The adventure in the Hellpits had taken most of the night, and so Grom entered the drinking contest known as the “Intelligence Test” in a state of fatigue. He was ready to forfeit when Okalla told him that she had agreed with the other priestesses that Grom could drink Bloodbeer instead. This brew, sacred to the darker cults of the earth, was not alcoholic, but produced similar effects when drunk in similar quantities. Essentially, the more one drank of it, the more one’s animal urges took over. So someone who got drunk on bloodbeer would need to either start a fight, mate, or both. Any of these circumstances would involve Grom losing the contest of course, as he would be unlikely to continue on to the next drink.
The contestants lined up shortly after midday, with Grom barely able to keep his eyes open. Brixx turned up already well-sauced, but looked as if he could handle another barrel. He even brought a mug full of ale to the table, which he quaffed before the contest began.
Promidius fell out of the contest early, taking advantage of the bucket placed beside each competitor. Calmstorm followed soon after, and Skye noted that Sor-Eel the Short looked extremely displeased with the performance of his man to date, although Griselda found the whole thing hilarious. Eventually, there were just three contestants remaining – Grom, fighting back the urges, Brixx, and and Allicus who by this stage was distinctly fuzzy around the edges. Skye noted that Okalla had also been consuming bloodbeer, roughly in line with Grom’s intake.
Eventually, the passions became too much for Grom, who tossed his table aside, stood up and yelled “I need a woman or a weapon!” Okalla came out of the crowd and said, “You’ll have both in me!” and hurled herself upon Grom, knocking him to the ground and straddling him. They prceeded to rut like animals, in full view of the crowd. Promidius threw up again.
Allicus finally fell over, unable to keep up with Brixx. The Uroxi had now won one contest, Allicus one, and Grom two, although others surmised he might have just won a whole different contest.
That evening, revelry was in full swing, and Xaraya made full use of her Project Sight and Mystic Vision spells to scout around the area of the contests. She had made note of the sadly-departed Redcrow’s insight that there was an evil spirit around and discovered that Darst Jaro was accompanied by a Bane Spirit. She was able to catch him in the act of taking a young woman out to the plains to attack and devour. With a word to the priestesses, the authorities had him in custody.
The next day he was paid a visit by Skye and Okalla, whose combined drive to protect women led to what might be described as torture. They extracted a full confession, in which they discovered not only that he was an evil, chaotic ogre, but that there were many other ogres in the Zola Fel valley, and that they were all being summoned by The Great One. He could give no further details before he fell accidentally dead.
The combined Priestesses were relieved that the contest had been rid of a chaotic influence, which had clearly led to the unprecedented diversion of two of the leading candidates to hunt vampires. A quick ritual purification of the candidates, administered personally by Okalla in Grom’s case, and the contest was ready to go again. Xaraya, now able to walk again on her regrown leg, was commended publicly by Sir Davis for her discovery of the villain.
The final test was Ladies’ Choice, in which the contestants lined up to impress the ladies of Garhound, but most especially the Priestesses and Melisande herself.
First up was Cary the local lad, who clearly had Melisande’s eye. In front of Sor-Eel the Short, he had the temerity to sing Cold Winds Over Sartar, a rebel song. This shocked and delighted the audience, and overshadowed the rather pathetic efforts by the three Yelmalions who came next, even Allicus’ epic poem. Then came Myrrhyn Calmstorm, but before he could speak Agrestis, Sor-Eel’s jester, interrupted proceedings, running on dressed in Lunar theatrical woman’s costume (old maid variant) to kiss the young man. After that Calmstorm told a magnificent tale about a young handyman at a Malkioni convent, that caused blushes, giggles and laughter in equal measure among the womenfolk. As it happened, Xaraya was sitting next to the priestesses when this occurred, and she had a Mystic Vision spell active that revealed that the Jester had enhanced Calmstorm with Trickster magic. As a result, while Melisande gave the turncloak top marks, the priestesses marked him down.
Next up was Brixx, who proceeded to tell several jokes about the Issaries merchant and the farmer’s daughter. When that feel flat he told the priestesses he had a joke so funny it’d make their breasts fall off, but that he saw that some of the older women had already heard it. At this point, Okalla carried him off the stage.
Finally came Grom, who poured all his heart into the stirring tale of Five Eyes Temple. Evil spirits! Mortal danger! Dragons! The tale had it all. So much so, that when the scores were added up, Grom carried the day on Ladies’ Choice.
The contest had a clear winner: Grom Ashbringer, Acolyte of Humakt.
Melisande was clearly a mite dismayed by the prospect, and the Priestesses debated what the victory of a servant of the death god meant for the town. But they ordered the tent set up where Grom and Melisande were to consummate their union.
Grom was lifted aloft by most of the other contestants (Calmstorm was nowhere to be seen, and rumor has it his body was found in a ditch a few days later, and Cary was also – perhaps understandably – absent) and borne to the tent. He was thrust inside with much good humor, and was astonished to see Melisande arm in arm with Carylon, while Okalla stood before him, clad only in a white shift. He had not appreciated quite how feminine she could be until this moment. Okalla told him, “Tradition says that an Earth Priestess may substitute for the Harvest Queen,” and led him to the sacred bed. Cary and Melisande disappeared, to be wed in secret and consummate their own sacred union. As far as the people of Garhound were concerned, Grom had done his duty, and the harvest was assured. Meanwhile, the two acolytes of death together celebrated life with no small degree of passion.
The next day, Okalla told Grom that she must venture to the Paps, where she was needed to guard the most sacred shrines of the Earth Goddesses of the region. She had also grown extremely affectionate towards Grom’s Alynx, and offered to take him to the Paps where he might perhaps awaken into the Cult of Yinkin. With no small degree of regret, Grom said goodbye to the Axe Sister and to his shadowcat.
The party ventured on to Pavis, with only a small degree of ribbing towards Grom from Allicus and his more beautiful traveling companions.