Resting a day before setting off, the healing skill of the Gardener revealed itself and it was with a much better sense of self and health that the group chose to head upstream to see where it could take them. Ultimately intending to make their way South into Ascondea, the river’s south westerly course seemed a good starting point. Once again free men, in a free world, the plan of their former captors to sacrifice them to the End Father began to seem a little surreal.
As they travelled, they became separated from Karnak while he ranged ahead to scout, and paused to wait for him in an idyllic clearing in what were becoming ever more cramped and shattered woods, with every path clogged by roots, fallen trees, and fragments of sharp stone. The clearing by contrast, was a ring of nothing but low grasses, with a single enormous stone more than the height of a man, sitting just off-center. The rock held a metallic sheen which made it glitter in the sunlight, but this spectacle was dwarfed by the still forms of 4 deer on the far edge of the clearing.
Thinking to hunt them, the group was surprised by the sudden charge and carnivorous leanings of the doe, which snarled at them hungrily and closed the distance in a flash intending to feast on Grantur. Putting the doe down, the group moved on to stalk the others, losing one, but killing the other two, one by Grantur’s sling, and one by Trevor’s sword.
While most took their time to rest after preparing a feast and taking everything of use that they could from the deer carcasses, the Gardener headed into the woods without comment. He eventually traced down a sound of lumberjacks he had heard and established contact with a small family of woodsmen. The two sons were sent to retrieve the others and once rejoined, the group was taken into the village, a former fortification used by the Wayfarers.
The group members ingratiated themselves with the community, and were set up comfortably in exchange for martial and agricultural training. They explored the region and learned that many dangers, the least of which were the carnivorous deer, were present… such as the oddly intangible and hypnotic tentacle beast lurking under the loamy earth of the forest, and the dead who refused to lie in the graves so lovingly prepared for them.
As they worked with the village, they began to integrate, and learned that a market day would be held near the end of the month and that priests from the community of the faithful were expected, with their three top hunters, a trio of mongrels with wicked scythes and foul dispositions.
The group mobilized the town to resist and capture the priests, but when the priest actually arrived, his silver tongue turned the tables on the group, leaving them feeling they would be branded as thieves and villains, if he spoke much longer.
Maral attacked, and the fight was on!