After Eiravain was safely delivered back to Myhalas, the council of Hommlet requested a meeting with the heroes to discuss a proposition. When they arrived, the Ehlonnans found the doors unlocked. A few benches and stools stood by the bare walls, with a large, plain table at the far end of the room. A tapestry on the back wall shows a green field with two acorns above a sheaf of grain – the banner of Hommlet. Six men sat at the table, clearly awaiting the adventurers’ arrival. Four were known to the heroes, Furnok, Burne, Rufus and the druid Jaroo. The remaining two were human men.
“Thank you for coming,” said Burne, gesturing at empty seats. “Please, join us.”
The wizard made introductions, indicating that the kindly-looking gentleman of advanced age was, in fact, the village elder, simply referred to as “Chief”. The other, a middle-aged, stern-faced fellow was Canon Terjon, recently advanced to the head of the local church of St. Cuthbert, and Brother Calmert’s superior.
“Furnok has informed us of your exploits at the Moathouse, including the defeat of Lareth the Beautiful,” said the priest. “He attributes the greatest feats to yourselves, crediting his own role in your success very little indeed.” From Terjon’s tone, he was dubious about the rogue’s humble claims. For his part, Furnok shrugged and smiled sheepishly, every bit the self-deprecating young man the heroes had first met.
Chief waved it away and said, “We have a task we’d like you to undertake on our behalf, but before we get to that, you should really be told everything we know about the Cult of Elemental Evil.” He indicated several trays full of bread, fruit, and cheese for general consumption and poured beverages for each of the heroes himself. Only when he was satisfied of his guests’ comfort did the old man begin his tale.
“The cult was based on the premise that the elemental forces of the universe are opposed to the sentient races, and are thus Evil. The Temple of the cult sought to disrupt order and destroy all works of Good. Its members were thieves, assassins, brigands, and the like.
“Fire was regarded as the first elemental evil, and its penchant for Chaos fitted the premise of the cult. Water was likewise worshipped as an even more powerful force of Chaotic Evil, in the form of floods, storms, and raging seas beating upon the land and ocean vessels. The epitome of Chaotic Evil, however, was regarded as a combination of air and earth, represented by blackness and corresponding with the demonic Abyss. This combination was regarded as a complete negation of matter.
“The cult grew powerful and rich, attracting followers of the worst sort and offering them safety within the walls of the Temple stronghold. From this fortress would the followers ride to rob, pillage, and lay waste the lands about, tithing the cult from the spoils of the carnage. Captives from those raids were brought back to the Temple to serve as human sacrifices: children to the fire, men to the water, and women to the blackest Evil. Those who were not sacrificed were doomed to slave their lives away in bondage.
“Besides the extensive upper works of the Temple, a deep labyrinth beneath the place was constructed, but virtually nothing is known about these dungeons except that they were inhabited by a plethora of creatures serving the cult. It is rumored that a demon took up abode in the deepest level, to better receive the sacrifices to it.
“Eventually the neighbors of the Temple grew tired of these depradations. The forces of Good banded together to form a mighty host. Their army marched to the Temple, fighting two battles along the way. The first was conclusive, thought the forces of Good who held the field afterward, so they gained the reputation of victory, and their ranks swelled with local men. The second battle saw a great slaughter of kobolds, goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, evil men, and the like. The Temple was thereafter besieged, fell, and its inhabitants put to the sword." Besilana looked down sadly, thinking of her mother. Chief paused for a moment before continuing.
“It is reported by some sources that the upper works of the Temple were thrown down and destroyed in the final siege of the war against its hordes. Because of its great power and evil, however, the conquerors did not actually raze the Temple proper, instead sealing its great doors and placing mighty wards of all sorts upon the place and the black labyrinth beneath. Even as great a force as overthrew the Temple could not cleanly deal with what lurked below. It is evident that the place was wounded but not slain, for dark things crept into Hommlet under direction of someone or something still lurking in the shunned edifice of Evil.
“Since that great battle, the Temple area has been shunned, its ruins deserted. The nearby village of Nulb has returned to a semblance of normal activity – questionable at best, for the place has always been rumored to house thieves, brigands, smugglers and pirates. But as Nulb stinks of garbage and filth, the Temple area reeks of the foul corruption and pervading Evil from whence it was spawned. In the last couple of weeks, travelers have brought tales of more than just bandits. Horrible monstrosities roam the lands nearby, and howls in the night give rise to tales of werewolves leading large packs to terrorize the surrounding area. There are whispers of occult places beneath the interdicted Temple, where mighty Evil is yet wrought and noble folk are imprisoned.
“When the Temple of Elemental Evil flourished, earthquakes, storms of all sorts, great fires, and flash floods struck areas nearby with seeming capriciousness. All that ceased when the Temple was assaulted and sealed, but reports of these phenomena have started coming in again.”
Chief paused in his tale to take a long draught of ale. “And now we come to the point. This council has allies in Nulb to report on any increased activity there. What we lack are any eyes on the Temple itself.”
Jaroo raised a hand, index finger lifted to interject. “The Gnarley Circle has an agent in place.”
“Oh?” said Rufus. “First you’ve mentioned. What’s the latest?”
The druid’s lips twisted. “It has been … a month or so since we received a report,” he begrudgingly admitted.
“A pity,” said Burne, not unsympathetically. “Meanwhile, we are left with the task of rooting out any remaining cultists in our midst. Sadly, our efforts have not yet borne fruit.”
“As such, I assume you can guess our intent here, young heroes,” said Chief.
“You would like us to be an advance scouting party,” said Taliesin.
The old man placed one finger alongside his nose and pointed at the druid, a gesture which seemed to amuse Furnok. “You have it exactly right. We hope you will be able to determine whether the dark elf in the Moathouse was an isolated incident, or if the cult is indeed taking steps to return to power in the region.”
“You seem capable enough,” said Terjon. “It is our hope that you are suitable for the task.”
“Anything you discover, you will report to this council,” said Jaroo. His fellow councilors each gave the old druid a meaningful look, and his tone was politer when he added, “If you please. We may be able to use that information to aid in your efforts, which will serve us all.”
“The greater good,” said Besilana.
“The greater good,” echoed Felicity, smiling.
Chief grinned at the halfling’s enthusiasm. “That is our need. What say you?”