April 8, 1482
The cultists’ wagon – the sixth in the caravan – overturns when a wheel breaks on a rock. Of the crates that tumbled free, one smashes open, revealing dozens of beautiful items of jewelry wrapped in wool for protection. Oddly, one of the treasures is a small, silk-lined box, which itself broke open, spilling an apple into the road. The cultists don’t notice this at first and busy themselves trying to cover the treasure.
The apple comes to rest at the boot of a Dwarf perfume salesman’s human guard – Gavin Hyland – who happily picks it up and starts eating it while watching the cultists scramble. Gavin gets really interested in the treasure and starts asking about it, at which time Half-Nose notices the broken box and Gavin eating the apple. Half-Nose smacks it out of Gavin’s hands and collects what’s left of the fruit, carefully placing the remainder back in its box.
One of the travelers – Rhetett Vuraga – was regularly seen mistreating his horses. He allowed their collars and girths to chafe sores in their hide, skimped on their feed, and whipped them when the aching, hungry animals didn’t pull hard enough or fast enough to suit him. One of them finally collapses, and the heroes intervene. After nearly coming to blows, Vuraga agrees to sell the horse to Gareth, who (along with Razar-De) stays behind a day to care for the creature.
A very friendly and, the party notices, very adept adventurer Jamna Gleamsilver joins the caravan, paying for passage on one of the wagons.
Gavin Hyland disappears. A brief search by the heroes found his battered body at the bottom of a nearby ravine with a broken neck and large gash across his gut. Investigation shows signs of poisoning, and that his injuries aren’t all from the fall. A deep wound in his gut was clearly inflicted by a blade.
Half-Nose and his crew finally recognize Gareth, Razar-De, and Tarathan. They assume the party are either deserters from the cult or spies, and warns them off interfering with their business.
On this beautiful, sunny afternoon, a herd of deer is spotted grazing on a nearby hill, including a magnificent stag that shimmers in the light as if its coat is spun from gold and its antlers plated with platinum. Nearly everyone in the caravan who can handle a bow wants to bring down that beast, but a few of the more cautious types warn that the creature was clearly a blessed being and that killing it would bring bad luck on the caravan. Despite their concerns, the hunt is on, and the deer herd scatter into the nearby forest.
Gareth and Tarathan join the chase, but more to protect the stag. The stag loses all of its hunters except the two heroes on a long chase to a moss-grown, ivy-draped stone ruin within a box canyon.
Cornered, the stag speaks, attempting to speak with the pair in an unfamiliar language before switching to broken Elvish. It assures them that they were on the right track, and they “must continue following the river of gold until they reach the castle in the sky”. Sadly, “their path will be filled with hardship and blood”. To aid them, it stamps a crumbling part of the floor, revealing an old but sturdy box containing an exquisite longbow. “Not all will survive," the stag sighs and lays resting before the remains of the ancient hearth. The heroes thank the creature and take their leave.
A torrential downpour begins, all but stopping progress for several days.
After two days and nights of rain, lightning, and strange whistling sounds on the wind, the party awakens to see that the surrounding countryside is blanketed with purple fungus, growing everywhere, including on the road.
Whenever anyone steps on a mushroom, it emits a puff of black spores and a horrible moan of pain. Unpleasant as it is, a party of volunteers is assembled to clear the road and proceed.
Jamna joins the party for breakfast, and takes the bowl of oatmeal that Tarathan is about to eat. After poking through the oatmeal with the blade of her dagger, Jamna lifts it out and shows the party an object resembling a tiny bead. She glances over her shoulder toward where cultists sit at their breakfast. "It’s a sliver of bone,” she whispers, “curled into a circle so you can swallow it in a mouthful of gruel without noticing. Once eaten, it slowly uncurls inside you, piercing your guts and killing you slowly. Let’s talk this evening.”
The heroes are suspicious of the halfling, but go to meet her that night after dinner. She says, “We don’t work for the same people, but we’re all on the same side – we share a belief that the Cult must be stopped. I need to know what they’re carrying in those wagons and where they’re taking it. Will you help me find out? We can do it tonight.”
The party volunteers neither to tell her about what they saw when the wagon spilled, nor to assist her with her plan. She departs friendly enough, but obviously disappointed.
The camp awakens to a killing. One of the cultists was murdered overnight. He was stabbed in the back with a sword and left where he fell beneath their wagon.
Half-Nose and friends immediately accuse the party and demand to inspect their weapons. They make a fairly weak argument, and the heroes are on such good terms with most of the caravan that without witnesses, most agree that nothing can be done, the gods will punish the guilty party and life will go on.
The caravan arrives in Torsuul a week later than expected, so payments and goodbyes are made quickly and the merchants scatter into the city. The heroes shadow the cultists’ wagon, following it north around the city wall, where it joins a small encampment of other wagons. Drianna learns that those wagons are headed east to repair a trade road between Torsuul and Exridge – they will join a work camp at the Carnath Roadhouse. After nightfall, Razar-De takes a closer look at this new caravan, and receives an odd note from a fellow watcher.