Laconia is a 10-day trip from Unkard. You make good time through the grassy, rolling plains. Game is fat and plentiful and the weather is crisp and clear. Most nights you manage to find lodging with an obliging farmer, but the few times you need to camp on the road are no hardships. It’s clear, though, that danger still lurks in the rolling plains. You are taken by surprise a few times by a cadre of goblins, but dispatch them and their mother plant with relative ease. One leg of the journey takes you through fairly freshly burned fields, strewn with hundreds of little goblin bones. The farmer plowing the ash into the soil explains that the infestation was too much to handle and he couldn’t risk harvesting the field as it was. “The field needed to be fertilized anyhow,” he remarks callously, snapping the horse’s reigns across its back. And every night, of course, the wind brings the howls of the great Plains Wolves. Kasake sniffs the air and occasionally joins in the chorus, but the massive creatures keep out of sight.
It’s only a few more hours to Laconia when your travels are interrupted by the sound of heavy galloping hooves. A few moments later, a horse and rider come out of the tall cornfield just a few feet in front of you. The rider jerks the horse’s head around roughly, pointing it in your direction. Seeing you, she hauls back on the careening creature, making it nearly sit down. “Oh!” she exclaims, startled. A young girl, no older than 15, is sitting astride a large draft horse. Her clothes are plain, worn but neatly patched, and a long knife dangles from her leather belt. You’d say she was human if it weren’t for her eyes – solid, pupil-less orbs of brilliant sapphire blue. “I’m sorry!” she calls, letting the horse find purchase again. “I’m…wait you!” she turns her head towards Gudrun. “Mistress of the Raven Queen… please… my brother, he fell off the roof yesterday and injured his head terribly. Grandmama sent me for the healer, but she’s in Alleria and we won’t be back before nightfall. Please, can you help?”
Gudrun nods and the party sets off following the girl. “Thank you thank you thank you! It’s not far, but we have to hurry…” The girl wheels the horse around yet again and sets off down a small lane between the fields of corn. The draft horse cuts plate sized divots out of the grassy turf as she urges the massive horse along at top speed. 30 minutes of hard riding later, the fields end and you see a small sod house and a rather larger clapboard barn sitting peacefully in the midst of the fields. The girl jumps off the draft horse calling “Grandmama! I’ve found someone to help!” The girl opens the door and ushers you into the dark dwelling.
The thick blocks of sod certainly insulate the house, but there’s very little light. One small lamp sits on a roughly hewn chair, casting a feeble light. An old woman stands next to the table, which has been converted into the patient’s makeshift bed. A young man lies senselessly on the table, sweating profusely and groaning. The woman sponges the youth’s forehead with a damp rag, and looks up as the door bangs open. “Back so soon Clarisse?” “Yes, Grandmama, I’ve brought help for Lazare.” The girl looks up at you, “Please, do what you can…” Baern and Aleistar examine and heal the young man, who eventually sits up groggily. Clarisse throws her arms around the dwarf’s neck, thanking him with all the youthful exuberance of a child. Grandmama is similarly relieved and extends their hospitality for the night in a thick accent.
The party agrees to stay the night, rather than push on and reach Laconia at nightfall. During dinner, Talara tactfully asks about Clarisse and Lazare’s heritage – Clarisse says her grandmother claims to be half-eladrin, but Clarisse thinks its more likely that there’s some tiefling of elven blood in their line.
After a restful night, the party continues on to Laconia. The town is eerily quiet – you hear the prairie winds whistling through the grasses, not the expected clatter of a farming town in the midst of harvest. Luck only worsens when you find the body of a paladin of the Raven Queen sprawled out on the middle of the path. Baern kneels down to examine the body, and it appears the man died of dehydration, though his waterskin is full. Aleistar also looks at the body, and finds it clutching a scrip of paper torn from a book. The front has part of a diagram and formulae on it; the back has the phrase “flsk. pure water”, with the pure underlined twice. Cautiously, the party heads into town, skeptical of what they may find.
In the first house Baern peers into, he sees two bodies – one lying on the floor near a broken cup, the other on the bed. As he opens the door, a wave of miasma floods over him; a stench so thick it’s nearly palpable. The woman lying on the bed is rotting, liquidizing. Great globs of flesh drip off her body. The man, on the other hand, is still alive, though running a high fever and delirious. As Baern tends to the man, Aleistar scans the room for any trace magical effects. He doesn’t like what he finds: the whole house is saturated with necromantic energy, most of it centered on the rotting body on the bed. Aleistar raises the alarm, pulls the man out of the house and swiftly shuts the door.
Meanwhile, Toriel and Ilu, disturbed by the paladin’s note, head towards the town well. They are distracted, however, by a low grumbling and bellowing from a barn to the south. Approaching the sun-bleached barn, they see three very angry bulls inside crowding around a fallen body. As the druid watches, one of the bulls lowers its head and rips a strip of flesh from the body, swallowing it with relish. Using the rafters of the barn wisely, the group vanquish the killer bulls and retrieve the paladin’s body. Gudrun finds yet another piece of paper with the cryptic phrase ‘lavender’ on it.
Continuing on, the group investigates the well. Located at the town’s center, the well seems on Aleistar’s first inspection, to be perfectly normal. Baern and Toriel, however, don’t even need to get close to the water to realize its putridness. Aleistar closes his eyes and senses magic, locating another pulsing, writhing mass of necrotic evil. After a few attempts, the group manages to fish the object out, finding a silver amulet – a triangle set with a single black stone.
Poking around some more, the party comes across a house that has been ransacked. Possessions are strewn all over the ground and everything is pulled several feet away from all the walls. A thorough search of the room yields no leads.
The next building on the docket seems to be a rich merchant’s house. Here, Talara finds another survivor. A balding mage, his wrist tattooed with a circle of raven’s feathers, lies slumped over a desk. Talara gathers the pages he was working on and manages to reconstruct his work – the group from Unkard arrived to find the village beginning to fall ill. The mage quickly realized the extent of the situation and formulated a remedy, but lacked a few key ingredients. It appears that he sent the paladins off to find the missing reagents. The final page of the ritual also appears to be missing. In a flash of inspiration, Talara realizes that the doodles on the back of the papers the paladins carried are the last sigil and the mysterious phrases are the missing reagents. Everyone scrambles to find the final paladin and lift the curse from the village. Ilu checks a final house, eventually punching through an oilpaper window, and peers inside. The final paladin lies stricken on the floor. Ilu quickly boosts Kasake up and through the window, where the intelligent wolf unlatches the door. The paladin holds the final scrap of paper with ‘valerian and yarrow’ written on it.
Now comes the scramble to find the missing reagents. The flask of pure water is simple enough – Gudrun had filled her waterskin at the home of Clarisse and her family. Ilu remembered that one of the buildings in town was a general store with a counter of herbs behind it, and quickly locates the yarrow, but only a few useless twigs remain where the valerian should be. Toriel, meanwhile, scours the gardens for lavender. His searching reveals a garden plot behind a house, but the lavender has already been cut for the winter. Talara has another brainwave – “The last house! The neat one! It had flowers hanging on the bedpost!” Gudrun opens the door and steps into a room full of the sweet smell of lavender. Ilu racks his brain and remembers that valerian is a fever reducer – and the villagers were all suffering from dehydration and fevers. He races to the inn which was serving as the village sickroom and finds the missing store of valerian.
With all the reagents gathered, all that remains is to find the place of casting. Their attention is drawn to a root cellar behind the house that was ransacked. They poke and prod in the basement, but aren’t having any luck. As they go to leave, a small voice whispers to Baern “Secret… here it is,” and Baern triggers the secret passage. The short stairway leads to a workshop that is clearly the casting point of the horrible necromantic ritual. Swirls of dark energy form a vortex around a pedestal in the center. Talara, Baern and Toriel join their knowledge of the arcane, the divine and the primal to cast the ritual described by the Raven Queen mage. The ritual is ultimately a success, though the strenuous casting takes its toll on the three partners.
The party emerges triumphantly from the hidden basement passageway, making sure to seal and collapse the passage behind them. They check in on the afflicted people, who seem to be waking from their comas, though they are still unsteady. The Raven Queen mage staggers down from the big house, “My ritual worked! I knew it, thank the gods…” The mage meets the remaining paladin in the inn, as they unsteadily sit, still taxed after succumbing to the plague. One of the villagers, a half-elven woman, seems to be doing markedly better than the rest of the villagers and is walking up and down the rows, tending to her neighbors.
The mage and paladin begin to tell the party of what they encountered in the village when the door to the inn flies open. The mage stand up to investigate, but is blasted backwards by a bolt of lightning. He hits the chimney and crumples to the floor, lifeless. The companions peek out the door and see a familiar, if unwelcome, figure – the cloaked, faceless ghost.
The battle is pitched and fierce, with the Ghost calling down lightning from the heavens repeatedly. Though he swung his spear with great skill, the combined forces of the companions from Unkard eventually bested the faceless Ghost. Lightning swirled from the clouded sky, striking all around him before a final stroke of lightning hits him. When the flash clears, all that is left is a charred circle on the ground.