Surviving ambush by a long assassin, the Sacred Blades pressed onward to the ruined hamlet of Zelbross. Once a peaceful village known for its handmade pottery, quality smoking pipes and friendly taverns, Zelbross was abandoned over a decade ago following some forgotten disaster. This was a theme played out time and again since the Spellplague, as homesteads and hamlets were reclaimed by the wild and once-civilized places like Loudwater devolved into dangerous frontier towns.
As the Blades approached, a few remaining structures could be seen in the distance along with smoke from a large campfire. Horses were stowed well out of sight, and the group advanced with caution. Fibbit scouted out the area, seeing several guards on patrol and four wagons circled around the bonfire. He sneaked forward, Yarnon close behind, and the two dispatched a lone guard before he could even cry out. Sneaking into a wagon, Fibbit saw several large kegs – fitting the description of the kegs children were carried in. Quietly prying one open, it was empty inside except a few scraps of cloth; the children had been moved.
Giving the signal, Fibbit motioned the others forward. They crept up in the snow, then burst forth into the guards. Combat was swift and furious, as more enemies emerged from the building. Kriv led the attack, drawing the bandits’ fire while Rolan and Operious fired from behind. Yarnon was cut off from the group by one bandit, backing away and firing at him. Fibbit was nowhere to be seen for a moment, then ambushed a bandit, nearly killing him. That left the halfling in a poor position, surrounded by enemies.
What happened next confused everyone. Another human bandit rushed out of the main building, but he charged the other bandits, taking the pressure off Fibbit. As he did so, he yelled out to the Blades that the children were still captive inside. Not questioning their good fortune, they battled alongside the newcomer as the other bandits cursed the turncoat.
The Blades were not aware of what just happened in the main building. Griegor, the slave guard-turned-ally, heard the Blades were about to arrive and was waiting for his moment. When combat began, he freed a caged friend while the other slavers were distracted. Griegor then rushed outside as ordered, so as not to arouse suspicion. Meanwhile, his friend was battling the slave leader inside – and died in the attempt. The escapee died but bought the others precious time, the final two enemies inside joined the larger battle.
One was a lizardman, a green-scaled creature of the High Moor to the south of Loudwater. Here to negotiate for slaves, his shaman abilities poisoned both Blades and bandits, killing some and entrapping them in swampy terrain. The slave leader Zark, a dwarf covered in tattoos, fired at the trapped Blades. Yarnon and Fibbit fell in battle, but Rolan rallied his friends and soon after fortunes turned, the fallen were helped back to their feet, and within moments the bandits were dead. After battle, the children were freed and warmed by the fire and treasure was inventoried and counted. This letter was found on the dead lizardman:
Mighty Cheleen hungers for two adults, bring her prey or we will suffer. Bring as many hatchlings as you can procure, the yuan-ti pay dearly for young ones. The human Zhentlings are weak, threaten them with Cheleen’s wrath and they will bargain. Escort them back to the Moor, to the meeting grounds, same as last time.
Avoid that meddlesome druid, he been spying on the tribe since we sought out Cheleen’s protection.For Najara,
While dividing treasure, the newcomer Griegor explained himself to the party. Hired to simply guard a caravan to Llorkh, during travel his employers revealed themselves as Zhentarim ‘merchants’ – and they were hiring. They had plenty of work in Llorkh for someone who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. The other new hires quickly signed up, and it was an offer Griegor couldn’t refuse. Shortly afterwords, the caravan was caught in a blizzard unlike any other and several horses died – they had to stop in Zelbross and wait things out. Days later, the odd blizzard had ended, and they made preparations to continue to Llorkh.
Negotiations were underway with a potential customer, the lizardman, as a frantic elven rider arrived and told of a slaughter in Loudwater. He warned of an insane band of Tempus worshipers known as the Sacrificial Blades or somesuch, that included demons and dragonmen, who killed everyone including the priest of Cyric. Zark dispatched a trusted agent to ‘deal with’ the Blades, while for his ‘bravery’ the elven rider was ordered to continue on to Secomber to report the bad news directly to the Lady of Shadows. Knowing an enemy of the Zhentarim was on their way, Griegor waited among the enemy and hoped for the best.
Ghosts of Hellgate Keep
During the slow journey back to Loudwater, with children safely in the wagons, Yarnon slept restlessly. Nightmares haunted her sleep, visions of the chained children drifting into images of a huge castle with chained humans inside herded about by demons. Then she was in front of that keep with her friends. Kriv said “Finally, Hellgate Keep,” then they stormed the gates. They battled demons and undead, slaying many before the vision changed again. This time the Blades were bloodied and weakened, and now they looked at her with murder in their eyes. “She is one of them!”, “Kill her!”, “Demon!”, then they attacked. Fighting off her friends, she killed a wounded Fibbit, followed by Kriv. Then she was dragged down by the remaining nightmare Blades, dieing then waking with a scream that alarmed everyone.
Explaining her nightmare to the others, they wondered aloud what Hellgate Keep was. Operious vaguely recognized the name, and it did not bode well. He remembered from studies that the keep was destroyed before the Spellplague, but it was an evil place that threatened the entire region. It was now said to be only a smoking crater, yet Yarnon had a vivid dream of it. Perhaps research will reveal more of the keep’s history.
She left out details of their attack on her…no need to arouse suspicion.
Back in town, the Blades passed a newly-constructed gallows outside the town hall – with the former constable still swinging for his crimes. The children were returned to their grateful parents, and the Blades were thanked once again. Lady Moonfire offered the Blades both the deed to their reclaimed temple, and a modest house in town. She also informed them of some changes in town. The Guard, normally concerned with external threats like goblins and orcs, was temporarily assisting the Watch with policing the town after the recent death of most of the Watch members.
The Blades then met the Captain of the Guard, Harrowleaf, an elven ranger and long-time resident of Loudwater. He even remembers what it was like before the Spellplague and may be a good source of historical information. The Captain explained he was recently contacted by a druidic friend of his, Orus of the High Moor. Orus was concerned about the local lizardman tribe, its interactions with Moor goblins and a resident black dragon. Orus thinks the goblins are being driven to action by outside forces, unnaturally forcing the lizardmen to seek alliance with a dragon to survive. Orus is seeking help to set things back to their natural order. While Harrowleaf doesn’t care about the politics of swamp dwellers, he brought the potential danger to the Lady and the Blades. Harrowleaf thinks they should all just be killed, the better to defend Loudwater. He can direct the Blades on how to meet Orus, should they want to pursue either end.
After much debate, the party decided to leave for Llorkh in the morning. Secomber and the Lady of Shadows was seen as too dangerous, while angering a swamp dragon sounded suicidal. Better to save the slaves of Llorkh, further weakening the Zhentarim before striking at their leaders.
Traveling by horse, with a nondescript slaver wagon (no big ‘Z’ on the side) in tow, the Blades were one day from Llorkh before running into trouble. In the distance was the unmistakable sign of a marching force, dust cloud trailing in their wake. Scouting revealed over a dozen goblins armed for war, driven by half as many hobgoblins. Whether a patrol, raiding party or advance force, the Blades decided to ambush these foes before they could reach Loudwater. The wagon was left in the road, with Kriv standing before it. The other Blades hid in the bushes, waiting for a moment to strike. Two goblins were ordered forward, and they shouted at Kriv to leave while clutching swords in shaky hands. Their morale fled, then so did they. The main force of goblins was ordered forward, while the larger ones stayed in the rear. No need to risk themselves over one dragonborn…
The goblins barely had time to shout (in goblin, of course) “WTF!”. Alchemy potions exploded around them, dragonbreath and magic bursts competing for the most goblins slain. Operious then bewitched the hobgoblins, making them think the ground had fallen from beneath them. They all fell to the ground, groaning in imagined pain and becoming easy prey. They were half dead by the time they got back up. Meanwhile the leader of this band was trying to rally his forces, directing them all to attack Kriv, the obvious threat. He died trying but the hobgoblins followed his lead, wounding the dragonborn before dieing themselves.
In the end, 15 goblins and 6 hobgoblins lay dead, an entire warband. They could have caused mass panic in Loudwater, or brought back many slaves from surrounding farms. Instead they went to the afterlife, still shouting ‘wtf’.
Kriv was helped to his feet, arrows painfully removed, and the Sacred Blades continued on to Llorkh.
|Slavers of Zelbross: 1500 (level 6 encounter)|
|Minor Quest: Free the kids: 150 (level 3 minor quest)|
|Dream sequence: Ghosts of Hellgate Keep: 150 (level 3 minor quest)|
|Goblins, wtf?!: 1325 (level 5 encounter)|
|3125xp total, 520xp per person|
|Grand Total XP per character: 3335 (3750 total needed for 4th level)|