All Roads Lead to Sharn

Liberators?

The last goblin lay writhing and moaning on the ground, feebly trying to hold his entrails inside his body. The stench of burning hobgoblin and leather permeates the air, and a thin trail of black smoke rises from the smoldering tent and slashes across the crimson sky. You have perhaps but an hour until dark.

Of the half-dozen elf slave-soldiers, most merely stand still in shock. All look pale, thin, and hollow-eyed. One falls to his knees and begins savagely beating the dying goblin with his bare fists, screaming profanities in Elvish, but his companions quickly pull him off and console him. Another elf looks up mournfully at the party and says in Elvish to Wangchi “I would thank you, cousin, though now I will likely never see my beloved Birel and my daughter, Valna, again. I die inside knowing the horrors that await them.”

Wangchi returns the man’s gaze and haltingly says, “We are here to help. You fear you will never see your family again. Why is that?” Some minor annoyance flashes through Wangchi’s head – he’s been so long in the Mortal Lands that his own native language feels thick on his tongue.


   d’shek: a very derogatory
   Elvish term for goblinoids

   Chillbox: a minor magical
   device made by Cannith
   craftmages for keeping
   perishables

   Gitashi: roughly “rape”.
   Some elves only eat meat
   from game that has been
   prayed for and then ritually
   thanked. To do otherwise is
   considered a terrible crime.

   Otto: Diplomacy 2 vs DC 10.
   Your faux paux results in a
   -2 to future Diplomacy checks
   for the party with this group.

   Obadiah: Diplomacy 22 vs
   DC 9. Your quiet kindness is
   appreciated and gives +2 to
   the party’s future Diplomacy
   checks with this group of
   elves.

   AEdain: all but Wangchi and
   Rhan’in are aware of this
   term. It’s a warrior cult
   among some elf clans. In
   times of crisis, some hear
   the calling to become a
   ”Child of AEdain”, also known
   as “The Blood God”. Those who
   answer the call are never
   considered by their brethren
   as “elves” again. They
   belong to AEdain now.


The man looks away to the north. Slowly and with great reluctance, as if somehow saying it aloud will make it more real, he says “The d’shek hold our loved ones captive. If we displease them, they do not harm us but take it out on them… For this…” He waves his hand at the fallen hobgoblins. “For this they will suffer terribly…”

A sob and a muffled cry comes from one of the other huddled elves. Most of the rest of the party doesn’t speak Elvish, but all comprehend the tone of suffering. They uncomfortably shuffle their feet and look for something to do other than stare at wretched men in despair.

Otto walks over to the smoldering tent and pokes around for some food. He finds a chillbox with some sort of meat tartar and eggs in it. Not really seeing anything else to eat, he takes the chillbox back to the elves and offers its contents to one of them. The elf looks away with disgust and mutters “Gitashi!”. Otto shrugs.

Obadiah gathers the blankets the elves left by their campfire. With a subtle brow furrow, the material becomes warm and turn into heating blankets, which Obadiah then gives to the elves to help shield them from the oncoming night. The elves numbly wrap themselves in the blankets with whispered gratitude.

Meanwhile, the speaking elf has continued. He points down the road. “Tread upon this path into the violated wood, and their suffering shall be revealed to you. The d’shek display their wrath for all to see… At first, some resisted, but against such horrors an elf is powerless. Only those who have joined with AEdain resist now, for they have no souls with which to feel suffering.”

Obadiah steps away from the noise of the group and crouches down on his haunches. With eyelids barely slit, he traces random patterns in the dirt and stares not so much at them but through them, as though straining to see to some unfathomable depth. And with his mind down in this invisible realm, he strains to recall all he has come to know about where they are… digging through the random tidbits, tales of traveling minstrels, forgotten lore, and forbidden knowledge… seeking to glean some information that would help them understand the horrible goblin calamity that has befallen the elven people of this region.

Otto has grown a bit frustrated by all this talk in a language he doesn’t understand and is very concerned about the horn blown by one of the hobgoblins just a few minutes ago. He gruffly asks the elf who refused the food “Who else amongst this gang of thugs awaits us in the woods?”

The elf replies back in thickly-accented, awkward, Common. “d’shek... Hmmm… Goblinish, right? New Goblinish and more elves come at High Night, we go home. At home, many Goblinishes. In woods? Hunters hunt Children of AEdain. Hunters and wolves…” The elf shudders. “Wolves are horror. d’shek teach them so you, so you… inyat, ah, live? long while they eat you anyat... ah, ahlive.” It is clear in his eyes that he has witnessed this agonizing death.

Without looking like he’s broken his concentration, Obadiah says “Can one of you starting taking their fucking shackles off and shit?” Rhan’in takes a step forward but the elf who has been speaking with Wangchi quickly blocks him.

“No! No, you mustn’t! We… we must stay and stay shackled. If we go, our loved ones die horribly. If we stay, they might show mercy… It is our only hope.” The last part was more directed at the other elves. Some slowly nod in agreement, the others remain still.

Rhan’in stands before the elves a moment, considering, before speaking in Elvish: “Your families’ continued well-being isn’t guaranteed by your lives … only your compliance, if even that. Let us find the bones of your other fallen near to here, and bring them here as sign that you’ve fulfilled your obligations to these filth…“ Rhan’in nods toward the dead goblinoids. “Then, you may gain back your strength, and help as warriors should: with deeds of courage. You can have that back. But you need to choose.”

A flicker of anger flashes across the elf’s face “An Eladrin cannot understand…” The anger fades and is replaced with a calm sadness. “I am sorry, cousin… We who walk the One Path see all things as interconnected, and do not separate accountability though it be one or two degrees removed. If we should choose to fight, we may as well have struck the death blow ourselves that will be surely dealt to our wives and children. Simpler philosophies find it convenient to separate those events, but it is simply that – a convenient fiction. Though we may all die, it shall not be by a kinsman’s actions. Only those who have lost all ties to their kin, who have forsworn their race and declared themselves of AEdain, fight.”

The air hangs quiet. Rhan’in looks back at Wangchi, who shrugs. The rest of the party hasn’t been able to understand the conversation, but could certainly hear the emotions involved.

Obadiah stirs from his thoughts and addresses his comrades in hushed tones. “Some things have been understood, some things are still opaque. I surmise these fucknob hobgoblins here are from Darguun, a vile slave-owning kingdom to the southeast of our current location. This would be quite far for their raiding parties to travel, but I have heard rumors that they travel the caverns and tunnels underlying all this region. It’s a highly dangerous system, called the Veins of Khyber after an ancient lore. Around some other more peaceful campfire I’ll tell you the tale, if your feeble minds could handle anything more than the thoughts of war. I’m willing to guess that we’re close to some crack or fissure that gives access to these foul beasts. One thing I know for sure… others will be coming.” With that, he falls silent… glancing around nervously. Barely audible over the crackle of the burning remnants of battle a nervous fart is heard.

Obadiah’s words alarm Otto. He walks over to Rhan’in, whispers in his ear, and then waves over Wangchi. “Can we talk? Privately?”

Wangchi holds up a finger to Otto, wordlessly telling him to wait a moment, and offers to the apparent leader of the prisoners in perfect but deliberate Elvish, “My heart is heavy with the tale you tell of your family, but I understand. If we cannot convince you to be freed we will leave you here as you request…It is not our wish to endanger your families. But I ask that you tell our wizard how we may be of any further help to you or advise him on the trail to come. The least we can do is convey to your families that you are alive, should we meet them. We will do what we can. I must confer with the rest of the party so we may prepare for the coming night and what the call of the goblin horn may bring. We must be quick.” Wangchi repeats all this to Obadiah in Common and then steps away to talk with Otto and Rhan’in.

Obadiah has quieted his irritable bowels and waddles over to the elves “Is there anything our band of five might do to rescue your loved ones?”

The elf looks thoughtful before replying in decent Common. “We hold the lives of our kin as sacred, and none but the AEdain will fight as long as our loved ones are in jeopardy. We will live a life of slavery before we risk the lives of our loved ones. But mark my words, were our kin freed, there would be a hundred blades aimed at the hearts of the d’shek, instantly…

There is a hamlet to the north along the river which the AEdain have told us to go to, if any should hear the Calling of the Blood God themselves. If you meet them, I only warn you that they may look like elves but they are not. They are of the Blood God, and seek only to exact vengeance upon their enemies and their own death in battle.

If you continue down the road, you shall pass the… warnings… of the d’shek to those who do not obey. They are… horrible… Past the crucifixions, by several leagues you will find our main village. The d’shek encamp there, and in the heart of the village lay the slave pens. They are forcing our people to murder our beloved trees, to chop them down and slice them into beams. We weep as we work, and plead with the treespirits to understand, and ask them to not lash out lest they would harm our kin.

We do not know why they want the timber. Once per week a group of d’shek have arrived and loaded the timber on mules and marched into the mountains with them.”

The elf looks over at Obadiah’s companions. They have moved off a distance but can be seen pointing at various nearby terrain and drawing in the dirt.

“Your friends seem worried about the d’shek horn-call. The d’shek are stupid. They only think of their barren homeland and their warrens. Horns may work well there, but here, their bleats are swallowed by the vast forest and undulating mountains. They haven’t learned to use drums as we do. I think it will be hours before the next d’shek guards arrive.”

Obadiah’s companions are indeed worrying about the goblin horn-call and argue about what to do next. Finally they decide on an elaborate ambush for any goblin relief force. Rhan’in walks over to the elves and says “For your own safety, we would like to gag and bind you.”

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