(Written in cipher)
Report of Elenwe Two-Toes, Enlightened Knight of Videha
The expedition set out without a hitch. Professor Sanjaya Pandava leads our primary team while his two most advanced graduate students head the other teams. I am almost certain that all three of them have rudimentary magic enabling the exchange of messages, but I have thus far seen no evidence of regular collaboration across distance.
The Professor briefed all three teams on his unusual theories on the origin of necrotic energies and his hypothesis that the particularly potent, stationary "hot spots" for that energy in the Thar Desert represented buried engines of the old pre-war Solar Empire that are damaged or otherwise bleeding corruption into the surrounding soil. The three teams were to split up to three different villages with the intention of gleaning local knowledge of these locations for further investigation and potential excavation. As you made clear to me, under no circumstances are Professor Pandava's scrolls to fall into hostile hands. His proprietary spell to ward against necrotic energy would be a boon to enemy militaries seeking to cross the desert against us. I took custody of his scrolls, which he relinquished readily and with no apparent suspicion.
The rest of the team seems competent enough. There's no cause for suspicion thus far for any of them. We set off for Broken Spring, an oasis-village of mystics devoted to Parvati. It is somewhat distant from the more traveled caravan routes, and Professor Pandava believed they would be a useful source of information about the energies of death in the desert. When we arrived, however, we discovered no signs of activity. The sharp-eyed among us noted corpses.
Tavi Agarwal and Vin infiltrated the village while the rest of us prepared for trouble. The corpses animated and attacked. After a short exchange of violence, the five corpses and assorted animated severed limbs were rendered inanimate. Professor Pandava's contributions to the combat were minimal, mostly due to the insistence of multiple members of the team that he stay out of harm's way. While this was frustrating from the point of view of my own, particular mission it made tactical sense to preserve the only person capable of protecting us from necrotic energies. He did, however, note movement in the distance, which caused us to be alert to potential non-zombie dangers.
Sure enough, Sattvik detected subterranean motion and caused a localized earth tremor which resulted in the eruption from the ground of a… disturbingly large scarab beetle. It appeared in all ways to be an ordinary scarab beetle except for its unnatural size. It didn't attack, acting more like an ordinary insect, treating us warily, but clearly drawn to the zombie-corpses. Some experimentation by Sattvik and Panja showed that the creature seemed drawn to sources of necrotic energy. Professor Pandava cast a spell he claimed could detect such energies and made a beeline for the settlement's oasis pool where he indicated a source of necrotic energy was poisoning the water. Panja accepted the Professor's necrotic ward magic and went swimming, uncovering an unusual magic device that had clearly been planted there. This device was dangerous to touch and seemed capable of poisoning water sources. Sattvik used some of the budget of Charges to identify the device, discovering that it had been constructed specifically to curse water such that anyone drinking it would sicken and die and rise again as undead.
We secured the device, but it became clear that the enormous scarab was strongly attracted to it. The academics among us posited that the scarab was an example of a creature known to have been summoned by priests of Surya before and during the Godswar, and further guessed that this particular creature may, itself, have been alive that long ago. This excited the Professor, who wanted to determine a method to capture or keep the creature despite the obvious logistical difficulties of transporting a large, wild creature through the desert. Furthermore, the creature started glowing as it consumed necrotic energy. It seemed to be safely consuming it and transforming it into radiant energy. Needless to say, this excited the Professor, who took it as more evidence of his… unpopular theories.
Sattvik, Panja, and Xedris theorized that an ancient invocation to Surya might compel or otherwise manipulate the beast. Xedris advised strongly against invoking the Archfiend. Sattvik indicated he would not do so, but was comfortable enough transcribing such a prayer and handing it to others. Professor Pandava revealed he knew a number of old pre-war prayers, and decided to perform one.
This "prayer" was a ritual, and it resulted in the creature becoming something akin to the Professor's familiar. So. We now have a giant insect known to be a sacred symbol of the Archfiend (that can shoot beams of hot light and eats necrotic energy) accompanying us. I should take a moment to note that the Professor gave every indication of being befuddled at the incredible success of his ritual. This is fully in keeping with the persona he has presented for the last century.
Panja invoked the goddess Parvati to speed the healing of the oasis and we tracked the survivors of the village dawnward and anti-spinward into a region of the desert unmarked on our map. We eventually found them at the base of a monastery or other settlement carved into a cliff face. They were invoking the inhabitant, who eventually deigned to speak with their representative. We observed from a distance after making initial contact with them. After they consulted with the monastery inhabitant, they spoke with us. These survivors, the aforementioned mystics of Parvati, reported that a human male entered their village and partook of their hospitality before leaving the next morning. A day later, they started to fall ill, some of them succumbing and rising again. They were not equipped to combat the risen dead, and fled, seeking the advice of "the Oracle", hoping to gain information about the man who violated hospitality codes and brought death to a place dedicated to life.
We informed them that we had cleansed their village, and in return, their leader spent some time providing the information the Professor sought, as well as other useful notations on our map. She also conveyed what the Oracle told her, that in a deep ruin a "sleeping evil" has awakened once more, and through its agents, seeks to spread death wherever there is life.
The Professor, ever-fixated on his own goals, wants to press on to Sarya where we're to rendezvous with the other two teams. I hope to learn more about this mysterious Oracle before we go, but the decision ultimately is not mine.
I'll write more when I know more. Currently, Professor Pandava has been consistent in his self-portrayal as an obsessive academic with an unusually disparate set of talents. I have seen nothing actionable by the Knight-Provost at this time. I hope to send this entry, and subsequent ones, back to Videha with one of our agents once I reach Sarya.