The as-yet unnamed party:
Arxire Coilbone, tiefling warlock (Rory)
Erdon Thistleborn, elf cleric (Michael G.)
Felix, gnome wizard (Nico)
-Belvedere, his raven
Gogh, half-elf rogue (Brian)
-Esh, his donkey
Mathis, human monk (Zach)
Misty, elf paladin (Allie)
Naivara, elf druid (Janine)
Beezmo, halfling druid
-Drex, his mastiff
Kiko, Naivara’s ferret
Lichen, drow warlock
Tyriel Morlane, half-elf ranger
Having rescued Arxire from the headsman’s block, most of the company retired to the Winking Serpent for a well-deserved round of adult beverages and likewise well-deserved tongue-lashing from the barwench Demma Kickbride.
Felix was more interested in summoning a familiar, which he did, in the form of a raven named Belvedere. Arxire visited Sister Marla and offered her a hefty sack of gold and one of Carlin’s magical charms in recognition of her efforts on his behalf and in return for healing some of the grievous damage done by the Emperor’s Inquisitor Lady Wimsette. She was quite taken with the charismatic foreign nobleman, though she bade him walk a straighter path in life. Gogh swung by the blacksmith’s to pick up a set of curved knives he’d commissioned and to order a set of barding for his donkey Esh.
Back in the Serpent, the monk Mathis questioned Demma about the Emperor’s Justice and goings on about town. Getting little from her but sighs and eye-rolls, he approached the shady elf herbalist Pizzel. He forked over several gold pieces for information about the tribunal and Blackstar Canyon, but as the elf talked his stories became harder and harder to believe. Eventually Mathis realized he’d paid for nothing but lies. The loss of money meant little to him, but Gogh was not happy with what he saw. His threats caused Pizzel to throw Mathis’s coins in Gogh’s face, but the assassin slowly rose, told Demma the coins on the floor were her tip, and the party left town once more.
Mathis and Arxire paid a visit to Carlin while the rest of the group proceeded to the canyon. Mathis presented the seer with his treasured dragon scale, hoping to learn more about its origin and meaning. Carlin bade the monk descent the stone staircase and face a trial to determine whether he was worthy of this knowledge. Mathis did so and found himself faced with a puzzle involving a riddle, a small waterfall, and three empty jugs—in a room filling with poison gas.
Above, Arxire questioned Carlin about the Jampor and the tiefling invasion that took place some 120 years ago. Carlin divulged a great deal of information in exchange for Arxire’s promise to grow his tiefling horns out for an entire year, then return to the shrine and give them to him. Carlin then informed Arxire that Mathis was very close to dying in the trial below. Arxire offered to help him and the seer granted the request.
The clever warlock quickly solved the riddle and freed them both from the toxic fumes, but when they ascended the stairway, Carlin was there but Mathis’s dragon scale was not. The mystic informed Mathis that he had proven himself unworthy of the artifact, but that should he wish, he could attempt to prove himself again at a later time. Mathis swore to do so, and the two departed for Blackstar Canyon.
On the way there, Naivara had used the pinecone charm given to her by the elves to speak with trees near the edge of the pestilence in the soil that was killing all vegetation. Those still alive bade her speak with the sentinel oak in the middle of Blackstar Canyon, as it was planted by an archdruid eons ago to keep watch over the evil that lay in the ground below.
When the party arrived at the canyon, night fall was upon them. From two caves on the north side of the canyon, torch-bearing, black-robed figures emerged, with lines of creatures following them. The creatures were forcibly marched into the furthest reaches of the canyon where they disappeared into another cave. Some of the party members were convinced that the enslaved creatures were gnomes and suggested an immediate rescue. In the end, the party elected to hide and watch, and when the coast was clear, Naivara transformed herself into a mole and burrowed through the foul black soil to the foot of the sentinel oak.
This mighty tree told her the tale of his birth and why he’d been planted there by the archdruid Kassian. An evil seed had fallen from the sky and carved out the canyon in which they stood, and he’d been planted there to hold back that evil. He’d been able to do so until recently, when the black-robed figures had begun stirring up the evil while digging endlessly in search of it. Based upon this description, Naivara was able to deduce approximately where the seed was buried, likely somewhere beneath the cave into which the black-robed figures marched their prisoners. Naivara asked how she might help the sentinel oak, but it was too late. It did drop a large acorn from its highest bough into her hands, asking her to plant this seed somewhere safe so that its kind might live on. Naivara swore to do so and rejoined her comrades, who’d decided to scout the ground-level cave from which prisoners had been taken.
Gogh crept forward into the blackness while the party took up defensive positions outside. The floor suddenly gave way beneath the half-elf, dropping him into a pit, then re-closing above him. Hearing a commotion, Arxire investigated. He could find no trace of his companion, but he did hear the barking chatter of approaching creatures. He boomed out orders in his infernal tongue, which quieted them, then he retreated to warn the others.
The creatures, kobolds as it turned out, watched the cave entrance warily while they released the trap door and commanded Gogh to submit to them. Gogh’s intimidating presence bought him a little time, enough eat least for his companions to launch an assault. Mathis and Erdon charged in, while Arxire, Felix, and Naivara launched ranged attacks. After several moments of intense combat, the magical attacks of Arxire and Felix finally convinced the kobolds to retreat. Gogh dashed off in pursuit, while Erdon and Naivara explored a trash pile in an adjacent cave, where they managed to stir up a swarm of diseased rats and one particularly angry dire rat.
Gogh’s headlong charge had brought him face-to-face with the entire kobold tribe, some 40 strong. Their barrage of sling bullets brought him down, but Mathis rushed forward to his rescue before they could claim his body. Having eliminated the rodent problem, the company moved forward as one into the kobold lair. Felix spotted a group attempting to flank them from a side passage and quickly put them all to sleep. Gogh, revived by a healing potion, retrieved the powder keg they’d claimed from Fingerpop’s chambers, improvised a fuse and hurled the makeshift bomb into the onrushing swarm of kobolds. The group took cover in a side passage, which Naivara had doused with a flood of water for added protection. And none too soon, as the powder keg exploded with deafening fury, blowing an entire clan of kobolds back to Kurtulmak.