I. Ending the Investigations
The next morning, Captain Nidal Jackos and his men escorted the eight girls to the Vestry, the local temple/courthouse of the Basilica. There, Jame Branchlor and Tiberius Constantine were invited by Justice Malmont to take part in their questioning.
All seven of the other girls indicated that Jenna Jergo had told them she was in a coven, and that Jenna had asked them to be in her coven too. Thinking it was all a game, the girls all “played coven” for several weeks, until the previous night when they lay in their beds and found that they were suddenly paralyzed, had bags thrown over their heads and were dragged away to the basement where the party found them.
When confronted with these accusations, Jenna told her questioners the following story: Jenna was in fact, not from New Landis, but was the daughter of a wash-woman at Hollow Hill, the keep of Baroness Naros. Several months earlier, a group of nobles from New Landis had visited the Baroness at Hollow Hill, including a woman named Beni Velstoy. Velstoy had taken a particular interest in Jenna and befriended her. Towards the end of Velstoy’s stay at Hollow Hill, Jenna confided in her that she had lost her father during the Scourging and that she missed him terribly. To her surprise, Velstoy told her that she could help Jenna contact her dead father if she ever came to visit her in New Landis. Taking Velstoy at her word, Jenna snuck away during the night and traveled to New Landis, where she sought out Velstoy. Although Velstoy was kind to her at first, she eventually told Jenna that she must join her Coven and provide her with blood that would be required to contact her father. Jenna complied and spoke the words to join the Coven. Being a young girl and not understanding the full consequence of what she had done, she told the other girls in the town about it because it made her seem interesting and helped her to make friends by “playing coven” with them. When word finally made its way back to Velstoy that Jenna’s loose lips posed a threat to her organization, she had the girls kidnapped and framed Protector Branchlor, thereby eliminating two potential threats to the Coven. Donham supported her story, indicating that he was actually a page of Baroness Naros who had set out to retrieve Jenna after she went missing from Hollow Hill.
Following Jenna’s naming of Beni Velstoy as the Coven’s leader, the party, along with Donham Jergo, approached the Velstoy residence with the town guard in tow. There, they discovered a hidden attic with a summoning circle and charred parchments strewn about. The sound of rattling chains from a dark corner of the attic revealed a withered old woman who had been tethered to the wall with meat hooks. After being healed, she explained that she was the real Beni Velstoy. Two years earlier, as the leader of a small harmless Coven, she attempted to summon a demon to seek guidance and instructions from the dark godess Orphelia. Unfortunately, she lost control of the demon during the ritual and it broke free. It assumed her form (that of a young beautiful woman), kept her prisoner and fed off her life-force, draining her until she appeared as she does now, almost fifty years older than her true age. The demon also used a spell to create a mental fog that would prevent Beni’s husband, Kentor Velstoy from noticing that anything was amiss. In the guise of Beni Velstoy, the demon has been growing and leading the New Landis Coven for its own purposes ever since. She asked the party for a quick death, explaining that the demon told her it was leaving but promising to return for her. Instead, the party turned her over to Justice Malmont. A further search of the house turned up a map of an unspecified palace dungeon and a letter from the demon to a man named Santor, instructing him to meet “Beni” near a back entrance to the palace dungeon on the day of the Lunar Fleet Festival. The letter ended with “it is time we bring Duke Moorfell home.” Upon reading the letter, Donham appeared visibly shaken.
Upon returning to the Vestry, the party filed in to the benches with other townspeople as Justice Malmont read out the sentences of the various persons implicated. First, he brought out Markov and sentenced him to death by hanging. A rope was then thrown over a rafter in the middle of the Vestry courtroom and Markov was forced by Malmont’s personal guards to stand on a block. When given an opportunity to say his last words, Markov declared that he had been found worthy by Uran Thul and that he would stand in judgment over the town at Thul’s side when he returned. After this strange statement, he was summarily hanged. Next, Irvin Brimworth was brought in and likewise condemned to death on the basis of the evidence the party had gathered against him. When given his last words, he cried and wailed that he was a victim and that he had acted out of fear of Beni Velstoy. Next, Malmont declared that the seven girls from New Landis were innocents that had been led astray by the corrupting influences of Jenna Jergo. Finally, he declared that Jenna, as a confessed member of the New Landis Coven, must also die. Malmont remained unmoved despite an impassioned plea from Donham and a speech by Tiberius about the girl’s potential use in further investigations to locate the demon. At the last minute, Captain Jackos stepped forward with a superior force of town guards and told Justice Malmont that he would not permit the execution of a gullible young girl. Overwhelmed and thrown off by this unexpected obstacle to his authority, Malmont stormed out and left New Landis with his body guards, promising that “this is not over.” Following the tumult at the Vestry, Donham suggested that it might be best for the party to leave for Hollow Hill with both Jenna and Orlief Mournhammer’s daughter Sarah Mournhammer for their own safety and to report the events of the last few days to the Baroness. Everyone agreed to rest up and head out the next morning.
3. An Intriguing Offer
As the party left the trials at the Vestry and after splitting up from the Jergos, they were approached by a town guard who informed them that Olivia Taplestone, the Inn Keeper of the Black Bramble Inn would like them to join her for dinner. Upon reaching the Black Bramble, the party met a group of Matth’ari led by a friendly and excited archeologist who told them he was on the verge of “the most important discovery of our modern age,” though he remained tight lipped about the details. After introducing the party to each member of his expedition, including his two pack mules Bella and Ser Clopps, the strange band set out while the party walked in the front door of the inn.
There, they were greeted by Taplecrest who told them she had set aside rooms for them to wash up and relax before dinner. At dinner, following some polite conversation, she informed them that she was in fact an agent of a secret organizations known as the Justicars. She explained that the organization’s primary mission was to preserve peace, law and stability throughout Amaria. Because she was impressed with the party’s handling of the Coven situation and due to their lack of strong allegiance to any particular lord or organization, she wanted to recruit them as free agents who would work with the Justicars when it was in their mutual interest. The party agreed (albeit some begrudgingly) to deliver a sealed message from Taplecrest to one of her agents in Rostigradht, the capital of the Breach where Duke Laremy Norhardht makes his seat, before the Lunar Fleet Festival. She assured them each that upon delivery of the unopened letter, her man in Rostigradht was instructed to deposit 500gp each into accounts in their name in the Bank of Rostigradht. Taplecrest also agreed to provide fresh horses for their travel to Hollow Hill and Rostigradht.
4. Into the Woods
Despite Donham’s insistence that she would be safer at Hollow Hill from both the Coven and any further trouble from Justice Malmont, Orlief decided that his adopted daughter Sarah would remain with a local couple in New Landis that he trusted more than the Jergos. With the sealed letter in hand, the party then met up with Donham and Jenna and set out into the woods to return the Jergos to Hollow Hill before heading to Rostigrahdt. Not long into the journey, Orlief asked Tiberius if he could see the letter from Taplecrest. After taking it, Orlief broke the seal and read the letter, much to the dismay of his companions. The letter indicated that, as Taplecrest said, the bearers of the sealed letter were each to receive 500gp. It also indicated that “the Invictus has been sabotaged, Tolston in danger.” Although Orlief’s unilateral decision to open the letter lead Demitri to punch him in the face for having potentially cost the party 2,000gp, it also gave the letter’s delivery a sense of urgency since Tolston might very well refer to Edvahr Tolston, Archon of Amaria. Despite all of this, Orlief continued to voice his skepticism and suspicions that Taplecrest would entrust such a seemingly important message to a group of relative unknowns.
5. Shelter from the Storm
On the third day, a bad storm was seen moving in from the west. Having come this way before on her way to New Landis, Jenna led the party to what appeared to be the ruined shells of several strangely designed and vine-covered abandoned buildings in the middle of the woods. The group took shelter and set up a fire in one of the larger two story buildings as nightfall and the thunderstorm came on. The sound of jingling bells revealed one of the Matth’ari’s pack mules as it came out from behind a half ruined wall inside the same building. Behind the wall, the party discovered stairs behind the wall that led into a basement.
Before the party could investigate the basement, the sound of yelling and galloping horses drew their attention to the mud-slick yard between the buildings where a group of hulking hooded figures on horseback had surrounded one of the Matth’ari workers they had met several days earlier. Shaking, the Matth’ari pointed towards the building where the players were hiding. At this point, the leader of the riders dismounted, pulled out a sword and ran it through the Matth’ari, tossing him to the ground and shouting orders over the storm.
Donham told the party that he was going to sneak off to try to keep Jenna safe. While the Jergos snuck out through a ruined wall in the back of the building, the party crept up to a crumbling section of the second floor as the riders advanced on the building. Once the riders were close enough, Demitri jumped from the second floor into the midst of the riders with his sword drawn. It was only at this point that the group noticed that the faces hidden under the riders’ hoods were not “entirely” human. With their cover blown and their companion in danger, the party had no choice but to jump down into the fray. Despite the element of surprise, several crippling death blows from Orlief’s warhammer and some timely heals from Tiberius, the riders and their leader fought ferociously, leaving both Korglander and Demitri unconscious and bleeding out. Finally, with his sister safe, Donham returned to assist in fighting the remaining riders. In the end, the riders’ leader, alone and badly injured, fled back into the driving rain, leaving the party to lick their wounds and reflect on their close call…