After making off with the dead Oracle and his erstwhile protégé, the party retreated to their campsite near the teleport point. They salvaged the Oracle’s sword, breastplate, cloak, and journal. With some effort, Gux and Edane managed to transcribe the Oracle’s quasi-literate chicken scratching into legible text, and translate it (into Durju written in Draconic). They gave this information to Aranethon, and helped him formulate questions to ask the corpse via speak with dead.
(the oracle’s sword)
In the journal, the Oracle wrote erratically and irregularly about how his “dark lord” chose him for the privilege of joyous service. The previous oracle broke the shackles of his bondage, and freed him from fear, anger, and doubt. The lord only asks that each Oracle identify and “unshackle” children who have the potential to serve.
The journal also talked about Deathspeakers, the ghosts that come to use the “shadowbound circle” in the middle of the settlement. They work with his master, though the journal was unclear about the nature of their relationship. The Deathspeakers would often “meet” the Oracle in dreams to conduct their business. The Oracle and the Deathspeakers would actually find deceased souls on occasion, and bring them into the circle to speak, but at least as often they would use magic and detective work to simulate contact with a spirit that was unavailable or uncooperative. The Deathspeakers are part of some kind of group or society, but the Oracle has only ever seen four of them – and usually only the same two.
Speak with dead
Aranethon cast speak with dead upon the corpse. After ten minutes of chanting, incense, and tracing patterns in magical light, the spell took hold. The body lurched as it flexed and took a deep, groaning inhale. It gurgled, choked, and wheezed. Its eyelids fluttered open, and bleary, unfocused eyes darted around in dry, bloodless sockets. “What?” it groaned, “Where am I? Who… Edane…” Then its eyes fixed on Aranethon’s holy symbol, and the corpse fell silent.
“Answer my questions and return to rest,” Aranethon said. “How does your dark lord gain power from your people?”
The corpse’s mouth opened in a leering, mad grin. “My glorious lord!” it cried, “It does not need us. Its potency stems from the eldest of days, yes. Oh, yes! It loves us, it flenses away our frailties to make us strong. The Deathspeakers may need followers, but my lord is beyond such petty concerns. Pity you, pity them, so weak and fearful!”
Aranethon continued, undeterred. “And what are the Deathspeakers’ motivations behind working with your lord?”
The corpse gestured as if to spit. “Philistines!” it sneered, “They serve because it suits their ambitions. They do my lord’s bidding, know they or not.”
“Why was a pegasus watching over your settlement?”
The oracle’s corpse let out a rasping chuckle. “Heh. A good find! Clever Deathspeakers. A tireless flying scout. Strong as a horse, swift as an owl, sharp as a hawk, steady as a hound.”
Mustering the last of his spell’s power, Aranethon asked, “What were the armored general’s intentions in training the people of the camp?”
“He is wrath, he is the devouring swarm,” the corpse sputtered, especially manic, “He is the keen of the coming storm. He marshals every mote of power to pursue an old oath. My bleak lord allows him this, for now – for now. But soon…” the body suddenly sighed and went slack. The glow of power dissipated, and the faint iron tang of blood cut through the incense.
Manudhar cast gentle repose on the corpse, and they wrapped it and gave it to Gux to teleport to Feery’s Leap for further review. Someone else could inspect the body or query it with magic, or wait a week to compel the flesh again to parley.
A howl in the distance
After Gux’s return the next morning, the party heard a wolf howling in the distance. Shegger Gork recognized this as a secret druidic message. Though his understanding of the druids’ mysteries was incomplete, he recognized the message as a warning and a call to other druids: “Come if you are strong, stay away if you are weak. Near this sender, at [geographic feature], the holy balance is threatened!”
To sate their curiosity and possibly enlist the local druids in their quest to raze Shadowswitch, the party broke camp and rode east to follow the wolf’s howl. A few miles along, they heard a hawk cry, which Shegger Gork recognized as an equivalent message. And a few miles farther, a murder of crows screeching, and then an elk bellowing. The elk’s message led them to the clearing beneath a bluff. In this clearing an old earthwork circle stood, with shadowy figures gathered in a circle. A hawk overhead cried a druidic announcement, and began explaining the situation to Shegger.
An undead mastermind has gathered an army of followers, and has captured some priests of Hem-Dokka-Qar (the Hunter of the Heavens, a weather god worshiped by goblinoids and primitives in the steppes). The followers seem to be sacrificing the priests as if they were an offering to Hem-Dokka-Qar, and charging this offering with enough magic to really catch the god’s attention – and fury. In addition to the circle of mummies, ghosts, and their servants enacting the ritual, a small army lurks on the bluff. Their leader was seen among them, though not in the last hour.
The druids don’t have the firepower to stop this. If the circle completes their rite, the wrathful god will presumably descend upon them. If they have some means of defeating the god, they will unleash (and possibly harvest) a large amount of power. If they fail to defeat the god, then he will probably rampage and ravage the land until his rage is slaked. That could take days, at best.
Thus the call to druids far and wide. Once the characters arrived, the druids figured there was about an hour left (maybe two) before the ritual was complete. That should give the party some time to strategize…