In vain the party attempted to interact with Temmond, but the man continued to repeat a handful of phrases without any hint that he understood the party's words. After several minutes of this, the party gave up and decided to explore the rest of the inn, in search of any hint as to what was going on. Upstairs the party found four dusty, but completely empty, bedrooms. Eschana arrived in the midst of the party's search and revealed that the stablehand was in the same state as the innkeeper. The party also discovered a small kitchen pantry still full of preserved food downstairs. Not willing to risk sleeping outside in the Silverwood the party set up a rotating watch and settled down for the night in the rooms upstairs.
Sometime during Ardeth's watch, he began to detect a faint humming coming from somewhere to the north that drew his undivided attention. Once the humming had faded away and he was able to think freely again Ardeth decided to keep this event to himself, deeming it unimportant.
It wasn't long before the sun rose and the party found themselves preparing to push forward to Bellwater proper. After checking in once more with Temmond to make sure he hadn't grown more lively during the night and ransacking the kitchen for supplies the party set off down the road northward. The road to Bellwater revealed itself to be extremely quiet, with even the sounds of animals sounding far-off. As the cart continued down the road Ardeth once again found his skull reverberating with the almost pleasant hum coming from the direction of Bellwater. This time, however, the hum was accompanied by faint whispers that Ardeth couldn't decipher. Once again, however, he felt that this event was of no consequence and did not mention it to the party. As the party closed in on Bellwater these whispers grew in volume until he could make out the words: "Welcome home, be reborn, come to me," repeated again and again. Harold and Kalise noticed Ardeth's reverie but passed it off as Ardeth being his usual taciturn self.
Eventually, the party arrived at the wide-open gate leading into Bellwater and beyond it a barren street that obviously hadn't seen traffic in a long time. Once the party pushed farther into the town, however, they discovered the town's inhabitants to be alive and well—at least on a surface level. Once the party attempted to converse with these people they realized that they suffered from the same affliction as Temmond the innkeeper and his stablehand. The party continued through the town until they arrived at what was likely the largest—and most important—building in town. The party quickly discovered that the door to the building was locked and they collectively looked to Ardeth for assistance in picking it. Ardeth, however, was distracted and had difficulty understanding the party. Just when the party began to catch onto what was going on with Ardeth the man bolted away, heading deeper into town. The rest of the party chased in pursuit, leaving Eschana and her cart behind.
The party eventually catches up to Ardeth at the entrance to a ragged, faded tent set up in a large common square. Ardeth finally mustered the mental strength to force himself to tell the party what he's been dealing with for the last few hours. During this conversation, several of the near-mindless townspeople begin shuffling close, surrounding the party—almost ushering them into the tent. As this happens Ardeth once again takes off into the tent, jumping down into a crude pit that has been dug into the dirt floor. The rest of the party quickly follow him into the pit, though perhaps a bit more carefully.
The bottom of the pit was filled with the scattered remains of other tents that have been crudely piled, possibly for this exact purpose. And the pit led into a tunnel crudely carved out of stone and dirt that extended into the darkness. Kalise lit several torches as she had done during their previous underground excursion and handed them out to the party members, preparing for some exploration.
Ardeth was growing more and more frantic, while he was in control of his thoughts and his body at the moment he feared that at any moment that would be taken away again. Before the party could make any concrete plans on how to proceed Ardeth's fears were proven right as he found himself knocking past his companions at a breakneck pace, heading into the darkness. The party chased Ardeth as far as they could, but eventually, they found themselves at a fork in the tunnel, with Ardeth's footsteps being so faint that they could be coming from either path. The party was quick in deciding to split up, not wanting to risk Ardeth stumbling into the clutches of whatever person or creature was causing all of this.
Down one path Ael'srill and Kalise eventually encountered a large pool of a strange green fluid that seemed to have the same viscosity of water. When they dropped a torch in the pool to check if the liquid was flammable or not they discovered that the torch sunk very slowly into the liquid and did not go out. In fact, it illuminated a strange, round stone at the center of the pool that they could not see before. Ael'srill used their telekinetic abilities to remove it from the pool to investigate it later. They then continued forward down the only path available.
Down the other path Harold, Roy, and Sylthana found themselves traversing a far more regular tunnel as if made by tools rather than claws. Eventually, they found a door leading into a square chamber that seemed at odds with their surroundings. Inside the chamber were five corpses—all missing the back of their skulls—and five small insect-like creatures that shied away from the party members when they approached. Set into the ceiling was a strange magical device emitting light that Roy was able to determine was an ancient magical device used for raising and lowering things, and that it had been last used to raise this chamber. Not wanting to waste much more time they continued along the path, taking note that it was obvious that something had, in the past, been dragged from this chamber deeper on into the tunnel.
At this point the party rejoined, as both passages terminated in the same location, with a third pathway leading to where Ardeth must have gone. Down the final passage, Ardeth had regained enough of himself to slow his walk to a mere shuffle. As well, upon hearing the party's approach he began to call out to them, spurring them on to their final destination. The party found Ardeth at the entrance to a large chamber with something lurking in the darkness that almost seemed to absorb the light. The party planned to split up, with half remaining back to hold Ardeth from continuing forward, and half continuing to investigate, but in the shuffle Ardeth was once again compelled to rush onward, stopping at the edge of a cliff, only feet away from what they were seeking.
By the time the party had regathered with Ardeth the form in front of them began to shift about, as if awakening. Before they could do anything, six monstrously large eyes blinked in front of them, emitting a powerful red light that illuminated the head of a giant creature the party did not recognize. The creature shared features with insects, crabs, and scorpions, but what the party found their gaze drawn to most was the creature's terrifying, open mouth. The mouth was ringed by innumerable needle-thin teeth and seemed large enough to fit a dozen people with room to spare. Worst of all, however, was that each of them was beginning to hear a small voice in the back of their mind telling them to jump in.
The creature, at this time, began to speak to the party via the telepathy that it had used to compel Ardeth to this point. It introduced itself as the Scion of the Brood and claimed that "all will become one with the Brood," including the party members. The party continued to press the creature and learned that the Brood was not a new menace, but one that had been beaten long ago and just reawakened. It claimed that the one who woke it up taught them to "sing" and had taken their daughter's far away. Eventually, the creature tired of conversation, and redoubled its efforts at control, attempting to force them to leap to their probable demise.
The party was successful at shaking off this first assault and the Scion finally noticed that the stone the party was now carrying. It grew agitated and the party responded by attempting several times to smash the stone, causing the creature great distress. The stone grew heavily cracked and began to leak green light from its cracks, but eventually, the stone slipped away from their grip and tumbled away into the dark pit where most of the creature's form hid. At this, the creature turned again to attempt to control the party, succeeding in making Harold and Roy so enamored with the idea of joining the Brood that they attempted to make running leaps for her wide-open mouth. Harold was able to be restrained but Roy made his leap successfully and Ardeth was narrowly able to catch him by the wrist and drag him back up the ledge before things got any worse and the party finally set about trying to fight the creature.
The first few attempts at outright attacks failed to come close to hitting the Scion, and Ardeth found himself pinned under one of the creature's large claws, which could have spelled the party's doom were it not for Harold's quick thinking. Still feeling the aftereffects of the Scion's control Harold used those feelings to fuel his conversational skills to sweet talk the creature, putting the creature off guard and distracting it long enough for the rest of the party to nail some truly devastating blows, sending black ichor spewing forth from the creature's surprisingly frail form. It wasn't long before a final blow was struck and the creature crumpled pathetically into the pit below, causing Harold to shed a single tear of perplexing sorrow.
Ael'srill quickly retrieved the stone from below, careful not to touch it now that it was coated in the Scion's black ichor. Roy determined that this stone was a magical catalyst intended to change materials touching it, which was proven true as the party observed the ichor slowly slough off the stone, turning into that strange green fluid Ael'srill and Kalise had spotted earlier.
The party backtracked to the square chamber from earlier in an attempt to use it to return to the surface but they could not make the ancient mechanism function so they pushed on to the point at which they had descended. In the pile of tents they had jumped into earlier they were able to find a crudely-made ladder constructed of tent poles and sticks that had gotten buried and the party set about using it to ascend back to ground level.
With the townspeople that had gathered around the tent having dispersed in the interim the party set about investigating the town once again, to check for any changes. Once they had reconvened with Eschana she told the party that things had not changed drastically since they had all run off. She did mention, however, that she had spotted one of the townspeople convulse and collapse in an alley nearby, but had been too afraid to investigate.
In the alley pointed out by Eschana the party discovered the corpse of a young man with the back of his skull blown out and a trail of blood leading into a nearby home. Inside the building, the party discovered another of those small insect-like creatures skittering around fearfully, which the party took out easily. There was nothing inside the building to suggest it was important in any way, so they decided that the creature had taken refuge inside out of convenience more than anything.
The party checked back in with the building they had been investigating before Ardeth's episode and finally had Ardeth pick the lock so they could see what was inside. In one of the building's offices they found a middle-aged man dead in a chair, killed by a self-inflicted dagger wound, and several sheets of paper with writing on a desk. The papers revealed that a stranger wearing red and white robes had come into Bellwater some time before the harvest festival and offered his services in setting things up, at no pay. This, along with information the party had gathered up to this point, suggested to the party that there was no one left in Bellwater for them to save. That all the people they had encountered up to now had been victim to what had almost been their fate underground, joining the Brood.
Solemnly, the party set about the grim task of killing the creatures that now roamed the town, as they were not people, and leaving them to live as they were was more dangerous than the alternative. This done, the party settled in to stay the night in the town, needing a rest after the long day they had been through.
—END OF SESSION SIX—
—TO BE CONTINUED—