Following the road westward along the Azure Coast, the party passes through a small fishing village called Angler: a fishing settlement that also serves as the primary fiefdom to the local noble house of Lorchester. The companions debate investigating the rumors of Lorchester’s treasonous activities—strange ships seen docking at their island stronghold in the night, bizarre visitors coming and going from Angler—they decide that time is short and to catch up with Sorril as quickly as possible.
The opportunity presents itself to investigate the inn room of one of the murdered nobles that the paladin is tracking, however, and the group does so. They find signs of a break in at the window and scorch marks on the walls and floor that appear supernatural in nature, as if ignited via magic.
Escaping town as quickly as possible the next morning, due to the local constable’s search for Forge, who caused a great deal of damage in a barroom brawl in the night, the party continues on toward Saltmarsh.
Assailed by a terrible rainstorm for the rest of their two-day journey, the companions pass a decrepit, abandoned manor perched on a precipice over the sea, just four miles east of their destination. They take room and board at an inn called the Widow’s Walk at the very edge of Saltmarsh, where the tight-lipped proprietor, Gretta, lets slip that a paladin did indeed pass through last night and was looking into the murder at the House of Hymns church. She directs the group to the Merry Mermaid if they are seeking to involve themselves in local troubles.
The party braves the rain once more and heads to the House of Hymns, which suffered a terrible fire one week ago. Much of the roof has burned and collapsed, and the bell tower is a husk of burnt timbers. A search turns up a strange, homeless man in the wine cellar, with dreadlocked beard and tattered brown cloak. He is armed and prepares to defend himself if needed, but calm heads prevail and he departs the church—followed by Forge, who trips the man up and exposes a pair of manacles hanging from the stranger’s belt.
Reporting this information, it becomes clear that the stranger may be involved in the trail of killings. The group gives chase to the vagrant, who has several minutes’ lead and moves very quickly, and loses his trail when he escapes into the forested hills northwest of Saltmarsh. They party agrees that they need to find Sorril at the Merry Mermaid and tell him what they’ve discovered.
Along the empty dockside streets, a pair of dockworkers and a young shepherd boy confronts the group. Their eyes turn to inky pools of black and they attack, the youngest uttering that “He” predicted the heroes’ arrival and set the trio upon them.
Blows from steel weapons barely seem to affect the creatures, despite horrible wounds imposed upon their bodies. When Cyrus calls forth blasts of radiant, holy energy, however, the beings roar in pain and quickly fall. As each is defeated, cloying black smoke seems to bleed from the men’s mouths and wounds and evaporate upon the ground, and the bodies of their hosts return to normal. The last of the three attackers, a dockworker with incredible, unearthly strength, is subdued and dragged back to the House of Hymns while Tobias rushes to find Sorril Venir at the Merry Mermaid. As the monk leads the paladin back to the ruined church, he quickly takes note that the stranger from earlier is pursuing them.
At the House of Hymns, Cyrus and Greighar work together and pool their religious teachings and resources to exorcise the evil presence from the dockworker’s body. The oily, dark vapor is once again expelled, roiling out of orifices and wounds and evaporating as it pools along the scorched floorboards. Sorril and Tobias arrive at the church as this task is completed—followed moments later by the stranger, who draws his sword and levels it at Sorril.
The stranger calls Sorril “demon” while the paladin appeals to his friends’ common sense. Greighar settles the argument by closing his eyes for a moment and focusing, the divine bond with the god Valarian guiding his instincts. The paladin senses that Sorril is, in fact, possessed by an evil, fiendish presence. Greighar draws his father’s sword, Harbinger, and turns to strike the demonic being, which wails in rage and pain, then smiles.
“Strike me again, fool,” it utters, raising its blade to strike. “And kill this paladin whose flesh I wear.”