Racing from the scene of the fight with the wererats and werewolves, the party reached Valeton a few hours later, their horses exhausted. As per their previous plan, they quickly bought fresh horses and left their tired ones behind, and were soon on the road again, despite sunset. Fortunately, the moon was just a little past full, so the road was safe enough for night riding.
A little before noon, the saw the top of an immense building rise in the distance as they continued east. Soon, they could see the immensity that is the Temple of the Gods’ Peace, and they came to a side road leading south from the main road, a rather large inn nearby, clearly quite busy. The Temple was immense, the central edifice 500 feet tall and more, with two hexagonal buildings attached to north and south that were themselves several hundred feet tall. This Temple, one of the greatest in the world, surely lived up to its reputation for splendor, in keeping with the fact it was built upon the very spot where the gods once briefly walked and ended the Great War. Before the temple, the pilgrim road passed through a veritable village, clearly existing to support the pilgrim trade. Indeed, there were clearly hundreds of pilgrims about the complex, some whiling time in the many taverns and shops in the village, while a stream went to and from the Temple itself. The party could also see multiple cemeteries, including one filled with great mausoleums.
The party made their way directly to the Temple itself, where they hailed a guardsman (they’d seen a few about, all wearing red with the emblem of three meteors falling to earth in black). They told him that they’d come on an errand to see the Great Abbot himself. The guard, somewhat unconvinced, nonetheless ran along inside to make inquiries, and soon returned somewhat incredulous to lead the party south to a nearby cloister, where the Temple monks dwelt. Here, the party’s horses were taken and tended to, while the adventurers entered and were brought to an audience with Macé, the Great Abbot and patriarch of the Temple of the Gods Peace. He first introduced them to Pandemonius, a magic-user and scholar of the Holy See, a latecomer sent to join them on their quest.
After a welcoming meal, the Great Abbot got to business. He knew of the party’s quest fully, having been informed by His Eminence, Malakus Dey, who had sought his wisdom on this grave matter. Macé had entrusted his best scholars to ponder the matter, and he believed they had come up with information that might be of great assistance to the party. It sdeemed that, after the gods destroyed Ibril the Rebellious, and Maladominus returned for a short time to order the formation of both the Holy See and the Lormyrrian Empire in order to end the Great War forever, he had spoken for a time to the First Emperor and a few others for a time. Much of what was said was later written down, as much of it could not be made sense of afterwards. Among these secret scrolls was one that discussed the “Touch of Kavkaz” returning one day to trouble the Three Lands (note: Maladominus appeared only a few decades after Kavkaz was defeated, 13 centuries past). This “Touch” heralded the return of Kavkaz, which had reportedly occurred but a few years past. The vague prophecy went on to say that the “Touch” could only be destroyed while Kavkaz remained “unseen” and that the destruction would require the “very wrath of the gods” “blessed by the three mightiest of their number, rounded in smoke and blood” with a hand “wielding that power against which even gods falter” in the “very footstep of he that is not.”
The Great Abbot’s scholars believed that they had deciphered the prophecy after much research and prayer (and aided by secret libraries of the Maladominian Church). The “wrath” was clearly a Stone of Justice (or Wrath), the meteor rain of stones that had destroyed the rebellious Ibril. These were kept by the Temple itself and one would be provided to the party. The three greatest gods would be Maladominus, his brother Elsirion, and Magnus, god of the underworld. Given the other parameters, Magnus’ power would need to be represented by the Aspergillum of the Blood of Kings, a holy artifact somewhere in the Sea Empire of Afilain. For Elsirion, the Thurible of Heavenly Meditations would be needed, it last being reported in the city of Holyton of the Arvelian Confederacy, last known to be in the local Temple of Velune. For Maladominus, the party would need to acquire the Sphere of Maladominus. This was problematic, for that artifact had been stolen several years past by one Aldo the Sage, a renegade and heretic who had been anathematized and sentenced to death in abstentia for the theft. He was last reported in the vicinity of Vladikavkaz, surely up to no good; fortunately, reports indicated that a party of bold adventurers had penetrated deep into Vladikavkaz and might be able to aid in locating the renegade (killing Aldo would be a bonus, they were told). The final item would be the Spear of Adramalech the God-Slayer, a weapon forged by the Arch Devils that had slain several gods. Its location was rumored to be somewhere on Morlin Island, a blasted place where it is said the gods and Devils warred in forgotten times. Thus, the party would need to collect five artifacts, not to destroy the Finger, per se, but to “push it outside of reality forever.” All these items would need to be taken to the very spot where Kavkaz first appeared to the Ardagh barbarians, in the Icy Wastes north of the Ilmorian Mountains, where it is said a round hole remains to this day where his foot first touched the ground. Only there could the party hope to succeed.
The party now asked a few questions and for additional aid (they received some later, including partial healing of Wulfric’s bad leg). They were also provided a number of maps to aid them in the journey, for these items were scattered across the Three Lands, and the party would need to visit all three continents, as well as the Sea Empire’s chief island, before they were through. Macé provided what little advice he could, meanly for the first stop in the Sea Empire. The priests of Magnus would be hostile, he warned them. Further, the party MUST be cautious, as a group sent by the Holy See to steal an artifact holy to the Empire’s patron deity could precipitate a war, one which the Holy See would surely lose. The Holy See did have agents in Dhakos, the Imperial Capital, however, who would be made aware of the party and would find them (the agents would NOT be told of what the party was doing or why, but would be ordered to do anything required of them; unfortunately, none were highly placed or influential). Passwords and countersigns were given for security purposes (“by his wisdom are we protected” and “by staff, book, and scroll shall he be known”). The agents would seek them in the Foreign District of the city; they had to take precautions as Lune’s half-orc face would surely draw unwanted attention, as would a Paladin openly declaring himself. His last advice was as they’d heard before – the Finger was powerful and growing more so. It would draw destructive forces to itself and would remain a danger even when hidden. Friends would be few, enemies many.
Macé now took them to the Temple of the Gods’ Peace, where they got a brief glimpse of the wonders of that place. However, he took them to a side area and stairs downward to deep catacombs below the complex, eventually reaching a great vault door of steel and adamant. Opening it with many mystical methods, the vault opened to a wave of heat and Sulphur to reveal thousands of volcanic or meteoric stones neatly stacked. He refused to touch them but said that one in the party must take the burden of carrying one of these, which retained an echo of the ancient anger of the gods themselves. Jimmy stood forth and said he would do so. He took the stone which was warm, but did not burn him or cause great discomfort. It did, however, seem to wrap him with a certain feeling of discomfort. They departed and, once the vault was secured again, retired to the Cloister for the night.
The next day, after receiving a variety of assistance from Macé, the party departed with the Great Abbot’s blessing. Although they may have much desired to spend some time to look at the wonders of the Temple (being religiously devout folk one and all), they passed the Temple and took the road through the nearby village and back towards the main road west through the Caranthir Gap (they’d considered going west via Wellingstone and down to the Principaility of Lormyrr or the free city of Columbir, but decided they were too far out of the way; they would head to Bancroft in Lembda Hold, which was the closest major port and would have the advantage of getting them a ship not associated with the Holy See). But,a s they rode through the crowded village, with its horde of pilgrims just getting going in the morning, they were accosted by several figures in the crowd – wererats! Lothar’s horse was struck and the crowd panicked, sending the village into chaos. But Pandemonius, recalling the criticality of their mission, drew his lightning bolt wand and blasted a hole through the crowd, killing numerous bystander pilgrims and the wererats in front of them. This hole opened, the party aced over the smoking bodies, Lune skewering one remaining ratman with a spear. It was an ugly scene, but in keeping with the orders of His Eminence, the Chief High Cleric. The other wererats, caught in the crowd, could not hope to catch the mounted party.
They rode on now, wasting no time at all. Jimmy rode well ahead as point, and also to experiment with the provisions they’d been given (to see if they would rot again and, if so, if there was a range to the effect – they did not want to take ship and then have all its food rot!). They spent that night in Valeton and, when leaving the next morning, decided to strike overland towards Rodney, thereby bypassing a great V in the road through Aboukir and avoiding the pilgrim road where they might be looked for. They camped that night atop a large hill; a little before dawn, Lune’s superior nightvision showed him what appeared to be a large dog snooping about. He shot at it but it vanished. Later that day, they came across a group of five men moving perpendicular to their path whom hailed them. Unsurprisingly, they were werewolves and the party fled, just slipping through a second group not far away readied in ambush.
Later, they reached Rodney after dark, having ridden long and hared to open distance between them and the Werewolf pursuers. That night, Lune could see a figure seemingly watching their inn; he shot at him too, but missed. The party meanwhile took many precautions (glyph of warding on door, invisibility, etc). However, the next morning it became clear that the enemy had tried a new tactic, as every horse in stable had been slain. With no horses, evading werewolves in the country would be impossible. The party now snuck from the inn and, stealing a boat, took the Hood River, their identities hidden by invisibility and a polymorph potion taken by Jimmy to look like an old fisherman. The river took them south swiftly and they reached Dushanbe before dark. Here, they hired a fishing boat and crew for a handful of gold to take them to Bancroft immediately (in the dark; there was some discussion of trying to intercept a boat at sea, but then it would be hard to find one going to the right port).
The party made Bancroft the next day and were lucky enough to find a ship sailing for Dhakos in the Sea Empire that same day. They paid for passage and took to the ship to avoid being seen in the city and soon were at sea, sailing south to Afilain. The voyage lasted six days and was uneventful save for two incidents; in the first, a very heavy block fell from the mast and struck Lune, nearly killing him outright and almost knocking him overboard. The ship’s crew was most perturned by this and could not account for it. The second incident occurred a few days later, when suddenly all the rats on the ship suddenly fled topside and began throwing themselves in the sea. Lune questioned one but all it would say is “terror, terror.” These incidents caused the crew to grumble that “things weren’t right” on this voyage and that the party was bad luck. Still, there was no violence, though the captain seemed to agree with his crew.
Finally, they sailed around the west end of Afilain Island and entered the Bay of Thapsus, a mighty fjord at the end of which lay Shakos and the Sea Empire. The mast was stepped and the ship sailed under the first two bridges (of the famous Seven Bridges of Dhakos) and pulled wharfside in the Imperial capital. The party prepared now to go ashore and meet their contact…
– Experience: carry over except 100 XP bonus to Pandemonius for his well-timed lightning bolt!