the rocks below.
The fall proves fatal for the wildman. Cushioned by his opponent Stitch is sorely injured, but still mobile.
A quick search of the cave unturns dozens of the amulets.
After a pyre is built, the weary group rides back to Sawdust, arriving after dawn. Upon the roof of the inn they see Foul and the recumbent Cranes. The same thing that has affected the labourers has swept the town. Many lie dead in the streets, others wander in a murderous rage. Using their horses' mobility the group escaped to hatch a plan after Ghost rode close to the inn, launching an arrow with a message promising they'd return attached.
Finally, as dusk approached the plan was executed. Rag created an illusory traveller, complete with sound. The village wildmen took the bait. Ghost and Stitch rode hard to the building beside the inn, where Foul and Cranes wasted no time lowering themselves onto the horses. Even ridden double the horses were capable of outdistancing the few wildmen not attracted by the bait illusion.
The group rode back west and created a "checkpoint."
Towards dawn two great black carriages and seventy Black Company brethren arrived. The squad was relieved of the silver amulets as the Lady and Journey continued on to Sawdust.
Journey made a detailed examination of the squad later, and pronounced them "clean."
Back in Juniper a Black Galleon arrived, with two escort vessels. The treasue of the catacombs was loaded and the new governor, a flamboyant aristocrat reminiscent of our King Henry VIII arrived. The Lady and journey departed with the morning tide.
The next morning the Black Company survivors awoke to find that Elmo and seventy of the last "Old Guard" Black Company had decamped in the night, taking every horse remaining in the garrison and the Black Company pay chests. The abandonment of the Black Company brothers left in Juniper was now complete.
Next week: A year and a half later, fighting the menace of barbarian shamen in the Great Forest!
*House Rule: Duration of 5 minutes is +5 DC, essentially letting you do something "for a scene" a little easier than for an entire hour at +20 DC. Maybe I'll bump it up to +10.
**Chris/Cranes passes his Grev Injury save, DC 11.
***It fails it's Tumble and incurs 2 Attacks of Opportunity from the 3 NPCs.
****28 Days Later style zombies, run as living second level barbarians with Improved Unarmed Combat (attacking like animals) despite their 1st level commoner status.