All the people of Orlane are out partying in the street. Hey, there are a lot of people in this town! The townsfolk we brought back are grateful to us. Moved to tears, in fact. We’re getting a lot of attention as the heroes of Orlane. We make our way back to the Slumbering Serpent, and the exhaustion starts to kick in. The alderman cuts in and sends everybody home to have their reunions after like 20 minutes of overwhelming hugging and stuff.
After sleeping in, Issana and Herm opt to spend a lot of time in the common room letting people buy them drinks and gambling with the locals. Nesse gets lucky as much as possible and hangs out with Myron Tweed, who was nice to her before. People come to us and try to give us money, but it’s like, no money at all. The cult has bled the town dry. We don’t take the money.
On the second day, the alderman comes to the Slumbering Serpent with a small chest. He goes to the private dining room. We join him there. Bingo’s still in his room, though – no one’s seen him since we got back. The alderman unlocks the chest; it’s got three bags inside, 1000 gold each. We start to argue about whether or not we should take the money or not. Cael and Nila are team No Bags. Nesse says we should take two; Herm wants to take all three but can be negotiated down to two. Issana says take all three but will grudgingly take two. Crea and Talhier are very quiet, but as though from a great distance, Talhier eventually says that he would give his cut back to the town.
We agree that Alderman Zacharias should keep one of the sacks of gold. Nesse hands it to him, and he cries a little in a tough-guy way. He says he’ll put the money back into the town and that after the year the town has had, it’s hard to believe people like us exist. Herm and Issana agree with him that it wouldn’t be right to keep all the money; it’s just the right thing to do. Nesse asks that he capture the fullness of her beard properly in the monument he builds to us. Everyone laughs.
Zacharias says that in a few days, the town will be deciding what to do with the prisoners, if we want to be involved with that. Normally those matters would be handled by the sitting lord, but petitions to Sodor have been ignored, so they’ll handle it locally. Herm offers to be an impartial party. The alderman takes off.
Herm gets a bird familiar! It’s a fey hawk. We divvy up all the sick loot from the cult’s hideout. Talhier takes the rapier; he gives it a weird look when he takes it from its scabbard and looks around kind of shifty-like.
Issana goes up to Bingo’s room and talks her way in. He says he’s totally fine and will just need some of the money from the party’s fee to hire a small army. Ah. So she gets out of him that he needs to get the Heirhorn, or the Canticle of the Dawn, without which he’s not really a Hornblower, and if he goes home without it, he’ll be disowned. There was information about it in the letter he got from Petunia. It’s being held by a rich merchant in the Silver Hill district of T’rell, which is a powerful city-state to the west whence Issana fled before the start of our adventure. It’s a theocracy run by the Annointed, religious fanatics who worship the god of Light in a hardcore way.
Issana allows that she knows T’rell very well, though they don’t necessarily love her there. She will help Bingo with his search if he gets some goddamn sleep and takes down the wall of serial killer papers and maps he’s put up on the wall.
A summer festival is coming up! It’s about a week away, and it lasts 14 days. It’s called Pinnacle. The people of Orlane are like, “You have to stay to celebrate Pinnacle with us!” The town is starting to come back to life, and it’s becoming clear exactly how fucked up the town was. There are more and more people everywhere from the surrounding countryside every day.
Cael goes to check out the mallorn tree out at the hermit’s place. She leaves the pin she took from the hermit’s body in the offering area and says a prayer over it for him. She also spends some time meditating under it every day.
Herm wanders around the town and its surrounds, and on the third or fourth day he sees some work going on outside town. He sees the alderman working with some people on a construction project. It’s a gallows. Zacharias says they have to decide what’s to be done, and Herm tells him to keep up the good work. He later tells the rest of the party about the structure. Nila is confused.
Nesse investigates the town’s temple situation. She offers counseling via Zone of Truth, which seems excessive. But she also knows Lesser Restoration, which might help. There’s no clergy left in town, but there’s a grassroots effort to clean up the temple in town. Nesse mends the big holy book that had been profaned and pitches in to helping clean out the storehouse-cum-torture chamber and Abramo’s chambers.
During that time, Nesse gets a brown paper package at the Slumbering Serpent from Tweed’s Tweed. It’s a scandalously frilly set of underclothes! Just as requested! Mr. Tweed hopes she’ll stop by before she leaves town, and the note also says “Thank you for returning Bertram to me.” Awwww. She goes to the store and buys some more stuff there – a floral summer dress. Bingo is there also and buys a feathered hat – a royal blue beret with a paste stone and a cockade of feathers. Tweed initially won’t take money from Nesse and Bingo, but they insist.
Nesse and Bingo decide to check out the Other Tavern, and it’s boarded up. Zacharias sees them and says it’s closed down because the innkeeper is in custody. “I’m sad to see it go,” says Bingo. “No, I’m not,” he continues. Bingo offers Nesse’s Zone of Truth when it comes time to determine whether the townsfolk were working for the cult under their own volition. The alderman is thoughtful.
Nila talks to farmers as they come into the inn to see if they have injured animals. Eventually a man comes in at lunchtime and says he doesn’t have any sick animals but that something is spooking his livestock at night. He has sheep, cows and a plowhorse. Nila talks to the sheepdog, who says something has come near in the past few nights that smells wrong. It smells like wet earth and fire and something that should not be. She camps out at the farm, which is several miles from town.
Late at night, the livestock get restless and NIla hears something moving at the north edge of the pasture. She walks toward it, staying close to the treeline. She hears a loud snuffling sound and can tell that whatever it is at least the size of a horse. It scuttles back. It makes a low sound that’s not a growl; it sounds familiar. Nila throws out some meat and never hears it hit the ground; there’s a snap and a swallowing sound.
She casts Speak With Animals and tells it she’s a friend. But the spell doesn’t really work, indicating that the thing isn’t a beast. But she sort of touches its mind, and it feels like the “dragon.” It purrs, and Nila throws more meat. It comes closer. It’s still skittish. She keeps feeding it and talking calmly to it. Over the course of the night, she’s able to get close enough to touch the animal. It stays for another hour or so, until dawn gets closer and the “dragon” scurries off to the north.
The farmer asks what’s up. Nila says the creature was good when she was there and that she doesn’t think a party to hunt is necessary. She tells the rest of the group she found Red.
Nesse: “It was definitely Red?”
Nila says she doesn’t think Red knows how to hunt and that he needs us. Herm says he doesn’t think we need him. Issana suggests a traveling show could take him in or something.
Later that day, a runner arrives at the Slumbering Serpent to ask that we all come to the town square. Herm goes to his room first and says he’ll meet us there. When we all get there, the alderman, Sigrid and the town elders are standing on the gallows with Decius the Cleric, Tristan the Archer (both from the dungeon), the former innkeeper of the Golden Grain, the keeper of the mercantile and the carpenter all with them in manacles. The shopkeeper is still showing evidence of the beating Zacharias gave him before we left for the temple. It’s trial time, and public opinion is pretty well decided.
Each prisoner gets a chance to speak on their own behalf. The cleric’s mind seems to have shattered and he goes on a tirade. The archer begs for his life. The innkeeper, the shopkeeper and the carpenter all say they’ll leave and never come back, and swear that the cult said they’d kill them if they didn’t help. The crowd doesn’t buy it.
The crowd makes way as we arrive. Someone from the back of the crowd asks about Teagan and says he should pay. The party vouches for Teagan, saying that he did as much to rescue the town’s loved ones as anyone. Issana says he paid in blood, pointing out his gnarly scars from the lightning bolt. Teagan gets the chance to speak for himself. He says he doesn’t have a defense for the things he did, but says we gave him a second chance, and he took it. He’s sorry for what he did – he didn’t kill anyone, but he knows that’s cold comfort. He’ll abide by whatever decision is made and won’t fight it.
Zacharias asks Herm what he thinks. Herm arrived a little late wearing patchwork courtroom dress, declaring it a beautiful day for the administration of justice. Zacharias asks us what we think about the people up on the scaffold. We’ve earned a say, he says.
Nesse casts Zone! Of! Truth! on the people on the scaffold. Bingo and Herm are up on the scaffold as well. The Cleric is still ranting crazy – “I was made to rule at my mistress’ side!” The archer took the job for the money. He learned to kill people in the military and has no conscience, so why not? The shopkeeper was abducted early on and fell under the sway of the reptile god, and the longer he was under her control, the more natural it started to feel, until he couldn’t tell who was making the decisions. Carpenter, same. They didn’t kill anyone. The innkeeper did it for money, but he didn’t kill anyone. He facilitated many abductions.
Nesse asks those who didn’t kill why we should let them live. How will they atone? What good will they do? The shopkeeper and the carpenter say that, around the time we killed the naga, they felt a cloud lift from their minds. They realize what they’ve been doing, and they want to make it up. The innkeeper seems remorseful, but it’s kind of an “I’m sorry I got caught? I won’t do it again?”
The alderman suggests we break for lunch. The prisoners will go back in their cells and we’ll decide what to do with them at lunch. Herm is like, “Kill ‘em all.” The consensus of the others is that the cleric, the archer and the innkeeper should die. The shopkeeper and the carpenter should have their assets liquidated for the good of the town and be exiled for life. Herm is pissed off; Bingo suggests that maybe the town will let Herm pull the lever on the gallows.
Nila decides not to go back to the scaffold. She buys a bunch of meat and heads back into the woods. Everyone else returns to the scaffold. The alderman asks us what we think. Issana explains what we decided. Part of the crowd wants blood from everybody, but the alderman nods and Sigrid starts fitting them with nooses and hoods. The cleric rants. The archer fights a little. The innkeeper cries like a baby. The shopkeeper and the carpenter stay on the platform.
There’s no lever, which pisses Herm right off. Sigrid stands the prisoners on stools and kicks the stools out from under them. The drop isn’t very far, so they suffocate instead of breaking their necks. The other two have to watch. The crowd chants and throws rocks. After everyone stops kicking, the other two prisoners are escorted back to the jail. Teagan is there and watches the whole thing.
As the crowd disperses, a man and a woman are on their knees holding each other, sobbing. A woman is by herself not far away with her face pressed into the dirt. There are others around the field who stay staring at the bodies. Nesse says a prayer and burns the gallows with the bodies still hanging. Some of the people stay and watch. Some people look sickened that everything has come to this and leave.
Issana follows Ailla and her husband back to their house. Aelric is inside crying, and Ailla is comforting him. Issana opts not to knock and returns to the Slumbering Serpent.
Everyone else except Nila heads back to the inn.
Nila makes it back to the farm by the time it’s full dark. She goes to the clearing and tries to call Red there. She makes calls that Red might respond to, and after about half an hour, she hears footsteps that she’s pretty sure are Red. She feeds him the meat she bought. Red moves into the clearing, and it takes less time for him to let her touch him. It’s clear that taming him will take lots of time and patience. She tries to check him over for injuries. He seems to be in good shape considering what he’s been through. Nila spends the night trying to gain his trust.