Chapter One

The Mysterious Cargo

Jack, a half elf, a Lieutenant of the Order of the Silver Shield entered the Hangman's Noose Tavern and recruited some adventurers for a task of some delicacy. The Order of the Silver Shield is a kingdom-wide organisation of mostly Paladins and Clerics. Highly respected and loved by the people, they fight the good fight against unseen and unearthly threats. He explained that a caravan was due to pass on the roads close to here around sunset, and it was carrying some very dangerous cargo. A casket, in which was contained something powerful... something very old and evil. It needed securing, and burning before it got to the port it was heading to. He offered a potion of Cure Serious Wounds as advance payment, and promised a payment of platinum pieces upon completion.

Jack said, �Inside the casket is a delicate phylactery containing the corrupted soul of one Jugo Hesketh. Long ago, Hesketh was a senior priest in the cult of the false god Zhakata. Among his horrid duties were dreadful acts of torture and sacrifice; secretly, he practiced cannibalism on the corpses of his hapless victims. Over the years, these unholy practices warped his soul and, upon his death, transformed him into an undead fiend.�

It was decided that an ambush would be laid for the caravan near a bridge. Sure enough, the caravan approached with four horsemen and the caravan driver. Upon observation, the horsemen were lightly armoured, but sported a variety of weapons. One had a hand and a half sword, another paired shortswords, one a double handed axe, the fourth a longsword and shield. The driver used a whip.

The Ambush didn't go entirely to plan, but it was successful. Three of the horsemen were killed, leaving Dorado, the driver, and Darrillius, the horseman who appeared to be in command. They both flatly denied all knowledge, Dorado being more co-operative than the foul mouthed Darrillius who seemed content in focusing his anger at the party for the death of his comrades.

Dorado explained who had employed them� the Cartographer�s Guild. Also, he explained they had come from an archaeological excavation site up in the mountains, and were heading to Waterdeep. They were to deliver the Caravan and it�s contents to the Guild House on the docks there. As far as they were aware it was a standard caravan run.

Sure enough, in the back of the wagon amongst other things was a black wooden casket, reinforced with iron at the edges. It was locked. Neither Dorado nor Darrillius had the key. The party struggled with what they considered a moral dilemma, as they were not convinced of the authenticity of the quest. To some of the party, certain pieces of the story felt true, and others didn't. In the end it was decided to burn the casket, as the alternate of releasing what may have been inside was considered too great to risk.

Darrillius and Dorado were released. They were sent back down the road with about a week's rations between them.

Upon returning to the Hangman's Noose, you had a few days to wait before Jack was due to return. When he did, El-Shad made it known to him he wasn't happy, �Jack I want you to know that I don't trust you.� he said.

Jack replied, �Then help me build that trust, how I can prove myself to you?�

It was decided that some of the party would accompany him on other missions to see the work he did, thereby evaluating his personality. Jack readily agreed, but with one caveat - there may be an occasional time that a contact would want to only speak/see him as it could jeopardise his information sources.

Jack didn�t waste much time, and after downing a pint of the Hangman�s Noose�s finest ale, he explained the current situation he�s facing. Reports of an Orc War band had come to his attention, and he had been tasked with validating the threat. �I know this much about Orcs,� he explained, �There�s always lots of them! Not only that, there�s usually a shaman who follows Orca, an aspect of their deity usually depicted by their Totem.�

Jack took a moment to secure his tankard onto his belt. �Forgive me if you know this already, but I shall say it in case some of you are not aware. The home territories for Orcs are either high altitude regions where the air is thin, or deep caves where the light is bad. Either way, they�re strong and work best in non-bright situations. They are tribal in nature, and live by a survival of the fittest rule. Most of the Orcs you�ll meet will be fighters, but they do have intelligence. They speak their own language, as well as some goblin or giant tongue. In this case, the nearest community of Orcs is about six days away to the East in mountains. They�ve been reported about a day or so to the North, moving to the West. Our task is to confirm the presence, and detail what strength and if possible what purpose they have.�

�They are definitely evil,� he answered to a question not asked, �If we disagree on that then we really are going to struggle!�

�This is my plan, but I�m open to suggestions. We�ll ride north along the road for a day, and hopefully reach Blue�s � an alchemist friend who will let us stay the night in his house. Then it�s cross-country so we�ll have to leave the horses there and start searching for signs of the Orcs travel. It�s possible they will travel by night and set camp in the forest by day, so they can stay out of the sun. However, it is not unknown of them to travel during daylight hours. The winter sun we have now is much brighter, which is helpful, but the length of light is shorter, which goes against us. There are a number of hamlets in the area that would not survive any attack from a War band. There�s a chance it�s just been rumour-mongering, perhaps to drive up weapon sales, but from what I�ve heard I�m leaning towards a definite presence. We must find them if they are there, find out what they�re doing and then I can report back to my contacts!�