Morning comes and the Party prod the sleeping bullywug. He lazily rises and moves to get food from a nearby barrel. Illiaph telepathically communicates with him and reminds him that he can't take the gnomes food. He doesn't seem to entirely understand but accepts goodberries from Dael.
They leave the cellar and are greeted by 20 or so eager gnomes, nearly the entire village. They are extremely grateful for the service and guide the party to the edge of the village. The bullywug meanders through the forest. He pauses multiple times to dig in a moss beds or under small rocks, collecting bugs and snails and putting them into a wicker basket. The bullywug slowly guides the party to a large pond. He points to the pond before falling onto his belly and sliding into the water. He briefly surfaces after noticing that nobody has followed him.
“You can swim right? I hear dry-folk can swim. This is the only way in without going through the holes.”
The party swim down into the pond reaching a small cavern. An oily film of bubbles covers the cavern entrance. The bullywug pushes through the foamy portal into a large cavern easily 50 feet in diameter. The muddy walls and ceilings have been patted down and glued into place by decades of frog spew. Small puddles filled with jelly-like spheres froth with wriggling creatures. The cavern is lit by the violet glow of a two meter tall stone. The skulls of a dozen large frog-like creatures form a makeshift altar on which the stone lays in the center of an ancient stone lined pool covered in muck filled carvings. An empty pedestal reminds the players of the shadowpool in Shra. Dozens of small muddy tunnels lead out of this cavern. Wriggling through one of these tunnels are ten adult bullywugs and the light from a lantern. The gnoblin Sood Crystalcobb emerges from a small tunnel followed by a tiny sprite.
“Hello there. I’m glad to have another chance to talk to you. Yes, one of the gnomes is Olgaran, not that that makes any difference to you as we have just recently met. How else do you think bullywugs would have found the storerooms?”
He moves to the pedestal while slowly morphing into a three meter tall green slaad. He takes a seat upon the pedestal and gazes longingly at the violet stone while picking at a sore on his forehead. The Slaads face is heavily scarred and a circular indent in his head is covered with scabs and healing wounds. From his back long quills sprout, serving as a kind of backpack with belts and satchels interwoven between them. He wields a staff as tall as he is, topped with a small fractured gnome skull.
“How can I help you people? Are you here to slay me or my bullywugs? I suppose this day was long comming. They will reveal me won’t they papa Sood?”
He strokes the small skull on his staff while the bullywugs bring him bowls of food and baskets of insects.
“I am sorry for what we must do. I require ten times the food of any gnome and my bullywugs are too few in number to farm or safely hunt with orcs moving through these woods.”
The party are surprised to hear about orcs and question him further.
“The orcs have been moving through this forest for weeks. Giant orcs come from the mountains travelling West. We have many children on the way and once our forces are strong enough, no gnolls or orcs will stand in our way. I have tried to keep things peaceful between my two people in the meantime but teaching these people has proven a difficult endeavor”
He strokes the small skull on his staff again.
"Papa Sood knew much about goblin-kin customs. Much more than I. Shall we ask him?"
The party are disturbed by this but agree. The skull screeches to life, creaking and moaning slightly. Olgaran holds the staff over Dael's head. The staff first asks what year it is before laughing and describing Ish'kronn Ast'ronn. Goblin-kin are notoriously short lived and lesser leaders among them often grow old and feeble before accomplishing their goals. To combat this and compete with the long lived races of elves and dwarves, the Hobgoblin warlords select a leader every 20 years through trial by combat. The event is know as "Ish'kronn Ast'ronn" or the festival of strong blood, and is seen as a holy day to Ibyth goblin-kin. This leader is given the title of Daern and is gifted long life through the Spark of Loyalty.
Marcelyina pipes up asking about the pixie perched on Olgaran's head. Olgaran looks up at her and telepathically relates much of her history to Marcelyina.
"The pixies name is Rhoswen. She found me shortly after I was born. My Papa, Sood Crystalcobb was part of an adventuring party, along with a band of bards who were members of the mythic enclave. They were with him when he discovered the Spawning Stone but fled out of fear of the Chaos Phage before being apprehended by men in slate-grey armor. Rhoswen came back here when they took her friends. By that time I had already hatched and she took care of me."
Rhoswen venerates Mab. But speaks only sylvan. She speaks with Marcelyina about the Inquisitors killing or kidnapping all worshipers and priests of Mab and Parun, regardless of country that they are in. She does not know why inquisitors are acting this way but she fears the titan Azogun. She knows of no other worshipers of Mab and is too afraid of leaving Olgaran.
Olgaran turns to face the party and points to the house emblem on Illiaphs chest.
“Many come here seeking this stone, and many of my own followers have fallen to the phage. I will not deal with greedy wizards and nobody will take my stone from me. Felspark does not intimidate me. You can tell him that. He will never have the chaos phage at his command.”
Illiaph seems surprised that Olgaran would know his father.
“The phage is dangerous to material people like you and draws in other Slaadi. I can not bear to leave the stone for long, but I don’t want to lose myself to a greater Slaadi. If I’m found by a greater Slaadi, they may force me to undergo the change. I am not a century old and I do not wish to be rebirthed yet. Hiding with papa Sood’s family is safe. Nobody comes here. Papa Sood is my host. He was a loner and wanderer. He discovered the Spawning Stone and fell to the Chaos Phage. That’s where I came from. Many others have fallen to the Chaos Phage, but none have survived to overthrow me. This old temple is well hidden and for some reason, protected from scrying.”
The party brainstorm ideas and try to convince Olgaran to take his bullywugs and leave. He refuses to leave the stone shard and little progress is made. Marci offers to surgically remove the stone in his skull and after much debate, he agrees with the aid of Rhoswen. Marci manages to remove the stone from the comatose slaad. The party ask him if he is okay, but he awkwardly does not address anyone other than Marci, who holds his slaadstone.
The party destroy the stone and Olgaran comes to his sences. Rhoswen is overjoyed. She flys around the room before landing on Olgaran's quills.
While the surgery takes place, the party plan out a way to get rid of the spawning stone shard. If it is valuable to Illiaphs father, perhaps they can bring it to him. Once the slaadstone is removed from Olgaran's head, the spawning stone shard begins to creak and spin in place. A barely audible high pitched noise screeches from the now whirling crystal. They resolve their plan, pouring the vial of shadow water into a large pan, they lift the pan under the stone and it lowers into the umbreal plane.
That worked better than I expected. We need to leave, that sound will soon attract others. I will finish here. You people insisted that there are other places for our kind, you will direct us there.
Olgaran orders his bullywugs to pack what young they can and eat the rest. The party review their maps to find an uninhabited area. They decide that the forests North of Harvastveil would be remote enough for these frog people. The ten bullywugs are packed and ready, Olgaran caries more than his fair share.
The troupe travel overland, by night at the insistance of the bullywugs. It takes a few days, but they finally arive at a large pond two days North of Harvastveil. The bullywugs and Olgaran thank the party and offer their aid if ever it is needed.
"I thank you for guiding us to a new safe home. This region and lake should sustain us for a few weeks until we are large enough to hunt for ourselves. I appreciate all the work you six have done for us."
The party look around confused, as they only five. Olgaran points to each of them and then to an empty place in the room.
"Your yellow eyed friend over there. He's been awfully quiet but he came here with you."
The party look at the empty place in horror. London's journal warned them to be wary of yellow eyes. Olgaran explains that this creature is on the ethereal plane and seems intimately familiar with the party. They choose to ignore the creature, hoping that it will go away if they don't address it. Alistyre remembers those assassins on the ship coming home from Narrock mentioned something about Nothics and their service to the Lord of Secrets.
"Yes! Nothic. That's the name of this creature. Papa Sood once read about them."
The party head back towards Illden, planning to stop at the gnome village. As night falls and they approach the edge of the gnomes forest, a crossbow bolt lands at the feet of Alistyre . A call comes out from the forest in gruff common.
Crimson Cloak Hobgoblin
Travellers! I see you are armed! Drop your weapons and you will be spared the indecency a pointless death!
An ibyth hobgoblin in a fine scarlet robe emeges from the trees, followed by several orcs, hobgoblins, an orogs and a bugbear. The party refuse the ultimatum and gunshots ring through the valley. Shalazar and the crimson cloak trade fireballs, scattering the parties. The bugbear grabs Dael, his wounds, leak strange yellow fluid and his mouth visibly widens beyond natual limits. The goblin-kin begin chanting "elfbiter" as he sinks his jaws into Dael. A gunshot to the face forces the bugbear off of her as his raised his hands in the air and casts a cloudkill spell.
Through the toxic mist, the bugbears sillouette tears and stretches into a massive toadlike figure.
"Where is the green!? You harbor him! Reveal him to us!"
The goblin-kin panic as the grey slaad tears the crimson cloak hobgoblin into pieces, scattering him accross the battlefield. The fight goes poorly when the toxic cloudkill sweeps over Dael and Marci . Shalazar's acid manages to burn through the creatures rubbery hide and take him down.
The surviving goblin-kin nod to the party stop to heal their companions. Alistyre offers what aid he can to stablize and heal the goblin-kin. The hobgoblin explains that they are heading towards Hob'Guldun for Ish'kronn Ast'ronn.
Thank you for your aid. You have proven yourself capable warriors. Elfbiter was one of the best chances the Crimson Cloak had to overthrow the Scro Cult. Without Elfbiter, our troupe has nobody to compete, but we will bear witness. Farewell warriors, you have earned our respect and are welcome to witness Ish'kronn Ast'ronn with us. Take this as a sign that you are huukec'dhec or goblin-friend.
The hobgoblin gives the party an elaborate short sword and bid them farewell.