Session XIII

•April 26, 2012 • Leave a Comment

[details of this session are extremely hazy due to the passage of time. This recap assembled from very sketchy notes]

The party frog-marched the cultist – Sniffles – back to the slime-covered room they had discovered early in their explorations. The cultists were convinced that the “treasure” had something to do with the room known as the Moon Pool. Upon entering the room, Sniffles – as he was wont to do – sneezed again. This seemed to be a signal, as four of the brigands the party had previously tangled with showed up. Combat ensued, and in the midst of combat more cultists showed up from another passage, splitting the party. Spiderssen, Stark, and Koringa faced the first gang, and Eiluned and Bunny fended off the second.

Eventually all the cultists were eliminated – a search of their bodies revealed only a few pieces of chalk, and some soap – and a very nervous Sniffles was made to burn the slime off the pool surface. After this was accomplished, an exploration of the pool revealed a very heavy metal sphere, hinged and clasped and very ornate. The sphere was unlocked, and opening revealed a small silk cushion (completely waterlogged), upon which sat a small, hardened bit of matter not unreminiscent of a human finger. The party deduced that it was a relic of St. Cyrus, but could not determine either its purpose or its reason for being found in the bottom of a pool covered in green slime.

The party commenced to burning the slime from the walls, but this revealed nothing. Bunny, however, got slimed in the process, and then suffered some damage when Stark (?) cured her from certain doom by burning the slime off of her. The party decided to rest and return to the Red Temple – Sniffles in tow – to make their report.

Upon their return to the Red Temple, the party presented Nika with the relic, their prisoner, and “the whole story” they had uncovered involving the presence of the cult of Narthex in the ruins. She was cheered by the lack of lizard people, but was also concerned about the rest of the filth the party had encountered, as well as curious as to what the other levels of the ruins would contain. She offered to increase the party’s reward if they would return and investigate. The party agreed, if she would fortify them, and she agreed, and so the next day, they did.

Returning to Melchett’s study, a crowbar loosened the perhaps-not-so-impenetrable door enough for Koringa and Stark to open it by striking it soundly several times with their combined weight. As it burst open, they each fell about 10′ down, landing somewhat uncomfortably on a large well-hewn spiral staircase. As they and their companions descended, they noticed that the cavern walls had been smoothed, and 50′ later they were surprised to find a tiled floor (though most of the tiles had been chipped or smashed). Apart from a broken font in one corner of the room there was nothing other than a passage to the south.

This passage led to an intersection, and here the cavern began to look much more like one would expect, with rough floors and walls. The party surmised that whoever was responsible for the polished quality of the entrance chamber gave up the task. A wide chamber lay to the west, and a sturdy-looking double-banded wooden door lay to the south. The party chose to leave the door for the time being, and proceeded west into a huge chamber that was empty except for stalagmites and stalactites, and a banded wooden door in the northern wall. The door proved to be unlocked; beyond it was a cramped room that could be barred from the inside. A decrepit copy of The Teachings of St. Cyrus lay in one corner, but it all contained was a series of boring homilies.

Following the cavern to the west, the party encountered more shadows and stone. At the western edge of this room the ground began to feel sludgy, and as it opened into the next room the corridor became downright wet. Along the northern edge of this room ran a rickety wooden “boardwalk” and a natural path curved along the southern wall. Stark followed the wooden way to its end, at a 7×7′ platform with a big hole in the middle of it. The hole seemed to lead down, down, down, and smelled bad.

As Stark and Eiluned proceeded along the natural path along the southern wall, they found themselves skirting a wide, dark expanse of water that reached beyond the range of their torches. The air smelled more than faintly of sparks, and the water’s surface came to within several inches of the path they walked. The water itself sloshed unexpectedly – and flashed with a sinister light. The path led to a ledge, upon which lay a charred corpse. It turned out to have been a female adventurer wearing the remains of leather armor. Next to her lay a hand axe and a pack. The pack contained 30 sp, a bracelet featuring blue and green semi-precious stones, and a scroll case containing a very old map. The location detailed by the map, however, remained a mystery.

The party returned to the wooden door at the first intersection, and after picking the tough lock entered yet another rough chamber.

 

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Session XII

•November 13, 2011 • Leave a Comment

So much time has elapsed since the last session, and my notes are so sparse, that I am forced to proceed with a minimum of narrative accuracy and detail. Sorry, everybody! (If any players want to chime in with some missing highlights, I would very much appreciate it).

As they continued to investigate the ruined temple, the party came to a dark and dank room. The only indicators that this had been a chapel were the shattered altar and broken choir. The remnants of statuary mixed with rubble, and a large crevasse dominated the floor in the center of the room. From it issued a stench so foul that several members of the party found themselves crippled by it, which was unfortunate because as they stood there gagging they were set upon by two shambling creatures that could only be described as “ghoulish.” The party managed to dispatch them – Eiluned slew one, and the other was knocked unconscious by a harsh blow that sent it reeling into the crevasse.

From the chapel the party moved down the shadowy halls around a corner, where they found themselves staring into a ruined room featuring a large metal-banded wooden door, a crumbled wall, and a young man wearing chain mail and carrying a shield. He revealed himself to be Melchett, the Master of the Temple, Servitor of the Undying. He demanded the party leave, and when they refused, he got very nasty indeed. Uttering an incomprehensible word, from the shadows arose four skeletons wielding scimitars. Koringa and Stark were the only PCs in the room – Koringa having inserted himself between Melchett and the large door, and Stark standing in the doorway – and they began to fight. For lack of anything better to do, Spiderssen cast Featherfall on the cleric, which caused him to bounce in confusion briefly. From the back rank, Eiluned used her new Ring of Heat Metal on Melchett’s armor, but there was no immediate effect. After a minute Melchett began to look uncomfortable, but cast a spell and suddenly seemed to be feeling fine. After this spell, nobody could bring themselves to attack him; and shortly thereafter he cast yet another spell that caused the entire party except for Stark to run, shrieking, into the now-dark halls.

Stark was able to overcome his issues and attack the skeletons, heroically dispatching three of them, and even wounding the Master fairly heavily. Melchett ran out of the room and into the hall, where he managed to slip past the regrouping rest of the party. They tracked him to the larder (which the PCs had already visited), where he was rummaging through the closet, no doubt in search of the potions of Cure Light Wounds that the party had already found. Stark grabbed him from behind and put him in a full nelson, as the party began questioning him. Sample dialogue (see if you can spot Koringa’s line!):

“How many of you are there?” “One.”

“Who is the Undying?” “The Undying is Narthex.”

“I’m gonna ask you one more time, Mayor McFuckpants — Lizard People.” “That’s not a question.”

“What’s on the other side of that door?” “The Depths.”

After getting nowhere, Stark snapped the cleric’s neck. They beheaded him and threw his head into the crevasse in the chapel before continuing with their explorations.

A scriptorium featured a collapsed roof and a large, shallow pool of blackish water that flowed from the next room. A pile of books in the corner caught the party’s eye, as did the foul yellow mold that covered it. Taking some precautions, Stark picked up a book, disturbing the mold and releasing its spores into the air, causing Spiderssen and Bunny to pass out. Eiluned poured a potion of Cure Disease into Bunny’s mouth and she revived; Koringa did the same for Spiderssen. Nobody disturbed the mold again.

In another chamber, which had apparently been used as a study, the party came upon four cultists intent on destroying the few books and scrolls remaining. A short battle ensued, but after one of the cultists fell the others surrendered, claiming that in exchange for mercy they would take the party to where the treasure is. When the party wanted to know what that entailed, the cultists said “knowledge and power.” The party hogtied two of the cultists and took the weakest one, who appeared to be suffering from a cold, with them. Further questioning revealed that the cultists – this one, anyway – did not actually know what the treasure was, just where it was. They queried him about Narthex the Undying – who he was (“the Undying”), where he was (“we do not know”), what benefits they gained from following him (“to become Undying”) and whether those benefits would extend to the cultist they had just slain (“yes”), etc. Koringa expressed at length his frustration with “riddles.”

Session XI, part 2

•October 23, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Upon arriving at the temple ruins, the party found an entrance carved out of the hillside. Warily remembering other times they had descended into the ground, they were relieved that nothing horrible happened to them as they descended a long staircase and came out into a long hall. The walls and floors were smoothly-hewn and tastefully nondescript.

Beginning to explore, the brave adventurers first found a large room featuring four large pillars, one of which had begun to crumble, opening a fissure in the ceiling through which a thin sliver of sunlight shone into the otherwise dark chamber. Before anyone had a chance to look around, though, they were set upon by six giant (small dog sized) centipedes, whose bites proved to be capable of paralyzing the victim – as Stark, Koringa, and Bunny all quickly discovered! Spiderssen fought valiantly, but ultimately it was Eiluned who skillfully destroyed all six of the unnatural arthropods. A combination of potions and time thawed out the rest of the party, though each found that the location of their bites – the fighters’ ankles, and Bunny’s left arm – were practically useless. The quick quaffing of potions restored the fighters to fighting shape, though Bunny forsook a cure for the time being, wanting to conserve their resources.

As the party recovered its wits and range of motion and began exploring the room, they were disturbed and disgusted to find yet another giant centipede lurking in wait for them behind one of the pillars. This one was truly giant – that is, man-sized – and its mandibles clicked menacingly. However, it proved singularly ineffective against the fully-restored party, and it joined its smaller cousins in an ichorous death ere too much time passed.

Continuing their explorations, the party found that the pillars were carved with images which must have once represented the life of St. Cyrus. Like the defaced mosaics adorning the walls, however, it was impossible to discern their content. Additionally, the fault in the ceiling had let in a significant amount of rainwater, which formed a nasty pool, and which no doubt contributed to the growth of the many discolored fungi across the floor and walls.

All the party found of any interest was a small votive candleholder and an exquisitely carved wooden statue of St. Cyrus. Both seemed fairly valuable but the statue, at four feet tall, was too tall to be carried, so the party left it behind for the time and headed south, into a small circular room that consisted entirely of a pool beneath an aperture in the ceiling. At one point light from the aperture must have reflected in the pool, but at present – and for Cyrus knows how long – the entire room was covered in dangerous-looking green slime. The party chose not to even bother investigating, and withdrew.

Coming around a corner, the party were surprised to find three brigands laying in wait for them, along with a freakish creature with a body as long as a horse and a wolfish head larger than a lion’s. After some blows were exchanged, Spiderssen cast his favorite spell and the bloodied brigands fled while vomiting profusely as the wizard stood there twirling his face on his index finger. After the rest of the party killed the creature, they realized that they were at the end of a collapsed tunnel, and that the brigands and the creature must have been attempting to dig into the ruins of the tunnel, though to what end they could not discern.

The party decided to see if Flea could track the brigands by following the scent of the vomit she had been looking up. She seemed to understand, and they followed her to a room that looked as though it had been a dormitory: smashed-up wooden pallets, shreds of bedding and clothing, etc. There were no brigands, but Flea immediately found a crack in the tiled floor through which rose a stench that could only be described as charnel. The crack was too small to fit through, and peering through revealed only darkness.

Frustrated, the party re-investigated a room adjacent to the collapsed tunnel, which, judging by the broken glass and dark stains on the floors, seemed to have been the temple’s wine cellar. There were a few unbroken bottles, and upon opening one it smelled decidedly vinegary.

Working their way through the dark, narrow halls, the party also found a disused workshop, the contents of which seemed to have been smashed in the sacking of the temple, though a few functional tools remained.

As the party entered a circular room full of smashed barrels and crates, they were certainly surprised when two big spiders dropped from the ceiling! Combat was fierce and frightening until the spiders were soundly crunched, and in the flickering of torchlight the party saw a shadowy shape in the webbing at the top of the room. Poking it with his staff, Spiderssen was able to dislodge it, though in doing so he caused it to fall on Bunny, though she sustained no damage. It proved to be the desiccated husk of a man. Searching the corpse revealed a small coin purse containing 10 gp, as well as a scroll case. The scroll it contained was written in an obscure eldritch dialect, and all Spiderssen could determine casually was that the spell was called “Mask Alignment.”

Session XI, part 1

•October 15, 2011 • 1 Comment

Through the magic of narrative, the party arrived in Southlake without further incident (other than Stark stubbing a toe). Lucinda led them to her father Melmoth’s house in “Nicetown.” A keen observer might have noticed the difference between his sumptuous digs and his brother Louie’s somewhat more furtive situation back in Deadlake.

Unfortunately, according to his wizened servant Bill, Melmoth himself was “away on business” for a few days, but had made arrangements for the party to rent a suite of rooms at the Ass & Frog (an inn “popular among adventuring types such as yourselves”) for the very affordable price of 50gp per month. Further, if they mentioned the codeword “otters” in any of the shops proximous to the Ass & Frog, it was highly likely that they would be able to negotiate a better-than-average deal.

Lucinda informed her traveling partners that she had to return to her duties and studies at the Red Temple, and Aline indicated that she would be accompanying her. Stark inquired (prompting a lusty guffaw from Eiluned) if Lucinda (and Aline, he hastily amended) would be interested in accompanying them on any further adventures. She said that she would consider it but needed to think of her obligations to the Temple first.

The party returned to their new digs, which were simple but featured a) individual rooms and b) locks on the doors and set about getting used to their new city. This mostly involved selling and buying stuff, while developing many exciting otter-based puns. Stark and Koringa visited a pompous fruiter, who informed them that the fruit they had brought with them from the witch’s hut was a rare poison with unhealthy effects. Eiluned determined that some of their items were in fact magical, but brought them to an outside consultant to determine their exact nature. It was revealed that her wooden ring was a Ring of Heat Metal, though it took some days for the consultant to determine the power word (“ampua”). Spiderssen’s magic staff, which had thus far only been useful for standing on its own, was revealed to be a Staff of Standing – notable for being able to stand on its own. Upon discovering this, Spiderssen took it upon himself to perform in the public square, in an attempt to raise a little coin. He announced loudly that he would ascend to the second floor of the Ass & Frog, leap off, and land on his nose upon the standing staff. The skeptical public was not disappointed to see that (despite his surreptitious casting of, first, Enlarge [upon himself] and, second, Featherfall) he did not entirely succeed.

After some time, Melmoth returned and paid them each 100 gp for aiding in the safe return of his daughter. In the course of conversation they asked him if knew anything of the Freestrings. He described them as “noble men with a sad past.” Asking what he meant, the party was treated to a lengthy historical discourse regarding the Eldritch War.

Until about 100 years ago (Melmoth said, consulting a hefty tome) the four regions of Quendor were all part of the same Kingdom, which had been ruled by House Azerad for hundreds of years.  But 100 years ago, Galen IV came to employ a mysterious wizard known as Narthex. Nobody could say for certain where Narthex came from, nor by what means he was able to replace Wymon, who had long been Galen’s friend as well as his wizard, but shortly after making his presence known at court, Narthex did indeed take his place at Galen’s side. Wymon’s subsequent whereabouts were never known.

Over the next several years it was noted – quietly – by some that while Galen had, like all the Azerads anyone could remember, always been athletic and graceful, lately he had been seeming older, and more decrepit. Curiously, Narthex – who was already approaching his middle years – never seemed to age. In addition, the King’s manner hardened. As the physical grace his family was known for (Azerad means “swan” in the Old Tongue) diminished, so did the equally-storied kindness. His manner hardened. He became withdrawn, reclusive, and nervous, and the kingdom followed his example.

Twenty years into Azerad’s reign, in the midst of plunging decay and dismay, the land was overrun by evil. This evil came in the form of monsters — the living dead. Zombies, wights, and the like now stalked the realm and ravaged its land. Frightened, the populace looked to King Galen Azerad for direction – for salvation. And Galen rallied. He took up the mantle of hero easily, issuing decrees and mobilizing his own personal guard – the King’s Men – in the fight against the horror.

Oddly, despite many decrees and much pomp, Galen and his King’s Men could not seem to make much progress. Though they fought bravely against the undead hordes, those hordes never seemed to diminish. Indeed, it seemed that for every zombie that fell, another would arise. And so eventually the King’s regents – that is, the leaders of the Northeast, Southeast, and Western regions – formed an alliance among themselves. Their goal was twofold: first, to save the land; and second, to unseat the king.

War intensified, and Galen found himself fighting two battles: against the hordes, and against his own regents. These were bloody years. The first battle culminated in a massive battle at the very center of the kingdom, in which the warriors and magicians of the Regents’ forces joined with the clerics and paladins of the Church to destroy the unholy creatures. This battle lasted nearly a year, and was nearly lost when it was revealed that Narthex himself was behind the crisis. The three chief wizards united with the head cleric and by combining their magics were able to defeat Narthex. This took place in Freshlake, where the wizard had retreated. Somehow this power must have been connected to the lake, for the process of stopping Narthex destroyed the lake and its ecology, as well as the economy. Hence: Deadlake.

While this was going on (or immediately thereafter) the Regents’ Army had managed to break into the King’s stronghold, and executed Azerad, his family, and his Royal Guard. The leaders of the Army decided not to install one of their own as king, but to dissolve the monarchy and grant each region its autonomy. The Regent of each region was given a seat on the Regents’ Council, along with a representative of the Church.

However, it is said that some former King’s Men escaped and still hid in exile. These men had taken up the lives of bards and it was somewhat of an open secret in the South that they called themselves the Freestrings.

The party wasn’t much interested in this history lesson, but they were interested in employment. Melmoth told them that if they were interested in employment, Lucinda had recommended them to Nika, the female head of the Red Temple, who had a job that needed doing. Off to the Red Temple!

At the temple they were shown into the large sanctuary, decorated in red and gold, with lots of comfortable-looking furniture and a trace of musky incense in the air. Ushered into an obscure office, they met Nika, the female head of the Red Temple. She was about 50 years old, slender, with long straight silvery-blonde hair; quite striking to those who were inclined to find that kind of thing striking. She said that Lucinda had spoken quite highly of most of them, and explained that several hours outside of the city there lay an ancient ruined temple from an obsolete religion which the Red Temple wished to rebuild and sanctify as a retreat for its own followers. The only problem was that several trusted sources swore that they had seen lizardfolk in the area – despite the fact that no lizardfolk had been documented as actually existing for the better part of a century. If the party would be so kind as to visit the ruins, and cleanse it of any actual lizardfolk they might find, the Red Temple would reward them handsomely: they would be allowed to keep any treasure they found, and there would be additional recompense, depending on the magnitude of the chore.

After clarifying that by “cleanse” Nika meant “murder,” the party asked if she had any more information about the site. They received their second history lesson of the day, as Nika told them of the monks of St. Cyrus.

The monks of St. Cyrus were dedicated to the service of a Lawful deity who undertook devotions and good works in equal measure, winning them the esteem and affection of the folk throughout the land. Dedicated to the preservation of knowledge and the battle against Chaos, the monks established a monastery above a series of subterranean caves where foul monsters and other aberrations dwelled. The monks hoped that their presence would serve to contain these abominable horrors and so they did – for a time. While the monastery stood strong, it was a beacon of light in a world of darkness. Pilgrims flocked to it in order both to learn from the wise monks and to gain spiritual edification from their teachings. Novices regularly entered the monastery and its numbers grew large enough that the monks were able to delve deeper into the caves beneath the monastery and drive back the creatures they found there. So successful were the monks that one abbot decided to establish a crypt within the caves themselves, as a testament to the progress of Law even within the very domain of Chaos and as a reminder that this progress came at great cost. In doing so, the monks also amassed items of mysterious origins and magical potency, along with other treasures, all of which they either put to good use or stored away, lest they fall into the wrong hands.

Alas, the taint of Chaos touches all things, even a bastion of Law such as the monastery of Saint Cyrus. After several centuries and a succession of weak abbots, the monks grew lax and, bit by bit, the monsters beneath the monastery reclaimed the caves. Rather than fight them, as had their monastic predecessors, the entrance to the caves was barred and the monks settled into comfortable laxity. No longer exemplars of Law, the wealth of the monks attracted the envy of local lords, one of whom assembled a raiding party to take the monastery by force and seize its treasures. This he did, razing the monastery to the ground and looting its contents after killing the remaining monks.

The party agreed to undertake this task the next morning, and repaired to the Ass & Frog for a night of preparation. This included sussing out what they could from the locals about the ruined temple. Stark, already having proven quite popular in the common room, and Bunny, who had fallen in with a small group of local thieves, unearthed the following rumors:

1. That the last abbot of the temple was an evil cleric who dabbled in demonology;

2. That the last abbot of the temple died while in possession of a great treasure;

3. That shadowy individuals had been seen entering and leaving the ruins under cover of darkness; and

4. That the ghosts of the murdered monks haunt the ruins of the monastery.

[Note: The description of the ruined temple of St. Cyrus and the accompanying rumors are lifted virtually verbatim from “The Ruined Monastery” by James Maliszewski, found in Fight On! #1.]

Session X

•October 9, 2011 • Leave a Comment

After defeating the witch Cassap and driving off the remaining heathmen, the party returned to the witch’s hut to loot i (and heal Spiderssen).

Between them they found a black antler that seemed like it would make a very effective dagger; a nondescript staff that was able to stand on its own with no support; a wooden ring etched with a design like a flame; a locked box which, when its poison needle trap was disarmed, revealed five potions (2 Cure Light Wounds, Bless, Haste, and Invisibility); common gems totalling 30 sp in value; an untitled book bound in green which appeared to be concerned with all things witchy; a featureless waxen doll at the bottom of a wooden bucket; and a bag of coins, which proved upon further inspection to be that rare and dreaded bane of inquisitive adventurers: a Bag of Teeth! Koringa and Spiderssen were very excited about the prospect of keeping it as a pet.

When Bunny removed the wax doll from the bucket she felt herself assailed from behind by a brutal but unseen force. A brief attempt at combat versus an unseen opponent ensued, but when Bunny dropped the doll, the invisible assault ceased. Koringa and Spiderssen dropped the doll into the Bag of Teeth, and in the ensuing tussle the bag burst into bits and the doll dropped to the floor. Bunny plunged her stone sword into the doll, which destroyed it, though the sword crumbled into useless bits. Koringa and Spiderssen lamented the loss of their horrible new pet.

The hut also contained a small fruit tree. It had green leaves and several red fruits with pink spots, the size of clementines. The party took several of these fruits but did not sample them.

Trying to find their way out of the accursed valley, the weary companions managed to get themselves lost. They slept for the night, and in the morning encountered the Freestrings yet again. The company of bards once again offered their assistance, and once again were soundly rebuked by the party, prompting Martin to say “You don’t trust us, which is wise. But we have a common enemy and we would do well to honor that bond. After all, to live outside the law you must be honest. Don’t you agree?”

Nobody in the party seemed to care much, however, and they bid the Freestrings farewell and headed on down the road to Southlake.

(Metagame note: after resting, everyone in the party but Spiderssen progressed to second level! Hooray!)

Session IX, Part 3

•August 21, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The party awoke first to the sound of drums and flutes, a simple, slow melody. It was night, and they sat facing each other on two of the low stones in the field outside the hut. Koringa, Stark, and Spiderssen sat on one stone; Eiluned, Lucinda, and Bunny sat across from them. There were several Heath Men guarding them with spears; they wore crowns of branches that resembled antlers, as well as necklaces made of tiny flowers. Nobody had any weapons, though they still wore their armor, and Aline was still nowhere to be seen.

As they sat and took in the situation, they became aware that there were dozens of Heath People dancing among the stones, a slow, deliberate dance that was somehow at once innocent and suggestive.* Shortly three men and three women made their way to the seated companions and began dancing in front of members of the opposite sex. Koringa and Eiluned immediately jumped up and joined them; Stark and Eiluned refused; and Spiderssen and Lucinda rose to join, compelled by a force outside their control.

Initially Koringa attempted to take this opportunity to size up the situation, scoping out potential exits (he could see none through the throng of Heath People) and gauging the size of the opposition (numerous). He and Stark caught each others’ eye, and as Koringa peeled off from the dancers, two beefy Heathmen danced him back into place. Shortly thereafter he found himself caught up in the rhythm of the dance, along with Spiderssen, Lucinda, and now Eiluned.

Eventually Stark and Bunny succumbed as well, and they found themselves in a circle within a circle, dancing around a large fire. At some point the dancers began chanting in some lost and brutish language, and the pace accelerated as through the circle with a surprising ease came Cassap, leading Aline, who was also clad in a simple brown shift. Stark found himself dancing with Aline, as the dance became more and more suggestive, until Cassap gave a passionate shriek and the circle began to widen.

Several Heathmen came forth and presented the companions – but not Lucinda or Aline – with short swords. They were uncertain what to make of this until Cassap started chanting, and it became clear that they were meant to fight each other! What was worse, each companion felt compelled to attack the comrade about whom they felt fondest! Koringa and Stark squared off, while Bunny and Eiluned faced each other. Spiderssen instinctively moved toward Lucinda, who had begun dancing with Aline, but Cassap somehow redirected him and he found himself attacking Stark from behind.

The comrades began the combat dance with the borrowed swords, and each step brought both bloodlust and horror. However, the enchantment must have served to dull their reflexes, since nobody actually injured their sparring partner. Then, after several minutes, Koringa suddenly regained his senses, and instead of attacking his dear friend Stark, lunged for Cassap, taking her by surprise and dealing a sold blow that caused her to shriek horribly – and break the spell!

Instantly Cassap was surrounded by five enraged spear-wielding Heathmen, who squared off against the liberated dancers. After a round of blows had been exchanged (during which the Heathmen took several harsh hits), Spiderssen stepped back from combat and, uttering a horrible word, tore the flesh from his own face as though it were a mask. His raw, veiny visage so terrified their opponents that they fled, shrieking uncontrollably – even the witch. Alas, Bunny and Eiluned were also affected, and spent a full minute vomiting uncontrollably. The wizard merely stood there, dazed, twirling his face as it hung from his index finger.

Within seconds, however, from out of nowhere came two small explosions in the midst of the companions, and immediately afterward their enemies leapt from the chaos of the crazed Heath People, attacking with renewed vigor! The battle was pitched, and at one dramatic moment Koringa was knocked back into the fire, which caused his cloak to catch fire! He stopped, dropped, and rolled, but lost crucial battle time in doing so.

The companions alternated between attacking the Heathmen and the witch, who seemed to have some kind of magical protection around her as she wielded in one hand a curved bronze sword and in the other the small antler which she had taken earlier. Damage was slowly done, and finally Bunny ran her through with her short sword. There was a noise like a small thunderclap, a horrible scream, and Cassap stumbled into the fire, where she promptly burst into flame. Unfortunately the resulting explosion dealt a potentially fatal blow to Spiderssen, who collapsed, unconscious and bleeding.

The battle raged on, and shortly after a singed Koringa was cursing the absence of Lucinda and Aline, they ran onto the scene. Lucinda healed Eilued, who was barely able to walk, and flung a healing potion to Stark, who caught it in the midst of his combat with a Heathman. He was badly wounded, yet as soon as he opened the potion he selflessly poured it down Spiderssen’s throat. The wizard’s breathing seemed to stabilize, and Lucinda and Aline ran over and dragged him to safety.

Almost every member of the party dealt spectacular finishing blows to their enemies, with several heads flying, and when it was all over they stood among the remains of the ritual: corpses of heath people scattered among the stones, and a large fire that smelled distinctly of ancient magic and rotting witch.**

_______________

* The dance was nothing like this.

** Not meant to indicate actual events, but this is the song that would be playing in a poorly-thought-out Hollywood adaptation of this riveting story.

Session IX, Part 2

•August 21, 2011 • Leave a Comment

As the party rested for lunch on their 10th day of travel, Aline declared that she was sick of fish, and was going off to hunt. Several companions volunteered to go with her, but she insisted that she wanted some alone time, and said she would be back in an hour. Eiluned noticed that Lucinda seemed annoyed, and that in fact Lucinda had seemed annoyed often of late. Spiderssen attempted to ask Lucinda if everything was OK between her and Aline, but for some reason Lucinda refused to discuss her love life with the sociopathic magic-user.

An hour passed, and another half. As they waited, Lucinda’s annoyance turned to concern, and she decided to try to find Aline. Naturally the entire party went along. They followed the trail to a brook, along which muddy footprints were seen leading to a single log across the brook. They crossed and followed the trail through bushes, and under the low branches of suddenly very high shrubberies, and up thorny thickets and up a steep hill. Then the thicket parted and they found themselves atop a hill, looking down about a half-mile into a valley under bright sky, yet surrounded by almost night-dark hills. On the valley floor there were several concentric rings of low long stones, and, next to a stream, a hut. They proceeded down the hill to the valley floor and knocked on the hut’s door.

They were greeted by a very old but well-preserved woman, with long white hair and steely grey eyes, wearing a simple brown dress, with a daisy behind each ear. She identified herself as Cassap, and when she heard that the party’s friend had gone missing, she invited them inside so she could try to help them. Stark was against entering the hut, but when Lucinda insisted, he acquiesced.

Inside, the hut initially seemed bigger on the inside than on the outside, but after a minute it seemed the real issue was how so many things could fit in so small a space. There were dried flowers and herbs hanging everywhere, with various feathers and bones scattered throughout, as well as occasional antlers. All manner of things were present, most of a creepy nature.

Cassap puttered around as she asked the party – in her archaic accent – about their missing companion: her name, where she had disappeared from, how long she had been missing. They answered her question, and to begin with even Koringa was polite. Somebody mentioned their experience at the Journey tone, and this interested Cassap greatly. They told her the whole story, and afterward she asked “What did you take from your experience?” Interpreting her words literally, they produced the grassy knots, stones, flowers, cup, and antler. She asked if she could see them, and laid them out on her table. She was very impressed, and asked again what they took from their experience “within yourselves.” Spiderssen muttered some pseudo-mystic platitude that she dismissed before saying “Never mind, it’s not important.”

(The party also asked her if she knew anything about man-eating space plants, but she was completely dismissive of these stories and their insistence that there was a wider world beyond the heath).

Stark began to get fed up with Cassap’s lack of cooperation, and demanded their things be returned to them. Cassap refused, saying they had been returned to where they belonged, and when Stark reached across the table to take them, she waved a hand and he – and his companions – found himself unable to move, except to speak. A long exchange followed wherein Cassap asked “Do you know how blessed you are to have had that experience?” She explained that the visions the party had seen had been of the Horned King and the Stolen Girl, two figures with tremendous significance to the Heath People. Each figure had two aspects: to some, the Horned King was a liberator, who introduced the Stolen Girl to wisdom and pleasure most people can’t even dream of; to others, he was a vile corruptor. Likewise, to some the Stolen Girl was a victim, but to others she is worshiped for her transcendence. When asked which she believed, Cassap replied that she was able to hold the existence of all truths at once.

Cassap informed them that the opening of the Journey Stone had not happened for many years, and that it had been foretold, but her calculations were apparently mistaken. That it had opened – and that the party had ventured below – was also significant; and thus she now had much to prepare before the evening.

Most of the party eventually became quite agitated at their predicament: held prisoner and being lectured to by a primitive witch. Stark and Koringa in particular demanded to know a) the whereabouts of Aline, and b) what was going to become of them. (Eiluned, meanwhile, was surprisingly – almost naively – sympathetic to Cassap’s position). Eventually Cassap replied that Aline had not been harmed, and that the party was going to have a chance to experience the faith of the Heath People firsthand, in order to best comprehend the nature and meaning of the visions they had had at the Journey Stone. This did not go over well at all, and when Bunny asked “Are you going to harm us?” she did not answer at first, which also unsettled the captives. The witch finally said that they would be participating in a highly spiritual experience, and what happened to them in that experience was up to them. The party was not satisfied.

Shortly thereafter everyone lurched slightly as they regained their mobility. Gathering a bundle of items, Cassap made her way to the door, the companions reflexively parting to let her pass. As she opened the door she turned, waved her hand… and everything went black.