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Aphonion Tales: Adventures in the Spice Lands, a tween and teen D&D game (unedited notes, posts Tuesdays, most recent 11/30)

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 20 (February 14, 2021)

25 Ghast

The group plans to cast a speak with dead, and begins planning questions. Sister Agnes casts the spell.

Noah begins. “Walter! What is the cult’s relationship to the Bishop of Zendiker?”

“The Bishop is old and half blind. We have no relationship to the Bishop, but his privy secretary is ours.”

“If there are other nearby centers of cult activity, what are their names and locations?”

He names the other known village of corruption, Urmkirkey.

“How did your foreman first learn of this?”

“A man brought a stone of blue flame, and Gunther swore to it. Then things began to happen, and we gained power. And it brought forth power.”

“What was the creature you summoned during the battle?”

“It was the same one that came to speak with us. It came often into the pit, and it sometimes sucked the life from a lamb in the hills.”

“Why did you and your compatriots wish to kill the na-Strom?”

“Had we been able to kill him, the one you slew with the Blue Flame would have been able to absorb his memories. Given his parents’ ties to the rebels, it would have allowed us to infiltrate them.”

Noah boggled a little at this revelation.

The group heads on to the village of Urmkirkey.

They travel along, and there are conifers, though no deciduous trees this far north and this high in the mountains. As they travel, they realize that they’re being paralleled by wolves and humanoid figures. That band keeps watching them, but does not close. The elves can see well enough to realize that those are orcs, and full breed at that, but they are not closing. After a half hour, the smallest orc—maybe a goblin—hops on the largest wolf and rides away.

Noah yells, “Greetings!”

At that, a banner comes up, a very crude representation of the downward pointing arrow of Paranswarm. “Greetings!”

“We are here investigating rumors of a cult nearby.”

“They are not rumors. Truth. There are too few of you. Do not enter the village. They will kill you.”

“Have they fully activated their altar?”

“Yes! And they are many. There are too few of you. Even with our warriors, they would kill you all. The village is lost.”

“They must be hiding the altar somehow.”

“Lead. They keep it in the mine shaft and use lead to protect it.”

Noah says that they may take news to the Bishop of Zendiker, who is not corrupted but whose privy secretary is, or that they may inform the crystal vollers.

“We know you. That is why we followed you. You are a grandson of the tribe.”

“Oh, I knew my father was…”

“He was of this very band, though it has shrunk since he left us. Others have also left the band for mates and cubs. One more thing. When the village fell, and the last of the ones who held out fled or died, they turned three werebears. We do not know where they are, but they turned them.”

With that, the group turns back towards Noah’s family’s castle. As they travel, they notice a large shape shadowing them—clearly a large bear, following them. Noah gets out his silvered axe, and hands Iados his silver cheese knife.

The bear charges Noah and misses. Noah hacks at it with his silver axe, doing 23 damage on two attacks. Elyn shoots it with her bow, doing a small amount of damage even with an unenchanted arrow.

The werebear hits Noah with both claws and then rakes him with its rear claws. Noah takes 49 hit points of damage but stays up.

Ravokris hits it with an Aganazzar’s Scorcher, burning it.

Iados sneak attacks it, doing 15 total damage.

Noah gets a critical hit, killing the bear. It then changes back into a somewhat ragged looking older half-orc male. It’s wearing an odd belt made of untanned bear hide. The body has a lingering sense of evil, but the belt does not. The body has ritual scarification, particularly on its lower back.
[End Session 20]
 

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CPaladin

Explorer
Session 21 (February 28, 2021)
26 Ghast

Noah asks Sister Agnes to cast speak with dead on the werebear.

“What do you know of the people involved with the Blue Flame?”

His eyes spring open and he sits up. “They walk among us. They give us plenty and gifts for our service.”

“What is the purpose of your belt of bear hide?”

“I am a skinwalker. It allows me to take the shape of a bear.”

“What is the cult’s relationship to the Queen-Empress?”

“Both serve the same master.”

“Who is the master who this cult serves, who has agents among all peoples?”

“The eldritch walk again among us. We serve the eldritch that they may return and consume the world.”

Noah sputters about the madness of serving a master that wants to consume the world, then asks, “What does the cult plan to do in the near future?”

“Stop the invasion until the ascension of the One.”

Noah asserts that the group should travel directly to the camp of the Inquisitor General, to give this information to them, but they all agree that stopping in at the family castle makes sense, since it is en route.

The group is shown in to meet with Noah’s mother.

Noah begins, “We need to talk.”

“Welcome back. Of course.”

Noah asks the servants to leave.

“Firstly, I know that you and my father have leanings towards supporting the Inquisition over the Queen-Empress if they invade. I respect and support that, as the faith of the people is more important than their allegiance to the Queen-Empress.”

“I agree—we certainly favor the Inquisition over the Queen-Empress’s forces.”

Noah explains about the fallen village, and about having routed out the cult in Windermere.

“We spoke with dead with one of the cultists, and it turns out that the Queen-Empress is working in cooperation with the cult. Also, they seek to slow the invasion of the Inquisition to allow for the ascension of one called the One.”

“An ascension? That usually means a mortal ascending into the immortal realm. I’m no theologian, but I think that at this point that would require a massive sacrifice.”

Noah says that he plans to go to meet with the Inquisitor General.

They also make sure that the Strom knows of Urnkirkey’s corruption; she says that she might be able to raise a large enough militia to retake the village.

They mount up and begin riding hard for the Inquisition lines.

They see fire a few times off in the distance, but they have no difficulties whatsoever reaching the Inquisition on the evening of the 29th of Ghast.

Noah turns over the fragments of the altar. A priest in a different outfit that they haven’t seen before appears almost out of nowhere and asks them to place the pieces into a lead coffer. Sister Agnes identifies the priest as a monk of Haggaratha, who specialize in learning about the old enemies of the church.

They quickly enter the presence of the Inquisitor General.

“Firstly the cult is trying to stall the Inquisition invasion of Hanal to prepare for the ascension of someone they call the One. They’re working on behalf of something they call the eldritch. And perhaps most disturbingly, the Queen-Empress is working with them.”

The Inquisitor General shows where he has many written notes saying “The Queen-Empress is part of the enemy.” Even with his training, he finds it hard to remember, and the common troops cannot at all.

“We face a particular problem with a frontal assault. Even with the support of the faithful nobles… most people are unaware of this, and we would prefer it to stay that way. The reason we have not attempted any further intrusion, despite being badly outnumbered, is that we have managed to trace several years’ output of bone dust, several ounces. It was either purchased or seized from the Enclave until recently known as Zorplona-Argoni. If we concentrated our forces, they will use the bone dust. Whichever force makes it close to the capital first—us or the Cov of Snannerkaz, who is chief among the rebels—will have it used on them anyway.”

“With all due respect, if we just let them get away with it…”

“We cannot let them get away with it.”

“But that could buy them the time we need.”

“What we need is a brave group, with some experience working behind their lines, that are willing to enter the citadel of the Queen-Empress and neutralize the bone dust. I have tried, and my agents’ heads are now displayed on the walls of the citadel.”

The group discusses this, and while nervous, accepts the mission.

Sister Agnes also tells the Inquisitor General about the corruption of the Bishop of Zendiker’s privy secretary. He says that that’s behind enemy lines, but he may be able to arrange an accident for the privy secretary.

The Inquisitor General calls for the Master, who is in all black robes that do not look clerical. The Inquisitor General asks him to provide them with a communication token. He takes a psionic reading of the na-Strom. “May I have another volunteer? The Society of the Hands of Hell does not like taking psionic readings without volunteers.”

Noah suggests Elyn is perhaps the most likely to survive, but there are no volunteers.

“Is there a known way to neutralize bone dust?”

“An enormous quantity of water. A small lake, say, to neutralize two ounces, and that lake would not be suitable for life for some time. You must not even touch a grain of bone dust with your bare skin—it would suck all the water out of your body, causing even your bones to crumble away.”

The citadel is about 700 miles away, so about 17 days’ ride.

Noah asks the Inquisitor-General if he can have some information that is true, but not helpful, that they could use the token from the Queen-Empress’s army to make themselves seem useful.

“I can think of something that they will learn soon enough. Tell them that the voller being flown by the Moriquendarim with an Aufaulgatharim officer is a man-of-war, and that the man-of-war has a contingent of drow marines onboard—perhaps planning on doing more than simply bombarding, though in fact they are there to repel boarders.”

They head off.

After a day of travel, they make their way into imperial held territory.

That evening, the Violet Moon is full. For the first third of the night, while in mouse form, Noah is resisting the cheese.

Wild field mice by the dozens are gathering and watching the cheese. Noah turns his back to the cheese, and the field mice charge in.

Noah runs off with the cheese, fleeing the field mice and losing control. Sister Agnes follows him. He stops as he charges into a perfect circle of mushrooms in a clearing. Out of the corner of Noah’s eyes, he sees little tiny elves surrounding him.

In the morning, Noah finds himself exhausted, laying in a circle in a forest.

They mount up and head on.

Two days later, Elyn notices something towering over the nearby trees. It’s the right color, but it doesn’t have leaves, and it’s moving. A very long, long limb spikes down on Noah. It does 13 damage and starts picking him up.

Elyn identifies it as a giant praying mantis, the largest giant mantis she’s ever seen. She then shoots it with her bow, doing 10 damage.

Iados’s rapier bounces off, but Ravokris burns it with a burning hands spell.

Noah rages and starts hacking at it with his axe.

The mantis bites Noah.

Sister Agnes summons a spiritual cat-of-nine-tails which misses.

Elyn shoots it again with her bow, while Iados misses again.

Then Ravokris casts an Agganazar’s Scorcher, which transforms into a tiny attacking fire elemental. The fire elemental attacks it twice, hitting each time. The insect collapses limply to the ground.

Noah tries to harvest the gland that makes its shell. He fails, but does harvest plenty of meat.
[End session 21]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 22 (March 14, 2021)
3 Ta-Ghast

Noah shares his plan to retrieve the bone dust. It is, suffice to say, half-baked.

Much zaniness ensues involving a talking cheese, that may or may not be faked by Ravokris as a prank.

While this is going on, a flock of stirges sneak up and attack. The group fights them off with some difficulty and then Elyn realizes that they were likely attracted by the giant mantis corpse.

The group rides fast, travelling roughly 60 miles per day.

After they ride for several hours, another group of stirges approach from behind. This fight is short and messy (for the stirges).

By the end of the day, yet another wave of stirges attacks. The group slaughters the stirges.

[End session 22; the exasperating series of stirge encounters was the result of bizarrely repetitive random encounter rolls, where the same or essentially the same percentile result was rolled multiple times in a row. The GM and I speculated that, in the emergent plot sort of way that random encounter rolls can produce, this suggested that either they were traveling directly through a major infestation or that the cultists are directing stirges for nefarious purposes. Because the session was basically wall to wall combat, the notes are pretty short.]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 23 (April 11, 2021)

4 Ta-Ghast
Uneventful travel

5 Ta-Ghast
Uneventful travel

6 Ta-Ghast
In the afternoon, Noah starts to sense that something feels wrong. He warns the group, and Sister Agnes casts detect evil, detecting nothing. Noah uses his connection to the spirits and senses something right (to the east) and ahead.

Noah and Elyn try to bluff something, trying to scare off whoever is coming. Sister Agnes fades off to the right, seeking to draw attacks. Agnes detects evil, and sees a group approaching. She shouts, “Ware! Evil-doers!” Then they hear a bullroar from the right, a group of men, dressed in ragged clothes and with flanged weapons, charge and shout “For the Ram!”

Elyn shoots the leader with her bow twice.

Noah shouts, “What do you want?”

They respond, “The Ram demands blood in sacrifice!”

Ravokris hits the leader with a flame bolt, dropping him.

Iados runs out and impales one on his rapier, dropping him, while Sister Agnes holds another one.

Elyn shoots the one that’s held, getting a critical hit and doing a total of 20 damage.

Ravokris hits one of them with a flame bolt.

One of them charges Noah, missing entirely, one charges Ravokris, and one charges Sister Agnes. None of them hit.

Noah rages and attacks. His first blow does a mighty 12 damage, and his second attack largely cleaves through him with a critical hit.

Sister Agnes calls out, “O Lady, Weep for those whose soul’s my companions are sending on.” She then holds out her shield and focuses on blocking the enemy’s attacks.

Iados attempts to fling a body at the other enemies, but he does not throw it very far.

Suddenly, rushing down the road and breaking through the brush from farther along the road, two over-sized black goats, putrid black smoke coming from their maws, charge. They are about 4 feet at the shoulder, 7 feet long.

Noah says, “Oh, you’re so cute! They must have been holding you hostage!”

Sister Agnes says, “They are probably demons in goat form.”

Noah says, “Why would demons take on goat form?”

The goat replies, “Because we serve the Lord of Goats!”

Elyn says, “Man, show some respect! Those are demons!”

“Thank you!” says the lead goat. “We’re not very major demons, but we are Mehrim!”

The goat-demons charge Noah, and batter him repeatedly, with two butts and two hooves.

“Where were you raised, you rowdy goats?”

“The 342nd level of the Abyss.”

Elyn shoots the most wounded of the cultists, pinning him down and all but finishing him off.

One of the cultists charges Elyn and misses completely, encanting; the other misses entirely.

Noah runs off and attacks the cultists, much to the amazement of the goat demons, dealing 10 damage and 13 damage.

Sister Agnes casts spiritual weapon, and channels divinity at the goats. One of them flees; the other gets hit by the holy scourge for 8 damage.

Iados drops another cultist, killing him outright. Elyn shoots the goat demon that has not fled.

Noah finishes off the last cultist. He then banters with the goat demon for a while, before finally realizing that it’s a creature of the Abyss, and strikes it, killing it. Abruptly, as it falls to the ground, it changes form to look like a slimy oily satyr shaped demon. It then fades away.

(The other goat demon never returns.)

7 Ta-Ghast
Uneventful travel.

8 Ta-Ghast
Uneventful travel.

As they approach nightfall, they can see a fortified village ahead of them, and can smell woodsmoke. A fortified manor, with a flag, sits on a hill nearby. A rider on a mule comes out, and offers us the hospitality of the village of Gdoinye, which has several inns. The gates are kept closed except when someone arrives.

The group is led to the nicest inn in the village, the Black Horse Inn.

Sister Agnes goes to the infirmary, where they are told there were wounded from the north.

She heals some wounded soldiers, who were wounded fighting against a cult—the same cult that we fought in the northlands; they had a priest with them, and they defeated the enemies, but the priest died. That was the lord’s chaplain, who was of the Order of Saint Vincent the Venerable—they get additional special skills, in exchange for certain special vows of poverty, chastity, not wearing armor. They mention that the Strom of the local village is a good man, but also admit that they think that the Strom’s lady is a cultist. The parish priest confirms that he worries about that, but has never been able to confirm anything, and the Inquisition is not able to function here. She is definitely a maga.
[End session 23]
 
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CPaladin

Explorer
Session 24 (April 25, 2021)

9 Ta-Ghast
In the morning, Noah suggests that they not get diverted from the main mission of destroying the bone dust, because that will weaken the cultists more than trying to ferret out a small group of cultists here. The rest of the group agrees, and they leave promptly in the morning while heading in towards the capital.

The day and night pass in peace.

10 Ta-Ghast
The villages are becoming more common and more densely located at this point. Most of them seem largely abandoned, however, and some of them have considerable signs of damage.

The path they are following begins to rhythmically shake. They’re fairly sure this is a large group of horses.

Men in green uniforms break cover as forward scouts.

Elyn shouts, “Hail the Queen-Empress!”

Whole regiments of troops start to walk by, all infantry, but with very large numbers of support wagons.

Noah tells them that he is coming to the citadel to strengthen Arundale’s connections to supporting the Queen-Empress. They look up Arundale in a record, and then tell him that he should continue on, and will surely receive a military position of honor.

As the army marches past, they identify it as three field armies, plus auxiliaries and support—so some 15,000 soldiers, and the rest.

They don’t quite make the next village, because of the delay in waiting for the army to pass, so they camp in the field.

11 Ta-Ghast
They reach a crossroads, where they turn onto a more major road, flagged with heavy stones. Along this road, the villages are all intact. After a short journey, they enter a fortified town that is preparing for something. They are boarding up shops; priests are spreading incense. At the edge of the town, a mendicant monk offers them talismans to protect against the Lesser Festival of Mists, dominated by “She Who Must Not Be Named,” lest they succumb to madness.

The group continues on, and the farms they pass—though some are ravaged—are being closed up frantically. The sky is clear, so the moons will rise visibly.

As nightfall approaches, the group camps. As traditional, Noah gets tied up while he works to control his transformation. Noah’s transformation happens, but he seems shinier and larger. As the violet light washes over the land, a group of giant mushrooms spring up, in a trail leading away from the group, with singing at the far end. Various other lycanthropes gather around their camp, singing and chanting to the violet moon—werebears, weresquirrels, a werechipmunk, and the like. (Ravokris receives the blessing of Whimsey, and gets 2 bonus points of Intelligence until the next full violet moon.)

12 Ta-Ghast
As they continue on, they see various farmers opening up their farms.

They begin to see earthwork fortifications here and there, with various odd structures protruding out of them.

Their travel is uneventful. There are now even more abandoned farmsteads, even some abandoned thorps. They also notice that there is less voller cover than they had seen further out.

13 Ta-Ghast
There are some fortifications with power-bows and ballistae aimed at the sky.

They see small units of mounted troops, one of which hails them. He again checks the same list of houses, confirming that Arundale is marked as loyal, and then checks a separate list of individual nobles from the loyal house who have been placed on a kill-on-sight list.

They pass several fortifications, again mostly aimed at the sky. They also pass one that has been entirely blasted out from the sky. A large group of troops are working to clear it, in heavy not quite armor. An officer tells them to stay clear of the blast site, because of lingering radiance.

14 Ta-Ghast
That evening, they can see the lights of the capital ahead.

15 Ta-Ghast
They head into the city, planning on reaching out to na-Vad Fellin Zitrian (known to friends as Fell), Noah’s friend who they met when last in the city. They approach the Vad Zitrian manor house, which has been heavily fortified since last they saw it. The guards are now dressed in field armor, not just colors.

“Ah, na-Strom.” The guards recognize him.

“I would much desire to speak with Fellin.”

“He is in the palace, now—he has been pressed into military service, though his mother hoped he might not. Please, come in. You will receive the hospitality of the house.”

“I hope to join him in service to the Queen-Empress.”

“You will have to wait for him or his mother to return from the palace, but I’m sure she would be glad to have you accompany him. You must all stay indoors at night. Three of the blood-driven hounds have escaped, surely because of the elven bombardment or possibly traitors.”

“What are the blood-driven hounds?”

“The blood-driven hounds—undead that drink blood—were traditionally released into the streets during the Blood Fete each year. A few of the ne’er-do-wells were killed, but no one of consequence, and it was considered part of the offering. They were then restored to their imprisonments. Now three of them are loose in the city and hunting its residents.”

Noah spends some time training with the guards. Meanwhile, a servant signals to Iados in thieves’ cant, asking if he is the courier.

He signals back uncertainty. She stops signaling, and stands waiting at the door.

Elyn notices that the plant life in the formal garden of the manor is dying. It’s not obvious, but it looks like something is sucking the life energy out of the plants day-by-day. It’s being maintained, but it looks like it is dying nonetheless.

Sister Agnes asks if they have the proscription list. They do, and provide it to her. She checks, and finds that her name is not on it. But she recognizes some names—there are entire houses that are proscribed, plus various individuals, though not anyone from Noah’s house. There are also some surprising absences from the list, especially in the House of Magdag.

After nightfall, the na-Vad and Vadess return. The na-Vad meets with them in private. He mentions that he offered to lead troops personally to hunt the blood-driven hounds and was refused; he is very concerned.

Noah tells him that they spoke with dead with some cultists, and they said that they and the Queen-Empress serve the same entity. The na-Vad screems, his eyes roll back and he collapses, apparently having a fit. Sister Agnes casts protection from evil on him, which seems to help. Noah keeps trying to reason with him. Ravokris can see magical energy expelled from him after the protection from evil. As Noah continues to talk with the na-Vad and mentions bone dust and ascension, the energy begins to coalesce, and Ravokris thinks it will materialize. He points and says that a demon is materializing.

Elyn also begins treating the na-Vad, and manages to stabilize him. Iados can see it materializing, and prepares to stab it with his rapier. As it materializes and the word “consume” is heard through the room, Iados stabs it, but misses with both attacks. Noah rages, and hits it with his axe twice. It has damage resistance, but Noah still hurts it. Elyn attacks with her sickle, hitting it twice for minor damage after the resistance. Ravokris blasts it with a fire bolt.

The demon reaches two tendrils out to hit Noah, and both hit, while the word “consume” rings out again. Noah loses 3 points of Con and 13 hit points.

Sister Agnes does not recognize the demon at all. It looks like a huge heap of ichorous dirty fluid suspended in a membrane -- but there is an odd sense that you watch different human features swim up and then vanish.

Noah switches to his silver axe and cleaves it apart.

A guard rushes in, having heard the scream. We send him to fetch the chaplain.

The na-Vad regains consciousness, and he can remember what he was told and thinks it’s true.

The chaplain warns us not to tell anyone but the Vadess about the demon. He thinks that the na-Vad can tell the Vadess, but says he should do so gently. From the na-Vad, she will hear it. He says she is also worried about things, as the chaos of the court has increased.
[End session 24]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 25 (May 9, 2021)

16 Ta-Ghast
Noah talks with Iados about the servant who contacted him. He convinces Iados to contact the servant again, and try to infiltrate what Noah assumes is a group of cultists trying to set up an altar in the manor. Metsuki shadows Iados, in case he needs help suddenly. (Elyn is okay with this as long as Metsuki isn’t at risk.)

Iados finds the servant again and pulls at her sleeve. “Wait, wait, I’m the courier. I had to pretend not to be while I was around the na-Vad.”

In thieves’ cant, “What message do you bring? The na-Vad is harmless—he does not know the cant.”

“Thank you. I need to be on my way.”

Iados goes back to the group, gets coached, and returns.

“Sorry about that. I needed to use the privy. Our superiors want me to inspect the secret place, to make sure it’s ready.”

She leads him into the 4th basement behind the wine cellar. There is a safe room here, with supplies laid in, hidden behind the cellar. “We can take in two or three, and keep them safe.”

Iados tells the rest of the group about it. Sister Agnes suggests that this seems like it might be a safe house for escaping slaves. The group thinks that’s likely.

The na-Vad comes to them in his uniform. He tells them that he must go do his duties in the palace. Noah volunteers to go with him and present himself for military service, as a “loyal” vassal of the Queen-Empress.

The building is magnificent. Everything is done in black stone, with green accents.

The guards pass him right by, clearly recognizing the na-Vad. He strides up to a man in a very complex uniform, bows almost all the way to the ground. “Kov. This is my friend. He is the na-Strom of Arundale. He has with him companions, and they want to volunteer for service.”

The Kov, an elderly man, asks what Noah’s military experience is.

Noah says that he did some work as a mercenary in the Spice Lands—not as part of the Hanalian force there, but doing various other work.

The Kov then checks the proscription list. “You’re clean, and your family is listed among the loyal. I wish you had more experience in a structured environment. But if you’re willing to work courier duty, we would welcome your service. Bring your companions back.”

He leaves, and the na-Vad observes, “That went better than it might.”

“Not as close to our target as we might hope.”

“But it gets you within the palace,” he whispers.

Noah returns and gathers up the rest of the group. Sister Agnes, concerned that a member of the OWW would stick out, puts on a green silk sash with her family’s arms on it, deliberately crossing it directly over her holy symbol. She states that she will suggest that her family placed her as a healer in the service of the na-Vad and the na-Strom for political reasons.

They then go back.

Noah is absolutely sure that he has met the Kov before and knows him.

We have another conversation with the Kov. He seems clearly loyal to both the Queen-Empress and Paranswarm; he expresses his belief that the Inquisitor-General is corrupt. Sister Agnes pretends to be a very venial healer, in the OWW for advancement and advantage and trying to build ties to other noble houses. The Kov says that she should get to know his granddaughter—they have much in common.

The group reports to a Basher (a Hanalian general). “You’ve been assigned to our unit?”

“Yes,” says Noah.

“We have a message that needs to be delivered to the north voller tower. I have sensitive instructions for the commander of the tower, that I would like to see delivered alive. The city is no longer safe.” He hands Noah a heavily ornate letter, with lead seals. “There has been interference with the usual method we use to send messages to the voller tower. Tell the commander that I instructed you to wait for a response. He needs to bring those vollers online. The next time that thing passes over, they must be ready.”

The group starts to leave, and then Noah speaks to the Basher’s assistant, and tells him that the group has skills in securing special alchemical items. They bluff a story about a family connection to senior imperial alchemists. The assistant believes them, and gives them a writ.

They present it to the Master of the Armory, and tell him that they were sent by the Basher to get the bone dust. He asks if they have a talisman. They say they do not. He says that the person who sent them is no friend of theirs then. There are no human guards behind the black steel gates, but though he is no diabolist, the Master of the Armory knows there are adequate guards. The bone dust is in a casket all the way in the back, next to the clingfire.

The group leaves the Armory and discusses what to do. They could return to the Basher to try to get a talisman, perhaps by subterfuge or theft. Another option would be to go to the tower, deliver the message, and then talk to the Vadess later.

The group decides to bluff the Basher, but to talk to the na-Vad first to see if he can get more information about the Basher. “Rough, tough, commonborn, devout, not a fan of the aristocracy, loyal to the Empire more than the Empress. Not very personable, but very determined. Had an unsavory career before the military, not sure what it was.”

They describe the need to get the talisman.

“I know the talismans you speak of. I’ve seen them. He has one. I would not try to trick him out of it. Only the most trusted imperial servants have them. My mother might be able to get one. I don’t know that trying to get the Basher’s would be wise. He would have to trust you more to put it into your possession.”

The group decides to head to the north voller tower to build up more credibility. They travel to the tower without difficulties.

An officer greets them. “Ah, na-Strom. Here to see the commandant?”

“Yes.”

The officer clearly recognizes Noah. He asks after Noah’s family.

They deliver the message to the commandant. “He doesn’t understand that we’re doing the best we can to be ready.” He breaks the seal with a strange almost crystal letter opener. The lead discolors immediately. He looks at it. “Eight days? Eight days? I guess it must be done within eight days if I want to keep my head. I wonder why eight days though. Thank you for crossing the city to deliver this. I wish we could deal with the blood-driven hounds. At least the full force isn’t loose. Tell them that the work will be done in eight days. They want a grand voller finished within eight days. They think it could stand up to an elven armada. Foolishness. But they won’t listen. Never before have the elves attacked us. I do not understand. But they bombarded two sites within the city… I do not understand it. But I must get it done, or be out of here in six! And, they’re talking about coming here for a ceremony.” He writes out a response.

They make their way back to the imperial palace.

Noah reports back to the Basher. He describes his doubts about them finishing within eight days. He also says that they are missing some of the people conscripted from useful work, and that they’re trying, but they’re badly overworked.

The Basher is impressed, and asks him to attend a Grand Strategy Council tomorrow with him, as part of the Basher’s staff.
[End session 25]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 26 (May 23, 2021)

16 Ta-Ghast (evening)
The na-Vad takes the group to see his mother, the Vadess. She looks up with interest from the couch where she is seated. She looks exhausted.

Noah explains about the cult investigations in his family’s lands, and the corruption of the Bishop of Zendiker’s privy secretary.

Ravokris suddenly starts seeing increasing swirls of energy around the Vadess. Only he can see it, but he interrupts to mention seeing swirls of energy.

Sister Agnes immediately casts Protection from Evil, which expels the swirls of energy from the Vadess. The energy, now fully visible, leaps to the lady in waiting in the room, who shrieks and begins transforming.

Noah calls to the guards to summon blessed weapons and to seal the manor against the threat to the Vadess.

Sister Agnes interposes herself between the Vadess and the former lady in waiting.

The Vadess is speaking to her lady-in-waiting in great concern. “Kathandra? Kathandra?”

After organizing the guards, Noah rages and charges the lady-in-waiting monster.

Ravokris attacks with a fire bolt, and gets a 25 to hit, striking the lady-in-waiting and doing 7 points of fire damage.

Noah charges and smacks at the monster with the silvered axe, which is getting pretty dulled by now. Noah strikes and hits for 15 damage; his next strike misses, despite hitting AC 22. The last of the silvering is knocked off in the process.

Iados rushes in with his rapier, and hands his silver cheese knife to Noah, who he expects to be able to use it better. He does a sneak attack successfully, for 20 damage total (although he does a little bit less damage than he would have expected—it must have resistance to non-silver weapons).

Elyn joins with Sr. Agnes in trying to physically block any route for the monster to the Vadess.

Two guards rush in and fire their crossbows. One shoots himself in the foot, the other misses wildly.

Elyn casts Hunter’s Mark, and then shoots the monster, barely hitting with a 24, and does 10 damage (reduced to 5).

A guard bounces a crossbow off the back of her head.

Sr. Agnes splashes some holy water on the creature, doing 9 points of damage.

Ravokris hits the creature with another firebolt, doing 5 damage.

Noah misses on his first blow, then does 16 damage on the second with a critical hit with the silver cheese knife.

The creature breathes out a horrible cloud of green gas. Sister Agnes is drained of 4 points of Con, Iados is drained of 6 points of Con, Ravokris loses 1, and a guard loses 5 but is still up.

Iados misses, but Elyn shoots the creature again, for another 11.

The na-Vad hits the creature with his dress sword, which is alas not silver, and does a tiny amount of damage.

Sr. Agnes misses with holy water.

Finally, Ravokris hits it with a fire bolt.

The creature collapses, and the demonform sloughs off it, leaving the lady-in-waiting’s body with all its wounds.

The Vadess and Sr. Agnes both mourn the dead lady-in-waiting.

The group explains what they understand to be going on.

The Vadess says, that explains certain things. The lack of response to the blood-driven in the streets in particular—it would not hurt the war effort.

Sr. Agnes casts Revivify on the lady-in-waiting, who is restored to life.

The Vadess sends Kathandra to rest and recover. She then orders the room sealed so she may speak in private to her son’s friends.

Noah explains that they were sent by the Inquisition to secure the imperial bone dust supply to prevent it from being used against the Inquisition.

The Vadess points out that the creature fought without any sign of intelligence. The group notes that they do not recognize the demons the cult has, nor its altars—it seems to be unlike normal demons, and greatly unlike devils.

Noah asks the Vadess if she could secure a talisman.

“I had presumed I was being trusted because I served Thyastis. Now I think I was being trusted because I was blind. She must have known that duty would overrule all else for me.” She turns to Ravokris. “Magister, do you believe that the Queen-Empress will be able to tell that I am no longer blind?”

Ravokris says, “The Queen-Empress would likely be able to tell that you are no longer loyal. She could see the absence of the energy upon you.”

“We will hope that she does not check often. I will approach a friend of mine and try to obtain the talisman that you seek, on the claim that I wish to check the security personally. It will take a few days, and I will try to avoid notice for that long. But if they do realize, and take me prisoner, you must do nothing to attempt to save me. You must find an alternate plan to get the weapons out, and find a different place to stay so you remain safe.”

17 Ta-Ghast
The Basher takes the entire group to the strategic council—a couple of dozen generals and the like, a couple admirals, and several other people, plus their various attendants. There is an enormous 3-D map of Hanal, with little figures that represent each units. The Basher notes that he is bringing some of his aides to season them for when they may be senior officers someday.

What is striking is how many Hanalian units there are, and how few of them are horsed.

Noah makes some suggestions about redeploying some troops to work on gathering resources to make more vollers and to defend the direction towards Enclaves.

The generals discuss the role that the Inquisition’s planning in Enclaves holds. The senior generals then argue about the viability of attempting to take Enclaves directly, as has been discussed for a long time.

Noah continues making suggestions, and rolls an 18 on a Persuasion check.

The discussion rapidly becomes very technical militarily. Noah comes to the realization that he has convinced them to take an action. They talked themselves in to bombarding the City of Enclaves. "We cannot cut their lines with a surface fleet, but we have a substantial air navy. When we deploy 100 vollers to bombard the city and their fields…"

It will take the vollers 10 days to attack Enclaves.

The rest of the day passes uneventfully, running errands.

18 Ta-Ghast

They deliver messages for the day.

The Vadess presents a jeweled case to them in the evening. “You will need a mission that takes you back to that area. Otherwise the human guards will give you trouble. And I must now quietly support the Princess Anastasia—I now know why she is in exile.”
[End Session 26]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 27 (June 6, 2021)

Evening of 18 Ta-Ghast
Fell, the na-Vad, says that there are more Blooddriven in the streets—perhaps as many as 6.

Noah details an elaborate plan, but then considers asking Fell to get them an excuse to get more weapons from the armory.

Sr. Agnes raises the question of whether the group should try to steal the clingfire as well as the bone dust. She also suggests that the Vadess’s house vollers might be a good way to flee.

“My lord Na-Vad, would your mother and servants be willing to flee at the same time? I fear that your family would be implicated.” Asks Sr. Agnes.

“Though I know that the Princess Anastasia has set up a court in exile in Canberry, my mother has served the imperial court for her whole life. I think she will likely try to buy us time to escape.”

Abruptly, they hear a clash of arms without the manor. Noah looks out of his room and sees guards rushing towards the doors of the manor. “Blooddriven?”

“Yes, my lord.”

“We must assist.”

The group rushes towards the front doors of the manor.

Three blooddriven are tearing through the group of house guards in the gardens outside the manor. There are 10 guards along the front.

The three blooddriven are large, looking like crosses between huge dogs and something somewhat humanoid. Their fangs are extremely elongated and they glow a sickly grey.

The guards are fighting loyally, but their swords do not appear to be doing any appreciable damage.

Noah moves out behind the guards, then rages and rushes at the blooddriven. “You are such bad dogs!” He hits it with his axe, and does some damage, but much less than he would have expected to.

Sr. Agnes casts a beacon of hope.

Ravokris burns one with a firebolt.

Elyn casts hunter’s mark and shoots one successfully—she does a slight amount of damage with a shot she would have expected to hit hard.

Ravokris blasts another with a firebolt. Fire does seem to do full damage, though he guesses other forms of energy might not.

Iados rushes forward and stabs at one with a silver knife, taking advantage of a flanking position to sneak attack. He does 24 points of damage. It still seems to do reduced damage, but much more than most of their attacks.

Sr. Agnes yells at a servant to fetch any large pieces of silver or ideally silver knives they can, and then casts mass healing word healing 6 of the guards.

The guards attack largely ineffectually.

One of the blooddriven pounces on one of the guards, sinking its fangs into his neck. Some of its wounds close, and the guard staggers and collapses.

Noah calls for a torch, and then starts bashing the blooddriven with his torch, burning it badly.

Ravokris blasts the one that healed itself, but does not kill it. Elyn barely manages to finish it off.

Ezra moves over to the one Noah is fighting, and attacks it, striking it for an enormous amount of damage with his silver cheeseknife.

Rushing down the corridor to the door comes the house chaplain, now in full armor and carrying a banner of Paranswarm, the Vadess in armor, and some additional guards. The priest plants the banner and says a word of power, driving them back.

A distant horn sounds, and the remaining two turn to flee. Before it can leave, Noah tackles down the one he was fighting and finishes it off.

Sister Agnes turns to the priest. “Father, do you know how to destroy these utterly?”

“Yes. Fortunately, these were young ones. They must be burned entirely or they will come back.”

The household brings oil, and then the priest performs a quick ritual and burns the bodies. The priest also burns the dead guard’s body.

Noah suggests that the horn suggests that someone within the city manipulating the blooddriven.

They seal the manor until the morning.

The group discusses; they think it’s clear that it has reduced damage resistance against silver, and may have no resistance to mithril. Noah also is sure that these were humans changed into monsters, not canine in basis.

The Vadess tells the group that the commander of her vollers has been commanded to obey her son and to take onboard any that he commands taken on board. She intends to distract the royal presence as best as she can, to maximize the plans chance of success. She asks the group to give her regards and respect to the Princess Anastasia when and if the group meets her.

The group also gets a pure silver greatsword (and thus mostly a great club) from the Vadess that the family had for ritual purposes.
[End Session 27]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 28 (June 13, 2021)

19 Ta-Ghast
Noah recaps the plan.

He then gets a horn and tries to play the call they heard last night. However, because he has never played a horn before, he can’t really produce a good note.

The next several days pass uneventfully, running routine errands as things are getting worse.

24 Ta-Ghast
They finally get an order to go to the armory.

They are told to deliver the orders to the person in charge of the armory, and then to accompany the items retrieved from the armory. The orders have been getting more focused as the days go by, and they get a heavily sheathed set of orders with the Basher’s seal on it.

The armory is more heavily guarded now in general, though there is also now coming and going. The same person is still on duty, and he recognizes the group as they approach. They make some small talk, and the armorer then breaks the seals and reads the letter. “The orders directly order you to accompany the delivery team. I will have the delivery made ready for departure. You will accompany the delivery team to the vollers, and stay with them until the Basher at the vollers takes charge of them.”

A lieutenant morosely leads them to the secure chamber. “Got a lot more security now. But I knew they would move them soon.” He opens the door, and moves in. The devils have retreated. The morose lieutenant sends people to get several boxes, including the clingfire, but not the bonewater dust.

Noah and Sr. Agnes are haughty towards the lieutenant, and he then makes no question when Iados heads to get the bonewater dust.

Two devils approach Iados, asking him his business and whether he bears a seal. He shows the emblem, and they allow him to pass.

The lieutenant and his 8 guards are carrying five caskets. They form up tightly around the caskets, with long spears to defend them.

Noah tells them that they have an urgent message to bring to the Zitrian vollers. The lieutenant sighs, but he acquiesces. The group approaches the voller tower for the Zitrian vollers. Because the group has orders to stay with the delivery at all times, they prevail on the lieutenant to go up into the Zitrian vollers with them.

Noah finds Fell and accompanies him to the captain. He then orders the ship to depart immediately, and for house marines to take custody of the delivery group.

The whole squadron begins leaving, but orders come from the main imperial flagship and order other vollers to cut them off.

Noah gets a speaking trumpet, and tries to intimidate the imperial vollers to leave them be for fear of the mighty weapons they carry. The imperial response is to open fire with siege weapons, though they do not hit.

The captain asks if there is a mage among them, and they indicate Ravokris. He then asks Ravokris to sit in the throne by the voller’s power boxes to speed up the ship. Ravokris does so, and the ship speeds up and begins pulling away from the escorts. The escorts begin to form a screen to protect them from the imperial vollers. He can also dimly see out of the voller all around him.

Sr. Agnes tells the group that the “devils” guarding the armory were demons taking on forms to look like devils. She also tells the lieutenant this, trying to convince him to switch sides, and Noah does as well.

She heals Ravokris as the helm drains first his magic, and then begins to suck out his very life. They keep healing him until the captain says that they are safe, after they have gained some 8 or 9 hours of advantage, despite having travelled for only about one hour.

The captain reports that his seal has gone dark—the Vaddess is dead, and Fell is now the Vad.

Noah dumps the bonewater dust into the ocean. It causes a swirling maelstrom, with occasional implosions under the water. He then dumps the clingfire, which begins to boil the ocean below.

They open the other caskets carefully. All the others are a green powder packed together until they form cylinders. It does not detect as evil—none of the caskets did, even the horrifying bonewater dust and clingfire.

Ravokris thinks that they are concentrated corruption.

Noah announces that they should throw the cylinders into the sea as well, but Sr. Agnes suggests that they should figure out what it is before they do something with it. Noah agrees, and they put them back away.

Noah thinks towards the SHH psion with the Inquisition. <<Bonewater dust and clingfire destroyed. Have recovered strange cylinders of green powder. The imperial vollers are distracted and disorganized. Strike now, while they are weak.>>

He gets back an affirmative feeling psionically.

The captain tells the Vad that they must continue on as there will still be pursuit. He orders them to fly over the Inquisition held territory, and then on to Princess Anastasia.

Noah asks if the Vad’s priest is onboard. He is. Noah asks if he can send a sending to his family and a sending to the Inquisition, and is told yes. He begins preparing the sendings.

He sends to the Inquisition: Weapons neutralized primarily, strange green dust with weapons, what should be done? Blood driven active likely supported by empress. Going to Anastasia, willing to aid.

The response is: Blessings on you. Be careful of green dust, sounds like a shadow weapon. Odd. Anastasia's success required for Hanal survival. Your service there is holy.

He then sends to his parents: We survived, Major weapons neutralized, queen empress is mad, Blood driven are active, we must seek Anastasia's aid, Possible rendezvous at Mt. _________.

He receives back: We will be there. Your brother reached us via smugglers 2 days ago. He will be with us. Your father agrees. We love you and friends.

25 Ta-Ghast
Ravokris casts identify on the green powder, after Sr. Agnes casts protection from evil on him.

“It’s a containment field that carries a condensed form of a disease from the Shadowland. Also, I think I have been infected.”

Sr. Agnes immediately casts remove curse and lesser restoration.

“These should not drop and explode. It would be bad. Many people would die,” he says.

They travel 790 miles to pick up Noah’s family, then 4420 miles to Princess Anastasia’s court in exile. That will be 3 and a little days to pick up Noah’s family, and then another 17 and change to get to the court in exile, so they will get there in 21 days—on the 14th of Chund.
[End session 28. There was a summer hiatus after this session, which also wrapped up the plot arc they had been on for several sessions, notwithstanding the somewhat anticlimactic resolution. Posting will continue without interruption.]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 29 (August 23, 2021)

28 Ta-Ghast
Noah agonizes about leaving Hanal behind—he’s deeply concerned about what the Blooddriven are doing in the capital. But recognizing the danger, the group proceeds onwards on the voller.

Uneventful day, uneventful night.

31 Ta-Ghast
A shout comes down from the crow’s nest during the day. “Boulder ahoy!”

They look in the direction the observer pointed, and they see a large, roughly round rock, being carried by something mostly transparent that seems to be enjoying carrying it.

“Hello?” says Noah.

“Ah! Mortals on a flying ship. Do you want a boulder?”

“What are you?”

“I am an air elemental, carrying my arch-nemesis, an earth elemental. I’m not quite sure what to do with him, but I have the advantage now.”

“Put me down!” cries a muffled voice.

They sail onwards after a brief conversation.

4 Chund
Another air elemental flies past. “Did you happen to see my cousin?”

“Yes, he was carrying an earth elemental.”

“I have to deliver instructions to him. He can’t just run off and play with his friends when there’s real matters of importance to deal with.”

5 Chund
They pass a raven flapping along with a leather hood on and a message scroll tied to its legs. Elyn considers shooting it, but since they don’t know whose it is or how to retrieve the message if they do, they let it go.’

9 Chund
Several djinn are floating along, seeming to have an argument about the glowing object they are carrying with them.

“Are you arguing about something?”

“The meaning of this omen. We cast it, and got a brilliant sun, two storm clouds, and a hungry griffin. But we don’t know how to interpret it.”

Noah tries to offer an explanation, and they resume arguing.

10 Chund
That night, in addition to the normal lights in the night sky and clouds and such, there is a cloud ahead that glows a slightly green glow.

Noah speculates to Ravokris that it might be fey. Ravokris says that it is not fey, but he does not know what it is. It is whispering to him, saying “You are going the wrong way. Turn aside. Depart.” He doesn’t like how it makes him feel.

Ravokris casts Detect Magic and finds powerful magic..

Noah makes a Wisdom save, and gets a critical success. He finds himself suddenly gasping. He warns the rest of the group.

Sister Agnes casts Detect Holy and Unholy, and detects unholiness.

Noah tries to change himself into a weremouse voluntarily.

The watch falls from the crow’s nest to the deck with a thump, He is blue-ish and not breathing.

Ravokris calls out to the cloud dramatically in Draconic, “In exchange for safe passage through this place, I offer the sacrifice of this weremouse.”

Iados slides to the deck and does not seem to be breathing. He is conscious, but can’t make himself breathe. He croaks out, “I think I’m suffocating. Help me!”

Elyn begins blowing new air into Iados’s lungs.

The cloud suddenly shifts into a humanoid form, moves at incredible speed, and rushes towards the ship. Sister Agnes is sure that it is a demonic entity, but not one that she would expect. It is associated with the Queen of Chaos, even though she has been imprisoned for years.

“A weremouse. How rare. How valuable.”

“My body is pretty much like any other humanoid.”

“Yes. It is your soul I want, as I was promised.”

Sr. Agnes casts Protection from Evil on Noah.

“I am happy to discuss terms, but…” Noah says.

“No! No deals with demons!” shouts Sister Agnes.

“Normally I’m all in favor of deals with devils,” says Elyn, “but we don’t know what type of devil this is.”

“I am no devil! I am a loyal demon in service to the Queen of Chaos and her ally, the Lord of the Ram.”

Noah swings a silver greatsword straight through it. It simply passes through.

“What will you offer in your place?” it asks him.

“Information! We know much of the activities of the cult of the altars of bone.”

It cocks its head.

“You will have to offer more than information that the Queen of Chaos already has.”

“I offer you weapons of mass destruction.”

“Weapons of mass destruction, made on the mortal realm, freely offered? I accept.”

“Buyer to collect, bastard.”

“That is fine. It is freely offered.” With a clap, the demon disappears, releasing everyone from the inability to breathe. The lookout, however, is quite dead—if not already dead, the fall finished him.

Sister Agnes suggests that Noah immediately contact the Inquisition, to warn them that the demon is coming. He does so. She also lectures them against dealing with demons.

12 Chund
They pass an enormous unkindness of ravens—some 4000—circling something on the ground.

14 Chund
They arrive in Canberry City and make their way to the embassy. The Vad arranges for a proper Paranswarmian funeral (overseen by the embassy’s clergy) for the lookout who fell to his death while unconscious.

Princess Anastasia welcomes them to her court.

They quickly meet with the Princess’s priest, who is with the Inqusition.

He asks for a report of the situation in the north.

Na-Strom Noah provides an account.

The Princess interrupts. “She has released the Blooddriven into the street?”

“Yes, and more. They are fed and permitted free run in the City.”

“And they appear to be directed and called by horns.”

“I sought to convince my mother to destroy them and to dispense with their role in the Festival of Blood. There are 300 of them—or were. They were never permitted to reproduce beyond that number. But only two were ever released in the Blood Rage—I take it more than two are now free?”

“We can verify that. We put paid to more than two, and others escaped.”

They also explain that there are possessing spirits used to keep nobles loyal.

They also discuss the cults, and their plan to prepare for an ascension. Noah speculates that they might be using the Blooddriven and perhaps other means to kill people to use the power of their deaths for the ascension.

The Princess gives each one a silver token of favor. She confirms the Vad’s lands in his possession and commiserates with the loss of his mother, who she knew well.

She informs them that the Archduke has made a townhouse available for their use. The Princess states that she should consult with the Archmage, the Duke of Snatterkaz, and the Church, but that more use will need to be made of them if they are willing.

Sr. Agnes also asks the priest to take their confessions and perform appropriate sacraments.
[End session 29]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 30 (September 5, 2021)

15 Chund
Noah attends court. There is a fair amount of coming and going, mostly of representatives of other countries who are concerned about the possible fate of Hanal.

Noah addresses the Princess and tells her that they had previously been doing mercenary work in the Spice Lands, where there were many stragglers of the Hanalian army there and also the orkish group that they made peace with. He suggests that it might be feasible to recruit them from the banner of the false Queen-Empress to her service.

“How strong was your sense of the hold that the Queen-Empress had on their officers?”

“They seemed loyal to her, but long-since eclipsed by loyalty to their troops, and many of the officers did not survive the battle.”

“So your sense is that these are free agents?”

“Primarily so. They may have some inclinations towards their own survival, but they are primarily free agents, trying to understand what’s next for them.”

The Princess calls out. “General?”

An armored figure approaches. “Your majesty. We could attempt to recover these troops, but if they have truly become mercenaries… we may be better off hiring Vultures. As much as I do not trust their steadiness, they are closer.”

“I do not want to leave any of my people abandoned in a foreign land.”

“Of course, your majesty. Young man—how many of them do you estimate survived? We know that four field armies of chivalry and two field armies of heavy infantry were in the army, but that they lost the battle.”

Noah weighs this, thinking about the fact that that represents some 30,000 regular troops plus auxiliaries. “I would wager that some 9000 survive, primarily from the heavy infantry. The chivalry took heavy casualties.”

“But you perceive no command and control structure in place?”

“It seems that they survive as a squad here, a company there. While they add up to 9000 in total, they are not a single united army.”

“It would take time to organize them, your majesty. I suggest that we send 100 people under your colors, by voller if our hosts will provide it, under your colors and perhaps those of the Kov of Snatterkaz. It will take time, but between loyalty and offer of payment, we might be able to gather some.”

Noah adds, “The last of our work as mercenaries was bringing spices north from the Spice Lands, from which we made a small fortune. I think that bringing the troops north with a large caravan of spices could make a good deal of money to support the cause.”

The group departs to their townhouse without a clear decision having been made.

* * *

Noah talks about the nightmares he has about people dying to the Blooddriven.

Iados raises the concern that some of the stragglers may be evil.

Noah turns to Ravokris. “You know elf stuff… wait, I don’t mean something like that. Do you think people here from the elves would be able to tell the high elves of the vollers in Hanal about the cultists shielding their altars with lead, so we could let them know about how they’re summoning creatures without the elves being able to find out about it?”

“One of the vollers I saw is from Singing Leaves. They have an embassy here in Canberry City.”

“Time to get our game face on. We need to get ready to go talk to the elves at the embassy without them thinking that we’re cultists when we talk about it.”

Noah drags Ravokris along to the Singing Leaves embassy.

Sr. Agnes heads to the lower city to engage in acts of charity and healing.

Iados heads out into the upper city and engages in shenanigans. He recruits someone to help him gin up a gambling game.

* * *

They approach the embassy of Singing Leaves and address the guards.

“Hail and welcome.”

“We’re here on behalf of the Hanalian Embassy.” Noah shows his token. “We have some things to tell you about the things you’re doing in Hanal.”

“Let me call for the House Captain.” After an elf in a starched clothing approaches, he continues, “these persons would wish to speak to the Ambassador.”

“Ah, do come in. And your names are?” The elf clearly is focused on Ravokris.

They introduce themselves, with Noah introducing himself as the bodyguard to Ravokris.

“Let me see if there’s a spot on the Ambassador’s schedule.”

The embassy is very elegant, with music being performed within. After a little while, he announces them to the Ambassador, who is in a courtyard with trees. The Ambassador is at a nine-foot tall crystal harp, and Ravokris believes him to be a Sea Elf.

“Cousin. What brings you to us?”

“We have information to bring you about the high elven vollers that have been active in Hanal. Firstly, we know about your mission fighting the cultists there. It goes deeper than you can imagine. The Queen-Empress serves the same master. It goes all the way to the top. Second, you know how you’ve been detecting evil altars and striking them from the skies? They’ve been hiding them under sheets of lead, so you can’t find them. You need to do something about that. Also, they’re planning an ascension.” Noah keeps babbling on, interspersing helpful things and random comments. He mentions both the removal of the bonewater dust and clingfire from the enemy.

The Ambassador addresses Ravokris psionically, and after verifying their bona fides, continues.

“We have a man-of-war and a schooner bombarding those cults. Also, our accursed cousins of the Kinslaying have an armada as well. We are well aware of who the cultists serve.”

Eventually, Noah greatly offends them by mentioning Morgrath.

“We do not say the name of the Enemy, nor the name of the enemy you struggle against.”

“We just say that we struggle against the false Queen-Empress of Hanal.”

“The Queen-Empress of Hanal serves the most ancient of evils. But I would not say their names, nor those of the lesser evils like the Betrayer. But I will not say the names of the Pariah Deities.”

“Do you know their names?”

“We know both their use names, and their given names. But I will not say them, because I do not wish to give them power. But I will tell you what their use names are, and tell you what we know of their plans, if your master gives his permission.”

He consults with Ravokris.

“There are three of them. They are that which directs this disaster in the North, they are that which directed the war in the Spice Lands, they are that which directed the attempt to invade an entire country that contains an ancient gate. They are called She of the Bones, who leads them; her companion is called the One Beside. And the third of their number, who we think may possibly be in the process of betraying them, is called the One Other. They have destroyed six planes on their way here, before we stymied them in the First Age.”

At that point, Noah wanders off. The Ambassador commiserates with Ravokris about the difficulties of dealing with Noah.

* * *

Iados distributes some coins as largesse is the lower city.

The Guild contacts him with hand signals. “Who are you, and why are you here?”

“Who are you?”

“I represent the Guild.”

“Prove it.”

“Come with me then to the under ways and I’ll prove it.”

Iados throws him a silver coin and dismisses him, and he heads away.

* * *

When Iados discusses this, Noah suggests that forging ties with the Guild could be useful to the court in exile.

The group discusses some more, and then decides to head to the Spice Lands to gather up the rest of the army that fought there.

The Princess Anastasia arranges a fairly quick voller trip to the Spice Lands, and then they will be on foot in the Spice Lands.
[End session 30]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 31 (September 19, 2021)
16 Chund

Noah gives the rest of the group armor with Hanalian symbology on it, and encourages them to wear it while representing Princess Anastasia.

The rest of the group largely agrees.

Noah also suggests using magic of Whimsey to disrupt their enemies.

The flight to Cese Mai is about 4100 miles, so it will take roughly 20 days. The Vad is accompanying them, taking his military voller.

Noah asks Ravokris whether he would be willing to use the helm again to make it speed up and Ravokris says that he is, but only as a last resort.

2 Tar-Chund
After 18 days of uneventful travel, while they are in the Spice Lands approaching Cese Mai, the lookout gives a strange cry (probably in the battle speech of the Vad’s house). The captain looks off the port side with a spyglass. He orders the voller to increase speed and for the crew to ready the ballistae.

They see a strange ship the like of which they have never seen. It has a strange bag of air floating above its deck, and the crew are humanoid ratpeople.

The Vad’s priest identifies it as a plague ship.

Noah suggests to Ravokris that this might be an emergency, and Ravokris grudgingly agrees. The captain says that at the current rate they are closing, it will take them 20 minutes to reach range of the disease globes.

When the skaven are almost within range, they come within view of one of the few vollers still in the air over the Spice Lands. That voller is an ordinary human-styled voller, but it is crewed by rakasta.

Noah asks, “Do you think that if we mirrored the rakasta voller’s broadside we could take it down?”

The captain replies, “We don’t even know how they fly—they have no black boxes to make them fly.”

The Vad’s priest speculates that puncturing the bag above it might help.

Two globes of disease burst on the deck, clearing both crews of the rear ballistae and killing two crewmembers.

The captain of the rakasta ship is obviously a paladin of Glordiadel, dressed in fancy clothes that are brilliantly white and trimmed in gold. They ram the rat ship. After some combat and some rat people are carried back, a robed rakasta throws a fire ball at the bag above the skaven. An enormous calamitous explosion erupts, and the flaming rat person ship plunges to the ground.

The rakasta ship is largely on fire, though still flying well.

“We must help that ship!” says Noah, and the vad agrees.

The rakasta captain reports that this is the third of those ships that they have downed in recent days, and that they will gratefully accept aid. The vad’s voller climbs up above them, and dumps drinking water on the burning ship, greatly aiding them in their firefighting.

They accompany the group’s voller back to Cese Mai.

4 Tar-Chund
As they travel, they note that many of the plantations have been reclaimed by the wilderness in the six months since they were last here. Cese Mai, however, seems to be rebuilding and repairing. The city also has several new mercenary groups augmenting its guard—recruited from some of the Hanalian remnants.

They return to the same inn that they stayed at before, where the innkeep is happy to see them.

Noah gives the innkeep a small bag of silver in thanks.

The innkeep reports that there is discussion of a permanent alliance with the South Kingdoms. Indeed, it is only since that has begun to be discussed the skaven have started attacking them. Some people fear that the skaven are preparing for an actual invasion. Even the bishop has started to become concerned. He suggests the group pay a courtesy call to the bishop, which they agree to.

They also note the presence of a person in the uniform of a lieutenant of the Hanalian infantry, eating with a local woman. Noah approaches him, and says that he represents the Queen-Empress-in-exile’s court and suggests that he and his allies rejoin the Hanalian cause to retake their homeland.

“I have taken service with the city, and though I remember fondly my homeland, I still do not understand why I was invading here in the first place—there is a fog about the whole thing. There is an encampment with perhaps a full legion; they have a ‘general’ commanding them, though I am sure he was no more than a captain before they were captured. They have since been given their liberty—you might talk to their leader. As for me… we are to be married in six months. I do not intend to return.”

Randall the Purified is both the archbishop of Glordiadel and the regent for young Henry, the titular ruler. Randall is new as archbishop; there was a different archbishop six months ago. It’s slightly awkward that he is both archbishop and a member of the royal household, but since he will not remain as regent, it’s accepted.

5 Tar-Chund
About half a day’s ride out from the city, the group approaches an encampment. There are fields being worked outside the encampment. There are also people keeping watch.

Noah greets them, tells them that he is Hanalian, of the same blood and history as them, and that with their aid they can retake their homeland, and that his plan could make them all rich.

They say that they must speak to the general, but that they can show him to them. (Noah gives them each 5 silver as largesse.) They travel across hoed fields where new plants are growing.

“They let us out of the prison eventually, and you gotta eat. Can’t blame them for holding us for a while—we killed a lot of their civilians. I don’t know why.”

They find the general, who is also doing work in the fields.

He recognizes Noah’s heraldry.

Noah tells him that Hanal’s higher-ups have degenerated into an even greater evil and depravity, and that he has entered the service of the Princess Anastasia’s court in exile. He also tells the general that the Queen-Empress has entered alliance with the most vile and evil cult.

The general is surprised to hear that the Princess Anastasia lives. “We had been told, when we were marched through the strange light, that she had been murdered by assassins…”

“She still lives. We believe that her enemies wanted her thought dead.” They show the general the tokens of the Princess.

Noah describes the group’s success as mercenaries escorting spices north. He suggests that they could make a deal with the remaining plantations, and carry the spice north to support the retaking of Hanal.

“We were sent here to capture an artifact. You know—there are at least a few other groups. I will happily join you. I was not meant to be a farmer. That is not something my family did in Hanal City. I will follow you, but we are only 1000 men. You will need more than that.”

“We also know of a group of orcs that I hope that we can bring in.”

“There are several other groups of a few hundred each, with their own officers, that we could not bring in. Some have turned bandits. Others simply remain separate.”

Noah talks about bringing them in. He also talks about uniting them with the Inquisition army and support from other allies, and mentions that they have destroyed the most dangerous of the false Queen-Empress’s weapons.

The general is very interested.

Suddenly, two tiny darts strike Noah and Ravokris. They each need to make poison saves, which Noah makes easily (taking 13 points of damage) and Ravokris fails, collapsing unconscious but only taking 9 points of damage.

Iados and Elyn see that one of the farmers nearby who was just hoeing, is slipping the blow gun back into the handle of his hoe.

Elyn tries to treat Ravokris, and Sister Agnes casts Lesser Restoration to heal the poison. Noah is stomping around the fields trying to find the assassin but ineffectually.

Sister Agnes says, “I will heal Ravokris. You must find the assassin before he strikes again.”

Elyn whispers, “It’s that man over there, pretending to be a farmer.”

“I suggest you head in his general direction as if you don’t know where he is, and then take him alive.”

Elyn follows the plan and grabs him suddenly.

He is taken by surprise by the grapple, but calls out “For the Queen-Empress and the Bones!” and spits at her, with teeth flying out of his mouth as he does, probably the verbal component of a spell. Elyn dodges her face out of the way.

Noah searches for a second assassin—two darts, two assassins, he reasons.

Iados shoots the grappled assassin with him, hitting him for 16 points of damage.

Sister Agnes detects poison and disease, and detects disease and poison. She sees another one with disease and poison in his hoe moving stealthily towards the general. She interposes herself and denounces the assassin. Noah rushes him, grabs him, and throws him to the ground.

Noah starts threatening him as he holds him down. The assassin repeats the same words and spits at him, but Noah makes his save easily.

Noah keeps punching the one he has captured in the face. He seems remarkably durable, though—his face seems to bend around Noah’s fist.

Elyn also notes that the one that Iados shot, which Sister Agnes stabilized, is slowly losing his form.

“How much does the Queen-Empress know?”

“She knows that we failed; she knows that you are here, for we have seen you.”

The general’s medic attends to Ravokris and murmurs, “Those are imperial intelligence, sure as I’m alive.”

Sister Agnes sees that there is clear, glistening ichor from the wound. “I think they’re doppelgangers.”

Noah tries to get them to switch sides. They agree. He suggests that they could be useful for the Princess Anastasia’s intelligence apparatus and asks Sister Agnes if she can put them in a zone of truth. She agrees to do so the following day.

Sister Agnes removes poison and disease from both Ravokris and Noah, and points out that they may be obligated to turn them over to the Archbishop.
[End session 31]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 32 (October 3, 2021)

6 Tar-Chund
They plan for the interrogation of the doppelgangers. Noah will be good cop, Elyn bad, and Iados will pretend to be a secret infiltrator serving the Queen-Empress.

Sr. Agnes casts zone of truth. They both fail.

“What are your names, you two?”

“Corporal Fredrick. He’s Lonzo.”

“How long have you worked for the Queen-Empress?”

“Her advisor spoke to us before we traveled south with the advisor, and he gave us instructions.”

“Were you doppelgangers before you left Hanal?”

“No, the priest of the Pale Bone gave us a silver liquid to drink. It hurt tremendously and changed us… You don’t want to ever drink that liquid. We were to maintain loyalty to the Queen-Empress.”

“Were you telling the truth when you offered to switch sides?”

“Yes. We have no love for the Queen-Empress after what she did to us. But who wants a doppelganger?”

“What can you tell us about the advisor? What did he look like?”

“Very pale—ivory white, you might say. And he looked like what the stories say that elves look like—I’ve never met an elf, mind you.”

Ravokris tells the rest that the Noldar—the first elves to switch to Morgrath—and their chief servants, the twilight elves and the shadow elves would match that description. The advisor now clearly serves only the Goddess of the Pale Bone.

They don’t know who any of the other doppelgangers were, but they did see 14 vials. Their vials were smashed after they drank the potions, so they wouldn’t know if there were vials before that. The group presumes that there must be at least 14, possibly more doppelgangers.

“Do you have any loyalty to the Goddess of the Pale Bone?”

“No, we hate her for making the potion we drank, but we are compelled to serve. Any of her greater servants can force us to obey them, and we would have no choice.”

“Did you report to anyone? Any leader in the field?”

“We used to—there was a lieutenant in the command group—but not since the great battle. The soldiers we met were tougher than we expected.”

“Where is the command group now?”

“All dead.”

“What was the army’s objective?”

“There was an artifact in Seachen we were to capture. We never reached it though—we couldn’t break through.”

“Are there any doppelgangers like you infiltrated into the Princess Anastasia’s council?”

“No.”

“I think we can trust them.”

“You shouldn’t trust us! We can be compelled to obey any of the Goddess of Pale Bone’s greater servants!”

* * *
They spend a while discussing what to do next.

They decide to send Iados out with Mitsuki and Ravokris’s familiar crab as a scouting group, trying to find the orc community they met the last time they were in the Spice Lands, while the rest of the group travels along more slowly with a supply wagon.

Shortly after Iados heads off, several people notice that there is something shimmery in the forest, making the whole forest seem a little shiny.

Iados speculates that this is about fairies, talking to Ravokris’s crab.

Once the rest of the group points out the shininess, Sr. Agnes casts detect good and evil, and senses a diffuse holiness in the woods about them, but concentrated on the path ahead of them.

Ravokris advocates going to the Sunken Lands, because a whispering voice told him this in his ear.

They follow the path, which slowly turns over the course of several days, during which they encounter nothing dangerous. They come to the banks of a great river, but the path continues directly over it, sparkling all the way. Noah hacks at a tree to try to make a bridge of sorts. A voice starts criticizing him as soon as he starts cutting, and tells him to take the magic bridge instead. “I know her pretty well, being a brownie and all.”

After some discussion, they cross the magic bridge. As the last of them finish crossing the river, the sparkles behind them disappear.

They proceed onwards. After night falls, a large table drops out of the sky, and a variety of dishes drop onto the table without spilling a drop.

Noah says, “Well, this is very nice. Thanks Whimsey! Or whoever the patron of this is. Compliments to the chef, that’s what I mean.”

Sister Agnes heads to the far side of the road, eats cold rations, and reads scriptures of the Weeping Woman. After Noah notices, he stops eating and comes across and joins her.

After another 12 days of travel, with a table of food dropping each evening, they come to the edge of the Sunken Lands.

18 Tar-Chund
They have a tremendous vista on a canyon hundreds of miles wide and long. A long stone staircase switches back and forth down into the canyon. The staircase is cut stone, but ancient. The group follows it down. The deep, jungly forest below has different trees from anywhere else. They are palms and tropical fruit trees, heavy with fruit. When they reach the bottom, the path continues, but the sparkles are gone.

Noah knocks on several trees, calling out to any fairies or spirits within, but gets no response. Iados cuts open a fruit, and takes a nibble, finding that it tastes very good. It seems larger and more pure than any they have seen before. Elyn noted two separate pairs of hooves that have moved away very rapidly. They look like they ran, but since they are clearly separate pairs on opposite sides of the path, they must be two bipedal, hooved creatures.

There are birds and a small number of other animals in the forest, and there are signs of fruit that has been eaten by the animals. Iados leaves a small cut of food on the ground and a small lizard comes forward and eats it.

As they proceed along the trail, a humanoid figure with goat legs, covered in splotches of paint and carrying a staff with a multicolored spray of flowers at the top steps out of the woods into the trail.

“Hello!” says Noah.

“Hail!” says the satyr.

“Why did the great Whimsey lead us here?”

The satyr nods deeply at Whimsey’s name. “You look for lost ones?”

“Lost ones?”

“Lost people. In armor. Deep in jungle, in sleeping cloths.” The satyr continues to answer, in broken Common.

“Is there anything dangerous in the forest?”

“Yes. Green. Dangerous. Big like me.” He makes a gesture with many fingers.

“Oh, like skitter-skitter web.”

“Yes.”

“What is your name?” asks Noah.

The satyr jumps back, looking afraid and horrified.

“No, not your true name. What can I call you?”

“Witchdoctor.”

Iados asks. “If you don’t mind, could you give us an explanation of the forest and its people?”

“Ah. History! Many many turns ago, rock, big rock, sunken lands. Then: trees grow, brush grows, life comes, we follow, cousins follow, cousins follow. Then, many fear. Because of. Others fear because of,” gestures spiders. “We ask our Lady for protection.”

“What happened to the rock?”

“Other end of Sunken Lands. We make offerings of fruit and flowers to make it never move again.”

After some discussion, they figure out that “cousins” means centaurs.

“Do you know who cut the stairs? They do not seem like either satyr work or centaur work.”

“Short ones! Fur on faces. Very strong.”

“Dwarves?”

He nods. “They come. They want rock that made place. Say very valuable. Lady talk to them. Lady talk to their holy one. She tell him they should leave. Their holy one tell them. They very mad, but they go.”

They also tell us that the spiders came 500 years ago, crawling down the wall without stairs. If they get too numerous, they would drink all their blood. But they don’t want to try to kill them all because they are part of nature.

Noah asks, “What happen if Big Lady not keep you safe?”

“We die.”

“Why would you die? Why would you not live like the others of your kind?”

“Others? There others?”

“Yes. And there is a great kingdom of your cousins.”

He is clearly surprised.

Noah worries that the big rock might be part of the Goddess of Pale Bone’s plans. He asks to be shown to big rock after they see the Hanalian refugees. The witchdoctor says that the Big Lady won’t mind if they see the rock—as long as they don’t try to take it.
[End session 32]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 33 (October 17, 2021)

19 Tar-Chund
As they head to the Hanalian refugee encampment, Noah asks the satyr leading them who is in charge, so they might be able to set up embassies. The satyr is confused by the whole concept and says that they don’t need to talk with anyone. Noah also suggests that they could get involved in fights up in the lands above.

Eventually, they reach some armored men guarding the path. The group approaches, with Noah and Iados in the lead.

“Halt!”

“Greetings. We mean you no harm and bring you good news.”

“Oh?”

“There’s fruit!” interjects Iados.

“The true Queen-Empress is willing to recruit you all, and lead you out of this valley to reclaim Hanal.”

“The Queen-Empress sent us here!”

Noah keeps trying to recruit them, but they think he’s trying to turn them against the Queen-Empress.

Sister Agnes interjects, arguing that a Queen-Empress condemned by the Holy Inquisition for demonism can’t be the Queen-Empress. They seem confused and suggest that they talk to the colonel.

The encampment is well-ordered and consists of several hundred troops. Noah estimates that it’s the remnants of a single field army, though obviously mostly

The colonel is an older man, with a favor in green on his breast. He mentions that they are trapped by mists—whenever they try to leave, they enter mists, which turn them around and lead them back to the encampment. He assumes that it must be a magic effect, but their magi are all dead and their priest can’t dispel it.

Noah tells him that they serve the Princess Anastasia, and that they think they could lead the army out. They begin telling him about the civil war, and the Holy Inquisition’s siding against the Queen-Empress for her demonism. The colonel calls for his priest, who is haggard and overworked.

“If we are to accept this… then we must be loyal to the rightful heir, though I find it hard to even think that.”

“The usurper has powerful magic to control the mind, as well as assassins among the army units to maintain their loyalty.”

“What do you propose then?”

Noah explains his plan.

The colonel is agreeable, but they keep being turned back by the mists—both when they attempt to climb the stairs and when they attempt to send scouts up the cliffs.

Sr. Agnes suggests that the mists may not impede them if they are trying to leave to follow the Princess Anastasia.

They agree, and when they try to leave this time, the mists do not block them, but then form behind the army to shepherd them out.

Whimsey plays around with them: Noah grows a prehensile tail. Iados begins sprouting bat wings. Sr. Agnes responds by putting on a spiked bracelet, twisting it against her wrist, and praying quietly to the Weeping Woman while engaged in some mild mortification.

Elyn notices some compound eyes up ahead. They keep going, and then the spider charges them.

Elyn shoots it with her bow as it charges, hitting it for 5 damage. Iados gets knocked forward by the spider onto a trap on the road, and he plunges down a chute.

Ravokris burns it with a fire bolt. Sr. Agnes casts beacon of hope. Noah bounces his blade off its chiton with the first attack, and then hits with the second. The solifugid bites Noah.

Ravokris burns it with a scorcher, and Noah stabs it repeatedly. Sr. Agnes heals Noah for 12, and then the solifugid hits Noah twice, one critically. Noah takes 43 points of damage.

Iados at the bottom of the chute is surrounded by animal bones. But he also sees 4 glowing spheres off to the side. Elyn comes down to join him, and identifies those as eggs. She also concludes that they’re close to hatching.

They finally kill the spider. Noah tries to cut out its venom glands, and successfully recovers one.

Elyn and Iados light the area below on fire, burning up the eggs.
[End session 33]
 

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