It was a beautiful afternoon in Cullan, and it was Market Day. All along the Cullan road, stretching from the Abbey west to the Old Road, merchants and farmers had set up their carts and tables to display their merchandise. Some were Cullan locals; others were travelers who had come specifically for the occasion.
As usual, Market Day was not only an occasion to buy and sell, but also an excuse to get out and enjoy the sunshine and the company of one's friends and neighbors. The farmers took the day off, and the ones who weren't selling their goods were walking around chatting with other townspeople. Abbot Everam was there too, walking up and down the Cullan Road, talking with the visiting merchants and inspecting their goods. All in all, it was a perfect afternoon, unless one happened to notice that the Abbot looked a little nervous, or that there were extra guards posted at the main Abbey gate.
Janis, the local paladin, was walking the marketplace keeping an eye on things; Katra, a ranger who lived outside town, was also there scrutinizing the strangers who had come to Cullan to buy and sell. Tagart, a local rogue, wandered around looking for something to do (and keeping his eyes open for any loose change left lying about); Tallis, equally bored, walked through the marketplace toward her friend Jazzie, on duty at the Abbey gate. The dwarven merchant Orbin, having already sold his goods the previous day, checked out the competition and looked for business opportunities. And Nigel, the brightest young novice at the Abbey, was walking with his mentor, Abbot Everam.
Suddenly, the noise of the marketplace crowd was punctuated by a shrill scream, followed by crashing and general commotion in the area near where the Cullan Road joined the Old Road. Alarmed, Abbot Everam, who was not far from the west end of the marketplace, turned and headed in that direction to see what was causing the commotion, with Nigel at his heels. But suddenly, something bright and imperceptibly fast darted from the knot of people ahead and struck the Abbot full in the chest. With a gasp, the Abbot crumpled bleeding to the ground.
Stunned, Nigel knelt and found the Abbot dead, killed by a severe wound to the chest, despite the fact that there was no missile. Enraged, Nigel picked up the Abbot's heavy staff and headed toward the source of the mysterious missile.
The source of the disturbance was now visible: a group of six hyena-like gnolls, drunk and laughing, shoving their way through the crowd and indiscriminately pushing over tables and carts. One of the gnolls brandished a small, straight stick of some kind, while the others were armed with swords; they also passed around several wineskins, and several of them clutched small vials. Most amazingly of all, one of the gnolls was growing, already towering above the crowd.
As Nigel watched, the gnoll with the small stick paused beside the table of Bennh, a local craftsman selling Church holy symbols. The gnoll kicked over the table and pointed the stick at the surprised Bennh; another bright bolt leapt from the stick, knocking Bennh to the ground. The gnoll turned, laughing, and moved on.
Nearby, Orbin ran to the aid of Bennh, with whom he was acquainted. He found that Bennh was seriously hurt but not dead, so he helped him to safety before gathering up his scattered merchandise. Also nearby, Janis, Katra, and Tagart headed toward the gnolls, joining Nigel in blocking their path. Jazzie and Tallis hurried toward the disturbance from the Abbey grounds.
The party intercepted the gnolls and engaged them in battle; Nigel and Katra made quick work of the gnoll that had killed Abbot Everam. Janis fought a gnoll that could apparently breathe fire, taking some damage before killing him; Tagart also was wounded before Jazzie came to his aid. Katra killed the giant gnoll with a single blow, crying out in the gnolls' language; the surprise of hearing profanity in his own language sent the last surviving gnoll running back out of town. Katra left him with some choice remarks and let him go.
After the battle, Nigel used a spell to heal the merchant Bennh, while Katra and Tallis searched the bodies of the gnolls. They found gems, some of which Katra gave to merchants whose carts had been destroyed; they also found the small vials, a good cloth cloak, a hinged wooden box, and a pouch of gold. Gathering these items, Katra then helped Nigel carry the body of the Abbot back to the Abbey, followed by Janis, Jazzie, and Tallis. Orbin and Tagart remained in the marketplace to help clean up.
At the Abbey, Father Kellam, now the senior priest, was horrified to learn of the Abbot's death, and by the evident use of magic by the gnolls. Shaken, he asked whether the gnolls had been carrying anything else that might indicate where they had come from or where they obtained magical items. Inside the wooden box they found a set of silver cutlery monogrammed with the letter "T"; they also inspected the cloth cloak and determined that it had been made by Hando, the local tailor. It seemed likely that these things -- clearly not gnoll property -- had been stolen from somewhere else the gnolls had been.
Kellam also recognized the vials as containing magical potions. Hesitant to handle magical items himself, he was visibly relieved when Nigel offered to deal with them appropriately. Unaccustomed to the responsibility now on his shoulders, Kellam was unsure what to do next.
Meanwhile, in the marketplace, Tagart happened to pick up a gnoll's wineskin and was surprised to see the blue color of the wine that ran out onto the pavement. He showed it to Orbin, who immediately recognized it as expensive Oridon wine, some of which he had just sold the previous day to Ian Tarrell, a prosperous farmer who lived north of Cullan. Thinking this significant, Orbin went to the Abbey to report this, leaving Tagart to help Bennh back to his house.
The Oridon wine, along with the "T" monogram on the cutlery, convinced everyone that the stolen items had come from Ian Tarrell's farm. Father Kellam immediately became concerned for Tarrell, who was a prominent Church member and Cullan founder. Nigel offered to lead an expedition to Tarrell's farm to check on Tarrell's welfare and investigate where the gnolls had come from. Kellam agreed, urging Nigel to take Jazzie, Katra, and Janis with him; Jazzie also suggested that her friend Tallis go along. Orbin offered to go as well, since Tarrell was one of his best customers, and he and was also familiar with the way to the Tarrell farm. By now, it was almost dark, so the party agreed they would leave for Tarrell's farm at dawn.
Returning to the marketplace, Orbin encountered Tagart and filled him in. Tagart, always looking for something to do, asked if he could also come along on the expedition, and Orbin agreed.
For the sake of confirmation, Nigel took the cloak they had found on the gnolls to Hando the tailor and asked if he recognized it. He was not surprised when Hando replied that it was a custom job he had just completed for Ian Tarrell only last week. Returning to the Abbey, Nigel spent the rest of the evening praying for guidance.
That night, Katra went to the Brass Bunny Inn, hoping to dine alone. But Orbin, who usually spent the evening of Market Day at the Inn, joined her and attempted to engage her in conversation. A few minutes later, Jazzie and Tallis arrived, followed by Tagart. Katra made an effort to be civil, while Orbin only became more intrigued by her taciturn reserve.
The next morning, the party met in the marketplace and set off on their expedition. Led by Orbin and Katra, they traveled north on the Old Road, making for Ian Tarrell's farm while also watching for signs of the gnolls. Just outside Cullan, Katra noticed the tracks of a single gnoll -- the survivor -- heading north before veering off the road to the east.
Less than an hour from Cullan, they found a wagon that had been turned over, its axle broken and its contents scattered in the road. In the grass beside the road were the bodies of the horse and driver, both dead, and both showing signs of having been partially eaten. There was nothing of value in the wagon, only the driver's clothing and personal effects. It seemed clear that it was the work of the gnolls, on their way south to Cullan the previous day.
Lacking the tools to dig a grave, the party dragged the broken wagon off the road and used it to shelter the body of the driver. From there they returned to their journey, heading north on the Old Road.
About an hour later, they began to see a faint haze of smoke on the horizon. Topping the next rise, they could see the smoldering ruins of the Tarrell farmhouse, reduced completely to cinders. Searching the ruins, they found what appeared to be charred bones, presumably those of Ian Tarrell and his family. They also found a fork with a "T" monogram, matching the cutlery set they had found on the gnolls.
The death and destruction upset the party deeply, even the normally apathetic Tagart, who began to feel that this expedition wasn't as much fun as he'd hoped. Under Nigel's direction, the party buried the remains of the Tarrell family, using tools they found in the barn (which had partially survived the gnolls' rampage).
Searching the grounds, Katra found the tracks the gnolls made as they came to the Tarrell farm from the northeast, as well as the tracks leaving it and heading toward the Old Road and Cullan. After considering their options -- returning to Cullan or tracking the gnolls -- Nigel decided they should follow the tracks, hopefully finding the gnolls' lair. Everyone else agreed, and Katra began leading the party northeast across the rough terrain.
Continue to Episode 2