Mirtul 22nd was a cold, foggy day, with light drizzle and lots of walking and confusion amid the PC’s. Party has met Ormyl, and got the quest from him to deliver strange blue stones, with unknown magical properties to Lady Alustriel in Silverymoon. As a bonus, they found out that Verpol left the city during the night and went in the general direction of Silverymoon as well. Kasya managed to get drunk for the first time in her life, and probably because of that fate played with her (again) so tomorrow she met a mad beggar (doomsayer?) and promptly run away from his crazy ramblings (some would even dare to call them prophecies). Edgar established contact with Bargan Orccleaver, a grim dwarf caravan leader, and agreed for the party to journey with his “Shielded beard” coster (caravan). Upon detailed advices of Bargan, PC’s acquired a wagon, lots and lots of wilderness/outdoors equipment and food, and in the early morning on Mirtul 24th, they finally left Neverwinter. Since guards were under standing orders not to let them go outside the city (they were involved in a murder investigation, after all) it took some bluffing, convincing, creative truth-bending and finally intimidation by Kasya, of all people, but they managed to leave The City of Skilled Hands.
Road to Conyberry was muddy, dull and most of all – exhausting. In order to be “able” to travel with dwarves, Bargan made all PC’s train hard each and every day (night). Since PC’s were unprepared for such a harsh training, they almost collapsed and it took lot’s of diplomacy and skill from Edgar to convince Bargan to let them stay with dwarves. Finally, after PC’s showed their ineptness third night in a row, Bargan lost nerves and left with dwarven caravan early in the morning. PC’s continued to trudge towards Conyberry, but their journey was interrupted first by their horse breaking a leg (which they quickly cured by magic), and then by being ambushed by several dozens of orcs (Mirtul 27th). Orc quickly led them deeper into the Neverwinter forest, and after a several hours forced march towards north, they reached orc camp. Bryce, William and Edgar were stripped naked, tied to a pole and whipped until they passed out. Even an outburst by Kasya, where she transformed for a few seconds into something resembling golden white fire elemental, did not prevent Hezaq, from giving male PC’s a harsh lesson in discipline. Hezaq was an ogre mage, mad as a hatter, but all orcs obeyed and respected him.
Unconscious male PC’s, along with Kasya, were brought to a nearby cave, where their wounds were tended by an orc shaman. There they met Zestia, a daughter of a shaman of barbarian Black Raven tribe. Also present were Talberon, low level Zhent mage, and de Niktal, priest of Cyric (slightly crazy, naturally). Through the course of several days which they spent there, PC’s learned that Zestia was kidnapped from her tribe by Manshoon, and that he has placed her in custody and put de Niktal and Talberon as her (body)guards. Namely, several months ago, Manshoon came into possession of an ancient Netherese parchment. From this parchment, he believes to have learned that an ancient Neth mage of unimaginable power, sensing that his days were drawing to an end, vested his magic in the future. According to Manshoon’s theory, this Netherese magic was woven into the developing life force of a distant, great great granddaughter who would be born centuries upon centuries after the mage’s passing. Manshoon also interpreted the parchment to mean that the reborn Neth magic would manifest itself in the first son born of this enchanted great, great granddaughter in the making, provided the mating were to take place under the moon during the Midsummerfest in the Year of the Risen Elfkin, few years from now.
Now Hezaq was one of the Northern attackers who helped destruction of Zhentil Keep. He was among the captured, but his unusual and often strange magical abilities, together with the fact that he is a much higher level wizard than one would expect from an ogre mage, drew Manshoon’s attention, and the Zhentarim archmage not only spared Hezaq but quickly elevated him through the upper ranks of the Zhentarim. Unfortunately for Manshoon, Hezaq is quite insane. At this point, he enters the story. With one of his unusual brands of magic, Hezaq has managed to be able to pry into Manshoon’s things at times without being detected. Hezaq also has read the Netherese parchment and interprets part of it differently from Manshoon. Hezaq has no means of knowing whether Zestia is the intended vessel of magic, but he’s confident Manshoon could make no mistake in such a matter. However, Hezaq was able to correctly translate an old rune in the parchment that Manshoon misunderstood. Hezaq read that the mating couple must first be powdered with ground meal from the hard seeds of sage-weed, a popular ingredient in Neth magic and also one among the ogre mages of his homeland. Manshoon is unaware that sage-weed exists, because it usually is found only in the remote North. Hezaq also knows that sage-weed meal is only effective in old Neth magic when it has been milled by humans, if members of other races mill the seeds, the powder that is produced is non-magical. And some time ago, he learned that the banshee Agatha has a hidden meadow in Neverwinter Woods, where sage-weed flowers in Spring and produces ripe seed in Summer. The major point where Hezaq’s understanding and Manshoon’s diverge is the date when the mating with the vessel of magic must take place. Manshoon believes that date will come in few years and Hezaq is convinced that this year, the Year of the Tankard, is the fateful year. So, when Manshoon was off to Zhentil Keep recently, Hezaq captured Zestia along with Talberon and de Niktal, who attend to her, and transported all of them magically to his hidden encampment inside Neverwinter Woods, where he also has used a dweomer to conceal his own band of several hundred orcs.
So, male PC’s were forced to work the millstones, grinding the sage-weed, while Kasya and Zestia were kept on the side. Few uneventful days passed, and among preparations for the escape Kasya had a vision inside a dream, sensing Agatha’s furious arrival.