(Note: we had a gamer named Mark stop by and ask to join in on our Wednesday night adventures. Me and the gang gave him a warm welcome, and he agreed to take on the role of NPC elven fighter Otiver for the session. Player Jamie stopped by to let us know he had landed a good job, and we cheered the good news before he and his girlfriend headed out to celebrate. So Bill, Pam, and newcomer Mark picked up the adventure.)
At the end of the last session, the party was retreating from a surprise assault by several assassins in dark cloaks. Our heroes managed to kill one of their attackers but they were in turn suffering serious wounds. When the party slipped back outside the farmhouse that they had entered, they found that a half-dozen men who appeared to be common drovers had taken NPC Leela hostage, and were also threatening to kill the party's comatose wizard Keseim (Leela was eventually released).
The man holding a knife to Leela's throat addressed the group in smarmy tones, telling them that they had better agree to become unwilling couriers for the Shadow Thieves. The guild of thieves had been pushed out of Waterdeep a century before, and was now making a move toward total domination of the city. The party was handed a black iron box and told not to open it, but rather to carry the box into Waterdeep and wait to be contacted by another Shadow Thieves agent. If the group didn't cooperate, the guild would kill the wizard Keseim. The party watched helplessly as the Shadow Thieves agents left with the unconcious wizard.
Trying to hold their anger in check, Kale and Oisin decided to investigate the farmhouse (along with Milo the rogue, who I used as an NPC with Jamie out of the game for the night). Mark decided that Otiver was going to stand guard outside. Before the rest of the party could explore much of the house, they heard the sound of monstrous roaring from outside. They came outside to find Otiver locked in mortal combat with a nine-foot-tall, twisted-looking bear. It was obviously the beast that had been killing cattle and had killed Mrs. Winterburn.
The party was able to fight off the beast. After dealing a goodly amount of damage to the thing, it faded from existance before their eyes. The Shadow Thieves were using the summoned bear-thing to terrorize the area, and it seemed they had no qualms about sending the thing after the player characters despite a stated desire to use the party as unwilling smugglers!
After the battle, the group turned once again to investigating the farmhouse. They discovered Old Man Willets in a bedroom, laying face down in a pool of blood. The old man was still barely alive, and they began questioning him while trying to keep him alive. The stubborn greybeard refused to talk at first, but moaned about how he was betrayed. Finally, as death neared, he revealed that he was more than just a cattle farmer: he was in fact a wizard from Cormyr, though one of modest power. He had been working for the Shadow Thieves for some time, helping them to spread their influence across north-western Faerun.
The orb in the black iron box had been Willets' most recent acquisition. The artifact had come from the east through a trader. Willets had shown the orb to the Shadow Thieves, hoping to use it to curry more favor. Instead, they had decided to kill him for his efforts, for reasons unknown (perhaps they had decided that he had reached the end of his usefulness).
It was then that a young man came into the house calling out for his father. This was Willets' son, Gregor. When he came upon the party standing around his father's bloody body, he was of course instantly devastated. Then he attempted to cast a spell at the party, but Otiver (Player Mark) moved quickly to interrupt the spell. The party explained what had happened to Gregor, and he cursed his father for not revealing more about the dealings with the Shadow Thieves. That was when Old Man Willets drew his last breath.
After mourning the death and laying the old wizard to rest (with proper rites led by Oisin the cleric, who has had to preside over far too many such funereal rituals), the party asked Gregor to inspect the communication scroll from Mrs. Winterburn's room. When the young man read the runes, a golden face appeared above the scroll and spoke in fond tones for a moment. But when the face realized that it was not being summoned by Mrs. Winterburn, it quickly grew angry and demanded to know who was using the scroll.
When the party tried to explain, the face said that it knew who they were, saying that they were the group responsible for a certain apprentice disobeying the rules of the Archmage of Waterdeep, Khelben Arunsun, also known as The Blackstaff! The party quickly realized that were in fact speaking to that powerful wizard. The archmage told the part to wait for the arrival of an ally of his, then broke the contact.
Not long after, the sound of great wings could be heard outside. When the party investigated, they saw several gryphons wearing complicated saddles landing in the yard. Astride one of the majestic beasts was an elven female of the Summer Green clan, allies of Kale's own clan. However, this elf, who called herself Jana, was not known to the ranger. Jana asked the party to mount the gryphons and accompany her to Waterdeep. The party did as requested, and in no time took to the air and began a flight toward the City of Splendors.
To be continued...