For those who need a quick catch-up on earlier installments:
- Chapter 1: Blood and Butterflies
- Chapter 2: Murder and Glass
- Chapter 3: The Sin Pit
We rejoin the party as they come back into the daylight, bloodied, but otherwise determined to find out what is happening in this small town.
The Hand Behind The Moves
Upon returning to Sandpoint, the first thing the band did was check on Ameiko. Mostly fine now, she's still shaken from what she witnessed in the glassworks. She also suggested that the town's defenders examine her sibling's journal. It has answers she doesn't like, but which she knows are necessary for stopping what's happening.
If it can be stopped.
|Oh, he left a bookmark. How thoughtful of him.|
As Zhakar read through Tsuto's journal, he discovered that a woman named Nualia Tobyn (an aasimar who had been adopted and raised by Father Zanthus's predecessor) was behind the goblin raid. Thought dead, Tsuto chronicled her obsession with shedding her celestial heritage in favor of something wicked. A talented artist, Tsuto's sketches show a beautiful young woman, her belly scarred by deep cuts, and her left arm twisted into a red, scaly monstrosity tipped with angry, black claws. As he read, Zhakar's right hand started tapping the tabletop... a steady tattoo of steel-shod fingers that seemed oddly nervous. Or excited.
Once he'd read Tsuto's journal, and given the others the chance to see what he'd seen, Zhakar set off for the jail. Hemlock wasn't in, and the deputy let them into the lockup to talk to Tsuto. Tsuto lay on his bed, staring up at the ceiling, ignoring them until Zhakar rapped an iron knuckle on the bars.
"Tell me how she did it," Zhakar said.
"What?" Tsuto asked, his brow furrowing.
"Her hand," Zhakar pressed. "What changed her?"
It seemed, for a moment, that Tsuto would answer. That he'd been caught so off-guard by someone wanting to know that in the face of everything else he'd put in his journal that it would escape his lips before he could think better on it. Then his mouth closes, and he swallowed whatever was about to tumble off his tongue. Zhakar glances at Thok, who nodded and leaned against the door so no one from the outer office could come in. Then he turns to Mirelinda and Zordlan.
"Not a word of what you are about to see," Zhakar said, his voice grave. When his other two companions nodded, he fished a key from around his neck, and unlocked his gauntlet. He unbuckled one strap, then the other, carefully sliding his hand from inside it.
The fingers were black, and hard with scales. The nails had grown into thick claws. The black scales grew red as they slid across the back of his hand, and along his wrist. It stopped there, the corruption reaching no higher than the lower part of his forearm. Zhakar raised the devil's claw, and wrapped it around the bars. The look on his face was raw, and a pulse of something dark rain through the hand.
"If I know how she did it, then I may be able to undo it," he said.
The Assault on The Nettlewood
Too stoic to answer, Tsuto gave no helpful aid to Sandpoint's heroes. So the only thing for them to do was to march north toward Thistletop, and demand answers from Nualia herself.
But first they had to get through the Nettlewood.
|Nah, I'm sure there are no goblins here.|
No more than a few miles into the wood, they found a carefully-constructed warren. Something meant for small-sized creatures to move through easily, but which is a hamper to larger ones. And as soon as they were inside it, a cackle rang out from the brush. The cackle was followed by balls of flame, and the roar of a charging fire pelt cougar!
Zhakar took the charging beast, batting aside its claws only to have the animal sink its teeth into him. Thok thrust his spear forward, crouching awkwardly in the tight confines. Zordlan shuffled around, pulling at a wand they'd found in the ruins. Mirelinda hung back, her fingers busy weaving through the air, sending bolts of magic into the fray. Meanwhile the beast's master, a goblin clad in ragged furs, laughed and howled, sending more fire to plague those who'd invaded his den.
Though it raked him more than once, the cougar was so focused on tearing through Zhakar's armor that it failed to see the deadly thrust coming from behind him. As the beast bled out on the end of Thok's spear, Zhakar advanced on the goblin. Enraged at the death of its companion, the goblin babbled and gnashed its teeth. Already wounded from a dozen spells, it took no more than two more blows to bring the creature down. Zhakar knelt, and touched it at the base of the skull. The goblin twitched, but its wounds ceased bleeding. They took his weapons, his spell components, and tied him thoroughly. When he came round, they questioned their captive.
Without his magic or his cougar, Gogmurt was far less brave than he'd been. He told them what lay between here, and Thistletop. Told them the demon lady was calling more to her cause, and that there would be goblins all around her. Goblins, and worse. She had a wizard, he told them, as well as a bugbear to do her bidding. An ugly pink with a big sword, too. Eager to share, Gogmurt would rather worry about Nualia's vengeance someday, than dying now next to his fire pelt.
Gogmurt's counsel proved helpful. A band of goblins and goblin dogs awaited right where he said they would be, and a nearby cavern proved to be filled with a few dangers. As well as a giant crab using a colossal helmet as a shell. Battered and bruised, the heroes found themselves on the doorstep of Thistletop. A foreboding place, there was a sensation of dread hanging over it. Something evil had been summoned in there... something they will have to return to whence it came.
That's all for this installment of Table Talk! If you enjoyed it, let me know in the comments below. If you've got a particular adventure path you think my group should play through so I can chronicle it, mention that, too. If you'd like to see more of my work, check out my Vocal archive (or just go to my Gamers page if you want tabletop stuff only). You might also want to stop in on the Youtube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio, where I help out from time to time. To stay on top of my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you want to help support me, Buy Me A Ko-Fi as a one-time donation, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly contributor! Either way, every little bit helps.