(I don’t own most of what you’re about to read, but if you’d like to read the saga from the party’s first adventure, click here.)
Vigo found himself shackled in chains, hands to feet, and tied back-to-back with an unnamed soldier. They rode horseback the last two miles toward the Order Of The Gilded Eye’s home base, Helm’s Hold. Vigo had been scanning the environment for any means to escape but found only open plain. Frustrated, he asked the soldier he assumed to be the leader of the Gilded Eye group, “What is it that you want with me anyway?”
Brasken — Vigo had gleaned his name from another soldier, Euslan — didn’t answer the question. Euslan, for his part, seemed quite agitated that Brasken had ordered the band of soldiers to let Vigo’s comrades go and wouldn’t stop complaining about it. Vigo had found Brasken’s choice curious as well. His belongings had been taken from him and given to Brasken on the lead horse. Euslan rode next to Brasken, just behind. The soldier Vigo was bound to rode behind them, flanked by a soldier on either side with a final two soldiers riding side-by-side in the rear. Vigo was being treated as though either they thought him extraordinarily dangerous or vastly important.
* * * * *
The rest of the party, left standing in yet another oncoming thunderstorm, watched as the patrol left with Vigo.
“Well, shit,” Kir’thiri muttered. “Guess we’ll have to go rescue him.”
Ben thought this over, weighing internally if he agreed with the assessment. He found that he did.
“This is very bad timing on my part,” Steward began softly, his demeanor in no watch matching his husky half-orc frame. “But I’m feeling called to move on from our party; pulled toward the west.”
Kir’thiri scowled. She found herself becoming used to being abandoned these days. Ben, having just done a gut check-in himself, simply shrugged and roughly patted Steward on the shoulder.
“Good luck,” Ben said.
“I can take Lily with me,” Steward offered. “Take her to safety. I’ll find her a place in Neverwinter.”
Lily, still not talking, reacted quite negatively to this plan, grabbed Ben around the waist and looked up at his face pleadingly.
“Aye, it’s a good plan,” Ben knelt down until they were eye-to-eye. “Go with Steward, okay?”
It took some time, but Ben was finally able to convince the little girl to leave with the monk. She kept Vigo’s dagger, clinging to it like most children her age might a toy animal.
* * * * *
Vigo looked at the two soldiers riding in the back. “Do either of you know who my father is?”
Neither of them responded, keeping their stone faces straight ahead. But Euslan drew his horse back until Vigo could see his face and he Vigo’s. “Oy! Shut it! We know how – ” But then Brasken yelled from the front of the line. “Silence!” Euslan sneered at Vigo and returned to the front of the line.
Unable to work any somatic-based magic due to his bindings and Mistystep not being of any use in his current surroundings, Vigo quieted. He didn’t want to risk being gagged so for once he shut up, studying the soldiers that he could see. They seem very attentive to their job — that being keeping Vigo captured — and none spoke beyond Euslan, who Vigo found to be more bloodthirsty than his soldiers-in-arms. Brasken, on the other hand, seemed a terse man, but practical. Coolly logical in his only obeying the letter of his orders in taking Vigo in and not Vigo’s friends.
* * * * *
The remainder of the party, Ben, Kir’thiri, and Willow, made their way to Helm’s Hold. Determining various plans of attack to save Vigo, they eventually decided to approach the Guild and offer to buy back their friend, deciding that Willow might have the best luck.
Willow met back up with Ben and Kir’thiri at The Old Dirty Dwarf with the news.
“The guards claim that they don’t know the name Vigo Blackstar,” she sighed.
“That’s it,” Ben said. “Let’s just go in and get him.”
“Just walk right in?” Kir’thiri chuckled sarcastically. “That’s our plan?”
“Sneakily,” Ben suggested.
“The guards at the entrance wouldn’t have kept me from going inside,” Willow said. “It seems to be somewhat open to the public.”
Not seeing an immediate alternative, the party opted to walk right in.
* * * * *
For the rest of their short ride to Helm’s Hold, Vigo tried to appeal to the Gilded Eye to help with the evil druid and the ‘vampire-zombie’ tree that Reidoth had mentioned. “And my friend Gundren was taken by the Cragmaw tribe WEEKS ago! We’re trying to save him, though he’s likely dead at this point, and this, your kidnapping me for whatever your reasons, is not helping! Come to think of it, what are your reasons?”
The soldiers remained quiet. Even Elusan.
Vigo fell into silence again, his mind worrying. Was a huge war coming? One with dragons? Vigo had been mentally calling out to the pendant in hopes Hyrsam would give some guidance. Even The Prince of Fools was silent.
The squad entered Helm’s Hold with their quarry, riding up to the entrance to the Cathedral of Helm through rain-muddied streets. The soldiers surrounded Vigo as he was carefully removed from the horse in the courtyard. Vigo watched as Brasken, Vigo’s belongings in hand, walked into the Cathedral of Helm. Euslan shoved him, breaking Vigo’s stare.
“Not overly friendly, are we?” Vigo asked.
“I’ll take the prisoner,” Euslan sneered.
“Thierry’s got ‘im,” another soldier said, a dark-skinned woman that must’ve been one of the seven soldiers Vigo never saw from his single view on the trip. She grabbed the bindings still wrapped around Vigo’s waist from behind. “Brasken’s orders.”
Euslan growled and stormed off.
“This way,” a thin soldier, Thierry, presumably, said, prodding Vigo toward the cathedral.
As they begin to walk toward the cathedral, Vigo realized that he was too focused on inciting a fight with Euslan, that he didn’t properly take in his surroundings. His father would have berated him on that had he been there. Vigo began to take in as much visual information as he can about his surroundings and captors.
The open area of Helm’s Hold looked much the way it did the night Vigo met his compatriots, a night which happened what seemed like a lifetime ago, Vigo though. There were quite a bit of burned-out areas and scorched walls — due, Vigo knew, to the cultists setting the town ablaze in searching for him. A pang of guilt hit him — in the immediate vicinity. The town was bustling in the early morning hours as craftsmen and barkers opened their stalls to sell their wares. The circle of now five soldiers moved as a unit, guiding Vigo toward the cathedral.
“Move it,” Thierry said, with a push.
Still sticking to his guns and following his father’s teachings (silent and calculating), Vigo complied and he quickened his pace toward the cathedral. It was, after all, where his things were.
While assessing the soldiers surrounding him, Vigo nodded toward the damage to the town. A part of him couldn’t help, but ask:
“How many were killed?”
Guilt for the deaths and a resolve to crush the cultists would consume Vigo no matter the number.
“Let me help you fight the bastards that did this. After that, do what you want with me. You have my word.”
With no answer to his questions, Vigo began to eye any structural damage that might allow for escape through well-aimed eldritch blasts. He could then Mistystep out of his bindings and beyond the wall.
As Vigo’s eyes darted in time with his plotting, sharp, intense pain splintered across his shoulders and down his spine, dropping him to his knees. He turned back to find its source and saw that the soldier, Thierry, was holding a length of something coated in blue-gray flames that ran from his hands to Vigo’s bindings.
“We assumed you might try something, Vigo,” a voice boomed from above. “You must remember: we are always three steps ahead.” Vigo located the speaker in a balcony of the cathedral just before he passed out.
* * * * *
Ben, Kir’thiri, and Willow made their way toward the cathedral, stepping this way and that to avoid the growing crowd. As they approached an alleyway entrance, a man dressed in the garb of the Order of the Gilded Eye stepped out and grabbed Ben! He spun him, holding Ben from behind with a dagger to his throat. The soldier motioned for the party to follow him into the alley.
“I’m going to lower the dagger now,” the man said. He did so and released Ben from his grasp.
“First off,” the man began, “this face is not my face.”
None of the party really knew what to do with that information.
“Secondly,” the man continued. “What, exactly, was your plan to save Vigo? Because forgive me, but it looked as though you were just going to walk right into the Cathedral of Helm.”
“I, um,” Kir’thiri mumbled.
“You need a new plan. I am Bacchus Bevendream. Let us determine a better path, yes?”
The Exemplars of Solace were heroes of a golden age of Faerun. Consisting of Fildo Bigheart, Sorsha Xanthellian, Mortusk Croagtooth, and Bacchus and Koryander (Aerasume’) Bevendream. The party of adventurers was famous throughout the realm for their various exploits over the years.
After Vigo had relayed his story about having grown up in the shadow of these heroes, as Fildo is his father, Y’inyahin had whiled away a few nights sharing tales of The Exemplars’ exploits to the group.
Kir’thiri had a passing knowledge of the heroes, having really only known Sorsha Xanthellian by name (a famous gnome is always lauded amongst gnomes). Ben had no idea who any of these people were but was becoming a fan of Y’inyahin’s tales of their derring-do before she left.
And here was Bacchus Bevendream, right in front of them stepped from a story. He relayed how he’d come to be there, that he and his very pregnant wife Koryander had infiltrated the ranks of the Order of the Gilded Eye months ago. It seemed that Sorsha had been having powerful visions for nearly a year. In one of the visions, she saw that Vigo — who Bacchus knows as Keith Bigheart — would be captured by the Order in hopes of testing a device to block his powers. The device would only work on those who shared the bloodline of Fildo, their intended victim, and so Vigo made a perfect, more easily-captured guinea pig.
“The device is locked around his neck,” Bacchus explained. “The key to which is in Holy Watcher Qerria’s room on the third floor of the cathedral.”
“We could set the cathedral on fire,” Ben offered, helpfully. “It would burn, right?”
“How would we get Vigo out?” Kir’thiri scoffed.
“I’m handling that,” Bacchus said. “We just need a plan to get you inside to get the key. Which is trickier,” he added, looking at Kir’thiri, “now that the Order has become so xenophobic of late.”
“I have an idea,” Willow said.
* * * * *
Vigo regained consciousness finding himself sitting upright and unbound in a lone chair, the only furnished item in an 8×8 windowless room, a burning torch his only light source. Straw was scattered across the dirty stone floor. A cold metal choker had been placed around his neck while he was unconscious, it seemed, and it was on tight enough to pinch.
He was alone in the room.
Vigo shook his head and inspected the room more closely, but didn’t discover anything beyond what his initial lookover gave him. Chair. Hay. Torch. Door. Choker around his neck. Getting up, though, he did find that the door was a sturdy wood, solid, and locked.
Frustrated beyond believing, Vigo used Thaumaturgy to increase the volume of his voice and yelled, “WHAT IS MY CRIME?!!!”
As his voice came out haggard yet sounding typically halfling, Vigo discovered that his powers no longer worked.
“Dammit!!” Vigo threw the chair against the door. “What now?!”
Vigo sat on the floor cross-legged. He started telling Hyrsam, his fey patron and bestower of all of his powers, a story aloud like he normally did from time to time. He told Hyrsam about the encounter with the bark-villagers and meeting the old druid. He reflected heavily on feeling like a true hero after ridding Phandalin of the Redbrands only to be apprehended like a criminal by these fanatic fools.
“Hyrsam, I’m afraid this comedy is going to turn out tragic,” he muttered. “Pfft! Father would wait for a miracle from Torn to save him in a situation like this. Here I am. Hoping the same from the Prince of Fools, who’s likely drinking wine and fondling a few dryads at this moment. Probably, a siren too.”
Vigo looked around the room some more and uprighted the chair. He sat on it and, knowing his patron’s sense of humor, gave a wry grin.
“Might as well try.”
He stood, walked to the door and tried the handle.
* * * * *
Ben, dressed in the Bacchus-gathered garb of a member of the Order, walked up the stairs passing the barracks on the second floor on his way toward the Holy Watcher’s bedroom. He had a bundle of linens slung over his shoulder while Kir’thiri, perturbed at her role in this plan, tried to remain still within the bundle. She stifled a grunt as Ben knocked her into the railing.
“Oi, you there,” a voice came from the barracks. “What are you doing?”
Ben turned to face the voice’s owner. There were four men looking at Ben, waiting for an answer. A pregnant woman wearing a nurse’s habit was making a bed nearby. Ben noticed that she was gesturing strangely with her eyes. Unpracticed with the social conventions of southerners, Ben didn’t quite know what to make of her eyes shifting and widening.
“I was told to take these linens up to the Holy Watcher’s room,” Ben explained.
As the men moved toward Ben, the pregnant woman doubled over and moaned, causing everyone to check on her. Ben stared but saw that the woman nodded him on up the stairs so he continued on his way.
* * * * *
The door, much to Vigo’s surprise, opened toward him, though not under his power. Two helmeted soldiers burst in and shoved him back against the wall. A stern-looking woman in polished leather armor followed them into the room.
“You say he tried to use his magicks?” the blonde woman said, looking at Vigo with a strange intensity.
“Aye, Holy Watcher Qerria,” one of the soldiers responded. “Nothing happened.”
“Interesting,” Qerria said. She began to pace back and forth in the tight turns the room allowed. “It would seem the contraption works on the blood of Fildo Bigheart. And we’re quite certain of the halfling’s parentage?”
“Our sources say so without a doubt,” the other soldier chimed in.
“Well then,” the Holy Watcher sneered. “Evil will be outed from these lands, gentlemen, mark my words. We just have to wait for this one’s father to do the heroic thing and come rescue his child.”
“Is that it?! You imprisoned me to get the attention of my father? You could have probably sent him a letter. There’s dragons flying about, an evil tree turning people into its servants, and cults on the loose, but you spent all your time looking for me. You lot really are good at weeding out evil, let me tell you! My friends need me to help do the job that you’re waiting for my father to do! Re. Lease. Me.”
Qerria smiled and then motioned with her hand, flinging Vigo into the wall to her left.
“He really is quite simple, isn’t he?” She spoke to the soldier closest to her. “We’re positive of Fildo’s bloodline?”
The question was rhetorical, it seemed, as Qerria headed out the door.
“Kill him.” She called from the hall, “Then collect the device from his throat and clean it for its intended wearer.”
Once she was gone, the soldier closest to the door closed and locked it with a key, laughing.
“This one is mine,” he told his compatriot, sliding off his helmet. Vigo saw that it was Euslan.
At least, it was at first.
Euslan’s face began to transform, his shoulders slendered ever so slightly as his height increased by two to three inches before Vigo and the other soldier’s eyes.
“Wha-“ the helmeted soldier grunted.
A dagger appeared in the transforming man’s hand. Vigo noticed. The other soldier didn’t until it was plunged into his throat.
As the lifeless body fell, there before Vigo stood Bacchus Bevendream. He wiped the dagger off with the dead man’s cloak.
“Well,” he said, not looking up from his task. “You’ve really stepped in it this time, eh boy?”
Vigo ran to Bacchus with a hug.
“Oh! Thank the fates!! Bacchus, what in the nine hells is going on? I thought the Gilded Eye was just a bunch of zealot dungbags! Why do they want to kill my father?! Oh, and do you know how to take this off? It’s uncomfortable.”
Bacchus released Vigo from the hug.
“Lots to tell, boy, and not the time for it,” Bacchus went to the door and listened. “Kory’s with your friends and hopefully they’ve got the key to your salvation from that contraption in tow. She’s pregnant fit to burst, is your Aunt Koryander! So, best we be leaving, but I can tell you this: your dad, he would’ve come for you himself if he could. You know that, right? Things are just . . . things are bad, Keith-y my lad. Worse than ever I’ve seen them. How we knew you’d be here ahead of time, that’s all tied up with the bad.”
He opened the door to the cell just a crack and listened again. Seemingly satisfied, Bacchus pulled Vigo to him and opened the door completely. “Best if we stay quiet now, or else we’ll have too many hands coming for us. Don’t worry, Bacchus always has a plan!”
* * * * *
On the third floor been found himself in a library filled with rows of bookshelves. Navigating the room, he finally found the Holy Watcher’s office/bedroom. In front of the door stood Brasken, another guard, and a woman that Ben could only assume was Qerria.
“What are you doing?” Brasken demanded.
“I was told to bring the linens,” Ben offered.
“They sent a soldier to bring my linens?” Qerria was incredulous.
“Yes ma’am,” Ben stuck to his story, though he doubted how much longer the ruse would play.
“Just get on with it,” Qerria dismissed Ben with a wave.
As Ben turned and made for the bedroom, Kir’thiri could hear one of the men say, “Something’s not right, ma’am.”
“They know,” Kir’thiri whispered a warning to Ben.
Hurrying inside, Ben placed Kir’thiri and the linens onto the bed. The room was very sparsely decorated, most of it dedicated to office space with a desk in the center of the room and another smaller bookshelf along one wall.
Kir’thiri had just climbed out of the linens and flipped behind the bed when Brasken entered the room.
“What are you doing there?” He yelled at Ben.
“I was bringing the -” Ben began.
“The linens, yes, so you said,” Brasken interrupted. “Where’s your post?”
Ben thought fast. “I’ve only been here for two days, sir. I’ve not yet been assigned one.”
“Well, come with me to the quartermaster,” Brasken ordered roughly. He gestured for Ben to leave and then followed him out a step behind.
Once she was sure the room was clear, Kir’thiri crept out from behind the bed and snuck around the room. Finding it mostly empty, she almost immediately made for the desk. Papers were on top and it only had one locked drawer just under the desk. Kir’thiri took out her dagger and pried open the desk.
An invisible, odorless gas hit Kir’thiri in the face. Wracked with pain she struggled to climb under the desk, her vision filling with a wavy, underwater-filled distortion of tracers and swimming color blotches. She knew enough of nature to know that the trap in the desk had a spore-based hallucinogen attached and that she wouldn’t die, but not how long the effects could last.
“Who’s in here?” an incorporeal woman’s voice boomed.
Kir’thiri attempted to cast minor illusion to resemble a rug under the desk. She felt like she’d pulled it off, though it was kind of hard to tell with the world going pitchy. And why did she hear a whale singing? She kept out her dagger just in case.
Kir’thiri listened as there was movement around the room. Suddenly, there was a face peering down under the desk. It looked like a woman at first, but then its face had too many teeth and eyes. Too few noses and extra ears. Fighting the urge to stab at the horrible vision before her, Kir’thiri remained still until it went away.
“I must be hearing things,” the voice proclaimed and left.
Finally, after what seemed like ages, Kir’thiri regained her composure. She finished searching the desk and found the Holy Watcher’s seal and a gold coin-shaped object. It had to be the key.
Ben, having been able to shake Brasken, returned to the room just as Kir’thiri closed the desk drawer.
“Okay, let’s go,” Kir’thiri said with a grimace.
Ben loaded her back up into the linens pile and the two made their way back downstairs. It was time to reconvene at the Old Dirty Dwarf.
* * * * *
“Stay in the room until your party comes for you.”
That had been Bacchus’ only instruction and Vigo meant to abide. But when there was finally a knock at his door, Vigo was both excited and scared. The stupid choker meant that he couldn’t defend himself properly if it wasn’t a friend knocking.
But it was.
“I hear you are in the market for a key?” Kir’thiri said, holding an odd gold coin in her hand.
Vigo all but pulled her into the room and shut the door. He was quite anxious to have his powers back.
Kir’thiri found the spot on the necklace that looked like the keyhole and applied the coin. Blue and green sparks of electricity shot out, shocking the gnome ranger to the ground. The object was still around Vigo’s throat.
Disgruntled but not defeated, though without Willow who didn’t meet them in the inn per her plan, the party walked out of Helm’s Hold amidst rushing crowds and pealing bells.
It seemed that somehow the Cathedral of Helm was burning.
* * * * *
It turned out that Koryander Bevendream had made an alteration to the plan, per an idea that her husband had mentioned, and set fires in the cathedral to cover everyone’s escape.
Willow relayed this to the party since she was hidden just outside of town with a very much returned Lily – who, through some series of events had slipped the custody of Steward.
The party decided to head toward Neverwinter to bunk for the night. Vigo spent the evening poring over everything he knew about arcane lore and, between he and Willow, discovered that he needed a cleric to cast an incantation over the device at his throat while applying the key.
Kir’thiri scouted around town and returned with a location for a cleric. Maybe not the most scrutable cleric, to be sure, but a cleric nonetheless.
The raspy cleric bade the party come into his place of business, but only Vigo and Willow entered. Everyone else stayed outside enjoying the view of the sea. Lily seemed almost entranced with it, to the point that Ben debated on taking her down to the water’s edge to skip stones before thinking better of it.
In the building, after haggling the expensive cost of him doing what they asked – and Vigo bartering away his beloved bugbear eyepatch – the cleric got down to business. The incantation started out simple enough, but as the cleric placed the key, popping of the device from Vigo, his voice began booming the incantation. His body went rigid, his head back with an unnatural bend. Vigo and Willow watched in horror as the cleric’s eyes glowed an intense, bright-sun yellow, burning two holes into the ceiling. Then his nose disintegrated, causing the two thin beams to become one thicker blast. More of the cleric’s face fell, until the beam was the size of this entire head, blowing through the top of the building, causing screams of terror from above.
At the sounds of destruction and the screams, the rest of the party jumped up from there revelry. Vigo and Willow ran out of the building, Vigo deeply singed for having tried to reclaim the necklace. (He was concerned about something being out there that only affected his bloodline.)
Once again the party found themselves beating a hasty retreat out of a town.
Not feeling safe with their choice of rescuing Gundren from Cragmaw Castle without backup, and a bit overwhelmed with everything that had happened, the party made for Phandalin.
Contented with the High Road at first, the party grew slightly paranoid at the typically teeming with travelers road being empty, and so opted at one point to cut across the plains to save some time.
Right into a battle with a Cragmaw Tribe scouting party. The pitched battle – the party had become fairly adept at killing goblins – concluding, something in the sky caught Vigo’s eye.
Venomfang, the green dragon from Thundertree came swooping for them.
The party ran for the treeline nearby, with all but Ben, who had been running with Lily in his arms, making it. Ben tossed Lily into the trees just as the dragon landed behind him with a crash.
“What have we here,” Venomfang hissed menacingly. “A party of adventurers out for a stroll?”
The dragon took in his gaze all but Willow, who had run fastest and hidden. The rest of the party, not willing to abandon Ben, walked back toward the dragon, staying scattered. Lily stood at the forest’s edge, dagger in hand but frozen.
Venomfang continuously shifted, repositioning himself this way and that. He was feeling particularly menacing until the party began chatting him up with random topics.
“Do you know where we might find some horses?” was the question that really decided him on eating someone.
Venomfang sniffed deeply of Ben, and still the party simply continued the conversation as though it was no big deal. The dragon shifted around again, trying to find purchase for the most advantageous use of its breath weapon. Then it smelled Lily and moved in closer for a better inspection. The party tensed but still waited. Lily began to cry, silently. A single tear fell from her eye.
As one, Venomfang moved for Lily causing the child to utter her first noise in days: she screamed. The party, for their part, all made attacks against the dragon, some surprising him with their ferocity.
Venomfang still felt utterly secure in his winning this battle and eating well today, right up until the war drums began.
Cragmaw Tribe had reclaimed the hideout that the party had routed weeks before, and this time packed it with numbers. The forest was filled with fifty or more goblins coming for the trespassers.
Already wounded by the party more than he was comfortable with, Venomfang didn’t like the news odds and retreated to the skies, leaving the party to be the only captives for the Cragmaw warriors to take.