Plague in Rie Valley
Our noble heroes return from the caves, somewhat discouraged by their failure to capture their quarry, but secure in the knowledge that the breeding operations were destroyed, with no easy way to resume. Upon reporting to the duke, they dutifully hand over both the diary and the embroidered pillow. As they relate the story, the duke' servant whisks the items away, presumably for study and search for additional clues. Their debriefing, as usual, is efficient and well supported, and they are dismissed with the duke's approval at their performance under adverse conditions.
After getting settled, they find themselves assigned to militia review and drilling. To the barely hidden delight of the free-spirited guardians, this turns out to be an ongoing period of teaching the well meaning (but woefully unskilled) young men of Dell how to use spears and bows in defensive group formations. Sadly, after only four weeks of running such classes, Lord Phillipe summons them away from these duties, to an important briefing.
A very tired looking man is already in the duke's audience chamber when the guardians arrive, though the duke himself is not present. Instead, Lord Phillipe assumes control of the meeting. He begins by introducing the man as a runner from the town of Rie Valley, and then explains that an illness is spreading through the town with no clear cause or pattern. The runner adds that the illness has been very difficult to treat, as well, resisting the standard treatments.
Lord Philippe directs the guardians to Fort Trelton, where there is a small stash of antidote potions available. He instructs them to collect whatever is available, and to return to Dell, where he will join them in traveling to Rie Valley. He promises to scrounge up a few healing potions as well.
Armed with a directive from the Duke's son, they are able to wrench 4 cure disease potions from an unhelpful young quartermaster in Fort Trelton. His remaining two are kept in the interests of national security and are refused the party.
As the party regroups, waiting for their horses to be equipped, a newly skilled Kalen challenges Lord Philippe to a dagger throwing contest, for the hefty price of 5gps. Lord Philippe, clearly someone who specializes in the heavier weapons still agrees to the contest with great diplomacy. Kalen throws well, but Lord Philippe proves himself a versatile master of arms, and bullseyes the target with barely a moment to aim. In the true Kalen style, he is ever so briefly humbled and then largely forgets that the contest ever took place.
The overnight journey to Rie Valley is uneventful, and they arrive early at the guard house in the morning of the following day. Despite the stir of the surrounding populous as the group goes through the town, they are surprised to find the guards playing cards—a bit too casually for their liking, given the high priority summons of the runner.
Given that the cards vanish quickly, though unsubtley as soon as they are noticed, the group decides not to make an issue of it, and goes ahead with getting the details of who is affected and what has been done so far to treat or arrest the spread of the disease.
The guards aren't very clear as to who is affected and to what degree, but at least they are able to direct the group to the town physician, a man by the name of "Old Mic" who lives in a house by the river up on top of a nearby hill. They are warned that although he is a fairly competent physician, that he imbibes a few too many of his own herbs for his own good, and isn't always at 100%. They also mention that the rash of illnesses has upset him.
And so they search out Old Mic, and find him stoned but lucid in his house. He tells them about Davy, a six year old boy that he was unable to help and who has since died. He also tell them of an elderly couple, Laura and Tom who also succumbed. He also tells of at least one young couple who is also showing signs of the illness. They are at the bottom of the hill, and about two miles to the west. Finally, although they have to drag it out of him, he describes the symptoms to him: a fever and significant fatigue, a pale tone to the skin which flushes over a period of about 3 days give or take, then the death of the sufferer.
The party leaves the old healer to his herbs, and goes in search of the sick couple. And within the hour, find the old house with the two people barely conscious but alive inside. The guardians do a quick scan for magical influences of any sort, but are unable to find anything. After a quick examination by Bud and Lohrin, they decide that no normal remedies will work and so make a quick application of two of their magical healing potions. This brings the sick couple back to relatively good health in short order. The party watches as their pale skin becomes flush with the natural color of health, and their ragged breathing takes on a more normal pace.
Once the recovery is complete, they ask about recent behavior, travels and people they had interacted with. Unfortunately, the party comes up empty on this front. In fact, their only lead is a new person who recently came to town that they had heard of but not met, who has taken up residence at the Cozy Fire Inn.
They make a few attempts at finding him, before finally meeting up with him at the inn that night. He naturally stands out, being tall and having jet black hair that fits his penchant for wearing very dark clothes. He introduces himself as "Val", pronouncing it "Vahl" and explains that he is a priest of Shotan, the god of darkness.
The group is nonplussed by his candid admission, given that black temples are not allowed in Thorin, or most countries when it comes down to it. Still, when pressed, his paperwork was complete and in order for free travel within the nation of Thorin with full acknowledgement of his position. He is also willing to answer questions about where he has been, though he is evasive on the details of his purpose. Finally, the party runs a magical scan of him, and find several fairly powerful items on his person, all with dark magic auras, but since he is given free reign and doesn't appear to be connected directly, they decide to file him under "suspicious character" and let him go.
The party's next stop is the home of the young boy who died. The parents, grieving over the loss of their son, are only too willing to provide any help that they can. They explain that the boy was playing in the hills beyond town, as he often does, and came back feeling a little sick. The rest, of course, was history. The boy's older brother was a student at the white temple, and hadn't been around for anything other than the boys final hours. The younger sister, however, appeared to be torn about telling them something or keeping it to herself. Lohrin, through great diplomacy convinced her to tell the secret—that Davy and his friends had found a new cave by the river, and that although they had not gone into it, they had sworn her to secrecy in case they wanted to go back.
The guardians get general directions, though she doesn't know the specifics of where the cave is. Still, the guardians are able to find where the boys were playing, and Bud is able to track to boy's progress along the river and then moving somewhat purposefully towards a large tree. There, to nobody's surprise, they find a small hole about three feet across at its base.
Being cautious about an unexplored small cave, the party decided to send Sparty, Bud's companion wolverine, in to check it out first. He came out within seconds hissing wildly. Given that he went after owlbears with enthusiasm, this reaction made them nervous. Fortunately, Kalen exhibited a bold lack of forethought and dived headlong into the hole, and reports back that there are rats.
As the party determines a course of action, the rats move out of the hole and attack. The rats, all 1-3 feet in size, make for a furious fight. Most have trouble striking the party, but a few bites get through, and the party cringes as thoughts of disease go through their head.
The guardian's worries take on an edge of fear as they notice that some of their best hits on select rats appear to do no damage. They reorganize their attacks, so that their few magical weapons are used against those rats, assuming that they must be dealing with resistant creatures. This strategy works much better, and they dispatch the remaining rats with no significant damage. Kalen takes some minor damage, but the rest of the group has nothing worse than a few scratches to show for the encounter.
The guardian's torch the cave, and ensure that there are no other traces of rats anywhere in the area. The rest of group's work consists of healing the two remaining people in town who were found to have contracted the disease. (Potions had been held in reserve in case the party was affected.) After sticking around a bit to ensure that no more cases appeared, the guardians returned home triumphantly.