Chapter 2: The merchant city
Episode 1: The Curse
The chronicles of the Cursed Eight
Accipiter G. Goshawk
Welcome to a new Chapter in the Chronicles of the Cursed Eight!
We find our party where we left them after the Adventure of the Blackheart Gem…
“Now Father, breathe…you might want to face the other way until you feel better,” said Lohar placatingly, trying gently to swivel the small gnomish form away from the Tree of Gerotil.
The priest pushed him aside and surprised the group by jumping up the steps surrounding the dais. He knelt down in front of the blackened trunk and moaned brokenly as his elderly fingers caressed the withered bark.
“I don’t really get what the fuss is all about,” grumbled Grell swirling a foot in the purplish fragments of the Blackheart gem still littering the floor. “It’s only a tree.”
“Only a tree?!” howled Father Silin, turning to face them. His expression had lost all traces of despair and had now moved on to indignant anger.
“Only a tree?! This is the Tree of Gerotil! The living expression of his power on Syrros! It can’t die! It is a divine impossibility! If it is dead, then that means that my lord’s power has…,” he trailed off and stared at his hands.
Hesitantly, he placed both of them on the Tree and muttered a short prayer under his breath.
A stray spark of greenish divine magic sputtered from his hands and then went out.
“Aaah!” the elderly gnome screamed, waving his hands about in a comical fashion. “It is diminished! What has happened? Who did this?”
His question floated in the air a moment, and in that time, the eight members of the party looked at each other guiltily. Lohar shuffled his feet and the noise seemed to coalesce Silin’s rambling reflections. His eyes lost their vagueness and swivelled over each of them in turn.
“What. Did. You. Do?” he enunciated quietly.
“Nothing, Father! We simply entered he crypt, killed the evil-doers within and exited,” answered Thorin stepping forward, the picture of sincerity. “We would do nothing to harm or anger the gods.”
A suspicion tugged at the back of Lohar’s mind but he silenced it for the time being. His hand however clutched his pack and he quickly glanced towards Shainarra.
“That may very well be, but the Tree is dead! You would have me believe that you are in no way connected to this…this heresy?”
“The necromancer in the tomb was working on some kind of ritual,” said Kathra placatingly. “It is possible that he managed to complete it.”
The anger left Silin’s features and he slumped backwards.
“A ritual you say? That is troubling indeed; it must have been a terrible force. To sever the life-force of the Tree…I shudder to think of what entity could wield such power.”
The temple was silent, as the elderly gnome stared off in the distance, ignoring the party for the moment.
Finally, he stirred.
“There is only one solution: you must go to Dereillon and seek an audience with Gerotil himself! If he is still unaware of this catastrophe, he must be warned and if he is aware, then I need his guidance…I…I can barely feel his presence.”
“Wait just a minute,” said Zal’tat. “The city of the Twelve is on the other side of the continent. It would take us months on foot, maybe a year to reach it.”
“And as much as we sympathize with your plight, Father,” said Shainarra bowing slightly, “we have done what was asked of us. Our debt towards this Keep is payed.”
“You want us to all travel to the other side of the world? Together? I barely know these guys and I don’t like most of ‘em,” said Grell banging the head of his battle-axe on the floor.
“It is a sacred mission! Don’t you understand? The Tree of Life is dead! This event could have devastating consequences for the whole world!” snapped Silin, glaring down at them.
Siloqui stepped forward.
“I will go,” she said simply, cutting through the babble around her.
“As will I,” said Nala, smiling reassuringly at the elderly gnome.
Lohar shuffled forward, still clutching his bag. “Your plight is a most grievous one, brother. As a member of the order of Thelas, I will willingly aid the priesthood of Gerotil. As Lohar Sapienza, I will travel to Dereillon gladly; I can’t help but feel responsible for what has occurred here.”
Thorin grinned and thumped the cleric on the back. “I’m in! Never be it said that Thorin Battlehammer turned down a quest!”
Zal’tat rolled his eyes, but then bowed in turn. “If all these misfits are up for it, I will gladly join the party. Not out of responsibility or guilt though…curiosity, I think.”
Kathra smiled and nodded as well, moving to stand next to the others.
Slowly all gazes moved to the shadowy columns and the half-hidden form of the rogue.
She huffed in annoyance, but stepped forward to join them.
“I expect to be well paid,” she growled sullenly. But the phrase was weak, as her mind was still lost in a memory of death and fire.
Grell stomped to stand in front of the group, dragging the dire-wolf with him.
“We’ll come along. But only if there is lots of fighting. If this becomes too soppy, we’ll leave. We don’t need any of you. Plus we have a lot of things that need doing. People to find, monsters to kill.”
He groaned as Bane eagerly sat next to Nala and nuzzled her pack, which still contained the pouch of spices they had found in the crypt.
“Good. Well,” said Father Silin, a little put off by odd series of speeches, “I appreciate that you have chosen to take this seriously. But although I most certainly believe in your sincerity –his tone suggested otherwise– it is imperative that you reach Lord Gerotil.”
He stood up and lifting his arms, intoned a chant in a language only one of them could comprehend.
“Wait Father! That isn’t necess-” Lohar began, but too late.
Vines of spectral green materialized and fell from the ceiling, touching each member of the party. They yelped in pain as a brand appeared on each of their right forearms, flashing brightly with emerald fire.
“I have placed on you the Mark of Gerotil. By this Mark you will be known to all members of my priesthood and be given aid, should you need it. Also, it constrains you: know that should you not reach Dereillon within 90 days, the Mark will begin to consume you.”
“You little shit! You cursed us!” snarled Shainarra, putting a hand to her dagger.
“I’m merely ensuring your cooperation. Some of you appear to be less than trustworthy,” he answered levelly.
Grell stared at the glowing mark on his forearm, then quickly bent down to examine Bane.
“You’re lucky you didn’t hurt my friend,” he growled at the gnome, as he straightened up.
“Right, that’s it. We are done here. Let’s go, everyone! We have a long way to go, and a reward to secure,” said Thorin, a little forcefully. “All the best Father!”
The cool night air greeted them as they exited the musty mountain temple. Siloqui drew in a long breath and sighed.
“Well? What now?” said Zal’tat eyeing the lights of the Keep below them.
“Now, we acquire some horses,” said Nala, letting the gentle wind caress her scales.
“And then we find somewhere to sleep,” said Lohar tiredly.
“And drink!” added Thorin and Zal’tat simultaneously.-