As the Chain gangs journey enters it’s fourth endless night they leave the chalky playa known as the Bone meal Plain and reach the pebble strewn desert outback that marks the border of the Domain of Balefire. Barely halfway through their day the sharp ears of the charlatan Dafter hear the scuffling of something following them. Halting their march the gang turns to find a lone goblin rider atop a mongrel of a dog. The rider swathed in dun colored rages and bits of scrubby brush keeps his distance as the group spreads out. Kalib and Cayden both move to hide in the light scrub at the peripheries of the party’s lights trusting their demon-blooded sight in the gloom. Lazarus and Dafter turned to speak to the grubby little shadow but the rider just turned and padded off. For several minutes after the initial sighting the Chain gang kept their guard up waiting for more goblins to show up.
Their vigilance eventually paid off, but it wasn’t goblins that they encountered among the bone scrub and Black Cacti of the desert. More of the twiggy, thorned Tumble Weirds set upon them near a trickling stream bed leaving Kalib covered in bleeding gashes. Cutting the plant monsters down took only a few moments, but the freaking flora had taken it’s toll. With healing draughts dwindling and their supply of bandages and ointments diminished the Chain gang was attacked. A trio of goblin and the grubby tracker mounted on bat-faced goblin dogs had ridden ahead, encompassing the groups path. A hail of black, poisoned needless was followed by stone hatchets chopping and hacking. Plek Starlington and Cayden Shadowstep took the brunt of the initial assault as they moved into the trio of riders looking to flank one of them. Both Kalib and Mreelana quickly warded themselves in sorcery. Dafter and Lazarus the lone pair still chained together coordinated their movements to keep out of harms way, the thespian shouting rousing words of inspiration to his companions. Cayden and Plek quickly down the first rider only to see the camouflaged tracker break cover waving a massive bone poleaxe. The tiefling felt the choppers wicked bite first and nearly fell to his knees from the stroke. Plek scared off the pathetic excuse of a canine and rushed to help the wounded bounty hunter. Kalib waded up to the second rider and with his orange eyes flahsing willed his long nailed hands into twisted demonic claws and ripped the goblin from his seat. Glowing darts of mystic power stung and scorched the third goblin as Mreelana backed away from the fracas. The remaining goblin attempted to rally to the trackers position but another hail of force darts broke his withdraw. Circling the goblin tracker Plek and Cayden struck knocking him unconscious, only the straps of his saddle keeping him from the killing blow.
From High atop a nearby bluff a shrill cry and whip crack sounded the retreat though only two of the mangy goblin dogs and the dying tracker slumped in his saddle. The Chain fared little better with Kalib, Cayden, and Plek sporting grevious wounds. Taking one of the final healing draughts Cayden quickly finds the group a place to bed down and uses his meager skills to treat his companions injuries. Fatefully there was nothing in the darkness to disturb their much needed rest.
When Cayden roused the group to continue their journey it wasn’t long till they found themselves walking through an increasingly grassy landscape. Long blades of wide black grass tickled their fingertips as the Chain gang moved through the savannah. Still following the clear trail of the wheel barrel Cayden makes out the tracks of those pushing it. Three humanoids, one likely a half-orc from the deep wide prints in the tall grass and one wearing a long robe trailing in the dust. Eventually the track leads into away from the groups path off to a distant copse of trees and hillcock lit by a dim flickering violet glow. However despite the Actor’s manic eagerness to explore the site and his curiousity about who robbed the graves at the Jawbone Creek Ranch the rest of the Chain gang voted to continue towards Balefire. After all they had a race to win and a Hellknight to beat.
Slowly the terrain transitioned from open grassland to rows of tended scrubby hedges crisscrossing the fields between large earthen berms. Winding between the hedges the group is once more confronted by the growling of goblin dogs and the shrieks of a goblin warchanter. The goblin tracker, thought dead the day before rose from the bushes signaling the curs to attack. The desperate animals balked at rushing into danger again and the tracker gave up trying drawing out his deadly horsechopper. Mreelana ducked behind a hedge raising her defenses while Plek plunged into the slow moving waters of an irrigation canal crossing it to confront the spellcaster. Cayden drew his twin maces and charged the stalled goblin dogs as Plek dragged himself up the bank. Kalib called into being a spell of armoring and measured the distance across the canal The Warchanter started into a hex of slumber as the birdman and tielfing approached. The tracker seeing his leader threatened spurred his mount to leap across the canal hewing into Plek with a mighty chop and getting a satisfying squawk. Leaving Cayden to draw off the dogs Lazarus and Dafter moved up the banks of the canal opposite the tracker and warchanter beginning a rousing passage of verse and drawing weapons. Completing her hex of slumber the Warchanter aimed it amongst Cayden, Kalib, and Dafter but all three shook it off. Failing with her most powerful charm the warchanter began to boost her allies with a warbling marching song. Kalib leaped the span of the canal landing next to Plek and the tracker. Mreelana emerged from hiding and lobbed a ray of acid into one of the dogs as Cayden crushed the others mangy skull. The thespian Lazarus called out in the goblin tongue and delivered a crude joke he hoped the Warchanter would find amusing… and she did breaking into a horribly grotesque belly laugh. Kalib rushed up to the tracker drawing his attention away from Plek but failed to strike the wily goblin. Plek drops his bow and draws his dagger slicing at the tracker scoring a small hit. Cayden now finished with the dogs follows Plek and Kalibs lead and vaults the canal but lacking anyplace on the opposite bank to strike at the tracker he chooses to land amidst the sluggish stream crushing the goblins kneecap. The trackers dog best on three sides lashes out as the tracker swings at Kalib cutting the sorcerer deeply. Lazarus follows his first jiibe with a dirty limerick in goblin causeing the Warchanter to double over, her sinuses and face flush with mucus as she guffaws till she can’t breathe. As the tracker falls to another of Caydens blows Plek and Kalib fall back. Lazarus tries to befuddle the warchanter with a spell of dazing she shakes it off and falls backtrying to reach the cover of the darkness. Dafter wills a quartet of dancing lights into being ahead of the fleeing goblin illuminating her as a target for Mreelana’s final magic missile. Outnumbered and outmatched her skin scorched and her throat raw from laughter the warchanter spurs her mount to a full run and leaves the Chain gang far behind fearing what her mistress will do when she reports in.
Now truly beaten and bruised, their healing all but depleted the Chain gang crested an earthen berm and spies lights off in the distance. Five miles ahead a small village showed the warm glow of lanterns and torches heralding civilization’s treasures; hot meals, cold drinks, and warm beds! Their elation was short lived for as they scrambled down the berms and around the hedgerows the peal of hoofbeats sounded to their left. A lone armored horseman bearing a fiendish looking lantern raced along a raised highway towards the town. Paralictor Rourk, sadistic captain of the Iron Dragoons, and scarred victim of Mreelana’s acidic touch. Their nemesis was in sight and he would likely be stopping the night in the cozy town ahead. The group knew if they were to beat the Hellknight they had to slow him down. In their condition however a confrontation with the vicious warrior would likely prove fatal.
Approaching the village they were stopped at the covered bridge spanning the winding creek they’d been following. A trio of militia men stood post and ordered them to halt. “Ho travelers, state your names and business and be prepared to turn out your pockets.” Lazarus and Dafter took their que and wove a tapestry of lies and innuendo convincing the yokels that they had been seperated from their caravan and been attacked by a horseman. Their wounds and general state of uncleanliness drove the falacy home in the mind’s eye of the militia sargent. He directed them towards the Crooked House, the burgs only Inn and tavern, where they could find beds, a meal, and perhaps the village healer. He also informed them a lone horseman had ridden into town a few hours earlier.
The Crooked House lived up to it’s reputation as nary a corner, joint, or wall ran straight and level however the light from inside was warm and welcoming. Fearing the Paralictor was sitting in the common room Mreelana stood outside as the rest of the gang entered. She would certainly be recognized by the bastard Rourk and she didn’t want to tip him off so soon. Plek entered the establishment and took a seat amidst the stares of the locals. Dafter and Lazarus immediately began talking up the gnomish Innkeeper and the two tiefings secured rooms to which they retreated to. The Tengu sneak listened to the whispers around the room as he and his companions were scrutinized. The villagers were a mix of human, gnome, and dwarven laborers. Fine gray dust coated their boots and clothes pointing to the origin of the village’s name; Quarry. Ironically that’s exactly what they were, pursuing and being pursued they were likely just under the nose of the Hellknight but hadn’t yet spotted him. Lazarus and Dafter enquired about the Village and it’s happenings as they drank the Inns rather good ale. The Innkeeper Tarquin Shortstone XXIV was a boisterous host and source of information, though he balked at the mention of the rider that had recently come into his establishment. Exploiting their shared racial ties Dafter convinced the hesitant gnome to leak that the Hellknight was indeed in the very next room, speaking with the Village’s mayor about something very secretive.
As her companions spread out through the Inn, the Earth Sorceress made a quick circuit of the building seeking out the stables. She knew that Rourks mount was the easiest piece of the equation to eliminate for her and the others to win their little race. Having little experience with animals however she found herself extremely nervous around the perceptive beasts. She waited until the stable hand had crept up into his loft to find the Hellknights horse. Three animals were stabled in the 6 stalls. A dappled gray mare with a mane full of ribbons and a mule filled out the first of the stalls she checked. The final billet also held a riding horse but knowing nothing of horses Mreelana retured to the front of the Inn seeking out Cayden. The tieflings field craft had successfully gotten them this far and he had some knowledge of the strange plants and animals of the shadowed realm. Hopefully he had a way with domestic animals as well. The Sorceress discreetly hissed for the Bounty Hunter through the din of the crowd. The others were either eating or drinking, the remaining shackled pair still talking to the Innkeeper. Cayden noticed her beckoning finger and stepped out into the dim street. “Cayden I think that bastard Rourk’s horse is in the stables. We should set it loose.” Cayden merely nodded as he followed her around to the stables.