Last we left our players, they had just finished a battle with a group of what appeared to be, undead gnolls. (DM Note: I love gnolls as an enemy. Nord Games have a book called "Ultimate Bestiary: Revenge of the Horde" which features a plethora of monsters to create some diversity amongst your usual mooks. I would highly recommend it)
With a bit of investigating, the party came to the conclusion that these gnolls could only be killed by radiant, fire, or corrosive damage. A helpful tip, but unfortunately they didn't have much that would allow them to achieve this.
Mouse investigated one of the bodies and found a symbol carved into the chest of the dead undead gnoll. After failing a saving throw, he became just a little bit cursed, and became so much more aware of all of the symbols carved into the trees around them, as though he could locate any without looking for them.
The party trekked on further, pushing through the oppressive canopy that blocked out the daylight. They eventually came to an old stone fort, now falling apart in places. Creeping ivy slotted into the cracks in the masonry, and it seemed deserted. They knew there was little chance of any survivors from the missing patrol, but it was worth checking in case.
The fort had a second floor with an open veranda, which the party chose to climb rather than go through the fort itself - fearing that there could be more gnolls lying in wait for them. As they reached the top, some with grace, some . . . less so, a voice called out to them, warning them to stay away.
Through a little probing, the party found this to be a wounded soldier, and while she was of Cimnakian origin, she wore the colours and armour of Borveil. She revealed herself to be Kino, and she and her squad mate had retreated to this fort to try and survive. Despite boarding up the windows and doors, her squad mate, Nate, didn't make it.
It took the party some time to convince her that they were not illusions, nor were they a threat to her, and had in fact been sent to find out what had become of her squad. Reluctantly, she allowed the party inside. It was clear to them all that she was in bad shape, but between the revitalising cannon of Caelia the Artificer, and some healing magic by Mama Loko the Cleric, Kino was back on her feet.
She told the party that her squad had retrieved some information from a base on the northern coast. Ships flying Phanian and Soprihem colours had been seen passing each other in the area, without attacking. While there was no direct conflict between the two nations at this time, she found it odd that there had been no signs of conflict. What this meant, she couldn't say, but she was entrusting the party with the information should she not make it back. They asked what had happened to her squad, and she revealed that within these woods was a witch, by the name of Marlia Thornshredder. It was she who had carved the symbols in the trees, brought the gnolls back as her servants, and had slain her group. A decision was made that the party would return with more soldiers at a later date, in order to deal with Marlia. But the priority now was getting out. The party said that they would take Nate's body back to give him a proper burial, which earned them a great amount of respect from Kino.
As they returned to the verander outside, they saw that a group of undead gnolls had arrived, and were silently waiting for them. There was one that stood out from the others, however.
(This description is the same as the players received, taken from the notes of that night)
There are grievous signs of wounds on it, and it appears that one of its arms has been replaced by that of a green dragonborns. Its upper head has been sliced off, leaving only the lower jaw. In alignment with the back of its head, is a large crystal orb which appears to be swirling with black and purple smoke inside. The front part of the bottom jaw lays exposed, and you can see the blackened, cracked and broken teeth that remain.
As you watch, it flickers and a visage of a woman appears on the crystal ball. Dark black hair, pale skin and deep-set eyes with purple and red markings around them
“You should not have wandered into my wood’s you yaldsons. You are rakefires, invading where you are not wanted. My children prowl this forest, ridding it of the vermin . . . it's not an easy thing to have felled my children, so I will give you a choice. Slay that woman and one of you, and I will let you walk out of here without harm .... call it a penance in blood and flesh”.
The party chose not to take her up on the offer, and conflict broke out. Marlia through her avatar, cast a spell at Mama Loko, dropping her immediately. The rest of the party fought back, trying to take down the undead gnolls with regular attacks before hitting them with finishing damage of either Radiant, Fire, or a Corrisve nature. During the fight, Ecko was knocked down again, and the tide seemed to be turning against them. Kino brought forth the elemental powers that most Cimnakians had, and unleashed a torrent of fire against some of the gnolls, buying time for Mama Loko and Ecko to be returned to consciousness.
Both Mama Loko and Ecko seem to have a greater conscious watching over them. For Mama Loko, this isn't a surprise as she is being backed by two deities. During her moments of being close to death, Mama Loko found herself in a strange graveyard, with her prime god Sinxhu, hovering in the void of the astral expanse not too far away.
For Ecko, while she is aware that she made an agreement to live to a certain code, she has no knowledge of who she agreed that with, nor any actual understanding of how her powers had manifested from this agreement. She wasn't letting that prevent her from using them, however. During her time unconscious, she felt a presence watching over her and found herself in what at first, seemed to be the tomb in which she acquired her powers. The room then shifted, and she found herself in a strange library with a burning red sun hovering not far away, bathing the shelves and tomes with a seductive, yet worrying red light. She was aware of this presence over her, but before she had time to investigate much, she was returned to life.
The party shortly took care of the rest of the gnolls after, managing to strike down Marlia's avatar and cracking the orb through which she had appeared. With Marlia's avatar slain, the remaining gnolls lost their undead fortitude and were able to be re-killed with normal means.
Now with a way out, the party hastened to the exit, but not before finding a strange note on the avatar's body :
The entrance is under the mountain of souls. The other 4 are preparing the champions as well should you be. Be sure you keep to the timeline, we cannot afford to miss it's opening.
The library must be ours.