After eight long days, our heroes arrive in Tanalin, a relatively small port town. The port has several other fishing boats that we see, but the Raven’s Howl (our ship) is the only one that is sea worthy. The landscape around the town is dominated by forests and hills, with a few snow-capped mountains visible in the far distance.
Tanalin is freckled by a number of watchtowers surrounding the edges of the town. However, there is a distinct lack of substantial defenses; it becomes readily apparent to the group that the town does not expect any real threat as they are comforted by the protection being a part of the Grand Victorian Empire.
As we enter the lively town, Khemed suggests that we warn the town and spread word about the massacre at Blackrock. A sound idea, because the travel papers that the team has state that they are destined for Blackrock, and they need an explanation as to why they are here. Fenrir is able to convince the portmaster that Blackrock was indeed destroyed, while avoiding the details of the White Ravens or exactly how much they knew about the destruction.
With their docking all sorted out, the adventurers set out to explore Tanalin’s numerous points of interest. As everyone splits up to do a variety of tasks, it is clear that Tanalin is a small but dense town with plenty of useful places to a group such as themselves. A single, comfortable inn stands in the town center, and a number of interesting shops that we all split off into. Fenrir and Khemed both go into the Jewelry, albeit for different reasons: Fenrir goes there to sell off some of the black onyx that they had (Jane was upset he took any at all) as he had depleted his funds in order to pay his crew, while Khemed went there to buy some material components for his spells. Keladry also goes to different shops to buy spell components, while Jane took a stroll past the town church and cemetery to see how if she would be able to start reanimating the cemetery’s corpses. (INSERT SHIRA ACTIVITY HERE). Eventually, everyone heads to the inn to reserve their rooms.
While at the inn, Fenrir slips downstairs to the inn’s bar, where he chats with old contact, who just so happens to be the barkeeper. Initially, the barkeep didn’t have any news worth bringing up, but a description of the two remaining lackey’s of the BBEG (AKA Creepy Homeless Whispering Guy) led Fenrir to discover that the man in a suit we saw in the Ziggurat had indeed arrived in Tanalin a few weeks prior. The barkeep was reluctant to say more about the man, save that he had a creepy smile and gave him the creeps. Fenrir tried to get more out of the barkeep, but was interrupted by a belligerent drunk, who loudly proclaimed, “We don’t come here to ask questions. We don’t come here to think. We come here to STOP thinkin’. So shut your mouth or I’ll make sure it’s the last time you ever open it!"
Shockingly, Fenrir was able to not get into a bar fight with the drunk, but merely bickered with him back and forth for a few moments before the drunk went back to his drink, but not before the barkeep went into the bar’s backroom. Irritated that he was unable to find out more, Fenrir reluctantly went back upstairs to inform the rest of the party what he discovered.
With this news in mind, Khemed declares that he is going to go to the local church to find out anything he can about this creepy man in a suit. Fenrir offers to join him, while Jane and Keladry decide to stay at the bar for unofficial Awkward Bonding Drinking Time™. On their way out of the bar, Fenrir and Khemed are approached by a barmaid who asks if Fenrir was the person who had questions about the creepy man in a suit. The barmaid asks if they can talk somewhere privately, to which Fenrir agrees. As Khemed continues on his way to the church, Fenrir and the barmaid go into a back alley to discuss the man.
The barmaid informs Fenrir that this man in a suit is named Priest, a man with a chilling smile: his smiles seemed too big, his stares lasted too long; his speech was close, but off in enough tiny ways that the whole picture became wrong. Along with this, Priest dressed over the top even by the standards of Grand Victorian nobility. As a whole, he gave almost everyone in Tanalin chills. Despite this, Priest seemed to be accepted by the blue-bloods and the clergy outright, so people were afraid to say anything. With a final word of warning to avoid the man as best they can, the barmaid tells Fenrir that Priest went inland along with several of the local church members, his own team of men, and some paid workers with dig equipment. He hadn’t really advertised what he was leaving for, at least not to commoners, and she thought she rather preferred it that way.
Troubled by the news, Fenrir rushes off to warn Khemed of the potential danger he might be placing himself under by speaking with the church about Priest. Arriving just as Khemed approached the doors, Fenrir informed him of what was going on. Khemed, ignoring Fenrir’s desire to leave the church immediately, decided to simply change his line of questioning. By doing what Khemed does best, being loud and religious, to masterfully charm the church’s kindly old abbot. The abbot informs Khemed and Fenrir that Priest was making preparations for a ritual, and that when they’re done the entire world will benefit from the wisdom they gain. Not only that, but Khemed was able to make dinner plans with the old abbot, with the entire party invited.
During dinner, Khemed tries to learn more about the ritual Priest is preparing, but the abbot does not provide any new illuminating information. Fortunately for Fenrir and Jane, the abbot failed to notice that the two of them were having a telepathic bickering about whether or not Jane should go to the graveyard to raise any undead that night. Keladry, however, manages to simply enjoy the dinner without being too concerned over any of these things.
Deeply worried over what sort of ritual Priest is really planning, the party decides to leave first thing in the morning. For INSERT REASON HERE, Shira decides to stay in Tanalin and not travel with the rest of the party. Fenrir instructs his first mate John to buy any goods that can be sold in port later, and to make sure none of the crew are massacred while the team is gone.
Traveling by foot along the main road, it is around 2.5 days to the small town of Driftdale. After half a day of walking, the straight road through farmland gives way to a winding road through temperate forest. The road narrows as the team gets deeper into the forest, but they are able to stop for a lunch where absolutely nothing of note happens. As the party moves further into the woods, the party rounds a bend in the road to see a fallen tree, halting their progress. Almost immediately, crossbow bolts begin flying towards the party. It becomes clear that two bandits are ambushing the party, and using similar hit and run tactics that were used by Katherine Vera on Ulvenwald. Learnig from their past mistakes, the party stays together close enough to move as a unit and fight the bandits, eventually catching them at a small clearing a little ways away from the path.
However, the bandits were clearly planning on bringing the fight to this clearing, as a twisted oak tree stands in the other end of the far clearing. The tree has a magical affect to charm whoever is near it, but only Khemed becomes charmed by the tree, as it seems to have awoken something in Khemed as well- there aren’t many trees as pretty as that in Old R’Kassi. Fenrir and Keladry are able to defeat the one of the bandits, with Wolf Fenrir pinning the bandit down as he surrenders. It is at this moment when the tree begins to wrap its branches around Khemed’s neck, strangling him. The tree then does the same thing to Jane. Fenrir being Fenrir, he telepathically communicates to Kel to keep an eye on the bandit while he moves to help Jane and then Khemed. It quickly becomes clear that this tree is a larger threat, Kel demands that the bandit tell her what’s going on, to which the bandit replies, “Hehehehe… No one escapes the Hanging Tree!!!” Keladry summons a spectral blade to start helping Khemed with his overbearing tree friend, and helps Jane escape from the hanging tree.
The battle becomes grueling quickly, Khemed manages to come to his senses and uses a flaming sphere to deal damage to the tree consistently, Jane puts oil on the tree to let it burn more easily before collapsing, and Fenrir runs out of wild shapes as shifting allows him to escape from the tree’s branches. It is when the tree begins to uproot itself and pursue the party that Keladry rightly urges the party to begin to retreat back to the road to escape from the hanging tree. Keladry and Khemed carry Jane through the thick forest while Fenrir keeps the tree busy, ready to escape. In a desperate attempt to take care of the tree, Fenrir summons a tidal wave, which generates enough force to shatter the tree into a million pieces. Relieved to have some time to think, they all decide to continue down the road in the event that the bandits return (it seems they ran once the party became occupied with the hanging tree).
The rest of the journey is fairly uneventful; there is a really large boulder that looks sort of like a face that Jane insists on climbing. Each night the party hears dire wolves howling in the distance, which is comforting to no one but Fenrir. The second night is interrupted by a nightmare of Jane’s, it is unclear what the dream could mean.
Around noon on the third day, you exit the forest and catch a view of the town. Driftdale is a run-down sort of town, more of a waypoint between Tanalin and the capital cities further inland. Since it’s in a bit of a valley, the party has a pretty good visual layout of things. Namely, they can see right away that there is some kind of recent dig site off to the east border of the town. The dig site is directly near an old and obviously abandoned church (roof caving in, dingy and dirty, but the stained glass windows were still intact, probably out of respect from the locals), and the digging itself seemed to form a giant star pattern around the building.
Khemed uses magic to magically spy on the dig site, which reveals that Priest will be finished preparing the ritual at dawn in two days’ time. The party decides to use the fact that most of them can disguise themselves to their advantage, and have Keladry, Jane, and Fenrir (disguised as a dog, as his normal form is much more rememorable) go into town to learn what they can.
No one really knows much. The clergy was preparing for some kind of ritual that they promised would be of immense benefit to everyone involved. We did pick up that it was Priest who’d come into town with the documents elaborating on the location of the stones they were unearthing, and the details of the ritual. Jane and Kel make plans to meet with the town mayor, who is completely on board with Priest’s plan, and finds it odd that Jane and Keladry are being so inquisitive about the ritual.
Deflated by this dead end, the team decides to change tactics. Fenrir goes off to get Khemed, and the team decides that since Priest is trying to keep a good public profile, they can simply walk up and ask around at the dig site. The party approaches the church, with dog!Fenrir sniffing around and seeing if there is anything interesting about the area. Everyone else walk right up to Priest.
When Priest turns to address everyone, the party realizes that he does indeed have a mile-long stare and an uncomfortable rictus grin. He seems as if he’s trying to be cordial, but trying way too hard. He addresses us in the same way, overly polite and paced slightly off from normal speech patterns, “Hello there folk, is there anything I can help you with to-" His last word cuts off, and his rictus grin drops into a flat tight lipped line. “Oh. You. How odd.”
Khemed tries to get more information out of Priest, but Priest is very firm in saying, “Get out NOW,” in a way that is still creepily polite. Reluctantly, the party leaves and returns to the inn. That night, Fenrir cats his way into the church in the center of the dig site and manages to steal some papers that reveal that the ritual is a summoning ritual, but it is unclear what exactly is being summoned. Additionally, there are what looks to be very, very old headstones being unearthed. The writing on them is not in any modern language, and they have random runes and symbols carved throughout them in bas-relief. Fenrir manages to memorize one of the runes, but no one in the party knows what the rune may mean once he returns to tell the party what he’s discovered. Not finished yet though, Fenrir goes back to the dig site to cast Erupting Earth to damage the dig site and interfere with the ritual, this calls on the attention of Priest’s men, but Fenrir is able to sneak away before they can identify him.
The next morning the party is awoken to the sound of guards knocking on their door. The guards threaten the party, saying it is easy to determine that they are the ones who messed with the dig site last night, and not to do it again or else (they have no definitive proof so they do not actually arrest the party). Everyone spends the day trying to come up with a plan to stop the ritual, but no idea seems to end well. Jane and Khemed both propose waiting for the summoning to occur and then intervene. The rest of the party agrees, Fenrir sneaks to the top of the church, waiting around to be prepared for the ritual to commence, while the rest of the party prepares a safe distance away to jump in once the summoning occurs.
And so began the waiting game. The first night, nothing happens. The next night, the ritual begins. Just before dawn, they begin lighting candles, heating oils, mixing arcane ingredients, laying powders, chanting… Everyone present except for Priest and the local pastor had on blank masks with crosses painted on the front. And just before light begins to break, the area inside the church brightens as if it was the middle of day, sunlight streaming OUT through the stained glass windows and casting colored patterns across the unearthed grounds. The light flashes brilliantly, and the shadows from the windows burn themselves into the ground surrounding the building, completing the pattern they had drawn across the floor on the inside. And suddenly, where there had been nothing, on a stone pedestal in the middle of the church, stood…
There she stands, with all the overwhelming perfection of a divine entity. Clothed in garments of solid light, eyes pools of glistening silver, hair just strands of solid white gold, wings tucked serenely against her back. She turns her head calmly to the left and right, surveying the area while everyone inside, Priest included, stands in shocked awe of her divinity. She kneels, and beckons for the local pastor that had been working with Priest to come to her. She cradles his jaw line from above him, on her pedestal, and begins to weep. Her words were a whisper, but they rung throughout everyone present with perfect clarity and an unbearable sadness.
“Thou hast made a grievous mistake child.” She kisses the clergyman on the forehead in an act of forgiveness, takes his wrists and places his hands over his own ears, and SHRIEKS. The entire building, Priest included, falls to their knees clutching their ears. The stained glass explodes outwards in delicate shards. Priest gestures at the angel, and several pained looking men begin to attack her with some kind of black leather loops, trying to bind and silence her.
That is when the party springs into action. Fenrir jumps off of the rafters on top of Priest, turning into a giant octopus and trying to grapple Priest. Everyone starts fighting the Priest’s men, who fall easily. They also get up just as easily. After turning into ashes, the enemies rise back up and resume trying to bind the angel.
Priest turns out to have all sorts of magical items, a staff that is imbued with cold, and a sphere that can absorb the spells that Jane cast at Priest. The party does their best to prevent the angel from being carried off by Priest’s men, the angel’s eyes are sorrowful, as if they have already lost this battle.
And so the battle rages on…