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.
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.
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.
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.
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!