Flight in the Dark

As the evening settles over the walls of Raven Springs a scout reports seeing something strange against the north-east horizon - a great dark cloud is forming with supernatural speed and appears to be closing on the city. Salix takes eagle form and flies to investigate whilst the dragonborn wait nervously.

Meanwhile a second messenger reports that there is a woman at the rivergate demanding to speak with the paladins, Claudia and Sir Carlos go to investigate and are met by a tall woman, naked clutching what appears to be a lifeless infant to her breast and with tears streaming freely down her face. She meets them and demands that they kneel for she is S'Desh, the god of stillborns, one of the old gods of this land. It appears that she has evaded the pogrom that the Immortals have persecuted the followers of the old gods - perhaps because she is only occasionally revered.

S'Desh upbraids the paladins for reinstating the cathedral of the Raven Queen and accuses them of being missionaries, more interested in furthering their own church than addressing the situation in Hanoria. She then tells them that Orcus' strategy is to besiege them in the city and keep them pinned down - he is playing for time and that rather than play into his hands, they should meet the army that he is sending in the field. They can use their army as a screen to cover their escape - they must sacrifice their army and press on to Caratia to stop his plans.

Salix returns describing an impenetrable darkness that appears to hide an army. The party decide to take the old god's advice and meet them in the field, and when they speak of this to Sir Carlos and smiles grimly, "It is what we came here to do" he says. The army of ghouls, ghasts and shadows is led by a demon prince named Darkness. They clash with his forces and whilst it is clear that they are outnumbered and overpowered, for a moment it appears to be on a knife edge. Puff is persuaded to leave and as the battle rages, the party slip away.

They travel quickly away from the battle along with the S'desh - she tells them that she is not permitted to take a significant part in overcoming Orcus, however if she gets the opportunity she will try to make a single decisive blow, though this would be her parting gift. As they press their advantage and head northwards into the night that opportunity presents itself as Orcus confronts them in the open. S'desh offers some protection to the heroes as they try to build some advantage over the demon lord but his blows and wand wreak terrible damage. Then a solid blow from Claudia and Moonblade strikes home, as Orcus reels from the blow S'desh delivers a second blow and it appears for a moment that he has been defeated. In an eye blink, the demon lord teleports away.

S'desh appears to be dissolving into the night, he parting words are bitter - "This business has come about by the hand of man and I fear that it must be by the hand of man that it will be ended. For you and your church I have nothing but contempt" she spits out at Claudia, "And besides you dragonborn have no great stake in this." She turns to Salix, "In you I hold some hope that you may find courage and determination to end this. I leave you a blessing do with it as you will, maybe it will protect you." She indicates a ragged bundle in which, once she has left salix discovered a dried human embryo.

Maybe she has misjudged him for the druid is not interested in her grisly gift. Saying a few respectful words over the pitiable sight he buries it in the dry sand along with a nut from one of the Argan trees that grow on these high plains. Within moments the ground splits and a single delicate shoot unfurls into the cold night air. As the group watches, and with a tremendous cracking and groaning, the shoot becomes a sapling and then a great tree standing high above all of its siblings on the plain. Salix appears unfazed by this and after a moments silent communion says "This is my home, I am the land".

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