After determining proper protocol for attending a dinner with the steward of the castle, the group decides that manners means leaving your shields and bows in your room, They are led to the great hall by Master Olifson's assistant. Also attending are Captain Jarrod Coll, Master Olifson, Wicala Murin, her apprentice, Martris, the parties friend Ferg Wayfinder, and two lieutenants of the guard. Taen remains in the rooms just long enough to maintain her image as a child, before sneaking after the group, making her way through the kitchens and taking perch in the rafters above the dining party, bow ready and watching for the "inevitable betrayal."
Over dinner, Master Olifson gives official thanks for the parties rescue of Laird Talis. He also informs Rowan that he has decided to let the healing proceed, reasoning that Laird Talis would want them to try. Rowan tells the story of their adventure in the Shadow Tower. The Captain explains that Laird Talis was worried of assassination attempts, and ordered the castle guard to imprison anyone suspicious until his return. He tells of the capture of the false Dinari tinker and his suspicions that they were part of some criminal enterprise. All the while, Rowen and Cinder make sure that they are always within the radiance of at least one light spell.
Despite worries to the contrary, no one is poisoned or possessed during the meal. When it's over, Rowen, Khabsha and Murin go to Dags' room, reasoning that they should proceed with the healing despite the late hour. Cinder, Graham and Taen decide to investigate the mysterious black chest and secret passage. Ferg Wayfinder decides to call it a night, reminding the group that they can call on him if they need anything.
As Rowen, Khabsha and Murin are preparing Dags for the spells they notice strange, tiny claw and bite marks on his stomach that weren't there after their most recent healing attempt. After considering the wounds, Murin asks that they wait before casting their spells. She says the wounds look like they were caused by a rat, and that combined with Dags resistance to healing magic leads her to believe his illness might be something called Hag's Plague. Taking Rowen with her, they check on the ill servants, and find that they all have similar marks.
Meanwhile, Cinder, Graham and Taen go to the small storage room looking for the chest, only to find that it has been removed. Checking the secret passage finds that it travels a short way before ending in an unused bedchamber. No sign of recent visitation can be found. Taen takes her search outside while Graham and Cinder go in search of Rowen and Khabsha.
Once everyone is together, with the exception of Taen, they hurry to Murins room to look for a scroll that she remembers telling of the plague, though she can't recall if it speaks of a cure. The scroll is missing, and with this revelation, Rowen and Khabsha finally tell her of the shadows and her earlier possession. Also pointing out the warding runes that prevent divination magic, which Murin insists are new. Thus warned, she says that they must go to Master Olifson and warn him too, and also Captain Coll.
While this group heads to Master Olifson's chambers, Taen comes in from the roof, where she found no evidence of the mysterious master rune. Thinking to look for the group in Dags room, she heads there, only to find a possessed guardsman attempting to smother Dags with a pillow. Two arrows put an end to the guard. Taen then locks the room from the inside and heads out the tower window heading off in search of the others.
The others meanwhile come upon a confused Master Olifson, standing outside of his bedchambers and wiping dust from his nightrobes and hands. When the business with shadows, runes and possessions is relayed, he is understandably upset. Wanting to know where the possessed steward came from requires that Rowen take wolf form and follow his recent scent trail.
Together the group follows Rowen-wolf down the castle halls and to a storage cellar door.
Meanwhile, Taen runs into a group of guards. When she asks them if they have seen the others, they answer with crossbows. She zips away unscathed, but the guards pursue.
In the cellars, Rowen-wolf follows Master Olifson's trail to the black chest, tucked away behind a bunch of crates. Together they lug the thing out and bring it to the great hall, where they find Taen dodging bolts. As soon as they enter and the light of Cinder's spell falls on them, the shadows that possessed them flee and the guards are left dazed and confused.
Taen tells them of Dags' attempted murder and the possessed guards, and also warns them of the powder on the lock of the chest. Master Olifson sends three of the guards to get Captain Coll. After a muttered "And they were never seen again" from Graham, the other three decide to go with their friends, bringing a magicked torch for good measure.
What to do with the chest is discussed. Khabsha's all for burning it unopened, by throwing the whole thing into the hearth, but others are afraid that the missing scroll might be inside. From Rowens sniffing it's obvious that there at least a couple creatures in the chest too, probably Hag Rats.
After pushing together some overturned tables, into a crude rat corral, they decide to open the chest. Unfortunately this proves to be a lot more difficult then they first thought. The chest is of sturdy Durin construction, as is the lock. Taen is unable to pick it, and it takes several powerful blows from Khabsha and Graham before the thing tips and pops open, spilling angry Hag Rats the size of small cats that scatter.
A lively game of Whack-a-Rat ensues, but eventually the plague ridden beasts are dispatched, just as two guards stagger into the hall yelling, "Captain Coll has gone mad in the barracks! He's killing them!"
Fearing for Dags, Rowen sends the rest of the group to his tower, while she a distressed Murin follow the guards. In the courtyard, she finds a bloodbath, with the possessed Captain Coll in the middle. He turns and spots her and the guards, yelling and charging with broadsword raised and shield held firmly. Murin screams, "Don't kill Jarrod!" as Rowen engages the enemy.
In the tower, Taen flies through the window and unlocks the room, finding the scene unchanged and Dags to be, if not fine, not any worse. From the open windows, the sounds of battle can be heard from the courtyard below, and the group curses, before leaving Cinder as guard and racing to Rowen's aid.
Rowen holds her own, exchanging several blows with the expert Captain Coll, but victory seems far from sure. At one point Murin rushes in to restrain her love, allowing Rowen to deliver a nonlethal, but crippling strike to Coll's leg. The Captain throws her aside and attacks again. While Rowen's magical light seems to hinder him somewhat, it doesn't stop him, and with a battle cry, she watches several shadows race across the ground and into his own, right before he envelopes Rowens light and much of the courtyard in inky blackness.
Taen comes to the courtyard first, having flown straight from the tower. What she finds is a rolling cloud of darkness with the sounds of combat from within. Rowen desperately backpedals, rightly fearing that the light isn't hindering her opponent. She takes a glancing blow from Coll before Graham arrives and plunges into the darkness as well. When Khabsha arrives, she summons a stronger magical light onto a guard's shield, which eats away at the demonic darkness and exposes the battle to everyone again. A concerted attack from Rowen, Graham and Khabsha drives Coll back and wounds him again and again, until finally, Khabsha's hammer glances off his unprotected head and knocks him to the ground and into unconsciousness.
Under Khabsha's powerful magical light, Coll's shadows can be seen to writhe beneath him, as if cowering under the protection of his body. Approaching and placing her blade against his forehead, Rowen and the others see the body shake and shutter before Hawkwing forcibly expels the demonic presence, disintegrating each of the shadows and clearing his black eyes back to a normal shade of green.
In the aftermath of events, the wounded and dead are seen to and those remaining fan out across the castle, all armed with magical light provided by Cinder and Rowen. Graham and Taen come upon the Dinari prisoner, who introduces himself as Belbi O'Sham, and who bargains with Graham for his freedom, offering the sum of 25 Rhis if he will but unchain him. Seeing this as an opportunity, Graham accepts the offer and the Dinari thanks him and departs, instructing Graham to meet him outside of town in the morning for his reward. Taen opts to tail O'Sham unseen.
In Dags room, Murin, Khabsha and Rowen discuss what is to be done. They attempt another healing but with little success beyond healing the cuts. Without the missing scroll, Murin is of little more help. Looking to Rowen, she explains that their only option now, is to summon help from a much more knowledgeable healer in a Wicalic Tower of healing to the south... in a village called Wheat Hill......
To Be Continued... as usual...