After defeating the bandits in the Garlstone Mine and discovering the door therein, the group decided to pay Tauster a visit in Thurmaster to see if he could provide them with some sort of insight about the key they would need to open the door to the caverns below. Upon reaching Kuiper’s Farm, the party realized it had recently been the site of at least one battle involving orcs, Kuiper and some sort of large animal. Koreth discovered and followed tracks into the forest, eventually leading the group to a clearing where a large bear was battling a group of orcs. At the battle’s conclusion, Kuiper caught up to the company, informing them that the bear was in fact a local teen named Maxim who happened to be a wearbear. Kuiper took the boy to help him begin to learn his abilities and limitations, and the party continued on to Thurmaster.
At Tauster’s tower, the wizard shared the news that he had found a possible place to take the broken ring of Water Elemental Control, but didn’t have the ability to copy the key or summon its mate. On a long shot, Tauster attempted to use the key to scry and learn the location of either the second key or its owner, and managed to find the owner, the cleric who led the attack against the party on the river barge. Armed with a detailed description of the place the cleric was at, the group next traveled to see Count Parlfray, who was able to give them directions to the place in Tauster’s vision, a local landmark known as the God’s Hand. Upon reaching the Hand, the group discovered the cleric was gone and had, distressingly, left behind the remains of the guard escorting the envoy from Tol Kien to Haranshire. One of the soldiers still clung to life, if only barely, and was able to point in the direction the cleric had taken the survivors, the general direction of the Thornwood.
The party decided to regroup and resupply in Milborne before attempting to find the Keep in the Thornwood. While there, they reconnected with Tauster’s apprentice Marita, who was there to visit her family and fiancee, before meeting with Garyld, the old ranger who doubled as the town’s sheriff. Garyld offered to set up a meeting with the druid Oleanne, who could possibly guide the company to Broken Spire Keep. The meeting was set for two days’ time, and the party proceeded to prepare for their expedition. The morning the journey was to start, the group received terrible news; Marita was missing, and her supplies were still in her room at the inn.
A decision had to be made, and the party moved to track down the kidnappers using what they hoped would be a shortcut, bypassing the meeting with Oleanne entirely. Using Quinray’s knowledge of geography and Koreth’s wildnerness lore, they were able to find a hidden path leading to a waypoint where the kidnappers had stopped to rest. After a short but pitched battle, the company defeated the bandits and rescued Marita.
At this point, the party could have taken the opportunity to take Marita back to Milborne, but wanted to capitalize on the chance to take the slavers by surprise. To everyone’s surprise, the young wizardess told them she wanted to join the group rather than go back if it meant the difference between taking the bandits by surprise and having to take the keep from prepared defenders. Thus, the party decided to take the kidnappers’ equipment and cloaks (which smelled of fish), and pose as the villains to gain entry to the keep.
With the aid of a scrap of paper with partial directions found on one of the kidnappers, the party was able to find their way to the keep, avoiding an array of traps en route. The company was able to talk their way inside the gate, finding themselves face to face with what appeared to be the bandit leader, an attractive brunette human woman armed with a longsword and a swordbreaker dagger, who spoke briefly with the half-orc gate guard. Gnarl attempted to convince her that the party had attempted to stop the kidnappers from capturing Marita and had fallen in battle, with the survivors brought back as captives. Unfortunately for the group, the captain decided she had no need of a female dwarf captive and ordered Ember’s execution. In an attempt to save her life, Gnarl tried to persuade the captain to let him keep Ember as his prize, at which point the captain pointed at Koreth, ordering him to kill the dwarf. When the ranger balked, the captain’s suspicions were confirmed and she ordered the rest of her guards to attack the party.