Alea Iacta Story Hour: A Mythic Rome Campaign (Baby Announcement: 8/17) - Page 7
  1. #61
    Acolyte (Lvl 2)

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    Jan 2002
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    Enjoying this immensely and am a great fan of the monkey.

    This is a nice set of puzzles, I think I might go back and steal them at some point...

  2. #62

    Fourth Session: Legacies and Freedom Fifth Post: Post Tenebras Lux

    Beyond the ghosts, we are plunged into utter darkness. The humans all fumble for each other’s hands; I suspect that Cornelia is blushing at holding Metellus’ hand, although I can’t see her. I wind my tail tightly around Meloch’s neck, causing him to gasp slightly for breath, and Cato the owl huddles into Cornelia’s hair. The fog seems to have become so dense that it is difficult to breathe; the air smells rotten, and Meloch begins choking slightly.

    “This is the, um, Wall of Air,” Cornelia rasps. “Water conquered fire, earth conquered water, air conquered earth, conquers air?”

    “Fire? That’s the solution?” Metellus fumbles with his pack, dropping Cornelia’s hand with evident relief, and lights a torch. The fog dissipates a few feet around him, and those of us near him can see a path under his feet.

    Llyr exclaims in outrage, “Light a fire? The final test is, when it’s dark, make some light? What kind of addled imbeciles do the Druids get as trainees?” The rest of us nod – even Cato the owl could have figured that one out. We huddle around the Tribune and edge forward, swords out, convinced that it can’t be that easy.

    The image of Amairgen, the First Druid who appeared to us on the seashore, materializes in the path ahead.

    “Congratulations, my children. You have done well. You know now the cycle of life, that each element has its counterpart, its weakness and its strength. You know also the value of sacrifice. Sometimes blood, that of others when possible, but your own when needed, is necessary to achieve true power.

    Three choices remain before you. Long ago, the Druids of Mona entered into a sacred contract with the gods. Before you lies the fruit of that contract and the opportunity for great power to help your people. Resist temptation and choose wisely, and you will truly join our ranks. If you choose poorly, you may doom us all. My blessings to those of you who have survived this far.”

    He disappears, although Marcus halfheartedly attempts to stab him again. Wena comments, “Well, apparently he had a different view of the lessons to be gained from the barriers than you did, Llyr.”

    “I think mine are far more accurate, not to mention involve less glorification of blood magic,” Llyr fumes, convinced that he could have come up with a far more efficient set of barriers had he been an evil Druid, not that he wanted to be.

    Heilyn, pondering what Amairgen has said, raises his voice. “There’s something you all should know. The spirit I talked to who gave me information about the Staff – he said that Lugh, the patron god of the Brigantes, came to Mona about eighty years ago, and hadn’t been seen since. Maybe he was the god who this contract was made with, and he’s up there somewhere, trapped in the sacred grove between the spirit world and our world.”

    “Which one is Lugh?” Metellus asks. “I mean, which Roman god does he correspond to?”

    Cornelia, who knows most about the relationship between Celtic and Roman lore, speaks up, a little rambling due to her fear. “Lugh is Mercury, because they’re both young trickster gods, well, Lugh is also the Lord of Light and a sun god, which is more Apollo-like, but the priests decided that he was actually more like Mercury.”

    “Mercury, you said?” Marcus asks. “Wait...remember the story about Argus and Io? If anyone asks us to close our eyes, don’t do it! It’s a trap, destined to send us all into eternal sleep on this evil island.”

    Just as he finishes, a clear golden tenor voice rings out from the path ahead, where they can see a dim glow: “Human children, I beg you, shut your eyes immediately! You risk great danger!

  3. #63

    re: Adapting Puzzles

    Originally posted by Krellic

    This is a nice set of puzzles, I think I might go back and steal them at some point...
    Thanks! And you're welcome to borrow them. Cerebral Paladin keeps arguing that I should adapt them for a Living Greyhawk module, which I might, although I'm not sure how to transport the flavor well.

    <meta-game discussion> This session was partially an experiment. Having not GMed for a very long time before starting this campaign, I was still experimenting with genres for the first several sessions. So this was my attempt to design a classic dungeon crawl, more or less, except without the dungeon or the crawling bits. But it's very linear, very puzzle and combat-oriented, as opposed to my general more free-form and intriguey style.

    The real problem I found was one of balance. While some of the barriers worked great, the Air one (just posted) fell with a resounding thud - were I to rework this for something else, I'd probably make the air actively poisonous or something, and perhaps require magical fire as the key. Water was also disappointing.

    I think the strongest part was interweaving the elemental barriers with the "blood" barriers of plants, animals, and humans, which kept the players from figuring out the pattern for a suitably long time. That said, I'm not sure that the blood puzzles weren't _too_ difficult to figure out, at least the first two. So, them's my thoughts, in the aftermath of this game.

    Coming up: Who to believe, mysterious tenor or Marcus? And, Heilyn plays hardball, but Meloch beats him. Not to mention the surprising sacrifice of several of the PC's own body parts...

  4. #64

    Fourth Session: Legacies and Freedom Sixth Post: Promises, promises

    We are torn between Marcus’s earlier advice and the impressive command from ahead. Heilyn, certain that his god awaits, shouts, “Close your eyes!” and clenches his eyes shut, followed by Wena and Meloch and me. Llyr hesitates, anxious to obey Roman doctrines, but well aware of his tribe’s patron god’s capabilities, and the Romans halt, uncertain of the proper course. Cornelia finally says, “Well, Lugh is the Lord of Light. And there’s light up there. It might hurt us.” She closes her eyes, and directs Cato the owl to do the same. Metellus considers, and finally orders Marcus and Llyr to close their eyes, as we all grasp hands again and stumble forward, Marcus muttering about the probability of it all being a trap.

    Even with tightly clenched eyelids, the glow from up ahead becomes almost overwhelming, and our skins feel pleasantly warm. The golden tenor voice speaks again,
    “I am called Lugh the Many-skilled, Lord of Light. But are not young Druids, not even you, My smith, who I recognize.”

    “Of course we’re not Druids. We’ve come to rescue you! Well...and to break the curse that these people have been given by a Druid,” Heilyn explains, excited and awed for the first time since the Spirit of the Games.

    “How exactly can we rescue a God?” Meloch wonders.

    “There is a contract,” Lugh intones. “Some time ago, Epona, goddess of horses and warfare, the patron of the Iceni, Sulis, the deity of fresh and salt water, who is both male and female, the patron of the Catavellauni, and I entered into an agreement with the Druids of Mona. We provided them with much power on this island, in return for worship and appropriate offerings, but there has been no worship or offerings for many years, and We are trapped on this island. Each of the young Druids was tested with regards to this contract. I cannot tell you more until you undergo the tests.”

    “But, if they broke the contract, surely it’s invalid,” says Metellus, well up on Roman law.

    “It doesn’t matter if the Druids haven’t been fulfilling their bargain, the gods won’t break their side until the contract is over. Don’t you know the importance of a sacred agreement?” Heilyn retorts.

    “He is correct,” Lugh speaks. “I can tell you little more. You must go to the left and to the right of this grove, and fulfill those tests, and then return here.”

    “Ah, we need to go to the sacred grove, and dispose of this staff, for our curse,” Wena points out.

    “You may not go into the grove until you have completed the tests,” Lugh answers.

    “You’re...imprisoned here? No wonder this island is so strange,” Cornelia comments pityingly.

    “I cannot tell you more; please go now, before My light burns through your eyes...” Lugh responds, with some strain in his mellifluous tones.

    We go to the left, opening our eyes once the glow has faded, and find ourselves in a peaceful grove of trees, opening onto the shore, despite the fact that we believed ourselves to be in the center of the island. Three tall trees stand in an equilateral triangle in the center of the grove; at their midpoint stands an enormous tree with many spreading branches. Cradled in two of its branches is a large golden cauldron, with crystal clear water bubbling in it, almost simmering at the surface, but not quite falling over the rim to the ground. An inscription, in old Celtic runes, on the cauldron reads: I will heal all your ills; only drink. Luckily, Cornelia has been studying up on her runes since the Caledonian expedition and manages to translate it. We all feel a strong desire to drink the water, and only Meloch’s hand on my tail keeps me from darting forward.

    “Well, that seems fairly clear,” says Metellus. “Drink the water for the test, and maybe fight something in the grove.”

    “Well, obviously, that center tree will come to life and fight us; just look at it!” Llyr proclaims. The tree fails to look particularly menacing to us, but we agree with Llyr’s basic analysis.

    “Wait. Drinking the water is what a Druid would do, because it gains power, by healing, and who knows what. But do we want to do what a Druid would do?” Cornelia asks.

    “We never want to do what a Druid would do!” Marcus responds.

    “Right, and besides, if the gods are trapped here, maybe that water is actually trapped Sulis!” Heilyn suggests.

    We collectively blanch at the sacriliegous thought of drinking concentrated deity.

    “All right, so we’re not drinking it, despite the runes. But then what do we do? Inaction can’t be the right answer,” Metellus reasons.

    “Perhaps we should free the water – pour it out onto the ground,” Wena suggests.

    “Or better yet – into the sea!” Cornelia notes.

    This plan is agreed upon, and we decide that Metellus will rush forward to grab the cauldron and, with Cornelia’s help, pour its contents into the ocean, while the rest of us prepare for an attack, with Llyr’s ballista at the ready.

    Metellus lifts the cauldron out of the central tree’s branches and, as expected, it comes to life and begins attacking him. He is stomped on mightily, but manages to pass the cauldron to Cornelia, who begins heading towards the shore, trying to avoid trees. Llyr’s ballista fires into the treant, and then he darts forward to attempt to free Metellus from the branches he is pinned under, as we all begin attacking. However, in our focus on the central treant, we fail to notice the slow-moving other trees moving in to attack, and one of them sends its roots crashing down onto Llyr’s precious ballista, destroying it utterly. Nevertheless, we manage to chop the mobile grove to bits and rescue poor Metellus, just as Cornelia tips the cauldron into the ocean with all her strength.

    The water spreads out into the sea, which gleams like silver, and we all hear a voice in our heads, like the sound of crashing waves against a reef: “You have freed Me from My long containment, and I may now purify the waters of Britannia. Thank you, generous mortals, who placed My freedom above your own greed.” A wave thunders onto the shore, drenching all of us, and leaving in its wake a blue-dyed waterskin. We all feel refreshed by the waves, and the bruises left by the treants have vanished. The waterskin is tentatively identified as possessing the power to shoot forth great streams of water, but we are in too much of a hurry to experiment for long, and continue to the third grove.

  5. #65

    Fourth Session: Legacies and Freedom Seventh Post: My Little Pony

    Much like the grove of Sulis, the area to the right of Lugh’s glowing light also contains an open, grassy space surrounded by trees. Sadly, the fragrant and unusual flowers wither and crumple under our cursed feet as we approach. Even here, surrounded by such great power, Aeduana’s dying vengeance prevails.

    A similar, enormously wide tree, stretching to the sky, stands in the middle of the grove. This, however, is not what captures our attention. An elegant brown mare, perfect in every aspect from mane to hoof, is tied to the tree by a long rein and halter. Wena, looking closely, realizes that the rein grows into the tree itself, having long ago been shoved between two intertwining branches. She also realizes that the rein is made from what is probably human skin. Upon this announcement, basically everyone shudders.

    On the tree, in the same Celtic runes, Cornelia and Wena read: “Master her, and you will prove forever your bravery and strength.” The horse, upon seeing them, rears up into the air, whinnying, and begins straining wildly at her rein, teeth bared and clearly ready to attack them if they come within range.

    “Well, I’m guessing this is Epona, goddess of war and horses?” Metellus hazards.

    “ patron goddess,” Wena confirms, with awe, kneeling briefly. “I really don’t like the idea of mastering her.”

    “Of course not, that’s doing what a Druid would do. We aren’t Druids. We shouldn’t master her, we should free her!” Llyr exclaims.

    “That sounds easier than it looks,” Meloch comments, glancing nervously at the horse’s flailing hooves.

    “Um...Epona, we’re here to help you, and try and take that rein off. Please don’t attack us – we’re here on your behalf...” Metellus says, attempting a calm tone, but with a note of nervous hesitation in his voice, as he slowly begins to approach the horse. Her eyes roll, and she seems not to respond, perhaps driven to madness by her imprisonment.

    “Let’s try going around from opposite sides,” Marcus suggests. Metellus approaches from the front, trying to grab the halter and pull it off, while Marcus approaches from the left of the horse and Llyr the right.

    Meanwhile, Meloch incants a spell and briefly grows giant eagle wings, which he uses to try and fly onto the back of the horse. He briefly grabs the mane, but she whips her neck around while dancing wildly, causing him to fall and roll under her hooves. Meloch is badly trampled. Meanwhile, she bites brutally at Metellus, approaching from the front, and Marcus goes to defend Metellus with his shield. Llyr, finally, tries the same trick that Meloch did, and manages to hold on. While Metellus grabs the halter from the front, Llyr unties it from the back, grimacing at the human sinews lacing the thing together, and together they pull the wretched device off, just as Llyr, his balance faltering, rolls off the horse to one side.

    The horse immediately stops her frantic wheeling and for the first time, raises her eyes and looks directly at each of the humans in turn. She shimmers, seeming almost golden in the light, and a resonant alto voice speaks in each of our heads, even mine: “You have my blessings and my gratitude, mortals. Neither animals nor goddesses are meant to be chained by humans, though we may gladly pull the same yoke with you. In the same way, you Romans should not enslave my Iceni, or the other Celts, rather than forming a greater herd, even with a new chief mare and stallion.”

    Marcus impulsively steps forward and speaks, bowing respectfully to the horse: “Domina – dea – we hear and understand. May I ask – we Romans have no goddess or god of horses, and you would be a brave champion for cavalry units in the Legions, whether made of Celts or Romans or both. May we spread your worship among them?”

    The alto, with a hint of amusement, answers, “That would be most pleasing. After such a long time of imprisonment, and the loss of so many of the Iceni, I have been much weakened.”

    “I am of the Iceni,” Wena offers, “and I will spread tales of your return to freedom and power among them.”

    “I thank you all. Now, I depart, for there is much work to be done, in Britannia and across the seas. For war is coming sooner than you might think, my children. Take good care of the gift I bestow, for I will watch her fate closely.”

    And with that, the horse shimmers again, and gives sudden birth to a small brown foal, clean, but shaky on her tiny legs, with a white, eight-pointed star between her eyes. The mare licks the foal once and then gallops off into the grove, her hoofbeats quickly fading.

    “She gave us a horse?” Meloch queries.

    I think to Meloch, “Oh, wonderful, yet another “special” animal for everyone else too coo over while ignoring me. I’m much more useful than a baby horse. Though I did like the bit about not chaining animals but working with them. You should remember that.” Meloch sends a mental snort back my way.

    “That’s not a horse. That’s a divine child of Epona!” Wena and Heilyn both retort, in complete agreement for once.

    Llyr, ignoring all of this, has managed to pull an apple out of some deep pocket in his sack (being uncursed) and walked slowly forward, holding out his hand to be sniffed, with the apple in it. The foal hesitates for an instant between Metellus, who is also making small whinnying noises, and Llyr, but finally, hunger wins and she totters forward to Llyr, devouring the apple in two quick bites and then nuzzling Llyr’s hand with besotted devotion.

    Llyr, noticing Metellus’s attempts at befriending the horse, tries to step back. “I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t realize...of course she should be your horse. I mean, you’re the officer and all.”

    Metellus, sighing gently, responds, “Llyr...she’s clearly taken to you. Either that or she’s trying to lick your hand to death. She’s your horse. Just make sure you take good care of her.”

    Marcus, thinking fast, asserts, “And just think of the breeding stock we can get from her for Metellus’s stables!”

    Llyr, turning back to the foal, misses this completely, as he gently pets her and combs out her wet mane. So far, she seems perfectly normal, although extremely well-formed, despite the unusual circumstances of her birth. “Good little horsie...I think I’ll call you ‘Talat.’”

  6. #66

    GM Note

    The offer of Cerebral Paladin, Marcus' player, to adopt Epona as a Roman legionary goddess was a particularly cool bit of this encounter. In real Roman history, the Roman legions did begin worshipping Epona around this time, and she's one of the few Celtic deities who was never assimilated to a Roman god, but Cerebral Paladin didn't know that when he made the offer. So this is one of the rare cases of Alea Iacta "creating" real events in Roman history, which pleased me a lot. Of course, Marcus hasn't been especially living up to that promise so far...

    FYI, Talat's bonding to Llyr was by no means preordained. I believe Llyr's player rolled a natural 20 on his Animal Handling skill at that particular moment, and, well, the rest was inevitable. Talat's story continues, obviously, as does Shast the monkey's increasing dislike for all the other nonhuman members of the party.

  7. #67

    Fourth Session: Legacies and Freedom Eighth Post: An Eye for an Eye

    Talat trailing docilely, if a little clumsily, behind us, we walk back towards the grove of Lugh. We all clamp our eyes shut again, and Llyr hastily throws a hand across Talat’s eyes, unsure if her divine birth will protect her, and not really anxious to find out.

    As we approach, the golden tenor voice rings in our heads once again: “Ah, young mortals, I can sense that my brethren have finally departed the island. Thank you.”

    “Yes, and now we’re here to free you in turn,” Heilyn says emphatically.

    “You cannot, my child.”

    “Yes, we can. We just don’t do what Druids do, and figure out whatever that means here,” Llyr says, certain of success.

    “You don’t understand. My test is long since over, and it was failed.”

    “Failed?” Cornelia asks.

    “According to the contract and the rites of the Druids, each test of the three groves had three possible choices. The correct answer for a young Druid in each case was the path of power, for the Druids believe that one must know how to control and use power wisely in order to join their ranks. Thus, in Sulis’s grove, a Druid would have drunk some of the water and thereby gained great power; in Epona’s grove, he would have ridden her avatar for as long as possible. You may not realize, mortals, how much you chose to sacrifice in your abandonment of these choices.”

    “But those choices were wrong! You don’t drink gods, or chain them with human skin...What were the other two choices?” Metellus asks.

    “In each case, there was also a choice for overuse of the power, and for releasing or freeing the power, as you have done. Good Druids would have taken only a sip of the water rather than consuming it all, and would not have harmed the horse, for instance. Those actions would have been punished with death by Our hands.

    In My case, the test was also one of temptation. I am bound here on an ancient stone slab. On a pillar besides Me once rested My Cap of Twilight, which would have enabled Me, among many other things, to escape My confinement. A successful Druid would have used the Cap herself to accomplish some great deed and then returned it; another possibility was to give it to Me. When the Romans attacked, they eventually penetrated to this grove, although no farther. Their general, Gaius Tacitus Agricola, found the Cap of Twilight, and seized it, claiming that he would give it as a gift to the Temple of Mercury in Rome, to enable My cousin to fly more swiftly than on the flimsy sandals he previously sported.

    Without the Cap, My test can never be completed, and I must remain here, trapped, with most of My divine power going to fuel the enchantments on this island. So, good mortals, you need not feel that your work is unfinished. Proceed forward to the grove, and cast off your dreadful curse. You have done well.”

    “But...wait. We can’t leave you here,” Heilyn insists, with a particular fervor in his voice. “What would happen if we got the Cap back in Rome?”

    “If you freely offered it up to me, calling on my name, from any location in the world, I would hear, and I think I could then summon it to my side and free myself with its power. But assuredly the Temple of Mercury knows its power well, and it is well guarded.” Lugh replies.

    “That doesn’t matter. We’ll do it. It’s not right for you to remain trapped here,” Wena responds. The Romans look somewhat askance at each other, but do not speak for now.

    “Thank you. That is most courageous of you all. Like my brethren, I wish as well to thank you, but my power is very limited at the moment. I can offer, however, a gift with a high price. If any of you chooses to open one eye and gaze at me in my full majesty, you may gain great insight and wisdom through the sight. Yet...the divine in their true form are not intended for mortal eyes. It is quite likely that you will lose some or perhaps all your vision by undertaking such a risk. It is a choice for each of you to make; you must weigh it in your own hearts.”

    We all pause for some time, and contemplate the risks and rewards of such a vision. Finally, Heilyn, Llyr, and Wena, the three Celts, all decide to open one eye and behold Lugh’s glory, while the Romans and Meloch and I agree that going blind is simply not worth the danger. Bowing their heads first in respect, each momentarily opens his or her left eye, almost immediately blinking it closed in the overwhelming pain of such an intense light. But in that half second, each of the three comes to understand far more about the nature of the divine and of the spirit world than they ever thought possible. While their distance visions are somewhat marred, there are new, reflective looks on each of their faces, as they contemplate the wisdom they have gained. Furthermore, Llyr and Wena now have a new sense of how Heilyn sees the world, with the spirits of trees and rivers and homes being very dimly visible under strong concentration. For Heilyn, his spirit vision is strengthened, and he can now view the local spirits almost without thinking about the process.

    Having made our farewells to Lugh, we proceed forward into the last grove, similar to the others except for the altar of skulls at one end, presumably the site of Druid sacrifices. Heilyn, with the Staff of Earth and Stone, proceeds forward into the center, and then stops.

    “I can break the staff and release the spirits now, which should both end your curses and keep my promise to them so they don’t destroy everything around. But before I do that, I want a promise from you all. You have to swear to help me go to Rome and get the Cap of Twilight from the Temple of Mercury, so that we can free Lugh. Otherwise I’ll just tell the spirits to go now, and you’ll never get your curses lifted,” Heilyn announces.

    We are somewhat stunned at this sudden attempt at blackmail, but quickly recover.
    Wena answers, “Well, I’ve also sworn to get the Cap of Twilight back, so that is not much of a burden. I swear to help you within the limits of my powers.”

    Llyr says, “Look, I’m not under this curse, so I’m not going to swear anything. But Lugh’s my tribe’s patron god – of course I want him freed, and I’ll do everything I can to help.”

    Metellus speaks slowly, “It does seem like the Cap belongs to Lugh, and obviously, him being imprisoned is wrong, though that’s the fault of the Druids, not the Romans. But I am unwilling to steal something from one of our own gods. I will help you to the best of my ability, but I will not break any Roman laws or commit sacrilege against Mercury in the process.”

    Cornelia and Marcus echo Metellus’s terms. Heilyn is unhappy with this proposal, but agrees that if they promise to help him with their diplomatic connections and their powers, he will at least try to use all such methods before resorting to underhanded means. Finally, he turns to Meloch, who has not yet spoken.

    “Obviously, I want the curse off. But, as a slave, I do not have the power to swear oaths in my own name. I follow the dictates of my mistress.”

    Heilyn, under much strain, takes this as assent, not realizing that Meloch has not in fact sworn to aid him at all. While nearly everyone else notices this, they agree with Meloch’s conclusion, and are in any case unthrilled by the blackmail, so remain silent.

    “Very well then. Spirits of Wind and Stone, I free you, in accordance with our agreement. Do not harm me or any of my companions, and depart peacefully from this place without damaging it. Farewell, and begone!” Heilyn smashes the staff in twain with his hammer. A whirlwind, full of icy blue eyes that glare out at us, erupts forth from one half of the staff, speeding up above the trees and out into the clear blue sky, where it vanishes. From the other half of the staff, a green and brown puddle of mud, smelling of mountains and rock, oozes out, congealing around our feet before beginning to sink into the earth below us. Green tendrils curl caressingly up and around Heilyn’s ankles and calves, until he bats them away with annoyance. As the puddle subsides into the ground, the rest of us see plants springing back to life in the circle around us. Meloch runs forward to test touching a tree, and finds he can. Llyr tosses him an apple from his pocket, and I snatch half of it, glad to finally be eating fruit again. Aeduana’s vengeance is over.

  8. #68
    Acolyte (Lvl 2)

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    One of my favourite Story Hours.

    On to Rome!

  9. #69

    Fifth Session: All Roads First Post: A 3-Hour Tour

    We trudge back to the shore of the island, noticing as we do that the spirits and walls are gone, although a faint, shadowy mist still clings to the trees and grass. Upon arriving at the shore, we find no boatman waiting for us, and finally resort to lighting a large signal fire, which, many hours later, finally produces a boat with an elderly fisherman, some distance offshore. He reluctantly lets us wade out to the boat, first making us swear not to harm him by all the deities he can imagine. When Marcus chastises him for not sticking to the original agreement, the fisherman responds with sharp-tongued amazement:

    “Well, what did ye expect me to do? I did come back three days later, and then again a week after that. But after the first two weeks we’d all given you up for dead, well, the ones who hadn’t started praying for your souls the moment you stepped onto the shore. It’s been six months, man – what were ye doing on that island?”

    Once we reach the shore and establish that this fisherman is neither senile nor crazy, we are forced to accept that Heilyn’s theory that time might pass differently in an area where the spirit and mundane world intersected so closely was true. We left for Mona in early September; it is now halfway through the month of Mars. When we reach a larger town, Wena and Cornelia find out through local gossip that Governor Cimbrus, Hadriana, and their new baby daughter, Cimbra, departed in the fall for Rome.

    The three British legions, vastly understrength after the difficult battle of Hadrian’s Wall, were folded into two legions, and the Eagle of the 12th has been returned to Rome, along with a large number of troops traveling to celebrate Cimbrus’s triumph in Rome for his Britannic victories. Metellus, Llyr, and Marcus were all invited to participate in the triumph, and Cornelia as an honored guest, but their invitations have languished in empty barracks and homes. The new governor appears to be pursuing a cautious policy, pulling back all troops to Hadrian’s Wall and making no attempt to capitalize on the hard-won victory.

    Successfully freed of their curse, it is time for the group, Romans and Britons alike, to leave Britannia. We have many different reasons for traveling to Rome. Metellus’s Tribunate is over, and it is time for him to pursue his political career back in the capital. Cornelia wishes to visit her only surviving parent, her mother Licinia Luculla, of notorious reputation, and perhaps find a new home. Meloch, of course, goes where Cornelia goes. Heilyn is in search of Lugh’s Cap of Twilight, in hopes that the god can eventually be freed from his island prison, and has enlisted oaths from everyone except Meloch, to greater or lesser degrees, that they will assist him in his quest. Marcus has his own quest, to which the others are fairly sympathetic – to restore the Ninth to full Legion status and glory. And Wena is struck, as always, by wanderlust, and is interested in pursuing the unfinished tales begun with this group of comrades. As for myself, Shast, I’m just glad to be getting out of Britannia and back to a normal climate.

    The cost of passage to Gaul turns out to be not only an arm and leg but the life of Kaspar IX, the goat, and the abandonment of Heilyn’s pack of dogs, including the Brave Little Terriers (whom I’m overjoyed to bid farewell to) but not the pesky owl Cato or, even worse, Talat, the Wonder Horse, whom everyone pets and feeds treats to constantly just because she’s the child of a goddess. Humph – you don’t hear me bragging about my illustrious lineage. Kynton, Llyr’s chariot-racing feckless cousin, is also coming along; apparently he’s been offered a place by the White chariot faction in Rome itself, and he’s just thrilled at the thought; Nanna Alma, Cornelia’s old Brigantian nurse, is the last of the group.

    After Cornelia shells out the crossing fee for several of us, we begin our short trip across the Channel. There are several other passengers on the crowded vessel, including a Romano-Gallic pearl merchant, Verix, returning dispirited from a failed pearl-trading venture in Britannia. Only half an hour after we have lost sight of the white cliffs of Britannia, several of the clearer-eyed members of the party spot an intense storm formation coming towards them from the north. They estimate it will be over them in approximately half an hour, and the captain puts on as much sail in the meanwhile as is safe.

    Just about then, Marcus and Llyr spot what appear to be some odd, greenish-brown bumps in the sea ahead of them. Wena’s pearl notices them as well, and Wena realizes that they are moving. Before they can do more than point this out to the others, the ship comes to a halt, and a large crashing noise is heard on the port side. As everyone dashes to look, the more observant can see what appears to be some sort of giant undulating serpent pressing itself against the ship. Llyr tries to hit it with an arrow and misses as its head arcs over the prow and starts curving around the starboard side of the ship, squeezing as it goes. Wena tries to establish a mindlink, expecting failure, and is surprised when the creature willingly allows her access.

    “Please stop! You’re hurting our ship!” she thinks.

    “What??? Who are you? I have to punish the tainted ones.”

    “My name is Wena. We mean you no harm. Who are the tainted ones?”

    At about this point, Heilyn stands on the prow and shouts out, in Celtic, “Serpent! We mean you no harm! Please stop destroying our ship! We have assisted Sulis, god of the sea, and he has befriended us.”

    With these two conversations, the squeezing momentarily halts, as an enormous mottled greyish-green head, with piercing blue bulging eyes, rears itself up out of the water, with an oddly quizzical look. In a somewhat childlike if reptilian voice, it repeats in Celtic, “I have to punish the Tainted Ones.” Meanwhile, the Roman ladies and most of the merchants on board, with the exception of the relatively unfazed Cornelia, scream and faint. Verix the pearl merchant, on the other hand, stands looking with curiosity at the serpent.

    Wena and Heilyn, nearly simultaneously, say, “Who are you? What are the Tainted Ones?” Wena holds up the Waterskin of Sulis as a sign that they really are telling the truth.

    “I am the Colubir, child of the Ourobouros and Sulis when female. You...are servants of Sulis?”

    In the back, Llyr whispers to Cornelia, while readying his sword, “I thought Sulis was male.”

    Cornelia whispers back. “It’s one of those special Celtic god things. Sulis changes gender, like the water she’s a god of, whenever he wishes.”

    Heilyn and Wena respond, “Yes!” and Wena says, “This is the waterskin that Sulis gave us for from the Isle of Mona. We saved your parent! Don’t kill us!”

    The Colubir, now looking rather confused, responds slowly, “But...the Spiritwalker came and summoned me with the Staff, and said that I had to come here and punish the Tainted Ones, that I would know them by the lingering aura of corruption and decay. And I can see that aura around you and your friends, though it is light and fading.”

    “We aren’t tainted anymore!” Metellus responds in highly accented Celtic.

    “Staff?” Heilyn asks, with a hint of greed in his voice.

    “The Spiritwalker had a powerful staff which compelled me to obey. I have to punish you...”

    “Look,” Verix the pearl merchant says. “What exactly do you mean by “punish?” I mean, you’ve already seriously damaged our ship and steering capabilities. And it sounds like these people have already been through a lot, not to mention us innocent bystanders. Couldn’t we agree that you’ve already “punished” us and just all go about our business?”

    “You feel punished?” the Colubir asks, somewhat hopefully.

    “Oh yes, definitely. Very punished. In great pain and suffering,” everyone agrees enthusiastically, glancing nervously at the storm, which is getting ever closer and closer.

    “I need to consider this. You mortals are confusing. I do not know what is right. I will go back where I came and swim upstream to a quiet lake and contemplate the correct action until I know whether I have punished you enough. It will be dark, and peaceful there, and there will be few mortals to disturb me,” the Colubir hisses plaintively.

    “That sounds like a wonderful idea, Colubir,” Llyr remarks. “But, as the child of Sulis, could you possibly aid the rescuers of Sulis by giving us a large push towards the shore of Gallia? We don’t have any way to steer now, and that storm will destroy us if we can’t escape its path.”

    Various others of the group add their enthusiastic support to the plan, and the Colubir is reluctantly persuaded. She rewraps her length around the ship and, gaining an incredible speed with the swishes of her tail, begins piloting the ship towards the eastern coast. Marcus is very disturbed to see the prow rising virtually out of the water, but everyone else points out that the storm is falling behind them, and that this is the only way to ensure safety. With one last shove, the Colubir unwinds and sends the vessel spinning towards the coast. In the last light of day, the last thing we see are the flickers of light along her gray-green scales as she glides through the water back towards Britannia.

  10. #70

    Fifth Session: All Roads Second Post: A Little Village in Gaul

    The ship nearly comes aground on a group of shallow mussel-encrusted reefs, and we all, even the delicate Roman ladies, trudge ashore and up a narrow cliffside path to the lights above. There, we find a small Gallic fishermen’s village called Duonon, whose chief, the elderly Guvartis, welcomes us all and offers us the village’s hospitality. It is early evening by now, and we gather gratefully around a fire while Guvartis’s wife Briga gives us warm bowls of shellfish stew from a steaming cauldron. On seeing the legionaries’ armor, Divico, a wide-shouldered, red-haired man who was introduced as the chieftain’s brother, scowls, and tries to draw Guvartis aside for a private talk, but Guvartis brushes him off and asks for stories of Britannia.

    Guvartis also tells us that, while we have come ashore significantly farther south than intended, we can find a Roman road at Diablintum, a few hours inland. However, we won't be able to leave until at least mid-morning, because the tide is coming in and will turn the hill village into a temporary island, making it too dangerous to cross until low tide tomorrow.

    Shortly after dinner, Divico asks Heilyn for helping shoeing his horse, while another younger man, Lauros, draws Wena aside, asking her as a vates for stories about the origins of the Iceni. Both Divico and Lauros, in their conversations, casually praise Dagda, the chief Celtic god, and ask Wena and Heilyn if they also worship Dagda.

    Heilyn responds noncommitally, “Of course I worship Dagda. And Lugh, and Epona, and Sulis, and all the other gods. Doesn’t everyone, under one name or another?” Divico continues to make small talk, criticizing the Romans lightly for their plot to destroy true Celtic culture and replace it with their own, but Heilyn concentrates on shoeing the horse and getting back to his allies.

    Wena, on the other hand, meets Lauros’s question with questions of her own. “Yes, Dagda is one of the gods I worship. Why do you ask?”

    “Because, Dagda is the one true lord of the gods! It’s important that we remember his power and strength and not fall victim to the weakening and soft corruptions of the foul Romans.”

    “Ah, of course it is,” Wena answers carefully.

    “North of the village, we’ve established a traditional oak grove to go and worship Dagda in the ancient manner. You would be welcome to go there and pray, vates of the Iceni,” Lauros artlessly confides.

    “Ah, thank you. For tonight, I am very tired, but I will consider it,” Wena replies diplomatically, and leaves. She goes and confides this information to Cornelia and Meloch. Meloch tells Llyr and they decide to sneak off and investigate the grove, guarded by a telepathic link back to Wena. They are certain that “traditional worship” implies “human sacrifice.” Llyr carefully evades Marcus or Metellus, deciding that the officers really don’t need to know about this plan. I tell Meloch that I’m staying behind near the warm fire. Alas, had I but known how the pygmy would behave without my calm judgment to rein him in, I would never have abandoned my partner.

    Meloch and Llyr easily find the somewhat hidden path leading north through the woods. Moving slowly and silently, they come upon a circular grove of oak trees, with three young men kneeling in it, muttering under their breaths, and periodically saluting each of the trees. It appears to Llyr that, on the edge of the grove, there’s some sort of artificial hillock, like something has been buried there. Meloch and Llyr watch for some time, and the young men continue their prayers.

    Eventually, the two decide that they need to eliminate the tribesmen’s presence in order to get a look at the mysterious overturned ground. Meloch, from the shadows, throws dust towards them and casts one of his favorite spells, Sleep. While two of the youths immediately fall to the ground snoring, the third looks around in confusion, starting to rebuke and shake his comrade for lack of piety. In desperation, Meloch shoots one of the sleep-poison laden arrows obtained from Titus Minucius. His aim is better than anticipated. As the young Gaul turns towards the suspicious noise, the arrow impales him in his throat. His eyes flutter closed just before the blood gushes out of his neck. While he may be asleep, he is most certainly dead.

    Wena, aware of this over her mental link, is horrified, and tells Meloch and Llyr to come back immediately. They tell her that they still need to search the artificial hillock, and they drag all three bodies into the bushes, knocking the two living tribesmen unconscious, and burying the dead one in a shallow grave. Meloch feels horrible about the accidental death, but is determined to make it worthwhile by pursuing the greater mission.

    Using Llyr’s shovel, they quickly dig up the ground and find a large locked chest buried a foot or so down. Upon roughly breaking the lock, Llyr opens it and finds several thousand shiny sestertii plus about twenty new Greek-style short bows. They take a few coins for Wena to object read and close and bury the chest, determined to tell the others that there is decidedly more than casual Dagda worship going on in this village.

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