He apologizes deeply to the group for having led them on this journey; forcing them, as he put it, “to rescue an old man from his folly.”
Much commotion is made about Douven’s return, and Salvana tends to his wounds, demonstrating an unexpected expertise in the art.
Douven, however, wants to know about the mirror found at the dragon’s burial site – do they have it?
When Theo produces it from his pack, Douven nods. This was the object he had sought.
An older man in scholarly robes sitting alone in the inn looks on with unconcealed interest when the mirror is produced.
As Theo removes the mirror from his pack, a chill passes through his body. The object feels unnaturally cold.
What is it, he asks Douven. “It’s a magnet for trouble, that’s what it is,” Huxley offers. Douven looks at them both, not disagreeing. “Better if we discuss it in private,” he tells them.
The group retires for the night, Theo sharing a room with Douven.
That night, Theo’s dreams are dark, disturbing. He awakens without memory of the details, but recalls flashes of a dark, windswept place, and a distinct sense of being watched, or watched for. He awakens with a shiver.
Douven is already awake, looking and acting healthier than he had the day before. Theo takes this opportunity to ask him pointedly about the mirror. What is it, he wants to know.
Douven appears reluctant to tell him, but then seems to resign himself. “I had thought to deal with this myself,” he tells Theo. “Recent events have shown me that this is not to be. My adventuring days are past me.” Regret, but perhaps some small measure of relief as well, seems to flush across his face as he says this. He sighs. “I will tell you what I know,” he tells Theo, “though it isn’t much.”
Otrygg and the Dragon
Centuries ago, Douven tells him, when the Empire of Nerath was still at its height, a wizard named Otrygg lived, amassing immense knowledge and power over the course of his long life. Douven had read the name many times in many arcane texts, many of which had been copied from Otrygg’s own extensive personal library, but as the years went on, some of the things he read disturbed him. Douven came to suspect that as death approached, Otrygg had taken the foul steps to continue his existence in undeath.
Douven devoted many further years to finding out what he could of Otrygg’s later life, and any account at all of his death. He learned little, until he came upon a description of the fabled Nentir Dragon; a creature, well-known from many tales and histories, which had wreaked destruction across the land decades ago. In this account, however, he found for the first time the suggestion that the dragon might not have been acting of its own accord, but had been controlled. What captured his attention was the name of the dragon’s supposed master, Otrygg.
As the story told it, Otrygg had given the dragon an obsidian mirror as tribute, and the dragon wore it around its neck as a pendant. Douven suspects that the mirror may have been the means by which this control was effected.
The text indicated a possible resting place for the remains of the Dragon, and Douven resolved to seek out this site, and see whether he might find this artifact with the remains.
If he found it, that artifact – the mirror now in Theo’s possession, might provide a means by which it could be determined whether Otrygg still existed, and where he might be found.
“I had thought,” Douven continues, “to see this to the end myself.” “I now realize how foolish that was. It pains me to ask this of one so young, but this must be done. We must learn whether this abomination exists and destroy it if it does. Will you take up this mantle from an old man,” he asked. Theo nods – of course he will.
“Do you know how to use it,” Theo then asks Douven, considering the mirror. “No,” Douven replies, “I had planned to travel to Fallcrest and seek out a more experienced scholar than myself to learn what to do next.”
Douven puts his hand on Theo’s shoulder. “Be careful, my boy,” he tells him.
Douven suddenly stands and suggests that their friends are probably waiting for them in the common room, and the pair shortly heads downstairs to meet the rest of the group.
Sure enough, everyone was waiting.
A New Companion
Salvana brings breakfast around, but they only enjoy a moment’s peace before a commotion arises outside. Thinking at first that an attack was underway, they soon realize that a pair of merchant’s wagons has rolled into town, and that what they’re hearing is the sound of farmers and townspeople excited by the rare opportunity to buy wares not made or grown by their own hands.
Finishing their breakfast, they step outside to see what’s going on. Sure enough, two brightly painted wagons are here, with merchants busily unfolding the sides and setting up their displays, and a few caravan guards standing around, looking bored.
One of the guards, though, isn’t like the rest. Most of these are the usual sorts of riff-raff who wind up walking alongside caravans on dusty roads – thugs and washed-up soldiers, armed with little more than a sharpened piece of metal generously called a sword, but on this morning, an Eladrin woman stands among them. At least, this is what Theo and Huxley believe, having never seen such a being outside of their imaginations from the stories.
Even just standing there, watching the goings on in the crowd, she exudes an otherworldly elegance and grace. Her armor is exquisitely tooled, and the bow slung across her back looks as though it might have been fashioned by the gods themselves. Against her forehead hangs a simple golden leaf, impossibly delicate, suspended by a golden circlet. Somehow, even here amid the crowd and the dust, she seems to stand above it all.
“We need to hire her,” Theo tells Huxley. “We can’t take on that kobold nest alone. We need the help.” Huxley falters. Theo shoves a sack of money at his brother and gives him a push. “Come on, see if she’ll work with us,” he insists.
The eladrin sees this, and watches these goings on with amusement.
Steeling his nerve, Huxley stumbles toward her. “Tell me why you should work for us,” he blurts out, making little sense, still holding the sack of money in his hand. She looks at him but doesn’t answer, obviously confused by the question.
Ellyjole, realizing that the conversation is about to devolve quickly if she doesn’t step in, approaches the Eladrin herself.
“I’m sorry about my friend,” she tells her in the high elven tongue, “he means well. It’s just that we couldn’t help but notice one so obviously high-born as yourself working as a caravan guard, and thought perhaps that you might be willing to join our group instead. There’s a chance for better work in it, if this aligns with your wishes.”
“Ah, so that’s what he was going on about,” the Eladrin laughs, indicating Huxley. “If he’d been offering the money for something else, there was going to be trouble.” They both laugh at this.
Huxley, meanwhile, relieved to be back off the hook, returns to his brother, who promptly makes fun of his bungled approach, and soon the two of them are laughing and horsing around in the marketplace.
Ellyjole and the eladrin watch this for a moment. “Let’s get a drink,” Ellyjole finally says, and introduces herself. “Jezebel,” the eladrin replies, accepting the offer as they disappear into the inn.
Into the Woods
Soon after that, the four of them are headed out of town in search of the kobolds’ lair.
When they reach the place where they’d been ambushed the day before, they see that the bodies are still where they’d left them, disturbed slightly by scavengers in the night, but still in place, which suggests to them that the kobolds have not yet reposted their guard, and are probably unaware of their impending attack.
It isn’t long before the faint rumble of a waterfall comes to them through the trees, and they stop to scout the area. Ellyjole summons and releases her owl companion to scout the area, looking through its eyes via an arcane sight, and she quickly spots a group of kobolds going about their day at the base of the waterfall, obviously not alert to the party’s presence.
The party begins their approach silently, until Ellyjole slips on a muddy escarpment and tumbles into a small ravine. The sound of the waterfall is such, however, that even this doesn’t alert the kobolds to their presence.
They launch their attack as a coordinated effort, attacking from all sides at once, confusing and scattering the kobolds, who are themselves caught completely unaware. It’s a slaughter.
As it becomes clear that the kobolds are clearly overmatched, one of them breaks off the attack and runs toward the waterfall, diving through the sheet of water moments before Huxley’s spell blasts him in the back.
The guards outside having been dispatched, Theo now checks the spot where the kobold who ran had fallen, hoping if possible to retrieve the body unnoticed. It is not to be, however. More kobolds inside were already moving to investigate their fallen ally when Theo’s head appears past the rock. With a chorus of draconic screams, the second phase of the fight is on.
The eladrin, meanwhile, picks up one of the slain kobold bodies from outside and throws it bodily through the waterfall. “Let’s show them what’s coming for them,” she says as she heaves the body.
Taking this as a cue, Theo imbues himself with a divine aura and charges through the pouring water into the midst of the startled kobold horde.
With a gutteral curse in the Goblin tongue, a burly, tattooed goblin charges him from the shadows, his battle axe raised, and before Theo can react, brings down the axe to cut a deep gash across his front. The aura Theo had cast now concentrates itself and hurls a reactive blast of energy back at his attacker, staggering him.
The other kobolds, seeing this flash of energy affect their leader, circle uncertainly, unwilling to close the attack.
Jezebel, meanwhile, has crept to a side entrance, killing a few errant kobolds along the way, and now enters the cave and arranges a clear line of sight to Theo and the goblin, where they are locked in mortal combat. She shouts at Theo, distracting the goblin just long enough to afford Theo an attack against it, and Theo makes good use of this affordance, landing a devastating blow.
As the creature staggers now, bloodied, Theo attacks again, pressing relentlessly forward, slashing again with devastating effect, and then spins for another strike, drawing his blade in a wide arc to slash the goblin a third and final time.
The room falls silent as the goblin collapses, dead, slain in this single relentless assault. Suddenly, one by one, comes the clatter of weapons falling to the floor as the kobolds hold out their hands in gestures of surrender.
The tribe’s wyrmpriest screams at them to return to the attack, but even his own bodyguards falter and drop their weapons.
Huxley steps toward the wyrmpriest and sheathes his sword. “Surrender,” he orders.
The wyrmpriest spits out a vile curse in response and fires a burst of arcane energy in Huxley’s direction, but Ellyjole had been ready for him to try this, and fires an arrow into his side at the crucial moment, forcing his aim wide.
Huxley then takes the opportunity afforded him and steps the rest of the way toward the wyrmpriest, extends his hands, and kills him with a single blast of energy, sending his body tumbling across the room.
As terrified as the remaining kobolds were before, they now nearly prostrate themselves in fear, not a one of them willing to take up arms.
As the others round up the terrified kobolds, Ellyjole takes the opportunity to examine the goblin’s body. A tattoo of a skeletal ram’s head covered his face. “Orcus,” she thinks, “again. This isn’t a coincidence.” That a goblin would lead a kobold tribe is strange enough, she muses, but that this goblin would be wearing tattoos that identified him as a follower of Orcus, only a day after they’d seen the spectral apparition of a priest to Orcus directing the dig site, is too much for coincidence to explain.
“There’s something going on here,” she thinks, and it’s not good. Someone is organizing in the area, she realizes, marshaling forces in Orcus’ name.
She looks around the cave as well. Clearly, the kobolds didn’t create it. There is a natural cavern here behind the waterfall, but the tunnels further back have been worked by hand. She doesn’t recognize the carvings, however.
“What do you make of this,” she asks the Eladrin, who is looking around as well. “I’ve seen these before,” Jezebel says, indicating a carved sigil on the wall. “Paladins of Bahamut, from Gardmore.”
These carvings, they realize, indicate that this must at one time have been a secret way station for an order of paladins that had once been active in this region, now long-since consigned to legend. They had made their base in a sprawling complex called Gardmore Abbey, for which this entire region had been named, but something had happened, many decades ago, and the abbey lay in ruins and the order was no more.
They now turn their attention back to the kobolds, staring at them wide-eyed and probably wondering when or how they would be killed. What will we do with these, they muse.