The party and the newfound stranger Kella found themselves in an odd situation as a group of riders entered Nightstone at nightfall calling Kella's name. Torgal became uncharacteristically protective of the goblin captives and uncharacteristically talkative toward the riders, and Kella, feeling cornered, made an unsuccessful attempt to escape out a window. A couple awkward conversations later, Kella was reunited with the riders, who revealed themselves to be Zhentarim, the team was reunited with their weapons, and Torgal was reunited with his more verbose companions.
The commander of the riders, a half-elf named Xolkin, was visibly relieved to see Kella safe, though she didn't quite seem to share his enthusiasm. Several awkward comments from Dor'Kath later, Xolkin was beet red and Kella mildly irritated, but still they managed to set a few things straight. They had no quarrel with the adventurers, but they could not allow them to hold up their plans to secure the town for use by the Zhentarim. The adventurers were invited to stay the night at the temple, then depart in the morning.
The party was not too keen to simply trust the Zhentarim, however. Ceilid used a spell of invisibility to sneak in through the crumbling wall of the inn and eavesdrop on their conversation. Through this, she confirmed Kella's story about the flying castle as truth, as well as learning of the Zhentarim's contact – the Snail – and yet more evidence of Xolkin's painfully unrequited feelings for Kella. Moving on, she made a secret survey of the approach to the Nightstone Keep, which still had yet to be explored, then returned to the temple to make a somewhat tricky invisible re-entry through a window. Assured there was nothing more they could learn that night, and weary from a long day of goblin-slaying, the party set watch and got some rest.
They arose bright and early the next morning to discover Xolkin and Kella waiting for them in the square. Though disconcertingly genial, they impressed upon the adventurers their desire that they should be on their way. Ceilid, however, was keen to explore the keep, so the adventurers volunteered their services to investigate it on the Zhentarim's behalf. Xolkin was not eager to oblige, but Kella saw the potential value in sending the strangers into a potential death trap, and nudged him to accept, on the condition that the adventurers kill anything they found inside. The party sent the captive goblins from the town to hid in the woods and await their return, then made their way to the broken bridge.
This day, neither Torgal nor Dor'Kath managed to prove any particular gymnastic prowess as again and again they attempted to make the jump across the bridge and failed, dangling from a rope in their shame. Finally, Torgal managed to cross the breach, faceplanting on the splintered boards before going on to secure the rope to the pylons at the far side. The ladies shimmied expertly across the taught rope, but poor Dor'Kath, he fell to the waters below, and then needed to be fished out. One wearing a blossoming bruise on his face and the other dripping, Torgal and Dor'Kath led the way on their slow procession to the keep, and finally opened the door into the unknown.
Inside was not exactly the sight they expected. Four startled guards stood around a body on a table, shrouded in a white veil. The sudden presence of the adventurers startled them, but they were eager to see friendly faces. They explained that the Keep was cut off early in the attack, and that Lady Nandar among others were killed when stones dropped from a flying castle demolished two of the four turrets of the keep. They also revealed that giants had descended from the castle via a stairway made of clouds and taken the Nightstone with them. They knew of no reason why, and had gone into hiding when the castle moved again, oblivious to the current state of the town and shellshocked from the sudden attack. Unable to establish who was in charge, they were frozen with indecision and scared for their lives.
Ceilid laid out the current state of affairs to the guards, and while they mulled over what to do, Ceilid, Althaea, and Dor'Kath explored the Lady's library while Torgal went rummaging around in the Lady's room. All was going well until Torgal opened a chest that activated her magical security system, emitting a shrieking wail and summoning a magic sword from the wall to attack him. The guards rushed in to survey the scene, Torgal made no attempt to resist, cooperating as the guard managed to reset the spell and following the guards downstairs. Once the unsuccessful search for clues in the library was completed, the party reconvened with the guards to learn their decision. Two of them, realizing their livelihood was likely taken from them, wished to sell their services to the Zhentarim, while the other two determined their duty to the townsfolk to be greater than their employment, and wished to help rescue what of the townsfolk remained.
In what was perhaps a momentary lapse in judgment, the party sent the painfully innocent Dor'Kath off to discuss the terms of hiring and/or releasing the guards. He immediately divulged the presence of the guards in the keep to the first Zhentarim he saw before going to to talk to Kella and Xolkin. The duo disliked that the party had disobeyed their one and only request that they kill whatever they found inside, but saw fit to let the guards live if they swore allegiance to serve the Zhentarim or to never return. The two guards not seeking employment with the Zhentarim were equally unhappy with the terms, but determined to go along with it as a ruse.
The guards were led into the town square to take their oaths, but before they could be completed, they were interrupted by the sound of war horns. Zhentarim stationed on the drawbridge towers called out a warning of an approaching band of orcs, perhaps twenty strong. Xolkin immediately loaded the towers with archers while Kella retreated to the inn to watch the square with the remaining Zhentarim. She gave teh adventurers and the guards license to do whatever they wanted, but she recommended finding a place to take cover.
With the drawbridge raised and the towers well-manned, the party turned to cover the bridge to the keep. The Zhentarim at the gate managed to deter attempts by the orcs to scale the walls, but rather than give up, the orcs set about searching for another point of entry. A scouting band reached the keep bridge and was handily dispatched, but not before one was able to notify a larger force. Xolkin sent two of his men to watchtowers on the far side of the village, but would not send any aid to defend the bridge entrance, so the party was on their own, with the help of the guards.
At first it seemed that the other orcs might fall as readily as the first band, but the party did not account for the power of the War Chief and his Eye of Gruumsh. The War Chief rallied his forces with a fierce battle cry, then downed Torgal with a single blow of his spear. Meanwhile, the Eye of Gruumsh forced Dor'Kath to discard his hoard of javelins and summoned a spectral spear whose sole purpose seemed to be stabbing Ceilid. The orc forces are clustering at the bridge, ready to clamber up, and the party is on the defensive. There is more of this harrowing battle yet to come!