1 Almsberth 459
Charmalina Goodberry was vaguely annoyed. They had managed to work their way into the village, through the Ragesian camp, without a single weapon being drawn. Joshua had taken half the party up the mountain to the monastery, leaving her to serve as one of Jasmine’s lackeys. And to top it all off, Jasmine had taken off into the village and left her here at the inn. And her mug of ale was empty.
Charm looked up, gaging the distance to the bar with a practiced eye. Despite the afternoon crowd, she knew that she could wend her way easily across the chamber. Numerous locals and several Ragesian soldiers sat looking into their own empty mugs. They wouldn’t prove much of an impediment.
Charm sighed. She simply didn’t see the point.
A low hum of conversation surrounded her table. Beside her, snoring fitfully into his beard, was a grizzled dwarf with extraordinarily horrid breath. To her left, a woman sat with a mug in her hand, obviously pondering a very similar problem to Charmalina’s own. The diminutive swordswoman squinted a little, taking in the woman’s bare legs and short apron, then snorted as she realized that the girl must be one of the local serving wenches. Charm smiled, suddenly sensing an answer to her own dilemma, and leaned forward to ask the young lady to fetch her a drink.
She was interrupted by a soft giggle from across the table. Charmalina blinked. The sound had either emerged from her brother or the soft, halfling woman he was cuddling on his lap. Arlyn looked only vaguely more interested in what was going on than she was herself, but it didn’t seem to stop him from sharing a few kisses and letting his hands roam about a bit. Charm frowned, certain that she should have had an opinion about her brother’s canoodling, or about the halfling tart with her bosom nearly hanging out. But she just sat and glared.
“Well… yer brother seems to have found him a bit o’ fun.”
Charm turned to regard the speaker, a ruggedly handsome, grinning fellow of similar stature to her own, standing just behind her. His eyes seemed to soak her in from head to toe, which left her feeling the slightest bit dirty. “Ye look like ye could handle yerself,” he offered. His accent was vaguely Sindairese, like Torrent’s. His gaze was piercing, challenging… which she was surprised to learn really didn’t matter much to her right now.
He offered a black-gloved gauntlet for her to grasp. “Name’s Pax.”
“Charm,” she responded, clasping his arm in the Dasseni tradition her father had favored. Pax seemed bemused, running his other hand along the narrow beard protruding from his angular face. Despite herself, she found the man intriguing. There hadn’t been much halfling companionship to speak of on the road they had traveled thus far.
“Come,” he said. “I have something of a treasure that I think ye’d be able to appreciate.” He tossed his head toward the stairs and pulled her to her feet. “Come,” he repeated. She found herself following. Why not? It wasn’t like he could hurt her. If he happened to have the wrong idea about her, she’d just relieve him of something vital. His head, if he were lucky.
Charmalina followed the strange little man to the top of the stairs. She watched his gait, recognizing his walk as that of a warrior. He reached a nearby door in the dim upstairs corridor and produced a key. Charm found herself wondering if they’d procured quarters as yet. When she was finished here, she didn’t know that she’d want to bother with the stairs a second time.
The room was small, but cozy. There were two bunks and two packs, though both of them appeared to be situated near the same bed. Pax drew her attention to the other bunk, however, where he deftly uncovered his mysterious treasure with a dramatic flourish, watching carefully for her reaction.
Charm’s eyes widened. It was a sword, and it was a thing of beauty. Hand-and-a-half and scaled for a halfling, the blade glimmered slightly with its own blue luminescence. The edge appeared to be sharp and unblemished. Tiny runes chased the length of the blood groove, as if spilling from the gold wire-wrapped hilt. A leather tassel was tied to the pommel, which appeared to be inlaid with tiny sapphires. Despite her strange malaise, she itched to touch it. Pax was talking at her back, going on about wresting the blade from some farmer who didn’t know the value of what he had. Charm rather doubted that claim, since the blade was rather obviously enchanted, and was about to say so when a leather cord appeared at her neck and attempted to close off her air.
Pax, it seemed, was trying to murder her.
Whilst the halflings lounge at the Peak’s Shadow, Jasmine combs the village in search of an elder named [Bechus], whom the barkeep identifies as the man with whom Seaquen’s previous envoys interacted with the most. She is unable to locate the man, however, and returns to the inn. She witnesses some odd behavior from the locals on the way, which seems to be a reaction to the curse that has beset the town. People who are recovering from the curse seem to react violently, as evidenced by the scene outside the inn, where four Ragesian soldiers are taking out their sudden burst of aggression on an unsuspecting villager.
Even as Jasmine is outside the inn issuing a challenge to the Ragesians should they choose to continue their bullying, Arlyn finds himself in mortal peril when the halfling woman with whom he has been engaged for the past several minutes attempts to stab him with a hidden dagger. In fact, having already examined much of the girl’s body with his hands, Arlyn finds the weapon’s sudden appearance to be something of a mystery. He is forced to defend himself, and sadly slays the girl where she stands.
Charm, meanwhile, makes short work of her would-be assassin, and relieves him of his sword and magic gauntlets. Then she and her brother both rush outside to see Jasmine putting the last of the Ragesian agitators to the sword. Bechus appears from the crowd at this point, approaching the swordswoman just as Joshua’s party enters the square from the opposite direction. The party regroups and accompanies the elder to his home, where the only surviving member of Seaquen’s original team is secreted away in the basement, trying desperately to resist the curse. [Eril], a ranger who accompanied four other adventurers on a mission from the Lyceum, does not know of his party’s fate, but suspects that they met their end in the forbidden valley to the east.
A local healer visits the elder’s home that evening, summoning Joshua to meet with the unusual creature which addressed him earlier. The summoner’s name is [Balance], and she identifies herself as a [Trillith], a race of magical beasts who escaped from the depths of the world many moons ago. Indomitability, whom they slew in the fire forest, was another such creature, as was Madness, disguised as a gnomish sorceress at the court of King Steppengard. Balance informs the heroes that she is dying, that the magical effect on the village is her doing, a desperate attempt to quell the violence of the Ragesian siege, but that the hostilities present in the valley are weakening her and will eventually end her existence. She warns that the abrupt cessation of her magic will drive the locals mad, and all who are affected by her enchantment will suddenly be beset by their returning emotions in a raw, uncontrolled manner. If she could withdraw out of range, it would be more gradual, but she lacks the strength. And the Ragesian camp, which is already starting to slip from her control, would obstruct any attempt at escape.
She lapses then into a coma, and the healer explains that they are unable to help her in any way as she is an incorporeal being. The party retreats to Bechus’s home, pondering their options and considering their resources. Jasmine points out that the Song of Forms, used by the [seela] in Innenotdar to trap Indomitability in a corporeal form, would allow them to treat her and perhaps even carry her from the valley, but only Tiljann and Crystin knew anything of the song and weren’t here to be of aid.
Then Jasmine coincidentally discovers that the [Stone of Sarinine] is in the elder’s possession. He had acquired it several years ago, when he was a student at the monastery. With the dreamstone, and the notes penned by [Adlion] all those years ago, it might be possible to reach into Crystin’s dreams and have her teach Jasmine the magical song. As the party establishes a watch around the house, Joshua and Jasmine retreat to the elder’s bedchamber to try and access the rock’s mysterious power.