We cut off kind of abruptly last session, so we'd freed the Baron but not really decided on what we were going to do next. I thought we were going to head back and report to the High Provost, but... Azrael and Martini were of the opinion that it was our job to finish cleaning things up, which meant going after the human raiding force instead. Reverend Mercy was of the opinion that this would be a good way to demonstrate the power of Artem-hiss, and Ruin (being Ruin) was easy to pursuade on this. Human killing elves? Sure, he'll go help kill them.
So they head south, in the direction where they've been told the raiders are. On the way, they encounter a pair of refugees. The woman is vocally of the opinion that Reverend Mercy has no place here, and continues on past us. The man stops and explains that they've just come from a small hamlet called Stalion, and they're fleeing because the place was attacked by humans. A bit of questioning reveals that these were probably human soldiers, more than ten but less than one hundred. Which is more than we knew before, so...
We approach Stalion cautiously, sending the wizard's familiar ahead to scout, and find that the town has been sacked: buildings partly or completely burned, bodies lying in the street, and one dead human just outside of town. We check him first, and it looks like he's been killed by one of the Elvish double-scimitars. He's also been stripped of armor, but there's a masterwork greatsword behind him and a masterwork composite longbow lying nearby... which is not only pretty good loot, it's an ominous indicator that these guys are pretty well equipped. No bandits here; this is an organized professional fighting force.
Mercy decides to ask the dead guy a few questions, so he picks up the body and goes looking for someplace where he can perform his ritual undisturbed. (The actual spell can be cast quite quickly, but that's not how things are done where Mercy is concerned.) So we approach the nearest intact house, and get all the way to the front door before something clunks inside and somebody says, "Uh-oh."
So now we're fighting a quarto of raiders who have either stayed in the hamlet to loot things, or have come back for more looting. We make relatively short work of them, with Azrael the wizard blinding two of them and debuffing the others; he does no actual physical damage, but makes it easy for the rest of us. When we get down to the last one, Ruin calls for his surrender and he replies with, "Los Muertos never surrender!" He then promptly gets killed.
Usually in combat, at least somebody gets taken out without actually dying; they're bleeding out and unable to fight, but not actually dead yet and Marshall Mercy can heal them back up to minimal health and question them. Not this time. We killed these guys a little too thoroughly for that. So, we're back to waiting for Marshall Mercy to perform this elaborate ritual with snakes and candles and speaking in tongues, and finally the dead raider's ghost appears and Mercy asks it the three questions that the spell permits him:
-Who is their master? "King Luc III our master."
-Why were they sent to Duendewood? "To scare the elves and put them in their place."
-How many of you are there? "Six squads and two commanders."
Azrael and Martini are from this area; Azrael knows of two nearby settlements, Shien-lo and Mellicure. Shien-lo isn't too far away, and it looks like the soldiers came from that direction. We decide to sleep in the house (after tossing the corpses outside) and depart for Shien-lo in the morning.
On watch, Martini hears someone moving around outside and cracks open the shutters on the window. The figure she sees looks elvish, so she calls out in that language, and he answers.
The elf's name is Jerro, and he's tremendously relieved when Martini introduces herself as a member of the Duentlethar family since clearly that means we've brought an army to destroy these humans. He gives us a bit more information about the raiders: they've already sacked Shien-lo. They attack and then they disappear; the scouts can't find them. Their tracks lead all the way to the hamlet of Serpent's Head, but they vanish there. Martini sends him off to Brindinford, and in the morning we head for Shien-lo.
It isn't far, and it's just as devastated as Stalion was. But there's another refugee, Trendel, who falls in love with Martini on the spot and tells us that the humans killed nearly everyone here about two days ago. There are six squads of eight guys (missing a few now, Ruin observes) and two boss guys. He thinks they came from Serpent's Head and Thonkra. Martini leaves him unconscious inside a house, with a note thanking him for the amazing sex and advising him to head to Brindinford. So far, nobody has actually managed to send word to the High Provost to send reinforcements, though we've talked about it a lot. We head on.
Thonkra's a ruin, too.
Serpent's Head, on the other hand, is mysteriously untouched... despite the fact that the tracks of these forty-someodd humans lead straight into town. There's a number of houses with paths in between them, a small temple with a priest shaking out a rug in front, and nothing that really looks out of place -- which seems really out of place.
So Reverend Mercy pulls on a uniform that we took from one of the dead raiders, and staggers into town pretending to be badly wounded. He is startled to discover that the temple is devoted to Artemis, in the mistaken view of her as the mistress of the hunt and not her proper role as the goddess of snakes, but he staggers towards the elf cleric... who starts to move to help, then realizes that Mercy isn't actually bleeding. Mercy says he needs to get to the others, and the cleric swears he saw "some of you guys" running through the town late last night. At this news, Mercy suffers and attack of the vapors, collapses dramatically, and goes to sleep on the spot. (He can do that.)
By the time the owl familiar reports back and the rest of us move into town, Reverend Mercy is nowhere to be seen.
Ruin sees somebody in the window of the house nearest the temple, but the moment he tries to speak to her she slams the shutters and disappears. Undiscouraged, Ruin proceeds to the temple and knocks on the door.
The priests of Artemis are Mira and Silver. We explain a bit of what's going on, including our "crazy human companion" and why he showed up in the uniform, and the fact that the humans in that uniform appear to be the ones raiding nearby settlements. They think we should talk to Damian, a ranger who lives nearby. If anybody's hiding something, it's Damian.
Mercy, meanwhile, wakes up on a bed in a room in the basement, and sets out to explore. He immediately discovers that the room next door is a brewery, and begins sampling the beers.
Upstairs, the priestess is showing Azrael the Wizard the naga skull that they keep on the altar, and explaining about how it was slain by the hand of Artemis herself, and how this is where people traditional make offerings -- a hint that Azrael is absolutely oblivious too. She also mentions, in passing, that Azrael reminds them of their neighbor Wendy. She also thinks that Brarima and Falail at the tavern might know about anything odd going on in town.
So this time we send Azrael up to the door of the house nearest the temple, while everybody else hangs back. Wendy opens the slot on her door very slowly, looks Azrael over, and then points out that she lives alone because she dislikes people. Azrael knows exactly what she means.
At this point, Reverend Mercy decided to Turn Undead just to make sure neither of them were vampires. This... didn't go as expected; it caused a lot of crashing and banging further back in the house. He just... turned her servitors. "How could you?" she cries, slams the slot on the door closed, and is gone. From behind the door Azrael can hear her baby-talking her pets. Marshall Mercy has just cock-blocked a fellow party member by turning undead, something I've never heard of in all my years of DnD. Azrael decides that he must... write a poem.
Mercy, meanwhile, is shocked and appalled at having done this to one of his companions, and immediately retreats to the woods to find a quiet place to rest. Ruin, Azrael, and Martini proceed to the ranger's house and find it guarded by a large wolf; Ruin stays to try to talk to the ranger while the brother and sister move on to the tavern and meet Brarin and Falail.
(Azrael, aside, to his sister: "Amber Ale? That sounds like one of your friends, Martini.")
The tavernkeeper Falail admits that they've had some human swordsmen buying booze late at night. She's convinced that Silver and Mira (the clerics) are hiding something. She and Brarin also think Wendy is strange.
Meanwhile, Ruin has managed to get the attention of the ranger Damian, who (probably not coincidentally) wears one of the elvish double-scimitars on his back. Damian is convinced that the human raiders have something to do with Wendy. Asked where they could possibly be hiding, he says that there are caverns all through this area, and plenty of people have basement entrances to the cave system. He and Ruin chat a bit, and make a deal that whoever finds the human raiders will let the other one kill them. Or will kill them himself. Or they'll do it together. So long as the raiders end up dead, it's all good.
Back at the tavern, Brarin mentions that he thinks maybe there's a passageway down to the caverns in the graveyard. Martini, meanwhile, tries to convince him to sell our barrels of poisoned booze to the soldiers, the next time they come by.
Mercy finally wakes up from his nap, while the other three are getting more information at the tavern - mostly about the other inhabitants of the town. Clover lives in the house behind the ranger; Lotharian has a house up on the hill, and is a newcomer and therefore suspicious. Of course, he's an elven "newcomer" who's been here for years, but he didn't grow up here so he can't be trusted.
Mercy returns with a zombie to server as Azrael's companion, and sends him off to mend things with Wendy. So he returns to court Wendy with a zombie of his own and a goth poem that he's been working on all afternoon. Wendy is... gothier than he is. Her zombies are bugbears, and she's named them Pain and Suffering. Still, she's sufficiently impressed to invite him to come along to the graveyard with her ("not that it matters, really.") He casts Fly on them both so she doesn't have to sneak in.
It turns out she worships the Dracolich Asura, the Muse of Life and Death. (Muses, in this setting, are something like gods except that instead of actively cultivating worshippers and providing spells and guidance to mortals, they embody certain primal principles and make them available to the mortal world.) Azrael is down with this. Then she pulls out a pouch of black onyx.
There's a giant buried in the cemetery. Its name was Blarg. Azrael has been in touch with Reverend Mercy using Message, and now bluffs that he knows what the black onyx is for... and she's impressed. Wendy isn't ready to use it, though, because if she raises the giant from the dead those two clerics are just going to come out here and put it down again. Instead, she casts Speak With Dead on a random elf who turns out to have died of a horrible wasting disease, which turns her on. She thinks the priests are hiding the human soldiers. (Everybody in this town thinks everybody else in this town is suspicious.) Azrael suggests raising the giant and allowing it to kill the clerics.
Wendy raises it.
At the point, all hell breaks loose. The rest of the party come rushing over; spells are exchanged; and the skeleton of the dead giant gets its murder on. When the two priests are dead, Azrael flies over to Wendy and compliments her on her skeleton; she promptly takes him back to her house for a night of carnal gymnastics, with the zombies present as witnesses.
I have absolutely no idea, OOC or IC, if this counts as progress. Though I suppose we definitely got somewhere...