The campaign formally opened on 12 Harvester (August), 1271 YM (Year of Maladominus) with a number of individuals gathered together in the city of Bolteria, the capital of the Holy See of Maladomini. They were in the inner city of the Holy See, where the seniormost church leaders resided and worked, in an elaborate chamber displaying great wealth. None knew any of the others and each came from widely varying backgrounds, but with one thing in common — each had volunteered for a “dangerous mission of the utmost importance for the Holy See and the Church of Maladominus.” They included:
– Perudo the Good, a priest of Maladominus from Bolteria itself, a middling functionary within the church hierarchy
– Sir Wulfric Lothar, a Paladin of Grimbold the Great, brought by the promptings of his god
– Jimmy, a young man of small frame
– Brother Lune, a half-orc monk of Elsirion (brother of Maladominus), recently arrived from the Blueflood region to the east of Wellington
After a time silently waiting, and with the different people seemingly uninterested in talking amongst themselves, they were soon joined by a tall man in rich robes and religious regalia, none other than Malakus Dey himself, the supreme patriarch and Chief High Cleric of the Church of Maladominus. He was accompanied by but a few advisors and no guards. His presence was unexpected for most there, as his Eminence ruled a great Church and had countless demands on his time.
Dey wasted few words and got to the point quickly. The half-orc, Lune, had recently arrived in the Holy See bearing what had been positively identified as the Finger of Kavkaz, that dreadful demigod of ancient times that was still considered one of the greatest evils to ever plague the Three Lands. The half-orc had found the finger in the possession of a cult of lycanthropes, led by a strange foreign priest who preached the return of Kavkaz. Since his arrival, Dey and his chief advisors had verified the truth of these matters, and were convinced that Kavkaz had returned from wherever it was he had been for the past 13 centuries; how he’d returned was unclear. His return meant that the Finger had awoken, as well, and was growing in power. Further, Maladominus himself had communicated with Dey directly (apparently a very rare occurrence) that the Finger was a grave danger and that it must be destroyed, “at any cost.”
All of this was of the utmost secrecy, as Dey explained that the return of Kavkaz would create a panic of immense proportion (even the most lackwit, uneducated and isolated peasant knew that name, and feared it). Further, being powerful, the Finger would certainly attract both those wishing to serve Kavkaz, as well as those who would seek to use its power for their own ends. Secrecy must remain paramount, and even most church fathers were unaware of these things, and would remain so.
His Eminence now told the group that it as their task to destroy this thing, however that might be accomplished. Each would be sworn by oath to this (and by the casting of a quest spell to bind them). Dey emphasized that this was the will of Maladominus himself, and that they were to sacrifice themselves if need be to accomplish the Finger’s destruction. Further, they were to sacrifice innocent lives, if necessary, to do it. Nothing, and he firmly emphasized nothing, was to hinder accomplishing their goal. Brother Lune would be their captain, as he had brought the thing to them in the first place, and would continue to bear it (at least until he died, Dey mumbled, clearly not relishing Lune’s involvement in this matter).
Dey now signed for an advisor to bring forth several items. Each party member was given a sack of 250 gold coins to “aid them on their way” while the group was collectively given a small casque containing 12 gems worth a thousand silver each, also to aid them in the unknown road ahead. A Letter of marque, signed by Dey himself, was presented to them, which called on all followers of Maladominus to support them in any way needed. His Eminence sadly reported that this latter item might only be of limited benefit if they left the Holy See and its surrounding areas, as his power was less recognized the further one went afield. of course, he said, any survivors would be granted rich rewards, both spiritual and temporal.
As to how to start, Dey informed them that he had been in consultation with the Great Abbot of the Temple of the Gods’ Peace to the north of the Holy See, not far from the town of Caranthir (AKA Wellingstone), a major pilgrimage site, where the gods themselves appeared in person in 1 YM to end the Great War. He believed that the Temple contained ancient writings and prophecies that might touch on these events; he had no other leads to follow, nor any further advice, other than to exercise great caution in these trying times. The Church would take no part in the new party’s planning and preparation, in order to ensure secrecy. he granted, “so far as I am able to do so,” exemption from tithing to Wulfric and Lune, while the quest lasted. he also told them that they were seeking a magic-user to aid them, and that they would send him to meet the new party as soon as possible — he might even meet them at the Temple.
All this accomplished, Dey then proceeded to conduct a long, convoluted church ceremony to declare that the “Crusade of Kavkaz’s Finger” was granted the sanction of the Church of Maladominus. He further ordained that 101 prayers would be recited daily until the Crusade was won (his advisors seemed shocked at that – Perudo later explained that 99 prayers was considered a big deal, but 101 was almost unheard of, thereby showing the seriousness of this whole endeavor). Quest spells on all the volunteers followed (except Lune, upon whom no spell was cast).
All this done, the party retired from the presence of His Eminence, and found a quiet room to talk. Not knowing one another, they were a little hesitant to collaborate at first, but soon fell to it. The first thought was that they might go by sea at least part of the way north, to save time. Wulfric would check on the possibility of a ship leaving the next day. Meanwhile, Perudo took charge of procuring supplies, using his intimate knowledge of the Holy See to do this quickly (and quietly). They also lamented that wealth acquisition was not part of this quest.
Having found a ship leaving early the next morning for Ameraud in the northern part of the Holy Sea (and after discounting reports of a fairly new piratical threat from one Ragnar the Red), the party took ship and headed north on a small merchanter. As they pulled from the wharf, a great flock of crows suddenly wheeled out and began circling the ship, cackling madly. This disconcerted the crew no small amount, but the birds soon returned to land and no harm done.
The journey was about 3 1/2 days and was uneventful save once. On the second day out, Lune found himself accosted by several crewmen, who seemed suddenly and unaccountably hostile to him, blaming him for “bad luck” and other unspecified things. It seemed to become ugly, but Wulfric and the others intervened and defused the situation. After, the party resolved that Lune would not be left alone for any length of time, as he was essential for their quest.
Arriving in Ameraud, chief city of the northern part of the Holy See, the party spent the afternoon procuring horses and lodging for the night. Though they had the Letter of Marque, which would give them whatever they needed form the local church hierarchy, they opted to remain much more low key.
The next morning they rode north from the city, following the main road which was busy with local farmers, merchants, and pilgrims coming and going from the many pilgrimage sites in the region, not the least of which was the Temple of the Gods’ peace which was their destination, as well. The journey was uneventful for a few days, as they spent one night in a wayside inn and the second in the small town of Finnmouth. The only thing of note was that Wulfric awoke the second morning covered with many bruises in the shape of claw marks. There was no apparent cause for them and they seemed to do no harm, though it was rather disconcerting.
On their third night out of Ameraud, the party overnighted in the town of Erconte. As they rode in, they were greeted by a number of young children satring at them intently, knowingly, even approvingly. No words were spoken and the party hurried from them to find an inn. Once settled, they noticed that they seemed to be travelling loosely with other groups of pilgrims, passing by on the road and in the towns they stopped at. Curious, Jimmy began to poke around to determine if any of these other groups might be spies. In casual conversation, he determined that, within a few groups, not all the travelers knew one another. One person even admitted that some pilgrims “did not seem that thrilled” to be on pilgrimage, which was strange. Still, Jimmy did not ferret out any actual spies.
Several hours before dawn, the party awoke to much shouting and noise. Investigating, they learned that there was a lunar eclipse in progress. As the moon slowly was consumed in coppery-redness and then complete darkness, Lune suddenly informed his fellows that he was having trouble seeing. His companions immediately noted that his eyes had grown black — all black, with no whites or color remaining. however, Lune soon learned that he had gained the ability to see in the dark far better than any human (or half-orc or other demihuman, even). He also sense that the power of the Finger was growing.
They departed town, and soon passed the borders of the Holy See itself, into Northern Fingar, an independent land nonetheless under the sway of the Church. That night the faux pilgrims arrived in the nondescript town of Hamlet, where that night, they noted some of the other pilgrims did not seem very excited to see them. The party watched them but nothing untoward seemed to happen, and the next night they reached the crossroads town of Aboukir, where the pilgrim road bent east and another great road went northwest, into the distant Northlands. Here they saw many more Maerlings than any had seen before, as well as even some Halflings, Dwarves, and even Elves. After ignoring suggestions by locals to visit the shrine of Saint Stasyn of Aboukir (apparently not to be confused with Saint Stasyn of Wyles), the party found yet another inn for the night.
Here, some of the same pilgrims also arrived for the night. The party, becoming more suspicious, sent Lune to speak to one of that party’s horses. The horse, in its limited way, said that its rider had met with “strange smelling people” that it apparently was afraid of. While not particularly actionable, it gave them food for thought and made them wary (they’d started keeping a watch since the night of the lunar eclipse).
That day, continuing on the road into the Caranthir Gap (between the Dominion Mountains to the south and the Lindhir Mountains to the north), around midday the party came across the suspect pilgrims stopped in the road with a horse down. The pilgrims claimed to be in distress of some sort but, the party fearing treachery, and cognizant of their quest, Lune tossed a bead from his necklace of missiles into the midst of this group, blasting them, though none was killed outright. Sure enough, other figures came rushing at the party from all sides on foot – wererats and werewolves in numbers.
Rather than fight, the party opted to ride away as fast as possible. They soon left the wererats behind, but the werewolves assumed wolf form and pursued, resulting in a running battle. Slowly, the attacking wolves were cut down, but not before Wulfric had suffered a serious wound to his left leg (laying hands on himself stopped the immediate danger of bleeding, but could not fully heal the severe wounds). Also, Perudo dropped his magic mace and was forced to leave it behind (apparently his cushy Church job did not include mounted combat!). When but one werewolf remained, it cursed the party, saying something about “the darkness will consume you at the last” or some such; the party shot it dead as it fled back to the wererats.
The party now decided to push on to Valeton (the next significant town), where they’d buy new horses and then leave immediately for the Temple, rather than linger for the wererats to catch up to them…
– Experience: 630 XP each
– For Wulfric, the lingering effect of his wound is -3 to DEX initially. For each full day of rest he will get a point back, but only two of them. In other words, he is permanently -1 DEX (call it a limp – sure beats losing his leg!). Oh, and good thing he is immune to Lycanthropy…