Chapter I: Road to Phandalin
“Friends, I much admire your dedication to professionalism, but this is getting dull. Won’t you introduce yourselves?” The large half-orc said to the rest of the people behind him: a skittish halfling twirling her mace, a rugged dragonborn chewing on whatever meat he had found before starting the journey, an elven druid gleefully talking with her pet pseudo-dragon while pulling a cart, a bald gnome resting atop the cart, and a hooded figure following closely behind.
“Call me Euphi-chan!” The halfling proclaimed before anyone else could speak. “I’m a cleric from a village far from here, and I signed up for the job because I get to heal people and get money.”
“What’s with the mace then, healer?” The dragonborn asked as he finished the meat off some animal’s thigh and threw away the bone.
Euphi’s tan cheeks turned slightly pink, but she gave a coy smile instead of hiding anything. Her curly brown hair reached almost to her back and her leather armour showed signs of combat.
“Well, I caused…an accident back in my hometown that angered some people. I carry the mace to defend myself, though I really want a bat…”
“Fret not, friend Euphi.” The half-orc said, crouching to put a hand on her shoulder. “As long as we stand together, no harm shall befall you. As for me…”
He then stood straight and posed for everyone in the group, flexing one arm and raising his greataxe with the other.
“Hark! My name is Zatheir Thornbridge, and I’m here seeking people in need of protection and companions with which to share my time. It is my duty to protect those who cannot protect themselves and preserve justice so that peace can prevail. I am a half-orc from the far-off Callishite village of Atreyun, which I defended against monsters of every kind until…until its tyrant ruler banished me. I was a hero to the people, but now I’m forced to abandon them. I’ve taken this job as a means to continue my quest to protect the weak, while still making a decent living. I can’t best villains on an empty stomach now, can I?”
He concluded his speech with a loud, hearty laugh, but most of the others just gave him a quizzical look. At seven feet tall, Zatheir towered over most of them, but his attitude most closely resembled that of a teenager and it was hard for a half-orc to not come off as intimidating. He wore a cape, but no shirt. Instead, he wore a sleeveless vest that proudly displayed his muscled, light gray torso. Uncharacteristically for a half-orc, his black hair was loose upon his shoulders and sometimes brushed against his eyebrows.
The elven druid then widened her silver eyes and smiled at Zatheir’s enthusiasm, raising her hand to go next.
“Hi!” She giggled at her first word, but it was unclear what she was laughing at. “My name is Cordelia Woodwhisper and I’ve been living with my pet Peridotite in the deep mountain forests since I was a child. I usually just spend my time wandering the woods and speaking with my fauna friends, but I received a vision that told me I should join this quest to stop a terrible catastrophe in the future.”
Despite the dark omen, her smile was contagious. Her leather armour and her cloth cape were covered in animal and astrological imagery, like the constellation on her abdomen and the moon on her chest.
“That’s cheery.” The dragonborn gave a half-smile, then decided it was his turn. “I am Saladar Yarjerit, a man of war. I hail from the Yarjerit clan of dragon-folk and I am a ranger who hunts and eats celestials.” At this phrase, he grinned to display his sharp teeth. “I only give my respect to the strong and pity the weak. Besides beating things, I enjoy being in drunken brawls with other races. It gives me great pride to bash dwarf heads, cut elf ears, and drink orc-blood…” He suddenly eyed the gnome, the halfling, the elf and the half-orc in the party. “…if they’re my enemies. They call me The Salad Tosser.”
“Well, my blue-scaled friend, I would love nothing else than to beat evil bandits and the like to a pulp, but let’s not look for trouble where there’s none.” Zatheir said with a glance.
“Sure. In any case, I came here for money and battle.”
As soon as Saladar answered back, a loud rustle could be heard from the cart and the bald gnome stood proudly with his bagpipe on his side.
“Saving the best for last, eh? I’m Egg Nogg.” He proclaimed with a sly grin. “I’m but a mere gnome banished from his home for having too handsome a dome.” He paused for effect, then bowed. “I’m living my days as a fair entertainer, but the business has been less than plentiful these past weeks. I joined the quest because I knew any respectable band of adventurers needs the presence of a good bard, and there’s none better than I this side of Neverwinter.”
Though gnomes were known to be hairy, Egg had a head shinier than any blade the party carried. Perhaps to make sure others still knew he was a gnome, he wore his costume shirt slightly loose so that the jungle of hair on his chest was clearly seen.
“I’m happy to have your songs, Egg, but you’re mistaken in being the last.” Zatheir noticed.
Behind the rest who had introduced themselves, the hooded figure continued to march silently. The sun was still up, but the figure’s hood still covered their face in darkness. Seeing that the others were expecting a proper introduction, the figure finally spoke:
“My name is Taman Galanodel.” The voice was clearly male, but strangely young.
“I’m a half-elf wizard and I’m here to get my pay. That’s all you need to know.”
The short description left most of the group with raised eyebrows, but it didn’t seem to bother them much. Cordelia and Egg simply shrugged, while Zatheir and Saladar eyed him suspiciously.
“Hey, what’s that?” Euphi spoke up, squinting her eyes and pointing at something farther ahead in their path. As they got closer, the scene became clearer: in the middle of the path going through the woods, a wooden cart was knocked over and two horses lay dead beside it.
“Wonder what happened there.” Saladar muttered once the convoy stopped. He stepped in front of Zatheir to go investigate, but the half-orc placed a hand on his plated shoulder first.
“Wait. I’ll go with you, but I suggest you steel yourself. I smell an ambush.”
The barbarian and the ranger approached the scene cautiously while the rest of the crew watched with curiosity. Once they made it, Saladar crouched to check the horse corpses and stood back up with a look of confusion.
“This doesn’t make much sense. These horses clearly pulled this cart, but its contents and their riders are nowhere to be seen. I can’t tell if they ran away or were taken, the wind has swept their traces already.”
Suddenly, a loud snap was heard from the woods to their right, like wood splitting violently.
“That sounds like…LOOK OUT!”
Zatheir reacted just as suddenly and placed himself between Saladar and the woods to their left, where an arrow shot out and hit him square in the chest, over the heart. It left a sizeable wound that started bleeding, but it didn’t pierce through the muscle.
“Argh…it’s an ambush.” he groaned, pulling the arrow out and snapping it in half by making a fist.
“There’s two on your right!” The voice of Taman could be heard from behind the cart, where Euphi, Cordelia and Egg quickly got ready to fight.
“Eat this, goblin scum!” Saladar yelled and launched a javelin to his right, but it hit a tree instead. Zatheir yelled for healing and did the same on his left, but missed as well.
Magic energy glowed from Egg’s lips as he viciously mocked the hidden goblins from behind the cart.
“Nice camouflage, idiots! You blend right next to horseshit!”
Somewhere in the underbrush, a goblin felt psychic damage.
“Great Loki, if I got hit by that arrow I would’ve died.” Euphi said with wide eyes, quickly mending the wound that Zatheir had received before.
“My many thanks, little one. I suggest you stand behind me now, I’m going to return the favour.”
“Peri, go hit the goblins on the right!” Cordelia ordered, and her pseudo-dragon followed. She then followed the goblin cries of pain and headed into the woods.
From where the loud sound of snapping wood was heard a goblin emerged, angrily rushing towards Saladar with a handaxe and a broken shortbow on its side. Saladar responded by grinning and slashing it with a sickle. It took a serious blow, but it was still ready to fight. As he expertly dodged its next attack, a ghostly white hand appeared from thin air and grasped the goblin. The ranger turned to see Taman using his magic to attack the goblin himself. Once he turned back, the creature had already been crushed to death.
“There’s two more on the left.” The wizard muttered, and Saladar and Zatheir held a thumbs up in response.
“Gllrrraaargh!” Another goblin came out from their left side, but this time Zatheir dropped his greataxe on it and cleaved it cleanly in half before it could harm anyone.
“There! Near the cart!” Zatheir pointed to the other goblin that came out of the forest, who was quickly approaching Egg and their cart. It seemed specifically mad at the gnome for some reason.
“You’re gonna try to hit me?” The bard scoffed, the magic still spewing with every word. “You couldn’t hit a bearbug in a closet.”
The goblin visibly took some magical psychic damage, then was promptly crushed to death by another one of Taman’s spells.
Another goblin cry was heard, but it was farther to the right and it seemed more desperate than angry.
“Guys!” Cordelia’s voice was heard from the same spot. “A little help?”
The party rushed to Cordelia’s location in the forest and found her in front of a goblin trapped in some vines that did not look naturally formed. The goblin struggled as much as it could and looked worriedly around, clever enough to know that his brethren had been killed by then. His large eyes darted around in fear, hoping someone in the band has some sense of mercy.
“I trapped this guy but he won’t tell me anything.” Cordelia explained. “Any of you good at intimidation?”
Zatheir raised his hand eagerly and stepped in front of the goblin. Being four feet taller, he towered over it even when crouching.
“Tell me where you came from and why you’ve done this terrible deed. I can tell if you’re lying, and I will feed you to my hungry friend if you try it.”
Saladar proudly displayed his sharp-toothed grin behind him, seemingly eager to have goblin meat for dinner.
“No!” It cried out as fast as it could. “I tell you everything! I-I am Gobbo, and we here to kill protectors of Gundren Rockseeker!”
Looks were shared between the party members, as this was the name of the dwarf that had contracted them to transport his provisions to the town of Phandalin.
“What happened to the travelers that came by on those horses?”
“Oh! Those belong to Gundren and warrior friend, uh…Sildar! Kidnapped and taken to different places! Sildar taken to cave about an hour away, Gundren taken to Cragmaw Castle!”
“Where is this Cragmaw Castle?”
“Two days travel north! But that place taken by King Grol! Bad place!”
Zatheir turned to the party with a mix of anger and determination.
“We’re going to rescue Gundren. But first, it would be wise to rescue Sildar at the cave that’s closeby.”
“That place could be full of traps.” Cordelia warned.
“Yes! Yes!” Gobbo nodded excitedly. “Much traps! I can clear traps! I live there!”
Saladar raised an eyebrow and crouched to ask his own question.
“How can we trust you’re not the one leading us to a trap? Wouldn’t you want to protect your brethren and join their forces?”
Gobbo furiously shook its head.
“No! Other gobbos very mean! I never like other gobbos. Meanest is Klarg. Hate Klarg.”
“Who’s ‘Klarg’?” Saladar asked again.
“Klarg is big boss! Big boss bugbear!”
“Urgh.” Cordelia groaned in disgust. “Bugbears are bad news.”
“No matter.” Zatheir shook his head. “We will raid the cave in search for Sildar. First though, I suggest we set up camp and rest. It’s getting dark and I don’t want to approach the cave at night.”
“I hear that, but what will we do about the goblin?” Cordelia asked.
Gobbo nervously looked at the druid that caught her.
“We can take turns watching him during the night. He’s not going anywhere with those vines, but it doesn’t hurt to be safe.”
“I’ll take first watch then. I don’t need to sleep as much as you guys do.”
With that, the party pulled the cart into the woods and started setting up camp. Right before everyone went to sleep, Euphi was seen crouching over the horse corpses, illuminating the night with a pale light.