Gertie & The Gang

4. Apologies and ambushes

"Well, some secrets are more important than others."

Things didn't go their way at the caravan camp the night before, and so the group spent the morning brooding and stewing over breakfast. Elvis Stajko went out back to train and while the other ate their food in quiet contemplation, Pike came in looking to buy a loaf of bread from Solfi. She asked where Elvis was—having not seen him in a while—and the group explained that he was training. They agreed to visit Pike at the All Faiths Shine later that morning. During the conversation, Abit and Helen snuck into the kitchen to talk privately (for the second time in as many days).

After coffee and breakfast and training were complete, the group headed to the All Faiths Shrine on their way to the market. They had decided to go and apologize to Soileire for the previous night and wanted to buy some sweets as a peace offering. At the shrine, Pike pulled Elvis aside to check-in on how her friend was doing. The two spoke softly and privately and, her mind put at ease, Pike told Elvis not to be a stranger. 

Afterward, the group asked Pike about the curse on Rudolfo. The Cleric explained the many different types and schools of magic in the world and offered to spend some time in meditation with Rudolfo the Rogue to see if she could sense the nature of the curse. Pike took Rudolfo into a private chamber in the back and, after about 20 minutes, told him that whatever was inside him was unfamiliar to her and her divine magical knowledge. Pike asked him about his past—mistakes, crimes, sins—but Rudolfo claimed there was nothing tarnishing his soul and the two rejoined the others.

After reconvening, the group peppered Rudolfo with questions about his past, his choices, and any secrets he might be keeping from them—secrets that might explain the nature of this curse. But he was tight-lipped and deflected attention to Helen (who also had some secrets she was unwilling to divulge). The argument was brief and the group agreed to disagree but left to the market in good spirits, hopeful about patching things over with Soileire. 

Before long, the group found a vendor with some candy, fresh fruit, and sweet bread and began stocking up for their apology-via-food. While the others shopped, Helen's keen eyes spotted young Farah in the market and veered stealthily in her direction. As Helen made herself known, Farah's eyes filled with shock and anxiety and she retreated a few steps but realized she had nowhere to go. Helen knelt down and tried to ask calm, simple questions but Farah remained afraid. The young girl asked where Rudolfo was and Helen led her to the rest of the group. 

Farah pulled Rudolfo aside and revealed that Soileire wanted to speak with him—just him. Farah also admitted that she didn't really like Rudolfo's new friends (especially Helen and Gertie who bullied her into revealing a scary and dire secret).

Once the shopping was done, Farah and Rudolfo led the group back to the caravan's camp on the edge of town. They entered a large tent that had been set up for Soileire who asked her other guest to leave as soon as she recognized the adventurers. Soileire greeted them—some more warmly than others—and zipped out momentarily to finish a small errand. She returned a few minutes later with Wintle and another caravaner the group had yet to meet. 

Soileire apologized for the previous evening and explained that she had lost her cool because she had wanted to speak to Rudolfo about the curse on her own terms. The group had advanced the agenda much more quickly than she had hoped. She had worried that others might have also learned about the curse and was scared for her caravan troupe, their reputation, and their livelihood (no one would let a cursed troupe perform in their town). 

In response, the group offered their sweets and treats and admitted that they understood Soileire's worries. They apologized for lying about how they learned about the curse (having only wanted to protect Farah from punishment). However, they let slip that is was Farah they overheard mentioning the curse putting the young girl back in Soileire's bad books. 

Over sweet bread and wine, Soileire explained the truth about the curse and asked the group for their help. Many years ago, she explained, two members of the caravan—two brothers as it were—went off on their own looking for extra work and extra cash. They had heard about some valuables that were buried with an old woman and went searching for riches in an old haunted crypt. However, the crypt was much more than a simple burial ground and the brothers, in their greed, awoke an ancient and powerful demon that had been trapped a long-dead hero buried in the same place. The demon possessed the brothers who led it back to the caravan.

The demon—conniving and ethereal—spread his cursed touch through all the caravan members and a strange sickness began overtaking them one by one. The brothers were the first to die. While Soileire didn't know what the brothers had done, she recognized the nature of what they had brought back and tasked the oldest and wisest member of the caravan with saving them. Wintle did just that and, over the following weeks, rushed to learn and prepare a ritual that could vanquish the demon spirit. Wintle, at great cost and with much struggle, learned and performed a ritual banishing the demon from the surviving caravan members. Unfortunately, Rudolfo had left the group by this point. 

Soileire and the others had been searching for Rudolfo for weeks, hoping to find him so Wintle could perform the ritual a second time and save him from the wrath of the demon's spirit. Soileire also admitted that is was fortunate Rudolfo's new friends were strong, seasoned warriors. Since Rudolfo was the last members to carry the demon's touch, performing the ritual would cast the demon out into the open and would need to be battled and defeated before it could possess anyone else. She asked the group to attend the ritual and help battle the evil spirit if or once Wintle was successful. 

The group agreed and Soileire proposed waiting until after the performances to perform the ceremony. The group agreed once again and were tasked with finding a secluded, private space in which to perform the magic ritual as well as the components it would require: a half-pound of white sand, 12 candles, 2 bushels of sage, and a gem worth 1000 gold pieces. 

As the group nodded and began thinking about how to acquire the items, a commotion erupted outside the tent. Screams and crashes sent the group racing out to see a goblin ambush party attacking the camp. The group spread out quickly to protect the civilians and challenge the goblins who had encircled the tents and wagons. 

Helen climbed atop a wagon and hurled blasts of eldritch magic providing cover as the caravan members fled into tents. Gertie and Elvis raced toward the goblin's leader who was brooding and shouting orders from the treeline. Meanwhile, Rudolfo and Soileire rushed to the aid of civilians who had been caught by the onrushing goblins. A few caravan members fell under the goblin's blades but the heroes made quick work of the attackers and were able to dispatch the foes and heal the civilians who weren't quick enough to escape. 

As the group surveyed the damage and tended to the wounded, they wondered where these goblin raiding parties were coming from and when and where they might attack next.

 

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