In the weeks following the dissolution of the Distaff Temperance Society and the demise of their gambler-patron, the vampire Lord Jasen, the wretched cesspool of Hodam has returned to its potent mix of drinking, gambling, prostitution, and violence. It's not quite as lawless as it used to be-- the newly self-appointed Sherriff Feer and her deputy, the tiefling Jarmangle, have seen to that. And while Hodam's famous brewery is back in business, now under the, uh, unique management of the eladrin warlock Tralamin, the economic damage done by the Distaff Temperance Society is still acutely felt: pubs and inns have no money to buy the brewery's goods, meaning they must do so on credit; likewise, their penniless patrons must have it put on their tab. A vicious cycle that shows no signs of stopping.
Tralamin, taking the advice of the madam Melany, decides it might be advantageous to open trade with other settlements and allow them access to Hodam's famous brew. The arrival of the outlaw Aratin provides an opportunity to do so; claiming to have repented his evil ways, he seeks safe passage to the city of Justice so that he might stand trial for his crimes, and likely be hanged. Enticed by the hefty reward and the possibility of opening trade, Tralamin gathers his friends Feer, Jarmangle, and Robyn. (The wizard Irving is nowhere to be found, or, perhaps, does not desire to be found, given his disagreements with their somewhat lax morals.)
Preparing for the journey
Tralamin puts Melany in charge of the brewery in his absence; Feer and Jarmangle, perhaps unwisely, appoint the developmentally-disabled dwarf Darface as a deputy. Jarmangle suggests that they not only take Aratin and their famous potable to Justice, but also the six best of Hodam's whores. Feer and Jarmangle commandeer two large wagons, one for each of their industries, as well as enough food for the four days journey round-trip. To pull the wagons, they hit up the stables. Inventing a fictitious law about horse-breeding, they threaten the stablemaster until he has surrendered all of his horses. Thus prepared, they head off to Justice.
Cult of the Cloth
As they ride across the dry, barren earth, two bizarre figures begin trailing them on foot. They are shaped vaguely like men, but are covered completely with rags and patches that have been clumsily stitched together. They have no eyes, no mouth-- just vague silhouettes made of cloth. Tralamin and Jarmangle, riding behind the wagons, take note of them, but say nothing, as they're moving much faster than the cloth-men, who are unlikely to catch up.
At least, until a giant beetle appears in front of the wagons. From the scars it carries, Feer and Robyn identify it as the same mother beetle they fought weeks before. Then, they had driven it away from the ailing civilized gnoll. It, too, recognizes them as the creatures that had butchered its two offspring. Enraged, the beetle begins to attack.
The group tries to maneuver around it, but has no luck. As the beetle attacks at the front, the two cloth-men quickly bring up the rear. One wields a powerful wizard's staff, and a bolt of electric power strikes the wagon containing Aratin and the prostitutes he was entertaining himself with. The wagon turns over and the cloth-men close in.
It's soon apparent why, as all of their attacks and movements seem focused on Aratin the moment he leaps from the wreckage. With their mouthless voices, they demand in unison that he surrender "the stone!"
The battle is tense but light on casualties; when one of the cloth-men falls to Tralamin's magicks and Aratin's blows, the one wielding the staff retreats in a puff of smoke. Jarmangle makes several attacks against the she-beetle Klikslyth, but many of his blows do not land or cannot pierce the beetle's tough hide. Feer and Robyn have slightly more luck, and soften the beetle up enough that Jarmangle is able to put out one of its eyes. The beetle is enraged but retreats, leaving our heroes to lick their wounds and investigate the destroyed wagon.
Amazingly, none of the passengers have sustained lasting injury. Room is made in the beer wagon, and they press on-- mindful to give the direction the beetle was headed a wide berth.
As afternoon gives way to evening, our heroes come across the ruins of three wagons-- the handiwork of gnolls, if the giant turtle-tracks and gnollish markings are to be believed. Aratin, however, reads gnollish and reports that the markings are gibberish; not the work of gnolls, but the work of those seeking to blame them.
Searching one of the wagons alone, Robyn discovers some pieces of familiar-looking egg-shell. It's the same sort of mysterious egg that Jarmangle found in Firepalm. Robyn realizes what sort of creature lies within, and grabs an item necessary to train it. She does not tell Jarmangle this, thinking perhaps he will part with the egg in lieu of paying his monetary debt to her. In the same wagon, she finds an Owlbear Trap, which she gives to Tralamin-- who is eager to capture such a beast, so as to replace the rug he had cloaked himself in but had fallen into a miles-deep pit below the Tomb of Gnollish Kings.
Carefully examining the environment, Feer realizes that a sand-storm is brewing, and will soon be upon them. The group brings the ruined wagons closer together and herds the horses within. All of them-- the four adventurers, the outlaw, and the six prostitutes-- hold up in the beer wagon. Before the night and the storm come, Jarmangle borrows Tralamin's trap, setting it up outside the wagon as a precautionary measure.
The storm beats against the wagon, threatening to topple it, but it proves steadfast even when filled over capacity. What follows is a long night of drinking and debauchery, with Aratin and Tralamin both availing themselves of multiple prostitutes. Jarmangle, for all his bluster, does not indulge in that particular appetite.
Come the morning (and the hangovers), the group makes a horrific discovery; the sand-storm blew the owlbear trap through the air and into the face of Robyn's horse. Robyn is clearly not pleased, and is even less pleased when Tralamin asks Jarmangle to skin the horse so that he might wear it as he had the owlbear rug. Loathe to let the rest of the horse go to waste, Jarmangle cooks the meat, and the party-- except for Robyn-- consumes it. Now in addition to repaying his monetary debt, Robyn tells Jarmangle that he owes her a new and better steed. She'd be willing to forgive the debt, of course, if he would give her his egg. He refuses.
Fighting with a hangover
Their bickering is cut short by the sudden appearance of a group of human bandits. It turns out that the "massacre" site not only wasn't done by gnolls, but wasn't a massacre at all. Instead, it's a trap meant to lure the curious and altruistic so that these bandits might relieve them of their gold, goods, and lives.
Before they can do so, however, they are killed-- by cloth-men, demanding again that Aratin surrender the stone. Again, they focus their attacks almost exclusively on Aratin, making it relatively easy for the others to pick them off. When all of the cloth-men have been killed, reduced to harmless piles of rags (which Tralamin gathers up, insisting that he will make use of it), the group questions Aratin about these cloth creatures.
Aratin admits that he knows the stone they're after, and that he stole it, but that he doesn't have it on him any longer. He even offers to let the others search him. Tralamin performs a thorough search of Aratin's body but does not find the stone.
Friend to the gnolls
A gnollish huntress comes upon the group and believes that they have killed the human bandits that had defiled her culture to lay their trap. The group does nothing to correct this assumption, and Feer accepts the gnollish longbow that is offered as a token of thanks. "By this bow, you will be recognized as a friend to the gnolls."
Towards the end of their second day, our adventurers find themselves in the city of Justice. This walled city is shaped like an "X" and populated by seemingly upstanding, if self-righteous, folks. At the center of the town is a prominent and well-used gallows. They relieve Aratin of his weapons and begin looking for the sherriff. But before he is to be turned in, Aratin excuses himself to heed the call of nature.
Tralamin finds a pub and immediately begins negotiating with its owner with regards to the stocking of Hodam's beer. The pubmaster tries to haggle, even making thinly-vieled attempts to intimidate them, but the group gets him to agree to a fair price. The pubmaster goes inside and returns with a sack full of coin in exchange for exclusive rights to stock Hodam beer in Justice.
As he and his men get to work unloading the wagon, the quartet head to the necessary to check up on Aratin. They find him attempting to crawl out of a window. They prevent him from doing so.
He explains that he hasn't been completely honest with the group. Too many of his fellow outlaws had met their end in Justice, and he wanted a little vengeance. And he had had that stone the Cult of Cloth was after; he had ingested it, not knowing that it served as a sort of homing beacon, calling to them. Now that he was in Justice, he had passed the stone through his bowels. Soon, the Cult of Cloth would be here in full force-- an army of single-minded animates possessing untold destructive power. Aratin would have his revenge on Justice.
The heroes briefly consider coming to the city's defense, but then Robyn discovers that the gold they have been given is fake. The heroes rush to confront the pubmaster, who has unloaded half the wagon. It is about to come to fisticuffs when they see the swarms of cloth on the horizon. They leave the unloaded beer with the pubmaster, pack up the rest of their wares, and flee the town, running over one of the cloth acolytes.
Once they're a safe distance, they watch the carnage as the sun sets over Justice. Aratin bids them farewell, and they head back towards Hodam.