Chapter 4 – A Village on the Great Road and the Specter of Death

Leaving Shaker Keep, a way-stop that felt like an eternity, Gorre, Illi, and Malek along with a still unconscious Fayzelle traveled north for the Great Road. There were only a hand full of carts left in the caravan and many of the carters that had brought them this far were left behind in Shaker Keep to mourn their losses or to make repairs. Many had lost their lives to Illithain the god Boar and his ilk. Our heroes decided to leave with the small part of the caravan that moved out to assist Feyezelle in his quest to deliver the mushrooms Abigale had given them to the mage school. So far, none had been able to wake Feyezelle, though Malek tried his best both with song, odd noises, and jokes that were, shall we say, on the darker side of raunchy..

The Kenku known as Cricket approached the clearing in front of the cave cautiously. The detritus left behind by the Bugbear band who had taken up residence in this cave just a few short weeks ago was strewn about the cave mouth and the smell of burnt meat and fur was still thick in the air. A soft rain began to fall and Cricket threw up the hood of his scarlet cloak as he entered the cave. He saw tracks but they were too faded, the ground too hard, and the light too dim to tell if the tracks were fresh or if they had been left days ago. There was nothing left in the cave worth salvaging and Cricket knew if he didn’t pick up a trail soon, there would be none to find. He left the cave and headed south, hoping to find a trace and a trace he found. Three foot prints and some unsettled brush were enough to get him moving faster.

As the four companions and the carters camped at the cross roads contemplated where to stop along their route, a tall and muscular tabaxi messenger monk from Sindora Anchorage came upon them with, oddly, a chair strapped to his back. He was delivering an urgent message for Malek on a parchment that had been threaded through a familiar ring. After donning the ring and reading the parchment and without a word, Malek leapt into the chair strapped to the Tabaxi’s back, put on the ring which flashed as it produced a chicken leg from thin air, and the two ran back south towards Shaker Keep. The discarded parchment, sent by the wizard Izzy, mentioned a danger and Malek’s Mothers and Fathers. Of course he had to go. His departure was nevertheless another blow to Gorre and Illi. They continued to travel the Great Road until they reached the resting stop at the village of Jordan where they discovered that Feyezelle had also vanished. “Something bad is going to happen” both Gorre and Illi thought. the horned elf mage was adept at disappearance when danger was near.

Cricket followed the river, known locally as Bent Water for it’s regularly repeating oxbow lakes and angular curves, and from there south to the Great Road that cut through Tilandsia. He turned west along the road; the only likely path a group the size of the bugbears’ could have taken. He found traces of a small caravan coming up from the south track onto the Great Road and so he quickened his pace. He knew that a caravan would be a likely target, especially a small one. A day’s journey from the southern track to the small village of Jordan, Cricket found the caravan.

The caravan arrived just before dusk into Jordan. It was a pleasant enough farming community with around a hundred and eighty farmers and artisans in residence. With the disappearance of Feyezelle and with the similarity of the towns folk to those in Shaper Keep, Gorre and Illi felt uneasy…. they waited for the other shoe to drop. The group found an Inn, catering specifically to travelers on the Great Road, called the Roads’ Side Inn and they had a descent meal… one that did not contain mushrooms. A group of Blackmire company soldiers were taking rest in the Inn and a Blackmire paladin drank and loudly caroused at the bar. He bought several rounds for the entire bar before retiring with a young lady to his chambers…. where he continued being loud.

Cricket noticed the tack and markings of Blackmire Company horses outside the village inn and, having squired for a Blackmire Lord Commander a year or so passed, he entered looking for his former comrades and the caravan carters. He found Gorre and Illi at the bar eating and taking a much deserved rest and the others form the caravan scattered around the inn’s common room. After greeting his former Blackmire comrades in arms, he found that Illi and Gorre were part of the caravan and asked if they had been beset by the bugbear band he was tracking. They told him little of their story and Raya Carter was not amused with Cricket’s plan to use what was left of her father’s caravan as “bait”. He explained in several different voices they they were in danger regardless and he’d like to join them to help if he could. She reluctantly agreed. Cricket, Gorre, and Illi got rooms in the inn for the night, with Gorre and Illi paying for two in anticipation of trouble…. that uneasy feeling lingered.

That night seemed to pass without incident, but upon waking, Gorre and Illi noticed the sun, while shining, produced no warmth and a mist seemed to have settled on Jordan. They exited the inn and discovered it was no longer there having burned to a skeletal frame, chard and blackened. Cricket exited the rubble but didn’t seem to notice, believing the inn to still be there and intact. He reentered and went to the room the Paladin had been in and then finally noticed that there was no door and further, the Inn was burnt. They investigated the area finding more burnt buildings and a burnt cart but the others were gone. Most of the towns folk too were missing and those who were there seemed confused and frightened. The crowd of people massed in front of the inn, all discussing what might have happened to their friends and wondering why the trees were bare and why the air was chilled in mid summer. Everyone was startled as a young woman’s scream ripped the air and was silenced. Where she had stood moments before, there now loomed a darkly cloaked figure with a silvery skeletal mask. He seemed to evaporate from existence.

More people vanished over the coming moments and for some, the figure seemed to take them, laying a bony hand on their shoulder before they evaporated in an anguished instant. Others simply became nothing, one moment there and the next, not. The remaining townsfolk and our heroes entered the unaligned traveler’s temple for security. Upon entering, Cricket noticed floating above the alter, a single feather, the symbol of the forsaken Kenku god, Quorlinn. Gorre saw a cog, the symbol of his deity, Sala. Illi saw a sack which, upon further inspection, contained gold coins. She hear a ragged voice in her head telling her the other would steal it, that they wanted to hurt her, that she should kill them all. A scream sounded at the edge of the crowd near the door and there was the figure, having taken another of the villagers. One by one they vanished. Some simply vanishing, others taken by the figure. Cricket lunged at the figure, but passed right through it before it vanished. A booming voice, full of mirth and joy sounded in Illi’s head, replacing the ragged whispering. “Do you want to be resurrected?” She vanished from where she stood by the alter. Gorre, now believing all his friends again were taken from him, heard the voice in his head. “Do you want to be resurrected?” He considered for a moment saying no, resigned to his fate. His baser instinct won out and he vanished, leaving Cricket with only a couple of villagers. He too heard the voice, “Do you want to be resurrected?” it asked him.

When he came back to consciousness, he saw the bright light of day, warm and comforting. The trees were in full leaf and the mist was gone. The Blackmire Company paladin kneeled over him, his holy symbol’s light beginning to fade after another successful resurrection. Our heroes had died in their sleep from smoke inhalation in the burning inn. A lantern had fallen over in the adjoining stable over night causing a blaze that destroyed the stable, the inn, one of the caravan carts, and several surrounding buildings. The Blackmire paladin of Bacchus had spent most of the early morning into mid day bringing back as many people as he could before death could claim them. The trio now comprised of Gorre, Illi, and Cricket felt bonded over their shared experience of death.

By afternoon, the caravan rolled on towards Tilandsia Seat.

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