It was late evening when Gydion, Silaqui, Asa, Janekfan and Draken returned to Trunau with Othdan, the pig-farmer’s son whom they’d rescued from the Plague House. It had been a grueling, trying night which had changed them all forever. Upon entrance Silaqui insisted on bringing Othdan to the Long House to speak to Patrol Captain Jagrin Grath, but he’d already gone to sleep for the night. So they took the boy to Halgra of the Blackened Blades (Silaqui using her friendship with her daughter, Ruby Red,— to gain entrance) and had him recount the story of his kidnapping for her. At Silaqui’s urging, he added that he’d heard his half-orc captor speaking with others about a planned orc invasion of Trunau. The Chief Defender listened quietly, said she would call a Council meeting in the morning to discuss the matter, and wished them goodnight. Jane sensed that she was more concerned than she was letting on.
Silaqui and Jane then returned Othdan to his home via the South Road; his parents were overjoyed that he’d been found. They offered the two elf-ladies one silver piece each as a reward, which they politely declined. The others, meanwhile, went to the Sanctuary, where they found Tyari Varvatos getting ready to turn in for the night, having just finished her evening prayers. They excitedly informed her that they’d made great progress clearing the Plague House of evil undead monsters. As the cleric healed their wounds, she thanked them, and told them they’d earned the undying gratitude of the Church of Iomedae; and, further, because of their heroic efforts, she invited them to stay at the Sanctuary, rent-free, indefinitely. The group graciously accepted and quickly retrieved their possessions from their rooms at the nearby inn, the Ramblehouse, where they’d been staying since they’d first arrived in town the past few nights. Each was then show to their own cozy (if sparse) monk’s cell; the two elf maidens joined them upon their return from Othdan’s farm.
The next morning, Tyari’s acolytes served them breakfast while she reiterated her gratitude. As a token of Iomedae’s favor, she gave them each a medallion with the holy symbol of Iomedae (a longsword with the sun in the background) on it. Silaqui’s wizard brother Turin was there, and even though he hadn’t set foot in the Plague House, he was also presented with one, by virtue of his affiliation with the party and their virtuous act of bravery. Tyari then excused herself, explaining that she and the rest of the church members were spending the day in prayer (it happened to be high holy day), during which she would be asking for divine guidance regarding the fate of the Plague House—should they try and salvage it, or raze it to the ground? Then she disappeared, with Asa and all the other Iomedaean disciples, into the Sanctuary’s worship space. The party was left alone in the dining hall with the scullery maid.
There was a loud knock at the door, and then the door opened. It was Brinya Kelver, and she needed help! She excitedly told them that she’d been visited, late last night, by Patrol Sergeant Omast Frum, and town drunk Inez Grenelll. The pair had just left the Killing Ground pub, where they’d decided to elope! The party expressed surprise, because they’d had no idea that the two had even been dating; Brinya nodded in agreement. Omast explained that he needed to leave town and get a fresh start, and Inez was going with him. He further explained that he’d been wracked with guilt over the untimely, mysterious death of Rodrik Grath, which the party had been charged with investigating. He told them how he’d sworn to Rodrik’s father (and Omast’s boss), Jagrin, long ago, that he would look after his two boys as their godfather—and now, he’d failed. Still further, he’d fallen in love with Inez, and Jagrin hated half-orcs. Omast couldn’t face working for Jagrin any longer, under the circumstances, and hence, their plans to elope. They were coming to Brinya to express their sympathy over Rodrik, and to tell her they were leaving Trunau that very night, for good.
Brinya told the party that they all shared a few drinks at Brinya’s, and then the pair left her. On her way out, Brinya said, Inez was so drunk that she fell into a basket of weaving yarn in her front room, and was covered in the stuff. After they left, she noted that the twosome didn’t take the path in front—instead, they ducked around into her backyard, towards the city wall. Then she saw a flash of light, which she found very peculiar. Unfortunately, the alcohol had got the better of her, and she fell asleep at her kitchen table, without going outside to investigate.
When Brinya woke up this morning, she replayed the previous night’s events in her head. Something didn’t seem to add up; she though that Inez’s behavior in particular had been very odd. So she went into her backyard, where she followed a trail of yarn right up to the base of the city wall. She then looked down and found a strange, gold token with a symbol on it: a glaring, bloodshot eye. Grabbing up the odd coin, she went to go find Jagrin, but when she found him, he wanted nothing to do with her—he wouldn’t even listen to her. He clearly didn’t like her, because she was half-orc; and moreover, because she had been the secret girlfriend of his dead son, Rodrik. Desperate, Brinya headed to the Sanctuary next, in hopes that someone there would know what the token was.
One by one, the adventurers examined the token, but no-one could say what it was. Turin cast Detect Magic on it, and determined it was indeed a magical item—but could not determine what powers it possessed. Unfortunately, they explained to Brinya, that was the best they could do, because Tyari and her followers were cloistered all day, celebrating an Iomedaean holiday. Just then, the seer Katrezra passed by in the hallway. Would the sickly, elderly half-orc know what the token was—and what the symbol meant? They hailed him and asked his advice.
When Katrazra saw the token, his eyes went wide. “Goodness!”, he exclaimed, “this is the holy symbol of Dretha, the Dark Mother.” He revealed that the symbol had featured in his dreams the past few nights—and now, he knew why. The seer revealed that Dretha is the orc goddess of fertility and domesticity, but also the goddess of possessiveness and revenge. He didn’t know what the token’s magical properties could be, but he was adamant that the appearance of the token was a very bad sign. The group listened intently as he told them that the Dretha’s cultists are almost always female orcs or half-orcs who live at the margins of society—refugees; embittered divorcées; disabled women; and scorned prostitutes. The group eyed Brinya suspicously, as she fit the cultist profile perfectly—but she rebuked them for even dreaming she’d be involved in a cult like that. Katrezra continued on saying that if such a cult existed in Trunau, and Omast and Inez were involved with them, they could be in serious trouble.
After some discussion, the group decided to examine the area where Brinya had last seen the couple: Brinya’s backyard. While they walked to her house, Brinya proposed a “plan B”: making contact with the Drethan cult; becoming one of them; and hopefully, being invited to one of their meetings. She said that since she fit the cultist profile, she was the natural choice for infiltrating their ranks. She proposed going undercover… as a street hooker! She asked Silaqui and Jane if they wanted to go with her—perhaps as “wingmen”? She said she might even be able to disguise them as half-orcs. Jane accepted the offer, and the two went into Brinya’s house to “slip into something more comfortable”, while the others investigated Brinya’s backyard, and the city wall that defined its back border.
The party easily picked up the trail of yarn that Brinya had found earlier, and followed it to the base of the wall. They tried fitting the coin into different slots in the wall, in an attempt to activate the coin’s magic—but nothing happened. They then noticed that a piece of yarn actually seemed to be imbedded in the wall itself! Which they found very peculiar. The group then decided to see what was on the other side of the wall—to do so, they needed to climb up the tower a few hundred feet to the south. The guardsman on duty let them pass freely—“you have the run of the town, as per Halgra’s orders,” he smiled. Looking down, the group could see that there was a ladder positioned on the top of the cliff, outside the wall at its base, directly behind Brinya’s house. Silaqui asked one of the militia members about the ladder, and he told her that it must be new—he’d never seen it before, and it wasn’t there the day before! Then, the nimble elf ranger carefully climbed down the wall and down the ladder, while the others made a beeline for Trunau’s front gate. (Turin took the lead, because he was worried about his sister, out there on her own). On their way, the party ran into Jane coming out of Brinya’s house—she had poured herself into one of Brinya’s hand-woven knit dresses, and was ready for action. They informed her that they had found another lead they wanted to investigate. Slightly disappointed, she went back inside Brinya’s; quickly changed; and joined them as they headed towards the front gate.
By the time Jane and the others reached them, Silaqui and Turin had picked up a trail of yarn, which had begun again at the bottom of the makeshift ladder. The group followed the trail west to the South Road, and saw that it continued down the south road for about two miles. It was easy to follow in the bright, Spring sun. They passed a few farms on their way, and wondered: What happens to these farms when orc invasions come?
As they rounded a bend in the road, they saw a most unusual sight: a garagantuan figure, sitting on a pile of rocks, shaking a jug above his head—as if he were trying to get the last drop out of it. The creature was sobbing to itself in some unknown language. Half of the group decided to head towards it, surreptiously, through a farm field, while Gydion, Kingsley, Jane and Toboe approached it from the road. As they got closer, Gydion, Jane and Draken recognized the creature: It was a hill giant! It had blue liquid dribbled down its chin, wore a necklace of humanoid skulls, and was surrounded by empty jugs and flasks. Gydion addressed the creature: “What seems to be the matter, friend?” The giant shook the jug in front of him and said “All gone! No more!” Over the course of several minutes—and fits of tears—he told Gyidon, in broken Common, that his name was Munguk, and that another hill giant, Queen Grenseldek of the Mindspin Hills, had left him, and now he was left with nothing! “All gone!” he kept repeating. As Munguk spoke, Gyidion recognized one of the flasks as belonging to Innez! (They’d seen her drinking out of it often, over the past few days they’d been in Trunau). Gydion pointed to the flask and asked the giant, do you know where we can find the owner of that flask? Munguk answered, with a question of his own: Could Gydion or his friends get him any alcohol? Gydion told him that unfortunately they didn’t have any alcohol on them; however, if the giant could kindly tell him where the owner of the flask was, he promised he would bring some alcohol to him. Munguk grumbled “OK” and then pointed to a farmhouse in the distance.
The group thanked him and quickly moved towards the farmhouse, the giant’s sobs booming behind them. The red, wooden building that Munguk had pointed to loomed before them: it was roughly box-shaped, about 100 feet on either side. Silaqui quietly scouted the perimeter of the place and found some stables on the west side of the building; she had to climb a fence, beyond which she found some horses grazing. She looked through the stables and saw a dimly lit barn inside, piles of hay strewn about. Meanwhile, Jane went up to the door and knocked—they waited a minute, but there was no answer. Jane then examined the door closely to see if it was locked, and found a thin, nearly invisible tripwire across it. She backed away and explained to the others what she’d found. Turin offered to use his Mage Hand to trigger the wire: his Hand threw a rock at the wire, instantly springing the wire loose. Nothing happened.
Finally, Jane went back up to the door, opened it, and shouted “Inez?!” She looked around and saw piles of hay everywhere inside the dimly lit barn. There was a loft space, with haystacks in it, on the far side of the barn. The room had opened horse stalls to the left, as Silaqui had reported to her. She and Toboe moved into the barn and beckoned the others to follow. After a few tense minutes, Jane found a bloody, woven blanket—resembling those made by Brinya—under some hay. At about the same time, Gydion found a door in the floor with a handle on it. The others gathered around.
Draken pulled the hatch open, revealing a set of iron stairs heading downwards into a dimly lit room. The dwarf started down the stairs slowly, the others close behind him. As soon as he reached the midpoint on the stairs, dark laughter reached his ears. Looking into the darkness, he saw an altar of piled stones, with a glittering red gem atop it resembling a glaring, bloodshot eye. Two doors, one on the north side of the room and the other on the south, exited the room. In front of the altar stood three figures: a slender, female half-orc wearing a black tunic and an ornate headdress; Omast Frum in his militia uniform; and a shorter, feminine figure wearing a black wedding dress, the veil pulled over her face. Omast seemed frozen in place, and his eyes were half-closed and glazed over. “Your too late!” screamed a voice, and Draken saw it was coming from the black-garbed half-orc. She seemed to be the one in charge. “They’re already been wed in an orc church!” She sneered, and added: “But you’re just in time for the sacrifice! Kill him, Inez!!”
Turin was the first to act: he darted down the stairs and cast Magic Bolt at the female half-orc, which sent her reeling towards the altar. Silaqui was next, firing an arrow that missed her by only a few inches. The black-garbed female composed herself and directed her minions—six dark-robed figures half-hidden in the shadows at the edge of the basement room—to attack the intruders. She then chanted an incantation and pointed a finger towards Turin—whatever spell she’d cast, the elf had successfully made his Will save, and he shrugged it off.
The woman in the black wedding dress acted next, drawing out a dagger from the folds of her dress, and stabbing Omast in the chest! Their would-be rescuers—our heroes—were greatly dismayed by this, and moved to intervene, but were blocked by the dark-robed Drethan minions, five of whom were rapidly advancing on them. (One moved towards the woman in the black wedding dress). It was only after the woman in the black dress stabbed Omast a second time that Draken broke free from the crowd, barrelled towards the altar, and tackled her. (In doing so, he suffered three attacks of opportunity, including one from the woman, but he only got hit by one of the minions, which only cost him one hit point). Helplessly grappled, the woman in the wedding dress dropped her bloody dagger onto the floor.
After a few rounds of combat, four of the Drethan cultists were lying on the ground, bleeding out—and Toboe, too, had lost a lot of blood. The black-garbed, slender female half-orc reached inside her tunic and pulled out a gold token—identical to the one that Brinya had found in her backyard—and pointed it up, towards the ceiling above her. Gydion tried to incinerate her with a Produce Flame spell, but missed. The woman then shouted a command word (Turin interpreted it as Orcish for “open sesame”) and a hole appeared in the ceiling above her—hay fell in on either side of it, onto the altar below. Before she could escape through it, however, she was hit with a double-whammy: Turin hit her with another Magic Bolt, and Jane hit her with an arrow. She fell to the dirt floor below; and, seeing this, the two remaining cultists surrendered. At the same exact moment, Omast woke up out of his stupor, and cried out in pain from his injuries.
Jane bound Omast’s wounds. She then checked the cult’s ringleader, now bleeding out on the floor, and Stabilize ‘d her. Next, she tied up the two remaining cultists, and then helped Draken tie up the woman in the wedding gown. Once secured, Draken ripped the black veil from the woman’s face, revealing the face of… Inez Grinell! Or was it? Turin’s elvish eyes were not fooled: upon closer inspection, the wizard saw the face of an old half-orc woman behind an illusion; perhaps Alter Self? The old woman hissed and spat at them, but would say nothing. Gydion ordered her to tell him where the real Inez was, but she remained mute. He threatened her with violence, and still, she said nothing. He acted on his threat and smacked the old woman with his quarterstaff—still, she said nothing!
Jane, meanwhile, was making better progress with the two half-orc cultists, whom she had also tied up. It didn’t take much encouragement to get them talking; they told her that the wedding ceremony and the intended post-wedding sacrifice were offerings to Dretha, to ensure that the orc attack on Trunau would be a glorious one. The party was very concerned at this news; however, the cultists didn’t seem to know much more—they didn’t know when the supposed invasion was taking place, or who would be leading it. After some prodding, however, they did reveal the names of their unconscious leader, as well as the woman in the black wedding dress who had posed as Inez: Malgorzata and Elga, respectively; a cleric of Dretha, and her witch accomplice.
While this was going on, Turin turned his attention to the two doors on the north and south sides of the room. When he approached the north door, he heard what sounded like muffled screaming! Throwing open the door, he found a small 10×10 closet, furnished with two chests. Behind one chest, he saw what looked like someone who was tied up and gagged. Pushing the chest aside, he turned the figure over, revealing Inez Grinell—battered and bloody, but very much alive. He untied her and removed her gag. She belched andthen asked him, “Is Omast OK?” Turin nodded, yes. She then quickly asked, “Hey, did you happen to see my flask on your way here? I could really use a drink!” He added that, in fact, they had seen it; and she told him that she and Omast had given it up to the giant Munguk the night before, in return for free and safe passage as they headed west from the city.
The party searched the bodies, and the rest of the basement, while Inez and Omast regaled them with a detailed account of their journey from Trunau. Inez told them that when she’d received word that some of her half-orc friends were going to surprise her and Omast with a country wedding as they left Trunau and the Hold of Belkzen for good, she was thrilled. When they arrived at the farmhouse, however, where her friends had told them they would be wed, they were jumped! Omast was quickly overpowered by Charm and Hold Person spells, forcing Inez to surrender herself. If it weren’t for Brinya’s instincts and the party’s intervention, Inez told them, she was sure that both of them would have been sacrificed to Dretha.
Opening the chests inside the north closet revealed three gallons of wine, and some dried food. A search of the other closet turned up a sack holding the following items: a wooden bowl and spoon; an empty clay jug; a few strips of dried meat (which Jane fed to Toboe); a glass jar containing a partially eaten pickled sheep’s head; a bent grappling hook; and 60 gp. The sack also contained two scrolls (which could not be determined, yet), and a gnarled piece of driftwood, which (after some careful study) Turin determined was a wand of Hideous Laughter. The party added these items to those found on the cultists themselves:
One magic shawl (worn by Malgorzata), granting a +2 bonus on Diplomacy and Intimidate checks;
One magic shawl (worn by Elga) of Protection +1;
30 gp (on the bodies of the six cultists).
The only other treasure in the basement was the glittering red gem (which Draken identified as a chrysoberyl worth at least several hundred gold pieces), perched on top of the altar; it radiates magic, but abilities/properties couldn’t be determined.
NB: As the party walked along the South Road, back to Trunau, they paused to deliver the wine to Munguk, who received it gratefully. He allowed them to pass unharmed.
Next: The Flame of the Fallen!