With their cover blown, our anti-heroes decided to leave Messentia. The priests of Mitra would not give the reward they had promised earlier, as the cult of the Golden King had gotten away with Tranicos. They would, however, write a letter of recommendation which might assist the Nemedians in their quest for the Scrolls of Vathelos, one part of which was held in a temple of Ishtar in an Ophirean town on the banks of the Red River.
They faced a dire dilemma, however: Exiting the city of coin could prove hazardous, as they were now hunted by both the city militia and guild mercenaries. As the men weighed their options, a shadowy messenger arrived on their doorstep. Niccolo, the purveyor of information the Nemedians had previously dealt with, offered to arrange the men safe egress from Messentia. In return for the bone Ankh that had damned Noam the archer, the men would be driven to the Ophirean border in covered wagons, eblazoned with royal heraldry, ensuring safe and uninterrupted passage. Grudgingly, the adventurers accepted the offer.
Planning ahead, Tyrus and Dionysos decided that they would try to reach the Nemedian border before the weather worsened, as entry into Nemedia lay at a point where the Border Range melded into the Karpash range, and snowfall wound be a great hindrance to the large group of travellers. Should the internal strife in Ophir cause great trouble, the men would chance a crossing into Aquilonia, though still following the river: Aquilonia would still be in turmoil after the war, and the Road of Kings could be hazardous, especially now that the Nemedians were cursed with ill fortune.
Basil proposed a different route, suggesting the band take a detour into Koth, stopping to pay tribute to Pelias, the new master of the Crimson Citadel, whom he much desired to meet. He enticed Dionysos with the prospect of learning what had transpired during the time he was known as Lord Bhaal, and what purpose this “possession” had served. The others dismissed this idea, as it would mean prolonging the journey by at least another six months.
Reaching Lodier in Ophir after nearly two weeks of travel, the band found the local temple of Ishtar empty. The locals were in turmoil, and were about to burn a number of witches. They planned to burn the temple next, as the Mitran majority blamed the followers of Ishtar of sorcery. Tyrus and Luba went to witness the event, relishing in the irony of the situation, with the only withces present at the witch-burning being in the crowd of jeering savages rather than on the pyre. They came away disgusted and saddened, as it was obvious that the poor wretches were merely scapegoats for the misery that the civil war had inflicted on the community.
After some inquiry, the travellers learned that the staff of the local temple of the Ivory Goddess had fled to a fortified temple on an island upstream. After a night spent in a mediocre inn, the party took off upriver, leaving the majority of the band behind under the charge of Luba. In a curious turn of events, as dawn broke, Basil began to walk towards the river, as if in a state of somnambulism. He managed to wade into the river, with the water reaching his waist, before Alcemides forcefully removed him from the chilly embrace of the Red River.
Reaching the crossing post to the temple, the band, accompanied by Gabai Av Pteor, an itinerant champion of Ishtar alarmed by the odd occurances in the area, found a single small raft. It was incapable of bearing the weight of their horses, which the men were then forced to leave behind. Cursed as they were, the young witches and the half-savage were certain that they would not see their mounts again. The temple had thick stone walls with ramparts, but seemed poorly defended, with only two guards, who let the foreigners through when shown the letter given by the scholarly priests of Messentia. Inside the walls was a magnificent garden where grew both the Upas-tree and, somewhat surprisingly, the tree which bore the Apples of Derketa.
The men were eventually brought before a grotesquely obese man with the mixed features of a Kothian, by the name of Khossus. The Nemedians introduced themselves as travelling students of the arcane, interested in obscure scrolls in the possession of the temple. Tyrus presented the letter of recommendation, which the priest read without much enthusiasm. Obviously a very corrupt man, he was quite visibly elated by the gift of lotus and gold the Nemedians gave him after deciding that another approach was needed, and promised them full access to the storerooms the scrolls were held in, though they would have to wait until the next day due to festivities taking place that night. Inquiries about the priestess in charge of the temple raised some alarm in the adventurers, as Khossus told them she was last seen leaving the island in the company of a tall, pale woman matching the description of Nefertari, the Stygian vampiress. The men were led to their chambers, where they set about plotting their next move nervously. Alcemides would have none of it, and took off to explore the monastic fortress alone.
Meanwhile, a thick fog was raising from the river…