Into the Wild, Act 2 Lords of the Northern Cairn

ACT 2, Lords of the Northern Cairn

Into the Wild, an ALIND Campaign Adventure Thread

The party has just survived an encounter with two wyverns. One was slain, the other returned injured to it’s nest. But with daylight left, and the nest difficult to get to, at least for now, the party decides to continue on the search for the gnolls.  Jasper gives his horse to Tuatha, the irrepressible bard, Taryn remains on horseback as Mellisande, and Bolvist navigate on foot.  Rising over the saddle, they pass through several granite chasms and valleys. Small tufts of bushes and piles of boulders show where countless rock slides came down over many, many seasons of weather.  Through various trees and rocky outcroppings, a vast lake became visible for brief periods but disappeared just as quickly from view through the hills and cliffs in their foreground.  A ravine at the bottom of a small gorge becomes the only navigable pass and also provides them security from watching eyes.  Their feet land softly on the sandy bottom.  All was quiet, until…

I’m Sorry, Celn

Taryn stopped and gave the sign to wait.  He began to pick up several major clues.  Using the survival skills he had honed while in the wilds, he deciphered some strange patterns in the tracks of the gnolls. First, the gnolls are heading in the same direction as they are traveling. Not good, thought Taryn, as he knew the wind was at their backs.  Second, the gnolls have done this very recently, perhaps only a couple of hours earlier. Finally, the gnolls seem to have begun this march by coming down into the ravine from one of the passable channels on the walls of the chasm washed out by rains.  The prints are few in number, but two sets match those of the large hyena dogs the gnolls use to carry things or as a mount.  Both appear burdened and are most likely carrying a heavy load.

The party assumed battle readiness when Taryn reported his findings. “We’d best surprise them, before they surprise us,” whispered Taryn.  First, they send Tuatha down the ravine. 

Bolvist and Jasper advanced to the top of the crevasse, stealthily they made their way along it.  Taryn and Mellisande decided to wait, preparing spells and weapons.

While moving along, Bolvist begins to hear the yelping and barking of the gnolls steeds he had come to recognize.  Bolvist moves up and hides behind a boulder. Risking a glance, he sees below a larger opened area in the crevasse.  Four gnolls pace impatiently.  Two of their hyena dogs are squatting in the muck of some acrid water and reeds.  One of them is loaded with what looks like a makeshift saddle and bags, possibly for their provisions.  On the other, however,  lays the body of what looks like a young woman in tattered rags and clothing. Enough of her skin is visible for Bolvist to notice that she is badly cut, bleeding and fifthy.  Softly, he can hear her moaning.  But something else catches Bolvist’s eye.  Unbelievably, although she appears human or perhaps elvish, two horns, like those of a goat sprout from either side of her head curling back downwards.  “Who is she?”  he wonders.

Just then, one of the gnolls seems to hear a sound, coming from the direction of the party.  He walks over and strikes the woman on the head which knocks her out cold.  Bolvist sees that one of his ears moves toward the party and one away, but he advances towards his companions, at which point Bolvist loses him from his field of vision.  Bolvist then springs into action.  He lunges into the chasm, leaping with a running start, he flies through the air, arms outstretched, legs in a squat, and lands directly on one of the hyena dogs! With a quick attack, he kills it, and begins to attack the other in an attempt to free the woman.

Meanwhile,  Jasper hears the gnolls coming through the crevasse below and he braces himself in a well trained stance in an effort to surprise them from behind.  Unfortunately, at that exact moment, his amulet begins to dictate to all what he is about to do!

“First, you see, I’m going to get into a perfect stance.

Then, I’m going to shoot up like some crazy eagle and direct my body perfectly over the edge here.

Next, I’m going to expertly land while letting my movement absorb the impact.

Finally, I’m going to give a KEE OPP and simultaneously scare these gnolls with a really cool monk stance!”

Jasper’s thoughts resound throughout the walls of the crevasse as he completes his maneuver.  Three gnolls, with bows drawn, are nonetheless stunned to see this monk doing this while a voice all around them describes the event.

Jasper, Mellisande and Taryn attack. Quickly, they defeat the three gnolls and with a satisfying glance at each other, they quickly move to where they can see down the ravine better towards the direction the gnolls came from.

At that moment, Bolvist was just dispatching the second hyena dog.  With a swipe of his falchion he finished the animal off and began to untie the woman, who was still unconscious.  With a simple glance, he could see the years and years of maltreatment this creature had received.  He didn’t know why, but it reminded him of something. Something, perhaps about himself.

With a careful lift, Bolvist placed the creature on his shoulder and began to move down the sandy bottom towards the others.  It wasn’t that he worried for the womans’s safety.  Not even that her life mattered so much.  But, Bolvist knew, as he had learned many times in his recent adventures, that things had seemed to be happening for a reason.  This woman was valuable. Why? He didn’t know.  But, she had a purpose.  And coming across her like this was no fluke, or accident.  He was convinced keeping her alive was part of his path. 

Something told him that he should hurry, and he began to move at a sprint.  Moving through the sand as fast as he could, he managed to glance behind him for just the briefest of moments. “Why had that Darkened gnoll checked behind it?” Feeling uneasy, he rushed on, back to his companions.

Bolvist could feel the woman stir slightly. She was so light he thought, nearly just skin and bones. This creature had not eaten well, and probably had not eaten well for sometime.  If he were to save someone, he liked the idea of saving a creature like this.  At least, this one understands the truth of the world, he thought.  Not the overprivileged ignorants of Haven! Panting, he came around the bend and saw three gnolls lying at the feet of his comrades.  “Three?”

At that moment, the woman’s head lifted just slightly. Turning her head so that she could whisper in his ear, she said in a parched and almost nonexistent voice, “I’m sorry, Celn.”

We Are Sabotage

At that exact moment, all in the party knew that something dreadful was about to happen. Years later, or earlier, if one thinks that way, the party would describe to each other what they saw and felt over a pint of their then famous ale, Dying God Brew. Melissande would always claim that it was she who first realized the ambush, but of course, no one would believe her.  Jasper knew that the gnolls were tired, scared, and too shifty.  “I knew their Alpha was not among them!” he would often declare.  Taryn would recite the clues he had put together and how he had a perfect sense of what they meant, but he knew sending Tuatha for help was the right choice.  As soon as his elvish ears picked up the size of the enemy horde coming through the ravine, he moved to Tuatha, who perhaps for the first time in his life, followed directions without question.

“Bring help, Tuatha!” Taryn whispersed to him. At the same time he gave  the horse  a swift smack on the haunche to  guide the steed back home. In his elvish manner he spoke, “elo’ qu elem!”  and the horse took off  at a gallop, it’s eyes wide with purpose.

Bolvist would recant the manner in which he chose to save Perpetua and how he began to realize they were each walking a path of some kind, even if they hadn’t known it at the time.  Doromir just took credit for speaking gnoll, of course.  “Study and drink hard.  Neither can hurt except for the headache.” He’d say. Regardless of what each of these Heroes saw or heard, if you had been standing on the sandy bottom, with the wind just whipping against your backs, you would have seen a terrible sight to behold indeed.

Perhaps 200 gnolls, packed into the walls of the crevasse shoulder to shoulder, running against the subtle breeze, weapons drawn. Before them, rode a pack of gnolls mounted on hyena dogs marked for battle with blood and excrement as was their custom.  In the front rode a huge gnoll wearing a headdress, bearing a standard atop which rested a human skull.  The speed at which they came, the furiosity at which they rode would have brought lesser men to their knees cowering.  But, not our heroes.  Bolvist and Taryn stood defiantly as the massive swarm beat them unconscious.  Jasper put himself into a meditated state as his physical energy was taken from him, he focused his mind on how he would take the life of the high priest, the one the gnolls were calling “Yeenoghu”.  And Mellisande, at the rear watched her colleagues, perhaps murdered, she didn’t know, before she herself was surrounded, unable to polymorph her way out of this one.  Her final view was of Yeenoghu, who dismounted, and drew his club, which resembled perfectly a human’s femur.  Walking to the woman she would later know as Perpetua, he lifted his weapon.  Melissande couldn’t remember how she knew the gnoll language, and her last thought was how strange it was she knew what he said.

“Hope is not for your kind. Hope is for those with power!” yelped Yeenoghu bringing down his club across the woman’s br0w. As the woman closed her eyes in pain, Mellisande  felt her eyes close as well.

So, It’s to be Torture Then?

Sometime later, she couldn’t tell how long exactly, Melissande came to.  At first, she thought she was on a boat. Once, she had been on one while her father had taken some of his wares to market. She had gotten to go and she would never forget the gentle rocking back and forth, sun on her face.  Now, she indeed had the sun shining on her face, or at least the dim last rays of sunset that is.  But she wasn’t on a boat.  She was bound, and strapped with tightened cords on the back of one of the gnoll’s dogs.  She was in pain, terrible pain.  Her head ached from the pummeling it took.  Back and forth, back and forth against the haunches of the hyena dog.  She was in agony.

“I say, can you hear me?”

Trying her best to look up, Melissande attempted to face the direction of the voice.  She was just barely able, if she moved her head sideways, to see for a second at a time in between the swinging motion of the mount’s stride. It was the woman Bolvist had been carrying. She too was slumped over the back of another of the beasts.  And now, Melissande noticed something else, she wasn’t exactly human, nor elvish. She was something else, something more …wild.

“My name is Perpetua.  I am sorry.”

“Where are they taking us?” It was what Melissande had last thought before being taken.

“You will be sacrificed to the God.”

Melissande almost chuckled. Here she was, captured in the wilds. Near death.  Her entire life she had never joined in the strict Order’s commands. She had found her calling in the simple moments when she was among nature, the plants and animals she came in contact with there. But right now, all she could think of was the blasphemy that this woman would be accused of if they were in a Celn city.

“I have seen your image before. I have seen all of you.”

Melissande was still in a haze. “Who are you?”

“I am a Celn. Or, I was, before I came to be as I am.”

“And what are you, then?”

“I do not know exactly.” Melissande looked up in between the  moments that the strides of the beast did not force her face downwards, and made eye contact with Perpetua for a brief moment. What she saw there was a pain unlike any she had seen before, but there was something else.  Defiance. This woman, if that’s what she still was, must have endured more agony than she could imagine, and yet she still held the tell-tale sign of a person unbroken. Incredible, she thought.   “All I know is that I have lost everything a person can lose. I wait to die. At least, you will be able to do that, before me.”

“What happened to you, Perpetua?”

“I was once a Celn, I had a family. We came to the wilds from Carr Perrin. We were farmers.  My father established a colony at Carr Cadiz.”

“You mean, you were a member of the Colony at Cadiz?”

“I was. Until the Rift. The night of the change.  All I know is that one night I was as I had always been.  When I awoke the next day, I was a prisoner of these brutes, and I had undergone…changes.  I watched as they decided what to do with me. I think I scared them, they wouldn’t eat me.  At first, I was thankful I had not been taken for their food as the others. I kept hope for rescue. Until Crowley.”

“Crowley?”

“Yes, Crowley, a man from Cadiz led several men with him to look for the women of our settlement. For I was not the only one who had disappeared. But they too were captured.  The night they were fed to the God, I knew then my fate was an early death.  All I ask for now is for it to happen. I have nothing else to lose.”

The exertion to talk must have exhausted Perpetua, for at this point of her story she closed her eyes, and once more lost consciousness. In time, so did Mellisande.

When she awoke, she couldn’t see anything at first.  And then her eyes made out tiny orange pinpricks in the darkness. All around her, it was night.  Lit by hundreds of torches.

Sacrificial Plan

At first, she thought she was looking through tree branches on a warm eve. Memories of sitting in the shade in the forests, long before the Siege at Haven had changed her life forever.  But then, she realized these were not trees, they were torn tatters of cloth blocking her vision.  A cloth of some kind had been placed on her head, and she was looking through the holes.  Suddenly, the hood came off and she was pushed forcefully from behind to the stony ground.  Around her were her partners, Bolvist, Taryn, and Jasper.  Each was defiant, but too injured to fight back at the moment.

“You are to be sacrificed to He Who Slithers in the Dark.  Rise, MEAT!!!!”

She tried to look up at the voice, but every time she did, something struck her on the head.  She kept her head bowed, for now. A thunderous and tumultuous roar erupted all around her.  Cries of “MEAT!  MEAT!” erupted from many mouths. She guessed this was the gnoll pack, and she guessed there were hundreds.  Mellisande realized then that the voice was not speaking any language she knew. She guessed it was the hoarse bark of the Gnolls, but how did she understand it?  “Good ‘ol Doromir”, she thought.

The voices died down, Melissande was able to see the feet of the leader come towards her. It walked past her towards Bolvist. 

“Tell me, orc scum,  what lies beyond the circle door?”

“What?” whispered Bolvist. His answer was short for the shock of the question, rather than his position at the moment.  He looked up at the creature, and raised his voice as loud as it would go, “Do what you want you stupid DOG, but do it quick before I get free of these bonds and strangle you!”

The feet moved to Taryn.  “I will kill you now if you answer my question, elf.  I will swear it as the Alpha to the others. Tell me.  Tell me what is beyond the circle door at the Cairn.” Mellisande was just able to risk a glance sideways.  She saw a massive figure, bigger than the other gnolls, wearing a terrible headdress made of horns.  It’s face was streaked with paint and covered in hairy mounds.  It’s eyes were menacing. 

Taryn simply nodded “no”. The creature kicked him in the face, knocking him down.

“And you, Monk of the Southern Lands, tell me what is beyond the circle door.  Tell me, and I will reveal to you that which you seek.”

For a moment, Jasper looked up into the foul sneer of this beast.  He said nothing, but Mellisande thought she heard a response on the wind.

Finally, the feet approached her.  “I am YEENOGHU, bitch. Answer my question.  Answer my question and she will live.  Melissande didn’t need to worry about looking up this time, her hair was yanked from behind her. A foul smelling gnoll whispered “Watch, bitch!” as Yeenoghu walked to Perpetua, and placed a wicked little blade to her throat.

 

“Tell me, what is beyond the circle door!!!!!!” He roared, the blade making a red line on her throat.

Melissande looked toward Perpetua.  Her face was a mask of bravery, and there were no tears.  She stood defiantly, waiting for the blade to strike.  Melissande knew then that in honor of her, she too must stand against this maniac. 

“There is nothing beyond the door! There is nothing because it is nothing to you! Just as you are nothing to me!” She shrieked and in an instant rage, the priest of the gnolls threw Perpetua to the ground and advanced on Melissande. Drawing her up to his disgusting breath and placing his cold blade against her body he shrieked, “Tell me, now!!!”

Melissande waited for the blow, the blade to strike.  Time seemed to stop as endless seconds ticked by.  And then, she heard the chant.

“We are everyone.  We are no one.  We are DEMOGORGON.  We are everyone. We are no one. We are DEMOGORGON. We are….” She saw Yeenoghu, in anger and hatred stare into her eyes. Something was wrong with those eyes she thought.  They are…

And then she was stood up.  As they all were.  The crowd was now in a frenzy.  Yeenoghu, it seemed, needed to satisfy the crowd, and quick.  He pointed to the cliff face behind him, to a point in the rocks where ancient stones jutted out.  There, was  a lone pole, above them, and leading there a path lit by torches.

“TAKE THEM TO OUR MASTER!!!!!!”

One  at  a time, they were taken. All the while, refuse and other objects were thrown at them.  Cries of “Bitch” and “Meat” were chanted.  When they arrived at the top, oddly, a gnoll placed a small vial in their tied hands.  As the gnolls stood back, the crowd below watched as in turn, each disappeared! Each time, the roar grew, and so did the chanting.

Finally, came Melissande’s turn.  A vial was placed in her hands. She couldn’t see it, but knew it by touch.  Yeenoghu smiled as he himself tied her to the rings through the post.  Melissande was about to say something to him in a final act of defiance, but instead she looked down.  A ring of light was beginning to glow around her.  She remembered seeing this before in Haven, below Indi’s shop.  THIS was a teleportation circle, from the Kasillian age!

Once again, Melissande found herself in utter darkness. This time, however, she knew she was clearly  underground and in a confined space. The floor was littered with debris,possibly bones she thought.  And the place smelled horrible. Like death. And decay.  Unbenownst to her, the others were all in similar fates.  And then, Melissane heard it.  A bellowing, unlike anything she had heard before. It reverberated along the walls of this place seeming to come from everywhere.  It sent a chill down her spine, so she did what any druid would do with just a few spells left. She turned into a log.

Meanwhile, Jasper was moving successfully away the noise and he had found his way into a grand chamber.  In the middle was a nest unlike any other he had ever seen, if you could call a vast ten foot high collection of bones a nest. Above that, above an ancient but grand ceiling hung a viewing area on a metal grate, where the priest, Yeenoghu, stood watching. Jasper heard the beast and hid, looking for his comrades would require a bit of patience he thought, but luckily, he didn’t think it out loud at the moment.

Taryn was trying to decide which noise to move towards, as he heard two sets of sounds, one from opposite corridors. He drank the contents of the vial and found that his guess had been right. The gnolls gave them potions of healing so that fighting the beast would give it more power once it killed them.  “We’ll see about that,” he thought, and decided to move to his right, towards the smaller of the two noises. His hunch was correct. There, standing in the dark was Bolvist. “Looks like you drank the vial too, eh?” he murmured.  “Let’s find…” but as he tried to finish that statement, a hairy and scaled tentacle burst around the corner, followed by a head that was held nearly against the 10 foot high ceiling.  It grabbed Taryn and threw him against the wall where he hit his head and dropped to the floor.  It then lumbered it’s way toward Bolvist, who wasted no time moving away from it.  Stealthily, he found his way into the colossal chamber that Jasper was in, while the beast searched on past him.

Ding and Dong, “We’re like Magical Brownies, Dude.”

Dying, Taryn fell with a soft thud into the muck and grime. He could no longer support his head, and in an effort to do so, he was able to just turn in the direction of his friends as his eyes began to close, perhaps forever.  Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw something small scittering near him. Two small creatures.  No not creatures, people!  They looked like tiny, dirty men, with tattered clothes and carrying small spears. “I’m really losing it now,” he thought.

“Hey, stupid! Woo hoo….over here! Look at this Man, Dong. He’s done!” It was a small high pitched voice, that seemed to come from the floor. After each sentence it spoke, shrill laughter followed. Taryn felt prodded, as if by a small twig or something. “I told you he would die you stupid sausage wallet!”

“It moves. Ah! Look Ding, you tincupoop!”

“Where am….who the dark are you?” wondered Taryn, although in his dilerium he couldn’t even be sure he was able to say it out loud.

“You, stupid Man! Don’t you know magical brownies when you see one. Now quiet, and die. Hahaha”

Then, Taryn’s eyes closed, his last memory was of the little beasts running away in mocking laughter. He couldn’t be sure, but he imagined that one of them made an inappropriate gesture  at him as they flew down the tunnel, hysterically yipping.

Best of the Nest

Racing across the hallway, the beast roaring and rearing down on her, Melissande slid into the central chamber and threw her rock fashioned into a light onto the nest.  Small but brilliant rays shone out through the skeleton and debris strewn structure.  Eerie bits of visible wall and rock appeared around them, even as this terrible monument of bones and misery was revealed.  This chamber was simply a place of pure evil, and had been for a very long time. Above them, no signs of the viewing priest of the gnolls, Yeenoghu.  Around them, the untold years of victims and what was left of their physical bodies and gear. Melissande and the others now knew what had made the beast so powerful.  The act of taking their power through sacrifice is what created this monster. It was a lesson they had learned before with Cardinal Bellock.  This thing had taken it’s victim’s will! Here, for who knows how long.

And they were right in the middle of it, about to come face to face with the gnolls “god” itself. “Light be with us,” muttered Mellisande gripping Tiresias’ staff tightly.

“Mellisande, Taryn needs you!” pointed Bolvist.  Melissande raced to the halls where Taryn lay and healed him with her spells.

Around her the party began to assemble.  Backs together, injured and bleeding, they knew this fight would be their most harrowing ever. If it was to be their last, they would not be taken as easily as the other victims.

“Too bad Tuatha isn’t here to see this”, thought Jasper. “This one will be a battle for the ages.”

“Be ready!” roared Bolvist over the dizzying sounds of the creature’s ear piercing shrieks and roars.  It’s rage was palpable, it seemed almost to shake the ruin around them, even as it’s cries reverberated off the walls.

As fists tightened around the room, there was a pause. Slowly, two hideously deformed heads emerged from behind the stone wall, snapping, nostrils searching. Then followed, a colossal fur covered body on two muscle bound legs. The beast walked upright, but was so large, that it moved through the tunnel by pulling itself while bent over.  Twin tentacles felt their way along the way and extended in wicked swirls, that grasped and sought anchor.  Blood red eyes shone out at them, through the dim rays of Melissande’s rock.  It was hatred and hunger burning for them.  The beast roared, but wasted no time, and lunged for Jasper!

In only a matter of seconds, blood was being spilled.  Bolvist landed devastating blows, while Jasper used the room’s layout to his advantage and struck hard.  Melissande healed those the beast struck down keeping everyone in the fray!

But finally, the Beast had struck down Taryn again. And now too Jasper lay dying.  Melissande, near death, saw the beast turn from Jasper as his body lay upon the ruined stones.  It crawled towards her, inching along.  It was pure evil. Pure vicious horror, and it was about to end them all.  She looked around the room, at the countless bodies and creatures that this gnoll “god” had consumed over the years and thought she finally understood something that Bellock had once said, “For in all of us lies Darkness”.

But just then, Bolvist, near death too crawled around the beast’s side and as it lunged for Mellisande he stuck his falchion in it’s neck! It was a fatal blow.

The beast was dead at last!!!

Behind the scenes, Taryn

You rolled a total of 16 on your will save, 4 short of the DC of 20.  This was not a charm effect as it appeared, but a curse.  A specific one at that.  To the rest of the party it appeared as though you passed your will save, as is the intent of the curse.

Bad News: Yes, you are cursed. In fact, the nature of the curse is for you to not be aware of the curse until such time as you are called on to do a specific task.

Good News: You are cursed with a specific task only. Your curse is the embodiment of the creature’s self-preservation.  Many years ago, this tiny figurine was made for the gnolls by one of it’s slaves in order to show his ability so that he would not be eaten. The maker’s name is lost to history. However,  in his agony, he fashioned a creature quite terrible and evil to behold. One with a dual nature, as he himself had become in captivity.  The gnolls enjoyed this figurine immensely, and not having an ability of arts of their own, they placed it in their lair in an altar and began worship to it’s representation.  Over many years, their will began to give life to the figure. It began TO BE!

Although  it’s body is destroyed, the creature’s essence lives on in the figure, weak and defeated, but still there.  It is not part of you, nor you part of it. You are an unwilling and cursed disciple of a minor deity.  Sorry!…Now that you have the figure, you are to keep it, secret and safe until such time as you are asked to do something with it.  Should an opportunity arise for you to make a will save against this curse, I will let you know in game. Until then….

“You are everyone. You are no one. You are Demogorgon!”

P.S. Be sure to roleplay normally. This may or may not even come up in game, and you may or may not even still be cursed if it should. When the task arrives, you WILL be allowed to do a final Will save. Good luck!

 

Perpetua’s Story, an ALIND Narrative Interlude

Wars, Both Big and Small

My name is Perpetua, and I was not always the creature that you see now. Once, I was a maiden of Cellinor, a young woman in love, with a bright future and plans for a family. Now, I am nothing more than an animal.

Many years ago, my father brought me on the journey of a lifetime.  Into and through the woods of the Inner Wilds! Charged with establishing a colony for the Realm, he was chosen to build the northern most  settlement that ever there was for Cellinor.

I was the youngest of three children, with two older brothers, Brelin and Lorus.  My father was a wealthy merchant, well, wealthy for the Cairns, who had experience trading with the elves and halfs around the rocky cities. He sold wares, and brought in exotic goods from places only spoken of.  His maps were well known among those adventurers who went into the northern tropics in those days.  He was a respected man, honest in his dealings.  We lived a peaceful and happy life.  Our inn served excellent food, best Celn cuisine you’d find north of the Six Sister cities in those days.  Are there still six? I suppose there are more now…

One day, a contingent of Nobles came to our province, asking about those who could parlay with the members of the Northern Lands.  I remember the night the Order of Crimson spoke with my father in our inn. His eyes glowed in the candlelight when he was “invited” to Cillandar.  I’m not sure how my mother felt about it, but she was a devout member of the Order, as were we all, and she knew this was a call for something larger.  We waited weeks for his return or at least word of his safe arrival.  But none came.  I remember the look on his face the morning I saw him atop that solid black mare, a new horse, an Orst steed. Magnificent, noble.  On either side two men at arms, Shields of Cillandar, two of the toughest warriors I had ever seen, let alone guarding my own father.   My father had never looked so proud.  Later that night, as we readied for sleep, he showed us, showed us all the Brand of the King!

“You met HIM????” my brother Brelin asked, eyes wider than two coppers. My father, with that wry smirk, just nodded.

“You!!!! Why in the Light, Rork???” This time it was my mother, her fingers tracing the boughs of the great tree on his arm.

“Why not Lia? The king needed someone he could trust.  He chose me. In fact, he chose US.”

As my father continued, his excitement grew.  By the dying fire of that eve, he told us all about the broad streets of Cillandar, the ships garnered with emerald sails in the Great Serpent’s Bay, the Arena of the Four Heroes and even the Hall of Light in the Temple Mount. He told us of the others selected and he told us of our journey.  A journey into the Northern Lands, a chance for my father to earn his Nobility! My mother though scared, cried with joy and my brothers were for the first time I could recall unable to speak.

He was chosen to be a part of the greatest advancement of the Realm into the North since the establishment of the Cairn Lands.  The expedition would travel  through the elvish marshes into an area explored by Duher and Ilium only a few years earlier.  On the shores of a great Inner Sea they found there, we would establish a new province, begin trade and treat with the nearby people and creatures.  My father was to lead the travelers and give advice to the Lighted warriors who would travel there first.

I came in the second wave, several hundred farmers and craftsmen, and all of the children. I remember the heat  and the humid air in my throat as we came down into and out of a chasm of dark earth.  At first I thought something was wrong with the sky or maybe the chasm was only a raised cliff on our side, but then I realized that the horizon hadn’t changed. The land had!  Where trees and hills should be there was a swath of brilliant blue. I was looking out at a sea, as blue as the sky above!   By the time we arrived, my mother, brothers and I, the Lights had built a large Fort upon a hillside where men worked and crafted things.  By the time we arrived, they had nearly all of the necessary wares we needed.  That night we had a feast, bards told tales, and many a lyre played songs that I loved.  It was that night that I met Manyara, Naivasha and their eldest sister, Luona.  Little did I know then, that it was a meeting that would change everything for me, and for us all.

The four of us became great friends.  There were few other girls our age in the colony and since their father was a merchant too, we seemed to have so much in common.  Luona was the brave one, it was her who convinced us to explore outside the palisades, and it was her who first met the Green Lady….

To be continued…

The Alpha Bet, Session 10

Revealing Secrets

Bolvist and Jasper scaled the dome above the creature’s nest.  Luckily, perches of roots from trees above gave them leverage on an otherwise impossible climb.  With incredible stealth, they scaled the gnolls mechanism for observing the kills below, and took out the few guards without alerting any of the other priests.  Signaling to the party, they let down the contraption and brought the others up.  Although many of them would later admit that they would very much have liked to let Ding and Dong stay there until the Darkening, they didn’t.  The incessant name calling on the way up still somehow didn’t get to them, except Taryn.

“Quiet, you Brownies!” whispered Taryn. “Call us names later when I can put my boot on your mouth! For now, we have escape still at hand!”

At the top of the viewing area, the party found a couple more gnolls standing guard, Taryn’s arrows, Jasper’s strikes and Bolvist’s sneak attack quickly dispatched them as well.  The rooms above were filled with more of the disgusting mess of the gnolls, and brilliant sunlight streamed in nearly blinding the party after having spent so much time in the deep dark ruin.  They peaked out an archway into an open clearing  surrounded by more of the ruined structure which the gnolls used as shelter.  This area seemed to be used by the gnoll priests. Taryn could tell it was on a higher elevation from where they were first brought and tortured.

They moved out, and tried to find shelter in order to escape the other eyes of gnolls.  The plan, simple.  Escape now and fight the gnolls when they can gather forces. But just then, as they moved along the shadows of the ruin, they were spotted by the other priests, who all shouted in the howl that the party now recognized as an alarm.  This was different however.  It seemed as Yeenoghu emerged from his resting area, his shock at  seeing the party quickly changed to one of fear.  Somehow, the party understood the gnoll language once again. Yeenoghu was signaling for them to be killed here quickly, before they could make it to the entire pack below them.

Making a run for it they moved along a rocky path down the hillside, pursued by the priests, coming to the central gathering area of the gnolls, they stopped. One of the gnolls in the pack below had seem them and was gathering the entire pack who began to pile up, with weapons and snarls in the party’s direction.

Taryn brought out the heads of the demon, raising them high above his head. The gnolls moved in cautiously as the party prepared for battle! But suddenly, they all saw what Taryn was holding and they stood, faces in utter bewilderment.

I Am the Alpha!

 “I AM THE ALPHA NOW!” roared Taryn as he heard and repeated the voice of Doromir in his head,  manipulating the gnolls strange language with ease.  “YOUR GOD is DEAD! Bow to your new PACK LEADER!”

Behind him, Yeenoghu’s face was twisted in rage but there was something else mixed in. Fear. “I AM THE ALPHA!” he roared as well. “These HAIRLESS ONES LIE!!! YOUR GOD STILL LIVES, and HE is angry!  These hairless ones have tried to trick us and lie about their sacrifice.  Your God demands their death!  We will feed their corpses to DEMOGORGON to assuage his anger at us all for letting them escape before he could feast!

Heads turned from the party to Yeenoghu, surrounded by the other priests.  Most seemed to consider his words, but many of their eyes were fixed on the decapitated heads Taryn held aloft.

“These heads are what’s left of your GOD!!! What is left of him after we slaughtered it! Your priest lies! The beast is dead.  We are your masters now…..”

Just then, a horn sounded.  Brisk, deep and strong.  It reverberated against the rocks and stones of the ruins around them.  The sound brought a fresh wave of fear to the gnolls, but to Melissande, it brought joy. 

“It’s Bearclaw’s horn!” She  yelled.  “It’s the Horn of Cellinor!”

They all stood gripping weapons, tense and paused.  Faces turned in the direction of the horn, along the path that meandered along the lake in the background.  Suddenly, around the last bend appeared the first of several on horseback, with others hiking along as well.  In the front was indeed Bearclaw, and next to him rode none other than Tuatha pointing in their direction.

“That Son of a Ketian!” muttered Taryn in delight, “I can’t believe he’s actually good for something!” Smiling he threw the heads down at the feet of Yeenoghu. “You die tonight Priest!”

Liberty and Justice

Yeenoghu looked around.  His gaze seemed to fall on the path behind him, as well as Taryn and the others. But as it looked as though he would try to escape, part of the pack moved in around him, encircling him.  They were going to make him fight to remain the Alpha.  Bearclaw dismounted as did Q and several others.  Taryn saw Leatis the elven scout among them, bow drawn tightly.

Mellissande signaled to them, and they seemed to understand what was about to happen.  The Carr Alphans kept in a huddle on one side of the melee near their Lords, while the gnolls moved behind their priests.  A large open circle formed, with the heroes on one side and the gnoll priests on the other. 

“I’m going to murder the darkness right out of that bastard,” thought Bolvist, who then rushed into the fray first!

The battle was soon obviously a one sided affair.  Although Yeenoghu and his priests’ spells were potent mind controlling threats, none of them could seem to penetrate the will of the party.  They slashed and hacked down their foes,  and soon Yeenoghu was left, and he was alone.  He began to back into his fellow gnolls, beseeching them for shelter, but each time they threw him back into the circle. 

“Do not stand by and let these HAIRLESS ONES destroy the last of the voice of your GOD!” he snapped. But as his confidence soured into pure fear, the pack began to grow against him.  From somewhere among them, a chant arose.

“We are everyone…..We are no one…..We are DEMOGORGON!!!”

Yeenoghu’s eyes looked askance at his pack members. Side to side. No refuge. Just the endless chanting. And this time, he knew, what it felt like to be on the other side.  It had been a long time since he had needed to fight for Alpha.  In fact, he had only had to do it once, when he first came here, claiming the place as his mother had commanded.  But he could not find her book.  Endless “heroes” given to the beast, and never once could they stop it so he could search below.  Until these men and this woman had arrived. And now, it looked like he would fail.  For the first time, through his headdress of bones, the party could sense they had the upper hand.  He made one final attempt to charm them, but when the spell failed, the look on his face told all that he knew his time had come. Their blows rained down on him, and his body fell upon the stones. 

Melissande noticed then that something about him was amiss. Something she had noticed when she was captured. His feet! His feet were not those of the gnolls, they were human feet.  Now as he lay dead, she examined his body and discovered that like Perpetua, he was horned upon his head, the headdress seemed to hide this fact.  Also, it looked as though deliberately large amounts of charcoal and other accessories had been placed on his body to cover features that were not gnollish at all.  He seemed to be part gnoll, and part man.  What was this? Several of the gnolls seemed to inspect him too, and they too noticed this as well. 

With Yeenoghu dead, the conquered gnolls knelt before the party and the Celns.  With Billingsweed nervously wrote out the treaty as was Celn custom, soon each gnoll was made to swear allegiance to the King, and subjugation to the Lords of Carr Alpha upon penalty of death.  Each season, a tribute was to be given, in person.  No God worship was to be permitted as per Celn law.  Having agreed to these terms, the gnolls were left to guard these hills under Carr Alphan rule.  Before leaving however, Melissande knew there were others in desperate need of help, assistance and rescue.

The scenes that befell the Celns when they entered the gnoll chambers and “meat storage” areas to this day are not spoken about in the Cairn Lands. Many prisoners of the gnolls were freed. In fact 119 in all. The work of Frome, and Melissande kept not  a soul from giving itself to the Flame.  Perpetua was freed finally. As was a dragonborn named Mustakrakish. His defiant stare upon his rescue but subsequent aid to others around spoke of a proud beast.  Many of the prisoners were Trebians, from the North West.  Although they were often at war with Cellinor, the party decided that they would make good workers if they chose to accept their offer. One among them, a woman who tried to hide her royal heritage, Eemilche, spoke for them and accepted the terms, for now. One of the Tengu, a creature with the body of a man yet the wings and beak of a bird decided to stay with the party, and was profoundly thankful.

With the Hero’s saddled and healed, the Alphans rode home to their valley, triumphant once more.

A Ghost in The Darkness, Session 11

The day’s sunlight casts it’s golden rays on row upon row of dark green plantings.  Workers in the field tire until the sunset, when the cool air brings your community around the fires.  Clyde’s bar is nearly completed, but the communal fire around the Heroes’ square seems to still draw folks in.  Once the ale brews though, that won’t last, you know.  Frome and many in your party with the zeal for the Order’s doctrine have established a makeshift Church.  As it turns out, he has been quite busy.  It seems as though several diseases have afflicted some among you.  Although Frome exaggerates “the plague”, you feel confident that the “epidemic” is under control.

Tuatha has begun in earnest of the two fold task of building the theatre and preparing his first major performance.  You aren’t sure what exactly will be shown as he has kept the play as secret as possible in order to “thank the Lords for saving me.”

Q has been the lighted Hero.  He has single handedly fixed nearly every hang up that has happened since beginning construction. Drainage and sewage, river access and irrigation.  Along with Q’s many talents, you’ve hitched a bit of luck. The elves that lived here before left much infrastructure.  Q has been able to tap into that.  Thanks to his skill, Smunch and the workers, one warehouse is already built, and the outer walls and roofs are all built.  Old Celn songs could be heard under the roofs during the last rain storm. 

Njord and his dwarf masons have also nearly finished repairing the walls of the outer Cairn.  Bearclaw and his troops muster each day.  Even though you know the troops are few, the defenses of the fort could maximize protection during an attack. 

All’s beginning to come together.

Nonetheless, problems have occurred.  Just the other day, one of the farmers, man named Ovius, was carried off by some beast from the treelines at the edge of the valley.  When others went out to search for him, they found his body, and tracks of what look like a large predatory cat of somekind.  In another instance, a man was accused of blasphemy from the Order. He awaits punishment under the supervision of Frome.

Special  Thanks

In their now customary informal fashion, the Lords of Carr Alpha take audience with those who have sworn allegiance to the province as well as fealty to this settlement. First, Mustakrakish, the dragonborn, approaches.  He will not stay long, but promises an Oath of Battle, should the need arise. 

The Tengu approaches next. In payment of his release, he offers trade with his people upon his return to the “Eye”.  He also offers tremendously valuable information from a ‘bird’s eye” view.

“The skies above these lands are off limits to Tengu. We thank you for your service to our kind. We will offer trade with you, and give you updates on the land. Know that to your West, many leagues off, another Celn community arises.  To the West and North of that continue the battles with Trebia.  To the East the Blue Elves live but something has gone awry.  We no longer fly to these lands.  The bay is off limits.  The Thri-Kreen have moved down from the Seas of Sand and murdered many of our kin. Other sand warriors have moved other groups into smaller areas, a group of Halves lives there too.  To the top of the Scarred Bay lies the Pillars of Pelerus.  This is the land of Sherserakshen, and his minions.  We do not fly there, but most bring him tribute once a season.

E’Milche, the woman who at first attempted to hide her nobility, but was noticed with maid servants attending her, approaches with an elder of her nation.  In Trebian custom, she bows and offers her and her people’s services but asks the Lords that they be released should the war come further south.  The party acquiesces and seems to gain perhaps, a powerful alley and at least some hard workers.

Finally, both Ding and Dong come forward.  At first, Taryn is pretty sure they are throwing mud at his leggings, but Bolvist assures him that it is in fact, not mud at all.  “We have decided to stay!” They shout in their squeakish voices.  “You need us, mostly because you are stupid!” Turning to walk away, Ding salutes Bearclaw mockingly, and Dong winks at Melancholy who looks around confusedly.

The days pass, and the newly rescued Trebians, and Celns are hard at work, building and safeguarding the valley.  The ale is brewed and nearly ready for shipment.  Much wealth is now in stockpile, ready for trade.  According to Billingsweed, there is several months’  worth of provisions left, while nearly 2 seasons of wealth are stored in barrels.  The party will need to begin to consider how to market and get to market their Dying God ale. If the first shipment is successful, Carr Alpha should attract even more adventurous Celns and will prosper!

Death Of Dresco

But first, the party must attend to some business concerns within the colony.  One man perished when he was dragged out and eaten by some unknown animal. Another man who died during injury and despite attempts at restoration was too old and frail to be saved. Both men are given their proper rites in the first Ceremony of Light ritual for Carr Alpha, as such all are in attendance.

As the ceremony continues, the priest reads the sacred rites of the Order.  All in attendance bow in reverential tradition. The priest leans over, hands raised so as to lift the soul into the sacred flame placed above the new church.   However, as he does so, his eyes become wide. Something has gone wrong. A hand lifts out of the coffin towards the priest.  Then another and finally a contorted face, grisly and hideous.  The creature that was once Dresco lunges for the priest!

Quickly, Melissande blasts the creatures with a deluge of flame, both are incinerated while screams and horrified cries fill the hero’s square.  While the party attempts to downplay this shocking event with a noble speech, sadly it doesn’t go over well.  Inspecting the bodies, Taryn notices something odd.  Both corpses at first seemed to lunge at the priest, and yet after they were destroyed, it is clear that instead they were moving toward the lowest tower in the keep. The place where the party suspects a group of undead may be!

Mutiny Before the Bounty

There is at last serious trouble in paradise, but it is not from demons, or gnolls. It is in fact from the word of mouth of their subjects.  From a few simpletons, rumors arise of Celn supestitions.  The creature that has taken off  2 of the colonists now is referred to as “The Ghost”, for it has not been caught. When the party investigates, they find that the tracks have all but disappeared!  Something about this event is magical as Laedis casts detect magic and sees a scant trace.  But what is doing this, or who?

In the morning, the party notices signs that all is not right.  Instead of working, many seem to be preparing to take a journey.  There is talk of a group leaving the colony and returning to Carr Perrin and safety.

Bolvist makes an attempt to waylay the group.  Promising the head or heads of the creature stalking the outskirts of the camp, as well as a few other comforts, he persuades those to stay. Besides, the Feast and Celebration planned by Tuatha is only a few days away.  There is an end to the unrest, for now…

Into the Deep

With things calming down, the party realizes they need to make several investigations closer to home. First, they plan an ambush on the creature attacking the colony. Second, they decide that a scout of what is making the shuffling noises below their home is more now than ever, in order. Melissande leads the decent, as it is she who has to endure the noise in her own room! With Scruffy put to good use, they descend the trapdoor presumably placed there at the time of Alorus’ rule.  A hundred feet below this, climbing upon a metal ladder they alight on a second platform, this one open to the outdoors by 3 arches.  With careful inspection, they discover scratch marks along the outside of the arches, as if something was clawing to get in.  Additionally, Jasper finds a familiar phrase carved expertly into the rocky rubble scattered on the platform. One could imagine that the rock had once been a complete circular disk, many tons of perfectly smooth stone, and would have neatly fit atop the hole from which the shuffling noises come from.  On the stones, in a way that seems to fit like a puzzle, are the old Kasillian words “FOR THE SAKE OF ALL”.

The party instantly recognizes this from the Liberation Scroll Texts as well as their investigation into the portal above in the tower, and realizes that something significant exists here. Melissande changes shape into that of a bird, and swoops into the darkness looking for answers.

When she returned, Melissande would describe it as like nothing she had ever seen before.  A colossal cylinder, hundreds of yards deep, pitch black and filled with a foreboding, a dread that emanated from the entire structure.  At the bottom, hundreds, perhaps more, of scratching and shuffling corpses all moving around a raised circular platform on which lay a disk similar to the disk the party had seen beyond Talos in the Hero’s Chamber.  This one too, was faintly lit, as if it was also activated.

Green and Gold                     

Making their way to the top, the party fills Bearclaw and Q and a few of the trusted soldiers in on their findings, and discusses their course of action. But they don’t get very far, for at that exact moment, they once more hear the Horns of Cellinor. 

Horns blare from the Southern hills.  Horns of Cellinor! 

“My Lords, the Green and Gold of Cellinor flies in the winds of our valley! A host of Cillandrial steeds rides forth.” Shouts Laetis.

Dust clouds rise up, as faint figures on horseback approach. All around you, work has stopped as families stand awaiting the arrival of these unknown visitors.  Within the hour, the party has come close enough for even humans to see a host of 6 horses, each carrying a rider.  In front, a rider carries the great standard of Cellinor, a tree emblazoned on a green and gold flag. Each rider wears shining mail, and the horses are all armored for battle.  As they close the bend and begin to summit the castle, you make out the familiar figures of one of the riders.  A man with whom you have sworn your allegiance. Your sponsor. Lord Genoran himself!

“Well, we were hoping you might have some ale ready for us after that long ride….”

The party is both glad to see Genoran and concerned for what he will think of the current problems they have. For now, though, he inquires into  the discoveries they have made and makes particular mention of the light colored cube they used to first gain access.  He wishes to be taken into the portal, but the party declines.  With a gruff look but hearty smile, Genoran tells them that they should go on a hunt for the creature, in fact several of his party he has brought are expert hunters indeed! Afterwards, they can attend the Feast and tell the tales of how they have battled their way to this moment.  “But first, I bear you official news, from my father!”

As all among the community bow in reverence, Billingsweed reads aloud the official document handed to him by the Prince.  A puzzled look comes upon Billingsweed’s face. Later, he would tell Jasper that the seal to this document had been broken. But, at the time, no one understood why that could lead to grave doom for the Twilight Force!

To the Lords of Land Grant 21B.

Official Proclamation from his Majesty Hadrius Borindon.

Your presence is requested on the 1st day of Balaur of this Lighted Season for your introduction to the Nobility of Cillandar with all the rights, privileges and responsibilities associated, presentation of your provincial colors, as well as tax collection on lands cleared and in service to the Realm.  An order of Crimson will await your faithful allegiance and oath at the Temple Mount upon the first fortnight of your arrival to our fair Capitol as well.

Should you wish to enter a submission for the Challenge of Champions, please include their full names, hereditary titles and colors to the Admissions Office located in the Cillandrial Court of Heroes with the gamemaster.  Submissions must be made before the next full moons following the zenith in Ryu.

The paper is stamped with the official seal of the King.

Patting Taryn on the back in a friendly manner, Genoran says “Don’t worry my friends, you’ll find politics easier than the Battle for Haven. But, not by much.” With another rich laugh, they take their leave and are soon in the fields in sunset. 

The grass sways side to side in the breeze, the crisp evening air is saturated with mist.  Genoran introduces the party to Mata Hari, Vidkun and Toguri, his accomplished fellows.  Vidkun takes Taryn out into the fields to search for clues, but finding none he returns and asks Melissande to take him as well to another of the kill sights.  Returning without much in the way of evidence, the night is getting late, with the colony safely gathered, the Prince decides that the hunt can wait til tomorrow’s eve.  Tonight, the Lords of the Cairn need to celebrate and keep their subjects happy.

The Triumphant Rise of Carr Alpha, A Theatrical Production by Tuatha Ulreicht

 

“Good evening My Lords, May I welcome you to this special event in honor of both my Masters of Carr Alpha, as well as our Lord, Most Graceful Master Genoran himself.”

As the drama of your adventure unfolds, you can’t help but laugh as many in the play are really serious about the roles.  Somehow, they even managed to get Q to perform himself, but he doesn’t seem much into it.  When Gingrich comes on stage to playthe part of Tuatha being attacked by the wyverns  with his actual horse, you are certain that he will fall, but somehow he manages to deliver his line as an illusory “wyvern” comes streaming down.  Suddenly out pops one of the dramatic of Bearclaw’s soldiers who was obviously duped into the role.  “I will save you Tuatha, by the Light, I will!” Although it appears that his fall was supposed to be suspended by wires, Gingrich indeed does fall, and has to be taken off stage by two “bushes”. The fight with Yeenoghu is the final climax and is turned into something of a religious moment.  A light erupts as Yeenoghu falls, and indeed, many in the crowd whisper the sacred chant.  As the play ends, Tuatha has clearly been crying.  As he comes on stage, there is mixed applause, and then even more. Whether the crowd enjoyed the play or just needed entertainment, Tuatha has clearly delivered a joyful presentation.  Your favorite part was most likely when Ding and Dong, who playing themselves, came on stage to deliberately ruin the sets and call names to the audience.  Tuatha chased them off and the play tried to continue as best it could. Lord Genoran claps delightedly, as do most in the audience.

The Ghost AND the Darkness

The festivities are raging.  Even a few Celns have begun to warm to the Trebians after the Dying God ale has poured into a few cups more than once.  The night is cool and crisp and fresh scents of delicious food, especially that of the dire boars roasted in the Hero’s square fill your nostrils.  All is as it should be. Finally, you think, finally it’s all coming together. 

But just then, you hear Bearclaw’s horn! The alarm he has created for you. It’s coming from the east of the village this time.  From where Protus has set up his hospital to keep those ill separated while they recover. You run and draw nearer and nearer.  Although the moons are full tonight, it’s hard to see along the shadows of the buildings and homes nearly finished in their construction. But then your eyes catch sight of something. A figure face down in the middle of the muddy street.  The rain is pouring down upon it and something above tearing what can now only be described as a corpse to pieces. It was a large lion. 

Dobble Agents

The heroes spring into action. With relish, the King and his hunters do too. The lion is near death, when from above the roof of the makeshift hospital, a second lion leaps into the fray. There are two lions!

Arrows fly as the lions take the fight onto the edge of the clearing into the tall grass.

“Do not let them escape into the field! After them,”  roars the Prince.  The battle rages on, but Bolvist cannot help notice, that neither Taryn’s or the other hunters arrows seem to find their mark.  Melissande too, does not seem to be able to cast spells or perhaps she is waiting to use them for some reason?  Although he continues with the fighting, his instincts are taking over.  As soon as the party seems to be in control, he decides to move back toward the village in order to gather more support. Perhaps, with more of his trusted comrades, he can sort out what is wrong.

The Good, the Bad, and the Oh Hell No!

Looking around,  Jasper found himself alone with the Prince, and his hunter allies.  There was of course, Mata, the sly ranger.  Vidkun, the most stout of the group had done much of the investigating and fighting it seemed.  There was also Toguri. Jasper couldn’t recall him ever speaking. Melissande and Taryn stood there as well. Something felt wrong.

“Haven’t seen you miss that much, ever Taryn.”

“Well, I guess it must be the ale,” said Taryn.

“You didn’t have any ale tonight, friend.” Jasper turned towards Toguri who placed his hand on his sword hilt. “And you don’t say much do you?” Jasper thought and as was often the case, he said it out loud.

“No, he doesn’t,” replied Genoran watching Bolvist head back to camp. Then, turning towards Jasper he said,  “In fact, he never speaks, it would give away his disquise…” Jasper stood in horror, transfixed at Genoran’s changing facial features. The eyes began to sink inwards and become bulbous while the skin around the cheeks pulled tight,  A tan and healthy skin began to turn grey and hair seemed as if it were pulling back into it’s scalp!  Suddenly, Jasper realized why none of their arrows and swords had found their mark.  And he had but one chance, he backed into the grass and moved stealthily away as best he could.  Meanwhile, the forms of these hideous creatures changed as they stalked him through the field.  Their arms lengthened and their heads became narrow and extended.  Each was  lithe and stealthy, they moved through the grass clicking at each other in some strange communication, without so much as a single emotion upon their faces.  But they couldn’t find him!

They had one purpose, and that was to find Jasper and kill him!  When Bearclaw returned alone, they would then kill him and make their Master happy.  Soon however though, it became apparent that Jasper had hidden himself too well, and the sounds of shouting and commotion arose from the camp now. The half-orc had grown suspicious.  The dobblegangers grew weary and retreated on foot.

Meanwhile, however, Bolvist had returned to the festivities and as his suspicions were aroused, he called up Bearclaw and Laedis came too.  Together they returned to the scene of the fighting and found nobody there. 

“One grasshopper hides better than twofcdfdchb x, “ came the voice of Jasper drifting over the grassy waves.  Standing up, Jasper pointed at several figures far off in the distance barely noticeable from this range. “It is not the Prince!”

“We have no time to lose! We must catch them!”  roared Bearclaw.

The party gave chase to the dobblegangers and eventually caught them, thanks to the tremendous tracking ability of Laedis. 

The battle with the demons ended quickly. These creatures, so alien, made no effort to defend their lives or give up.  The leader, the one who had impersonated the Prince, attempted a last stand, but was struck down at last.  In Vidkun’s pouch, the party found several magical items as well as a cube.  Placed on the ground, the party used a word they found scribed in the bag and watched the cube grow into a large cage in which appeared Melissande! The real Melissande! Opening the gate she was pulled out and once the gate was closed again, Taryn appeared next. Both had a story to tell!

An Addition to the Party

While the heroes walked through the grass sharing the night’s events from their various perspectives, Taryn listened to Jasper tell of the second lion they had seen, and how he had struck it in a way that would keep it alive when it awoke. 

Taryn’s eyes widened as he heard the tale.  “So, you say, that it is still alive? Where?” Jasper pointed and Taryn ran off in the direction.  Soon, he came upon the lion who was indeed injured severely, but nonetheless alive!

Taryn knew that the moment when a ranger marked his animal companion was one that was not to be taken lightly.  Placing his hands upon the animal’s brow, he spoke the words of magic taught to him by the rangers he had met, those who had shared a bond.  Instantly, he felt the mind of the lion, and he asked it for permission.  He felt a sense of happiness from the creature and knew then that he had at last found his companion in nature.  As the creature’s consciousness came into focus, however, something else, appeared.

A form. A familiar form. From his dreams, or rather, his nightmares!

“Don’t worry, my friend, you are free of her now,” he whispered to the beast. But, he wondered, if just for a moment, if that were indeed true.

Session 12   Swump Pirates!

A Route of Happiness

With all the business of running a new township, the party settles in as Lords of the Valley once more. The ale is brewing and the hops are growing.  After the events with the dobblegangers, things have returned to normal, save for a few minor instances with the local population.

For example, Gingrich has been acting very strange lately.  He has been extraordinarily protective of his pet newt and that’s saying something.  Others in the hamlet have also been acting oddly towards each other. It would seem as though with new found wealth and prosperity, a bit of green envy has taken hold of some of your subjects.

While others have been hard at criticizing, Q has been hard at work for you as well.

“I have been working on some items of interest for you my lords.  From the basilisk, I have taken some ointment which will make a fine powder. If placed on the tip of an arrow, it will stun a small opponent for one round.  (4 arrows).

I have also developed a poison from the wyvern’s tail. If applied to a small blade, it might sicken the opponent for 1-3 rounds, onset 1 round. Will save 19. (3 uses)

It seems as though you’ll be able to put these materials to good use soon.  Your largest shipment yet is about to be taken to Carr Theris, but Laetis and some of the scouts have discovered that the elvish structures holding back the river has created an even worse mess than expected.  The marsh has grown and become unnavigable the way you’ve come.  You’ll have to bring the goods along the Southern border of the Carr Alphan valley.  Since this area is unexplored, there really is no other choice but to take the shipment yourselves.  The village is counting on you, if this trip is successful you’ll have a new trade route and enough gold pieces to build your next round of advancement.

On a fine spring morning with fog just nestling the hilltops, you set off, Barrel after barrel swishing full of Clyde’s tremendously tasty brew.  The horses are fat with the valley’s rich grasses, and they seem anxious for a long ride.  The elvish scouts you’ve hired have done well to navigate a rocky game trail along the edge of the marsh, but it’s obvious that even this is about to run out.  The marsh simply is taking over, and the terrain has become muddy, soggy and downright rank. On the second day of your journey, the tree line has spread out, and the pass becomes overgrown.

Featurette: Swump Pirets! As told by Bolvist!

Tuatha’s only letting me write this one cause what we did this time’s mostly on the level. Mostly. But it’ll be summer in Ket before he gets one of these right, so I’m taking my shot. This is what happened when a bunch of roughnecks thought they could take what belongs to the Lords of Carr Alpha. If you’re fool enough to believe whatever else you heard about the north, listen up; this one could save your life.

So like in any venture in the north, this one started out rocky. I’m in bed pretending the sun isn’t out for twenty minutes or so, and one of Taryn’s guys comes in and ruins it. I get my kit on and saunter up to the meeting hall, where Taryn’s got that look he gets when nobody else is handling what’s going on, so he’s gonna have to. He usually looks that way. That might just be his face now, I forget what it looked like before we took over a haunted castle in the middle of nowhere. Before I have time to put breakfast on my plate, he gives us the main points. His rangers went out a day and a half ago for a routine patrol southways, and didn’t come back. This was the day we were taking Dying God’s first batch south, so at least investigating the disappearance wouldn’t take us out of the way.

We had this dragon guy, Mustakrakish, who we kitted up and put in charge of the ale caravan. We told him to follow after half a day, and we hit the mud. I’m pretty sure we found some half tracks, but didn’t run into any trouble the first day. Nah, that came when we set camp.

Sun’s going down and we pick a stand of reeds to set camp in. The river had washed out into a swamp near where we stopped, which was a great place to go looking for trouble. Taryn and Melisonde do their nature thing, while I take a load off. Jasper says he hears something, and runs off into the reeds. He doesn’t come back for a couple minutes, so I go look for him quiet-like. I stalk through the rushes for a bit, then I start to hear something too. Oars in the water. I’m an accommodating sort, so I don’t draw steel right away. I see a torch light up in a tree fifty paces off, and then I hear it.

I’m not sure I know the right letters for this, but here’s a try: “Swump Pirets”. I’m not sure what has to go wrong with your life for you to decide to become a pirate, in a swamp, where there is no trade to pirate, but it happened to these fools.

I hear Melisonde and Taryn coming up through the grass behind me, and it’s becoming increasingly clear I won’t be able to talk my way into a good night’s rest here, so I draw down. The swamp pirates reprise their battle cry and take a couple potshots at Jasper. I’m not sure how that guy keeps living through all this stuff, but he just rolls with the bolts and sprints off silently into the swamp. Freaks me out. I get low and start making my way up the mass of ‘em, and catch a bolt in the shoulder for my trouble. That was a real bad decision on their part, cause now I have to kill all of ‘em. I get back up just in time to see the swamp erupt into writhing vines in front of me, and hear a couple shrieks from across the water as Jasper and Taryn get into ‘em.

You might think it’s hard to stay low and quiet in the middle of an entangle. It is, but there’s a reason I’m a noble and you’re not, it’s cause I’m better than you. So they don’t even see me coming, and I take my first head with no one the wiser. Then I look up and I see the angriest looking Minotaur I ever seen. He’s all bothered cause Taryn put a bolt in him, and shouts for healing. These pudgy excuses for Flamists come panting out of the woodwork, chanting cure spells from memory. Our most pious and virtuous Lady Melisonde does ‘em one better when she brings down a pillar of silver fire, roasting ‘em alive. Don’t know where they got ordained, Flamists are usually a bit harder than that.

Taryn picks off another one of their witches, and calls for surrender. The Minotaur, who I guess was their leader, bellows out “Swump Pirets” one more time. No one’s fooled and they start to run. While the leader’s distracted I get in real close, and put an arm’s length of steel into his chest. I shout to the pirates that they should have taken the deal, and being the idiots that they are they decide to stop running and throw down their weapons. I figure all the easier to finish ‘em off, but Taryn rolls up and decides to negotiate.

We end up heading back to their three shacks in the middle of the swamp. Taryn finds two of his three guys there, and he and Jasper dig in to whatever they were up to. While Melisonde went to talk with some frogs, I laid out what was going to happen. I told them I didn’t care who, or how, but come morning I wanted to see one of them face down in the swamp. I was making real sure they heard me when Taryn calls a meeting. A dire message about the Trebian war had fallen into our hands, and… Well that’s a whole other story at that point.

The bottom line is some fools decided to call themselves swamp pirates and attack us. We killed them, a lot.

Nuts and Bolts from the Encounter

Following the bent branches and other signs, you trudge relentlessly through the swamp and marsh.  The stink of the marsh is overwhelming and your boots are caked with soggy mud.  You only wonder how long it will take to get rid of this stink.  Ahead, you begin to see a trickle of light, faint and in the distance, a simple point of light.  Smoke, perhaps from a small fire fills your nostrils as well.  It smells like something is cooking, it smells like dinner.

Ahead, in a clearing of standing water, are three makeshift shacks about 30×60 feet each supported on by large beams.  Small flickering candle light emanates between cracks in various directions.  You can hear the sounds of conversation and an occasional laugh or two. Below the shacks are several small boats tied to their mooring. 

The party debates about what to do, but unfortunately alerts the pirates inside.  Led by a particularly nasty “half”, a minotaur named Grough, the pirates close in on the party, using their small boats and the trees as cover.  Nonetheless, the party strategizes and brings them in close, taking them out with ranged weapons, the few who live are quickly taken as captives giving the party information about the captors the swamp pirates have acquired, treasure and the frogs they keep as dangerous pets.

Inside their stilted huts, the party finds a treasure trove of coin and information.

Among the treasure trove and minor magical items, the party discovers two elves named Maria and Lessa.  Although the party considers interrogating them (it’s obvious they know much more than they are letting on), Taryn takes several steps in ensuring they are allowed to leave, as a thank you, he receives an elvish “confirmation” from them both, acknowledging him as friend.

Something however seems rather important written on Trebian parchment.  In fact, the captives let the party know that this document was taken off a waylaid Trebian scout who died attempting to burn it.  They consider it extremely important and were in the process of finding out how much coin they could earn for it.

Attack Baluar 28, 1300 infantry, 24 skylizards

Two waves. Midnight, “Crown’s Point”

With the swamp pirates defeated, the party navigates the rest of the journey onto dried land and completes the last leg to the King’s Highway.  Within a few hours, they’ve made it to Theris!

An Old Friend in Carr Theris

Carr Theris, a jewel in the woods.  Before you lies the palisades of Carr Theris, set against a magnificent array of wooded hills.  Several spires gleam in gold inside the city, known for it’s magical wares and excellent craftsmanship. In Carr Theris, an adventurer could find just about anything.

“Welcome my friends! Then, you must have received your letters of transit from the King!” It’s your old pal, Flemin, but this time, he’s wearing robes of nobility! “I have arranged an ambassadorial housing for you while you stay in Theris.”

You and Flemin catch up on old times.  He is extremely happy about your solving the mystery of the disappearances along the route from Theris to Thos.  He is even more pleased to have another partner in the North, now called Carr Alpha.  “It is a great day in the Realm, Lads! A great day to try your Dying God Ale!” While having that ale though, you let Flemin in on the dispatch you’ve encountered.  His face grows grim, and pale.  “If this is true, everything is about to change. I will make sure to get this information back through the proper channels.”

A lot seems to have happened since the day you helped save Haven.  Flemin now runs Theris, while Prince Genoran has gone to aid the “Southern Spear”, the name given to the offensive into the Frozen lands on the borders of the Southern Valley.  Tales of giants and battles with undead beasts fill your ears. As the first time  Cellinor has pushed back into these territories, the Celns are full of bravado about the stories, however, each story is told with a ring of concern, as if somehow the soldiers there will stir up something worse than the occasional raid into Celn fields. Flemin seems to think it is going rather well, and with the affairs in the North with the Trebians going smoothly, this seems to be a great time to be an adventurer. Only the the Ostfelders in the South are giving the King something to frolic about as their king seems near death and the vacuum of power is drawing in those who would talk big about the Northern Celn neighbor.Nonetheless, this appears to be a time of advancement for the Realm!  The frontiers in every direction are ripe for the wanderer in search of riches.

You’ve enjoyed Carr Theris and purchased many things, nearly ready to return, you are ushered through the marketplace one day by Flemin when a strange scene occurs.

You see a woman, common enough, being spoken to forcefully by 3 of the Order of Crimson.  It is obviously an “inquisition on the spot”. As you watch, her husband and small children run to her side.  Suddenly, one of the order backhands her husband across the face, knocking him out. However, he doesn’t quit and as he gets up this time he is run through with a sword.  Yanked up onto the platform where the Order most certainly performs the Ritual of Transcendence, she is about to be “given to the flame”. You can’t hear everything, but there is something about “murder of innocents”.  One of the order begins to read her the Sacred Chant, while another draws a small dagger.

Instantly, you see Mustakrakish, the dragonborn whom came with you to Theris,  lunge into the fray, before you can stop him, he has drawn his blade and killed the Order’s member who first drew the dagger.  Laedis too draws his bow and shoots one of the other members through the neck. The woman is startled and her eyes are pools of suffering.  She looks utterly bewildered.

Around you a crowd begins to gather, while Laetis and Mustakrakish stand above the woman, now lying face down on the platform crying hysterically.

“What is the meaning of this?” roars the captain of the guard as Celn soldiers enter the square.

“Stand down Captain!” bellows Flemin.   Flemin tries his best to calm the order and the crowd, and you can tell it isn’t easy. But, his heroism and experience has gained him notoriety and popularity and before long he has convinced each division that both Mustakrakish and Laetis will be imprisoned to await an Inquisition. 

Home Sweet Home

With your first batch delivered, a new route established to both Theris and Carr Thos, and a friend stationed in the Governorship of the local City, you’ve had a successful few days.  Returning home however, brings new concerns.  But for tonight, you’ll gladly sit and listen to the tales of the villagers, as of course, is your noble duty.

Tonight, it seems as though Eemilche, royal Trebian has accepted an offer to tell a tale of her people.  You sit knowing that in most Celn towns, this would be disallowed, even your own Order members shift uncomfortably in their seats.  Your thoughts drift back to the dispatch.  If the dispatch is true, what will become of your Trebian subjects? For another night you think, best to be taken up while in Cillandar.  For tonight, it’s a tale, and a tale is only as good as the listener….

The Trebian Creation Myth and the Story of the Destruction of Kasil

            In the first days of the world, there sprang from the Earth, the Great Tree of Yggrasil.   From it’s first boughs, like fruit, grew the major civilized races of our world.  The humans, dwarves, and elves.  The tree was like their Mother, and so they worshipped it. Their power was not only in the might of their hands and [muscles] but in the force of their will [mental power].  Thus grew the first magics.  And in time, the races grew and spread among the lands, and they prospered.  harnessing this energy of both the body and mind. In time, these races grew powerful in knowledge.

Together, they became a people of advanced magic and healing arts and weapons, of great buildings, monuments and craft of the seas and the land and even of the skies (meaning translates into “ship”). What they gave to the gods in worship, they received back unto themselves. These people were the [Kasillians]. But, as every race that thrives in abundance, others slaved for them.  Beneath the Earth, they labored, night and day in darkness to make the great power of the [Kasillian Empire]. They there in darkness did not receive the benefits of their toil. Those above were like masters to them. Their creators, and those races were the goblins, the orcs and the other foul races of darkness.  For the power of Kasil came from both the light and the darkness then.  And this Dark Realm was called [Ket], and their great empire lived deep and at the bottom of the Earth.  Erebus in the shallow realms, and Tartarus in the deeper realms where dwelt those which even the surface world knew not of.

            The great realm of Kasille was guarded and governed by 7 Gods, for  each of the major [parts] of Mankind’s will.  The people gave worship and thus grew the might of these Seven governing Mankind’s affairs.  For Man’s incessant curiosity was The Trickster, known by many names. The Hero, for mankind’s courage or cowardice.  For His sacrifice or pride was the Dying God whom went by many names and stories.  For mankind’s envy or generosity came Atropos, The First Fate. The second Fate, Clothos, represented mankind’s lust, his fertility. The third fate represented Man’s inherent wrath or peacefulness. Finally, each God was [presided over] by the most powerful of them all, The Great Mother, who represented love, and man’s inherent compassionate nature.  The realm thrived on worship to each god, and each god was kept in balance.  Three boughs above for Mankind’s quest, the masculine, and three below for Mankind’s need to be rooted, the feminine. Finally, the [trunk] represented by the Great Mother, the most powerful. Mankind split into his seven primal parts.

In order to serve the Gods, 12 beings of immeasurable power were created. The great Serpents.  6 pairs to represent the female and masculine of each.  Two of Gold, Two of Silver, Two of Steel, Two of Bronze, Two of Copper, and Two of Platinum.

Through the people’s worship,  all things flourished for those of [Gaia, surface], and thus  the land was kept in balance.

But in a single cataclysmic event, the world was torn from a place of peace to a place of utter chaos. For the balance the tree had given to Mankind had nearly destroyed it’s “roots”. Great floods swept through the land and the deluge of mud destroyed the vast empire’s beauty and serenity. The great monuments and structures of that time were buried completely to become the crawling places of those that shy from the light. The world was in ruin.  The great Gods diminished. 

The three moons came into being then, and the Sun was blocked for a generation. This woke the denizens of Ket, who had grown angry at their masters and now saw their chance to rise in the Darkness of the lands above.

            In order to safeguard themselves, the Kasillians built 12 great arks, each to be protected by one of the mighty Wyrms, each to protect the Kasillian races during the [Darkening], when the slave hordes of Ket would finally rise against their masters. In order that the might of the Kasillian race should not fall into the hands of the Demons of Ket, each of the six Gods was given a branch of the great tree of Yggdrasil, a portion of Mankind’s power.  Each were fastened into great [lanterns], one of gold, one of copper, one of silver flame, one of bronze, one of platinum and one of steel.  Each God was also tasked with using their remaining power to seal their arks, against the invading hordes.

However, the task of [walking the path] was reserved for the Great Mother and only to three of them, but not the Fates.  The Dying God was chosen for man’s sacrifice to each other. The Trickster for his curiosity in opening the arks once more.  The Hero for his courage to walk the path.

But to the Three fates, was only given the task of sealing their arks, and relinquishing their power back to mankind.

The Gods, diminished as they were after the cataclysm and war, knew this would risk their immortality. However, when the time came, three of the Gods, Atropos, Clothos, and Lachesis, each representing the female of Mankind, chose to keep the darkened path of their beings, and refused to relinquish their power.  They did not seal their ark, but betrayed Mankind.  For each of the 6 arks they guarded had now become tombs.

The others, without the knowledge of what the Three had done, gave up their power, and sealed their arks.  But, in time, the Ketians invaded the world, and finding the arks sabotaged, wiped the Kasillian race from the surface of the world forever. 

The Great Serpents for whom represented the male, could not guard the arks without their female partners, who had now become twisted and corrupted. Nor could they conquer them, as these great Serpents had now grown in the might of a darker power, of black, and red, blue, and green, white and brown.

And thus was the might of Kasille obliterated by the Darkened races of Ket. 

To be continued….

Session 13 Into the Deep and  Into the Past

Troubled Dreams

In addition to troubling dreams, the locals have become unruly and vicious towards one another.  Although not in large numbers yet, it is becoming obvious that some greed has taken ahold of the town and the Heroes have begun to take notice.

Several people that can normally be counted on as rational have been acting strangely and then, it happened.  One man killed another over his sword.  The party has begun to take notice.  But just as they investigate, they themselves begin to have nightmares.  For each, the burden of these dreams taps into something from the background, something that they don’t fully understand.

Behind the Scenes:

Bolvist-Sometimes scents can trigger powerful memories. Since the night you fought Yeenoghu, and again after killing the lion, a scent has been lingering and has puzzled and confused you.  Then, during sleep one night, you had a powerful nightmare which won’t go away. You are sitting and in great pain.  A cloaked figure approaches you and speaks words you do not understand.  The language is strange and terrible. Another voice, this time it is female and familiar.  It scares you, but somehow, you trust it. “Bolvist, you have been chosen for greatness. Do not disappoint us. Do not disappoint your MOTHER.”

Jasper: With a terrible scream you awake to find yourself covered in perspiration.  Down a long corridor you were walking, holding aloft a lantern.  Alone and afraid, something terrible was ahead, but something terrible was behind you. You know that ahead lies the fulfillment of your purpose given to you by the High Priest at the “monastery” where you grew up.  If you accomplish this task, you will have that which you have always wanted.  The fulfillment of your goal.

Taryn: “With a terrible scream you awake to find yourself covered in perspiration.  Down a long corridor you were walking, holding aloft a lantern.  Alone and afraid, something terrible was ahead, but something terrible was behind you.  You have no choice but to go on.”

Melissande: With a terrible scream you awake to find yourself covered in perspiration. In your nightmare, you were as you have been the last few nights, floating in a pool of water in a clean and crisp glade.  Admiring the beauty of the trees and serenity of the place filled you with happiness.  But, suddenly your peace is cut short. A swift breeze blows over the water, chilling you and as you look around the daylight has begun to fade.  The gentle touch of the pond fronds beneath you now becomes hard and ragged, suddenly something grabs you from below and tries to pull you down, down, down.

Strange Clues

 With all of this tomfoolery afoot, Melissande decides to investigate the large well underneath the Keep.  For days she watches and waits, and although she gathers few clues, she does garner some information that warrants immediate attention.

For starters, the well’s pool of undead, although eliminated by her on a previous occasion, has recreated itself again. That is, there are more undead in the well once more.  Furthermore, it would seem as though these undead creatures did not come from outside the well, but rather from in it. The landing in the well, she realizes, is a teleporter, similar to other Kasillian teleporters the party has discovered to date.  These creatures however, upon closer examination reveal something strange. They are all dwarvish for one, and each is equipped with weaponry, they are soldiers of some kind. Their gear is unknown to the Celns.

Finally, as Melissande is about to consider her investigation a failure, something of note appears on the teleporter.  She finds a scrap of paper.  It is ordinary in every respect and simply contains a few words in common that have little significance.  But it isn’t what’s on the paper that gets her attention, it’s the script itself.

The penmanship is unmistakable as she has seen it several times during grand traditions.  It is none other than Lord Genoran’s himself!                                                                                              

The Great PooDoo

With the fate of the Cairn in jeopardy, the party has no choice but to investigate the northern path they believe will lead them to the person or persons causing their nightmares.  Luckily for them, they have an ally, Taryn’s new pet, the lioness. With the Alphans apprised of their plans, they make their way into the Northern lands. But not before the party seeks advice from two unlikely sources. First, they speak with Perpetua as they will be traveling towards the supposed Scarred Bay and the area of the infamous Lost Colony.

Perpetua’s Story, an ALIND Narrative Interlude

Wars, Both Big and Small

My name is Perpetua, and I was not always the creature that you see now. Once, I was a maiden of Cellinor, a young woman in love, with a bright future and plans for a family. Now, I am nothing more than an animal.

Many years ago, my father brought me on the journey of a lifetime.  Into and through the woods of the Inner Wilds! Charged with establishing a colony for the Realm, he was chosen to build the northern most  settlement that ever there was for Cellinor.

I was the youngest of three children, with two older brothers, Brelin and Lorus.  My father was a wealthy merchant, well, wealthy for the Cairns, who had experience trading with the elves and halfs around the rocky cities. He sold wares, and brought in exotic goods from places only spoken of.  His maps were well known among those adventurers who went into the northern tropics in those days.  He was a respected man, honest in his dealings.  We lived a peaceful and happy life.  Our inn served excellent food, best Celn cuisine you’d find north of the Six Sister cities in those days.  Are there still six? I suppose there are more now…

One day, a contingent of Nobles came to our province, asking about those who could parlay with the members of the Northern Lands.  I remember the night the Order of Crimson spoke with my father in our inn. His eyes glowed in the candlelight when he was “invited” to Cillandar.  I’m not sure how my mother felt about it, but she was a devout member of the Order, as were we all, and she knew this was a call for something larger.  We waited weeks for his return or at least word of his safe arrival.  But none came.  I remember the look on his face the morning I saw him atop that solid black mare, a new horse, an Orst steed. Magnificent, noble.  On either side two men at arms, Shields of Cillandar, two of the toughest warriors I had ever seen, let alone guarding my own father.   My father had never looked so proud.  Later that night, as we readied for sleep, he showed us, showed us all the Brand of the King!

“You met HIM????” my brother Brelin asked, eyes wider than two coppers. My father, with that wry smirk, just nodded.

“You!!!! Why in the Light, Rork???” This time it was my mother, her fingers tracing the boughs of the great tree on his arm.

“Why not Lia? The king needed someone he could trust.  He chose me. In fact, he chose US.”

As my father continued, his excitement grew.  By the dying fire of that eve, he told us all about the broad streets of Cillandar, the ships garnered with emerald sails in the Great Serpent’s Bay, the Arena of the Four Heroes and even the Hall of Light in the Temple Mount. He told us of the others selected and he told us of our journey.  A journey into the Northern Lands, a chance for my father to earn his Nobility! My mother though scared, cried with joy and my brothers were for the first time I could recall unable to speak.

He was chosen to be a part of the greatest advancement of the Realm into the North since the establishment of the Cairn Lands.  The expedition would travel  through the elvish marshes into an area explored by Duher and Ilium only a few years earlier.  On the shores of a great Inner Sea they found there, we would establish a new province, begin trade and treat with the nearby people and creatures.  My father was to lead the travelers and give advice to the Lighted warriors who would travel there first.

I came in the second wave, several hundred farmers and craftsmen, and all of the children. I remember the heat  and the humid air in my throat as we came down into and out of a chasm of dark earth.  At first I thought something was wrong with the sky or maybe the chasm was only a raised cliff on our side, but then I realized that the horizon hadn’t changed. The land had!  Where trees and hills should be there was a swath of brilliant blue. I was looking out at a sea, as blue as the sky above!   By the time we arrived, my mother, brothers and I, the Lights had built a large Fort upon a hillside where men worked and crafted things.  By the time we arrived, they had nearly all of the necessary wares we needed.  That night we had a feast, bards told tales, and many a lyre played songs that I loved.  It was that night that I met Manyara, Naivasha and their eldest sister, Luona.  Little did I know then, that it was a meeting that would change everything for me, and for us all.

The four of us became great friends.  There were few other girls our age in the colony and since their father was a merchant too, we seemed to have so much in common.  Luona was the brave one, it was her who convinced us to explore outside the palisades, and it was her who first met the Green Lady….

To be continued…

Perpetua remembers little else, as the night of her transformation led her into the forests, chased by the hunters of the colony.  Eventually, she made her way to a small lake where she was captured by the gnolls.  When the hag arrived in search of the book, it was obvious to Perpetua who she was, Manyara, one of the sisters.  Yeenoghu was put in place to control the gnolls and search for the book inside the underground temple where the beast lived.

Ding and Dong’s Advice

“You meatsacks want to go North, without us? We suppose you’ll take our Bobble with you no doubt? Well, as usual, you show how stupid you are. You need the help of the Great PooDoo and we need our Bobble, let’s make a deal!!!”

Without really understanding why, the party finds themselves stopping at Ding and Dong’s home. 

You enter what can only be described as a truly magical area.  Swarms of darting flies and other tiny creatures pass around you in spirals leaving tiny trails of what looks like dust behind them.  From the trees, you hear what sounds like voices.  Ding and Dong smile from ear to ear their chests puffed out.  You realize, that these creatures are tiny people.  You’ve heard legends of pixies and sprites but can’t believe they are actually true.

Marching along, Ding and Dong take you to a center clearing in which a small pond lies below a cascading waterfall.  From the pool you hear the sounds of grunting, and then, “Oh look, the Turdly Twins have come home!” Laughter from all around you, as Ding and Dong are suddenly surrounded by many more brownies coming out from the bushes.  Insults and profane greetings are issued, and then everyone looks at you.  “So, what brings you to the Great  POODOO  you Meat Bags?”

The great PooDoo gives much advice, but only to those who beat him at his favorite games. He offers several suggestions, but the party decides on the “Yo Mama Jokes” competition.

With each successful trial, they learn of the area and even of important events recently. For example:

The great serpent Sherserakshen patrols these regions, with her kin. Sometimes, she appears as the green woman. She is cunning and deceitful.  Where she walks she breeds envy and greed. She lives upon the Wings of Pelerus at the Northern part of the Scarred Bay.

The Gold man wanders these parts looking for her, but he never appears when she does. We have not seen him for sometime. “Oh, you bear his staff!!” Do you know it’s secrets?

The Great PooDoo then gathers up Taryn and Jasper, and removes their curse (to the tune of “sexual healing” of course…).  First, Jasper’s amulet comes off, but of course, he applies it to Melissande who promptly begins to speak out loud.  Then, Taryn drops the idol of Demogorgon, which is then crushed.  Luckily for the party, Taryn was not able to fulfill the aspects last request to keep the creature alive…

Ding and Dong decide to stay as the mead is flowing and a couple of pixie twins catch their eye. But Bolvist lures them away with their bobble.  “Why do you like this thing so much?” he inquires.  “We just do stupid!” The party leaves the valley with no fanfare whatsoever, images of the great PooDoo relaxing under the waterfall their final image of an otherwise odd “encounter” indeed.

Playing Dead

The lion has tracked down a familiar scent.  Working your way through the brambles and vines you begin to notice what appears to be a trail, perhaps an animal trail. 

Ahead, in a clearing you can just make out what looks like a small home. It’s a customary Celn home with thatched roof, but in the middle of this dense wood it is obviously completely out of place.

It’s paint is faded as if from lack of care, and all around is a smell of rotting meat.  Some 100 meters off from the shack, is a large pit, also recently dug into the Earth.  Stacked in piles are the rotting corpses of countless orcs, goblins and other foul humanoids. The sun’s rays striking on the tops of the bodies is creating a stench of unfathomable decay and putrification.  Your nose burns just nearing it.

The party approaches cautiously entering the glade.  It soon becomes obvious that eyes are upon them.  And then comes the attack! Vicious beasts lunge from the treeline, tigers, bears, even a crocodile!

While the party is engaged with them, a shadowy creature lurks from around the shack. Just her very presence sends chills down your spines.  As she looks in your direction, your nightmares flash before you.  Surely, this is the source of your nighttime troubles.  But, as quickly as she appears, she is gone!

Bolvist suddenly grabs his head in both hands and falls to his knees! Inside, she has taken control and he is in pain.

“Hellooooo,  child….” The whisper echoes over the din of battle in the clearing.

“What the Ketian Night is that?” Taryn yells, “Someone get to Bolvist!”

“DO YOU NOT RECOGNIZE ME, BOY!!!! DO YOU NOT RECOGNIZE YOUR OWN…..MOTHER!!!!”

This horrible hag, a creature of twisted evil and filth crawls from one mind to another, bringing the heroes to unfathomable pain.  However, while she weaves her living nightmares, the party begins to take down her beasts.  Soon they have all been brought down.

“The tail!” Roars Taryn!  “Watch the crocodile’s tail, it isn’t dead!” With great knowledge of how beasts are, Taryn discovers the plot about to unfold. These creatures had been trained to “play dead”, a trap which might have otherwise changed the course of the battle.  But with Taryn’s great perception, the trap was foiled, and the last of the animals killed once and for all.  With her beasts slain, the party feels the last of the hag’s essence drift away…to where, they know not!

This Old Shack

Opening the door, the inside of the shack is nothing like what you envisioned.  In the center of the room, taking nearly all of the entire space, is a gigantic hole. You consider peering into it, but before you do something strange begins to happen.  The staff given to Melissande begins to glow and transform itself into a lantern, inside the lanthorn, a warm and bright light pulses.

Sensing something larger and more important at hand, the party immediately descends into the bowels of the earth.  The tunnel extends straight down for several hundred meters.  It is, in a world, a tunnel into another world, another time.

The Golden Flame Ignites

The rough cut shaft ends at a stone structure in which a large hole has been cut.  It would appear as though you are now at the top of a great room, with a domed ceiling.  Inside you hear the scittering and chirping of bats, perhaps many.

Again the party brings itself safely into a domed and colossal stone chamber.  Designs of Kasille are everywhere, but this area is unlike any of they have ever seen, except for the obvious signs of construction in order to get here, the chamber is untouched.  The tell-tale craftsmanship of the Kasillians in full regalia.  Four doors lie in each section of the round room.  Opening one, the party finds another empty chamber accessed through a grand tunnel.   Nothing of import seems to be in this room whatsoever.

However, when they look on the door of the opposite wall, they discover a symbol of two circles with a  tic mark in between.  Once more, the lantern begins to glow! In the party decides to go, with the chirping of bats and the flapping of an occasional bat wing the only noise behind them.

The Lantern Room

This room is brightly lit by a lantern hanging from a hook at the top of a domed ceiling.  In fact, as you near the room, Tiresias’ staff now turned lantern has begun to glow even brighter.  Below the lanthorn, is a large round empty pool made of finely wrought stone. 

Session 14: The Fate of Greed, Part 1

Green with Envy

Jasper, Melissande, Bolvist and Taryn stood below the diagram painted above them.  The first circle, marked by the symbol for the Great Mother was surrounded by a second circle, marked with six others.  In the final circle, the third, were 12 symbols, and 12 names.  And hanging just below this painted fresco hung a lanthorn, shining with magnificent light. 

Melissande holding her lanthorn as it shone fiercely felt that something was amiss. She held it aloft, watching it shine brighter as she neared the other, she began to watch the others with concern.  Although Taryn seemed in control of himself, Jasper and Bolvist did not.  Somehow, she began to suspect what she knew all along, the symbol for Clothos, the symbol for Greed!  She knew instinctively before they acted, each was going for the Lanthorn!

Jasper made the first move, nearly instantly springing upward in a perfect lunge, he perched himself atop the hanging bracket and reached for the Lanthorn. But, just then there was a piercing ray of light, and Jasper’s hand ricocheted back!  The Lanthorn had struck him with some unknown force, or power.  Instantly, he fell in a heap to the empty basin below him.  Seeing this, Melissande watched Bolvist, only just behind Jasper try the same attempt to take the Lanthorn.

Bolvist acted next, and jumping upward he caught the lantern, landing with it a few paces away. For a moment, he waited for it to harm him as well, but the flash never came.  Taryn and Melissande stood watching him, and he stood as well. 

“I’ve got it,” said Bolvist simply. For a moment, all was silent as everyone watched Bolvist and he watched everyone.

“Yes, you do,” said Taryn giving a sideways glance at Melissande. “Perhaps, you’d better heal the monk, good Lady.” With a nod, Melissande quickly came to the aid of Jasper, and as she healed him she whispered to him, “Bolvist may not be himself.  Something seems amiss here…”

As Jasper rose and shook off his aches, Bolvist began to back into the central chamber, each member of the party seemed suspicious of the other.  Too many things had happened to them recently. Trust was becoming a commodity they were having a hard time paying for today.

As Bolvist backed into the main chamber with the lanthorn, Taryn and Jasper followed him.  “Now, Bolvist…,” began Taryn… but then something caught his attention.  The bats, he thought.  Why they were becoming restless.  Something was making them act odd, but what could it be?

Bolvist began to back towards the abandoned chamber where Ding and Dong had told him he might find a secret door.  As he continued, backing away in that cat like stance the others knew so well, Taryn again noticed the bats seemed irritated once the Lanthorn’s light left them.  Melissande began to notice it too. Her thoughts resounded around the chamber “Bolvist, the BATS! You must stop now!”

Suspicious Circumstances

“Hey, uh Bolvist,” began Taryn…but before he could continue, Bolvist, sensing the others were upon him began to run in the direction of the empty chamber. 

“He’s not himself!” Shouted Melissande, “we must stop him!”

“Get back!” Roared Bolvist. “I don’t understand the power of this Lanthorn yet, but there is no reason for me not to have it. GET BACK!” On any other day in any other situation, Bolvist’s threats might have held back the heartiest foe, but on this occasion, the good Thief was injured severely.  Blood trickled down his arm as he spoke from wounds he sustained against his mother, the Nightmare Hag, Manyara!

“Bolvist, I don’t know what’s going on either, but come here and talk to me, NOW. Don’t make me have to put you down!” With that, Taryn drew his mighty bow and stared down the shaft of a magical arrow towards Bolvist, “Don’t do it, friend” he whispered to himself.

But Bolvist  did not, nor may ever know how to back down from a fight, even if that fight is to leave with his own property.  He made a last desperate break for the area where the secret door was, and as he did so Taryn fired, bringing Bolvist down.  As his belongings spilled around him, Jasper and Melissande caught up. Melissande took the Lanthorn up and examined it in her old, cracked fingers.

It was made of the same hearty wood that hers was made of, inside glowed a warm orange light.  She thought she saw the faintest trace of runes, but she couldn’t make it out too well in her brief glimpse.

“What is beyond that door?” she thought and in so doing also said it loud enough for Jasper and Taryn to hear. Jasper and Taryn walked forward and saw that past the secret door, after wandering down a long corridor made again of the typical Kasillian melted, but shaped stonework was a tremendous object in shadow.  Ahead of them, a dim light emanated from another chamber of what looked to be a grand size. The tunnel was curved and they could  only make out a portion of what was in the chamber, but as they got closer, something odd came in to view.  It looked to be the stern of a ship!

“Something strange is happening!” cried Melissande, for she saw that the bats in the main chamber were once again fidgeting. “Come back!”

“But what shall we do with Bolvist?” asked Jasper. 

“He is one of us, Jasper, and we need his services, as he needs ours.  We heal him of course.” Bringing the Lanthorn back into the form of a staff, Melissande healed the orc of his wounds. Wearily, Bolvist rose, “Well, nice going you lot! You’ve taken my belongings, now what?”

“Bolvist, we’re going to give you everything  back,” said Taryn, a tone of regret in his voice, “But you were acting strangely, and you couldn’t much blame us after the incident with those creatures in the grass back at Alpha, can you? Besides, your mother seems like a sort of demon in case you didn’t notice.”

“Well, I wouldn’t recommend sleeping with two eyes closed around me for….” Bolvist began, but just then a bat whizzed down and around him, flying with blazing speed in an odd path.  To Bolvist’s eyes, so accustomed to the dark, it looked as though the creature were being pulled somewhere, rather than flying itself.

“What the Ketian Night?” Taryn whispered with a  tense smirk.

Without answering or giving thoughts, the party, now complete once more, ran towards the empty pool chamber where they had taken the Lanthorn.  As they did so, more bats, now in twos and threes began to whizz by them. They watched in bewilderment and unease as the creatures smashed themselves into the empty pool, they bodies and blood mixing into a sort of congealed mass.

“Light of Gaia!” cried Melissande, “What have we done!?”

As if in response to her query, more bats, began flailing by the party, so many so that each member was turned around and around as they whizzed by, a colossal stream of the creatures blasting by in one dark, dense, cluster of black. Closer they watched as the mass growing in the pool began to writhe and undulate. Upwards clawed tentacle like appendages, and in the middle oozing upwards something that began to construct itself into a dark shape, an immense figure of a person, with a head growing outwards and upwards. The whole image was horrible to watch, as the bat bodies twisted and turned, their innards and blood congealing together, wings protruding in broken clusters stuck out only to be swallowed up again as the whole structure swayed and churned.  Melissande thought it looked like a black wedding dress, which of course would have inquisitioned the bride anywhere in Cellinor, that draped over some immense person, it’s tails flowing all around it into the circular pool. As if this weren’t terrifying enough, the whole thing was making a grating and grinding noise, as if the pieces were all coming together in tight bundled ways, it built into a roar of clicks and scrapings that reminded Taryn of a butcher scraping meat off animal bones, only much louder.

“The symbol…” thought Melissande, but of course, it was heard by all over the tumult.

“What symbol?” cried Jasper, who now found himself stepping backwards but looking upwards into the figure emerging from the center of the pool. 

“The symbol on the door? It’s the same as above us! It’s Clothos.  The second of the Fates, the second of the Betrayers.”

“Light take you Melissande, that’s just an old wives tale the Flame has meant to scare us remember?” said Taryn, but he too began to back away and looked unsure of what he was saying.

“The Trebians told the same story, Taryn.  Look around you! Look at the picture above you! The seven Gods! The Three Traitors! The Four Heroes.  Fafnir, the protector! The 12 arks.  What if what lies below Carr Alpha is one of those arks? What if what lies there was curropted as the Trebians believe?

“If that were true,” whispered Bolvist staring at the face forming in the mass before them, “than that would mean the Three Traitors may have indeed corrupted the arks, and their legend may indeed be true….”

Slowly, two red eyes shone through the blackened shape, two arms emerged as well, and a voice spoke which shook the chamber around them.  The party stepped back, weapons drawn.

“WHO THE KETIAN NIGHT ARE YOU??” Roared Taryn.

To be continued…

 

From Mythagora.com

“In the poem Theogony by Hesiod, the distinction is clearly made between Black Fate [Kera], the Destinies [Moerae] and the Fates [Keras]. We are told that the Fates are the daughters of Nyx [Night] and that the Destinies are the daughters of Themis [goddess of Necessity] and Zeus. The names of the Fates and the Destinies are both listed as Klotho, Lachesis and Atropos. We have a mystery which may never be solved until some heretofore unknown ancient documents are unearthed.

The distinction between Fate and Destiny might seem to be inconsequential but, although they are closely related, there are important differences and thus the differences apply to the goddesses of Fate [Keras] and the goddesses of Destiny [Moerae]. Fate is a concept that implies something that will happen but is still subject to change. Destiny is fixed and unalterable … no one can change Destiny. The mission of the Fates seems more akin to the fulfillment of Destiny than any sort of alterable fate.”

Greed Incarnate

“I….AM….CLOTHOS!!!!” What began as just a meager voice grew into a tremendous chorus reverberating around the stone walls of the chamber. Again it repeated… I….AM…CLOTHOS!!!!”

“It’s time to go I think…” said Jasper, trying his best smile at the others as he moved out of the chamber’s portal into the tunnel.  The others already had the same idea, with weapons drawn, they moved quickly into the tunnel. 

“YOU CAN’T HIDE FROM ME, Taryn Ballast!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Taryn was the last through the chamber doorway, his bow drawn, a wind began to whip up around him as Clothos’ form was nearing completion. The others behind him were shouting,  Jasper and Bolvist were trying to direct them to the ship they had seen through the secret door. Slowly, the ooze around her legs which had spread upward from the pool began to coagulate, moving her form higher and higher, Clothos stood nearly 15 feet tall, and her figure was hideous to behold.  He tried to fire at her, but she snatched the arrow out of the air and crumpled it into many pieces. She was nearly complete now, and what an adversary she was becoming.

“HOW DO YOU KNOW MY NAME, FOUL DEMON??!!!!” he bellowed, hunched over, he skipped over debris backward through the tunnel, his eyes fixed on Clothos still taking the shape of whatever she would ultimately become.

“I KNOW ALL ABOUT YOU BALLAST, Last of the Ballasts and First of the Ballasts! But that is about to CHANGE once I TAKE YOUR SOUL for MINE!!!!” As she spoke, her breath filled the chamber with foul wind, and her head bent down so that she could see Taryn working his way into the tunnel. Her arms reached around the edge bringing her form through the circular view he had, terrible claws gripped the edges.  Her face was both hideous yet somehow majestic as if she had once been a royal woman, but now had been twisted into something terrible.  Her form, although female and supple, was blackened and grissly as if it had been taken from some animal and merged into the form of a woman.  She resembled some gigantic breeding between bat and human,  but the eyes blazing at Taryn burned with power, and when she moved, the stones around her quaked as if her very essence was filled with trapped energy. “IN FACT, I WILL TAKE ALL OF YOUR SOULS…FOR THAT IS WHY YOU WERE BROUGHT TO ME!!!!!!”

“Run!!!!! She is coming!!!! RUN NOW!” roared Taryn, his last view of her was the batlike way she crawled into the tunnel after them as he turned in full retreat, racing for the secret passage.

In a full sprint, the others made their way into the tunnel Jasper and Bolvist had both seen and this is what they saw.

“Nothing like what you are seeing has ever been discovered in the Realm to any of your knowledge.  In the middle of the room, unbelievably, rests a gigantic sailing vessel, complete with boon and mast and tapered sails.  Although dust and debris has accumulated on it, it’s majesty is unmistakable.  A large chain extends from the prow to a colossal ring embedded in the wall of the chamber.  As you navigate around it, you suddenly realize that the ship isn’t resting on anything at all, but rather floating just inches off the chamber floor!  This ship isn’t meant for the water, it’s meant for the air!!!!”

A small area or compartment in the middle of the ship  with circular portals seemed to be the place for passengers, and atop the ship, sat what looked like a man, dressed in regal plate mail armor holding a Falchion in front of a ships’ wheel.  The figure is still, and past the door, unbelievably is two gigantic doors.

“Sprinting into the room, the party stopped for just a moment, Mouths open, they couldn’t believe their discovery. “It’s for the air!” whispered Melissande. She spoke through labored breath.  “A Kasillian ship meant for the air! Perhaps the doors will be our way out!”

“No good lady, unfortunately it looks like that will not be the case!” It was Bolvist pointing to a pile of mud and rubble  at the base of the doors.  Looking again, the party could see that although, perhaps, this room had once been a way for the ship to dock and pass through, now it was located well underground.  They would not be going anywhere.

You sheep! You oblivious sheep! The Darkness comes for all! You cannot run from it!!!!!!”

“We make our stand here.  Once and for all.”  It was Taryn, with final resignation, he placed his quiver on the ground, and as the party had seen him do many times at camp, sorted his arrows so that he could find them quickly.  Bolvist stood his ground, and Jasper and Melissande moved to the back of the vessel.  Jasper began to look over the figure at the helm. Time seemed to slow, as Clothos called to them in a mocking tone, so much closer now.

“I will kill you quickly, Heroes, if you but tell me when I have awoken and whether the Darkening has come again??!!!! A simple request, WORMS….”

“COME AND MEET YOUR FATE!!!!” It was Melissande, but her amulet brought the message to all.

“FATE???”Clothos’ laughter shook the stones, “FATE???”  FATE IS BUT AN OPPORTUNITY!!!!WERE IT FOR FATE, WE WOULD NOT BE HERE.”

“THIS DAY, I WILL SHOW YOU YOUR DESTINY!!!!” And with that, Clothos in her foul form, moving like some gigantic insectile bat with human features, bent into the room, her eyes ablaze searching for the Heroes!

Total Party Kill?

Clothos was indeed a powerful enemy. Even in reduced state after many centuries of lying dormant, her powerful spells proved too mighty for the party, and the end seemed near!  First, she cast a fireball spell into the deck of the ship which burned and blast.  Although Taryn was able to put it out, the ball of flame knocked Bolvist down and killed him.

Melissande and Jasper moved to the ships aft, Jasper somehow found that the suit of armor was alive!

“Orders, sir?”

“Kill it!!!!” yelped Jasper.  To which the suit of armor’s eyes instantly opened, and his falchion jerked upwards, somekind of strange mechanical gears twisted in his joints and he stood, ready for battle and moved to the bow of the ship!

“The Light is with us, Good Lady! The machine works!” But Melissande who was gravely injured had her hands full at the moment with the foul demon, Clothos.  She decided to change shape into a bear and lunged toward the awakened God of Greed.

“IT IS TIME FOR YOU TO….” began the devil, her face twisting into a mask of rage, and she pointed her wicked talons at Melissande and Jasper, “DIE!!!!!!” From her tips whooshed the electrical charge of raw energy, black and grey it whisped around each of their necks strangling them.  Their hands went to their throats as poor Taryn saw darkness take over their eyes.  Together they slumped to the stones of the chamber, dead.

“Looks like it’s just you, me, and a tiger, you PIECE of….” Began Taryn, loosing two arrows into her.  As they struck home, Taryn realized that she wasn’t immortal after all, and he began to smile.  “You say I’m the Last eh?”

“YOU ARE THE LAST, THE LAST OF THEM ALL, You FOOL!!!” roared Clothos, again, she issued forth a blast of fire, but Taryn jumped at the last minute, taking only some of the damage. As he rolled to the other side of the ship though, he watched in agony, as his companion and friend, the lion took the brunt of the fire.  It’s lifeless form fell to the stones.  Hatred boiled in Taryn, he wasn’t going down without a fight.

“Well, then it looks like we’ve saved the best for last.” With a mighty pull, Taryn loosed two sets of arrows and as arrow after arrow passed her protective charms, he heard her shriek. For the first time since she had “awoken” Taryn thought he sensed fear in her.

“I WILL GIVE YOU ONE MORE CHANCE to tell me what I want to know, you foolish, crawling, weeping insect,” raged the enemy, her eyes like rays of foul red light fell upon the ship and and stones of the chamber searching for Taryn.  “TELL ME if the Darkening has come again, or I will peel…” but Taryn wasn’t listening, as she spoke, he  stealthily moved himself into the best firing position he could, using the ship as cover.

As Taryn stood, he began to draw the arrows back, confident that these would bring her down, but Clothos was too fast.  Nonchalantly she pointed her finger again, this time at Taryn and whispered, “Die”.  Bland tendrils of smoke whirled around Taryn’s throat and clawed their way into his nose and eyes, ears and mouth.  As Taryn gagged his last breath, Clothos neared him  finally, and lifted his limp form so that her enormous face was near to his.  Taryn’s last thoughts were of the evil stench of her breath upon him.

“An infinite number of sheep can never defeat the wolf.  The four were fools. The way of the three was the way to salvation, Taryn, First and LAST!” With that, Clothos threw his body against the chamber wall. 

And all was silent.

The Second Great Awakening

Some time must have passed before, unbelievably, Melissande found herself among the others sitting by a basin just like they had found, this one filled with water.  Each was smiling, and laughing dipping their legs into the pool.  She couldn’t figure out why everyone was so happy. Hadn’t they just died? And then, she heard a familiar voice.

“So how is ol’ Greasy these days, fellas?” It was none other than Doromir!

“She’s just fine there Doromir,” said Bolvist, “In fact, last we checked she was being real well taken care of by the boys in Carr Therris!”

“Well, that’s a shame isn’t it…,” Doromir replied, his face cast down, “But I’m sure she’ll come around someday. I’m a pretty good catch after all.”

“Doromir!” It was Melissande “What the Ketian Hells is going on???”

“Oh, nothing much Mom, just your dead is all.”

“WHAT???” It was all of them together.

“Well, I don’t mean you’re dead exactly.  I mean you would have been, if it hadn’t been for me.  I guess you’re all alive because I’m a  part of you now.  I’ll gladly bring you back, but you’ve got to promise me something ok? You’ve got to promise you’ll bring me back when you can. I miss my body guys!”

“Well sure,” laughed Bolvist, “I mean, who wouldn’t”. With a ridiculous smile he winked at Jasper.  “Looks like we’re really dead after all Jasper. Are you getting a load of this?”

But Jasper wasn’t laughing, in fact he wasn’t smiling either. “We consent, Doromir,” he said.

“Well ok then,” said Doromir, “Good luck on the rest of your Path, but guys remember, I can’t save you again…”

Taryn’s eyes opened. He was lying down in a pool of his own blood on the stones of the ship chamber.  Clothos was picking up the lanthorn and laughing hysterically.  She was turning back towards him.  Taryn immediately closed his eyes as he felt the heat of her glare when she turned back to look at them.

“Goodbye Heroes,” he heard her say, “Now comes the time of The Three.” Taryn heard a whoosh, as if the air in the chamber were suddenly being sucked out.  He opened his eyes, and realized he was alive. Somehow incredibly, he was alive!

“But how?” whispered Jasper, who although red-soaked with blood was sitting up near him.

“The Dying God is he who bleeds..In search of knowledge that he needs. Whispered Taryn, “The Ballad.  It’s come true.”

“What?” It was Bolvist, examining the falchion he had found.

“The Ballad. That Tiresias made sure we remembered.  It’s come true. Don’t you see?”

The others were about to answer when a stone fell from the side of the chamber.  CLANG!!!! It banged against the side of the chamber.  Another soon fell and…

“We’ve got to get out of here!!!! NOW!” roared Taryn. And without further delay, they ran from the chamber, into the central chamber.  As the Heroes climbed up the rope they had left, around them the colossal structure collapsed in on itself, as if something hold been holding it up for years and had suddenly stopped doing so.

Wrong Place, Right Time

Dressing her colleagues wounds, Melissande healed the others in the glade as the last of the day’s sunlight shone upon them.  She noticed that tonight the three moons would be very close, she knew that every great while they often passed each other, perhaps tonight would be a celebration in elvish villages.

As she wrapped a last bandage around Bolvist’s calf, though she looked up past the trees and saw three figures in the sky, wings outstretched gliding on the wind.

“WE HAVE COMPANY?” she yelled to the others.

The party watched, drained and confused, they knew there was little they could do should these strange creatures be harmful.  Closer and closer the figures flew, and then they saw with astonishment and fear that the three beasts were reptilian, shining with a metallic hue.  The middle was immense, majestic and  grand it must have been the size of three of the ships the party had just found, two smaller dragons flew to either side. With a mighty thud, the three landed in the glade near them.

The largest of the Wyrm’s brought it’s maw to face them and roared.  Stepping back, they watched and waited.  The last light of the day shone off incredible scales, each like a small shield on it’s hide, the color reminded Bolvist instantly of Bronze, a deep rich color like orange mixed with copper. 

And then before them, the central figure began to change. Slowly it diminished.  Slowly, it’s form reduced until it was a simple man standing in a robe, with a redtinted beard and long hair.  The old man approached Melissande in a hunched walk, but it was quick with purpose.

“HOW DID YOU COME TO BE HERE???? Why are you here on this eve??”

“WHO ARE YOU?” the party asked.

“Answer me now!” the voice was rich and in a word, ancient.  The accent was thick as if not that of a human.  They immediately thought of Tiresias.

“We came here to protect our borders.  We….found a Lanthorn, but…”

“YOU HAVE RELEASED …. one of the THREE?”  said the man…and then as if with resignation for something lost he said to something, “you have been led to one of the Fates on this eve…”

Approaching Melissande, he walked with his head down, he seemed troubled and deep in thought.  As he came to face her, behind him the two smaller dragons hissed at each other.  Melissande saw the light in his eyes as he brought his head back up to speak to her.  “I am very old, Great Mother.  My name is Baluar and I have served you, in good faith as best I could.  I fear though, you know little of what I say, nor that the Path is now lost to us.”

“You are right Great One,” said Melissande, “For I am only a simple druid trying to restore the balance I find out of place in the world.  But why is all lost?”

Baluar seemed to ignore her question, to Bolvist he turned next. “Fafnir has been found, and he is lost, yes? He would certainly have helped you  with the First Marker if he could.   The marker did not work as the Seer foretold.”

“We do not understand,” Jasper replied.  As much as he could, he told Baluar what Tiresias had given to them before he died, “Tell us.”

“In the last days of the Kasillian defeat, the Seven Gods who you Celns have dismissed began to change. A great Seer of the era foretold of the changes to come, and of what must need be done to protect Gaia from the Ketians, whom were about to rise with the changing land. The Three Fates, Atropos, Clothos and Lachesis, grew in power in the dark, while the Four diminished as the light began to Fade upon the surface of the world.  At first they kept this is a secret from us, but as the Light left us, it became known to all.

In order to protect the arks constructed from them, the Great Mother, at that time, consulting this Seer, chose tasks so that the Three could not open them once more when the Light returned.

However, the three betrayed us and sabotaged their arks, so that the path could not be taken to open them once more.  In answer to this treachery, the Four remaining Lords decided to give themselves back to the people, they gave up their power, spreading the four principles among what was left of mankind. The shepherd became the sheep!

Your growing power is a collection of what they once were. Courage, Empathy, Curiosity, Sacrifice.

In the Darkness that followed, several of us attempted to protect what little remained of mankind, but the Three betrayed the Great Guardians as well.  Each of our pairs were corrupted.  Tiresias lost his mate, as did….we all.

If Tiresias is gone, only I and Abraxas to the West are left.  The 6 great Wyrms, now four as Borindin defeated Gulgol many years before and Hasai has been lost to us, cannot match the power and might of the chromatics.

The Path you have opened is not walked in SPACE alone. It is walked in TIME as well. In this way, the Lords of Kasille would protect the might of their age, an eternity of power sealed from the Darkened Hordes of Ket.  The four Gods must walk the path again, and do what only they can along the way. Only though will know the meaning of the markers. It is why Tiresias, nor I can aid you on that quest.

Unfortunately, it is obvious that Tiresias was right.  The three have corrupted this path, it no longer functions in both time and space. Long have I stayed hidden from the Chromatics, long have I waited for the Darkness to return. I will not last another Darkening.  Nor will mankind.

Hope is lost.

How do I know that Tiresias was right?  Look at you! The Flame has taken your power and you have been left with scraps.  The Flame of “Silver”!!! The path is meant for Gods, but Gods you have not become. This is why Tiresias never found his Four.

Before the Seer went silent, he gave us the time and location of the first of the Points along the path. The time is tonight and Mustakrakish, my scout, helped me work out that the place is Carr Alpha.  Who else has figured that out is not known to me, but it is obvious at least several of your enemies have guessed. If you are here, then you have not received the message the path provides. You have released Clothos instead of walking the path. You have missed the first marker.

“WHAT MARKER?” cried Melissande

Carr Alpha is under siege Heroes.  You are missing the battle to decide who walks the Path of Light….

To be continued…

 

From The World of Myth  page 123-124

“In our depictions of divinity, we humans have given form to our sense of the ultimate source of our own significance. When we give form to divinity, we derive that form from our own experience. We make our gods in our own image because our own image marks the physical limits of our being.  We cannot know the gods, we can know only our experience of them. Not surprisingly, since the essence of whatever it is to be human is as present in the Indonesian or Nigerian [or Trebian or Celn] as it is in the Irishman or the Indian [Or Ata’uahn or Sasser or Orst] these depictions when seen as a whole-as world mythology-reveal a pattern of archetypal motifs that are as universal as the physical characteristics we humans [or elves or dwarves] share. As we study the gods of world mythology, we will encounter, below the surfaces of the many cultural masks they inevitably wear, the constant, universal shadows that we call the…Great Mother, the trickster, the dying god…the helper god… male-female pairing, the gods who visit the earth and are shunned and many other familiar figures.”

          “For the student of mythology, it is important to recognize in any god or goddess or pantheon both the mask, or metaphor, that is worshipped by the culture that created it and the spiritual or psychological source of the mask, the archetype, which is either an aspect of ultimate reality or a creation of what Jung called the collective unconscious-the collective human mind. In either case, the archetypal image is part of our common human heritage. It contains information about our experience as human beings. It is therefore, of great metaphorical value to us. The Mother Goddess archetype signifies the same to us whether we are from Atlanta, Madras or Oslo [or Cillandar or Carr Alpha]. The same could be said of Hamlet and his association by way of the tragic hero, with the dying god of myth.”

 

From Chief Archaeologist Duher’s “An Investigation into Occult Practices and the False Mythologies of the Outer Wilds”

          “While it can be argued that all rational humanoids, excepting those races such as halfs and lizardkind, search for “Gods”, it can now be constructed that the search for these god archetypes is universal among the lands explored to date.  Never in the lifespan of our Lord, King Borindin, has there been found worship to any god that does not bear worship to one of the seven pillars of the guiding principles of our Flame.  Even the misguided and backward Trebians to the North do not deny that their so called “ancient gods”  share these principles, and in truth their stories are simply a justification for why they exist in the first place.

However, the Trebians do not study in any manner that we know of and their unfortunate lack for intellectual prowess has led them away from why these principles exist in us in the first place. While we worship and give strength to courage, to care, to curiosity and to sacrifice, we equally shun [although not all humanoids  outside our Light do!] greed, lust and wrath.  The story of Cellinor then can really be summated as the collective search for these first four principles, while the last three are discarded among the growing Realm.  Surely, as evidence of this universal desire of humans to remain in the Light, it can be well stated that while the Order of Silver has served as a beacon and collective well of the Celn people, the four great pillars of virtue have grown, while the final three have nearly perished. Why is it that civilized races have such a burning desire to come to the four tenets of courage, caring, curiosity and sacrifice?  Is it simply woven into the fabric of our being?  Why is it that greed, lust and wrath have pushed into the borders of our world, to be shunned even by the most susceptible of our women on Riftenaught? Certainly, it is because these universal traits are what make humankind, and all the Lighted Races, civilized while making the beasts, those without the will that we share, to be civilized themselves. The student of the religion and history of our great Realm would do wise to remember that although other societies may claim these principles can manifest themselves as “Gods” bearing the trait, that currently and for all time we know of, these principles have simply been a part of who we are. Although we can harness this power collectively through worship, there are simply no GODs that take the place of this power for us. To suggest this is to speak blasphemy as well as speak against countless sources of verifiable information from our archaeological record. All one needs to do is simply attend a Challenge of Champions to understand how the four pillars make the Celn Empire the natural and inevitable people to guard the Light and bring others to it.”

THINGS TO COME!!!!

Session 15, ACT  2 FINALE

Siege at Carr Alpha!

The dragons are excellent flyers, and within just a few hours the Twilight Force is nearing the familiar border hills of their valley.  Ahead, in the night, however, they notice many more lights than should be visible from this vantage point.  It would appear as though Carr Alpha has visitors, a lot of them.

Bolvist and Jasper decide to land Baluar’s “kin” in the grand hall, while Melissande and Taryn decide to view the enemy a little closer on a “fly by”.

Things At Home Are Not So…

Inside the Grand Hall it’s pandemonium.  Many of your friends, and most loyal subjects are running for their lives.  Creatures that you have seen before, with their foul stench and bodies full of wounds, the undead, are chasing after random people all around you. As you watch, an immense object comes flying in through one of the grand castle windows recently polished by Q’s men.  It breaks with a smash, and the object, perhaps a large boulder, comes flying to the ground. But just as it lands, it begins to writhe and squirm and then stand! It isn’t a boulder at all, but rather a gigantic body! Where it’s hands use to be are gigantic metal knives almost as if something had surgically removed the limbs and placed knives in the flesh instead.  It’s eyes burn blue with bloodlust in a face both gruesome and fearful to behold.

Jasper and Bolvist begin to hack down the ghouls, one of whom nearly rips a quivering Tuatha to shreds.  Before he can say thanks as only Tuatha can (usually by being passed out and pale), the lumbering form with metal knives for arms stands upright and makes a beeline in the direction of a human family huddled together, the husband Ballor trying desperately to keep his daughters and wife safe as swords and claws swing around them.

But the party has come into action, although Bolvist and Jasper have been attacking the others, help it would seem is on it’s way.  The form begins to run at Ballor, who’s outstretched hand can do nothing more than wish it away.  Then, two arrows fly into the hall from the darkness outside and strike the creature in the chest, followed by a a fire erupting all around it in a cascade of flame.  The second of the bronze dragons alights on the walls of the large window frame, it’s neck snaking around while it’s great mouth full of teeth snapped and snarled in annoyance at the moving forms below it.  Taryn and Melissande jumped off  and into the fray!

Simultaneously, the hideous beast swayed but kept moving for the family, and the party knew they would get there just a fraction of a minute too late to save them!

Felix, The Wonderful Mage

But just then, one of the parlor magicians who came with you on the last leg from Carr Theris, turns and moves in between the advancing hulk and the man lurched over his wife and daughters. As if in slow motion, a small creature with wings emerges from his robes and flies in the face of the gigantic form racing towards him. It seemed to be a bird and it’s shrieks distracted the beast just enough for the magician to move directly in front of it’s path!! He then raises a hand and brilliant arrows of magical energy sail outward striking the foe and sending it backwards in a powerful demonstration of magical might. As the creature lands with a thud on the hard stones of the grand hall, he introduced himself to you nonchalantly, as if he just ordered a round of ale.

“I don’t think I ever got to introduce myself to you My Lords,” says the mage brushing off his robes as the undead giant falls backward behind him. “The name’s Felix! I’ve always been a big admirer!”

“I like this guy,” Taryn says, patting him on the back in a good naturedly way.  The others finish turning in all directions to make sure the enemy is dispatched, at least for now, stow their weapons and nod consent. In the corner, the last of the ghouls is being hacked down by one of the Shields.  Bolvist actually seems to smile.

“Welcome aboard you stinking spellcaster,” he says, “this guy might come in handy tonight. You’d better stick with us, Felix.”

“Think I will if you don’t mind, well, me and my bird that is.  This is Phoenix. He has more lives than a werecat!”

“Sorta like us,” thinks Melissande aloud, “Glad to have you Felix, but tonight isn’t going to be short of near death experiences, hope you know what you’re getting yourself into.”

“Don’t worry guys,” says Felix, “my dad’s the DM.”

Briefing

A familiar figure runs towards you from the other side of the hall shouting your names.  It’s Bearclaw! He clasps you all on the back, smiling which looks amazingly odd on the half-orcs toothy face.  “Thank the Light!  The soldiers and your subjects will need to know that you have returned. Many of them have rumored you abandoned us, although I of course knew you had not. Billingsweed is downstairs right now trying to sign others into positions of leadership into the tertiary contingency! Good thing your Dying God ale is a 120 proof. Q devised an ingenius initial defense that kept the Ketian beasts from crossing the river and it’s bought us some time.  But I fear time is a short lived luxury for us….”

“My lords, things are bad but not lost. Know that the Trebians left two nights ago.  They stole many of our horses as well, so cavalry is no longer an option. The dwarves have tried to strengthen the outer walls but several areas are still weaker than we would like.  We had to blast your secret entrance as it was an open invitation to the Keep.  Q has arranged some ballistic weaponry and we’ve tried them out. They work great but I don’t know how long our ammunition will last.”

“How do the defenses hold on the outer wall, Captain?” says Taryn.

“Look out there, see for yourselves….”  Coming to the sill, the drums and horns blare at what seems like random times, as hordes of creatures arrange themselves out in the night, before the keep.  Like ants moving this way and that along a hill, it’s a colossal army of nightmarish beasts. Large beasts, possibly giants or trolls, pull ballistics weaponry into position, while shifty moving forms clamber to the river’s bank on the far side of the Keep.  Other forms hover in the air and then land again.  Several winged beasts fly around the castle in clusters, but you’ve never seen their like before.

As you are about to ask, how in the Nine Hells of Ket these beasts got here, Bearclaw points to a colossal hole at the opposite end of the valley.  It seems as though something gigantic burrowed it’s way through the ground and erupted there.  Several orcs or perhaps goblins seem to still be issuing forth.  But what grabs your attention is the machinery.  Metal braces  and large beams possibly used for scaling seem scattered around just out of arrow reach, larger creatures, maybe some type of ogre or troll seem to be moving them into place while other figures work on them. It’s obvious this scaffolding is meant for one purpose.

This army before you is not of this surface world.  There are creatures here you have only imagined in your nightmares.  Here and there an occasional winged creature veers upward, but stops and returns to the ground.  It is obvious that the forces are almost ready to advance.

While you watch, an explosion rocks the keep. Bearclaw says, “We aren’t quite sure yet what that is, but it’s got us worried.  As soon as I have intel on that myLords I will let you know.”

While  you stand thinking about what to do, one of the ranger scouts runs in and reports to Bearclaw, seeing you however he turns and bows.

“MY Lords, you have returned!!!!!” His smile fades though as he quickly addresses his Captain, “Master Bearclaw, there are two areas that need to be addressed immediately, the main force seems to be ready to advance but we have two problems.  First, Njord is nearly through to the backside of the tunnel that we found.  We think the women and children can exit through there but we’ll need a small force to accompany them. However, several soldiers have reported that winged beasts are circling the main tower and their actions are highly suspicious. The other problem we have is that on the weak side of the Keep, there seems to be a disturbance.  The structure there is shaking and our soldiers report the mortar between stones seems to have loosened.”

Staying Grounded

“We’ll take care of this Bearclaw,” Jasper yells, “keep the arrows flying off the outer wall as long as you can. We’ll report back when we’ve seen to these threats.”

Melissande, as if to show that they did indeed have this taken care of, stood near a window and began the casting of a most awesome spell. Within minutes, winds whipped around the castle.  Melissande had brought the winds into servitude, preventing flying creatures from using the wind in an aerial assault!

“My lords, wait! Before you go, your subjects need to see you.  They must know their Lords are here fighting for and with them!” An arrow whizzed into the hall and bounced off the scales of one of the two bronze dragons as it screeched it’s displeasure and bit the air like a dog snapping at fleas. “And I’m going to FIGHT all night just to hear the story of THOSE  TWO WINGED DEMONS!”

“The pints are on us, GRON,” Bolvist said using the Orc word for ‘brother in arms’, an orc term of respect.

“Ofcourse,” said Melissande, “Sound the horn, Bearclaw, but we must be quick!”

The horn of Cellinor blared throughout the Keep.  The magnificent quality penetrated the din of battle all around you.  Within a minute, many members of the Keep have gathered around, but you know this must be brief.  There are whispers and cries of “They’re alive!” “The Lords have returned, etc” all around you.  Gingrich, tears streaked through the grease of turning a ballistics machine, is having a hard time keeping his composure. He looked as though he couldn’t stand much more of this.  In fact, many of them, even the ones you know as dependable and honorary look as though they can’t take much more.  The size of the advancing army outside would strike fear in any fighter you know, but most of these men are farmers, scouts, adventurers.  Among these brave men, you see several of the Shield members you rescued in the tunnels below Haven.  The fact that they are now here willingly is not lost on you. Then, there are others, a little less willing.  Among these are Frome, who seems to stare at you from the crowd of gatherers through sunken eyes.  You wonder how he’s able to take in the view outside with the teachings of the Flame being his life’s direction.

Something must be said. Bearclaw was right, this can’t wait.

Bolvist goes first.

If any of you gutless swine are thinking about weaseling a way out of here before either us or these Ketians are dead, let me know now. That way I can kill you myself and save the both of us a lot of trouble.

Don’t look at me like that! I’m not trying to scare you into sticking around, I’m no more happy you’re here then you are. But this is what we have to do. I look around and see faces that belonged to boys and girls when we sallied at Haven, and which now belong to warriors. That wasn’t the best plan, that wasn’t the most righteous plan, that was the only plan. I look around and see refugees from Carr Perrin, scores of latecomers not two days ahead of an inquisition wherever you were before. You didn’t come for the peace and security, or the easy work, or the adventure. You came because that was the only choice. You made those choices for the same reason I stashed a brigade’s worth of Orst steal in the brewery, for the same reason I turned a blind eye and told the guard to do the same to every variety of vice and personal failure known to Celns. We make the choices we have to, be they distasteful or plain wicked, because Good does not triumph over Evil.

I ain’t saying the Ketians out there are destined to roll over us. I’ve got four cubits of Kasillian steel that say otherwise. And in fact, we got one over on them cause we know this fight’s got no concern for Dark or Light. When the sun rises on Carr Alpha tomorrow, the winner won’t be counted by the strength of their beliefs or the whims of the fates. The winner will be whoever spilled two drops of blood for every one he shed. Whoever wants the worst to feel her blade punch through mail and flesh. Whoever made the most widows for every inch of earth he gave.

Who won’t win is the one who counts on God or Flame to save him, who thinks it will all work out in the end. There’s no retreating here, cause if this keep falls there’s nowhere on Gaia the darkness won’t find you. So don’t put your faith in Flame and Light and Happy Endings. Put your faith in the warrior next to you.  Put your faith in Jasper’s training, Bearclaw’s discipline, Harquin’s cunning. Put your faith in Lord Taryn, Lady Melisande.

Put your faith in me. I’ve never asked you that before. The words are strangers to me. It won’t matter if what we did was righteous or low. It won’t matter why we fought, why we died. All that will matter is that this night, few fought against many. You know this is what has to be! So grant me this, your will to see tomorrow! And if you won’t, then to Ket with you!

A great roar and raucous cheer erupts from all.  And Lord Bolvist steps down from the table, pulling Melissande up. A few whisper her name. Although the hall silences itself, outside the roars and cries and shrieks of untold evil throats still ring through the night.

“People of Carr Alpha, a great evil has come upon us. The Forces of Ket would take our home. You have all left your homes, your families to find a better life here. Would you let them destroy all we have worked to create? I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me! A day may come, when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of Fellowship, but it is not this day! An hour of woes and shattered shields when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you, stand with us and defend your Castle!”

“The amulet!” cries Jasper.  “Why, that witch has delivered her speech to all, even those on the outer wall!” And it was true, every last member of the Keep and township of Alpha overheard it, and with her speech a chant sprang up.  “Alpha, ALPHA, ALPHA!!!!!!”

“It won’t matter!” This time it’s Gingrich who seems to have been the only one not moved by Bolvist’s and Melissande’s speeches, “she obviously took that from one of Tuatha’s tales.”

“You meat sack!” cries a high pitched voice. Looking down, they see Ding and Dong kicking Gingrich in the shins.  “It was in a tale called the The Whores of the Ding, but it’s still a classic!!!  With high pitched laughter, they both run away to Light knows where, yelling profanities at random people. It would be sometime before the party saw them again…

Taryn and Jasper deliver their speeches as well, and a new zeal seemed to sweep the crowd.  But something even stranger happens.  Each of the party, and Felix too, begin to feel a power grow in their mental strength.  Later, Melissande would say she knew then, as she did after their victory at Haven,  a great discovery. Strangely, the members of the party look at one another, as if to find out if the other  felt the same thing.

“Wow,” said Jasper, flexing his fists and studying his outstretched arms as if he had seen them for the first time.

“Yeah, wow,” replied Felix.  “That was an experience.”

“No time to puff out our chests friends,” it was Taryn already racing toward the tower, “let’s investigate that tower, and quick!”

Tower Power

Jasper ran over to where he could look up and see the tower from the outside.  Several shapes were circling around the top, a couple of which were extraordinarily large.  While he watched, it seemed as though they were carrying creatures in their talons, and dropping them off.  The figures then disappeared over the sides and into the tower.  Clearly, this breach of the defenses would lead to enemies behind your line of defense.  Someone had to stop the creatures or else the soldiers holding the tower base would be overrun soon and the whole castle could be compromised.

But, the others were already racing up the winding stairwell to the tower’s top where they had once faced the ghosts of Alorus’ parents.

Surprise! Goblins were racing down the stairs as well.  Bolvist hacked them down as he ran up, Jasper, whose speed and agility were unmatched caught up and with swift movements, threw them over the edge of the stairwell without breaking stride.

Once at the top, the party had their hands full with two shadows in the forms of dragons. Although Melissande’s spell had grounded an aerial assault on the castle, they had clung to the tower and proved a terrible foe.  However, other enemies were waiting there too.  A thri-kreen warrior with a vicious blade and emotionless eyes had been stuck there and gave battle.  The party knew his kind must have come from the Seas of Sands either to the North or West, and he was apparently in league with Ketian forces.  And finally, there were other even more foul enemies.  Winged beasts that seemed to be made piecemeal, or a patchwork of other creatures or their parts.  They attempted to wrap around the party members and devour them with vicious mouths full of putrid smelling substances, but the party put them down.

With the tower secured, they fled to the spot where the wall was in danger of collapse.

Master, Where Are You?

A gigantic scraping and crunching noise was heard coming from the side of the base of the outer wall.  There was a hole that had been made in the Earth and the outer walls of the Keep were shaking as if something deep down was burrowing it’s way in.  Something below was causing the ground itself to quake.  They knew that if something wasn’t done the outer wall may give way, letting the enemy in to take over for sure!

Just as they were about to investigate further, two enormous giants burst forth. Each had a single eye in the middle of it’s forehead. One held aloft a gigantic club with spikes sticking out in all directions.  The other a magnificent axe already covered in blood from past deeds that day.

“Master, there are men!!!” It shouted and used it’s reach to rain down terrible blows on the party, nearly killing several. But, just then, Felix, the party’s new assistant, had an idea.

“Watch out fellas! The ground’s about to get sticky!” Dropping some rocky pieces from his hands he pointed at the earth around the Cyclops’ legs and the ground became like rock. It surrounded them and they weren’t able to move!  Taryn went to work and soon they were nearly put down.

“Master, where are you? Master?????” But, unfortunately, it seemed as if their master had left them, for good. With one last arrow in it’s eye, the remaining Cyclops was killed by Taryn. Unfortunately, the wall seemed in terrible disrepair now.  It didn’t look as if it would hold much longer against the enemy they knew was just on the other side of the river.

“We’ve got to get back to Bearclaw and see what needs to be done!” And they rushed to track him down, soon they found him overlooking the battlements at the outer wall.  It was a terrible sight. The enemy was surging over the river now, bringing their scaffolding up and across, vicious orcs, goblins and other foul creatures were scaling the rungs racing up towards Bearclaw and his men!

Views and Vantage Points

The clang of swords on shields, and the twang of arrows from the battle below you enveloped their senses.  All around, as Bolvist surveyed the field, it seemed as though an endless array of  creatures had come to take their lives.  The various forces advanced as shouts and commands were given, war whoops and chants answered their master’s demands.  Then, from the treeline, something happened!  Riding forth in a perfect V, were nearly 50 horses, their blackened armor just visible beneath their purple cloaks.  The leader, wore a crown of pure gold which Taryn and Melissande described to the others as they watched, because they could see it even this far off.  It was Eemilche!!!!! She and the Trebians had returned to fight after all!

Sadly, it seemed that it was  a hopeless affair.  Only after coming forth they were immediately surrounded by the enemy and swallowed whole.

A sword whizzed by you, the foul creatures were about to scale the walls, and an arrow landed near the party’s  feet.  More and more of the creatures had somehow managed to infiltrate the defenses below  despite your best efforts to hold them back.  It was now a losing battle. “Fall BACK!” Yelled Bearclaw.  “To the innermost Keep! Get the innocents to the passages, women and children first.  Men, stand and fight with me!  Who will help me hold these BASTARDS OF NIGHT at bay while our children get clear?”

From out of the crowd, stepped a small adolescent boy clad in chain mail that hung well below his feet.  His helm sat askew on his head and he looked as though he was having trouble holding his mace upright. You recognize him! It was Jeffer!

“I will, Master Bearclaw!” he growled, a nearly flawless look of determination was spread across his face.   “I will SIR!” Others began to say the same thing.  Nonetheless, their courage awakened something inside the Twilight Force. They’ll never make it in time  they thought, the rabble they’ve seen coming near the outer walls will overrun the ramparts without extra support. The ammunition is gone, and there simply wasn’t enough swords to hold them all back.

Bearclaw climbed atop the parapets, two arms hacking at clawing and searching limbs attempting to come up over the ramparts.  Kicking out, he booted a goblin back over and into the river below.  All around, the same scene, the enemy trying to break over the walls, the forces in retreat wouldn’t make it to the Keep in time without being overrun.

“I think it’s time for me to take a stab at things here,” said Felix.  “You see in the show business we have an expression, if you can’t beat them, burn them.”

He stepped atop the wall, ignoring the arrows whizzing by him, and whispered on the wind throwing ash into the air and waving his arms as though he were orchestrating a musical ensemble.  Powerful flames erupted below him, their glow and heat rising upwards making shadows of the hideous beasts locked in battle around him.  Cries and shouts below and a burning stench filled the air,  The mage had created a wall of fire in mid air, and not only had it held back the enemy but it also began to burn the wooden beams.  The cracking and snapping of the wood filled the air as bodies fell into the river below and were swept away.  A thunderous cheer rose from the Alphans!

“Who is THAT, My Lord?” one of the soldiers asked Bolvist, who had just jumped down from the wall and stuck a dagger in a goblin trying to run by him.

THAT was Felix.  He seems to have a few tricks up his sleeve…”

Thanks to Felix’s spell, the party was able to take out the few that had come over the wall, and they rendezvoused with Bearclaw and the last of the guard.  “Make your way to the Keep’s main gate,” he bellowed “Thanks to Felix here we’ve managed to get everyone who isn’t fighting this Darkened Night to safety, but we still have a job to do, and they are coming. There are other weak points here we can’t help now.  We make our stand in the Keep!” He turned resolutely. There was no signs of worry on his orcish face.  Bearclaw was in complete control of himself.  He was a true warrior you thought.

Running into the castle courtyard, the several soldiers there heaved the massive gate doors closed, and barred it with an even more massive beam of metal. “Join me in the tower My Lords, so that we may plan our next defensive strategy.”

The Three

Walking up the stairs to the Keep’s main station, you climb to the top of the rise and suddenly, oddly, there is…silence.  It’s chilling nothingness is so out of place in this night, that the party actually froze in step.  For a moment, there was a break in the action.  The sounds of swords and shields seemed to have died down for some unknown reason. Above you, something strange was happening.  Looking up, the three moons which earlier seemed nearer to each other than anyone had ever remembered were now coming so close that they seemed to be overlapping! In fact, as Melissande watched spellbound, a perfect circle seemed to be forming, with two inner rings where the sillhouette of each smaller moon was.  The shape was familiar to them all and they all too much  realized that the moons had just formed the Concentric Circles ring!

A mighty roar erupted from the advancing Ketian forces, as if this event had somehow marked something special to them, they surged forward with renewed vigor against the outer walls.  And that’s when everyone heard it!

A gigantic crack ripped through the side of the hillside on the western edge of the Castle.  Jasper led the way and the others  moved towards  a place where they could put a location to the sound. They found themselves on a balustrade across from the place where Melissande discovered the well, or perhaps it should now be called an “Ark”.  But where the hillside once was, there now was only a ruin of a gigantic cylinder.  The base of the cylinder was now covered in gigantic pieces of rubble and debris.  Staring, they watched as shadowy forms crawled through and among the debris. The figures made their way to the top of the rubble pile and began to climb down towards the Ketian forces.

Who were they? And how did they get here?  What is going on?

And then something else climbed through the rubble pile.  A small stocky arm followed by a helmed head with a red beard arranged in twin braids. Why, it’s a dwarf! Several others began to come through and before the party could count, another and another.  About a dozen in total, they seemed nervous and although they were easily seen from this view, it was obvious that they were hiding and uncertain.  One of them reached back to help up one of their comrades that was still out of view below the tangle of rocky rubble.  A hand shot upward.  And then, the body of a man whom the party had seen many times before.

It was Genoran! Prince of the Realm.  And with him an elf, much darker than any you have seen before, followed by a woman, wearing a robe and carrying a staff. She was young, with golden hair spilling around her shoulders.  Genoran looked up at Carr Alpha and pointed in your direction.

New Friends

Minutes later, the party brought Genoran, the elf and the woman, and his dwarf companions up into the keep. The dwarves were in a terrible mood climbing up the side of the Keep via ropes, and it wasn’t until the sounds of their complaining died down, that they looked around enough for the rest to notice they were all female.  Their leader, was serious and expressionless. She was diginified, like royalty.  And she looked completely mad as hell. They all stood there eyeing each other, as if not knowing what to say.  But then, Genoran with a  sudden smile that seemed awkward yet perfect in this occasion, stepped forward clasping the party and spoke.

“My friends! I am sorry I do not have more time to explain.  We have been through a terrible ordeal, and many have been lost.  Help must be on it’s way, but I fear that it will not be here in time.  Where are the women and children?”

“MY LORD!!!” It was Bearclaw, who stood up from kneeling after Genoran dismissed it with a hand and a look that told everyone “We’ve got more important things to do right now”.  “We’ve been able to get the women and children into the mountains.  The tunnels seem secure.  The keep is our last line of defense.  We will hold it at all costs.”

“Good, Master Bearclaw, the Twilight Force is fortunate indeed to have a Commander of your measure here tonight.  You know what we face then dear friends?”

All nodded.  “Yeah, only the blasted ENTIRE KETIAN ARMY!” muttered Bolvist.  And with a smirk, “I figured they’d be taller.”

Genoran smiled in the half-orcs direction and nodded.  “They’re not just here for Alpha.  They are here for the Path!”

The Twilight Force looked at each other.

“They’ve come because this night is the 2nd marker.  The path has been opened. The path the Kasillians could never take themselves!!!! The four must walk the path this night, as it is intended. We have already had issues on our end.  On the first leg of the journey. Our comrade sacrificed himself so that…..”

“Our friend gave his life to put us here!” It was the young woman, tears in her eyes.

Genoran took over. With a hand he placed it on her shoulder and looked at her as if he too felt the pain of the loss of this friend.  “The Enemy intends to  send itself through, and to stop us from doing so.  They must not be allowed to do that. We don’t fully understand what is going on, but this place is one of the 12 places spoken of in the Trebian mythos, the mythos our Flame and scholars have rejected.  It is a marker along the Path of Light.  It may very well be our only salvation when the Darkening comes!”

“I know after our dealings in Haven, you know of what I speak, my friends!” Everyone nodded, of course they knew..how could they not?

Genoran ordered Bearclaw to see that the last of the remaining ballistics were used.  When Bearclaw, confused asked what would happen when it ran out, Genoran simply gave him the order.  Bearclaw then went off to see to it.

“Come with me, my friends.  We must see to the Portal!”  He began to heal the young woman and elf.

Genoran then turned to the dwarven leader. “My Queen, I think….”

“We know WHAT we must do Prince.  SO DO YOU.  For the Sake of Us All, Master Celn.” Turning, she drew her mighty Warhammer and went off to fight along the keep’s main gate as sounds of mighty banging rang from outside the keep’s walls. Her shieldmaidens went with her.

“Ready yourselves,” spoke Genoran as he cinched his platemail tighter. “I don’t know what we’ll find on the other side, but we must be ready.  I will need your help and your good thinking on the matter.  Take me to the portal!”

With brisk steps the party led him.  As he walked with determination, he shouted back.

By now, I am sure you have learned as much as I have about the dealings of our world.  By now, you must realize what this place is.  It is one of the corrupted arks during the last Darkening.  For years the Flame has kept the truth from us.  For years, we have sought the answer.  Now we know.”

Were there markers?  Runes in the Hero’s chamber?”

Startled, Melissande walked alongside him, her staff echoing off the stones, as she talked with Genoran, she kept looking in the direction of the dark elf, with a peculiar expression on her face. “Yes, there were.  Last night, we realized they weren’t just literal markers.  Last night we….”

“What she’s trying to say, My Lord,” said Jasper, “is last night we died! But we didn’t.  The Dying God saved us.”

“A member of your party sacrificed themselves for you?!” it was the Dark Elf, who quickly introduced himself as Fereday.  Melissande looked at him awkwardly.

“Yes, but why…”

“Were there other…..other markers?” the soft voice of the young maiden spoke now.  She introduced herself as Buttercup from the Southern Valley.  “Did other parts of the runes manifest?” She seemed worried as if this question was the paramount of necessity to her.

“No, I think not” said Melissande to the young woman. She quoted each in turn.

Genoran stopped. He turned towards them all open mouthed. “Then you began the journey, but you were not the first marker! We were. And we failed you….”

Silence.  No one seemed to understand just what he meant.  “There is no time to explain, except for us to tell you that we too found runes in the Throndar Ark.  They too were markers, markers for deeds to be done by the four to enter the portal.  The portal that brought us to you.  But, you never received our message?”

“No, we did not…”whispered Melissande remembering the few scraps of paper she found.

“I see you have kept Tiresias staff Good Lady? We found something, something else in Throndar. But only one of us can use it it seems….”

Fereday stepped forward, and raising his hand, he held aloft a magnificent lanthorn.  It shone brilliantly in the stairwell.  He came to stand before Bolvist, who seemed confused. It was odd watching them. Two twins, two hooded figures standing in front of one another.

The trickster’s tool provides the spark. Between the sunlight and the dark, his hooded visage is the mark his time will come again.”

“Take it my friend. You are the hooded visage.  Your time has come, I think.” Bolvist took the lanthorn and it shone even brighter.

“There is something else we need to tell you, My Lord, about another of these lanthorns,” said Taryn looking askance at his colleagues as though they were all in about to be in trouble with the head mistress at school.

But Genoran interrupted, one foot on the stairs to the final level. “Tell me once we arrive at the Hero’s Chamber, good elf. There is more going on tonight than any of us yet know.  One thing is certain good Celns, we must get to the portal, and decide who will again walk the Path of Light! Hurry!” Genoran charged up the stairwell to the final floor. Buttercup went too, with an attempt at a nod and smile. Although she looked less certain she still held a look of incredible determination. It was obvious, whoever she was, recent events had changed her radically. She was just a young girl and she now seemed completely out of place.

“You know I have dreamt of you all before,” she said attempting a smile, she was obviously scared, and trying to smile, she instead froze her face and slowly put one foot in front of the other upwards into the darkness of the landing.

The dark elf drew two deadly daggers and began up next.  But before doing so, he turned back to Melissande, who was already watching him, her eyes never leaving him the entire time Genoran spoke.  “My name is Fereday, my Lady.” He held out his hand in an elvish fashion.

“I am Melissande, young one. It is a pleasure to meet you.” Melissande seemed choked, as if her words would not come forth.

“It is.” With a final nod, he raced up after the prince.

Taking the Wool From Over the Eye

The party drew their weapons, and took a last breath.  Taryn, drenched in sweat and grime, eyed the stairs leading up the last floor while sorting his arrows.  Blood oozed and dripped from their wounds.  Taryn had tied a few bits of cloth over his fingers so he could still use them to fire his weapons.  Jasper’s robes looked more red than white.  But upwards they came.  They weren’t sure why. Something drove them on. This was THEIR HOME.

THIS WAS ALPHA.  And whatever happened tonight, they weren’t going to give it away.  Besides, something Genoran had said rung true.  They knew now the Darkening WAS coming.  And maybe, just maybe they were meant to do something about it.  What that was, they’d have to figure out when they got there.

Topping the stairwell, they rounded a corner on the final level of the castle.  Genoran, who was ahead of them by maybe 10 paces stopped dead in his tracks.  Before him, in the torch lit darkness floated a gigantic oval shaped figure, a gigantic cloth draped over it.  Behind it stood a figure, dressed in robes.  You heard it mutter something in a language alien to you, yet familiar as well.  The figure pulled the robes off the floating oval back revealing a colossal eye in the center of the creature. Buttercup screamed, and Fereday moved back.  Genoran, shield raised, looked back at you, and for the first time, you saw a look of fear in his eyes.

 “TO BATTLE CELNS!!!!!”

The giant stalks atop the great floating eye shot pulses of light and energy at the party.  It was an otherworldly beast out of a nightmare. Bolvist and Jasper immediately sprang into action, lunging towards the hooded figure, risking it all. Many times, the eyes rays fixed themselves on the different members of the party. But their courage held.  Little by little they worked their way toward the hooded figure and began to wound the EYE.

The figure, on the other hand, seemed to be having it’s way with them.  While swinging swords and trying to advance on their enemy, a brain piercing shriek would enter their mind, several times dropping them to their knees in agony. Taryn described it as if someone was shaving or flaying parts of his brain off.  Afterwards, they all remembered little except a sinister and evil voice whispering to them the word “SLAVE”.

But the battle began to turn, Taryn’s arrows pierced the vast EYE, what they would later call the BEHOLDER for how it captured them with the evil rays.  Simultaneously, Bolvist sliced it open, spilling it’s yellow innards as it fell to the chamber floor!

Near death, and with Taryn and Bolvist lying on the cold stones, Melissande began one final attempt to kill the hooded figure, before it killed all of them. She transformed herself into an elephant, Felix made her invisible.

The hooded figure pulled back it’s hood.  A face unlike any other the party had seen but once, stood in front of them, tentacles hanging from it’s chin, insectile like eyes shone with a devilish intelligence.  A strange echo filled the chamber around them as somewhere it spoke, in their minds!

“NOW, you ignorant slaves.  Now, the Light dies.  And this world becomes Dark once…”

But it was never able to finish it’s thought, as an invisible elephant suddenly appeared in front of it, it’s tusks rammed into the opposite wall, piercing the creatures torso and holding it aloft.  It’s head lolled to one side.  The creature, the MIND FLAYER, was dead!

Buttercup raced to the Prince and healed him.  After collecting himself and while Genoran cleaned off his mace from the disgusting yellow goo of the Beholder, he  turned toward Fereday, who was still in the back of the room having been using a crossbow during the battle.  It seemed as though the two were communicating, but how was a mystery. Certainly neither was saying anything out loud to one another.  Fereday seemed to nod and then departed with a purposeful gait. Bolvist recognized that both wore the same ring on identical fingers.  They were speaking telepathically. 

“I’ve told him to watch our 6, and to inform me if we have trouble coming. Onwards, friends of Cellinor. Something is afoul tonight, and we must to our destinies!”

Old Enemies

Blood dripping from quickly bandaged wounds, the four, led by Genoran, ran up the stairs to the Hero’s Chamber, unsure now of what they might find there.  A breeze blew past where it should not have, and they noticed a hole recently made in the castle’s wall. Once again they were treated to a view that would strike fear in a lesser person.  The entire valley seemed full of wicked beasts.  Arrayed in battle formations and advancing rows.  While they stood wondering how in the Light they would escape this night, a horn blasted.  From far off on the other side of the valley.  There was only one horn you have ever heard with that quality. The Celn horn but made by the hands of a dwarf!  Jasper later recalled how Flemin once showed him the horn and how he designed it to be both the Celn customary sound, with an added metallic quality that could only have been considered Dwarven. It must be Flemin!  Somehow, someway, help had arrived from the other Cairns, the LIGHTS had come at last! Even from this far off, the others could see mounted cavalry bearing the Green and Gold colors of Cellinor riding onto the green of the valley. Gilded armor gleaming in their torchlight.

Many of the Ketian forces took a  defensive posturing towards this new threat, but as they stared through the crack, a branch of many forces surged towards the Castle, almost as if to attack it before the advancing forces could stop them. This threat alone would easily wipe them all out if it infiltrated the castle. Hopefully the defenses, and Bearclaw, would hold them back until the Celns could break down the enemy’s formations.  It appeared as though the Ketians meant to end the battle once and for all, or perhaps gain the tower as higher ground from the cavalry advancing on them. 

“We have our own business this night, lads….Lady,” said Genoran, as he turned with a solid resolve, his eyes shifted to the opened Hero’s Chamber, he swung his shield back around and gripped his mace tighter. Nobody seemed shock to find the portal swung open, as if they expected it to be.

The room appeared as they left it, with one exception.  Before them lay the bodies of three young girls, beautiful each in their own way. It was obvious they must all be related as they shared many of the same features.  The stairwell that they once saw descend after their battle with their other “side” had come down as well.  The bodies began to dissolve into thin air.  Someone was just here, and they had gotten to the Hero’s Chamber above!

Stealthily coming to the top of the stairs, the room Bolvist remembered was dark, but the Lanthorn he held lit most of it. With horror, he stared as a small amount of blood was present in the bowl at the foot of the Great Mother. He shone a light at the Warrior, and noticed a broken arrow lay where Taryn had once placed his sword, and upon the table of the Dying God were papers signed by all of them, including Jasper, the Warden. Someone had found these items and placed them here! The others came up to the landing but Bolvist heard other sounds below signaling advancing footsteps somewhere behind them.  Either help was on the way, or more of the enemy was closing in.  The way this night was going, it probably wasn’t going to be the better of the two he thought.  Then, he saw the figures.

They stood facing the Portal which was still, thankfully, closed.  Around  the four statues, the Warrior, The Trickster, The Great Mother and the Dying God.  The Portal to the Path of Light  was not open yet, it’s vast circular stone door held fast. Each figure then turned around to face the Alphans, Genoran standing in front.  Bolvist’s mother Manyara, Nyasha, the necromancer, and Luona, the eldest of the coven. Each was hooded and robed, but their aura and forms gave away their identity immediately.

“We need but one more of your items to open the portal and now we have it!” Manyara’s reptilian voice announced with a cackle  “It was so good of you to come!”

“Stand back from the Portal, foul devils!” Roared Genoran.  “STAND ASIDE, YOU WILL NOT WALK THE PATH, I SWEAR IT UPON MY HONOR!”

But the three did not move and as Genoran drew his weapon, and Jasper fell into his familiar battle stance, Manyara removed her hood and stepped into the light of the Lanthorns, “Hello Child,” said the sinister voice of Bolvist’s mother, “I can see that you’ve found your torch my son.”

“I am not your child you miserable hag,” he said in his sullen voice, “and once I remove your head from your shoulders, I will be no one’s son! This is my home and I haven’t given you an invitation!” Bolvist removed his daggers and prepared to lunge.

The two other figures standing next to Manyara were also covered in shadow.  At Bolvist’s response, they all began to laugh and cackle. It was a repulsive and twisted sound like snakes sliding through dried leaves. Behind Bolvist, the other Heroes stood. Genoran’s hand slid down to his thigh where an oozing wound trickled blood, while Melissande leaned heavily on her staff.

“You and your friends do not look well rested, dear Bolvist.” This time the figure to the left spoke, or rather hissed.  The voice was inhuman but somehow spoke in a feminine way. The voice was full of anger, and rage, and seemed about to escalate with every syllable as if the speaker was containing all that hatred in her speech.  “Perhaps you should stand aside!!!!” She raised a hand and a crackle of energy shot across the room at Bolvist just missing him as he ducked.

Immediately, the Lanthorn he held began to glow brighter. The three witches looked at each other and as if on cue, the portal door behind them began to open!

“The Path is open!!!!” Luona cackled hysterically, pulling her hood back and untying the robes around her. Her body was naked and pale and sickly yet fully covered in unsightly tattoes. Horror struck, Taryn noticed that one of the faces belonged to his friend from the fort, his tortured expression emblazoned on her white skin.  As he stared, the tattoes seemed to crawl over her skin like living things.  Her long blond hair laid over shoulders in a seductive way as the rush of air behind her began to jerk her hair around and the light sillouetted the outline of the portal door. 

“THE THREE WILL WALK AGAIN!!!!”

“They must be stopped! Do not fear Good Celns, The LIGHT protects us. TO BATTLE!” Raising his mace, he charged the nearest figure, Nyasha, but her body disappeared and reappeared on his other side while his mace passed harmlessly through midair!

Pullling aside her hood, she leaned in for….a kiss! Repulsive lips on her repulsive face puckered and kissed Genoran’s neck. He quickly shrank back, an oozing grey wound immediately sprouted where her lips had been, Genoran screaming in agony!

The others were already entering the fray.  Melissande began work on her spells, while Bolvist and Jasper had already begun to surround Manyara. She stood closest to the widening stone door. Bright light flickered around the room, throwing strange rays of multicolored beams  off mail and sword and helm.  A roaring wind enveloped and whirled around as well drowning out the sounds of battle. Jasper approached Manyara with caution knowing the mental weapons she possessed.   Taryn loaded arrow after arrow, standing near the stairwell.  Somewhere down below the sounds of the battle were coming closer. He only hoped that the Carr Alphans still held the upper hand, but from the view he had he wondered if the Celn Soldiers from the other Cairns would make it in time.

Luona, the pale hag and necromancer, began to cast a spell.   Genoran struck Nyasha in payment of her disease ridden kiss, and looked back to see her sister muttering words.  “Incoming!”  Yelled Genoran, who’s mace just missed Luona’s outstretched hand.

A ball of fire burst from her palm, landing near the stairwell and blasting outwards in a fiery blaze.  Melissande’s robes smoldered.

“Silence that bitch, witch!”  Taryn hollered through clenched teeth trying to find his aim without hitting his comrades.

Melissande cast back next. As the other witches began to utter other dark words of deadly magic, their words were lost and they fell silent.  Melissande’s spell had worked, at least for now.

But Luona, the eldest, continued to fight as her lips mumbled, and the words came back to her. She had  overpowered Melisande’s spell!  “Thank you for raising our Lord from her rest! It was so kind of you to free CLOTHOS for us!”

The battle kept on, the party trying desperately to position themselves in front of the portal. This put them in danger of Manyara’s terrible mind destroying ability and Nyasha’s dreaded kiss.  Bolvist moved in for the kill, daggers gleaming towards Luona.  Manyara, sensing Bolvist’s distraction attempted to enter his mind!  But Bolvist had grown mentally from his last encounter with his…mother. He fought her off, crying out with the exertion  of mental concentration, “MOTHER!” he cried, “I told you, I like my privacy!” And bringing his weapon down, he slit her throat, cutting a wide wound through her neck, he put a second hand over the hilt of his dagger and cut down into the torso, severing the putrid flesh of her body from bone.  With a blood filled gurgle, her body slumped and began to hiss and sputter while foul liquids and gases bubbled.  Slowly, a purple haze began to drift upwards out of the body.

“Capture her!” roared Genoran. But looking around, he realized there was little or nothing anyone else they could do.  So many of their spells and abilities had been used in the night’s events, they were exhausted and at their end.  Dangerously, he turned from Nyasha and dropped his mace , pinwheeling  toward the smoky haze. Ever so slowly it began to float toward the portal’s entry.  Genoran looked crazed as his arms made circular motions trying to trap the rising purple vapor.  Like a cat trying to round up it’s kittens, he hopelessly tried to somehow wrap his arms around the entirety of the cloud.  But although he enveloped it momentarily, the purple smoke inevitably sifted out and through the cracks between his arms and chest as he stood there and looked helplessly at the others. They too watched helplessly as the cloud drifted upwards and out of his reach and finally went into the portal and was gone.

“NO!!!!!!!!” cried Genoran, but in his anxiety to stop Manyara’s transcendence into the portal, he had turned his back on Nyasha and left himself fatally vulnerable.

“Goodbye, Prince of the Celns,” she howled pointing her finger at him.  Magical arrows shot forth, they looked like Felix’s except these were red with wicked barbs.  They struck him in the chest, neck and abdomen, hitting him in-between the armor plates he wore.  Time and again, his body jerked with each impact. He whirled around with the force of the final blow, and fell upon the stone floor, his mace, sliding out from him to rest against the far wall.

Genoran’s fall struck a chord in the heroes that night.  Although their allegiance to King and Country at times was second or third to their own goals, Genoran had been a man who seemed to understand the need for greater respect of the world.  They knew the sacrifices he had made for his Realm, and for them. They spurred themselves onto battle with calls of “SNEAK ATTACK!” and “POSITIVE ENERGY”.

Luona cackled, and Nyasha, triumphant in her destruction of the Prince, leaned in to kiss Jasper next.

Just then, Scruffy’s face appeared above the stairwell.  “My Lords!” Taryn was closest and even with a quick  sideways glance in between fitting arrows to the bow string he could tell that his face was covered in blood.  “We are over….” But before he could finish, a wicked orc’s blade slashed at his heels.  He cried out in anguish and fell backwards, the last word dying on his lips. Falling backwards, the cries of foul orcs and goblin voices raised in unison below in a chant.  The villians had broken through, and they were coming!

In these final moments of the battle several things happened all at once. Much later, after events allowed a peaceful rethinking of the moment, the Heroes would discuss what each saw and heard, but at that moment, it all happened in a blur.

Taryn pulled his bow back and twin arrows flashed towards Nyasha, who was just about to cast a wicked spell. However, as the arrows struck home, the words fell from her mouth, and she stared dumbfounded and in shock at the shafts protruding from her bloated belly.  As she lost concentration on the battle, Taryn found a final arrow and fired this one too,  just as she attempted to turn in his direction to confront her killer. Her shocked face locked into a frozen rage as the last arrow struck her through the eye. Her knees collapsed, and she slumped to the floor, her body writhing and twisting in unnatural shapes.  No haze emerged this time!

Taryn and his comrades gave a silent cheer as he turned toward Luona, the last of the three villainous sisters.  Orcs and goblins made their way up to the landing but Taryn brought the first bunch down with a cluster shot of arrows.  Time was running short. “We must take her down, now!” he shouted, “I can’t hold them back for long!” Taryn knew that even if they did defeat Luona, there was no way to hold back this enemy for good. He looked around at Melissande, her blood stained robes masking a jagged wound on her leg.  Bolvist had narrowly escaped death several times, and both he and Jasper were covered in cuts and wounds.  “We have no choice now,” he thought.

Luona was giving a hard fight still; she seemed to build in confidence as the orcs and goblins made their way closer up the stairwell. Nonetheless, her face showed a growing resolve and she began to position herself closer and closer to the portal.  The party knew it was now or never!

Taryn forced himself to find calm, and slowly and with deliberate resolve he pulled forth two more arrows from his quiver.  Perhaps, it was in the concentration that he saw it. Perhaps, it was luck. Years later, he would know the answer but in that moment, he just knew that something caught his eye.  Fitting the arrow to the bowstring, his eyes had been drawn down in the direction of Genoran’s body.

The prince was still lying on the ground, but his eyes were not closed or still! Instead, unbelievably, they were staring straight at Taryn! In the instant he pulled out the arrows, he was sure he saw Genoran’s hand move and point in the direction of the Warrior’s statue.  Taryn, cocking the arrows now, let them fly at the hag, but his mouth muttered the words inscribed in the stone above the statue that Genoran had pointed to.

The Warrior shall be duty bound

his weapon rests upon the ground.

His mortal wounds shall bring him down,

And he will rise again!”

He couldn’t believe it! Genoran, the Warrior as well, had fulfilled the marker! But why? What was he thinking? And then he realized, that Genoran wasn’t going to make this leg of the journey, because Taryn was.  Genoran would stay behind, but if he were alive, he’d be hacked down by the orcs. 

He looked back once more at the prince, open mouthed, he seemed to breath in for the first time.  “Go!” Mouthed Genoran, and then while Luona was struck down, and the orcs began to make their way to the rise of the stairs, he closed his eyes!

Meanwhile Taryn was taking in this final scene, Melissande was finishing her transformation to an elephant once more.  Evil red eyes just feet from her, she concentrated while arms  became great muscular legs and huge tusks grew out from her face, her body dropped to all fours and she ran towards the remaining hag. Bolvist and Jasper were just dodging a final terrible spell and Luona, cackling still, yelled, “They come for you, fools! Soon you’ll lie next to that ignorant  fool, Genoran in a pool of your own blood and …..”. But she never finished her thought as Melissande, her transformation to the Elephant in the Room once more complete, charged and gored her in the belly! 

Luona’s eyes rolled back, and her dying scream filled the chamber with ear shattering strength.  The faces in her skin stopped moving around and froze in place, as if they too were dying.  In front of her, the Heroes watched her die, Melissande’s body transforming back to the shape of the woman she was. 

But just then, Luona’s eyes flew open. With a look of pure hatred she willed her finger to raise  towards Melissande and whispered, “Die!”

Bolvist and Jasper were facing the oncoming orcs, slashing them to pieces and kicking them back down the stairs.  Neither saw Luona’s final spell, although someone had.  Rising through the orcs, cutting through them with a familiar blade, and moving with amazing speed, was a hooded figure, a uniquely stealthy figure, flying upwards right amongst the foul horde.  As Luona’s final word rang out, the figure  dashed across the room, and lunged in between Melissande and Luona.  A blazing ray of sinister energy shot out from Luona’s finger striking the figure and turning it instantly limp, it fell in her lap, while Luona fell backwards, the tattoes on her body still as she hit the stone floor.

Brother From Another Mother

Melissande pulled back the hood.  It was Fereday!!!!!!! A necrotic  shadow began to wrap itself around his body, turning his flesh dark grey, his back arched upward in a dying spasm.  There was nothing she could do, his body would accept none of her healing.  His neck turned to one side, he had only a few seconds, she knew.  She brushed  his hair away, and knew before she saw it,  that there would be an unmistakable mark, just like the one she had on her neck.

“You!” Fereday called to Bolvist.  “My mark was to bring the light to you, I know that now. We are the same, friend. Good journeys…”

“Don’t talk, son.” Cried Melissande, tears streaming down her face.  “Keep them at bay, Jasper! I must heal him!” But Jasper and Bolvist were already moving backwards towards her, the enemy was now surrounding them.  They had only moments.

Fereday looked deep into his mother’s eyes.  He pointed above the statue of the Trickster.  “I was the hooded visage. I am the marker.” He said…

Melissande looked over. The words, as she had seen them before, held new meaning.

The Trickster’s tool provides the spark between the sunlight and the dark

His hooded visage is the mark his time has come again.

She turned towards her son, “It will be ok, I’ll…” but even then, she knew she had nothing that could save him.

“Mother.” He whispered, “I have found you at last.” And finally, “Mother, she lives. But….”

“But….” With that he used his last dying breath to whisper a sacred chant among the elves, giving Melissande the power to keep his memory. For he was her bloodline. And then, Melissande too knew that her marker had been fulfilled as well.

Great Mother’s blood will play a part.

Her enemies fear a noble heart.

To end the dark, the light must start

Her Nature’s Noble passage.

“Lady Melissande! LADY MELISSANDE!”  Somewhere, someone was shouting at her.  Swords were swinging and a bright light was behind her.  Before her, she held a young man,  and she knew, that this child had once been her son.  “LADY MELISSANDE! We must INTO THE PORTAL!!!!”

With a bright flash,  sound came back to her. Bolvist and Jasper were both screaming at her, trying desperately to keep the weapons of many orcs from striking her down.  With a desperate act of strength, they lifted her up, and threw her into the portal falling in with her!

Into the Portal

Taryn drew his sword and hacked down the orcs nearest him.  Behind him the portal gleamed rays of light and howled an incredible rumbling noise, whipping wind around the room.  Bolvist, Jasper and Melissande had just disappeared, but when he tried to walk in too, he felt a pull as if something was preventing him from going in!  Turning around he roared a battle cry, and cut a swath through the advancing orcs.  Why hadn’t he been allowed in? But then he knew! Genoran had fulfilled his marker for him.  But not completely….

The Warrior’s weapon rests on the ground.

Without looking back he drew the weapon he had once taken for himself.  Slashing a wide arc through the orcs nearest him, he held the sword horizontally in front of him, one hand on the hilt, the other on the blade.  He released the sword, watching it fall to the stones below.  Taryn closed his eyes and fell backwards into the portal!!!

For a moment, all was dark, this time there was no Talos, no gilded and brightly lit room.  Instead, this is what the party saw….

The space around you  crackles and sizzles. Suddenly, the air around you feels wet.  You try to take a breath, but no air comes, instead, water fills your nostrils and throat.  You are underwater and it’s salty!  Opening your eyes, you look up to see the bright blue of water overhead with the rush of white water.  Waves crash all around you. Nearby you see the others struggling to deal with their surroundings.

You see each other, but there is something else there too.  Swimming in the water, fins atop their backs, a large mouth opens and comes straight toward you!

To Be Continued….

 

THE FIRST MARKERS

Somewhere, in the heart of ancient Throndar lies another Hero’s Chamber, above a vast and colossal ARK of Kasille.

Within that chamber lie four statues, each one depicting one of the Four Heroes.

Above each statue lies these runes…

True Sacrifice is what they need

While others go, he stays and bleeds.

For surely it is he who leaves upon the table scrolls of reeds.

The Dying God

 

Great Mother’s love she left behind

But in faith she walks for it to find

To end the dark, the light will start

Her nature’s noble passage.

The Great Mother

 

The Trickster’s tool provides the spark

Between the Sunlight and the Dark

His hooded visage is  the mark

His time is at an end.

The Trickster

 

The Warrior shall in honor lead

Then  must  fulfill another’s deed

Bend knee and Grace both  wilts and bleeds

but he will rise anew.    

The Warrior

 

 

 

 

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