Aphonion Tales: Ravenskrag and the Shadowline, a preteen D&D game (unedited notes, updates Thursdays, updated 5/19/22)

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 39 (November 7, 2021)

11 Ta-Ghast
Aleep proposes using the Bowl of Memories to see if they can identify how Nandor is cheating.

The group agrees, and they try to put their memories (including Archibald Ambrose’s) in. They watch the memory repeatedly and then Runor notes a very faint misty white hand turn the dice. It’s whispy around the outside edges, and the only thing they see appear is the hand. Runor suspects that it might be an undead spirit, trapped in the ethereal plane, interacting a little.

The group talks about this; it’s a surprising amount of capability devoted to such a minor task, but it would make sense as an intelligence tactic. Luring people into debt is a standard spy tactic. Runor wonders whether Nandor might be a spy working for the Shadowlands; Nandor might also be working for the vampire lord, Lord Acoldima.

The group decides to split up. Two people, Aleep and Ashaltir, stay at the house, ready to respond to a problem. Merreep and Runor travel outside the town to search for any signs of the enemy group in the area surrounding the town. They head back towards the area where the vampire spawn was, trying to scout around carefully to see if there are zombies or anything like that near where they found the original vampire. Ulgorio and Bartix head to the tavern outside the city walls to see if they observe anything during the day.

Runor thinks that there’s something wrong as they’re traveling around. But Merreep notices that there is no noise—no birds, no animals, no bugs. As they head back towards the town, they see a young man in a tree with a bow. He hops down, approaches carefully, and speaks to Runor. “I could hear you coming for the last several miles. Can’t you move quieter? You’re scaring away all the game.”

“Hello. We’re trying to figure out what’s going on in this area.”

“A lot’s going on in this area, I’ll tell you. Just the other day, my dad was out hunting, and he was attacked by a bear that was dead. That’s not something that happens very often. Been a lot of weird stuff recently.”

“Did the bear seem to be smarter than usual?”

“That one didn’t but the bear that came to Da’s rescue seemed smarter than the average bear, and he killed the dead bear. You’re going to think that I’m crazy…”

“We might, but we’ve seen similar things.”

Meanwhile, back at the inn, Ulgorio and Bartix pretend to drink, but don’t really and keep a watch on things. About 1 in the afternoon, a man who is obviously attempting to disguise himself and failing miserably comes in. He has a wig on backwards, a large fake nose, and looks like a buffoon. He approaches the tavernkeep and speaks to her. She says that he can’t stay there, and he is very frustrated. “Where am I to stay then? I can’t go in to the town—the other inn won’t have me. But I can’t move on to the next safe point. I won’t get there in time.”

“And they won’t have you because of the 50 weasels that got loose.”

“Look. I’ll give you 5 silver. It’s all I got.”

“I know it’s not all you got, but I won’t do it. What if the weasels got loose here?”

She eventually drags him over to Ulgorio and Bartix. “This is my useless one time husband, Bernard the Buffoon, a jester without a court. If you want to talk to someone who has been everywhere across the continent and beyond the seas and gained no wisdom whatsoever, talk to Bernard.”

“Do you know a man named Nandor?”

“You are friends of Nandor?”

“Why do you seem so concerned?”

“I knew Nandor before he took up with his master—the strange man in old-fashioned clothes. I used to perform in a public house in Easthaven, where he gambled. Sometimes he won, sometimes he lost, but he made a living at it. And then one day this gentleman came in with antique clothes, only after night, with a cane with a head of ivory, and asked to join the game. There were four of them that played that night. By the end of that night, the man had taken everything they had. The two others laughed and left when told to pay their debts, but Nandor agreed to pay their debts and his own, because the man said they would be dead by dawn if they didn’t pay their debts. I think he works for him now. And his eye wasn’t like that before.”

When they mention that Nandor is sometimes seen here, he takes off immediately.

Later, the group meets up in the tavern. A pair of heavily armored men enter, ask if this is the inn, are told that it’s not and given directions to the inn, and then head off there.

A little while later, the serving boy from the inn enters and approaches the group. “Did you send friends over?”

“No.”

“They’re in your room. Da sent me over to tell you.”

The group heads back to the inn to deal with them.

They travel to the inn, where they find people ransacking their rooms. One of them identifies himself as Sergeant Major Devin Cleary and asks if one of them is the priest Runor. When Runor confirms that he is, he says, “You must die,” and flings something at Runor. Runor deflects it, and it explodes against the ceiling. Runor casts Inflict Wounds on the sergeant major and drops him immediately.

The corporal eventually surrenders, when he realizes that he has been sent to attack a priest of Glordiadel. They were sent from Ravenskrag with a message; the corporal thinks that he was carrying a message seeking to buy weapons from the Eastern Trade Federation to then resell to Tarkenia. The message is missing. The corporal describes a stranger in antique clothes who approached them while they were camping.

The group saves the sergeant major’s life, and as they do, they notice twin puncture marks on his neck. They conclude that he must have been attacked by the vampire and mind controlled.

The general worries that this is a deliberate effort to disrupt supply lines to the Shadowline, and offers the group a passel of potions and an offer of substantial support and money if they can bring him the head of the vampire.
[End session 39]
 

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CPaladin

Explorer
Session 40 (November 20, 2021)

11 Ta-Ghast (late afternoon)
They try to wake the Sergeant-Major by splashing water on him.

He wakes, with no memory of what happened or how he got here. He remembers speaking to the man in antique clothing, but nothing since then. He’s very concerned about the missing message bag, which had both a message in it and a draft for 25,000 sp. They were with a whole detachment of horsemen—they have no idea what happened to them.

“I can’t imagine telling the Vizier’s secretary that we were under mind control when someone walked off with… they’ll think we stole it!”

“Who was the draft on?”

“The government of the city-state of Ravenskrag. Well, there’s nothing for it now. We have to find the men who stole the draft…” They also realize that they went out of their way to get here, but they’re not sure exactly where they are until the group explains that they are in Freetown. They were traveling up the main road north to the coast—they arrived roughly 375 miles out of their way, having traveled the intervening distance in two days.

The group suspects that they must have been teleported here, because they could not have possibly crossed that distance on horseback, or even on a voller.

“Why did they take the draft, though?”

Runor says, “I have a theory. They may want to make you sell your soul away, desperate for the money.”

The group also thinks that it might be a political machination intended to create a war—angering the Eastern Trade Federation by attacking its knights, while angering Ravenskrag by stealing the draft and killing some of their soldiers. It was a small detachment—8 total, including the two noncoms who are here.

The group speculates that they may have been set up by the secretary to the Vizier; the secretary gave them their orders directly, showing them the seal of the Vizier (who is the ruler of Ravenskrag’s right-hand man).

They never saw the draft; it was in a sealed bag. It was supposed to be delivered to one of the major trading merchants at the docks.

Aleep detects magic, and can find lingering enchantment on him, but no ongoing magic. They untie the sergeant-major.

The sergeant-major and the corporal are both famished, as if they haven’t eaten in two days.

Aleep uses the memory bowl to try to get images of the Vizier’s secretary, a prim, well-dressed man, with a pointed beard, with the Vizier’s seal. There are a few occasions when there’s a shimmery appearance to him in the memory—just once or twice. The seal also shimmered. Aleep thinks this is consistent with illusion magic being used.

When Aleep tries to get a clear vision of the vampire, he gets a very brief flash of an elegantly garbed man in out of style clothing, rapidly approaching from out of the darkness, and then everything becomes blurred.

He also recovers some in between memories—the campfire is now out, the other soldiers are scattered about, with one of them twisted and broken. They are then led by hands into the broken down old tower by the road. They then reappeared in the forest, about a day’s travel out from Free Town, and made their way here as quickly as they could, now alone.

The sergeant-major asks if Runor could write a letter explaining what happened to the bishop of Ravenskrag, who he thinks would believe him.

The group discusses what to do. Runor thinks they should go to the old tower that we saw in the memories to try to track down the vampire (and possibly find teleportation equipment). Ulgorio agrees. But that would represent weeks of travel, so Mereep suggests we wrap up the Nandor matter first, then go. The group decides to deal with Nandor first, tonight, then to travel with the sergeant-major and the corporal to the tower, and then likely on to Ravenskrag.

That evening, Aleep as “Helmut” goes to the gambling game, with Mereep, Ulgorio, and Bartix keeping a watchful eye. Runor and Ashaltir stay back at the inn with the soldiers of Ravenskrag. Archibald Ambrose is in the tavern as well. There are six or eight observers this time, after dark by a bit, when Nandor comes in, buys a round for the room, and comes over to the game.

Bartix notices something, but he can’t let Aleep know without tipping off the whole room. He quietly tells everyone else: there are three heavily armed people in the room, with carefully concealed weapons, two men and a woman. One of them has a garrote in her hair, along with light armor concealed under fine clothes. The other two have other weapons concealed on their persons. All of them stick out as strangers in these parts, and they are flicking small hand signals at each other while they watch the game. At first, Aleep is winning, and he excitedly buys a round for the table and then starts raising the stakes. He wins some more, and then Nandor pulls out some gold, which shocks the room and causes several people to drop out of the game. Aleep makes a show of hesitating… and then commits to playing on at the even higher stakes.

Aleep immediately loses at the higher stakes, rolling several times before being wiped out. Aleep says, “Double or nothing! Helmut is good for it!” after checking his pouch to make a show of not having any more money.

Nandor agrees with a smile, and of course, Aleep loses again.

They then have a conversation about working things out, as Aleep says, “Helmut doesn’t have the money now—but he can get it!”

A woman with a garrote in her hair saunters over to Ulgorio. “Cousin. I know that we walk something of the same path. You and your companions… do you have difficulty with the Guild in East Haven, or are you free of disagreement with them?”

“I don’t think we have any problems with them.”

“Then tell me what you saw, as you watched this. And I will tell you what we saw. We looked for magic, and we saw none. We looked for sleight of hand, and we saw none. We have traveled for weeks to be here, because word reached us that he is… making servants out of young men that lose their money to him. And such a thing, without the Guild, is forbidden. He has no Guild marker. We can’t intervene if he used no forbidden techniques, but if he did, we must defend our territory. What did you see? Did he use any means to fix the game?”

Ulgorio says, “No?” He’s wary and doesn’t want to share information with them.

Merreep says, “Is there any way we can know you are trustworthy?”

“I am not trustworthy, but if you have no difficulties with the Guild, we have no problem with you. But we saw nothing. No magic, no sleight of hand, and no psionics. And our Guildmaster sent us to investigate, to find out what’s happening. Why? We don’t know. You have my sworn word upon blood and iron that I’m not your enemy, nor do we have any ill-designs upon you or the poor young man over there. It can’t be honest, yet we can’t see how.”

Merreep whispers to Ulgorio, “Should we tell them? I don’t see any reason we shouldn’t.”

Ulgorio thinks and then agrees.

Aleep tells Nandor a story about being a mercenary sorcerer, keeping up the story of “Helmut.” He agrees to do work for Nandor.

“There are older villages in these lands. One days’ travel northwest of here, there is an old tower or the ruins of one. Take this talisman to it. There is a metal plate with runes on it. Slot the talisman into it, and step on the plate. It will carry you to another tower, where you . There is a whole network of them, the master may teach you how to use all of it. It has been forgotten by all but the Hastur, and they do not care. And then I must leave—your friends are talking to some people who do not like me, and I must go before they have words with me.”

“They are more like acquaintances than friends. But they also do mercenary work. Should I try to hire them as well?”

“Yes, do that. Lord Acoldima could use more useful mercenaries. Have them each remove and replace the talisman, but quickly—it will crumble to dust once it has been untouched for 20 heartbeats. It will bring you to the Lord, and you and they will be well compensated.”

He then disappears suddenly and with no warning.

Moments before, Ulgorio tells the representatives of the Thieves’ Guild about the ghost that Nandor is using. They are then shocked to see Nandor disappear, and they quickly head back, mostly frustrated to not have accomplished their mission (and sure than Nandor will not return to this village after he saw them) but glad to know how he’s cheating to report that back.
[End session 40]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 41 (January 15, 2022)

12 Ta-Ghast
The group decides to head to the tower with the teleportation device. They ask the sergeant-major and the corporal to come with them, which they immediately agree to, since they want to know more about the teleportation towers. They decide to travel on foot, to make it easier to be less obvious and more stealthy.

The forest is thicker and wilder once they get out of the area around the town. There’s also a darker feel to it, to the rangers.

They approach at the end of the day the ruins of a tower. It’s basically just the first floor of a tower, with an open doorway, and a magical plate in the middle.

Merreep suggests that they might use disguises.

Aleep examines the magic plate. It’s clearly magical, with runes written in a relative of Elven (though older than the language Merreep has ever used); it sparkles in Merreep and Ashaltir’s vision, though not in anybody else’s. There are clearly multiple destinations, but they can’t tell how many or how to select them. There is conjuration magic embedded in the plate, as well as some other magical effect that Aleep can’t identify.

Ulgorio has comprehend language, so he casts the spell and begins reading the runes. He gets the feeling of a spider web as he reads it. He gets 15 distinct phrases, set up as if they were a poem, but they don’t rhyme, either in translation or in the original. The phrases are things like “Blue top rock,” and “overlook” and “vine home.” Full list:

Vinehome (shines)
Blue-topped Rock
The Road
The Overlook
The Cavern of Spiders
The Oldway
The Cemetary
The Farway
The Castle
The Dip
The Nearby
The City
The Frontier

The one labeled “Vinehome” shimmers differently than the others.

As he reads them, he sees a flash between two of them, but neither of them is Vinehome. It could be a map, maybe, in a spider web. He guesses that the one labeled “the road way” might be where the soldiers were taken from. Aleep speculates with concern that it might be Drowan—elves who use a language different from Merreep and are associated with spiders.

Aleep also tells him various place names, trying to see if any of them translate to match the nodes.

Suddenly, Ulgorio sees two of the nodes—Vinehome and the node at the top right—light up. He mentions that to the rest and Aleep shouts, “Is someone teleporting here! Hide!” as he dives for cover.

Everyone hides. A second later, the platform glows and two men in very archaic uniforms appear suddenly. They look around, see no one, and then step out and flank either side of the doorway. A second later, a mage, also in very archaic robes, steps through between them and doesn’t even look. He breathes a deep breath. “We must make our way quickly to the village. Our lord wants a new reconnoiter, and I will give him a new reconnoiter. That damnable vampire.”

The uniforms had heraldry on them—it’s archaic, different from the heraldry of both old House Fooblu and of the vampire in the memory of the soldiers.

After they have left, Aleep asks Ulgorio if “Drow,” “Mordhel,” or “Noldar” sound like anything. Ulgorio says that they mean, “Dark Elves,” “Savage Elves,” and “Majesty and Terror,” respectively—very consistent with this language being Drowan or some close relative.

At this point, it’s evening, and the group withdraws into the woods, able to watch the tower but some distance away, and makes a cold, hidden camp.

Runor also reports that the tower was clearly neither human nor dwarven work, and that the stones were made to fit together like puzzle pieces, which suggests magic was used to shape them.

At the end of the night, after dawn but before sunrise, Bartix sees two groups of humanoids, much cleaner and dressed archaically, run up to the tower and check it out. After they check it out, they form up, and two humans, also dressed archaically and carrying parasols, walk up, shielding an emaciated human in the same archaic clothes, and wearing the heraldry that he thinks is of Lord Acoldima. They all pass through. Bartix wakes people in time for them to see the group teleporting out, first the emaciated human, then the other humans.

Ulgorio rushes up and comprehends language, and sees that Vinehome and The Castle are both glowing, with The Castle indicated as the destination. Also, examining the token that the group was given, he sees that it says “The Castle” in the same script.

13 Ta-Ghast
Aleep comes up with a dangerous plan: prestidigitating a token that says “The Road” on it, passing through, then making a token that says “Vinehome” on it and attempting to return. The group agrees, and agrees that Aleep and the sergeant-major should go. They teleport through, confirm that The Road is the tower north of Ravenskrag, and return.

Shortly after they return, another figure, again dressed in archaic robes, teleports through.

“I salute you in the name of the ancient city of Ulfarshan! Have you declared a faction? I don’t think any of you have from the way you’re dressed. Let’s see… two rangers, a bard, and a priest of one of the young gods.”

Runor bristles at the idea of Glor’diadel being a young god, but the man keeps talking.

“You are a dwarf, are you not?”

“I am…”

“Excellent, excellent. Your kind were only beginning to emerge when we sequestered ourselves.”

“Are you a drow?”

“No, the Great Ones left us long ago. I am a human. But the Great Ones made the network long ago, and Ulfarshan was founded by the Great Ones.”

The group decides to travel back to the capital of the Eastern Trade Federation to tell the Dogaressa about this and to discuss an embassy to Ulfarshan.
[End session 41]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 42 (January 29, 2022)

14 Ta-Ghast
The group heads back towards Mina Talen te Conde, expecting the trip to take 5 days.

The first two days are entirely peaceful.

16 Ta-Ghast
As they’re traveling, Merreep hears a great deal of deep grunting in the brush. She proceeds forward and checks to see what it is, and she sees two enormous boars, with two smaller boars hiding behind them. She backs away slowly.

The rest of the group follows her example. They give them a wide berth and work their way around carefully, and the rest of the day passes without incident.

18 Ta-Ghast
After some more uneventful travel, they reach the city in the evening. The East Haven troops are now here, reinforcing the city.

Runor rushes across the city to the cathedral. The rest of the group slowly jogs after him casually, keeping pace easily.

When they reach the cathedral and head in, Runor heads straight to the bishop.

“Runor! You’re back.”

“It’s been a while.”

“It has.”

“We’re currently dealing with a vampire problem, and thus we think holy water should be produced as quickly as possible.”

“You’re telling me that there are many undead.”

“Many undead, and it seems that there is a group of vampires and other unholy creatures working around this location.”

“I’ll see what I can do. How much were you thinking?”

“Enough that any adventurer going out can have more than a little with them. Also, there’s something of a cult. Recruiting people through gambling debt.”

“This was working for the greater vampire that calls himself Lord Acoldima.”

“Some vampires have charms… perhaps this is part of that, or it’s strengthening its charm powers.”

Aleep says, “Sergeant-major, perhaps sergeant-major should tell bishop about his experience.”

The sergeant-major describes his experience. They discuss the teleportation network with the bishop.

The bishop expresses concern that, if one of the nodes is beyond the Shadowline, it could be a strategic weakness, allowing for the Shadow to cross the Shadowline in an attack. He also calls for some scholars.

“Acoldima, does that name mean anything to you?”

“I’ve seen the name in the histories, but it predates the Trade Federation. Acoldima resisted the formation, and was, I believe, eradicated. It would have to be someone else using the name.” The scholar goes to research them.

“Aleep and his friends also saw ancient heraldry, both of Acoldima and of some other group.” Aleep prestidigitates images.

“I think I recognize one of those as an old, old house, though Acoldima’s would have been stricken from the records. Perhaps I can find the other one in the records.” One of the scholars goes to check.

They discuss the “keys” used to activate the teleportation network.

The bishop says, “So they require a device to be made to work?”

“Aleep and his friends need to use a device to make them work,” says Aleep. “We saw someone else activate them without using a device, and without casting a spell.”

“Perhaps psionics, then?” says the scholar. “Especially if they have a connection to the elves… the elves have more psionic power than humans.”

“The writing on the network seemed like a sort of Elven, though not the Elven that Merreep can read. But it seemed like the elves who made the network were not drow, but were friendly with drow. And if they viewed dwarves as young, they likely sequestered themselves in the First or Second age.”

The scholar requests a copy of the writing on the brass plate to attempt to both translate it and identify its origins.

“You’ve done the faith a great service, Father Runor. I would ask that you go now to report to the Dogaressa as you have reported to me, and then return on the morrow.”

The group then travels to the Dogaressa’s palace. They are immediately recognized of course, and ushered through immediately to meet with the Dogaressa herself.

“Ah, you return.”

They report on what they have discovered, starting with the story of Nandor.

“I’m going to ask you to escort the new ambassador to Ulfershan. I then must ask you to take the dangerous road of mapping the other nodes on this pathway. Not only for purposes of trade, but for the sake of the Gods and Goddesses, for the sake of protecting us strategically.”

The Dogaressa gives each of them 200 silver pieces.

19 Ta-Ghast
The next day, they’re given a report about the language. It’s clearly a form of elvish, neither Eldar nor Noldar, but perhaps related to both of them, and perhaps an ancestor of both of their languages. Merreep has heard legends of a precursor race of elves that divided into the Eldar and the Noldar, but she knows nothing about them, nor anyone who does.

Among the petty kingdoms before the Trade Federation was founded, whose land mostly voluntarily got absorbed in, was the House of Acoldima. That vampire lord’s lands are near where House Acoldima’s lands were.

The Dogaressa has appointed an elderly woman, with perhaps a trace of elven blood and a touch of psionics but still clearly elderly, as ambassador to Ulfershan. “I am Dame Amelia.” She is rail thin, obviously at least in part a mage, although she carries a sword and can ride.

22 Ta-Ghast
After 4 days of uneventful travel, Merreep and Ashaltir are on watch at night. Ashaltir hears a really funny noise and tells Merreep, who hears nothing.

“What does it sound like?”

“People dragging something heavy. Started off towards the east, now sounds off towards the north.”

Merreep makes her way out with Ashaltir, after waking Runor and Ulgorio to stand watch. She sees a pair of figures, about six feet tall with multifaceted eyes, loading logs up into a deadfall to crush people walking under them. Merreep is sure that they’re setting up the deadfalls to ambush the party as they move out.

Merreep decides to start a conversation. “Hi there!”

“Flesh-thing talk!”

“Yes!”

“What you want, flesh-thing-blood-sack?”

“I see you’re putting up lots of logs.”

“Yes. Traps. Why, flesh-thing-blood-sack?”

“Traps for what exactly?”

“Intruders. Intruders who might… want the eggs.”

“Oh, you have eggs. How interesting.”

“Interesting, they say. Egg eaters?”

“No, we’re just trying to pass through area.”

They agree to not set a trap in the west, so that the group can head out safely as long as they just continue west.

23 Ta-Ghast
After another uneventful day of travel, they return to the tower.

They pass through with the token they were given and enter into a large courtyard, surrounded by crossbowmen with very old styles of crossbows. A man in old robes comes to greet them.

“Ah! I was told you would be coming. Prithee enter.”

Dame Amelia presents a sealed document. “My credentials.”

“Ah, ambassadors. Please, follow me.” He leads them into the city, which is clearly ancient.

Merreep and Bartix look at the sky, and eventually one of them points out to the other that the sky doesn’t look right. It’s green.

They’re escorted into a rococo palace.
[End session 42]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 43 (February 12, 2022)

23 Ta-Ghast (evening)
They enter the palace, and their escort fetches a functionary more appropriate to the situation, and returns with Dior Bindal, a middle-aged human woman. “Quarters have been prepared for you. We resuscitated one of the long abandoned manors. Repairs will be ongoing, and if you wish, you may want to stay within the palace until the repairs are completed.”

The whole palace is ornately decorated with elaborate, excellently executed plant-themed decorations.

The group follows along as Bindal escorts Dame Amelia to her quarters. The group inspects the rooms, which seem fine. Aleep detects ancient, almost impossibly old magics; they seem to be fading away and imperfectly powered, but still active.

The group is then led through the city to an ancient manor, now being worked on. The city is clearly much less populated than it once was. The manors around the one being worked on are all empty. As they cross the city, they can tell that it is not all humans—they see a few strange gnomes, an aasimar, and even one half-elf, though he is far away.

Dior tells them, after being asked, that they are fading away. They have less children in each generation, perhaps because of something about the rocks around the city. They are trying to recruit more people in from among their allies. But even so, the population has faded from a quarter million to less than 60,000.

As they look around the manor, Merreep estimates that the manor has been abandoned for 4 or 5 human generations, but is in surprisingly good shape. Merreep also asks about the sky, and is told that it is a dome—a natural dome. They are in a great cyst in the earth, beneath the wood, where the Lost Master established this many years ago.

“We have weather, two or three times a year, when the priests call it.”

“How do you raise your crops without regular rain?”

“We irrigate them. They are then illuminated by the great pillar the Founder left, which causes them to grow very well.”

They realize that the whole city is illuminated by that light, which is fading slowly as night comes on. Runor cannot think of any clerical magic that could do that—it seems far beyond normal magic.

They are also told that the god that the priests serve is “The Founder. The Originator. The One who preceded all things. The One who made the First Comers, may they be praised.”

Runor explains that that must refer to Eiru the Creator, the principal elven god. It’s very rare for humans to worship Eiru. Also, it’s strange that she referred to the pillar as being made by “the Founder,” apparently referring to a great elf, but then used the same term to refer to the Creator.

They ask Dior about their mission to map the nodes and ask if they could have keys. She tells them that they have to ask a member of the Council about that.

Taken to see Windrola, a very frail, very elderly human man, sitting on a stone throne. He gives them a skeleton key to the network, and tells them that they can’t make them anymore but can make keys for specific destinations. He also mentions that few of them can activate the nodes with their minds anymore.

He warns us about Walkers, that walk the nodes without keys. There are terrible Walkers, and some kind ones. The kind ones are recruited, in some cases to join the city. The terrible ones are released by the First Comers who turned to evil, more each year. Some make it into the web.

The skeleton key is a bright, shiny very pure looking silver metal. When it is inserted, all the nodes will light up, and they can then select a destination at will.

Windrola also asks Ulgorio if he will perform when he returns. He says he will. Windrola then says, in an almost religious tone, “The last of the Founders went forth to find great music beyond what can be heard here. He was the last to leave. He will be the first to return.” (The other local residents all murmur “He will be the first to return.”)

They then are shown to the merchant’s quarter. There are several small stores, including a bowyer, an unusually elaborate blacksmithy, an elaborate temple that Runor doesn’t recognize at all but assumes, based on size and decorations, must be a cathedral, and an alchemy shop, along with several food merchants. Everything seems surprisingly quiet and low energy.

Ulgorio goes into the blacksmithy. Everything is of masterwork quality, though none is magic. He asks for a grappling hook, and buys a fancy folding one for 2 gold, along with a chain that will bear 350 pounds of weight.

Runor looks into buying a hammer. He starts looking at a great hammer, nearly as tall as he is and quite heavy. He heads over to a practice dummy, and smacks it a mighty blow, breaking the dummy off the rope from which it is suspended. It is a masterwork weapon, with a nonmagical +1 bonus to hit. Runor buys it for 2 gold.

Bartix sees that there is a magus who has a shop there (the Vearing Almbic), and looks to buy a masterwork sword to get enchanted by the magus. Bartix buys a masterwork great sword for 17 gold. A gnome in a tall hat meets him in the magus shop, and Bartix asks to have the great sword enchanted. He now has a +1 greatsword, for 100 silver more.

Aleep examines the alchemist’s shop. There are many unusual things, including other magical supplies beyond what you would expect. There are barrels with runes in them, to improve the quality of ale kept in them. He is told that they do not carry magic scrolls, but the Shrine of the Violet Leaf does, or at least they try. In recent years, there has been more call for scrolls, and there are only a few who can make them. Aleep also buys 4 doses of antitoxin and 6 potions of healing, for a total of 400. He’s warned that it won’t affect magic poison, and that the things released from one nodes (the one with the fallen First Comers, by which the alchemist means elves) have much poison, occasionally magical poison. He is also told that he could get 17 silver per dram of saffron, up to 100 drams, which is much more than it would cost in the Trade Federation.

Merreep heads to one of the food stores. She buys some smoked and jerked meats. The butcher offers beef, which is the most expensive, but also rothe (which is like pork) and lizard. Merreep buys some rothe, ready for travel—about 20 pounds of each of smoked and jerked, and 20 pounds of pemican, for a total of 180 silver.

They also visit the temple, which is an elegant structure with arched ceilings, with statuary that looks like art more than devotional, and a waterfall behind the high altar. In addition to the high altar, there are three other smaller altars. The priest, who appears to have elven blood, wears clothes evenly divided into bright white and black clothes. He is extremely interested in the elves among the group. The high altar is white to the east and dark to the east, in a way that Runor has never heard of before. The three lower altars however have notes and prayers on them, in imperfect script. “These are where our people come to pray to the three Founders who were once with us. The high altar is where I offer prayers to the Brothers.”

“Who are the Brothers?” asks Runor.

“We worship both the Creator and his Brother, who brought Death to the world for the newer races.”

“Is that Morgroth, then?”

He nods respectfully. “The Founders who walked with us for a time were from before the wars between the followers of the Brothers.”

“That’s very rare.”

“Yes. We do not believe that we are alone as remnants. But we know we are rare, but we have always received spells so they must not think we are heretics, or at least must not be bothered.”

“Meaning no offense, but are you slightly descended from the Founders?”

“Yes. All the priests must have some of the Blood, or they cannot approach the high altar. That is why the people leave notes at the other altars. They could, of course,” he says as he gestures at the elves in the party.

24 Ta-Ghast
The group travels back to the teleport device to head off to their first node.

They know where three of the nodes are—The City, which is here, Vinehome, which is near the group’s holdings and Free Town, and the Road, which is north of Ravenskrag. They consider which of the other places to try:

Blue-topped Rock
The Overlook
The Cavern of Spiders
The Oldway
The Cemetery
The Farway
The Castle
The Dip
The Nearby
The Frontier

Merreep suggests that they try the Oldway. It is in what appears to be a jungle. It is uncomfortably hot. The pad is in a square tower, and unlike the others the group has been to, it has been maintained. There are tables, with fresh fruits and flowers against the walls. The trees are large and have large leaves. About 50 feet away, a lizard person with an elaborate headdress of flowers and an antique polearm looks at them. It does not approach at first, but it also does not retreat. Once it knows it has been seen, it approaches cautiously and holds up one webbed hand. It seems confused, but not completely surprised.
[End session 43]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 44 (February 26, 2022)

24 Ta-Ghast (cont’d, after passing through to the Oldway)
Merreep says “hello!” to the lizardperson, who replies in some language none of them know.

Merreep asks what the direction to the nearest city is, and the lizardperson points up and in a direction. It’s clear that the lizardperson can at least to some degree understand, though his speech is unintelligible to the group. Based on the position of the sun, he was pointing mostly north and a little to the east, towards some distant mountains that are vaguely blue with distance.

The lizardperson also removes his headrest, and places it on Merreep’s head, and bows repeatedly as he backs away back into the jungle.

The group sets out in the direction the lizardperson pointed. The tower is near something that can be generously described as a footpath, but they see no other structures nearby.

They make their way directly in the direction he pointed, ignoring the footpath to bushwhack through the deep jungle. After a little while, they emerge into a lizardperson village on the edge of a swamp. The lizardpeople jump up in consternation, but they wave back when Merreep waves. After a little while, one of the lizardpeople fetches a slightly larger lizardperson from the largest hut, who walks over while plating some flowers together into a crown, which it puts in its head.

After some failed attempts at communication, a tall lizardperson who is bent over finally says, “You… return?”

“Oh, do you think Merreep is a great elf who has come here before?”

“Kah!” it replies, while nodding.

The lizardperson then brings out one of the familiar keys and a collection of papyrus fragments. The writing is in Elven, but with a mix of familiar Elven words and words that Merreep cannot read, but thinks is similar to the ancient Elven on the pad. Ulgorio casts comprehend languages. He reads it, and it’s a stylized creation myth, describing the creation of the world, the creation of the elves (the first intelligent people on the world), and the early days of the world. The old bent lizardperson gestures excitedly towards the stone with the key on it. This is another one of the skeleton keys, like the one the group received.

Ulgorio doesn’t see any references to the stone in the document, but on the last leaf, in an entirely different language, it says, “Guard the tower. Keep the key. Wait for the return.”

“Do you want us to take it?”

“Up… to… you…” The old one pats its chest and pats the chief’s chest, and says “loyal.”

“Aleep wonders, do you know where we are?”

“Dalwan.”

Aleep clarifies to anyone who is unsure that Dalwan is one of the Border Kingdoms, along the Shadowline.

When the lizardperson hears the word “Shadowline,” it points to the southwest.

They clearly venerate elves, and think that Merreep is the great elf who came here before. They also respond to the word “Hastur” with religious fervor, grovelling on the ground.

Aleep gives them a piece of parchment with the arms of the Eastern Trade Federation on it, and indicates that people with those arms are with them.

The chief gives each of them three fire-hardened, poisoned javelins.

The group then heads back to the tower, accompanied by one of the guards.

They prepare to pick the next destination and decide to go to The Dip. They pass through the teleportation plate and step out onto spray-dampened rock. Behind them, is what looks to be a lighthouse, still with a light atop it. The lighthouse is a tower just like the others, but with a globe of light atop.

A voice calls out, “Faith! Ye almost gave me a heartattack. Ring the bell when you come! Ring the bell! Everyone coming through here without a bit of warning, and then that guy the other day, almost killed me, he did. But fortunately, Nathaniel had a bow.”

“Are you Nathaniel?”

“No! Do I look like a Nathaniel? I’m Rudolf.”

After some discussion, they determined that this is just to the east of the Phraint lands, and the keeper was sent from Ravenskrag.

Once they realize that Runor is a priest of Glordiadel, Nathaniel asks Runor to take his confession.

“Who was the guy that tried to kill you?”

“We buried him! We had to! He tried to kill me!” He shows them a mark where he was bitten on his neck. “Nathaniel had to shoot him.”

Runor finishes blessing Nathaniel and asks them to show them the grave.

The keeper is happy to show them the grave, with a pile of stones on it and a wooden headstone marker labeled “Unknown attempted murderer.” Runor insists on digging it up, and they find an uncorrupted body, with a sun symbol on it slowly burning into it. Runor smashes in the vampire spawn’s head with his hammer, and as the sunlight strikes it, it bursts into flame and there’s an unearthly scream. They push the corpse around to make sure it’s fully incinerated. The group realizes that Nathaniel inadvertently staked it when he shot it with a wooden arrow, and then when they put the holy symbol on it they pinned it in the grave.

“Were you looking for something? You weren’t looking for those elves that came through the other day. Came through in the middle of the night, with their giant pet spider.”

They conclude that those were drow, especially with the description of them as having “faded into night.”

Aleep searches the vampire’s ashes and finds a small metal symbol in the shape of Lord Acoldima’s arms. It has a slight magical aura of divination. After some discussion, they chuck it out into the sea as far as they can fling it.

Having finished up here, they go back to the teleport network, and head to The Cemetery. They step out past two highly stylized figures of angels, into the midst of an enormous cemetery. The tower still stands, though somewhat worse for wear, and adorned with all sorts of Glordiadelian symbology and gargoyles and the like. It has clearly been turned into a mausoleum.

As Merreep steps through, she hears a deafening, terrible scream, but it doesn’t stun her. Ashaltir also makes it through fine, but Runor is deafened and stunned, falling to the ground to the side as he hears the scream. No one else is harmed by the sound. As they look around, they realize that the sound comes from a circle of mushrooms surrounding the tower.

Once they get Runor past the shrieking mushrooms, he gradually recovers.

Moments later, a group of figures in shiny steel chainmail with longbows and swords strapped to their sides rush up, and aim their bows at them. “Who are you, and why do you come to this holy place?”

The group introduces themselves.

“Behold the Cemetery of the Victims of Shadow, to inter the most heroic defenders against the Shadow in the thousand year struggle.”

Looking around, they realize that they are up in the mountains.

“This place was created years ago by the Hastur.”

They discuss the network, and are told that there were two that led to lands that had been seized—one in the former lands of their capital, the Thronged City, and the other in the lost kingdom that fell to them many fewer years ago--Caldefor. They may have disappeared entirely from the network if the towers are fully fallen and the pads no longer powered.

The guards take them to talk to the Master of the Cemetery. The Master floats over. He’s clearly one of the Hastur. They discuss the network with him, and he tells them, when asked about the strange elves who made it, that they were Eldron, from the original group of elves before the split. He also knows of Lord Acoldima, and mentions having incinerated a group of his minions.

The group then heads to The Frontier. They step through, and as soon as they step through, they hear thundering hooves. A large herd of the largest bison they have ever seen are running from something, directly towards the group. There are very few trees, some rocks, and open plains. The herd parts around the rock on which the tower stands. The hunters chasing the bison slow as they approach—they are half horse and half human. Without a moment’s hesitation, the lead hunter throws a heavy spear directly towards Merreep. It sails past Merreep and slams into the tower. In total, there are six centaurs closing in from different directions, one with a rattle and the rest with spears. The rattle causes all of them to glow slightly.

Ulgorio attacks the one that’s rapidly closing, and it slides off his leather harness. Aleep casts a fireball, catching four of them, two of whom save, for 18 or 9, depending.

The battle rages on. The one with the rattle heals one of the other ones. The last one of the enemy stops and draws a bow.

Bartix charges the one with the bow, critting it and hitting it.

Ulgorio casts hypnotic pattern, incapacitating all of them except for the priest.

Aleep casts magic missile, hitting the shaman for substantial damage.

At that point, the shaman calls for quarter, and the fight ends.

The shaman says that they attacked because three-quarters of the things that come through the gate are dangerous. When asked about vampires, they say that after some scouting expeditions, the vampires tried to drink from some of their human kinfolk and they put them to the sun.

[End session 44; we're now up-to-date, so I'll be switching to posting half-sessions at a time so I continue to post once every week even though the games are once every two weeks.]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 45 (March 12, 2022)

25 Ta-Ghast
The party is still with the centaurs at the Frontier. The centaurs give them some breakfast.

Runor speaks to them. “About those vampires.”

“Yes. Those vampires. We thought to send a warband to trace them, but we can’t.”

“They seem to be growing more hungry, perhaps.”

“Hungry, numerous…”

“They seem to be taking over the network.”

“Yes, they are a great threat. The sun kills them. And old style, wooden spears.”

Runor gives them some holy water and explains that it can burn the vampire.

They call over the shaman to learn how to make holy water, and Runor explains that they must call on Glordiadel, the Lord of Light and greatest of all gods. He teaches the shaman the ritual.

“Aleep wonders, where is this plains?”

“Here!”

“Yes, but what’s around here? Not here but nearby?”

“Potato farms. Ocean—we not go on ocean. Human village. More plains. Far away, mountains. Then, end of world.” Consulting a compass, they conclude that the mountains are roughly north by northwest.

Bartix points out, “The sun is turning green. I’m not sure that it’s supposed to do that.”

“Does the sun often change color here?”

“Yes. Sometimes yellow, sometimes green, sometimes cloudy and bluish.”

Runor meditates on the sun, which is after all an icon of Glordiadel, and concludes that it could not possibly be their sun. They ask about the moons, and are told that there is only one moon, a small purple moon.

“What gods do humans worship here?”

“Great Lady. They say She why sky and sun change, but eh.”

The centaurs walk them a couple of hours to a small human village of about 300 people. The first person they meet fetches the head man, an older man. “Ah, visitors. Let’s see… fey, and a very short man, and a demon, and … whatever you all are. Welcome!”

Runor asks about this world and why the sun changes.

“All things flow from Great Lady, short man. When She wills sun change, it changes. When She wills the bay comes in, the bay comes in. When she wills the bay go out, it goes out.” He points to the boats, which are up on racks with no water visible nearby. “If we lived where there is always bay, then when it comes in we would be flooded.”

Aleep asks if there is a hedge wizard or witch, or a wise woman, or something. He gets directed to Nana’s house on the edge of the town. She is tending an active garden, with some plants that actually walk around. She recognizes what most of the party is, correctly, though she does not recognize Aleep.

“Do you know, is this Aphonion?”

“No. Well, in the very broadest sense. Many years ago, generations ago, there were a band of people who lived on the edge of the sea, just within the boundaries a great barony. These people included humans and centaurs both and were faithful of the Great Lady. An army, with great shields of iron, marched on them, and they cried out to the Lady to save them, because they were not warriors. And here we are. There was not much here at all when they arrived. Just empty land, a few scattered plants. But the Lady brought them plants for food, and made the bay come in with fish, and here we are. Generations later, there still isn’t that much to speak of—it ends in every direction, and only Her moon is in the sky. So I would say, no, it isn’t Aphonion really, though I know of what you speak.

“Ah! This is a pocket universe!” says Aleep. “Like with spells that make space that is not space.”

“Pocket universe. I like that. Yes, I think that’s a good description of it. So yes, the Great Lady protects her own. I think she forgot us here, though. Some generations ago, the centaurs moved away, formed their own tribe around the area where the tower stands.”

Runor says, “The ‘Great Lady’ must be Whimsey.”

“Yes.”

“Was the tower here when your people arrived?”

“Yes, the tower was always here, even when there was nothing else. We maintain it. Well, the centaurs maintain it mostly, and recently nasty things have been coming through.”

“Vampires,” Runor says. “Can you make holy water? I taught the shaman of the centaurs how to.”

“No, I know that at one time there were priests that could do that, but I am more of a witch than a priestess.”

“Are there any among your people who are priests, with spells from the Great Lady.”

“No priests as such anymore. There are sometimes followers of the Great Lady who sometimes get spells of all sorts of powers, and sometimes don’t.”

“That’s Whimsey for you,” says Runor, perhaps a tad disapprovingly.

“Aye. And perhaps she hasn’t forgotten us entirely, then.”

They discuss how to fight vampires and remedies against them—holy water, wooden stakes, and so forth. Nana mentions that they have special nets that they use to hold the vampires in place until the sun rises and burns them away. She promises to pass this information on to the warriors—there aren’t many, but there are a few, who sometimes travel about the land as far as the strange city.

She explains that the strange city is perhaps 5 miles away. It appeared suddenly, after they were here. Sometimes strange things appear in this world, and sometimes they disappear again. But this city arrived, all of metal and with strange inhabitants. They aren’t really alive.”

“What are they?”

“They are strange figures of metal, wire, and crystal.”

“Golemim?”

“I don’t know that word.”

“Living statues?”

“Well, these aren’t statues exactly. But they are crafted, like they were made by a master crafter, and they talk in a limited fashion. They spend their time polishing and maintaining the city, sweeping the streets, and waiting, though they will not say what they are waiting for. Strange people in a strange city, as I said.”

The group decides to check the city out, and the village provides them a guide who can lead them to it.
[cont'd]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
[Session 45, cont'd]
They travel to the strange city. There are metallic rounded towers, a twenty-five foot metal wall with open gates, and a paved road that leads out half a mile and then stops at a dead stop, at the same distance from the city as there is a sudden clean change in vegetation in a perfect circle. The road is cobbled, in a way that is familiar to the group, but with cobblestones that are precisely evenly shaped and laid with greater precision than they are used to.

They talk to the gate, who welcomes them to Mechanus.

Runor immediately identifies the fine craftsmanship as gnomish.

They ask the gate where it was before it came here. The gate suggests that they speak to the Archivist. When they’re asked if they remember anything from before they were here, the gates tell them they don’t remember anything, but the Archivist will. They light a path to the Archivist, then fall silent.

Ulgorio hears in his ear a female voice, “There is an opera house in the city, young one, if you want to try your voice.”

Runor presses the gate hard about what he remembered from before they were here.

The gate begins crying. “I loved my maker! He polished me and made me. And now he is lost and gone!”

“We’re trying to find your maker and understand what happened.”

“You’ll find my maker?”

“Yes. We want to find out what happened. There were people here.”

“There once was a great one and many little ones. And then the great one fell in battle. And the little ones could not defend the city from the many soldiers in steel with their shields. We sent out our gargoyles, but the city was not finished and the city did not have the knowledge it would need to defend itself. And the little makers called on the Great Lady, that the Moonstone City would not fall, for they followed the Great Lady as well as the great maker. And then the city was here. But the little makers were not.”

Runor hypothesizes that there was once an elf running the city, with a population of gnomes. He also suspects that they were attacked by Paranswarmians.

Within the city, nothing is alive. There are flowers, but they are cunningly made from metal.

A metal figure, shaped like a bespectacled gnome, approaches them, and introduces itself as the Archivist.

“This city began millenia ago as the final of the Gem Cities. But with time, there were no longer enough of the great lords and ladies for all of the Cities. The City of Chimes and the City of the Moonstone were abandoned to the younger ones. The Lord of the City of the Moonstone was little more than a child. He could not stand against them when the accursed hordes of humans came to try to take the City and its treasures, and he fell. The city defenses are not complete. The city responded with all of its force, but the Iron Legions are endless; and my master, the one who made me the archivist that once dwelled in this archive and many others sought the intercession of the great lady. Lady Whimsey to save us. The city was moved here without its people, and they were dying in the fields without. It was horrific. Some of my kind were able to fight, but many of us are not equipped to.” It holds up a hand. “I am delicately wrought out of copper wire and crystals, I cannot even hold a sword. Even a heavy pen, or a heavy tome stresses me. Many are like me, artisans who work completing the building of the city under the guidance of the makers. We miss them.

“We’ve been here a thousand years, nearly. No evil comes here, but we continue to finish the city. Perhaps one day the gnomes… perhaps even one of the great ones… will come here. And I remember it all. And I will record everything that happens in the City between now and then.”

They notice that the Archivist is making careful notations on a sheet of beaten copper with a mechanical stylus, recording the details of their visit.

“Aleep thinks this is a pocket dimension?”

“Yes, created by Whimsey and controlled by Whimsey. That is certainly true, although she may not take note of it very often.”

“So, when the teleport tower was built here, the pocket dimension already existed. It's very strange.”

“That is beyond our knowledge. But I think another triad of the great masters created the beginning of the network. There are similar small teleport networks here and there, and I think it was built by one of them. I think there were great lords and ladies who made that tower. All are passing, all are passing, and they are probably long gone. But it could be their work, and one must remember that the Lady Whimsey-- despite how She may be treated in later years, whether justly or unjustly I am a mere construct and cannot judge-- She was among the Elvin Pantheon, the youngest of Eiru’s children. So, it is not inconceivable that some of the great masters in the early days would plant a tower in her plane. She probably has never noticed it. I believe She has forgotten us here, although I respect Her, and we will just keep working.”

“There are some, but not many gnomes where we come from. Would you wish us to bring them here?”

“If they are followers of the Great Lady... The gnomes are fairly evenly divided. You know, those who craft things like us mostly follow the Great Lady. Those who craft in the manner of your people,” it extends a chain and copper claw towards Runor, they they tend to serve Lord Dain. To have again among us some who follow the Lady, and who can take over the work, even if they do not remember the will of any of the great lords and ladies… Yes, yes, we would welcome it. We would reward you. We have a small store of moonstones that we could reward you with if you could bring us others of their people.”

They thank the Archivist and leave the city.

They decide to begin the next day at The Far Away.
[End session 45]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 46 (March 26, 2022)

26 Ta-Ghast
They activate the teleport device in the tower, and they travel to “The Far Away.” They are standing outside a ruined but not destroyed tower, with sand up to about two feet up its walls. Gray sand blows around, and they hear the distant sound of thunder. For a moment, the wind clears, and at a distance across the sand they see what looks like it might be a city. They can only see the sky when the wind drops down, and then there is a thin haze in the air, but it looks like the sky.

Runor suggests looking around, and Aleep says, “Aleep’s friends might go to city. Some of the people there might be able to tell us where Aleep’s friends are.”

The city appears to be northwest of the tower, when Aleep checks a compass. It’s difficult to stay on course, because they can’t see any landmarks most of the time, but Mereep and Bartix try to keep them on track. They easily agree on the course they’re keeping and they make their way through the blowing sand and wind.

It’s extremely dry as they crest some rocks and look down at what was clearly once a magnificent desert city, but is now run down. There is clearly activity there. As they approach, a heavy spear flies past them and lands near them. A figure, dressed in bright colored rags, jumps out from behind a rock and says, “I missed again! I missed again! That damn bird always gets away.” He pauses. “Oh! Who are you? Visitors?”

“Yes, we’re visitors.”

“We haven’t had visitors since my grandfather’s day!”

They talk for a while and then figure out that it was about 40 years since the last time any visitors came. He starts leading them towards the city, to meet his parents who will then be able to take them to the vizier.

“Does city have name?”

“We forgot. It had name. We forgot. Chief witchdoctor might know. Elders might know.”

As they enter the city, most streets have about 2 feet of sand against the wall. A few have been cleared, and those have stalls with goods for sale, including strange fruits. Aleep’s skin starts drying out, but not yet to a point that harms him.

The boy, Kenji, brings them into a house in decent repair. The people look like they might be humans, though on the small side.

“The histories say that in the early days of the city, strangers came frequently, and trade was maintained. Not anymore.”

They serve a boiled drink, but it is very bitter and strong. (It’s strong coffee, a drink none of them have ever had.) Runor asks for beer, and they have no beer, but they do provide him a pot of mead.

They make polite conversation about many things.

“What brings you to see us?”

“Do you know of the teleporters?”

“You mean the ancient connections? We’ve read the histories.”

“We came through them. Do you know of the long-toothed ones? They like to bite people?”

“Long-toothed tigers? Or serpents?”

“They are neither. They are human-sized but long-toothed and bite people.”

“No.”

“That is good. We came from the network, and we are fighting them.”

Aleep says, “Aleep’s friends are explorers and adventurers.”

“Like in the stories.” The woman’s eyes light up.

“Do you know the name of the city?”

“It had a name once. It was built by a Firstcomer. To watch.” Kenji’s father takes them to the roof of the building. “See how it is more dark over there in the east? That is the Shadowline. The city was built to watch the Shadow.”

This confuses everyone, because they are unaware of any place where the Shadow is east of an area outside Shadow.

He describes further directions—east to the Shadow, west to the great water, and south to swamp. He knows of mountains, but says that you could never reach the mountains—they are beyond the Shadow.

The group worries that they are in Shadow, but the family reassures them that the Shadow never comes here. The only place where they encounter threats from Shadow is when they go out of the city. They go into the swamp, because there are things they need there. “The creatures there are very dangerous.”

“Do you go to the great water ever?”

“It is too far. We cannot cross the sands—the Eum come.”

“Do you have a god?”

“Of course! We follow Eru, as the Firstcomer told us. We were told that if we followed Eru we would always be safe.”

“Do you also follow Eru’s brother?”

“Yes, there are temples to Him as well, but He does not protect the city.”

“But perhaps His Brother sometimes kills things that come to threaten city?”

“Yes! You know Eru and His Brother.”

They reach the end of what these people can tell them, and the parents send Kenji to take him to the council.
[cont'd]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
[Session 46, cont'd]
As they head over, Kenji explains, upon questioning, that the city’s population is shrinking generation by generation—they rarely have more than two children, and some people get lost in the sands or killed in the swamp.

They are taken to the head of the council. He looks intently at Merreep and Ashaltir. “Are you heralds?”

“No. Aleep’s friends are knights.”

“Knights? We could use knights. How did you get here?”

“Through the connections.”

“They still work? The last time we sent an expedition to attempt to use the pathways, they could reach neither the Castle, nor the Deep Inside, so we presumed that the pathways no longer worked.”

“The Castle is controlled by the vampires.”

“They must have blocked us. I wonder why.”

“We do not know of the Deep Inside. It is an overlook, deep in Shadow.”

“Ah. It is no longer part of the network.”

“They must have destroyed it. They are brutes.”

Eventually, the rest of the council comes in. One is garbed as a priest of Eru, though human, which is extraordinarily strange. Another is clearly a magus. And the third carries a flat rock and sits down with it in his lap.

The leader says, “They are adventurers. I think we might be able to hire them to go on a mission for us.”

“Are you thinking of asking them to recover the crystal from the lake?”

“Yes.”

“If they are foolish enough to go that deep into the swamp, it would be very useful.”

“There is a matrix there. It would enable us to expand all the way to the great water. We could pay. I suppose the fall of the matrix provides us some warning of what might happen to us.”

“Do you know the Hastur?”

“They are part of the secret knowledge,” says the priest.

“Do you know the name of the city?”

“For many years, we called it The Far Away. I do not know why a city would be called that, but the Firstcomer may have called it that.” The party confirms that The Far Away is what the network calls this place, and so was likely what the Firstcomer called it.

“Do you know what you watch for?”

“We do not remember, but we conjecture. When the city was founded, the histories say that the lands around the city were still green, but demons wandered the lands. After some time, the lords of Shadow came. We think we were brought here to watch for the coming of the Shadow.”

As far as they can tell, this city was established in the First Age—the Shadow came about in the Second Age.

The priest says that they have one of the Firstcomer’s artifacts in the temple. That helps keep them safe.

The matrix was in a tower by the shores of the lake. It was made by a circle of the great elves, and then while they were away, the Shadow came, and the swamp came, and the matrix was taken. They have tried repeatedly to reach it, but never been able to make it that deep into Shadow.

The group confers, and they decide that they need to tell the Dogaressa about this idea before engaging in this quest. They decide to head back to the tower, and to then go to the Cemetery, and from the Cemetery to the City and then to Vinehome, so they can get back to the Dogaressa. Traveling through the blowing sands is difficult, but the rangers keep them on course.

They explain the situation to the Hastur at the Cemetery, who is very surprised to find out about an enclave of safety within the Shadow, but recognizes that a Firstcomer from before the Division might have been able to create that. He is also excited about the idea of a lost matrix, and explains that a matrix is a collection of cold-forged crystals that together take on a form of sentience. He also explains that the great matrices are psionically incredibly powerful, dedicated to specific purposes, and that each tower in the Shadowline has a great matrix at its heart.

They then travel through the City and on to Vinehome, and then overland to the Eastern Trade Federation.

They resume in the capital of the Eastern Trade Federation.
[End session 46]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 47 (April 9, 2022)

1 Chund
They report to the Dogaressa’s palace first thing in the morning. They are quickly passed through to the Dogaressa.

“We are here to talk about something different from our holdings. We may have found a city inside the Shadow that is not controlled in the Shadow that we can teleport to.”

“So you have been exploring the network.”

“Yes, the city was made by the Firstcomer elves, and they still worship Eru and Morgroth. That seems to protect their city from Shadow, though their population is dwindling—apparently that happens among humans who follow Eru and Morgroth.”

“Most unusual.”

“They told us that there is a crystal that if we could recover would allow them to extend their protection to the coast, which would allow us to resupply them and provide them with reinforcements.”

“Yes, that would certainly distract the enemy, at least. But the swamp is very dangerous. The great oblex are there. They are the cast off spawnings of the chaos lords and a demon prince. They are not pleasant to happen by. If you are heading to that lake in the Palood from the north… you shouldn’t run into anything more dangerous than a great oblex, unless you happen to run into a greater demon. I want the Bishop to bless you first, and to supply you with holy water.”

The Bishop brings them a bandolier of twelve vials of holy water. He calls them the bravest men and women he knows, and blesses them (though the blessing, while powerful, will only last for three days).

“With the oblex, the most dangerous thing is fire. It will either cause them to flee, or make them attack with even more viciousness. The odds are slightly in favor of causing them to flee. The lycanthropes we know of in the Palood are best met with silver or silvered weapons. There are also ghouls and ghasts, some of which have been bolstered. The great frogs can be harmed with normal weapons, but they are enormous. There are some black dragons within the swamp, though as far as we know all of them sleep. A few demons dwell there. And last but not least, shambling mounds are quite common. I’m sure there are minor demons wandering about as well.

“It has been said that on rare occasions the Worm that Bores Beneath has entered the Palood, but it is mostly ignored by the great lords of Shadow. There are some truebloods living in the swamp, likely degenerate. There are some trolls, or were at one time. I have heard of no major leadership, though, although I might not know of it.”

The Dogaressa says, “Take what you need from the provisioners, and the royal smith can silver weapons for you. I have a royal smith now.”

They decide to gather supplies, recruit some people to build a stockade and begin trade with The City, silver their weapons, and the like. They also begin looking for gnomes who follow Whimsey. They gather 40 eager volunteers, with minimal military experience, but better than nothing. They are competent with bows, but at best know which end of the sword to hit things with. But they are reasonably well equipped—mostly with leather, some with scale, armor. Some of them plan to bring family out later, while others have no family yet. Merreep and Runor review them carefully, and conclude that they’re good but green. Runor also begins drilling them hard.

They also buy 500 sp worth of spices to trade to The City.

Merreep gets 20 silvered arrows and a silvered sword. Ulgorio has a silvered rapier, and also gets 10 silvered arrows. Ashaltir gets a silvered sword and 20 silvered arrows. Runor gets his hammer silvered.

They bring a mule with about 30 gallons of water, 2 weeks of emergency rations (planning on using create food and water for most days), rope, oil, and other camping supplies.
[cont'd]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
[Session 47, cont'd]
2 Chund
They head back to Vinehome, without any difficulty. Runor teaches the troops basic drills in the evenings.

6 Chund
They arrive at Vinehome and set the volunteers to building the stockade—one tight around the ruined tower facing inwards, and one wide around the tower facing outwards. They then travel through the teleport pad to The City.

They then go through to The Far Away. The winds are low, so they can see the city clearly from the tower. Runor can see clouds of sand blowing to the northwest, however, which almost seem to be cut off at one point, with only a small thin cloud blowing out from that storm.

They head in to the city. They realize that the city sort of sets a guard in this direction. They see another person keeping watch out some distance from the city, who recognizes them and waves. They then meet the gate guard. The guard is a little confused by a mule, which he has never seen before, but pays no mind to the owlbear. He leads them in to see the council.

The council asks, “Are the ways clear? We saw ones of the one you mentioned, that came through at night. We immolated him. I think he was already wounded by the protections, though.

“We have convinced an old sorceress to give us what knowledge she can of the tower, the old matrix, and the creatures that overran it all those years ago. The Sorceress, Adele.”

The Sorceress Adele introduces herself to the party. “We are very near the border of the Palood. Unfortunately, we are very near the part of the Palood that is somewhat organized.” She shows the party a crudely drawn map of the Palood. “The part of the map within this red line in the Palood is the part where they have sorted themselves out to the point where they can be more dangerous.” The red line travels north-south, perhaps 50 miles inland from the ocean, until it cuts to the east well south of the great lake. The organized area is the eastern, inland area, including the area around the lake. “The threat there isn't simply an enormous frog's mouth, begging your pardon, that rises up out of the murky water and consumes half of you instead. It's more a well-armed band or group of trolls, or on occasion a demon. In the other area you should just be afraid of random things. In fact, I was with a group the last time we tried this. I'm the survivor. We thought it would be best to skirt along the border of that area until we got to the closest point to the lake. Something came out of the water, and while it was consuming one of my colleagues, it was attacked by something else that came out of the water.

“Now, unfortunately, being a sorceress, not a wizard, I'm not extremely scholarly, but I’ll still answer your questions as best as I can?”

“Would you recommend that Aleep's friends also follow that plan and travel down outside the organized area and then cut in?”

“It will avoid any form of hierarchical response, which you may well suffer in the area that they've organized if anything escapes from a meeting. It may have something to report to that will bring more.

On the other hand, for the most part they have driven things like the froghemoths out of their area through organized action. You will find those creatures, and the bodacs, of course, out in the deep swamp.”

“Bodacs?”

“Yes, there are a number of them here. They would love to gain control, but they can't.”

“Aleep is not familiar with word ‘bodac.’”

“Oh, they’re a form of demons, mostly nobles. Nasty pieces of work.”

“So to summarize, more dangerous, bigger creatures outside organized area. But much less organization, and so the choice is between individually riskier things and things that might bring allies.”

“Smart lad, that is exactly right. And that you must decide for yourselves.”

“Do you know where the Tower is?”

“Yes, the tower was at the southern bump of the lake.” She indicates on the map. “Yes, it was well fortified, and had a deep underground structure for their psionics works. I think the psionicists who were working on the creation of the matrix were what drew the enemy, but that's only my guess. They were not of the greatest power, you understand.”

“Do you know anything of the matrix itself that Aleep's friends should know?”

“By now, it has become sentient. That was unavoidable without guiding minds. Before the tower fell, it had already begun to respond intelligently to its proctors, I understand, but I also think it was young and curious, and it may have reached out to see the surrounding area and alerted something.”

“We all make mistakes,” says Runor.

“Oh, yes, I cannot blame it, because it was a child—a baby really-- and babies are always careless, my young dwarf,” she chuckles.

“Young dwarf? I’ve lived longer than you have.”

“Perhaps, but I am older than you, even if you've lived longer than me, friend dwarf.” They have a slightly confusing conversation about age—Runor thinks she was saying that she had more of the wisdom of age than him, but it’s unclear exactly what she meant.

One of the councilors pushes to get the meeting back on track. “Adele, what advice can you give them?”

“I don't know what advice they need. They must ask. We reached the Tower, but we did not managed to assail it. We entered the broken grounds of the fortification, and we entered the tower proper. Two days later, I and the other survivor left the tower and tried to make our way back here. He was consumed on the fourth day of our travel.” She shakes her head sadly. “I hid myself as a tree for a time, and then, when they'd given up looking for me, I scurried like a cur with its tail between its legs all the way back. It’s a miracle I made it. I was sick for months. The water there is not something you should drink.”

“What type of creatures does the tower itself hold?”

“There's a mix of them. There is a hierarchy of some sort of cross between snakes and men. They're like snake centaurs. I had never seen the like before. They called themselves something like yank-tea? Yu kzi? They had magical abilities among them, and powerful warriors and servants. They had both trolls and lizardmen as servants. When we were there, I did not see any of the True Born, as the humans of the Shadow call themselves, but there are True Born in the Palood and they may be there.”

“Were the trolls of the usual type, vulnerable to fire?”

“Yes, yes, ordinary swamp trolls, but you could not break their will. It was very, very odd. If you face trolls and defeat a couple of their people, particularly with fire, normally the rest flee. These would not flee. It is as if somehow the yanti, yin tai, whatever, could control their minds and prevent them from flight. Or perhaps their terror of whatever the yangti overlord is was so great that they did not dare retreat. They're stupid, but not totally bereft of sense. You must reach the sixth deeping to reach the matrix room.”

“So the matrix is in the basements, too.”

“They must have thought that it would shield it from notice until it was older and more powerful.”

“Do these snake things have weaknesses or protections that we should know of?”

“I assume that they must, but there were none that we discovered before we were forced to retreat. Avoid them, if possible. If not, let none survive to return to their fellows. That was the mistake we made. The first group we encountered, we slaughtered them, and a couple of the younger, smaller ones fled. We thought that each band was separate, so we let them go. They were young and small. We should have killed them. After that, more powerful ones came. The first group of them failed. Shortly thereafter, another one came. I expended nearly all of my spells, and we were overextended, so the wizard expended all of his. The lyan stood firm, but it was not enough. The priest called upon the Two Great Ones but still ran short of healing. It was a disaster, and only I and the rogue escaped, and he was consumed on the way back.”

“It's a shame but maybe someday we can claim it for ourselves.”

“You’re a kind lad. It is a shame that it fell. It is a shame that we were not prepared for them to be organized. If perhaps a little bit of knowledge I've imparted will help your group, it might make our defeat mean something. Does anyone else have questions?”

“We were warned of great oblex. Are there any near that tower that we should know of?”

“My suspicion is that there are some in the lake. If you do not draw them out, at least alert them to your presence, I do not think they will bother you. They're most comfortable in the water. If you bring them out, use fire as quickly as possible. You're more likely to encounter oblex, however, outside their zone of control. There’s even at least one elder oblex, but I think he's deeper in the south.”

“What do oblex look like?”

“A mass of translucent, or sometimes blue, gelatinous material, somewhat similar to a gelatinous cube, or some of the other of that ilk but much more powerful. They are some sort of a union between the Worm who Bores… or rather I should say, they were born from from a short union between the Worm who Bores Beneath, and the Lord of Slime, and then left to roam the swampy waters to dissuade intruders. Or perhaps not to dissuade. Who knows the mind of the Worm? Prod ahead of yourselves with long polls when you're in water more than a foot or so deep. They often lie along the bottom, and this will at least rouse them before they can engulf you, which is their favorite attack. They wait until you are literally on top of them, and then they engulf you.”

“What if you opened a flask of holy water as they engulfed you?”

“That would certainly harm them if you got them to eat holy water.”

“I’ve always wanted to use holy water like a poison—put some in some blood, get a vampire to drink it, that sort of thing.”

“Yes, that would certainly do them damage. Their form comports in such a way that the damage of most weapons is reduced. They are susceptible to fire. The greater ones also are intelligent. They are capable of attempting to hold people still magically so they can engulf them. That is an unpleasant ability. If you are engulfed, while it’s digesting you, anyone who attacks and tries to free you almost inevitably also stabs you.”

“Can you stab them while trapped?”

“If they engulf you without controlling your mind, you can try with short weapons--daggers, perhaps or maybe dirks. If they consume you when you are held one of the greater ones, then no, you will not be stabbing them. You'll be quietly being digested.”

“One more question. Are these yanti, or whatever they are, part of the broader hierarchy in that area?” asks Runor.

“I think so. I do not know who their ultimate lord is, though we were never in a position to even consider searching for that information. There's probably something above them. There was some great lord or snake thing there as well. With luck you will never see him. I do not think he will come close to the matrix. By its nature it will hurt him, even in captivity. But yes, young dwarf, I think you are correct, and their great lord is somehow connected to their hierarchy.

“Does anyone else have any other questions? Then I shall head off and offer up a candle to the Brothers for your success. They'll be surprised to see me. Sorceresses don't usually visit their shrine.”

The party discusses among themselves and decides to follow the same plan Adele’s group did: they will head south through the wilder, less organized part of the Palood, risking encounters with more individually dangerous monsters, until they are near where they need to cut east to reach the tower.

[End session 47. We're now up to date, and we'll be missing this weekend's game, so there will be a delay of a couple weeks before the next post. I'll make bonus posts in the Archducal Council thread during the meantime.]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 48 (May 7, 2022)

7 Chund
They crest a hill as they approach the Palood. They can smell the swamp. Along the edge of the desert, there is a whole line of trees, perhaps 100 feet wide, with surprisingly healthy leaves. Even the elves do not recognize the trees. They have bright red berries. The area around them seems almost wholesome. Beyond that, they hear grunting, and sounds like large animals, though they don’t see them.

The group moves cautiously forward towards the trees. The sounds are clearly from beyond the trees, and almost sound like groaning noises. Most of the group goes up to right near the trees, but Aleep hangs back a little. When they get very close to the trees, where there is a nice smell of cinnamon, they can hear the noises just south of the trees. They still can’t see anything in the swamp, though. The sound is loud and disturbing, like the sound of wounded elephants dragging themselves along the ground, occasionally punctuated by a groan of pain. Merreep looks carefully on the other side of the trees. There is a small strip of grass before the trees, a small strip of grass beyond the trees, and then a very corrupted looking swamp. There are three large masses, each green, throwing themselves towards the grassline, and then retreating back away from it. There seems to be an invisible barrier holding the strange green masses back.

Merreep goes back to the rest of the group and describes what she saw.

“That sounds sort of like the Shadow Line, but maintained by trees instead of by the Hastur.”

“Why would trees keep out large green mounds? And how could they?”

“If those trees are holy to the elven gods, perhaps they could.”

“Trees can do that? Can they be holy?”

“Aleep is a wizard, not a priestly type. But Aleep has heard legends of the great powerful trees in the great elven forests.”

“If we try to cross it, would the same thing happen to us?”

“Aleep would not think so. If it is like the Shadow Line, Aleep’s friends can cross without being harmed.”

“Would we be able to return?”

“As long as Aleep’s friends are not corrupted. If they cross the Shadow Line, and then become corrupted, and then attempt to cross back, bad things would happen.”

“What do we think the green mounds are, anyway?”

“They could be minor oblexes. They don’t seem very intelligent.” Aleep comments.

Behind them, a figure rises out of the grasses. It looks elf-like in shape, but is made of peat and bark and the like.

She greets them.

“Who are you?”

“I am a construct of the lothlorien that still try to survive here. They are not mobile. I am.”

“What would your thoughts be on our expanding the trees? How would we do that?”

“You are kind to ask. Bring a great elf-lord, or nuts of a lothlorien tree, and it will grow and expand. I know that it is not as a lothlorien tree ought to be, but it is a struggle. And we have no pollinators, and thus our berries are sterile. We will never allow Banahog and her servants to triumph.”

“Who is this Banahog?”

“Mistress of the Abominable Swamp beyond for some distance. We don’t know how much distance. I am the only one who is mobile, and the trees do not wish to risk me. Those three are her servants.”

“What are they?”

“We think they are some type of demon. We are not a wood of wide experience.”

“What if we just killed them?” asks Runor. “We might be able to.”

“You could do that? We would appreciate it. We might be able to grow more leaves. But they do regenerate, even from the spark of life. I think fire would stop them from regenerating.”

Merreep steps to a location where she can be seen from the other side and calls out. “What are you doing?”

All three rear up out of the swamp, 8 or 10 feet tall, and seem to regard her. They have no eyes, no mouths, and no apparent organs. But they do stop.

While they are focused on Merreep, Runor strolls up and smacks one with his hammer. He really drives the hammer in, doing 15 points of damage. Runor notices that the goop that was the monster spilled down his hammer, but he avoids getting it on his hands. The goop makes pits in both the metal of the hammer and the wood of the lower shaft. Aleep responds by casting fireball, positioning it so that it catches most of their mass but does not come within 5 feet of the grass verge of the trees. He does 32 points of damage, although one avoids much of the blast. Ulgorio slides forward and drives his rapier in with a critical, doing 16 points of damage. He avoids any splash, but the metal does pit. Bartix slashes it with his longsword, doing 8 points of damage. It shudders, and falls into a heap, slowly sliding back into the swamp. Merreep shoots one of the creatures with her bow, hitting twice and sinking two shafts deep into the creature.

Merreep shoots it twice more, and it makes that horrible howling noise again. One of the creatures slams towards Runor, missing and slamming into the ground next to him. The badly wounded one tries to hit Ulgorio. It slams into him, and he has to make a Constitution save, but gets a 0. He takes 9 damage from the impact, and 7 points of acid damage. He can clearly hear, through the air, “Blight! Blight! Blight the Light!” The other is calling “Banahog! Banahog!” Neither is speaking aloud in any language he knows, but he can still understand what they are saying.

Aleep casts another fireball, doing 26 damage. Ashaltir smites the last remaining one as it begins slumping away into the swamp. Runor casts a guardian of faith, which blasts the last one as it tries to flee. It howls, and then disintegrates into the swamp, with a strange green sulpherous light.

“You did it! We will have a respite, and we can likely expand by a few inches before they send more. Beware of the undead ram. It is half as tall as a tree, and made of smaller rams that are also dead but moving. You’re the first mobiles I’ve seen in many years, since that unfortunate woman.”

(They have made an enemy of Banahog.)

They head into the Palood proper.
[cont'd]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
[Session 48, cont'd]

8 Chund
(Hex 745, 344)

9 Chund
(Hex 746, 345)

10 Chund
(Hex 746, 346)
After a few days of uneventful travel, they approach a large tree reaching out of the water, with branches weeping down around it. Under it are a bunch of mounds of moss. They also see what looks to be the corpse of a mule-sized reptile. They are not certain that it is dead, though—the membranes on its eyes still seem to open and close periodically.

Merreep calls out, “Hello!”

They eyes definitely move and look at her. “Why?”

“Why what?”

“Where?”

Runor joins in. “Who? Which?”

“The tree.” They eyes look up at the weeping tree above it. “Beware!”

“About what? The tree?”

“The tree. Beware here.”

Merreep says, “Are you in pain? You don’t look like you should be able to talk.”

“The tree does not permit any to pass.”

After a little more discussion, they confirm that it means that it can’t die near the tree.

They make a lasso, and throw it over to the reptile thing. They pull it away from the tree, which roars and throws a barrage of small sharp seeds in their direction. They slowly but steadily drage the lizard thing out of the root system, where little roots keep grabbing up at it, trying to pull it back in. They pull it out.

Runor heals it so its wounds will close, but it’s missing one leg.

“Thank you. Thank you. You do not know... That thing is so vicious. My tribe was angry with me, so they brought me there and sacrificed me to it. I must offer you something in repayment. Thankful I am. I know this area. I can give you information, tell you what tribes there are, and where to avoid the great ram.”

Runor is shocked to find out that it doesn’t know what a dwarf is, and asks about legends that it might have heard about. It doesn’t recognize the story, but it knows what giants are—there are swamp giants farther south, though not around here. They are very dangerous.

It does recognize the elves as looking like Makers. Some discussion makes it clear that the Makers were the ancient elves. It asks whether Aleep is one of the froglocks that follow the Worm that Bores Beneath, but he explains that he doesn’t.

Runor regales the lizardperson, Amet’alox, with tales of Glordiadel.

“I am in your debt, though my tribe, the Long Arms, are not, because they cast me into the great tree.”

They ask if Amet’alox would like to accompany them. He agrees. They find a small normal tree, and make him crutches and a peg-leg of sorts.
[End Session 48. There will be a gap of another couple weeks before the next post.]
 

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