The Blades had teleported to Waterdeep to seek aid against Netheril and arranged a meeting with the Lords. The Blades were on good terms with the leadership of Waterdeep, having done so much for the region and removing the corrupt rulers of Secomber and Loudwater.
They were escorted by the city guard to a private meeting chamber inside Castle Waterdeep. Inside the ornate, gold-filled room was a long wooden table. Along one side sat seven men and women. All wore plain, featureless masks to hide their identity. These are the famous Masked Lords, the anonymous rulers of the city. Numerous guards stand about, well-armed and alert. Before them all stood the Open Lord of Waterdeep, a tall, broad-shouldered man. Dagult Neverember.
Beside him stood an elderly man. Tall, thin and dressed in a flowing purple robe, the stranger seemed every bit a diplomat. Dagult turned to the Blades, “Greetings once again. With the lack of proper representation from Loudwater, Llorkh and Secomber, I would like you to stand in. You have done so much for the region. I would like you to represent the Vale during these discussions. May I introduce to you the ambassador from Netheril, Vorgraine.”
Attempting to hide his disdain for the Blades, Vorgraine responded, “Well met. I must protest the presence of the ‘Sacred Blades’ at peace negotiations. They have shown themselves to be no strangers to violence.”
The group sat down, though Fibbit seemed to figit more than usual. The halfling could not stand being in a room with his hated enemies, must less having to sit next to one. Diplomacy be damned.
Vorgraine cleared his voice, stating “Lords of Waterdeep and esteemed guests. I have been authorized to dictate the following terms to the Lords’ Alliance. Effective immediately, the Netherese Empire asserts full control over the region known as the Grey Vale. This region contains ancestral lands and is a historical part of our Empire. We hereby claim all ungoverned lands from the Dawn Pass, to Llorkh, Loudwater and Secomber. We demand full travel rights downriver past Daggerford, which we recognize as Lords’ Alliance territory. In return, area will be pacified and settled, civilized and made safe for trade with Waterdeep.”
The Masked Lords gave audible gasps. Fibbit reacted with anger, drawing his dagger and stabbing through the diplomat’s hand, sticking it to the table. Vorgraine passed out from shock. Blood flowed freely as the guards reacted like a well-oiled machine. In an instant Fibbit was magically paralyzed while healers rushed to Vorgraine’s aid. The other Blades made no motion to assist their apparently insane friend. He was dragged off to a cell, fate to be decided at a later time. Vorgraine came awake soon after, babbling and sputtering, yelling for compensation and demanding justice.
In truth, the halfling had done what all the Lords wished to do. But the death of a diplomat would have meant open and unrestricted war.
Dagult called for order, saying “This is preposterous. Those lands have been self-governed for centuries. Netheril risks open war by making such a land grab. This meeting will reconvene tomorrow to discuss the…REQUEST.”
Fibbit received an extensive ‘tour’ of the prison while the other Blades took care of business in Waterdeep. Rotting in a cell did have one advantage: he started to establish contacts with the local Thieves Guild.
Kriv had other things to worry about. The nightmare induced in him by Netherese-hired githyanki had shaken his faith. He decided to seek guidance from the High Priest of Tempus, the same priest that had helped them find the Blade. In a tense confession, Kriv detailed everything about the dream – how he had wavered at the end of his life, forsaking everything and allying himself with evil. The High Priest did what he could to assure the paladin, but told Kriv to allow him to commune with their god and intercede on his behalf.
Fibbit was bailed out early in the morning and rejoined his companions. He could not be tried in Court as that would publicize the negotiations taking place, raising too many questions. It seemed like he was going to get away with…hand stabbing.
Diplomacy, Take Two
Dagult welcomed the Blades to the second day of negotations. Vorgraine had not yet arrived. Dagult said, “Before that snake arrives, realize we do not want open war if we can help it. Netheril is a mighty foe. But we cannot let them walk all over us. If you can counter his points in a civil way, please do so.”
As Vorgraine entered, Dagult opened by saying: “The Lords require more information before coming to a decision. Will the Ambassador from Netheril come forward to detail their claims to the Grey Vale and explain the aggressive position they have taken just outside of Llorkh.”
Vorgraine walks forward, shooting a look of pure malice at Fibbit before saying “We have sent a token force to our reclaimed holdings. Llorkh and the other cities will be administered justly and will prosper, just as all of Netheril does. We plan to continue our years of peaceful relations with the Lords Alliance.”
The diplomat continued with a harder tone. “May I remind the Lords of recent history. The remote and hostile lands of the Grey Vale are essentially wild and ungovernable. A strong hand is needed to bring peace, which we can provide. In the recent past, the evil Zhentarim occupied Llorkh and nothing was done by the Alliance. Secomber was revealed to be ruled by vampires, of all things! And had been ruled for decades. Now it has no real functioning government. And Loudwater…apparently at the center of it all. We all know Lady Moonfire had her hands in much of the distress that faced the region. Netheril can stabilize the Vale.”
Dagult asked for a response from the representatives of the Grey Vale. Rolan spoke for the Blades, detailing the Netherese assassination attempts on them (quickly denied by Vorgraine) and the Netherese spys sent in the guise of ‘adventurers’. Much of the recent, dirty history of Netheril in the Grey Vale region was brought up. Would it make a difference?
Dagult closed the negotiations for the day, saying “Very well. We will reconvene tomorrow to announce our decision.”
Rumors of War
Kriv returned to the temple to hear the decision of his High Priest. The old man explained that since Kriv had failed at the moment of his death, imaginary or not, there was only one was to regain his standing. At the next moment of his death he must not fail. There was no other way. He cautioned that to die a traitor to his beliefs would cost Kriv everything, including his soul. He must die as one of the Faithful.
As he was leaving, Kriv overheard discussion in the temple of a group of cultists captured last week. Asmodeus worshippers had been rooted out of the city sewers. Their belongings were brought to the temple by the city guards for assistance in interpreting their meaning. Among them were detailed street maps of Daggerford, Yartar and Loudwater. Whatever it meant could not be good.
Fibbit utilized some of his new contacts to learn of something else odd going on. The Steel Sun Trading Company were Sembians with a small presence in Waterdeep. Sembia was, of course, occupied by Netheril and had been for decades. It was mutually beneficial, expanding the economy of both nations. Normally dealing in ore and other commodities, Steel Sun had withdrawn a massive sum of gold just as a caravan was leaving town. The Thieves Guild tracked the caravan, for obvious reasons. It was destined for Oreme, via the river from Daggerford to Llorkh. It only got as far as Daggerford but the Guild lost all sign of it afterwards. It was if it had disappeared.
Intrigued, the Blades asked around the Steel Sun warehouses while Fibbit stole details of the company payroll. Turns out that the caravan had literally disappeared in Daggerford. No employees returned. It did not continue upriver to Llorkh. 30,000 gold gone into thin air?
They considered the meaning of all this while spending some time at a tavern. Others were overheard talking about the High Forest elves and their new policy: “No Admittance”. The elves were busy dealing with Netherese incursions and had barred others from entering.
Failure to Communicate
The Blades arrived a bit late and the third day of negotiations are already in progress.
Vorgraine was answering some accusation in heated tones. “Our force composition is not open to discussion!”
Dagult rose, saying “The Lords have decided, with great hesitation, to withdraw from the Grey Vale region and cede control to Netheril. Open warfare is not in anyone’s best interest. The army currently defending Llorkh is to be withdrawn to Daggerford in an orderly…”
As he spoke, an aide rushed in and whispered in his ear. His face turned red with anger and his pointed at Vorgraine. “Preposterous! You have already begun an attack on Llorkh! With reports of dragons flying overhead! What evil deals have you made?”
Vorgraine responded, “Loss of life will be minimized. Your forces have acted with aggression and were preparing an attack!”
Dagult quickly ended the meeting. As Vorgraine left, Dagult turned to the Blades. “We have also gained an ally today. Evereska has remained neutral in the conflict, owing to their close proximity to Netheril. They wish to lend support in a different manner. They offer you several hippogriffs and transportation to Llorkh, hoping you can strike down the dragons as quickly as possible. I recommend taking out the beasts high above the army…for maximum morale loss.”
The next few hours passed in a blur. Elves arrived, teleporting the group to their hidden forest city. They were briefed on care and feeding of the hippogriffs, how to ride and, more importantly, how not to fall off. They were offered use of the beasts for the duration of the conflict. Finally, they were teleported – strapped into their saddles – to Llorkh.
The scene at Llorkh was already desperate. The Lords Alliance force of 2000 men defended the city walls and keep. Netherese soldiers swarmed around the walls, their size dwarfing both Llorkh and the keep. The Netherese army was easily four times the size of Llorkh’s population. The first of many towns on their list for occupation. Llorkh itself had been largely abandoned before the attack and the two armies fought over otherwise empty houses and streets.
High overhead flew an adult blue dragon, circling lazily around the keep. A green accompanied it, slightly smaller and keeping a distance. They had been paid well, in gold, to terrorize villagers and do little else. No resistance was expected. The beasts were simply a show of power.
Just then, five mounted hippogriffs appeared at Llorkh’s keep. They took to the air quickly, dodging Netherese arrows and flying straight for the dragons. Hippogriff claws, spells and swords tore into the dragons. Blades and dragons fought while underneath the Netherese forced their way into Llorkh.
The blue fell first, crushing a formation of Netherese soldiers. Too late for Llorkh, as the defenders were pushed out of the town and back to the ancient dwarven keep. Many had already surrendered, others hastily retreated west on the long road towards Loudwater. The keep itself could withstand a prolonged siege, but could only hold so many defenders. It was only a matter of time before it too was lost.
Minutes later the green dragon fell to hippogriff claws. As it crashed into the swarming Netherese below a portal opened mid-air near the Blades. Out flew a Netherese archmage already cloaked in protective spells and flying under his own power. He seemed but a blur. The mage took a quick look around, confirming victory in the ground battle and the loss of his recently-hired dragons. After taking a good look at the Blades he returned through the portal.
The Blades circled Llorkh, victorious in the air but unable to affect the battle below. Llorkh was now under Netherese control.