The Fall of Civilization - Page 11





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  1. #101
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    ø Ignore Baron Opal
    Jester needs to realign with this plane of existance. He'll be back.
    "People need vision.
    Sometimes you just have to add spices without a recipie."
    - My wonderful wife.

 

  • #102
    Awesome thread. I hope for more updates!

  • #103
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    Haha... this thread is far from over! I'm a long ways behind catching up, I've just had a busy couple of months- moving twice, Burning Man, a 12-day road trip, etc.

    The sad thing is that I now live a couple of hours from the group that makes up the players of this campaign. However, I do plan to visit from time to time, and when I do, I'm sure to run my game! Several of the players have already braced me to make sure.

    The bright side of this is that I'll get to start a new game up here, with old friends that I haven't played with in a long time. Delilah's player (she appears in many of the earlier story hours) is in the area; so is the guy who played Grumpy Fluffbottom, among many others, and the crazy chick who played Maybell Nontrophia (I don't believe that she has actually appeared "on-camera" in any of the SHs yet, but she's been name-dropped once or twice). Other folks are up here too. So we'll see.

    The games already run will prolly keep this SH going for another six months or year, and by then I hope to have run another half-dozen sessions with this group. Have no fear- the fight against the Six-Fingered Hand is far from over!
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  • #104
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    The party’s journey continues through the Feydark. While the caverns beneath the real world are dark and dank, those in the Feydark are completely lightless and dripping with moisture. While strange smells and growths dot the world’s cave walls, the surfaces of the Feydark seem to swarm with strange fungi, and the air is redolent with the smells of the underworld.

    Torinn and Vann-La lead the others through a winding succession of tunnels, Cook muttering and periodically harvesting things from the walls and stuffing them into a food bag. At each intersection, and periodically besides, Vann-La bends down to study the cavern floor for signs of the goblins that the party is pursuing. Slowly the distance to the troops of the Six-Fingered Hand continues to close.

    “You know,” Torinn pipes up, scratching the bronze scales of his chin, “if these goblins ally with the fomorians, there really won’t be anywhere safe.”

    “Too true,” agrees Iggy. “Listen, we have to stop that from happening. You guys aren’t from here- you don’t understand about the fomorians. They’re evil, insane and very powerful. If the Hand can bring them in on their side, this war were fighting will get even more hopeless. We-“

    “Shh!” hisses Vann-La. The eladrin’s mouth snaps shut.

    Ahead, there is a scintillating glow coming from around a corner.

    “What the hell is that?” whispers Hkatha.

    The party creeps forward into an open cavern. Torinn stretches his neck forward and peers around the corner- and gasps. His eyes seem to lock on to whatever he is seeing.

    “What’s-“ Vann-La doesn’t have time to finish her thought. Something dark suddenly flies overhead, slashing her with a claw and knocking her prone! The elf gives a surprised cry, and chaos erupts.

    Two dark winged forms keep flying by and attacking. Horns, teeth, claws- all rip at the party. When they move forward into the lit area, they stagger as hypnotic, flowing colors draw their attention in, slowing and dazing them.

    Then, to make things worse, scintillating beams of multicolored light shoot out, blinding both Torinn and Hkatha.

    “What the hell is that thing?” shrieks the tiefling.

    “Some kind of snail,” Torinn answers, shaking his head to try to clear it and firing a sacred flame at it. The holy power blasts it, but barely harms it through its thick shell. In the shadows of the scintillating color, the dragonborn can make out- Does it have multiple heads? “I think it has multiple heads,” he gasps. He can’t tear his eyes from the scintillating colors of its shell.

    “Watch out!” Vann-La cries. “There’s some kind of plum-colored mold on the ground!”

    The snail surges forward into the patch of mold. A burst of russet spores rises up, and those too close gag and cough.

    “Russet mold!” warns Cook, recognizing the stuff by its smell. “Oi, not good to eat!”

    If a dwarven cook thinks it’s no good, it must really be no good.

    WHAM!!

    Vann-La sprawls back with a grunt. Picking herself up, she growls, “It has multiple heads, all right- but they’re flail heads!”

    “Of course!” Sta’Ligir exclaims. “It’s a flail snail!”

    “Oi, now that’s good eating!” Cook says enthusiastically. “At least, if it’s not too old. Too old, it gets too tough and rubbery. I will make us a good sauce of butter and garlic, and even if it is a little chewy, we-“

    “Shut up and KILL IT!” cries Hkatha, blasting it with a force orb.

    Cook slips into the shadows. The two flying things keep making swooping passes, clawing and biting viciously as they go by. The dwarf frowns, shielding his eyes from the shimmering colors long enough to resolve them: gargoyles. No good to eat, he thinks mournfully, then hurls a shuriken at one as it flashes past him. Thunk! A solid hit to the neck, and Cook chameleons himself. Snarling and howling, the gargoyle flies overhead- but cannot seem to find him.

    Finally, the party seems to find their balance. Vann-La roars, “COME AND GET IT!!” The enemies converge on her, only to face a withering series of attacks from the party. Both gargoyles are badly wounded and seem to freeze into a petrified state, while the snail takes blow after blow. Vann-La’s tide of iron cracks its shell as it flails wildly about with its deadly heads.

    Torinn charges in, taking it from the side. His spiked chain cracks forward like a whip, smashing the flail snail in the stump from which its flail heads emerge, and there is a sickening smack. Fluids and grey flesh splatter everywhere; one of the flail heads actually falls off. The scintillating colors flowing on its shell abruptly stop.

    Hkatha fires a scorching burst at the two petrified gargoyles. “Those things are regenerating!” he cries. Then the tiefling’s eyes widen. No effect! They must turn to stone so that they are resistant to damage while they heal!

    But now that the snail is dead, the entire party can turn their attention to the gargoyles. Even in their rocky form, they are soon reduced to rubble.

    After a brief respite, the party hurries past the cavern of the snail in hot pursuit of the goblins.

    ***

    The path heads onward and downward, then twists up a steep slope of scree. Rocks slide out from under their feet, and only Sta’Ligir’s feather fall prevents a potentially deadly fall. They reach the top of the slope and move for several hours down a long, very tall passage. The walls have scintillating luminescent crystals within them; digging them out is a difficult task that proves too time-consuming, given the circumstances. The crystals shed a dim yellow glow throughout the passage, which the group follows for six exhausting hours.

    “We should forge ahead without too much of a rest,” Vann-La opines when they take a brief rest, taking a drink from her waterskin.

    “I agree.” Heimall takes a deep breath. “If we hurry up, we’ll catch the goblins. If we take our sweet time, we won’t.”

    The group continues their journey, finally leaving the tall tunnel behind as they move into a cluster of four chambers, each roughly circular and about 30’ across. 10’ wide passages connect them in a square patters. Makeshift barriers of thick fungal material, hard as wood, make it obvious that this is another checkpoint.

    Indeed- it is manned by a pair of spear-wielding cyclopes and three trolls. A fierce battle breaks out, with blazing explosions of flame raining down in a terrific display of arcane might from Hkatha and Iggy. The trolls hit hard and are hard to keep down, and the cyclopes fight valiantly, but in the end, our heroes triumphantly defeat the last of them. They leave one cyclops alive to question.

    The cyclops turns out to be named Bortheleze, and once his position becomes obvious to him, he chooses to guide our heroes after the goblins- who he confirms are indeed trying to ally with the fomorian King Thrumbold- rather than face execution.

    “How long ago did they pass through?” demands Cook.

    “About a day,” Bortheleze replies.

    “And how far away are the fomorians?”

    “About four days.”

    The party hurries on, force marching for several more hours before finally making camp and resting. After all, they still have a fair amount of distance to close. Once they wake, still tired but ready to go, they move along. They walk through an area of caves full of increasing amounts of fungi, and soon into a great chamber burgeoning with huge mushrooms and puffballs bigger than any of our heroes.

    “This cave is home to a clan of myconids,” explains the party’s cyclops guide. “They will probably not emerge, since I am guiding you.”

    “What are myconids?” asks Heimall.

    “Mushroom folk.”

    ***

    The party presses on. If their information is accurate, and if the goblins aren’t hurrying too much, the heroes should be nearly upon them.

    And, as they round a corner passage, they spy the goblins ahead.

    Next Time: Slap that Hand!
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  • #105
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    With a roar, Vann-La charges forward. She smites the first hobgoblin a mighty blow, sending it sprawling in a splatter of blood. A fireball, hurled by Iggy from his necklace of fireballs, explodes in the thick of the enemy.

    Pandemonium breaks out. Goblins scream in fear and pain, running every which way as Torinn strides into their midst, splitting the sky.

    Bugbear overseers shout commands, rallying the Six-Fingered Hand troops, but the party presses in hard and fast. Eldritch flames blast them; hobgoblins scream, on fire, and dance briefly before they fall.

    In the chaos, Cook tricks one of the bugbears with a bait and switch, and while the enraged goblinoid gnashes its teeth and bleeds, he slips a velvet bag from its belt, unnoticed even by the sharp-eyed elf. Then again, she is distracted by laying waste to the enemy around.

    They try their best, but the Six-Fingered Hand troops are no match for the adventurers. These are foes that our heroes have battled for years- foes that they have driven away by the thousands, preserving their adoptive home city from a siege of years. Foes that they have slain in numberless hordes, foes that they know almost as well as they know themselves, after all the time that they have shared.

    No small band of goblinoids has a chance against them. Not anymore.

    In less than 20 seconds, Vann-La spits the last bugbear on her sword and watches as dark blood bubbles out of its mouth. The Kree elf sneers as she lets its body fall to the ground. And then the only remaining sound is our heroes’ breath. The only remaining movement to be seen is Cook, checking to ensure that the enemy is all dead.

    A brief pause to catch their breath and search, and then the party turns around and starts the long ascent back to the surface of the Feywild.

    ***

    “Remember,” sighs Heimall, “back in the day, when we were fleeing Chebonnay and a single orc gave us trouble?”

    Iggy smiles. “Yep. That damned orcish murderer...”

    “Before my time,” comments Hkatha.

    “It was when we were en route to the tunnels under the mountains,” explains Cook. “We run from the Hand when they come to squish Chebonnay. We try to get away by boat, but oi, they stop us. We had to run overland. We stopped in a village on the way, and this orc took us all on.”

    “Then,” Iggy picks up the story, “we went under the mountains and through the xvart city of Xvaangensleff, where we rescued Nowhere Jones from those little blue bastards.”

    Hkatha purses his lips. “Who? Oh, wait, wasn’t there a play about him?”

    “Yeah, or something,” mutters Vann-La.

    ***

    “You know what the most interesting part of this is?” asks Sta’Ligir.

    “What’s that?” Heimall replies.

    “These tunnels that we’re ascending are different from the ones we came down in.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Just that,” Iggy nods. “They aren’t the same. They’ve changed.

    “He’s right,” nods Vann-La. “There are side passages that didn’t exist before, and others that were there on the way down that aren’t anymore.”

    “Let’s just hope,” Cook whispers, “that we can still get out. Oi!”

    ***

    After several days of their passage upward, the party is beginning to grow weary and footsore. The pervasive wetness on their skin and in their clothing, the deep darkness, the scuttling of insects and strange cave centipede, the smell of mold and fungus- everything conspires to depress our heroes, to fill them with anxiety.

    Then the noise starts.

    At first only Vann-La can discern it, but as the group moves further up the tunnels, they all start to notice a strange clicking sound coming from ahead.

    ”What the hell is that?” mutters Heimall.

    Ligir grimaces. “I’ve never heard it before,” he states, “but I’ve heard of it. That clicking...” He trails off for a moment, then finishes: “It sounds like hook horrors.”

    Vann-La glances his way. “What,” the Kree asks, “is a hook horror?”

    The wizard sighs. “Trouble,” he says.

    And he’s right. About two hours later, the party is descending a fairly steep slope. A passage to the side seems to be the source of the clicking. The party edges as far away from it as they can as they move, but clearly they aren’t far enough away.

    Three hook horrors emerge as the party is halfway past their cave.

    “Oh crap!” exclaims Iggy.

    His reflexes have grown acute with months of practice. Before anyone has a chance to react, his sunpowder pistol is in his hand and he shoots from the hip. The weapon’s report is monstrously loud in the confines of the Feydark, and the lead horror staggers from the blow.

    “Get them!” screams Iggy. “They’re coming right for me!!” He yanks a bead from his necklace of fireballs and hurls it. An explosion of fire catches all three of them.

    The front ranks of the party are turning, and Vann-La is already rushing up the slope to engage the horrors. “COME AND GET IT!!” she bellows, and two of them lurch towards her. She swings her blade, but it bites only carapace on the first monster.

    The horrors respond with alacrity and sincerity.

    They are strange, almost beetle-like humanoid things with long, vicious hooks at the end of their ‘arms’. One swings both into Vann-La and then hurls her bodily away. She gives a surprised shout and she skids and slides down the slope. Another hooks Torinn and jerks him towards the beasts. The third one sinks a hook deep into Heimall’s side. He screams in pain as buckets of blood begin to pour from him.

    The one that tossed Vann-La away advances towards Iggy.

    And while our heroes are focused on the horrors, they fail to note the new combatant coming- drawn in, perhaps by the noise and the light. But when it finally comes close enough, Iggy’s eyes grow wide.

    It’s a lizard, but it is huge- as tall as a dwarf, though not so broad, with long ears. Sparks dance around it.

    It is bright yellow.

    Oh no, thinks Iggy. It’s one of the legendary giant yellow shocker lizards!

    “PIKA!!!” the lizard cries. And-

    ZOT!!

    Next Time: Will our heroes escape the Feydark?
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  • #106
    Och, my, God. They're doomed !

  • #107
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    The snap and pop of electricity surrounds the giant yellow shocker beast. Bolts of lightning arc from one of its shoulders to the other. Once again it voices its strange war cry: “PIKA!”* A sizzling yellow bolt of lightning shoots out from it as the smell of ozone fills the air. Iggy screams and dances as the bolt transfixes him, then staggers as it ceases.

    Meanwhile, the hook horrors continue their relentless assault. The one advancing on Iggy reaches him and lashes out, the hooks at the ends of its arms pulling him in closer to the terrible monster. Dazed from the lightning bolt, the wizard can do nothing to defend himself. The horror looms over him, raising another hook. The second hook horror presses its attack on Heimall, and the warlord is hard-pressed to escape a lethal blow. Parrying one hook with Throat-Ripper, he is unable to fully dodge the other- and it rips a huge wound in his thigh. Vann-La scrambles to her feet and back up the slope towards her adversary, meeting its attack boldly. Somehow, the Kree warrior is able to withstand her attacker’s flurry of hook attacks without being hit. She parries and dodges expertly, using every ounce of skill that she has developed over the years.

    Torinn utters a healing word, saving the faltering Heimall. Then the dragonborn begins another prayer, imploring Lester to make him into a beacon of hope even as Cook moves in on the flanks of one of the hook horrors. Catching it between herself and Vann-La, the dwarf gives it a mighty whack with his frying pan, then knocks it into harm’s way, allowing Vann-La to land another devastating blow on the creature.

    Sta’Ligir, meanwhile, fey steps away from the horror trying to take him apart. The effects of the lizard’s electric attack are starting to wear off on him, and he glances in its direction. It’s got to go, he thinks.

    The horror that Cook and Vann-La are flanking swings around to show its ire to the dwarf. Vann-La cries, “Don’t ignore me!” and inexorably advances on it. It tries to parry her attack with one of its hooks, but she turns a head cut into a gutting maneuver at the last second, and the beast falls. She keeps moving, smashing into another one. Then she shifts immediately into the Kree battle dance and continues moving, finally reaching the shocker lizard and thrusting the tip of her sword into its shoulder. It screams, “PIKA!!” as blood gushes out.

    And then it releases a shock pulse that explodes all around it, sending bolts of lightning everywhere around it.

    Our heroes throw themselves flat, leap to the side or just plain get lucky. The shock pulse doesn’t hit any of them. The hook horrors aren’t so lucky- one of them is jigged like a puppet by the lightning, and when the shock releases it, it falls dead and smoking to the ground.

    The last hook horror rushes towards Iggy, determined to pursue its prey. “Crap,” the wizard has time to say, and then the horror is close enough to strike, sinking its hooks into his torso and pulling him to it. He cries out in renewed agony- then focuses his mind and casts fire shroud, blasting the horror.

    It’s just not Iggy’s day. The flames lick around him in all directions, but the hook horror somehow avoids them all. The wizard squirms, trying desperately to escape- to no avail. The horror’s head, a strange mix of beetle and vulture, leers above him.

    Oh crap, he thinks, as its razor-sharp beak opens.

    And Vann-La charges into it from behind, even as Torinn uses his other healing word on Iggy. The battered, bleeding wizard shakes with the impact of the Kree on the horror that is holding him. It screeches in rage- and glares at him.

    Meanwhile, Heimall runs the shocker lizard through as the start of a white raven onslaught. It staggers back.

    “Pika?” is squeals.

    And then it falls to the ground, slain.

    Iggy stares at the hook horror as it tries to bite him. The wizard throws his arms up to fend off the scissoring beak. “Aargh!” he screams, as the thing bites his arm badly.

    And then it collapses. The effort of attacking one last time proves too much for it.

    With a groan, Iggy pries himself from the hooks. The party staggers together and Torinn and Heimall apply healing, each with their own style: Lesterite prayer or exhortations not to let the Empire down.

    The Empire needs them. It needs them.

    ***

    Almost out. The party is almost out of the Feydark- the Feywild equivalent of the Underdark of the material world. They keep moving, and soon the omnipresent darkness is pierced by sunlight.

    The party emerges, and immediately splits up. Hkatha has several important appointments that he must be in Fandelose for. He should have just enough time to get back to the fey crossing and then to the city. The others stay in the Feywild, to try to follow up on this “black unicorn” that Iggy has mentioned on several occasions.

    After all, this is the most likely place for it to be.

    The party quickly finds a lead- a group of aquatic fey claim that they can help, if the party can clear an obstruction from the waterway upstream. This proves to be a relatively easy task.

    The party’s task accomplished, they return to the nixies, who tell them that the black unicorn sometimes visits an area called Black Mirror Falls. After a night’s rest, the party follows a nixie guide upstream into a canyon. The nixie chatters tirelessly while it leads them to the far end of the canyon, where a tall waterfall drops several hundred feet from above into the canyon. The nixie departs, wishing the group well, and they begin ascending a wet trail along the edge of the canyon.

    And then a black unicorn steps out of the falls about midway up.

    “That’s got to be it!” exclaims Torinn.

    “It’s beautiful,” Vann-La says.

    The unicorn stares directly at them. Slowly the party advances up the trail towards it.

    “Uh, hello,” Vann-La greets the noble beast as they reach it.**

    It tosses its mane and snorts.

    “We understand that you’re angry. We were wondering, you know, who you’re angry with. Is it the Six-Fingered Hand? They’ve started sending troops here, to your land, and...” She halted. “How are we going to know what it wants us to know, anyway,” she asks. “This might be more-”

    “I can talk just fine,” the unicorn says in Elven.

    “Oh.” Vann-La shrugs. “Okay.”

    “So,” Torinn says, “if you’re opposed to the Hand, then-”

    “I did not say that,” the unicorn interrupts, “although I am certainly not fond of them.”

    “Why not?”

    An extraordinarily disdainful snort. “Goblins. Orcs. Gnolls. Need I say more?”

    “A good point,” Heimall concedes.

    “So it’s not the Six-Fingered Hand making you angry?” Vann-La asks.

    Snort.

    ”Then who- or what- is? Can we help?”

    “The covenant has been broken,” the unicorn announces.

    “Are you mad at us?” the Kree tries again.

    “Not you. Her. The beautiful sisters. They betrayed us. Again and again.”

    “Who are these sisters?” asks Heimall.

    ”Could it be Garnet?” wonders Torinn. “She’s a goddess, but there are three of her- triplets.”

    The unicorn tosses its glossy mane again. “Too many of them. Too many of the same. Each one a betrayal.”

    “Are they really sisters?” asks Heimall.

    “They are forgotten by most,” the black unicorn states.

    “Why are you telling us this? How can we help?”

    “Because you shall go to the Silver Isle. But first you must find the silver rose.”

    “I’m not sure I understand,” says Vann-La.

    “Find the rose!”

    ***

    In the fey marshes, the party encounters a strange group of fey foes: strange will-o-wisps of light, a form of mist that tries to suck their blood out and a group of large bloodsucking oozes that Heimall recognizes as mutant bloodbloaters, which Cook claims are a delicacy amongst his people. They drive off the wisps, slay the mist and the bloodbloaters, and refuse to give Cook enough time harvest the oozes.

    Finally, they decide that they have spent enough time in the Feywild for the time being.

    Next Time: Hkatha’s meetings- and an assassination attempt on him!


    *Assuming that you have access to a 3e Monster Manual, open to the “shocker lizard” entry. Now imagine the picture yellow. You’ll see exactly what I mean.

    **This is a funny story- Iggy is the one who wanted to seek out the black unicorn, and his player had just gone home before this encounter. We use a “fade into the background” approach to absent players, for the record. So this encounter was pretty funny, since Iggy didn’t exactly take part in it!
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  • #108
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    Even while on leave from his military duties, Hkatha Ilmixie is a noble. He has obligations to meet on many levels, and he cannot simply ignore them all to fart around the Feywild. Ironically, however, the most important commitment that he has involves General Argos- even if it isn’t a strictly military matter. More... political. He certainly does not want to miss his chance to help guide the ship of state through the turbulent waters of the present times!

    So it is that Hkatha, a few days after leaving the others behind the Feywild, makes his way into General Argos’ office. After the obligatory exchange of pleasantries, Hkatha gets down to business. “I assume,” he says, “you are aware of Councilor Willow’s concerns.”

    General Argos nods. “She has been most forthcoming in voicing them.”

    “You must admit that she has a point. Do you think the time has come to restore civilian rule?”

    “I will restore civilian rule once the threat has passed. Remember, though we have destroyed the army attacking us, the Six-Fingered Hand has many more forces in the area.”

    “Have you had any word from other cities or forces that may have survived?”

    “Other than Grand Marshall Prieve’s legion, no,” the general replies. “That is a large part of the problem- we may be alone. I cannot turn the city over to that fractious council until we are safe. We know that at least some of the nearer cities have been razed or enslaved.”

    “Enslaved!” exclaims Hkatha.

    General Argos nods. “Northshore, a couple of hundred miles away, seems to have several thousand people being used as labor under the control of Hand forces.”

    “Have you considered liberating it?”

    “It’s too risky. If we attack them there, other Hand forces will be alerted to our survival. We can’t afford another siege like the last one yet- we need time to rebuild our defenses and, most of all, we need more people. Boys and girls need time to grow into men and women. We cannot replace our forces as fast as the enemy can. If we send a large force to Northshore, we leave Fandelose ill-defended. Although,” he admits, “we are considering certain... options.”

    Hkatha changes the subject. “Have you heard of the Silver Isle?”

    General Argos nods. “Tirchond, I believe it’s called. But it is far from here. Why do you ask?”

    “I think some of our answers are there. We had two different encounters with somewhat oracular fey creatures- first a dragon, and then a black unicorn. Both mentioned Tirchond, either by name or by title, and each mentioned treachery and beautiful women. The dragon also gave us the name Dawn, which seems to be connected to Arawn’s origin somehow. It might be possible to draw Councilor Willow’s attention to Tirchond and away from Fandelose if we give her the right pieces of information.”

    Dryly, Argos asks, “Aren’t you supposed to be on leave?”

    “Yes, sir. We are, uh, vacationing. But the Six-Fingered Hand isn’t resting; how can we?”

    “I would like a complete written report on these encounters,” the general states. “I want to know everything that they told you.”

    “There’s something else,” Hkatha says. “There was mention of a silver rose that we need to get before we go. It seems as though it is somehow connected to the goddess Garnet.”

    “There’s a famous gnomish Garden of Delight at the nearby city of Varelose. It was supposed to have a number of unique and wondrous plants there. Unfortunately, the city fell to the Hand some time ago.” Argos smiles. “Since you aren’t using your leave anyway, I’m recalling you from it- you and your friends. I want you to go to this gnomish garden, but we’re going to come up with a cover story for you, so that if we have another Millbury, you aren’t intercepted.”

    “Yes, sir!”

    ***

    After fighting their way through strange will-o-wisps and bizarre swamp oozes, our heroes receive a sending from Hkatha: Our leaves are up. General Argos has a mission for us. Come back immediately.

    A few days later, the rest of the party rejoins Hkatha in Fandelose to be briefed on both their real mission- find the rose- and their cover mission: scout Varelose for signs of slaver activity or resistance to the Hand’s reign. The party takes a day to prepare; during this time, Hkatha convinces the party to chip in for the linked portal ritual, and Heimall meets up with the mercenaries he employs under Borgan Tyre, receives their report and buys them several casks of booze to keep them happy (on top of their regular pay, of course).

    A well-rested party then sets out for Varelose the next morning in high spirits. Their excursion to the Feywild was very fruitful, and they seem to have a good sense of direction for their next few days or weeks.

    And eventually, Heimall vows to himself, we’ll get to you, Arawn. We’ll find you and slay you- just like we slew your general, Heshwat the Eviscerator!

    ***

    The party travels along less traveled routes, taking a little longer yet hoping to avoid any entanglements with the Six-Fingered Hand. They move through the valley that cuts between a few of the rugged hills off to the northwest of Fandelose, passing alongside a small creek jumping with fish. The summer sun beats down on them from above. Snarls of thick shrubs and brambles wind aimlessly along the valley floor.

    After a time, a small force of strange pygmies of some kind of vegetable matter rise up to block the party’s path. They do not respond to attempts to communicate, instead assaulting our heroes. The party cuts them down with relative ease, despite the presence of a patch of foul-smelling poisonous russet mold.

    Out of the small valley and onto a trail, along a rocky ridge and down behind a line of tall pines. The sun is setting by this time, so the party makes camp as the western sky goes crimson.

    In the morning, the party shares some dwarven “rock biscuits”- very hard biscuit-like things that Cook insists are edible- and then breaks camp. The group continues along the trail, which is becoming a mountain road. Of course, this means that there is a mountain on one side and a cliff on the other.

    Up ahead, a curve; and from around it, the party can hear snarling and growling noises. “Maybe we aren’t the only ones using the road,” Torinn says.

    The party draws back, and Captain Ligir casts invisibility on Cook. “Now sneak up and see what’s there, then come back and report,” he whispers.

    “Oi, okay,” the dwarf whispers back, then creeps away noiselessly. A few moments later, his voice murmurs, “There is evidence of gnolls around the bend, but they seem to have moved somewhere else. There is another curve just ahead that they could be hiding behind.”

    “Let’s check it out,” Vann-La says, drawing her sword.

    The party advances. Indeed, there is garbage and gnoll feces evident. “They were just here,” mutters Heimall. “Where are they?”

    Vann-La glances at the steep mountain face leading up. “They climbed,” she says. She begins to pursue. Heimall joins her.

    Then the rain of arrows starts.

    Next Time: Barbarians from heaven!
    the Jester

    The Monster Project

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  • #109
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    In the hills of the Western Provinces live a people much mocked by the folk of the cities. These hill folk are large, broad-featured and flat-nosed. Their skins tend towards rocky grays or earthy brown tones. Standing much taller than most humans, these folk are known for their mountain liquor, called moonshine or white lightning, and for being good at all manner of physical sports. Called goliaths, these folk are said to have once been human, but generations of interbreeding have led to them becoming their own kind. It is said that the blood of giants courses within the veins of the goliaths- an adulteration so strong that, eventually, it left them a separate species from either of their progenitors.

    Of course, maybe that is all talk.

    Shakgar doesn’t really care about any of that. His rage blazes within him. His brother will be avenged.

    Shakgar is a powerful figure, hulking and huge, garbed in shaggy hides and rugged boots. He is one of those aforementioned hill folk, and he is hunting. He has been on the trail for seven days now- since the Six-Fingered Hand swooped down on his village, killing and burning.

    Shakgar’s brother, Keelgar, died in the raid. The fire in Shakgar’s heart kindled to life, burning as hot as molten iron in his chest. Thinking of his brother’s murder, his teeth clench and his neck muscles tighten like metal wires wound together to form a thick cable.

    He has almost caught up with them- the damn gnolls. They are dropping down from the hills, heading lower, towards the plains. No doubt they hope to escape any retribution from the goliaths. Shakgar has carefully kept himself concealed from them, stalking them as they traversed the rugged foothills along a narrow path.

    Following the gnolls up a saddle and then along a descent that turned their path into a mountainside road with a long drop on one side, the barbarian was pleased when they stopped and began setting up an ambush of their own against someone ahead of them. Several of the gnolls scaled the cliff edging the path they are on, ascending to a ledge about 30’ up, while the others dropped back and prepared for combat. Shakgar grinned to himself and began climbing up higher, above the gnolls’ elevated position. As they positioned themselves to strike, so too did Shakgar.

    ***

    As he attains the ledge, reaching it first because of his boots of spider climbing, Heimall immediately sees a gnoll. “Gnolls!” he shouts, although the party already has a pretty good idea of that. Vann-La joins him at the top- or at least the level- almost immediately, springing forward with her sword whisking free of its scabbard. A tide of iron pushes the gnoll back towards the edge of the cliff- and a deadly fall.

    Below, the gnolls around the corner start shooting arrows. The invisible Cook darts around the corner and flings a shuriken into one of the gnolls’ face. It howls in pain and manages to loose an arrow at him, but the dwarf tumbles back and avoids the shot. The other gnolls don’t even see what happened.* Then Iggy steps up to the corner and launches a fireball into their midst with devastating effect, burning all the gnolls. The stench of burnt fur fills the air, and the gnoll that Cook hit collapses.

    The party has an initial advantage, despite the gnolls’ clumsy attempt to gain surprise and ambush them. They press it. Vann-La keeps advancing, pushing her foe towards the edge of the cliff, while Heimall lunges forward like a viper, thrusting with his magical glaive. Torinn is still climbing. Below, the others are wreaking havoc amongst the gnolls below. Recognizing the emblem of the Six-Fingered Hand on their foes, our heroes are merciless.

    And then, a very strange thing happens.

    ***

    Shakgar pulls forth his greataxe. His mouth begins to froth as he gnashes his teeth. His body starts to shake. With a roar, he lunges forward, intending to leap down upon a gnoll from above.

    His foot catches on the way, and instead he sprawls face-first down the hillside in a shower of dirt and rocks.

    ***

    The newcomer, whoever he is, arrives dramatically in a hail of gravel. He bounces and flips to a halt in a cloud of dust, coughing and with his face all skinned up.

    He’s huge, thinks Vann-La as she runs another gnoll through.

    “Who are you?” demands Heimall, even as he and Vann-La catch another gnoll with a hammer and anvil maneuver. The huge figure shakes his bald black head and rises up. He starts moving immediately towards one of the gnolls, picking up speed appallingly fast.

    “I’M GONNA DUNK ON YOU!” he howls, his grip shifting as he swings his axe at his target.

    SPLORCH!

    The gnoll’s head flies away from its crumpling body, and Shakgar roars and charges at the next one.

    Barbarians from Heaven, thinks Heimall, blinking.

    Torinn finally manages to attain the ledge, cursing and grumbling. He spits lightning at the last remaining gnoll on top and then, with a heavy sigh, starts climbing down the slope again as fast as he can.

    It takes only seconds for the gnolls to break.

    ***

    “So,” says Iggy, “thanks for your help. Now, who are you? Talk!”

    Shakgar glares at the wizard. “Shakgar!” he announces.

    “Is that your name, Shakgar?” asks Heimall.

    “Shakgar!”

    “What are you doing out here, if you don’t mind me asking?”

    “Avenging my brother.” The goliath’s voice seems to boom from the great coliseum of his chest. “Those, and others like them, with the symbol of the hand, came and attacked my people.”

    Torinn says, “They are called the Six-Fingered Hand. They are our foes, as well, Shakgar. Perhaps we can join forces.”

    “We have already won great victories over them,” Heimall asserts. “We are seeking allies, always, to help fight them. Why not join forces?”

    “We can kill more of them together than apart,” Shakgar admits. “Very well. Do you know where there are more of them?”

    “Pretty much everywhere.” The warlord shrugs.

    “We’re actually looking for something to help us fight their leader, ultimately,” Torinn says. “Then, maybe a trip to Northshore, where a bunch of our people are enslaved by some of the Hand’s forces.”

    “I will join you,” Shakgar decides, “especially since it involves killing these Hand bastards.”

    Next Time: Our heroes reach the ruins of Varelose!


    *Cook has the utility power that lets him re-hide after he breaks hiding 1/encounter. IDHMBIFOM.
    the Jester

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    With their newfound friend Shakgar (who eats quite a lot, Cook notices) moving restlessly with them, the party spends the next four days hiking towards the ruined city of Varelose before it finally hoves into view near the top end of the valley that their mountain trail spills out into. Once a thriving metropolis, the skeleton of the city shows signs of having been largely put to the torch. Long-dead bodies, undisturbed for years, lie about; clearly, the city’s people were put to the sword. The encamped armies of the Hand must have devoted time to rapine and pillage, from the looks of things.

    But three years have passed since the sack of Varelose, and even from a distance our heroes can see that a few brave and hardy souls have returned and rebuilt a life. They have to live somewhere, after all. Vann-La watches for a time; she reports that the people she has spotted have been isolated or living in small clusters of a few dozen people at most; the party surmises that larger groups might draw unwanted attention.

    “I would guess that there are about 200 people living here now,” Vann-La says as she surveys the ruin.

    Hkatha informs the party, “In its heyday, Varelose had a population of somewhat over 10,000.”

    “Look at that,” Vann-La says, pointing. “A ruined cathedral. And that’s the remains of the city’s keep, over there. And check out that tower- it’s got some kind of dark haze surrounding it.”

    “Well, we probably want to stay away from that,” opines Torinn.

    The party moves into the city, making at least passing efforts to do so unseen. They notice the sign of the Six-Fingered Hand carved or crudely painted in a number of locations. At least one of the crude paintings is far more recent than the others, left within the last few months, and Vann-La suggests that even the smaller groups of survivors are subject to periodic Hand marauders.

    “Should we just approach some of the survivors?” wonders Iggy. “Maybe some of them know where this gnomish garden was.”

    Heimall nods. “We should let them know we’re out there as an outpost of the Empire that still stands against the Hand. We should get as many of them as possible to go back to Fandelose. They’ll be safer, and they will be able to contribute to the defense.”

    “I wonder if there are any gnomes left here.”

    “Now that is a very good question,” replies Hkatha. “If there are, they would certainly be able to help us.”

    ***

    Before they entered the city, Vann-La had marked a route to one of the small groups of survivors that they saw. Now they approach those folk, quickly showing that they are not Hand agents and, in fact, are here to help. They direct the survivors to journey to Fandelose, but they also question them.

    “Do you know about the gnomish Garden of Delights that was in your city before the Hand came?” asks Heimall.

    “Sure,” the peasant replies. “It was at the keep. A long time ago, this city was the capitol of its own kingdom. The god-king established the garden in his back yard, full of wondrous plants and trees. It was said that he even had a Tree of Heaven for a while.”

    “Wait a minute,” objects Torinn. “I thought this was a gnomish garden.”

    “Yep. The ol’ god-king was a gnome.”

    “Do you know anything about that tower with the black haze around it?” Heimall inquires.

    “I know enough to stay away from it. It is inhabited by a terrible necromancer named Krezjarl.”

    “That probably explains the weird black haze,” comments Iggy.

    Shakgar grumbles, “When are we killing something?”

    “Oi, let’s go to the ruined keep,” says Cook.

    But it doesn’t even take that long for Shakgar to get his wish. Midway to the hill upon which the keep perches, an ambush comes from alleys to both sides of the party! Ogres, brownscale lizardfolk, a hobgoblin, a kobold- obviously, these villains are agents of the Six-Fingered Hand!

    The ogres rush in, only to find Vann-La and a roaring Shakgar in their way. The brownscales hang back, firing bows and using their excellent mobility to stay away from the front line. Then Heimall crashes forward with an inspiring war cry and engages the hobgoblin. The kobold, whose body seems strangely warped, hangs in the very back and attempts to use strange arcane powers against the party, but keeps missing with them.

    Our heroes begin to advance relentlessly, pushing the ogres and hobgoblin back towards the archers and the kobold. Iggy, at the back of the party, starts hurling arcane blasts into the enemy, then gestures and a pair of magical hands erupt from the floor, grasping two of the brownscales and smashing them together.

    The ogres roar and smash their clubs, but armor, shields and skill turn bone-shattering blows into just bruising ones. Soon the first ogre falls, then the next. The archers keep shooting Vann-La desperately, but Heimall and Torinn heal her. The kobold keeps doing weird stuff that seems to empower his allies, so Heimall grants Shakgar a knight’s move to get him into position and then grants him a commander’s strike that finishes it off.

    Then Heimall rushes up on the lizardfolk archers and runs the first one through. The party continues their relentless advance, and only one of the doomed brownscales manages to escape.

    The party stops to catch their breath. “Are we worried about the escapee?” asks Hkatha.

    “Let him bring more,” Shakgar says, his dark face breaking out into a broad smile.

    “Oi, there could be a lot of them,” Cook points out.

    “Not really,” Vann-La declares. “We would have seen any large groups of troops when we surveyed the city. They were probably just a small scouting or raiding group, detached from a larger force somewhere else.”

    Shakgar looks disappointed.

    “Oi, well, let’s keep going towards that garden. Maybe there will be some herbs that I can take to cook with. Or perhaps some good bugs or grubs.”

    ***

    The ruined keep is atop a large hill, probably artificial. It was once magnificent, with three sprawling wings enclosing an open courtyard with stables and a jousting range. Now the walls have large holes in them, and some sections of the main building have completely collapsed.

    Behind the ruin is the Garden of Delight. Huge, wildly-overgrown hedges and a riot of different plant types grow within, and at the back is a large rose garden within the larger garden.

    “There,” the Kree says.

    The party makes their way towards the rose garden, but then Vann-La raises a hand. “Hold it,” she advises her friends. “See those there?” She points out three large red plants. Each has a central mass with several large, thick stalks coming up from it; and the top of each of the stalks has a multitude of dewdrop-like blobs extruding from it.

    “What are those?” asks Cook. “Are they good to eat?”

    “No,” says Vann-La. “But they might eat us.”

    Next Time: The Garden of Delights!
    the Jester

    The Monster Project

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