The party wasted little time in making their preparations to leave. The only reason they were not out the door sooner was the arrival of Ali's mother, Daraya. Daraya fetched a portrait of her teenaged son, Rogin, and gave it to the party so that they might recognize him if they were to happen across him in their travels. The party promised to keep an eye out, but weren't confident that this search would ever bear fruit. The party, not wanting to prolong their departure, bid Daraya farewell and left to make their way to the ferry docks.
The docks were still quiet when the party arrived, with only one ferry accepting passengers. The ferry set off from Valehallow without much dallying, and carriedits passengers to a rather small dock on the other side of the Ahraem River. While onboard the ferry the party had a rather colorful encounter with an elven drunkard—who Ardeth proceeded to rob—but otherwise the journey passed by without incident.
Not wasting any time the party proceeded down the single trail that led into the Silverwood from the dock area, taking care to keep an eye out for any bandits or other unpleasantness. After several hours of this the party began to hear worrying creaking sounds from further ahead. The party crept forward slowly until they reached the source of these sounds, a large cart that took up the entirety of the trail. Before they could investigate for themselves a timid voice called out, asking if the party was bandits. Harold tried to play along and claim that they were, in fact, bandits, but the woman disbelieved and eventually the party conceded that they were not bandits. She told the party that her name was Eschana and that she was a merchant who was making her way through the Silverwood to avoid going all the way around but was growing paranoid thanks to the stories of bandits filling the forest.
The party asked if Eschana would be willing to give the party a ride, at least as far as Bellwater, to which she quickly agreed, thankful for the protection they would offer. The group continued along the trail for several hours more, engaging in idle chit-chat—or grim silence, in Ardeth's case. It wasn't long before the party encountered their first sign of some sort of strangeness. In this case it came in the form of a corpse along the side of the road—a young man with the back of his skull, and a not-insignificant portion of his back, completely missing. From all appearances, the man seemed to have only been dead a few days and in searching for any form of identification the party was only able to find a small coin purse filled with small stones rather than sharps.
At this juncture, Ael'srill decided to use their abilities to make contact with this dead man's spirit to expedite the party's investigation. With a little prodding, Ael'srill was able to reach the spirit and draw it into themselves so it could speak using their body. While the spirit was understandably confused by his current situation the party was able to glean some information from him. The man was named Kairos and was a tanner from the town of Bellwater where he lived with his sister, Kionne. His last memories were of going to bed the night before the harvest festival some five months prior. He remarked that he hadn't gone to the inn outside of the village with his friends, but otherwise there was nothing strange about that night that he could recall. He also admitted that he didn't know anything about why his body had a coinpurse full of stones. Deciding that they had all the information that they could get from the young man's spirit they bade him farewell, but not before promising him that they would see his body buried. Not having the tools to dig the man a grave, they piled stones over the body as best they could and continued on their way, with more questions than answers.
Later that day the party spotted a humanoid figure crouched in a tree quite a distance away that gave them pause. After some hurried discussion and quick decisions, Kalise fired a single arrow at the figure, striking home and sending them crashing to the ground, dead.
The party continued forward, more slowly now that they realized they could be walking into a trap. As they approached a bend in the trail several cloaked figures appeared behind them, pulling ropes that dropped several large logs onto the trail, preventing their retreat. These figures then melted back into the surrounding forest, leaving the party alone. Having few alternatives the party decided to continue forward with weapons ready, as prepared as they could be for what might be ahead. The party carefully rounded the bend and found themselves confronted by a group of three men—presumably bandits—with their backs to them, chatting amongst themselves. Wasting little time the party engaged the group in ranged combat, quickly taking out two of them and sending the third fleeing into the woods.
While puzzled at how poorly thought out this trap had been the party nonetheless set about ransacking the camp. Most interestingly the party found a locked chest in the largest and nicest of the tents, the party decided it would be best to take the chest with them and try to open it later, and retreated to the cart. Back at the cart, however, they encountered a bearded man, leaning casually against it. The man seemed unconcerned at the party's apprehension and even their threats, treating them like old friends rather than strangers. The man revealed his name to be Novoi and he noted the chest they were carrying, giving them detailed instructions on where they could find its key. When pressed on why he knew this Novoi brushed it aside and refused to give a straight answer. At some point Roy realized that Novoi's beard was, in fact, fake and proceeded to rip it from his face, revealing him to be much younger than they had initially assumed. Novoi seemed somewhat miffed, but—if anything—more amused at the situation. Harold then demanded Novoi hand over his scarf, which he did after only a little prodding, revealed a wicked scar running around his neck. Eventually, the party was able to extricate themselves from Novoi, but not before he asked them if any of the men they had fought had escaped, to which they admitted one had.
The party continued along the trail, keeping an eye out for any more interruptions. As they closed in on their destination they found themselves near a landmark that matched the description provided by Novoi of the location of the chest's key. Novoi's words were proven true when the party found the key in the exact location as described, which they wasted no time in using, opening up their prize from the bandit encampment. Inside the chest the party was able to find 41 sharps, 5 strange iron ingots, and two seemingly blank letters bearing a stylized 'N' at the bottom as a crest.
At this point, the sun was hanging very low in the sky and the party was growing tired, but they pushed on, knowing they weren't far now from the village's outskirts. Within a few minutes, the party found themselves at the front door of a large building, which they realized must be the inn that had been described to them previously. While Eschana saw about getting her horse settled into the stable the party entered the inn to see about getting some rooms and a meal.
Inside the inn, the innkeeper Temmond stood behind the counter, distractedly polishing the same spot with a dirty rag, even as the party approached. Whenever prompted by the party the man would respond with some variation of the phrase "Welcome to the Bellwater Inn, can I get you a room?" but never moved from his position behind the counter. It seems that the mystery of Bellwater would not be solved as easily as the party might have hoped…
—END OF SESSION FIVE—
—TO BE CONTINUED—