Tormund rushed to the cart, only to find that Marvin Thresher had bled to death from the hideous wounds given to him by several undead wolves. Tormund, shocked to his very core and unable to shake the feeling of loss and sadness from losing a good friend, watched numbly as the team deliberated on their next course of action. The group agreed to return to town, perhaps even to see if Ankit the friendly cleric would be able to resurrect their recently departed friend. The group ascended into the light, one by one, with Marvin’s body pulled up last.
Even the donkey had not been spared. In order to ensure its place in the afterlife, but mostly to eliminate the possibility of an undead donkey returning to them, the group set the highly flammable donkey on fire. Tormund and Sigrid agreed to pull the cart together in the place of Jedediah the loyal (if deceased and surprisingly combustible) donkey.
Not far from the cave, the team came upon a set of three kobolds fast asleep under a bush. The kobolds were hung over, perhaps from a foul-tasting clear liquid that one carried in a bottle. The team dispatched the kobolds quickly, and gained quite a bit of gold in the process. Bree pocketed the remainder of the liquid for her own purposes.
After the battle, Bree searched around in the bush that the kobolds had been sleeping under. There was a leather flap hiding a hole about five feet wide which led down and then turned steeply to one side. While this hole was intriguing, the team agreed to return to town in order to rest, replenish their supplies, and hopefully find a way to resurrect their friend.
The group returned to town; however, their homecoming was not warm or hospitable. They found the town empty; even tumbleweed would have felt uncomfortable entering the silent emptiness that had engulfed the town. Even though the group had been away for only three days and two nights, the enchanter’s and alchemist’s huts were missing. Gaius used Detect Magic on the area and discovered the remnants of a conjuration spell. Suspicious, the group walked by the temple of Zennick in the town square. Some members of the group heard chanting of a worrisome nature emanating from the temple, and one member even discovered that it sounded like the chanting was in Infernal, the language of devils. The chanting, however, stopped when Tormund ran up and pounded his sword on the front door. In the meantime, Bree and Samathy found a cellar door near the back entrance of the temple. Bree disabled the hinges to keep the doors open and make sure the two could not get trapped.
Spooked, the rest of the group caught up quickly to Bree and Samathy as they descended into the cellar. Inside, they found Ankit’s chambers, including a smoldering hearth, a table with a number of books on it, and a chest. The books were written in a mixture of Infernal and Common. The books in Common included cookbooks and books of a more sinister nature. Gaius found and placed the most interesting looking book in Infernal in his pack. The book, gilded and heavy, showcased several complicated drawings. Bree tried to open the chest but was not successful. Deacon detected magic on the chest.
Gaius also found a mostly burnt diary in the smoldering embers of the hearth. He pulled out the remnants and, after scampering out of the cellar, Gaius whispered aloud the contents:
(dashes are different pages)
I found it. I had to burn down the whole town, but I found it. It was worth it. Anything would be worth it for this.
Hallock’s fall will fuel the biggest leap forward humanity has taken. It fits perfectly with the pieces Arkhus found across
the Northern Sea.
Akhonar will rise. But he needs followers. They need not know him by name. Any tribute, even to a falsehood, will do.
There’s a town up north. Small, isolated, mostly forgotten by those outside of it. I could gather worshippers there. I need
to be cautious, but I’m sure I can do it. It’s closer to her than I’d like, but she shouldn’t get in the way. She hardly ever
leaves her little “lair” now.
This town’s been perfect. It’s quiet, and people are trusting. I’m a little worried about the “mysterious wizard” in
the corner of town, but he’s a known risk. The townspeople are predictably dull and weak, and have taken to worship with
barely any work. I’ll surely have enough followers by mid-summer to begin the summoning. The few adventurers passing through
that have grown suspicious have been easily waylaid. Lemila’s proven to be a tempting enough foe to throw all of them off. No
one will suspect the true source until it’s far too late.
I should have known. I should have seen this coming. How many times have I been on the other side of this story? Back when I
thought I knew the world. Before I’d realized “right” and “wrong” are meaningless distinctions in the face of progress.
We’d been that group of scrappy heroes, seeking to keep this world in the dull rut it’s been in for millenia.
How naive we’d been. How arrogant! Akhonar is the future. Without him, humanity cannot ascend beyond this mortal realm.
But I’m smarter than my old foes. Even the most remote chance of failure must be squashed. This cannot be left to chance. I’ve seen far unlikelier “heroes” beat men stronger than me. Tomorrow I’m sending them to Lemila like the rest.
If I’m lucky, the aberrations will take care of them before they even meet her.
It went off without a hitch. The last roadblock to ascendance is gone. The beginning is only days away.
I was surprised to see the farmer die first, he was the one I’d been the most worried about. I’d expected the half-orc kid would be the first to go. I may have overestimated their competence.
It’s too late anyway. Tonight we leave.
After reading the diary, the group threw away both the pendant and sword they had received from Ankit, the treacherous priest. They deliberated quickly, and while doing so noticed that there was a light burning in the second floor of the town tavern. They approached.
The second floor of the tavern was dimly lit from the inside. Gaius spotted the tavern keeper, John, pacing on the second floor. Tormund knocked at the door and the group entered. John explained that “Last night, me and my wife and a couple of other people were at services as always. Ankit just, he uh, he seems like… Yeah. Something felt off. He… He was very impassioned about something. He kept going on and on about something that was happening tonight. I’ve always worshipped Zennik for as long as I’ve heard of him. Two years. Me and my wife have always gone to services… He insisted on another service tonight and said to bring as many people as we could. My wife went… I stayed behind. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know anything. He said something about a sorceress… a monster…”
Tormund explained that the group had heard loud chanting in Infernal in the temple before coming to the tavern. The tavern keeper was understandably taken aback. Tormund was not particularly diplomatic or soothing, but advised John to get (the fuck) out of town. (Gaius, at this point, told Tormund that he has a way with words.) With Bree still on his back, Tormund stalked off to the temple. Gaius openly stole a bottle of what turned out to be expensive liquor before leaving the tavern.
The group entered the temple, which turned out to be empty. The pews were covered in flat X marks that were either burnt or carved into the wood, with blood scattered across the pews. The raised dais supported the altar and Ankit’s throne, carved in which was the largest and deepest X. The seats were still warm. Samathy found a purse holding 60 silver pieces, which he recognized as his mother’s. He pitifully mumbled, “Mama?” Bree, in the middle of stealing 10 pieces of silver, reluctantly returned the silver to the purse. There were a few other scattered belongings, but there was nothing else noteworthy.
Bree returned downstairs and, before Tormund could stop her, opened the chest. She discovered seven light healing potions, a gold ring, and a cape of deep red with an eclipse embroidered on the back. The healing potions were distributed evenly (except for the seventh, which Bree kept), the ring went neatly onto Bree’s seemingly unchanged finger, and the cape went to a quietly delighted Gaius.
With the townsfolk Raptured, the group looted the general store, calmed the horses in the stables, and filled the cart with goods that would never be noticed as missing. They returned to the tavern, where they found John, sloshed beyond reason and emotion. They dragged him up to bed and, as much as they could after such an unsettling day, settled in for the night.