The Order of the Scepter Tower said goodbyes and made preparations.
Lo’kag moved into the Scepter Tower along with Sister Cherra, their budding romance provoking skeptical amusement from Angiledhel, who laughed in their faces.
They promised to ready the Scepter Tower and make it livable, and vowed also to watch over the magically preserved body of Dositheus, now ensconced in an upper chamber.
A two more magical keys to the tower were found, and given to Hosvir and Angiledhel for safekeeping.
Corvyr and Hosvir sealed the door to the Tomb of the Scepter Tower as best they could, in case Barthus got ideas.
Then, on horses gifted to them by Allendi, the Order bid farewell to Spellguard and rode south toward the Greyflow River.
At the river, they met a wiry, sunken-eyed ferryman, who sold them passage downriver to Llorkh on his raft. Weak magic kept the raft steady for the horses and allowed the ferryman to pilot upriver and downriver with equal ease.
Along the way, he told the Order about the Festival of Lanterns, which has been held in Llorkh this time every year for as long as anyone can remember. As they arrived, they saw merchants and performers from up and down the river congregating in boats at Llorkh’s pier, unloading their wares and preparing for the coming festival.
They disembarked and explored the town—a collection of ramshackle clapboard buildings set on stilts and connected by a series of muddy levees, mildewed boardwalks, and half-sunken stepping stones.
The town is canopied by large oak and cypress trees festooned with hanging mosses. Lightning bugs, mosquitoes, and other insects have domain over the town at night, and people take shelter in their homes or in Mame Nettles’ cookhouse.
Mama Nettles Cookhouse is the town’s only restaurant, tavern, and inn, and is owned and operated by the eponymous Mama Nettles, a cheerful woman with a strange accent. Her rooms were all booked, due to the Festival, but she offered the Order a room above the stables, which Hosvir grudgingly accepted.
The group enjoyed a hearty dinner and watched the patrons of the Cookhouse dance to the lively local music. Mama Nettles remembered a Eutocius, who was abandoned by his guide and who sought a new one, but knew nothing more.
Una, depressed and frustrated from the loss of his dear friend Dositheus, sought to get away from the group for awhile, but found an unwanted companion in Angiledhel, who determined that Una would not spend this time alone. The two of them wandered into the night, surrounded by the sounds of crickets and frogs.
Corvyr went to bed, leaving Hosvir to his own devices. After a few attempts with the ladies, Hosvir found himself in conversation with Cher Nettles, Mama Nettles ancient matriarch. Addleheaded and half blind, Cher Nettles nonetheless seemed to know things that others didn’t.
She shared with Hosvir her version of the history of the Festival of Lanterns.
Una and Angiledhel sat under a boardwalk, remembering Dositheus and trying to come to terms with his death, when they heard a conversation above.
Two men were discussing the coming festival. The candles for the lanterns were due days ago, but had not yet arrived from Waterdeep. The paladin and his guide, sent to find the bearers of the candles, had not yet returned. Different candles would not do. Tradition was at stake.
Una and Angiledhel followed one of the men, who turned out to be Constable Menos, the town’s volunteer law enforcement officer. Menos happily explained to the two of them the events of the past few days:
- The Paladin Eutocius, abandoned by his guide, desperately sought someone to lead him into the swamps in search of cultists.
- Nelson Greaves, the most experienced and crafty swamp guide around, agreed to assist Eutocius, but only if Eutocius would first help the town with its problem.
- It seems the candles for the Festival of Lanterns, specially prepared by priests in Waterdeep, were due in Llorkh a tenday ago, but have not yet arrived. It is believed that the candle bearers may have taken the swamp route, since the river has been closed at times due to bandits.
- Eutocius agreed to accompany Nelson Greaves into the swamp to search for the priests bearing the candles to Llorkh. But now it’s been several days and they, too, are missing.
Constable Menos then brought the pair to his own house to “introduce” them to his only clue: a giant, ferocious mastiff named Chewey, whom Menos could not even approach, much less calm. Chewey and another dog, both belonging to Nelson Greaves, had accompanied Greaves and Eutocius into the swamp. The dog returned in an inconsolable state.
Angiledhel, gifted with a special affinity for animals, was able to calm the dog and win its affections. Chewey took the elf to Greaves’s tin shack, then attempted to lead him into the swamp to find Greaves. But it was still nighttime. Angiledhel and Una retired to the stables for the night.
The next morning, the Order met Finroy, owner of the town’s only Mercantile Exchange and the man Constable Menos had been conversing with the previous night. Finroy corroborated Menos’s story and also mentioned the cult activity of recent months, blaming the cult for the disappearance of several of the town’s children.
They asked Finroy if he still had the box that last year’s candles came in. Finroy brought them to his shop and demanded of his stockboy, Martik, that he find the box.
Presently, after bumbling around in the back, Martik arrived with a wooden chest with a gold-leaf inscription enlaid on its top edge. The inscription was a prayer in archaic common to a country folk-god called Lathander, apparently a sun deity. The prayer was a simple request for protection. The Order borrowed the box from Finroy.
Hosvir noticed a strange tattoo on Martik and persuaded him to show it to the group. Una recognized the symbol as an ancient Netherese hieroglyph for “resurrection.”
The group left the store, but decided that Una should follow Martik.
When Martik left work, he went up the town’s only hill to a large oak tree planted at its top. He climbed the tree.
From hiding, Una watched Martik meet a girl on one of the trees branches, watched them kiss hello, and watched them speak animatedly, Martik pointing to his tattoo.
Then, later, when the two young lovers separated, Una followed the girl into the swamp.