In the weeds
With help from Balekh’s healing skills, Haggor is up and around, if still stiff, within a few days of his overdose of paralytic toxin. The group sells off loot, trains, and heals over the next week or two. Eventually, Sheriff Hemlock returns with a dozen green soldiers from Magnimar (all the help they were willing to lend), and has his day even further ruined as the party explains what’s been going on in his absence.
Now that he’s back to guard the town, the party decides to pursue the root of the problem at Thistletop. The Nettlewood is only a couple hours’ walk up the coast road, and Veshenga leads them on a slow but safe path towards the known location of the goblin base. When they arrive almost to their goal, the natural thistle of the forest seems to have been grown up into a defensive maze. Haggor easily finds an obscured entry into tunnels cut in the thorns, but despairs to find out that the ceiling is only goblin size, which will make fighting within difficult for anyone but the gnome.
Therefore, Taeva goes in to scout, stealthily mapping part of the tunnels, noting a strange pit in the ground of an open area, passing what appears to be a makeshift kennel for goblin dogs, and stumbling upon a firepelt cougar in the next “room” of the maze. Unfortunately, the cougar is a little less oblivious than the dogs, and harries Taeva in a desperate run back to the entrance, pulling the dogs along with her.
In a furious battle at the entryway to the maze, Haggor holds the line against the cougar as the dogs leap and bound overhead, using their deformed but powerful back legs to fly over his head and land amidst the party. While this tactic does save them from helpless barking while picked off with arrows, it tends to land them in between the rogue and the monk, and they are quickly dispatched but not without getting in a few hits of their own. The last of the beasts falls, and the party decides that it’s no longer safe to send the slow-moving rogue ahead if more things are likely to chase her.
Checking the kennel, they find evidence that there were more goblin dogs here originally than the four that attacked them, suggesting that there are more on patrol within the dungeon proper. Attempting to also search the cougar’s room, they are too loud and alert the animal’s druid master. Before the party has much time to react, they are fighting off entangling vines and facing a serious-looking goblin with a fiery sword.
Unfortunately for the goblin, his entangle has little effect, as Taeva moves forward to pincushion him, Veshenga easily puts two arrows into very important parts of his anatomy, and Haggor not only rips free of the entangling vines but cartwheels over his head to flank. Already looking ragged, the goblin steps back into the thorns, which part around him. Unfortunately, beaten up and facing two warriors, he cannot risk moving too far or too quickly, and he misses with a wild swing after considering the risk of trying to heal himself on the defensive.
And that is pretty much the end for the goblin, as Haggor easily grabs him and yanks him out of the thistle for Taeva to stick his vulnerable spots. After the first sword goes in, the goblin pitifully calls for mercy… so Taeva reverses her thrust and bonks him with the hilt of the sword. Not quite unconscious, Haggor gives him a little squeeze.
While he’s out, the party wastes no time looting his body and identifying his many potions, magic leather armor, and cloak of resistance. When he wakes, he’s tied up. Amidst an ongoing catfight with the goblin-hating gnome, the druid reveals that he’s unhappy with the way his tribe has been behaving of late, which is due to the arrival of Nualia and her bodyguards (including the bugbear ranger Bruthazmus that they’ve heard of before). He claims the chief has fallen in love with her or something, and that is why the goblins have been making such dangerous attacks on the humans. He also mentions refugees from the Birdcruncher tribe that have been hanging out in the thicket and periodically being sacrificed to the hole or by Nualia.
Unfortunately, the plan to convert the refugees to their side fails quickly; the 10 goblins in the refugee camp seem to be more interested in killing the heroes to get back in favor than in siding with the longshanks. However, the party puts on a strong showing, and the goblins in a moment of clarity realize that they’re penned in against a superior force. They beat it out the back door, racing out down the coast to greener, safer pastures. The party only picks off three before the rest escape. The party then reconvenes to head towards the rope bridge that leads to Thistletop proper.