Thursday, October 29, 2009

Episode 18: 8/23/09

The Party:
Ashelia Raminas, elf ranger-rogue/3-3
Nineve, human knight/6
Sarek, human wizard/6
Xicar, human cleric/6
Haroldur, human wizard 2/cleric 4
Enoch, human sorcerer 1/monk 5

The next day we travel with the survivors from the ruins of the keep back to the hunting lodge. That evening, Vander approaches Nineve and mentions some helpful things he remembers about working with the cultists and Akasha, the leader. It seems she HATES silver! It's a strange thing to remember, but it struck him as odd and it was all he could think of.

As we're all sitting around the campfire, I notice the strange dog is hanging around the edge of our camp. It shrinks into the woods at my approach, but I leave it some food and I notice it back again a few minutes later, eating.

As we're heading off to bed, Zolara appears! She looks concerned. She says, "Your resilience and courage will see you through the trials ahead."

The Choosing:
Ashe - The Trumpet
Nineve - The Teamster
Haroldur - The Sickness
Sarek - The Tangled Briar
Xikar - The Waxworks
Enoch - The Desert

The Spread:
Paladin Teamster Cricket
Locksmith Eclipse Hidden Truth
Liar Rakshasa Survivor

Zolara interprets our reading:

"The Paladin represents strength in adversity. In this case I see one of you standing in victory over a fallen superior, perhaps an instructor or or father? The locksmith grants the keys to unlock destiny. He grants the tools but not insight as to how they may be used. One of you will unlock secrets from your past. The liar represents treacherous love, deception that pits brother against brother or father against son.

The Teamster is a driving external force that keeps you going, no matter what. The Teamster exhorts you to continue on, despite the self doubt and loss of purpose shown by the Eclipse. Elsewhere, the Rakshasa sits upon the backs of its slaves, imposing its will on them, opposing your every move, from the shadows.

The Cricket represents travel, in this case, a speedy return home. The Hidden Truth has the power to reveal secrets. I see family histories revealed in a new light to allow you to see past the obvious to the greater truth, and dark secrets hidden within."

Then, faster than you can say "Oops, forgot to mention the GRW!", she's gone.

The next day, we part with Vander, Edain, and the other survivors and begin the 5 day journey to Turtleback Ferry. We're not in a hurry, so I have plenty of time to spend with the strange dog that keeps following us. We win him over after a day or so, and he starts actually traveling with our group. I'm delighted that he's traveling with us, but the next day, he seems incredibly nervous. I get the sense that he's trying to get us to take another path. Intrigued, I follow the dog and lead our group down a smaller game trail that takes a slightly circuitous route around (rather than through) a valley before rejoining the main trail at the top of the ridge. I'm feeling a little irritated at myself for allowing a flight of fancy to add 45 minutes to our hike that day. As we crest the ridge, I pause a moment to take in the surroundings. As I glance back, I spot a grey render lurking in the valley below. My original path through the valley would have taken us right into its territory! I give the dog a few appreciative pats and continue on our journey.

A few days later we arrive at the tiny hamlet of Turtleback Ferry. We all buy riding horses, practically gorge ourselves on a hearty home cooked meal, and spend a welcome night in warm beds. The next day, the dog brings me a dead chicken, and I have a slightly sticky encounter with an irate farmer. I apologize and pay him 5sp for his chicken... and he suddenly offers us some more chickens "for the road". We take him up on his offer of a few fresh eggs, and spend our last night at his house.

After a hearty farmhouse breakfast, we head out to Istivin. We travel through rural but civilized lands for a few more days and finally arrive at the city walls. We take a winding path through the lower tiers of the city and make our way to the Cabal, purchasing some badly needed fresh clothes along the way. The journey takes about two days.

We finally arrive at the Cabal and are greeted by acolytes who are happily surprised to see us. We have about an hour to get situated before we're summoned to Marten's chambers.

Marten is pretty put out at us for vanishing on him, and, more importantly, The Ministry of Justice, and specifically Justice Ironbriar are after us for questioning regarding the events at the Sawfish Boys slaughterhouse. He asks us why he SHOULDN'T just turn us in. We present our arguments, with varying degrees of success, before Nineve jumps in and actually tries to INTIMIDATE him! It's a great performance, but it was doomed from the start. Marten is none too impressed, and we are taken into custody by Legionnaires (who are polite). We are escorted to a nearby prison facility, and handed over to those authorities. They shackle us and admit us to our cells.

After a few days we are transferred to a smaller prison facility. That evening, we are taken to meet Sheriff Hemlock. The Sheriff tells us he has specifically requested our transfer here to his facility and proceeds to explain why.

Apparently, there have been a number of murders in the city of late that have our names all over them. Hemlock produces a note from the most recent murder. It is battered and written in blood. It reads "You return, and now the chase begins. I am simply what you have made me, O my masters!" Apparently it was attached to the victim with something of Sarek's. Clearly, we aren't involved, but whenever Hemlock tries to look into the murders, his investigation is inexplicably blocked by someone higher up the chain. He asks if we'd be willing to investigate for him, and of course, we're in no position to disagree.

Hemlock takes us to a lumbermill. At the bottom of the logsplitter is the nauseating mess of what used to be a person. Apparently this was the miller's wife, Cassandra Vinder. Despite the gruesome scene, this isn't the murder he's interested in.

We head upstairs and find another body. Embedded in the corpse's sleeve is Sarek's missing dagger. Carved into the corpse's chest are some sort of symbols. Sarek can't identify the symbols, but he's sure they're related to ritualistic human sacrifice. I sift to to find out some information, but I don't get much of use. We discuss the murder and its similarities to other murders in question. We are told a survivor from another attack is being held at a local sanatorium. We decide to visit the survivor at the Saintly Haven of Respite while Hemlock cleans up the lumber mill mess.

The survivor's name is Grayst Savilla. It takes some convincing, but we are eventually admitted to see him. He's a wild-eyed fellow drooling on himself. He shrieks as we approach, but Haroldur seems to calm him down. Suddenly, he starts spouting nonsense. Between thrashings and mumblings, we get "He, he, he said that the victims are the harvest of seed you have sown!" and "When the harvest is done, you shall remember him forever and, and, and". Several minutes of screaming later, we get "the Misgivings shall, they shall be his throne, and there you shall bow before him!" He then collapses to the ground and lies still. Enoch and I recognize that he's still twitching slightly as Xicar moves in to check if he needs healing. Suddenly, Grayst the Mad lunges at Xicar and bites his hand! Enoch leaps in and restrains the crazy and Xicar tries to calm him down again. He spouts more nonsense, and then Sarek stuns him with a Word of Authority. While he's out, I heal check him and determine that he is suffering from the advanced stages of ghoul fever. The friar runs into the room and starts apologizing, swearing he didn't know, and he had no idea Grayst would react so strongly. We promise not to make a fuss and leave the sanatorium.

We are reutnred to Hemlock's smaller prison facility. Haroldur manages to convince Sheriff Hemlock to allow us to stay in a large communal cell instead of our individual ones. We pass the evening discussing our leads and options: basically none.

Sarek and Haroldur are interested in doing some research at the library. Amazingly, Hemlock manages to arrange this, and the next morning we are returned to the Cabal (under supervision) to research the arcane runes found on the bodies. We discover that these runes are related to a Nerull worshiping death cult and prevent spells such as Raise Dead, Speak with Dead, etc., as well as damning the soul to Nerull's realm. We share this knowledge with Hemlock, who is disturbed by the news. When we return to our cell, we find a package from Mossad! There are of course no weapons or anything, but it does contain a few essentials - better food, spellbooks, holy symbols, etc. Tucked inside the outer packaging is a crumpled scrap of paper that reads "Hambly farm" in scrawled blood.

We find out where Hambly farm is and convince Hemlock to equip us. Then we head out, under guard of course, to the boondocks where Hambly farm is. On the way, we are regaled with tales of the shocking boredom of rural life by one of the guards, who is as local. The guard mentions that if anyone knows what's going on in these parts, it's Farmer Gump. At this, naturally we stop by and talk to Farmer Gump. Gump thinks it's a bit odd that he hasn't seen the Hamblys around in the past few weeks. He mentions that he warned the Hamblys not to live near the Misgivings, a local haunted house. Haroldur inquires rather directly about the Hamblys and the history of the Misgivings, an old Lillybrook homestead. After an awkward and tactless interrogation, we leave and are led to the Hambly farm.

We come to a large cornfield and are told it's the Hambly farm. The house is apparently in the center of the fields. I stand on Enoch's shoulders to orient ourselves, and then we head in the direction of the farmhouse. At one fork, we encounter a scarecrow shaking violently. We approach it and Sarek discovers that is in fact a human in the advanced stages of ghoul fever. We're about to leave the person there and move on when we're ambushed! Several scarecrow-ghouls break free of their bonds and attack us! We wade through the ghouls and manage to only lose one of the guards, even though a few do get bitten. An eerie silence falls over the cornfield. This is an unsafe place for anyone, especially unseasoned recruits. We send the remaining guards back to town with the surviving scarecrow guy and move along.

A little while later we come to another scarecrow ghoul ambush. Enoch gets five-across-the-eyes and Xicar gets paralyzed from behind, but we finish off the ghouls before they finish off him. At length, we come to the farmhouse and barn in the center of the cornfields.

The smell of death hangs heavy in the air. The barn is constructed around a 12 foot tall stone head. Inside, it is a macabre tangle of bones and animal (mostly) carcasses. Ghouls are obviously lairing here, but none of the foul beasts are occupying the place at present.

We press on to the house, where the stench of rotting death is overpowering. We move to the kitchen and find another rune-caved corpse. Before we can investigate, I hear movement in the adjacent bedroom. I hiss a warning and Enoch sees a foot climbing out the bedroom window. In a moment, we're outside, battling the foul creature on the roof of the farmhouse. I climb the pillars of the porch and find myself facing a ghast. He opens himself up for an attack so I slash him as he shoves me off the roof. He rears, calling ghouls out of the corn. Soon, I am up on the roof again, locked in battle with my sworn enemy. More ghouls climb out of the well and attempt to pull Sarek and Enoch down to the watery depths. Fortunately, they don't manage to move the unusually tall humans. Nineve, Haroldur, Xicar and Enoch battle the ghouls, and Sarek offers ranged support to me as I battle the ghast. Eventually, Sarek vaporizes the ghast and we all prevail.

Back in the house, we search for clues and find a note. It's crumpled and written in blood, like the others. It reads, "You fools! You left them unprotected! Now I will take them from you one by one, until you come to me! Who will burn next? The scholar? The Dwarf? The Sheriff?". We have a brief pow-wow and decide to return to the city to warn our friends. I sift on the body and we discover that the killer must be a mohrg.

We rush back to the city, arriving very late at night and check on Tamklar. He's fine, though he almost puts an axe through Xicar's skull for busting in on him at this time of night. We quickly explain and bustle Tamclar and his family over to Alastor Land's place. We rouse him and take them all to the Cabal for safekeeping. Then we go to Sheriff Hemlock's place.

Our stomachs sink as we find his door is open. We burst onto a gruesome scene, much like the other rune-carved corpses. Enoch fishes a letter out of the fire, while we check on the mutilated corpse of the late Sheriff Hemlock. The letter is badly burned, but I examine it and use Sift to read its original message:

"Your Honor, Lord Justice Caradoc,

It's taken me some time, but I've finally managed to determine who has been obstructing my investigations into these strange murders. I fear a sinister and calculating mind has both perpetrated these killings, and endeavored to obscure them. A dear friend, whom I hesitate to name, has brought me information and evidences that point to a horrifying possibility. If he is correct, and I fear he may be, these murders are much more than the work of a simple madman. He has brought to light the facts that my, and many other, investigations have been misdirected, denied, reassigned, and otherwise defeated by note other than the direct intervention of Lord Justice Ironbriar, Justice of Dura and 7th Justice of Istivin, capital city of The Kingdom of Caledon. I await your direction in this matter.

Your loyal servant,

~Giles Hemlock Sheriff, Whietwall, Dura, Istivin."

Of course, this pivotal evidence is merely circumstantial, as it requires a person with the ability to sift in order to decipher any meaning from the scorched and ruined scrap of parchment. Nevertheless, this could be enough to at least clear our names with the Cabal. Besides, we all decide it's not wise for us, currently prisoners, to be hanging around the murder scene of our current jailer... We rush back to the Cabal, rouse Mossad, and tell him everything.


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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Episode 17: 8/15/09

The Party:
Ashelia Raminas, elf ranger-rogue/2-3
Nineve, human knight/5
Sarek, human wizard/5
Xicar, human cleric/5

The sun rises over the rim of the valley as we finish placing the last stones on Captain Lorring's cairn. The sunlight turns the heavy smoke still drifting across the valley from the ruins of Blackwall Keep gold and crimson in the early light. The few surviving rangers and convicts share a solemn moment of silence over their fallen leader. Edain, his arm in a sling and his face badly burned, turns to us and mentions that someone should say a few words for the Captain.

Skill Challenge! A few kind words
We're on the spot and we hardly knew the guy, but as professionals, these survivors-turned-funeral-attendees are looking to us for peace, comfort, and profound insights on the nature of mortality. Drawing from our deep well of experience in service to the goddess of death, we take turns addressing the group and manage to put in a stirring eulogy for Captain Lorring. Edain offers us the Captain's sword (a +1 Spell Storing longsword), which we graciously accept.

Xicar finds some time to talk to Captain Lorring and confirms that the dragons do seem to be working with the orcs. The orcs have become much more organized in the last 6 months or so, and Lorring suspects the appearance of the dragons around the same time is related to this change in orc behavior. They discuss some details of Lorring's proposal to strike at the orc leadership while the bulk of their forces regroup.

Sarek finds Black Bart working among the convict teams and pulls him aside. He commends Bart for doing such an excellent job, and rewards him with a necklace of dragon teeth reclaimed from the wyvern cave.

I look around for my dog and realize I haven't seen him in a couple of days. He must be in the woods. After we set out for the orc caves, a few of us notice the elven hound shadowing us from the woods. I leave some food out for him at the edge of our camp that night.

We finish of the half-dragon arcanist and advance to a large chamber, deep in the cave. The chamber is basically empty. It's lit by a large fire, and orc bedrolls and supplies are scattered about. Like the rest of the cave, this chamber reeks of foundry smoke.

The chamber slopes upwards. At the far end, three orcs spot us and the hostilities begin. Suddenly, orcs and goblins pour in from all sides - an ambush! It's a long and grueling fight, but we manage it.

We advance down a passageway that seems to be the source of the smoke. Emerging from a tight corridor filled with choking smoke, we find ourselves in an exceptionally warm chamber...

At the far end of the room, crudely formed iron racks suspend stony black and red ovoid objects over a large, tended fire. Could these be dragon eggs? Suddenly, an incredibly cute red dragon hatchling hops up to us and seduces Nineve into attempting to feed it. Then, it tries to take her face off. Two other hatchlings, as well as two hellhounds are drawn to the commotion and join the fray. Waves of fire wash over the party as we battle fiercely on. Soon, a red dragon wyrmling flies over to join the fight. Swords flash and spells fly as we are locked in a life-and-death struggle with what are essentially dragon TODDLERS. However, they're so evil and dangerous that when the last one finally falls, we're just happy to be alive. We smash all of the dragon eggs - no sense taking any chances.

Moving on, we climb up the crude steps into a large cavern. Fire from huge cauldrons casts dancing shadows on the rough stone walls. Along the edge of the chamber, a large gathering of orcs of all ages and stations look down on us, just watching. We cross the wide, recessed floor of the cavern and can't shake the feeling of being in an arena. At the far end of the room, seated on an iron and bone throne, is the first old orc we've ever seen. At our approach, he gives a nod, and several orcs and ogres jump down and charge us. So much for diplomacy.

An orc battle royal ensues, where groups of orcs and ogres jump in and attack us in waves while the crowd looks grimly on. The last champion to fall is an orc riding a dire boar, and we survive by the slightest margin. Exhausted and battered, we wait in tense silence for another challenger to appear. Suddenly from behind us, we hear one person clapping in slow, grim applause.

We turn to see the old orc, now standing in front of his throne, applauding us. He was obviously once tall and broad shouldered, but his thin frame is now hunched and bent, and long stringy white hair hangs around his face. When he has our attention, he stops clapping and begins to speak:

"Congratulations, pinkskins. You've done what old Kroghut could not." He thumps his chest dramatically, indicating he must be Kroghut. "You've freed my people from the tyrant, and I expect, destroyed the other pinkskins in the bargain. We will fight you no longer. You have bested my champions, and you have surely brought burning doom upon my people. Go now. Your work here is done. My people will not hinder you further. Were I you, I would scurry back to the walls of the pinkskins so that you might die heroically at their sides when their doom comes on fiery wings."

He sits back down with a note of finality, and we are aware that the conversation is over. After a pause, we turn around and leave the cavern the way we came in, watched grimly by the orc crowd, our footsteps echoing loudly off the walls of the silent chamber.

Once free of their oppressive stares, we heal up and discuss our options. We realize we don't really have any. We've accomplished our mission - the orc leadership is definitely broken, and the dragon-orc alliance is almost certainly on the out since we smashed up the hatchery. We decide there's nothing left to do but return to Blackwall Keep, so we head out.

The first half of our journey goes uneventfully, though we're all tense over Kroghut's parting words. No one is in the mood to talk, and we travel for hours on end in silence. I notice the elven hound periodically, watching us from the woods.

As we travel from the orc hold through the deepening shadows of the mountainous foothills, around late afternoon of the second day, a flicker of light from a high distant peak catches our eyes. Far off, the peaks are barely visible on the darkening horizon; mostly screened by the hills and pine forest at the far end of the valley. Suddenly the peak flickers back to view, a brief glow touches it and fades away.

We continue on, trying not to think about what this might mean, when suddenly, a great light appears in the low place in the hills where the orcs make their lair, and the gathering evening clouds turn golden. Faintly, in the distance we hear warning trumpets sounding,and drums booming and echoing along the rocky foothills as the glow fades, then flares again, even brighter than before.

We press on towards the keep. An hour passes. Distantly we can see something; a spark of fire low in the sky rushing towards us and growing ever larger and more bright. Before long, so great is its speed that the fantastic shape of a fiery dragon appears over the tall trees. Soon the roar of the dragon's terrible approach grows loud, and the rocks turn red as fire beneath the awful beating of its wings. Roaring it sweeps over the valley, leaving flaming desolation in its wake. We crouch behind what cover we can find as it flies past us, perhaps 100 yards to our right. Frightened, but with no other options, we continue our desperate march towards the keep.

We're still several hours away from the keep when the valley trembles with the dragon's approach. Things happen quickly as we look on helplessly from the far side of the stony valley.

As the dragon wheels to swoop upon the keep, a hail of dark arrows leap up and nap and rattle on its scales, and their shafts fell back kindled by the dragon's breath, burning and hissing into the swift running stream. At the twanging of the bows and the shrilling of the trumpets the dragon's wrath blazes to its height, til it was blind and mad with rage.

Green and scarlet fire leaps from the dragon's jaws. It circles for a while high in the air above the keep lighting all the valley; the trees shine like copper with leaping shadows of dense black at their feet. Then down it swoops straight through the arrow storm, reckless in rage, taking to heed to turn it s scaly sides towards the foes, seeking only to set the keep ablaze. Fire leaps from thatched roofs and wooden beams, and hard stone flows like wax as it hurtles down and past and round again, breathing gouts of terrible fire. Back swirls the dragon. A sweep of its tail and the tallest tower of the keep crumbles and smashes down. Flames unquenchable spring high into the night. Another swoop and another, walls crumble and towers spring alight and fall, burning. Still, no arrow hinders the dragon or hurts it. Men jump from the walls on every side. Weapons are flung down and the dragon vents its full wrath upon them at its leisure.

At last the dragon circles the blazing keep with a broad sweep of its dreadful wings. It swoops to snatch at a pair of fleeing figures, and then roaring and belching fire, spirals up through the low clouds to vanish into the darkening night sky.

With heavy hearts, we continue onwards to the now destroyed keep. When we finally arrive late at night, the keep and most of the valley is still ablaze. As we arrive, we find a few of the rangers and convicts have actually survived the attack, Vander Anderhoff among them. Vander is with a group of people searching the rubble near the ruins of the wall, evidently for survivors. Another group of 4 or 5 is huddled around a still form near the base of one of the walls.

As we approach this group, we are shocked to see they are gathered around Captain Lorring, who is pinned under a huge piece of stone. He's dying, but still cheerful. He sees us, and insists on knowing if the orcs have been stopped. We tell him their leadership is broken and they've been thoroughly routed. Upon hearing this, he coughs out a "Jolly good show, chaps" - his last words.

The rest of the night is a blur of activity - putting out fires, tending to the dead and dying, and trying to rebuild order in the wake of utter destruction. We learn that Astrid was taken by the dragon in his final dive, and that Black Bard died defending her. Jakardos was killed when his tower fell, his remains were found int he wreckage of the stairwell. Parne and Torkan were killed defending the walls, and Orin, Astrid's brother, died in the subsequent fires. Edain and one other ranger have survived, along with a mere 15 of the convicts.

After the last of the bodies has been buried, the survivors salvage what they can from the wreckage. We find a leg for 31E in the ruins of the observatory tower, along with a large golden scarab. We also scavenge:

a Sepulchral vest
oil of Greater Magic Weapon +2
potion of Greater Magic Fang +3

Talk turns to what to do next. Obviously, we will return to the Ruby Temple in Istivin, but what of the survivors? Vander and the rest of the convicts refuse to return to the city, i.e. prison. Edain proposes they take up residence at the Broken Bow lodge until the Keep is rebuilt, if that ever happens. Until then, they can continue the rangers' work of maintaining the frontier by keeping the orcs, ogres and goblins in the mountains where they belong.

This sounds like a reasonable plan. With things pretty much wrapped up at the ruins of Blackwall Keep, we agree to set out with the survivors for Broken Bow lodge in the morning.

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