Somewhere over the course of the past few weeks, something has happened in Harlowe and the chapter house of Mara located within its walls fell silent. Or so explains one of the Crusaders of Mara, seeking the assistance of the group as it is.
The trip down river by a barge guided by the skilled hands of Captain Gawain only leads to more of a sense that something terrible has happened. The crew speaks in hushed tones of that stretch of river and grow uneasy, claiming that something comes with the mist. Sir Berg and Radoslav stay up on deck during the night watch, and they are met with the eerie fog that winds closer and thicker, then fades to spectral trails. And with it come distorted, screaming pale faces and the visage of a ghost that fades as soon as they see it. The smooth passage of their vessel is interrupted by a sudden jarring stop, later revealed to be some kind of stone that has jutted up through the bottom of the rear of the ship, without ever damaging the forward half. More than one member of the boat’s crew blame witchcraft.
When their Viir-raised physician drags the bottom with a boat hook, he uncovers a human ribcage adorned with slimy feathers and similar oddities—a fetish created by ritual that is said to bind souls to an area to protect it, a tactic sometimes used by witches. And with the boat going nowhere, they depart for shore and Harlowe to see what might have become of the town.
Cows and chickens wander aimlessly across the countryside, and they encounter empty farmstead after empty farmstead. There are no signs of blood, fire, or battle. Instead, it is as if everyone just stepped out for a moment. Harlowe itself seems to be going on as normal, except for the fact there are only a third of the people there should be. But the disappearances happen at the outlying farms, so why should they worry?
At the Blind Lion, the barkeep relates that there was a parting of ways between the Count and Mara’s Crusaders, and so the order left the town. The group sits down with Merle, a local woodsman and halfway reformed poacher who eventually tells them that his nephew is the stablehand up at the keep, and that if Mara’s Crusaders left, they didn’t take their horses with them.
When the group breaks into and searches the chapterhouse, they find footlockers full of clothes and personal effects, then journals burned. There are little fragments of words left, mention of an expedition and a quarrel with the count. The physician, fiddling with a little puzzle box, is rewarded for chucking it against a wall when a bronze skeleton key drops out.
Meanwhile, Berg has found the hidden floor panel in the vestibule that leads below into a narrow passage way, one of the secret areas left over from the days where Crusaders of Mara were hunted by other factions in Rhomeryn. When they descend, they are met with the smell of death and blood. A man wearing the livery of the count’s guard is the first corpse they run into, dead from a stab wound in his back. Beyond lie the bodies of the Crusaders and their clerics.
In an effort to commune with the dead, the mageling makes a small error. Apparently “commune” and “raise” are fairly close in pronunciation in the magical tongue, and the group is confronted with accidentally raised zombies crying “DEFILERS!” and attacking anything that moves. However, they are not too difficult to put back in the grave—excluding a few injuries. Beyond, they find the edifice of Mara, the orb that was once used to commune between this chapter house and the rest of the Order smashed to fragile pieces. However, there is a keyhole hidden in the statue that matches the key from the puzzle box. When they open it, it reveals the reliquary.
There is a pedestal designed to hold something between the stone hands of another statue, but it is empty. They read the records, which speak of an artifact known as the Glass of Paran, which is gone. In these pages, there is documentation of a Count at odds with one of his neighbors who seeks any edge, and the refusal of the knight-captain of the Crusaders to give up the uncovered artifact, ending with the words, “I’d rather die than let you have it.”
Examining the possibility that one of the Crusaders may have fled with the mirror or even turned on their fellows, the group leaves through the hidden passage to outside the city and begin their search.