After driving the ghost back into the ruins, our unlikely heroes take a breather and discuss what to do next. At this point it is becoming painfully clear that this fresh band of adventurers lacks every form of leadership imaginable. Through sheer majority vote, they eventually decide to inspect the ruins where the ghost phased into a wall.
Searching around the area, the group finds the ancient symbol that Viral was talking about. None of them seem to know what it means or where or when it's from, but Andrea carelessly puts her hand on it. Unexpectedly, the symbol lights up and starts humming faintly. A part of the ruins suddenly lowers into the ground, revealing stone-cut steps leading down into the darkness.
Only momentarily wondering if perhaps they should consult the archeologists, the group descends into the cave; rushing forward carelessly with only a single torch to guide them. Heroic this might seem, it also proved somewhat foolish as Darion – leading the group – fails to notice and sets off a dangerous trap. He protects the party valiantly by blocking a spray of acid with his face. This turns out to be pointless though, as Noa, the only other victim of the trap, nimbly dodges out of the way.
After Darion's feeble attempt to heal his molten face, the group rounds the last corner and finds themselves in a small cavern room. Their lantern illuminates a corpse in the back of the room, which they can't help but notice is in a extensive state of decay. A quick glance shows the female corpse wearing the same clerical clothing as the ghost. Some urns are scattered around the edges of the room.
As Lumivarax steels himself and moves closer to inspect the corpse, a loud wail erupts from behind them and the ghost slides out from the wall. It looks pissed, even more so after the party clumsily attempts to reason with her again. Screaming intensifies.
A fight erupts and as it progresses, the ghost is even further enraged by the Lumivarax' radiant magic and attempts to reach him by phasing through the walls. Extraordinarily, the ghost is unable to hurt our favorite heroes at all and she eventually gives in, the party reducing her to a dusty mess of ectoplasm on the ground and wall.
Little time is wasted on ceremony as our heroes congratulate and rewards themselves with whatever they can find in the urns. This turns out to be quite a prize, as they find valuable metals and gems, along with a small medallion. Suspecting the medallion might be magical, they take turns trying to assess the enchantment. The wise and educated among them fail to understand what it does though, after which Darion snatches it up and exclaims that "his father used to have one of these", and confirms it to be a Sparkling Medallion…
A closer look on the coins they found revealed Elven decorations, leading Lumivarax to surmise that perhaps these coins are ancient Esmerian. They decide to keep the coins separate from their regular currency, just in case.
As Lumivarax examines the corpse, he notices that the woman appears to have died from falling, as her limbs are contorted in many unnatural ways. He then finds stab wounds and blood stains as well. Looking up, Noa notices a shaft leading up towards ground level where a grate can be seen, a small amount of moonlight shining through. This leads the party to believe the poor woman must have been stabbed repeatedly before being thrown down the grate.
Some members of the party faintly surmise that by destroying the ghost, they likely sent the woman's soul straight to hell. After she was violently attacked and dropped to her death in total darkness.
As they suppress this unpleasant realization and prepare to leave, the pair of would-be inspectors notice a faint hum coming off a metal plate beneath the corpse. Carefully moving the corpse off of it, they learn it seems to be made of solid metal, encrusted with small gems in twenty different colors. They start experimenting through prodding it and stacking urns and gems on top of it. This breaks a few of the urns, and Noa needs to physically restrain an impatient Darion from stepping onto the plate.
As Noa worriedly test out the plate, the rest of the party looks around the caves and notices three scenic, but gruesome depictions:
- A crude drawing showing a young child being pulled into a dark corner, by long shadowy arms. The child's parents are running towards it, crying out in despair.
- A larger drawing shows a huge, black portal with an army of shadowy and grey figures pouring out of it. In the distance, alerted watchmen inside and around a large tower.
- A large scale drawing of decaying grass and trees, around a disk or plate that seems to emit a sickening aura. Corpses of monsters, people and animals alike are strewn around it.
Lumivarax eventually does decide to try and grab the plate. To the astonishment of the rest of the party, he is immediately transported into another realm. Although still in the same location, everything is distorted and vague, as if looking through frosted glass. He can still see his friends, but they do not appear to see him anymore.
After his initial surprise subsides, Lumivarax notices a plate in the back of the room with Elven writing on it. Above it, a small box is magically suspended in the air.
After reading the inscription, he steps off the plate to walk towards the box and is immediately pulled back to the Material Realm. He shares what he has learned with the party, and repeats the inscription back to them:
"As the centuries turn, so will the Shadow keep falling. When darkness once more blots out the days beyond the Awakening, let this guide the just to fight the madness and the dying of the light."
Intrigued – and in Ulfgar's case, hungry for treasure – they resolve to retrieve the contents of the box. This proves to be quite a challenge to our heroes however, as they just can't seem to figure out how to reach the box after losing contact with the plate.
After quite some shenanigans and crazy ideas – like shooting the box down – they attempt a last ditch effort to lift the magical plate out of it's fitting in the rock floor with their swords and sheer muscle strength. Their force of will proves sufficient, but their strength ejects the plate out of the ground, bouncing it off the wall and rolling into Andrea.
While initially far from amused, her annoyance quickly turns to wonder as the sizable Lumivarax is able to pull the magically suspended box down from the air after moving the plate over to its location. The contents of the box reveal a parchment, but the parchment itself only shows magical swirls. They decide to leave with both the parchment and the plate. The plate receives a name, and the name is John.
Trying to leave the cave, they find that the marking near the door only responds to Andrea. All the while they deliberate loudly over whether they should bury the cleric's corpse. Examining the parchment again – and Ulfgar waving it around like he is trying to dry a towel – makes half of them realize that it must be magically encrypted through Illusory Script, and that the only means to read it would be through True Sight. Sadly, Dispelling the enchantment would destroy the spell and the contents both.
Finally outside, they build a stretcher from wood and leaves, retrieve the cleric's corpse and bury it in the forest with an improvised prayer ceremony.
Hoping this would give the poor woman's soul some rest, each of them shortly feels an intense heat, which leaves them as abruptly as it had come.
Having finished with the formalities, our heroes tell themselves they have well earned their reward, and return to the archeologists' camp for some well deserved rest.
In the morning, they update the Halfling leader of the archeological expedition on all of their findings. The leader however states that she cannot be sure the ghost is actually gone, and will need verification of this before she can write out a formal letter of recognition to the party. A solution is found by having the party stay another day and night, so that the League can confirm the ghost is actually gone.
Consulting the expedition's leader for her experience, they learn that the magical plate brings any living thing it is in contact with to the Ethereal Realm. Or, to be more specific, the Border Ethereal.
The heroes use their mandatory day off to try and locate the grate they saw through the shaft inside the cave. Eventually they do, and underneath the rubble they find traces of blood and a struggle that have been kept dry from the periodic rainfall. Coming to the realization that the ghost had perhaps only initially been hostile to the Minghondians among them, they conclude that at this point it really doesn't matter anymore.
As the night passes, the expedition leader signs a written confirmation for the party of them vanquishing the ghost and granting them the reward as promised, to be picked up at the office of the League of Archeologists in Minghonda.
Strolling out to the edge of the forest, each of them could swear they hear faint whispers. although none of them are able to decipher what is being said. The Minghondian's among them recall ancient tales of whispers, after which the region was named – The Whispering Glade.
Shaking off the unsettling sensation, they continue into the plains on their way back to the city.
Arriving in the evening, Andrea shares some of her silver with a particularly hungry looking refugee. He thanks her kindly, although clearly hoping for more.
Tired from the journey, but delighting in their new found riches, they return to the Bright Apple for some particularly extravagant meals and lodging; Andrea once more settling for a modest one. Loudly they discuss their treasure and what to do with it, seemingly uncaring to whom might overhear.
In the morning, their first order of business is obviously the retrieval of their just reward. Meeting Maikel at the League of Archeologists office reception desk once more, she inspects the signed letter and retrieves Verner – a higher up in the League's organization. The small Halfling proceeds to confirm the reward with Maikel and pulls a comically large sack of gold out of his small set of clothes.
As per their previous late-night rowdy discussions, our heroes also show Verner some of the ancient coins they had kept aside. He investigates them them and confirms they are legal tender, but appears very surprised at the unusual depictions that portray the currency.
He happily agrees to the party's offer to donate a few of them in return for him checking his contacts for interest in purchasing the remainder in bulk.
Leaving the League behind and secure of their fat purse, they attempt to exchange some of their new-found wealth at the local bank. Sadly, they are kept in line for an untoward amount of time as preferential treatment appears to be given to Minghondian officials. Openly appalled at the blatant favoritism, they decide to come back later and go to the guard post instead.
Grumpy guard looks no less grumpy than the last time the heroes met him. He does share the information he has on Aredyl and the reports coming from there though, clearly showing how insane and confused the reports had gotten – a pattern in them suggest problems and a plea for help.
The guard cannot promise a reward because at this point they still do not know what they are actually dealing with. But he mentions they are likely to get one in Aredyl itself, or otherwise the guard captain there could sign them a letter to redeem in Minghonda. He writes them a signed letter confirming the group's status as investigators.
Lumivarax enquires about other current affairs in the city, and learns of a serial killer case where a Hanaian terrorist had murdered multiple Minghondian officials. The guards had eventually apprehended him by using an official as bait, and after a rapid court case executed him by beheading.
Continuing his story, the guard tells our heroes that a new murder had taken place that resembled the M.O. of the executed assassin. This time, a high-ranking Minghondian member of the Senate had been killed. The M.O. fit perfectly even; an abduction in the streets by putting a victim to sleep somehow, dragging them off to an unknown part of town, skinning their faces off while still alive and leaving them dead in a seemingly randomly chosen street. The guard concludes they must be dealing with a copycat killer, or perhaps an organization behind the original killer that is continuing the murders.
As our heroes leave the guard post, Ulfgar murmurs that the Minghondians get what's coming to them. This leads to a short discussion about the current tense political climate, ethics, morals, right and wrong. They make the decision to see what they can do in Aredyl instead.
At his second attempt, Noa finally gets his turn at the bank, and manages to persuade the banker Foxworth to let him trade in some gold pieces for platinum without a service fee, despite Foxworth running low on platinum. This does not please the banker much, who nods at Noa warily.
Leaving the city, the thought occurs to them that any wealthy refugees would obviously not reside in the camps near the gates; they would have found easy refuge in the huge city itself. Pondering the injustice and imbalance in the world, they set off for Aredyl.
The journey takes them along one of Hanaa's major trade routes and is rather safe and well traveled. The rest of the party learns, through banter, of Ulfgar's excessive student loan debts. Darion subsequently jokes that they already accumulated more wealth than any of the refugees would see in a lifetime, and he laughs at his own joke as a true bourgeois pig.
Reaching deep within himself, Ulfgar manages to conjure up magical goodberries from an unknown place to feed the others, who are slightly reluctant at this prospect at first.
Finally reaching Aredyl, the party meets a trader that is just leaving the town. The trader warns them to just pass this town up, because everyone in there has gone crazy. Bewildered, absent-minded and confused, as if their minds are addled. He goes on to say that it has not always been that way, and states he suspects there might be something in the water that's causing it.
Entering the town themselves, our heroes truly see the strange phenomena affecting the small town of Aredyl. Everyone walking around aimlessly, looking but not seeing, yelling in the streets at no-one in particular. They find an inn called The Good Knight's Rest and attempt to rent rooms for the night.
The innkeeper however barely replies to their queries and seems to not remember what his rooms actually cost for a night. In fact, as the party presses him, he seems to not even remember his own name. For a moment he thinks his name is Tom, but then states that is not true. Finally he goes into a tangent about how everyone in town is a complete idiot lately. The party quietly leaves the inn.
Instead, they stop by the small guard post. Inside, they find a woman who appears to be guard captain. She is sitting behind a desk, around her are many scattered papers and written letters. Also clearly afflicted, the guard captain does inform them a little more. She tells them that she has been writing for weeks to ask for help, that the phenomena had started slowly but had turned very bad recently.
After she forgets that the party is even in her office, she starts drooling a little on her desk.
Resolving to find a suspected magical cause for the strange and disturbing phenomena, Lumivarax starts scanning the town for magical influences. He finds one in the town's well, and Darion descends into it before letting more level-headed members of the groups restrain him this time.
On the bottom of the well, among worthless wishing coins and other garbage, Darion finds a magical ring. After bringing it up and assessing the magical properties of this tremendous find, the party realizes they are holding a mundane Ring of Swimming.