The Fade Giveth, The Fade Taketh: Episode 6 The Search For Cragmaw Castle
(I don’t own any of what you’re about to read, but if you’d like to read the saga from the party’s first adventure, click here.)
As Ben began to settle in for the night in his room, he heard a commotion in the alley outside of his window. It was Sildar, seemingly going through training exercises; footwork and sword attacks, etc. His interest piqued, Ben went downstairs to meet him down in the alley.
“I apologize if I woke you,” Sildar said, lowering his sword to his side. “This usually helps me settle my mind. Focus. It feels odd doing so without my own sword, but those damned goblins robbed me of it when they took me . . . and Gundren.” He seemed lost in his thoughts for a moment but shook it off, returning to his stance. He offered Ben the chance to join him.
“To help an old man,” he said, but Ben knew better, having been watching him.
As Ben trained with his mentor into the night – Sildar correcting his footwork, showing him to lift his sword this way, swing it that way – Sildar began thinking out loud. “The Cragmaw Tribe goblins so nearby. Now reports coming in that it’s the Many-Arrows orc tribe beginning to amass at Wyvern Tor. Iarno’s . . . betrayal. This Black Spider has been busy.”
Sildar noticed Ben all but dying on his feet, unaccustomed to the pace at which he was training. Sildar stopped, nodding curtly to Ben. “Let’s say we get to bed, eh? An old man needs sleep.”
* * * * *
Vigo woke up early and looked out the window from his room in Stonehill Inn to the quiet town. Most of Phandalin was still sleeping. He decided to split out and help that Qelline Alderleaf with her morning chores as odds were she’d be awake at this hour. He left a note of his whereabouts on Kir’thiri’s door.
The halfling farmer was indeed awake when Vigo arrived at the Alderleaf farm, seemingly having been at it for hours even as the sun began to peek over the horizon. Though her morning chores were already finished by the time Vigo arrived, she happily accepted help in clearing the field that the Redbrands burned so that she could properly assess the damage.
In passing the time, Qelline mentioned that Carp, her little boy, had yet to come out of the trauma he faced that night. He mostly kept to the barn with their remaining dog (the other having been murdered by the Redbrands), only coming inside the house for meals. Sister Garaele had been out last night to try her magicks but to no avail. Qelline planned to bide her time, tend to her farm, in the hopes that Carp will return to the precocious little boy he had been.
Eventually, Qelline felt as though she was taking advantage of Vigo’s kindness, though, and offered him some scrambled eggs and a rasher of bacon as thanks, excusing herself from his company with talk of errands in town.
“Before I go,” Vigo offered. “May I try to speak to Carp? Perhaps words from another fellow halfling might help.”
“You’re kind,” she smiled, “but we’ve imposed on that kindness too much already. Still,” she paused, looking to the barn. “I guess if you wouldn’t mind.”
Vigo went to the barn and opened the wide door – what had once allowed horses inside, they the Redbrands either stole or ran off the night of the attack – and found it standing empty save for hay. A small whimper from within the hay caught his ear.
A flash of movement, just to Vigo’s right, and a small dog, gray and white and dirt, ambled up to him sniffing his feet. It looked up at Vigo with dark, wet eyes filled with anticipation, until finally making its way back to its master in their hiding place.
“Carp, this is Vigo,” he said quietly. “My friends and I got rid of the Redbrands. Phandalin is safe for now. ‘For now’ is a phrase that I do not use lightly. Growing up, my father’s enemies often came to our front door. Dad always saved the day, but that doesn’t mean we never lost anything and it was only a matter of time until trouble came again. The pain and maybe fear that you feel can easily become destructive anger. You are not powerless. At the same time, you can always find more power. Use the power you find well or you may find me taking this back one day.” With that, Vigo laid his blasting rod of Hyrsam on the ground in the barn and walked to town to find a carpenter to make him a new one.
* * * * *
Kir’thiri woke up and found Vigo’s note on her door. Nonplussed by what she read, she continued on with her plans for the morning. She stopped briefly to write So you know on the note and slid it under Ben’s door as she headed downstairs and out to the shops to see about procuring a new hooded cloak.
As she got downstairs and headed toward the door, Toblen Stonehill waved her over to where he was standing behind the bar. A small package wrapped in simple brown paper was in front of him. “Don’t mean to disturb you, ma’am, but this was left for you. Found it sitting right where you see it on the bar this morning.”
Kir’thiri nodded, “Thank you.” she gently picked up the package and turned it over in her hands. “Perhaps the shops can wait,” she decided, and she returned to her room to open it in private.
Once back in her room she picked up her sword and gingerly unwrapped the package . . .
* * * * *
Steward, returned from The Fade and fully readjusted to this level of reality, meditates, sitting cross-legged on his bed, upon whether this group of adventurers he’s currently aligned himself with are walking the path he intends to walk. And what it may mean if they are not.
* * * * *
The party eventually reconvened in Stonehill Inn common room and returned to what was becoming their morning routine: eating light breakfasts while Vigo unintentionally offended Kir’thiri with an offhand remark.
As they sat together they heard that various delegations of elves, dwarves, and men had arrived in the early hours to discuss some things with Sildar. Finding him in the Townmaster’s office – now Sildar’s base of operations – Sildar was being briefed by two men. A curious eavesdropper by nature, Vigo picked up on some names that were being discussed before knocking the party’s arrival.
“Who is Ry’ven and what’s this I heard about Wylan Tallfellow?” Vigo asked Sildar. The warrior held his hands to his temples, trying to rub the tired out of his head. Kir’thiri perked right up at the name Ry’ven and became completely lost in her own thoughts.
Sildar went on to explain that delegations from every known guild were vying for the location of Wave Echo Cave. That, aside from famous magical weapons going missing and the troubles with newly-strategized goblins and orc raiders that Phandalin was contending with, dragons had been sighted in the area; a green and a white. And that a blue had been involved in the near destruction of Greenest, a town down south.
Sildar imparted, again, that Gundren must be saved. And if he couldn’t be, the location of Wave Echo Cave was the secondary priority. Too many hands wanted control of it, all assuming that the fairy tales were true: they that control the cave can maintain a line of magical creations.
The party, on two borrowed horses, headed out for Thundertree in hopes that Reidoth the Druid could tell them where Cragmaw Castle was located. A skirmish with goblins and a bugbear, and the saving of a half-breed wolf later, the party found themselves outside of Thundertree just as night was falling. A sign that was posted, warning of tree creatures and zombies, made the party opt to find the small village of Oakhurst to the southeast so they could rest and return to Thundertree recharged.
The village was quiet when they arrived, but it was nighttime so that wasn’t strange. One mid-sized building was the only structure in the village that had a light on but, when Ben knocked and tried to go inside, finding the door locked, a small face peered at them from a window.
Suddenly a man lumbered out of a small building next door, bellowing, “Get out!” and advancing on the group.
The little girl opened the door, yelling, “Inside. Hurry!”
All ran in except for Steward. He thought to just talk with the clearly agitated man, in the hope of offering help. As the man walked closer, demanding that the newcomers leave, Steward noticed that the man’s skin was a dark gray bark and that his eyes were a glossy black.
Soon after another three came from a nearby house across the street. All screaming the same demands, all bearing down on Steward.
Vigo tried to open the door to return to Steward only the little girl had locked it with a key from the inside. “Hurry,” she shouted. “Upstairs!”
“What is wrong with that man?” Vigo asked the little girl when they’d all gained higher ground.
“The village,” she began in a stop-go manner, stumbling to find words to communicate. She was nearly catatonic. “People began to disappear only to come back like . . . that. I only wait . . . because my parents left to get help . . . I don’t know where they are.”
Steward, still trying to talk to the first man, noticed that three more were coming his way.
“We’ve got a problem,” Kir’thiri said, noticing the mob forming outside and trying to see if the upstairs window opened.
“Give me the key,” Vigo said to the little girl. She shakily handed it over. Vigo and Ben went downstairs and unlocked the door. Willow followed but stayed just inside as her two compatriots went to help Steward.
A pitched battle commenced as more and more “men” came for the house. Surrounded, Kir’thiri, unmindful of her surroundings beyond the flanked fight she found herself in, thunder-stepped away from the tree men, nearly killing Steward and Vigo in her wake. Heavily wounded and beginning to be outnumbered, the party elected to retreat as their enemy filled the little girl’s house.
Their horses were gone, the smart creatures opting to run away, the party, in a wise retreat of their own, noticed that the little girl had somehow gotten up to the roof of her house. Steward, in a fantastic monk leap, reached the roof and grabbed the little girl only to leap back down again.
Though it hadn’t seemed possible by the end, everyone survived the battle and returned to camp just outside of Thundertree.
In the morning, the little girl, now fully mute it seemed, stuck next to Ben while the rest of the party began to search. Vigo had given her a dagger in hopes that it might make her feel safe. Ben took to calling her Lily.
Twig Blights came at everyone but the party made short work of them. Then they found Reidoth, a gaunt old man, but kind, who offered them entrance into his home and made them tea. Everyone took him up on it except Ben, who stayed outside to guard the door and practice his fighting technique. Lily stayed with him, holding her dagger and watching.
Inside, the party listened as Reidoth explained, in his way, that he did know where Cragmaw Castle was but that they should stay away. It seemed his brother, Belak, a fellow druid but evilly twisted, had taken over an ancient dragon temple, buried beneath the earth but held intact by residual magicks, just near Cragmaw Castle. And that Belak was using a Gulthias Tree to turn people into a plant-based army. (Giving the happenings in Oakhurst context to Kir’thiri.)
Not to be swayed, the party had Reidoth mark on their map where Cragmaw Castle was. As he did so, a thunderous sound crashed from outside, and a screech. Ben, with Lily bundled up in his arms, rushed into the house as Reidoth walked over to the window and pointed toward the green dragon that was now crawling into a turreted house on the hill.
“Venomfang,” the druid said.
Thanking Reidoth, and very sneakily, the party noped out of Thundertree.
With the decision made to return to Neverwinter for supplies and to drop off Lily, the party made west. Only to be captured by soldiers for the Order of the Gilded Eye, those religious zealots who had been hunting the party since Helm’s Hold had been attacked by cultists.
Unable to talk their way out, Vigo said, “Take me. Just me. Let my friends go.”
So the soldiers from the Order of the Gilded Eye did just that, leaving the remaining party standing in a field, some ten miles outside of Neverwinter.