Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 8

Not able to see properly through the chamber, Rowan whistles a short spell.  Colorful flickering lights illuminate the den and they spot a large wolf pelt door covering the entrance to the chamber beyond.  Rowan nods at her friends and backs against the wall near the wolf pelt door.

Taking advantage of the momentary illumination from Rowan’s spell, Sebastian gives the room a swift search.  The guardhouse is largely empty, only having an alarm bell and a few odds and ends, but there are some very clear markings showing that some heavy things have been dragged through the archway covered with wolf hide.

Rowan moves the lights over to the farthest corner of the room, so that they won’t shed much light through it.  She looks at Lanaver and waves him over, “You can see in the dark right?  Take a look behind here and scope it out for us.”

Lanaver creeps up to the pelt door, giving it a cursory inspection before attempting to peek through the side, moving the pelt with the tip of his dagger.

Hajima wrenches the bolt from the corpse of the Goblin he slew.  After a brief inspection for damage, he cocks the thick arms and loads the salvaged bolt back into the weapon.  He approaches near the wolf pelt, ready to rush in and cover Lanaver with crossbow fire if need be.

Past the wolf pelt into the earthen chamber, Lanaver sees three more Goblins. Two of them are cruelly beating a pair of wolves in separate cages.  The wolves seem to have noticed them and are sniffing the air, snarling and yelping but their dim witted Goblin handlers don’t seem to understand why they won’t quiet down.

The third, more observant Goblin is making his way toward the wolf pelt to investigate the commotion he heard in the entrance chamber. He calls out in Goblin as he walks toward the waiting party, drawing a cruel looking short sword.

Lanaver’s sharp eyes spot two more doors covered with wolf pelts at the far corners of the chamber containing the wolves. “Have a care, one’s coming and there are two more beyond.  They have a pair of wolves in cages that seem to have scented us also.”

Lanaver closes the gap between the approaching Goblin and himself in three swift strides. He pulls the rapier free of the scabbard with a steely rasp while his free hand finds a dagger from the leg sheath. Just before he gets close enough to strike, he cuts to the right to insure the wizard and sniper have a clear shot if needed. He stabs the Goblin with his rapier, finishing it off with a gutting strike from his off hand dagger.

One of the Goblin handlers unlocks the cages the wolves are in before turning to run into the next room, yelping in alarm.  As the wolves spring towards the approaching party, their ferocity distracts Hajima Jom.  He fires from the hip at the escaping Goblin, but the bolt misses, slamming into the wall and shattering on impact.

“Quick!” He exclaims and points to the fleeing Goblin, “Stop him!”

Sebastian hears Lanaver’s words and shifts, pointing his orb toward the fleeing Goblin. An arcane burst of frost shoots from the gleaming orb, freezing the Goblin solid where he stands.

The leading wolf sprints at Lanaver and sinks its teeth into his leg. Despite Lanaver’s best efforts, the savage attack pulls him from his feet to lay prone in front of the snarling, drooling beast.

The fleeing Goblin falls to the floor clutching at his swollen head, his eyes bulging in pain. Rowan is whistling a slightly discordant tune and staring at him, her eyes softly glowing with blue light.  He soon stops screaming and begins to convulse before eventually laying still, dead, from the power of her strange magic.

Tuskor strikes the wolf standing over his companion with a two handed blow of his tusk staff, attempting to render it insensible.  He knows the animals are innocent of the evil the Goblins have forced them to, and cannot bear to kill it outright.  Although he strikes true, the wolf has been lathered into a frenzy by the punishment of its Goblin trainers and it seems to shake off the strike.

The other wolf lunges at Tuskor from the other side in a classic wolf pack move, but the Dwarf’s feet are more solidly placed.  Although its teeth tear at his flesh and draw blood he manages to stay upright.

Seeing the wolves approaching, Vellk runs the aid of his friends, fearing that his delay in action may cost them their lives. The warrior leaps into battle, cutting off the head of the wolf threatening Tuskor with a single stroke of his mighty axe.

The wolf Tuskor wounded backs away slowly growling with his hackles up.  A thick line of dark blood runs down the side of his head, dripping onto the earthen floor.

Lanaver clutches the bite wound and grits his teeth, “Medic!” He calls out to his team.

Rowan approaches the injured wolf, her hand out as she croons softly to it.  “There there, we’re friends.  Friends, it’s OK, I’m going to get you out of here, to set you free.”  The wolf hesitates and sniffs her offered hand before biting into her bicep and shaking her like a rat.  The Halfling woman is thrown from her feet, only barely able to keep her grip on her weapons.

Lanaver retreats as Tuskor and Vellk leap forward to assist Rowan.  Before they get to the wolf, an expertly fired bolt from Hajima Jom’s crossbow pierces the animal through the neck.  The wolf stumbles to the ground, tries futilely to rise before breathing its last. As Hajima stealthily moves forward to join his friends, a voice calls from the other room in the Goblin tongue.

The voice is deep, louder than a Goblin and lower of pitch. It is harsh and the speech is garbled, as if the speaker has mouth full of flesh. “Marak kish nek, ekognish ba-ahuka asik!” the call echoes from the chamber beyond.

Rowan does not speak Goblin, but fiercely clutches her rapier, getting up from the floor.  She gasps in pain and limps toward where Sebastian is bandaging Lanaver’s leg.  A truly foul smell emanates from the room beyond, making the scent of Goblin and mangy wolf smell like fresh air.

Hajima steps forward in front of the others with another bolt loaded in his massive crossbow. “Fear not, friends! Stay behind me. Sebastian, do what you can to help the wounded. I’ll cover you!” He then crouches, bracing his weapon on one knee so as to be ready to fire upon the monster as soon as it enters the room.

“Thank you my friend.”  Rowan says, playing a short but bracing melody on her flute.  

Hajima feels the warmth of her magic infuse him with power, steeling him for the fight to come.  Small flickers of arcane power surround him in the shape of bars of music as the spell takes effect.  A sense of confidence and deadly purpose fills his entire being. He has never been as sure of victory in any of his years of combat as he is right now.

The fallen wolf resists Tuskor’s attempts to help it or calm it and snarls until its last breath. Infuriated that animals had been kept and tortured in such a way, Tuskor rises to his feet with a dark gleam in his eyes. He mumbles the ancient words that transform his staff into the spiked monstrosity and turns to face whatever comes into the chamber.

After several tense moments pass, they hear the sound of a wooden chair being upturned and a harsh order from the deep voice beyond before three Goblins emerge from the pelt doorway at the far left end of the chamber. They cry in alarm as they spot the party, a sound partially silenced as Hajima’s crossbow hurls a bolt into the first one’s eye, killing it instantly.

A second later, a brawny Bugbear with dark, shaggy hair and a greasy black and brown beard bursts through the door on the other side of the chamber. In one large, clawed hand he holds a cruel looking Morningstar. In his other hand a short, rusty iron chain which is collared to a monstrous, savage looking warg. Its slathered lips peel back revealing long, brutal fangs and it growls menacingly at the wounded adventurers.

Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 7

After traversing the swampy bog for the better part of an hour, they finally come to the end of the trail. It leads directly into the mouth of a cave in the side of a hill rising from the bog. Brush and other low vegetation allows them to easily hide and observe the entrance from a distance.  Hajima can see a Goblin talking to a human-sized figure dressed in a heavy cloak that obscures its face. Creeping closer on his belly, he manages to get within earshot of the pair.

The Goblin is speaking in the Common Tongue, “Only one raiding group return. They bring prisoners. Other raiding groups return soon. No more snake coin people found.”

The human nods and says, “Excellent. Tell Gorrunk that my friends and I will pay lots of coin and give lots of gifts for all of the dragon artifacts you can find. I’ll give a bonus if you kill any other humans who you find near your home.” The goblin nods and enters the cave, while the cloaked figure whispers a word and simply vanishes.

Hajima moves back to the others who are still concealed in the foliage of the bog and reports what he has just seen and heard. “The mysterious individual has escaped us, but we now have confirmation that the captive farmers are in this location. It seems these goblins are well-organized and we have been following only one of their raiding parties. Our duty is clear. We must shut this operation down.”

“You say they are to seek dragon artifacts?” Tuskor muses. “What if we claim to have one and are looking to buy the prisoners as slaves?”

Hajima ponders for a moment. “I fail to see the connection between local farmers and dragon artifacts. Why are the Goblins doing this? It makes no sense. Local farmers have no access to, or knowledge of, dragon artifacts. This seems more like a slave trade operation that is also being used to locate these artifacts. Perhaps once we secure the compound and free the prisoners, we can then question one of the Goblin or Hobgoblin leaders for more information.”

“We may want to consider the possibility that those other troops may return at any moment.” Vellk replies, “It might be a good idea to set up a trap or at least some kind of warning signal.   A string of bells or the like.”

“The dwarf has a point, and it’s not the first time we’ve peddled false wares.”  Lanaver muses, turning to the big warrior.  “I just wish I had grabbed some trap kits, dammit we’ll just have to improvise.”

“A warning signal would be helpful, indeed. We will be infiltrating the compound and don’t want any other Goblin raiders flanking us. Perhaps Sebastian can use his alarm spell on the entrance to the cave? That should alert him if anyone follows us later.”

“Indeed, and time is of the essence. However we do not want to put the prisoners at risk” Tuskor thinks a moment. “Perhaps a distraction while the stealthier members of our group locate the missing villagers? Luring out many as possible?”

“So who wants to come with me, or am I doing this solo?”  Lanaver asks,  “If they’re hurt we’ll need to mend the wounded so they don’t slow our retreat…” He trails off in thought while looking the group over.

“The residents of this region will never be safe as long as these creatures are allowed to den up here.”  Hajima says, “We must rescue these poor farmers and whoever else they’ve managed to kidnap.” He shoulders his massive crossbow and continues to watch the opening of the trail and the entrance to the cave for any change in the comings and goings of those inside.

Sebastian speaks from military experience. “We are going to need cover. Goblins don’t have sharpshooter like we do. I seem to recall there was some scuttlebutt about a clan of gobbers called the ‘Foul Water Clan’ that moved in here a couple months back.  Filled a power vacuum left by a young dragon that was slain.”

“Perhaps the death of this dragon is the reason the Cult of the Dragon is interested in the area.”  Vellk says, scratching his chin, “I can’t think of too many reasons humans would take up with filth like Goblins otherwise.”

Rowan listens to all this information with a solemn face. “I will go inside. I can do a bit of healing, if my powers are not used in other ways, and I’m small and find it easy to hide. She looks at her comrades and smiles a grim smile. “They may outnumber us, but without their powerful friend, I think they might just find us a bit much to handle.”

Tuskor looks to the cave entrance and then turns to Hajima. “Does it seem as though any of these foul Goblins are at the entrance at the moment?”  He asks, knowing that Hajima has been keeping a look out. “Perhaps Rowan could first check the entrance is clear, with the crossbow users ready to fire should she be spotted”

“Then, if all seems clear the group could move up and set some kind of trap in the entrance, should any Goblins return or to delay pursuers should we need to escape quickly”

“I think I’d be better suited to sneak up and lay a trap,” Lanaver interjected, “I’m not quite as tiny as she, but I’m as sneaky and far more devious.”

“Of course” Concedes Tuskor. “Is the coast clear?”

Rowan looks to her adopted brother and says, “You can do this, brother!” and briefly touches his hand. A tingle of magic passes between them, almost an electric shock of power.

Lanaver plots out his path and cautiously moves from cover to cover, trying to use the terrain and what bit of shade the morning light provides to his advantage

Hajima keeps the cave entrance and the surrounding area clearly in his sights as he covers Lanaver’s approach with his heavy crossbow. He readies a bolt to shoot the first goblin or hobgoblin that spots Lanaver. His dark clothing seems to blend into the shadows where he stands beneath a rock outcropping and his stillness makes it difficult to see him, even for the companions who know where he is.

“Once that trap is laid maybe someone should climb on top of the cave to get a better look around the area or Tuskor-Dwarven druid can you speak with a bird and have it scout for us?” Sebastian thinks for a moment. “I can alarm the entrance but I will have to be within 30 feet.”

With the current tension in the air, Vellk tries to keep his armor and metal bits quiet. “I’m ready when you are he whispers.”

“Apologies master wizard, but though I can speak with animals, it requires an element of preparation.”  Tuskor says,  “Unfortunately I did not spend time enough this morning communing with nature in that way to use such an ability.”

“I understand the dilemma Tuskor, choosing one’s powers can be the bane of wizards as well.”  Sebastian says with a sigh, “We were rushed into this excursion and had no chance to properly prepare.”

Hajima turns to Lanaver and hands him some of the crossbow spare parts. “You are welcome to these, my friend. If it proves too difficult for us to effectively trap the entrance, then we will have to do our best regardless. Time is of the essence. Those raiders will return eventually and who knows what is now befalling those farmers. Let us best set what trap we can and then push on swiftly and cautiously deeper into this complex to rescue them.”

Lanaver approaches on cat feet and although he hears some soft, guttural mumbling coming from behind the eastern wall where the passageway turns south, he doesn’t encounter any of the enemy. Lanaver also sees that small holes riddle the wall, allowing for viewing up the passage by creatures behind the wall. There are piles of rubble large enough to allow characters to hide as they move up the passage.

Using pieces of the dismantled crossbow, some string and a few cleverly situated stones, Lanaver set the trap, outside the entrance to the cave.  Anyone carelessly entering or exiting would cause a small avalanche upon hitting the trip line.

Lanaver signals for the group to move up. As his friends approach, he inspects the east wall and attempts to peer through the holes.  If there is danger, he wants to find it before it finds them.  Through the holes, he spies three Goblin guards engaged in a quiet game of cards instead of keeping watch.

Rowan moves quietly up to the entrance with her friends, using the boulders to stay out of sight of the holes, all the while listening and watching for danger.  Hajima follows on her heels, crossbow at the ready if enemies appear. He moves from cover position to cover position, avoiding the eye holes as well.

Lanaver stops Sebastian and Rowan in their tracks. He points out a crude goblin rock trap on the floor just after the entrance to the lair. After being shown the trigger, a stick seemingly innocuously wedged against the wall, they are able to sneak around it.  Sebastian nods a thank you to Lanaver, and he dexterously steps past the trap, his dagger in one hand and his crystal capped wand in the other.

Rowan whispers as quietly as possible. “Let us take the guards as quickly and quietly as we can, while they are still unaware of us.”

Tuskor’s voice is a low rumble that doesn’t carry beyond a few feet. “If I see a group of them together I may be able to restrain them using the forces of nature in the earth beneath them – which might make it easier for you to pick them off from range before we close on them.”

Lanaver turns back from the corner, “There are three of them, drinking and gambling when they should be on watch.” He draws a throwing dagger and at a nod, you all explode into surprising action Tuskor outstretches his arms and weaves a spell. Strange root-like tendrils sprout up from cracks in the rocks, looking like blind cave worms as they wrap around a pair of the Goblins in a vice-like grip.

Hajima rounds the corner, taking a knee and firing a bolt at the largest of the three goblins. The bolt takes him fatally in the throat, dropping him. Rowan bursts into a sprint and covers the ground quickly to her foe. She stabs the surprised goblin through the chest, nearly felling him as Lanaver’s thrown dagger finishes the job, taking him in the forehead.

Vellk creeps up, as quietly as his armor will allow and silently finishes the final goblin guard before alarm can be called. Sebastian waits with spells ready as a brief moment of tension passes.  When no sounds of running feet or shouts of alarm sound, they realize they are thus far undetected.

Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 6

Vellk presses the warm mug of tea into her hands, feeling sorry for her plight.  “Come now good lady.  You’re among friends now, let me help you to the Inn.  I’ll get you settled in a room.”  His deep voice is surprisingly compassionate for all that he is a fierce warrior and looks the part.

“We shall take care of it, please, come into the inn and rest.” Rowan quickly tells the innkeeper to get the woman and child some warm food and drink, and to stable her mules. She drops enough coin to cover the cost on the counter.

“Don’t you have a worry now Rowan.”  Madame Freia said, wrapping a shawl around the woman and putting a sweet spring carrot in the little one’s hand.  “We’ll take good care of her, your coin and the warriors will keep her set up here for a day or two.”

Millivent looked between Vellk and Rowan and burst into tears again, leaning against the Halfling Innkeeper and soaking her shoulder with tears of relief and gratitude.  The toddler clinging to her skirts managed to stuff the end of the carrot in his mouth and is gumming it happily, looking up at Vellk with wide, serious eyes.

“We must go see to her farm, for they are in trouble. Please take care of her, and let her rest in our room! Thank you!!!” And she rushes out to the stable, grabs Bo from his stable, mounts him bareback, and urges him on, knowing that his quicker pace will allow her to make up the time she lost getting the woman inside.

Lanaver waves away the guards, “Thanks fellas, we got it from here. We’ll assist the folk of the realm so you can go back to counting clouds or whatever pressing chores you have after your breakfast.”

The guards scowl at him, but evidently are too lazy to rise to the insult.  “Come on gents, the damn wagon’s moved so we can get back to our rounds.”  Their head officer says, and they make their way back down the street, ignoring the angry looks many of the townsfolk give them.

“Worthless tin cans,” Lanaver mutters under his breath, and saunters back into the Inn, getting his gear together and donning his leather armor.

Rowan is exiting the stable with her donkey with a wild expression on her face.  “We must hurry Lanaver!”  She exclaims, preparing to leap onto the animal’s back.

“A right and proper rescue, from goblins no less! You can’t ask for much better way to start an early morning now can ya?” He winks at Rowan, and then at her donkey.  “Ya might want to get a saddle on that fellow though, and maybe get your armor on.  An extra couple of minutes isn’t going to make much of a difference to the woman, but it might be the difference between surviving and dying for you to be properly equipped.”

Vellk, grabs his gear and strides out of the Inn’s front door. Goblins attacking a farm hits a little too close to home. A worry for his own family crosses his mind has he glimpses a familiar horse and rider that appear farther away than they are.  Shaking his head, he tosses Rowan’s armor and traveling cloak at her.

“Thought you might need these.”  He says with a grin.  “I want to help as badly as you do.”

“Every great adventure starts somewhere, am I right?”  Lanaver asks through a mouthful of biscuit, stuffing the last of his abandoned breakfast into his mouth.

Rowan dons her leathers and smiles at the stable boy who has brought the saddle for her spotted donkey.  The beast is eager, seeming excited to finally get out of the stable. Sebastian exits the Inn, his hair in disarray and sleep in his eyes, but he has his gear and seems alert in spite of being roused from his bed.

“What’s the trouble?  Mistress Freia brought a woman nearly in hysterics up the stairs, woke me up she said something about her family?  The innkeeper is still trying to get her to stay in the room.”  Sebastian shrugs, “She told me you all were heading out so I came as quickly as I could.”

“She told us Goblins took her family.” Rowan says to Sebastian, . “I’ve heard of them, but we didn’t have them back home. Are they very dangerous?” And she looks from one to the others, fierce determination on her face.

“They’re small and mean, but I’ve a feeling you’re a might bit meaner Rowan,” Lanaver chuckles.

“We simply MUST save them. It’s not FAIR!”  She thumps her tiny fist against her thigh for emphasis.  Rowan checks her gear, the long lacquered tubes of her war pipes are bound up behind Bo’s saddle, tied within easy reach.  

“And you’re right, it’s not fair… We didn’t even talk price, nine Hells you two practically paid HER to save her family. She was in no position to haggle, we would have asked for anything really.”  Lanaver rolls his eyes sarcastically.

Rowan looks to Lanaver, eyes wide with surprise and shock. “And what would she pay us with? She’s lost everything. Everything but one of her wee ones. No. We must simply help her, and if payment should come our way, so be it. If not, well, would you not want someone to help you if you were lost, alone, and bereft?”

He stutter steps in surprise, stymied by her outburst.  “I-I-I mean an I.O.U. Is really just letters and letters make up words then I guess the words ‘Thank you’ are technically worth more…”

She looks sadly at him, eyes brimming with unshed tears. “I cannot even imagine what she must be feeling. It is too much. I care not for payment if an innocent is in such terrible need.” And she turns her head, trying to hide her tears, as she leans forward to hug Bo’s neck.

“It was just a joke,” he desperately fumbles for the proper words.  “Sorry… I don’t know what it’s like to lose a family member… I’ve never had one to lose.”

Rowan raises her tear-stained face to Lanaver and says quietly, “No family? None at all? Oh, you poor, dear man!” She steps to Lanaver’s side and looks up at him. “No one should be without family, Lanaver, no one. They are annoying and fretful and wonderful all at the same time, and sometimes you wish they were gone, but then you lay down at night and know that you are loved and cherished. Someone to play with, and learn from, and that they’ll always care.

“You and I have much in common, and I like you. I will be your family. Lean down please.” She gives him a light kiss on his cheek. “There. You’re now my brother.” She looks solemn for a brief moment, and then her sunny disposition comes back to the fore. “Gods know we have more in common than me and Raun, and you’re ever so much smarter!” She pats his hand and laughs. “It’s good to have another brother.”

“A brother huh? I could get used to that,” Lanaver blushes slightly from her kind words and gestures.

“Yes, Goblins are dangerous but it’s more due to their numbers than their prowess.”  Sebastian interjects, trying to bypass the awkwardness.  “They like to overwhelm enemies in a swarm or else send arrows flying from concealment.  Unless they’re cornered the ones I’ve fought tend to run when the battle isn’t overwhelmingly in their favor.”

The clatter of a wagon announces Millivent’s arrival. “I won’t stay away while my man and my babies are in danger.”  She says, waving away the protest she knows is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. “I’m safer with you lot on the road then alone in Starvale by myself.  You saw what those ruffian Starshield guards were like.  If you hadn’t come along I’d like as not be in jail for blocking the road or sommat.”

Tuskor stops on the doorstep of the inn, twigs and grass tangled in his beard and hair.  He had been performing some morning meditation in a small patch of short trees that had once been a vacant lot and now was billed as a city park.  Whether it was done for civic enhancement or simply out of the lack of desire to use if for anything else was up for debate, but the Dwarf liked having some connection to nature in the city.

He joined his companions, climbing aboard the wagon after greeting the mules and they set off for Millivent’s farm.  The trip took a little over an hour and passed mostly in nervous silence.  The party asked few questions once it became clear that she had really already communicated what she knew.  She didn’t know how many goblins there were, other than that it looked like there were too many to count.

“My husband Haldred, our daughters Alleena and Kithian, our sons Quayle and Volland, and six hired hands were at the farm when the attack took place.”  She says, tears welling up in her eyes again, “Now they’re all missing.”

“Missing is better than dead but we must be swift.”  Lanaver said, looking about at the profusion of tracks on the swampy ground.

“From the look of these trails I would estimate that about a dozen prisoners were dragged away from here.”  He says, after a quick inspection.  “The prints in the mud show that more than a dozen goblin-sized creatures passed through here today.  I’m fairly certain at least one larger-sized creature also walked with the goblins, although I haven’t seen this kind of tracks before.”

“I wonder what the larger one is, Hobgoblin, Bugbear…what do you all think?” he asks as he rises from his inspection.  “More than a dozen little green bastards and something bigger than any of us…”

Tuskor has been looking at the tracks too, but not in the detached, analytical way Lanaver has been.  The Dwarf crawls from place to place, sniffing and even tasting some of the mud.  He doesn’t seem to notice the wet or muck, totally intent and focused on his investigation.  Rising from the farmyard, he spits sideways with an expression of distaste on his face.

“Bugbear, or I’m a bearded gnome.”  

Hajima opens his wooden case and pulls out the heavy crossbow, locking the arms into position and loading the first deadly bolt. From his pack, he removes a pair of quivers bristling with crossbow bolts. Strapping the quivers onto his thighs in easy reach and checking the rapier in his sheath, Hajima then looks grimly at the group.

“Whether they have a new big brother or not, those little vermin will soon be taught the error of their ways. No farmstead will be in danger while we are here to stop them, especially if the local guard are unwilling to protect these civilians. Let’s rescue the farmers without delay. If we hurry, we may be able to catch the goblins before an ill fate befalls their captives.” With that, he moves swiftly to follow the tracks with Lanaver, always scanning his surroundings for ambush or further signs of the victims.

Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 5

At an hour past midnight, they all sit around the fireplace, warming their outsides with the flames and their insides with mulled wine.  After another hour goes by, the mysterious harper appears in the Boiling Kettle.  He carefully takes the dragon egg, unwrapping it with anticipation in his eyes.  He sighs in disgust and the eager look on his face turns sour.

“Alas, the egg is a fake. A trap no less, designed to be thrown, exploding in a blinding light when it smashes on the ground.”  He runs his fingers through his gray hair, “Perhaps a it was intended to be a safeguard for the elven seller should her deception go ill.”

Lanaver raised an eyebrow, either in interest or skepticism.  “Could prove helpful in the future, may we keep it?”

He pauses, pulling six small sacks that clink with the welcome sound of gold and silver.  He also produces a glass bottle the size of an apple and says, “It looks as if your party could use some rest and healing.  For completing the mission to the letter and adapting to the changed circumstances I gift you this potion, also.  The pin you planted will help us track the smugglers.”

He sets the potion on the table and gives Lanaver a circumspect look. “As for the egg, I should like to take it to aid my organization, unless I could be persuaded otherwise.  Although I must warn you, we have seen an increased interest in all things related to dragons. We have also heard of more dragon sightings in the region of the Drakenmore Sea and beyond. Keep your eyes and ears open for further information on dragons. It might save your life. If you take this egg, you will surely be pursued by the Welcomers or even the cult itself!”

Rowan listens carefully to the conversation, and is visibly disappointed when told that the egg is fake. “I think that the Weavers should keep the egg. They know far more than we do about what is going on, and can make better use of it. If we’re to put ourselves in danger, let it be for something of more use than a fake egg.”

She shrugs, fatigue and disappointment momentarily dulling her usual enthusiasm. She looks earnestly, and a little fiercely at the Weaver. “I dearly hope the pin yields valuable information. Several of my friends nearly died this night.” Taking a deep breath, and drawing herself up to her full 2′ 10″ height, she continues in a softer tone.  “However, clearly much is wrong in this place, and I for one will do my best to help make it right.”

Pausing thoughtfully, she inclines her head towards him. “How might we contact you if we learn more of dragons or other harm from this matter?” And, stifling a yawn, she listens carefully to the answer, and to anything her companions have to say.

The Weaver turns to Rowan and says, “There are Weavers here in Starvale, but it would be best if I did not give you the means to find them lest you are tailed or their position falls into the wrong hands. Rest assured, good Halfling, you are not far from the Weavers.”

As he says this, Lanaver notices the subtle motion of his fingers as he signs in Weaver hand cant “Continue your mission, agent.”

“Your organization sounds as though it seems to maintain balance, my affiliation is to my clan, but should you have any tasks I can help with, I would do so.”  With that Tuskor retires to his room, seeing nothing of interest in the pile on the table.

Hajima is definitely interested in admission to the Weavers. He misses the action of being part of a larger organization, especially if he can have more assignments like this one. He smiles and seems more cheerful than earlier in the night. “Well, the egg was false, but we handled ourselves well and succeeded within mission parameters. We even got a chance to clean up the streets a little and rid this city of a few parasites. All in all, it was a job well done.”

The Weaver turns back to Rowan and says, “You have the makings of a fine bard and a fine agent. I’m sure the Weavers would be happy to have you.  And you Hajima, your skills could be put to use with the Weavers. Both of you think on it a week. I shall return and find you then.” With that he stands, his dark cloak swirling around him and strides through the door into the night.

Hajima then looks down at the pile of weapons and other items looted from the ambushers. “Not much here that interests me except these crossbow bolts. If nobody has any use for the heavies then I’ll take those too and strip them down for spare parts.” He taps a finger to the large crossbow that is folded once more and returned to the long wooden case at his feet.

“Anything else in this loot is well earned and should go to the rest of you for such daring work tonight. We made a good team for having just met.” Hajima smiles again, an expression that doesn’t reach his eyes, and then takes up the bolts and heavy crossbows.

Lanaver grabs a dagger from the pile, checking the balance with an expression of surprised approval. “You can never have too many knives, am I right?” he hesitates, “Sorry I didn’t get any of your names,” he quips while tumbling the blade across his fingers and turning his attention to Rowan.  “You seem the friendliest of the bunch, what do you call yourself little one?”

The talk continues and the fire burns low.  Outside, the city slumbers.  Knives flash in the moonlight and gold changes hands.  Whispers and rumors spread about dark deeds and shady dealings.

A few days of rest have served the party well.  As they rested and recovered, they realized that their wildly different abilities and styles of fighting actually blended quite well together as a team.  Additionally, although their personalities varied, it seemed as though none of them clashed.  Maybe it was their first battle that forged them together, or perhaps there was something else at work, but they found things to like about one another outside of fighting skills.

Lanaver’s wit was amusing, although often off color or caustic, and kept them smiling.  Tuskor’s silent stolidness was a comfort after the horrors of fighting in the dark.  Rowan’s music is wonderful to listen to, even when she isn’t infusing it with her arcane powers and her cheery demeanor lightens their moods.  Vellk’s sturdy presence was reassuring and Hajima’s air of focused menace made them all glad he was on their side.  Sebastian is always ready to buy a round of drinks or spin a tale of his days in the service.

This morning Briez, one of Madame Freia’s five daughters, is serving a delightful breakfast of freshly made wild berry jam on warm biscuits, scrambled eggs and bacon. Madame Freone’s famous Halfling tea and cool river water in clay pitchers are welcome additions to the meal, and perhaps much needed after the ale and wine-flowing of last night. The dawn sunlight is slowly creeping over the waking town of Starvale and creeps through the rooms of the Boiling Kettle.

“My sisters and I picked the berries ourselves,” says the young Halfling woman, sweeping her long black hair out of her face. “Some say the wild berries in this area are-” Before Briez can finish her thought, shrieking erupts from the street outside the Boiling Kettle. While the words are mostly unintelligible, but  “help” and “family” are loud and distinct.

Rowan is smiling up at Briez, liking her enthusiasm, and very much enjoying the homey breakfast, when the shrieking causes her to start. She leaps to her feet, dropping her biscuit onto her plate, and runs outside to see what the matter is.

Vellk hearing the panicked words and thinking of his own family jumps and heads for the door, covering the distance in three quick strides.

Lanaver hurries after them, “There better be a grand reason my breakfast is getting cold.” he scowls, surreptitiously checking the various daggers he has hidden about his person.

The disturbance is a half block away, townsfolk are rushing to assist a middle-aged human woman. She has collapsed in the middle of the road, crying hysterically, clutching an infant boy in her arms.  Two weary mules are harnessed a small wagon, obviously belonging to the distraught woman, which is now holding up the traffic of the morning thoroughfare.  A trio of Starshield Guards are standing nearby, trying to get her to move out of the way by helpfully poking her with the butts of their polearms.

Vellk looks around to see if he notices any one running away, or obviously looking suspicious.  Lanaver, catching on to what the big warrior is doing, fans out across the street to cover more ground.  When no immediate threat can be seen, Vellk crosses his arms over his chest, allowing his right hand to rest on the handle of his axe.  The slim rogue lounges against a shop wall, his stance deceptively relaxed, but his hand is near a dagger’s hilt.

Rowan squats down to examine the boy and the woman, speaking soft words of comfort. “What is it good woman?  Are either of you injured?  There now, you’re safe.”

Seeing that there isn’t any need to stand guard, Vellk goes back to The Boiling Kettle to get a mug of warm tea for the woman.  If she had been dealing with warriors of some kind, his presence might make the trauma harder to overcome.

Although worn, weary and obviously distraught, there are no signs of wounds on the woman or child. After Rowan’s soft words of comfort the woman starts to speak. Her name is Millivent Moss. Her family farms peat from a bog about an hour from Starvale. Earlier this morning her husband and children, as well as a few hired hands, were attacked by goblins.

She was able to leap onto a wagon and escape with her youngest child Bo, still an infant. She drove away quickly, turning just long enough to see goblins dragging people away to the east. It looks like they were still alive, perhaps being taken captive.

She beseeches you, “Please! Someone to come to my family’s aid, rescue them if possible” As she finishes relaying information, two Starshield guards, in black livery and scale mail, wielding halberds, approach. At this time, Vellk emerges from the Boiling Kettle and attempts to soothe the woman, with warm tea.

The Starshield guards begin ordering people to stop blocking traffic on the street. When Millivent tells them her story, they roll their eyes, sigh, and say that their jurisdiction lay only within the city itself and that she should seek aid elsewhere.

“It ain’t our job to police outside the walls of Starvale.  Every bumpkin with a grudge would have us bringing his neighbor up on charges of stealing his livestock.”  Their captain says laconically.  “The city has bounty for adventurers who wanna take such like on.  Maybe you can find sommat who’ll help ya out.  Merc guild or else put a notice on the board in The Boiling Kettle.”