After the events at Nebalich, the trail of the pungent rain continues on towards the Salted Marshes. In the marshlands something has awoken, something dark, and it is consuming the salt, drawing it into some kind of black factory that has appeared mysteriously in the marshes.
The players may be continuing their quest to find the source of the rain, but if they helped during the incident at Nebalich, they might be interested in following the strange phasing-device to its delivery address in the Salted Marshes or be entirely unaware of the rain and only pointed towards the mystery by the priests in Nebalich.
Alternately, they might get wind of a call for help by Our Order of the Lady of the Salt Way, a religious order in the Salted Marshes that worship salt as the bringer of life. Salt-harvesting is the orders livelihood and they claim some dark demon is draining the salt away into a blasphemous temple that mysteriously appeared recently. The Order seek deliverance.
The Salted Marshes are thick with the smell of brine and the salt is thick in the air, stinging the eyes and drawing the moisture out of everyone and everything in the area. Few people live in the marshes, though there are some that follow the Salt Way and other that stay resident to make a profit, collecting and selling the precious salts.
Meeting people as the travel through the marshes, they hear and see the same thing - the salt is disappearing. Folks all along the way speak in hushed whispers about a terrible creature that roams the marshes, a demon that is stealing the sacred salt and storing it in a dark temple deeper into the marshland. Most folks have fled to the island upon which the Order make their home and the halites there, as part of their vows, do what they can to shelter them. The head halite, Gabra, is concerned by the recent decrease in salt yields as well. Salt is life, and if the salt is receding, only something dark and terrible can be the cause. Gabra is a stern woman, but she believes the Orders faith is being tested and that their faith will save them, forbidding anyone to leave the island (as per their vows) to try and discover the cause or put an end to it. That said, the players are strangers and she has no compunction about allowing them to go in their stead - perhaps the salt sent them to save them all.
None of the Order or the residents of the marshes seem aware of the rain, but that it possibly due to the strong salty odor that permeates the region, overpowering any smell the rain might be letting off. The players are welcome to rest at the Order before they continue their journey and any help they can offer the people of the marshes will be most appreciated, for which a payment in salt or salt-crafts (objects constructed from the salt by special methods the Order has devised) will be given. Over the course of the night though, a scream is heard and a bell is sounded.
The dead have risen and are assaulting the keep. Shuffling zombies, encrusted in salt so thick their faces can not even be seen, stumble towards the keep. The salty cocoons the bodies are in crack and twist as they move, leaving trails of thick salt crystals. Some of the order recognize the zombies as the recently interred, bodies encrusted in salt and returned to the marshes. Somehow, they have risen.
With the Salted Ones dispatched, the players have a clue - the thick black chains of metal and flesh, light as silk, protruding the their backs. Even as they watch, the cables continue to suck and feed on the salt, lowly devouring the dead themselves, sucking them inwards on themselves until the tube has drained them away completely. The players can follow the tubes back to their source.
Following the tubes, the players find they lead back to a curious site they may recognise - the monolith. It is bigger, more complete but still under construction. Even as they watch it, they can feel its presence, see it growing, almost organically now, crystalline forms growing and sliding into place along its dark, black walls. A voice speaks to them from behind, a voice they may also recognise - Eben, the mad Aeon priest from the village of the stone heads. Long thought to be dead, his voice rings out of the darkness all around them, seemingly from everywhere and nowhere all at once.
It lies. It lied to me. They lied and laughed and mocked and lied again. I'm stuck now, stuck and cold in this lonesome, twisted land.
The players try to spot him, but he doesn’t seem to be visible, they do however see some hovering lights in the darkness and observing them reveals they pulse with each word spoken by Eben.
I wanted to serve, I wanted... it doesn't matter. Nothing I do or say matters to the big machine. It did this, put me in this eternal purgatory. I've seen things, damn it, things you refuse to see, things that have burned me away until there was nothing left but... this.
Asking Eben questions, it’s clear he has been driven entirely mad by his predicament. Whatever or whoever he once was is gone, replaced by this broken shell of a man speaking through motes of light. He can offer very little in the way of help or advice, babbling mostly about not wanting to live, that he cannot face another mirror, that his friend is his enemy.
In a moment of lucidity, he reveals the machine, the monolith, is consuming the salt as part of its final transformation.
Eben floats alongside the players and guides them to the monolith. It is as black and foreboding as ever and the players notice it is bitterly cold, freezing even the highly salted waters of the marsh immediately around it. Moving around the monolith, it is perfectly smooth and flat and the walls of it above the surface of the water rise at least 70ft now and are visibly growing as it consumes more salt. Climbing them is a level 7 task and anyone touching the monolith directly with bare skin takes 5 might points of cold damage as it freezes off a layer of skin.
Eben continues to babble to himself.
I've got to stop existing mentally in places that I do not want to be. I have to move away from thoughts terrible and grey.
If the players can remind Eben of happier times or blank all thoughts of the monolith from their minds, his light motes pulse brightly and a doorway into the monolith reveals itself, forming seamlessly out of the black surface.
Inside the monolith is churning, mysterious machinery that seems to have no obvious purpose. It is utterly alien and freezing cold. Being in the monolith makes the players feel sick and ill and whilst inside they all find any might task 1 step more difficult, even if they are non-human or non-organic.
Exploring the monolith reveals a labyrinthine complex of pitch black machinery, silently churning away and reconfiguring itself, drawing in any heat and making the interior bitterly cold. All the panels and machinery are sealed except in the few places where the players can see it grow. Attempting to break any of the machinery is a level 8 task, and any obstacles to the growth of a component are dissolved and absorbed, or pushed out of the way by a wave of force. Broken machinery heals quickly, but a cypher can be reclaimed from it if done quickly.
Eben guides the players inwards and upwards, continuously muttering to himself. The paths through the monolith slowly spiral upwards until they reach a central chamber. Inside machinery moves and grows as always but it seems to take on an almost organic quality as it approaches a large, bloated sac suspended in the middle of the chamber. Pipes and tubes plug into the sac, which hangs full of fluid like a large, swollen grape. Light pulses from inside.
Suddenly, the whole structure shudders and Eben cries out, terrified.
It's finished. The monolith is finished. The witch awakens! Can you smell her? Can you smell the witch?
The pulsing of the sac brightens until it is almost blinding and Eben screams as the light seems to burn him away entirely. The light fades and the sac has torn open, spilling scalding hot fluids across the chamber. Players exposed take 3 points of might damage from burning. There is a thick smell in the air and players recognise it as the smell of the rain they have been investigating. It is far more intense though and strangely, they can almost sense the source of it moving due to the intensity of the smell, even though there is nothing visible.
With the Witch no longer connected to the Monoliths systems, the monolith begins breaking down. Like a vulnerable egg, once hatched from it breaks down, crumbling apart. Falling parts of the monolith are extremely dangerous and as it comes apart, the cyphers that made up its structure begin to become unstable. Pieces of jagged structure fall from walls and ceilings, making it easy for players to grab some.
The Witch is either dead, or escaped, and the monolith crumbles into salt and cyphers. Unfortunately most of the cyphers are spent, used up by whatever process the monolith used them for in its construction. However, the players do discover a strange artifact left behind in the wreckage. Perhaps part of the monolith, perhaps part of the Witch, it is impossible to tell.
The smell and the rain has gone and the salts of the marshes begin to recover. The dark pile of rubble that used to be the monolith is avoided, whilst destroyed it is still extremely dangerous and for the next year anyone within long range of the razed ground where the monolith once stood must roll on the cypher danger table once per hour for as long as they remain in range.
Those that brave the rubble and examine the objects within have a great deal to learn. The cyphers were put together with purpose and whilst used in ways beyond current science and knowledge, were used in ways that made them stable, at least for the duration of the monoliths existence. Those that uncover these secrets could eventually learn a lot more about how to harness and repair the technology of the past, something the Aeon priests would no doubt be very interested in learning.