I hope this letter finds you well. I apologize for the delay in responding- the clergy here are barely literate, and I have been preoccupied with assisting them in their clerical work while I recovered and waited for the group to return from the Weald. It has been nearly two weeks and they are finally back in the hamlet, though with only half their number. While I am happy to see that they still live, the news they have brought with them is disquieting.
I have been recovering well from my wounds, enough that I may walk to the tavern with only a little stiffness. I have been taking my morning meals there, rather than the church, to converse with the other travelers and perhaps learn some news, for there is not much else to do while we wait. There had been awful rumors amongst the hamlet that the bodies of those in the Weald had already been found, flayed and left outside the trees, and that Clarke had wanted to hide us from the fact. It was always difficult to believe, and I suspect that the fool who wears that grotesque mask was the originator of it. It proved to be false, however, when the physician and Clarke’s man at arms walked into the tavern during breakfast, both looking like Death herself. Their faces were covered in dirt, blood, and grime and they looked as if they could barely stand. I could almost feel the exhaustion and pain rolling off of them, their spirits were in such turmoil. They did not speak to the few of us gathered there, and in fact they scarcely glanced at us. Rather, they took a seat and began to devour any food that happened to be within arm’s reach, only speaking when calling out for more. I had half a mind to ask them of the missing travelers, but it was not difficult to hazard a guess as to what their fates were if they were not present.
The physician, Morgan, eventually had her fill and stumbled upstairs to her quarters, leaving the man Cole by his lonesome. He continued to eat while imbibing an incredible amount of whiskey until he had enough of both, departing to seek out Clarke. After they had left, the travelers and I conversed in hushed tones on their appearance, speculating on what may have happened to the two who were missing. Unable to do much else at the time, I returned to the church to pray for their souls and commence with the business of the day. Surprisingly, however, Morgan sought me there a few hours after her return.
She had cleaned herself, removing the blood and dirt from her face, though I cannot say if she had slept at all. She had a distant look in her eye and her voice trembled as she spoke. She approached me under the guise of wanting to know how I was recovering after the injuries I had inflicted upon me in the ruins. I appreciated the concern, but it was clearly not her true purpose and it did not take long for her to tell me the story of what had occurred in the Weald.
Things are worse than you feared, Matron. It seems that whatever power Clarke’s father had pulled into the world is calling out to those the Order has suppressed for centuries. A coven of witches have begun their ancient practices once more inside the Weald, and a satyr now walks upon the earth despite their kind being banished long ago. Between this news, and the necromancers that have taken refuge in the ruins of the Clarke manor, I can only imagine what other abominations exist upon the estate. It is not only the things she witnessed that concerns me, however- she told me of the deaths their missing had experienced, with the houndmaster and his mastiff being slain by the satyr and the crusader’s fall from grace. The crusader’s death seems to weigh heavily on her conscience and she holds herself accountable, though it seems to me that his faith wavered and he received his punishment for it.
She spoke at length of the monkey’s paw, the infernal artefact whose retrieval was their purpose for exploring the Weald. She told me of the hag they had slain and how she had used the paw before her death, and how Cole seem to become dangerously fascinated with the object during their escape. Particularly, she spoke of a time after Blacksmith’s death, when they were in the midst of those insects and lost amongst the trees, still fearing the satyr’s pursuit. In the throes of hunger and exhaustion, wanting nothing more than a way out, she planned to kill Cole for the paw and use its dark power to wish for her safe return. She described the scene to me in great detail as her memory returned her to the very spot, remembering how she had drawn her dagger and was raising it to slash at Cole’s neck. She professed to knowing she had to be quick, or else Cole would simply break her wrists and leave her to die amongst those twisted trees. The specter of that was far from her mind, however, for she could not bear spending another moment in that dark place.
In the moment before she lunged, a beam of sunlight shone through the trees onto the two of them, scattering the insects and providing them a moment of blessed silence. She smiled faintly as she described feeling the warmth of it upon her skin and how her mind became clear for the first time since entering that unholy place. She realized what she had planned and felt shame and disgust, quickly sheathing her dagger before Cole could notice. The light grew faint but remained bright enough that the two could follow it, and they were eventually led beyond the Weald and into the safety of daylight. As she told me her tale, a great weight seemed lifted from her shoulders, and I could feel her spirit calm itself. Mere moments after she had finished telling me her tale, exhaustion overcame her and she fell asleep in her chair. I have since moved her to my cot, though I hope she awakens before night falls.
This is a dark place, festering with unholy things and the old magic, but I believe the light of the Goddess shines even here and that She has chosen Morgan and Cole to serve Her. I cannot speculate why they were spared and the other two were not, but the Goddess often chooses Her servants for mysterious reasons. There is no doubt that Morgan had saved my life after I came back from the ruins of the Clarke manor, so perhaps she has been serving the Goddess unknowingly since she arrived.
The paw is in Clarke’s possession now and I know not what his designs on it are. I would prefer it if he would hand it to the Order to be destroyed, though it seems far more likely he will sell it and burden another man with its dark power. I do not believe he will use it- he speaks of his father only in loathsome terms, and will not allow the old magic to tempt him. With the group returned from the woods, he has arranged to meet with the travelers tonight, presumably to arrange another expedition. The location of his father’s excavation is known to him, though he seems unwilling to commit lives to exploring that dark dungeon until he fully understands what foul thing his father brought into the world and how best to close the portal that leads to the Beyond. I shudder to think of what things exist in that place, what unspeakable things have lurched their way back into the world, but I trust that the Goddess will look over us as we champion her Holy cause.
May the Light of the Goddess shine upon you always.