Having proven themselves as competent and dedicated, the new Rangers are assigned a mission of increased importance. They are to hunt down Bloody Ballok, a notoriously violent bandit leader who has been terrorizing the lands surrounding Homestead, located on the Howling River south of Kythros.
The mission is particularly delicate because Ballok has already escaped the grasp of the Rangers once, killing a number of people in the process; his capture is a matter of both pride and restoring the reputation of the Rangers.
On a given day while in Kythros, following the morning’s exercises and chores, the Heroes are summoned to the cabin housing the working quarters of a number of important non-officers, including Sergeant Major Guz. Sergeant Guz is an elderly ogre who has served the Rangers for most of his adult life; currently, he serves as one of the main trainers of new recruits, though he also oversees local mission assignments and other duties as needed (Guz has a permanent wound from a past battle, on his left leg).
Upon entering the administrative quarters, the Heroes will likely be surprised to see not only Sergeant Major Guz, but also Grand Sergeant Major Kork Mindril, the highest ranked non-officer in the Rangers. They are asked to close the door, and Guz moves in behind them to see that no one disturbs the meeting. Once they settle in, the dwarven veteran begins the conversation.
“I’m glad to hear that your last mission went well. King Harrington is very pleased overall. You’ve all proven yourselves capable and resourceful Rangers. I’m goin’ to have ta ask each of ye to keep what I tell ya in the strictest o’ confidence, aye?”
He looks around the room, seeking assent from each Ranger.
“Good. Ye may have picked up on the fact that we be hard pressed these days. Our numbers have dwindled o’er the last few decades, what with how peaceful things have been. Howe’er, there’s those in place o’ power and influence what know what’s comin.’ The very Gates o’ Hell are goin’ t’ open soon, if you believe the druids an’ the priests…an’ believe me, I do.”
He pulls out a map of the continent of Shaintar and begins to point out certain areas, north of the Wildlands.
“The Kal-a-Nar Empire is amassin’ troops all along the northern borders with the Elves and Olara. O’er here,” he points to the Malakar Dominion, “there’s reports of the Maelstrom building fortified camps near Landra’Feya.”
Guz interrupts, saying “The Maelstrom is a large mercenary army, founded in the Empire, made up mostly of those who worship Ceynara.”
“Aye, that they do. For all intents and purposes, they be another force servin’ the Empire’s interests. The reason I be tellin’ all this to ye is so that you’ll be ready for what’s likely to be asked o’ ye. The Rangers are stretched t’ the limits, and it’s gonna get worse long before it gets better. It’s hard to motivate people who’ve only known peace for a century, but that’s gonna end soon, and we’ve got a lot o’ work t’ do.”
He points out the area just south of Kythros, around Homestead. “Your work begins here. We’ve got a deadly bastard of a man, Bloody Ballok, raidin’ and murderin’ all around this area. We’d already caught him in Tarry, but his men jumped our people in a small village between Tarry and Homestead. They killed ev’ry one a’ the poor folks the Rangers were stayin’ with, and word’s spreadin’ fast about how we lost him and got those folks killed.”
The old dwarf straightens up, and gives the Heroes a hard look. “The reputation o’ the Rangers is at stake here, folks. We need t’ be recruitin’, and we can’t have a stain like this hurtin’ our efforts. That, an’ the fact is this be a right bastard who needs t’ be dealt with. If ye can capture him and his men, so be it. If not, justice at the end o’ your blades, arrows, and magic will suffice well enough.”
The Heroes are instructed to make their way to the area around Homestead and begin their hunt for Bloody Ballok and his men. There are any number of ways they might pursue the investigation and hunt, but the two most likely approaches will be the following:
- Track him and his men from the scene of their last known attack, a small farm on the outskirts of the village of Valburn.
- Head into the town of Homestead and seek any information from there.
So our group of heroes gets their gear and horses ready and leave as soon as they can, heading south and east. They stop at Homestead and speak to their contacts there. Lt Ullkish gives them what little information he has. «Ballok has been hitting small farms & villages southeast of here. Mostly around the barony of Malik, which includes the villages of Riverwick & Valburn and I don’t have enough men to send down there to stop him»
After only a brief rest they are off again. At the village of Valburn they learn that an outlying farm has been attacked about a week ago. They head towards the farm in question and discover a gruesome sight, the house has been burned down and the butchered bodies of the family in the barn.
Toji manages to find some tracks leading towards the south but they get harder and harder to see and eventually the trails turns cold. So they decide to visit the local Baron, Lord Willard Malik and see if he can lend a hand.
The lord’s castle has seen better days. It is small and old but looks well built despite the lack of maintenance. The banners are in tatters, crenelations and peaks are damaged and the few guards’ uniforms are old and dirty, seeming to match their attitude and lack of manners.
They are eventually led in the Lord’s presence, who greets them rather rudely (no surprise there), he’s still drunk and incoherent. Once he realizes what they want he simply summons Hariette so speak to them and leave him in peace.
She brings them to a quiet sitting room and they start start speaking of the recent bandit activity. Hariette remembes that one of the woodcutters remembers seeing suspicious activity nearby. They find the woodcutter, Charlie, who reveals that he saw men leading horses near a particular forest he sometimes goes to collect woods and a rare mushroom. It’s far when on foot, so he rarely goes there, but recently he saw these men and followed them to a cave, They had a pig with them too. Once they were out of sight, Charlie withdrew and returned to the castle.
Charlie agrees to guide them part of the way there and then takes his leave, wishing them luck. Leaving their three ranger subordinates with the horses, our heroes creep into the cave. After a few twists and turns they are surrounded by the bandits horses and they also hear an underground stream ahead and spot simple rope & wood bridges that cross the water.
Vandien inspects one bridge to find a simple bell alarm system tied to the underside of the wood planks. After a few tense moments he manages to neutralize them and they cross the bridge. As soon as they set foot on the far side, one of the bandits stumbles into them mumbling to himself about draining the snake. On pure reflex, Vandien slays him and sets the body down quietly.
Then, the four Rangers quickly walk into the back of the cave and shoot the remaining 6 bandits dead but manage to only wound one, the apparent leader of this bunch of miscreants. Realizing that none of them match Ballok’s description, they stabilize the wounded one, who might be called Ford or Terrence, in order to question him.
And that is where we ended the episode…stay tuned for the next episode of «The Wild, Wild Rangers!»