The town of Colkirk is small, a few blinking lights as they approach it near nightfall. The trio camps outside for the first part of the night, Cyrus begrudgingly agreeing to stand watch. Elzeni, plagued by the same vision as the previous night, wakes halfway through the night, prompting the group to continue into town in the wee hours of the morning.
As they approach, two guards look at them suspiciously. “Who goes there?”
“I’m Constance!” Constance says, chipper after four hours of meditation. “This is Elzeni!”
Elzeni attempts a smile, the motion unfamiliar on her gruff, dwarven face. One of the guards visibly recoils from the sight, the other maintaining his composure.
“Well, uh, there’s a tavern up the road if you need a room. Stay safe, you two…”
They nod and continue down the main road. A few scattered guards line the road looking bored. Cyrus pops up next to the duo once they’re past the guards, giggling to himself.
“Oh, gods, Elzeni, never smile again. That was hilarious.”
Elzeni scowls at him, picking up the pace and opening the door to the tavern. Inside, a man in his late 40’s is dozing behind the bar. He starts when the door shuts, head flying up.
“Yes, hi, can I help you?” he says sleepily.
“We’d like a room,” Constance says.
“Yes, um, that’s 5 silver, breakfast is…” the man trails off, his eyes closing.
Constance slams the money on the table loud enough to jolt him back awake.
“Ah, lovely,” he says, slowly sliding the money into his hand and putting it beneath the counter. “The room is…”
He trails off again, sleepily stumbling up the stairs and showing them into a room. He nods at them, plodding back downstairs. A moment later, they hear light snoring coming from the bar as they survey the room. It’s a fairly spartan accommodation, one queen-sized bed with a dresser and a chest for storing items. Elzeni bunks down for the rest of the night while Constance sits watch. With some cajoling, Cyrus agrees to scout out the town and look for the altar from Elzeni’s dream.
In the morning, the two head downstairs, Cyrus nowhere to be seen. The common room has a few scattered people eating and drinking among quiet conversation. The same man is behind the bar, looking much more awake this fine morning.
“Ah, morning to you. Sorry about last night. I’m Ralth. You’re paid up for the room and breakfast this morning. What brings you to Colkirk?”
“Fighting evil,” Constance says, digging into the hot food Ralth places before them.
“Paladins, eh? Not much evil here that I know of.”
“Well if there is, we’ll find it.”
They hear a creak from upstairs as Cyrus comes waltzing down, pretending to stretch as if he’d been sleeping.
“Morning, ladies, sir.”
Ralth nods, looking a little confused, but shaking his head and bringing Cyrus a plate. Cyrus nods, taking a long sip of ale before turning to Constance and Elzeni.
“Right. Do you always sleep so long? Is that normal?”
They roll their eyes at him, prompting him to continue.
“I investigated all the houses here, saw some things I would have rather not seen, but I found your altar.”
He produces a wrinkled scrap of paper with a rough map drawn on it. “Here we are in the inn, yeah? This house here,” he points to a blacked out house, “is owned by a chap named Malthion. The altar is hidden in the basement.”
They look at him, impressed without admitting it, taking the rough map for a closer look. Finishing up, they head to the house, knocking loudly on the door. They wait a minute, no sound coming from inside the house, before Cyrus sighs. He pulls a lockpick out of his pocket, crouching down and opening the door with a quick flick of his wrist. The duo stares at him, trying to decide if they should be angry at his blatant disregard for the law.
“What? It was like that when we got here.”
They roll their eyes and step into the small house. In the main room is a messy bed, a chest, a wardrobe, a small table, and a hearth. Treading carefully, they make their way downstairs to what seems to be storage. Recognizing the area from her vision, Elzeni pushes the barrel away and pulls down the tarp, revealing the rough-hewn wooden door. Taking a deep breath, they push the door open.
Inside, they see the outline of the altar and what looks like the soulstone. They take a step in, braziers on either side of the altar flaring to life. As they grow closer, a red spiral slowly grows behind the altar, morphing into a red portal. Through the doorway steps a strange creature with a beard that seems to be moving of its own volition. Behind the creature step two smaller devils, standing only a few feet tall with sharp claws.
The imps rush at our heroes, Cyrus cutting through and attacking the bearded devil. As Cyrus battles the creature, they notice that his blade seems to kill the skin where it touches it, black spreading outward from each wound. Constance dodges a slash from the imp’s claws, striking back with her spectral blade. Elzeni moves, engaging with the second imp, slashing at it as its claws dig into her. Cyrus ducks, a small wound on his arm, sliding through the devil’s defense and slicing its head off.
Elzeni and Constance cut down their imps, investigating the corpses. Cyrus nods to them, flicking black ichor off his blade before sheathing it. Elzeni moves to the soulstone, taking her damaged mace and smashing the stone to bits. As it shatters, Cyrus takes a step back.
“Wow. That was definitely soul energy. Did you feel that?”
They both shake their heads as he shivers.
“Maybe it’s my connection to the Astral Plane. In any case, whatever was in that stone is definitely free now.”
Elzeni gathers the pieces of the stone, leaving her broken mace on the altar. They head back upstairs, investigating Malthion’s home in more detail. They find a considerable hoard of platinum and gold pieces, enough to make them suspicious of the supposed laborer. Just as they are debating what to do with the money, the door creaks and opens, a slumped man appearing in the opening.
“Don’t move!” they shout, looking to intimidate the man.
“Wha- What are you doing in my home?!”
“Keeping dark altars in your basement is evil,” Constance tells him.
“I, uh, what? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You’re lying,” Elzeni says, the two closing in on him.
“No I’m not! Look, I don’t know-”
“Why are you dealing in souls?” Constance asks him.
“What? I- Look, I don’t know anything about what the altar does. A man pays me to keep it clean, that’s all, I swear.”
“What’s happening tomorrow? Why is that date circled?”
“I don’t know, I’m just supposed to not go in the room all day. Look, I’m not a bad guy. It was a lot of money. I was using it to get out of this dead town.”
They look at him suspiciously.
“I promise! The man, he’d pay me every week by leaving money in a hollow stump in the woods. I just checked the room and cleaned it. Don’t know nothing about no souls.”
“Who was this man?”
“I don’t know a wizard of some sort. Had a staff like the one on your back,” he says, gesturing to the staff Elzeni found in Caedmon’s workshop.
Believing the man, they escort him back to the tavern, insisting that he stay with them until everything is sorted. They put him on the floor of their room, each sleeping as Cyrus keeps watch. Constance relieves him of watch halfway through the night, Cyrus vanishing in a cloud of gray.
Morning comes, Cyrus nowhere to be seen. Constance and Elzeni eat breakfast with Malthion, Ralth eyeing the trio with more than a passing interest. After paying for the room and their meal, they head back to Malthion’s house. Inside, they find Cyrus lounging on the bed.
“You’re not going to like this,” he says, sitting up and swinging his legs off the bed.
“Like what?” Elzeni asks him sourly.
“See for yourself.”
Cyrus leads them downstairs. Where there was once an obsidian altar, there is now a pile of rubble. The braziers are dark, whatever magic that fueled them dispelled. Sighing, they leave Malthion there, taking half his money to donate to the poor in Tereod. Constance leaves him with a few pamphlets to Torm, hoping that he will seek the light.
With heavy hearts, the trio heads back to Tereod…