After a night’s rest, and with the road winding ever northward, the group set out again, their new companion in tow. After a long day of riding, and with evening coming on, they happened upon a scene: three human men accosting a lone elf. The adventurers’ (for by now, any lesser title might be an insult) presence drew the group’s attention, giving the elf time to strike: a volley of lightning struck one in the back. Searing bolts of fire and light quickly joined the fray, until the men fled.
Not knowing any better, Father Greg called out, “Ma’am, do you need assistance?” (To which Uni — hand covering her face — muttered, “He’s a guy, you know…”) While Father Greg treated him, the elf introduced himself as Ethrean Farwalker, explaining that he was wandering the human lands in search of things he couldn’t learn in the Elven cities. Glad to have a group to travel with, he agreed to tag along at least so far as Himmelberg.
The next night passed without incident, but as the travelers continued their journey, Abdul-Hamid Salim‘s arm suddenly sprouted a crossbow bolt. Three goblins were aiming tattered crossbows from afar. Ethrean and Vir Tagro quickly joined the list of casualties, scrambling to take cover behind or beside their horses. Ethrean returned fire with a bolt of lightning, but the spell backfired, injuring him badly. Father Greg set about his holy work, healing first Abdul, then Ethrean and Vir, while Uni let loose with blinding flashes and bolts of light. Abdul and Yuri charged into battle, slaying one of the goblins. Vir’s fire bolts dropped the second, and a final spell from Uni sent the final goblin running blindly; Abdul promptly slit its throat.
Night fell without further trouble, and the first watch quickly passed. Late on second watch, Uni’s magical detection was suddenly lit with a brilliant stream of color, a long trail of light far above, flying swiftly west. Woken from his sleep, Abdul shouted upward, “Hello?” A single particle of light zoomed next to him, revealing itself to be a faerie, well-known in the forests of the elves: it spat in his face enigmatically, then flew off. Wiping his face off irritably, Abdul was on his way back to his bedroll when Uni grabbed his arm. “You’re… glowing. Red. I’m… not sure that’s a good thing.” Resolving to consider the problem more in the morning, the group went back to sleep.
The following night, the travelers were met by an Elven rider. Woken from his sleep, Vir spoke with the elf, who explained that he was pursuing the faerie, who had vanished from the Elven forests. Directed east, to the mountains, the elf gave the group the blessing of Eru Ilúvatar and was on his way.
A few more days and nights passed, until, arriving at the gates of Himmelberg, the group was met by a solitary guard, who checked their letter and lazily ushered them through. Treated identically by the guard of the inner gate — a city guard, not a member of the Holy Hand — Vir finally turned and asked, “Is something happening? There’s usually two guards at each gate, isn’t there?”
“Oh yeah, but we’re short on people, with the dragon and all,” he replied. “Ask the Commander when you talk with him, he’ll be able to explain it.” With no other choice, they continued on.
They were greeted by a ghost town. The city of Himmelberg, once busy with everyday traffic of dwarves and humans, was very nearly empty. Even the dwarven blacksmith had packed up his shop and gone north. In fact, not a single dwarf remained in the city, and much of the Holy Hand’s forces were gone as well. From the Commander, they learned the reason — whispers had come down from the city of Oir of a dragon, attacking the dwarven lands. Having read the letter they had carried with them, he gave the travelers three options: Head north, and assist the Holy Hand with the dragon; return south, pursuing Dante into the southern lands, or bring word of the situation west, to the Holy City.
The discussion took the rest of the day. At first, Abdul wished to go north to fight the dragon; his voice was joined by Raku Aankorra, who wished to help his people and restore his name. Sebastian Lionel and Vir wanted to go south, chasing after Dante. Uni, after much silence and a bit of arcane insight, fearful of danger (danger) in either direction, suggested the Holy City instead. The discussion raged on, until early evening: Abdul and Raku agreed instead to go to the Holy City.
Their course set, after informing the Commander, they set out to travel once more, Ethrean deciding to join them a little further.
Not two nights out, they encountered a nearly fatal danger. It was the middle of the night, when a voice rang through their heads: “Abandon your quest.” Demons, Uni knew. Everyone was awake in moments, preparing for battle: spells and prayers rang through the air. Then it was upon them. Two demons, seven feet high each, appeared feet away from Vir and Raku, surrounding the party, black broadswords gleaming in the moonlight. Vir brought up a wall of earth, backing up, but too slow — Leo stepped in, engaging the demon beside Vir, forcing him back as the wall came up. The elf turned his attention to creating a barrier above them, just above the heads of the humans, forcing the demons to swing low.
Ethrean let loose blasts of lightning as the warriors fought toe-to-toe with the evil creatures; Abdul’s blades and Raku’s hammer took down the first, but as Vir’s wall fell, the demon Leo had fought to a standstill found an opening. His blade crossed Leo’s throat, digging a deep gash. The cleric fell to the ground, bleeding fiercely. All attention was turned to the standing demon — except for Father Greg, who in seconds was beside Leo, stopping the man’s bleeding. Less than four seconds passed before the second demon was destroyed. Exhausted and battle-worn, the group fell to sleep, with Greg’s prayers to the Creator for their health filling their ears.
Days later, as though a sign from the Creator, they discovered an amulet inscribed with the symbol of Metatron, the Creator’s right-hand archangel. Fate was fickle, for although the amulet broke the following evening, Ethrean was able to mend it with his magic.
As they neared the Holy City, they were approached by two beggars — a young boy and girl — for whom Ethrean mended clothes. As they moved on, Abdul handed each a gold piece, but they dropped both, complaining that it burned; instead, he gave both fifty silver pieces. That night, however, the two returned, not as beggars but as thieves. Leo, realizing their intent but wishing them no harm, let out a furious, barbaric scream, driving them away.
It was the group’s first taste of the poverty of the area surrounding the Holy City, for as they came up to the gates, they joined the line: a long queue of people, waiting to enter the Creator’s city.