Friday, August 19, 2011

Eye For an Eye

Kendrick Cwick, suffering many wounds and with all his supporters dead or dying, broke from the fight and raced out of the front door. I quickly pulled a masterwork arrow from its quiver and fired through the massive front portal. The flaming missile was barely out of the door when another followed and then a third, Est'Perolyne igniting and launching those deadly projectiles with such force the air shrieked as they raced the sixty-odd paces to their target.To Kendricks’ credit he was able to avoid the first two shots but his luck had expired. The third arrow struck true where the mans’ skull met his neck, a brief flare of orange flames roared across the back of his head as his hair caught alight. With a sickening thud the limp body of Kendrick Cwick landed, face first, on the frozen turf of the courtyard. Although this wound would likely be fatal the stubborn man would not stay down. Grunting and gasping for breath Cwick struggled to force his arms to do his bidding; to push his torso up off the ground.

Seeing this I dropped my bow and turned to retrieve my discarded swords. Dhaerow Athil (Traitors Bane) and Iriadors Drannor (Garnets Song) had been forged by Aben INSERT NAME HERE, a master craftsman of the north. These two newly crafted short swords would fulfill their purpose and end the life of Kendrick Cwick, avenging the loss of Deedra Garnet. Without hesitation I stalked through the open door and out into the courtyard.

I noticed several guards up on the outer wall, they were watching with interest yet, made no move to interfere. As I approached my one time friend and mentor the torch light from the building cast many copies of my shadow over his frame. He was still face down but had managed to push himself up on the backs of his wrists with his arms nearly locked straight. The effort in holding even that position strained the rogue and his body quivered in exertion.

For a mere heartbeat I stood there, in a surreal moment. My breath billowed into the night as great clouds of white mist. I could feel my heart pounding within my chest yet, while glancing at the razor sharp edges of my twin blades, they were steady and calm. I straddled his body and bent low, crossing my swords over his exposed throat. Dhaerow Athil and Iriadors Drannor reflected the torch light from their polished surfaces seeming to hold the full fury of the nine hells in their leaf-shaped form.

“Ademar.” Kendrick gasped.

I was not listening, nor was I to be swayed by any further words he might get out of his treacherous mouth. I leaned in close to his ear so that he would well understand my words.

“My blood oath is now fulfilled.” I stated.

Before a reply could leave his lips I began to rise, pulling up hard on my blades and dragging them out as I went. The keen edges bit hard and deep into the soft tissue and sinewy tendons alike. After only a few seconds of spasms and one last, pitiful gasp Kendrick Cwick collapsed into a quickly widening pool of his own blood.

When I rose I left the body lying there on the frozen ground. I cared not even to search his body. Glancing up at the walls, I met the gaze of a couple of the ‘guards’ standing there. None of them could hold my gaze and within minutes the walls were deserted.

Returning to recover Est’Perolyne, I felt strangely cold. I would have thought that killing my treacherous mentor would have put me at peace but I was not. I felt more hollow and alone than ever. My actions were wooden and unfocused. I could not tell you what events occurred the remainder of the night; my mind was so clouded and my heart ached again for my loss. I knew that night that, although my oath had been met, I would never shake the specter of Deedra Garnet nor could I ever escape the shame of the disaster that my actions had brought about. All I can pray to do now is survive my future trials and hope that Deedra approves from on high.

-Ademar Helyanwë

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Enemy of My Enemy

This session begins with the companions standing with King Darius’ Eastern front; waiting with the troops for an attack that never came. Previously, Cor’Nal had delivered a sealed message from King Darius for Colonel Rutland, ordering his army to retreat to the city’s Southern gate, leaving the companions floundering for direction. As the companions weren’t under orders to retreat with them, a decision had to be made as to where to go from here.

After much discussion, Gareth suggests a return to Grodek Keep, which the companions decide is as good an idea as any. After watching the Eystlund troops set out for the South gates to help with the impending attack, the four men begin to walk to their destination, having no horses and no spells to whisk them off as usual. Ademar quickly draws the irritation of his friends bemoaning the loss of his new man-servant and wondered aloud about who would be raising his tent each night now that Sheldon had left with the rest of the Eastern front.

The companions walked the road back towards Grodek Keep until twilight, hiding amongst trees nearly a hundred feet off the road. Ademar continued to complain about the injustice of being forced to sleep on the ground without his tent shielding him but they eventually got their camp set for the evening. Moments before the sun dipped over the horizon, a platoon of orcs, led by a pair of ogres, were heard marching down the road, the way the companions had come.

Not wanting to let the enemy slip by Ademar took aim with his bow and let the first shot fly. Gareth, caught off guard by the sudden call to action jumped up, grabbed his weapon and shield and went to meet the orcs with nothing more than his nightclothes on. Raell seeing the Orcs charge towards Ademar and Gareth drew Est’Megill-Galahd and commanded the sword to blaze as bright as the sun. Several orcs seeing a lone figure standing off to the side with light broke off and charged towards him along with one of the ogres. With the battle in full swing, Cor’Nal began to move about the group, using his druidic powers to aid his friends as needed. The companions made short work of the evil creatures and moved camp further down the road, away from the bodies of the monsters they had just killed. Once the new camp was established, the companions were able to rest for the remainder of the night.

In the morning, the companions quickly finished their journey to Grodek Keep, as Cor’Nal again utilized his “Smoking Bottle” spell, and met with Captain Herschel. The newly knighted Sir Cor’Nal reported to the captain that the king’s orders had been delivered to the commander of the troops on the Eastern front. Herschel seemed pleased with this news and told Cor’Nal that he would take the gathered companions to the city after dark to meet with the king. Ademar seeing this as an opportunity to relax decided to go in search of whores and wine, only to be halted in his tracks by the master of the keep, Greden Grodek.

Greden explained to the companions, that he had been having some strange dreams of late. One, before their arrival told of four heroes who would arrive at camp and stem the turn of the war in favor of King Darius and his subjects. This vision, he told them, he thought of as little more than wishful thinking manifested in the form of a dream. However, after their group arrived and reports came to him from Captain Herschel, Lt. Bancroft, Sir Kralek and others within camp about their successes in routing entire platoons and capturing siege machines, he began to wonder whether they could be the heroes his dreams had foretold. Later on, after their arrival, he had another dream. This one included a beautiful woman, vaguely elven, who led him through a bright, flowered meadow into a darkened forest. While in the forest, he tried to speak. While no words would come, he could hear his own voice in his head. Ignoring his questions, she told him to take the four outsiders to see “him”. While she did not speak his name, he believed he knew of whom she spoke. He explained to the companions that he had once been helped by this man in a time before. He told them that, once he felt the time was right, he would take them all to see this man.

After Greden left the companions to think about his cryptic story, they were once again set upon by Lt. Bancroft. Seeking their aid in getting word to another military unit in the north east that was still far from the city in order to give them orders on where to move in order to best defend it. Cor’Nal offered him a way to send a scout at best speed possible by use of a magical smoke horse. After this business was concluded Ademar saw this as his chance to go in search of booze and whores again. Raell tried to ignore the elf until he invited Gareth to join him. Raell knowing that Gareth would be meeting King Darius in just a few short hours used the power of the Sword of Light to halt Gareth in his tracks with its Hold Person ability. Raell then dragged the magically held Gareth back to the stable that was now being used to quarter them. Ever sanctimonious, Raell set to lecturing Gareth about how he was soon to meet a king and that he needed to rest. Ademar seeing his trouble-seeking friend get dragged back to the stable decided to give up on his search and settled down, content to sip from his own private stock of wine.

Shortly after dark that night, the companions set out with Captain Herschel to go meet with King Darius. Once they were through the city gates Herschel led them on a twisting path to the place where the king waits in hiding. Taken far down below the earth, the group was left in a room where the king would come to greet them.

After the usual pleasantries are completed, the King explains to the group that he feels that, as desperate times often call for desperate measures, it seems that he may need to utilize the service of a longtime nemesis in order to flush out the spies that have thwarted many of his plans in recent weeks. He goes on to tell them of a man, apparently known only as Rulan, leader of a gang called “The Stone Crows”. He tells them that for nearly the entire tenure of his reign, since almost his day of coronation, this criminal and his gang of thugs have run rampant in the slums of the city and beyond. He lists the multitude of their crimes: bribery, racketeering, slave running, theft, kidnapping, and worst of all, murder.

Another of his crimes is in the dealing of illicit information, the paying off of everyone from the lowest messenger boy to the highest ranking members of Darius’ Court, when possible, to find whatever information he can to further his own ambitions and stay out of the King’s dungeons.

It is this criminal talent that Darius is most concerned with now. It is a talent that, ironically, he feels the kingdom now needs in her darkest hour.

He asks that they find a way to meet with Rulan, though gathering the requisite information on how to do that is something he cannot help them with. The little information Darius has he gives to them: Rulan is a grotesquely obese man who dresses opulently and reportedly “wears his weight in gold”; his operation is known to be highly secretive and centered within the slums, though his subordinates are not confined to them. Darius tells them that, once Rulan is found, he does not want him killed; instead he wants the companions to find a way to appeal to Rulan’s interests and ask him to assist his monarch by finding out whatever he can about the enemy’s spy network. He tells them that he expects this to be a difficult task, but one that could prove essential to defeating the insurrection.

With the meeting complete, King Darius humbly offers, as he did the previous day with Cor’Nal, to make the remaining three companions Knights of Eystlund, giving them lands within the kingdom as well. Gareth, seemingly caught up in the dream of every sword for hire drops to his knees and accepts this honor with great humility, unable to even speak. Ademar, with half a grin on his scarred face, also bent knee and accepted this honor.

Raell on the other hand, inexplicably felt the need to refuse. Instead, he makes a cryptic demand of the King saying, ‘If you wish to honor me, you will drop my father down the deepest, darkest hole you can find, where the closest thing he gets to fresh air is what escapes from his arse.’ The King was, for a moment, struck dumbfounded, and soon after demonstrably angered by the incredible insult. Raell explained attempted further explanation stating that it would not look good for King and Kingdom if one of her knights were to be convicted of murder. Raell made it very clear that at some point, if all else failed, justice would be meted out by his own hand. Overtly suggesting his target would be Keller Kromwell. This further enraged the good king, who could not leave the seemingly insane, or perhaps incredibly stupid, half-elf behind fast enough. Who would dare enter his chamber, no matter how humble it was made by the circumstances, and not only refuse an offer of Knighthood but to also have the audacity to profess to the future crime of murder? Considering the many important matters laid at his feet, this was not something that Darius considered a priority, and expected his subject, the only one among them to be a true citizen of Eystlund to leave his own personal grievances behind and not be so stubbornly myopic and opportunistic. Briefly considering having the ignorant and clearly confused half-elf arrested by Captain Herschel for treason, he instead thought better of it and dismissed Raell altogether.

Afterward, the King reminded the group that, as another token of his appreciation, he would have his aging mage enchant an item of their choosing. One that had to meet the requirement of being something they already own of masterwork quality. They spent a considerable amount of time debating which item they would like enchanted by Bravin Silvermorn, before settling on the bracers of Ademar’s Remhoraz armor; which were given a +1 defense bonus (after a lousy roll by the DM).

Several hours later, the companions leave their King as well as their horses and start to walk about the city in search of an inn. Raell inexplicably decides the best way to go about it was to pretend he didn’t know his friends and walk well behind them, misunderstanding Darius orders to wear their arm bands that distinguished them as Knights of Eystlund. At nearly four in the morning, the group came upon the closest inn to the King’s whereabouts: The Chunky Wench. Raell, in a further attempt to separate from the others seats himself at the bar as the trio of elves move to a table. A thickly cut inn keeper over six feet in height introduces herself as Patricia Reynolds and tells them that she is also owner of the establishment. After ordering food and drinks, Ademar loudly asks if she knew of Rulan or anyone associated with the Stone Crows. Patricia explains that she knows of one gentleman who might have some association with them who often comes in during afternoon hours. After giving the three a full description of the man, Ademar asked if there was anywhere else they could go to find information, Patricia told them of tavern in the slums that they might try. Cor’Nal then proclaimed in a deadpan voice, ‘this isn’t the slums?’ Patricia did her best to ignore the comment as she went about the task of taking care of her other customers. Finished with seeking information here, Raell bought the use of a room for three nights and was ready to retire to it until his companions decided to head for the ‘slums’, in further search of more information on how to get in touch with Rulan.

With the coming light of the morning, the three Elves strolled into the worst area of Eystlundtowne. Burned out shops and homes were gutted and left standing on nearly every street. Homeless people and other dubious characters watched the three elves, one in full plate armor march through the streets. Raell still following dozens of feet behind also drew the eyes of the common folk, failing miserably in his endeavor to blend in. The armor he wore under his cloak told those who watched that he had coin, and probably a lot of it. A screeching old woman approached the Elves, pleading with them to give her some coppers. Ademar gave her some coins and moved quickly away from her, hoping she hadn’t drawn any more attention than his clothes, armor and weapons already had. As Raell came into her view she started to screech again, only this time, Raell called her over showing her a flash of coin in his hand. As the old woman drew near, Raell reached out to give her the coin telling her that ‘Master Kromwell sends his regards.’ This seemed to frighten the woman who ran away, disappearing around a corner into an alleyway. After the commotion, the companions continued on, with Raell inexplicably keeping distance at the rear.

Shortly before finding the inn that Reynolds had described to them, Cor’Nal glanced up, seeing what looked to be a figure watching the three from the roof top of a distant building. Yet at the distance it was impossible for the druid to make out many details. Shaking his head at the surrounding human filth, the druid followed Ademar into a brightly lit, music-filled tavern replete with gaming tables. A sign over the door gave the name “The Barrel’s Bottom”. Ademar Nightwalker, intrigued by the smell of wine and the telltale click of dice, did not hesitate to make his way inside. Ademar and Cor’Nal moved to the bar to order drinks while Gareth waited outside for Raell. Raell seeing this moved to the other side of the street, trying to find a place to watch the inn from what he believed to be a safe distance. Gareth still not understanding his friend’s strange behavior called out to him. “Raell, what are you doing? Come over here!” In a panic, Raell ignored Gareth and continued walking down the street and into a blind alley where he was accosted by two thugs.

After feeling a sudden thump on the back of his head he turned with stars in his eyes turned to face his attacker. Dropping a hand to his sword, he looked at two men, one held a well-used sap, the other a small dagger. Using Est’Megill-Galahd once again, Raell caught the thug in a hold spell. The smaller of the two men, the one holding a dagger in his fist, ordered his partner to ‘hit him again.’ Raell looked at the man, extended his blade and told him to run, which he did. Raell then interrogated the one he had held magically, finding out that he was a member of a minor gang, and had no affiliation with the Stone Crows. Before the thug came free of the spell, Raell bound him with rope.

While inside the inn, Ademar tried his hand at a house game called Three Dragon Ante. After losing a few games, he moved on to his old favorite, Dancing Dice. Cor’Nal continued to watch this version of the shell game as it claimed a new victim, seeing the man palm the ruby that should have been under one of the three cups. Cor’Nal attempted to warn the man of the game’s fix, but was ignored. After the victim pointed to a cup Cor’Nal knew would have no ruby, he reached out and picked up the other two cups, showing the drunk that there was no ruby under any of them. Looking at the dealer Cor’Nal said, ‘I believe you owe this man some money.’ While the dealer did pay the poor drunk the coin he owed, he rushed off with his cups to leave the inn, but not before stopping to talk to a rather large man at the rear of the inn, who only nodded as he turned his gaze towards the druid.

As Ademar lost his first five silver to the Dancing Dice, Raell was further harassing the thug he had tied up in the alley. He asked the man if he knew where to find Rulan. The stuttering man protested that he didn’t know anything about Rulan and that he didn’t run with the Stone Crows. Raell smacked the man in the head, telling him that he wasn’t stupid, that even if he didn’t know where Rulan hid, he knew what areas to avoid, what questions to ask. Raell then pulled out a single platinum coin and stuffed it into the mouth of the man who tried to murder him. Raell told him, “You find out what I want to know, I will give you enough of these to fill your whole mouth.” The thug looked at the crazed half elf and said “Who are you, how will I find you?” As Raell stood over the thug, he told him “Kromwell and I will find you, where you just found me.”

With that, Raell left the man tied in the alley and went to rejoin Gareth in front of the inn.

Back at the Dancing Dice table, Ademar continued to lose coin. After a time he asked the man running the table if he knew anything about Rulan or the Stone Crows. The man said he would talk to him but ‘not here.’ The Dancing Dice man told Ademar to meet him out back, scooping up the dice and the coin he had taken from Ademar, the man stood and started to leave the room through a door at the rear. Ademar and Cor’Nal followed quickly behind. As Cor’Nal walked by, he was stopped by an enormous bouncer who put a massive hand to his chest. “I’m watching you.” He told the druid who shoved the brute’s hand away, muttering a retort as he followed behind Ademar.

Following the Dancing Dice man into an alley behind the building the elves noticed a pair of elderly men puffing on pipes, their eyes glassy and unfocused. The man who led them into the alley noticed their discomfort with the audience and explained that the two were hop-heads that wouldn’t remember anything they saw here come morning. The Dancing Dice man then proceeded to tell the elves that if they wanted to know about Rulan, they needed to talk to a man he knew as “Mackey”. Mackey was described as giant of a man who was an enforcer employed by the Crows and if anybody could lead them to Rulan, it was him. Ademar asked when Mackey normally came around and the Dancing Dice man told him he was there most days around highsun or later. Satisfied with that the elves thanked the human and left the inn. The four companions returned to The Chunky Wench where Gareth decided to sleep in the room Raell had paid for while Ademar got himself and Cor’Nal breakfast.

Ademar and Cor’Nal then decide to go in search of things to procure; legally. This leads them first to Cora’s General Store where they buy some masterwork arrows. There aren’t many to be had and Ademar finds the price exorbitant and so decides to talk down the beautiful, but seemingly dim proprietor. She doesn’t come down much, but acquiesces due to the lack of customers since the beginning of the war, especially since the initial siege. After leaving Cora, the two make their way to “INSERT NAME HERE” where the proprietor tells them that he just fletched a hundred masterwork arrows some weeks before, but never sold a single one. Initially, he tells them they can have the lot for 700 gold pieces, which of course Ademar scoffs at. Eventually, he is able to get the shopkeeper to accept a meager 550 sovereigns for the hundred arrows.

Raell also decides to do some light shopping and makes his way to Cora’s General Store. As his companions before him had found out; the store was run by an extremely beautiful woman blessed with the voice of a harpy. Raell decides to buy a simple pair of black breeches with a matching shirt. As he paid more for the set of clothes than she had asked, Cora unexpectedly propositions Raell with sex. Only hearing her voice in his head, Raell declines and leaves her store. Once in the street, he momentarily considers going back and accepting her offer before thinking better of it. Raell then sets out for the south side of the city where he could find the estate of Keller Kromwell. It wasn’t until he sees the pair of plate-armored guards standing outside of Keller’s gate that Raell realized that he didn’t know what he was doing there. A guard looked down at the half-elf and asked if he had an appointment.

“What? No.” Raell stammered, “Is he here?” The guard continued to look down at Raell and asked him what he wanted. “Tell him it’s his bastard.” The guard turned around, opened a large iron gate and spoke to someone inside. After a few moments the gate opened up again and Raell was told that they were not receiving visitors. Raell unable to think of anything else to say just told the guard “Tell my father that his other son is coming.” With this Raell turned and started the long walk back to the Chunky Wench. During the walk back, Raell was stopped by a man in white robes claiming to be a priest of Solarth who began to question Raell about his faith. Saying that he believed Raell to be a good man, he suggested to the half-elf that he should consider joining the Order of The Golden Dawn.
Raell politely declined, though he was taken back to the day before when Greden Grodek told the companions of his dreams. When the robed-man finished, Raell tried to tell him the story of his own death and the death of Ryan MacBrady, though the man took no interest in it. After bidding the priest farewell, Raell looked towards the Temple of Solarth off in the distance and briefly considered going there but instead returned to the inn to meet with his friends.

All four companions, now reunited, set out to return to “The Barrel’s Bottom” to seek out Mackey, hoping to broker a deal that would lead them to Rulan. Gareth, attempting both a lower profile, and a more accommodating outfit should the need for haste arise, opted for a lighter set of armor, specifically a set of unused elven chain. Regardless, the many poor of the slums swarmed him and the rest of the group. Gareth tossed coins in the street in order to distract the mob, which works splendidly as they scatter to fight for them. Once they arrive at “The Barrel’s Bottom”, Gareth and Raell wait outside while Cor’Nal and Ademar investigate within. Soon, the man who promised to point him out nods them in the direction of a massive man who could only be the “Mackey” they had been told of.
Ademar, feeling the weight of his past experiences went to stand next to the man. After a moment he asked the giant man if he indeed, was Mackey. Mackey turned and reached for Ademar’s throat, but the elf deftly deflected Mackey’s massive paw, barely avoided having his throat crushed. Somewhat surprised, Mackey looked at Ademar for the first time. “What do you want little man?” Ademar told Mackey who he was and told him he wanted to meet with Rulan. After a lengthy discussion Mackey agrees to their requests and if allowed to do so, will arrange a meeting with Rulan.

Ademar tells Mackey that he and the others can be found at The Chunky Wench if he has any news concerning their audience with the gangster.

The four companions then leave the The Barrel’s Bottom but are quickly drawn to the alley behind the tavern by the sound of a fight. The four of them stand and watch as two shirtless humans are engaged in what appears to be a loosely sanctioned boxing match between a tall, well-muscled, heavily tattooed fighter and a smaller, leaner fighter, sans body ink. Cor’Nal, caught up in the spirit of things, jests that it would be a waste that this fight should go on without someone placing a bet, which Ademar, of course, promptly does proclaiming that he has 20 silvers on the smaller, less tattooed of the pugilists. Some random commoner watching from a window above the group gladly accepts Ademar’s careless wager. The four stand transfixed on the two fighters until the smaller man succumbs, losing his consciousness as well as a few teeth. Once Ademar’s lost silvers were paid, the four make their way back to the Chunky Wench to await word from Mackey and the man Patricia had told them of in the early morning hours.

As the noon hour approached, Mackey's lackey entered the Chunky Wench, looking around the room. As the companions were the only elves in the place, Ademar was easy to pick out. He went directly to Ademar and told him that he had a message from Mackey. When Ademar leaned in to listen the agent of Mackey’s said, “Piss off.” When Ademar told the messenger what he could do with that message, the fool drew his blade to threaten the elf. Raell, seeing this reached out with the power of his sword and held the man. Raell then drug the thug out of the inn and laid him down in the road. After taking away all of the thugs weapons, Raell pointed one finger at the man’s face and told him, “Not in here.” Raell then turned around and went back to his spot at the bar.

The hours passed away in The Chunky Wench as the companions waited for their next possible lead to Rulan. As the dinner hour drew near a man matching the description the companions had been given by Patricia came in and took a seat at the bar.

Before the man was able to order, he was set upon by Ademar. Believing Ademar to be one of the thugs in Mackey’s crew, he began to blurt about how he had three days left to pay Mackey back what he owed him. Ademar, sensing an opportunity, attempted to use this against the ruffian. After some confusion, Ademar gives up the ruse and demands to know where the entrance to the Stone Crows hideout is. At first the thug is reluctant, stating that he already was in debt to Mackey, who was not known for kindness to debtors and he wasn’t interested in making things worse by leading Knights of Eystlund to the leader of the Stone Crows. Raell listening not far away asked the man how much he owed Mackey. When the man told Raell that he owed one thousand gold pieces, Raell offered to pay the debt in exchange for the whereabouts of the hideout. Ademar reluctantly agreed that he and his friends would give the man the gold if he led the companions to Rulan. Of course there was a catch: “I won’t show you anything ‘til after dark.” The man said before leaving. Agreeing to meet at The Chunky Wench after sundown, the companions used that time to get some much needed rest.

As promised, the man met with the companions after dusk, demanding half the total coin before leaving the inn. Grudgingly, Ademar paid the man, though this wasn’t part of the original agreement. After the man had the gold in hand, he led the companions to a crossroads in the slums. He looked at the companions and said, “I am not going to point, I will only nod towards the door once you give me the rest of my coin.” Once Ademar gave the man the rest of the promised coin, he gestured slightly towards an old, wood and stone building with a very solid wooden door. He then ran off, disappearing into the city slums leaving the companions behind.

Ademar knocked on the door once they approached the building. A peephole slid open in the door showing a pair of eyes on the other side. The voice inside the door asked “What do you want?” When it was said that they were there to meet Rulan, the voice asked, “How does a Stone Crow fly?” Cor’Nal answered “It doesn’t”. The voice then asked, “When does it?” As none of the companions were able to answer the question, the peep hole slid closed. Cor’Nal, approaching the limits of his patience decided to open the door under his own power. Reaching out with his gifts, Cor’Nal warped the wood of the door until it broke free of its hinges and fell away from its frame. The door fell outward towards them, landing with a thud. They then moved toward the opening, using the fallen door as a ramp and gained entrance to the stone structure. There they saw a porcine, male figure, seated in a chair on the other side of a small fire pit in the center of the room. The massive man stood, and introduced himself as Rulan, leader of The Stone Crows.

Ademar stepped forward, telling the man that he and his friends were here on behalf of the king. The man in the chair asked what it was that the king wanted. “Information.” Ademar stated, “The king believes he has a spy in his ranks. If Rulan can tell the king who that spy is, the king would be willing to forgive Rulan of one future indiscretion.” The man in the chair asked why he would do that, why would The Stone Crows betray Rogar the Beast, a fellow enemy of the king? The companions tried to make the point that life under the rule of Rogar, or whomever he works for would not be kind to Rulan or the Stone Crows. The fat man then turned his head slightly to the rear and asked someone out of sight, “What do you think?” The ominous response was clear:

“Kill them.”

With this, two curtains fell and the companions were attacked by a trio of guards and two flesh golems.

Ademar wasted no time responding and quickly drew an arrow from his quiver and made ready to shoot. It was at this moment, all eyes in the room were drawn to the elf. Waves of power and heat rolled off Est’Perolyne as the magic arrow Ademar nocked reacted in synergy to the magic of the bow. Ademar, unsure of what was about to happen, fired the shot towards the man in the chair. The arrow of fire sunk deep into the gangster’s forehead, blowing out the back of his head, spraying bits of skull and brain matter into the lavish seat behind, killing him instantly. Certain now that they had killed Rulan, despite orders to the contrary, they continued to fight with the remaining men in the room. No longer believing that discretion was necessary with Rulan dead they slaughtered all that came, including the flesh golem monstrosities.

Though they had won, the companions looked around at one another in disbelief at what Ademar’s arrow had done to their query. Defeated, Ademar spoke first, “I only wanted to stun him!”

Before anyone could respond the sound of sarcastic applause filled the air. Seeming to walk through the stone of the wall itself, a man, wearing expensive red and black silks and a smallish, circular headdress appeared. “Mackey said you might be tough, but he didn’t expect you would be this tough.” As he spoke, more men filed out of the wall, lining the outer walls of the room to surround the companions. The clapping man moved around the throne that the enormous dead man’s body had comically fallen upon, callously shoved the carcass to the floor and sat upon the chair himself. It seemed a natural fit. It was then that the realization came over them all.

The dead, fat man wasn’t Rulan at all.

“Hello.” The man spoke. “Welcome. My name is Rulan.”

Before anybody else could say a word one of the companions spoke.

“We’re not paying for the door.” Raell said plainly.

End Recap.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Friends and Acqaintances

Cor’Nal shifted uneasily while he lay in this dark chamber which, by the stink of it, likely doubled as a goat stable during daylight hours. His companions slept quietly, save for Raell who snored noisily, curled up in a cramped corner as far away from the others as possible (though not near enough in Cor’Nal’s opinion); as though he were conscious of the strange growling noises, and occasional sucking sounds he made when drawing air during sleep. Cor’Nal didn’t mind the smell (not nearly as much as he did Raell’s oral emanations anyway), because it was, after all, only natural for animals to smell as they did, but his recent accommodations on the road had spoiled him, made him more aware of the uncivilized, wilder world around him than he had been while hiding away in the warm beds of Henutsen and Goodale. Despite being away from the true wilderness, lying here under the cover of his own blanket (a blanket he admittedly did not need due to his own magical vestments) in this dirty cell made him feel a bit more connected to his calling, to his home, than he had expected. These things, coupled with the closeness of this tiny space annoyed him. But the truth of his irritation lay in his inability to relax long enough to meditate for the evening, an elf’s version of sleep.

This problem, the druid had reluctantly admitted to himself, was born of the visions, or perhaps more accurately: hallucinations, of the beautiful elf-woman who had tortured him each time without fail, with the same question. The inanity of which had grated on his mind with the passing of each fevered-dream.

“What are you searching for, druid?” She asked him each time.

“Foolishness.” Cor’Nal spoke the word aloud without realizing it. What are any of us searching for? He thought as he glanced around the small space within the grey, nondescript stone walls of Grodek Keep.

Well, aside from a cursed sword, a 10,000 gold piece bounty and enough riches to retire back to North Hembers on. He looked at Gareth; the subject of his most recent thought, as a candle in the corner flickered, casting a disjointed ballet of shadows to dance across his blanketed length. The candle, no doubt pilfered by Ademar from the mage they had just sought counsel from, was a requirement of the former human’s, since they had no fire to light the evening darkness with. Despite the assurance of the keep’s safety, as well as the fact that Gareth and all three of his companions could see as well in the dark as they could in the day, Gareth’s concerns about a possible evening ambush could not be assuaged. Cor’Nal had always sensed, but was now assured that Gareth had an irrational fear of the dark. He thought it comical, though no doubt admitted that due to his dark-sightedness, he could not ever understand the fear himself. Thinking about it for the first time he tried to imagine how he would feel if that ability were to be suddenly ripped away from him, this gift he had grown to take for granted. Would his attitude toward the night be so cavalier, as it is now? Or would he react in a cowardly manner as the former human seemed to? He would have to ask Raell in the morning, having been subjected to the experience himself, if the thought occurred to him to do so.

Raell; Cor’Nal shook his head when he thought of the half-man. His twisted sense of morality, and strange way of achieving his goals toward that end, were often annoying to him; even more so than his abominable snoring. As humorless as the druid was he found it difficult to resist laughter, thinking about Raell’s frantic proclamations while burning down the dead human woman’s house in Henutsen. A cursed woman in a cursed town, no doubt, but Raell’s foolish superstitions nearly had the entire group tossed into the Baron’s dungeons. “It’s evil, it must be purged.” He had repeated over and over while setting the banshee-woman’s window dressings alight. He had thought the half-elf had gone mad as they fled toward the safety of their tavern rooms as the light of the fully aflame estate cast dancing shadows across the town as Ademar’s stolen candle was doing in this room right now.

An odd lot, true enough, Cor’Nal thought as his too-awake eyes now moved to Ademar. If given the chance to choose his friends, he surely wouldn’t have chosen Gareth or Raell, to be sure. Would he have even chosen Ademar? Not likely, he thought reluctantly and with some shame. A druid and a thief do not usually make the best of friends potentially, and there were times when Ademar’s propensities toward certain vices strained their relationship even now, but Cor’Nal felt that if the circumstance warranted, he would lay his life down for the physically and emotionally scarred rogue. He expected the elf would do the same for him as well, though he would never admit it. Ademar has chosen to keep distance; careful not to get too close to anyone for fear that another may turn against him. But over the last two years, his guard had come down, his emotional walls crumbled for the druid, and while their mutual trust was at first due solely because they had both been elves, their bond had now transcended that early convenient partnership to an unspoken level of companionship.

To Cor’Nal, he had become more than a friend, he had become kin.

He expected that his differences from the other two, as well as their unlikely survivability, would never allow him to have a similar relationship, but Cor’Nal accepted that happily. Most people were likely to wander this life never having known even one such friend as close and trusted as he had in Ademar, and he thanked Kutenai for his blessing.

No, he again thought with some reluctance, Raell and Gareth would remain acquaintances; to be respected, but observed closely, to be certain. Their unpredictability thus far dictated as much on it's own.

Eventually, his thoughts returned to the forest-elf-maid of his miniature dreams, or hallucinations, whichever they were. He supposed he would have to deal with her in depth at some point. Was she a message, or messenger, from Kutenai, from Lantana? If so, why? What is it they expect me to glean from this cryptic imagery? He thought. She was beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful elf he had ever seen, further proof of a likely message from the divine. He wondered if her beauty was of some significance, perhaps a temptation of some kind. A test of the flesh? No. It could not be. Cor’Nal had yet to take a woman to his bed, the forest having always been his mistress, and would likely be so until Lantana had sent him a woman worthy enough to procreate with. He had never even been tempted by a woman, and as beautiful as the one in his dreams had been, even she had not yet lit the fire of desire in his loins.

Cor’Nal decided that it was of no use to dwell on it. He assumed that whatever or whomever was sending the hallucinations would send more, and hopefully the answers, or the signs toward these answers, would be included within.

It was that last thought he took with him to his evening meditation. It drifted off and diminished as a morning fog will do at midday. His mind clear, he began to slip into trance, chanting barely audibly, his consciousness giving way to the spirit of the earth as he became one with All, his power having been used, exhausted, throughout the days travails, now slowly returned to him. Cor’Nal would once again become the force he had been before the light fell away from Atalanxia’s sky, giving way to Myrrdin’s Eye and the stars that fortified it. When the others awoke; he would once more be nature’s hammer.

Blighters of this land beware.

The Light from the Stair

Zender stood just outside the temple doors. The guardsmen were long gone with Bishop Drent in their care. Looking over head to see where the sun was in the sky, Zender said a small curse under his breath, he knew he was late. Not that it mattered, everyone needed the rest. As he rushed down the stairs, Zender heard a ringing reminder of his new armor. Zender tried to ignore the continuous sound of his armor clinking and clacking as he marched back through the streets, to the inn where his friends were waiting. He knew the straps needed to be adjusted to make it fit better and while he knew about arms and armor, plate mail was something he had never imagined he would own. Zender did not feel as if he belonged in this steel skin. He just kept telling himself that at some point he had to get used to it or at least he hoped so.

As Zender approached the inn where his companions were waiting, sober he hoped, Zender saw a sight that he would come to fear in later days. Lomark was outside in the street, pacing back and forth in front of the inn. Head down as if he was only watching the tips of his shoes, Lomark took slow and measured steps. Ten steps he would take then turning on the balls of his feet, he would pivot around and start the next ten. While there not many things in the world that stumped the quick witted mage, it was clear there was something wrong. Zender quickened his pace a bit when the mage stopped to stare at the priest in white.

“What took you so long?” Lomark said as Zender drew near.

“There were unexpected problems at the temple, things will be fine.” Not that Zender believed that yet. “What is going on, why are you out here pacing around?” Zender asked while looking around, wondering if his other companions were also out or nearby. When he felt the hand on his chest, his attention was drawn back to Lomark quickly.

“Do not worry about those fools, they are still sleeping. I have a problem and I may need your assistance.” The wizard said softly while looking the cleric in the eye. “There is an old tower not far from here; the city has built a wall around it.”

“Herelden's Tower, it is off limits by order of the King. Everyone knows that. More importantly you know that, it has been that way for years.” As he spoke, the cleric’s voice started to grow louder.

“Keep it down.” Lomark said quickly and sharply. “I passed by there on my way to see my master. I needed supplies before we return to that pit. I saw a vagrant child playing in the yard between the wall and the tower; I looked around and saw where some boards were pulled away. I could not stop myself from going in, I saw the child. The boy thought he was in trouble when I asked him what he was doing. He dashed head long into the tower. I wanted to follow him but it wouldn’t let me.”

“What wouldn’t let you?” Zender asked.

“There is something in that tower. It would not allow me to get close. I fear for that child Zender, you need to do something.”

“I need to do something? Why not call the guard, tell them what happened? How much time have you wasted standing here?”

“Only those of pure intent can enter the tower or so I have been told. It is part of the old legend, if it is true it may take a long time to find a guard who is able to enter the tower.”

“Go!” was all Zender had to say. He was furious with the mage. As they hurried through the streets, he took a sideways glance at the wizard. Lomarks eyes were focused and hard, he actually had a look of concern on his face. Zender wondered if under the cold exterior if the wizard actually had a heart. This was only the second time since he had known the wizard that Lomark had shown concern for anyone other than himself. Thinking more about it as they walked Zender recalled the look on the wizards face when he saw how the children were being kept in the cultist lair. Zender started to wonder if the cynical wizard had a soft spot for children. ‘No’ he thought, that can’t be right. There was something else at work there. As they drew closer to the tower Zender put it out of his mind.

“Come back here priest.” Lomark said as they approached the wooden wall that surrounded Herelden's Tower. It is unknown how long the tower had been in Eystlundtowne. Longer than Zender had been alive, of that he was sure. “Here, he went in here. Bend down you can squeeze through.” Removing his bag and shield from his back, Zender set them on the ground, looking at the opening. Turning aside thoughts of his own troubles, he studied the wood with his father’s eyes. As he looked on any thoughts of good in Lomark started to fade away.

“The breaks in the wood are fresh; you can see where someone pried the boards apart recently.” As he pointed to impressions left behind in the wood Zender said. “They used something round, like your staff. Would you like to tell me what really happened?”

“You are wasting time priest, that boy could be in trouble.” As Lomark spoke his eyes narrowed to mere slits.

“Tell me.” Zender said as he moved closer to the wizard. His hand falling to the war hammer he carried at his side.

“Perhaps I was not completely truthful, yet the fact still remains that the boy went in there and he has not come out.”

“What did you do Lomark?” Zender took another step closer to the mage. “Tell me now or I do nothing.”

“Who is telling lies now? You have to make up your mind, throttle me or search for the boy, which is it priest?”

“Lomark, just tell me.” Zender pleaded in a softer tone.

“Herelden was one of the most powerful mages to ever walk these lands. Where he went, no one knows. Perhaps I tried to get in there and found I was unable. Remembering what my master taught me about the tower, I tried to find another way. Perhaps I even paid a small homeless boy a large sum of gold to go explore the place for me. To bring me any books he might find inside.”

“And he has not come out yet? Afraid he ran off with your gold with nothing to show for it?”

“No priest, I am afraid something happened to him and it is my fault. It is an old tower, anything could have happened in there.”

“This is not over.” Zender told him as he turned away. Shaking his head he lowered himself down to squeeze into the narrow gap in the wooden wall. Once he was inside the ten foot high wall, all he could see was the tower and the door hanging open. Taking a moment to reach up to his chest, Zender said a quick prayer to Solarth, asking for guidance and protection. Before taking a step he turned back towards the opening. “Lomark?” he said.

“What?”

“I don’t care what you have to do, if I am not out of there in ten minutes, you find a way to get me out. Understood?”

“Yes, quite.” Lomark said softly, drawing out the words as long as he dared. Zender could only shake his head and started towards the waiting tower door.

“Blasted mage is going to get me killed.” Zender said under his breath. Standing in front of the open tower doorway, Zender looked inside. He wasn’t sure what he would find as he crossed the open space between the wall and the tower. Yet what he saw now, was the last thing he expected. While the bottom floor of the tower was dark, the light of day showed him all he needed to see. The walls and floors of the tower were pristine, not even as much as a speck of dust marred the floor. Looking down he could see where dust and dirt had built up over the years but none of it pushed past the archway into the tower itself. Zender was tempted for a small moment to kick a pile of dirt into the room but thought better of it. Moving closer to the door way, he kept waiting for something to happen, to feel something resist him, yet nothing did. As he stepped inside the tower, nothing happened at all. Reaching for his medallion once again, Zender lifted it over his head holding it ahead of him.

“Blessed Solarth, please illuminate my way so your servant may see all your blessings.” As soft white glow spread out from his hand and soon he could see the entire room on the bottom floor of the tower. While Zender understood there were many things about magic he didn’t know. He was dumbfounded at the size of the room. It had to be twice the size of the tower from the outside. Shining the light around the room, Zender couldn’t see any way out of the room short of going up the stairs. As he started towards the stairs he called out. “Boy, are you up there?” Pausing just before the first step to listen, he couldn’t hear a thing other than the wind blowing outside. Until he put his first foot on the bottom stair. Calling out to the boy again, he thought he heard a door latching closed. Keeping his back against the wall, Zender started to climb the stairs two at a time.

“Boy, can you hear me?” Zender called out again, racing up the stairs. It wasn’t until Zender noticed that the light he was seeing wasn’t coming from his hand anymore but ahead of him that he slowed down. “Boy, are you up there?”

“Yes.” A small voice said, the word echoed down the stair well.

“Are you ok boy, can you come down?” Zender asked.

“Yea, I am ok.” The voice said again, echoing down from above.

“Can you come down?” Zender asked as he started to move up the stairs again. Soon the light completely filled the stairwell. Dropping his medallion of Solarth into one of his robe pockets, he reached his hand out and placed it on the wall to steady himself. Looking down the stairs he saw nothing but darkness, ahead of him was nothing but light. For a small moment he imagined being trapped between a world of pure light and another that was just an abyss of darkness and despair. Zender shook his head and started to move upwards again. While the stairwell was well lit now, he still couldn’t see where the light was coming from. “Can you come down boy?” Zender asked again.

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Well then I will come get you then.” Zender called out to him.

“No, I don’t think so.” Zender paused at this, his foot stopping in mid air, just above a step.

“What do you mean boy?” Zender asked.

“I don’t think you can come get me” The boy said. Zender stopped again, the light ahead of him was growing brighter, yet he still couldn’t see where it was coming from.

“What is your name boy?” Zender asked while resting his back on the wall behind him. He felt as if he had been climbing the stairs for an hour. He wasn’t surprised that Lomark didn’t come to help him.

“Oh, I don’t know. Everyone just calls me boy, never really had a name before.”

“My name is Zender, will you please come down now.”

“No, I don’t think so. It is warm here. I like it warm. It gets really cold on the streets at night.”

“Boy, are you alone up there?” Zender asked him. “Is someone keeping you there?”

“No, no one is keeping me here.” Zender shook his head. The voice was closer, he started to move again.

“I’m coming to you boy. Just keep talking.” As Zender moved he looked straight up, soon he could see the light. It almost looked solid, ethereal strands drifted down the stair well, feeling about as if moved by a living thinking creature. “Boy” Zender called out again.

“Yes Zender” the voice was closer, louder. Gone was the echo from above. Zender froze in his tracks, then moving back two steps. Something about the boy’s voice filled him with dread. Not for himself but for the boy.

“I think we need to leave now boy. Come to me, I know you are close.” Zender could feel the light now, even as he started to back away. He could feel its warmth, inviting him to come closer. Zender knew that he didn’t want to get any closer than he already was.

“No, that is ok. I am gonna stay here.”

“Please boy, come down with me. I will take you to the temple of Solarth; make sure you are warm at night, lots of food there too.” Zender could feel the light inviting him to come closer. He wanted to go forward, yet something inside of him knew it wasn’t time. That if he went there, there was no coming back.

“No, that is ok. It is nice here.”

“Ok boy, I will come back again. To see if you have changed your mind.” Zender was now steadily moving down the stairs. Even if he wanted to, his feet would not stop.

“Ok, bye!” the boy’s voice echoed down from above again. By the time the echo stopped sounding off the walls of the tower, Zender was running down the steps three at a time. When he could no longer remember why he was running, he was standing outside of the tower again, looking into that large empty room once more. Looking back at the stairs, there was no trace of the light from above that he knew was just there. Knowing that he would be spending many hours in prayer about what he had just seen, Zender just shook his head and closed the tower door. As Zender squeezed back out to the other side of the wall, he saw Lomark standing off to the side staring at an object in the palm of his hand.

“What were you waiting for? I thought you were going to help me?” Zender asked him. The irritation in his voice was clear as the sky above.

“You were only gone five minutes” Lomark said to him holding up a small hour glass. “Where is the boy?”

“Are you sure it was only five minutes?” Zender asked as he knew he was in that tower for a lot longer than that.

“Yes, I am quite sure” Lomark said softly. His eyes narrowed as he looked at the cleric. “What did you see in there? Where is the boy?”

“Honestly I do not know.” Zender let out a sigh as he put his bag and shield over his back again. “Let’s go, the others will be wondering where we are.” Zender said as he turned from the wizard and the opening in the wall to Herelden's Tower. Reaching into his robe pocket for his medallion of Solarth he felt a bit of comfort as he pulled it out. He smiled to himself as he once again put the lanyard back over his head, kissing it once before dropping it inside of his robe.

“Are you going to tell me what happened?” Lomark asked when he caught up with the fast walking priest.

Zender smiled at the wizard and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Perhaps” Zender said, ignoring the look of scorn from the wizard. He could only smile at Lomark now, while he still didn’t understand what it was that he had experienced, he knew there was no evil there. No ill intent behind that childish voice or the bright light. Sparing one last look back at Herelden's Tower, Zender knew that he would keep his word and return to speak to the boy again.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

An Elf, His Bow, and an Ogre Mage

This session begins with the companions on the hard-pack dirt floor of a converted stable within the crowded walls of Grodek Keep. Ademar, bothered over having to surrender his weapons at the gates of the keep begins his day as he ended the previous night, with an open bottle of wine. Raell, unable to do anything other than shake his head at the elf, invited Gareth to go go on a quest; in search of breakfast. While the prospects looked grim, the pair wanted hot food instead of another morning of trail rations. After finding their way to the ‘chow’ line that the soldiers were waiting in Gareth and Raell were soon approached by Lt. Bancroft. Apparently the highest ranking officer in King Darius' Royal Army to grace Grodek Keep.

After introducing himself to the pair, Lt. Bancroft inquired about the group and what they had planned. Raell knowing when he is being baited, asked the lieutenant what it was that he needed? Bancroft told Raell and Gareth about a group of scouts that had been ambushed a few miles west of the keep and asked if we would be willing to scout the area that the lone survivor came back from. Raell told Bancroft that he would need to consult with the rest of the group before he could commit. Raell and Gareth hurried back to the stable where they had spent the night before to talk with the others. Finding Ademar deep into his earlier bottle of wine, Raell only spoke with Cor’Nal. Cor’Nal agreed to the task and with a map from Lt. Bancroft in hand, he changed into a bird and flew to scout the area himself. What he found there, he did not expect.

After the druid took to flying away, Raell and Gareth returned to the task of finding food.

Meanwhile, Cor’Nal had little trouble finding the area that the lone scout had spoken of. While he was able to find the body of a single soldier, it was the devastation of this acreage of forest that insulted the druid most. A widespread grove of ironwood, hickory and oak trees had been hastily ripped down and clearcut. Leaving only the shattered, misshapen stumps behind where the once-tall and proud timber had majestically prevailed. Looking at the broken and destroyed remnants deeply affected the druid, who required a moment of quiet serenity to temper his rage. With a clear head, he looked down at the scene of slaughter and began to follow the deep trenches that were made in the earth when the majestic trees were hauled away. While Cor’Nal was able to follow the trail from the air for some time, eventually he was forced to take the shape of a wolf and follow the rest of the way on the ground. Cor’Nal tracked the tree killers over several miles before being discovered by a stealthy Orc patrol in the forest. Believing they had found a forest bounty of which they would roast and eat this evening, the orcs moved to fire their crossbows into the wolf's flanks. Cor'Nal, feeling much more substantial than Orc-fodder, chose discretion over slaughter and hid in a nearby shrubbery. Unfortunately the shrubbery did not hide the druid-wolf well as he was seen by his hunters, and they fired upon their prey, striking him twice in the flank. Before the orcs were able to loose a second volley, Cor'Nal transformed into a squirrel and scaled the nearest tree, watching his assailants from above. Eventually, the orcs that hunted him gave up their quarry in puzzlement, moving onward to continue their scheduled patrol. Cor'nal, once he felt it was safe, came down and found another tree, this one closer to the battlement camp in order to get an accurate assessment of what he and his companions were up against.

Looking down at the camp, Cor’Nal saw the fate of the trees that had been slaughtered. They were being used to build machines of war. The druid studied the camp long enough to get a count of the number of enemies milling about, as well as what types. All the while plotting how these Orcs and Ogres would pay for the crimes they committed against nature. Once he was sure that he had all the information he would need for a later assault on the camp, Cor’Nal prepared to take flight. It was then that he noticed a strange looking fog that had settled near the camp. Even with the mid day sun hanging overhead, this strange looking mist, akin to a heavy fog, persisted in lording over the forest like some ill omen. Unable to spend the time to investigate this fog, Cor’Nal took flight with one thing on his mind. Justice for the fallen trees that he felt beholden to avenge.

Once the druid returned to Grodek Keep, Cor’Nal found his companions and reported his findings to Lt. Bancroft. After drawing out a rough sketch of the camp the companions, minus Ademar, drafted out a plan of attack to hit the camp the following morning. Ademar was still in the stable enjoying his wine, concerned over the presumed temporary loss of his weapon and perported Elven relic, Est’Perolyne. Cor’Nal, knowing his friend's concern over the weapon's cultural, personal and literal value in coin sought out Captain Herschel. Hoping that if the good Captain returned Est’Perolyne to Ademar, he might allay the rogue's rightful concern. After all, a weapon of that value, in the wrong hands, could potentially be used to fund the services of an entire army alone. While the companions tried to explain to Captain Herschel that Ademar would not harm, or attempt to harm, a soul and there was no risk in returning the weapon to him, Captain Herschel made it very clear he didn’t care what the elf's, or the entire party's concerns were, he would not have the bow in his possession until the party left Grodek Keep. It was then that the companions decided that leaving the safety and warmth of the camp was a better proposition than remaining within weaponless. Collecting all their weapons at the gate, the group started marching towards the enemy camp, choosing to sleep in the woods overnight.

The group spent a quiet night in the woods several miles from the enemy camp. Two hours before the first light of day appeared, the companions set out. Gareth, Cor’Nal and Besali headed towards the east side of the enemy camp, while Ademar and Raell headed towards the west. Once the first light of day appeared over the tree line Cor’Nal began his assault, shouting at the Orcs that they would pay for the crimes they committed against nature. It was then that Cor’Nal hit the camp with an entangle spell, snaring most of the creatures in the camp where they stood. At the same time, on the west side of the camp Raell and Ademar began to move tent to tent, to hit the enemy from behind. The battle was fought at the edges of camp and the writhing mass of plant life that Cor’Nal had animated. The Orcs and Ogres that were able to escape from the druids spell, quickly turned to attack the group in vain. The majority of the creatures did not stand a chance against the wrath of Cor’Nal and his companions. As the group continued to slaughter the Orcs and Ogres, Cor’Nal couldn’t help but notice the fog from the day before, still hanging in the air, just north of the enemy camp.

With only a handful of creatures left alive, Cor’Nal watched the mist start to move towards the camp. As the Mist started came over the camp, heading ever southaward, it shrank in size until it became a solid mass only a couple dozen feet in front of the druid. It was then in horror that Cor’Nal watched an Ogre Mage appear, levitating fifteen feet in the air over the center of the camp. Quickly casting defensive spells on himself, Cor’Nal waited for the magical assault that was to come. While the group was certain of victory only moments before, Raell looked on in stunned surprise as a cone of cold spell emanated from the Ogre Mage's fanned, outstretched hands. While he had remained, luckily, outside of the spells deadly touch, (apparently unnoticed by the monster) he could feel the frosty cold only inches from his face. Cor’Nal and Besali were not so fortunate, taking close to the full brunt of the frosty blast. Cor’Nal fearing for the life of his wolf companion sent the animal away and began to strike back at the floating Ogre Mage, calling down a flame strike on the creature. Raell, believing that he could not help the druid with this fight, went to assist Gareth in finishing off the last of the Orcs who had moved into position, guarding what looked to be the camp leaders tent.

Ademar seeing his friend in mortal danger from the spells of the Ogre mage unleashed a full barrage of flaming arrows at the creature, each one causing the beast great harm. Between that and the druid's spells, they were able to defeat the Ogre Mage. While the druid looked to begin healing himself and his friends, Ademar fell upon the body of the Ogre Mage, frantically searching for any riches he may find. As Raell and Gareth cut down the last Orc, just off to the North. After which they began to search the tents for any creatures that may have been hiding. They found none. It was during this time that the Ogre Mage once again stood up. Ademar, being caught off balance with a hand still in the Ogres pouches, took a crushing backfist blow to the face which sent the already scarred elfreeling back into a tent to the west, ironically the very tent he had fired the supposedly killing arrow from. Ademar landed in a heap. Cor’Nal seeing his friend hurt as well as the beast standing again renewed his magical attack. Yet it was once again Ademar, Est’Perolyne in hand, who ended the fight after recovering from the wicked crack to the jaw. Sinking an arrow into the head of the Ogre Mage, the elf killed him for a second, and final time.

As the companions searched the camp, Ademar found a locked chest in what appeared to be the commander’s tent. Unfortunately he did not find the trap on the chest until settting it off. A foul yellow cloud filled the tent. Undeterred, Ademar waved off the yellow mist and went to work on the chest, popping open the lock in short work. Checking behind him once to see if he was alone, Ademar quickly pocketed a small bag of gems. Hazard pay, he would tell himself. He also found a set of Elven Chain armor, five odd arrows that were wrapped up in cloth and a message scroll whose seal has already been broken. Deciding that was something better left to Cor’Nal, Ademar left the tent. Never even noticing the look of horror on the faces of his companions. Something in that foul yellow smoke had changed his physical appearance, especially facially, and not for the better. As Raell and Cor’Nal read over the scroll, Ademar wandered off to inspect the small bag of gems he had just claimed as his own.

Raell was distraught while reading the scroll. It was an unsigned letter to the commander of this camp, someone by the name of 'Kildigg', presumably the now-dead Ogre Mage. Detailing what actions they should take and telling of an impending massive attack on the Eystlund Army's Eastern front. The letter read as follows, in common:

Kildigg,

Rip the ironwood and hickory trees down and have the orcs do the work of manufacturing the trebuchets and catapults. Once built, you will move them frequently, for the reasons we discussed previously. Never remain in the same place for consecutive days!

The shapeshifter will prove invaluable to me later, so see to it that he lives, as I will hold you personally responsible if he does not.

I expect that a secondary front will be moved north by the end of the month to accommodate the Arcadian forces that I assume will be here sooner rather than later. The Kromwell whelp has been chomping at the bit to get here in order to rescue his homeland, and I think he will make an attempt whether his king grants him leave or not. All the better as he and I have a score to settle anyway. Another dead hero suits me and will do well for our troop morale, but I digress.

An assault on what is left of Darius’ external forces to the east will commence on the First of Divinder, it is there that we will take and hold the eastern road to the capital and cut off eastern supply lines. With the northern roads held by the Turbans at The Forks, and the eastern roads cut off from supply, the true siege can begin. Eystlund will receive no relief from the west, as her cities there will soon be cut off at The Great Forest Road. If your assistance on the eastern front is needed, you will be summoned.

Darius still hides like the coward he is, but my spies grow ever closer. The Beast’s Hand is at his neck and it has begun to squeeze.

Soon he will be ours.

Raell tried to push everything about the letter that seemed to include his half-brother to the back of his mind as he realized that the proposed attack date in the letter was for the following day; The First of Divinder. Raell told Cor’Nal that he must leave everyone behind and carry the letter to Captain Herschel as fast as he could and warn them of the impending attack. With all the speed he could muster Cor’Nal flew back to Grodek Keep to deliver the letter to Captain Herschel. As expected Captain Herschel was grateful for the warning and told Cor’Nal to see him once he and the rest of his companions were able to return to the keep. By the time Cor’Nal had returned, Ademar had stuffed the large commander’s tent into his bag of holding, not even aware that his physical condition had continued to grow worse. Apparently ugly, it seems, is not painful.

When the group returned to Grodek Keep, they were not asked to check their weapons as before. Captain Herschel instead gathered the companions and asked them if they could assist the troops on the Eastern front. Determined to do anything they could to win the trust of the Captain, and in turn, aid Eystlund and her King, the group agreed that they would travel as quickly as possible to the East to warn the front and assist in holding the line.

End of recap...

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Grodek Keep

The four companions huddled together before the mage in his cramped quarters. The room had probably been a broom closet before but with so many people crowded into Grodek Keep, every space was now in use. Candles blazed everywhere, illuminating the room and instilling within it a hot, oppressive, air. The wizard's dark curls were matted against his perspiring forehead but he paid no attention, focusing only on the items before him. Chanting softly the man worked his magic intently, weaving his spell with precision; he probed the items one at a time in an attempt to unlock their unknown enchantments. First the smooth, bleached-white, wooden wand then, the gold amulet emblazoned with a stylized tree who's branches and roots were shown bare and twisted in a circle around the trunk; finally, the man turned to the thick book of parchment bound in red leather.

In mere minutes, which felt like hours in the stuffy chamber, the wizard's work was complete. He turned his eyes up to meet those of his four anxious guests.

"These items would be very useful to Captain Herschel and his men." The mage spoke in an even tone betraying no emotion. After a short pause he continued. "The wand holds healing powers and, although I can not tell how many times it could be used, it would be of great use on the battle field." The mage picked up the amulet allowing it to dangle from his hand on a delicate looking gold chain. "This talisman, was crafted by the followers of Lantana. They do not believe in wearing any type of armor and so they use these amulets imbued with blessed magic from the Treemother to aid in protecting their faithful. This," He lowered the amulet to the table and placed his hand over the worn leather cover of the book. "is a spell book. I'm sure you have seen them before. I would be willing to waive the fee for identifying these items in exchange for this book." He raised his eyes to the group. His face was expressionless but, his eyes held an eager spark within their dark depths.

Ademar was quick to speak. "Tell us what magic is within these pages and we will consider your offer."

"I am afraid that I can not tell you that." The mage replied. "You see, magic is written in a special script to prevent those who are not magi from harming themselves or others. If you were a practitioner of the art, I would not have to tell you what is in this book."

The elf frowned. He did not trust this mage, he did not really trust anybody in this whole compound, especially Captain Herschel who had confiscated their weapons before bringing them to Greden Grodek's massive compound.

"I think we will just keep the book." Ademar replied. "What do we owe?"

The wizard looked somewhat disappointed but, his eyes showed hope as he responded. "Two hundred gold." He watched as the elf winced at hearing the price before reaching for his coin purse. "Of course, if you would rather keep your gold and perhaps turn a proffit-" Ademar's hand stopped just short of his belt. "I would be willing to pay you fifty gold in exchange for the spell book and we will consider the debt paid."

The pale elf glanced at his companions yet, found no answers in their expressions. "We will keep the book." He stated again as he counted out exactly two hundred pieces of gold stacked neatly ten high and two rows wide on the wizards table. "Our thanks for your services good sir." The rogue said as he deftly collected the three items and turned from the room. Quickly his three companions followed, all of them happy to be out of the stuffy chamber.

On their way back to the overcrowded barracks the small knot of companions discussed how their newly identified items might best suite their own needs. It was readily agreed upon that the ranger Raell would carry the Lantanan amulet. The other two items were not so easily placed though. Cor'Nal had historically been the protector and healer of the party and it seemed logical that he should carry the wand. On the other hand, Ademar argued that perhaps they would be better served if someone else, perhaps himself, keep the wand in the event that the druid were separated from the companions or incapacitated in some way. When their discussion of the matter ended the only thing they could agree upon was that they would do something with the wand the following day.

As they were nearing the barracks, the fourth member of the party spoke up quite unexpectedly. "Ademar," the voice of Gareth was even and serious. "what do you plan to gain by keeping that spell book?"

The rogue was road weary and mentally frayed from weeks on the trail fighting unknown enemies. All he wanted to do was lay his body on a cot and rest in the relative comfort afforded by their host. He did not want to have this conversation now nor here but, he remembered that Gareth was not yet used to the long life of an elf and he did not yet realize that there would always be another day for such discussions. Rubbing his open palms over his face, Ademar turned with a small sigh.

"I don't know exactly." He turned his emerald gaze upon their stalwart companion trying to show him that his words held no secrets. "I don't trust these men who we do not know and the wizard seemed too eager to have it."

"Perhaps the man is just eager to bolster his ability in order to help defend his homeland." Gareth offered in counterpoint. "Besides, you trusted them enough to take our weapons." He had intended it to be stated as a mere fact but when he heard it in his own ears it sounded like an accusation. The warrior noted a grief-stricken grimace cross the rogue's face. It passed quickly but he already regretted bringing up the confiscation of Est'Perolyne.

Choosing to let the slight pass without comment, Ademar paused a moment and picked his next words carefully. "Call it a feeling, and instinct. I just do not feel comfortable giving away something such as this to a stranger. I can not do it in good conscience." Behind them Raell snorted in quiet derision. Again he chose to let the barb pass without comment. "Let us hold it in safe keeping for the time-being. If a need for it arises we can address it then."

Gareth nodded, seemingly accepting the explanation. Ademar smiled and spoke as another idea entered his mind. "Come my friends, I think there is still a bottle of wine in my pack. We can share it and perhaps find someone inside who has some dancing dice!" Raell groaned and Ademar smiled all the wider.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Dead Again

This recap begins shortly after the companions have finished taking the north end of the mountain pass south of Forna Nogue and Colonel Garret's camp. The companions, after a short respite, decide it is best to make way without resting for the evening, believing that they still hold the element of surprise. Assuming that none of those fortifying the north end of the hilly pass were fortunate enough to escape.

That night, they leave the remainder of Garret's force behind. Nine survived the initial attack, including Garret, but the Colonel surprisingly asks to join the companions, believing that he will be more help in the short term, at the vanguard. The companions accept his offer, and they leave immediately. Cor'Nal shapeshifts into a squirrel and hides away in one of Ademar's loot bags in order to (circumvent the rules) rest and regain the use of his spells without slowing the entire group. While staying a few minutes behind themselves along with Garrett, they send Raell and Gareth ahead to scout.

Shortly before nightfall, Gareth and Raell are stopped in their tracks by the sound of slow-trotting horse-hooves. They scramble to find a hiding place amongst the rocks of the high-ground. Gareth assumes this is in order to ambush the scouts. He is wrong.

Once the scouts come into view, approximately 70 feet or so away, Raell opens fire with his longbow, much to Gareth's surprise. After a short battle, Raell successfully kills one rider, but the other wisely turns and flees. Easily outpacing the two heroes on foot, who disregard a chase entirely.

Gareth, a man who admires and respects Raell greatly for his bravery and moral fortitude, resists his instinctive urge to berate the half-elf for his seeming tactical incompetence, and instead opts for stern looks and biting sarcasm. In response Raell has little to say, but seems annoyed by the attention regardless. Raell has no idea at this time how serious his mistake was.

Raell and Gareth make the decision to wait in their current position to wait for the others and report their mistake. When they arrive, Raell decides to leave out the details of how the second scout escaped, though Gareth makes a half-hearted attempt to do it for him, hoping Raell will accept responsibility. Raell refuses to take the baton. While annoyed and suspicious, Garrett says little knowing that he is among strangers. He also knows that these companions are powerful, and while he does not fear them individually, he respects that they have lived this long in these small numbers and leaves them to their own devices and seeming lack of leadership/accountability.

That night, a hurricane bearing down off the eastern coast of Katja-Lor brings a torrent of rain, along with it come winds averaging 80 miles an hour with gusts consistently in the range of 120 miles an hour. Oddly, the companions decide to trek on, though they do not get far. Several times Ademar is dumped by the force of the waters in the now-flooded canyon pass and gusts of wind. He is twice in the throes of drowning but he is able to save himself both times. After struggling in this manner for only a mile or so of travel. They decide to wait out the two-day storm in an artificial outcropping created by the powerful druid.

After the storm ends, an extreme winter chill comes on the wind, dropping temperatures to a finger-numbing 20 degrees on the still-damp warriors. A quick "Endure Elements" spell by the druid for the Colonel and all is well. This day the companions walk the full length of the rest of the mountain pass. In order to make sure that the force ahead is what they expected to encounter, Cor'Nal shifts into the form of a small bird and flies South. He is not surprised when he finds a force approximating the one they had encountered before, but this time with one extra giant. The three giants however seem less a threat than before as they are apparently the far less dangerous variety of hill giants and not the stone giants they encountered earlier.

Cor'Nal returns to his companions to report the force of two-score Katja-Lorians and three Hill Giants. After a quick discussion over strategy, they rush to attack.

Cor'Nal again flies ahead of the group, waiting for them to come into view. When he sees them, he transforms the North side of the Eastern ridge, what was before a sheer stone wall, into a makeshift set of stairs, so his companions can easily climb to meet their enemies. After that, he casts the spell "Windwall" in order to keep the enemies across the other side of the canyon from successfully entering the fray. The plan as intended, works flawlessly.

The battle rages and the Katja-Lorians take heavy initial losses while the group remains largely unharmed. Besali seems top take the brunt of the initial damage from the first Hill Giant to enter the fray, but Cor'Nal quickly intervenes to assist his furry friend. Bravely, Gareth and Ademar turn back toward the north to engage the rushing giant when it seems that it may be too much for Cor'Nal and Besali to handle alone. With cries of "We can take 'im, Ademar", Gareth begs the elf on, and the combination of spell, arrow and steel make quick work of the first giant who falls heavily into the roadway upon death.

During the fight with the giant, Raell and the Colonel have pushed Southward along the ridge, killing all Katja-Lorians unfortunate enough to find themselves in their path. Eventually, a second giant hurls himself over the rocks in their path, while a third does the same behind them. Raell and Colonel Garret are now trapped between two giants, with a couple of Katja-Lorian grunts thrown in as garnish.

Unseen by the group, a red-robed figure blinks into the battlefield, below at the Southern end of the ridge. This is the turn of the tide.

The giants in the fight with Raell and Garrett score several huge blows before the first one is killed, falling twenty feet to the stone floor beneath. Several seconds after the fight with the two giants begins Gareth and Besali join the two warriors while Ademar and Cor'Nal provide support in the form of arrows and spells.

During this time the robed-figure makes his presence felt and immediately engages who he believes is the biggest threat. It doesn't take him long to learn that Cor'Nal is the one who must die first. Silently, foregoing any threats or declarations of superiority the robed-figure efficiently begins casting various spells which, at first, have no effect on the powerful druid. A few rounds of this futility ensue as the druid and the robed-figure trade shots, the druid seemingly gaining the upper hand, before the robed-figure resorts to evocation, casting a lightning bolt that sends the druid reeling.

The final giant is felled by a trip attack from Besali shortly after this. It is the second such attack that Besali has successfully employed on this giant. The companions are moving in for the kill as this giant is still alive, though mortally wounded. Before they can do so however, the robed-figure sensing the druid much less a threat than before, casts a fireball down upon the tightly contained group of warriors. This blast kills Colonel Garrett and Raell Kromwell instantly. Besali escapes with burnt dog hair and Gareth, while also wounded, survives the blast intact.

Another short barrage between the robed-figure and the druid as Besali finishes the felled giant. Once the giant is vanquished, the robed-figure blinks away in a dramatic flash of light and sound. He is gone.

The group takes a moment to inventory the fallen. It isn't long before Ademar comes to the conclusion that both Colonel Victor Garrett and his friend, Raell Kromwell are both dead.

After the realization, he, Gareth, Cor'Nal and Besali move to finish the fight. The Windwall spell, having ended by this time, makes the warriors across the cavern dangerous again. Ademar deftly tries to taunt them into fleeing or surrendering. After a short time, less than a minute, they choose the former.

Cor'Nal chases the remainder of the Katja-Lorians, those that do not meet death from Ademar's arrows, south of the canyon, into a clearing where he meets them with a "Flamesword" spell. Stupidly, seeing that they outnumber the elf six to one they attempt to take him to save whatever face they can with their surviving superiors. They fail miserably as the druid slaughters them to a man.

Before Cor'Nal returns, Ademar begins looting the corpses. He finds very little to celebrate about as his friend, at least in the short-term, seems to have died for very little. They end the session with discussion of how to move forward with the dead they have in their midst.

Do they push on to Eystlund, or return to Arcadia in hopes that Lord Darmot Kromwell will put forward the coin to revive his dead brother...

Perhaps Lord Kromwell will wish to fight in his brother's stead, now that he has reason to ignore the wishes of the ruling Houses of Arcadia.

Monday, January 31, 2011

What do You Stand For?

Recently we crossed paths with Colonel Victor Garrett, an officer in the service of the Arcadian Army. At the request of Raell’s half brother, Darmot Kromwell- an Arcadian lord of some repute, our group had agreed to seek out this man and his soldiers in order to gather a report on their progress in this budding war that has come to Eystlund. Once located, the good Colonel revealed to us that he and his force had come against an impasse. He needed to get his men through a narrow trail in the mountains which was controlled by Kitja-Lorian mercenaries and giants. When we offered to help the mired Arcadian forces we were regarded with skepticism which I can fully understand. How could three elves and a half-human, cure a problem which one hundred skilled Arcadian soldiers could not? But, above this skepticism was the very pointed question which struck me, and I believe some of my companions as well, completely off guard.

He asked, “What is it that four elves want with this? Why do you care, honestly?”

I do not believe that Master Garrett meant us any insult or, that he was untrusting of us as elves. The man honestly could not understand why we, of all the peoples on Majius, would come to the aid of he and his men without provocation and without pay. Elves are not uncommon in the land but, they do not generally concern themselves with the affairs of the world at large. This has led me to many restless hours of contemplation when I surely could use sleep and light-hearted dreams. Who are we exactly? And, why are we running toward a reported war when every sane mortal is running away from it?

Well, I tell myself that I know who we are. We are a storm bringer, a wolf-friend. We are a dwarf tracker, and he who cleanses evil from the land. We are a new-born man; a protector of the weak. We are a vengeful night shadow and- And what? What am I now that my blood oath has been completed? The question of who I am now rests just as heavily on my shoulders as the query of why.

Many nights I have been visited by the specter of Deacon Jones, an innocent man whom I wrongly assassinated; the people of Snoam ’Schlabach who I allowed to be cut down by orcs, especially Magda Dervish; and Anna McDunugh who we did not try hard enough to save. They haunt me in my temperance and so, I have often given to staving off those specters with generous doses of wine before stumbling off to oblivion. Will I ever do enough goodness in this world to wash these stains from my hands?

I think I am just now beginning to see what can be accomplished by my companions and I. We have great potential to rid many evils from this world but will we ever reach it? I sometimes find myself hesitating in battle, holding back the deadly power of Est’Perolyne as I wonder if the enemy before me is truly an enemy or, if I am being manipulated once again. Sanastarus has given me a second chance in this realm and I desperately hope that I am picking the right path moving forward. I pray to the Elf-father that he may give me strength to face each new day and I hold faith that I have found companions who will help me on my path to redemption, wherever that may lead me. I see now that I have found a new purpose, a reason to move forward. I know that it is my duty to protect those closest to me, my traveling companions who have gone to battle at my side so many times. But, to a larger degree, it is now my responsibility to seek out those of ill-intent, those others who share dark souls like my one-time mentor Kendrick Cwik, and the rotten dwarf slaver Farkas Winslow.

Why do we care? What do we want? We care because we have seen too much innocent blood spilled on the ground in the name of greed and power. We care because our conscience will no longer allow us to stand idle. We care because our souls can take no more darkness. In our hearts I think my companions and I all want the same thing, we want to know that when our last day in this realm finally comes, that we did all that was in our power to make the world better than it was when we came to it. We want to face the gods with a clear mind and a light spirit.

I know that I am not perfect, I indulge too much in drink, I take liberty with the property of others, and I leverage the subjugation humans have toward their women to my advantage. But, I feel that I am finally on the right path and, although my habits may not change drastically in the future, I am now doing that which is right. When I slip from this world I will do so triumphantly and all will know that when I meet Sanastarus himself he will welcome me to the home of my ancestors. I hope with all my being that my companions will be able to say the same thing when they meet the gods.

-Ademar Helyanwë

11, Attina 1014 pr