19-20 Mirtul, The Year of the Trusted Covenant (1479 DR)
Intrigued by the utterances of the mystery woman, Malus abandons his watch to follow her as she accompanies Brother Vartan on their round of the monastery wards. Although no further prophecies escape her lips as Malus watches his mark tuck in the sick and snoring, he does discover something.
An occasional howl drifts up from below the monastery’s ground floor and the two Malus stalks knock on a side door, which opens to reveal some stairs leading down into the depths.
Choosing to rely on his ability to front things out, Malus repeats the knock, only to face a goliath on guard duty who politely but firmly refuses entry, on the grounds that Malus might disturb the more seriously afflicted patients who rest in the rooms below.
The following morning the party awake refreshed, apart from Kierke, who suffers so badly from the nightmares that continue to haunt him he chooses to stay in bed. Danforth, Paelias and Bohdan feel fine, but stay in bed anyway.
It is as well the energy levels are high as the heroes of the chasm are subject to an exhausting series of interviews, as Oghma’s faithful scribes write down every little detail of the party’s experiences in the hope of gaining further insight into the chasm and the effects of the spellplague.
The information flow is not entirely one way, however, as Brother Vartan illuminates the prophecy Malus had overheard.
Karadhan is a name known to him; a dwarf sage, miner and explorer once based in the area in the time before the caraclysm. By all accounts, Vartan explains, he was obsessed with the discovery of Gauntylgrym, the fabled capital of the Delzoun dwarves, lost to legend over a thousand years ago and which, so Karadhan believed, stretched south of the Mount Hotenow ridge deep below Neverwinter Wood. The dwarf and his crew had begun mining operations near the logging village of Thundertrees, but were assumed lost in the cataclysm when Hotenow exploded, burying the village and many others like it under streams of lava and choking ash.
Malus also speaks directly with the woman who made the prophecy, and makes quite an impression as Rohini, for that is her name, coos over his bravery – proving that it is not only Kierke who has a way with the ladies. She reveals she has no idea where the prophecies come from, for she never remembers them, believing them to be the product of some remnant of Helm’s spirit that survived the god’s death. She also confirms the presence of the sanatorium beneath the monastery, where they care for the most deeply afflicted, some of which, Malus sees, are taken out in groups to stroll around the beautifully manicured grounds.
Later, after more interviews, Vartan returns, having further researched Karadhan’s time in the area, saying that apparently the dwarf had a theory that Gauntylgrym was powered and lit by a series of giant crystals that might still be active. Karadhax hoped to create an artefact that could be tuned into these ancient orbs and that, once activated, might lead him to the halls of his ancestors just as a diviner might be led to water by a pointed stick. Of course, if a crystal had been corrupted by the spellplague, then any artifact atuned to its orginal state might become a weapon to use against it.
Unfortunately, Vartan concludes, any such theories must have died with him, as all that remains of Thundertrees is a dustwalker-infested swamp.
Straining under the weight of so much talk, the party decide to spend the evening blowing off steam in the town, to indulge in any random acts of violence that might come their way.
Such ambition seems likely to be fulfilled, as the area outside the Dragon’s Gauntlet is crowded by a baying mob, which the party soon discern is divided into two equally vociferous factions broadly identified as those who think the spellscarred are anathema, responsible for all the ills that have befallen the town and the world beyond, evil, chaotic and less than human; and those that don’t.
The instigators of the disturbance are two heavily scarred men, possibly brothers, who recount the story of their narrow escape from a pack of savage werewolves – surely attracted to the place by the warped power of the spellplague. Their diatribe is supported by the rabble rousing of Deloran Bard, a farmer who claims to be descended from those that built the town, the stout founding fathers who must be turning in their grave at the thought of what has become of the place.
Malus, with the zeal of the newly converted, charges the man with bigotry and irrational hatred and makes an impassioned defence of Helm’s Hold’s reputation for tolerance, an appeal soon backed by the cries of the mob that opposes Bard. Notably, Rok Alim, who knows more than anyone about living with a spellscar, keeps his own counsel.
Before the fists begin to fly, an old woman who stands on the terrace outside the pub, raises her hand and gains some calm as she appeals for a period of reflection.
Talak recognises the frayed purple garment the old woman wears as that belonging to the order of the Purple Dragon Knights of Corymr, and ancient and honoured organisation. She is revealed as Alisara Callum, the Chief Speaker of Helm’s Hold, whose words of reconciliation serve to disperse the grumbling crowd.
Impressed by Malus’ brand of aggressive tolerance, the party is welcomed by the apparent leader of the spellscarred faction, Halas the half-elf, who escorts them to the Hungry Flame, an inn popular with the spellchanged, evidenced by the exotic deformities on show by many of the patrons, and which, the party soon learn is the base of operations for the Heirs of Azure, the radical faction of Spellscarred who believe in direct action to maintain their freedoms in the face of ignorance and bigotry.
As the party get deeper into their cups and Halas’ rhetoric becomes ever more ambitious and flowery with each passing goblet of blue curacao, they realise that there are other voices in the argument, as Malus, ever the searcher for knowledge, speaks to the elf Meryth, who represents a more moderate faction of the spellscarred, and one who would be quite happy with a return to the status quo of tolerance and a degree of anonymity.
One thing they all agree on, however, is that an end to the constant attacks by the lycanthropes and other mysterious disappearances would at least shorten that particular stick the purebloods beat them with.
With the promise of so much potential mayhem and yet still no bloodshed for days, the party tire of talk and with a bellyful of ale decide to patrol the mean streets of Helm’s Hold’s shanty town quarter in the hope of hunting down the beast that attacked Kierke the night before.
It is not long before a scream to wake the dead echoes through the narrow alleys. The party arrive to see the freshly eviscerated carcase of a Mintarn soldier who has made his last patrol. Keen for action, the party try to trace the tracks of the breast responsible.
Removed from the city streets and into the comfortable environment of the forest, Mani is in her element, following the perp’s trail even in the dead of night.
It is slow going, however, and with dawn long past, the tracks lead through a mess of spider webs, both old and newly spun. While thinking about whether to blunder through and stay on the trail, or work around the area and risk losing their quarry, Mani sees movement ahead, about fifty feet away, the dark bulks of a pair of deathjump spiders, and they are not asleep.
At last the time for talking is over as four of our heroes face a danger designed to test the entire party, even though the rest of their comrades are safely tucked up in their beds back at the monastery.
Roll for Initiative!