The Sandpoint Devil!
Balekh’s spending all of his time making magic items, teaching classes, and hanging out with his fiancee. Taeva’s out in Magnimar on an errand of reconciliation. Veshenga’s still plotting to achieve romance. Haggor’s boat isn’t ready yet, even though he’s becoming a deft hand at sailing. He gets bored one day and decides to go mountain climbing.
The townsfolk warn him that the Devil’s Platter is aptly named. They tell him that’s where the evil beast that stalks the town makes its home. They say that to see it means tragedy will come on swift wings. He shrugs, and goes mountain climbing anyway. About halfway up the cliff face, he sees an immense, winged shadow out of the corner of his eye. Then he worries, a bit.
A simple act of tracking on the clifftop takes him through scrub woods and into the obvious site of a grim ritual, probably goblinoid, he thinks. There is no sign of the fell beast. A perfect Spring day ruined by the dark creature, he heads back down the mountain and shares his tale with Balekh. Amused, Balekh assures the monk that the rumors synch with his understanding of myth, and he has to destroy the beast lest it keep its dread curse upon him. But Balekh can’t help, he’s too busy making magic items (he chuckles, quietly, to himself).
So, dragging Veshenga up the mountain and getting confirmation that the rumors of the beast also include bugbear cults that worship the infernal creature, they stake out the ritual site. But, overnight it was wiped clean. Yet goblinish tracks lead across the sparsely wooded mesa, and it is easy work for the two to find a warren of caves a mile away in the area aptly named The Pit. They lurk and wait, and are rewarded at sunset by a trio of bugbears walking with purpose.
Following the chanting bugbears to what appears to be a new ritual site, the duo wait to see their results but the call appears to be for naught. Stepping in, they begin assailing the humanoids with questions, and the bugbears seem off-put by a half-orc with a half-elf, unsure if he is an ally and she his prisoner. They refuse to share their sport, and a brief fight ensues, one bugbear dead, one unconscious, and the last swearing that he tried to summon the Devil but it does not always come when called.
They send the mewling goblin back to its tribe with warnings to flee and never worship such an evil creature again, but little hope that their admonishments will stick. They troop through the moonlit dark back towards the cliff and town. But all is not well with the world. Mists close in. A terrible baying fills the night sky. Then dark wings blot out the stars only to light up the sky with sickening, greenish flames that pour down upon the heroes. Rearing on its terrible hooves, the foul monster snorts hellfire and tramples its way across them, leaving searing rents in their flesh. But they fight back with abandon, and the grim terror that stalks Sandpoint finds itself no match for the seasoned adventurers. Just as Haggor thinks it is about to fall, it disappears in a blast of foul smoke and he hears it baying and flying away deep in the sky.
Sickened by the near escape of the beast, they return and share their tale with their lorekeeper, who is pleased to suggest that merely defeating the beast will prove to have undone its curse (he says with as straight a face as possible, and no small measure of approval). Haggor, forgetting the other rumors about the fate of proof of the Devil, or not caring, commissions a painting of his victory over the beast.
Some days pass, and Veshenga grows weary of circumspect flirtations. She decides upon the direct approach and walks deep into the town’s school, suggesting that the headmaster court the object of his affection, Arika Aventin. She leads him through the protocols then watches as he finally works his way to the bakery and successfully woos the young lady. She congratulates the unsuspecting sister, then pulls Aneka aside and suggests that now it is her turn to woo her own object of affection.
Despite her beauty and head for the foibles of others, Aneka proves almost as afraid to pursue her love as the schoolmaster. Veshenga hatches a plan for her to take fresh cookies to Belven and insinuate that he take her on a double date with her sister and Ilsoari to the theater. As Aneka fumbles her way through a conversation with the workmanlike but noble scion of the Valdemar, Veshenga whisperingly coaches her through the open window. Finally, Belven takes the hint and acquiesces to the date, perhaps accidentally, and the girls skip away before he can change his mind.
Returning to Madame Mvashti, Veshenga explains that she has matched the components of fire and water, but earth eludes her. The old woman has a solution, perhaps not one which Veshenga wanted. It seems that Vhyal Mvashti, her son, died many years previously, leaving no child or bride. Her own fine home is scheduled to revert to Sandpoint when she dies, for she has no heir to fight the claims of the town. But an old law of the Varisians would allow her to marry off her son posthumously, so that he need not walk the lands of the dead as a bachelor. With Veshenga’s pull in the town, such a loophole might mean that she would stand to inherit the old woman’s house, keeping it in Varisian hands. Veshenga is somewhat shocked, but is willing to do such a thing for the beloved tribal elder. Mvashti insists that she discuss it with her own clan before making the decision, and Veshenga agrees that she will have made up her mind when she returns from visiting her father.
Meanwhile, Haggor meets a tearful painter who insists that his studio caught fire and nearly burned when he neared completion of the painting, and he has told this to all the other artists in town. Annoyed but undissuaded, Haggor visits Magnimar to commission a sculpture in unyielding stone, cursing the Devil the whole way for souring their victory over it. Surely, he thinks, a marble statue cannot burn.
And the days pass…
Veshenga follows the signs of her tribe across the land.
Aneka and Belvin kiss against the hull of a rapidly forming ship.
Balekh works away at his mystical craft.
Ilsoari and Arika walk along the shore hand in hand.
Haggor finally gets his ship and sails it off into the mysteries of the nearby islands, only to see a mysterious vessel leaving an isle terrorized by wyverns… just as Veshenga crests a hill and finds the wagons of her family arrayed beneath her…