20 Planting, 592 CY
After resting to recover spells, Bransen cast plane shift and the adventurers returned to Oerth. Though he’d been aiming for Cauldron, they found themselves on a beach a short distance from Ashton’s home city of Sasserine, about a week’s ride from the city nestled in the caldera. They retired to the estate manor he’d inherited (and nearly gone broke to keep). A number of errands were run, including selling loot, acquiring food and ale, and for Ashton, taking the Phoenix Heart to attempt to revive Evane. It was a task met with disappointment and frustration but also renewed resolve.
Bransen met with a man calling himself Migos Fehr, a “Champion of the Wind Lords,” who was very interested in the young “sorcerer” and his family. He bought the young man lunch and left a favorable impression upon him, promising to drop into the Silver Phoenix house if ever he happened to be in Cauldron.
At the market, Karamus encountered an odd pair: an elf by the name of Kan’ti and a pale haired human calling himself Greyjek the Woosah. They were each interested in a place called Pearlglen, around which fey creatures had been vanishing for several months, and from which the elf’s mentor had yet to return. The cansin promised to bring their request to the other adventurers’ attention and get back to them.
21 Planting, 592 CY
After additional errands were run in the morning, a company meeting was held to discuss a number of things. Kort retained the position of captain, and tasks were prioritized. The party agreed to meet with the men regarding Pearlglen, and while Kan’ti agreed to pay for the Silver Phoenixes services if he could not in turn help them with their continued agenda, Greyjek (and his so-called psicrystal Sage) seemed content to be along for the ride. However, the adventurers who had just returned from the Abyss still needed a few days to recuperate, and so they took those days.
Bransen and Kan’ti spent the next several days finding out what they could of Pearlglen’s history. They discovered that two generations ago, a series of localized but very deadly epidemics had plagued the land. In the great cities, experienced clerics and other healers had managed to keep the disease at bay. Most rural communities, however, lacked the resources to protect themselves adequately. The residents simply had to hope that their relative isolation and the meager skills of their residents would be enough to preserve them. One such community was the woodland village of Pearlglen, so named for the freshwater pearls often found in the nearby river. The simple folk of Pearlglen had only their wits and the healing powers of their village priest to protect them. As fate would have it, the plague arrived quite suddenly in Pearlglen, carried by streams of refugees who were fleeing places already afflicted. The old village priest was among the first to succumb to the disease, but on his deathbed, he vowed that his village would not perish.
The very next morning, Pearlglen’s savior had arrived in the form of Tlanextic, an incredibly beautiful couatl. The creature would not say whether the old priest’s prayers had brought him to Pearlglen or whether he had merely been passing by. But whatever his reason for visiting, the couatl proved an excellent public health officer, and he quickly arranged to treat the afflicted that could be saved and to ease the passing of the doomed. He also made sure that the plague victims were properly buried to stem the spread of the disease. In less than a fortnight, Tlanextic’s efforts had blunted the worst effects of the plague, and Pearlglen was disease-free within a month. When he was certain that the danger had passed, Tlanextic took his leave, promising to look in on the village from time to time.
In gratitude, the people of Pearlglen crafted a handsome statue of their savior using hardwood from the forest and pearls from the river. The statue stood in a place of honor in the village shrine, not far from the old priest’s tomb. Over the years, Pearlglen became famous as the home of an astonishing couatl statue, and curious onlookers began to visit. Eventually, the church of Pelor expanded the shine and placed a fairly senior cleric there to keep an eye on the relic. In like manner, the village established the Wardens—a sort of local militia—to protect its citizens.
All was calm in Pearlglen for years afterward, and the humans of the village resumed their peaceful existence. In recent months, however, the sylvan folk have begun to consider the village and its environs as a place of nameless dread. Apparently, something has been stalking the woods and glades surrounding the village — something that kills without mercy or warning and totally consumes its victims. The humanoid folk of the village seem unaffected by this lurking presence and indeed are completely unaware of it. Fey and other woodland beings, however, have learned to give Pearlglen a wide berth.
27 Planting, 592 CY
Bransen received a missive (amusing considering his illiteracy) relating to an apparent prophecy called the Presage of Forms. A note scribbled on the bottom of the page seemed to indicate that the verse was talking about Bransen and the unnamed sender. The prophecy mentioned something called the Power Universal, a mystical power source that Ashton assured him was utter bunk.
2 Flocktime, 592 CY
Jarvyk finished his rituals, and applied the oil to his greatsword. The sword awoke and begin to speak, identifying itself as Jarl Tedryk himself! The sword, “Tedryk’s Grace” had been re-empowered and imprinted with a fraction of the knight’s ancestor’s personality. The awakened sword revealed a number of other interesting facts about the family history, as well. Jarl impressed upon Jarvyk the importance of returning to his home and sorting out what was amiss there.
3 Flocktime, 592 CY
The Silver Phoenixes plus two left Sasserine along the south road.
5 Flocktime, 592 CY
The party came upon a small community in the morning. A small sign identified the village ahead as Pearlglen, Home of the Feathered Serpent Statue. Like other villages deep in the forests, this one had a rustic but quaint appearance. Most of the buildings were made of timber, with roofs of thatch that had weathered to a mottled gray color. A low mound of earth topped with a wooden stockade surrounded the settlement and a pair of guards stood at the entrance, requesting a silver piece a head for entry. Jarvyk paid the men, and Kan’ti began immediately questioning them about Fera’im’esti, his missing mentor. The guards didn’t know anything, but they did direct him to the shrine of Pelor in the center of town. Kort accompanied the elf to this shrine, while the others stabled the horses at the local tavern, The Village Tap.
The shrine had not actual door, so the pair looked in to see if anyone was around. In the main chamber stood an altar to the sun god and a massive hardwood pedestal that was noticeably empty. A middle-aged man who’d been gardening at a nearby house noticed them and came over, introducing himself as Hetagg, the acting high priest. He’d taken the position temporarily while Kalina, the high priestess had gone to Sasserine to obtain more assistance for Tlanextic, the couatl who had returned to the village and was working on a “civic project” designed to protect the village from a resurgence of the brutal plague that had wreaked havoc on the populace a couple of generations before. Hetagg also mentioned the recent death of Chief Warden Haydon, who had been slain by restless corpses that had arisen from the graveyard across the river a couple of weeks before. When asked about Fera’im’esti, Hetagg mentioned having seen the man a time or two, but that the half-elf had mostly dealt with Kalina while he was in town.
Kort noticed something odd about the clerics speech pattern and mannerisms while he was being interviewed, and when he and Kan’ti walked back across the street to rejoin the others, he mentioned to the group his suspicion that the man was under some sort of enchantment. Bransen, never daunted, simply walked over towards Hetagg, who had resumed his gardening, and cast break enchantment. A very confused look passed over his face and when he was informed of what had occurred, he admitted that his memory seemed foggy. He stated that Kalina would never have abandoned Pearlglen if she’d been acting under her own free will. He also mentioned that the Tlanextic didn’t look much like his statue. The couatl he’d met had had no wings. He informed the party that Tlanextic was housed in an Ancient Temple to the east of the village, but he highly suggested they speak with the new Chief Warden and tell him what they had discovered.
The group’s encounter with guards on duty at the blockhouse could have gone better. Kan’ti took the lead once more and did not react favorably to the small-town charm exhibited by the guards. They insisted only that Lerrius was out and that he would be back later. They didn’t volunteer any new information and insisted that they had a Celestial being working to help them, so they certainly didn’t need assistance from a group of mortal adventurers. Frustrated, the party went back outside, and Jarvyk was ready to write the whole thing off. Jarl counseled patience and pointed out that the disappearances and the sudden return of this so-called couatl were indubitably linked.
Kan’ti got it into his head to try to intimidate the men in the blockhouse, certain that they knew more than they were letting on. He stormed back in and did his level best to put it into their heads that he was a force to be reckoned with and that they’d better step in line. They proved to be fairly jaded for backwater yokels and summarily dismissed him. Angry that his attempt had failed, he continued to rail at them for a few moments, until Bransen, growing bored by the heated conversation occurring within, cast a silence spell inside the building. When everything went silent, the guards jumped to the conclusion that the irritating elf had struck them deaf and one began to move around the counter with manacles drawn, apparently intending to arrest Kan’ti.
The elf quickly scrambled back, drawing his bow as he went, and when he realized he could hear once he’d made it back outside, he spun and cast a grease spell upon the floor near the door of the blockhouse. The guard continued to move towards him, and hit the ground hard after his feet lost traction on the magically slippery floor. Kan’ti gestured threateningly giving mute warning to the guard inside, who could still hear none of it. Bristling, the elf spun on his heel and walked away. The others followed along behind, chuckling behind their hands.
. . .
Curious about the site of the attack on the former chief warden, the party made their way across the river to visit the graveyard. When they arrived, they noted that the grass was well tended, and the wooden grave markers were kept free of dirt. A big mound at the south end of the graveyard bore a wooden plaque inscribed with the names of those who died in the epidemic two generations ago. One section of the mound looked like it had recently been dug up and then restored.
They searched the grounds for a bit, and even scanned it for magic, but nothing really jumped out at them that screamed “clue.” They didn’t notice the gnome approach, but he hailed them, asking aloud what strangers were doing in the graveyard. They introduced themselves and asked the gnome who he was. He introduced himself as Lerrius, Pearlglen’s new chief warden. He frowned as he recounted the loss of Chief Warden Haydon, but he had no more details than had Hetagg. Kan’ti brought up his half-elf mentor, and Lerrius remembered the man, having spoken with him a couple of times. He confirmed what Hetagg had said about Fera’im’esti mostly dealing with Kalina, and he said that the last he’d seen the man was before the priestess had left the village, which had been a few days before Haydon was killed.
The party asked about meeting with Tlanextic and Lerrius agreed that it was a good idea. He suggested that he speak with the couatl first to determine the best time, because he had been working hard to replace the failing ward stone that had been protecting the village since the last time he’d left. The party asked about the missing statue, and he informed them that the villagers had donated it to the project, which Tlanextic hoped to use as a focus for the new ward stone. In the meantime, the village was doing what it could to collect more money to finish the item’s creation (hence the gate toll).
He assured them that he would be back in the morning, because the temple where Tlanextic was working was about half a day away. Before they left, Greyjek attempted to use his mental talents to charm the gnome. He was surprised when his power failed. The gnome began walking off to the east, and the dwarves suggested to Karamus that he follow the little man. He started to, but fell behind when Lerrius entered the heavily wooded forest without slowing down. The cansin simply could not keep pace.
The party retired to The Village Tap, where they discovered that prices were double what they had paid in Sasserine. Greyjek successfully charmed the bartender, who gave him a small discount (because they were such good friends). The rest of the night passed uneventfully, and the adventurers slept.
6 Flocktime, 592 CY
Noon passed, and Lerrius still hadn’t returned, and the party grew suspicious. They’d learned from the townsfolk that the temple was somewhere to the east and that there used to be a paved road leading to it. To cut down on their trouble, Bransen cast find the path and told the others to follow him. The path to the ruined temple wound through wooded hills choked with thorny undergrowth. The terrain seemed firm underfoot, and some bits of pavement had survived here and there, but the evidence — mostly in the form of freshly cut branches overhanging the trail — suggested that the way had been cleared only recently. Just around a bend in an area with particularly big trees and dense undergrowth, three massive bears were feasting on piles of local flora.
While the party debated ways to circumvent the bears without provoking them, Kort and Karamus called for silence after hearing a voice chanting somewhere off to the left of the path. Greyjek’s blue-grey eyes flashed brilliant silver for a brief second before he stepped through a slash in reality and vanished from sight. Assuming they were under attack, Ashton wasted no time in sending a weakening fireball crashing into two of the three dire bears in the clearing. Bransen groaned, then summoned up a wall of wind to guard the party’s left flank, the direction from which the others had heard the chanting. Kan’ti moved forward and to the right in the clearing, to discover that the terrain reached up to tear at his legs and tried to slow him. His legs bled freely, but he managed to get clear of the ripping vines and fire an imbued arrow at one the weakened bears. Kort rushed forward despite the vicious plants, trying to single himself out as a target, and the creatures all began roaring and lumbering towards the group. Karamus followed Kan’ti’s lead to the right, assuming a defensive posture, just before the plants all around the group reached up to grab and hold them in place. Only Ashton was entangled by the enchanted flora, and Jarvyk struggled forward to back up Kort.
Greyjek found himself 200 feet away from the party, in the midst of the thick wood with no discernible path. He looked around, but did not see any apparent threat. Considering briefly, he concentrated briefly and became a partially translucent mass of rippling ectoplasm. Then he began flying back in the direction from which he had come. Bransen cast freedom of movement on himself and slipped over to Karamus, his next intended target for the spell. Kan’ti attempted the spell he had imbued again on the bears, but the enraged animals seemed oblivious to its effects. Kort struggled to reach the edge of the damnable terrain while the dire bears closed the remaining distance to the front-most party members (Kort, Karamus, and Jarvyk). Karamus tumbled away from the bear nearest to him, maintaining his defensive efforts. A pair of arrows flew out of the trees to the left to be thwarted by Bransen’s wind wall. The “sorcerer” smiled at his own cleverness. Jarvyk struggled forward, still having trouble with the tearing vines.
The Woosah decided he was not being of optimal use and Sage, was inclined to agree. So deciding, he slashed another hole in reality and stepped through to a point only fifty feet from the path. Ten feet to ahead and slightly to his left, he noticed a wolf standing guard at the base of a tree. Intrigued by this behavior, he looked upwards, noticing a platform in the branches some thirty feet above. He smiled, pleased that his efforts had succeeded in locating the instigator of this quaint ambush. Back on the path, Ashton dispelled the terrain effects (and accidentally Bransen’s find the path and freedom of movement), readying the haste spell that he knew would be needed very soon. Bransen moved over to Karamus and wrapped a leather thong around his arm, releasing the magic of his new favorite spell to ensure any further attempts to hinder the cansin’s movement would be thwarted. Kan’ti summoned black tentacles, hoping to slow one of the weakened dire bears, and moved farther from the front lines. Kort, unbound and with a target put Greywhisker’s Razor to its intended purpose, drawing blood from the central dire bear. In response, the creature batted at him with its massive paws, pulling the dwarf into a bearhug with one claw. It couldn’t sink its teeth into him in that awkward position, however. The behemoth on Jaryvk likewise dragged him into a grapple, but couldn’t find a gap between the dwarf knight’s defenses and it’s own hairy foreleg. Karamus tumbled away and through the wind wall, drawing and failing to activate his wand of invisibility. A couple of arrows flew his way, but the thick flora thwarted the would-be sniper’s efforts. Jarvyk broke free of the bear’s clumsy hold and struck twice with Tedryk’s Grace. The satisfying sizzle of electricity accompanying the heavy slices made him grateful to his ancestor for activating the weapon’s shock quality. Such a time saver!
Greyjek Woosah flew straight up, and was interested to discover that the assailant upon the platform was none other than Lerrius. The gnome looked none too pleased to see the ectoplasmic shape hovering nearby, and turned his bow in the elan’s direction. Ashton hasted the majority of the party, and the tide turned rather dramatically. Kort’s dire bear dropped first, and one of Jarvyk’s next. The remaining bear was contending with Kan’ti’s indestructible black tentacles into which the dwarf knight waded. Bransen treated him to his own freedom of movement which all but signaled the end of the fight. Ashton hit the last bear with a crippling ray of enfeeblement and its sluggish swats could not penetrate the highly trained dwarf’s defenses. Karamus, having successfully turned himself invisible, left the tree fight to the flying erudite and returned in time to finish off the remaining dire bear. Greyjek struck at the gnome’s mind, causing him considerable pain and causing him to decide to flee. Fascinated by this obviously futile effort, the erudite simply opened a dimension door in the gnome’s path. He ignored the arrows that struck and deflected from his ectoplasmic form and with a final thrust, crushed his mind entirely.