Danger Ahead!

Sabotage
The next morning, as the caravan was leaving the inn, Samardag the Hoper’s wagon fell apart. His cargo crashed to the ground, smashing to pieces. Ever the optimist, Samardag just shrugged and decided to stay behind at the inn and wait for another opportunity to come along. Keo took a look at the wagon anyway and determined that it had been sabotaged, though he chose to keep that info to himself. The goliath decided to continue on with the caravan as an independent traveler, while his fellow guard, Leda Widris, was hired on by Beyd Sechepol.

Trollclaw Ford
A few uneventful days later, the caravan arrived at Trollclaw Ford and settled down for another day of rest. The heroes spent part of the day exploring the myriad ruins lying around the ford but no trolls were forthcoming. When they returned, they discovered a gnome had showed up in the caravan’s midst. About all anyone could get out of him was his name: Radecere Perethun. That and the fact that he really enjoyed playing games of chance.

That night, Barakis invited Keo to share a drink with him and exchange pleasantries. Afterwards, as Keo was settling down to bed, he was suddenly wracked with pain. It was only thanks to his stone-like constitution that he survived. The goliath set off to find Flint, who deduced that someone had put wyvern poison in his drink. Keo wondered if it had been Barakis or someone else.

Contraband
As the caravan wound its way out of the Trollclaws, the Appledowns had a small mishap as their wagon tipped into a rut and broke a wheel. As a result, some of their possessions spilled out onto the ground. While Tilda frantically tried to gather everything up, her husband Devlin insisted he could fix the wagon himself. Keo wouldn’t take no for an answer, though, so the young man eventually agreed to let the goliath hold the wagon up while he put on a new wheel.

After the caravan had stopped for the night, Losvius reported to Erevan that he had spotted some expensive-looking jewels among the things Tilda hurriedly put back in the wagon. Too expensive for such poor-looking commoners. The next morning, Losvius was found dead in his bed. Examining the halfling’s body, Flint noticed a tiny needle prick in the back of his neck, along with the telltale signs of wyvern poison. He chose to keep the evidence of Losvius’ murder to himself, though, so a manhunt wouldn’t reveal the cultists prematurely.

Bane of the Mountains
Another few days passed uneventfully. As the caravan settled in for another rest day in the shadow of the Troll Hills, Erevan and Keo spotted some perytons circling overhead. As the monstrosities began to dive toward the camp, the two gave a yell and made ready to defend the others, who were caught off-guard. One peryton went for Erevan, desiring his elf-flesh above all else, while another attacked Tilda Appledown. A third went for Imsa the Green. The remaining perytons struck elsewhere in the camp.

Seeing Imsa being gored by the peryton, Keo rushed in and used his magic to keep her alive. He then dragged her under the relative safety of a wagon and turned to face the hungry monster. Erevan, meanwhile, had also taken shelter beneath a wagon, firing his arrows at the peryton as Mara came running up and repeatedly threw her axe at the stubborn creature until it finally died.

As Flint fired magic missiles at the perytons, he glanced over at the Appledowns in time to see them draw a pair of familiar back-curved scimitars. The dragon cult weapon was of little use for Tilda, however, as the peryton’s antlers and talons ripped into her. As the monster made to fly off with her comatose body, Devlin ran to retrieve a bow from his wagon. Erevan the sharpshooter cames to the rescue, however, felling the beast from a great distance. Devlin hurried off to fetch his wife’s body, and as he returned to camp, Keo approached and offered to heal her. Devlin accepted but did not thank the druid.

Imsa the Green, however, did thank Keo for saving her life again. In fact, she proclaimed a desire to learn the ways of the druids and asked Keo if he would teach her. Flattered, the goliath agreed.

Dragonspear Castle
Another few days saw the caravan reach the end of the Coast Way, where it met the Trade Way in the shadow of Dragonspear Castle (or what was left of it). Here a smaller caravan traveling up from Scornubel merged with the caravan from Baldur’s Gate. Much to Erevan’s delight, the newcomers included two elf brothers, Noohar and Selvek. While Noohar was lively and talkative, his brother was mute. They were carrying exquisitely carved woodworks from the elves of Cormyr.

That night, the PCs heard all sorts of stories about the dreadful things that had happened up in the castle ruins over the centuries.

Animal Abuse
A few days later, Keo had become fed up watching one of the newcomers, a haughty noble named Grigor Chernin, abuse his animals. During a rest stop, he approached the nobleman and his bodyguards, a stern knight named Alethra and a sulky mage name Olem, to suggest that they treat their horses more kindly if they wished for them to survive the whole journey. Chernin brushed Keo’s concerns away, indicating that he could always get another horse if that one died. Not wanting to start a fight, Keo walked away, vowing to tend to the nobleman’s horse during the night, when no one was looking. Sure enough, he made sure to feed Chernin’s horses a goodberry or two every night to keep them going with the nobleman noticing.

The Golden Stag
During the caravan’s next scheduled rest stop, on the outskirts of the Misty Forest, a herd of deer wandered near to the caravan. A cry went up as someone spotted a magnificent stag with a shining coat seemingly made of gold and antlers covered in what looked like platinum. Numerous members of the caravan grabbed spears and bows and made to hunt the beast, ignoring the elves’ fervent pleas not to. Both Keo and Erevan decided to track the beast in hopes of stopping the others from killing it.

As the two slipped into the forest, they gradually heard the shouts of their comrades grow fainter, while every once in a while, they caught a glimpse of the stag up ahead. It was as though it was leading them somewhere, while the others were just getting themselves lost in the woods. Erevan hoped that no one ran afoul of the xenophobic wood elves who called the Misty Forest home.

After only a short distance (1,500 yards or so), they stumbled into a clearing in which lay the ruins of a once grand castle. In the middle, where a spring bubbled out of the ground and ran down among the rocks, stood the stag. It greeted them in a musical language that Keo recognized as Sylvan, although he couldn’t understand it. The stag then switched to Elvish, and Erevan translated for Keo. The stag told them that they were on the right path, and that they should follow the river of gold to the castle in the sky. It then implored them to drink from the spring. As a reward, they each received a charm of heroism. As the stag faded away, it warned them that not all of them would survive the journey …

And sure enough, as Keo and Erevan made their way back to camp, they found themselves ambushed by Barakis and a number of the other travelers from the caravan. All of them were wielding the dragon cult’s standard issue scimitars. Barakis further surprised them by breathing a blast of fire on Erevan. The cultists made short work of the two heroes, leaving them to bleed to death in the forest. Erevan soon succumbed to his injuries, but the goliath was still breathing by the time Flint and Mara found them. (Having seen everyone else who went hunting return but not their friends, the other two heroes convinced their employers to let them go look. Despite Aldor the lawyer’s sour attitude, Mara somehow knows just how to manipulate him into getting what she wants!)

A Second Chance
Flint revived Keo with a healing potion, and the goliath explained what had happened. The group decided to take Erevan’s body back to the ruins to see if they could find the stag again. When the stag did not return, Flint and the others decided to try shouting help, in case any elves were nearby. After some time passed, an elf emerged from the trees, and the heroes got the sense that there were many others watching them from the shadows. A tense discussion ensued, but the heroes were able to convince the elf to lead them to some druids who could help, though on condition that they all went blindfolded into the forest.

As the heroes met with the druids, they related their sorrowful tale. When Keo mentioned meeting the golden stag, the elves were suitably impressed, and when he added that he was a member of the Emerald Enclave, the druids’ attitude improved enough that they agreed to help the party. They offered to reincarnate Erevan for half the normal cost in material components. Flint scrounged through his bag of holding and begrudgingly handed over 500 gp in coins and gems.

As the druids performed their ritual, a new body took form. They called on Erevan’s spirit, and he returned to inhabit this new body. Much to his bemusement, and that of his friends’, he was now only half an elf! But this gave him an idea: the cultists would have no idea who he was. They could go on thinking that he had died in the forest, and he could spy on them as a newcomer to the caravan. It was perfect!

So the other three returned to the camp and spread the word that Erevan was dead. Flint privately told Edhelri the truth, that there were some bad people in the caravan that he and the others were tracking. They had killed Erevan. But Edhelri wasn’t to do or say anything, because Flint and his companions needed the bad people to reach their destination safely. Flint then went back to Angesstun’s wagon, convinced that virtually everyone in the caravan could be a cultist and that it was only a matter of time before they tried to kill him too!

To Waterdeep or Bust!

A Day of Rest
On the seventh day out from Baldur’s Gate, the caravan stopped for its first rest day. The animals were allowed to relax, and the wagons were patched up. Erevan stepped into his roll as caravan guard sergeant by setting up a roster and making sure all the guards were on the same page.

Keo took them time to find the tiefling Barakis and struck up a conversation with him. The tiefling revealed that he had gone to Little Calimshan after fleeing from the turmoil in his homeland, but he didn’t like it there (too oppressed and dangerous), so now he was heading further north in search of somewhere better. Keo empathized with the tiefling, and the two agreed to get some drinks together later. Mara and Flint merely sat back and observed while off duty.

Erevan also took Losvius Longnose, an overly-curious halfling teamster, aside and warned him that he’d heard about the halfling’s nosey habits. Much to Losvius’ surprise, however, Erevan offered to pay him good money to report on anything noteworthy that he came across while poking around. He warned the halfling to be discreet, though, as there was some “hot” merchandise in the caravan and its handlers wouldn’t take kindly to it being discovered. Losvius readily agreed, of course. Hopefully Erevan wouldn’t be getting him into trouble!

Fungus Humongous
A few days later, a storm rolled in. Lots of rain. Thunder and lightning. The storm went on for two whole days, leaving everyone cold and miserable. On the morning of the third day, everyone woke up to find the ground covered in tiny but rapidly growing mushrooms that let out a puff of black spores and a sound like a baby’s cry when stepped on. The merchants were all terrified, convinced that the mushrooms would doom them all, especially since the animals were all spooked too. Keo, however, knew a thing or two about plants and determined that these were baby shriekers. He wasn’t sure why they were growing on the surface but pointed out that they were pretty harmless at this stage. Their spores were only mildly toxic. He volunteered to help clear a path, as did his companions and several of the other guards. Only the guards were affected by the toxin and ended up spending the rest of the day wracked with grief.

No Room at the Inn
That evening, the caravan approached the last inn south of Trollclaw Ford. The warm light spilling from its windows was inviting, but when the heroes were sent inside to secure some rooms, they discovered that the entire inn had been booked out by a snotty-looking noblewoman and her entourage of sniggering dilettantes. The woman insisted that she was waiting for some party guests to arrive but wouldn’t discuss the details. The innkeeper seemed completely unwilling to make any exceptions and wouldn’t even allow the caravan to stay in the stables (which the noblewoman had also booked out so her horses wouldn’t have to share the building with any other animals), although he seemed visibly embarrassed by it.

While the party discussed whether or not to simply overwhelm the innkeeper and the nobles with the sheer number of people in the caravan, Tyjit Skesh lost her temper and drew her sword. The noblewoman’s minions quickly leapt to their feet, drawing their weapons as well. The noblewoman herself underwent a terrifying transformation, sprouting large leather wings from her back and small horns on her head, as her skin darkened to an unholy shade of red. Keo recognized her as a half-fiend cambion. The fight was on!

As the cambion’s minions came charging across the room, Keo conjured up two brown bears in an attempt to box the half-fiend in the corner. Unfortunately, she was able to evade them by flying up near the ceiling. She then used her fiendish wiles to charm Mara into attacking Keo, who had changed into bear form himself. Between Mara’s greataxe and the minions’ swords, Keo found himself unable to stay in wildshaped for long. He also lost concentration on his conjuration spell, but not before the two bears were able to rough up two of the cambion’s minions.

The cambion shot rays of fire at the heroes and taunted them while she hovered in the air out of reach. Along with her minions’ attacks, the party were quickly overwhelmed. Flint dropped to the ground, though Tyjit managed to stabilize him. Keo soon followed, as did Erevan. Tyjit ran to the front door and called for aid. Orvustia, Leda, and Sulesdeg came running to help. Orvustia headed to assist Erevan, helping him back on his feet, while Leda and Sulesdeg held off the cambion’s minions. Erevan was soon on the floor again, though, as the cambion ordered Mara to chase him around and take him down. Orvustia went to help Keo, but the cambion scorched her with fire and she crumpled onto the ground.

The cambion then ordered Mara to go help herself to a drink, taking her out of the fight for a few moments. Flying over to a table near the bar, she invited Mara to join her while they watched her minions hack away at Sulesdeg and Leda. Sulesdeg fell, but Leda hung in there and ended up being the last one standing. She rushed over to get a healing potion off Erevan’s belt. The cambion, who had by this time introduced herself as Nemeia, ordered Mara to go stop Leda. Unfortunately, Leda gave Mara a few good whacks, enabling the noble fighter to shake off the charm effect. Disappointed, Nemeia flew over to the bar and tried it on Leda, but the veteran guard proved to be too strong-willed. Leda poured the potion down Erevan’s throat, while Mara went to fetch more healing potions from Flint’s bag of holding. With Flint back in the action, the cambion got pounded by magic missiles and soon called it quits, telling the party that they’d ruined her fun. She then plane shifted away in a puff of black smoke.

The battle over, the heroes picked themselves up, revived Sulesdeg and Tyjit, and searched the bodies of the cambion’s goons. Sadly, though, young Orvustia had succumbed to her wounds and was no more.

When the innkeeper came back to his senses (the cambion had also charmed him), he readily agreed to let the entire caravan stay at the inn free of charge (the rooms having already been paid for, after all!). While most members of the caravan were grateful to the adventurers for securing the inn for them, some of the travellers behaved rather oddly. The Appledowns, for instance, chose to stay outside in their wagon, despite the weather, and while Pavel Borsk took a room in the inn, he ordered his bodyguard, Umara, to stay with his wagon. Some of the other travelers who’d been walking also chose to stay in the stables rather than come into the inn. But others, like Imsa and Barakis, gladly partook of the warmth and dryness of the common room. Lai Angesstun droned on about how glad he was not to have to pay for a room, while Morn Amblecrown rudely ignored everyone else. Edhelri was pleased that heroes and their fellow guards were able to clear out the awful people, though she gives Erevan a bit of a chiding for allowing Orvustia to get herself killed.

In the morning, Orvustia’s body was buried under a cairn of rocks, and Edhelri instructed Erevan to write a letter to her family explaining how she’d died. The letter was left at the inn to be taken back to Baldur’s Gate by the next southbound caravan that came through. The caravan also confiscated the cambion’s fine horses.