Returning Lady Jezra to Ronegarth, our heroes discovered that further tragedy had befallen the Duke in their absence. The Duchess Varna had died suddenly of her illness and Marcilla was back from Horn Gate to stop it from spreading further. As Skye, Grom and Xaraya filed in to the Duke’s parlor to pay their respects, they found it draped in black. Also present were three Sun County Templars, including their old friend Leotychidas. It transpired that the High Priest of the Sun Dome Temple, Gaumata the Strange had been sent a vision, about two twisted children that threatened to defile the Zola Fel valley. Gaumata was convinced that one of these children was active in the Vilinar area of Weis Cut and had sent Leotychidas to warn Duke Raus. Too late.
The Duke was not sure what to do about the Sun County delegation, but told the party that his scouts had found signs of Broos operating in the Vilinar headwaters and was certain they had something to do with it. Leo said that Gaumata was sure that one of the children was active in that area, the other in the remote village of Black Rock, and offered to help the party if they would also help him investigate the Black Rock area. The party agreed. Leo introduced his companions, Homophilius (“It doesn’t mean what you think!”), a young scholarly type, and a grizzled old scout called Cleombrotus. The group paused only to consult with Daine and Marcilla. Daine was ill himself, and suggested a likely area for the investigations to concentrate on, while Marcilla gave the party medicinal herbs and treated linen gloves with which to handle Broo remains.
The party first paused at Weis, where one-armed Tarnak had ridden without stopping off at Ronegarth. The village was rank with the smell of rotting corpses and all the doors were shut except one belonging to an old woman. She told Xaraya that Tarnak had shut himself up in his hut and had not been seen out since his return. At her most conciliatory, Xaraya persuaded Tarnak to open up and let her in. Tarnak told her that he was now merely half a man, and had no chance of winning Jezra. Xaraya proved so soothing in her response that Tarnak looked at her with a look in his eyes that suggested he might no longer regard Jezra as the object of his affections. He said that Xaraya was his only hope now and he looked forward to her return.
In scouting out the headwaters, the party’s scouts quickly found broo tracks leading to the cave from which the river flowed. The party discovered that the Vilinar had two sources, one warm and one cold, which caused steam to rise where they met, obscuring vision. They entered the caves stealthily to find two broos on guard, one of which proved to be somewhat of a handful, especially because he seemed able to reflect magic. Eventually, sheer numbers brought them down, and Xaraya gleefully pocketed the crystal the tough one carried.
The party did not feel like wading up either stream, so they found a tunnel leading off the entrance cave and followed that. A crude pit trap was avoided, and the party came to a bridge over the warm branchthat was covered in green slime. A broo stood atop the bridge, but fled as the party approached – the broos were now warned! The party took care to cross the bridge so that no-one slipped into the stream below and then inched forward carefully, anticipating ambush.
Our heroes soon came to a larger cavern, where the light of a fire flickered at one end, and which was filled with natural stone pillars of varying sizes. Leo and the Templars took one wall, inching round with spears and shields ready, while Grom with sword and board took another wall. Skye and Xaraya stood ready with their bows to lend support. Three broos sprang from behind a pillar to attack the Templars. As Grom tried to outflank them, he found himself in combat with a strange broo who moved extremely quickly and had a confusing appearance such that even weaponmaster Grom found it difficult to hit.
Trusting that Grom could handle himself, Skye and Xaraya aided the Templars. Homophilius and Cleombrotus suffered for lack of armor, but the broos were dealt with eventually. The fast broo disengaged and ran when its comrades fell. A search of the cavern found a long timber plank and a trapped chest. Skye disarmed the trap and the chest was found to contain some vials of an unidentified substance and a jeweled dagger. Leo advised his colleagues to stay behind to tend to their wounds, and the party inched down another tunnel, again expecting an ambush.
The party came to a high cliff over the cold branch of the Vilinar. There were three ropes hanging from the cave roof, one secured on the party’s side, one secured on the other side and one being held by the strange broo, who was regarding them cautiously. It was flanked by two broos with bows. Skye and Xaraya raised their bows and began firing. The two missile users were easily dealt with, despite one being extremely strong and the other having one massive leg. Each of them went down with a leg wound, as it happened, before being finished off. The swift broo’s confusing nature made it difficult for them to hit, but the two women were no slouches with their bows. The broo returned fire with magic, causing Leo to dissolve into a fit of sneezing. The others shrugged off further magical attack and the broo, now with a couple of arrows sticking out of its hide, took the fateful decision to swing back across, trusting to its chaotic abilities. Grom swung his shield at the beast as it sailed through the air and caused it to miss its footing. It slipped, but clung to the cliff such that it could have regained its footing, had not Grom managed an athletic move that knocked the broo down off its tenuous hold, and the fiercest adversary the party had yet faced fell into the stream below.
The party returned to the previous cavern and got hold of the timber plank, using that to cross the stream, rather than relying on the slippery ropes. The sandy tunnel widened into another larger cavern, which proved to be empty. The party inched further forward until they came to a chamber with a rock floor, rather than sand. It was occupied by a fearsome-looking broo clad in black plate armor, covered with chaos and death runes, bearing a massive sword that glowed with the Bladesharp enchantment and a black shield. The fight was a long one, with Grom at one point landing a mighty critical hit to the chest that would have killed any other opponent, but which the broo shrugged off as a minor wound. Skye and Leo contributed with their spears, and Xaraya managed a few good hits with her bow, but the broo started dealing mighty blows itself. Eventually, another blow inflicted a wound to the chest, and the broo was forced to try to use magic to heal itself. The party concentrated their attention to the chest and eventually brought the fearsome beast down.
The creature wore a valuable medallion studded with rubies around its neck and a key, and further investigation found more items of interest: the chest that matched the key, made of fine camphorwood, a set of phials that reeked of disease, presumably to be added to the river water, a set of manuscripts written in Auld Wyrmish, and a portentous letter. A chimney led out of the chamber upwards to the cliffs above, easily climbable to someone with some skill, it seemed.
Battered but triumphant, the party picked up their wounded and limped out of the caves. On the banks of the river as it left the cave, Xaraya found freshly-made broo tracks. Their fast foe had survived the fall, it seemed. They led to a cliff, which the broo had apparently climbed. Given its speed, the broo was presumably long gone by now.
The party staggered into Weis, where the wise woman informed them that Muriah was an unfortunate girl whose family, twenty years ago, was dying of disease and who had been denied aid by the villagers for fear that she too carried the plague. Her parents died, and Muriah had returned to the village to tell everyone that a day would come when all the doors of the village would be shut by Death, and then disappeared. Xaraya avoided Tarnak’s attentions.
The letter read:
To Muriah the Blessed,
It appears you have a sister in Sun County. Someone else wronged as you were. I fear she may not be easy to approach, but I believe she will recognize a kindred spirit.
Despite your best efforts at Rabbit Hat, things have gone awry there. Pumpkinhead was slain and his altar purified. We believe his slaughterers also did away with Polybius, for we never heard the expected announcement from him, and work is progressing to rebuild the settlement. Nevertheless, GG’s plans continue unabated. The Waiting Mouth and the Changer dwell unnoticed yet.
Things progress well here, however. Our exploration of the caverns is proving most effective. We owe the discovery of your sister to the Talon’s kin.
Finally, the Great Vampire has made itself known to us, as GG said it would. It shall ensure we conquer the valley and befoul the River.
I look forward to your return. In your absence, I shall deal with Qad as you suggest.