We arrived in Highland in the capacity of guards on a merchant caravan run by [ORIGINAL CARAVAN MERCHANT]. Imagine! Me, a guard for a tiny caravan of but three wagons.
[OCM] was in a rush to reach Highland in time for a trademeet held in Highland in conjunction with a local religious ceremony. Once we reached Highland, Thoog and I, along with Pell (an elven traveller who had been riding in the caravan as a passenger but who clearly knew his way around a fight) were contracted by Highland’s Temple of [HIGHLAND TEMPLE DEITY] to retrieve a book of rituals that was needed for the ceremony but which had been stolen by a cult of succubus worshippers.
Pell, Thoog, and I were joined in this endeavor by Salbel, a forest elf from the forest south of Highland who was working for the Highland Temple. We followed a chain of connections and leads in town, one link of which was the truly despicable municipal records-keeper [HIGHLAND RECORDS-KEEPER] – the little tyrant of a pocket empire. He deserved the knife, but Thoog, my conscience as usual, stayed my hand. We managed to track the cult to its base of operations, an isolated mansion owned by someone named Hadonis many miles east of the city.
We used our caravan pay to provision ourselves and acquire horses, and we ventured to the house. We observed the house from afar and saw no one coming or going, so we approached the front door and were immediately attacked by guard dogs and cultists. We fought our way into the house, finding it filled with the unholy symbols of the cult. We fought a handful of cultists inside, but we knew there must be more to the operation. In a back room, we found a concealed door which opened only when a particular succubus idol was turned just so.
The door opened into a concealed underground complex in the cliffs behind the house. This complex housed the main force of the cult, including a juvenile white dragon who, it seemed, was kept as a prisoner or even pet by the cult. We defeated the dragon and the cultists, and we even engaged Hadonis himself, but he managed to escape by using sorcery to become invisible. Despite a clever (if I do say so) attempt to track his movements by quickly spreading sawdust on the floor of one of the rooms of the complex, Hadonis escaped nonetheless. Still, we did successfully retrieve the Book, along with a magical Ring, a glowing Rod of Light, several evil but powerful looking relics of the cult, and a respectable amount of coins and gems.
On our return trip to town, we experienced a very strange vision. A glowing golden creature that looked much like an elephant appeared not far from us. We approached to investigate, and as we drew closer we were all filled with a sense of reassurance and comfort. However, the creature disappeared before we could come too close. Pell drew a picture of the thing in the journal he carries. We don’t know if there is any connection between our victory over the succubus cult and this strange vision. The Highland temple sages had not heard of anything like this creature.
After returning the stolen Holy Book to the Highland Temple, we considered our next move. [OCM] had already taken off, so I decided to follow up on something that I had heard from [HIGHLAND FLETCHER], the fletcher in town, while equipping for the raid on Hadonis’ succubus cult; that his previously reliable trade in high-quality arrows from the forest elves to the south had mysteriously stopped. It sounded to me like a business opportunity right up our alley.
I located Salbel, who had been recuperating in the Temple, and asked her if she knew why the elves would have stopped dealing with the Highland merchants. She didn’t know, as she hadn’t been home in some time, but she was concerned. She suggested we travel south together into the forest to investigate. I accepted the offer gladly, because I certainly didn’t know how Thoog and I would be received without an invitation.
Pell wished to come along in order to meet some of his forest dwelling kin, and we had no objection to this because we had grown fond of Pell (and respectful of his capabilities). So taking only Riik and leaving the wagon and draft horses stabled in Highland (for we did not know the quality of the roads in the wood), the four of us travelled into the south forest.
With Salbel to show the way we came quickly to the forest elves’ western border encampment. The reclusive forest elves maintain this camp in order to conduct commerce with the outside world. The camp was heavily fortified. We learned that the camp had been under increasingly aggressive attack by one or more goblin bands. The elves were suffering casualties and their supplies were dwindling, including their supply of arrows. They could spare none for trade.
It seemed to me that we could turn this situation to our advantage. If we could help the elves repel the threat of these goblins, not only could trade in their valuable arrows resume, but their gratitude to us might induce them to show preference to us in trade dealings. And from arrows, who knows what else might grow? With the right moves, we could monopolize all trade in and out between the elves and Highland.
I took the gamble of offering, gratis, all the arrows in our quivers and in Riik’s saddlebags to assist in the defense of the camp. [Elven Encampment Captain], the captain of the camp’s defense force, seemed genuinely suprised by this gesture and grateful, as I had hoped. I then offered our services to the captain in the effort to locate and strike back against the goblins. He seemed suspicious of our desire to help, so I answered him honestly; I wanted access to his arrows, and while the camp was under threat it was obvious that there would be no trade.
Salbel also wanted to help her kinfolk for more altruistic reasons, and she spoke with [EEC] on our behalf. He eventually agreed to allow us to undertake this mission, and he spared us two spearmen from his defense force. Scouts believed that the goblins might be raiding from the hill-caves to the south of the forest’s edge, so with the spearmen guiding us we set off through the deep woods.
Accompanied by Salbel and the two elven soldiers, we searched the hills south of the elves’ forest for the goblin’s lair and found instead a ruined keep that, from outside inspection, showed signs of habitation. We assumed it to be the goblins’ lair, and we set about looking for a stealthy way in.
We found a concealed cave entrance in the bluff on which the keep stood. This entrance was (inadvertently) guarded by troglodytes, who laired in the cave. We defeated the troglodytes and explored the lower level of the keep, which apparently hadn’t been touched by the fort’s current squatters, for it housed undead as well as an unfortunate group of giant slugs who, apparently, were actually intelligent beings who had been the victims of some sort of magical transformation.
Pell, predictably, was entranced by these sad creatures, so we decided we would attempt to free them by carrying them with us up the ladder to the main level. Unfortunately upon reaching the main level we were immediately attacked by a group of human bandits. It was they, not goblins after all, who had laid claim to the fort. We bested the bandits, but in the frantic and unexpected melee the majority of the slugs were trampled underfoot. Counting the bodies afterwards, however, we saw that one was missing. We were unable to find it, so we can only hope it escaped to freedom.
We returned to the elven encampment to report our success against one threat but our failure to find and confront the goblins. The elves also had good and bad news: while we had been gone, another attack had further weakened the beleaguered camp, but after the attack elven scouts had managed to follow the trail left by the goblins during their raid. They had located the goblins’ lair, and it turned out to be within the forest itself. It looked as if we would get another chance to make a name for ourselves among these elves.
With only Salbel (our other elven companions were needed for defense of the encampment) and a guide to show us the way, we set off for the real goblin lair. On reaching it, we found a well concealed cave entrance. The concealment surprised me; it showed a greater level of forethought and discipline than I am used to seeing in these beasts. But perhaps the goblins of this land are different from those of [HOMELAND].
We decided to attack at night, in the hope that the strongest of the camp would be out hunting. We quickly dispatched the guards in the first cave, but unfortunately they were able to sound an alarm. We moved as quickly as possible into the interior of the cave network, attempting to take advantage of surprise and speed in the absence of stealth. At times squeezing through barely passable clefts and cracks, we made our way deeper through goblin guard rooms and animal pens. Along the way we freed a large collection of mountain goats, denying the tribe at least some of their sustenance. We fought a few minor skirmishes but had clearly not yet faced the main bulk of the goblin tribe, nor its leader.
We became aware of two distinct “classes” within this tribe: some of the goblins looked normal to me; that is, like goblins I was familiar with from my homeland. But others of the goblins were stronger, larger, fiercer, and covered with warpaint in strange designs. I had never seen or even heard of goblins like this before, nor had I seen this kind of ritualistic self-decoration among the rude goblins of [HOMELAND]. It seemed to me that this tribe had “got religion;” some external force or power was strengthening these goblins, physically enhancing them as well as strengthening their resolve and discipline.
We advanced deeper into the caves and came to a vast underground chamber containing a subterranean lake. The chamber was spanned by a rope and plank bridge. We attempted to cross this bridge, tied together for safety in case one of us should lose his footing. Unfortunately, the earth in this area was angry, for as we moved precariously across this bridge, its ends lost in darkness in both directions, the earth shook and the rock groaned, and we were thrown from our perch. We each made a mad scramble to hold on, but we were doomed to fall.
Thankfully, the ring we acquired from the succubus cult’s treasure vault saved us all, for it was (as the Temple priests had suggested when I showed it to them) an enchanted Slow-Falling Ring. True, we plunged 100 feet, in darkness, into an icy lake that extended into mist in all directions, but at least we survived the fall.
On hitting the water, we all began to flail about and sink. Thoog, who had learned the ways of the fish during his childhood among rivermen, immediately shed his heavy armor, weapons belt, and pack, and began helping the rest of our out of our gear as well. After a tense and terrifying few minutes in which Pell nearly lost consciousness under the black water, we all made it safely to a rock ledge and out of the icy lake.
We found ourselves now with virtually no equipment, trapped at the bottom of a 100 foot cavern, with a tribe of goblins almost certainly searching for us overhead. Our objective at this point, by unspoken consensus, had now changed from destruction of the goblins to mere escape. Even that goal seemed remote.
Thoog, who knew the ways of the spider as well as the fish, volunteered to climb the wall to see if he could find a rope to lower down to us. Taking my dagger (the only weapon that accompanied any of us through the fall and the swim), the Ring and the Light Rod, Thoog climbed the rough rock wall back up to the end of the bridge.
He managed to get to the top of the cliff undisturbed. He then went back onto the bridge and started working his way to the other side. Along the way, he methodically cut the anchor ropes that bound one of the long guide ropes to the side of the bridge. (He also retrieved two of our weapons from where they lay near the point we fell from.) He reached the opposite side safely. Grabbing hold of the freed guide rope, he cut it from its mooring point and leaped out into the chasm, swinging slowly (for the Ring resisted his fall) across the chasm. He dropped off the rope at the midpoint of the swing and plunged into the water as the rope sailed across the remaining open space and hit the rock wall with a distressingly loud thwack. Thoog swam back to where the rest of us waited.
The rope was too short to reach all the way down to us, but the end was only 30’ or so up. A manageable climb. Unfortunately, the sound of the rope crashing against the cliff alerted goblins on the far side of the bridge to our location. As we slowly made our way up the wall and the rope, arrows flew wildly from the far side of the chasm. After making it up the rope, Salbel and I were able to hold off a wave of goblins coming from the near side while Thoog helped Pell climb. We had hoped to leave the bridge intact for our own use in a hypothetical second expedition, but a horde of goblins crossing the bridge changed our mind. Thoog and I frantically cut the support ropes on our side of the bridge and watched with great satisfaction as the bridge and an unknown number of goblins plunged into the darkness that we had just escaped.
At this point, more tremors shook the rock, giving us yet another reason to leave the caves as quickly as possible. We retraced our previous course, this time in a headlong rush, as tremors shook the caves and the very passages shifted and collapsed. We were almost trapped in one of the caves as chunks of rock and billows of dust crashed from the ceiling, but stumbling and dragging each other we managed to reach daylight again. No goblins followed us out.
We returned to the elven encampment once again without being able to report success. We had lived, which of course is always my own first objective. And as for our mission… well, we did slay a goodly number of goblins, we set back their operations (destroying the bridge, scattering their livestock), and for all we know the earth itself may have entombed the survivors and whatever dark power had stirred the goblins to their frenzy.
[EEC] took our report with apparent satisfaction, and he was generous in replacing what of our lost equipment he could spare. But we had not achieved the commercial bargaining chip I had hoped for; because we had not confirmed the end of the goblin threat, the captain was unwilling to commit to renewed trade negotiations just yet. In an effort to keep the dialog moving, I offered to travel back to Highland and load my wagon up with what emergency supplies the camp might need and which Highland could provide. On our return from Highland, we would reconnoiter the goblin caves again to see whether the caves were completely destroyed in the quake. If not, we would assault them again.
So, we have returned to Highland and resupplied ourselves, and we are negotiating with the Highland merchants for the foodstuffs, arrows, and other equipment needed by the elves. I look forward to a chance to take revenge on those goblin scum as well as finally cement our relationship with the elves.