As we finish our discussion with the Prince, two of his personal guard enter the tent and inform him that two bodies have been discovered at the latrine. Targoth and I are both interested in investigating, but the rest of the party is exhausted and needs rest.
So, Targoth and I follow the Prince and the guards over to the two bodies that have been discovered. Both bodies appear to have been pierced through their armor in quick, fatal thrusts to the chest. There are also slash marks across their throats and no defensive wounds; this leads Targoth and me to believe that at least two people snuck up behind these men and killed them quickly.
The armor the men were wearing is made of leather; Targoth attempts to get a fingerprint from it with his detection kit and is able to find a set where one of them was pushed. From the look of the prints, it’s clear that the perpetrators were human.
It also seems apparent, after a closer look at the wounds, that the fatal thrusts into the body were made with a sword and the slashes across the neck were made with daggers. Searching the bodies turns up no valuables.
Targoth and I expand our search to include the area around the bodies. Targoth finds the footprints of the dead guards, as well as some others that head in the direction of the latrines. He’s also able to see where the footsteps stop and is able to determine that that is where there was a bit of a scuffle.
From there, there are two sets of footprints that lead into the camp, apparently not running. It’s hard to say that these belong to the killers, but it’s definitely possible. Targoth is also able to determine that no magic was used to kill the guards. After telling the Prince all of this, he has the commander of the regiment that the guards belonged to called over.
The commander tells us who the men were, and is obviously upset at the loss of his men. He also comes across as slightly defensive, as if he has something to prove. He is able to tell us, however, that the men didn’t have any enemies, and that he’s had no intelligence of an assassination attempt against the Prince.
With nothing else to add to the investigation, the prince tells his commander that we’re to be allowed to move about the camp freely. This said, he leaves us and Targoth and I are led back to the tent the rest of our party is using.
They’re still awake when we arrive and we fill them in on the situation, deciding that there needs to be a watch on duty. We discover, also, that we’ve been assigned a guard to watch the front of the tent.
Targoth takes the first watch while the rest of us sleep, or attempt to. He wakes me after his shift and I take my turn to keep watch at the back of the tent while the men at the front are relieved by two new guards. After about an hour on duty, I notice four people race towards me—two from the left and two from the right—from the forest. I’m attacked and don’t call out, but my party is awoken when some of the assailants tear holes into the tent. As we fight, the guards from the front rush around the tent and join with the attackers, rather than fighting on our side.
We manage to kill all but one of the attackers, leaving the last, named Talin, alive for questioning. He capitulates quickly, telling us that he and the others were sent to attack us by a half-orc, on Morage’s orders. It’s obvious that the half-orc is Druuk and that the Borderlanders still exist. Targoth loses his temper in a way we’ve rarely seen when Druuk’s involvement is mentioned, screaming at Talin, “Tell me where to find him!”
Talin nervously explains that the half-orc came from the south. When we ask more questions about how the half-orc hired them, he tells us that the Borderlanders knew where to find him and the others and offered them money to kill us. He explains that the guards that attacked us were part of the cell and that there are other cells but he doesn’t know how they’re activated.
Talin pleads that he’s innocent, that all he cares about is the money and he has no personal reason to kill us—which is why he should be let go—but Targoth and I are skeptical and don’t believe him.
Some of the others talk us out of killing Talin, but we leave him restrained while we think of a plan. Meanwhile, Navuul arrives and now has evidence that there are traitors in his ranks. After some moments of discussion, we decide that it would be best if the Borderlanders think they’ve succeeded in killing us. To make the deception realistic, we all part with something that is important and valuable to each of us. For most, it’s a weapon, but for Targoth it’s an amulet.
Prince Navuul tells Talin that he’s now under the prince’s protection—which the assassin accepts—and is charged with going back to those who hired him and convincing them that we’re dead. We decide that we’ll have to sneak out of the camp so that no one sees us and go back through the portal.
As we’re preparing to depart, the Prince tells us that Ashtar intends to be named Baron of Orran in a few days’ time. He thinks that the ensuing celebrations planned will be a good time to assassinate him. He does think, however, that his younger brother makes a better first target, and he tells us to find a wheelwright named Tiania in Riversend who is part of Second Dawn. She’ll be able to put us in contact with the city’s resistance and help us plan to take down Tanaidred.
We bid him farewell and make our way back to the portal, which takes us to the Scriveners’ Academy. Saresh greets us and leads us to a place where we can bed down for the night. We explain to him what happened and how we’ll have to pretend to be dead. Saresh unfortunately doesn’t know anything about the Borderlanders, so we’re no closer to finding out what they are.
Saresh takes a moment, before we leave the portal room, to say that some of them have been tampered with and to mention where a few of them go: one to Riversend, one to a defunct mine north of Orran, one to Agramar (the capital city of Hazen), one to the Lone Mountain in the Sighing Desert, one to the home of the Bronze Dragon, one to Io, another to an abandoned dragonborn building in the Sighing Desert, and one to an Elven settlement in a jungle south of the desert. At the last two portals, Jack feels the familiar pull of the pearls, but does not make much mention of it. We’re all exhausted, though, so it’s with a huge relief that we’re able to get some sleep after so much time with none.
The next day, we pack up all of our things and make our way once more to the portal room. We take the one that will get us the closest to Riversend—a portal that opens in the middle of Blackfen, not far from the town.
After we go through the portal, we find ourselves in a small, uninhabited room. It’s completely dark and there are no apparent doors or windows. As we search the room carefully in the dark to find a way out, Jack notices a seam in the wall about the same time that Aideena notices an arcane signature in the same corner.
We move over to that corner. Targoth touches the wall and feels Saresh’s magic. We’re at a loss for a moment until I remember Saresh showing us something he referred to as the Last Secret—though he said it in draconic. When I mention this, Targoth repeats the words “last secret” in draconic. As he says the phrase, a door appears. We’re able to see glowing light through the doorway and, beyond, hulking shadows appear against a wall.
As we stand there, we hear a deep voice say something in a language that is not Common. Aideena, understanding Giant, knows that someone has said, “Hurry up with that cooking.”
We’re not quiet enough as we ponder how to make our way out of the room, and another voice pipes up and asks, “Do you hear something?”
We don’t have time to hide before we’re attacked by two massive ogres.
Soon a few others join the fight—including an ogre shaman who makes it rain—but we manage to kill all but said shaman eventually. Aideena talks to the shaman in giant and he agrees to not kill us if we spare him.
Through Aideena translating, we ask the way to Riversend. The shaman tells us to go north and follow the streams. Generously, he says he won’t pursue us.
After we’re done talking, he tosses a bag at us, which we find contains 5,000 gp of rubies, emeralds, and diamonds. We leave the orc in peace and follow his directions, heading north and sticking close to the streams. Crossing through the swamps of Blackfen is fairly uneventful, though at one point Aideena falls in quicksand, and Eben and Jack must pull her out. It takes the better part of a day, but we finally reach Riversend close to sunset. Before following the road into town, we don disguises.
Not long after we enter the town, we find an inn called the Lantern’s Keep. We go inside and mingle with the locals, listening in on several conversations to learn what’s happening with the town and, specifically, where we might find Tanaidred.
As we listen, we hear a number of rumors. One group talks about the strange happenings at the old Baron’s manor, making mention of a strange explosion about a day ago—just about the time that the Palace in Easar was ripped from the ground and began floating in the sky.
Someone mentions that no one has seen the Prince in two days. Some say he’s out traveling, but the person speaking sounds doubtful. Another man at the bar says he saw the old baron with his head cut off.
Not all of the discussion centers on these events; many are talking about the troupe that left the town for Tal Morai in a hurry, and that a new troupe is said to be on its way to perform for the mid-winter holiday.
After hearing this, Targoth heads to the bar and asks the barman about it. The barman explains that the troupe that’s going to fill in for the recently departed group is called The Players. Targoth, seeing an opportunity, especially given some of the news in the bar that the Prince plans to attend the performance, offers the party’s services as a troupe. The barman tells him that we should speak to the master of the theatre about that.
After Targoth plays some songs and I manage to get drunk, the barkeep tells us that there’s an inn around the corner where we can stay.
We make our way to the Red Hand of Kord, and Targoth greets the innkeeper, who gives us a good room where we can each have our own beds.
When we get to the room, I pick a bed and pass out on it. Jack heads out after everyone is asleep, but he doesn’t stay out too long. He wakes Aideena when he returns through the window. She asks him if he’s been in Riversend before and, in typical Jack style, merely responds, “A few times.” Aideena doesn’t press him about it.
During the night, Aideena dreams of a house on fire. She hears a voice speak to her, saying, “Come to me, child. Find me in this place of fire. You know me well and you will serve me.” After this, she wakes.
The next morning, Aideena looks ragged and I don’t feel much better. We all have breakfast and make our way down to the market. Eben, not seeing anything he wants to buy, decides to set himself up and offer up the wares that he no longer wants. This annoys the other sellers, but I think it’s a fantastic idea and decide to offer up something as well.
One customer offers very little money for Eben’s amulet of life, but Eben sells it to him anyway. This infuriates our neighbors even more and one offers us a few thousand gp for three of our magical items, including Eben’s Impostor Plate Armor and Blood Iron Plate Iron and my Thought-Eater Leather Armor. In a show of arrogance and chauvinism, the shopkeeper completely ignores me and tries to negotiate with Eben. Eben, however, defers to me and the shopkeeper is forced to haggle with me for our items. We eventually agree to a price that is well below market value, but not bad considering the location.
Afterwards, as part of our deal with the shopkeeper, we stop selling wares. While looking around, I purchase 10 mundane daggers. Meanwhile, Eben goes and gets himself a tattoo. I decide it’s time to go looking for our contact with the local resistance. I ask around and discover that the wheelwrights don’t set up their wares in this market; they set up on the docks. The person I talk to also tells me that Tiania is a very good wheelwright and tells me approximately where I might find her.
Jack, Targoth, and I head for the dockside. Aideena discovers that there’s a hedge wizard in the town and goes to speak with him and look over any scrolls or potions he might have.
When we get down to the waterfront, I greet Tiania who is dismissive until I give her the Second Dawn greeting. She recognizes it and leads us to an empty area. She informs us that Tanaidred hasn’t been seen in two days. Jack asks her if she knows anything about the Players, the troupe that’s going to arrive and perform in front of the Prince. She says she doesn’t, but that she can put us in touch with Zanni, the resistance leader who is watching the Mean Fiddler for their arrival.
She leads us to where the man is. As we walk along, Jack hangs back. I attempt to hurry him along, but he moves slowly. It’s at about this point that Eben and Aideena catch up with us. We eventually reach a large stall where we are introduced to Master Zanni. The man is missing part of his left index finger and stares at Jack.
Eventually he tells us about the local resistance, who number approximately twenty people. He also tells us that the Players have recently arrived at an inn nearby and that the program states they’ll be performing a show called The Earl’s Evening Delight. He confirms that the Prince will attend and we attempt to hatch a plan to get the Players out of the way so that we may perform—even though none of us know anything about the show we’re supposed to be putting on.
We finally decide that we’ll incapacitate the Players using any potions to hand—nothing that will seriously kill them, but will keep them out of the way for a number of hours. Throughout the discussion, it’s clear that Zanni knows Jack as they interact in a very strange way. No explanation is offered, though, and it’s really not the moment in any case. Aideena goes back to the hedge wizard and looks into what potions he has available, eventually buying two vials of a sleeping draught and a lovemaking potion for men. Targoth checks in with the apothecary who has some goodnight tincture. Jack and I both have some heartflow poison, which will cause anyone who ingests it to be sick.
Once we have our potions ready, we head to the inn and order meals for the troupe, posing as appreciative fans. After some thought, we also order them ale. Zanni, on cue, creates a distraction and in a moment we douse all of the ale with our potions. We wait for fifteen tense minutes until the server brings some of the dishes back out, saying that two of the troupe weren’t interested in ale.
We discuss the situation and decide that we’ll get ourselves some rooms and search the others for the members who hadn’t been dosed with something. After seeing the innkeeper for rooms, we head through the halls and listen at doors. Targoth approaches a door and, not hearing anything, knocks. When an old woman answers, Targoth knocks her out and places her on the bed. I reach one of the rooms and knock. A child answers and I knock him out and place him on the bed, having to be talked out of tying him down. I make sure to lock the door after I’m done.
From the other doors are issuing retching noises or snores, so we’re fairly confident that these troupe members are incapacitated. We exit the hallway where Zanni is waiting for us. He takes us to the theatre, where we discuss the next few steps. The first includes the performance itself, which we’ll have to improvise, not having found a script or directions. The only thing we have found is a brief summary, which states: “The Earl of Pandalion is smitten with a completely unsuitable lover. He must fight the disapproval of his family and advances from an amorous stable hand for the sake of his love.” We also discuss how the backstage area is a good place for an ambush.
Sooner than we expected, we begin the performance. Our story starts with the young Earl of Pandalion, Ogdenthorpe (portrayed by Targoth), confessing his love for his former nanny, Vela (Kaiva), to the audience. The lady appears oblivious, but the earl sings her praises. In the second act, the earl, nicknamed Oggie, confesses to his parents (Aideena and Eben) his passion. They are completely disapproving, but it turns out that their situation is very similar—though they continue to protest that it is not at all the same. In the third act, Jacques (Jack—quite a stretch, eh?), the stable boy, flirts with Vela, whom he believes to be playing hard to get. It soon comes to light, through song, that Jacques flirts with everyone.
In the fourth scene, Vela fusses over Lady Pandalion, leaving to take care of the youngest child. Lady Pandalion then believes that Vela is in love with her. She sings a song in which she questions whether or not she has come to the right conclusion, and in the end, she thinks she may also be in love with the nanny. In scene five, both Oggie and Jacques visit the priest, asking him to marry them to Vela during the mid-winter festival and ball. As they do, they realize that they’re fighting over the same woman and challenge each other to a duel, not realizing that the priest also is in love with Vela and is manipulating them into fighting each other. As Jacques and Oggie fight during the Midwinter Ball in Act Six, Jacques declares, “You may be earl-y, but you don’t have first dibs!,” sending the audience into riotous laughter. The performance has been going well—the crowd has been enjoying the performance and, more importantly, the Prince has been as well. This is imperative, since we’d been told that only if we perform well could we expect the prince to come backstage to offer us his patronage—and leave himself open to attack.
During the climax, though, is when things begin to go wrong. Three of The Players, whom we’d thought we incapacitated, storm the stage and try to break the performance up. We try, within the context of a duel in the final scene, to get them off stage and out of the way, but they keep fighting us. Luckily, we’re able to work their unexpected and unwelcome appearance into the play and manage to get the audience to believe that it’s all part of the show, which we achieve by creating complete and utter chaos, including a runaway weasel out of Aideena’s bag of tricks.
Just at the end, one of the party manages to lower the curtain and we hurry the Players out of there, explaining that they really don’t want to be backstage and that we mean them no harm, truly. We’re finally able to convince them to leave. Once backstage, we also learn that Zanni and Tad had been tied up, and we free them, urging them to leave as well. They heed our advice just in time, for they have scarcely left when the Prince appears backstage. He greets us and congratulates us and, without saying a thing, we attack. It’s a very difficult battle as he has his guards with him, but we finally manage to defeat and kill him.
We take a moment to rest, sending an animal messenger to Prince Navuul—in code—that the deed is done.