The party started with their arrival at the ruins they’d spend so long trying to reach. They reached the fort near sunset, and though they were careful to announce their presence the arrival of a drow set the guards on edge. They refused entry to the party while they were armed, so Drael and Aramil stayed with the cart and weapons while Vyktor, Artas, and Rufus entered the courtyard. Polycarp decided to make himself scarce in the forests surrounding the fort.
Within the courtyard they met the dwarven paladin of Ceres who was apparently leading the defense of the research outpost. When the party requested their pay, Rufus objected by noting they had also stolen several expensive items from him, including a magical dagger, a wand of fireball, and the codex itself. The party countered by saying that Rufus’ tablet had stolen part of their souls and that they hadn’t been warned or consented. Under the paladin’s withering glare the codex was returned, the wand was retrieved from Drael, and the party compensated for the soul theft with a 200gp bounty… each. As Polycarp was missing the paladin sent out a group of mercenaries to find him. They were about as successful as you’d expect. With that, the party was allowed to bring the rented horses and cart within the walls, though they were requested to go about unarmed.
In talking with the paladin he revealed he didn’t seem too interested in the research, but knew enough to inform Rufus that Headmaster Frawk was not there, would never be there, and that he had traveled the exact wrong way if he wanted to meet him. Rufus received this news by sulking in the multistory building co-opted for scholar and leadership residences. Free to go, the party went about the camp meeting the other residents. Having identified the soldiers within the compound as in the service of Kharlin, Drael slyly warned Artas by complimenting the server on the Kharlin cuisine. He angrily shouted the chef was from Ceres.
After dinner, Artas struck up a conversation with a well-armored half-orc sitting alone at one of the tables and seemingly out of place. The other party members talked with some of the higher-ups within the compound, including Ormal Ardem, a human scholar from Kharlin; Prima Quintas, a human cleric of Erastil; Gideom, the head scholar; and miscellaneous cooks, librarians, and other fortress staff.
The party spent a restful, relaxing night within the fortress and were trying to figure out what to do next. Artas invited his new friend to join them, and lacking any clear direction the half-orc accepted. Their plans were interrupted by arrows occasionally arriving over the walls and landing in the courtyard. One came affixed with a note in some crude language, but it was enough to get the guards on alert. With only seconds to spare the fortress guards mounted the parapets to see a goblin army coming to sack the fortress from the north. Horns announced another army approaching from the south, and the party was pressed into service to defend the walls.
With the morning sun barely over the horizon the goblins attacked. Vyktor boosted the party with a blessing from Calistria. The guards on the walls were struck down by arrows fired from the treeline, though Aramil was able to stabilize one that fell off with the use of a Goodberry. Artas and the half-orc charged to the open gates, using their bulk as a bulwark against the invaders. A dazzling display of prowess by Artas helped shake the hobgoblins marching on the gates while the half-orc pleaded for them to give up the attack. Meanwhile, two massive vultures with goblins on their backs strafed the fortress with fire bombs, setting the towers on fire and igniting the few remaining defenders. Drael began casting a spell that proved to incapacitate one of the massive creatures, resulting in it landing in a fiery crash and explosion within the courtyard, sending the horses screaming in terror but likely saving the defense of the fortress. Goblin riders appeared to charge the defended gate, while the Kharlin soldiers formed a phalanx to defend a breach in the walls being attacked by something big and nasty.
Aramil joined the defenders at the gates but was struck down by a hail of arrows and blows. Soon Artas fell to a precision shot and was completely struck down, leaving only the half-orc to defend the gate. Hobgoblins streamed past and tried to attack Vyktor and Drael, though a combination of Vyktor’s Darkness and Drael’s Tanglefoot Bag stopped and stymied the invaders. Vyktor valiantly kept the party on their feet. All looked lost when a booming voice called out, ‘The debt of Alion is repaid’ and Artas was levitated back to his feet, the tattoo on his shoulder burning to a brand and smoking through his armor.
Renewed, the defense worked to purge the invaders. Drael enlarged the half-orc and incapacitated the other vulture rider, Aramil and Vyktor fought within the sphere of darkness while Timmy continued to trip the hapless hobgoblins, Polycarp stalked the treeline to take down the archers, and the rejuvenated Artas fought to clear the gates. Unfortunately the Kharlin soldiers were being worn down by the onslaught of their attackers and the breach in the wall looked ready to fall. A cry for help brought down a rain of explosions that exploded one of the towers the hobgoblins were scaling, the breach in the wall, and left several craters in the field surrounding the fortress. Aramil summoned a tangle of vines to block the breach and buy the defenders time while they dealt with the ones who had penetrated their defenses.
Desperately they fought the goblin chieftan, the enlarged half-orc and the half-drow cleric using their darkvision to great effect, while the exhausted Drael soldiered on with magical weaponry. Artas was laid low once again, and it was only the careful coordination of the entire party that kept soul bonded to body. The enlarged orc brought him within the safety of the walls, the Druid tended to his wounds, and the half-drow cleric got him back into fighting shape and back into the fight. With the death of the chief and the rest of the hobgoblins, the party turned their attention to the breach in the walls.
The carnage revealed two enlarged hobgoblin corpses and an enormous snake writhing in the vines summoned by Aramil, the only thing preventing it from flanking the defenders. Goblin shamans in the distance seemed to be directing its actions. The giant armored half-orc leapt over the vines to close with the beast, while Polycarp circled around to take out the shamans. Sensing the battle had turned against them, the shamans retreated and left the snake and their chief to their captors.
The leader of the Khalin soldiers, Lieutenant Dan, was incensed by the deaths of his soldiers and wanted to slay the giant goblin snake, but the similarly enormous half-orc refused to allow it to be killed after it had surrendered. Instead he interrogated it, as it was apparently an intelligent creature. When asked why they had attacked, it said only “Orders,” and indicated the chief. It also hinted at the history of slavery with Khalin society. The half-orc gave it a message for its tribe: “Your chief is dead, and this place is protected. We have no wish to kill you, but we will defend ourselves. Do not attack again or you will bring destruction upon yourselves. Go in peace.” Lt. Dan seemed displeased, but said nothing. The party then set about tending to the wounded and helping out as best they could. Bodies and casualties were laid out in the great hall, and the goblin corpses were gathered, looted of valuables, and burned. Several people noticed that the goblins were unusually well-armed, including some masterwork weapons and armor.
Prima Quintas did what she could to heal the wounded and used two of her three Raise Dead scrolls on the expired. With the party wounded but on their feet she apologized at not being able to spare any healing. Artas, meanwhile, sought out the dwarven paladin of Ceres to try and learn more about the weird events at the gate with his sudden death and resurrection. Exhausted by the ordeal, the party rested for the night within the safety of the walls. When asked for his name the half-orc revealed that, in his culture, names are awarded only after performing deeds of service to the community. He seemed impressed at first that his fellow combatants all had names already, but allowed that cultural differences could be surprising that way. He said the word for those like him without a name yet was “Ignomine,” and lacking something else they wished to call him it was a suitable enough word.
The next morning they learn that the scholars had been able to get word out about the attack, and received orders to abandon the dig site after reinforcements had arrived in 3-5 days who would escort them to Ceres. The party, not willing to wait around for blame to possibly land on them, elected to leave that day. They made good time heading straight for the cottage above the ruins and camp for the night only three hours out.
During the watch near the conclusion of his shift, Ignomine detected auras of evil approaching and circling the campsite. He silently woke Vyktor, next on watch and who could also see in the dark, to identify the forms as zombie wolves. They worked to wake the other party members and informed them to use bladed weapons against the rotting corpses. So prepared, the group worked to dispatch the shambling undead and was able to come out victorious, despite the frequent tripping.
The rest of the night went uneventfully, and the party continued on towards the cottage.