Conniving Caravan

CONNIVING CARAVAN PART I - The dwarf, the gnome, and a halfling caravan.
The caravan was perfect, offering income, security, and secrecy.

Exiled from the Mithral Hall, and hiding his bald face in shame, the dwarf was welcome to hide behind his mask amongst the other shortfolk. His services as an escort were mutually beneficial for the caravan.

They were recruited (by Lord Nanther), they were briefed, and then they set out on their task with few questions asked. Perhaps it was the offer of 1000 platinum pieces that got them to conform so easily, but regardless, their adventures led them to the Castle Mistamere Ruins.

The journey to the ruins was uneventful. They were less than a days travel north of town, almost visible if not for the rolling hills. Surely while Castle Mistamere stood, it towered over Melvaunt.
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CONNIVING CARAVAN PART I (cont.) - Two elves & a human.
Meeting the party and finding each other mutually beneficial, they decide to join the caravan.

“Shhh!” Jessalin ‘Jessakat’ Farseeker commanded, pointing towards the upward stairs as she ducked into a shadow around the corner. Stealthy as a mouse, the adorable little halfling did this with no trouble at all. She was a tall Hin, with long auburn hair with many braids intertwined with gems and fine metals.

Slegna on the other hand was an odd looking Dwarf, wearing tattered clothes on top of a glorious mithral breastplate. The armor and clothing are all dark colored and strangely there is no beard on his scarred face. Rather, a mask hastily thrown together combining a smile and frown hides his expression. He grips his axe tightly, ready to spill blood.

Bows drawn, two elves crept down the stairs, covering all angles of the room and each other. The human following them stepped forward between them.

“Friend or foe!” shouted JessaKat, trying her best to throw her voice, to not give away her position.

“I assure you I mean no ill intent,” the human said sternly. He was about the height of an elf, with a lithe build like one too. He stood with a hand on resting on his sheathed sword. He had an eyebrow piercing, a faded hair cut and a red tint to his hair. His armor is marked in gold tribal designs, and the sheath for his weapon looks as if it’s made of red marble, with a gold inlay of clouds and vines.

Slegna growls, “The last time I heard something like that, a man’s blood was spilled. I… spilled it.”

“I only spill the blood of those who mean to cross me,” the man countered.

Aye… What is your purpose here, mister?

JessaKat sneaks into position near the bottom of the steps, her daggers ready at her hip. More daggers line her sides, barely noticeable under her clothing. She takes a good look at the marks in front of her, noting weak spots & openings in their armor.

One of the elves remains silent, his un-trusting stance firm. The other chimes in. “I, if anyone was wondering, or could help me, was looking for a drink?”

Slegna sneers at the elf, pops the lid on his jug of dwarven ale, and takes a swig. “No drinks here,” he glares, wiping swill from the crooked smile in his mask.

The elf raises a brow curiously at the dwarf, “Not even for a few coins?”.

“Aye, you suddenly speak as if you know dwarven fluently!”, he lowers his axe and steps towards the elf, pulling a golden mug from his pack. The tension eased, the halfling cracks open a bottle of fine elven wine and joins them.

The two elves introduced themselves. Aerndin Giladrae, a recognizable though unmemorable elf, aloof and carefree as some of his kind are reputed to be. He regaled the group with tales of his journey from Cormanthyr, for no other reason than to seek adventure. His ally, Arcadian, was a polar opposite. Sternly, he continued to watch the group, never removing his hand from his weapon, though at least he lowered it. He spoke little, least of all about his partnership with Aerndin. The human was Darnell Seishun, a mercenary with the elves. Serious and contemplative, he was both eager and hesitant to share his personal mission.

“I was told by my village elder to journey to a series of locations, this one among them. I am not allowed to release their names, but I seek some people similar to myself – same skin tone, same height, same manner. They journey from the east, where the sun rises in their favor.”

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“We seek a wizard,” Aerndin offers.

“Aye, of course,” Slegna jabs with a laugh, “that why ye be in his home, eh?”

Darnell glares at the dwarf. “A wizard? More like a coward.”

“I wouldn’t volunteer to speak ill of one with such power as our friend, eh… This wizard we seek within the confines, however, has a power unknown to I.

“Power is not judged by ones attainment of it, but by the spirit of his path.”

“Aye… can already tell I’m not going to like you…”

“Like me or not I mean not to slander your perception, I just speak to the means of my irritation.”

“Ah!” JessaKat screams to get the squabbling tallfolks’ attention. “You should all stop acting like fools! It is well known how powerful this wizard is. Best we be on guard and shield each other. Take on this fortress and it’s treasures we may find, might be a pretty hefty haul for us all!”

At that moment entered another human. He had shaggy, unkempt hair on his head, which was buried in map. Likely, he was a tomb-raider or treasure-hunter, following the group and letting them clear the way… and the traps. If he was here for the wizard, he could do the same. Let them exhaust each other in battle, then finish off the wizard himself. His backpack slung over one shoulder, he looked up from his map. “Oh! Shit!” he sputters as he turns around and quickly but cooly walks back up the stairs. Once on the ground floor, he slings his arm through the other strap and begins sprinting.

Caught off guard and bewildered, the group hesitates. Aerndin joins Arcadian in nocking an arrow.

Slegna draws his axe. “Eh, The whole fucking city is down here to slay this damned wizard? Hope no one’s afraid of a little…. friendly fire, aye?” the dwarf laughs.

Aerndin motions with a nod at Arcadian. “Lead the way.”

After quite some time, the group finally made their way upstairs, and after an even longer while, they cleared the entire ground floor of the Castle Mistamere Ruins. Upon returning to the floor they met on, they continued the routine. Occasionally when boredom would strike, any wanderers were taught a sharp lesson. At one point, Darnell was caught on the far side of a battle, and another time Arcadian split off from the group, only to end up falling into a pit trap.

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CONNIVING CARAVAN PART I (cont.) - Where'd everybody go?!?
Splitting up slows down the party's progress.

“We’ll split into two parties,” Aerndin spoke up. "I’ll take Darnell & Gaffgarion. We’ll go back to the ground floor and search for that man we ran into earlier. Arcadian, you go with Slegna & JessaKat and finish clearing the halls on this floor. We’ll meet back up before proceeding to the level below.

“The only entrance to the floor below we’ve found,” Slegna grumbled, “are the stairs in the northwest corner.”

Darnell spoke up, resting a hand on Kohane. “Then swiftly we shall return.” And with that he began to make his way to the ground floor. Aerndin & Gaffgarion followed.

Slegna turns towards Arcadian & JessaKat, stepping over the corpse of a dire rat along the way. “Elf, Jess. This far we’ve has been successful in slaying our foes, but it has been sloppy and filled with mistakes. Mistakes get you killed.”

“Is the staircase I’m at going up or down?” Arcadian asks.

“You tell me, imbecile” Slegna replies, bellowing in laughter alongside the nearby halfling who was reloading her crossbow. After a good laugh, the dwarf continues. “It’s been fun, but you forget that there is a wizard in this area, presumably waiting for our arrival.” The dwarf continues antagonizing the elf. “Ye shoot me in the rear with one o’ them clumsy arrows, and you’ll die before yer second shot.”

As the party moves down the hall with JessaKat scouting ahead, she begins to notice webbing & cocoons along the hall. “Hmmm looks like some spiders may be lurking in these parts” the halfling points them out. Arcadian haphazardly fires an arrow into one, knocking it down. “What the fuck mate?” she jumps back, avoiding the falling cocoon.

“I wanted to know what was in it” the elf says plainly, frowning at the partially decomposed kobold corpse inside. “Anything of value on him?”

Slegna readies his axe & shield. “Doesn’t appear to be, elf.”

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Arcadian begins digging through the web, convinced he’s spotted something. He’s so preoccupied he doesn’t notice the monstrous spiders creeping down between he and the other two. Slowly they crawl, before one long hairy spider leg reaches out to snatch at Arcadian. The moment he feels it he dives aside, ducking the creature’s fangs. While the other spiders creep towards his party members, Arcadian aims his bow and lets fly a pair of arrows, dropping the monstrous spider attacking him.

One of the spiders attacks JessaKat, nicking her with it’s fangs. She feels the poison immediately, her stomach barely able to hold the contents of her ‘second breakfast’. Weakened, she tumbles aside and throws a dagger, striking out one of it’s eyes. She ducks another strike from the spider and stumbles into a room behind her.

Slegna’s shield easily blocks the poisonous fangs of the spider in front of him. Not the least bit intimidated by the spider, he growls as he counters with a mighty blow from Skinner that cleaves it into mush. He gets his footing, and begins charging down the hall. “Jess! Arrggh!! Fucking motherfucker spiders!”

JessaKat barely notices the coins floating in the room in front of her before she runs into an invisible wall. She’s able to see and duck away from the nearly invisible gelatinous blob as it strikes at her, the floating coins shifting as it moves. Slegna charges in behind the spider cleaving it in half. He pushes JessaKat aside and attacks the cube while she darts back down the hallway. The cube chases, filling the hallway as it moves. Slegna drops his shield and swings his axe with both hands. The gelatinous cube absorbs his strike and slams into him, its acidic membrane burning his skin, the dwarf seizes up and he falls limply to the floor. It continues, rolling over Slegna & scooping him up along the way, and roilng down the hallway the ooze chases JessaKat & Arcadian.

Arcadian steadies his bow and looses arrow after arrow down the hallway, sticking into the ooze one after another. JessaKat ducks into a nearby side hall, narrowly avoiding both the ooze & the elf’s arrows. The gelatinous cube rears up, ready to slam into Arcadian as he fires two more arrows into it. Suddenly it flops and bucks and dissolves on the floor, it’s remains oozing into the cracks on the dungeon floor, and leaving behind a small pie of coins, and Slegna’s limp body.
Gelcube
JessaKat moves over to Slegna’s body and checks him for signs of life. His open eyes and slowly moving chest hint towards his current state. “Hmmm elf” the halfing says to Arcadian, "Perhaps you have something to wake my friend here? Seems he may be paralyzed.

“I don’t even know what he would need,” Arcadian admits.

“Well I guess we can wait a few minutes and see if he comes through,” she shrugs, and starts digging into one of the spiders, harvesting it’s poison glands.

After a minute or so, the dwarf coughs as he takes a lungful of air. He groans with discomfort as he rolls over and collects his axe from the floor, before collecting the coins that were floating in the cube. After collecting coins, he groans again and cracks his neck, picking up his shield and throws it over his back. After a few moments rest and silence, the party gathers itself and moves on cautiously.

Around the corner they find another set of stairs leading down to the second basement level of the ruins. In the rear of the group Arcadian stops, his intuitive glance catching an anomaly in the wall. He began inspecting the borders of the bricks, and before long finds a switch. pressing it, the wall begins to slide open. With a low grinding noise, it reveals a passage clogged with dust and cobwebs, clearly unused for a long time. Just inside the wall, a series of musical notes are carved along the wall, covered under a thin layer of dust. The dusty smell of ancient room stinging his nostrils, he recognizes the notes. “It’s the same lullaby that was playing on the elven urn Darnell currently carries!” Behind Arcadian, stands a statue flanked on either side by large chests. He barely has time to enjoy his discovery, before the statue fires a scorching ray at the elf, barely missing and singeing the wall nearby. Not phased by the trap, Arcadian moves to the chests, only to discover they’re bolted to the floor. Another ray fires from the statue, blasting the elf. Severe burns sizzling and the smell of burnt flesh in the air, he quickly ducks back out of the room, rejoining the shortfolk.

The party exhausted from their struggles, JessaKat cracks open her bottle of wine, and shares some with the dwarf.
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CONNIVING CARAVAN PART I (cont.) - The Parties
Another dungeon delver enters the mix.

“Help!” cried the man’s voice, clearly that of a meek elven. He could be heard yelling from around the corner. “Help me!”.

Slegna marches around the corner to find another elf stuck in the same pit trap Arcadian fell into earlier. He arrives just in time to see Darnell appear on the other side of the pit. After a short exchange they unwarily allow the clumsy treasure-hunter known as “Norl” into the group, and decide to proceed downstairs.

Once downstairs, they arrive at a fork in the path. JessaKat suggests going through the door to the west, while Darnell feels as though they should proceed south, and begins marching that way. Slegna remains indifferent.

“Fine, fuck this, I’m done!” JessaKat cries stopping Darnell dead in his tracks and raising an eyebrow from Slegna. She marches back up stairs, and Darnell turns back towards the group. Unbeknownst to him, just around the corner, an ogre waits, club raised and ready to crash down on the next victim to round the corner. Fortune smiles on Darnell, as he returns to the group, leaving the ogre in wait.

Meanwhile, Slegna has tried listening for anyone in the room to the west, and hearing nothing, kicks the door open. Darnell & Norl follow. Inside, they find a picture of Bargle on the wall, hanging over a small stone altar with numerous trinkets & offerings left to the wizard. They proceed to the west, and Slegna listens to another door, hearing nothing.

He opens the door, only to be clubbed by the crystalline hand of a statue. “Who dares invade my fortress?!” it cries. Made from what looks like clear crystal, the statue is an otherwise perfect replica of Bargle.

Slegna stand toe-to-toe with the statue, trading blows. When the dust clears, pieces of the crystalline statue lie at Slegna’s feet.

The party proceeds through the doorway, emerging from behind a large tapestry. Without a word Darnell begins marching down the westward hallway.

He barely has time to move before the club of an ogre comes crashing down. It screams and calls for others, squeezing itself down the hallway towards Darnell. Two more emerge from around the corner, and Slegna charges into battle. Norl is all but forgotten, staying on the edges of the battle and loosing Magic Missiles from his wand down the hall.

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The ogres lumber around and swing wildly, landing glancing blows before being felled by the swordsman & the dwarf. Before long two more ogres arrive, and havoc ensues. Trapped between the ogre parties, Darnell takes the brunt of the attack, while Slegna chops down giants like trees on his march to save Darnell.

He arrives jsut in time to see Darnell clobbered with a massive club, slammed into the wall, and fall limply in the hall. After a couple blows from Skinner, he cleaves the ogre’s head from his shoulders.

Together, Norl & Slegna drag Darnell’s body into a nearby barracks, and Norl begins attempting to stabilize him. Slegna takes the severed head of the ogre, and, using a broken club as a makeshift pike, puts the head on display.

“We’ll leave this outside the door.” he says solemnly, but with a bit of pleasure. “Any lesser creatures with moderate intelligence might get the hint.” And with that, he proceeds to drag one of the ores into a nearby room, and begins a demented surgery just as Gaffgarion arrives.

“I could make ye a mask if ye wanted one?” the dwarf asks him.

The gnome ponders the offer for barely a moment. “Yes… when we find the proper donor, I shall have you make a mask…”

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Finishing Bargle's Dungeon
Well, at least they didn't die.

By the next morning, Aerndin and Arcadian had led the rest of the party to the fortified room the ogre-slayers Slegna and Darnell rest in, along with Norl and Gaffgarion. Even after regrouping, they decide to split up and make their way to where they presume Bargle resides.
Among the wizard’s traps are giant floor pits, living statues, and a room with one way doors, complicated by a living ooze. The party decided slaying it was beyond their abilities, and opted sprint past anytime they needed to move through the room.

In one hallway lined with statues, some of them came alive, swinging wildly at the party members. Arcadian and Aerndin, at opposite ends off the hall, unleashed barrages of arrows. Norl unleashed amagic missle here and there, being sure to avoid notice by the statues, and Gaffgarion called a swarm of bats. …Only to have them swarm past the animated objects, and towards living prey, namely Arcadian & Slegna. His mistake brought only a sinister chuckle from the gnome.

And beyond that room, and another, and another, they found Bargle, standing near his throne in a room richly decorated with marble and gold.
“Who dares disturb the mighty Bargle?!” the wizard cries, “You will die for your insolence!” He begins mumbling incantations.

JessaKat darts around the room to flank the wizard, and Arcadian looses two arrows.
With a thud-thud the arrows strike Bargle in the chest and head, and he spins around, hitting the ground dead.
JessaKat moves over and inspects the body. “It’s a doppleganger…” she shakes her head.

This would happen to the party at least two more times, being attacked by fake Bargles, and finding fake throne and treasure rooms. Ironically, in one of the fake throne rooms, the party noticed an entire wall panel was fake.

The heavy stone door swings open to reveal a chamber more opulent than the last. On the far side of the room across a placid pool of water towers a marble throne covered in various jewels and gems. Sitting on the throne is Bargle the Infamous. “I see you have finally pierced through all my ruses. The reward for your cleverness should be death.”

Arcadian fired a couple arrows missing the distant wizard, while Darnell readied Kohane, and JessaKAt and Slegna charged. Once they passed by the pool, Bargle unleashed a wall of flame, through the doorway, seperating the party. Arcadian continued to fire obstructed arrows and Darnell jumped through the flames, landing on the other side. He was able to see the water in the pool rise up in front of him and slam into SLegna & JessaKat.

Darnell slashed at the water elemental, his weapon barely affecting it, and JessaKat stabbed at it all the same. Acadian adjusted his fire towards the elemental, and Slegna continued his onslaught, slashing at the wizard. A swift strike clipped the wizard, drawing blood.
Bargle reached out, and with a touch, SLegna is dominated by his Hold Person spell. Unable to move, he watched as Bargle turned toward his throne, press some of the various gems, and it slid aside as easily as if it were weightless. He disappeared into the tunnel behind it, and the throne slid shut.

After disposing of the elemental, the party began inspecting the throne. Baffled by it’s use, it took them almost ten minutes to trigger the mechanism allowing access to the secret tunnel.
" Two options…" Slegna offered. “Chase him down… or count our losses. As long as we took, he’s long gone. But he’s bleeding.” The dwarf laughs.
JessaKat chimes in “I don’t think I should go first, I’m still feeling a little weak.” Despite Bargle having a considerable head start, JessaKat, Slegna, and Arcadian decided to risk the tunnel. Darnell opted to stay behind, and gather the other party members to search Bargles quarters.

They travelled, and just kept travelling down the tunnel, as it ran for a couple miles. there was no sign of Bargle, but eventually the tunnel broke into a ledge in a magnificent cavern, with an underground pond. Some climbable vines ran from the ledge to the edge of the pond, and they decided to climb down, Slegna scaling the underground terrain with special ease. They didn’t notice the eyes wating below the surface of the water. . .

One they were flat footed on the edge of the pond, Slegna began to search for tracks, and he found some. “Fuck, dragon tracks.”
And a huge green dragon burst forth, spraying water all over, including the trio. It landed, heaving heavily, and began to speak.
WHO DARES INVAED MY QUARTERS” it demands.
JessaKat dives into the shadows and Arcadian notches an arrow while Slegna speaks up.
“We mean ye no harm dragon. We seek a vile wizard who came this way.”
“‘MEAN ME NO HARM’?” the dragon bellows. “I WOULD CONSIDER FOILING MY PLOTS HARMFUL.”
“What is yer plot dragon? We do not seek a fight.”
"DO I LOOK SO SIMPLE AS TO REVEAL SUCH THINGS? tHOUGH IT OBVIOUSLY INVOLVED THE WIZARD YOU JUST EXILED. THE SCIONS YOU SEEK ARE NOT HERE, NOR DID THE WIZARD HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH THEIR DISAPPEARANCE.
“That was not within our knowledge” Slegna replies, lowering his axe to appear less aggressive.
BARGLE HIMSELF WOULD HAVE TOLD YOUHAD HE BEEN GIVEN A CHANCE.”
Worried, Slegna starts giving the other members the “fucking do something” look. Arcadian readies another arrow, drawing a very angry scowl from the dwarf. Not wanting to risk a miscommunication, the dwarf tells the elf “lower yar fucking bow, ye dumbass”
Sensing their fear, the dragon makes an offer. “PERHAPS YOU COULD BE HIS REPLACEMENT…”. Knowing they cannot refuse, the draon continues. “…SIMPLY RETURN TO MELVAUNT, CLAIM YOUR REWARD, AND THEN COMPLETE YOUR MAIN TASK, RESCUING THE SCIONS. IN FACT, I WILL EVEN POINT YOU IN THEIR DIRECTION. THE HEIRS YOU SEEK HAVE BEEN KIDNAPPED BY AN ORCISH ARMYTHOUGH NONE WOULD BELIEVE THAT SUCH A GROUP HAS MASSED.”
Arcadian stirs visibly at the mention of orcs, a grimace overtaking his face.
YOU CAN FIND THEM, STILL ALIVEFOR NOW… IN THE WILDS OF THAR. PRISONERS, IN THE FORTRESS OF XUL-JARAK. THAT NAME SHOULD STING ELVEN EARS,” seeing Arcadian’s reaction brings a grin to the dragons face. "ORC ARMIES LED BY GREAT WARRIORS, ELF SLAYERS LIKE THRULL & UGRUSH, EMMISARIES FROM GREAT LEADERS LIE MANY-ARROWS, GATHER AT XUL-JARAK TO BRING THE MIGHT OF THEIR ARMIES UPON THE CIVILIZED LANDS.
Arcadian snarls “They can try-”.
SLegna interrupts the elf. “Thak ye fer wisdom… I apologize we have nothing te offer ye.”
MUAHAHA THE LESSER FOLK HAVE LITTLE THEY CAN OFFER. CONSIDER YOURSELVES INDEBTED, FOR SPARING YOUR LIVES.FULFILL YOUR DESTINY, SAVE THE SCIONS. YOU WOULD BE SERVING ME WELL TO DO SO.”

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Return to Melvaunt
A week of rest, and an elven prince loses his head.

The march back to Melvaunt was uneventful, and no mention of the encounter with the dragon was made by Slegna, JessaKat, and Arcadian.
The arrival at the city didn’t go as smoothly as the march. Barely after entering the city, the party was surround by uniformed thugs, even popping up on the rooftops. Heavily outnumbered, the party fought back, and the thugs swarmed. They downed Aerndin, sticking a knife in the elven prince’s throat to ensure the kill. One down, they continued to press the attack, but were interrupted by a pair of armored dwarves. After cutting down the thugs on the ground, the ones on the rooftops fled.
“Bravos” one of the dwarves says in common. “Ain’t seen one ’o them aroun in a bit”.
Slegna The Faceless readies his shield and grunting, he speaks in between deep breaths. “WHat… is yer business, kin… Ye dun wish to end up like these petty humans, eh?”
The dwarves reply in a somber tone. "Hold yer axe, friend. Our quarrel is with these ‘er Bravos.
“AYe…” Slegna replies. "Lower yer weapons, then. We might not swing the first blow, but we’ll swing the last."
“The Bravos…” the dwarves laugh amicably, “are Lord Leiyraghon’s hired goons.” They lean over, swiping an ear from one of the thugs. He turns to his partner, and they continue, headed wherever they were headed before they came across the ruckus.

Gaffarion summons a couple skeletons to collect Aerndin’s body, and they move him to a back alley. Arcadian’s distaste for the nobles getting the better of him, he makes no effort to stop the shortfolk from defiling the corpse of ‘his’ prince. With a swift blow of his axe, Slegna takes Aerndin’s head. Gaffgarion speaks up.
“There, that is my mask.” the gnome delights in the designs floating aroudn his head.
“This’ll make a great mask” Slegna replies, stuffing the head in his pack. “Now, let us go collect our reward for runnin’ off that wizard.”

They head towards the city watch headquarters, and are met with an annoyed captain.
“What do ya want?” he grumbles.
GAffgarion speaks up. “We have slain teh wizard Bargle, and have come to claim our reward.”
“You killed ’em?!” The city watch captain’s jaw drops in shock. “Lemme see ’es head!”
“Slegna…” Gaffgarion says slyly. “You have the wizard’s head. An elf, as I remember.”
“An elf?” The watch captain looks puzzled. “I always thought he was a human… but that explains why he evaded capture for so long.”
He hands over their reward, and asks them to dispose of the head themselves.

After selling the loot from their haul and splitting the reward, the group decided to meet again in a week and set about their ways.
DArnell souht out the nearest blacksmith.
Gaffgarion found a bathouse to refresh.
Slegna finds himself a dark corner of the tannery, and set to his work. He spends the entire week, meticulously crafting a mask out of the remaining flesh of the fallen elf, whose name he can’t even recall. Using his new high quality sewing kit, and the local tannery, he creates the best mask to date. He almost feels sadness making such an amazing craft for someone else. He crafts the mask out of the face of the elf so that it’ll fit the smaller head of a gnome. The mouth of the mask is open, and the face made is an expression of pure fear and pain. The long elven ears are used to create a “strap” to tie the mask firmly to the wearer. The face still resembles the elf, but is a grim, horrifying reminder of the last moments of the elf’s life. The skin is hardened in a way that it doesn’t bleed, or have a lot of saggy, fleshy movement. Instead, the flesh has been hardened like leather to protect the wearer like armor. After a long week of excruciating work, the mask is completed. He places the mask inside of a black box, and paints a sloppy dwarven skull in white on the box, and leaves it in Gaffgarion’s inn room.

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Setting off for Xul-Jarak
Taking their time on a rescue mission.

It hadn’t taken long for the Elven Court to know of the demise of their prince. In less than a weeks time, they shipped a number of assassins, spys, and bounty hunters to Melvaunt. One, a human and regular employee of the Elven Court known as Condol Naxion (though that’s likely just an alias), stood in one of the seedier taverns, dropping a heavy sack of coin into the barkeep’s hand. He had already made it to the city, established a cover, set some traps, and spotted the party… this wasn’t hard, as a dwarf wearing a skinned ogre face, and a gnome wearing the mangled face of an elven prince stand out in any city, even one as dirty as Melvaunt.

As the party prepared to set off on continuing their mission of rescuing the scions, they were approached my someone claiming to be one of Lord Nanther’s hired helpers.
“I am Condol Naxion”, he nods at Slegna, and eyes the rest of the group. “Lord Nanther is unhappy with your delay… he sent me to encourage your progress, and offer my skills as a scout. I have news to discuss before we depart, and have been travelling for some time, so it would be good to fill our bellies before we go on killing orcs. There’s a tavern a short distance from here.”
“I believe we should set off now,” Arcadian countered. “Stay off the main road, catch them by surprise.”
Slegna laughs. “Why’s that, Arcadian? Scared of a ’lil ’ol orc?”
“I fear no orc. They’re beneath me.”
“Ha! Actually, they’re a ’lil taller than msot of us… ’til I chop ’em down to size.”
“None the less, they wil lhave scouts along the main roads.”
Slegna grumbles and turns his attention to the newcomer. “Condol, was it? I could use a nice dwarven ale. I’ll even buy ye one.”
“Good, good, fine dwarf” COndol replies, seeing a plan come together mroe easily than expected. This was going to be one of the quickest, easiest payoffs in his career. “Ale does sound good.”
Gaffgarion interrupts. “We have no time for ale. We have duties to attend to. And plenty of orc corpses to create.”
“Gaffgarion,” Slegna replies, “your haste is appreciated in the form of thirst for death… but I currently thirst for an ale. There will ALWAYS be something to kill, friend.”
“Nanther’s offer of this scout is more than a slight nudge toward our goal, I’m sure.”
“If I were to stop every time someone needed a’killin I’d never have time to drink. And truly.. what kind of life is that at all?” The dwarf laughs heartily.
“A life without coin, if we fail the noble paying us.”
COndol watches the debate, not wanting to press his plans too strongly.
SLegna sees things the gnomes way. “Aye. I have a jug ’o dwarven ale, and 6 mugs. We can drink along the way.”
Arcadian inserts himself. “Shall I lead the way? ALong the way we will rondevous with a local druid, Lenwei, who can assist us in our travels.”
“By all means” Slegna confirms, and the party sets out, some of them drinkin along the way.

Their travels went realatively smooth, all things considered. This was the wilderness of Thar, after all. Beside the occasional dire wolf attack, or wandering pair of orcs, and there was a single troll burned to death by Condol’s lantern oil, but otherwise there was little excitement. On one day, some of those falling behind saw a local half-orc ranger hailing them. Wanting to ge the jump on him if need be, the party sent Norl around to flank, JessaKat hid, and the rest approached to see what he wanted.
He meant only to sell them information, valuable information that they payed handsomely for. He confirmed the scions prescence at Xul-Jarak, their use in a ritual being performed by the orcs, and a measure of the orcs’ strength – and they numbered in the tens of thousands, coming from all over Faerun to withness the trials of this orc savior. Having completed their transation, Haravak called forth his Dire Wolf, Grunwhr, who promply dropped the bumbling rogue Norl on the ground in front of the PCs, and the ranger disappeared into the forest with his companion.

Before long, the stragglers caught up with the lead scouts. Arcadian had noticed smoke coming from an orc camp nearby. They were near enough to Xul-Jarak that massive orc armies had stationed scouting camps around the ruins, and this was one of them. About half a dozen orcs, and a dire boar, as far as the party could tell.
“Here’s the plan” Slegna commanded, some of his dwarven ancestry showing itself. “Arcadian, climb that tree over there, it’ll give you a vantage point. The rest of you can flank them while I draw their attention.” And he began his march into the clearing.
The rest of the party ignored his orders. Condol snuck alongside Slegna in the bushes, waiting for a moment to strike… either his prey or the orcs. DArnell followed him, stumbling through the brush. JessaKat snuck in the opposite direction, and Arcadian fired repeatedly in rage at the orcs in the distance.
They returned fire mostly focused on Slegna, including some orc archers they hadn’t seen perched on the gigantic boulder. The orc sergeant armed himself, and an underling made for the dire boar cage. Uninterrupted, he freed it, and it charged the nearest enemy.
Slegna cleaved a couple orcs, only to clear the path for the boar to slam into him, goring him with it’s tusks. He swung his axe, slashing the creature. Arcadian fired a couple more arrows at the orcs on the boulder, and then finally moved toward a tree he began to climb. He would rain down arrows on the orcs, the archers returning fire and the ones on the ground charge slegna, some dropped by his blows, some collateral in the Boar’s attacks, and some slain by COndol, darting out of the bushes, striking, and darting back in.

The boar, angered by Slegna sticking his axe in it, charged him. The dire boar gored hi with it’s tusks, and slammed him into the ground. His axe flung to the side, the creature plowed him to the edges of the bushes where Condol hid. Sensing he was done, the creature turned it’s attention to the tree Arcadian was raining down arrows from and charged.
Condol slipped out of the bushes, and stole a couple potions from the dying Slegna’s pack. He turned the dwarfs head, slipping a dagger into the base of his skull all in one motion. He gave it a quick wiggle to give the impression of the jagged goring of a tusk, and just as quickly grabbed the dwarf’s axe and disappeared back into the bushes.
By this time Darnell had snuck back around and began climbing the boulder, to join JessaKat in striking at the orc archers. Condol remained hidden, then finished off the nearby orcs after the dire boar was distracted. As the dire boar was quickly and easily smashing the tree Arcadian clung to, Condol made his way into the brush nearby. JessaKat made quick work of the orc archers, and Darnell finished the last one. Soon they heard a deafening crack as the tree holding Arcadian cracked, and he plummeted to the ground, right at Condol’s feet.
Condol slips from the bushes with his hidden blades extended, aiming to slide one into the kidney of Arcadian, his other hand going over the elfs mouth. In the chaos the blade misses, and the elf assumes he was being helped up. Back on his feet, Arcadian fires two arrows point blank at the dire boar, droppin it in front of him. The entire orc scouting party camp lies dead, and so does Slegna.
Arcadian runs over to slegna and uses his wand of cure light wounds to no avail; he tries a second time before he accepts the truth, and gather’s his comrade’s mask. COndol strolls over to the boar, and begins cutting strips of bacon from it. Darnell carries Slegna’s body over near the campfire, and digs through his bedroll for a sheet to wrap him in. He also notices slegna’s manacles, and he grabs them, attaching one to Kohane and one to his wrist. COndol begins cooking some dire boar bacon on the campfire, and the party settles down for camp, the weight of their loss weighing on them all.
All except Condol.

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Expedition into Xul-Jarak
Expedition into Xul-Jarak.

Condol made enough bacon for the group, “as a little pick-me-up” he told them. He sprinkled what looked like either dirt or peppercorns, but of course was some poison of his own to a few of the strips, namely the ones for Arcadian and Gaffgarion. He wasn’t sure the gnome would take to it however… he likely had “eccentric” tastes…
“Hope everyone likes bacon!” Condol announced. “Eat your fill and regain your strength. In honor of Slegna, we drink a mug of ale tonight.”
“I will take first watch” Darnell offers, seemingly uninterested in the food. “I am healthy still.”
“Dont eat the food!” Arcadian runs toward the fire, and Condol. “He tampered with our food!”
“I did not.” Condol replies, offended.
“Yes you did. He’s trying to kill us!”
COndol reaches over, taking a piece of bacon. He takes a bite.
“Asshole” Arcadian grumbles.
“I’ll take first watch” Condol offers over Darnell, staring at Arcadian. “Come and have some ale and bacon friends. Come ranger, you’ve earned this food more than any. Look how many arrows still lie in the beast.”
“I’m not hungry.” Arcadian disappears into the trees.
And Condol sets off to take first watch.

Meanwhile, Gaffgarion had ambled over to Slegna’s body. He touches the forehead of the body, and it becomes immersed in a green glow, before opening it’s dead eyes. He commands the zombie to sit up.
“There there child.” the gnome says quietly, digging around inside the dwarf’s backpack. He pulled out Slegna’s original mask, and applied it to the corpse. It hung loosely and crooked.
The lifeless corpse of Slegna stood, and surely more questions would have been asked by the party, but at that moment they found a prisoner of the orcs, a human who ahd been bound and gagged.
“So, like,” the dude took a breath of fresh air. " Thanks for rescuin’ me and stuff guys. I thought these guys were gonna cook me over a fire ‘n shit. All I could think while I seen ya’ fight was ‘man, was how rad a theme song would be!" He scrambles around looking for his geetar, he finds it un-smashed by the orcs. He dusts it off, hops up on a nearby rock, and starts playing an awesome tune.
“Hmmmm…” JessaKat steps out from the shadows. "I wouldn’t be much of an adventurer if I didn’t know a good tune when I hear it."
“Righteous,” the ‘bard’ responds, still playing. “It was my dad’s geetar, ya know.”
“Good day sir” Gaffgarion greets the newcomer, with the zombie Slegna following beside him, indistinguishable from a living being with the mask on. “I have heard that tune before, and it is what my ancestors would refer to as ‘bitchin’”.
“My name’s Sky, man” the bard finally reveals, “what’s your name little one?”
“Gaffgarion” the gnome offers. "
“I like your name bro, but it’s a ‘lil long. I’m gonna call ya ‘G’. Tell ya wut, I seen your dwarven friend bite the dust man. I’ll play something slow in his honor.”
“Let us not speak of what you saw here. such word travels fast. My friend is fine, as you can see” Gaffgarion offers sincerely. “He stands here beside me now. Don’t mind that he doesn’t talk too much.”
“He was not a very jolly kinda dwarf” JessaKat chimes in with a laugh. “He was kinda naive and arrogant.” She smiled to herself, knowing nobody thought of the halfling gypsy as a serious threat. Enemies tended to die with a look of shock, rather than fear.
“That’s not cool, man… but he looked tougher than a dire boar- whoops poor choice of words my bad man.” the bard smirked. “But none the less, he was an ally, and will be remembered as such.” and the ‘bard’ played a sad tune for undead dwarf next to him.
GAffgarion put an ear up to the motionless mouth of Slegna’s mask. “WHat’s that SLegna?” the gnome asks with no response. “You don’t like this ‘Sky’ guy? Hmmm… I say give ’em a chance.” He catches odd glances from many of the party, including JessaKat.

Condol returns from his watch, and nobody catches the quick moment of recognition on his face as he sees Sky. SHortly thereafter, Arcadian returns, likely having suspiciously followed Condol. The druid Lenwei appeared shortly after, as the rains increased.
“We should press on” the druid said. “if we intend to stop the sacrifice. Beside, we’re too close to Xul-Jarak to camp.”
“I can go on” Gaffgariona greed, knowing he could always ride his minion should he tire.
“Maybe Slegna should lead,” the druid senses the unnatural being, “that is, if he can ‘carrion’”.
“I will scout ahead” a still unsettled Arcadian said. “We are close.”

And they would have reached the gigantic, towering fortress, on the plateau amidst the trees, if not for a blunder by Arcadian costing them another day. Hiding under the edge of the plateau, they decide to send Arcadian up.

He is pelted with rain as he scales the wet cliff, and moves near the gate. Lenwei follows, though they cannot see the doors because the fog is so thick. The thunderous rainstorm, they hear a loud knock on the giant doors, and a conversation in orcish ensuing. Returning to the others, Arcadian tells them.
“It was Orcish emmissaries… of Obould Many-Arrows, come to witness the ritual and pay homage to the new orc warlord, if there is one. I think our best chances come from dividing, and sneaking in through the shattered west wall.”
Arcadian, Sky, and Lenwei volunteered to sneak in, disguised as local orc druids themselves, except for Lenwei, who would change into an owl and guide them through the darkest areas of the fortress. They scaled the slippery wall again, and amde their way over the rubble. They crawled hastily over the ruins, until Arcadian and Lenwei froze in their tracks, staring at a wyvern sleeping in a nest made of the rubble. They had noticed the creature in the fog and rain rain, and had wandered dangerously close. Sky followed far enough in the distance to avoid their mistake, and the group made their way up some stairs to the top of the wall. Well placed arrows and bolts silenced an orcs before they could raise an alarm, though the group was separated at one point. Lenwei and Arcadian had found a staircase leading past the ground floor, into the depths of the dungeon below. However, they needed to find Sky before proceeding.
A bolt whistled through the air, narrowly missing Arcadian. IN the distance, an orc was firing at him from around a corner. He returned fire, though the orc’s bolts seemed more accurate. A dangerous game of chase ensued, with the two firing at each otehr as the orc made it down the stairs to the ground floor. Arcadian regrouped with Lenwei, and prepared for an onslaught of alerted orcs… instead they got only Sky, emerging from around a corner, out of breath and breathing heavily.
They ducked into the deeper stairwell, and proceeded downward. The farther they went beneath the mighty fortress, the louder they could hear drumming and ritual chanting in orcish, easily made out by the three who also understood the language. They were allowed to pass with little more than a nod, as many visitors were expected to witness the ritual.
They arrived in time to see one of the scions brutally speared by a chanting orc priestess. The spear disappeared from her hands, and into the hand of a mighty orc, his pale white skin covered in painted symbols, including the eye of Gruumsh. The spear glowed with an evil glow, and representatives of orc tribes who ahd not yet been convinced finally put their offerings forth. The banners of orc tribes from all across Faerun were there, swearing allegiance to this new orc avatar, Thrull, favored of Gruumsh.
Quickly the trio made their way back out of the room, where Lenwei guided them to the one remaining scion, Oreal Nanther. Bruised and battered from torture at the hands of the orcs, he was still alive, and more than willing to go with the false orcs, whose disguises he could clearly tell from his captors. He would never forget his captors.
What few guards were placed so deep in an populated orc fortress were too distracted with the ritual themselves to pay any attention to the prisoner being “taken for mroe ‘questioning’”. Back up the stairs and before they know it, they emerge from the fortress, Lenwei flying ahead to tell the party to prepare to move.

The entire group escorts Oreal Nanther back to Melvaunt, their larges numbers likely dissuading any of the nromal predators, and their pace keeping them ahead of any orcs sent after them. BArely after reaching the town, word spreads of the return of one of the scions, and they are greeted by some happy townsfolk, some who could care less, and event a servant from one of the nobles, Lord Dornig Leiyraghon. Oreal offered the party follow him home for a feast and their reward, and msot were happy to join him. Leiyraghon’s servant offered dinner with his master, who wished details of his son Kalman Leiyraghon’s demise. Sky and Arcadian joined him.

At Lord Nanther’s, the group feasted, and Oreal filled them in on his experience. He had been adventuring for years with the other scions, with Dorn Crownshield guiding them. Of course they had to sneak out due to their parent’s feuds, but due to thier inattentiveness it was quite easy. They had been doing well, and had planned an expedition to Xul-Jarak, but hadn’t planned on it being reoccupied by orc armies. They were ambushed and taken pprisoner, beaten and tortured until the ritual was ready. Then they were sacrificed one by one over the course of the week long ritual.

Over at Lord Leiyraghon’s SKy and Arcadian entered to a feast themselves. Lord Dornig Leiyraghon thanked them for their attempt, though he insisted the real problem was not orcs and it was likely a plot by Lord Nanther to eliminate future generations, leaving the town to his own. His remaining son, Bremmen, stood and gave a short toast, thanking the adventurers for their efforts, and excusing himself from the room.
The door slammed shut hard, startling Lord Leiryghon, and orcs burst forth from the balconies above, led by a large pale one much like Thrull. The great orcs voice booms in the dining hall.
“You are mighty warriors, great will be the strength of the Bloodspear when it tastes your blood.” He then looks at Dornig. “Your days are ended old man.”
The orc archers unleash a barrage of bolts, half a dozen hitting the noble square in the chest, dropping him to the floor dead. They then turn their attention to SKy & Arcadian, who begin retunring fire, but are quickly overwhelmed. Bloodied by the bolts and even carrying a few the ahrd way, They make a break for the main doors of the hall, and find it unlocked.
Barely alive, Arcadian stumbles outside into the sunlight, followed by an injured Sky. There, they’re greeted by the newly acquired Lord Bremmen Leiyraghon (thanks to his father’s demise) and handful of guards.
“There! The ones that killed my father!” he cries, the guards readying their spears.
Sky spoke up first. “I’m not with him, you just rescued me from him!” and he falls to the ground feigning like his injuries are worse than they are.
“I didn’t do it! It was orcs! They have crossbows and I have arr-”
He was cut off by multiple guards spearing him, and dragging their bodies inside, Bremmen shutting the door behind them.

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EPILOGUE - The Months After
The events following their escape from Xul-Jarak.

Sky, playing dead, was able to slip away thanks to his particular skill set. Mistaking Arcadian for the elven prince rumored to be missing in the Melvaunt area, Bremmen turned him over to his orc allies, who paraded him back to Xul-Jarak, barely alive.
The remaining party members questioned the new Lord Bremmen on their comrades whereabouts, or at least attempted to. They were turned back at the gates, threatened that if they pushed any further, they’d be added to the list of fugitives wanted for the murder of Lord Dornig Leiyraghon. RUmors began circulation that due to Oreal being the only survivor, it was possible his father had hired assassins to consolidate power in the town. It became wise for the scattered members of the Conniving Caravan to do just that: scatter into the wind.

And with good timing too. With the entire town of Melvaunt, including the Council of Iron distracted by infighting, the orcs moved their armies from the wilds of Thar, emboldened by their new Warlord Thrull, and swept into Melvaunt, taking the defenseless town after just a couple weeks travel and a single day’s battle, if you could call the slaughter that.
The Elven Court offered no help either of course, and watched from the far side of the Moonsea as orc territory grew, unthreatened due to the natural border formed by the sea.
Zhentil Keep remained “neutral”, feigning concern over the “growing orc menace” and bolstering their forces, but had already cut a deal with the orcs. In exchange for control of thier rival city Mulmaster, Zhentil Keep would form the western border of the new orc empire.

The attack and victory had come so swiftly, no one noticed the majority of Thrull’s forces had been moving through Bloodstone Pass. By the time they claimed Ironfang Keep, the new base for Warlord Thrull’s dominion, it was too late for Mulmaster to do anything, and they were just as quickly overwhelmed as Melvaunt.
Finally with threats closing in, the elves of the Elven Court Gathered to meet the orcs in battle to the east in the Flooded Forest. They were surprised by both Zhentil’s forces approaching from the west, and the great green dragon Vanthavaxxus, who burst forth from the Moonsea allied with the orc armies. The Elven Court did not fall as swiftly as the rest, but it fell none the less. Most horrifying of all, was the ‘elven’ war banner flown by Thrull’s forces. They had kept the mistaken elven prince barely alive, as they crucified him on a mighty wooden structure shaped like the Eye of Gruumsh, and marched with the ‘elven’ war banner inspiring the army. Leaving the forest in ruins and the elven kingdom in wastes, with the Zhentarim guarding the west from their Keep, Venthavaxxus guarding the south while residing in the Flooded Forest, Ironfang Keep protecting the east, and Xul-Jarak the north, the orcs had an empire to call their own, one so established they could not be driven from it with the might of civilized nations.
Marking their borders on the edge of the forest, they left a message to all races who would challenge them: the giant Eye of Gruumsh still housing the dying elf.

It was here a fleeing Kajn found the dying Arcadian, and climbing the structure he freed the elf before doing his best to stabilize him.

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