We pass Defender’s Heart to go and meet the Queen, not knowing where exactly to meet her. I sneak forward to some houses north of the tavern with Kostner covering me. I detect magic to see what might be the right location. Queen’s got to at least have some +1 knickers, right?
The second house I feel a magical presence even though I don’t see anyone. I think that someone is invisible inside with a couple of magic items. I suggest Kostner bring the others up and have Halved join me at the back door while Susannae detects for evil. She arrives but detects no evil, then knocks at the door. Halved begs me to smash in the back.
Susannae enters an abandoned woodshop. It is dark. She draws her sword, lighting up the shadows, and approaches a closed door. Neva opens the back door from the inside just before Halved smashes it.
“Hey, we know you’re there!” I yell. “Cut the shit.” I did not add “Your Majesty.”
A lumbering, bearded, rotting corpse staggers forward from the other room. It has cloven hooves and clawed fingers. Neva, Halved, and Kostner can tell that the image is an illusion, however. Halved points it out and the illusion drops away revealing not a queen but a bearded man with a burned and scarred face. He raises his hands.
“You got my message,” he says. When pressed if he works for the Queen he says, “I guess you could say I work with the Queen.” He claims to be testing our ability to discern the truth. He says he wants to meet us at another building. He is unwilling to even share his name and claims many are looking for him.
He walks to a plain stone building, a temple of Torag. I make him stop and I go ahead to check it out. He says not to touch anything so I grab my junk and then turn invisible.
I see a well-crafted room with anvils. Two humans are tied up and kneeling. One has an illusion on him, I can tell. Neither look like cultists.
“Who tied you up?” I ask quietly.
“Some asshole with a melted face.”
The one who speaks won’t give me any more information about who they are or what they are doing here. They just want to be cut free.
“Cheeseface!” I yell, calling in the others and standing before the two prisoners. The bearded man walks in and says, “Cheeseface. That’s a good one. There is one more test.” He says that one of these is an innocent and the other is a cultist.
“Oh, fuck you,” I reply. I’m not playing at this bullshit.
Susannae detects evil in the one I spoke to. She asks him if he will embrace Iomedae. He says not that bitch and Susannae goes to strike him with her holy symbol evading my attempt to intervene.
Somehow he gets his hands free and starts to cast a spell, then turns invisible. Kostner moves to cover the door. “Cultist of Baphomet, show yourself!” calls out Susannae and then begins to detect evil to find him.
I step to where I think he is and grab him with one hand while arguing with Susannae about how good it is to strike a helpless man because of an insult. Then Halved grabs both me and the cultist.
Neva prods the other, presumed innocent, man into a corner. I feel the guy try to escape but we hold him fast. Kostner wraps him up in his cloak.
“He’s helpless again. Do you want to take another shot?” I ask Susannae. Unironically, she holds her sword up to him. He says he won’t give up. He owes his life to the Abyss and he is ready to die. We tie him up.
Neva asks the other one how much he got paid.
Susannae promises that one safety, then cuts him loose and also insists on giving him a note to take with him back to Defender’s Heart.
We argue about what to do with the cultist. Susannae is happy to turn him over to the Crusaders. Cheeseface thinks we should kill him. Neva and Kostner agree with Susannae and the three of them take him away and let Jacob, the innocent one, go.
“So, you’re the Chopped in Twain, huh?” Cheeseface asks Halved. “You are pretty good at killing demons.” Halved then demonstrates by chopping a table with his fabled longsword to marginal success. He then uses his greatsword and hacks at the table a few times, finally breaking it.
Susannae returns and gives him a hard time about the table. I say he thought it was a tied-up prisoner.
Cheeseface speaks again and says his name is Oddbeard. He specializes in ferreting out cults. “Good job here,” I comment. He claims that he thought with all the Crusaders here, they would have had things in hand.
I ask him about the Silken Sin. He says they are perverts who follow Secothbenoth but that they aren’t active around here. Moron.
He says he would like us to work together. There is still a lot of corruption here. The Witch-Hunters are a bad influence. The Order of the Burning Lance are more of a danger because of their self-righteous nature. He wants to start a new covert group to deal with demons and devils without the righteous banner. He doesn’t care for gods, or the Crusaders of Mendev. so long as we fight the demonic influence. The Queen insists that this group would include Susannae as one of his crew and the rest of us don’t matter that much. She says that is a great honor. The group would work on building an intelligence network, not on the front lines. We would be a strike force rather than an army able to move quickly and without much notice. He says he has agents everywhere to assist.
“And yet you didn’t know the Silken Sin, along with their demon patron, were right here in Kenabres,” I point out. He is surprised.
He adds that we would be able to work on our own interests, using their resources, and finally touches on a subject that interests me. He says we can tell the Queen our answer tomorrow night. He offers to gather information on what motivates us. I tell him about the Silken Sin and Auciell’s kidnapping.
“Are you talking about my mother?!” shrieks Susannae. “Maybe I wanted to talk about that.” I let her and find a corner to sulk in. She also adds that she wants to restore the city.
Halved talks about how his companions were wiped out. Oddbeard asks Neva and Kostner what they want. Neva kind of shrugs. Kostner says there is trouble in the Shudderwood.
Oddbeard says he will wait until we talk to the Queen and hear what she has to offer and request. He says he will be at the meeting, which I remind him will be a banquet.
After leaving him, I drink Kimroth’s whiskey and we talk about what we want to do. I want any leads I can get to go after Secothbenoth but I really don’t know how much longer I can work with Susannae. Stupid me. I thought she’d be different than the rest of these Crusaders. She’s not, I learned today. We ask Kimroth to organize some food for the Queen and entourage.
The next night the Queen arrives with a cadre of four armed Crusaders along with Oddbeard. She removes her helmet. Patrons whisper of Galfrey being a hundred years of age or more. She doesn’t look it.
Susannae bows and Halved makes a comment about Galfrey’s age. Susannae claims he has the wits of a child. The Queen says that all of Mendev is in our debt and offers us seats at the table. She then asks to hear the story of the battle of Kenabres first-hand from us. I make sure in the telling to say how the mongrelmen want to be repatriated and serve her.
Halved brings up Oddbeard’s behavior. The Queen says we’ll speak more of that later. I point out that the Crusaders were easy to infiltrate because they are a bunch of sanctimonious pricks. Susannae shoots me a dirty look but the Queen says she now sees that she could have paid more attention to how Hulron operated.
Neva puts in a good word for Gwerm. Then she asks about our Wardstone shards. Galfrey herself examines them and then explains how if they are rubbed upon a weapon or suit of armor, they will become very powerful but can only ever be used once.
The Queen had heard many unfortunate rumors about the destruction of the Wardstone from Crusaders. That we did more harm than good by breaking it. She believes Iomedae has seen fit that the five of us are the replacements for the Wardstones.
She believes the demons are regrouping in the south, in the Riftshadow, but have left their northern fortresses mostly abandoned. A leader, Aponavicious, has left to meet with the Storm King. The Queen wants to strike Drezen and recover the Sword of Valor, the banner of Iomedae herself, as a victory which could be accomplished with a small army.
However, she says, if we prefer to work with Oddbeard, she has others she could send to Drezen.
Oddbeard then gives us the details he has learned, lowering his voice and looking suspiciously at the bar patrons across the room. He has three leads. First, there is a city called Karkou, where there are rumors of the Silken Sin’s activity. Second, a Kellid outsider has indicated that some kind of creature in the Worldwound knows both Secothbenoth and his sister-lover Noticula. The creature is reaching out to share information and wants to meet in the lost city of Dyinglight, inside the Frostmire. Third, a House Saardavik, of the Drow, has been practicing demonic rituals in Far Parathra in the Darklands and are known to favor Secothbenoth as a patron.
We finish up our meal and the Queen leaves us to decide, bowing. Then she remembers that there is a reward for our service.
I am presented with a suit of elven chain, fine mithril links. Neva gets a Headband of Inspired Wisdom. Kostner gets a suit of Hunter’s Leather. Halved gets a chain shirt bejeweled with small agates called Luck Mail. Susannae gets a nice lance and a White Knight’s Pennon, a Pennon of Parlay. We thank her and she departs.