(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.)
The members of the party were each bound, hands tied with rope behind their backs, and force-marched through Neverwinter Forest. A hobgoblin with a thin scar over his left eye ordered all of their gear gathered up in a bundle and then he disappeared ahead of them into the forest with their belongings.
“Taken prisoner. Again!” Vigo thought to himself as he took in the six goblins and two bugbears that seemed to serve as their heavy guard. “Perrrfect. Maybe Hyrsam will let me change my name Vigo Evercaptive. Bah! We’ll get out of this one. They’re only goblins… and a bugbear… or two… and possibly those tree-zombie people… and an evil druid.
“I still can’t believe Ben stood toe-to-toe with that dragon! He has no magical powers and he stood there brave as can be while I missed every shot I had on that damn thing. If only, I could have the same resolve as Ben. I’m usually too busy trying to be clever and solve everything at once. He is this group’s guided arrow, in a way.
“Then, there’s Kir’thiri. She’s changed so much over the course of these weeks. I don’t believe her to be gnome at all, but I don’t know what the hell kind of fey she is. I’m sure Hyrsam had a laugh about the “thunder teleport” trick that she did back in the zombie village. She’s discovering new powers and learning as she goes. Kir’thiri is extremely adaptable and often doing the work of a rogue as well as a ranger.
“Willow seems the most despondent after the Cragmaw caught us. We’re all upset with this latest development, but I can still see the fire in Ben’s and Kir’thiri’s eyes. I can feel it. We’re going to lose her after we all escape these foul creatures. I’ll see to it that she gets out alive. She only asked for protection with our group and we dragged to an onslaught of conflicts.
“Ben, Kir’thiri, and Vigo. The Stooges of Destruction… No, wait… The Acolytes of Bedlam… Noooo. What do you call a trio consisting of a human, a halfling, and a fey-thingy? Maybe, just wait for the townsfolk to dub us something, but that’s risky.”
Vigo fell back in step a little to try and get closer to Kir’thiri.
“I know we’re captured and all,” he whispered. “But I haven’t had time to properly ask. You’re not a gnome at all, are you? I don’t mean this as an insult. I just want to know more. Are you fey and, if so, from what court?”
“You want to talk about this now?” Kir’thiri whispered through gritted teeth.
“I know. I know,” Vigo whispered back. “But between escaping prison, an exploding priest, and fighting a green dragon this walk with goblins seems pretty peaceful!”
“Fine.” Kir’thiri gave a side-eye around them, trying to notice if any of their captors realized they were talking. “I’m not going to pretend that I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t look anything like myself anymore, but I’ve decided to stop hiding from it and focus on helping others. No matter how weird I look. But what do you mean, ‘Fey?'”
“A Fey is any creature from the Feywild,” Vigo explained. “It’s a plane of existence just outside of this one, the Material Plane. The Feywild is ruled by the Courts of Fey. Does any of this ring a bell?”
“Yes,” Kir’thiri whispered, her eyes wide with trying to will Vigo to be quieter. “The Fae gates of Tir na Nog was my father’s obsession. I never even met him because he never returned from looking for it. He told my mother all of these fantastic tales of the realms of the Fey and all their splendors. She loved him so much, but he left her . . . left us. For stories, Vigo. He left us for fairy tales. That’s what I know. So aside from the warm memories of my mother crying to the moon for her lost love, I don’t know what the ‘Feywild,” or its courts have to do with me.”
Their captors, at least the unit that immediately surrounded them, tightened closer as the woods grew denser, and so Vigo and Kir’thiri’s whispered chat was forced to halt, but Vigo made a point to continue it later.
Assuming there was a later.
Vigo took a moment to reach out to his patron with his mind, which sometimes even worked for him. “Hyrsam?”
Minutes passed. Finally, Vigo heard the laughter that typically accompanied Hyrsam’s voice in his head. “Quite the pickle you’ve landed in. This seems to be your recurring theme.” A grin was evident in Hyrsam’s voice. “Maybe adventuring is not for you?”
“Well, humble beginnings and all that,” Vigo thought in retort. “We’ll get out of this, but if you have any suggestions it would be much appreciated!”
“I think I’ll just see how this one plays out,” Hyrsam’s voice had annoying joviality that was making Vigo’s brain itch. “Oh, and do keep your mind on task, eh? No need to banter with the ranger just because you lot have botched things, again.”
“First Rule of Adventuring for Mortals: Know Your Companions.” Vigo smiled to himself. “Could you please tell me what race of fey she is? Also, I feel that she would be a worthy champion for your plans with the Feywild.”
“I said,” Hyrsam’s voice sounded different to Vigo in response. Nearing . . . annoyed. “Focus. Never mind the ranger. Pay attention, or you’ll miss out on the story that you’re in. Details will escape your attention. For instance,” the grin returned to the sound of Hyrsam’s voice. “Where is little Lily?”
In taking in his immediate surroundings, Vigo saw all of his companions. Except for Lily.
Vigo heard Hyrsam’s laughter boom loudly in his head and then it faded away.
“Ben!” Vigo shouted, no longer caring who heard. “Where the fuck is Lily?”
A goblin who walked behind Vigo smacked him in the back of the head with a spear. “You, be quiet.” The goblin chittered. “No talks. Not now, not ever!” The goblin turned the spear so that the point was again aimed at Vigo’s back.
Ben’s eyes darted around their surroundings, trying to find their young companion. He began to seethe with rage when he couldn’t see her.
Noticing their unease, a bugbear made hand signals to three nearby goblins that somebody from the party was missing. Hunt them down. The goblins faded back into the forest on a mission.
Vigo hung his head, fearing that he’d just sentenced Lily to a horrible fate.
The goblin army continued marching with their captives for hours, toward what the party could only assume was Cragmaw Castle. It was much darker in the forest, belying the afternoon sun overhead and making it seem more like twilight.
Kir’thiri’s mind raced. “Keep your head down, don’t draw their attention. I’m in a forest, this is my element. First things first, how far have they taken us, in what direction, are there any landmarks, is there a worn path . . .”
Vigo used his devil sight to see if any of their captors around him had the dagger that he’d given Lily on them, sighing with relief each time one didn’t.
Ben tensed his arm muscles in rage. The little girl had better be alright.
* * * * *
The voiceless girl moved carefully through the woods as the daylight grew scarcer between the forest’s cover and the lengthening of the day. Lily was fairly certain the goblins hadn’t seen her, but she grasped the funny small man’s dagger tighter still.
Vigo was his name. He who had armed Lily with her tooth.
A branch snapped under Lily’s little foot, overly dry to have given way under her slender form. She berated herself for not paying attention. The fierce tiny woman wouldn’t have made such a mistake.
Kir’thiri was her name. She whom Lily had been watching, learning the ways of the wild; the forest.
No goblins turned her direction at the sound of the branch. They seemed preoccupied with her friends. The little girl took a shuddering breath to steady herself. She wanted desperately to save her new friends, to heal their wounds from the day’s battles like the elf-maiden might do, was she not bound.
Willow was her name. She whose light Lily had followed from where the monk had had her in Neverwinter all the back to find her friends.
She had no plan as of yet, did Lily of the Goblin Followers, not like he would have had in her place. He who stood before a green dragon without crying. Her shield in this world of monsters.
Ben was his name. By his side was the only place in the realm where Lily felt safe. Felt most cared for.
She continued to follow deeper into the woods.
* * * * *
Kir’thiri’s time with Ry’ven in her younger years had been well-spent, so far as its effect on her capabilities as a Ranger. Particularly for her knowledge of orcs and goblins. For instance, Kir’thiri knew that the chances of Gundren still being alive some near month after his capture were slim. But there was still a chance. Goblins were huge cogs in the slave market machine. They rarely killed a prisoner that they could sell and/or keep as a “pet.” Granted, that knowledge wasn’t necessarily helpful when one found themselves a prisoner of goblins, too.
Speaking of which, Kir’thiri began to notice that their captors were no longer counted just among the Cragmaw tribe. Cragmaw filed their teeth down to little jagged blades, hence their name. But Kir’thiri saw goblins from the Rattleteeth and Jaggedstump tribes there as well. A few bugbears from the Sword Mountain tribes. The hobgoblin that had made off with their gear was from a tribe she didn’t recognize from Ry’ven’s teachings, though. And these goblins were different in other ways, too. Focused. More militarized; determined in structure and strategy. For instance, they didn’t speak in Common around the party outside of to berate them.
With a shudder, Kir’thiri realized that they hadn’t been captured by an extraordinarily large Cragmaw hunting party. This was part of something worse. A host had gathered, and they were caught in but a small company of it.
Kir’thiri tested her bindings, flexing her hands this way and that. All it earned her was a thump in the back of the head from a shouting goblin’s spear.
Refocused on her surroundings, Kir’thiri noticed the castle in the distance. Cragmaw Castle. It was then that she noted that they were being veered off course from the most direct route to the castle. Searching the why Kir’thiri saw the wide chasm to the west of them. She shuddered again, realizing that they were within eyesight of the entrance to the old dragon temple buried beneath and the evil druid within.
The woods began to thin the closer the party got to the castle. The trees had been clearcut to allow for the tens of dozens of tents, cooking fires, and makeshift barracks laid before them. Cragmaw Castle, falling in and crumbling as it was, had not been enough to contain the growing host of goblinoids, it seemed.
Upon approaching, both Kir’thiri and Vigo noticed a goblin running toward the western side of the castle with a cinch of elaborate rope bundled in its arms.
“I recognize that rope,” Kir’thiri said quietly.
“It was when we met the Heroes Triumvirate,” Vigo said, still feeling a failure for announcing to their captors that Lily existed. “That ranger fellow, Karakas, had it.”
The party was led into a side door on the southern wall of the castle and left to wait with three goblin guards who stood watching them, two armed with ramshackle scimitars and then one at the rear, standing between the party and the door they’d come by, a spear.
Suddenly a horrible roar filled the castle!
Wide-eyed, Kir’thiri announced to the party, “So, um, there seems to be an irate owlbear somewhere in this castle.”
Ben didn’t care. They were finally here, Cragmaw Castle. Sildar’s instructions over a month ago had been to locate the very place where they’d just been brought. A smile crossed Ben’s face, but then fell as he noticed slight movement from the end of the hall they were standing in. A tarp of some kind had been hung to try and camouflage the fact that there was a gigantic hole in the northern wall of the castle.
And from that hole hid Lily, her little face peeking through at the party. Smiling, she held up Vigo’s dagger and gave it a little stabby-stab motion in way of hello.
Kir’thiri saw her too and immediately pretended to faint, falling to the floor.
“What doing?” the spear-wielding goblin demanded, standing over Kir’thiri and prodding her with his spear.
Ben took the opportunity to do something daring. He leaped straight up into the air and tried to bring his tied hands under his legs and up in front of him. Failing, he ended up in a crouched position with his still very much tied hands tucked behind his knees.
The two other goblins raced over, swords at the ready. The first one swung at Ben but Ben squirmed left, dodging. He stood upright as the goblin with the spear attacked. Nimbly sliding right, Ben was able to hook the shaft of the spear under his arm and disarm the goblin!
The bugbear captain returned barking orders in goblin and everyone stopped what they were doing. As he rushed forward the bugbear swung a club into Willow’s stomach to force her out of his way of Ben. The elf maiden fell to the ground vomiting on herself.
The bugbear swung his club then at Ben, landing a powerful blow. Stepping forward to continue his assault, the bugbear was stopped by another bugbear bellowing even more loudly from down the hall. Clearly this new arrival was in command because all of the goblins stood at attention when he yelled.
The first bugbear stopped his attack and snatched the spear from beneath Ben’s arm where it had been captured, returning the weapon with disgust to the goblin who had been, albeit loosely, wielding it.
Ben gave a quick glance down the hall and his smile returned. However haphazardly they’d done it, they’d given Lily a chance to disappear again seemingly undetected.
The trio of goblins then led the party through a side door into a dilapidated dining hall. Long tables sat still filled with dirty dishes, molding and maggot-filled food and refuse. The goblins forced the party to sit at one of the tables and guarded them after they did so, waiting for whatever was being waited on to happen.
Throughout the events, the owlbear could still be heard howling in rage in the distance, but there were other sounds of commotion as well as if the entire castle was in an uproar.
As they waited, Kir’thiri noticed a knife hidden amongst the gross assortment on the table and nodded his finding to Willow who was seated beside her on the bench. Willow, covered in her own spit up, saw the knife then, too. She lowered her head to the table, trying not to smell what the maggots were feasting on inches from her face.
All the while, Ben began to mock the goblin holding the spear, angering his guard into doing something stupid. Which worked. As it did, Vigo fired an eldritch blast, unlooking and with his hands behind his back, at the goblin directly behind him, clipping the goblin’s ear.
The goblin with the spear attacked Ben, but somehow Ben slid out of its way and stood up off the bench. Vigo, seated next to him, rolled off and onto the floor hiding beneath the bench.
Covering her intentions with her long hair on the other side of the table, Willow was able to grab the knife in her teeth and pitch it into Kir’thir’s lap. The gnome ranger leaned and shifted until she could begin cutting her bindings. Seeing this begin to work, Willow got up and stood behind Kir’thiri, waiting for her turn to be free.
Ben head-butted the goblin with the spear, busting its face into broken nose agony and then finishing it off with another head-butt to its chest, crushing the goblins ribs.
Seeing this, Vigo followed suit and kicked out from beneath the table at the goblin attacking him aiming for its chest. The single kick was so well-aimed, the goblin’s sternum cracked in half, piercing the poor bastard’s heart and felling him dead to the floor.
The party made short work of the third goblin and Kir’thiri cut everyone loose. Arming themselves with the goblin’s crude weapons, the party gathered themselves and formed a game plan.
“This is where Gundren is, supposedly,” Ben said.
“So let’s get what we came for and blow this joint,” Vigo said, reinvigorated.
“And Lily,” Ben added.
“And Lily,” Kir’thiri agreed. The owlbear roared again, sounding even more infuriated to Kir’thiri, which she wouldn’t have thought possible.
The party snuck through the castle, listening intently and profusely at many doors, dispatching archer goblins and a gang of hobgoblins — which fell Ben momentarily — as they went. Best yet, they discovered all of their equipment! They even found Sildar’s chainmail and his beloved sword.
Oddly, things began quieting down within the castle walls, and the encampment without seemed to be being cleared.
Finally finding Lily after their bugbear skirmish, the little girl led the party — Ben by the hand — to what appeared to be a recently, and quickly, abandoned shrine of some kind. Lily pointed out some potions that she’d discovered hidden under an altar.
Much needed healing potions!
Refreshed of strength anew, Ben asked Lily, “Have you seen any type of prison here?”
Lily looked confused.
“Like, cells? Bars keeping people inside? Anyone tied up?”
The latter caused something to dawn on Lily and she led the party through some curtains to a second room. After making short work of a grick and eavesdropping at yet another door, the party heard fighting between the commander bugbear, whose voice they recognized from earlier, and what sounded like a woman’s voice.
Ben opened the door to a small bedroom. There, on the floor before the fireplace, laid a badly beaten dwarf.
“We most take make haste,” the woman’s voice continued.
“It is all done!” The bugbear yelled. “The host is on the move.”
“Phandalin must fall,” the woman’s voice continued as though the bugbear hadn’t spoken. “The Black Spider is –“
The bugbear saw Ben, then, trying to listen in to their discussion and charged with a bellowing roar. Stepping into the room toward the dwarf, Ben saw briefly that there was a woman-shaped being in the corner behind the charging bugbear. She shimmered, briefly, and became a drow warrior.
As the pitched battle began with the bugbear, the now drow slid around and collected the broken dwarf from the floor. “Up, Gundren, now!” she yelled at the dwarf’s swaying head.
Vigo rolled into the room and up onto a table behind the bugbear, priming himself for a backstabbing pincer attack with Ben. “They think I don’t pay attention, Sildar and Ben with all their battle strategy talk,” the halfling warlock thought with a smile.
“Vigo?” the drow said, shifting into another form, this one a human brunette woman before shifting back into the drow form. The voice’s inflection betrayed powerful emotion, but Vigo would be unable to later pinpoint which kind.
“Huh?” Vigo turned as, her face twisted in fury, the drow plunged a dagger into Gundren Rockseeker’s chest and dropped him to the floor. She escaped out of a back door in the room.
With new thoughts on his mind, Vigo returned to the task at hand and plunged his dagger into the bugbear’s back, finishing off the king of the Cragmaw Tribe.
With the battle over, the party exited the castle and made camp in the woods north of Cragmaw Castle with a healed-up Gundren and his map to Wave Echo Cave. (Vigo had found it and some treasure hidden under a very disgusting mattress.)
As they all were setting up camp and resting for the night, Vigo took the opportunity to continue what had began as a whispered conversation with Kir’thri.
“What happened to your father, your family, is horrible, Kir’thiri.” Vigo began, almost blurting it out to Kir’thir as soon as he found her off to the side. “But the Feywilds are real, though some parts are far from fairy tales. More like nightmares, really. Did your mother ever tell you your father’s name? I might have a way to find him if he did make his way into the Feywild. That is if you do want to see him.”
Kir’thiri looked at the ground, then back up to the sliver of moon in the night’s sky. She knew Vigo well enough at this point to know that they’d come back around to this.
“Mother would never speak his name.” Kir’thiri sighed. “She never said why, but always looked a little scared whenever I’d ask. She told me one time when I was very young and had been picked on because of my ‘goblin’ ears that all the Fair Folk of Tir na Nog had ears longer than any goblin, and they wore clothing crafted from pure spun starlight. She said that my father had seen them in his younger days, and his memories of that magic were what called him to journey. She always just said he would find his way home, and I eventually stopped asking since she wouldn’t, or maybe couldn’t tell me. And how could you find him anyway?”
Vigo thought hard at his patron, “Hyrsam, she better not be your daughter!” but then said aloud, “Right! My patron is a powerful Feylord. He allows me to siphon some of his power in exchange for fantastic stories. I could ask him about your father, but all Fey love to bargain and make binding deals. Hyrsam is usually generous with is offers, but the price for defaulting is usually quite steep.”
Kir’thiri looked Vigo in the eyes, a slight squint of annoyance in her own. “I don’t know how to respond to that, Vigo. I guess I don’t know where you’re going with this. I mean, I’ve assumed my father has been dead my entire life, but you’re talking about Fey Patrons and binding deals to find him in the Feywild. Also, why did you ask me about all of this Feywild stuff in the first place?” More frustration crept into her voice. “What aren’t you saying?”
“I’m saying that I’m believing less and less in coincidences,” Vigo said, breaking her stare. “I don’t mean to upset you. I’m intrigued to find out exactly what you are. Maybe, it’ll help you with what you are going to become. Do you mind, if I dig around and try to find out where your father went off to?”
Kir’thiri threw her hands up into the air. “Assuming we live through this, then sure. I just hope you don’t waste too much of your time trying to find a dead man. If you really want to help me, you’ll help me figure out who cursed me! How they erased my name from every mind except my own, and why I don’t recognize my own face! Do you think tracking down my father will help with that, because if so then why didn’t you say so? Let’s storm the gates of Avalon and demand some answers!”
“Yes! Okay!” Vigo beamed, clearing missing the heaping dose of sarcasm from Kir’thiri.
“Argh!” Kir’thiri yelled and walked away. Every time, just when she thinks she’s getting a handle on that guy . . .
“Wha-” Vigo puzzled.
As their camp set-up was nearing complete, Lily came to each party member and offered berries from the mound in her hands.
“Tha-that’s great Lily, thanks,” Ben said, taking some of the offered treat but looking to Kir’thiri who had just returned with a quizzical “will this kill us?” look.
Kir’thiri examined the berries and popped one in her mouth. “Mmm, thanks, Lily.” She gave the little girl a wink and then nodded over her head at Ben.
Vigo laughed, using prestidigitation to make the berries taste like chocolate. Lily ate one, gave a funny look, realized what that taste was, then gobbled many, many more.
Bellies full, the party rested. During the course of his watch, Vigo noted that a mass of twig blights passed near their camp headed toward the southeast. They didn’t appear to be interested in Vigo or his friends so he didn’t wake anyone, just made a note to tell Kir’thiri and Ben in the morning.
Deciding on a course back to Phandalin — both to return Gundren and the map to Wave Echo Cave, their original mission, and to let Sildar know what they’d overheard insofar as Phandalin being in danger. Again — the party made their way south without incident.
Upon arriving in the mining town, they could see that Sildar had made good with the money they’d left him to begin securing Phandalin as sellswords were walking perimeter checks as they arrived. Sildar greeted them happily. Deeply moved as they returned his belongings and astounded at their tales of battling a green dragon, tree zombies, missing heroes, and their escaping captivity from a goblin army.
“Oh, yeah,” Ben further offered to his mentor. “There was a shape-shifter, too, with the king of the Cragmaw.”
“Yeah,” Vigo cleared his throat. “About her. I think that was my sister.”
As one the party was utterly baffled. Hard as it was to believe, Vigo could still leave them speechless with head-scratching wonder.
“Why is it always you?” Sildar asked, his face in his hands.
“It’s just my family, and the Fey, there were deals made . . .”
As the morning continued and options were put forth as to how best protect the roughly 1,000 citizens of Phandalin, the party ate, drank, imparted wisdom gained from first-hand experience and took the same as their enemies marched ever closer.
Both the ones they knew about and the ones they didn’t.