Session IX, Part 1

As the companions stood amid the decimated shards of dozens of clay men, Aline demanded to know why it took Koringa and the others so long to wake up. They said that the last thing they’d been aware of was going into the room with the statue under the Journey Stone. Aline and Lucinda had no idea what they were talking about – the last thing they remembered was going to sleep with Eiluned taking watch. So Stark quickly recounted everything that had happened to them, completely mystifying Aline and Lucinda; and as he related the vision he had seen, the women of the party said “That’s not what we saw!” even as the other men agreed with him. There was much confusion, and Koringa decided that the whole thing was a “mass hallucination,” though he could not account for the stone weapons they now carried, or the presence of the grass, flowers, stones, cup, and antler that had appeared in each person’s “hallucination.” Koringa also made a case for attempting to destroy the Journey Stone, saying “This is what happens to towers that fuck with us.” When several people pointed out that they had left the Tower of the Stargazer intact, Koringa hissed “I have a list.”

As it was about 2 in the morning, the party decided to attempt to go back to sleep at the base of the Stone. Koringa, Bunny, and Aline took turns keeping watch, but nothing happened. Everyone slept as soundly – and dreamlessly – as they could, and the next morning they had a hasty breakfast before descending the hillock and continuing on their way. Before leaving, however, Koringa’s last act of vengeance was to urinate on the massive menhir.

Late in the morning they found themselves on a section of road that cut through thick, six foot high shrubberies on either side, Eiluned got the feeling they were being watched. Everyone drew various weapons, and Flea began to bark. From the surrounding shrubberies leapt four heath cats, the size of mountain lions but with unnatural red eyes and emitting a foul odor. They attacked with much ferocity and yet did not manage to damage anyone. Immediately Eiluned used her druidic secrets to befriend one of the cats; another got a crossbow bolt stuck in its haunch, and Spiderssen put the remaining two to sleep. The wounded one ran away; Spiderssen decapitated the sleeping pair (taking a fang from one of them as a souvenir), and Bunny put another bolt into the skull of Eiluned’s new friend. Out of curiosity the two of them gutted it, and Bunny was instantly overcome with a horrible nausea that had her vomiting for ten minutes. Eiluned was almost equally disturbed, but managed to hold down her lunch.

The day passed, and Aline and Lucinda indicated that they’d prefer not to take an evening meal until it was time to camp. The party agreed and pushed on. As darkness fell Aline went ahead to scout for a campsite, and returned to report that about a half-mile up the road there was a clearing in the heath containing a campfire and eight burly men. After rejecting several plans it was decided that Koringa and Stark – the most physically imposing of the party – would go and sound out the burly men, under the guise of warning them about the heath cats. (It was also decided that Koringa would leave most of the talking to Stark.) Meanwhile, the rest of the party would follow behind and hide on either side of the break in the heath in case of trouble.

As Koringa and Stark approached the path to the clearing they were greeted by a cheerful man in leather armor holding a torch. A fierce looking hammer dangled from his belt as he introduced himself (Prescott) and invited the two fighters to join them at their fire. They accepted, and met a nameless but friendly gang of rough looking characters and the band’s leader, Martin, who was equally friendly and a bit more loquacious than Prescott. Sharing ale and a little meat, Stark and Koringa divulged that they were headed south and that the heath cats were fierce and creepy looking. The others had noticed this as well, but had no idea why.

After some small talk, Koringa asked if they had had any “bard trouble.” Amused, the men revealed that they had been known to pick a song or two, as the two companions realized that there were a variety of musical instruments around the fire. To cover his embarrassment, Koringa asked if they knew “The Bear and the Maiden Fair.” The band of bards was excited to play this, as they hadn’t done so in some time. They immediately struck up an enthusiastic and “proggy” version that lasted a verse and chorus before dying down. Koringa asked if the ensemble had a name, and Martin said that on the infrequent occasion that they’d performed, they were known as the Freestrings. Koringa and Stark stood up to go, but were persuaded to stick around for another ale.

While this was happening, the rest of the party was crouched waiting around the break in the heath where the path lay, when suddenly a man bearing a torch and a hammer stuck his head out and saw them. “Hello!” he greeted them heartily, as they all pointed their various weapons at him. “Are you with Stark and Koringa?” Spiderssen was immediately distrustful and demanded to know why the man was carrying that hammer. “Why do you have that bow?” the man replied. “You can’t be too careful” the wizard said. “Exactly!” the man said, and introduced himself as Prescott, and bid the rest of the party to come join them – “plenty of room around the fire!” The party convinced Spiderssen to put down his bow and they followed Prescott to the fire.

The rest of the party were welcomed around the fire. Sharing meat and ale, they asked the bards if they had ever seen any “clay men” on the heath. They had not, but Martin said it sounded like something the Heath People might talk about. “These Heath People have their own beliefs, none of which make sense to anyone what’s got any sense – but they sure do believe them.” He allowed that stories of lost girls and men with antlers had a decidedly heathish ring to them as well. He was clearly not including himself or his men as “heath people,” and when asked, explained that the Freestrings came from elsewhere; they lived on the heath but were not of the heath.

After some more conversation, the party tried to leave, but Martin was insistent that they stay and trade information. The Freestrings were curious for news of Deadlake, having not been North since the War. Martin asked if that “fat idiot” Alistair Baldus was still running the show, and when told he was, spat. The other Freestrings spat as well, and the PCs followed suit. One of the PCs asked if they knew anything about Calcidus, but they did not. The bards asked for other news but did not specify what they were interested in, and the party rose to leave. Martin invited them to spend the night camped with the bards, because of the dangers of the heath, but the PCs would not do so. Koringa bonded with a bard when they both found out they were racists. Finally, they were able to extricate themselves from the jolly party around the fire and strolled off into the dark heath night. As Koringa gave a manly hug to his racist friend, the bard said “Hey! I’m a homophobe too!”

Once they had moved a suitable distance down the road, the party began discussing the encounter. Stark was convinced the Freestrings were hiding something, as was Spiderssen, though the latter’s general vehement dislike of bards may have colored his judgment. Eiluned did not agree with either of them, and Koringa was somewhat tipsily praiseful of their brief but generous hosts. Opting to put as much distance between them and the Freestrings as possible, they hiked hard until 2 am, when they camped in a similar clearing, posting a double watch. First Stark and Bunny stayed up, but nothing of interest happened. During Koringa and Eiluned’s shift, the following exchange was overheard by anyone not sleeping:

“Eiluned, I don’t think Lucinda likes me very much.”

“I don’t think anyone likes you.”

“It’s hard to be Koringa.”

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~ by erranttiger on August 20, 2011.

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