21st of Zephyr, 1075 AE

No body of soldiers should ever enter upon any great or important undertaking without first invoking the blessing of the five gods of Elona. With a week before Sunspear ships—bolstered by the Istani navy and allies from afar off—set sail for Kourna’s capital, it was imperative that the pious and devout beseeched Balthazar, Dwayna, Grenth, Lyssa, and Melandru for their aid and support.

The four Sunspears who, at the Spearmarshal’s encouragement and by their own initiative, became deeply embroiled in and instrumental to the revealation of Varesh Ossa’s crimes, were tasked with venturing to the shores of the Issnur Isles, Istan’s agricultural southern lands, thence to return with news of the god of nature’s approval, or the lack thereof.

Knowing the shrine they sought sat at the center of a long-abandoned outpost once used to offer prayers and adorations to Melandru and seek her humble forgiveness as farmers slowly tamed the isles for their own uses, they approached with stealth—with so much corsair activity of late they would undoubtedly take a fortress, even a long-unused one, as a convenient base of operations. Their fears were well-founded, and they discovered a crew of pirates, relaxing and enjoying the spoils of a recent raid against local farmers.

Killing the most aggressive and forcing the captain to bend a knee in supplication, the Sunspears drove the brigands from the area, turning their attention to the decayed shrine which dominated the keep’s courtyard. It had a pallor of disease, its roots stretching outward in the vain hope of finding any semblance of sustainance. Setting down to rest and refresh themselves, they consulted upon the spot about how they could bring the light of nature back to the shrine which had been for too long abandoned and ignored.

Walking about the weather-ravaged fort as his companions debated the spiritual merits of one approach over another, Issa idly skipped rocks against the mossy flagstone, hunting for inspiration for his next inspirational beat. One rock took an unexpected bounce and disappeared behind a pile of rubble, where it continued bouncing, as if into a deep cave hidden under the debris.

“Guys you might want to see this,” he called out, peering into the caverns which seemed to extend below the fort, including to where the statue’s diseased roots lay. Surmising that the source of its corruption could be found beneath, they readied their torches and stepped into the subterranean darkness that yawned before them.

The air was musty, almost thick on their tongues as they advanced through the ancient basement structure, moss and mold covering the smooth-hewn stone. Limestone statues of men and women stared blankly from the darkness, their vacant eyes dully reflecting the party’s torchlight. None felt comfortable—or safe—in the underground confines.

Finding storerooms with delapidated and time-worn crates, filled with rotted remnants of centuries-old clothing, the party were none too pleased to see more statues, slack-jawed and disquieting, at the edge of their vision. Working up the courage to examine one up close, Lulit was raked by savage claws as the sculpture burst into action, its visage twisting into one of abject loathing and insatiable hunger. Fighting off the poison which coursed through her wound, she led her companions in pummelling the terrible creature into dust.

“Okay, nobody goes off alone,” she suggested wryly, rubbing the deep gashes on her shoulder.

Exploring the labyrinthine catcombs, the Sunspears faced and defeated more animated statues and amorphous oozes coated with corrosive acid, the likes of which they had never encountered on the surface. The presence of so many foul creatures spoke volumes about the lack of care and attention the shrine above received since the fort was abandoned hundreds of years prior. Lulit and Akeela were particularly soured, being most closely-tied to the nature goddess themselves.

Bravely stepping beyond a veil of shadow through which no light could pass, the party at last found themselves in a large chamber beneath the shrine of Melandru, its large root structure extending from the ceiling through the stone floor. “It looks sick,” Akeela lamented, remarking on the roots’ oily and slick appearance. Before anyone could stop her, she reached out and placed her hand on the root, in a gesture of consolation.

Awakened by her touch, the mercury-like ooze which had thoroughly infused the root lashed out, sending her reeling. It peeled away from the superstructure, forming multiple pseudopods, glistening with a dull metallic sheen in their dim torchlight.

“Get down!” Lulit called to her companion, launching a magic-infused arrow into the body of the creature, her shot exploding into a hail of thorns. As she lined up a second arrow however, another animated statue lumbered out of the darkness behind her, sinking its sharp claws into her back. Grunting with pain, she could feel the beast’s poison working its way through her body, stiffening her limbs.

Tancred charged the horrible sculpture gnawing on Lulit, crushing it with blows from his mighty flail. As he turned to tend to the ranger’s wounds he grew horrified however—the monster’s vile poison had petrified her, frozen in time as she attempted to draw her bowstring for another shot.

Issa darted past the enormous ooze’s powerful limbs to assist Akeela, his biting words and quick scimitar cutting into the creature. Prayers to Melandru fell from the druid’s lips as she attempted to avoid the creature’s powerful attacks as it struck at her again and again with blinding ferocity and biting poison.

Channelling Balthazar’s might to give Lulit a fighting chance against the paralytic toxins in her bloodstream, Tancred slowly saw color start to return to her skin and muscles twitch with newfound life. Finally her fingers had enough mobility to let her readied arrow fly.

Having been forced into a defensive position by the ooze’s onslaught, Issa and Akeela got the break they needed as Lulit’s arrow struck home, sending the viscious blob reeling. Channelling their respective energies—one arcane, one divine—they lashed out at the staggered creature with phantasmal blades and chilling frost, chewing through its acidic exterior until, at last, the beast lost all cohesion, spilling to the floor like a flask of mercury from a tall shelf.

Regrouping, their labored breaths hung in the cloying air. Though the foul ooze which had inundated the shrine to Melandru had been defeated, no change in the great tree was observed and the dank basement held the same sense of malice the Sunspears felt since descending into its depths.

Akeela, channeling healing and anti-poison magics, anointed the great roots with holy water provided by Tancred, lifting her voice to the air as she sought to infuse the power of life and nature into the desiccated and withered tree. After hours of prayers, magic, and devotionals, the roots began to glow, small beads of light tracing paths from beneath the cold stone floor, winding around and through the enormous tree. Brightening as her ministrations intensified, soon the entire chamber was pulsing with a warm, verdant light.

Returning to the surface, they found the upper half of the shrine radiating as well, the dryad carved and shaped therein looking to all the world as if sleeping in tranquil peace.

With their task of begging Melandru’s blessing to their efforts accomplished, they turned their attention to their next aim—returning to the Sunspear Great Hall and girding themselves for war.

Header image by Michael Gaida from Pixabay
More information about this ongoing story arc can be found in this post