The Zhents, a long-time hated enemy, now offer a truce. They offer an end to the feud. They offer crucial intelligence about Spellgard and their mutual enemies the Netherese. The same Netherese who plan an attack on Darkhold, that plan partially thwarted by the Blades while in the Shadowfell.
The offer is refused. The Blades will make no pact with the lesser of two evils.
Weapons are drawn, magical disguises are discarded, assassins emerge from the shadows, elemental servants are summoned. Battle is joined.
By day’s end, one side will be slain save for a single survivor. That survivor will beg and plead for his life, desperate to escape and resurrect his fellows.
With Llorkh safe from Underdark invaders the Blades prepared to travel to Spellgard. They heard many rumors of the ruins and things found within and were curious to explore the ruins. It could be a chance to get back to their adventurous roots and provide a break from local politics.
Travel was uneventful for the first few days. There was a meager road, a basic dirt path rarely traveled and often overgrown. Few merchants moved between Llorkh and points east (the cities of Netheril), though some enterprising caravan masters would no doubt restore trade now that Llorkh was free.
Three days into the journey a lone rider was sighted on horseback in the distance. Unmarked plate armor and a closed visor gave away few details about his intent. He sat motionless on his horse, as if awaiting the Blades. At his side paced a large dog, a mastiff breed frequently used for war.
The Blades greeted him from a safe distance, unsure of his intent. The stranger dismounted, lifted his visor and called for the “Sacred Blades” to come forward. At this close distance his sheathed blade and the shield across his back were clearly visible. He was ready for trouble.
The lone rider revealed himself as Bax, a Zhentarim messenger. He wished to negotiate with the Blades, offering to end the “feud” between them. Bax claimed to come from Darkhold itself and had no affiliation with the Lady of Shadows or Zhent operations in Secomber, Loudwater or Llorkh.
The man knew of their actions in the Shadowfell, how they had inadvertently assisted the Zhentarim by attacking the Netherese tower. He knew of the Blades’ plans to travel to Spellgard. Bax offered them information on the Netherese at their destination, offered them intel about the Lady of Shadows. He offered them many things…in return for their cooperation. All the Blades had to do for this information was focus their attention on the Netherese instead of the Zhentarim. He argued that the Netherese empire was by far a greater threat, both to the Blades and the entire region.
The man had a silver tongue but the Blades detected many lies and half-truths in the man’s words. Clearly Bax could not be trusted. The core of his argument was truthful; the Netherese were by far the larger threat. Unfortunately for him, he was talking with a group of battle-hardened zealots whose last encounter with the Zhentarim involved hot-iron brands. That they would negotiate at all showed perhaps a bit of desperation by the Zhents.
Rolan noticed the dog had something odd about it as well. Something magical…it did not seem to be a dog at all. Hands moved to their weapons and they were eager to slay this heathen, probably a vile Cyric worshiper. Griegor initiated the attack, flinging a dagger at the man. It clanked against his plate armor, flying into the dirt.
Bax quickly drew his sword and charged. This was no simple messenger; he fought with the skill of a battle-tested warrior, easily shrugging off all initial blows. He struck back with ferocity, quickly wounding Griegor.
Meanwhile, the dog shifted form into a staff-wielding human mage. The mage quickly backpedaled and launched a fireball at the combatants, scorching the whole group. Rolan and Fibbit focused on the mage while others held back Bax.
From the treeline a third enemy revealed himself, dropping an invisibility spell and summoning an earth elemental into the combat. A massive pile of vaguely man-shaped rock and dirt emerged from the ground, intent on destroying all opponents.
Two mages, an elemental and a skilled warrior. Clearly this time around the Zhents had prepared. Kriv soon noticed a fifth enemy moving towards them from the shadows, an assassin attempting to move into melee range. Kriv also noticed a blue, glowing spellscar across the man’s face.
Five enemies now stood against the Blades. Bax seemed near-invulnerable to attack, easily blocking the best efforts of Kriv and Griegor. The mages kept their distance, using spells of dimension door and mirror image to increase their defenses. The elemental and spellscarred assassin further complicated matters, crushing and backstabbing anything within reach.
Griegor was knocked unconscious by Bax. Fibbit and Rolan were distracted with the wizards. The battle seemed to be quickly unraveling for the party. They had also made a common mistake, dividing their efforts among many enemies instead of focusing their attacks. Perhaps they had finally bitten off more than they could chew, attacking something better negotiated with. Being a party of zealots had its limitations.
Bax demanded their immediate surrender. “It doesnt have to be this way, you could serve us instead,” he said. The concept only enraged the Blades, redoubling their efforts. Griegor was revived and kept Bax and the elemental busy while Operious worked his magic. A ball of flame appeared behind the Zhent, quickly heating his metal armor. Bax was slowly roasted as he now struggled to slay Griegor.
Rolan and Fibbit coordinated efforts and slew the dog-mage. The other mage teleported away to gain distance, leaving the rogue and bard to assist Griegor.
Now working together, the battle turned in the Blades’ favor. The elemental was knocked to pieces, crumbling into rubble. Next the assassin was severely wounded, causing his spellscar to glow a bright blue. He rushed at Operious but was struck down by Kriv. His death caused whatever taint of the Spellplague carried within to explode, blasting all those around him as he died.
Bax and the remaining wizard, distant though nearly depleted of spells, faced the united efforts of the weary Blades. Bax could not hold them all back and was finally struck down. The summoner was now offered an ultimatum: surrender or die. Fearing for his life and surprised at the Blades’ prowess, he surrendered.
It was time for the Blades to get information in their own way. Their favorite way. Interrogation.
Operious cast detect lies. He would instantly detect if anyone told a lie for the next ten minutes or so.
The captured wizard, recognizing the truth spell used against him, was remarkably forthcoming. In order to preserve his own life he revealed many details about the Zhents, their organization and their plans. All guaranteed to be the truth (or else!). The key revelations:
1) The Zhentarim party was composed of high-ranking members of the Darkhold Zhentarim. Bax was a captain answering only to the leader of Darkhold. The wizard was one of his lieutenants, the others were fodder.
2) The Zhentarim had spies everywhere. Spies at the Umbraforge camp kept them a step ahead of the Netherese war plans and told them of the Blades’ actions in the Shadowfell. Spies in Llorkh, leftovers of the old regime, informed of the Blades’ plans to travel to Spellgard; four Llorkh citizens were named. Spies at Spellgard, telling of the Netherese actions at the ruins. A thin network of spies was often the only Zhentarim presence in any given town or city.
3) The planned Netherese attack, well-known by the Zhents, will still be overwhelming. Darkhold has held against attack in the past but could now face destruction. They are seeking allies among enemies of the Netherese. Should the empire conquer Darkhold, they may turn their attention on other areas – like Llorkh and Loudwater.
4) The Lady of Shadows had gone silent, refusing to cooperate with the defense of Darkhold. She had lost status after losing Loudwater and Llorkh and was now a traitor, no longer considered Zhentarim. Luckily for her, Darkhold had other problems right now and Secomber was far removed from the battlefield. She appeared to be positioning herself politically for a post-Zhentarim world.
5) Spellgard was haunted by a prophetic ghost – this the Blades already knew. Though many rival groups combed over the ruins, a Netherese mage now inhabited the central tower, claiming it for his own. Should he somehow gain control of a ghost that could see the future, Netheril would gain untold power. Since the Blades were already traveling in that direction, the Zhents hoped to sweeten the deal with additional intel. The Zhentarim hoped the Blades would remove the Netherese threat, or at least die in the process.
The wizard proved very useful and even swore to leave the Zhentarim forever. What choice did he have? In return, the Blades cut him loose, freeing him. As he teleported away, the Blades prepared to return to Llorkh and clean up some spies.
As a cloud of dust from the horses grew smaller in the distance, the wizard moved back towards his fallen allies. The Zhentarim were clearly a falling star and he had no intention of rejoining them…but his ally here could still prove useful. After a lengthy ritual, Bax’s bloody corpse disappeared along with the wizard. Perhaps Secomber would have use of them.
Riding back to their base of operations, the Blades quickly rounded up four citizen-spies of the Zhentarim. They handed them over to the local authorities, who were more than happy to rid themselves of anyone working for the enemy.
With Llorkh safe (perhaps this time for real) the Blades once again prepared to travel to Spellgard. They knew what they faced. A Netherese mage controlled the central ruins. Undead lurked in the catacombs beneath. Rival parties of treasure- and prophecy-seekers competed for ancient relics and the prophecies of a ghost.