Bear, Sergi, William and Reed, plus a couple of other characters, meet in the Town Hall in Threshold, all having volunteered to try to do something about the problems on the road south towards Verge and beyond.
After a bit of discussion, they realised they knew each other already:
• Reed and William were fishing partners, and Reed taught William to swim
• Sergi and Bear served as wagon guards for Clifton Caldwell, survived an ambush and then 3 days caught in a storm
• William and Bear have been orc hunters together and are both members of The Bearskins (whatever that is…)
• Reed beat Jill’s character in the final of the greasy pole at the village fair 2 years ago, and Jill’s character saved Reed’s life
• Jill’s character and Sergei have been love rivals, and Jill’s character seriously injured Sergei (don’t expect him to be pleased to see you!)
Then Alianne comes into the room and puts the problem to them – trade caravans have been being attacked and people have been going missing on the road between Verge and Threshold – the main road south connecting Threshold to the rest of the country. This has been hitting supplies and putting off travellers. Clifton Caldwell, owner of the local general store, has put up a 200gp reward to anyone who can investigate and bring back information about the cause of the problem, and a 1000gp reward for actually dealing with it.
Alianne knows of 2 people who had survived an attack, Aleks and Marcus.
Aleks turns out to work as a cook at The Silver Goose; he was in a small trade caravan which was attacked midway along the road between Verge and Threshold – he ran at the first storm of arrows, fell into a ditch and just hid. All he could say was that the attackers were human or humanoid. When the noise had stopped he ran – the carts had been taken. He wasn’t aware there was another survivor. The attackers came from the left, and he wasn’t able to understand them. (Side snippet – Bob, the main bartender, showed off the scimitar he had taken from the body of an Ylari warrior when he served in the army and which was hanging on the wall).
Marcus is a leatherworker who was more interested in his craftsmanship than telling stories. After a couple of purchases of leather goods at highly inflated prices (an ornate waterskin and sling more intended for use at society occasions than out on the road) they eventually persuade him to start talking. His story was not dissimilar to Aleks’s. They were attacked, he hid, and escaped under cover of darkness. He had a little bit more information – he was pretty sure they were goblins, and the attack came in a pass near the old castle.
So, armed with that information (and without stopping to see if anyone could tell them more about the history of the castle), Reed, William, Sergi and Bear head out, not waiting for the other two. They head south through the autumn drizzle along the road, which runs along the side of the river to start with, then turns westward and up into the mountains. After a few hours, it starts to get dark, so they look for a campsite, and find a reasonable-looking place where a stream crosses the road; an old fireplace shows they aren’t the first to stay there.
They set up camp and investigate. There were lots of footprints, and over the other side of the stream, a crack in the ground from which a foul smell was emanating. William (who is first to find it) calls the others over and they investigate. Mostly a gungy mess, with the odd chicken bone, shells and other debris in it.
After they have exhausted the possibilities of the smelly pit, they set up camp, get a fire going, and cook a couple of trout William manages to catch in the stream, then settle down for the night, Bear taking the first watch.