Fai’lon approached, the crowd parting to allow the strange masked figure to pass. When the party approached, they found he spoke as strangely as he seemed, in flowery metaphors of threads, and flows, and something called the “Kael”. He proposed a trade, though he had no interest in money, asking instead that a secret be found. The dark secret of the bookseller, Bernhardt, in the town of Mellorn. Fai’lon said that he would return in one full turning of the hidden moon, and Slivet explained to everyone that the black moon Nuitari had a cycle of only 8 days.
Time being short, the party gathered the cart from the dwarven smith and set forth on their journey to the nearby town, which lay about 2 days march south through the mountains. Upon arriving they found it a sleepy town of perhaps 500, and split up, half to run errands and collect goods for the dwarf, and the rest to inquire after Bernhardt.
As fate would have it, one of the destinations they had been sent to was the bakery of one Joanna, a boulmaukan woman in her early 20’s who walked with a limp. Bernhardt’s bookstore was right next door, and he was a regular customer of hers. Upon chatting further with the young woman they found out that she was friends with the elderly man’s son, Bernhardt the younger, many years ago. She called him “uncle Bernie” and would ride on his horse with him as a girl, until she accidentally was pushed from his horse and broke her leg. That was the last time she saw him, as he departed on an adventure and never came back.
When the group ambled into the bookstore, they found the elder Bernhardt to be a crusty and disagreeable old coot, who only seemed to care for his large guard dog, Marx laying behind the counter. The place was fairly large, and stuffed to the gills with tomes of all sorts. They had a hard time engaging the reticeint old man in conversation (to Kindle’s great frustration) and once the kender had sufficiently annoyed him, he bluntly sent them on their way.
They next traveled to the tavern next door, and met ??? the barkeep, who was a jolly old fellow of about the same age. He was more than willing to gossip, thankful for an audience that hadn’t heard the small town scuttlebut. Zova rather awkwardly found out that Bernhardt had been running his bookstore for almost 3 decades, and that he lost his wife to the pox 25 years ago, leaving him to raise “Junior” by himself. They had a strained home life, with the father being a rather harsh disciplinarian, that eased once Junior got out of the house and only returned periodically from his adventures. He’d always bring back tomes from foreign lands, such as Vash, for his father to sell, and play with Joanna before leaving again. He disappeared 12 years ago, and everyone assumes he is dead.
As it was getting late, the party left Aust to stake out the bookstore and went back to their wagon to sleep, as there was no inn in this small town.
The next day, Aust reported that Bernhardt had walked Marx early in the morning, picked some flowers in a nearby field, then returned to walk his other dog, Goethe, to the graveyard and lay the flowers at a pair of graves. Aust retired to the wagon to get some sleep, and everyone else investigated the graveyard, which was large for a town of this size. They found the grave with the fresh flowers, it was Bernhardt’s late wife, “Bernadette Schimmer: Loving mother and friend, with your passing the world grows dimmer before my eyes”. The next plot was for “Bernhardt Schimmer II: The path to knowledge is dark and dangerous, walk bravely into the unknown”.
After further debate about what the secret might be, some seemed to think it had to do with magic, as the Angelounians are a highly magical race. Perhaps the old man was trafficking in magical paraphanalia (which, in solamnia, is largely illegal without special dispensations), so they decided to check this theory out.
Vadania and Slivet made a second foray into the store, with the elf distracting the elderly man with the purchase of a slim tome on herbalism. Meanwhile, the kender cast a spell and detected a clustered trio of magical auras on the upper floor, 2 of which were necromancy.
Others thought it must be connected to the disappearance of his son, and went to speak to the local schoolmistress. She described Bernhardt the younger as a quiet, intelligent boy, who had few friends. She referred them to his old friend Frederick, the middle aged town drunk who had fallen on hard times since his father, the former sherrif, died a few years ago. Frederick told them some wild stories, such as that the old man was a druid spy just waiting to signal his confederates to come out of the woods and destroy the town. That’s why he keeps those 2 big dogs, and always tends his balcony garden. He also mentioned that Joanna seems to be pretty close to him, selling him breakfast every morning, so she might be in cahoots as well.
The party returned to Joanna and bought some sweets to keep the kender happy, asking for more detail on what happened the last day she saw “Uncle Bernie”. According to her, Junior was acting strangely when she last saw him, like he was upset with her and refusing to acknowledge her existance until she tried to get on his horse Charger with him. He shoved her off, and ignored her as she cried in pain, riding off. A few minutes later his father came out in a rush and was extremely angry, demanding to know where his son had went and then rushing off to follow. Joanna surmised that they must have quarreled and had a falling out.
The group re-united with a rested Aust and discussed their options. No-one was comfortable with breaking into the old man’s home and investigating the source of the necromancy auras, so they left that as the backup plan. Someone suggested going in and trying to convince Bernhardt to sell them magic, and then threaten to rat him out to the authorities if he didn’t tell his secret. Another idea was to just confront him with what they knew and what they guessed, and then see what they could learn from his reaction.
They decided to try tricking him, so Aust created some disguises, and he, Zova, and Calyatha entered the shop. Whether he saw through their disguises, their acts, or whatever, he did not react well to Zova casting an Arcane Mark spell on his countertop. He stated that he did not deal in such things, and demanded the group leave.
After further discussion, they decided to try the direct route next, entering as a group while the old man was trying unsuccessfully to remove Zova’s Mark from his wood counter. They confronted him with their knowledge of the aura’s upstairs, and the interrogation slowly wore the old man down until he admitted that his son had returned with an odd grimouir from his last adventure, and that he had not had it destroyed despite it’s magic, as it was his last keepsake from his son. He did not want to let the group examine the tome, until they convinced him that they would be able to assess whether it was dangerous, and he grudgingly relented.
Upstairs, the book was in a warded glass display case. It was leather-bound, old, and had a blue stone of some sort embedded in the center of the cover. Written across it, in silver letters, was the name “Steinfaust”. As Slivet removed the tome, it suddenly came to life, stunning him and then fleeing through the window before anyone could react. Bernhardt was so angry his heart began to fail him, until Seshana managed to ease his pain. He told them it would be headed for the graveyard, and that they must hurry to stop it. Before they left, he gave them an enchanted mace and dragged himself to the bed to rest.
As the party left the store, they found that snow had begun to fall, despite it being the middle of summer. Sensing something terribly wrong, they hastened their steps, as the storm grew stronger with each passing moment, until little could be seen.
As they entered the graveyard, the dead stirred, unquiet in their proper graves. They clawed their way up from underneath the snowdrifts around the party, hating the living for the beating of their hearts when the dead’s are forever stilled. A fierce battle ensued, with the party defeating waves of skeletons and pushing on towards the origin of the storm. There they beheld the secret.
The skeletal remains of Bernhardt’s son, 12 years dead, still bore the scars of countless broken bones in the pursuit of a life of adventure. A fragment the size of a small coin was missing from the skull’s temple. An especially large crack ran from there across the forehead, leaking a chilling pale blue light.
Plates of ice had accumulated around the skeleton’s torso and extremities in the shape of armor. In his left hand, Bernhardt the younger clutched a ridged mace also formed of ice that glowing with the same baleful illumination. Frozen in the center of his clear shield was the tome, it’s blue gem twinkling like a distant star.
A voice entered their minds, it’s owner lacking the tongue to form words aloud. “Did my father send you to murder me? Doesn’t he care enough to see to me again personally? I am hurt…. Hahahaha…..”
He was a fearsome opponent. Aust was gravely wounded, only the blessings of Mishakal fending off death’s cold embrace. Calyatha gave his life shielding his helpless lord from a deathblow. Zova also fell in battle, and Seshana was nearly slain before the final strike brought the undead abomination low.
Wishing to avoid the questions of townspeople, those remaining able gathered the tome and the bodies of Calyatha and Zova and marched into the forest to see to them. Once their fallen had been taken care of, they hurried back to Bernhardt’s bookstore, passing the town militia mustered at the graveyard.
The old man was gardening on his balcony by the time they arrived, and he admitted sadly that the book had possessed Junior. Despite the book’s evil, he could not bring himself to destroy such rare knowledge, and when the young adventurer suddenly departed one early morning, breaking Joanna’s leg, he feared what further harm might be done. Bernhardt had killed his son with his own hands. It was, he said, a father’s duty to see to his son.
The party told him that his son and the book had been destroyed, and it seemed as though a great weight had been lifted from the bookseller. He expected the party would kill him now, for his filicide, but having his secret, they left him in peace.
A few days later, in Imburg vale, Vadania delivered the dwarf’s goods and recieved her breastplate in return. He had named it ???? “Armor of the Serpent King”, and said that it possessed some inherent enhancements, as the scale had being willingly bestowed by Saeshhh.
The party, did not want to go back to the Holmstead’s house and arouse Ivana’s anger again, so they stayed in a local inn until the appointed day. As promised, Fai’lon appeared at the general store again, asking what they had learned. He did not seem surprised as they told them the dark secret and gave him Steinfaust’s tome. He bound it and then destroyed it by invoking the elements. Slivet was upset, but Fai’lon attempted to comfort him:
“The fastest man cannot outrun his shadow, The greatest works may outlive their makers, But their time too comes.”
He then told them what he knew of the Aegis: “The Aegis is the shield and the protector. It separates us from the river and nurtures, teaches us of its ebbs and flows. Once it was healer, but then it was mother, and soon it shall be killer and all before.”
And finally he asked that Aust take his hand, and see as he saw. The party was enveloped in a vision where each person in the world stood in a column of light, flowing up into infinity and twining together like so many streams of water. The farseer then spoke a prophecy, saying:
“At twilight’s end,
the shadows crossed
A new world birthed,
The elder lost
Yet on the morn
we wake to find
That mem’ry left
so far behind
To deafened ears,
we ask, unseen
Which is life,
and which the dream?”
“Your key lies with the dreamer” he said, as the vision first blurred and then began to fade. Aust’s hand slipped from his grasp, and when things became clear again, the party stood in the midst of a large clearing.