The party awakens at Mother’s house to the smell of breakfast pie. While they eat, Mother tells them that they should see a friend of hers in Fallcrest: Reinhardt Moonridge, a high-ranking bishop of the Church of Bahamut. She thinks they should tell him of the cult they put down in the nearby church. They agree to do so and head towards Fallcrest.
Once in the city, the party decides to split up to cover their bases more quickly. Vlad the Inhaler and Jewelington Garnet III both head to the church to talk to this Reinhardt, Lizzie Barden, Gunk and Saarsgardyn head to the militia’s headquarters to speak to Eckard Van Hyden about the fall of Vale’s Keep, and Arizona Mantooth, having little love for authority or clerics, heads into town in search of drink and women. They all agree to meet later at the Arcanist’s Library of Fallcrest.
Lizzie and Eckard
Lizzie, Gunk and Saarsgardyn walk into the offices of the militia and speak with Eckard. Eckard is surprised to see them back so soon and is dismayed to hear the news of the deaths of so many soldiers. “In all honesty, though,” he says, “I am not surprised. The orc patrols were getting more aggressive. I just didn’t think they would escalate so quickly.” He sits in quiet contemplation for a moment, then, steepling his fingers he turns to Lizzie and asks, “Tell me, Lizzie, if you were in charge of the militia, what would you do? I am loathe to start a costly war with the Stonemarch orcs, but I will not stand by and see my men slaughtered.”
Lizzie replies that she thinks the best course of action would be to send their party into the Stonemarch to fight the orcs. Eckard laughs and says “Six people against ten thousand bloodthirsty orcs? You truly must have a great desire to die.”
Lizzie explains that the six of them could carry out assassinations. After all, the orcs at Vale’s Keep had a leader, so if the orc leaders are removed, the threat will be, at the very least, lessened.
“Interesting,” says Eckard. “I will keep this in consideration. We will see how this orc situation plays out and, if escalation is imminent, perhaps we will do just that. In the meantime, however, if you and your friends are looking for more work, I have heard disturbing reports from a small village near here. I cannot spare militia men to investigate, but would be happy to send you.”
Eckard also gifts the party the Ear Choppa’, the knife they were given earlier to carry out their first task.
As they are leaving, an aide enters the room and whispers something to Eckard.
“I see,” he says. “It seems your friend Arizona is in a spot of trouble. I suggest you see to him soon.”
The three of them hustle off to the Library to find him.
Vlad and Reinhardt
Vlad and Jewelington make it to the Reinhardt’s chambers with no difficulty. The discussion starts off on a tense note, as Vlad does not like the familiarity with which Reinhardt refers to Mother, and Jewelington is oddly aggressive throughout the entire proceedings. Things calm down when Reinhardt reveals that he used to be an adventuring companion of Mari’s and tells a few stories of the trouble they used to get into.
“But come,” Reinhardt says, “that is not why we are here. Your mother mentioned something of some goings on at the church near the Cloak Wood. She was strangely cryptic, but I suppose space is an issue when one delivers one’s messages by ferret.”
Reinhardt reveals that Mother’s ferret, Podo, had delivered word of their arrival earlier that day. Vlad walks Reinhardt through the events at the church, including the fact that the priest was seemingly taking orders from a pair of Beholders and how the priest sacrificed himself to bring “The Child” into this world.
“I had my suspicions that the Far Realm had a hand in this in some way. Thank you for confirming those,” said Reinhardt. He reveals that there have been two other cases of small congregations of Bahamut worshipers being turned to some sort of snake-themed cult recently. All three of these cases have eerily similar details: parishioners and priests being twisted both physically and spiritually, defamation of relics or likenesses of Bahamut, and heavy snake-based motifs. “It cannot be a coincidence,” Reinhardt concluded.
Vlad and Jewelington ask if other religions have reported cults like this as well. Reinhardt responds that there has not been a meeting of officials from the various religions in a while, so he will call one. He has not heard anything to that effect, but then, he has been attempting to conceal this from the public to minimize the chances of panic, so probably other religions would be doing the same thing if it were happening to them as well.
“I shall think more on this,” Reinhardt told them. “I have a feeling I will have need to call upon you and your friends again regarding this. I do hope you will answer that call when it comes.”
Having nothing more to say, Vlad and Jewelington start out the door when a man enters and speaks to Reinhardt.
“Your friend the sorcerer seems to have found himself the center of some unwanted attention,” Reinhardt tells the two. “You may want to make your way to him as soon as possible.”
While walking the streets of Fallcrest looking for a bar to settle into, Arizona’s left arm starts to throb with pain and he notices his mysterious tattoo is glowing. From behind him, he hears a sharp intake of breath of someone else obviously in pain. He spins around only to see a small figure rushing away from him through the crowd. He also notices he is one purse full of gold lighter than he was a few moments ago. He gives chase in an attempt to get his cash back.
After running for a short while, Arizona fires a blast into the crowd ahead, trying to knock the thief down. He misses his target, but manages some collateral damage. He yells at the pickpocket to stop and manages to intimidate her into stopping and raising her hands.
Arizona strides up to the small woman and promptly lashes his staff across her face. She cries out, apologizes and gives back the purse. She is answered with another staff-blow to the face. As the public beating continues, small details begin to leak out that there is something greater afoot.
“Stop! Please stop,” she says, “or he will find me. Find us! You are marked, just like me!” The small woman is a halfling, Zisa Skiprock, and she bears a tattoo on her left forearm in the same fashion as Arizona. She also correctly guesses that Arizona woke up one day around his sixteenth birthday with no memory of anything that had happened previously, as the same thing happened to her. She explains that she has met two others as well, with tattoos like hers, probably arcane runes of some sort, though she cannot find any book that explains them. Arizona’s tattoo looks different than the others she has seen, it being a spiral, while the others have all been several connected straight lines. When she met the others, their tattoos glowed, and soon after that “The Takers” came. She has avoided them twice, running as fast as possible, not looking back. She knows that The Takers are agents of a man named Lykurgis, though he calls himself Starlord Lykurgis. She does not know why they hunt her and the other tattooed people she has met.
Arizona grabs Zisa by the arm and hauls her off to the Library to meet the others.
The arrival of The Takers
The party gathers on the stairs of the Library. Zisa and Arizona explain the basics of the situation to the others, who seem to take Zisa’s side in the whole “maybe you shouldn’t have beaten me with your staff” argument, much to Arizona’s chagrin.
Behind them, at the other end of the courtyard, two star-filled portals open up and huge, pot-shaped contructs scuttle out on insectoid legs. Each is marked with a symbol, one that matches the tattoo on Arizona’s arm, while the other matches Zisa’s.
The party rushes towards the construct matching Arizona’s tattoo and begins to attack. The Taker ignores them, hoisting itself up on its huge legs and walking right over them. Arizona finds himself compelled to stumble closer to the Taker on each turn, while Zisa seems unaffected. Then, a huge rasped tongue shoots out from the top of the Taker and fastens itself around Arizona’s neck and begins pulling him towards its gaping mouth. Arizona is pulled into the Taker just as it lets out a psychic scream, dazing the entire party and sending it reeling backwards.
Saarsgardyn attempts a new tactic and tries to scale the Taker and attack it from above, hitting the sphincter that keeps that top of the Taker sealed as the Taker proceeds to scuttle back towards the portal from whence it came.
Curiously, Arizona finds himself in a pleasant and cozy study, filled with infernal tomes of power and fine liquors, sitting in an overstuffed leather chair. He soon realizes that this is a charm that has been placed on him and the study slowly turns into the grey mottled flesh of the inside of the Taker. He fights his way towards the mouth above him.
Meanwhile, just as the Taker is about to take its final step into the portal, Gunk fells it with a mighty blow, and Arizona struggles out from its top, just in time to see Zisa’s Taker walk through its portal, despite the barrage of arcane energy that Jewelington was constantly flinging.
Instinctually, and to the chagrin of several of the party members, Jewelington flings himself into the now-closing portal in a perhaps-misguided attempt to save Zisa. The party quickly comes to the conclusion that they must follow, or else Jewelington is certainly lost. Everyone follows through the portal, with Gunk and Saarsgardyn quite reluctantly bringing up the rear.