[22 Mirtul 1372]
As the group walks back to Nesme, Mellia is clearly annoyed and says little. Markus mentions to Cain his suspicion that undead abominations are drawn to the group, and inquires about the process for making holy water. Cain replies that for him it is possible, but expensive. Markus mentions having had alchemy lessons from his father long ago, and suggests the possibility of crafting so-called "alchemist's fire" as a potential alternative. The two go on to discuss whether their foray into Arden Brightheart's tomb constituted grave robbing, and how to go about discovering the functions of magical items.
The adventurers, still unable to decide on a name, encounter a group of the Tyran faithful making a pilgramage to Brightheart's resting place. Speaking eloquently of the dangers to be encountered there, Markus persuades the pilgrims to return to Nesme and wait for brave warrior-priests to cleanse the haunted place. He also turns over the mace inscribed with the Tyran mark to them.
Upon approaching the hastily rebuilt walls of Nesme, the group see a long line of sellswords and adventurers waiting to turn over their trophy heads in exchange for a bounty payment. The Red Ravens are in the line, with the rotund Neville Robideaux practising with his rapier. He looks surprisingly agile and skilled. As the group passes through the city gates, a herald trumpets the announcement that First Speaker Tessarin Alaurin has proclaimed that any faith may practice openly within Nesme, provided they agree to take part in its
defence and, except for that purpose, cast no harmful spells within the city or within sight of its walls. The announcement is met with dismay by some passerby, but is seen as a sign of just how drastically the city needs to recruit newcomers to help defend it.
While Mellia returns to the boarding house, the other three find themselves at a large, warehouse-sized establishment named Tantor's Outfitting just before dusk. Tantor, the proprietor, has a deep, booming voice and jocular manner, and does a nice end-of-day business as he sells a longbow to Markus, brass knuckles and an urgosh to Fargrim, and a shield to Cain. He offers to sell an enchanted map which, he says, will also show the bearer's present location, but his asking price (2,000 gp) is reluctantly determined to be too steep.
As the trio leave, a messenger boy brings them a letter from Mellia. In the letter, Mellia states that her daughter has been kidnapped by a mysterious sorcerer in black, who has demanded from her the "Crown of Horns" in return for the child's release. The letter goes on to explain that the reason she originally sought the group out was because the sorcerer's auguries indicated joining them was the path most propitious to lead her to the Crown. The missive concludes by stating that Mellia is willing to aid the group in its current quest to find the bandit Grim, but in return she needs their commitment to helping her find the Crown of Horns. If they agree, they are to meet her at the city gates the next morning. Otherwise, she will go her own way.
On the way back to the boarding house, the trio encounter a cleric of Loviatar, the Goddess of Pain, taking advantage of the new amnesty by openly admonishing initiates into the faith. The trio quickly depart, disgusted.
[23 Mirtul 1372]
The next morning, Cain hurries to the city gates to assure Mellia of the trio's willingness to aid her in rescuing her daughter. During a brief visit to the Pride of the North festhall (where the pilgrims to Tyr have been allowed to rest overnight), Markus learns that the pilgrims have agreed to send a request for warrior-priests but they have no idea whether one will be sent or how long it will take. When Markus and Fargrim join the others at the city gates, the group decides to continue on to Startop Mountain and hope to find some clues to the Crown's whereabouts along the way.
Although no trail leads to Startop Mountain, Fargrim memorized its location relative to Nesme when he saw Tessarin Alaurin's map. Heading due east, the group makes good time as their mounts have little difficulty on the barren, solid moor. During a meal break, however, an astonishing spectacle takes place when a massive, ten-feet long, six-legged, 800 lb. creature emerges from the ground and sinks its mandibles into Markus! He recognizes the creature as a rare burrowing monster called an ankheg, but his rapier seems to have little effect on it.
Mellia devastates the ankheg with a fiery ray, but her second attempt misses. Cain tries to charge into the battle, but he trips over a root and lands face first on the ground! Fortunately, Fargrim manages to get a feel for fighting with his new urgosh and fells the monster. That evening, the group sets up camp high on a rocky tor to avoid further attacks from below.
[24 Mirtul 1372]
Led by Fargrim, the group decides to move more slowly and cautiously in the hopes of avoiding further trouble. The adventurers have Beshaba's luck, however, and a peaceful day is not to be had. Before they realize it, the group finds itself in the middle of a battle between two hill giants. With massive boulders raining down around them, with the adventurers fight or flee?
Director's Commentary (Feb. 13, 2014)
Markus mentions an interest in alchemy in this session, and the player who runs him was briefly very interested in the idea and did a lot of research on the topic. However, it never really came up again. I think one of the things the player struggled with in running Markus is that the character was designed to be great at one thing--disarming. He was great at it, but in contexts when that wasn't possible (such as against creatures with natural weapons), doing 1d6 damage with a rapier didn't seem all that effective. Thus, we'll see the character eventually learn some magic and take a very interesting prestige class to accompany his sword-swinging ways.
The seemingly minor plot point of Nesme deciding to welcome in even evil faiths to help defend it was, I think, initially just a way of showing how desperate the city was. However, I was able to build upon the idea and link it to the followers of Auril, the goddess of ice eventually rising to power in the city as a result of the PCs disinterest in seeking out and destroying the leaders of the undead forces that were taking control of the Evermoors. The idea of using Auril came quite naturally since Cain's faith is Kossuth, the god of elemental fire. As I write this, circa Session # 66, this conflict between the two faiths is about to come to an exciting clash.
The letter Mellia wrote to the group was an important one, as the character revealed the real reason she had joined the group: to find the Crown of Horns in order to rescue her daughter. She gains the commitment of Markus, Cain, and Fargrim to aid her on this quest, and this commitment becomes an important theme that will recur throughout the campaign.