[6 Kythorn 1372]
As the adventurers start down the long corridor in search of more orc defenders, Ralkin suddenly stops and announces that he has changed his mind: he will escort Katanya and Flindle to Silverymoon after all. He is tired of their whining, he says, and disappointed in the lack of quality traps in these caverns that might truly take advantage of his skills. Mellia is worried about the group adventuring underground without a skilled trap-finder, but Aloysius volunteers for the dangerous duty. Mellia asks Ralkin to have Katanya leave word for her at a prominent inn in Silverymoon so that the two can exchange spells someday.
With Ralkin gone, Aloysius takes the lead. He removes a lit torch from his pack and tosses it down the corridor near the point where part of the corridor branches off to the west. There, in the flickering pool of light, the shadow of a slowly approaching figure can be discerned: a hobgoblin! The hobgoblin, middle-aged, injured, and advancing with the aid of a walking stick, calls out to the wary adventurers that he intends them no harm. He announces himself as Terreck Valt'kon of Ealefik's Ward, First Tactician, and explains that he and his allies had come to Startop Mountain looking for treasure and found themselves in a series of battles. As casualties accumulated, soon only Terreck was left! Mellia immediately announces that the adventurers will assist Terreck if he can aid them in further explorations, but Fargrim is suspicious and says Terreck's band chose a dangerous place to 'look for treasure.' Aloysius calls Terreck one of the ugliest creatures he's ever seen, and advocates, perhaps jokingly, killing the hobgoblin and keeping his possessions. Mellia reprimands Aloysius, stating that the group are not bandits and will not go about robbing and murdering.
The adventurers continue down the corridor and soon see a foreboding scene: two mining carts have been overturned, and a slave is kneeling with his head down on each cart, and behind each slave is an orc with a large morningstar at the ready. Standing in front of the carts is a pole stuck into a crevice in the rock floor, flying a dirty white tabard. Next to the pole is a dusky-skinned human wearing the frayed and dirty clothing of a slave. The human states in a precise, somewhat exotic accent that his name is Abu Joral and that he speaks on belief of his master, Tarik. He asks the adventurers who they are and why they have invaded the caverns of the White Talon tribe. Mellia and Fargrim do most of the talking in response, and relate that they have come for two things: the kidnapped human Bearos and the Crown of Horns. Joral excuses himself, disappears into what looks like a massive cavern beyond the end of the corridor, and then returns a few minutes later. He states that his master is willing to pass the requests on to a mysterious "bookkeeper" if the adventurers commit to leaving Tarik's domain should the requests be met. Mellia and Fargrim immediately agree, but Aloysius hesitates until Mellia promises him "any sum" if he goes along with the deal. Joral leaves and returns a few minutes later stating that the bookkeeper has confirmed that a crippled human slave near
Bearos is listed in his records as having passed through this area as a special delivery for Grim. Joral states that a message of inquiry will be sent to the Bleak Theatre, but that a response could take some time as the Bleak Theatre, where the "Maestro" resides, is some distance away. Fargrim snarls that the orcs have two days and, after that, all bets are off.
The adventurers return to the decrepit keep on the surface of Startop Mountain. On the way, Aloysius tries to slip away, presumably to investigate the side corridor below where Terreck was seen coming from, but the gnome is spotted and Mellia insists he take no actions that will put the pending truce with the orcs at risk, and explains that, ultimately, the life of her daughter is at risk.
The adventurers rest and take care of some chores the rest of the day. Sha'dar repairs some broken arrow shafts and tries to make friends with Aloysius' cat. Cain tries (and fails) to repair a damaged short sword. Terreck reveals that he carries a tiny ankheg with him. After Aloysius relieves himself in public, Mellia reprimands him and says the gnome is crossing lines civilized people do not cross and that he should change his ways or leave. Aloysius replies that his strange ways have helped to keep the group alive, but Mellia demands he stay away from her. Later, Fargrim tries to make peace by taking Aloysius aside.
That night, while standing watch, Aloysius tries to repay Cain for earlier dousing his cat with water by playing a prank on him. In the middle of it, however, the sound of shifting rock and an odd chittering can be heard in the next room. Suddenly, massive fire beetles emerge from the room's rubble-filled pit and swarm toward the adventurers. The adventurers quickly dispose of the threat, but not before the group's orc prisoner is devoured. After the fight, Fargrim threatens Aloysius about the gnome's having included the dwarf in the radius of a massive fire spell. Undeterred, Aloysius replies that Fargrim should have gotten out of the way. The gnome and Sha'dar investigate the rubble pit, but find little of interest.
[7 Kythorn 1372]
Howling winds and slanting rain rake the top of Startop Mountain as the group camps inside the partial shelter of the remnants of Startop Castle. Sha'dar whistles and a small jay flying nearby lands on his wrist. After Sha'dar whispers to it, it flies away to the south. While Mellia and Fargrim discuss what the group should do if the orcs are unable or unwilling to provide Bearos and information on the Crown of Horns, Aloysius talks Sha'dar into secretly slipping away and scouting below. However, the elf is stymied by the fact that the adventurers locked the door to the orc caverns behind them when they reached the surface and he lacks a key. When he returns, Mellia refuses to give it to him. Fargrim confronts Aloysius about the gnome's conniving, stating he's tired of his mischief and will kill him if he gets out of line anymore. Aloysius spends the rest of the dreary day intently studying a scroll, as does Terreck. Cain manages to repair his shortsword, and the party rests for the night, ready to parlay with the orcs the next day.
[8 Kythorn 1372]
The night passes without incident, and the group wakes and prepares for the day ahead.
Director's Commentary (June 13, 2015)
This session sees Ralkin's player deciding to run another character, and the kenku depart the campaign. But only for a little while, as (we'll soon find out) Terreck is not long for the Realms. When Ralkin eventually comes back, he sticks around for a long time. You can see the tension between Terreck and Aloysius, and I'm afraid some of that may have rubbed off on (or been caused by) the players themselves not exactly being the best of friends :)
I was happy with how the scene with Abu Joral (a PC I played very briefly in a past adventure) and the orcs played out. After the orc chieftan was massacred in a previous session, I had to figure out what forces were left on this level, who would take control, and whether they would flight or flee. At this point, the PCs could have easily fought through what few defenders the orcs had left, but the PCs didn't know that. The decision to bargain rather than fight had major repercussions for the campaign, as we'll see soon.