The quintet follows the long-established but seldom-used trail, marching northwest across the plain toward Levoca. Gradually, the plain gives way to a wooded path, and the trail becomes a dried riverbed. The trees press closer when Roapy motions the party to stop — he perceives a small voice ahead. Some way ahead, a sprite appears, floating on the breeze.
“Come no closer, you cultists!”
Zithembe taken aback for a moment at the seemingly random accusation replies, “But we are no cultists, we are escorting this good woman home to Levoca from Falcon’s Hollow.”
The sprite looks more closely at your group and muses seemingly to himself that he’s never seen a catfolk cultist before and there is that old woman who hardly seems a firebrand. Seemingly satisfied with Zithembe’s explanation two other sprites become visible and they share their plight with the group of you, and having noted your armaments, plead for your help.
The fey claim to know that a group of fire cultists are coming to set fire to the forest around the ruined hut nearby. A dubious Kohroku questions how they know this, but they can only explain that they have knowledge shared by the spirit of the forest and that sometimes it communicates with them, and when it does they know to take it seriously or suffer consequences. In this instance it has been foretold that these cultists of Imix, the evil elemental god of fire, are coming to burn this wood this very day, hence the immediate suspicion upon your approach.
Though you are sympathetic to their plight, Valya is far less interested and is eager to get back on the road. The sprites make their case again sensing that Valya is eager to move on and has some sway over the party. Roapy, the one-time aspirant to knighthood under the righteous banner of Iomedae, finds it hard to resist the lure of fighting dangerous cultists so he makes the case to Valya that these cultists pose a threat to her village as well and if the forest burns the consequences will be felt by all around the area, a point reinforced by the sprites. She sighs, but relents on the condition that they will still deliver her to Levoca by dusk.
It is decided that a look at the decrepit hut is warranted to see if it a safe place for Valya to wait while they lay in ambush. They find that it is indeed rickety, with holes in the roof lighting the interior during the day, and the once good stonework is collapsed in parts. And it is also clearly sized for small folk as the door is perhaps four and a half feet high and the ceiling (such as it is) only around six feet high.
Zithembe squats to enter and calls out for the others to have a look at an inscription on the wall written in unfamiliar script. Curiously, it’s the feral kid who can read the writing. It’s druidic and reads: “If you seek my wisdom, find the buried book.” Bittør’s eagle eyes effortlessly spot the book under some debris about the same time as she finishes reading the phrase aloud to the group.
She retrieves it and takes a quick rifle through it and determines it is worthy of further inspection and she drops it in her bag. But as she blithely strolls out of the hut she hears a friendly disembodied voice calling out, “excuse me young lady, but I think you’ve accidentally forgotten to leave my book behind.” As the young druid turns around a halfling of middle age and pleasant demeanor appears but the light shining through him shows that he is a ghost. Zithembe retreats in fear and the halfling calls out “boo!” and has a laugh.
“There’s no reason to fear me, I merely want my book to remain here. Its wisdom is for all, not just for you,” he says smiling at Bittør. His open and breezy demeanor makes even the skittish Zithembe relax a bit and he asks the ghost’s name.
Morton Goodtree introduces himself and says that he lived here many years ago. He asks what brings such a disparate group to his home. And if it were possible for a ghost to go white, he would have when he hears you say that cultists of Imix are coming to set fire to the woods. As it turns out, cultists of Imix were responsible for his death those many decades ago, though he did successfully defend the forest from their flames back then. He is furious to hear they are returning and agrees to help you fight them. But he calms himself and returns to his cheery demeanor and says he will keep Valya company until such time as he is needed.
Having prepared your ambush you can hear the cultists approach with loud exclaiming from one you presume is the leader even from around the bend. Your plan is simple but effective. You lie in wait along the path, using the elevated terrain beside the trail to your advantage excepting Roapy who shows himself openly to draw in the cultists. Bittør will then use her arcane skills to make the roots and grasses around the trail come to life grasping at the cultists hopefully restraining them.
The leader who was already raving is now spittin’ mad upon seeing opposition, and is screaming for his followers to “kill the infidels!” But after Roapy and Zithembe both strike the fanatic, with crossbow and cantrip respectively, he is grimly silent as he and a couple of his followers are also held tight by Bittør’s entangle.
The fight is all but over when Roapy closes and kills two of the cultists who managed to escape Bittør’s spell while the cult leader’s own spell fizzles. Though one of the cultists who evaded the grasping roots badly wounds the dwarf with a wild slash of his scimitar, it’s about all they can muster. The sprites tiny arrows sting the cultists even as Zithembe evokes a chaos bolt and it careens in a seemingly randomly arc but ends up hitting the raving fanatic square in the chest where he collapses dead.
And then the late-arriving Morton comes floating out of the forest and it becomes clear to the cultists that they have bitten off more than they can chew. He taunts them that he “has beaten them off before” and that he will do so “every time they return.” A point emphasized by his withering touch which horrifyingly desiccates another cultist and drops him where he stood. And even as the ghost drains the life from the cultist, Bittør has moved near enough to Kohroku to call out a healing word, and the monk can feel the healing power of the earth flow up through his feet and he feels greatly revitalized.
After this it is more of a scramble for the remaining cultists to escape. Kohroku muses aloud, “Should we take one alive to question?” But Roapy drops one as he attempts to flee and Zithembe and Bittør finish off the other one who’s still entangled. Bittør looks from the final, now dead cultist back toward Kohroku who’s barely finished his question and just shrugs.
You gather yourselves and take stock of the battle and are satisfied with a plan well-executed. Rolling the bodies you come away with a couple of handfuls of gold (25gp). Having heard the battle start and finish, Valya emerges from the hut at the hoots and hollers of victory, eager to get back on the road and the escorts relent and ready yourselves to get back on the trail to Levoca.
But before you leave, Bittør tells Morton “You ‘n’ me are gonna have a talk sometime.” Morton smiles and waves before vanishing. And the pixies offer you three small vials of anti-toxin in thanks as well, making this a surprisingly lucrative stop. And as a last gift they mention that the berries in the upper reaches of some of the surrounding trees have berries with healing power. You harvest as many as you can before Valya guilts you into actually getting on the road back to Levoca like you said a half hour ago.
It is an easy and uneventful walk to Levoca from the Hermit’s Trail, the notable difference being the increasingly swampy land giving way to a more forested area nearing Darkmoon Wood. As you approach the village you note the presence of dozens of scarecrow-like wooden effigies around the perimeter of the village. Constructed with sticks, branches, reeds and even animal bones or skulls and some with living plants growing on them; they look creepy. Despite appearances, Kohroku and Bittør recognize them as wards against evil sometimes seen in rustic, rural communities in the Vale.
A clearing opens out before you with some simple houses with thatched roofs and walls of wattle and daub. There are farm fields around the immediate area and within the village which looks like it houses several dozen folks. There are chickens and sheep in pastures and in the trail as you approach from the southwest. The local children stop chasing chickens to come gape at strangers instead.
Finally, a braver lad of perhaps ten, dares to ask you who you are. You reply that you’re escorting this lady here to visit her son. Upon hearing her name his jaw drops and he turns and runs back toward the village calling out the news. Valya can sense something has happened and she swallows a cry and starts running as fast as she can toward her son’s house which is straight down the trail. By the time you catch up she is talking to a young man next to a pile of goods apparently being taken out of the house.
You overhear enough to know that it is her grandson and that her son is dead, gored by his own prized bull. The son, Drash, claims that he is going to clean out the house, set it on fire and then kill the bull. You don’t try to dissuade him though you do ask him questions about what happened. It seems pretty much as it sounded: the ordinarily well behaved bull became aggressive and gored Oleg to death before anyone could respond to his screams. Drash says that his father doted on the animal and it had never caused problems in the past, some of the braver young men had even ridden the bull before without undue violence (beyond getting thrown).
To look at it now it seems calm enough and there is little to indicate anything unusual. But as you leave the pasture Bittør notes that the bull makes an unusual lowing wail toward the northeast not normal behavior as far as she can tell. Now that you raise the point, Drash confirms that he’s noticed this behavior as well, but hadn’t thought much of it. When asked of other unusual animal behavior he recalls that he also heard of one of the villager’s dogs biting someone recently but otherwise cannot come up with anything.
A visit to the neighbor whose sheepdog bit one of the local children reveals little of note. The dog seems to be normal enough and Baca, the dog’s master seems little concerned about the animal. As dusk has arrived, an inquiry about a local hostelry reveals that there is a barn that you might sleep in just down the way.
An inquiry at the farmstead that Baca has directed you toward has you speaking with the matron of the house, Anna. She agrees to put you up for the night and feed you a meal, though she acknowledges it will be thin gruel as she has her own family to feed as well.
Having sorted out lodging, your curiosity about the goings on here lead to a walk back to the pasture to observe Oleg’s bull. It’s evening but there are still signs of life as you notice a few villagers talking under the light of lanterns on porches or by torchlight in the lanes between farmsteads. You can sense a nervous energy as the occasional furtive glance at your passing presence seems a function of a wary edginess.
You see the bull in pasture and it seems to be docile enough. But it rouses, as does the village as the unmistakable sound of howling wolves pierces the night air, and not too far either! You can see the villagers running amok trying to do whatever it is they do to get ready. Before a minute has passed you can hear shouting from across the village and you can see a handful of wolves menacing a group of locals armed with bows they are only just able to use or more effectively, torches or clubs. They are just holding them off but you can see them starting to panic and some are on the verge of turning tail; you’ve arrived just in time.
The sorcerer leads the way sending a firebolt flying at the first of the wolves. It sings the beast fur and it yelps but these beasts are surprisingly driven. Roapy and Kohroku also quickly close in to protect the locals who gratefully give way. Zithembe impulsively follows them into melee furiously rubbing his brass spell focus against his fur before touching the nearest wolf with it, releasing a shocking grasp.
But unfortunately it doesn’t drop the wolf whose vicious, retaliatory bite leaves Zithembe bleeding out on the ground! Luckily Roapy has sliced open one of the beasts in the meantime, while Bittør has slashed another one with acid dripped claws using her primal savagery. Kohroku, desperate to try and revive the fallen catman tries to sidle over to him to treat his wound with his medicine kit, but a wolf has clamped onto his thigh as the monk tried to move toward his companion. Kohroku manages to shake it off but it tears a large slash into his thigh. And in the moment the pain is too much for him to effectively staunch Zithembe’s bleeding.
As Bittør kills the last of the wolves present with acid-dripping claws, Roapy manages to help Kohroku successfully treat Zithembe’s wound. But you can still hear nearby wolves howling even as the locals look around fearfully into the dark.
Session: 300XP (includes session zero)