Rana leans over the bound and sleeping goblin at his feet and sets his vibrant blue hands to rifling through the creature’s pockets. He finds nothing of value, but so as to not come away empty-handed, the elf loots the foul creature’s toenail collection.
Meanwhile, Rhogar and Boirin continue to interrogate the other goblin, who calls himself Gnerx. He is very forthcoming and eager to please his captors, though it is not an easy task; Rhogar tires of Gnerx’s efforts to develop a rapport, and Boirin makes no effort to hide his disgust for goblin-kind.
Gray clouds roll in overhead, dimming the previously summery afternoon. Light rain falls, extinguishing the fire from Rhogar’s torch which had spread in the southern thicket.
The party hides their wagon in the north thicket and makes their first inspection of its contents. The wagon is carrying tools and mining supplies, as well as other sundries — including dried pork, which Rana takes, deciding that Gundren would forgive him making a snack of their merchandise in exchange for his rescue.
Gnerx the Useful, self-dubbed in an attempt to remind his captors not to murder him, gives them directions to the cave where Gundren and Sildar were likely taken. His goblin tribe, the Cragmaw, so-called for their file-sharpened teeth, have a hideout some few miles northwest of the Triboar Trail. He generously offers to show them the way, assuring them that they’ll need his help to avoid traps set along the path.
While Roden and Rhogar retrieve their arrows, Rana wonders what to do about his sleeping goblin. Retrieving his dagger, he stabs the tied and bound creature in the foot (he insists this was an attempt to wake the creature). The goblin, who was already severely wounded, succumbs to his injuries and dies. Rana shrugs and retrieves his rope.
The Goblin Path
Boirin gags Gnerx while Rana and Rhogar bind him to a makeshift leash. The party strikes off into the north thicket, pushing Gnerx ahead, followed by Boirin, Rana, Rhogar, and finally Roden. Not long on their trek, the ranger Rhogar recognizes the well-worn signs of the ambushers, and their dragged prey, passing this way.
A male bluebird alights on Rana’s shoulder, to his chagrin.
Gnerx begins hopping excitedly and indicates the first trap. Rana uses magehand to trigger it — a snapping sound is followed by a loop of rope ascending into the canopy, ostensibly meant for some trespasser’s leg. Rana rewards Gnerx with a morsel of pork before Boirin replaces his gag.
A short time later, Gnerx hops again and leads the party around a cunningly concealed pit. Gnerx looks up at Rana, expectant and open-mouthed, and receives another treat.
As the group nears the entrance to the Cragmaw hideout, Gnerx warns them about the guards posted just outside the entrance to the cave. Boirin and Rana thank their guide by replacing his gag and restraining him while Roden and Rhogar endeavor to sneak across the clearing. Before Roden departs, Boirin lays a hand on the lightfoot halfling and blesses him with Guidance.
Roden and Rhogar successfully cross the clearing and approach the cave mouth without being seen. After wading through the cool, shallow stream, the forewarned pair spy the guardpost obscured by a dense thicket to the south. Rana checks on their progress via magical message as they sneak closer.
They find two goblins, clearly bored and inattentive at their posts. Far from standing watch, the negligent guards are passing the time in idle conversation. The nearer goblin is lying on his back, expressing doubts over his father’s affections, while the other, tossing pebbles at the hill’s rocky slope, encourages him to be more emotionally available. Their unresolved issues are fated to remain so, however, thanks to the unseen adventurers lurking nearby. Roden’s shortsword slits the throat of the pebble-tossing therapist while Rhogar’s down-turned swords punctuate the father-wounds of his patient.
Guards dispatched, the party, bringing Gnerx along with them, approach the cave’s mouth. Rana and Boirin, possessed of darkvision, perceive the dark cave as merely dim, discerning its main corridor, whence flows the shallow stream, leading back into the depth of the hill before curving to the right and out of sight. Before the bend, they can see where two passages lead away from the main, one immediately on their right, and another away on their left. The sounds of rushing water echo from deep within the cave, while snarling can be heard emanating from the chamber on their right.
Roden lights his hooded lantern, illuminating their surroundings for himself and Rhogar, and the party moves forward to inspect the nearest chamber. Within are chained three wolves — snarling, gaunt, and mean. Piles of bones, long-since picked clean, litter the floor. The only other feature in the room is a large crack in the wall opposite the entrance, a pile of refuse at its base.
For a moment, the party discusses what they should do. On the one hand, there doesn’t appear to be anything of worth in the wolves’ kennel, or any advantage to be gained by exploring it, but on the other hand the wolves may be loosed on them later if not dealt with presently. Boirin, having the most experience with handling animals, bravely volunteers to gentle the wolves, but not before Rhogar remembers Rana’s pork. Rana passes some over to Boirin, which the dwarf offers to the hungry beasts and attempts to win their trust. Soon enough, the wolves’ howling abates and they gratefully devour the salted meat, allowing the adventurers to pass safely.
Upon examining the chamber, they discover the yon crack to be the base of a subterranean vent, forming a natural chimney of about 30 feet high. Firelight dances at its summit, evincing an exit. Rhogar, using rope and pitons to aid those who follow, makes the difficult climb up the chimney in order to scout the area. Once atop, he lowers the rope and signals for the rest to follow, which they do. Boirin, who climbs last, ties the end of the rope round Gnerx’s waist. Once everyone has reached the top, they hoist Gnerx halfway up the chimney and tie off the rope, leaving the gagged and bound goblin suspended in the pitch-black vent to keep him out of mischief.
The adventurers find themselves in a large chamber lit by a round fire pit in its midst. Taking cover behind two large stalagmites, they spy, on the east side of the fire pit, two goblins attending to a large, silhouetted figure on a ramshackle throne, next to which sits a large wolf. To the north they see the only door, from which they hear the sound of roaring water. Against the south wall is stacked a prodigious pile of loot, apparently stolen from travelers the goblins have ambushed on the road.
Upon closer examination by those with darkvision, the figure on the throne is described to Rhogar: large, hideous, furred, wearing hide armor adorned with spikes and armed with a morningstar. Rhogar grimaces and, recalling his wilderness experience and study of the Order’s bestiaries, informs his comrades that the bethroned foe is, in fact, a bugbear — born for battle and mayhem, famous for bullying the weak, and willing to fight for powerful masters should bloodshed and treasure be assured. It is no surprise, he explains, that the Cragmaw here should be led by such a beast, for bugbears are venal ambushers, surprisingly stealthy for their intimidating builds, preferring to fight with the upper hand or not at all.
The party, seeing their opportunity to dispatch their foe with the element of surprise, prepare to attack.
Boirin hurls his hand-axe at the furred silhouette, gouging the bugbear’s shoulder, who emits a spray of dark blood and a vicious grunt.
Rhogar notches an arrow in his longbow in preparation, but chooses first to unleash the mighty bequest of his draconic blood. Stepping out from behind the stalagmite, Daardendrian Rhogar stands to his full height and opens his toothed maw. His fellows look up in awe at their blue-flecked ranger, who seems now more dragon than humanoid, as bolts of blue lightning strike forth from his mouth, breathed out in draconic fashion. The bolts fork and arc across the chamber in brilliant light, smiting the wolf, the bugbear, and one of the goblins.
Roden looses an arrow, but it is deflected by the bugbear’s armor. Rana sends a firebolt at the great monster, but it too is absorbed by the hide armor.
Boirin casts the Guiding Bolt spell, sending a flash of radiant light streaking toward the bugbear. The divine magic deals tremendous damage to the monster, and with a terrible cry he falls to his hands and knees, clutching his chest which still glitters with dim, mystical motes of light.
Rhogar looses his notched arrow, then Roden looses his — together felling the bugbear, who, though clinging to life, falls unconscious before the fire pit.
One of the goblins, having recovered from the surprise attack, and seeing the state of his mercenary master, rushes forward and cleaves Rhogar’s arm with his jagged scimitar, leaving the limb painfully bloody and useless.
The wolf, smelling sweet halfling meat (a taste he acquired from the choicest of kidnapped fare), leaps around the fire pit and viciously attacks Roden, sinking his teeth into the rogue’s leg. Roden, who stands nearly eye-to-eye with the wild beast, is knocked prone, a malediction for all canines on his lips.
Rana rescues his diminutive friend from his would-be predator by smiting the wolf with a firebolt. The wolf howls as its fur ignites and circles the chamber in a blurred and agonized frenzy.
The goblin who struck Rhogar has since hidden himself behind his master’s throne. Boirin’s wrath, however, would not be so easily thwarted. The cleric casts Sacred Flame, calling down a shaft of heavenly light, which seems to descend from beyond the subterranean ceiling. The column of radiance intersects the throne and the floor behind it, heedless of any obstacles in its way. The blinding light abates as suddenly as it appeared, leaving nothing but a pile of ashes where the sheltering goblin once huddled.
Rhogar and Roden attack the other goblin, striking him with short-sword and arrow in turn while the yet-flaming wolf darts through the north passage and out of the chamber, toward the sound of rushing water. Rana’s dagger flies wide of its goblin target, and Boirin’s hammer staggers him.
Finally, Rhogar pushes the goblin toward the firepit, and Roden’s arrow pierces its eye. The defeated goblin falls backward into the embers, his body burning like a funeral pyre, and the chamber falls quiet.