You’re wet and tired, but elated. You’ve escaped the sunken city with pocketfuls of gold, and a treasure even more valuable than gold: the elven cleric Tessalantulus. She is weak and unused to the light but gamely keeping up when able and gratefully accepting a ride on the pony when she can’t. Her recuperative powers are amazing and she grows stronger and more fit every day. More than once she catches you trying to look at her derriere in the makeshift tunic lent to her and tied with an armor strap.
Each night around the fire, you re-live the most harrowing and horrible moments of the city that was Chat-Fromhaire; the water, the giant bugs, ogres, mud men, the rat-men and whatever the hell that was that was flying around in the dark. You each are reminded of something you had already forgotten or even forgot to notice in your terror and excitement as others recall their own deeds of derring-do. The henchmen exchange many glances and just shake their heads. This adventuring thing is something they are going to have to consider, but then their pockets jingle and well…
Daily you move south through the inviting countryside, staying off well beaten paths and avoiding the telltale wisps of smoke coming from the chimneys of the few scattered farms in the area. You pass through belts of oak and ash, dotted with the firs that are also abundant in this hilly landscape. Streams cross your path and all in all, it’s pretty idyllic. You manage to avoid detection by the few other travelers easily enough. The ranger scouting ahead, the druid reading the signs and with a few clerics in tow, you are all soon fit and in fighting shape again, excepting possibly Tess, who’s going to need more than a few days to recover from 40 years of abuse.
As you journey south though, day by day the elation recedes. The druid is first to notice, then the ranger and soon you all feel a sense of foreboding the further you travel. The forests and glens, which otherwise should be peaceful and inviting seem almost menacing as they close in around you and try to snuff out any sense of safety or well-being. The feeling increases by the mile. One night, camping in a stand of pines out of the wind, the ground covered with soft and inviting pine needles the wind gently sighing through the trees, the druid finally broaches the subject: ‘This land is sick’ he starts, ‘I can’t quite make out what is going on, but the woods are not well. They are crying out, but for what, I am unable to tell’. The ranger adds: ‘The tracks I’ve seen are weird too. Many, many tracks. Creatures great and small and lots of traffic. Have you noticed the lack of birds, squirrels? I haven’t seen a hare in two days.’ The rest of you realize it’s true, now that you think about it, you haven’t heard the sound of a single bird for a few days. In fact you haven’t seen any wildlife even though you trust the ranger that the tracks are fresh and abundant. You just haven’t seen anything. Tess says: ‘I feel it too. It is a sickness, it is affecting us all.’ She pulls her blanket tighter around herself and stares into the fire. You spend the rest of the evening in silent contemplation, except Jasper, who’s snoring is rudely interrupted by an anonymous kick in the night.
Finally, after about a tenday’s journey, you see over the next rise the red stone tower of Tinkleton Abbey. As you crest the rise you see the abbey entire and surrounding fields with many a brother hard at work. The buildings bake in the warm sun, all crafted from those same red stones; you can see stables and kennels, kitchens, barns for storing grain, beehives, dovecotes and several outdoor chapels. Crops are coming in and everyone is busy. The walls remind you this isn’t quite ‘civilization’. Across a mile or two of fields lie another cluster of similar looking buildings, maybe not quite so numerous but judging from what you can see, just as busy. Between are several hamlets, each with a small cluster of cottages and working peasant farms.
“Anyone know the deal?” someone asks?
“Tinkowton Abbey it’s cawed. It’s a owdur of the ‘Five Hundwed’”, Fron relates. “We showd find west and wewcome heaw. Beyond is the nunnewy.”
“Ooh a nunnawee!’ says Jasper, drawing a not so subtle nudge from the magic user. Then under his breath: ‘Cut it owt Wifkin’.