Waking up the next morning, the party finds Daniela’s room vacant with a note left on the bed. It reads:
“Thank you for coming to my aid. I know I said I would tell you more about the Tree, but it’s better if you don’t ask. Trust me, this is the best for you. Please don’t follow me.”
While reading the note, a woman enters the inn and asks the innkeeper, Graff, if he has seen her son, Jerek. She says he didn’t come home last night and she worries about him. After leaving, Graff approaches the party and offers them free meals and rooms if they will take some time and look into the matter.
Upon leaving the inn, they are approached by a young man who introduces himself as Samuel Draconus. Samuel was in the audience during the Games and offers his expertise with traps and the like. In exchange, he gets to join them in looking for the Tree.
The party splits up and investigates. They learn that Jerek is an apprentice to a blacksmith and is a likeable fellow; it’s not THAT unusual for Jerek to spend the night elsewhere, such as at a friend’s home; Jerek’s father seemed paranoid that his wife is being unfaithhful; most evenings Jerek and his friends play a ball game at a field outside of town; the last time someone saw him was when he and his friends has just finished a game the night before and Jerek had gone into the woods to relieve himself. Going out to investigate, the party finds the spot in question and saw that the tracks left by Jerek went a little bit further into the woods before ending in a spot where there was clearly a struggle of sorts. There was no evidence of anything coming at him or or anyone leaving the spot afterwards. Xull’ree feels an arcane resonance in the air that has a distinct ‘flavor’: the only other time he had experienced it was when Durth demonstrated his powers.
Finding Durth at his traditional training location, they banter a bit. When Xull’ree mentions the magical residue left where Jerek disappeared, his face pales. “You want to know more about the Tree? You want to what I can’t tell you, or why? Then take me there. And pay attention.”
By the time they return to the scene of the struggle darkness has fallen. Durth picks up a trail only he can detect and works his way into the woods. After about two hours of walking they come to a cave entrance. Scuffs lie all over the entrance, looking like an army dragged their spears through the dirt. The outer wall of the cave looks as if the same army then hacked at the rocks with their spearheads.
“I’m going to call him out,” Durth says. “Subdue him, for I am the only one here who can truly kill this creature. If you strike him down yourself the boy will die.”
The party positions itself as Durth calls out in a strange tongue. After a few seconds, the dragging of chains can be heard coming from the cave mouth. Ghostly chains slowly crawl forward in the dirt. Jerek emerges. He is hunched, his eyes’ natural color glowing deep, his skin almost devoid of color. His body is wrapped in the ghostly chains and more hover in the air around him.
“Come to deprive me of my right so soon?” Jerek says. It sounds as if he speaks with two voices, one human, one…not. “You, who can’t even remember what you fought so hard for, jump to deprive me of my prize? I EARNED this, and I will not let you take it from me!” The chains flare to life!
[Battle music: Master Passion Greed (Instrumental) – Nightwish]
Following Durth’s instructions, the party subdues Jerek. As they are holding him down, Durth (who was frozen in panic during the fight) approaches and straddles Jerek. Once again, a red magic courses through his veins and into his hands, and Jerek, who looks truly afraid for the first time, begins thrashing and screaming.
“This will stop nothing!” he screams. “You abandoned us before and stole what was ours! We will take it back! You do not remember us, but we remember you! And we will MAKE you remember your sins!” Durth places his palms on Jerek’s face and the entity possessing him begins to burn out. Jerek’s body goes limp. Within seconds, his skin reverts to its natural color. The party carries him back to Graff, only saying that Jerek had been attacked by a bear that lived in the area. Graff did not press them on the issue. When the party asked Durth for more information, all he said was “You heard him. They remember us. And if I wish to stay alive, I will not draw attention to myself. I am lucky that I was able to kill the spirit inside him, because if I didn’t, and he had returned…”. Durth says nothing else on the matter.
The following morning the party returns to Elise for their reward. Upon leaving her house, they are approached by an emissary of the Archmage Armon. Armon wishes to meet with them immediately. They follow the emissary to the University and are shown into a conference room. Armon is just finishing up a conversation with a colleague.
Armon wastes no time in getting to the point. “I heard about what happened last night. I heard also that this…demon, spirit, whatever it may be, spoke to you. Is this true?” The party affirms it. “Tell me what he said. Leave nothing out. Every word is crucial.” The party, reluctant to share everything, give small tidbits of the conversation before wanting to know what Armon’s stake in all this is. “Quite simply, I am the only person in the world who knows the scope of the threat facing us without being under the same restraints as certain individuals. No, I have not been to the Tree. I have tried on several occasions, but the Tree itself refuses to acknowledge my great power and will and grant me passage. Why it bars a man of my talents is an infuriating enigma in and of itself. Nevertheless, I will unravel the mystery before it is too late! You all are going to help me do this. You have already been fortunate enough to have sampled what awaits us, and I believe—though I can’t imagine WHY—the Tree will one day grant you an audience, if you pursue this. Which you must. And when you do, it is imperative, for the good of all, that you return to me. For now, I have other business to attend to and must bid you good day.” With that, the party leaves.