he morning came early. Zandu had spent most the night tossing and turning, not his normal routine. He was preoccupied. His mind kept going back to the news of the missing children. Five of them. So young…only ages ten to fourteen. What had possessed them to leave town? He thought back to his childhood in Promise. It seemed so long ago now. His life had been privileged compared to most of the children of the Inner Sea. He was attending school and learning history and had been bred to believe he was better than the rest of the world, as he was. But he had come to realize in the last year of traveling that there were many remarkable people in the world and from every country. While training for two years before he was allowed to leave Hermea, he was steeped in the mentalities and practices of the cultures of Golorian. He was instructed on how to act and what to expect from the various peoples. He studied long and hard with his own mother who was from Varisia…his cover province. But had he not begun to understand a sense of adventure by the age of ten. And a child like Kimi who could idolize her father Idris Eavewalker it could be easy for her to rally a group of kids into an adventuring group. Zandu smiled at the thought. His mind was made up. They needed to find the kids and return them to the relative safety of town. Certainly something had gone wrong or they would have returned on their own.
He dressed in his normal pocketed pants and shirt. Then put on his brightly colored vest with a few more pockets and slung his pouched belt around his waist. He checked to make sure potions were where they needed to be and properly stoppered. They had cost him a small fortune in donations to the Church of Iomedae but Justicar Gellius had assured him that venturing into the depths of Droskar’s Crucible was no small task. The stories of monsters varied from the lingering ghost of Druingar the Glintaxe, who had gone in seeking to recover the artifact The Grasp of Droskar that his ancestor had wrought and had died in his search, to ancient fire demons who lived in the molten lava veins that came close to the surface underneath the crucible. Zandu thought back and gave an unconscious nod. Good to be prepared, he thought. He continued to prepare himself by tucking his Temple Sword into his belt behind his back. The long handle stuck out and made it easy to draw. He tucked the handaxe in at his belt and then drew on his long traveling coat. This had come from Hermea with him. It was brightly colored in the Varisian style and had protected him from the storms, cold, and sun, alike on his way toward the City at the Center of the World. Finally he put his bladed scarf around his neck and let it fall down to his knees. It was a dual purpose item. It helped sell his Varisian heritage and acted as a line of self defense. The dozens of little blades running down the length of the inside made it a most lethal weapon. He could use it to entangle his foes. They often never saw the attack coming before he had the scarf around their arms and his hands around their neck.
He left his old light crossbow and the shortsword and in the strong box along with other items he had recovered from his trip into Darkmoon Wood. He would not need the holy items nor the few belongings they had recovered from other fallen adventurers. Taking half his money with he left the other half at the bottom of the strong box. The coins jingled in their little pouch. Zandu took a few minutes to clear his mind and lay out a hand of Harrow. He read in the cards that the his path was full of surprises and personal gain. He took the hand in a good light. Pocketing the deck he went downstairs and spoke to Jak. He told him he was headed out but wanted to retain his room. He dropped 8 gold coins into his hand that assured his room was not disturbed for the next seven days. Jak gave his word he would look after to keep people out. But anything could happen.
Zandu headed out to find information on where the children had gone. He came upon two boys playing with a disc in the street. They looked about the age of the missing children and Zandu took a guess and asked them. They were nervous at first but then eagerly told him that they had all been talking about the ghosts at Elara’s Halfway House and Kimi had refused to believe they existed. She took a bet that they could spend the night up on the hill and her little band of adventurers headed out. The boys now believed the ghosts had taken the kids captive as punishment for disturbing their restless sleep. Zandu took the information with gratitude and promised to find out what had happened to their friends. Zandu finally caught up with Dhohar at lunch. Kieyanna also had readied her weapons and packed her backpack. Dhohar had picked up a new item and by the time Zandu was able to ask them about going after the kids Dhohar had come to the same conclusion. Thus, the Adventurers headed out after lunch.
They made the eight mile walk to the ruins of Elara’s Halfway House without any problems. As they crested the hill upon which the house had been built they saw the burned and collapsed remains of the large wooden structure.
The blackened husk of the orphanage lies atop the hill. Charred timbers are strewn among piles of caked ash and the only edifice left standing is a soot-stained stone arch. A small stuffed doll lies below the arch, her face seared off and her patchwork dress spilling dirty stuffing. Beside her, a troop of half-melted tin soldiers stand in formation, their bodies twisted and deformed by the blaze that claimed their owner’s life.
Elara had once been a woman who took in the orphans of the Vale and gave them a future with hope. Elara had built the house away from town to prevent the evil taint of the town from influencing the children. However the distance that was to save the children doomed them in the end. There had been a horrible fire 4 months before that had burned the whole place to the ground. The fire watch from Falcon’s Hollow was unable to get to the Halfway House in time to help. Everyone had burned alive in the fire.
Searching through the debris Kieyanna discovered a charred bit of wood in the otherwise stone foundation. The lock, melted from the intensity of the fire, would not allow the door to open. The wood looked weakened from the fire and Kieyanna and Zandu took turns kicking it until it gave way. The light shone down into a cellar of about 15 feet square.
The stench of rot belches forth from this rank cellar. A chipped, blood-stained oaken table rests against one wall, with all manner of blades and barbed instruments laid out on it. A single pair of rusted shackles is bolted into the opposite wall, whose bricks are stained in a bloody account of pain and cruelty. The robed corpse of a woman on the floor is the source of the reeking stench of decay.
Zandu, never one to let his senses get in the way of his mission, blocked out the offensive scent of decay and took a step down into the cellar. The skylight came down creating a nice square pyramid of light that broadened as it reached the floor. Dhohar descended second with his floating light stone over his head. He had called it an ioun stone. He had discovered it at the house of Shavaros Vade, the father of one of the missing children and a hermit and wizard in Falcon’s Hollow. Dhohar had given his word to search for the child as part of his payment for the stone. As he descended the steps his floating light chased away the shadows. Dhohar crossed the room to examine the remains and Zandu looked around the room. He noticed the tools of torture sitting on the table and considered the meaning of the shackles on the wall. Two silver daggers stuck out among the iron implements. hohar bent over to examine the remains. He determined it was the woman Elara and she had not been burned in the flames, but her throat was ripped out with claws. Just at that moment the skin of the remains started moving and buldging as a swarm of dimunitive spiders started crawling out of every opening in her body. Dhohar jumped to his feet and was on the opposite wall before Zandu had realized what was going on. Thousands of spiders kept coming out of the body and started working their way toward the two adventurers. Kieyanna was just coming down the ladder when the shout went out and a monstrous spider descended from its hiding place in the corner of the ceiling. The spider must have fed on the woman and then used her to incubate her babies.
The spiders crawled up Zandu’s feet and started rising up his legs. The pain of their little bites was unbearable. In a moment of terror he began swatting at them with his temple sword. The weapon seemed to have no impact. As the tiny creatures were flung out of the way hundred more took their place. There were just too many to contend with. Dhohar gave the call to get back out of the cellar and Zandu was the second up the ladder with Dhohar right behind him. Back above the cellar they had a moment to stomp off the remaining spiders on Zandu and formulate a plan. Kieyanna had been the only one to have any success. She had burned a few of the spiders as they came near her and the fire consumed the bodies. Talking quickly they devised a plan. Zandu dropped his backpack and removed 4 pints of lamp oil. He immediately threw them hard down against the stone floor of the cellar and dropped in Kieyanna’s burning torch. The whole room irrupted in a burst of flame that rapidly burned the spiders on the stairs and spread to those still in the body. There was a horrible sizzling and popping noise as the creatures boiled from the inside before cracking their exoskeleton. The fire burned out after five minutes and then continued to smoke for another fifteen. Zandu descended the charred steps to ensure there were no more dangers. He was pleased to see the fire had totally consumed the body of Elara and left only the black bones. He picked up the shiny silver daggers, no covered in soot and carried them up the stairs leaving the remaining implements of torture. If there were warewolves as Dhohar feared, these daggers were worth the excitement. He reached the top and nodded to the other two. “It is done,” he said to them. Then he held out the dagger and gave it to Kieyanna. “Better to be prepared. Just in case.” He said with a nod toward Dhohar.
Brushing himself clean and picking up his backpack Zandu readied himself. That had been more excitement than he had anticipated.
Searching the area for signs of the children reveal a campsite not far from the ruins. A large, makeshift tent lies shredded on the ground beside a crude fireplace of flat stones. Signs of a struggle are everywhere, with broken twigs, crushed foliage, scraps of clothing, and patches of blood on the ground. There are several scales around the fire pit. Dhohar saw them and said, “Kobold scales. They might have abducted the children.” Dhohar spotted the tracks leading into the woods and said he could follow them. After leaving the camp site and nearing the wood line Dhohar pulled out the shirt Ralla had given to Kieyanna and let him get a scent of the boy to track it too. Between the two of them Zandu was confident they were on the right track.