OOC: Thanks to Shimmin, as usual.
The party considered ways to shift the tainted cinnabar from the water to reduce future contamination. It was very large and heavy, and the deep water made it hard to do anything. Seeing they were in dangerous surroundings, they decided it would be best to leave it for now and investigated the next room.
Inside the room was an altar, containing a beautiful set of golden weighing scales. The balance of the pans seemed askew. On the side the pans favoured was a statue of a robed figure, with an appearance to it reminiscent of the foul undead and wearing a crown. A lich? On the far side was a statue of a paladin of the Messenger, fully armoured. Scabbard was curious about the value of the scales, but the others were more concerned about the theological situation and any danger the room presented given its apparent favour for the undead. Vana thought the scales indicated the balance of cosmological forces in the town, or even further afield. Undeath – or maybe just evil – was in the ascendant. There were actually no weights in the pans; mechanically speaking, there was no reason they should not be level. This appeared to be a shrine to the Cosmic Balance which was abandoned for some reason. Perhaps sealed by the enemies of the Balance?
Vana felt the artefact should not be left here, where it was most likely to be taken by enemies of the Balance. Scabbard carefully slipped towards it, snatching the scales and substituting a bag of sand he has hastily filled. The pans didn’t shift their balance at all as he moves them. Curious, he placed a finger on one of the pans and pushes down gently. He could push it until they were in balance, but no further. When he stopped, they resumed their earlier position. He packed it carefully away.
They gloomily hefted the cinnabar and dragged it carefully into the shrine. Faint traces of dust drifted from it. Those who had them used gloves and mufflers to protect themselves as best as possible, and tucked it away from both water and prying eyes. Ever pessimistic, Oswyn cracked open a phial of holy water and used it to wash his hands, passing it around to the others. Scabbard examined the well0water as much as possible, and noted the remaining sediment from the cinnibar had been washed away by the stream, but it was hard to say how much things had improved. With little left to do, the party returned to the brewery, searching the bodies on the way. Most of their possessions had been ruined by long immersion in water, but the mage still had a necklace bearing a silver medal with the sign of the Balance, this time level.
With the problem apparently solved, they returned to the barricades and managed to track down the mayor. He was appropriately grateful, and gave the party 200 gold pieces for their services. Vana mentioned that they found an old shrine of the Balance (not mentioning the artefact). The Mayor said that he didn’t know of many followers of the Balance around these days, though it was common enough in the area at one point. However, seeing as the party was heading north, the next major town on their route was Restenford, home to a druid who was the nearest thing to a local authority in the priesthood of the Balance. He could well know something of the shrine. The major also said he would seek out some craftsmen to dispose of the cinnabar rock appropriately.
There was a caravan heading out for Restenford in three days’ time, and the party easily managed to hire on as guards, with the locals vouching for them. Two days passed on the road uneventfully. On the second night, the party were asked to keep watch over the goods as the group rested in a tavern. Oswyn and Jack took the first watch. The caravans were pulled up into a barn, with the horses moved elsewhere. Then a scratching noise came from the back of the barn. It was too loud to be mice, too low to be an owl, too noisy to be any ordinary wildlife you might find in a barn. Oswyn gestured to Jack to watch out, and tried to circle round to see what was making the noise. A beaver, perhaps? As he circled, he saw evil-looking, slightly red eyes turn to him, and half-a-dozen rats, enormous ones, scampered towards him.
“Jack! Rats! Big’uns!”
Jack called for him to pull back, since the attack might be a distraction to decoy them away. Oswyn backed towards the doorway again, readying his spear. The creatures lunged and nipped at them ineffectually; Jack crushed one effortlessly, while Oswyn speared two before the rest scampered off. There was no sign that anyone had slipped in or was trying to, so Jack kept watch while Oswyn cautiously examined the burrow. The burrow seemed to run towards a smallish village graveyard nearby. He found a rock outside the barn and heaved it inside to block up the tunnel.
In the morning, the innkeeper apologied profusely and vowed to bring in hunters to destroy the nest. Vana persuaded the caravan owners to grant them an hour to inspect the place, and they headed off to dust off graves. Vana speaking appropriate prayers to the Smith. As they wandered around, Scabbard heard a distant rustling noise, and tracked it down to a grave where he suspected the nest to be located. They discussed plans for destroying it, but given the shortage of time, Scabbard simply instructed the landlord on suitable poisons and the party proceeded with the journey.
Their third night was spent camped in a small copse of trees by the road. Come the morning, as everyone prepared to resume the journey (getting horses, checking the merchandise and so on) there was a scream from a tree a little distance away. The party grabbed weapons and rushed in that direction. It seemed that one of the drivers was answering a call of nature, but chose poorly. A trio of startlingly large spiders had swung down from the tree he chose and were scuttling towards him. They were around 8’ across. Since the man was in a position to escape, Oswyn didn’t charge in but grabbed a javelin and hurled it at the closest, but only grazed the creature. Vana’s throwing axe was similarly unsuccessful; the creatures have worryingly-tough exoskeletons. Thankfully, the group were able to fend off the creatures’ attacks as they pounce. Neither guards or spiders seemed able to get a solid hit in, and they struggled for quite some time. Oswyn suddenly went limp as a spider sank its fangs into him. Feeling the odds were against them, the party fended off the spiders long enough to let the caravan drivers hitch up the horses, and the caravan began to gallop away, leaving the spiders behind. Thankfully, nothing else occurred to mar the journey, and Vana was able to free Oswyn from the paralysing venom.
At Restenford, the caravan owner paid the party off and recommended some inns. Scabbard slipped off to investigate; he was unable to get a rise out of the local ne’er-do-wells with his thieves cant, so tried checking out the inns in person. The Tavern of the West Wind was run by two retired magic-users, and Scabbard felt like they were assessing him as he entered. Falco’s was operated by a couple of dwarves. The Inn of the Dying Minotaur, the busiest and most richly appointed tavern in town, had an alleged “minotaur’s head” hung behind the bar, which Scabbard suspected was just a bull’s head.
Scabbard suggests the West Wind was the best option, as the owners’ scrutiny may mean a better class of clientele. He was also a bit sceptical of the apparently prosperous inn.
As they entered, Oswyn glanced up and noticed a black crow roosting in the rafters at one end of the bar; at the other end, a black cat was dozing. The crow’s nest is large and well-established, and the cat had some bedding in its corner of the roof; the owners clearly know both are there. Vana attracted immediate attention from the owners, Zelmar and Harpeem, who offered a gesture that indicated they were Smith worshippers.
The party settled themselves into two rooms and turned in for the night.