Seven travelers all on the road to Thunder Rift walk together for safety along with the traveling merchant, John Davers. John Davers questions the travelers as to who they are, and why they seek Thunder Rift. He learns that his companions are both heroic and mysterious. The half-elven Kaylia seeks danger and excitement within Thunder Rift so that they might provide her with more tales of glory and adventure. The human warrior Jackson has heard tales of the riches to be gained in Thunder Rift. The elven priestess of the Raven Queen travels on a religious pilgrimage. The elven woodsman Crow is searching for someone in the forests of Thunder Rift. The human farmer Welkin seeks the Black Knight who kidnapped his sister. While Bharash the dwarf seeks the nearest civilized town. Fenrath the Wizard, and part-time shepherd, seeks a missing flock of sheep who may have traveled to Thunder Rift.
John Davers is awed by the tales relayed to him. He explains that he is a simple trader from the land of Inuk who trades frequently with the merchants in Thunder Rift. He does business regularly with a trader named Hugo Varn who lives in the village of Torlynn.
John Davers is grateful to have these well armed strangers traveling with him as the caravan route to Thunder Rift is notoriously dangerous. It is better to travel in groups for fear of ambush by bandits. John Davers also tells his companions to be prepared to pay a toll at the gate to Thunder Rift. A large gate built into the cliff side of the rift is maintained by powerful creatures who demand a hefty toll for passage into Thunder Rift. John Davers has heard rumors of the expense of this toll ranging from one quarter of your possessions to half of your possessions and one member of your party…to be eaten! John Davers says that in the case of the latter, “it would be best not to travel alone!”
As the party proceeds down the forested road they become aware of eyes watching them. Crow’s keen senses are able to detect the shadowy figures lurking in the woods behind them. Crow issues a challenge to the figures to show themselves, but the wind blowing through the leaves is the only response. Taking aim at a tree near one of the shapes he lets loose an arrow sinking it deep into the trunk as a warning to those who may attempt to waylay him.
John Davers is greatly concerned that it is a group of bandits out to kill them and take their possessions. He hurries his two draft horses, Darcy and Marell, forward carrying his wares and urges the group to follow. The gate is in sight, if they will only hurry to it!
As the party closes to the gate, so too do their pursuers. A band of armed men appears from the forest, eyeing the travelers with murderous intent. As John Davers rushes towards the gate with Darcy, Bharash aids him by leading Marell forward as well. Welkin, Jackson, and Kaylia form a line along the road to hold off the bandits while Fenrath and Crow position themselves further up the road to provide covering fire and the priestess of the Raven Queen stands between both groups ready to aid them.
Arrowfire erupts from the treeline and is returned by Crow. As the bandits close to melee they are faced by Welkin halberd, Jackson’s strategic command, and Kaylia’s biting tongue. The bandits are able to overwhelm Welkin with their initial assault and begin moving into position to trap their prey. As the archers move into better firing positions, a third group branches off through the trees to cut the party in half. Fenrath unleashes his magic on them letting loose bolts of magical force and casting a spell of magical slumber over them which slows, but does not stop their advance.
The bandits continue to overwhelm Welkin and ambush the priestess as well. The archers catch Crow in a crossfire sinking many arrows into him as the slowed warriors begin to creep ever closer to Fenrath. It seems as though the bandits have the advantage. John Davers desperately pleads with the gatekeepers to open the gates, but they refuse until all members of the group pay their toll. Bharash leaves the horses with John Davers and rushes back to his companions.
The heroes manage to regroup, falling back into strategic positions and maneuvering tactically to aid each other. As the archers continue to harry Crow, suddenly Bharash appears from behind to strike with a wicked blade! Before the archer can fully react, he finds himself flanked by Kaylia. Welkin and Jackson work together and begin killing the bandits along the front line. The priestess continues to lend aid to them, but she is brought low by the bandits’ attacks. Jackson quickly springs to her aid allowing her to recover as he and Welkin fight to keep the bandits away from her. From her weakened state on the ground she continues to strike out at the bandits with her divine powers.
Fenrath finds himself surrounded by the enemy, but no longer suppressed by the archers, Crow is able to come to his aid and kill some of his foes. The bandits attempt to adopt the same tactics and aid each other, but it is too late. As the heroes finish off the small pockets of resistance, the final archer looses his bow and runs for the woods. Jackson is in quick pursuit as Bharash yells out that the bandit should be captured. Crow is unable to hear Bharash’s cry and instead looses an arrow from afar striking past Jackson and killing the final bandit.
Their foes defeated, the group begins stripping the dead of their possessions. The find a small sum of silver on them and decided that they will sell their weapons and armor as just retribution for attacking them. Crow is confused by these actions explaining that these things are not done in his culture, but the rest of the group continues despite his protests.
The group then approaches the gate to deal with its gatekeepers. Behind the 30 foot doors is an equally massive Minotaur. He demands a toll from all who would pass through the gate explaining, “If you have 4 gold pieces, me take 1. If you have 8 gold pieces me take 2. If you have 10 gold pieces…me make change.” The group quickly realizes that the minotaur wants a quarter of their coinage. John Davers, Bharash, Welkin, Jackson, the priestess, and Crow readily pay the required fee, while Kaylia and Fenrath scheme to use trickery against the Minotaur. Attempting to pay less than the required fee, John Davers urges them to treat the minotaur fairly as their are horrifying rumors about the fates of those who chose not to do so. Flexing his muscles and insisting on inspecting their pouches reveals that the minotaur is perhaps not as slow as he appears to be. Kaylia rethinks her plan and gives the minotaur additional money which she “discovers” on her person and apologizes. The minotaur asks, “You make accounting error?” before accepting payment. Fenrath, however, is not deterred. He simply comes up with a more elaborate plan for deceiving the minotaur. Using his magic he makes his true coin purse disappear long enough to get past the minotaur’s inspection.
Satisfied that all parties have paid their respective tolls, the minotaurs welcomes the group to Thunder Rift. He guarantees safe passage through the Horned Hills and asks that the group mention to the townsfolk that they are a legitimate organization treating others fairly and keep the lands safe. Kaylia assures the minotaur that she will do so. The minotaur explains that he and his brothers are running business along with their “business associate.” He explains that there are many goblins in the hills who would waylay travelers, and that he will keep them safe. When asked by Crow what tribe the goblins are from he replies, ” Tribe? Me not know their tribe. Me just squish them!” The minotaur sends them on their way providing them with “complimentary muffins.” The group enthusiastically digs in until they learn that the muffins are made of “goblin berries.” Crow continues to partake and in return gives some of his elven cookies to the minotaur, an act which the minotaur greatly respects.
He says that he cannot escort them because he must watch the gate, and his brothers are way escorting other caravans. Instead, he will send his “business associate” to watch over them. The party looks up to see a frightening man-like face on an enormous lion’s body along with giant bat wings and a spiked tail. The minotaur’s business associate is a Manticore! Crow is very uneasy with this creature, but Jackson manages to calm him down. The minotaur explains that this is Manny and that he will not eat them…only goblins. With a screech the manticore takes flight, hovering far above the group as they walk along the caravan route.
John Davers asks if they will continue to accompany him to the village of Torlynn where has business. He explains that he gets to Torlynn as often as 3 times a year. He says that the town has amazing seasonal festivals, and that they may be in time for the summer festival. He describes it as a happy time filled with laughing, dancing, and good food. Bharash asks if the town has a smith, and John Davers replies that they do. The smith’s name is Bertam, and he is a friend of John Davers.
Crow asks if their are any libraries in Thunder Rift as he is seeking knowledge from one. John Davers knows of one library held by the wizards on Mage Island which lies in Lake Ganif near Melinir City. He says that Melinir is not far from Torlynn, and that it is the largets city in all of Thunder Rift. He is not heading there himself, but he promises to show Crow the road there from Torylnn.