Thanks to the village’s dominating performance in their first major battle with the bandits the group finds time to reinforce the village’s defenses.
They tear down the inefficient walls along the northern and western sides of the village and reassemble a palisade around the chapel which they have taken to be their base of operations. Disguised pit traps and a series of ditches add to the chapel’s defenses.
For nearly a week the villagers worked with the group though the looming spectre of starvation weighed on everyone’s minds. The village’s fields were destroyed and to make matters worse the seemingly endless “bandits” had enforced a tight perimeter around the village making it difficult to hunt or scavenge for food.
On the fifth day of the siege the people of Steepleton are exhausted when out of nowhere a robed figure walks, surprisingly unmolested by the forces arrayed against Steepleton.
It is Alleron Diruvad who has come from Harborage after recovering from a vicious illness and has seemingly stumbled once more into danger. He was unaware of the situation in Steepleton and quickly was caught back up in the group dynamic. He explained to the group that he had come seeking the Sage of Steepleton and was summarily disappointed by the news of the sage’s kidnapping.
A series of wagons throughout the day kept the group on their toes: a knight named Sir Patrick Paddington came on official business from the Order and told Alois he was needed in Harborage on urgent business. Alois rode out shortly after, promising to bring supplies on his return.
After a tense stand off where Sir Patrick insults Nuras’s capability in a battle the four were interrupted from getting to know one another by the arrival of yet another wagon, this one is set upon by the “bandits” and with a beleaguered look Cherin, Nuras, and Alleron rode off to meet the bandit threat and save the wagon from destruction.
The battle was remarkably one sided as none of the bandits seemed able to stand against them. While Nuras, now more than twelve feet tall thanks to a spell cast by Alleron, waded into battle Cherin spat fiery blasts at the bandits and Alleron kept cautiously to the side lines.
The owner of the wagon, a Trader man, was fending off the bandits until one of them tossed a bottle of alchemist’s fire into the cart. Instead of merely catching fire the cart exploded as something inside ignited. In an instant the Trader man was dead but the bandits each reacted quickly enough to evade the worst of the blast.
Sir Patrick stood at the sidelines, watching and reacting with surprise as Cherin and Alleron Diruvad’s magical abilities become apparent. In midst of the final seconds of battle the burning wreckage of the wagon erupts once more in a blazing fireball that washes over Cherin and Nuras, burning both. The remaining bandits are killed by the explosion and the party is forced to wait for an entire hour before the wreckage is cool enough to search.
They find a half-burned mahogany box with a metal latch and after discussing what to do cautiously amongst themselves for some time Sir Patrick takes the box and opens it with a hand protected by a handkerchief. Inside they find a single scroll outlining a maneuver of an unknown origin.
Nuras gleefully takes the scroll to learn from it.
When they return they learn the village has officially run out of food and go hunting. Using a rather ingenious stalking method they manage to bag three large deer, each several hundred pounds, which they drag back to town and butcher.
Later that evening a third wagon approaches the village at high speeds, narrowly avoiding the bandits which try and capture it.
The wagon slows as it approaches the village and a man shouts, “My names Tamlin Burke and I’ve got some supplies! Had a little bit of action up the road a bit and I’d really like some safety!”
Sir Patrick immediately declares his distrust for the man but Tamlin Burke says cheerfully, “Breza Stouthearth sent me! She also sent this” He holds up a beautiful kama crafted from dark gray metal. “She knew you wanted it and said that there’s something you can do to pay her back… she didn’t mention what though.”
The party opens the makeshift gates and Tamlin Burke gives them the kama and the wagon filled with crates of grain and food. Enough to feed the entire town for an entire week, maybe more!
Tamlin yawns, “Been a long day… do you folks have any place I could rest for the night?” They set him up in the back of the chapel where a number of cots are set up.
Outside the village readies themselves for a well-deserved meal of venison stew and long rows of tables are laid out in the chapel yard. The entire village is within the palisade surrounding the church and for the first time in several days the mood seems hopeful.
The people of Steepleton sit at the long rows of tables as children serve the rather delicious-smelling stew the head cook, a woman named Nadia, has made. One by one bowls are filled from the huge pots filled with stew and after a solemn prayer to Pelor led Sir Patrick the people begin to eat.
Justar and Zara ask Nuras and Cherin a bit about their pasts and Justar introduces his daughter Amyra, a small dark-haired girl with a slightly disturbing love of fire. Sir Paddington eats quietly and watches the conversation before throwing his stew to the ground and shouting, “There is something wrong with this food!” Nadia stares at him with angry shock written upon her face.
When posed with questions the knight tries to reply but the only thing that comes out of his mouth is vomit and a horrible retching as he doubles over clutching his stomach. At all the tables the same thing is taking place and the group begins to feel nauseas as well but manage to hold it together as something in the food leaves most of the village incapacitated and dying.
Only a few people remain unaffected, one of them Nadia, and the trio can only watch in silent rage as Justar and Zara vomit and Justar’s daughter begins hacking up blood.
Nadia organizes those unaffected to begin helping the sick and begs the group to go to an old cottage north of the village and gather a blue flower she calls Ratweed. The group agrees but first they enter the chapel and make their way into the back room where the cots were laid out to question Tamlin.
They find the room deserted and as they look around Nuras is stabbed in the back by a strange humanoid creature with dull gray skin and a half-formed face with eyes of darkest ebony. In their minds they hear a voice, “I will make your deaths quicker than theirs.”
Their questions answered they attack, but Nuras is badly wounded and when the doppelganger retreats up the stairs to the bell tower Cherin pulls out a scroll of healing magic and attempts to use it. He fails to recite the incantation correctly and the magic falters. They charge up the stairway after the creature and as they reach the top Cherin tries to use the scroll again and completely fumbles the incantation, draining part of his life force to heal Nuras. They spot the doppelganger perched silently atop the chapel bell and attack and the creature sprouts wings and tries to fly away. But as one Cherin and Nuras react, Nuras slashing its throat with his axe as Cherin bashes its misshapen head and the wings melt away as it collapses to the wooden floor of the bell tower.
From their perch they can look down over the writhing mass of dying people below them and then look north towards Ann’s Wood where Nadia said a cure could be found.
To be Continued…