(Cydra) The Year 271 Campaign (Low Magic experiment)

the Jester

Legend
Monkey Business

The buzzing of insects, the occasional chirp of birds, the croak of a frog, the dripping of fat beads of water as they fall from wide rounded leaves... all within the tower. Looming over our heroes, trees up to 30’ high brush the ceiling of the level of the Ghost Tower of Inverness that our heroes are presently exploring. The undergrowth is so thick that it is impassable; a trail would have to be cut through it for our heroes to advance off of the path- for a single path leads away, through the rampant growth.

“Thith ith prepothterouth!” exclaims Sir Cedric.

“Clearly, my lord, we must explore,” Sir Jorgen says smoothly.

“Here,” Sir Fwaigo adds, handing his wineskin to Cedric. The former squire squints as he looks around. “Well, I guess we only have one way to go, unless we want to spend hours cutting through the brush...”

With that, the party sets off down the winding path. Its width varies and it seems to wander one direction and then another. As they walk, Kyle catches a glimpse of motion off in the woods. He whips his head around and Peers nervously in that direction, but the only thing he sees is some kind of monkey.

“It’s weird,” he comments, continuing to walk the path, “that there is a forest in this tower.” Nervously, he pulls out his shortbow and nocks an arrow.

“Me like furry,” replies Sir Percival, pointing at Dahlia’s badger companion.

Otis suddenly cries out, “ABOVE US!!”

Silently, two monkey-like creatures have crept into the branches that arch above the path. They are ugly-looking things, overly muscled, with prehensile tails and feet that seem able to grasp like hands. The creatures’ fur is a dirty gray; their tails and faces are black, and their paws are a bloody red.

Kyle is fast. Even as Otis begins casting a spell, the elfblood fires his arrow at the monkey. The shaft takes it in the throat, and blood begins to spurt from the wound. The things gives a choked screech, and then Otis finishes his spell. A magical dart of energy flies out and blasts the wounded monkey in the chest. With a loud shriek, it teeters and falls out of the branches, crashing to the ground 25’ below!

The other monkey bares its fangs in rage. Suddenly Otis cries out in pain, pressing his hands to his temples. “Beware!” he cries. “They have some kind of mind powers!” Gritting his teeth, he fights off the psychic blast and struggles to focus. Another magic missile shoots from him as he gains his equilibrium, He watches as a series of projectiles fllies up from the party, sticking the monkey in two, three, four places!

It plummets from its perch, smacking into the ground with lethal force.

“What are those things?” wonders Otis. “I have never heard of them before!”*

“Monkeys with mental powers,” Kyle marvels. “Master, it’s fantastic!”

“Perhaps we’ll have a chance to research it sometime,” muses Otis.

The monkeys do not have any clothing or tools, and thus have no treasure. Our heroes shrug and continue along. The other monkeys, noting that the adventurers killed two of their numbers without suffering a wound or any mental effects, wisely decide to fade back into the thick woods and avoid further conflicts.**

The party wanders along the twisting paths. Once or twice the path splits, and Dahlia begins making a map lest the group become lost. Eventually something strange and disturbing comes into view. Topped by what appears to be a human skull, a rack of bamboo woven with weird bits of hide, bone, fur and feathers stands about 7’ high in the middle of the path. It looks like some kind of weird totem or fetish.

“What the hell is that?” exclaims Goer.

“It looks like some kind of totem or fetish,” Jorgen answers (repeating the boxed text).

“Nobody touch it,” Otis commands. “It may be cursed, trapped or dangerous.”

“It doesn’t look relevant to us anyway,” Sir Jorgen muses.

The party thus leaves the strange totem be and continues along their winding way. Soon there is another branching, and their path curves and comes back to the totem again.

“Let’s return to that last branch,” Jorgen suggests, “and go the other way.”

The party does exactly that. Soon, they come into a clearing that is roughly 20’ in diameter, with three other paths leading from it. Throughout the place, rosebushes grow, scenting the area with their delicate fragrance. Two statues of men with daggers upraised are in the place; the moldering, headless corpse of what appears to be a human woman lies near the entrance of one of the paths.

“Whoa,” says Sir Fwaigo.

The party moves into the clearing and begins examining the scene. The two statues prove to have been wearing Sir Harth’s livery and sign (a rose twined around a blade). They also bear wavy-bladed daggers similar to those used by Harth and his cultists. “Interesting,” murmurs Jorgen. As the sheriff, he has become quite an investigator, and he is carefully assembling all the clues the party has seen so far.

The decapitated body seems to have been left behind at least a month ago. In the bushes nearby, Kyle finds the head- but instead of hair, it has a mass of (now-dead) snakes atop its head.

“Well, we have several other paths to explore,” says Dahlia, looking down one of them. It winds away, just like the one that led the party here. Our heroes complete their examination of the area and then pick a path. It loops around and leads to another clearing. Across it, our heroes spy another of the signature wrought-iron staircases that this tower seems to prefer.

“Well, well,” smirks Otis. “We have found another ascent.”

“Let uth forge ahead,” commands Sir Cedric.

The party moves towards the clearing, and suddenly, from either side of the path, two piles of bones which were hidden by the grass leap together, forming skeletal wolves! Jorgen, near the front of the party, charges, barreling into the beasts, slamming his sword through the ribcage of one of them! The skeleton staggers, but then snaps forward. On either side of the sheriff, the skeletons bite at him, tearing into his left forearm and his right hip! Sir Fwaigo hurries up and stabs one of them, but his blade turns ineffectually off of it! Likewise, Kyle finds his arrows to be useless. With a gulp, he nocks another arrow.

Then Me rushes in with a roar. “BAD DOG!!” he shouts, and his huge blade crashes through the one that Jorgen wounded, shattering it into its component bones!

“By the power of my pinky finger!” declares Sir Cedric, “We shall dethtroy thethe monthterth!!” He moves forward, bringing his blade free of its sheath, but is too far back to get an attack in. Dahlia hurries up beside him.

Meanwhile, in the front line, Jorgen slams his blade into the remaining skeleton. Bits of yellowed bone go flying, but it still stands. And then- Otis, of all people, moves in. He clutches his staff in his bony fingers, and then swings it with all his might, slamming it into the skull of the undead wolf, and crushes it! The skeleton collapses.

“Interesting,” murmurs Sir Jorgen.

“Shall we go up?” asks Kyle.

“Indeed!” cries Sir Cedric. “Brotherth in armth, againtht all oddth- we thall triumph! Here, Fwaigo, have thome of my whithkey!” He passes the bottle over.

Up our heroes go, climbing about 20’ before coming to a stone landing with two pathways projecting from it, away to the right and left, and looping away. The pathways and the landing are about 1’ above the surface of what seems to be a sea of fire. The flames lick upwards to heights of 2’ to 3’ above the surface of the sea, and breathing is a little difficult due to the smoke and sulphurous fumes. The flames lick up before our heroes, but they can make out an island in the center- the long paths seems to loop around to it. Across the 160’ diameter circular chamber is what appears to be a wrought-iron spiral staircase leading up to a ceiling 20’ above, but our heroes’ vision of it is somewhat obstructed by the soot-black giant standing 12’ high in front of it.

Kyle is in the lead, trying to be somewhat stealthy, and he hisses in surprise and pushes the others back down the stairs about ten feet. “A giant!” he gasps. “And a lake of fire!” He shivers. “I don’t want to go up there! Maybe we missed something down here, along the other paths or something.”

But a few minutes’ exploration reveals that they just loop around, one leading back to the fetish and the other to another clearing.

“I guess it’s the giant, then,” Goer says.

Weapons ready, our heroes ascend.

Next Time: Against the giant!!

*Of course, most of my players identified these things right off! :) However, none of the characters could make the appropriate check.

**Alas, that means that they’ll never fight the cool advanced su-monster chief I had statted up. Oh well. :)
 

the Jester

Legend
The choking smoke rolls through the air, making our heroes’ lungs burn. The stink of sulphur fills their nostrils.

Me think of training, Sir Percival tells himself. Big man tough.

And then he is sprinting down the long, looping path that will lead ultimately to conflict with the giant. He ignores the burning in his lungs, the flaming lake all around the paths. The others start moving in behind hi, and for the moment the smoke aids them all; it takes the giant a few short moments to notice them.

But when it does, it issues a booming laugh, dips its hands into the burning liquid surrounding the platform on which it stands- and pulls out a rock, glowing hot from its long immersion in the flaming sea. And then it whips its arms back and throws. The stone sails up in a long, lazy arc- and smashes down on the platform, inches away from Sir Colder.

Fwaigo skids to a halt and pulls out his sword. “Umm,” he says, his mouth gaping, and he inhales a huge cloud of smoke. Blinded and coughing, his eyes tearing from the irritating air, he shakes his head to clear it. When he can see again, he gasps: flaming forms are lifting out of the flaming lake near Me. Roaring, he slashes at them, but the bat-like forms dive in and tear at him. One attaches to his shoulder, sucking his blood and burning him.

Otis, too, stops closing the distance with the giant and casts magic missile, blasting the fire bat that is clinging to Me from his body. It explodes into a mist of red flames. The wizard grins to himself, but outwardly remains aloof; he must maintain his image. Dahlia pulls her scimitar and begins dueling with the birds, aided by Sir Cedric; but Colder, Jorgen and Percival (or Me, as the big dumb lug calls himself) sprint past.

The giant’s laughter booms through the chamber. A whistling sound announces the arrival of another boulder, which smashes into Me with bone-crushing force! He throws himself aside at the last moment, avoiding the worst of it, remembering his training, and then throws himself prone to dodge another of the huge heated rocks. Scrambling back to his feet, he keeps moving up... and sees another of the rocks sail past him and smash Colder in the leg.

Kyle, near the back, fires another magic missile at one of the fire bats. Cedric hacks into the thing and it explodes too; he and Dahlia are holding their own against the flaming things. It’s the giant we have to worry about, Cedric thinks grimly, running another fire bat through.

Meanwhile, Me sprints around the last curve before he has a straight shot at the giant- and finds himself suddenly confused and falling! “Whooof!” he cries, as he crashes into the ground-

Huh? Me thinks.

Everything has turned upside down. Why... why are his friends on the ceiling? Befuddled, he hesitates for a moment. Otis, simultaneously, shouts, “Beware! There is some kind of reverse gravity field! Beware!!”

Jorgen edges along near the outside edge of the walkway. “I think the edge is okay!” he shouts. Then he sees the giant lining up a shot on him- and gulps. But fortunately for him, the thick smoke obscures him just enough that the giant’s boulder misses!* Jorgen whistles in relief, pulls out his sword- and charges.

The others, meantime, have finished off the fire bats, and now they resume their approach towards the giant. Kyle stops, drops to one knee and pulls his bow. I don’t want to get close to that thing! he thinks to himself. He could cut me in half in a single blow with that huge sword!** Sighting down the shaft, he fires for the giant’s upper body, hoping to miss his allies.

Both Colder and the sheriff of Whitewater dance with the giant, and from the ceiling Me roars. He runs to get as close to the giant as he can- and suddenly, he’s falling- CRASH! Disoriented, he groans and shakes his head. “What... where...” he mutters, and then realizes that everyone is on the floor again. Confused but happy, he charges with his greatsword. It is perhaps half the length of the one that the giant is pulling from a great baldric across its broad back, but it is just right for Me!

Otis fires another volley of magic missiles at the giant, peppering him with small wounds. Jorgen and Me have already cut into it in several places. Roaring, the black-skinned giant cuts into Jorgen with devastating force, slitting him open from his left shoulder to his thigh. The sheriff screams in pain, staggering back. He grits his teeth and clutches his sword in shaking hands as the giant swings again, and this time Jorgen barely manages a parry.

Then the giant falters and falls back with a great shout as an arrow hits him in the cheek, and Colder stabs him in the foot.

Beset by the gnats around him, the giant growls deep in his barrel chest. He will not be defeated by little ones again so soon! It is intolerable!

Another of our heroes arrives in melee, bastard sword in both hands. Cedric! He springs forward and slashes, but the giant blade crashes into his legs with a backhanded sweep as he closes on the giant. He howls in pain, then cries, “My friendth, enough ith enough! We mutht dithpothe of thith mithcreant!”

The heroes close in, and the giant cannot fend them all off. Suddenly another cut slashes across his leg, another on his arm. He swings his sword into the half-orc, aiming for the head, but Me is fast; he springs out of the way enough that the blade only hacks into his arm.

“AAARGH!” the giant cries, as another arrow hits him, this time in the neck.

Then two swords simultaneously stab him, and that’s all. The giant falls to the ground with a great smashing noise.

Panting, our heroes exchange glances.

“Hey,” Jorgen says, his tone startled and displeased. “That’s not a stairway.”

Indeed, what they had taken for a staircase turns out to be merely a wrought iron column.

“Well what the hell, then,” Fwaigo says crossly, having finally broken his paralysis and come across the long, looping pathway to the giant’s area. The party is very carefully navigating to avoid any further reverse gravity shenanigans; a little experimentation quickly reveals the location of the edge of the field, and our heroes chalk a mark on the ground to indicate it. Avoiding it then becomes much easier. Once everyone is at the giant’s platform, they begin to search.

The iron column that they had taken to be a staircase proves to have an interesting back side. An inset area contains an anvil and some giant-sized forge tools. Goer takes some, despite their bulk; as a smith, he is very interested. “Some of this should be usable, and it will help us at least maintain our armor and weapons. And who knows, maybe it will be worth something somewhere.”

There is also a sarcophagus-like object next to the giant. The stone lid is very heavy and resists a casual attempt or two at lifting it. While the stronger party members prepare to make a more serious, concerted effort, Kyle searches the giant’s body. Almost immediately, he cries, “Hey, everyone, look at this!”

The others cluster around. Kyle says, “Check out his arm.”

Indeed, one of the giant’s arms has a relatively fresh scar on it- a scar shaped as a rose wrapped around a sword.

“Thir Harth’th heraldry,” Sir Cedric intones flatly.

“Well-carved, too,” notes Jorgen. “They took their time about it.” He shivers.

For a moment the party studies the face of the dead giant. He looks old- were he a human, about 50. What was his story? They will never know, now. But clearly, Sir Harth featured in it somewhere.

“Well,” Jorgen thinks aloud, “at least that is more evidence that we’re on Sir Harth’s trail.”

“Now what?” asks Sir Colder. “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m pretty badly wounded.” Several of the others nod in agreement. “I think we should wait to open that sarcophagus until we’ve rested- but I don’t want to rest up here next to it,” Colder continues, and again he gets general agreement.

“How about if we rest in the forest?” Kyle suggests.

“Thoundth good,” Sir Cedric agrees.

So it is that our heroes retreat to the wooded level of the strange tower that they are exploring, and as there is a clearing immediately at the base of the stairs, they set their camp right there. Dahlia passes some goodberries around, and soon the group settles in to rest. Watches are kept; when morning rolls around, our heroes elect to continue to rest, at least for the rest of a full day. They are fairly beat up, and the rest does them a great deal of good, allowing wounds to mend, spells to be refreshed, the strange sickness that afflicted them all when they first awoke in this blasted land to be overcome. The goodberries keep away hunger, and Sir Cedric employs a bottle of whiskey to good effect.

“Well,” Otis declares, “it is clear that we need to go to the top of this place. We need to figure out how to ascend from the giant’s chamber. Also, have you noticed- there seems to be an elemental theme to this place.”

“What?” Goer looks confused.

“Yes,” Otis affirms. “The first level was airy, with mist, and flying beasts. The second level was a jungle, full of earth. Then a fire level. I posit that above the giant we shall find a level of water.”

“My master is brilliant,” Kyle breathes. He is really quite impressed.

“Well, let’s see what we can figure out,” suggests Otis. “Let us head up there. We are rested, recovered. What say you?”

“I agree,” nods Goer.

The rest of the party does so as well. Indeed, they are eager to get back to it. Though a few of them have some wounds remaining, none of them are now in dire straits. It is time to find the way up.

Back up in the giant’s chamber, they decide to attend to the sarcophagus first. A concerted group effort, Sir Percival in the lead, manages to remove the lid. Within it are merely a large brass armband and a large hammer.

“Ooh, a hammer,” Goer says, and snatches it up. It does not appear to be remarkable in any way other than its giant size, but again his smithing nature prods him into taking it with him.

“Hey, I found it!” cries Kyle. He’s pointing at the ceiling. “Up there,” he announces. “There’s a hole in the ceiling, in the middle of that magic gravity trap thing.”

“The reverse gravity field,” Otis corrects him.

“Whatever,” Kyle nods.

Otis’ eyes flash. This will be noted in your grade, he thinks frostily of his apprentice.

“So we have to fall up?” Sir Colder haltingly asks.

“Me fall again,” Me says.

A long discussion about the mechanics of the reverse gravity trap ensues, with the party trying to decide how best to get onto the ceiling without hurting themselves. They try a few rope-based attempts involving one person on the floor and one person in the field, and a few heads are bumped, and eventually someone is on the ceiling. Then they tie one end off to the big pllar of iron on the ground. With a couple of people bracing it on the ceiling, it becomes a workable bridge that can be climbed- though even so, the gravity reversal is disorienting enough that a couple of people take minor bumps and bruises.

Otis peers down the hole. “As I surmised,” he announces. “There is water down there- or should I say, up there.”

Dahlia declares, “Hold on a second and I’ll cast water breathing on everyone.” The party groups around and she dispenses her spell. Everyone has just under two hours worth of water breathing.

Goer sighs. “Here goes nothing,” he says, and jumps into the hole.

Next Time: The water level!

*Everyone over 20’ away had a 20% miss chance.

**At full health, our 6th-level Kyle has 13 hit points. Yikes!!
 

the Jester

Legend
Dramatis Personae (updated)

Our heroes currently consist of:

Lord Cedric of Whitewater, knight 3/priest 3.
Sir Jorgen Boatwright, sheriff of Whitewater and captain in the guard of Kamenda; fighter 4/rogue 2.
Sir Fwaigo "Goer" Smith, captain in the guard of Kamenda; fighter 6.
Sir Percival "Me", captain in the guard of Kamenda; barbarian 3/scout 3.
Sir Colder, captain in the guard of Kamenda; fighter 4/scout 2.
Otis Optimus, wizard 6.
Dahlia, lady of Castle Laagos; druid 7.
Kyle Goldenbow, apprentice to Otis; rogue 4/wizard 3.
 

the Jester

Legend
There is a moment of dizziness and disorientation as our heroes, one by one, splash into warm, salty, green water, apparently about 15’ deep. Struggling to surface, they see a small island ahead (about 25’ away) with sand and two palm trees. To the left and behind them, coral several feet high grows on the bottom of the small sea. Once again, the party must remind themselves that the place is indoors- here, a strong light, almost like sunlight, fills the area.

“Perhapth we thould check out the island,” Lord Cedric suggests.

The others agree, and begin stroking towards the sandy beach. Before they can reach it, however, Kyle cries, “Look!” He gestures with one hand as he struggles to draw out his dagger.

A dark form is moving quickly through the water towards our heroes- a big dark form.

“It’s some kind of fish!” Sir Colder cries. Otis treads water and fires a magic missile at the thing, peppering it with small darts of force.

“Hold on, I’ve got it,” Dahlia declares. She gestures and mutters, and suddenly the level of the water in a large area around our heroes drops precipitously! In only seconds, it recedes to a depth of only about 2’, and the great fish is unable to swim. Its massive bulk flops and twists, but it is out of its element now, and our heroes wisely back out of its reach.

“What is it?” wonders Kyle, even as Cedric hurls daggers and epithets at it. The party pours on the missile fire.

Dahlia tells him, “It’s an ancient type of fish. I’ve heard about them before- the weird ladies in Whitewater told me about it. They had some pictures of the bones of these things. It is called a dinicthys.”

“Who cares?” Goer japes. “Just help us kill it!”

Sir Colder is getting cocky. He gets too close, and the fish’s great mouth clamps down on his elbow! It starts trying to suck him into its mouth; the messenger gives out a shriek and struggles madly against it. “Help!” he yells. “I think it’s trying to eat me!”

“Worry not, Thir Colder!” Lord Cedric cries. “We will thave you!” With that, he leaps forward, swinging his heavy flail. The spiked ball slams into one of the dish plate eyes of the dinicthys, and clear gel squirts out. Then Sir Percival- Me- charges in, rumbling and gnashing his teeth and frothing at the mouth, and he smites the fish in the head, penetrating its brain and killing it!

The party wrenches Sir Colder free of the fish’s death grip. “Whew!” he breathes a sigh of relief. “Thanks! That was a close one...”

“Indeed,” Lord Cedric says emotionally, and gives him a crushing bear hug that goes on for an uncomfortable length of time. “Ah, my friendth, it ith quite a thing to be thtuck here, ith it not? We mutht find our foeth and dethtroy them! Brotherth in armth, together againtht all oddth! I am honored to be in the company of thuch fine men... fine men indeed!”

I am a lady,” sniffs Dahlia.

Otis is standing near one of the edges of the control water effect as our heroes converse. Suddenly, he cries out and begins moving away from it. “I think we should withdraw!” he calls.

“What?” Kyle asks. He backs up against the edge of the water near him. Suddenly, he cries out! Something in the water bites him! Whirling free, he sees- some kind of ray! Then his eyes widen as he realizes that there are more- and one of them emerges most of the way from the water in order to viciously bite his thigh, then withdraw back into the green water. “There are some kind of rays in the water!” he calls out a warning, backing off and wincing as his leg bleeds.

Otis and Kyle each launch a volley of magic missiles at rays near the interface. Each slays the one that he targets. Meanwhile, Cedric lays his hands upon Kyle’s wounded thigh and caresses it while whispering sweet words of Clymorian, his god. The wound closes, but it creeps Kyle out a little bit.

“They look to be retreating,” calls Lord Cedric. “Quickly! After them!!”

The party surges into the water in pursuit of their foes, and more of the devil rays glide through the water at them. The party is out of their element, but able to breathe, thanks to the water breathing spell that Dahlia cast upon them before they left the fire level. This prevents any unfortunate breathing incidents; however, it is no help when one of the rays starts casting spells, chilling the metal that Me carries, then healing the injured rays. The battle leads over the coral growths that our heroes saw previously, until finally most of the rays have been defeated and the caster is wounded. It attempts to flee, but Otis shoots it with a ray of frost, and this proves to be enough to knock it unconscious.

Taking stock of their health and resources, our heroes decide to investigate a little and then retire to the apparent safety of the island. Swimming further over the coral, they spot a large metallic hatch with a wheel-like device projecting from its center. The wheel is neither rusted nor corroded.

“Let’s open it,” Otis suggests.

“I’m still pretty wounded from that fish bite,” Sir Colder cautions.

“And several of us were wounded by the devil rays, too,” Sir Jorgen points out.

“Bah, we can handle any problemth that we uncover,” Lord Cedric snorts overconfidently.

Otis nods and attempts to turn the wheel, but to no avail.

“Oh, here, Otith- let me help you!” Lord Cedric throws his arms around the hatch from behind Otis, encircling the wizard in his embrace. He groans as he slowly tugs it open, revealing a shaft that heads upward. Goer swims forward in the shaft to scout it out, and after about five feet he feels a strange stomach-turning sensation. His head breaks water. The shaft continues upward, but there are rungs set into the wall, allowing for a relatively easy climb.

Quickly, Goer swims back to his friends. “I definitely think we should rest before we go to a whole new level of this tower,” Sir Jorgen opines, and the party agrees. While they talk, Kyle pulls out a bottle of peach brandy- they’re still underwater, mind you- and opens it. He tries to breathe it in, but it doesn’t really work; it just makes him cough a little. Ah well, you never know until you try.

The party swims away from the hatch. “At least we know where to go next,” remarks Sir Jorgen. Soon they reach the isle. It is about 40’ or 50’ in length and 20’-30’ in width. Two palm trees, about 15’ tall, are on the isle; near the shorter one is a large boulder. A few shrubs and some tall grass dot the small island as well. All in all, it is enough room to rest comfortably, but not enough room to be very interesting.

Their opinion changes when they search the isle. They uncover the remains of a small fire pit, probably about two months old. Moreover, there is a spot just off the island that has been used as a refuse dump. A few things seem to indicate that Sir Harth’s group passed through here, such as an old, torn, tattered tunic bearing his heraldry. There are also the remains of a couple of rays. They ate them, Sheriff Jorgen realizes.

“We’re on the right track,” he says grimly.

***

Our heroes settle into comfortable places on the little isle, eating some of their rations. Their food will not last forever, they already realize. If the entire land is as devastated as what they have seen so far, it will be hard work finding more.

“We should take some of that fish,” suggests Goer.

“It won’t really keep,” Kyle points out.

“True,” Sir Fwaigo (“Goer”) sighs. “What I really wish we had is some venison.”

Soon enough, our heroes’ musings on food are interrupted. A clicking, clacking sound starts coming from the far side of the isle, emerging from the sea, as crabs begin skittering up on the isle.

Quite a few crabs, and big ones. Over half a dozen emerge, none smaller than 3’ in diameter and several closer to 6’.

“Well, there’s our food right there,” Otis announces, and casts a fireball into their midst. Three of them cook in their shells. The others scream crabby screams and scuttle forward, snapping their claws. The party mostly parries their blows, but Jorgen gates clawed by one of the little ones, which grabs onto his leg and won’t let go. The sheriff cries out, grabbing the claw in both hands and prying it open. The party struggles with the crustacean threat, suffering several decent wounds, before they finish the crabs off. Even Kyle performs strikingly well in melee, using a rapier for nearly the first time!

The party’s planned rest is deferred for a crab feed.

***

After resting- and this time, they are undisturbed- our heroes ascend the shaft. At the top, they find themselves emerging into a large room. It is well-lit, with a domed ceiling 50’ high at the apex. The chamber itself is over 100’ in diameter. Three desiccated corpses lying on the floor.

“Well, well,” says Kyle.

Cautiously, with an eye for traps, our heroes examine the scene. The Sheriff muses aloud, “I hope those corpses don’t jump up and get us.”

Kyle suggests, “Yeah, maybe they’re vampires!”

Jorgen gulps and grips his spear tighter.

Then the corpses shamble up to attack.

Jorgen screams like a little girl and slams his spear forward into one of the corpses. “VAMPIRES!” he shrieks. The animate corpse makes a low grunt as he strikes it. Then a volley of magic missiles from Otis shoots out and takes it down.

The party slays the other two in a flurry of blows, and then Jorgen wipes his brow. “Must not have been vampires,” he says with relief. “That was a close one!”

“Well, we’re at the top,” Kyle states. “There must be something here.”

“Or else Sir Harth took something from here,” Otis hypothesizes.

The party checks the area, as well as the bodies. There are no exits that they can find other than the shaft that leads to the water level, below. The center of the room holds a small raised dais, atop with lays a cushion. Kyle examines it closely and pronounces that something rested on the cushion for a long time- but it is gone now.

“Harth,” Sir Jorgen nods.

“Harth traitor! Crush traitor!” Me snarls.

“He must have gotten what he was after, and now he’s trying to get home,” Kyle suggests. “I mean, think about it: he must think he has a way home, right?”

“Good point,” says Goer. “How are we getting home, if not for him?”

The question hangs in the air.

One of the bodies still has a ppurse (holding 41 cp, 15 sp, 1 gp), a wavy-bladed dagger, a suit of leather armor, robes like those worn by Sir Harth’s cultists, and a crude map of the area around the Ghost Tower. Better still, the corpse has three full water skins and 7 days rations.

“A map,” Cedric breathes. His pulse quickens.

“Show map to Me,” Me demands.

The party passes the map around. Off to the ‘north’ of the map is marked a cave with the notation “(safe from sky?) water!”. The map’s markings indicate it is a two day journey to the cave. One day to the east is what seems to be a wood noted “elfs”. Arrows pointing off the edge of the map are marked “capitol (Litel?) smoke?”.

“My friends, we have a clue,” says Sir Colder.

Next Time: Our heroes leave the Ghost Tower behind them!
 

the Jester

Legend
Across the Blasted Land

Our heroes march beneath a maroon sky. The ground is shattered and virtually lifeless; a few weeds poke up here and there, and occasionally there is a dying, wilted bit of scrub, but there is no real sign of life. The Ghost Tower of Inverness recedes behind them as they move into the mountains, following Sir Harth’s map towards this alleged safe cave. Dahlia, wild shaped into a bird, scouts in the air; there are no other visible birds or other flying creatures.

The party ascends a mild slope to the ridge surrounding a small dell. When they reach the top, they see a scene of utter devastation. Below them, the blasted remains of a small dell about a half mile long are visible. Splintered remnants of trees dot the cratered ground in places. A huge number of corpses, at least in the hundreds, lie blistered and burnt throughout the dell. The stink of death drifts up from the carnage.

“Ugh,” says Sir Cedric eloquently.

“Should we search?” wonders Sir Colder with distaste.

“No,” Sir Jorgen opines. “We’re on a mission. Besides, it doesn’t really look like there’s anything left out there worth searching. And the last thing we want,” he gulps, “is for more corpses to attack us!”

The party passes quickly through the area. The dead are, to put it mildly, numerous. Here for the first time, our heroes see some evidence of life- flies, insects and other small scavengers feasting on the dead. The sheriff urges the others to hurry, and Colder and Me keep a grim watch for any hidden aggressors. Our heroes’ march through the battlefield is unmolested, but the dead everywhere are unsettling.

A few hours later, there is another field of dead- but this time they are different: some kind of small folk. “They look like the guy who kept the death cows,” Sir Colder muses.

“Gnomes!” exclaims Dahlia.

Dead gnomes, about 100 of them. And scattered in their remains, the shattered metal bodies of about a dozen constructs that look basically like metal skeletons.*

“Odd’s bodkins!” exclaims Colder.

“Thethe thingth look motht unnatural,” Lord Cedric announces.

“Yes they do,” Dahlia confirms. “They’re some kind of machine or something.”

“Constructs,” Otis says grimly.

“Let’s go,” suggests Jorgen.

“Wait a minute,” Otis protests. “We should at least search this area quickly.”

“I don’t think we’ll find anything,” the sheriff demurs.

“Well, I’m willing to try, but if no one wants to help me, I’ll keep whatever I find.”

Jorgen shrugs. “Fair enough.”

The others take a break while Otis searches several areas of the field, returning triumphantly, bearing two rods and some kind of scroll.

“Well, well,” he smirks. “I found these two rods- as well as this map.” He unfurls it. “The writing is in Gnomish,” he adds, gesturing at the strange characters on the parchment. This map shows much more than the area on the map from the corpse (presumably) of one of Harth’s men, and fortunately Otis can read Gnomish. “This,” he points, “is labeled ‘human capitol’... this is ‘Melgith, safety’... ‘mountains this way (danger)’... this jagged gash is just labeled ‘demons’.”

“Fantastic,” says Sir Fwaigo (“Goer” to his friends). “The demons are between us and the capitol.”

“I spotted a chasm far ahead,” Dahlia muses. “I’ll bet that is what the jagged line represents.”

Perusing the map, Otis states, “Going around the demons necessitates going into the woods, here,” he jabs his finger at the map, “or here, into the mountains marked ‘danger’.”

“We can worry about which way to go when we get closer,” Dahlia presses impatiently. “For now let’s get to this cave of safety!”

“I’m getting tired,” Kyle whines. “Isn’t it time to rest for the night?”

The group pauses. With the sky never much changing, with no sun or stars, it is difficult to rate the passage of time. Their muscles are sore, their bones weary. Kyle is right. So our heroes spend a little time finding a reasonably defensible position before making camp for the night, with fair success... not that there seems to be much to defend against, at least so far.

As they bed down, Otis examines the rods he found more closely. Each has a number of glowing crystals on it; each also has a button. The only obvious difference between the two rods is the number of glowing crystals. Otis moves somewhat away from the party and holds one of the rods perpendicular to himself, then presses the button- and he is rewarded by a jet of flame that shoots from the rod! Cackling, he performs the same experiment with the other rod, to similar effect, even as the rest of the party bursts into motion, spooked by the display. Once they realize that it’s just Otis, they relax- but Kyle hurries over. “Master, you should let me have one of the rods,” he pleads.

“No,” Otis declares. “I searched them out; I earned them. Perhaps when you graduate.”

Sullenly, Kyle slinks away, but that night, whilst on watch, he pilfers one of the rods from Otis.

The next morning the party begins to break camp. Otis hurries over to Kyle and demands, “Kyle, where is the rod?”

All innocence, Kyle replies, “What rod?”

Otis glares. “Give me the rod. And give me your spellbook.” Reluctantly, and only after a great deal of complaining, Kyle complies; and Otis scrawls a fat “F” on the first page. Kyle is mortified.

Our heroes move forward. They can all feel their bodies weakening due to some powerful environmental effect; moreover, the few of them with magic items are distressed to see them become worn and tarnished while exposed to the maroon sky.** But there seems to be nothing that they can do about it, at least for the moment.

The party advances into a hazy area where the very air seems to put the group into a malaise. After an hour, they become slightly sick.

“Let’s hope we can get through this fast,” groans Sir Jorgen.

As the party moves through the haze, something gradually resolves into visibility ahead: a row of wooden Xes.

“Oh crikey,” Kyle whispers in horror.

The Xes run in a great long row, receding into the mist and out of sight. There are scores, at the very least, of elves hanging crucified from the wooden Xes.

A gulping sound reaches our heroes. They cast about for its source for a moment, and then Dahlia points.

“Caw! Caw!” Five surprisingly big vultures, with strange, red eyes and odd, slightly twisted shapes, are crouched atop several of the crucified elves, gobbling at tearing at the corpses. The sight makes Kyle and Dahlia slightly ill. It is but a moment’s work to dispatch the mutant vultures, which are surrounded by a stench so strong as to be nauseating; but they are no match for lances couched in a mounted charge, and for one of Otis’ fireballs.

“Search them?” wonders Otis.

“Not me,” protests Kyle.

“They are crucified,” Jorgen points out. “They were alive. Surely whoever had them captive didn’t leave any good loot on them.”

“Good sense, sheriff,” Otis nods approvingly.

As the party moves along, the wizard moves up to walk next to Goer. “Sir Fwaigo,” he announces, “I believe that you should have this.” He produces the wavy-bladed dagger that the party found at the top of the Ghost Tower of Inverness. “My investigations have shown it to be magical.”

“I use a sword,” Goer points out.

“But there may come a time when you will need a dweomered weapon to harm your foe. You may need it.” He sighs. “Besides, it doesn’t appear that it will last for long.”

When Otis drops back by Kyle again, his apprentice begins trying to persuade him to let him carry the second rod. Otis reminds him that he has an F. They squabble for quite a while, until finally Otis turns invisible, finishing the discussion.

“Fine,” Kyle grumps, folding his arms and staring off into the distance. He gives a start. “Hey, look!” he tells the others. “Some of the elves have been taken down!”

The party hurries over to check out the situation and see what, exactly, has happened to the bodies. It turns out that some of the Xes have been ripped from the ground and left to lie; the bodies are partially consumed.

“What did this, I wonder?” Jorgen muses.

“I’ll scout as a hawk,” Dahlia says, and her form changes in just a few seconds. She spreads her wings and launches herself into the sky. Meanwhile, Otis starts searching the elven bodies, finding the predicted not much. Kyle, meanwhile, says a few words over the dead in Elven.

A bottle of whiskey goes around at Cedric’s insistence, burning as it goes into our heroes’ bellies. “Brotherth in armth!” Lord Cedric cries. “Bound together by adventhure!”

The party continues marching after building a small cairn for the elves. Soon, they march on, and almost immediately they see a bird- whom they presume to be Dahlia- flying towards them. It leads the party on. Soon they spy a cave, and below it, a blasted crater.

Dahlia swoops up and circles the crater, then comes back.

Slowly, cautiously, our heroes approach until they can get a glimpse of what Dahlia is trying to tell them. When they do, the thing they see is bizarre and unnatural-looking. A brute of a giant, with three arms and an extra half a face, lounges in the crater. It looks like it’s napping.

“Oh boy,” whispers Goer.

Next Time: The crater giant!

*Think the Terminator without its human outer coating.

**Every day in the current environment, the pcs suffer 1 point of Con damage and put a wear point on all their magic items. Three wear points will ruin or reduce a magic item.
 

the Jester

Legend
The Story of Athach

The weird mutant giant yawns and stretches its three arms. Our heroes hurriedly drop back and begin whispering amongst themselves. Some feel that Kyle should attempt to sneak up and kill it; others feel that that would be a great way for Kyle to get himself killed. (Well, Kyle feels that, even if nobody else does.)

“Bah,” Otis Optimus snorts, ending the argument, “I shall kill from here- with my mystical powers!” And with that, the wizard stands up, glares at the sleeping mutated giant, and casts fireball.

The group is a good hundred yards from the giant; most of our heroes simply gape as a small red bead streaks out with amazing speed, leaving a trail of smoke twisting behind it in the air, and explodes right over the giant. Orange and yellow flames burst down, scorching the already-shattered crater.

Otis cackles with glee.

The giant roars in anger and wakes up.

Its shaggy hair burns off in an instant. Its skin reddens and blisters, and in places it even briefly ignites. The rough hide it wears blackens and gives off smoke. It survives the blast, however, and appears nothing if not enraged. It lurches to its feet, glares- with two hideous faces- at our heroes, and picks up a big chunk of rock.

“We mutht dethtroy it!” Lord Cedric declares, and begins moving forward as quickly as he can on Thunderpuss, his brawny mare. However, the broken terrain impedes him, and he is soon frowning as he realizes that he won’t be charging anywhere soon. This whole landscape is blasted, he thinks grimly. There is no intact footing, we have seen no living folk- only the dead. There are no children singing here.

“My lord!” cries Sir Fwaigo, aghast, as Cedric moves forward. He spurs his own mount to follow as quickly as possible. The others follow suit; they have no real choice. 100 yards is too great a distance for them to close easily, and to their dismay, the giant is able to throw his rock into their midst, missing Sir Colder by only a couple of feet. The giant mutant begins moving to meet them, pulling up another rock and throwing it as he comes. This one strikes Fwaigo’s horse, which whinnies in pain and distress as the chunk of rubble smashes into it. “Forward, horse!” he cries.

“Come, beatht!” Lord Cedric taunts as he starts circling off to the side. The giant throws another rock, this one at him, but the knight ducks it. “Yeth, that’th it! Wathte your prethiouth rockth on me!”

The giant keeps advancing, but suddenly it finds itself stepping into an area of spike stones that Dahlia has created! It grunts and keeps moving forward, clearly even more angry than before.

“Come, thtupid thing!” Cedric taunts again. “Meet my thword, and we will kill you!”

A bolt of lightning suddenly strikes down from the heavens, momentarily transfixing it. Dahlia has called lightning. The giant roars again; it seems to be weakening, and then a volley of magic missiles strikes it from Otis. It groans, brandishing its weapon- an uprooted tree with a tangle of roots and brambles- and swatting Lord Cedric with it! The Lord Whitewater reels from the impact, but maintains his position in the saddle. Grinning, he moves in and stabs the giant mutant. “Have at thee!” he cries.

The others are starting to get in on things, too. Sheriff Jorgen charges into the foe with his lance, piercing it rather severely. Me is pelting it with sling bullets. Bolt after bolt of lightning is striking the creature. Finally, it drops its weapon and falls to its knees, clearly surrendering.

Our heroes accept the surrender, although they are wary. The creature is a dumb brute; our heroes cannot communicate with it. The closest thing to a shared language they have is Dwarven, and the giant does not speak Dwarven. A few bits of structure sound familiar to those in the party that speak the Dwarven tongue; a few words are shared. But, all in all, our heroes must communicate with the giant- whose name they take to be either Aflek or Athach or something like that- through gestures. Lord Cedric makes a generous gesture almost immediately, casting cure light wounds on Athach.

“My lord, what are you doing?” exclaims Sir Fwaigo. “We can’t trust this thing!”

“Bah,” Cedric responds, “if it cautheth any problemth, we can thlay it eathily! The thmall amount of healing that I jutht gave it would be inthignificant. Bethideth, it hath thurrendered. It ith not going to attempt any thennanigans.”

Athach leads the party first into the crater; but as Kyle (who is in the lead, searching for traps, as the party proceeds) heads in, he immediately recoils, shaken. “Something’s wrong in there. There is some kind of weird energy or something.” He shakes his head. “We shouldn’t go in there.”

The group pantomimes to the giant, and a moment later the three-armed freak shuffles out of the crater. It then guides them to its cave- which Dahlia had previously seen from the air- and our heroes search it. Unfortunately, there is nothing of value or real interest inside; just old bones. Nonetheless, Sir Colder says, “Well, I’d say that encountering this guy is a good sign.”

“Huh?” asks Me.

“What do you mean?” Sir Jorgen elaborates.

“Well,” Colder answers, “he has to eat something, right? In fact, judging from the bones, he has to eat quite a bit.”

“So,” the sheriff realizes, “there must be something for him to eat.”

Sir Colder nods.

The party puts their heads together, debating whether or not to rest for the... well, in this marooned-skied land of madness, there is neither day nor night. But they discuss resting. In the end, despite worries about the loyalty of Athach, the party decides to rest. They set heavy guards, and soon most of them are asleep. Athach seems to nap; perhaps he, too, is worried about being murdered in his sleep.

Too soon, all the watches have passed. Smoked pteranodon meat makes for a tough, stringy breakfast; and then the party presses on.

We must catch Harth, most of them think.

Me crush traitor, thinks Sir Percival.

***

Our heroes approach an area with dark clouds rumbling overhead. Lightning flashes with unnerving frequency. Several times, a bolt of electricity arcs down nearby. Then Kyle is subjected to a literal bolt from the blue, as a lightning bolt zarks down from the sky. He leaps aside, narrowly evading it. “Crikey!” he exclaims.

As they traverse the wasted land in what they are coming to know as the Age of Madness, our heroes are subject to several more random bolts. Another one nearly cooks Kyle, but he dodges it again. Lord Cedric is not so fortunate; a bolt transfixes him for a moment, and he shrieks in pain. It is not lethal, though it might have been to a lesser man; afterward, Dahlia and Cedric tend his burns. His hair is virtually floating with static electricity.

As the party climbs out of a jagged crater, they spot what appears to be a wagon about a hundred yards off. It is turned on its side and appears badly damaged. It appears as though the beasts that pulled it have been slain, though at this distance it is hard to be sure.

“Maybe there’s a person,” Sir Jorgen says hopefully.

The party approaches and examines the scene. Kyle and Jorgen note strange damage to the wood- some sections appear almost melted- and etched bits of metal. Pieces of the horses that once drew the wagon are also melted away. A corpse, apparently of the driver, is within the wagon- or at least most of his corpse is; his legs are missing.

Unfortunately, just as our heroes are getting into a serious search of the wagon, Goer notices the ground beneath him heaving just an instant before a terrible mutant bug erupts from underneath him, biting him across the shoulders! The creature’s mandibles drip acid, and Goer cries out as the thing inflicts a terrific wound on him.

Our heroes react quickly, with Otis using one of the strange rods to fire a blast of flame at the beast. The monster squeals, then bites Jorgen as he moves in to attack. Jorgen, too, screams, for the monster inflicts a huge amount of damage on him.

“Rragh!” Athach attacks.

Which is to say, he attacks Jorgen.

His club smashes down, but the sheriff rolls to the side, crying out, “Athach, no!”

A crack of lightning! The mutated bug squeals again.

Me glares at Athach and growls. He goes into a rage, angered at the thought of traitor! But the bug is in the way.

Whissk. His greatsword clears his baldric, gripped in both hands, and with a roar Me attacks, swinging the blade through the creature’s body and cutting it basically in half.

Athach tries to run, but Dahlia strikes him with another lightning bolt. This time, the giant staggers. Otis and Kyle fire the rods that the party found again and again, hitting the giant with one blast of flame after another, and finally Athach collapses.

Dahlia keeps zapping it for a while just to be sure. “That thing was not natural,” she exclaims. “Two heads? Three arms?” She shakes her head, directing another bolt from her call lightning.

As the party prepares to move on, Otis nods to Kyle. “You did well in that battle,” he acknowledges. “Let me see your spell book.” He raises Kyle’s grade to a D- and allows him to keep the rod. “We might as well use it up,” the wizard says, “before the environment does.”

Our heroes search the wagon. The driver (who was a human) wore fine clothes (Kyle estimates that they’re worth about 5 gp; Colder takes them). He has a purse with some coins in it (85 gp, 20 sp). Moreover, the wagon’s contents are intact. Most of this stuff is rather mystifying to the party- specifically, several boxes of strange, flat metal rectangles measuring about 1/8” thick, 10” wide and 30” long. The metal is a strange, light green alloy that Goer (a journeyman smith) does not recognize. There are four such boxes (measuring 32”x42”x42”), each containing over a thousand treads. Of more interest to our heroes is a lead-lined box that holds what appear to be 20 potions.

Next Time: Our heroes spot a village!
 

the Jester

Legend
“It is an unbelievable wealth of magic,” Otis declares in wonder. “All of these are magical!”

The lead-lined box, along with a strange, padded interior made of some sort of heavy woven fiber, sits before our heroes, its lid open. Within are twenty small bottles of reddish liquid.

“But how?” wonders Kyle. “This environment seems to suck the magic out of things. How could these have survived?” The lapidary-cum-wizard’s apprentice scratches his head in consternation.

“Hmmm...” Otis contemplates for a moment, and then closes the box. “Aha! The box must have some kind of special properties. When I close it, I can no longer detect the magical radiance of the potions with my magic.”

“Maybe we can tranthport the whole boxth,” Sir Cedric suggests.

“We might even be able to preserve more magic items in there!” Dahlia exclaims excitedly.

There is a crack as a lightning bolt strikes down, not far from the party. Lord Cedric cries out in startlement. Our heroes are reminded again that the very environment itself seems to be set against them in this age of madness.

“We should be coming up on the ‘safe cave’ mentioned on the map of Harth’s that we found back in the Ghost Tower,” Sheriff Jorgen muses. “We can stop there, out of the lightning storm, and check the potions out.”

Indeed, the intrepid adventurers have been following the map since they left the tower, heading towards the cave, and it is not much longer before they reach it. Along the way, however, a lightning bolt stabs down and blasts Otis! He is badly wounded. “Perhaps we should rest when we reach the cave,” Colder says wryly.

The cave, when the party reaches it, turns out to be comfortably large, with no secondary passages. It does, however, have a spring in the back of it, which our heroes find to have a mineral flavor but to be perfectly potable. They fill a few empty skins, but are not too concerned with the issue of water, since Dahlia can create it almost at will. Kyle washes himself off as best he can in the little pool before the spring.

Outside, the lightning continues; but the bolts cannot enter the cave, and so our heroes are safe, at least for the moment. They examine the box of potions. All of the potions look exactly the safe, and it appeared to Otis (while his detect magic was running earlier) that they are all radiating the same kind of magic. Boldly, the wizard drinks one of the potions.

He gasps as some of his wounds knit.

“These are invaluable!” he exclaims.

“And maybe we can fit other stuff in there too,” Kyle smiles.

The party tries inserting a dagger that they found into the empty space where the potion was. Unfortunately, it does not fit correctly, and it begins to tear the inner lining of the box. Otis removes the dagger immediately. “We must be careful not to damage this box,” he declares.

Then rest and recovery- especially for the life-draining aspect of this deadly era- for a period of three days. Healing spells are cast, long term care is performed, and the electrical storm is given time to pass.

It doesn’t.

So, at the end of three days, the party sets off again. The map references an apple tree, but when they find it, it is burnt and destroyed.

The party consults the map. “According to the elf who accompanies us here from our time, Harth is heading to the capitol,” Otis says. “That isn’t on this map, but...” He pulls out the map that he found when he searched part of the field of gnomish bodies that the party found. “It is on this one!” He unrolls the map and jabs his finger down.

“Then let’s go,” cries Sir Colder.

Lightning bolts strike down periodically around our heroes- sometimes at our heroes. Otis is struck by a bolt again, and he again suffers a significant amount of damage. Dahlia heals him as best she can (and then casts protection from lightning on herself as an afterthought), but the party is very nervous about the amount of lightning coming down. “I hope that this storm doesn’t last much longer,” Jorgen thinks aloud.

When it is time to rest, Otis takes the greatsword that the party took from the fire giant in the Ghost Tower and plants it in the ground as a lightning rod. That night, the lightning strikes twice- and each time, it hits the sword. In the morning, our heroes find that the sword is twisted and blasted by the force of the bolts; it looks unlikely to be useable again.

Under a bloody sky cracked with lightning, our heroes keep moving. The lack of any normal life is chilling. There are no birds singing, anywhere. There are no small animals, not even any insects. Here and there a few plants struggle to survive. Dahlia shudders at how unnatural the place feels.

While they travel, of course, our heroes cannot use their makeshift lightning rod technique; again, the bolts strike down. This time, one hits Otis’ horse; another hits Jorgen’s horse, almost killing it. The party extracts a potion from the box and feeds it to the horse, which helps; but the poor beast is still somewhat hurt.

Hours of walking over jumbled terrain... the going is slow. It drags on and on. Lightning almost hits Sir Fwaigo. Broken rocks underfoot. Ankle-turning, if one is not careful. Hard on the shoes, too, Sir Colder reflects.

No people, anywhere, at least so far. At least, alive.

Finally, an end to the day’s walking. Our heroes fall into an exhausted slumber, with only two at a time awake and on watch. Again, they set up a makeshift lightning rod.

Jorgen and Kyle are on watch, deep in the night. They are talking quietly, alert for trouble. Suddenly, in the distance, there is a brilliant yellow burst of light. It is miles off, but still plainly visible in the distance. It is followed by a second, and then a third. The lights fade after about ten seconds. They seem to have originated miles away.

The party snaps alert and begins debating whether to investigate. “It isn’t that far out of our way,” Jorgen argues.

“But we have to catch Harth,” Otis retorts.

“We will invethtigate,” declares Lord Cedric.

The party veers off towards the apparent source of the light when they beginning traveling again. They never even know when they pass through an area whose air is ripe with the plague called the dwimmerills. Fortunately, none of our heroes catch the magic-impairing disease.

As they wander across the blasted plains of the age of madness, our heroes spot a pair of strange clouds of sparks and bursting flames. The two clouds begin moving towards them.

“Are they hostile?” wonders Kyle, casting mage armor and moving back. The clouds are accelerating.

Otis fireballs them, and then draws forth the rod. The clouds are plainly harmed by his spell, but both keep moving forward. The first rushes Sir Colder, who jabs it with his longspear as it comes, but it misses him. The other flows towards the more distant Lord Cedric.

Cedric spurs his horse, and she springs forward. With a glorious crash, the two of them charge away from the approaching cloud and into the one that is attacking Colder, but they are dismayed to discover that they cannot seem to harm it! Their blows simply cut through it ineffectively!

Jorgen charges the one that everyone is starting to dog pile with his lance. The shock of the impact splatters weird cloud-creature all over the place. Otis finishes off the other one with a volley of magic missiles.

“What were those?” Kyle asks in wonder.

Nobody has an answer.

The party continues to move towards the source of the flashes. Now they can spot a weird, reddish forest in the distance ahead of them. Arguments break out about whether or not this is such a good idea, and the closer to the weird forest our heroes come the more the arguments grow. But closer they get, until ahead of the party stretches a strange, warped wood. The deformed, off-colored trees rustle even when there is no wind. A strange, muted sound, like a multitude of sighs and groans, seems to rise from the wood. The trees are strange, twisted things, of no sorts that any of our heroes can recognize. Some are the dark red color of congealed blood, others a strange, fleshy pink-brown. Still others are the grey of meat gone bad. The smell from the weird forest is disconcerting, as well; it smells of earth mixed with blood, rot and feces. Amongst the sounds is the pattering of a gentle rain of suspect-looking fluid that splatters from the tops of the trees.

“We’re not going in there,” announces Sir Fwaigo.

“I think that the source of the flashes was a little further to the right- look!” exclaims Kyle, pointing.

In the distance is a village. But there are no signs of movement. There are cattle in the yards, however.

“You should go check that out,” Goer tells Kyle. “Aren’t you our sneaky guy?”

“I guess so,” Kyle answers, “but...”

“Kyle, I dare you to go tie a rope to one of those cows,” Goer says.

Kyle (who just can’t seem to say no to a dare) reluctantly takes a rope and starts moving towards the nearest cattle herd. “I’m gonna get myself killed,” he grumbles.

Next Time: Will Kyle get himself killed? Will our heroes investigate the village? And what’s the next environmental hazard that they’ll face??
 

the Jester

Legend
Kyle creeps forward, towards the still village. Closer... closer... closer still. He gulps nervously. He nears the cattle pen. None of the cows move. His eyes flick towards the rest of the village.

Kyle halts. His eyes bulge. “Crikey,” he whispers to himself.

Now that he is a hundred feet closer to the village than he was- than the rest of the party is- Kyle has gone up a subtle rise, and from his new elevation, he can see the bodies. The village is littered with the corpses of (presumably) its previous inhabitants. They lie scattered here and there, with no order, rhyme or reason. Kyle gulps again. He has always had a hard time refusing dares, but walking into this area just might be suicide.

Meanwhile, back at the party, Sir Fwaigo “Goer” Smith frowns. “What’s he waiting for?” he wonders. Scowling, he pulls out his shortbow and nocks an arrow. “Let’s see what happens if I shoot one of the cows!” he suggests cheefully.

Dahlia would normally object to the idea of shooting a cow; however, under the circumstances, she holds her tongue. I doubt very much that these are normal cows, she thinks grimly. She watches as Goer lets fly. The shaft shoots away, arcing up into the sky and then falling to earth, sinking fletching-deep into one of the cows.

“Did you see that? That was perfect!” Sir Fwaigo crows.

“I think Kyle is heading back towards us,” Sheriff Jorgen states, pointing.

“Hey, you didn’t finish the dare!” shouts Goer.

Kyle is hurrying back. “Screw that!” he exclaims. “That cow didn’t even move when you shot it, and there are bodies everywhere in that village! I’m not going any closer to that place- I think we should just avoid it entirely.”

Another short debate breaks out, but Otis points out, “We have no time to waste; we must pursue Harth.” This causes the party to agree that there is no time to waste, and they travel onward, turning back to the northwest. (Our heroes are only sure of which direction is which because of the gnomish map that they found, and because Otis can read the strange, bubble-filled script of the gnomes.)

Soon they find the ground beneath them starting to soften. They leave footprints behind them, obvious ones; but there are no obvious tracks other than theirs that they can see. As they move along, the ground becomes softer and starts to become sticky, almost like mud. Kyle starts to have trouble lifting his feet free of the clinging ground.* In the distance, to the northeast, our heroes can see the strange, red-tinted forest that they spotted earlier. “No thank you,” mutters Sir Colder wryly.

“This is getting ridiculous,” Kyle pants. “I need to rest.”

Otis grumbles.

“Unless someone wants to carry me?” the apprentice asks hopefully.

“ME!” roars Sir Percival. He lifts Kyle onto his shoulders, and the party moves on.

The hours pass. At one point, Me has to put Kyle down in order to try to free one of his boots that the muck is reluctant to release. He cannot manage it, and moves on barefoot. The party members that are mounted find it somewhat difficult going, for their horses’ hooves tend to sink several inches deep into the ground, and any lengthy delay causes them to sink deeper still. It is as if the environment itself conspires against them.

As our heroes proceed across the boggy area, they come to a small marsh about 60’ across. In the center of it is small strange-looking hut raised about 5’ above the water on stilts. The hut appears to be mostly wooden, but has what the party first takes for a stone roof. A rotting mound of vegetation hauls itself up from the marsh to oppose them, but they destroy it quickly and easily, and then they turn their attention to the hut.

It looks to have been the scene of violence. The body of an elf lies within it, savagely decapitated. “She was probably killed about two weeks ago,” Dahlia tells the others after briefly examining it. The interior of the hut is about 10’ in diameter and is strewn with broken effects. It contains a slashed sleeping cot, an overturned and partially burnt bookshelf, a small shelf holding a cup, bowl, knife and spoon and a small dresser that looks ransacked (articles of clothing are strewn about the hut’s interior). Searching it, our heroes find a bottle of fine elven wine that is in the corner on the floor. Otis is ecstatic to discover a partially-burnt spellbook that still has a few usable spells in it. (Later examination shows that it contains three usable spells- Otiluke’s resilient sphere, lead shield and whelming blast, none of which Otis has ever heard of before.)

“Hmm,” he muses. “I am surprised that this spellbook maintained its potency, even inside this hut.”

“Hey, look at this,” Goer calls. “The roof isn’t actually stone- it’s lead.

“Ahh,” Otis breathes. “Lead shield. I see.” Slowly, he smiles. I must learn this spell!

Meanwhile, Me takes the elf’s boots. Grinning, he comments, “Me has boots.” He begins brushing the mud off of his feet and, after a few moments, he pulls the new boots on. They fit well enough, and Dahlia notes that they appear to be coated in duck oil.

“That’ll keep your feet dry,” she remarks.

“I suspect that we can rest safely here,” Otis announces. “I believe that the lead roof will protect us, and one of the spells that is in this book is called lead shield. Given some time, I may be able to protect some of us from the environment.”

“Thertainly, that would be a worthy uthe of our time,” Sir Cedric lisps.

And so our heroes spend a few days resting, recovering their health, healing and- as best they can in this age of madness- relaxing. They try to stay within the confines of the little hut, making for a very crowded few days, but it is probably better than exposing themselves to the life- and magic-draining environment. Outside, the maroon sky looms overhead, ominous and omnipresent.

Dahlia does spend some time scouting, wild shaping into a bird and circling alone in the sky. Nothing else flies nearby. She beats her wings until she gains enough altitude to see miles ahead.

A chasm, she realizes.

Indeed; there is a great gorge that cuts across the party’s path. Fortunately, a bridge appears to cross it. Unfortunately, at the bottom, Dahlia can see movement. Swooping closer, she is horrified.

The chasm is some 80’ across and easily 200’ deep. The walls are sheer and acrid fumes rise up from below. At the bottom, a field of hundreds of impaled bodies is plainly visible even from her vantage point high above, and large, demonic forms tending them are visible by the dozens.

They’re mostly off to the side of the bridge, on both sides. I wonder...

She calls lightning, and a moment later a bolt of electricity shoots down from the sky at one of the great frog-like creatures. To her shock, there is no effect.

The demon vanishes. A few moments later, it reappears- and about a dozen more appear with it.

Uh-oh, she thinks.

Dahlia swiftly flies away, taking a very circuitous route back to the hut in the small swamp. Her mind spins. How are we going to get across that? she wonders.

Next Time: How will our heroes cross the bridge- or will they fail?? Find out next update!

*Kyle is the low-strength character in the party.
 

the Jester

Legend
“We will have to be very cautious,” Otis opines grimly. “From Dahlia’s description, if we are not careful, we may be beset by a large number of demonic enemies.”

“If we can get close enough,” Kyle offers, “I can turn invisible and sneak across the bridge to scout it out.”

“Be careful,” warns Sir Colder.

“Oh, believe me,” Kyle replies, “I will.”

***

Under a featureless maroon sky, with no sun or stars, our heroes trek from the sticky, swampy area and move forwards towards the bridge. The great chasm that it crosses comes into view soon enough, and as the party approaches the edge, Dahlia warns them of the horrors that she saw- hundreds of bodies impaled, some of them still alive and tormented by the demons below. It is a sickening garden of pain.

“Perhaps we could try to rescue them,” Sheriff Jorgen muses, but Dahlia shakes her head.

”Believe me, there are too many demons. It would be suicide.”

“I don’t know how much we should interfere with this time anyway,” Kyle adds. “What if we mess up the past, and damage our present?”

The group proceeds in near silence. Shortly, the bridge comes into view- a rickety, wood-and-rope affair that looks unreliable and rather perilous. Gusts of wind shake it, and the creaking sounds of the cords that are strung across to the far side of the gap is all too audible.

“Our hortheth will not be able to croth thith bridge,” Lord Cedric points out.

“We don’t have a choice,” Otis replies. “We must not let Sir Harth escape us! It will take us miles out of our way to go around.”

Cedric remains silent, but he places his hand on Thuderpuss’ flank.

“You’re up, Kyle,” Goer says cheerfully.

With a gulp, Kyle turns invisible and begins to slowly, cautiously cross the bridge. It sways under his slight frame, and the creaking sound seems to grow louder. He swallows nervously, hoping that the bridge can hold his weight (I’m light as a feather, he reassures himself).

Kyle looks down.

Gasping, he squeezes his eyes shut. That was a bad idea, he thinks. Clenching his teeth, he continues his advance, foot by foot working his way towards the other side. His friends are clustered about a dozen feet from the edge of the gorge, where Kyle can easily see them but they should be hidden from view from the demons in the bottom of the chasm. Fortunately, Kyle thinks, there is only one really close by. As long as we don’t make a huge ruckus, we’re probably fine...

He is almost across the bridge, now- no more than 20’ to go. And then he grows cold as a terrible-looking troll emerges from the rocks at the far side. The muscles of its arms are strange; they seem to ripple and flow, almost like liquid.

The troll rumbles out a laugh and coughs, “I can smell you.”*

Otis- back on the near side of the bridge- does not hesitate for even a moment. I hope Kyle isn’t too far forward, he thinks grimly, and launches a fireball.

Everything happens very quickly.

The troll howls, staggering backwards as the flames lick up around it. Simultaneously, caught in the blaze of fire, the ropes at the far end of the bridge crumbles to ash, and Kyle can hear the snap of the ropes breaking apart. “Oh crap,” he whimpers, and wraps several of the ropes around his arm- and then the far end of the bridge drops away, swinging back towards the near wall of the canyon, slamming into it with incredible force and almost bouncing Kyle free and down into the demon gap below. Gasping, the elfblood starts to slowly climb. He glances down just in time to see the demon, which had been idly poking at the impaled victims below, vanish.

Above, where the rest of our heroes stand ready at the top, the demon appears from nowhere is a puff of foul-smelling vapor. It guffaws crudely and opens its large, dagger-toothed mouth in a wide grin. The party and it exchange a few tentative blows, none of which even hit the demon; its casual, backhand claw, on the other hand, nearly tears Jorgen’s arm from its socket.

“Fall back!” shouts Goer.

“What about Kyle?” cries Dahlia.

Cedric, Lord of Whitewater, gives a wild battle cry and charges the demon.

He half-expects it to kill him in a single blow; as he closes with it, it smacks at him, but his shield takes the worst of it. “RAAAAAGHH!!!” he roars, slamming into the demon with all his might, bull rushing it back- and off of the edge of the cliff! He watches triumphantly as the fat, frog-like thing plunges down, down- onto one of the stakes on which the bodies below are impaled!

“Serves you right!” Sir Colder shouts after it.

Kyle, meanwhile, finally reaches the top of the rope bridge, which is hanging rather precariously from its moorings at the near end of the canyon. Gasping, he pulls himself up and announces his presence.

“Uh-oh,” Lord Cedric mutters.

Below, on the stake, the demon twitches. Its arms flail about. And then- it vanishes.

“Let’s get out of here!” cries Jorgen. “Those things seem to be able to move from place to place instantly, like that demon that was working with Sir Harth!”

“It’s probably going to get its friends,” Sir Colder says. “I concur with the sheriff. Let’s get away from here!”

The party moves away as fast as they can, riding double where possible and leaving the fastest on foot to run alongside. The demon gap recedes behind them as they retreat, and no pursuit is apparent. After a few minutes they halt to discuss their next course of action.

“Clearly, we have to go around the canyon,” Sheriff Jorgen states. “I don’t think going through it is an option. What do we know about the terrain?”

Dahlia replies, “Well, as a bird, I could see that there are mountains in one direction and that weird red forest in the other. The forest is closer, and I could tell that the canyon draws to a close a couple of miles inside of it.”

“So we would have to go into that unwholesome place,” muses Goer.

“Me not like woods!” Me exclaims.

“On the other hand, the mountains are back the way we came- in fact, I think that they’re the same mountains that we passed through when we left the Ghost Tower. It’s reverse progress, and I couldn’t see the end of the chasm.”

The party debates for a few moments, but Otis’ argument remains very persuasive: There is no time. We have to catch Harth. No backtracking!

“At leatht we did not have to leave our mountth behind,” Cedric says gratefully as the party turns towards the strange twisted woods.

As they make their way across the mad land, our heroes are alert for signs of pursuit from the demons of the canyon. None seems to be coming, however, and their nervous glances at the chasm to the north almost cause them to miss the next threat coming their way.

Whirring and clicking, two machines come over a rise before the party. They halt and survey our heroes for a moment. Roughly man-sized, roughly man-shaped, they are clearly artificial. Like skeletons of metal and glass, with long sharp blades built into their hands, the things are clearly of the same ilk as the shattered specimens that our heroes found earlier amongst the dead of one of the battlefields that they have stumbled upon here. One of them shows some signs of damage.**

Colder steps up. “Where are your masters!” he barks. “Go back, I command you!”

But the machines seem to focus on him, Dahlia and Kyle- the three of our heroes with elven blood in their veins.

They speak in unison, a single word that our heroes cannot comprehend, but its meaning is quite clear. The machines move to attack.

The battle is furious.

There are only two of the things, but they are fast and deadly, springing into battle, leaving telling wounds and springing back out. The party quickly finds that the machines are deadly precise with their blades. They are also very magic resistant; neither Kyle’s magic missiles, nor Dahlia’s call lightning, can do much of anything to them. No, this is a fight that will only be won with sweat and steel. Thunderpuss, Sir Cedric astride her, throws her chest into one of them, knocking it back, and Cedric strikes at it with his bastard sword. Jorgen, Me and Goer all put their best efforts forward. The constructs are too quick, difficult to damage, almost impossible to stop! When blades do manage to connect, they seem to mostly deflect from the hard metal of the killing machines.

Finally, Sir Fwaigo, using all the strength developed in his arms over years at the forge, manages to land a blow solid enough to crash through one of the constructs’ head. Sparks and smoke flare out, and the first of the creatures seizes up, freezes and topples. The lights glowing behind its eyes dim and die.

Then everyone is able to surround the other one, and though it cuts and thrusts into our heroes with deadly skill, its movements are impeded. Able to focus better, to aid one another in landing solid blows, it only takes our heroes a few more seconds to finish it. With a pair of great hews, Sir Percival (“Me”) cuts the remaining war machine nearly in half!

All around them, wiring, nuts and bolts, springs, broken bits of metal and glass and strange, unidentifiable things litter the ground. Weird oil and lubricating fluids are pooling on the ground, slowly seeping into the cracked and blasted earth.

Kyle starts digging through the mess, looking for anything interesting that he can salvage.

“Me hurt,” comments Me. He is bleeding from several deep wounds. Dahlia and Lord Cedric are tending the party’s worst wounds.

“Perhaps we should rest,” suggests Otis. “My spells are depleted, we are wounded and tired...”

“Let’s at least get away from here first,” suggests Jorgen. “For all we know, there may be more of these things coming.”

That idea is enough for Kyle to give up on trying to extract one of the eyes from the more-intact war machine head. Our heroes move away for about half an hour, then halt, make camp and set watches. Those not on watch settle in to a troubled night’s sleep- at least, as much as it can be called night when there is no difference in the sky from one minute to the next. Their night is uninterrupted; and in the morning, as refreshed as they can be in the life-draining land that they are forced to traverse, they break camp.

As they are packing their gear, Otis casts a spell upon himself: his new discovery, lead shield. He casts another on Kyle. “That should protect you from the disabling properties of this land, as well as preserving the dweomers of your magic,” the wizard tells his apprentice.

And they move on towards the strange forest.

As they travel, they once again come onto a ravaged battlefield. This one is strange and disconcerting, however, for no clothes, armor, weapons or other things remain: only naked corpses, terrifically damaged. They show the signs of battle, including cuts and stab wounds, but nowhere is even a single broken spear or a tattered remnant of a banner. The ground itself looks scoured, and rather than the churned earth one normally finds at the sight of a battle, there are only pitted stones and broken gravel. There are probably several hundred corpses here, all of them apparently human.

“Bad magic,” grunts Me.

“I think you’re right,” Otis says slowly. So far, he has been the one to insist on at least a cursory search of the battlefields that the party has come across; but this time, he decides against it. After all, there is no sign of any treasure (as the only things visible on the field are naked corpses), but there is a real chance of danger.

We must pursue Harth. There is no time.

The party moves on, and soon they are near the horrible wood again. Ahead of the group stretches a strange, warped wood. The deformed, off-colored trees rustle even without wind. From the woods, strange groaning and spattering sounds emerge. The twisted trees are distinctly unnatural, more the colors of meat than of plants, from the dark red color of congealed blood to a strange, fleshy pink-brown or the grey of meat gone bad. The smell from the weird forest is disconcerting, as well; it smells of earth mixed with blood, rot and excrement.

“No,” Dahlia murmurs to herself, “I don’t like this at all.

Next Time: Within the Warped Wood!

*Speaking in Elven.

**Think of them as being similar to the Terminator, once all the human-looking junk is stripped away.
 

the Jester

Legend
Dahlia shudders as she passes beneath the spoiled trees. She shivers when a droplet of some strange, greasy fluid falls on her from above. Her nostrils flare at the unnatural, strange odors emanating from the place.

It is horribly unnatural. It is abnormal- in fact, it is an abomination.

And yet, there is no choice.

Her gorge rising, she reluctantly follows her friends beneath the pink and grey boughs of the warped wood. Neither the sights, nor the sounds, nor the smells of the place are right. To Dahlia, who is tightly tuned to the normal rhythms of nature, it is an experience both disgusting and terrifying. She glances at her companions; they are all plainly disturbed and unsettled by it, but they simply do not understand just how fundamentally wrong the forest is.

She shudders again. After a moment’s thought, she turns into a bird and flies up, slightly above the canopy. To hell with being in this forest.

***

Pushing through a thick mass of pulsating growth, our heroes see a bizarre creature, like a rabbit but with a single twisted horn coming from its brow, sitting atop a greenish stump, covered in vines with flowers sprouting from the top. It cocks its little bunny head, the sharp-looking horn swiveling around as it looks at them.

“What,” Lord Cedric cries, “ith that??”

“I believe,” Otis replies calmly, “that it is called an al-mi’raj. We should leave it be.”*

“Very well, on your recommendathion,” Lord Cedric says. He glares at the al-mi’raj suspiciously for a moment.

Suddenly, the stump erupts with tentacles that reach out, battering and grabbing- Goer! With a cry, Sir Fwaigo is torn from the saddle and ripped into the air! He yelps and tries to draw his sword as tentacles pummel him, but he is knocked unconscious before he can even finish pulling it from its sheath!

“Goer!” cries Lord Cedric.

Kyle and Otis both blast the weird creature with magic missiles, while Sir Percival- Me- moves forward. Cedric charges in on Thunderpuss, slamming his lance’s tip deep into the stump that the ‘al-mi’raj’ is sitting on. Weird, gravy-like fluid beings flowing sluggishly out of the wound. Thunderpuss slams a hoof down, pounding into one of the tentacles. The creature squeals in pain.

Jorgen, meanwhile, pulls out his rope. It is already tied into a lariat, suitable for catching wrong-doers; as the sheriff, he never knows when he might need it. He whirls it above his head, spreading it open, and then flicks his wrist- and lassos Goer! He begins tugging at him, trying to pull him free of the weird plant-bunny-monster thing’s firm grip.

Then Me charges into the fray. The monster is too distracted by its tug-of-war against Jorgen to land a blow on the pissblood as he rushes in; and then, in a single mighty stroke, Me finishes the thing off, hacking it nearly completely in two! Sick-smelling, gravy-like stuff spews all over. Me roars, Goer falls, released, to the ground, where Dahlia is flittering down to join the group (and thus is able to quickly stabilize his wounds), and everyone heaves a sigh of relief.

“This place,” Sir Colder grimaces, “disturbs me greatly, mangle dangle.”

“You’re not the only one,” Sheriff Jorgen nods with a hollow laugh.

The party continues; what else can they do? The same thought goes through all of their minds: Harth. Must stop Harth. Catch him, stop him. Harth. Harth the traitor. Even simple Percival, who cannot say his own name due to its having three syllables, is on the same line of thought as his companions.

After following a small creek for a moment, the party spies a strange hut sequestered amongst the weird trees of the wood. It is a hovel, really; it looks to be of slipshod make, and that is assessing it generously.

“Could there actually be someone living here? In this forest??” Kyle seems dumbfounded.

“Probably just more corpses,” Sir Colder opines. The party moves up towards the hut and opens the door.

An old, balding half-elf stands up within as the door swings open. He has a silver corona of hair dusting the top of his head, but that is all. Wire spectacles perch atop a crooked nose. His chin is prominent. He is thin but not scrawny, with a suit of armor made of the hide of some thick-skinned beast. He says something in a demanding tone of voice, but none of our heroes can understand it.

“We mean you no harm,” Sir Jorgen says, hurriedly stepping forward before someone else opens their mouth and ruins all hope of making friends with this guy. “We’re hunting some powerful criminals. We need to stop them. Can you help us?”

The half-elf stares at him.

“Who is this guy?” Goer demands. “What is he doing here? I don’t think we can trust him, not if he lives out here.”

“We need to try to talk to him,” Jorgen insists. At his urging, the party tries all the languages that they know collectively. Unfortunately, the hermit doesn’t respond to any of them.

“I don’t trust him,” Goer repeats.

“Well, what do you suggest? We certainly can’t just kill him. For all we know, he is one of the last survivors of the entire kingdom here.” Jorgen shrugs.

Sir Colder adds, “For all we know, he might be your ancestor.”

“That’s a sobering thought,” Kyle says with a nervous chuckle. “We should be very careful about changing things back here, in case it messes up our time.”

“‘Your time’? What do you mean, ‘your time’?” the hermit demands, in perfect Kamendan.

Next Time: The twisted hermit!

*In all fairness, Otis’ player instantly knew what this beastie was.
 

the Jester

Legend
The Twisted Hermit

Otis bows respectfully to the strange half-elven hermit. “Our situation,” he says gravely, “is complicated... but it is gratifying to find a rational, living person. Tell us, how is it that you have survived here? This forest does not seem... safe.”

The hermit gives Otis a sharp look. “Well, you didn’t answer my question,” he notes.

“You need to answer our questions!” Sir Fwaigo snaps. “How are you surviving out here? Who are you? Whose side are you on?”

“Have you theen,” Lord Cedric interjects, “any other people, traveling? Perhapth with a beholder- that ith, a thtrange ball of eyeth that floatth through the-”

“You should mind your familiar,” the hermit snaps at Otis, ignoring the others. He glares at the bird-form of Dahlia, who was trying to sneak into the hermit’s hut.

Dahlia mentally shrugs. She could play the familiar, and try to trick this weird hermit; but she sort of relates to him, as she is a crazy hermit herself. So she changes back to her normal form and nods to the hermit. “I am no familiar,” she announces.

The hermit frowns darkly. “Well, you stay out of my hut unless I invite you in! Don’t you think that it’s rude to go into someone’s home uninvited? Punks.”

“Look, we mean you no harm,” Goer says, growing exasperated. “We’re trying to catch some criminals from our time that are headed to your capitol.”

“My capitol?” the hermit asks archly. “What makes you think that I have a capitol?”

“The capitol of Palantia,” Lord Cedric throws in.

“Perhaps you could help us pass through this, ah, lovely forest of yours,” Kyle hints. “Then we’d be out of your hair right away.”

“I don’t,” the hermit retorts flatly, “have much hair.”

“Well, figuratively speaking-”

“And what makes you think that this is my forest?”

“Well, you’re living here,” Kyle answers lamely.

“Look, how are you surviving out here?” Goer demands.

“Have you theen thith thymbol?” Cedric queries, producing Harth’s ancestral ring. His symbol- a rose wrapped round a sword- is etched upon the face of it.

“Wait, wait...” The hermit holds up a hand. Everyone goes quiet after a moment, Goer fuming. “You’re all talking too fast. Start over. Who are you, and what do you want?”

Dahlia speaks up. “We’re sorry to bother you- I know you probably just want to be left alone- but we are pursuing a criminal and his beholder ally and his cult. He is trying to capture powerful weapons to take back to our homeland, and we’re trying to stop him. But there’s a big canyon full of demons that we can’t pass through, so we are trying to go around it. This weird, warped wood that we are in seems really dangerous, but you’re doing all right here. We were hoping that you could lead us to a path, or give us directions, or something, so that we can get around the canyon and back out of the woods.”

“You don’t have to talk so loudly,” the hermit complains.

“Sorry,” Dahlia sighs.

The hermit rubs his chin. He seems lost in thought.

“Please,” Otis asks, “if you have any knowledge that would help us-”

“Knowledge? That would help you? Wait here.” The hermit moves back inside his little hut, slamming the door behind him. About five minutes pass before he returns, bearing a book (which he hands to Otis). “This should have some helpful knowledge in it. It’s about art history. Do you know anything about art history?”

“Not much,” admits Otis. “Thank you.” He glances at the book, but cannot understand the script on the cover. A great treasure, he thinks to himself. Knowledge- any knowledge- from this period may prove invaluable.

“Really, I can’t imagine what they teach you kids these days,” the hermit says sourly. “You kids don’t seem to ‘get it’, if you know what I mean.” He shakes his head. “Anyway, yes, I can lead you to a path that will get you out of here, and without you encountering the gibbering heap. I can- I could.

“The what?” Goer exclaims.

“Do you know anything about those metal skeleton things we keep seeing?” asks Jorgen.

“Have you theen thith thymbol?” repeats Cedric.

“And what do you eat out here?” wonders Dahlia. “Would you like a berry? They’re quite fulfilling.”

He peers at her proffered berry suspiciously. “No,” he snaps. With a shrug, Dahlia eats the goodberry herself.

The hermit frowns, glancing from person to person. “Wait, wait, wait!” he barks. “You’re talking too fast! Slow down, you’re confusing me!”

Our heroes collectively grit their teeth. Getting information from this frustrating old hermit is like pulling teeth from a wild steer!

“Thith thymbol,” Lord Cedric repeats.

“And there is no need to shout!” yells the hermit. And then he adds, “That looks like some kind of symbol of love.”

“It is the heraldry of our foe, Sir Harth,” Jorgen informs him.

“What is your name?” Dahlia asks.

“Me!” pipes up Me.

“I am called Randall,” the half-elf sniffs.

“Has this forest always been like this?” the druid asks again.

“Like this? Of course not!” Randall exclaims. “This happened during the war.”

“The war?” asks Sir Colder.

Randall sighs. “I cannot believe how ignorant you are! Where have you been while the world fell apart?”

Dahlia replies, “We are from... another time.”

“Oh, so you’re finally going to answer my first question,” Randall snorts disdainfully.

“From the future,” the druid goes on. “We are ignorant. In our time, all of this is forgotten. The world is a primitive place, with nowhere near the magical powers you seem to have in this time. All the elves are gone. Please- anything you can tell us would be very helpful. Who was the war with? What was it about?”

Randall nods. “Your story is unbelievable.”

Dahlia shrugs eloquently.

“But then, so is everything else these days,” the strange hermit mutters. He sighs. Goer opens his mouth to talk again, but Randall jabs a finger at him and hushes him. “The war was with the elves, of course. It was all because the stupid humans-” he glares at the party- “thought that the elves knew the secret of immortality, and wouldn’t share it.”

“But isn’t that just because of the way elves are?” Dahlia inquires.

“Yes, but the humans didn’t believe it. They figured it must be some kind of magical potion or ointment given to elven babies. Fools! They understood nothing. Bah, that’s why I am here- no one ever understands me.”

“I can relate to that,” Dahlia muses. “I live alone, away from the townsfolk, in my time. They’re always calling me a witch and they think I’m to blame for whatever misfortune they have.”

“Yes!” Randall shouts. “Three-eyed calves, poisoned wells, ill weather- oh, it must be Randall. Bah!”

“Better to be alone,” nods Dahlia. The two hermits eye each other. It seems as though Dahlia’s words have struck a common chord in Randall. Suddenly he becomes much more helpful, and- although mixed with invective and bitterness- information begins to flow out of the twisted hermit. He tells them that the metal skeleton constructs are called, quite simply, war machines. They are agents of the Palantian military, sent out roving to destroy the elven invaders. Sir Colder wonders why the war machines attacked the (mostly human) party. Randall replies that Palantian citizens are marked magically when they are born; that is how many magical effects know where to propagate, or where not to propagate. He shows Dahlia his secret garden of weird, fleshy plants with fruits that strongly resemble organs.

”But how can you live on this?” she wonders. “Is it harmful?”

“To others, yes. But not to me,” Randall replies smugly, “I’m a twisted hermit.” He scrutinizes her. “I could teach you,” he offers.

She considers the offer as she continues to draw out more information from him. Sheriff Jorgen is relieved to hear that the Warped Wood (as Randall refers to it) is not home to any vampires. Simultaneously, meanwhile, Goer tries to teach Me to play rock paper scissors, with hilarious but unsuccessful results.

“Would you like some apple seeds?” Dahlia offers.

Randall almost chokes up at the offer. It seems to be the deciding factor for him, as he offers to lead our heroes around the ‘gibbering forest’, whatever that is. Soon the party is moving through the weird, meaty forest. Suspect fluids spatter down from above; odd smells drift through the air. After a few hours, they hear a faint gibbering in the distance, but with Randall’s help they circumvent it.

“This wood was once home to many elves,” Randall tells the party. “It weeps for their murders. This was murder, not war. That’s what the fluid is, at least some of it- the blood of the elves.”

Whatever it is, it makes our heroes queasy. Dahlia tries to talk to the woods, and they seem to almost sing a sad dirge to the elves; and then, about five hours after Randall begins to lead them away, he stops. “Just keep going straight along this path,” he directs the group. “It will lead you out. I am going home.”

“Why?” asks Jorgen. “Maybe you should come with us. It might be safer-”

“My home is safe enough,” Randall retorts, “for me.

The sheriff shrugs. “Very well, then; thank you.”

An hour later, they exit the strange wood.

Next Time: A piece of normal! Another village! And signs of Sir Harth’s group!!
 

the Jester

Legend
Trudging under the sunless maroon sky, our heroes continue their journey towards the capitol city, or whatever remains of it.

”We’ve been here for weeks, probably,” Kyle says suddenly, “and we’ve only found one friendly person. The elf was right, when we arrived- there’s no help to be had.”

It is a gloomy thought. None of the others respond to his words, leaving them hanging in the air. The only thing that allows the party to feel any hope is the fact that they know that things get better. After all, they are from the future, and though the insane power of magic evident everywhere here has been lost, civilization has rebuilt itself over time.

Our heroes clamber up a pile of blasted rocks- and gasp. They stop in wonder. About 50’ ahead i a beautiful grove of trees, verdant with growth and singing with birds. A ring of standing stones surrounds it. The whole thing is in stark contrast to the devastation all around it, and measures about 30’ in diameter.

“What the hell is this?” demands Sir Fwaigo indignantly. “This can’t be right!”

“No,” Dahlia whispers. “It is right- the rightest thing we have seen since we got here. I can feel Nature in it...” She half-closes her eyes. A smile wanders across her face.

Carefully, the party advances into the circle. Normal plants and animals are thriving in unnatural numbers. A central pool offers water. The great stones- menhirs- loom above them. Dahlia feels an almost-overwhelming desire to touch one, but she resists, casting a suspicious glance at the stones.

The party dallies in the area for a while. Dahlia speaks to some of the animals, who seem frightened of the area surrounding the circle. She also speaks to the trout in the pool, then catches oe for Jorgen, who cooks it.

It is the most relaxed our heroes have been since they plunged through the portal to this terrifying apocalyptic landscape.

After a time, Dahlia begins to frown. Something makes her stomach turn. Something is not right- and, the more she thinks about it, the more she realizes that it is her. She looks at the stones closely; there are similar, ancient standing stones of unknown origin in her home land- could these be the same? Slowly, a sad realization dawns on her. “They reject me,” she groans. “I’m not natural to them- none of us are- because we’re not from this time!”

“Oh. Perhapth we thould leave?” Lord Cedric asks her.

She sighs and nods. Sadly but fairly quickly, our heroes leave the circle of stones behind, and the life that it carries.

“That was cheering,” remarks Sir Colder happily. “We’ve now seen that some life survives fairly well, at least in the short term.”

Sheriff Jorgen nods and smiles. “You’re right. I hadn’t thought about it that way, but that was a wonderfully hopeful sign.”

***

Hours and hours, miles and miles they travel- and then Me grunts and points. “Me see something!” the big dumb loveable half-orc rumbles.

The others stop and peer in the direction that he is pointing. He pulls forth his spyglass for the party when asked, grinning tuskily. It appears as though there is a small walled village ahead.

“We should at least check it out,” Goer says. “Maybe Harth left some signs there.”

The party moves forward. The walls are of an unfamiliar white material that is neither ceramic nor stone nor metal.

”Goer, do you have any idea what this is?” asks Jorgen. “You’re a smith.”

“I am too!” Lord Cedric declares. “By the power of my pinky finger!”

“Well,” Sir Fwaigo “Goer” Smith answers the sheriff, “it’s not metal, I can assure you of that.” He taps on it with his finger. “I don’t know...” He shakes his head. “I’m sorry, I can’t identify it.”

The party continues moving along the edge of the wall until they come to a damaged section. It shows the signs of great violence. All around it, the ground is scorched and damaged. Bits of rock and metal are actually melted here and there around the area. A section of wall about 10’ wide gapes open, clearly blasted by considerable power.

Carefully, our heroes move through the wall at the destroyed section and look the village over. There is a building that might be some kind of church, with a weird instrument at the top of it, not far from their entry point; a circle of stones is a bit further to the left. Houses and small businesses are also in the town, as well as an orchard, an inn, and a smithy. Over a section of the town are strange, translucent sheets, strung between long poles thrust into the ground.

Otis moves to explore the building with the roof-mounted instrument while Dahlia reluctantly moves towards this new circle of stones. Otis looks over the large building as he approaches. It has the look of a church. It is tall, with stained glass windows that have been shattered, and a high, peaked roof. In the center of the roof is a dome that ‘bubbles’ up from the main body of the church, with broken windows facing up and out. Apparently it is (or was) some kind of observatory.

“Interesting,” the wizard murmurs to himself, and throws open the heavy oaken doors of the thing. Within are metal hounds. Immediately he pulls the doors back shut and begins making his way back towards the others. Best to get the warriors, he thinks.

Behind him, there is a crash! and the doors shudder in their frame.

Ahead of him-

As Dahlia moves into the circle, one of the menhirs begins to uproot itself from the ground. She takes a cautious step back, but suddenly the ground under her feet turns to mud. She spares a glance over her shoulder- the effect has caught several of her friends, as well!

Lord Cedric, mounted on Thunderpuss, leans and gives a wordless cry. Thunderpuss leaps forward out of the mud, and they slog in to melee with the thing. As they do, it lashes out and catches Cedric a glancing blow across the shoulder.

“Aagh!” he cries out, stiffening. For a moment it is as if a skull is superimposed on his face.

“Beware!” he gasps. “It will drain the life from you!”* He returns the elemental creature’s blow with a mighty strike of his sword- and is dismayed to see its stone nature turn most of the blow. Jorgen and Goer rush to the attack through the mud, but both of them find their blows are useless.

Otis, appalled at the way things are going, fires a volley of magic missiles at the weird elemental thing. It looks like a great stone face with arms and legs coming out of it- and yet, from Cedric’s warning, likely tainted with unlife!** Bah, the wizard thinks. Whatever it is, we’ll destroy it. He is just getting ready to hit it with another spell when he hears the sound of shattering wood and the metal hounds come bounding out of the church.

One of them is coming for him.

He fires off a maximized magic missile at the onrushing gear hound. Metal spangs as the force missiles blast into it. It keeps coming.

Meanwhile, the party warriors surround and attack the undead elemental. Jorgen and Goer insist on missing; Cedric’s blow barely scratches it. He froths angrily, spluttering and ranting. Then Me, raging and shouting, smashing his sword into the creature and actually noticeably damages it! Our heroes cheer themselves for a second, but then one of the gear hounds bounds up and bites Otis! The wizard gives a cry as the construct shakes him viciously back and forth, then drops him. The other one lunges into the mud, but seems to have a little bit more difficulty in it than most of our heroes.

Dahlia has fallen back long enough to cast a spell; now, at last, she completes it. A bolt of lightning cracks down from the sky, blasting the elemental- but to no avail. Spell resistance, she realizes. Well, at least I can try the dogs... She stops herself. Better yet! she thinks, and casts heat metal on the metal dogs.

The elemental lashes out, smashing Me and Goer’s horse, but missing Thunderpuss. It is a whirlwind of rocky death energy- not good news, if you’re the one that it is smacking around. Me visibly withers as the pall of negative energy accumulates on him; Goer’s horse screams and tries to rear, but the mud prevents it from completely pulling free.

The metal dog ravaging Otis continues to, well, ravage Otis, biting him, shaking him, rolling him and tearing at him. He knows that there is no way that he can possibly cast a spell under these conditions. Instead, he struggles to draw out his rod, and then fires it. A jet of flame shoots out, catching both gear hounds and damaging them both. The other hound is still struggling to free itself from the mud. Otis groans. There is blood all over him from this beast’s rough treatment! He grits his teeth and does his best to fight back, but the construct has him overpowered. He recognizes the blaze of Kyle’s (less powerful) magic missile zip in on his adversary, and is grateful; yet it is not enough to drop the accursed thing! He blasts with the rod again, but to no avail- it still holds him, still shakes him! Worse yet, its jaws are growing hot- almost red hot! He hisses through his teeth. If it is Dahlia’s work, at least it will hurt the hound more than it hurts me, he fervently hopes.

Now bolts of lightning are shooting down at the stuck dog. It finally manages to get free of the mud, just in time to meet Dahlia’s badger. The two are soon tearing at each other. Fortunately, the badger’s natural armor has been thickened by magic, making it very difficult for the gear hounds to damage it.

Meanwhile, Lord Cedric, Goer, Jorgen and Me keep up their assault on the necromental. Me accompanies his blows with mighty roars; Lord Cedric announces his assault “by the power of my pinky finger!” Bit by bit, they are chipping away at it- but its continued replies to our heroes and their mounts are wearing down their own life energy.

Kyle is down to arrows now, and he is firing into the gear hound-Otis grapple in desperation. “Master!” he cries. The hound gives Otis another vicious shake, and the wizard goes limp. The hound drops his bloody body and gives a tinny bark.

“No! Master!” Kyle cries. His next arrow catches the dog- already glowing orange from the heat of Dahlia’s earlier spell- right in the eye. There is a shower of sparks and smoke begins pouring out of the hound’s head. It collapses.

Almost simultaneously, Lord Cedric lands the pounding blow that finishes off the elemental terror. It shatters into hundreds of small stones. Me turns to the last remaining enemy- the other dog- and destroys it in a single mighty blow!

“Master!” Kyle cries again. He rushes over to the rag doll figure of the wizard.

Still alive. Barely, but still alive. The party quickly applies some first aid.

“We need a place to rest,” opines Sir Jorgen.

“I bet the smithy is defensible,” Goer suggests.

“Let’s check it out.” The sheriff nods.

The smithy has a shingle with a hammer and anvil painted upon it hanging above the door. Large windows, open to the elements, almost fill the front face of the building. Behind the building, a large pool of water sits silently. The back side of the building looks like an attached outbuilding, with some kind of large chimney and a collection of large metal or metal-plated areas. The interior proves to have a number of smithing tools interesting enough for Goer and Cedric to take them.

”No bodies,” muses Jorgen. “Nobody around either, though.”

“Once again: creepy.” Kyle shivers.

“Maybe a houthe would be better,” suggests Cedric. “More comfortable. More thuited to people of our thature and renown.”

Our heroes begin their search.

Next Time: Our heroes continue their search of the town! Where are all the people? And will there be any signs of Sir Harth and his band? Find out- next time!

*Cedric just became the proud owner of a negative level.

**For anyone who’s curious, this was a necromental galeb duhr. :)
 

the Jester

Legend
Our Heroes:

Lord Cedric of Whitewater (male human knight 3/cleric 4; Lord Whitewater; bears the rank of Captain)
Sir Fwaigo "Goer" Smith (male human fighter 7; bears the rank of Captain)
Sir Colder (male human fighter 4/rogue 3; bears the rank of Captain)
Sir Percival "Me" (male half-orc barbarian 4/scout 3; bears the rank of Captain)
Sir Jorgen Boatwright (male human fighter 4/rogue 3; bears the rank of Captain; sheriff of Whitewater)
Lady Dahlia Laagos (female elfblood druid 8; gentrified; granted title over the ruins of Castle Laagos)
Kyle Goldenbow (male elfblood rogue 4/wizard 3; gentrified)
Otis Optimus (male human wizard 7; gentrified)

*****

It seemed like a good point to update the party roster...

Please note that the "knight" class used in this campaign is NOT the one in the PH2; I created it as a paladin substitution for this campaign, significantly before the PH2 was out. I've stuck with it for simplicity's sake, though- in all fairness- I prefer the one in the PH2. Oh well, next time.... Also note that an 'elfblood' is mechanically equivalent to a half-elf, but is a human with a reasonable to substantial amount of elven blood; the flavor is different, especially given that there are no elves. Note too that several of our heroes are listed as bearing the rank of Captain. This refers to the decorations that they received after the Battle of Kamenda, and the rank applies in dealings with the Kamendan army. Any pc noted as "Sir" so-and-so has been knighted; this makes him a low-level member of the nobility, and entitles them to many perquisites, including the right to own land, the right to lord over serfs on land that they own or protect, the right to hospitality from other nobles, the right to hunt certain beasts that are off-limits to the peasantry, etc. Several others are "gentrified," which gives them only the right to own land.
 

the Jester

Legend
Our heroes, at heart, are small-town boys and girls. But they have been drawn into a dangerous chase that none of them will abandon. Trapped in a time of apocalypse, beneath an unnatural, maroon sky, our heroes desperately pursue their arch-foe across a blasted landscape. Sir Harth- their foe- seeks to steal powerful magical weapons from this era and then use them to conquer their own time. In this weird era, there is no sun; there are no stars. Flashes that fill the entire sky occasionally occur, and the very environment itself seems to be a tenacious enemy of the party. The environment drains magic and life; so far, in the- days? Weeks?- that our heroes have been here, they have found only one friendly face... and “friendly” was almost certainly an exaggeration. The landscape is dotted by horrific mutant creatures with extra limbs, strange stigmata or worse.

There have been two villages, including the one that our heroes are now beginning to search. The first one was haunted by some kind of ill-feeling energy and had a large population of corpses; our heroes elected not to venture into it, and simply passed it by. Now, as they move onto the main street of the village, the lead members of the party look in all directions for any sign of movement or life. Nothing. Sir Percival, known as “Me” (for he is too stupid to say words with more than two syllables, such as his own name), sniffs the air, inhaling deeply, searching for the smell of corruption. Nothing.

“I don’t see anyone,” Sheriff Jorgen calls out. He has re-sheathed his sword, but he keeps his hand near it. The hairs on the back of his neck prickle. “This place can’t be safely abandoned,” he mutters to himself, “can it?”

The party spreads out a little, looking over the buildings. Most of them are small houses, composed of bricks of baked clay. Opening one up, Sir Fwaigo finds only a pair of corpses. A search reveals nothing further, and the party moves on to another house.

“I wonder what those tarp things are,” Kyle muses, gesturing. There are thin filmy things stretched above parts of the village. They are translucent but brightly colored.*

The party goes over and examines some of the material, but they can’t figure out what it is. It is relatively fragile, however. The sheets also cover a good chunk of the orchard that is inside the village’s walls. Upon growing tired of messing with the film, the group returns to the matter of the buildings, opening up the door to the nearest house. This time there is no body inside. However, a search turns up a small box under the bed, which our heroes immediately open to find four flasks of weird liquid, each one different from the others.

“Hmm,” Kyle says, and casts detect magic. A grin breaks out on his face. “Hey, these are magical!”

“How?” Goer objects. “The environment should destroy them in a few days, right?”

Kyle throws open the window and looks out and up. “I think those colored tarp things protect us from the environment!” he proclaims. Gesturing, he goes on, “Look, we’re under one- at least partially- when we’re in this building. I bet that’s how the potions kept their enchantment.”

“Well,” Sheriff Jorgen says, “at least we know that there were people here recently.”

“We do?” asks Sir Colder.

Sheriff Jorgen nods. “Yes, because if there wasn’t anyone here when the war happened that started this” –his gesture takes in everything around them- “why would they build protection for some of the houses?”

“Good point,” Sir Colder concedes.

“More to the point, where are they?

***

The house seems like a safe place, a comfortable place, and a protected place. It is there that our heroes rest, and they spend a couple of days recuperating- since they can. Kyle’s theory proves correct: under the colored tarps, they are protected, and are able to recover their strength.** Otis regains consciousness, Lord Cedric and Dahlia dispense what healing magic they have and everyone enjoys a lazy two days out of the terrible draining maroon sky.

Then they get back to work.

***

The interior of the church- from whence came the gear hounds that wounded Otis so badly when the party first arrived in the village- is a mess. There is a corpse on the ground, obviously a month old or more, wearing heavy armor and with a heavy mace cast aside on the ground nearby. The party looks around and takes the loot that they find, including the gear of the body and a chest of coins that they find. Otis casts detect magic and is pleased to announce that the armor and mace and a scroll are all magical. The party gives the armor to Goer and the mace to Me, and after a quick read magic ascertains that it is a scroll of priestly spells, albeit three copies of the same spell.

“Interethting,” Lord Cedric says. “Thith ith a thpell whothe thecretth have been lotht in our time. It will allow me to thpeak with the dead.” Otis and he confer about it for a few moments, and then the party moves on.

The upper level of the church looks, from outside, like some kind of observatory. A twisted stairway ascends to that area, and our heroes follow it upstairs. They find themselves, indeed, in an observatory. Weird, broken equipment- long metal tubes pointing out of the ceiling and out into the sky, and some kind of broken device for moving it around- almost fills the area.

“What do you suppose this is?” asks Goer, touching the big tube.

Instantly there is a sudden crackle of energy, and a green ball of energy with four long tentacles coming out of it, appears! It immediately attacks Me, lashing out with tentacles that drip acid. It slaps the pissblood. There is a hiss and sizzle as the acid leaves horrendous burns on Me’s arms and chest. He roars.

Goer stabs into it with his longspear, but the shaft just goes right through it, as if it isn’t even there. Immediately our heroes are reminded of the terrible thing in the haunted house they investigated in Kamenda City- they could not even hurt it. “FLEE!!!” shouts Goer, and he and Me begin to move away.

The thing pursues, and the room is too cramped for everyone to get away from it. Its tentacles lash out again, dealing significant wounds to whomever they touch. Lord Cedric grimaces and casts magic weapon on his sword, then manages to score a blow on it. “Hit it with magic!” he cries.

Me, trusting to Lord Cedric’s words, rumbles around and attacks with his new-found mace. He, too, manages to score a blow against it! Suddenly, our heroes- who had seemed on the edge of instant rout- rally, and after a long, hard battle, our heroes- sorely wounded- prevail.

Unfortunately, when they do, the beast explodes in a great spray of acid. Our heroes are doused, and heavily damaged.

What healing they have, they use; but afterwards, they are still in no shape to fight. By necessity, they retreat to the ‘safe house’ to rest again.

Next Time: Our heroes finish checking out the observatory and move on to the inn... but wheat happened to the people?


*Like a big sheet of colored saran wrap going over big chunks of the village.

**Among other things, the environment the party is in does 1 point of Con damage per day.
 

the Jester

Legend
The interior of the observatory- for so Otis calls it- is a shambles. Especially after the acidic explosion of the strange guardian creature that the party fought two days before, the entire area above the church is pocked with holes, burns and scars. The twisted metal of the observing device (or at least, our heroes presume that is what the ruined device is, as it points at the sky outside and dominates the chamber) creaks and groans from time to time. “It’s probably not safe to stay here too long,” Sir Fwaigo warns the others. As a trained smith, he knows the signs of metal fatigue when he sees and hears them. “I’m surprised that more of the place hasn’t collapsed on itself already.”

A quick search turns up a few somewhat interesting, acid-scarred pieces of metal and the ruined remains of a few pieces of clothing, but there is nothing worth looting. Nor are there any signs of the people of this strange abandoned village.

“We’ve barely begun looking,” Sheriff Jorgen mutters to himself.

***

The inn is the next building that our heroes check out. It is three storeys tall. The board out front bears the sign of a howling dog. Hitching posts, for horses, stand unused out front, and windows line the building. Some of these are shuttered, but others are open. Many of them seem to have once had glass in them, but most of that has been shattered. One side of the building looks as though a good-sized fire burned on it, but it still looks structurally sound at a glance.

Written across the front of the building in what looks like blood, in Kamendan, are the words Come out or we will find you!

“Hey!” exclaims Sir Fwaigo. “That’s written in Kamendan! That’s our language!” He looks puzzled. “What do you think that means?”

“It means that Harth was here,” Otis declares. There is venom in his voice.

Sir Colder moves up and examines the wall. “I wonder whose blood that is?” he muses.

“Maybe Harth found one of the villagers,” suggests Sir Jorgen. He is growing angry. Harth, he thinks harshly. We’ll have justice for whatever you did here.

The ground floor of the Inn of the Howling Dog consists of a common room, a kitchen, an office and a curtained off private room. A search of the office turns up many volumes of unreadable papers that have the look of inventories, payroll records, bills, shipping manifests and other documents related to running a business. The kitchen has pretty clearly been looted thoroughly. However, the party’s search yields a tantalizing clue: carved in a wooden table is a crude cut of Harth’s heraldry. They also find a trap door that appears to lead into a basement.

Finally, the party investigates the common room. A number of emptied bottles and dirty wine cups attest to the fact that a group of people spent a number of days here. Dahlia inspects the signs and ascertains that the stuff here is only about two weeks old.

“If that was Harth and his men...” Jorgen smiles grimly. “We’re catching up.”

“‘If?’” exclaims Cedric. “Of courthe it wath Harth! We thaw hith thign in the kitthen!”

The party ascends to the second floor of this building, which appears to consist of a long hallway snaking around the perimeter of the building, with doors along the wall every few paces. Near the end of the hallway where our heroes stand at the top of the stairs, a 10’ diameter hole is disintegrated into the wall.

“Are those blood stains?” Kyle gestures, but before anyone can do more than peer in the direction that he has indicated, a horrendous thing roars from within the room, and the door that leads to the room is thrown wide open!

It is like a nightmare collection of vague threatening features. Spiky blades seem to radiate from it; it has tremendous, dangerous-looking claws; its maw is like that of a shark. Worse yet, its form seems to waver and shift as our heroes look upon it.

Sir Colder instantly fires a crossbow bolt at it, but the shock of its terrifying appearance throws his aim off and he misses. Sir Fwaigo’s hand drops to the hilt of his sword, but then there is a ripple of unseen energy and the smell of burning metal. His hand jerks back, and he reels, numbed and unable to act. The creature has put him in a brain lock!

Sir Colder casts his crossbow aside, pulls forth his longspear and strikes. Again, his blow goes wide. Then Goer, recovering from the brain lock, slams the door shut on the creature!

Our heroes rally, preparing to aid one another against the strange beast as soon as it throws the door open again. It does so, and lashes out at Goer with an ego whip! Sir Fwaigo staggers but recovers himself, and strikes at the monster with his sword- but his blow does nothing! It bounces harmlessly from the beast’s weird, shifting form.

Then Me rushes in, slamming the party’s new-found magical mace (from the ruins of the church) into the creature, slamming it hard.* Upon seeing this, Lord Cedric cries, “Magic ith the key!” and casts magic weapon on his former squire’s blade.

“Thank you, my lord!” cries Sir Fwaigo. He quickly validates Cedric’s hypothesis- now that it is enchanted, his blade does seem effective against the weird monster! Between Goer’s blade and Sir Percival’s brute strength, our heroes manage to defeat the creature rather neatly, although Percival takes a blow to the mind that he can scarce afford!** After they slay it, the monster’s remains seem to... evaporate? Strange.

“Feh,” snorts Lord Cedric. “Let uth return below and theek a better plathe to ekthplore. Thith ith a plath where commonerth would thtay. Perhapth we will find better thingth elthewhere.”

Sir Colder bows. “As you wish, my lord.”

The party files back down the stairs, heads outside onto the street and moves to what appears to be a general store. It looks both abandoned and looted, but the party presses on inside just in case. Within they find a basement.

There, only dimly-lit from the maroon sky outside and a lantern of their own, they find a wine cellar. It appears to have several nice-looking bottles in it. Cedric smacks his lips and cries, “Gather the wine!” He quickly uncorks a bottle and takes a liberal drink before passing it around.

Suddenly something jerks the sheriff’s legs out from under him. Aghast, our heroes look down- to see worms slithering all over their feet and ankles. Almost like a net of long, tough roots made out of stringy flesh, none of the worms seem to have ends. They glow faintly green.

The worms- the net- whatever it is, or they are- starts to tighten.

Next Time: The thing in the cellar! The thing in the house! And the missing villagers!

*Crit for 46 hp of damage. Ouch!! :)

**Poor Me... he took 4 points of Int damage.
 

the Jester

Legend
Lord Cedric screams like a girl as the weird, wormy growths that seem to be extending from the floor of the wine cellar tighten around our heroes. “By the power of my pinkie finger, we mutht dethtroy thethe thingth!!” he howls, drawing forth his sword and hewing about him. Sirs Colder and Fwaigo do likewise, cutting the mass of worms and causing them to spew forth a foul ichor.

Sheriff Jorgen stabs at the mass, but several coils wrap themselves wetly around his arms and legs. Struggling, shouting, Jorgen is jerked to the ground. The sheriff jerks and tugs, but it is all he can do to prevent more of the worm-things (or thing?) from looping around his neck and cutting off his breath. “Help!” he shouts.

The others continue to hack at the net of worms. Sir Percival- the half-orc called Me- gives a great smash with his magical mace, pulverizing a writhing mass of the worms. With a great howl of rage, Me continues to lay about him. He sees Jorgen- his friend- struggling to hold off the mass of worm-stuff and leaps to his side. Roaring, he continues to smash the worms

“Get back up the stairs!” Sir Fwaigo cries, slashing some more of the worms near Jorgen. He grabs the sheriff by the hand and hauls him to his feet. Gasping, Jorgen staggers over to the stairs.

“Yeth, up the thtairth, my friendth!” Lord Cedric roars, batting away another glistening greenish cord of worm stuff. Our heroes fall back, and as they retreat up the stairs, the wormy net heaves and settles down, seeming to sense their departure. Shaking his head, Cedric thinks, We had best mark this place in our minds, lest we run out of other alcohol! We might then have to come back here.

Exiting the building, our heroes go back into the street for the moment. “There are a lot of houses, my lord,” Goer points out to Cedric. “We could check some of them out.”

Otis sighs. “I don’t know what we’re hoping to find here,” he grumbles. “Certainly not Harth!”

“No, but perhapth there will be a clue to hith location,” Lord Cedric replies.

The party proceeds to investigate a few of the houses. The first one yields a trio of corpses, but nothing more; the next is infested with a multitude of spiders, big and small, and after a quick battle, our heroes destroy them.*

“Maybe we should rest,” suggests Sir Colder afterward. “Is anyone badly hurt?”

Nobody is. Goer declares, “Forget resting, I want some action!”

“All right, let’s move on to the next house,” Dahlia snaps. “We’re wasting time!” Otis nods in agreement.

The party moves across the street to another house, but they stop. This home is boarded up from the outside. “Well, that’s interesting,” murmurs Sir Colder. “I wonder what’s in there.”

“And who boarded it up,” adds Dahlia. “It could have been the villagers- or it could have been Harth and his gang.”

“Hey, I hear something,” Goer whispers. “There’s something moving around in there!”

The party hushes, and everyone listens intently. Indeed, they can all hear the muffled sound of movement from within.

“Hello?” calls Goer.

The sound within the boarded up house ceases. A voice calls out from within, weakly. Our heroes do not understand the language, but it sounds like a cry for help.

“I’m taking a board off the window,” Goer announces, and begins prying at one of the wooden planks barring the window. It is nailed on quite securely, and it takes several minutes of efforts to pry it loose. When he has done so, Sir Fwaigo tries to peer into the room. “Hello?” he calls.

Something grabs at him. “Hey!!” he shouts, as razor-sharp claws and hooks tear across his skin. The hand that swiped him appears to be metal- a mass of torturous instruments. “Ow!” he cries, jerking back. The thing fails to get a hold on him, but that hand is vicious.

Me roars and throws himself against the door. There is a loud boom! as it shakes on its hinges, but it does not give. Goer, meanwhile, backs off, and Lord Cedric prays over his weapon, imbuing it with magical power.

Otis steps up and unleashes a blast of fire from the strange rod that he has. It shoots into the window and spatters onto the creature, giving off enough light that the wizard can see that it seems to be robed, but its face is some sort of metal mask. A charnel stench is coming from within the house.

Dahlia sees it too, and attempts a heat metal on it. Unfortunately, it resists her magic- but then it has worse things to worry about, as Me smashes the door in with a stout blow from his mace.

Now the party can view more of the interior of the house- and it is appalling. The place has been converted into a torture chamber. Dahlia gasps. The bed has been converted into a fixture onto which victims can be strapped, and there are the remains of several victims in the small house.

Me rages and rushes to meet the thing in battle.

The monster turns and slashes back with the strange metal hand. Its robes flutter, and Cedric’s eyes widen at what he sees as its robes swirl and move: the hand is actually a gauntlet, and its metal face is actually a mask. Its skin is corpse-grey, and the stench is only partially from the dead victims. It is undead, he realizes, and pulls out his holy symbol.

Meanwhile, Goer attacks it through the window, as there is not enough room in the house for him to fit. He thrusts his now-magical sword at the thing but misses, and then it grabs him with that hooked and bladed gauntlet. Goer screams, tearing himself loose at the cost of several bloody tears and rips. His sword whips upward, slicing into the thing’s arm with a meaty thunk!

The creature seems to be focusing on him now, tearing at him in a very painful way, clearly meant to be disabling but not lethal. It wants to take me to torture! he realizes, fear rising in his throat. The hooks and blades on the gauntlet are excruciating, and it seems to feed on his pain, growing more powerful!

But it is not strong enough. Cedric channels holy power, and for an instant it falters; and while it does so, Me roars and smashes it twice in the chest, utterly slaying it. Goer gags and cries out in pain; it has ripped large chunks of skin away. Immediately Cedric and Dahlia tend him with their healing magic. Goer hisses as the pain recedes. “Thanks,” he groans, then glares at the corpse. “Let’s get out of here,” he groans.

“Just a minute,” Sir Colder says, and he bends down and begins unstrapping the torturous gauntlet from the corpse’s hand.

“Are you taking that?” exclaims Goer. “That is so gross.”

“It might be useful,” Sir Colder answers absently. The gauntlet is a mess of bloody dead tissue. Gingerly, he wraps it in a sack and puts it in his backpack.

“Do we continue?” asks Dahlia. She glances at Goer. “You were the one that wanted some action. Are you up for continuing, or should we rest?”

“Let’s go!” Sir Fwaigo replies. “I’m okay, thanks to you and Cedric.”

Lord Cedric claps him on the shoulder and leaves his hand there. “Good, my former thquire! We thall continue.” He rubs Goer’s shoulders for a moment in a very friendly way before withdrawing. “To the nextht houthe!”

“Hey, actually,” Dahlia points out, “that house has its door open.”

“I wonder if that means anything,” wonders Otis. “We should investigate- all of the rest of the buildings that we have seen have their doors shut. Perhaps Harth and his cronies opened the door while they were here.”

The party troops over to the house, but there is nothing unusual about it at a glance. After a thorough search, however, the party turns up a secret trap door.

“Well, well,” Lord Cedric crows. “We have thertainly found thomething!” He leans down and digs his fingers into the cracks around the edge of the trap door. With a manly groan he pulls the door open.

BOOOM!!!!

Next Time: What happened to Cedric? Plus: a tragic misunderstanding as our heroes find the missing villagers at last!


*To be precise: three spider swarms and three medium spiders.
 

the Jester

Legend
It's short, but it's an update. :)

***

Smoke boils up from the trap door. Flames lick up, engulfing Lord Cedric’s face. The stink of burnt hair and flesh wash over our startled heroes.

“AAAGHH!!” Lord Cedric cries, staggering back, blood pouring from his blackened lips. He claps a hand to his mouth and howls in agony- then spits out four of his front teeth into his hand!* “My fathe!” he cries. Frantically, he looks from one of his companions’ horrified face to another. “Argh, the pain! Pleathe, Goer, tell me- what hath happened to my fathe??”

His words are mushy and even harder to understand than normal.** Slowly, Cedric’s eyes fall to the teeth on his hand. Aghast, he gapes at them, the bloody jagged stumps in his mouth all too obvious to the others. Slowly, he runs his tongue over them.

After a moment, Cedric casts cure light wounds on his mouth to stop the bleeding. But his curative powers are not nearly strong enough to regrow his missing teeth. Then he growls, “Forthooth! Let uth now thee what lieth beneath thith trap door!” With a mighty kick, he knocks it open and drops down into the gloomy passage below. The others follow him.

They find themselves in a large cave, glistening with moisture. It measures about 25’ across by 30’ long; in the far end of the cave, a wide opening leads out. The whole thing is well-lit by a brightly-glowing rock in the middle of the floor.

“Look at that!” exclaims Sir Fwaigo. “A glowing rock!”

“It’s certainly not natural; there’s no fungus on it,” Dahlia opines.

“Clearly,” declares Otis Optimus, “it is the product of some of this time’s superior magic.” He shakes his head in wonder. “I wonder how long it will glow for?”

The party heads through the wide opening. This leads into a large area, well-lit by a multitude of glowing rocks similar to the one in the previous chamber. There are also glowing torch stubs and other small items set into the walls or scattered on the ground. Six large pavilion tents are set up around a huge central cavern- and about a dozen living, startled-looking people, mostly human, are scattered throughout the cave in small groups.


Next Time: A tragic misunderstanding occurs...

*He fumbled his save against the fire trap.

**And the roleplaying was fantastic. :)
 

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