Tag: A Royal Sickness

Exploring the Senhadrim Quarters, Continued

Previously, the heroes had made their way past the lizardfolk guards atop the sunken ziggurat and started to explore the interior. They found a small network of corridors, staircases and chambers, each seemingly dedicated to the pastoral care of the Senhadrim which once roamed its halls during the Age of Fear.

Second Day, Third Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon in low sanction. Bloodmoon is waxing. Darkmoon is waxing.)

After having examined the battle between the assassins of the Dark Queen and the lizardfolk, the heroes continued to explore the quarters, finding themselves at the foot of a long hallway, lined on each side with large statues of winged warriors. The statues, which the heroes had seen dotted throughout the chambers, worried the heroes as it created natural chokepoints and perfect ambush sites.

Cautiously, Luca decided to join James by proceeding ahead, tapping the tiles he was intending to step on with the butt end of his staff. Eventually, after passing about halfway through the hallway, he noticed that right between two statues the tiles had been loosened and looked quite treacherous. Luca attempted to jump over the tiles but misjudged his jump, only to slip and dislodge the tiles, revealing a wide pit lined with sharp, metal stakes at the bottom.

While Luca tumbled down into the pit, injuring himself as he fell, James jumped across the pit and was on his guard. Quentin ended up tumbling into the pit as well, while two assassins materialised on the far side of the pit. One engaged James, while the other loomed over the pit, only to be pulled into the pit by Quentin, who had used Róisín’s ability to produce a thorny whip to lash out.

The assassins proved a significant opposition, with their ability to ambush, their lightning fast attacks and the deadly daggers they drew. James felt the sting of one of the daggers and the venom that lit his nerves on fire, but eventually the heroes managed to slay one of the assassins while the other assassin got away.

The heroes went into careful pursuit, only to find that at the end of the hall ended in another staircase corridor which eventually lead even further down into the ziggurat. At the bottom of the staircase they found a large room, spiralling down, with each of the three terraced levels being lined with clay urns, filled with sand, with the embalmed head of a lizardfolk warrior sticking out of it. Likely they were interred here as a sign of great honour.

On the lowest level there was a portal set into the back wall, elaborately carved and made from a different stone than the rest of the halls. In front of it lay a discarded, conical statue, much like the one found in the catacombs underneath Lynnecombe, as well as the statue that lady Asha carried with her. It was made from the same type of stone as the portal, and in the top there was a slot in which they found a dull, cloudy, orange crystal, which looked a lot like the lyrium crystals they had found months ago. In the portal itself there was a hole that fit the statue perfectly. The heroes surmised that it was a key which needed to be powered by a lyrium crystal.

The heroes retreated, while Luca used his magic to conjure up a spectral hand which placed a fresh lyrium crystal inside the hole atop the key, and placed the key inside the hole in the portal. With a loud, stone-on-stone grating noise, the door inside the portal sank away into the ground and revealed a chamber beyond. James noted that the assassin which had made his escape definitely would not have had the opportunity to get through the portal without the heroes hearing it, meaning that he must still be hiding somewhere.

Besides that, once the door opened up, each of the embalmed lizardfolk inside the urns stirred and came alive, slowly freeing themselves from their resting places…

Exploring the Senhadrim Quarters

Previously, the heroes made their way down the river from Blackbough on the boat of an Acadian family. Their destination was Wyrmblood Lake, where Melchior, also known as Xamael the Defiler, made his home in the lair of Kalauranthalasis. They headed north after saying goodbye to the Acadians and set up an overnight camp in the swamp, during which they were attacked by quicklings; fairy agents of Kalauranthalasis who mistook them for Xamael’s disciples. Wynn, a captured quickling, explained the situation at Wyrmblood Lake and proceeded to help the heroes get into the ziggurat laying partially submerged at the centre of the lake.

First Day, Third Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon in low sanction. Bloodmoon is waxing. Darkmoon is waxing.)

Once the heroes had boldly marched past the lizardfolk who were guarding the lake and the top of the ziggurat, the heroes descended down several staircases winding down into the building. The stones around them were tinged with green by centuries of moss growth and vines and roots were protruding from the walls and ceilings.

The descent ended when one of the staircases was flooded with swamp water. Some discarded clothing and a hooded lantern were found on the steps leading into the murky depths. Quentin, unaccustomed to the darkness, toyed with the idea of bringing the lantern along but ultimately found it an annoyance and left it behind.

James volunteered to take one end of a length of rope that the heroes had with them and take a dive into the water, hopefully finding a way through the water and to a pocket of air. He dove in and swam, down the steps and then through a corridor. Plants and vines were tangling his arms and legs as he swam and he panicked. Instinctively he swam up in the hope of breaching the surface only to find a large hall with high ceilings that had trapped a pocket of air. Coughing, he retched up the several gulps of swamp water that he had tried to inhale.

When the panic had subsided, James found that at the back of the room their was a dry platform with two staircases leading to it from the submerged part of the room. There he found a place to tie the rope to a broken column of stones. He gave a tug, signalling to the others that they could come through. One by one the heroes took the plunge and swam to the other side. While waiting, Emrys was approached by Wynn, who had managed to find and join his quickling friends and convinced them to relinquish the bone flute that they had stolen from Emrys.

Once on the other side the heroes inspected the platform and the submerged room and found that there were intricate carvings all along the walls, which had been faded by time and the harsh conditions of the swamp. They also found that the platform had a corridor leading away. Several tracks leading from the water to this corridor could be found, but before they could be analysed the dripping wet clothing of the heroes had already spoiled them. The conclusion was that the submerged room used to serve as an audience chamber of some sort and that the murals showed images of people coming to appeal to a council of elders or wise people who sat upon the platform. The murals reminded those who had been in the catacombs underneath Lynnecombe of the ones they found there.

Quentin, who had taken off his armour in order to swim into the submerged room, decided to keep his armour off in case there were other swimming challenges which had to be overcome. Emrys and Luca made quick work of their wet clothing by using their magic to dry it all.

Emrys decided he needed more information and wanted to confirm the conclusions they had drawn about the nature of the room and the ziggurat itself. He decided to commune with Toruviel, which had not always been so easy but after the recent breakthrough was made easier. Toruviel could confirm that this structure was one of the Senhadrim vaults, and that its purpose was safety and shelter. It was also confirmed that Toruviel never visited this place and that there were several, dotted all around Lyria.

Prompted by Emrys, Luca turned to Blackstar to ask it whether dragons had souls, to which the hungry staff eagerly exclaimed that they do and urged Luca to reap it! Quentin suggested that in the event that the heroes would not be able to retrieve the “sight” that the good sisters had lost to Xamael, they might want to consider freeing Kalauranthalasis in the hope of gaining an ally. He was fearful that if they did not uphold their end of the bargain the good sister would prevent them from leaving the swamp.

It was decided that James and Emrys, naturally gifted with an enhanced ability to navigate the darkness, would scout ahead. Emrys bestowed James with his gift of invisibility so that he could go undetected even further. They entered the passaged, passed a small chamber of little interest, and made their way down several flights of stairs, noting that the steps of the stairs were much larger than those made for normal men. At the bottom of the steps they found a large room from which soft candle light was glowing.

The room was large with in its centre a large basin filled with rich mulch in which the bones of a winged serpent was laid to rest. The light was coming from two large candles at the rear of the room, and overlooking the grave were two large statues of winged warriors; one holding a sword, the other holding a spear. While James scouted ahead, Emrys went to get the others.

James had given Quentin a lantern and some oil, which Quentin had lit and kept down to a low radiance. Astrid remained close to him and Luca, his vision aided by Blackstar, lead the way down to the room with the grave. Quentin marvelled at the bones of the enormous serpent and concluded that it was a dragon, though Luca was not so sure of that.

A doorway lead away from the room and into a parallel corridor which James began to explore. He headed one way and descended down several flights of large steps only to find himself in a room that reminded him of a chapel. Stone benches stood on either side of a central aisle that ran up to another platform, not unlike the one they saw in the submerged hall, the only difference being that there were no staircases leading up to it. The platform stood at the top of a ten foot wall, and from his position he could only see that there was an altar of some sort at the top of the platform. From the chapel James saw no other doorways or passages.

Returning to the room with the grave, James informed everyone of what he found and urged them to take a look while he investigated the other side of the corridor. When the others got to the chapel they used the light to investigate the different depictions on the walls. They found that one image showed an army of soldiers being lead by a very tall person seemed to be radiating a holy light as they fought against a tide of monsters. The other showed three armies; one of monsters, one of warriors with feathery wings and one of warriors with leathery wings. They all seemed to stand in equal opposition of each other.

Emrys once again attempted to commune with Toruviel about what he saw, and the sword shared that the tall figure with the radiant aura was Aureus the Golden One, saint of Paladine, the founder of the order and most exalted among the Senhadrim.

It was at this time that James had discovered another room at the other end of the corridor which was the scene of a bloodbath. Eight lizardfolk warriors laid dead of very precise slash and stab wounds, in opposition to two of what appeared to be Xamael’s disciples, dressed in leather armour that looked a lot like the one that James had retrieved from the Reaverhaunt caves and was currently wearing. The two disciples had been killed by blunt force trauma, likely caused by the brutal, spiked clubs and fist weapons wielded by the lizardfolk.

James called the others attention to the massacre and Quentin and Luca decided to come over to investigate. Emrys stayed behind in the chapel with Astrid because he was keen to see what was on the platform with the altar. He used Astrid’s help, as well as the several vines that grew along the wall leading up to the platform to climb up there. It was not as easy as it first seemed it would be, but he got up there with Astrid following behind him.

At the top of the platform of the chapel Emrys found three simple, stone altars, a large, metal candle holder of the sort they had seen in the room with the grave, as well as a large, wooden drum, complete with a skin stretched the top of it, fastened by what looked like large crocolisk teeth. At the back there was another doorway to a corridor, which wound up in a room that gave Emrys an unsettling feeling. The room had two other doorways, one directly opposite to the one he entered, which he would later find lead to where the rest of the heroes were, and one other that seemed to lead deeper into the ziggurat.

Once everyone was reunited and had concluded that little could be learned from the fight between the lizardfolk and Xamael’s disciples, they decided to head into the corridor leading away from the room which had unnerved Emrys so.

Arrival at the Sunken Temple

Previously, the heroes made their way down the river from Blackbough in search of Xamael the Defiler’s location deep in the heart of Eastmarsh. They met a friendly Acadian family who told them a little about their destination, a location known as Wyrmblood Lake. The Acadians also shared that they had brought other visitors of lord Oswin downriver to the same destination several months before; Fedor and his retinue, which included a haughty woman going by the name of lady Mildred.

Eventually the heroes said goodbye to the Acadians and headed north into the Eastmarsh heartland, pushing ever closer to Wyrmblood Lake. That night, while they had made camp and James was keeping watch, a band of quicklings attempted to rob the heroes while they slept, making off with one of Emrys’ precious artifacts; the bone flute which played a haunting tune. Luckily they managed to capture one of the quicklings, who had made his way into James’ bag and had drank himself into a stupor.

First Day, Third Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon in low sanction. Bloodmoon is waxing. Darkmoon is waxing.)

Having recovered a bit from the attack of the quicklings, the heroes turned to their unconscious captive. James quickly bound both his hands and feet. He appeared to be just under two foot tall, with a lithe and slender build, dark blue skin and long white hair. He wore a finely threaded, green doublet, embroidered with gold thread and matching trousers and shoes. He carried on him a sword the size of a small dagger.

When the quickling regained consciousness, the heroes learned that his name was Wynn and that he served the “King of Swamp and Darkness”, a title that belonged to Kalauranthalasis, a “forest dragon”, also known as the “Noxious One” and the “Serpent Sting.” Xamael had enslaved him and used the dragon to command the large number of lizardfolk in the area to do his bidding. The lizardfolk worshiped Kalauranthalasis as a god and Xamael exploited that fact. The quicklings were the dragon’s spies; his eyes and ears all over the swamp.

Wynn could also describe Wyrmblood Lake, the ziggurat at the heart of the lake as well as some of the interior, but he was initially reluctant. Luca used his arcane powers of persuasion to smooth the way with the quickling and once Wynn understood that the heroes stood to oppose Xamael, he was keen to help them achieve their goal. The heroes eventually let him go, and an understanding was reached that the quickling would help the heroes, using the bone flute as collateral. James used the remaining supplies of his healing kit to patch Luca up before retiring.

The heroes tried to get some further rest and the following morning were joined by Wynn to continue the journey to Wyrmblood Lake. Before departure, Isalien repaired her bow using the string from Quentin’s bow. When the heroes arrived near the lake several hours later, Isalien said her farewell; she had come further than she initially intended, and she was unwilling to put her life further at risk. She did understand the importance of the mission the heroes were on, and to aide them, as well as a thank you for them caring for her during her recovery, she traded her magnificent bow for James’.

When Isalien had departed, Emrys turned all of the party invisible in a feat of raw arcane power. This allowed Wynn to escort James to the bank of the lake and take in the situation. Once James witnessed the lake, with the many lizardfolk huts dotting the bank, the enormous ziggurat, covered in moss and vines, as well as the lizardfolk that patrolled the lake and the structure itself, he knew that getting inside would require subterfuge and guile.

When James returned to the rest of the group (aided by the fact that Emrys had drawn and apparated Toruviel in a hover in front of him, otherwise James may never have found the invisible group), a plan was drawn up. When the heroes ended up approaching the lake and the rest got to observe what James had recalled to them, the plan changed somewhat. Instead of attempting to sneak across the water, climb and infiltrate the ziggurat, the heroes decided to impersonate Xamael’s disciples.

James had four jewelled daggers (only one of which was a replica) which he could distribute among the others, and he was wearing the black leather armour of the Cult of the Dark Queen, retrieved from the Reaverhaunt caves. Using his magical ability to disguise himself, Luca could appear to look like a hardened rogue wearing armour similar to James’ also wearing the jewelled dagger. Hopefully it would be enough to fool the lizardfolk into believing they were Xamael’s henchmen.

Using a distracting caused by Wynn and the other quicklings, they confidently walked up to some boats laying moored at a rickety pier. When confronted with lizardfolk who only spoke Draconic, the heroes were undeterred. Quentin spoke to them with an air of snobbish dismissal that seemed to fit the evil cult members, and they let the group row to the ziggurat. Once there, they disembarked the boats and strolled past all of the lizardfolk guards. Emrys noticed that the lizardfolk had a very bad reaction to the jewelled daggers, but this continued to lend aid to their disguise.

James’ plan had worked. He recalled hearing about a shrewd Cyprian politician whose name he had long since forgotten who said; “Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.” Words he lived by and proved themselves once again. There were seven days left before their time ran out, and they couldn’t afford to getting caught up in skirmishes which could be avoided.

To Wyrmblood Lake

Previously, the heroes had made their way to the Sacred Grove outside of Blackbough village to pay tribute to the good sisters. After Quentin sacrificed the memory of his love for his betrothed, the sisters reached out to the heroes and explained their involvement in the queen’s illness. The sisters were coerced by Xamael the Defiler, whom the heroes knew as Melchior, by having their sight stolen from them. Returning their sight to them would be rewarded with them dropping the ward they had placed on the khazra head. And so the heroes decided to seek Melchior out, in the heart of Eastmarsh, where Kalauranthalasis had its lair. Just in time to avoid some of the escalating ugliness between lord Oswin and the guerrillas harassing the hargrove.

Ninth Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon in low sanction. Darkmoon is waning.)

It is about midmorning when the heroes arrive at the small quay set up on the side of the river.

The river south of Blackbough is wide and slow moving. The water is brown with dirt and sand, saturated with the compounded plant matter of the Eastmarsh hinterland. The embankment is stitched with soggy reed, sticking high over head, topped with brown cat-tails that look like thick cigars. Several rickety piers have been precariously built on the ever-shifting soil of the riverbank.

Two house-boats, and a half decayed raft have been tied to one of the piers. Attached to the raft is a large, wooden pen, which seems to be used to store logs before sending them downstream. Currently, the pen is near to empty, with only bits of decayed wood bobbing up and down on the gentle motion of the river.

The two houseboats seem very similar in build, long, flat-bottomed boats with a wooden house built on top of it. Like many of the Acadian boats you’ve seen while travelling through the hinterlands, it lacks any of the sleek, graceful lines of the ships you’ve encountered in the harbour of Kingsport. It’s nothing like the Old Queen. One of the boats looks like it’s been abandoned, with holes in the roof and it sitting low on the waterline, as if it’s taken on lots of water. The other boat is obviously inhabited by a small family of Acadians. They are pulling in wide nets off the side of the boat and taking in a modest haul of crayfish. Children are helping put the crayfish in buckets, and two girls are starting a fire inside a cast-iron cauldron on the front deck and roasting the crayfish on a grill over the fire.

After some quick deliberation, the heroes decided to approach the Acadian family and speak to the matron, Alex, a dark haired woman in her middle years who turns out is the mother of three; the twins Margot and Monica, and the shy Louis. She’s married to Pierre, whose brother Stephane and his daughter Victoria also lived with the family on their boat.

Luca, having had the opportunity to observe the Acadians on the way over from Rivermeet to Blackbough, nearly perfectly mimicked their voice, intonation and inflection. The heroes even observed that his mannerisms and posture changed ever so subtly.

Despite his ability to pose as an Acadian, Luca made the mistake of suggesting that Alex and her family weren’t being hospitable, something she took great offense to. It took Quentin’s etiquette and diplomatic intervention for the Acadians to allow the heroes to come aboard.

When they embarked, they found that the twins were preparing a fire in a cast iron cauldron on the front deck, while Pierre and his brother Stephane were pealing crawfish which they had caught from the river. The heroes were promptly put to work. Large buckets of it were brought to a boil and the food was shared.

The heroes would travel with the Acadians but learned that they never went downriver past Rivermeet. When they learned of where the heroes wanted to go, they immediately recognised the place as Wyrmblood Lake and could tell that they had others travel downriver with them from Blackbough who had the same destination; a man who called himself Fedor, who travelled in the company of a woman who called herself lady Mildred, and three men who were their escort. Lady Mildred was an unpleasant and forceful woman who kept wanting to touch the hair of Margot and Monica, making them uncomfortable. The heroes also learned that the three armed men who escorted Fedor and lady Mildred wore jewelled daggers at their side.

Wyrmblood Lake, the heroes learned, was the heart of the lizardfolk land, who worshiped and obeyed an ancient wyrm that lay at the heart of the lake. Quentin promised to vanquish the evil at the heart of Wyrmblood Lake, revealing Róisín and plucking a rose from her scabbard. Alex smiled at the gesture and clipped the rose in her hair.

When the weather turned sour later that day, the heroes set up tents on the front deck and sought shelter while the Acadians put the boat to anchor and went inside. The sun was going down and the evening was setting in and the swamp came alive with noises from frogs and lizards.

Tenth Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon in low sanction. Bloodmoon is waxing. Darkmoon in low sanction.)

That night, Quentin, Luca and James rotated their guard duty, allowing for Astrid, Emrys and Isalien to rest. Besides the occasional crocolisk bumping up against the houseboat, the only remarkable thing about that night was that the bloodmoon coloured all of the fog in a deep, dark red.

The following morning Emrys and Isalien felt much better, though they still had not fully shaken the effects of their stay in Blackbough. While Astrid was doing better as well, she was still moving about slowly and clumsily. It would take another day or two before she would have regained her spirit. Her improvement meant that the heroes decided against her and Isalien travelling all the way to Eastray to wait for them and instead they decided to come along to Wyrmblood Lake.

It wasn’t long after travel downstream was resumed before another boat being punted upriver was encountered. It turned out to be the boat of a friendly Acadian family who passed along some news; it seemed that some people in Eastray had fallen ill to watery bowels. The heroes never said a word, but gave each other knowing looks which told that they all believed a certain young boy was likely responsible.

When eventually the point was reached where the heroes departed the ship to head north to Wyrmblood Lake, goodbyes were exchanged and James solidified the friendship with the Acadian families by trading a cask of Blackbough rum with them. The rest of the way would follow on foot, and it didn’t take long before their shoes, socks and trousers were once again soaked through.

After a day of walking through a water-drenched forest a suitable camp was set up on one of the many small islands; pockets of soggy ground that gave a home to plants and trees, while separated from each other by murky rivulets. Another camp was set up and guard duty was divided between Luca, Emrys, James and Quentin, once again allowing Astrid and Isalien to rest.

First Day, Third Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon in low sanction. Bloodmoon is waxing. Darkmoon is waxing.)

In the middle of the night, while James was keeping watch the camp was suddenly overrun by tiny people that moved about with an incredible speed. They zoomed around the camp and rummaged through the heroes’ possessions. When James discovered them, he quickly roused the rest and a fight ensued. Much to the consternation of several heroes, these little creatures had tied Quentin’s shoelaces together, and had attached Astrid’s braids to a fallen log. They had also made off with the terrifying flute that Emrys had taken from the hill giant near Pinefall.

The creatures were easily defeated and chased off, but not without Luca getting overwhelmed. Luckily James got to him in time and used one of the last remaining healing potions on him. When calm had returned, James heard a strange rummaging coming from his magical satchel. When he opened it up, he heard high pitched, drunken singing coming from it:

Drink, drank, drunk last night. Drunk the night before.
Gonna get drunk tonight like I never been drunk before!

When he looked inside the bag he found that one of the tiny creatures had made its way into his bag and had been tearing into his supply of rum.

The Good Sisters of the Grove

Previously, the heroes attempted to combat the fatigue and malaise that was afflicting some of them by taking some time in Blackbough to rest up, only to find that the land kept tugging at the threads of everyone’s mental fortitude, attempting to unravel it and undermine the heroes’ resolve. Astrid was particularly afflicted by it. It was mistress Ysgith who had urged the heroes to seek out the good sisters at the sacred grove in order to bring them a tribute in return for aid.

Eighth Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon in low sanction. Darkmoon is waning.)

Having returned to the cabin with some food for Astrid and Isalien, the heroes found that Astrid was getting less and less responsive; only caring to lay in bed and sleep. After not being able to convince Astrid to eat, the conversation quickly turned to possibly beseeching the good sisters, and what it would be that the heroes would give as a tribute.

When James suggested that Luca might want to consider putting Blackstar up as a tribute, the staff immediately protested, claiming that the good sisters would use it  for the wrong purposes; “to swell the ranks of the wrong army.” It further expanded Luca’s insight into the twisted personality of the staff. It did not go unnoticed that the staff had become more and more vocal recently.

James was also interested to know what it would be that the group would request from the good sisters once their tribute had been accepted by them. He figured that asking for an orchid would be a waste, since that wasn’t what the heroes were in Blackbough to find. Luca suggested that instead of asking for the orchid, they could ask for something personal of whoever was responsible for the ward that was cast on the cursed khazra head. James remarked that it wasn’t unlikely for the good sisters themselves to be responsible for the magical ward.

On the nature and possible origin of the good sisters, and whether they were extra-planar, brought here during the last Conjunction of the Planes, Luca knew that there were a myriad of strange creatures that existed on the planes that drifted in the astral sea and boiled in the elemental chaos. It was very possible, and even quite likely that the good sisters hailed from one of these planes and were stuck here after the Great Waning set in and the planes that resided in the ethereal mist were locked away behind the Seal of Divine Animus.

It was around this time that there was an arrival at the gates of the Blackbough mansion; a group of loggers and guards, tired and wounded, had fled the hargrove after an attack on their logging camp. Emrys went to investigate and found that the guards at the gate seemed worried, but unfortunately the sorcerer was not able to persuade the guards to share their concerns. Emrys was tired and felt weighed down by the dreary place.

The heroes departed the mansion, deciding to let lord Oswin deal with the returning people without interference; they had more important objectives. On their way to the village they met Blythe and old Abigail, who were making their way to the mansion to provide aid for the returned people. The heroes attempted to get them to explain the concerns that the guards had shown, and it turned out to be one that both Blythe and Abigail shared; the lord was heavy handed to the point of cruelty. Upon saying goodbye, Abigail reaffirmed the route that the heroes would take to find the sacred grove by following a path from the south-east of the village.

The instructions lead the heroes to a small, overgrown path through a dense grove of trees. Carcerian moss dripped from the branches like fine lace. Small trinkets and charms made from twigs, flowers and stones hung in the branches all along the path. They resembled geometric shapes and simple figures of people and they strongly reminded Luca and James of the path that lead to Lilliana’s cave in the woods outside of Allenham.

They found a clearing at the heart of the sacred grove, filled with water-loaded, grassy ground. In the centre of the clearing stood an enormous willow tree, closely rivalling Geolgothis; the large oak that stood at the Seat of Friendship. The swooping branches of the grand willow tree were rich with bright, scarlet leaves, drooping majestically across the clearing like an umbrella.

Underneath that umbrella, a fairy ring of small clusters of crystals circled the tree, jutting out from the soggy ground like mushrooms. The broad trunk of the tree was decorated on one side with an elaborate carving of three women. From left to right; a woman who appeared to have horns, a woman who wore a veil across her eyes and a woman with multiple sets of arms. They appeared tall and slender, standing around a cauldron which the third woman was stirring with a large ladle.

Thick, gnarled roots bored into the ground around the thick tree and house a whole ecosystem of small plants and flowers. Three fragile flowers were chief among them; the ghost orchid. More crystals were jutting from deep underneath the tangled roots.

When Luca suggested making an attempt to grab one orchids James warned him that they were on sacred ground. Quentin was quite surprised by James’ reverence and told James that he respected his position. Whether James was earnestly respectful of the sacredness of the area, or respectful of the possibility they might end up hurt, none could say but James.

It was the roguish young elf that was the first to approach a stone altar in front of the carving of the good sisters. It was covered with dark, scarlet stains that also covered much of the grass and ground around the altar. Many sacrifices had taken place on this site over the generations, it was clear. James placed a large gemstone on the altar as an offering, and stepped back.

Quentin came next and untied the handkerchief he had been wearing since well before he met his companions. He knew that blood would be required for his sacrifice and so, cut the palm of his hand with a dagger and let it drench the handkerchief. He gently placed it on the altar next to James’ gemstone and took a step back.

While Luca was inspecting the orchids, Emrys stepped up to the altar and also produced a precious stone to place down on the altar. From the corner of his eyes, the sorcerer spotted some movement in the treeline and noticed several of the ghoulish creatures prowling menacingly in the darkness, as if held back by something, but eager to be unleashed.

Realising that they were being observed, Emrys decided to address the good sisters directly. Being raised in the cult of Mohiam, worshipping the Moonmaiden, he had been taught the primordial language of the primordial language of the elemental chaos, for reasons that the indoctrination never made clear. It was supposed to predate the language of the elder races and he wagered that the good sisters might understand it.

Emrys’ gambit payed off, and the good sisters responded, though did not reveal themselves. They spoke in a singular voice, made up of three, different and dissonant voices. They explained in rather crude terms that they had been responsible for the ward placed on the khazra head, having been forced by a powerful follower of the Dark Queen. He had taken the sight of one of Memra, one of the good sisters and she who saw all in their land. He had promised to return it once his plan of killing the queen and spreading disease in the capital was complete.

The one to come to them was called Xamael the Defiler, but was known by many names; Melchior, Fedor, Dagnamiir to the dwarves, Lathorael to the elves, and many, many more. Fedor, the heroes knew, was the name of the scholar who had come to Blackbough earlier in the year. And Melchior was the name of Kalina’s “father,” as well as the one to enslave Kalauranthalasis, fashioning the wicked, jewelled daggers from his body to equip a small army of assassins to commit murders across Lyria.

Do you fear beasts and monsters? Oh, hard times are upon us, elfling; brother has turned against brother; the land is soaked in block; evil is rising stronger than ever before. Dark power has surfaced in Eastmarsh. It feeds on hatred and disdain. Destroy the beast and we will be grateful, and tell you all you wish to know.

And so the heroes took it upon themselves to seek out the lair of Kalauranthalasis, find Memra’s sight and return it to her, so that they may be rewarded with the ability to penetrate the ward that the good sisters placed on the khazra head so that Callum the Diviner can attempt to lift the curse which had taken hold of queen Isabella.

The good sisters said that they didn’t care for the trinkets, but they would take Quentin’s tribute; a handkerchief soaked in his own blood. Once taken, he could not remember the significance of the handkerchief and was filled with a sense of sorrow and grief, but for what he was not sure.

The heroes left the sacred grove and returned to Blackbough. Halfway up the hillock from the village to the mansion, they saw that the two guards who had fled the hargrove had been hung from their neck, while close to them was a stump of wood which was drenched in the blood of what was undoubtedly the loggers who fled the hargrove with the guards. At the mansion everyone was working hard to prepare for lord Oswin’s departure. He was taking lieutenant Aram and a group of guards to ride upon the hargrove.

After some deliberation, it was decided to ask Gareth, one of lord Oswin’s servants, to gather provisions for the heroes, including lanterns and oil, and for them to depart first thing in the morning. They would make their way south, towards the river and see if they could find passage downstream. If Astrid would not improve, Isalien would take her all the way to Eastray and await the return of the heroes. In the meantime, the heroes would venture north in search of the lair of Kalauranthalasis. The heroes reasoned that lady Asha, whom they had met in Eastray and was in search of her “mate”, had shown them a crude map of the whereabouts of the dragon’s lair.

Ninth Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon in low sanction. Darkmoon is waning.)

The following morning the heroes found that everyone had slept without suffering the same nightmares they had experienced since arriving in Blackbough. It seemed that the good sisters had released their ever tightening grip. While Astrid was not feeling whole yet, everyone, including her, were feeling somewhat better.

As the heroes started to head south, they made a brief stop in Blackbough village, where James bought several small casks of rum from Davina, a broad-shouldered villager who was operating several stills in her hut. After concluding the deal, the heroes headed south, only to arrive at the river several hours later.