By Carey Sauerbrun
Deagan crept stealthily through the sparse forest. He kept to the shadows, avoiding the light of the full moon overhead. Every now and then the scout would glance back, making sure the rest of the party, trailing along about thirty yards behind him, was still with him.
From the information they were able to get out of the restored hobgoblin, using both Corina's spells and Weber's threats, the group knew that the humanoid camp lay only a less than ten miles from the village. They discovered that the band, mercenaries calling themselves the Bloody Axe, was serving a man that made his home in the area. When Weber had tried to force any more details about this man, the hobgoblin's face went blank. After a bit it was obvious the creature had lost his mental functions completely. Corina and Rill theorized that he'd been feebleminded. The companions had left him at the village, unharmed.
As the surroundings started to look more and more like the hobgoblin's description, Deagan slowed his pace even more. He had to wave the others back twice as they almost overtook him. Finally, creeping along on his belly, the rogue gently pushed the last bit of brush aside, allowing him a view of the mercenary camp.
Less than twenty feet from him stood a sentry, leaning on it's spear and watching the camp instead of the forest. Beyond him, Deagan could make out scattered tents. He guessed that there were enough for at least fifty mercenaries. Then Deagan made out the manor house, lit by the soft light of the moon. It sat on a small knoll, above the field where the tents were pitched. Deagan smirked. The target always had to be on the other side of the bad guys. You'd think that, just once, he could sneak up behind the house!
Moving very carefully, the half-elf inched back. When he reached the others, he gestured for silence, then indicated that they should follow him. Deagan led the group a few hundred yards back into the forest before he turned to whisper, "They have sentries out. Better to be safe than sorry." He knelt, and the others gathered about him.
Quickly, Deagan sketched out what he had seen, clearing a small patch of the forest floor. As he finished describing the manor house, he looked up. "So, what do you think?" he said softly.
"There be only fifty 'r so. Why plan?" Web's fingers clenched his axe eagerly.
"Oh, be quiet," Corina told him. She looked at the others, a serious expression on her face. "Whoever lives in that house is probably a mage. No one else would choose to live so far from civilization. If we go charging in, all that would do is give the mage time to get his spells ready. I say we try to get to the house without wading through fifty hobgoblins." Once Corina had accepted the group's course of action, she strove as hard as any of the others to see it fulfilled, though she refused to follow plans that were, in her opinion, stupid. Charging fifty hobgoblins ranked high on her list of stupid things to do.
Deagan nodded, not at all surprised at the dwarf's suggestion, but much preferring the mage's. Rill said, "I agree with Corina. Did you see any way to work our way around them?"
"We can go to the right or the left. To the right, it looked like there was a creek bed that we might use. If I were a mercenary commander though, I'd be using it for fresh water, and I'd also have a few guards posted there. To the left, the valley continues to drop. There are fields that go about a mile or so. We could probably work our way around that way, but it would take longer."
Corina said, "to the left," just as Web growled, "right." Deagan looked at Rill and Justin. Rill chose to go left, saying that while it might take a bit longer, they had all the time in the world. Justin, whom Deagan had thought would also take the cautious way, indicated right. He said, his voice soft and urgent, that the survivors of the raid on the village might not have the time to wait for them if they were forced to take the long way around.
It was up to Deagan. He sighed. If Justin hadn't reminded him that they were here for more than revenge, he would have chosen left. He much preferred to sneak up from behind when he could. Now though, with a time constraint, he had to pick right.
"One thing more. If there are sentries along the stream, I'm the best able to deal with them quietly." He waved his hands, stifling the protests. "I know, I know. Your magic could take them out silently, but is it a sure thing? I've had sleep spells cast my way before and not given in. With this," he held up one of his daggers, "I can put any guards to sleep, permanently and quietly. So I go first, agreed?"
No one looked happy about it, but it made sense. Deagan could move with barely a whisper through the trees. The only one that came close to his skill was Rill, and she hadn't been trained like he had. Finally, each nodded their agreement.
An hour later, Deagan lowered the last of the three sentries that had been placed along the river gently to the ground. None of them had even put up a struggle, as the half-elf's dagger found a heart, a throat, the base of a neck. Twenty minutes later, the group was gathered behind the manor house, near a small shed that looked like it had once held horse tackle.
Deagan inched up to the back entrance, slipping over the small cobbled area with nary a sound. He bent and thoroughly began to examine the door, careful not to touch it. If a mage did live here, then the last thing he was going to do was try to open a wizard-locked door.
"'Ere, wot!" Deagan spun, his sabre hissing free, in time to see the hobgoblin that had just come around the side of the house crumple to the ground, snoring.
Corina hissed from the shed, sounding thoroughly pleased with herself, "See, a good sleep spell can be a handy thing to have."
Deagan, a little amused, along with Justin, dragged the slumbering guard into the shadows, then returned to the door. After a bit, he made out the faint scratches along the lintel that told him not to try this door. He moved to the nearest window. Five minutes later, after examining the window with the same care he had spent on the door, he had the lock open and the sash up. With a quick gesture to the others, he slipped through the window, sarcastically thinking 'out of the frying pan, into the fire.'
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