Previously, Neamhan found out from Wynn that she had received the Mark of the Heretic from the custodians, and Luca helped Blackstar to feed, at the cost of his good standing with his patron. Chakuq arrived in Kingsport and found a welcome at the Careless Wanderer, just in time to listen to Falka’s lecture to the heroes on the history of Epidemius and his Book of Woe.
Second Day, Second Ride, Autumn Twilight, 1262
(Silvermoon is in high sanction, Bloodmoon is waning, Darkmoon is waning)
The conversation about Epidemius was still continuing at the Careless Wanderer. Chakuq, the newest guest at the inn, was a veteran hunter and had decided to offer the heroes his advice. All the while, Céleste was contemplating her worries at the bottom of a wine glass at a different table.
The heroes decided that direct confrontation of Epidemius was the best route forward, but they would need a lot more allies if they were to succeed. Falka would speak to Jan and the custodians, not just about the accusations against Neamhan, but also about help against the fiend. Astrid would try to find Brandomiir to enlist his services, and Neamhan would fly to the Seat of Friendship to speak to the druids that protected the tree at the Seat. Quentin, in the meantime, would write a letter addressed to his lord father, and visit the Forgewright Arms to see whether Dagran could fashion him a ring of steel to accompany the letter. The significance of this was lost on the rest of the heroes, but after getting quill, ink and paper from Falka, Quentin said down to write his letter.
Chakuq asked whether the heroes had the right tools to their disposal, recalling a hunt on a hag, a supernatural creature, which required silvered weapons to take it down. The heroes assured Chakuq that they were confident that they had the weapons necessary, and could even extend some of the weapons they had gathered over time to him, should he decide to stand with them against Epidemius.
Neamhan suggests that when she has reshaped herself into a fierce beast, she would be confident that her claws, talons and fangs would work against the likes of Epidemius. When Emrys asked her why she would not just sling spells at a distance, she remarked that being in the thick of melee was more “fun.” Astrid’s face darkened in response and Neamhan realised that she had crossed a line with the northerner that she did not quite understand.
Getting increasingly more worried about his inability to access his powers, Luca felt the urge to visit the Cathedral of the Platinum Father. Before leaving, he asked Quentin whether he could check with Dagran Forgewright whether it was possible to socket more lyrium crystals into weapons in preparation for the confrontation with Epidemius.
Luca stood before the cathedral and ascended the steps towards the intricately carved double doors which allowed entrance into the hallowed halls. Inside, he walked down the nave to the transept where he found the cracked altar. The pebble that St. Benedict had used to sunder the altar was still laying there. “…it takes but one to start a landslide with the casting of a single pebble,” Luca remembered. It was the last time that he had seen Aurion.
Turning into the chapel of St. Aureus the Golden One, a figure as legendary to the Silver Crusade as St. Catherine of Dunagore, Luca lit a candle and began to pray. A dimness overtook Luca’s sight, as if he had been lost in heavy concentration, and slowly he felt the presence of Aurion emerge. Eventually, the heavy voice of his patron filled his thoughts. It was not an easy conversation for Luca, but at Aurion was not refusing to answer his call. Aurion reminded Luca that chose to walk the path of order, and that strict control of Blackstar was a consequence of that pact. Luca was remorseful for taking the man’s life and letting Blackstar consume his soul, but showed no remorse for disobeying his patron. Aurion required only one thing; obedience. Luca was going to have to prove himself to his master before his obediences would return to him. Luca was once Aurion’s favourite and most promising servant, but that was slowly changing, Aurion warned.
After Aurion had left him, Luca spent some time in contemplation, and then in conversation with Sartinius, a young cleric devoted to Paladine whom he had seen at the cathedral before. He spoke of devotion, of reverence and of different prayers that Luca could use to strengthen and show his devotion. Sartinius often prayed to St. Catherine because of how relatable she is when compared to St. Aureus the Golden One, and how her sacrifice resonated with a lot of people because devotion often requires sacrifice. Luca decided to reflect on that, and what sacrifices he had made, and would need to make in the future, in order to be obedient to Aurion.
Back at the Careless Wanderer Neamhan was getting ready to travel to the Seat of Friendship to find the druids there. She asked Lauryn to help her by closing the balcony doors behind her as she took on the shape of a falcon. She flew out over the city, leaving a dumbstruck Lauryn behind. As she climbed higher and higher, she saw that two griffons were patrolling the skies above the city.
It took Neamhan about two hours of flying along the coast before the enormous tree of that marked the Seat of Friendship came into view. The oak stood much taller than the surrounding trees, and still retained all of its leaves, spectacularly coloured from light yellow to deep purple. It’s canopy was dense and its trunk was thicker than any tree Neamhan had ever seen.
Underneath the boughs of the great oak, Neamhan found travellers resting on a blanket of think moss that covered the ground, surrounding a fire which was being carefully tended to by a trio of druids. There were travellers of all stripes; commoners, merchants, noblemen with their guards, and there was a group of szygani sitting outside a colourful wagon.
After observing the people in the glade Neamhan identified the leader of the druids, a burly man with a grizzled beard wearing a red and black tartan, a sheep’s fur, and a black hood adorned with bits of deer antler. He was going around the glade, speaking to each of the travellers, making sure that they felt welcomed. Neamhan eventually hid behind the wagon of the szygani and turned back into her elven shape, revealing herself to be a traveller that had just arrived.
When Neamhan revealed herself, the druid introduced himself as Ciarán and offered her a seat at the fire, and a cup of warm brew that the szygani were sharing. She accepted and found that it was an interesting mix of sage, rosemary, cinnamon and cinnas-fruit. Neamhan took a gamble and addressed Ciarán in the shared tongue of druids, which he understood. It was clear that his accent was different than hers, but that there was enough of a common base to have a conversation.
After Ciarán disappointed Neamhan desire for help from the druids in the fight against Epidemius, she tried to convince him that Epidemius posed a threat to the tree, which Ciarán referred to as Gheolgothis. The druid did not seem concerned and claimed that the tree had survived much worse than the likes of Epidemius. Neamhan was intrigued asked whether she could commune with Gheolgothis. Ciarán offered her a seat among the thick roots of the tree.
When Neamhan reached out, she found a voice as old as time, which sounded like the rumble and groaning of the timber framework of a galleon. Eventually she started to make out words and phrases, and she learned that Gheolgothis considered itself eternal, but that it understood that it could burn, that it could end, only for something new to regrow from it when it was gone. It made Neamhan feel comforted. When Neamhan asked whether Gheolgothis felt safe, it did not understand the concept of safety, much like an advancing glacier did not understand mercy for the things it crushed in its path.
Before thanking Gheolgothis for its time, Neamhan asked it how far it reached. It seemed to struggle with the question, and then answered that it reached as far as the “Oakfather”, which Neamhan in turn struggled to understand as an answer. The tree seemed to fall back into a slumber after Neamhan’s goodbye.
During the remainder of her conversation with Ciarán, Neamhan discovers that he is very old for a human, rivalling her in age, and he has the ability to turn his skin into bark. He is part of the Circle of the Land, and managed to eventually guess Neamhan’s affiliation as a Circle of the Moon druid. They had a brief conversation about the origins of druidic magic, but Neamhan was disappointed to discover that Ciarán attributed his power to Silvanus, the Oakfather. (This also put Gheolgothis’ answer to her question about how far it reached into perspective.) Ciarán went to invite her and the heroes back to the Seat of Friendship, and that they could use it as a “place of power” any time they needed to strengthen a ritual.
When she finally bid her farewell, Neamhan assumed the shape of a falcon again and started flying back to Kingsport. She would likely arrive in the early evening.
When Falka left to go and talk to the custodians, about the situation with Neamhan and about help with Epidemius, Quentin left for Forgewright Arms and Chakuq joined Luca and Emrys as they were heading towards the Circle of Magi. They stopped at Steward’s Square and walked Chakuq through what they knew about Epidemius’ first appearance.
On the spot where the fight took place Chakuq found some old, faded blood stains, and a little further down he noticed some miniscule crystals, the size of grains of sand. They glittered kaleidoscopically in the dying light of the late afternoon sun. Luca explained what he knew about the crystals, and where they came from. Chakuq continued to walk around the square to familiarise himself with the layout, with the buildings, and with any vantage points, while Luca and Emrys visited the Circle of Magi.
Arriving at the Circle of Magi, Olafur opened the door and welcomed Luca and Emrys into the lobby. There were students milling about and when Olafur learned that the heroes wanted to speak to the head archmage, he nervously ushered them into the private room he had adjacent to the lobby. Reluctantly, the custodian of the Circle went to inquire about an audience with Réonan. When he returned, he lead them to the rear of the lobby, through a set of double doors into a stairwell with a large, winding stairway that lead up and along many statues, banners and other curious items that were collected into the top of the tower they ascended.
Olafur brought them in front of a large statue of a winged lion inside a vaulted alcove, which they had stood in front of before. “Great Prayanti, Guardian of the Scarab Temple of the Great Sand Sea of Noth, grant us access,” Olafur said, and with the sound of dry stones sliding across one another, the walls turned to reveal the head archmage’s inner sanctum.