5/7/1000 – Fifthday 5th Ripening 1000 YT
In the morning, Tomek and Natalia met Father Belben, who introduced his two acolytes Brother Timofey and Brother Casimus, both of whom, he said, had taken a vow of silence. As the party prepared to leave, Fenric Finegelder greeted Tomek and Natalia warmly, thanking them again for their help, giving them a metal token bearing his insignia and inviting them to seek his hospitality should their travels take them to Numalia.
A couple of hours into the journey, Brother Timofey, needing to urinate, dismounted and disappeared into the woods beside the Border Road. Within moments, the sounds of a skirmish could be heard. Belben, Casimus and Tomek rushed to investigate, leading Natalia to watch the horses. Timofey was surrounded by the kobold raiding party first encountered by Tomek and Natalia two days earlier. Their best weapons having been confiscated, a few of the gang had daggers while others were relying on their fangs and claws to suffice in battle. Tomek and the priests slew most of the kobolds, with a couple fleeing into the forest. Light wounds were sustained by all four men but the journey was recommenced once victory had been secured.
Further along the Border Road, the party met a peasant farmer riding towards them on a horse and calling for help. The man explained that a terrifying beast had burst from underground and attacked the isolated woodland village where he lived, killing and eating one of the villagers. Belben declared that the party would come to the aid of the villagers and asked the farmer to lead the way.
The farmer led the group off the Border Road and down a narrow track leading to the nameless hamlet whose small population scratched out a living by providing game, woodland fruits and mushrooms to markets in the two nearest Border Keeps. The party passed the fleeing women and children of the village before arriving in the clearing where the village lay.
The village was under attack by a lone Ankheg. Battle with the beast commenced, with the priests, Tomek and Natalia all doing some damage to the monster before Tomek finally landed the killer blow. But Brother Casimus was cut in half and killed by the beast’s mandibles during the fight. A village man was also killed.
Father Belben performed Mitraic funeral rites for the two dead villagers while Tomek led the frightened women and children back to the hamlet in the clearing. Belben then demanded complete privacy out of sights in the forest for the burial and funeral rites of the slain Casimus.
Belben, knowing that Ankheg’s are rarely found without others being nearby, rode back alone to Castle Kochilar, certain that the castellan’s secretary would agree to send a cavalry detachment to protect the hamlet and hunt down any more beasts in the area. By the time he returned with the mounted soldiers, darkness was drawing in so the party rested overnight in the village.
6/7/1000 – Marketday 6th Ripening 1000 YT
Tomek, Natalia and two remaining priests continued on their way in the morning and before long they found the road on which they encountered the possessed fighting man on the second day of their adventures. On finding the man’s remains, they noted that crows and other scavengers had been picking at the body but had left the decapitated head alone. They could also see that the plant growing from the skull had put down roots and grown noticeably.
Belben then led the way as the party followed the dead man’s trail through the forest. The going was slow and with a pause to slay, cook and eat a wild boar further delaying their progress, the group travelled all day, having good luck following the possessed man’s tracks.
But as evening approached, the trail appeared to have gone cold. Belben demanded privacy to pray to Mitra for guidance and, so saying, disappeared into the forest alone for some time. On his return, he seemed confident he could find the lost shrine and that it was close by.
Soon afterwards, Belben became very excited when the group rode into a stand of immensely tall trees, one of which was truly strange to behold – high above the ground at the apex of its trunk, it seemed to take the form of a horned animal skull of some sort. It was impossible to tell if this strange form was carved by human hands or some bizarre natural occurrence. Belben said that the answer to his prayer for guidance had told him to follow the direction indicated the left-hand horn of the strange tree. “The Black Temple is close!” he cried before correcting himself and saying that he’d meant to say “the shine is close.” Laughing, he said that he had no idea why he’d said “Black Temple” instead. So the party continued in that direction as the sky above the forest rapidly grew darker.