The Church of the one true God guards a terrible secret: Their God is dying. He is kept within a tank, steamworks forever pumping to keep him alive, clockwork engines forcing his laboured breathing.
While travelling near the edge of a forest the air is filled with the wailing of battle horns. Soon a large group of mounted cavalry will gallop by in a panicked rush. Some will spot the party and shout "Flee! Flee for your very lives!"
Several minutes later, hundreds of running infantrymen will be spotted. A large group of white clad knights fiercely chanting a battle song is in full pursuit. One of the white knights carries a banner of a white horse on a black background. The horse is rearing under a gold crown, indicating the presence of the Paladin Prince. As the horrified infantrymen struggle to flee into the forest, the zealots charge into their midst and cut them down by the tens and hundreds.
The air had grown chill the minute they descended into the strange valley, which was unmarked on any of their maps. It was so strange here, devoid of animal life and completely silent. The horses were nervous the entire journey through the vale. As they set about to collect firewood for the campfire they could hear their own voices as dim echoes through the eerie silence.
The food didn't taste anything that evening and their sleep was cold and troubled by nightmares. While they are clearing camp the next morning, one of them stumbles over a piece of stone jutting out of the ground nearby the horses. On closer inspection there seems to be runes engraved into the polished surface. The symbols true meaning is no more known among mere mortals and if they decide to dig deeper, they will discover that it is an ancient altar buried within the soil.
Any historically oriented party member will recognize the largest symbol to be the insignia of the powerful warlock who ruled this realm several centuries ago. At their departure from the area, something will seem amiss with one of the party members and all will remember the stories of the warlock's thousand curses.
The journey had been a long one and now they had entered the mountains. After an entire day spent on paths cut into the mountainside and through moss covered coniferous woods, they encounter a desperate young mountain tribal. He is searching for his beloved wife and his elder brother, both of whom he got separated from after an unsuccessful attempt to kill a cave bear. The last thing he saw was the cave bear in full pursuit of his wife. He could not help her as he had been knocked to the ground by the raging beast, and was struggling to regain full consciousness. The tribal will be clearly nervous and urges them to look for his wife during their travels. He will stay in his village a couple of miles to the north and pleads for assistance should they recover his wife, whether she be dead or alive.
On the next day of travel, they will journey upon a dim track in the forest and while they are preparing to ascend another path cut into the mountainside, they hear moans of lust from somewhere nearby. Upon closer inspection they will spy a young tribal woman in the heat of the act with an elder tribal male. They are consummating their forbidden love on the cold mountain moss, and beside them lay the skinned and slaughtered carcass of a huge bear.
These rare, fist-sized spiders do not make webs, but rather excrete secretions which harden upon contact with air. These "droppings" resemble barley-sized spider eggs, or even lustrous pearls, once the slime coating them, dries up. In fact, dried Pearl Spider "drops" are indistinguishable from the marine varieties produced by mollusks, and hence of identical value on the open market!
Several centuries ago, they were studied by naturalists, and several observations were made. Firstly, was that these spiders "lay" these pearls for no apparent or discernible "natural" reason, and secondly, the naturalists had discovered that the more these spiders ate or were fed--and they were true omnivores--the larger the spider pearls came out.
A cottage industry began. Enterprising merchants hunted and collected these creatures across the lands, erecting spider-farms for the manufacture of Spider Pearls. It wasn't long before someone got the idea to force-feed the spiders, ala foie gras geese, and soon, the fattened spiders began pooping out pearls of great size! (relatively speaking). The regular pearl market came to disarray, and prices and value fluctuated wildly.
[b]Plothook[/b] The Mermen Mercantile Alliance hires the party to eradicate all terrestrial Pearl Spider Farms!