The route to Cragmaw Castle mostly followed the road. Towards the end of the day Sausage ran off the road and barked at something they couldn’t see behind a bush. They investigated and found an exhausted horse and empty cart. The horse had been injured, bloody claw marks along its flank were flyblown and oozing blood and pus. The healers of the group steadied the horse and cleaned its wounds and Eric cast a healing spell on it, the magic ejecting pus and dead flesh before sealing itself up, leaving only scars. The horse visibly calmed as Igo stroked its nose.
“You got your horse, Fizbo,” grinned Guinne. Fizbo climed into the cart, although there weren’t any reins – the cart was made to carry goods, not people, and the horse was meant to be led.
“What do you think caused the wounds?” asked Bonnie to Igo. The elf shrugged. “If there were big cats in this area, I’d say one of those, but there aren’t as far as I know.”
There were no other victims in the area, and Igo judged the horse had run for many miles before stopping from exhaustion. The party decided to push on.
By the end of a hard day’s travel they had covered about 24 miles and were camping just off the Triboar Trail near Icespire Peak. After they had tended to the horse and set up camp, Bonnie told them of the Icehammer dwarves of Icespire Peak and how they battled the Frost Giant king Lakkar who was using an artefact called The Winterforge . She had just finished telling the story of Lakkar’s defeat when Sausage started growling and staring off into the night. They all grabbed their weapons, just as Igo – who had been on watch – appeared.
“A man comes,” the elf said, and then faded back into the night. Into the edge of the firelight came a man, scruffy, lanky, with ragged clothes but well fed and moved like a dancer. He held up his hands in the universal sign of peace.
The man called himself Jarad and claimed he had come to see if the party were willing to sell him or trade for any magic or silvered weapons. He claimed to be part of a group that had been taken over by a shapeshifter named Murgo who was forcing them to attack merchants and travellers on the Triboar Trail, and he wanted the weapon to kill him and move the group away from the area.
“We’re going to attract too much attention,” Jarad said, his voice low and raspy. “It’s bad enough avoiding the hobgoblins from the castle. I mean we could take them, but their leader has a magic weapon. Some of us might die.”
“Cragmaw Castle?” asked Bonnie.
“Yeah,” replied Jarad. “The hobgoblins are organised, like humans. The goblins and bugbears are shit, they don’t care about much except eating and treasure and don’t do a lot of planning.”
The party didn’t trust Jarad, and Sausage kept growling at him. They refused his request. Jarad did not become angry, nor did he seem too disappointed.
“Fair enough. Just beware a blonde man with a notch in his ear. He is a shapeshifter, and an evil bastard.” Seconds later he faded away into the night.
“I think we pretty much know what happens next,” said Fizbo, and Goldi nodded.
“What?” asked Tai Ni Dong.
Bonnie replied: “Come morning – earlier probably – Jarad will lead those he wants killed to us, so we do his dirty work for him. So be it, might as well wait here for him. Keep your weapons handy, team.”
As expected, just before dawn a group of rough looking men approached the camp, violence most definitely on their minds. Jarad was at the back, although he had the sense at least to not smirk. The leader, a tall man with a notched ear, directed the others to attack. Taking the initiative, Bonnie charged with the others in support. As the leader dodged Bonnie’s swings of her axe, he and all of the others changed into a jackal headed humanoid – Jarad included. The creatures – jackalweres Goldi would tell them later – attempted to use some kind of magic on the party. The dwarf briefly felt a wave of tiredness flow over her, before shaking it off and laughing in the leader’s face. Likewise the other party members were able to resist the sleep magic. The leader then took a chromatic orb of fire to the face from Fizbo, and then one of Guinne’s magic arrows to the chest. Bonnie neatly lopped off his head as he staggered.
The fight stopped and Jarad shapechanged back into human form and stepped forward, hands up to stop the fight. He convinced the other jackalweres that they should move on, that to stay in the area was inviting death from soldiers or powerful adventurers such as these – he gestured to the party. The others glared at the party, but in the end listened and they moved of, Jarad nodding to the party as he left.
“We should have killed all of them,” growled Bonnie. “They are only going to cause harm and sorrow to others.”
She sighed. “But it is what it is. Let’s pack up camp and get moving.”
[to be continued]