The as-yet unnamed party:
Axire Coilbone, tiefling warlock (Rory)
Erdan Thistleborn, elf cleric (Michael G.)
Gogh, half-elf rogue (Brian)
-Esh, his donkey
Lichen, drow warlock (Nico)
Mathis, human monk (Zach)
Misty, elf paladin (Allie)
Tyriel Morlane, half-elf ranger (Michael D.)
You have no doubt heard tell of the legendary company of heroes that arose during the waning days of the Tahsatran Empire as the Great White Forever tightened its crushing, icy grip on the land of Cavalcast. But for all their hard won fame and derring-do, few folk know the beginning of their tale. And though their heroics would take them from one end of the world to the other, from the blistering depths of the Nine Hells to the cavernous wastes of the Underdark, from the luminous currents of the Astral Sea to the cobwebbiest corners of the Shadowfell, would you believe that their tale—and thus, our story—begins in the oddest of places: the windblown, forgotten port town of Fairbanks?
They arrived in early Vail, the first month of autumn, to the remote and sad little harbor town that had been robbed of any potential affluence or importance by the monstrous, cave-dwelling inhabitants of Blackstar Canyon. The creatures were no longer honoring the terms of the truce the town had signed with them, and the road from Fairbanks to the east—the only thing connecting Fairbanks with the rest of Cavalcast—was no longer safe for travel. And with winter being driven hard upon them by the accursed Great White Forever to the north, the merchant ship Flying Egret was the last glimpse of the outside world that Fairbankers were likely to have for the next six months or so.
But the ship carried more than trade goods. Disembarking that day were a couple of fellows who had the look of adventurer about them. One was a eastern monk, though his features were decidedly Cavalcastian, Tahsatran even, perhaps. He set about earning a day’s wage unloading freight, though several in town had taken notice of him. Another passenger of interest was a sick-looking elf holyman—but was he seasick or hungover? Either way, he made for the seedy establishment known as The Winking Serpent and proceeded to punish his liver.
Meanwhile, in the nearby market square, a newcomer to the town known as Gogh began recruiting for an expedition to Blackstar Canyon. He engaged the drow prostitute Lichen, who demonstrated his cunning by picking Gogh’s pockets. Gogh moved on to a local ranger known as Tyriel, who agreed to accompany the party. The crate-hefting monk, who called himself Mathis, seemed initially uninterested, but he eventually signed on, though he refused all offers of payment. Finally, Lichen managed to enlist the now-drunken elf cleric Erdon Thistleborn by promising him the ability to smite evil. And so the party was assembled, contracts were signed and initialed, oaths sworn, or perhaps just muttered. The motivations of some members seemed rather straightforward; those of other members remained clouded. Nevertheless, the band agreed to meet at the town’s only landmark, the tragic Leaving Tree, at dawn.
But a few of them had business in town before setting out. Gogh secured the company’s contract with the mayor, the most admirable and official Lord Mayor Moustafa Whitebeard, who mentioned that an old farmer had recently returned from a disastrous expedition to the caves and was presumed either dead or crazy. Gogh stabled his beloved donkey Esh and set off to visit the farmer. The poor, bedridden fellow was living in filth and appeared to be near death. When Gogh questioned him about the caves, the farmer’s eyes widened, a rivulet of blood crept down from one nostril, and he began to speak of “the colors, the horrible colors that get in your head”. Gogh pressed for details, but the rivulet of blood became a gushing spurt and the man died. Gogh burned down his house and left. A gentle soul, this Gogh.
Meanwhile, Lichen believed that the good mayor was holding back information, but when he attempted to engage the mayor in the market square, he was strongly rebuffed. Undeterred, the mysterious drow waited until evening when he knew the mayor would be holding forth in The Golden Stein. Lichen crept in unnoticed, sidled up to the mayor, and slipped a note into the mayor’s pocket. Whether it was the wording of the note or the look in the drow’s pale eyes, the mayor was suddenly terrified. And though he made a show of ordering Lichen to leave the premises, it was clear he received the message. The next morning, Lichen received a note from the mayor with a great deal more detail about the broken contract between the denizens of the caves and the town.
The monk Mathis was a bookish fellow. Having learned from the mayor that a young scholar had been spending time in the town’s archives, paid a visit to the dusty chambers himself, where he discovered the remnants of the scholar’s research, left exactly as it had been before the young man went tearing off to the caves screaming “that was no star that fell!”. Mathis learned that there were several theories about the formation of Blackstar Canyon, but all of them seemed to agree that long ago, some dark thing fell from the sky and landed there. Whether it was the scale of an ancient dragon, the eye of an orc god, or a chain link from an enslaved god—scholars could only speculate.
The troubled cleric Erdon Thistleborn paid a visit to Marla, the priestess of the town’s Temple of Life, who’d sent for him some months prior. Marla had heard rumors of a cult taking root in the caves, and she herself had been troubled by nightmares of being lost in a maze with the sound of hoofbeats behind her. Erdon made note and swore to help banish the darkness that was haunting her dreams.
And so, with no more errands to run, no more innocent farmers to euthanize, our heroes bedded down for the night. The next morning, the ranger Tyriel was nowhere to be found, but you know how rangers are. The remaining company—Erdon, Mathis, Gogh, and Lichen, set out from the Leaving Tree as planned. While traveling east, Mathis and Gogh discovered that they had something in common, both had been to the Underdark during the previous emperor’s War Below, and both were suffering from the effects of being two of the very few who ever returned from those campaigns. As Gogh put it, “The lucky ones stayed.”
Not far from town, the company was approached by a young nobleman who introduced himself as Arxire. He was on a ten-year mission to discover a cure for his ailing master, and his research was pointing toward the ancient caves of Blackstar Canyon. He agreed to join the group, though he admitted he wasn’t much of a sword hand.
As the sun sank behind the trees to the west, our heroes began to see the telltale signs of ambushed caravans. They turned off the road and got their first glimpse at the 150-foot high, cave-pocked walls of Blackstar Canyon. As they huddled near the mouth of the canyon, they saw a goblin raiding party driving a wolf-drawn cart from one side of the canyon to the other, attacking a tree that appeared to be guarded by orc archers. The goblins set the cart (and wolves) on fire and drove it into the tree, setting it ablaze. Several orcs leapt from the tree and were joined by others from another cave, who drove the goblins back to their lair across the canyon. The canyon was silent once more, except for the pop of burning pitch and howling of burning wolves.
The party gathered under a twisted tree decorated with severed hands—a cruel mockery of Fairbanks’s Leaving Tree and its coin tributes—and decided to avoid the caves of the goblins and orcs, opting for another entrance on the north wall of the canyon that was hidden by two large fallen trees, lashed together as a crude barricade. Gogh attempted to sneak forward but tripped over something that might have been his own foot, while Lichen disguised himself as a nonspecific cult member and walked across the canyon to the cave mouth.
Lichen snuck over to a large sack lying against a wall in the eastern chamber of the cavern, while trying not to wake up whatever large creature was snoring in the western chamber. But when he attempted to search through the bag, a number of coins spilled out noisily, and an angry—if confused—ogre woke up. Lichen and Gogh wisely hid in the shadows, but while the beast lumbered past Gogh, the rogue lashed out from the darkness and buried a dagger in its lower back. The rest of the party, having snuck forward to the cave entrance, joined the fray. Mathis leapt forward and landed two mighty blows to the ogre’s jaw, while Erdon blasted away with divine bolts and Arxire fired his crossbow. Brave Mathis was brought down by a combination of the massive club of the ogre and the necrotic tendrils that suddenly sprang forth from Lichen. But suddenly Arxire unleashed a hellacious curse that brought the lumbering best crashing to the cavern floor. Clearly this scholar knew something of the dark arts. But questions could wait. Now the party needed rest and healing.
They bedded down around coals of the ogre’s fire and Erdon took first watch. And he did a fantastic job of watching the cave entrance. He did a less than fantastic job of watching the door in the back of the cavern, which opened quietly in the night.
Goblins! Foul, stabby, ambushy buggers. Our heroes awoke with goblin daggers hacking at them—and poor Arxire had his extremely fine clothes removed. But underneath those clothes was not the pink, squishy, human body of a scholar, but the scaly gray skin of a tiefling! But the party had no time to discuss Arxire’s demon-lineage, as several of them were springing leaks. Lichen conjured up the illusion of a pile of shinies that fooled several goblins into forgetting about their prey for a moment. Mathis managed to battle back to his feet and, with Arxire, pursued the goblin fleeing with the noble’s clothes. Lichen and Erdon dispatched a couple of foes but were feeling a bit worse for the wear when suddenly a heavily armored elf came sprinting into the cave, immediately decapitating a goblin. The rest of their attackers were killed or driven off in short order. While the company attempted to catch its breath and congratulate Erdon on his watch-keeping skill, the selfless and noble paladin complained about no one rushing to thank her for bailing their asses out.
Thus began our heroes’ first foray into the chaotic caves of Blackstar Canyon.