Kholark Sunderstone, Half-Orc Barbarian 2
Dormammu, Half-Elf Warlock 2 (NPC'd for this session)
Zerin of Birdsall, Half-Elf Paladin 2
Mivahl Shimov, Human Fighter 2
Mara, Human Cleric 2
Cor, Rock Gnome Wizard 2
Lasair Lightfoot, Wood Elf Rogue 2
Sylvus Treeshroud, Wood Elf Druid 2
Yes, we've added an eighth player to the group, as Zerin's player's girlfriend decided to play. This is now the largest campaign group I've run for in a decade, but it's going to be (I hope) easier to run D&D for eight players than it was to try and run Call of Cthulhu for eight players.
Setting out from Craghold to retrace their path into the Maw, the party stopped off at Anoroc's cabin, with Kholark announcing his conversion to Bormoism. The party purchased two more kegs of Anoroc's fiery moonshine, one for Cor's new inn and one as a gift for Borgai, Great Khan of the Hobgoblins.
Assessing the situation, Sylvus approached the elephant, hands high and wide, speaking softly, trying to draw the pachyderm's attention and calm it; internally, he was ruing not preparing "Speak with Animals" that morning. He managed to sooth the great beast, casting a healing spell to ease the pain as he removed the bolts.
While he was doing this, Kholark, Mivahl and Zerin flipped the wagon over, recognizing that it was now mostly scrap wood. The woman beneath, however, was unharmed, identifying herself as Mara, a seeker of knowledge. Seeing that her initial plans were scrapped with the wagon and her hired guides, one of whom had thought it smart to try and shoot the elephant for its tusks, she agreed to join the party.
Their first day of travel through the Maw was uneventful, until the party was set upon by a trio of giant vultures towards nightfall, though the party made short work of these.
Their second day proved more eventful, as a Purple Worm surfaced beneath them - A few members
Having destroyed the wagon and eaten one of the oxen that had been tethered to it (the other exploded when the harness snapped and it plunged 60 feet to its death), the Worm departed.
Moving carefully, Lasair sifted through the wreckage of the wagon, managing to salvage enough rations to last the group for six days and the keg for Borgai Khan; Cor was holding on to his keg in his Handy Haversack.
Fortunately, the party was soon met by Erdo the Hobgoblin and eight other hobgoblins, all mounted. Surveying the situation, Erdo commented that the great worms rarely venture out of the deeper desert, but that rarely is not never. The party are encouraged to climb onto the backs of the worgs, as their camp is nearby.
Arriving in camp, the party is treated to dinner - scorpion-meat chili, a slice of hard, black bread and a mug of bitter ale, and afterwards, Vekra, one of the female hobgoblins of the group, leans towards Mivahl:
"I like a man who can eat," she grunts appreciatively, "If the night is cold for you, my bedroll is easy to find."
The party also, over dinner, ran afoul of Kargan, Erdo's second in command. Citing the well-known deceitfulness of the "soft races," Kargan accuses the party of being assassins sent to kill the Great Khan, and calls for their immediate execution. Erdo silences Kargan, asking if he wants to challenge Erdo for command. Kargan demurs, losing significant face in the process. Erdo explains to Zerin that part of Kargan's duties include killing him and taking his position if he ever becomes demonstrably weak.
After two days' uneventful riding (with Vekra giving Mivahl an almost constant dagger-look for turning down her advances), the party arrives at Molekh, capital city of the hobgoblins, entering through the "Gate of Kur, the Head-Taker," a famous ancestor of Erdo's. Amidst staring guards and civilians, the party are led to a large tenement-style building, where they will be quartered for the night, with slaves assigned to cook and tend to their needs. Erdo explains that while the party has been granted permission to stand before the Khan, they still need to earn the privilege of doing so, and for that, in the morning they are to fight a monster in the Arena of Molekh.
Before Erdo leaves, Zerin asks about any family crests the "House of Kur" might have, and is told it's three narrow triangles in a row.
Zerin sends a slave out for red fabric and green ink, intent on honoring the House of Kur, and Erdo specifically, for sponsoring their presence in Molekh. He crafts a set of surcoats bearing a modified version of the House of Kur's crest, meant to show the party's subservience to the House of Kur.
In the morning, the party is brought to the Arena - a 100-foot by 50-foot area, sunken 20 feet into the ground, surrounded by stadium seating. At one end, a massive hobgoblin sits in a private box under silken tents, surrounded by wives and guardsmen. The stands are starting to fill with spectators, and the front row all the way around is filled with hobgoblin archers, ready to respond should anything escape from the Arena, or any competitors try anything "funny."
Seated within a waiting area for contestants, the party is offered refreshments - water, ale, battle mushrooms - while they wait their turn. Everyone but Cor and Kholark, curious, takes a battle mushroom (though I think Mara just took one to study later for possible medicinal properties; she can correct me if I'm wrong though). Finally, the drums begin to pound and the gate separating them from the sands of the Arena rises.
The party curses in trepidation. They're about to fight a Gorgon.