Returning to Oleg’s on Pharast the 26th, the party was greeted with grim news, and an applicant to their band.
On the afternoon of the 23rd, Marcus and Harris of the Free Irregulars were patrolling outside the Trading Post when they were ambushed by eight bandits. Marcus managed to flee, but Harris was not as lucky. He fell to their blades as Marcus fled to safety.
But, sadly, the last of Harris had not yet been seen. As the sun rose on the 25th of the month, it became apparent that the bandits had snuck near the trading post under cover of darkness and left Harris’ headless and naked body where it would be seen in the morning. On his chest was painted a large numeral “1”.
Harris’ funeral pyre was burning when the party arrived to this terrible news. Kesten was enraged and guilt-ridden in turns. Nearly a month had passed since any threat was seen, and security had become lax. He feels responsible for the poor decision to have such a small patrol outside the post he was sworn to defend. He wants to ride out with his remaining men and confront the bandits directly, but fears that such may be exactly the plans of the bandits. If he and his men leave the post and it is attacked and lost in their absence, then he will have failed in his duty. He expressed hope that the adventurers, sent here to quell the land, will find and deal with these bandits soon.
In more positive news, the Swordlords sent a ranger, Rastus Eodai with a letter of introduction to join the adventurers if they see fit to include him. A quick interview asking his views on the deaths of criminals quickly concluded in the positive, bringing the party to four.
On Pharast the 27th, the newly embiggened group rode out to track the bandits. They found the tracks of eight horses and followed them south until they split, four to the east and four south. Following the eastward tracks, they eventually saw the campfire smoke of their quarry as the sun was setting. Approaching from four different directions and leading off with a successful sleep spell that knock out two bandits before they knew they were under attack, the group soon had two dead bandits and two sleeping bandits on their hands.
The sleepers awakened in ropes and were interrogated by Edric while Rastus surprised everybody by sitting down and getting some knitting done on a scarf. His relaxed attitude during the enhanced interrogation were perhaps even more disquieting to the prisoners than the methods being used more directly.
It was learned that the ostensible leader of the bandits is a self-styled “Stag Lord” with the aim of taking these lands for himself through force and fear. This would-be king has a fastness many miles to the south.
The bodies were loaded on the wagon and the prisoners tied behind. The group immediately left for Oleg’s, traveling through the night. Early in the morning, before sunrise, a huge wolf-like creature bounded out of the darkness and injured Edric before disappearing back into the night. Soon a gravelly growling voice from the shadows demanded, “Give me meat!” They hastily dumped one of the bodies and continued on their way, hearing the sounds of rending flesh from the murk behind them.
Arriving back at Oleg’s, they turned their prisoners over to Kesten, who was only too happy to have them, and then went to bed. By the time they awakened, both prisoners were hanging by their necks outside the wall, having given up more secrets under Kesten’s skilled hand: It seems the Stag Lord is less than happy with Kressel, his lieutenant who commands the bandits in this local area. The adventurer’s dispatched four bandits on their first full day at the Trading Post, and he blames her for the loss of his men. He’s demanding that she send him the heads of as many as she lost. He also sent some reinforcements with that order.
Pharast the 29th was a day of patrolling around the post, hoping to find lurking bandits, but no such luck. So on the 30th the group set out again, this time to find the bandit camp itself. Following the directions given first by Tyg Titter Tut & Perlivash and confirmed by Happs Bydon.
They found the camp easily enough: Two tents and a cold firepit. They circled the outside suspecting a trap, and waited for anybody to arrive, but the camp was deserted. Deciding that the camp was an obvious trap, they left it alone and spent a few days exploring the surrounding area. Satisfied that no threat still existed there, they moved west a bit to continue their exploration.
On another of their earlier tips from Perlivash and TIg-Tutter-Tut, they were able to locate the Erastilian temple being sought by Jhod Kavken. Scouting from the perimeter, they saw that the temple was badly overgrown. A fountain in the courtyard was green and black with algae. The cobbles were cracked and stairs to the altar destroyed. Plantlife was dry and brown. No signs of life were apparent.
Kosgrim attempted to Purify the fountain, but it remained stagnant and he was rewarded for the effort by the loss of one of his spells.
As they approached the altar, a roar emanated from the cave entrance beyond and a huge black grizzly bear, insane with ungodly anger, rushed out to defend its home.
In the ensuring battle, Marra nearly met her fate, but some lucky hits by the seemingly-overmatched party (and some not-so-lucky misses from the bear, which could only be explained by its overblown anger at their intrusion) the bear was eventually brought down.
But bear meat was not to be on the menu: Before the party’s eyes, the bear shrunk and contorted, and began to glow with an eerie golden light. Soon it became a human laying on the ground, contorted in pain. The man began to age incredibly rapidly. As his skin wrinkled and cracked, he breathed out a last “thank you” to those who vanquished him, and then he expired. His corpse continued aging, though, soon the dried skin flaked away along with the powdery insides, before long only a skeleton was left. Soon it too turned to dust – just as a gust of wind blew his remains into the air and away into the forest.
With his departure, the skies cleared and a bright yellow sun shone down upon the temple. The weeds retreated into the cracks in the stone. The cracks mended, leaving the cobbles and other stonework in perfect repair. Even the stairs were returned to a pristine condition not seen since the day they were laid. The algae-covered fountain turned to clear water and begin running. The sounds of wildlife returned, their prior absence only becoming conspicuous by thieir return.
The adventurers turned to one another in confusion and amazement, sure that Jhod Kavkin would be happy to hear the news.