The first hint that dinner was going to be unusual was the guest list. Admiral Godwin and Lieutenant Magnusson were there, seated at the foot of the table. Sir Hobart Husit, recently employed as the magistrate for East Baerstun County, was there with Mme. Daniella, a tavern singer from the Horse and Hound. And at the head of the table next to Lord Wossname were Ilian and his niece Lichna, who was sitting in for Zlata. Darg blessed the food and the guests in Moradin's name, and everyone dug in.
Admiral Godwin was delighted to see Rache and Bree again, as was Lieutenant Magnusson. The Admiral was eager to enlist them in the war effort – possibly helping to round up criminals or the unemployed to join her navy. She spoke at length about a new set of galleys under construction in the Redstone Peninsula's shipyards, and how the reservists marching from Galena would meet the galleys at Southgate, board, and sail behind Bonewhite's lines southwest of Whitescale. A source within the Caliphate had tipped off the navy to Bonewhite's plans, and now it was only a matter of springing the trap forcefully.
The strange weather at the mouth of the Redstone had caused the
Admiral to miss her only chance to personally inspect the shipyards. She asked after the adventurers' plans and suggested that if they didn't mind disposing of their warrants, they could travel incognito to the Peninsula and find out what General Bonewhite was trying to accomplish down there… and if they just happened to make it to the shipyards, they could look around nonchalantly and do an informal inspection.
Ilian turned purple but bit his tongue when the Admiral spoke of press gangs, but Lenora and Shard were able to distract him; he stammered his way towards an apology but didn't quite get the whole thing in edgewise before Sir Husit spoke up. He opened up about the sad state of justice, not just in the city, but in the surrounding county. As the recently-resigned magistrate, he was saddest of all, and told a strange tale about a temple to Bahamut that had been burned to the ground, and of two tieflings blamed, framed, and eventually released for the arson, leaving the villain's identity undiscovered. He also told of a village called Trammel that had appeared out of nowhere on his circuit, though none could remember it ever having been there before. The village's utter destruction and the discovery of a dead eladrin in the manor house of the village added a spice of the arcane to the whole mystery. He confessed that the crumbling order in the
county, and his seeming inability to keep track of his territory, had
left his faith shaken. He said that he was likely to set out for
Galena City, or perhaps even across the southern sea to the home
temple to Bahamut, to find a replacement. In the interim, Lord
Wossname asked if perhaps one or more of the party would be willing to fill in and take his place.
There was plenty of back and forth on the subject, but no commitment on the part of the adventurers. Wossname asked after Rache's accent and they wondered if perhaps he had mistaken her for Rache's sister Staci, who had lived near Coracle Landing for a while. Rache in turn asked after the Easy Drifter, and got only a little bit more information: the captain had been stuck north of the strange weather at the mouth of the Redstone River, and had only just sailed south to Rudderbreak on the south shore of the Peninsula. Rudderbreak's on-again, off-again economy and the slow pace of life down there implied that anyone who had been aboard the Drifter when she put in would either be stuck in Rudderbreak waiting for the ship to be repaired, or would have set out north for Seven Mills to try to make some money at the Harvest Festival there. While discussing shipping traffic in the bay, the two sailors and Sir Husit briefly discussed a dwarf named Buckle who operates a lighthouse and ferry service in Baerstun Bay, bringing anyone who can pay across from Baerstun County
to the Peninsula, or back. The symmetry with the name "Buckle" from one of Tarin's letters did not go unnoticed.
Daniella modestly avoided the group's scrutiny, but did point out that songs about the adventurers were already becoming popular in town, and that she had been asked a few times to sing about them during her shifts at the Horse and Hound. After several more hearty gulps of Wossname's excellent wine, Illian finally proposed a toast to friendship and allegiance; the sailors countered with toasts to the King ("To the King!") and as dinner drew to a close most hard feelings appeared to be mended.
The next morning came along right on schedule: too early, and too bright. They decided to visit a few of their friends in town and
settle their affairs before making preparations to travel. They
hadn't yet decided whether to head east towards Trammel and Husit's circuit, or southeast along the bay to Buckle's Ferry and crossing to the Peninsula, or south through the Misty March and then southeast through the Peninsula. Most importantly, they wanted to warn Sister Marina and their other friends in town that Darja had slipped through their net, and while most of her principals had been killed (Tarin four times over) her plan appeared to be intact.
Their first stop at the Temple of Melora brought on some distressing news: an acolyte was dead in the basement, and Sr. Marina had fled town in a hurry at first light. After careful investigation, the adventurers discovered that a group of acolytes had been led astray, and rather than simply copy pages from the Meloran Book of Binding, they had shirked their duty and begun attempting to cast some of the rituals therein. Channeling a too-powerful ritual had burned the life right out of the poor dead acolyte, but more inquiries revealed that the acolyte had not been alone. Eventually it came out that there was an eighth acolyte, who had fled as well. Her copybooks were empty, she had no dormitory in the temple, and soon enough it was clear that
Darja and Mariposa had been taking turns sitting in on the acolytes' secret meetings and copying rituals from the Binding Book.
The Binding Books are seven books, owned by the temple of Ioun and loaned out to the seven founding temples of Baerstun. Each covers a specific flavor of Binding, and each temple has their acolytes research and copy details of the binding rituals, including scholarly papers on the nuances and longhand copies of the untested rituals.
The bindings are there to hold… well, something horrific, certainly.
It turns out Baerstun was founded on top of a barrows at the end of the Great War, and the incarnate child of an evil deity (Gruumsh, Bane, Orcus, or possibly something else) was thrown into the grave and the Barrow Stone was set over it. The city was founded atop the grave, and the seven temples established to safeguard the seven kinds of seals holding him/her/it under the Barrow Stone.
Discovering that basic piece of history was inordinately difficult,
and it seemed that only a few of the high priests and priestesses in Baerstun were aware of their sacred duty. While residents of the city understand that bad dreams come with the territory and that
occasionally an undead creature will stagger out of the Stone Quarter, in general it appears that the populace is blissfully ignorant of what's buried beneath them. Given Darja's involvement in the catacombs, Tarin's iron smuggling, and the murder of the acolyte, Darja seems to know plenty about the seals.