This adventure is NOT part of the Foresite Irregulars storyline, skip to Lost in Sigil to pick up the latest in that chapter.
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
The Black Road
Thirty days have passed since the Inglorious Badgers have met face to face after seeking the Treasure of the Broken Hoard – which was most unprofitable for everyone except Asst Professor Wellsalt – who ended up with ALL of the cursed Giant Golden plates – which now make up the key exhibit in a new “Giant Studies” display in a new gallery as part of his university. Everyone seemed to have some business to attend to.
Part 1: Anywhere But Here
But their time apart was about to end, as each received a message from their faction. Sister Mercy got hers in the form of a blue crane that was placed among her belongings…
and when unfolded revealed a note from the Harpers:
Little did she know that her companions had all received word from their own factions, and would all be meeting her in the small caravan stop of Vuerthyl in the Anauroch desert.
They quickly catch up and head into the oasis – the camels and carts that are being loaded means they are just in time. They head for the drinking tent, and soon encounter Azam, the caravan master.
Before long, you are joined by a lean, half-elven man with a long, craggy face and the dark skin and hair that shows his Rashemi ancestry. He has an impressive mustache. He’s clad in practical desert gear. His most striking feature is a golden-scaled pseudodragon that lays draped around his shoulders. The pseudodragon stirs, blinking with milky irises, and sniffing the air. It gives the man a nod before shifting its wings and settling back down to snooze.
“Hsing, my patron,” the man gestures to the snoozing dragon, as if it was a perfectly normal thing, “is most pleased you have come. We have business to discuss, and hopefully you are ready for a long journey. I am Azam, and we would like you to deliver a statue to Parnast.”
After some negotiations (most importantly learning of goblin raiding parties ahead and our heroes experience in such matters), Kadrey flirting with a veil-dancer, and inspecting the statue…
Part 2: Into the Desert
Azam quickly assembles a full caravan to Parnast, making sure the statue is safely secured. With the addition of the Inglorious Badgers the caravan should now be ready to deal with any raiders.
As they depart, Hsing becomes active and flies off into the desert.
Travel in the Anauroch desert is slow, hot, and full of blistering sun. There are no clouds, no promise of water anywhere. Azam likes to start moving well before sunrise, when the moon’s full glory makes the dunes look like mountains of diamonds. The sunrise is a gorgeous spill of pink and gold across the horizon, but the baking sun is soon pounding on everyone like a hammer in a forge. Vultures occasionally soar overhead, hoping that something has died in the heat.
The desert travel schedule haves the caravan rest twice each day, to avoid the hottest of the mid-day shading under the carts. Each encampment is only a few yards from the road, our party are the guards. The pattern is always the same – so the ornery camels can have a simple routine…
Thieves in the Night
The drivers and Azam bed down for some sleep, leaving the caravan guards to do their duty. Camel spiders, sand scorpions, snakes, and large-eared hopping mice come out at night to casually murder each other. They also try to get into the tents. The night-time desert is bitterly cold and dry.
You hear a strangled exhalation, and an ugly tearing noise. Small, furtive, humanoids have snuck up into the wagons and killed one of the drivers. You see the blood dripping from the blade of a goblin’s dagger, as black as the night sky in the moonlight. A cry of alarm goes up from the camp.
Curses! Lost a driver. When awakened, Azam shouts – “Leave one alive, for me!”
Kadrey opened the crate of Alchemists’ Fire on the weapon cart and used one!
After killing most of the goblins, they attempt to run, but they manage to capture the last one who trades information for his life.
The goblins are desperate – they have been pushed out of their normal hunting ground by a different group of organized goblins to the west (ahead) Their boss is hill giant named Bad Fruul.
Black Riders on the Road
After burying friend and driver, Azam takes over for him as driver – escorting the prize cargo: The statue. “It could have been much worse.” He mutters as the caravan resumes.
Ahead of you, a few days later, you see a black spot of movement on the horizon. As you travel, it gets larger and larger. Azam looks worried. “Another caravan – likely Zhents. Normally I’d suggest that we camp with them – safety in numbers. What do you think?”
They are Zhent, lead by veteran Fzoul Slovis – and they agree to pool their resources for the night. During which they learn several things, including:
There’s been a toll station set up a couple of days’ travel from here, leading into the edge of the Anauroch desert. It’s manned by hobgoblins; decently armed and armored ones at that. Combine that with a defensible position and it would have been a pretty hard fight. The merchants in Fzoul’s party opted to pay the 15 gp toll. Azam looks askance at this as if he cannot believe it.
The only other routes are days out of the way and swarming with bugbears and other threats.
Azam: “I am resolved to reach Parnast in haste. We will pay the toll if we must, as much of our cargo will spoil with further delay, and I do not wish to lose anymore friends on this journey.”
Sky Castles and Sandstorms
One afternoon, after the mid-day stop, you notice a faint respite from the oppressive heat. A slight breeze ruffles the tassels on the camels’ tack, and the drivers’ robes. It is a relief in the still hot air. Someone points to the south, and you see a cloud on the horizon – and you haven’t seen a cloud in days. It seems to be moving directly towards you, and fast!
As you look at it closer, you see blocky shapes on top of the clouds that resolve quickly into buildings and towers. Pennants snap in the wind of its passage. And the cloud isn’t the only thing coming toward you—behind the cloud is a speeding, whirling storm of sand and dust kicked up from the desert.
You are in deep black shadow for a moment as the speeding cloud palace passes over you. There are the sounds of horns from above, and the cloud castle turns slightly northeast with a delicate, ponderous turn toward the Greypeak Mountains. As it turns, the wall of roiling clouds continues in its wake, and you have moments to protect yourself and the caravan from the oncoming sandstorm before it consumes you!
A sandstorm wake from the cloud-city’s passage overhead that is as wide a a city district is coming straight at the caravan!
There is precious little time – Azam releases his camels and uses them as leverage to turn over the cart – he spills out the statue and covers it with it’s crate – expecting to bury them all.
Adcde joins a driver in his attempt to drive off between some dunes – she prevents him from cutting the harnesses – instead driving the animals harder…
The others tilt-over the remaining carts and attempt to cover the camels and themselves by dumping the water on their garments and other cloth. Mercy places a magic light on the upturned wheel of her cart.
Searing air and stinging sand overwhelms the caravan—sand whipping through the air, tearing and ripping at exposed skin, and rending the hems and sleeves of your clothes to tatters. Somewhere in the blinding storm, you hear a man scream and the unearthly terrifying noise of a camel facing its end. Somewhere out in the hell of flying sand you hear the ripping of the heavy canvas wagon covers under the onslaught. The wind howls louder until it drowns out all other noise and the storm threatens to overwhelm you!
The worst of the storm was taken by the cart Abcde was trying to protect. It was the weapons cart, and contained that crate of alchemist fire flasks which reacted with the sand and rocks thrown about in the sandstorm…
Though Abcde was thrown clear and partially buried in a new dune, the camels, carts, and driver were not so lucky.
Just as the storm feels like it will pull you from the sands and carry you away, it passes. The sand falls out of the air and sunlight once again illuminates the land. However, everything looks different – the dunes and hills of sand have been completely rearranged. In only a few minutes, the terrifying force of the giants’ passage has reshaped the desert.
The destruction is indescribable – almost everything that wasn’t secured is gone… there is a flickering light off in the distance – the wheel that was ripped off the cart nearest Mercy. Abcde emerges from a new dune, spitting dirt and clearly injured.
None of the caravan drivers (except Azam) survived the storm.
But thank the gods, the statue is safe. After several hours burying, searching, and patching things up, this is the inventory:
Two carts, one spare wheel, 4 camels, the statue, enough food and water to just make it to Parnast, and a handful of other supplies – now mixed and matched in a few damage crates.
“No option for going the long way now. I’m afraid we may not have enough for the toll.”
Gandry: “We aren’t paying any toll. This road is under the protection of the Zhentarum. I aim for us to take that gate back!”
A plan is hatched… “First we leave the carts behind…”
You’ve been watching the mountains come into view for days, but today they’re close enough for the caravan to head up into the far more forgiving environment. You see trees on the mountains, and clouds above them. As you get closer, you see that the foothills form desolate badlands, and the Black Road twists through them.
After traveling for hours toward the mountains through the badlands, the Black Road goes through a steep-sided canyon. Ahead, the road is blocked by a crude stone wall and an iron gate. A few broad-shouldered, ill-featured, armored humanoids move back and forth along the top of the wall. With this defensive structure, they own the road and the passage to the west. You see a faded, tattered banner with a leering skull of some loathsome tusked creature flying over the battlements.
“While Nym distracts them by offering to pay the toll on the road, Aiindol and I sneak along the tops of the cliffs…”
“We attack from the top, as you charge the open gate below!”
It was a near perfect raid. With Kadrey jumping down while tearing down Bad Fruul’s banner, re-exposing the original Zhentarim crest underneath.
Welcome to Parnast
Your journey continues and soon you find yourself passing through the foothills of the Greypeaks. You camp one last night before you reach Parnast the next day, keenly aware of what you’ve lost with fewer wagons and companions than when you started. Around noon the next day, you reach the small town of Parnast but find that few townspeople that come to greet your ragged caravan.
It’s not hard to find the Shrine of the Axes, in such a small town. And the statue is quickly unloaded and installed in one of the outter chapels.
The half elven cleric, Chandra, thanks you quietly. “We’re so grateful that you braved the Black Road to bring the statue of our goddess to us. We could have used the rest of the goods that were lost in the storm as well, but we now have Her guidance, at least.” She gives you a kind, gentle smile. “Please, take your payment with our gratitude,” she says, pressing a small black velvet bag of coins into your hands. “And let us get you baths drawn. We would have you stay for a meal and we can offer you a safe place to stay the night. Lodgings can be difficult to find in town.” As you look around, it’s apparent from the reactions of the bystanders that this long speech from the cleric is the most words she’s contributed to a conversation in years.
As our party enters the Golden Tankard for supper, so ends their journal on The Black Road – only to immediately begin their next quest: DDAL05-3 Uninvited Guests