The Shard of Io

Land of the Blind

With Brolan’s body in tow, the dwarves ran blindly into the desert. They had no idea what direction they needed to go, they just knew they had to travel in the general direction of Away.

Short legs pounded through sandy dunes until the sounds from the camp died down. Only once the light of the camp had faded as well did the dwarves decide to stop. “Well,” Vangar asked with a huff. “Any ideas?”

There were no landmarks. No stars, or moon that wasn’t hidden by clouds containing faintly glowing tinges of red. No means to navigate the desert stretched out all around them.

Duerias pointed. “That way feels right.”

Brugan held his hand up. “Wait. Did you hear that?”

Thauris shifted in the sand and adjusted Brolan’s body which was draped over his shoulder. “Sounded like growling.”

Duerias crept toward a nearby cresting dune. “I don’t think it was growling,” he whispered before diving over the sand.

Cries of alarm, human cries. The form of a human man, dressed similarly to the guards back at the slaver camp, scrambled over the dune and crawled blindly toward the rest of the group. Duerias stalked after him, looking very much armed and dangerous.

The man crawled right into Brugan’s line of fire and caught a boot to the face for his troubles. “Where do you think you’re going?”

Blood sprayed from the guard’s mouth and he fell onto his back. “Please don’t kill me,” he cried out… in dwarven.

“You speak our tongue,” Vangar said curiously.

The human blindly looked around, trying to find the direction of the voice. “I do,” he continued in dwarven. “My name is Rashai, and I had the good fortune of being an educated man.” He squinted, trying to make out shapes in the darkness. The dwarves spread out quietly. “Truth be told, I should have been elevated far beyond my current status. Vosa is an idiot.”

“Then don’t be doing anything stupid like crying out,” Thauris said.

Rashai turned his head. “You have me outnumbered, from what I can tell. I hear at least two of you. You also have the advantage of being able to see in the darkness. I have no such advantage. I am in no position to try and stop you.”

“You’re right,” Duerias said. “So why don’t I kill you?”

Rashai raised his hands to protect his face. “To escape the camp, you must already have blood on your hands. There is nothing to be gained by taking my life!”

Thauris looked down at him. “You’ll alert them as soon as we leave.”

“As I said, I can’t see you. I have no idea which direction you went, although I – and that idiot Vosa, to his credit – know where you will most likely head to.”

Rashai tried to sit up. Brugan stomped on his chest. “Where’s that?”

“I would suspect that you’ll head home. To Wyrmstone, judging by your dialect,” Rashai said, rubbing his chest and staring up at the dark sky. “Unless they try and track you by magical means, they’ll have to wait until daylight to come after you. By then your trail will have gone cold. The logical choice would be to try and apprehend you at Wyrmstone.”

“You think they’ll head to Wyrmstone?” asked Vangar.

“It depends on the circumstances of your escape. You were not slaves, despite being treated as such, so there’s no profit in retrieving you. So unless you killed someone very important, you should be fine.”

“How important are Mind Flaying Inquisitors?” Duerias wanted to know.

“You killed Yotthl? A minion of the Sorcerer Queen Velenesca?”

“Maybe.”

Rashai propped himself up on his elbows. “The Sorcerer Queen will demand retribution. She will send her forces to Wyrmstone to retrieve you.”

Thauris lowered the corpse to the ground and watched the human. “What if we don’t go back to Wyrmstone?”

“It won’t matter. You’re in the middle of the Wasteland. I cannot tell how well armed or geared you are, but there is no getting around the fact that you are in a very hostile environment. If the creatures roaming the darkness of the sand sea do not kill you, a band of Warbound will most likely find you out. It is a bold assumption that you will even survive the journey to Wyrmstone. Still, the Sorcerer Queen will send her forces there, and will spill blood until she is satisfied that you are not there.”

“It’s not like we have much of a choice,” grumbled Brugan.

“No. You can flee to Wyrmstone and bring about the deaths of many of your kinsmen, or you can flee elsewhere and still be responsible for the death of your kinsmen.”

Rashai slowly tried to sit up again and braced for a chest stomp that never came. “There is another option. Surrender to me.”

Now the stomp came, followed by a second. “I liked the part where we talked about killing you,” Thauris told him.

Rashai’s hugged his chest and cringed in pain. “Surrender to me,” he wheezed, “and you will continue on to Sanctus Seru. For sparing my life, I will provide opportunity for you to escape once you reach the city.”

“How is that better?” asked Vangar

“The Sorcerer Queen will lock down the city, hoping to trap you inside. Her search will be limited to Sanctus Seru. Your people will be safe.”

“Why in the name of Beer would we trust you?” Thauris asked.

“Your trust will not change the events that will transpire if you flee. You have slain one of Velenesca’s Inquisitors and are obviously very powerful. There is no way I can stop you if you wish to leave.” He rolled in the sand and came up on a knee, his hand reaching for a sword that was no longer in the scabbard. He hung his head. “Definitely cannot stop you. But the choice is yours.”

+ + + + +

Here is your task – discuss in comments, email, whatever. But come to a decision: Are you going to surrender? Or are you going to run? If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below.

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Our Gang
  • Vosa looked down from his mount, which happened to be a large wolf-like creature with scales instead of fur.
  • The group was surrounded by about twenty armed humans – swords, shields, almost a ringmail-style armor.
  • Ordered to strip their gear. Once they were recognized as not being among the slaves, the dwarves were allowed to maintain their armor and equipment as “diplomatic envoys”. They did, however, surrender their weapons – including Zal’anyr.
  • Previous slaves were either dead or in the process of being taken away in shackles. Pregnant Kavina had already been shackled and was being led away. She had blood on her, clearly not hers, and no visible marks of injury on her.
  • Vosa watched the slaves being marched away. “You thought you could escape from the Sorcerer Queen? She owns you. She will do with you as he sees fit.
  • Led to large lizards dragging Cells on Skis. Ten per box. About eight boxes.
  • One of the slaves commented, “It’s a press gang.”
  • Loaded into crate. Human mumbled “Great, more of them.”
  • Solitary Dwarf in the back – Thauris Doomgrip. Was a member of the hunting team Raiders, thought to be dead. Skin was discolored, badly sunburned in places. His hair on the right side appeared to be burned away.
  • He spoke without facing the group. “Have you ever woke up after a night of ale, in a strange room, with a strange woman, and wondered how you got there? That’s me, with this.”
  • Mechanical left arm, thin cables weaving into his chest and into his neck. Two fingers, one thumb. Runes etched into the metal. Work of an artificer (King Anvilmar)?
  • “Guess I live up to my name. Good thing I wasn’t Thauris Crotchrot or something.” He looked at the arm and started talking to it. “Look, I’m sorry. This just takes a little getting used to. No, I don’t think you’re ugly.”
  • He was picked up about four suns ago, maybe five. Hard to keep track. No idea how long he’d been left in the sun, other than “quite awhile.”
  • Box was dragged for two days straight. Occasionally a basin of water was dropped through a hole in the roof. Brolan caught it, distributed it to the dwarves. Eventually the humans were given their share of rations.
  • On the eve of the second day, Lizards came to a stop. The Mage had returned and brought someone with him. Brolan felt the presence immediately.
  • Sound of disagreements. Guards were against setting up camp, but they’re doing as they were told.
  • Outside, they muttered but fell silent as someone approached. Footsteps walked up to the box and stopped. “This one” said the voice. “Bring me the contents of this box.” The Inquisitor Yotthl wanted to speak to them.
  • A Human was taken first. Brolan offered himself to go second, as the guards originally selected Thauris. The remaining dwarves were all brought next, led to a large round tent assembled in the sand.
  • Inside, the Human was kneeling in the far side of the tent. The Mage watched them from afar.
  • The hooded Inquisitor spoke. “Sorcerer Queen Velensca sent me here to discover all there was to know about the Zal’anyr. But your friend told me everything after I… picked his brain.”
  • Yotthl smiled and pulled back his hood. Skin and hair hung from the teeth behind the tentacles. “I’m sorry, do I have something in my teeth?”

Mind flayer

  • Their weapons were in a nearby box. “I always feel generous after I’ve eaten. You two will not interfere at all, regardless of the outcome.” He raised Brolan’s waraxe, the green flame burned black.
  • The dwarven clan attacked with a fury unseen until now. The Mind Flayer quickly found itself in a bad way. He looked back at the Human and the Mage. “Well don’t just stand there, kill them!”
  • The dwarves killed Yotthl, the Human thrall, and the Mage. As the tent was being swarmed by guards, they grabbed Brolan’s body and cut their way out of the tent, fleeing into the desert and the darkness.
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Tomb of Io

The party of dwarves ducked their heads as they traversed down the narrow brick and mortar corridor, the throat of the dragon whose mouth they’d just entered. They didn’t have much light, but they didn’t need to see to know they were travelling down a path that had not been graced by anyone’s presence in a very long time. They spat out ancient dust that was ash-like and quite distasteful, even for a dwarf.

The party continued in the darkness until they felt the ground beneath them start to level out. It didn’t take long for their eyes to adjust to the circular room they’d just entered with the smooth domed ceiling. In fact, the shimmering column of light in the center of the room helped to illuminate things quite nicely.

There was a brief thought toward drawing weapons when they saw a black dragonborn sitting cross-legged in front of the column. His eyes were closed, and judging by the amount of settled dust in the room (not to mention his lack of breathing) it was quite likely that he was dead. Ever so cautiously moving closer, the dwarven adventurers could make out the dirt-covered cloth wrapping the dragonborn wore. Closer still, they could see that the dragonborn’s ink-black scales all had a ridge of brown around the edges, like a slowly dying leaf.

“Guess he got tired of waiting for… whatever it was that he was waiting for.”

There might have been more to look at on the corpse, but the craftmanship of the hammer hovering inside the column of light was a bit distracting.

The dead became an afterthought as the dwarves surrounded the column, and the hammer within.

The hammer bobbed inside the glowing column of light like a cork in the river. The handle appeared to be thick, studded gold bands encasing a shaft of crystal. The bands wound tight around the grip, spaced out closer to the head of the hammer, then wrapped again around what appeared to be the glowing head of a platinum dragon.

“What are your intentions?” croaked a voice so raspy and dry it was as if the dust itself had learned to speak.

The dead-looking dragonborn, who was very much not, stood behind them with his hands folded in front of him. His eyes were still closed, but he seemed to regard each dwarf individually with a slight turn of his head.

“Kind of a fan of the hammer floating there,” Duerias said.

“Yeah,” Brolan said. “Fine piece of craftsmanship.”

“My name is Nagalax,” wheezed the dragonborn. “Humble member of the Order of the Whispering Shadow and guardian of the Zal’anyr.”

“The hammer has a name?” Duerias asked and looked at the weapon once again. “Fancy.”

“I assume then that the weapon is both powerful and with a purpose,” Brugan said.

“Yes.” Nabalax bowed his head slightly. “Zal’anyr is the weapon that will destroy the shard of Io.”

Vangar pulled his gaze from the hammer and focused it on the dragonborn. “Shard of what?”

Duerias nodded at the hammer. “Think it’s a dragon thing.”

Nagalax turned his plam to the ground. With a twist of his wrist, his palm righted with a small crystal in it. “Allow me to show you as best I can,” Nagalax said as he held the crystal to his forehead.

Brolan pointed a finger at the dragonborn. “It doesn’t look like you’re giving us much ch-”

Light flashed from the crystal, and the group watched the image of a large, multicolored dragon as it flew around the room. It’s scales shimmered with the illumination of a rainbow. “Io, Lord of the Gods and Shaper of Worlds, existed in the time of the primordials. During the birth of the world, Io created dragons to be the pinnacle of the mortal form and imbuing them with the power of the Elemental Chaos.”

Brugan was transfixed. “That’s one big dragon,” he whispered.

Io vs terror

“During the time of the Dawn Wars, Io was cleaved from head to tail by the adamantine axe of the primordial known as Erek-Hus, King of Terror. No sooner had both sides of Io fallen to the ground, than they reformed into the two gods Bahamut and Tiamat. The drops of Io’s blood covered the world and rose as the Dragonborn.”

The crystal’s lightshow ended. Nagalax did not. “However, not all of Io’s divine might was captured by the newly formed Bahamut and Tiamat. Tiny fragments of Io’s divine power escaped. And it is this Shard of Io that has been foretold to wield the power to return Io back to life once again.”

Brugan considered what he’d just heard. “What of Bahamut and Tiamat?” he asked. “They can’t be pleased with that.”

“Bahamut is said to be cautious in regards to the prophecy. Tiamat wanted to leave nothing to chance and created Zal’anyr to both find and destroy any Shard.”

“So why are you guarding this thing?” Vangar asked as he stuck his thumb in the floating hammer’s direction.

I am waiting for the guardian of the Hammer to arrive. I can only assume he has arrived.

One of us?

No one has been down here in a very long time. The fact that you succeeded is evidence enough. One of you were meant to find the hammer.

The dwarves looked at each other. “So are we going to draw straws or something?” Vangar asked.

Brugan withdraw a sack and held up his hand. An unseen force plucked the hammer out of the light, the Knight’s hand guiding it across the room and setting it within the sack. “We can figure that out later. Let’s get going.”

Brolan looked at the dragonborn. “You coming too?”

Nagalax smiled. “I think I’ll rest her for awhile.”

Duerias shrugged. “Your choice.”

The group made their way back up the corridor, through the dungeon, and back up into the basement of the Keep. “So are we Shard hunters now?” Vangar asked out loud.

Brugan opened the doorway into the courtyard. “Only time will tell.”

The first thing the group noticed was the large amount of blood on the brick walls of the courtyard. The second was the two dozen men clad in matching chainmail, aiming crossbows at the dwarves. A single man sat atop a giant snarling wolf. “Little dwarves,” he said. “Your time has run out.”

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The Thunder Rolls

After a quick survey of the Orc bodies, Barstomun suggested for the group to keep moving. There was still enough of the Warbound party left alive to kill them, or whatever it is they plan to do to them.

- Some of the bodies were wearing trophies of their various kills (dwarves, human, dragonborn). Warbound generally wouldn’t be carrying much on them. No point in aiding their foes if they fall in battle. Made a creepy sense.

- The Warbound fell back, but were still very much on their trail.

- For two days the group pushed on. Sun, shrouded behind a red blanket. Open, caked earth crossing hilly terrain. Fissures of broken dirt. During the days, they moved fast. At night, they dug in. Things went bump in the night, but Bar advised against confronting them. No sense in announcing their location to the Warbound. The first attack they sent in their cannon fodder. The next round of battle would be heavy hitters.

- In the morning, the sky was cloudy. The rain that began to fall was slightly acidic. It burned, irritates the skin, very uncomfortable.

- Then the thunder started to roll. At first, it sounded like the wind was picking up. Listening carefully. the wind sound was actually the sound of screaming in pain and fear.

- A small Tortured Soulstorm touched down. It looked like a dark tornado with a green glow inside it. Faces were visible. It was more of a column-like tornado that didn’t spin. Bar panicked at the sight of it. He ordered the group to hide.

- When it appeared that the storm had seen them, Bar told the group to start running due east after he led it away. He gives his medallion a kiss before he distracted the Soulstorm and led it toward the Warbound party.

- The group did as instructed and fled east.

- After about six hours of running, a stretch of overgrown road slowly emerged from the grass. It led up the hill to the Keep.

- Outer walls had crumbled, but the inner walls appeared to have been rebuilt. An examination revealed that the ruined walls were built to look like Human architecture.

- Humans greeted them, opening the inner doors. Kavina welcomed them to Hope Keep.

- She and thirty or so others fled the city, to escape Sorcerer Queen Velesca. Jephetus, the father of her child, was killed during the escape.

- People looked happy to see them but frazzled and exhausted. They fried up some meat, broke out meade, and welcomed the new arrivals properly.

- Next morning, Kavina leads them to the dungeon basement. She said that below was the doorway that they have the key for. Only the bravest can reach the door.

- Secret door in one of the crumbled towers opened up to a descending flight of stairs. The stairs branched off – to the right was a room with supplies, to the left was a circular room that may have been used for worship of some kind.

- There was also a statue in the center of the room, standing just behind the shrine, with eyes that seemed to follow the group. As they approached it, spikes sprang out from the statue’s body and burst into flames. It didn’t attack, just looked menacing.

- Semicircular section of the floor covered in runes very similar to those on the scroll. The doorway opened like an interlocking pinwheel.

- Down the hole (30’) into a hallway. Hallway ended in a room with pillars. Dragon’s head at the far wall (about 15’ up), with its mouth open. So, so many teeth. Head seemed ever so slightly to be animated.

- Mirror images of the party stepped out of the shadows and attack. Once they were defeated, Dragon’s mouth opened wide and the tongue stuck out. Must crawl up tongue and climb through dragon’s mouth.

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The Great Escape

Several weeks had gone by.

From the goblin encampment, the group had picked up a few cut gems, a finely crafted statuette, some coins (a grand total of 70g for each person), and two scroll cases. One of the scrolls was written in an odd language that no one in the group could understand. That scroll was given to Master Northal, hoping he could somehow translate it.

The other scroll was an arcane key. When spoken it would unlock… something. Nothing in Wyrmstone had such a lock on it, but if the Goblins had it then the lock must be nearby.

The group discussed this and other matters at the Stoutlager Inn. Brolan mentioned how Master Northal had been trying to get him to focus more on his training and less on his fiancee Janatis and adventuring in general. Also, the Goblin they had brought to be interrogated (named Semli) had now become an assistant to Master Northal.

The Soutlager Inn was busy. Most of the hunting parties were out, except for the Raiders. They had been attacked by a Dragon as they returned to Wyrmstone, leaving many dead and injured. Dragon attacks were quite rare, which was why they were so unprepared to fight it off. The only description of it was that it was “dark”.

Barstomun Strongbeard, a member of the Raiders, approached the group. He’d overheard them discussing the scroll key. His face looked like he’d tried to french kiss a honey badger, but his ears were still in excellent condition. He told them that the Raiders came across a keep a little while ago. It had been a Human keep of some kind back in the day; you could tell by the terrible construction and overall ugliness of it. Once the Raiders had convinced the new inhabitants to vacate the premises (via bodybag), they found a round door in the dungeon basement of the keep. It was magically sealed. The scroll could very well be the key to open that door.

The keep was a week’s journey south of Wyrmstone. He agreed to lead them to the keep. The group purchased supplies and started the trek south.

The first day involved the descent out of the mountains. The sun was hidden behind a sheet of grey. Midday the sky turned red, and stayed that way until nightfall. A look at the landscape to the south revealed what had once been a prairie grassland, now looked more like a field of wheat after a heavy rain. The grass was brown and lifeless, packed down in many places.

During the day Duerias foraged for food and water. For food he found various fungii, and water he found “sausage trees”. On the surface the plants looked like dwarf-high dead trees. But pulling them out of the ground revealed fat roots filled with water. Some of the roots were swollen like hot dogs, others were gorged like giant sausages.

By nightfall they’d reached the foothills of the mountain. The group camped out amongst the rocks of the mountain, keeping their encampment dark and concealed. During the night watch, two large wolves passed by the encampment but did not approach.

The second day, the group crossed a large, dried out lake. They recalled fishing from the lake years ago, before The Sundering. As the sun set and the group reached the long dead grass on the opposite shore of the lakebed, they looked behind them and saw a light. Turns out it wasn’t one light, it was a collection of small lights moving close together. Bar surmised it was either a Hunting Party or a Warbound Party.

They decided that it was best to take off. Unfortunately the party followed them. Bar concluded that they had a Warbound party on their tail, which meant if they didn’t want to become some form of food source it would be best to get the Hell out of Dodge. The taking off became a better idea, as long as it was done very quickly. They ran through the long, dead wheat-like grass with the large Warbound party following not far behind them.

As the sky became dark, the Warbound party seemed to have dropped back. The group suspected they may have lost them in the dark, so they slowed down.

That plan just let ten Orcs, skin dark and eyes red, ambush them. An Orc berserker was sent in to further soften them up. However, our heroes bravely killed them dead.

But night had fallen, and with the dead bodies surrounding them and a Warbound party nearby, there would be no rest.

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Goblin Invasion

The group dragged their goblin prisoner back to Wyrmstone. They are met by two guardsmen – Fozbin and Holza (former Hunters) who looked at the goblin with a great deal of hostility and suggested they take it to Ultimax for questioning. Brolan Galebeard believed that they should take him to Master Northal for questioning. The guards are not fans of that idea, but they let the group pass.

After navigating through the city, forced at one point to throw a cloak over the goblin’s head due to the many angry and shocked looks from citizens returning home from the Gate party, they arrive at Master Northal’s home.

The Master probed the goblin’s mind and revealed that the Chief of the Goblin clan, Chief Oggrul, met with the Warbound to keep his people safe. The Warbound wanted the goblins to blow up the dwarves to prove to them that they were worthy of becoming Warbound. There was only one path from the outside to Wyrmstone, and it belonged to Chief Oggrul.

There was also a child in the clan who was half-goblin, half-dwarf. His name was Soren and he was hated by the goblins. Chief Oggrul protected the young boy because he was a member of the clan, regardless of his heritage. But the goblins would kill it if they had the chance.

Brugan & Brolan opted to deliver the news to the council, while Duerias and Vangar adjourned to the Powder Keg Inn to find the beer-goggled, clinically blind dwarf who stuck his dingle into a goblin.

The Council took a couple of days to come to a conclusion. Brugan was sent on a matter for the council. Brolan and the others were summoned before the council. Their decision: seal up every entrance to the cave from the outside, and get the goblins out by any means necessary.

Xandrak Galebeard had been instructed to use materials from the goblin’s mystic bombs to make FIVE bombs, which should have be enough to seal off the cave. The bombs were egg shaped and football sized with a one minute timer.

Instructor Lazard Stoneflint chatted it up with the group, his wandering eye darting around with excitement. He had many interesting items (like a bottle w. a hostile slime). He had some equipment for the group to test out: a twin-bladed waraxe (waraxe +1) and a magically reinforced Hide Armor (Hide Armor +1). Brolan was summoned away by a guard, but while he was gone Stoneflint asked if they group could take something else on their mission. A large humanoid construct was summoned before them – Khemval. They agree. Brolan had to meet with the council and he said he’d meet up with the group shortly.

Fozbin waited by the opening with some other guards and let them back through. They travelled through the opening into the cave. The bodies, goblin and spider alike, were all gone. The second corridor led to the giant web ladder, about 40 feet down. In order to be quiet, Duerias gave the end of his rope to Khemval and told him that he’d tug the rope when he got down. That was the mech’s cue to come down. Khem took that to mean jump, and he almost crushed the group.

They entered a large cave where the goblins had set up small stone houses. Chief Oggrul came out, riding on the back of a giant bloodworm. They fought, and killed, the Chief. Goblins now came out of their homes, all women and children except for one male who ran into the Chief’s house and pulled out a small boy – big ears, grey skin, ugly bald dwarf. He held a dagger to the boy’s throat.

The goblin was killed.

Fozbin rushed into the room with a great crossbow. Soren was his son, conceived back in the day when Fozbin admitted he would have banged anything with a hole in it. But the boy was still his son, so he would leave with the goblins to protect his son. He shook hands with the group, took one of the bombs, and led the goblins away.

Duerias cut off the Chief’s head. The group picked up a few cut gems, a finely crafted statuette, some coins, and two scroll cases.

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Gates Day

Year Five – Gate’s Day

  • Celebration of Gate’s Day – the day the gates were opened. Big party at the open gates.
  • Brolan Galebeard, is enjoying the evening. His girlfriend, Janatis Mineshadow is helping with the festivities. She is the niece of one of the Councillors (Shaster Battlefate). Brolan wants to get her something unique (she’s fairly well-off) before he proposes to her. One day, when he gets on the hunting party, he’ll find something that will help seal the deal.
  • Many parents celebrating with the newborns.
  • The Hunting Parties are all in attendance: Renegades (Ultimax), Brewbashers (Reyjold Barleybrew), Raiders (Granis Swiftaxe), The Scions of Wyrmstone (Brashun Rubystone), Blood Legion (Seaven Soulaxe).
  • Ultimax and Brashun are chatting.
  • Tannok, a member of the Brewbashers, is wrestling with the others. It’s not a party until a Brewbasher goes through a table.
  • Brolan wants to get his brother (Xandak Galebeard, Artificer) out of the laboratory and get him to the party. The group leaves the party to retrieve him.
  • As they near the place dubbed “The Workshop”, they notice a goblin hiding in the shadows. As soon as he is seen, the Warbound Goblin spy makes a break for the exit.
  • The group chasese him through Wyrmstone, past the party, and through the gates. He ducks out off the wagon trail, but the group tracks him down hiding in the rocks below.
  • They fight off six goblins in total, including the spy, and kill them all. All bodies are returned to the gates.
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