With the abomination defeated, the party heads back to the surface. True to his word, Jonn summons a thunderous wave of magic, and collapses the stone cave entrance. Laeryth carves a quick elven word of warning into the stone.
After a half days ride, the fellows see the walls of Cartha. Guards keeping watch race down the tower stairs, and by the time the gates are reached, the Curator Orson stands waiting. Lenk nods at the elderly man, who turns and heads towards the museum.
Once inside, he asks to see the Artifact, and Laeryth presents it to him.
“Most excellent. You have my thanks, and the thanks of Lord Bryce.” From a chest on the floor, he tosses each adventurer a bag filled with gold coins. “I trust you’ll find that a generous reward for your efforts. But here’s the true prize.” From a fold in his robes he produces a stack of letters, sealed with blue wax, and hands one to each of them. “Present these at the gates of Jestril. You’ve earned the right to claim the Grey; make your living in the realm as adventurers.”
“We need to leave now. Fresh horses.”
“Ah yes … Bann. I suppose that could be arranged.”
“First, I have questions, if you don’t mind.” Lenk glances around the room, asking the others to clear out. Firrian lingers anyway, so Lenk takes Orson down a hallway. When they return, Lenk has a concerned look but says nothing.
Khalsig steps inside to ask another question. “Curator, is there a name you could give us? Someone in Jestril to speak to once we’ve arrived. An ally.”
“I’m afraid I left Jestril with very few friends intact. I’m the Curator of a Museum of Dead Artifacts, if that answers your question.”
The party heads to the temple of Avandra. Laeryth takes the remains of the young priest from his horse and walks them inside.
The high priest kneels at an altar on the far side of the church, deep in prayer, but he hears the adventurers approach and rises to greet them.
“Ah yes, this is young Clement. He had become foolhardy, spening his time with a young mage from Jestril. Thank you for returning him to us.”
The priest turns to the dwarf cleric. “It does my heart good to see a follower of the Raven Queen serve his Goddess well. You may have noticed that your kind receives a cold welcome among the men of Tarsis? Seek Saltmarsh, along the eastern coast of the Lake of Moons, if you’d seek answers.” Reaching into a pouch at his belt, he pulls forth a small silver disk. “I’d hoped to give this to Clement upon his return. Perhaps you should have it.” He hands the disk to the Dwarf, takes the cloak-wrapped remains, and turns from the party. “If you’ll excuse me?”
The party readies their new horses and rides from Cartha. After riding through the night and most of the next day, they find a road side tavern to stay for the night. No one there has seen anyone matching Bann’s description, not to mention his Tiefling ally, but the ale is cold and the beds plentiful.
Halfway through a day’s ride to Jestril, the party comes upon the signs of a struggle in the dusty road. Horse tracks have trampled around a patch of ground, and several humanoid footprints surround it. Recent drops of blood are scattered on the road, and the trail leads off to the north.
Following the trail leads to a clearing in the forest. In the center, a horse and its rider lay in the tall grass. Laeryth spies a goblin on the far side of the clearing, leaning around a wide oak tree with a crossbow at the ready. He and Firrian quietly circle around, but halfway to the hiding goblin, the creature hears them. Crossbow bolts whiz through the trees, and the party charges the shooters, now two goblins behind the tree.
Once Jonn is in the clearing, however, a handful of goblins charge, slicing at him with short swords and whooping in goblin tongue. Lenk charges the goblin crossbowmen, skewering one with his sword. Khalsig falls in behind the big half-orc, and soon the party is in a heated battle with the goblins. Which, of course, is when the Hobgoblin slinking in the far woods decided to charge at the parties flank.
The hobgoblin lands a blow to Lenk’s shoulder with his mace, but Khalsig is quick with a Healing Word. Jonn finds himself surrounded, but Firrian and Laeryth weave through the clearing, slashing at goblins until the party can turn their attention to the Hobgoblin, who doesn’t last long. Lenk clips the beast at the temple with the broad side of his longsword.
As luck would have it, Bann was responsible for the death of the messenger after all. Coming upon the hungry band of goblins, Bann offered to spare their lives if they’d watch the road and assault any riders moving at speed. They tied up the hobgoblin and got back on the road.
In Jestril, the party makes their way through the Free Quarter, the outer circle of the city, built by commoners who pay taxes to the Council for the right to live and work in the city. At the gates, the guards eye the party with a fair amount of skepticism, but the sight of the letters from Cartha is enough to get them an escort into the Merchant Quarter, the outermost ring of Jestril within the cities’ walls. The guards take the hobgoblin off their hands, assuring the party that the creature will be dealt with.
A man in livery exists the gate tower, and leads the group to The Horn of Valir, the tavern in the Merchant Quarter where members of the Grey take up residence while in the city. The cupboards are bare, but the place has the looks of a fine base of operations.