The party decided it was beneficial to drive the orc miners needed to be removed from the encampment.
Approaching Lord Berrian Velfarren for his assistance – he said that he would be willing to, if he was confident of victory, it was not worth risking his forces (which could not be easily replaced) to antagonize the orcs otherwise. To do so, he wanted additional forces from win Winterhaven.
Going to the Watchtower overlooking the vale (a prime strategic location]] the party found that it had the addition of a very large tree – with metal embedded in it, shamanic lanterns, and House Tharask Banners draped on it. While a monkey slept / meditated in front, a half-orc shaman danced around the roots of the tree. Scouting, the party determined that the watchtower was definitely a site of aberrant magic, which presented a visual ‘skin’ of appearing the same as the moment of the change, but presented no immediate means of ingress.
Speaking to the shaman – Garan – they learn that he is a relative of Bakrosh, who heard about this anomaly through his family (who isn’t helping him much). He suspects it’s related to some magical artifact of chaos nearby, but hasn’t tracked it down yet. The party asked permission to enter the tower and recover the artifacts – but he said he wasn’t comfortable they would actually use the artifact to reduce the corruption in the area, since they seemed to be the typical group of adventurers: murderous vagabonds pillaging their way through the countryside. Finding no argument against that assertion and not wanting to take on the man, the party departed. But not before Fax Fortuna hugged the tree, which – as relayed by Garan – seemed to find something familiar to the party.
They then decided to approach the Gardmore Abbey Temple. Approaching the back way, through the Feygrove and past the belltower, they found their way to the central plaza – where Ser Oakley was praying, in preparation to enter the Temple and begin a right of purification… the quest for which he had traveled from Gloomwrought to accomplish. Determining that they had sufficiently common purpose to travel together, he joined the party as they prepared to enter the ruins.
In the main hall, they encountered several harpies – who had apparently taken upon themselves the role of priestesses of the Silver Flame. They managed to, somehow, activate / summon several of the Temple Guardians – three angels of vengeance and the ghost of an armored Knight. The party defeated them, while Oakley began his prayers. Unfortunately, the temple was far more corrupted than he had originally known – he only managed to purify the temple pool (which granted the players a small blessing).
In the altar, Rabite found the Flame card from the Deck of Many Things. In a back room, the party found 1600t papered to the wall with harpy feces into the shape of religious icons. Adrik helpfully used a cleaning ritual on the room, and the money was recovered for the party funds. Ser Oakley inquired into the manifestation of the Flame, seeking more information about the cards, but Rabite denied knowledge of such and hid his possession of the artifact fragment.
As they progressed into the catacombs, they found evidence of recent passage, most likely by the other adventuring party.
The party entered the Hall of Glory, where several of the Order’s greatest Knights – including its founder – were interred. Most unusually, the centerpiece tilework on the ground was an image of Tira, the greatest martyr of the Flame, depicted as a silvery dragon. Here, they saw the seemingly flesh embodiments of those knights conducting a service. Oakley immediately knelt in respect, however the party keenly observed several discrepancies to the ritual, determined they were false visions and corrupt spirits… and immediately attacked, dispatching the soul sucking spirits with alacrity.
Here, the path branched: Oakley reported he believed the Font of Divine Health was to the north, while his goal – the Dragonslayers’ Tomb – was most directly to the East. The party proceeded East.
This branch of the catacomb – the Mosaic Room – was slightly collapsed, with roots from trees above having broken away parts of the ceiling. A mosaic of the Abbey’s history covered the walls. Following the directions of the vision he received at the Feygrove Font, Rabite immediately discerned that two secret passages lead out of this room. One, to the Inner Sanctum, one to the Fallen Tomb (holding the remains of those Knights who were corrupted during the Abbey’s Third Crusade against a serpent cult). The room was defended by several mummies, a native rotgrub colony – and a particular gaurdian, a flaming skull. The rooms occupants dispatched handily, the party investigated the skulls particular enchantments. Apparently, its the head of one of the Abbey’s oldest knights – specifically defiled and enchanted to serve as a repository of knowledge (and defender) for it’s Master, Vadin Cartwright.
Oakley offered the use of the temple’s inner sanctum as a place of rest, if the party required, but they determined to press on to the site of purification.
Passing through the dragonscale curtain noting the names of those Knights who had participated in slaying the great monsters, the party was immediately attacked by several ghasts and summoned wraiths defending the room. This time, the party seemed overwhelmed by the opposition. (It didn’t help that Adrik had stayed behind to conduct a ritual along with Rabite, while Aeun and Perrin were still nowhere to be found after they departed to track down a displacer beast.) Most of the party had fallen by the time Rabite charged in, saving many from certain death.
Mara Baker, unfortunately, had sacrificed herself defending the party and could not be saved… her spirit summoned in rageful form to further harry her former allies. It was only after the death of the last of the summoned wraiths, that she escaped its control… and, speaking spectrally, managed to stay Rabite’s wrath and prevent him from murdering the unconscious form of Sir Oakley (whom Rabite considered a heathen who was responsible for all that happened… and was, further, preventing them from looting as much as he would otherwise like).
With the spectral form of Mara having faded away, and the rest of the party unconscious, Victara Stongsteel attempted to secure the room from intrusion… and, with Rabite, went off to loot the portions of the catacombs they had avoided in the company of Ser Oakley. While they didn’t find anything of value, they did explore the Fallen Tomb more thoroughly, discovering that a vampire kept its corporeal form in one of the sarcophagi – a woman of great beauty and strength, still in her armor and bearing a sword.
Returning to their recovering comrades, they determined that Mara’s body was missing. Iata, who had been left in the room unfortunately didn’t see what happened (she was still hiding, as she tends to do during fights). Ser Oakley declared that he thought he could – conditionally, here in the temple – raise her body, but only after advancing his purification ritual. Thus, he began chanting over the recovered . As he did so, the angered spirits of the temple began to close in, attempting to distract him… including the darkest form of Mara’s spirit. While Rabite and Fax sang hymns of safety (which Fax stumbled on), Vic saw spectral Mara’s interference – whispering heresy into Oakley’s ear – and worked to reassure him as he completed this stage of the ritual.
Oakley’s chanting concluded with a burst of divine energy – and Mara’s spirit was purged of some of it’s ambient darkness, passing into the spirit lands again.
Determining that to assist Mara further, he would need the chalice filled with water from the Font of Divine Health, Vic and Iata undertook to sneak into that room (hopefully avoiding its guardians) to steal away with some. As the prepared to enter, though, they saw the other party making its way through as well! They were fighting defensively, while they maneuvered for a hidden exit – the opportunity for a distraction was perfect, but very short lived. Vic and Iata moved quickly through the room, attracting no notice. After filling the chalice, Vic noted that the other party had discovered a secret passage out of the room – likely another entrance to the Inner Sanctum, given its location. She quickly passed the chalice to Iata, said “I’ll be right back,” quaffed some potion and vanished.
Iata stumbled and nearly fell as the tried to make her way out of the room without attracting notice from the skeletal guardians – Fax used her magic to catch the falling chalice, ushering it safely from the room, while Iata ran from the flame bursts exploding around her. Barring the door behind them; Iata, Oakley and Fax began to take the long way around to Sanctum entrance – Oakley chanting over the Chalice with each step.
Rabite, it seems, had excused himself much earlier – leaving on his own to attempt to get to the Sanctum himself, ahead of the rest of the party.