While setting up their bedrolls for a good night’s rest in Cragmaw Castle’s banquet hall (where at least three goblins continued to boil in a cauldron of elf-ear soup), Zerok overheard the sound of angry goblinoid voices talking in the castle’s entryway, where they had slain many of the Cragmaws only a few hours earlier. With both Himo and Zerok having nearly entirely depleted their ability to access the Weave, the party discussed alternative ways of avoiding the goblins – though Zerok reminded them that their noise had made the surrounding Neverwinter Wood a no doubt less friendly place as well. Dug decided to chance a peak at the newcomers, peeking her head around a doorway – however, the four hobgoblins leading two wolves were alert to trouble, and immediately spotted her. Dug spouted some aggressive, intimidatory claims at them, causing the hobgoblins to look at each other in disbelief for a moment as the diminutive halfling accosted them, though when she fled around the corner to her friends they soon followed her.
The leading hobgoblin, a large brute calling himself Targor Bloodsword, initially came in making bold claims that he would swiftly kill the four intruders in his domain, but his confidence quickly dissipated when the four began to taunt him with tales of their own battle prowess, stained in goblin blood and standing by a large cauldron filled with slowly emulsifying goblin fat, with Dug’s scathing words cutting the hobgoblins morale to pieces. Targor, completely demoralized by this, quickly led a tactical retreat, backing out of the room without a further word. When Zerok summoned the sounds of lightning and thunder using his thaumaturgy invocation, the hobgoblins all out fled the Castle.
Watching them flee, the four spotted a donkey waiting for them outside the castle. It was the same donkey they had taken with them after liberating it from the orcs of Wyvern Tor. Amazed at the donkey’s presence, the four decided they would name the beast, and eventually settled on the name Paul Smith. Barry barked his approval.
Finally ready to get some rest again, Zerok decided it was past time Gundren Rockseeker was brought to his senses. Using his last reserves of Host’s divine power for the day, the gold dwarf healed the shield dwarf’s wounds, and a spluttering Gundren came back to consciousness. The dwarf, speaking in a thick northern Felbarr accent that amused the four greatly, thanked them for his rescue, blessing them with oaths to various dwarven gods. Once assured they had already managed to recover his map to Wave Echo Cave, the dwarf relaxed a bit more, though he expressed worry about his two brothers, Tharden and Nundro Rockseeker, who he had left behind to guard the cave entrance. The drow known as the Black Spider had orchestrated his own capture, and he worried that his brothers might have met a similar, or even worse fate. Nevertheless, nothing could be done then and there, so Gundren, given the recovered armour and blade of Sildar Hallwinter (that was a touch too big for him, but workable), turned to the four to see what they next planned to do.
The choice was not initially clear. Dug expressed a desire to return to Thundertree, where they had heard mention of someone called “Seaskipper”, her own last name. Crag agreed they should return, though for a different reason – he wished to slay the green dragon that had taken up residence there. Himo and Zerok, meanwhile, were less keen, and preferred to return to Phandalin. Gundren, trying to be helpful, added that Sildar might aid them if they wished to take on the dragon, though the four expressed doubt that the old knight would be inclined to help them at this point. In the end, Zerok suggested they leave their fate in the hands of the goddess Tymora, and they flipped a coin. After finally getting a good night’s rest, back to Phandalin they headed.
On the trail leading away from Cragmaw Castle through Neverwinter Wood, the three dwarves, the elf, and the halfling once again ran into Targor Bloodsword and his three hobgoblin companions. This time, however, they were frozen in a pose in fear, turned to stone. While they debated what sort of creature could do such a thing, Himo positing perhaps a medusa, Crag wasted no time and began to attach ropes to the statue of Targor Bloodsword so that he could drag it back to Phandalin. The statue weighed over half a tonne, but that did not deter the shield dwarf of ogre-like strength, and the five moved on, though their speed the rest of their journey would be significantly slowed.
After a slow, relaxing stroll across the rolling plains surrounding the Triboar Trail, the five finally arrived back in Phandalin. No sooner had they walked into the town square, a young Pip Stonehill ran up to Himo, whom he had developed with a bond with after eating mud together a couple of weeks prior, and informed him that both Halia Thornton and Sildar Hallwinter wished to speak with them. He claimed that the usual message-runner, Carp Alderleaf had gotten him to do it because the young halfling was too scared of the four after run-ins with the aggressive sides of both Crag and Dug. He also bid hello to Gundren Rockseeker, who had become acquainted with the Stonehills during his time in the area. Before he ran off, the four informed him that “Gus” didn’t exist, which greatly confused the boy.
While the four discussed what to do next, Gundren bid them a temporary farewell, while he asked around town about his brothers. He also up 25 gold each to the four should they discover what had happened to the two dwarves themselves. As an aside, Gundren also mentioned that if they should end up going to Wave Echo Cave, he would offer them 10% of his future mining operation there should they clear it out of whatever lurked inside – as well as free access to any loot that remained since the collapse 500 years ago, including access to the Forge of Spells. An agreement was struck, and the dwarf headed off to the Stonehill Inn to make his own enquiries.
Sildar ended up being the four’s first port of call. The old knight’s demeanour had changed drastically since he was coerced into marrying the young Nilsa Dendrar only 9 days prior at the bidding of the group. He appeared sullen, for once not even mentioning his time in Waterdeep’s Griffon Cavalry, handing over a small coffer filled with gold pieces for their service clearing Cragmaw Castle. He subsequently gruffly informed them that he had received word from Neverwinter further detailing the exploits of the one known as the Black Spider – the drow had operated as a spy, assassin, and mercenary to the highest bidder in Neverwinter for many years, until disappearing from the scene five years ago. He offered the four a job, remarking that all since all they seemed to be interested in was blood and gold – the Lords’ Alliance would pay 250 gold pieces for managing to bring in the Black Spider alive.
When the four began to question his fall in mood, Sildar remarked that he had little reason to be happy now. He had been forced into marriage with a woman barely eighteen that bore him no affection, and spent all her time with her mother and brother. All Nilsa had said to him since Iarno’s death had been the words “I do”, and nothing more. Zerok, Crag and Dug continued to give him reasons for why he should be happy – efforts which seemed more like baiting to Himo, who simply threw his hands into the air and walked outside. Soon Crag and Zerok would lose interest as well, and went off into the town. Dug however was more persistent, and began to encourage Sildar to make the best of the situation and try to create at least a talking relationship with his new wife. Buffeted by her words of persuasion, Sildar found himself hearing reason from the halfling, and agreed he would do such a thing – even going so far as thanking Dug for her words.
Himo, meanwhile, had set off to the Stonehill Inn to have a couple of ales so he could forget their interaction with Sildar, which seemed only to bring more grief. Crag had soon followed the sun elf out into the town, and erected the petrified figure of the hobgoblin Targor Bloodsword on top of the town square’s fountain. The dwarf proceeded to slowly march around the fountain, dragging his skull-headed maul along it’s edge, simply repeating the word “dragon”, maddeningly over and over again. The townsfolk, already mightily fearful of Crag, left the town square post-haste, and begin to peer curiously at the dwarf from the safety of their window shutters. This was the sight Zerok saw when he too left the earlier conversation, though he pretended to not have seen Crag and wandered straight on past.
Zerok decided to go to the Miner’s Exchange, and find out what Halia Thornton had wanted to speak to them about. Halia beckoned the gold dwarf into her back room, and put a proposal to Zerok. The four members of the former Redbrands that he and his friends had seen imprisoned, she claimed, had apparently repented for their crimes, praying to the gods Torm and Tyr for forgiveness. Halia, Guildmaster of the Mining Exchange, explained that she believed their lives could be put to better use serving as guards for the fledging Mining Exchange than rotting in the town’s cells. All she wanted of Zerok was to talk Sildar, now sheriff of the town, into seeing her point of view, as they still had some sway with the old knight. In return she promised he and his friends would be more than adequately compensated. When Zerok questioned if she truly believed they were repentant, Halia claimed that she would speak for the truth of their claims in front of the gods herself. However, Zerok caught a glimpse of an ulterior motive in the way the Guildmaster spoke, and suspected she did not in fact truly believe they were repentant, and wished to use the four for some other reason. Infuriated with being lied to, Zerok simply marched out of the Mining Exchange, leaving a shocked Halia simply standing there.
Before long, the four adventurers were reunited in the town square and discussing their next move. Himo and Zerok still advocated heading on to Wave Echo Cave, whereas Crag and Dug wished to return to Thundertree. Once again, the four placed the decision in Tymora’s hands in the form of a flipped coin – and it was decided they would return to Thundertree to find this halfling that shared Dug’s family name – Seaskipper.
Early in the morning after two and a half days of solid travel, the four arrived back in Thundertree. They firstly met up with the druid Reidoth, who had spent his time since they last saw him clearing out the western side of town of plant monsters and ash zombies. He was glad that the four had returned, as things had apparently been heating up in town – the “folk in leather masks” on the other side of town had apparently approached the green dragon lairing in the town’s tower no less than twice – and left again, apparently no worse for wear. The druid was unsure what to make of it, but re-expressed his desire to see the green dragon driven off as quickly as possible – though he made it clear it would be a difficult and quite possibly deadly task, though he promised to help protect the group’s lives somewhat by using druidic magic that would lessen the effect of the dragon’s poisonous breath. The four mentioned that they would be back to help him at some point later, which he thanked them for, and they headed off for the eastern part of town to find the cultists, whom they believed harboured the halfling known as “Seaskipper”.
In the centre of town however, blocking their passage, were large spider webs crisscrossing the overgrown pathway. Suspecting them to be spider-constructed but seeing or hearing none of the creatures, Himo stepped up to take a sample, and immediately two giant spiders the size of horses crawled over the ruins of a nearby building to attack. One bit into Himo, though the elf fought off the effects of the spiders venom, while the other spat web out of it’s mouth at Crag. The spider seemed confused as to why the web came out of its mouth however, and missed the dwarf by quite a margin, and the web continued to spill maddeningly out of its mouth as it crazily tried to catch some of it and put it back in. Meanwhile, the other spider had been swiftly crushed by the weight of Crag’s maul, and the web-spewing spider deciding to make a run for it – he would not get far however, falling to one of Crag’s javelins moments later. The four decided to rest for an hour inside the ruins the spiders had made their lair, discovering a dead wood elf the spiders had cocooned – who Crag proceeded to urinate on.
After resting up, the four continued into the eastern part of town, Zerok hastening their look for the halfling by casting an augury. That drew them through southeastern part of town, were they found the fine emerald necklace Mirna Dendrar had told them about in her family’s ruined herb and alchemy shop, as well as a couple of ash zombies inside a ruined smithy, whom they quickly slew. Before long, they found themselves at a farmhouse that was still relatively intact, though all its windows appeared to have been recently shuttered. Zerok used his thaumaturgy to try the door, but it was barred from the other side – though the rattling triggered a shout of “Go away! Leave us alone!” from inside.
With a few choice words, Dug managed to persuade a human named Favric to exit the building – dressed head to toe in black leather and wearing a leather mask. She immediately began to ask him about the halfling named Seaskipper, whom Favric initially denied having seen – though Dug eventually persuaded him to be truthful or face her wrath. After all, she only wanted to talk to him. Pausing for a moment to judge the situation, Favric eventually reentered the house, and a few minutes later out came a halfling dressed in the same attire (though fitted to his size). Immediately upon seeing Dug the halfling’s jaw dropped wide open, and he simply stuttered out her name questioningly. There was no doubt in Dug’s mind either, this was the brother she had not seen in 16 years – Perrin Seaskipper.
Perrin, although initially obviously overjoyed to see Dugan, quickly descended into fear as he questioned how she had found him – was she here to kill him? “They” had sent her to take revenge, surely! He claimed to have not meant it, it wasn’t supposed to happen… Dug initially had no idea what he was talking about it, and Perrin himself began to look confused – did she not blame him for the fire that had consumed their parents? It wasn’t his fault, he swore. Suddenly less pleased to see her brother, with a rapidly darkening demeanour Dug demanded to know the full truth of what had happened that night, and Perrin sheepishly obliged.
“It wasn’t supposed to happen like that… they were supposed to get out! I was just a kid, I wanted to be like our parents – go on important missions, infiltrate, steal from and kill the badguys like they did. I wanted to be a part of that world, but they said I was too young to join them. I dreamed of showing them what I could do. The ”/wikis/half-elves" class=“wiki-page-link”> half-elf, Silifrae, she came and slowly tried to recruit me into this Cult of the Dragon. I thought I could get the upper-hand on her, gain information by parents could use. But I had to get close, and as part of the initiation she wanted me to burn down my family home to severe my ties. I didn’t want to, but it was my only way in! I set the fires, then made really, really loud noises outside to wake you all up so you could escape. It must have worked, because you’re here, right? I don’t understand why they didn’t hear it, I don’t understand. They should have been able to get out… they should have been able to get out, I swear it Dug!"
Dug uttered a curse and bid Perrin answer what this Cult of the Dragon was, and what he was still doing with them. “I returned to the Cult headquarters to find us under attack by people allied with our parents, all wearing Harp pins just like they did.” At this point Himo whispered under his breath – Harpers. Perrin continued: “They were there to kill me in revenge, I knew it. ”/wikis/favric" class=“wiki-page-link”>Favric, he helped me get out and escape to Triboar – he’s the only reason I’m still alive. The rest of the Neverwinter cell was completely wiped out…" At that point Dug cut him short, and bid Perrin to help them defeat the Cult, assuring him she would not kill him. Perrin did not hesitate in pledging himself to her, having believed his only family was dead or wanted to kill him for the previous 16 years. However, he begged Dugan to not make him kill Favric as she appeared to intend, as the human was the only reason he was still alive and had gotten through the last decade and a half. Dug however would have none of it – if he was truly repentant, he would help her destroy the cult and kill Favric, to which Perrin reluctantly agreed.
At this point the four, now five companions entered the farmhouse to confront Favric and the five remaining cultists. When they demanded to know what they Cult was doing in Thundertree, Favric obliged – they were here to treat with the green dragon. When questioned about his role in the Neverwinter Cell, Favric claimed that they were betrayed from within – possibly by the half-elf that had recruited Perrin, Silifrae. Dug riposted that she and her companions were here to slay the dragon, and that they had better either help her fight it, or die. Favric denied her, claiming that they had not come all the way from Triboar to treat with the mighty Venomfang (revealing the dragon’s name) to turn back now. The true believers of the Cult of the Dragon know that dragon’s once ruled the world, and wish to see that world come again once more. Favric would never give up his beliefs. Nevertheless, Dug continued to intimidate the other cultists into joining her – causing three of them to abandon the Cult, claiming that treating with a dragon was madness to begin with. At this point, Himo threw up his hands and left he farmhouse, beginning to build an “ashcastle” out of ash outside. One of the humans, named Benne, informed Dug that Favric had three diamonds as well that they should not let him keep. Seeing the betrayal of their comrades, Favric and the remaining two cultists realised they had lost, and would likely lose their lives if they did not retreat quickly. They retreated from the farmhouse and fled, leaving their leather masks behind on Dug’s orders.
Now Dug believed she had not only been reunited with her long-lost brother, but had also recruited three other cultists to help slay the dragon. While Benne expressed willingness to follow her after a courage-filled speech given by the lightfoot halfling, the other two humans, Madian and Hallen, continued to express their view that an attack on the dragon was suicidal, claiming under no circumstances they would partake in a suicide mission. Enraged, Dug threatened to brand them with a large “D”, which she wished to mark them as dragon cultists. Hallen screamed in fear, claiming she was pregnant, but that did not deter the halfling. Eventually the two humans submitted to that fate, which they deemed preferable to death by the poisonous breath of a green dragon. Forever branded, they fled from Thundertree. As they fled, Dug came to the realisation that her rage had partially blinded her from the fact they had in fact abandoned the Cult of the Dragon already, and were not in fact cultists any more at all. Immediately regretting her actions, she yelled out apologies after the two who continued to flee for their very lives. Meanwhile, Benne tried to convince the group that they should mark all their enemies in such a way, which began to trigger doubts about his integrity, to say the least.
While they discussed whether or not to take on the green dragon, Crag, Dug, Himo, Zerok, Perrin, and Benne proceeded into the town square, with the intent of clearing the rest of the town out of plant monsters and zombies and checking for any valuables. After a fight with ash zombies where Benne did nothing but throw a single rock missing the zombies by a large margin, the party began to regret allowing the human to accompany them. It was also apparent that Benne was decidedly evil, and not of a point-of-view that would be useful to the group, and they bade him leave. Benne simply shrugged and went on his way. The five remaining companions proceeded to clear out a nearby ruin infested with twig blights, and then continued to debate whether or not to take on the dragon, Venomfang.