The night passed uneventfully, the Flame of Samael burning true until the first rays of the morning sun streamed in through the ersatz skylight in the sanctuary of Diggswood Abbey. The Red Branch had placed their trust in the Light and received a blessing for their faith: though the ground had been uncomfortable, they woke up feeling exceptionally refreshed, though Kyton still suffered the ravages of the mummy’s black touch.
Ishlin and Ioan had received an additional omen: a dream of the winged being of light leading them through the sanctuary and into a hall of doors. Ioan paid it little mind; Ishlin, when he woke, found his mind and perceptions fogged and his body filled with adrenaline, as though a rage lurked just below his skin, ready to burst out.
With several possible paths to choose from, the party opted to return to the cafeteria, assuming that the kitchen lay beyond. Their assumption proved correct; though there was little of value in the kitchen, it was also devoid of any walking corpses or other dangers. A stairway led down to the collapsed root cellar, and another door led into the larder and storage area. The only thing of value remaining in the larder were two large bags of salt, which they appropriated. In the partially-collapsed storage area, however, they made a fortuitous find: axes and sledges, weapons that would potentially prove more effective against the hordes of horrors then what they had so far found.
Brennis was prepared, then, to take on the remaining “great evil” that Simon’s Claw had sensed; Ishlin, however, spoke up and mentioned the dream he had had, viewing it as a positive omen. The rest of the party acquiesced to investigate the remaining door at the far end of the sanctuary.
The door, crafted so as to appear unobtrusive to visitors to the temple, led into a long, narrow hallway, broken every twenty feet by a narrow door with a slot in it through which small items could be passed. The doors, interestingly, were able to be locked from either side, and each led to a small “cell,” of sorts, a tiny apartment just large enough for a single person to live and work. Indeed, some few of these cells contained ancient skeletons, clad in decaying monk habits.
The entire hallway, by contrast with the rest of the abbey, felt peaceful and serene, so the party pressed forward. Upon turning the corner, however, they came across a sobering sight: one of the doors had been shattered and scorched, blasted off its hinges by some unknown power. The cell within seemed empty, save for two interesting features on the upper floor: a pile of humanoid bones, and the remains of a runed iron hoop, three feet in diameter, shattered into pieces.
Before any of this could sink in, an apparition appeared. Bearded, tonsured, clad in robes and bearing a faint halo, the apparition said nothing; instead, it drew back a fist and smote Ishlin with the power of the Light!
Simon’s Claw called out to the figure, begging it to stop, but it pressed its attack, stunning Ishlin. Then, to everyone’s surprise, it mustered a bright flash of light and, chanting in Celestial, performed a turn undead.
When nothing happened, the figure paused with confusion. He asked the party to parley, to discern their intentions. Identifying himself as Brother Didymus, he stated that his task had been to guard the dark thing that had been imprisoned within the iron ring, a task that he had minded for centuries. He explained that, though the party had re-lit the fire on the Dais of Samael, Ishlin (at least) had also scanned as evil. Brother Didymus assumed that this meant Ishlin was being possessed by the daemon.
It seemed that, a few weeks prior, a large tiefling of frightening countenance had burst into Brother Didymus’ cell. Presenting a profane artifact, he had forced Brother Didymus to flee; when Brother Didymus had returned, the ring had been shattered and the daemon had vanished, fleeing the abbey where he had been imprisoned for so long.
The party offered to help Brother Didymus by finding the daemon and imprisoning it, if he would provide them with information on just how exactly to do that. At first, Brother Didymus demurred; he did not trust that the party would use the knowledge he imparted responsibly. Finally, after impassioned words from Ioan, he agreed to furnish the needed information on the condition that the party swear the Sacred Vow. Brennis declined, but the rest remained, and swore themselves to the service of the Light.
Satisfied, Brother Didymus provided them with information on the daemon’s weaknesses and abilities. They would know its host, he said, by its fiendish strength and its blacker-than-black eyes. It could not be killed, he said, only imprisoned within a specially-prepared gemstone, a Soul Prison, and only by performing a rite and extracting it from its host before the rite was completed. Finally, he provided the rite.
There are two means of forcing a daemon from its host, he explained: by beating it out, or by turning it out. In its true form, the daemon would not be able to act upon the real world, but nor would it be able to be influenced by anything save the holy rites.
Finally, Brother Didymus provided them with a Soul Prison that he had crafted centuries before, that they could find the daemon and trap it. What to do with after that, he was unsure; while the daemon would be held secure for some weeks within the prison, there was no known way to kill it. If they wished to cleanse the spirit and defeat the daemon, Brother Didymus suggested, then perhaps they should take it to Lux, the Solarian capital, where the best, brightest and most powerful servants of the Light could be found.
As the Red Branch prepared to leave, Brother Didymus stopped Ishlin, and made a proclamation: Ishlin had been touched by the Light, and had within him a great holy power: the mantle of paladinhood. Brother Didymus offered to help Ishlin wake this power if he so desired, so long as he passed Brother Didymus’ test. Brother Didymus would help Ishlin, he said, if Ishlin and his friends cleansed the remaining evil from the abbey, and if Ishlin was able to imprison the daemon without killing any host in which it resided.
The first task presented was fairly straightforward: there was only one area remaining that the party had not explored, only one last pocket of corruption to clear: the mysterious double doors that Simon’s Claw had warned them about. Checking the door, Ishlin found that it had been trapped, and recently, though the job was shoddy and easily handled. Grasping their weapons, Ishlin and Brennis kicked down the door …
... to find a room full of shambling, rotting halfling corpses, surrounding a nine-foot-tall, three-armed abomination of flesh.
As the zombies shuffled forward, Ishlin leaped back into action. Nocking an arrow, he loosed it to fly true, striking the hulk and disabling one of its shoulders. Enraged, it rushed forward to engage in melee, pushing the dead halflings aside with a horrible, gurgling roar. It struck at Gene with surprising strength, hurting him badly.
Worse, three of the dead halflings were much more energetic than the others, showing intelligence by rushing forward, tumbling through the fray, and flanking the party. These creatures, deeply aggressive, struck much faster and harder than the others, opening up a second front for the party to worry about.
Nonetheless, the party triumphed in the end, Ishlin bringing down the huge monstrosity in a burst of holy light and Kyton slicing the heads off the three aggressive corpses. The remaining mob pressed forward but Brennis leapt into their midst, drawing their attention and expertly dodging their fumbling, bony hands while he and the rest of the party picked them off one-by-one, or six-by-six.
As the last of the mindless corpses burned away into a pile of ash at the strike of the Thorn of the White, a scrollcase dropped to the floor. Inside was a collection of magical scrolls, as well as several pages of what looked like a diary. Unfortunately, as it was written in Celestial, there were none present who could read it.
With the abbey cleared, the party turned their attention to the larger problem: finding the daemon and the missing farmers. As it had been several days since they left Barley Row, they decided to send Kyton by air to see if any more farmers had disappeared.
Burton wasn’t pleased to see Kyton, brusquely calling into question the length of time it was taking to settle the problem. The residents of Barley Row had taken to sleeping together in a barn for protection, so there were no further disappearances to report, but Burton was eager for positive news so that they all could get back to routine.
Disgusted, Kyton made his way back to the abbey to rejoin his allies, and they struck out to continue searching the forest. The afternoon was fruitless; just before sunset, though, they came across an odd sight: a brown bear sitting motionless by a pool of water.
Ishlin attempted to sneak closer to get a better look, but stepped on a branch. At once, the bear fixed beady, glowing-red eyes on him, and lumbered to attack. Gene rushed in to cover Ishlin, and the stench of death rushed over both of them. The bear was dead, and rotten on the inside; it had been brought back to an awful semblance of life by the same magics as the corpses in the abbey.
Though the bear was strong, the skills of the party were stronger, and the monster was quickly overcome. The party pressed on through the woods, but the light was failing and they decided to pitch camp, Brennis creating a salt circle to keep them safe.
The following morning, Ishlin found that his anger and aggression had intensified; worse, his thinking was clouded, making it hard for him to focus. Worse, Gene was feeling similar symptoms. Simon’s Claw confirmed that there were shadows clinging to them, but it couldn’t identify the source; it was unlike anything it had ever sensed.
Regardless, it seemed like the only thing to do was press on and finish their quest. Back to searching; finally, they turned up with something. Low, incoherent cries for help echoed through the wood. Rushing to the scene, the party found cages, crafted of wood and bone, suspended up in the branches of two huge trees. Within the cages were visible the forms of prisoners; wandering the clearing beneath the cages were three black bears, bloated and rotting where they stood and yet still moving.
With no apparent recourse, the Red Branch engaged. They had the initiative, and were able to destroy one of the bear monsters before it was able to act. Ioan summoned a great beetle to capture the attention of one of the bears, while the rest of the fighters converged on the other, destroying it. The third bear went down as readily as the first two, and the party set to work freeing the prisoners.
They were almost too late; the people in the cages had suffered horribly, their skin flensed and scourged, their fingernails ripped off. They were covered with blood, starved, parched, emaciated; they looked as if they had been in the cages for days. Kyton tended to their wounds, but they remained unresponsive. A cursory inspection led the healers to the conclusion that they had been drugged or poisoned; in either case, they required more care than could be immediately offered.
The party paused to take stock. Somewhere in the wood, the daemon was creating these awful things. There were now innocents in danger, innocents that would need protection. And finally, Simon’s Claw reported that he could feel something awful, nearby in the woods …
- dispel magic
- charm animal
- control weather
- invisibility purge
- rusting grasp
- stone shape
- cure critical wounds
- flame strike