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

the Jester

Legend
Otis Optimus strides to the head of the party. “People!” he cries imperiously. “I am Otis Optimus! We are here to help you! We know the man who tortured one of your own above- he is a villain of the first order named Sir Harth- and we seek to stop him!” As he speaks, Otis makes broad, sweeping gestures.

Gestures that the people hiding here take as... aggressive. Hostile, even.

One of them starts casting a spell. Another pulls a ranseur forth. It begins to crackle, the head of it sparking with electricity. Our heroes stand, dumbfounded, at the sight for a moment.

Then a fireball explodes amongst them.

A woman near the back is shouting something, sounding both frightened and angry. Clearly, there has been a terrible misunderstanding... a tragic miscommunication.* But whatever the cause, it has led to burns all over our heroes. Hissing in pain, Dahlia casts protection from fire on herself.

Me roars and starts rushing forward, but the enemy wizard casts another spell, and a wall of blazing fire springs up before the onrushing half-orc! Me cries out in surprise as his flesh sizzles again.

“A wall of fire!” exclaims Otis. “I have heard of such things, but the techniques required are lost in our time...”

Dahlia rushes heedlessly through the wall. Thanks to her spell, she is unharmed- although smoke rises from her when she emerges on the far side. “Wait!” she cries in Elven, as she steps through. “We don’t need to fight! We are friends!”

But her arrival has precipitated a charge from the ranseur-wielding man, who lunges in and knocks Dahlia from her feet. His follow-up strike deals terrific damage to her, and she screams as electricity shocks through her body. Then the wizard casts a spell at her, and for a moment she feels her will slipping away. She gasps, forcing the alien force of the charm from her mind.

Sir Colder cries, “Wait, why are we fighting? Me, stop! Back off!”

Me hesitates; and then, trusting authority, he does as Sir Colder asks, backing away from the roaring wall of flames. Lord Cedric, on the other hand, casts resist fire on himself, the words slurred even more than usual since his recent tooth-shattering accident. Cedric strides forward through the wall, suffering only minor burns- only to find himself immediately tripped by the ranseur-wielder! “Ah!” he cries in dismay, as he lands on his back and suffers a thorough thrust from the spike and the tip.

Otis hurls himself forward. I must learn her arcane secrets! he thinks wildly. If I can recover some the ancient magicks, and bring them back to our time... He throws himself through the flames, crying out in pain as they burn his face, his arms, his body. Staggering, he blinks...

The ranseur wielder is just before him, swinging his pole arm around to attack.

“Please!” Otis cries desperately. “I mean no harm, we want to help you all escape this time!” He sinks to his knees before the warrior. “I don’t know what I have said or done to offend you, but we mean you no harm! We have not struck a blow! Please, hear us out!”

The ranseur wielder thrusts the spike at the tip of his weapon up to Otis’ chin. He says something; although our heroes don’t understand the words, the meaning is plain: Don’t move or I will slay you. Otis seeks the wizard’s eyes with his, imploring her. “I, too, am a wizard,” he calls. “We can exchange knowledge and information. Spells...”

The wizard casts a spell. He watches her carefully. I recognize this one, he thinks. It’s tongues! She will be able to speak to us!

And indeed, a moment later, the wizard steps forward and demands, “Who are you people? What do you want? And what’s your connection to Harth?”

“He ith a villain!” pronounces Lord Cedric. “Our arth-nemethith, our wortht foe! We have purthued him from the very future to thtop him from thuctheeding in hith fiendith planth! Now, who ith your lord?”

“We have no lord, any longer,” the wizard replies. “But we are the ones asking the questions, not you!” The man with the ranseur growls theateningly. Otis keeps his hands up.

“Then ask! We will answer whatever you wish to ask of us!” Sir Fwaigo groans. “We mean you no harm! If we wanted to harm you, I assure you, we could have already done so!”

The wizard’s furious anger slowly abates. She sighs. “Yes, I suppose if you wanted to cause us harm, you would have nothing to gain by waiting- not now that you have found our hiding place.”

Sir Colder smiles. “Well, isn’t that evidence that we aren’t out to get you?”

Reluctantly, the wizard nods.

“Then, let uth introduthe ourthelveth, and then we can get to the matter of who your rightful lord ith,” Lord Cedric declares. “I am Lord Thedric of Whitewater. I am from your future!”

Our heroes introduce themselves around, and then the wizard introduces herself as Adele, and the ranseur-wielder as Benito. By the time her tongues spell wears off, the villagers and our heroes are smiling and shaking hands, and the villagers are offering their hospitality- at least as much as they have to offer in this retreat. Our heroes accept. They have been running hard without a friend or ally for weeks now. They need a few weeks to recuperate, to train, to restore their strength.** And they need some time to socialize, too, to see other people again for the first time in quite a while.

There are ten villagers other than Benito and Adelle. Ferick is a crotchety old man, but full of wisdom and knowledge. Bates, a 14-year-old, sneaky boy, takes to Cedric immediately, and vice-versa. Kelra is a frightened, easily persuaded woman, who served as the villager’s carpenter. Benito’s little brother Vendoza is there; somehow, our heroes aren’t surprised that Benito’s kin might survive. His girlfriend, Alliandra, is also among the survivors of the village. Mang Trolak, a stupid but strong half-orc woman, who plainly suffers from a massive case of hero worship for both Adelle and Benito, smiles at Sir Percival; their common orcish ancestry instantly gives them a small bond. Adelle’s sister, Dannelle, is there; again, it is plain that her blood connection to the village’s leaders has saved her life. The town’s smith, a dour, stodgy, miserly, conservative dwarf named Norgent, is another of the survivors. Sir Jorgen is pleased to note that the town’s sheriff, Angora, has made it to the relative shelter of the under-village. Moreover, Angora is a woman. Jorgan’s interest is definitely piqued. Finally, the town messenger, Scarifix, is the last survivor.

Training and relaxing- our heroes find the time slipping away. Otis is amazed at the spells that Adelle knows, and she is (no doubt) a novice for her time. Yet, she can create the legendary wall of fire!

Weeks pass. Our heroes deal with a few small threats- a strange lobster-like creature that emerges from the underground waterway that the village relies on, and a few things in the town itself looking for clues- but nothing truly significant happens. The villagers, even Benito and Adelle, are very impressed by the party’s prowess. Several of the party members learn the local tongue, Palantian.

Lord Cedric cannot abide the thought that these people have no lord, so he declares Benito lord of the village. Benito seems bemused, but accepts the honor seriously.

Then Cedric makes a momentous announcement.

“We will take them with uth,” he ejaculates. “We thall take them home to the future with uth.”

So it is, that our heroes’ number swells by a dozen before they set out on the trail to the capital city of the Palantian Empire, Litel. Now they are armed with the knowledge that the villagers have; now they have a dozen sources of information about the time that they are walking around in.

The war that has ruined this land, they learn, was between elves and humans. “The humans wanted the secret of immortality from the elves, but they wouldn’t share it,” declares Ferick. “They were afraid to give us an even chance against them. Well, now we showed them!” He cackles.

Our heroes set off down the road to Litel.

Next Time: On the road to Litel!

*In point of fact, Otis fumbled not one, but two Diplomacy checks in a row here...

**This might seem like an odd decision in a game which has a certain sense of urgency to it; but on a metagame level, I told the players that I wasn’t going to penalize them for taking time to train, since I’m using training rules in this campaign. I just assumed that the bad guys had to spend that much time training themselves, as well. :)
 

the Jester

Legend
What Has Gone Before

Our heroes are from a small village called Whitewater in the barony of Kamenda, part of a fragmented larger kingdom that has mostly dissolved over the last couple of generations. The world is a low-magic, dangerous land. The elves are all gone- where, no one knows, but none have been seen in decades or longer. Kamenda’s southern neighbor, Tydon, is her traditional rival and enemy.

The party met in Whitewater, joining forces to help their local community with a variety of dangers, including both bandits and bandit hunters, monster-inhabited ruins and a goblin incursion. While dealing with this incursion, our heroes discovered that the goblins had been displaced from their usual home, Goblin Gorge, by some sort of weird, alien cyst on the ground: a giant, pus-filled bloat on the land, riddled with passages and inhabited by strange, twisted beings with unfathomable motivations. Our heroes, using salt as a weapon against the unnatural forces they faced, managed to destroy the cyst and drive off or destroy the alien entities.

Not long after, a sudden, unexpected attack on Whitewater by Tydonian soldiers led our heroes to hurry to the capital city of the barony, Kamenda City, to warn the baron. Tydon was on the move, and from an unexpected direction. Worse yet, evidence began to accumulate that one of the baron’s two top advisors was a traitor- either Sir Galadon or Sir Harth. Things got more complicated when a demonic entity allied to the mysterious traitor kidnapped one of the party members, who was- even worse- pregnant with the child of another of the pcs. Though there was a great deal of misdirection and a spider web of intrigue, our heroes finally discovered that Sir Harth was the traitor (narrowly avoiding the execution of Sir Galadon) and captured him. When their army came to attack Kamenda City, the party played a pivotal role in beating off their initial assault. However, Sir Harth- whom the party had imprisoned- managed to escape during this time. The party knew that he was involved in some sort of black magic, demon-related cult, but had no more details than that to go on.

The Tydonian army had been fought off for a time, but it was building for another assault. Desperately investigating the odd direction from which they were coming, our heroes found that the Tydonian force was crossing through a portal from Tydon. They managed to defeat the portal’s guardians, close the portal and retreat to Kamenda City, from whence the remaining Tydonians, cut off from reinforcement or resupply, were easily routed.

The immediate danger was past, but Sir Harth was still free. Our heroes had found documents indicating that Harth’s cult planned to perform some kind of ritual to open the “gates of fire” on New Year’s Eve at the Ghost Tower atop Battle Rise (once called Inverness). They resolved to be there first, and to ambush Sir Harth. But once Harth arrived with a beholder, things went horribly awry, and in the end even a small Kamendan army could not stop Sir Harth and his beholder ally. Our heroes were captured and forced to watch as Harth and his men sacrificed a pair of elfbloods- a human-elf hybrid, somewhere between 25% and 75% elven, usually closer to the lower end- and opened the gates of fire. They would have been killed, too, but for a figure that silently slew their guards and slit their bonds. This turned out to be- an elf! She warned them that some of her folk would be coming through the gate, but that they had changed while Outside. Before she could explain much more, several of the “elves” emerged. They were the same alien creatures that our heroes had fought at the cyst!

After a quick, furious battle, the party and the elf destroyed these “elves.” Then she told them that Harth had fled into the past, and had to be stopped from bringing unimaginably powerful weapons back into the present and conquering all of Kamenda- or more. She went through the gate, and the party followed after- only to find themselves in a blasted wasteland, nearly empty of life, littered with battlefields full of corpses. It was horrifying. Worse yet, the very environment sucked the life out of our heroes. The world had been torn apart by a magical apocalypse, and it was to this period that Sir Harth had gone. The elf quickly died due to the influence of something called the “elf-slayer of Varzoth”, and our heroes were left to track Sir Harth over this blasted land through an age of madness.

They eventually reached an abandoned village, but to their surprise, their investigations turned up a few survivors of the devastating war that had destroyed the world around them. After what was nearly a tragic misunderstanding, the party and the survivors joined together. Our heroes took some time to rest and train, and now they have departed on the road to the capital of the destroyed empire that they are in, for it is to that city that they suspect Sir Harth has gone- or is going...
 

the Jester

Legend
21

Our heroes move along the road towards the ruined capitol of the mad land that they are traveling through. Litel, it is called (according to Benito, Adelle and their folk). Now, much of what is going on in this insane time is clarified by those from this time. According to Adelle, the magic draining effect is a part of some kind of massive “spell engine” that sucks the magical power from the surrounding areas in order to power the massive effects that are devastating the land and the people in it. The elf-slayer of Varzoth, according to Adelle, is an epic living spell of incredible potency; in the far distance, the area with the flashes that are still occasionally visible beneath the maroon sky reveals its location. “Tanaroth,” Benito says sadly. “Now I’m sure it’s just a ruin.”

Down the road, beneath the dark sky, the party travels. With the villagers accompanying our heroes now, the band has grown to twenty. We certainly can’t be that discrete, now, Sheriff Jorgen thinks. There are too many of us, and too many of these new folks are not skilled at hiding or combat. Benito and Adelle are certainly a good addition to the group, though...

While Jorgen mulls over the expanded group, Sir Colder trots slightly ahead of the group, eyes peeled, alert and watchful. Suddenly he stops in surprise.

Off to the side of the road is a blasted crater. Climbing out from it is a man armored in the style of the year 272, the time from whence our heroes came. He waves at the party.

He is wearing the livery of Sir Harth.

Weapons are drawn from scabbards. “Ho there, mithcreant!” cries Lord Cedric. “Lay down your armth or be thlain!”

To the party’s surprise, the man immediately unbuckles his sword belt. “Thank the gods!” he cries. “Please, I am alone and I mean you no harm! I ask for mercy!”

“It could be a trap,” murmurs Sir Fwaigo. “My lord, I don’t trust him.”

“Come forward!” cries Lord Cedric. “If you lie to uth, you thall be thlain, unleth you come clean now!”

The man approaches, hands held up in plain view. “No, my lord, I do not lie,” he states solemnly.

“Where is Harth?” demands Otis Optimus.

“Who is this person?” Benito asks suspiciously, in his tongue- Palantian. He clearly does not understand the words of the conversation, but he is ready to strike with his electric ranseur at a moment’s notice.

Dahlia tells him, “He appears to be one of Harth’s liegemen... hold on...”

“I don’t know where Sir Harth is,” the surrendered knight sighs. “I was with him, yes, but he and the rest of the men left me behind about a month ago.”

“A month!” exclaims Kyle. Then we’re catching up to them! The tracks we found around the Ghost Tower of Inverness were about two months old, according to Jorgen. We’ve managed to cut their lead in half! But then again, we just have to catch them; they probably have to find their way to whatever they are seeking.

“Why did they leave you? What’s your name? What does Harth want? And what’s your part in all of this?” Sir Fwaigo badgers the man. Glaring, he slaps his face.

“That’th enough of that!” Lord Cedric barks. “He hath thurrendered, we will treat him honorably.” He stares hard at the knight. “Tho long ath he behaveth honorably, and maketh no attempt to ethcape. Now, anther my man’th quethtionth!”

“Escape... to where?” the knight says frankly. Then, marshaling his dignity, he turns to look at Goer. “I am Sir Porthos,” he says gravely. “Sir Harth and his other retainers left me behind because I fell ill. I became a burden, and I knew that we could not afford to slow our progress. The environment was hostile, there were terrible war beasts- it was a struggle just to stay alive, as I am sure you have all realized by now. I chose to stay behind. I had to persuade Sir Harth to allow this- otherwise, he would have carried me on his back, if he had to.”

Fortunately for Porthos, he found a way to survive. A small earth tremor caused a sinkhole to collapse, allowing ingress into a small underground cave with a pool of fresh water. Porthos managed to recuperate, but then he was alone in a hostile world, with no idea of where his friends are. Now he is overjoyed to find other folk from his time, even if they are his liege’s sworn foes, and- he tells the party- he is ready to do almost anything to get out of this terrible age. He knows that Harth seeks the capitol, Litel, in order to take the Shadow Road to the Isle of the Elves, where he will attempt to enter the Gates of Glass in the mountain where the artisan elves craft their most powerful magical weapons.

“But now I think that would be a mistake, given what I have seen here,” he goes on. He frowns. “Honestly, I am surprised that I ever thought it was a good idea.”

“What about the monster?” asks Kyle. “You know, the big thing with all the eye balls?”

“The beholder...” Sir Porthos looks confused. “You know, I’d never thought of it as a monster, really- just as another ally.”

“Perhaps it used its powers on you,” Otis says, “clouded your mind.” He looks at the others. “I am beginning to suspect that it is not Harth that is the architect of this scheme at all, but rather the beholder!”

“An interesting theory,” Dahlia nods. “It might explain a lot.”

“You! Porthos!” snaps Sir Colder. “Which one of them seemed to be in charge, Sir Harth or the beholder?”

“Well...” Sir Porthos pauses to think. “I would have said Sir Harth, before you asked, but now that I think about it... well... I don’t really know. Sometimes one, then the other. It’s almost as if they were struggling to control the direction their alliance led them.”

Our heroes question Porthos some more, but they have already gotten everything that he knows. The party draws aside to discuss his fate.

“Execute him,” Sir Fwaigo suggests.

“Bring him with us,” argues Kyle. “He surrendered, let’s take him with us. He might end up knowing something else that we didn’t think to ask, or he didn’t think to offer.”

“We can’t trust him,” Goer retorts. Otis nods in vigorous agreement.

“But he did surrender,” Sir Colder sighs. “And we accepted his surrender.”

“Sometimes, prisoners have to be executed,” Otis sniffs.

“Theriff Jorgen,” Lord Cedric announces, “thinthe you are the theriff, thith fallth on your thoulderth to dethide. I put him into your cuthtody.”

Jorgen nods. “He will come with us. Sir Porthos has a reputation as an honorable man, and he has nowhere else to go. And I would not consign anyone to this place and time, not even Harth.”

So it is decided- and the party swells to twenty-one.

And the party continues down the road to Litel.

Next Time: The party reaches Litel at last!
 

the Jester

Legend
As our heroes move down the thin trail beneath the rusty maroon sky, they cannot help but notice areas of burnt grass and blasted craters to either side. Here and there, the trail itself has been blasted directly and left a shattered mess. Now and again, a body- either human or orcish- lies rotting to the side. Sir Percival- himself a mix of man and orc- looks sad at this; despite being very aware of the typically savage nature of orc-kind, he still feels a crude solidarity with them. Occasionally, the charred shell of a wagon lies pushed to the side, on the edge of the trail or sometimes off it completely. Soon, as they walk along, they see a large pile of dead livestock, including cattle, goats and sheep. A lone figure is staring mournfully at the pile- an old, frail-looking human man with but wisps of hair remaining on his head. As the party of twenty-one adventurers and refugees marches up, the man turns to regard them with tired eyes.

With the aid of their new allies, especially Benito and Adelle, the party manages to communicate with this man. He is the first rational human from this age of madness that our heroes have found in the open (the villagers with them were well-hidden underground). His name, it turns out, is Noltock; at first he is suspicious of the group, but after a few minutes talking to them- or at least, those able to speak Palantian- he opens up and becomes more friendly.

Noltock raised cattle and handled animals for his entire life. Now, he has had to destroy them. When our heroes ask why, he explains that they were exposed to “gamma radiation,” whatever that is. He is very sad; this is the end of his livelihood, and likely he will die a slow death now. “But then again,” he comments gloomily, “won’t everyone? And it’s pretty silly of me to worry about my livelihood, when there’s nobody left to sell milk or meat to! Nor can I eat the meat- it might be contaminated with gamma radiation, and who knows what that might cause?”

“What’s ‘gamma radiation?’” Dahlia wonders, but nobody really answer her.

Noltock is full of doom and gloom. He knows of no other living survivors that are not extremely crazy or dangerous. There are bandits and brigands, he tells the party, but he doesn’t know where they lair. “They run up and down the Litel Road, thought,” he says. He doesn’t even know what really happened to start the war. “Probably those crazy elves,” he guesses. He does know that it all started less than a year ago. He is not well-informed of anything, but he happily shares information about sheep and cows with the party. When they ask him about Sir Harth and his cronies, Noltock claims to no nothing; but when Sir Colder mentions the beholder, he states that he heard a rumor of a beholder in Litel.

“Well, that’s where we’re going,” Sir Jorgen tells him, and Noltock grows even dourer.

“I wouldn’t go there,” he warns the party. “It was a prime target in... in the war. There won’t be much left- and what’s left will be full of mutants and radiation.”

“What’s radiation?” Dahlia asks again.

This time, Adelle answers her. “Radiation is... energy that comes from certain things. Sometimes it can be very dangerous. The energy that slowly kills creatures here, and that destroys magic that isn’t shielded by lead, is a type of radiation. Gamma radiation is another.” She frowns. “Gamma radiation can mutate creatures, change them.”

“Change them how?” asks Sheriff Jorgen.

“Sometimes it makes them stronger, harder to kill. Some creatures exposed simply die; in fact, most do. But some become gamma mutants. They often ‘hulk out’ and become much more powerful when angered or frightened.”

The party stares at her, not sure whether to believe her at first.

Finally, Otis inquires, “What about the Shadow Road? We don’t know much about that yet, either.” The Shadow Road, according to Sir Porthos, is Sir Harth’s destination in Litel.

“The Shadow Road? That is how you travel long distances here,” Adelle replies. “It’s- well, the simple way to explain it is that it’s a road through the Shadow Plane that lets you travel much more quickly than you could on our plane.”

“Do we walk?” Lord Cedric pipes up. “Or can we take our hortheth with uth?”

“No, we’ll be on a train,” Benito responds. “Kind of like a wagon train, but powered by magic.”

“Huh,” Kyle says. “A magical wagon train! Fantastic! But where would he go?”

Otis clears his throat. “More importantly, will this Shadow Road still be functioning after the war?”

Our heroes have much to ponder. They offer to let Noltock join their group, telling him that they are leaving this time and going to a better world, but Noltock snorts and declines. “No way would I go to Litel!” he declares. “Like I said, there’s bound to be mutants and radiation everywhere. No thank you!” They shrug, wish him luck and continue along their way; it is his choice, after all.

Before too long they are confronted with another atrocity. In the distance, they can see some kind of poles lining the road. As they get closer, it becomes apparent that these are crucifixions. Elves, and a few elfbloods, are strung up. All seem to be dead. As they proceed along, flanked by this grisly display, other types of victims start to be interspersed with the elves: dwarves, halflings, goblins, orcs, humans... everything. It is almost as if an unquenchable thirst for slaughter possessed someone.

Suddenly there is a cawing sound from behind some of the bodies, and a flock of horrid mutant vultures drag themselves into view. Seeing the prospect of fresh meat, they launch themselves forward. Behind them, a huge winged beast made out of bones, almost like some kind of great skeletal bat, rises up. But Benito swiftly shows his prowess, skewering one of the vultures on his crackling shock ranseur almost immediately. The vultures are foul, reeking beasts; they spit foul, disease-filled gobs of pus at the party. The large skeletal thing rushes in and tries to snatch Cedric up, but a concerted effort from our heroes slays the beasts fairly easily and without serious harm.

The party continues towards the city that they can now see in the distance. The environment changes one last time before our heroes reach it. A thin, clinging fog springs up, tinted slightly yellow and smelling like strong grapefruit. It stings the nasal passages, lips and eyes very slightly, burning just a little. There is little that the band can do, except for bite their lips and move forward. The fog is substantially more dangerous to the peasants than it is to the hardened adventurers; our heroes hope that they can clear it before anyone is seriously hurt by it.

As the party closes to within 2 miles of the ruined city ahead- they can see multiple plumes of smoke rising from it- they slow their pace.

There are riders coming towards them.

“I count eight, my lord,” Sir Fwaigo barks.

“Those look like bandits to me,” Benito comments. Those who can understand his tongue (Palantian) translate for the others. Everyone draws weapons and stands ready.

When the riders draw up a short distance away, the two groups study each other. The bandits- assuming that Benito’s assessment is correct- are led by a woman with a longbow out. Next to her is a squat dwarf, a large mace in his hand. Behind them, a half-dozen riders in studded leather fan out. Half of them have bows in hand; the others, longspears.

“Greetings, folks,” the leader says cheerfully. She looks the party over carefully, noting their armor and weapons. Their numbers. Meanwhile, as usual, there is a murmured translation by those who speak the tongue of this era for the benefit of those who do not.

“Well,” she says after a moment. Her manner is not quite as certain as it was when her band first road up. “This road is very dangerous. We came to offer you protection.”

“For a price, of course,” Benito growls.

“Of course,” the woman smiles.

“We are not in need of ‘protection,’” scoffs Lord Cedric. “We are quite capable of protecting ourthelveth!”

There is a tense moment; then, the woman nods in agreement. “It appears that you are. I am surprised to see so many people gathered in one group.”

“Oh?” replies Dahlia.

There is a moment of silence; then the woman sighs. “Pass on, friends, and good luck to you, in this unfortunate time we live in.”

The party passes on through the clinging, acrid mist. Finally it clears; and then, for the first time, Litel comes into view, now only about half a mile away.

It stretches before them: a huge, ruined city. When it was alive, it must have been home to unfathomable numbers- hundreds of thousands, or perhaps even millions, of people. The remains of tall buildings reach for the sky, but their tops have been shattered off, or they have been pushed over, toppled onto their neighbors with careless, destructive abandon. Smoke rises from innumerable places in the ruin, some of it the blackish-grey that one would expect, but some of it other, less natural colors- from an oily olive green to an unwholesome orange-brown. Everywhere, buildings have been pounded to rubble; almost nothing still stands. Entire neighborhoods seem to have been struck by some titanic hammer, and other areas seem to have been melted to glass or blasted to bare rock. Here and there, our heroes can see distant figures half-obscured by the smoke moving within the ruins.

“Wow,” whispers Sheriff Jorgen in awe.

Our heroes have never seen a city anywhere near this size. The biggest thing in their experience is Kamenda City, with its population of perhaps four thousand. You could fit a hundred Kamenda Cities in here, thinks Sir Colder in awe. And it’s totally destroyed.

What titanic forces must have been employed to do this much damage to the once-proud city? Dahlia shudders thinking about it, and about how unnatural this much city in one place is. When she comments, a debate erupts, leaving her rolling her eyes.

The approach to this ruined city leads the group to a crushed wall. The stench of corruption fills the air. Corpses of humans, whom our heroes can only assume to be either the city’s defenders, its attackers, or both, are scattered all along the shattered battlements. It looks easy enough to enter over the ruins of the fortifications, and neither to the right nor to the left does it seem as though there is a more palatable entryway.

The party advances. The villagers quail at the smell, but at this point they have little choice but to trust the party to lead them to safety. Everyone begins clambering over the rubble of the wall; but as they crest the broken wall, they spy a pair of strange clouds, shaped almost like malevolent faces, flowing over the ground towards them. They are grey-black, and seem to radiate an almost palpable hatred and malice.

“Soulbiters!” cries Benito. He moves to the side, pulling out his ranseur.

“What??” asks Sir Colder, just as one of the soulbiters flows over him. He screams and leaps aside, barely avoiding being engulfed within the mass of malice! Dahlia unleashes a flame strike at the other one, which is rushing towards Goer, and damages it, him and his mount. Nonetheless, the weird monster survives to exude a pseudopod and flail at Goer. The former squire ducks back for a moment, dodging the blow; simultaneously, the other one strikes at Benito, but it, too misses.

“Don’t let them engulf you!” cries Benito. “They’ll suck your souls!”

“Oh, great,” moans Goer.

Sir Colder strikes, then tries to move away from the one nearest him; unfortunately for him, it lashes out and smacks him across the head. He almost collapses as a terrible weakness washes over him. With a gasp, he staggers further away, but he can barely stand. “What... happened?” he groans.*

Swords seem less than effective against the monsters, but Otis and Adelle both fire magic missiles at one of them, and Benito cries, “Yes! Use magic!” So saying, he thrusts his magical ranseur at the same one and slays it.

Dahlia calls lightning at the other one, but the soulbiter flows over Lord Cedric. With a cry, Cedric is pulled from the saddle. “Aargh!!” the Lord of Whitewater shouts.

Sheriff Jorgen cries, “Here, my lord!!” He thrusts his lance forward for Cedric to grab hold of. Me leaps in, strikes and tumbles away; he manages to hurt it with the magical mace that the party found. But then Adelle fires another magic missile and finishes it off.

“Colder, are you all right?” Kyle asks.

“Yeah, it seems to be passing,” gasps Sir Colder. “But that thing did something terrible to me!”

“They are no good,” Adelle confirms.

“What were they?”

“Soulbiters,” Adelle responds. “Living soulbiters, to be more accurate. They are living spells. I take it, in your time, you no longer have the soulbiter spell?” At Otis’ reluctant nod, she continues, “Well, you’ve just experienced it, Colder.”

“What is a living spell?” Otis cries. “This is fantastic! Lost magical secrets- how does one make one, what...”

“Living spells are just that- spells given animation and a semblance of life. You could have a living fireball, a living blasphemy, a living acidic repulsion or almost any other type of living spell.”

“But why?” Kyle asks.

“They are powerful weapons,” Benito responds. “Think of it: a spell that you can use over and over again at will.”

“Although imperfectly controlled,” Adelle adds.

“All right, we need to keep moving,” Otis announces. “We know- well, we think, anyway- that Harth is heading to the Shadow Road. Where is that?”

“It’s near the center of the city,” Adelle replies. “It’s a huge octagonal building- we’ll be able to see it from some distance away.”

“All right,” declares Lord Cedric- the young lad from the village, Bates, is walking next to his horse- “let uth go! Forward!!”

Next Time: Our heroes move into the ruins of Litel, where the dead walk

*To make the effect clear here in game terms, when the soulbiter hit him, Sir Colder was hit with the disabled condition for 10 rounds: staggered, plus any standard action deals 1 hp of damage to him.
 

the Jester

Legend
The stench is horrendous. To either side, everywhere, the city is utterly demolished. A few buildings stand, half torn apart, here and there. Piles of rubble dozens or even hundreds of feet high alternate with deep craters. Bodies, pieces of bodies, bits of blood and brain and bone are everywhere. Never have our heroes seen a place that has been pounded more relentlessly.

Our heroes cover their faces with clothes soaked in whiskey (though Lord Cedric briefly resists the idea of using the precious whiskey in any manner other than imbibing it). The peasants following our heroes are terrified; Sir Porthos, Benito and Adelle are grim.

Soon enough, the ghouls attack.

It is a small wave of them, only eight; and still they almost drag a few of the villagers off. But our heroes manage to fend them off, slaying them with the aid of a few of the more able peasants, and soon our heroes continue along.

They talk as they go, trying to distract themselves from the omnipresent stink. It is maddening. Speculation runs in the direction that it was the beholder in charge of Sir Harth. Anything to distract themselves from the reek of corrupt flesh, cloying in the air. The sour-sweet stink of the whiskey helps, but gods! It is awful!

For an hour, they move along through the ruined streets. They round a 20’ high pile of rubble, and the stink of Litel grows suddenly, appallingly worse. A field of bodies, blown apart and ravaged by some terrible force, lies before them. Chunks of rock, brick and mortar are strewn about as well, and across the blistered crater strewn with corpses, our heroes can see the lower part of a building whose upper portion appears to have been blown jaggedly apart, perhaps a tenement or other dwelling place. There are more ghouls scavenging amongst the corpses.

“We have no need to engage them,” Sir Jorgen says. “Let’s continue towards our goal. There are plenty of dead corpses for them to feast on already.”

The others agree, and the party continues, bypassing the ghoulish scene. Very nervously, the party continues along. Blasted walls, empty windows, entire blocks smashed... the destruction is mind-boggling.

As our heroes cross an intersection, there is a sudden eruption of savage barking from the side. A pack of mangy-looking, hungry and feral dogs is bearing down on the party! Otis immediately blasts them with a fireball, and most of them drop.

The other two, however, roar and writhe. They begin to change, gaining a horrible amount of mass in just a few seconds and turning greenish.

“Gamma mutants!” roars Benito.

Jorgen lowers his lance and charges, smashing into one of the hulk dogs. His weapon crashes into it, dealing a terrific wound! But then the dog slams him with a mighty blow of its paw, hitting him with bone-crushing force. Jorgen is knocked from the saddle and crashes to the ground, knocked nearly unconscious in a single blow!

Then Benito slides forward and thrusts with his ranseur, catching the dog just under its swollen, over-muscled green chin. The tip of his weapon slices deep, discharging a blast of electricity, and then Benito carries the blow through in a wide arc that connects with the other hulk dog! It yelps, then growls. Its eyes flick to its fallen mate and it bares its teeth.

Dahlia, meanwhile, casts calm animals at it. The creature starts to settle down, but then Me moves up and it begins snarling again. Otis sighs. “Enough of this!” he cries, and magic missiles the dog. It yipes again and collapses, but its wounds are healing at a prodigious rate. Before it can regain consciousness, Sir Colder swiftly strides over to it and slits its throat.

“Whew!” exclaims Sir Jorgen. “That thing hit me hard!

“Gamma mutants are very bad news indeed,” agrees Adelle.

The party continues on through the devastated city. They edge around large craters; Adelle and Benito both claim that there is a danger of “radiation” in them.

After they cross through a shattered alley, they emerge on a street choked with rubble, much like the others that they have seen so far in this ruined city. However, there is one noteworthy difference: this street is lined with strange poles that arch over the center of the road, about 15’ above the ground, and the ends of these poles are set with strange bulb-shaped things, most of which give off a strong white light. Some of them seem to have failed, but on the whole, it seems like a well-lit avenue.

“Interesting,” notes Otis. “If only we had more time... Adelle, do you know what these are?”

“Of course.” She sounds surprised, once again, at his ignorance. “They’re just street lights. We have them everywhere.”

Otis shakes his head in a mixture of wonderment and annoyance at her manner.

If only there were a way to take back some of the knowledge of this time! he thinks. “Keep your eyes out for a library or a wizard’s tower,” he snaps to Kyle.

“Yes, master,” Kyle replies. “That’s a very good idea.”

The group travels onward for about half an hour, and then- as if Otis were prescient- they catch sight of a tall building, probably about four storeys high, with a web of cracks running up and down the facade. Smoke trickles out from within it. A sign out front shows a series of books.

“Books!” cries Otis.

“A library!” Kyle chortles.

Jorgen points a short distance away. “A fountain! It’s dry, but I’ll see if I can find some water!” He rushes over to the plaza at which he sees the fountains. Meanwhile, Dahlia- who has been in the form of a hawk for hours now- flies over to an upper window and perches on the ledge. There are books, all right, and a slow, smoldering fire.

“It’s on fire! Ahh, we have to save the books! What if there are magic tomes in there?” Otis is frantic. He rushes forward. The party pushes through. The door leads to a 40’ square foyer, badly damaged, with several corpses sprawled about. Significant cracks are on the floor, and the furnishings- a large counter and desk, several reading tables and many chairs- are severely damaged by fire, water and force. A staircase spirals up to the next floor, and a glance reveals fallen shelves and scattered books above. However, as Otis, Sir Colder and Kyle rush into the foyer, the entire floor collapses! And a few seconds later, while everyone else watches from outside, the rest of the building follows it. Dahlia lifts off from the window sill just in time. Debris rains down, and Otis, Colder and Kyle find themselves falling helplessly through the air. Below them, massive chunks of rubble splash downinto what appears to be fast-flowing brownish sludge. The stink of sewage is atrociously strong, making their stomachs heave. Then they crash into the surface of the sludge, raising a brown spray. Around them in the fast-moving flow, they can see little bits of floating refuse: a leather slipper, a child’s toy... an arm, deprived of its body.

The flow is furiously quick. Otis manages to cast spider climb, and snatches the wall, clinging for dear life. Then, to his horror, he sees a thin, almost transparent strand of something shoot out from a ledge above and hit Kyle!

Suddenly, Kyle is being pulled into the air.

Up above, Jorgen- having given up on the fountain when the house collapsed- quickly ties his rope into a lasso, then whips it in a circle in the air and tries to snag Kyle. Success!! Now Kyle is being drawn in two directions at once! Sheriff Jorgen ties the rope to his saddle horn and backs his horse up, pulling the rope, while the- whatever it is- tries to reel his friend in, presumably for a meal! The hapless Kyle finds himself suspended in the air above the fast-flowing effluvia.

Adelle whips out a scroll and reads it off. A wall of ice springs up, cutting off the outflow, and the surging sewage calms a little. Still, there is a huge amount of brownish sludge pouring into the area. Dahlia quickly lowers the water level, and then Otis tosses another fireball back at the ledge that the creatures trying to reel Kyle in are on. In the light of the flames he can see them: strange things that look like a cross between a spider and a crab, with a long proboscis that shoots the sticky strand. There are several of them, but his fireball roasts all of the little ones. Only the biggest one remains, and not for long. A concentrated assault by the party quickly overwhelms it, and when Me’s sling stone hits it in the eye and finishes it off it is nearly a mercy killing.

The party regroups a few moments later at the top of the pit that was once a library. Otis is glum; there are few books to be found, and he feels that Adelle has wasted a powerful spell on a scroll. “I might never have another chance to learn that spell!” he cries in anguish.

She brushes his complaints aside. “I acted to save my allies,” she responds.

The party has found some coins, as well as a magical bracelet of some kind and ten soiled red magical arrows, on the ledge of the strange sewer fishers. After the party stashes these away for the time being, Sir Jorgen urges them to form up and move on. After all, they aren’t gaining on Sir Harth by standing around.

While they move on, they talk. Kyle talks about doing without high magic in the party’s home time. Sir Colder puts the mack on the village sheriff. Otis mocks him, then encourages the peasants. Adelle asks Dahlia for some healing. Kyle asks about moons. Adelle talks about harnessing moons for power, or even as weapons. The very idea of using a moon as a weapon is appalling and amazing all at once.

Deeper into ruined Litel...

Next Time: Our heroes continue their pursuit of Harth and find- a major clue: a rail line!
 

Alcar

Visitor
Yes

Let me say, this campaign is probobaly the most difficult, and most fun I've had playing a game in a while. Our party was always looking out for one another, we had to, and even though I played the quiet wizard that beacme an ego-maniac, I knew what time it was.
I think most of the party agrees.


I hope we get back to this setting eventually, with or without new characters
 

the Jester

Legend
Alcar said:
Let me say, this campaign is probobaly the most difficult, and most fun I've had playing a game in a while.... I hope we get back to this setting eventually, with or without new characters
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the highest praise I have received in quite a while. Eliciting that response is why I dm. :D

Thanks, Alcar!! I hope we get back to this setting eventually too!!!
 

the Jester

Legend
Hey Tony, glad you're enjoying it. And I'm glad you get the Gamma World vibe- that's kind of part of what I was going for, only with magic. :)

Anyway, here's an update.

***

The weird, eyeless flying monster collapses to the ground, defeated. Our heroes check themselves over; no one is badly wounded, though its sonic attack did hurt Benito a little. But with the combined power of our heroes, Sir Porthos, Benito and Adelle- plus the villagers, who are desperate enough to fight some of the time- even a powerful single creature is quickly overwhelmed. “Having these guys along might really help after all,” Goer remarks.

“I think we need to be careful,” Kyle urges. “We don’t want to change time or anything. What if taking these guys to our time prevents them from doing something important back, uh, now?”

Lord Cedric snorts. “Nonthenthe! If we leave them here, they will die.”

“Yes, my lord,” Kyle murmurs, bowing his head.

Adelle watches closely. She is smart, and though she doesn’t speak Kamendan, she clearly is learning a word or two. Kyle feels a moment of guilt, but he just doesn’t want anything terrible to go wrong.

All around the party, the ruins and piles of pulverized rubble are dismal reminders that they are in a war zone. Even if the war is over, this city shows no signs of recovery; in fact, our heroes have yet to see a single living soul. It is a sobering thought.

“Hey, look!” Sir Jorgen points ahead. Strange dark metal tracks are recessed into the ground, running parallel to each other and about 10’ apart from each other. These weird tracks run mostly straight, but curve to enter a nearby ruined, but very distinctive, large building, with wide eaves and many pillars but a ceiling with many gaps in it. In the other direction, the tracks run straight into a massive crater about a hundred feet away, where they have been mangled and twisted.

“Tracks!” exclaims Benito. “Now we just have to follow them.”

“Huh?” asks Jorgen.

“Those are the tracks that the shadow train runs on,” Benito explains.

The ruined building still has a partially intact embarkation platform, with a set of tracks running through it. Rather than having any interior walls, the ceiling is held up by a series of massive pillars. On the opposite side of the platform, the party spies another set of tracks (the route running the opposite direction, according to Adelle). A cursory search turns up a strange map on the wall. Adelle explains that it was a route map- “These are- well, probably were, really- five different transportation routes indicated by color, so the red, orange, yellow, blue and black lines each represent one route. Here, where they all converge near the center of the city, is the main hub. I would bet that that is where Harth went.”

“Then it ith to there that we thall go ath well!” Lord Cedric cries, taking a swig from his bottle of whiskey and mussing the hair of Bates (one of the villagers, a lad of 14 years).

The party continues on. They pass up smoking buildings after their experience with the library. Now and again, they hear movement in the rubble; rats and ghouls seem to be the only survivors of the city- or at least, the only survivors willing to show themselves.

For an hour and more the group walks through the broken capitol. They must step carefully to avoid turning their ankles, or their horses’, and this slows their progress; but they know that they have gained a great deal on Sir Harth and his evil cult. Or is it the beholder and his minions? Who is really in charge there? wonder our heroes. Is Harth the beholder’s lackey, or is the beholder somehow serving Sir Harth? Does it even matter?

Sheriff Jorgen thinks, We must bring Sir Harth to justice.

Suddenly, three figures round the corner ahead and come into view. They are skeletons of metal, gleaming mechanical monsters with long blades coming from the ends of their hands. Immediately, the war machines move towards the party, closing the distance rapidly.

“Oh crap!” cries Sheriff Jorgen, and raises and fires his crossbow. The bolt penetrates the metal creature’s steel skin, sticking into it! Kyle dives for cover, attempting to hide behind the sheriff. Dahlia casts heat metal on all three of them, and they start to smolder. Me pulls his magical mace and rushes to meet the war machines, and Lord Cedric lowers his lance and spurs Thunderpuss forward with a rousing (and drunken) cry.

Battle! The clang of steel on steel as the party and the machines throw themselves into the dance, cutting, crushing, slicing, stabbing. An ear goes flying through the air as one of the war machines slices it from Sir Colder’s head. Otis screams, “Get back!!” as he sees his magic missiles resisted harmlessly by the constructs.

Even Kyle joins the melee, casting magic weapon on his blade. The war machines are fairly tough and fairly hard to hurt with direct magical assaults. The battle is not an easy one. The war machines are quick, deadly accurate and very hard to destroy. But, one by one, our heroes hack them down. The battle is far from one-sided, for most of our heroes suffer at least a wound or two, and Sir Porthos is knocked cold and nearly slain. At the battle’s conclusion, he is stable but unconscious, with a broken jaw.

“Those things are tough!” exclaims Kyle. He shakes his head. “I don’t know if we can take a large group of them, if we encounter one.”

“We may have to,” Benito tells him grimly. “If there are any large units of them left, they are probably near strategic areas- like the Shadow Road Terminal.”

“Well, what we really need to do is rest,” opines Goer. “We’re wounded, and I bet you guys are getting low on spells.” Several of the spellcasters nod.

“Let’s look for a secure place to rest while we travel,” Otis says.

***

On through the ruin, through the smell of death, beneath that tainted maroon sky. Over pulverized buildings, along or through craters, between ragged buildings scorched by fire our heroes walk. The scavenging ghouls, and here and there, rats, are the only inhabitants that the party sees. As they move down the road, they come upon a very sturdy-looking building of strange white material, similar to the walls of the nearly-abandoned village that they found previously. Though damaged by fire and impact, the building is intact.

“What is this stuff?” inquires Otis. “We saw it back around your village, as well.”

“It is called plastic,” Adelle replies. “It has very interesting and useful properties. And there are many types of it.”

“Hmm,” muses Otis. Yet another wonder of the ancients that we have lost. There is so much that we can learn from this journey, if only we can make it home! And if only there were a way to record the secrets of this era and bring them home with us...

The party moves up to the building and enters. It is some kind of armory- but it is not unguarded. Four mechanical hounds, similar to the ones that the party fought in the village, spring forth. To the party’s dismay, Mang Trolak, the half-orc villager, is torn to pieces almost immediately!

“No!” cries Benito. “Mang!”

Otis and Adelle both blast the gear hounds with fireballs, and Kyle follows this up with a magic missile spell. One of the hounds drops! Then the rest of the party rushes forward into melee as best they can- though Sir Fwaigo ends up blocked off. Cursing, he yells at Lord Cedric to get out of the way, but Cedric is busy hacking one of the hounds into pieces. “Two down!” he cries triumphantly.

Meanwhile, Dahlia casts heat metal, followed by call lightning. As her first lightning bolt cracks down and blasts one of the remaining gear hounds to bits, the other one collapses, giving off smoke and a weird burning smell.

Mang Trolak is clearly dead. The party gathers the pieces of her body and everyone heads outside. Benito, Adelle and the other villagers weep for her. Then, they set about digging a grave and planting her body into it while the adventurers keep a wary eye out for trouble. The maroon sky overhead is the color of a young scab. As the only priest present, Lord Cedric says a few words and performs a funeral ceremony; then she is buried .

“Should we go back into that building?” asks Dahlia. “There might be more trouble in there; I saw several doors.”

“It’s a distraction,” Otis declares. “We should keep going.”

“We do need to find a place to rest,” Sir Colder points out.

“We should find a place that’s less likely to have trouble inside of it,” says Kyle.

They keep moving. Past a series of buildings that smell of vinegar, past a hugely burning factory that covers nearly a block. “I thought I saw something moving in the flames,” Sir Jorgen muses.

“Surely,” Otis says eloquently, “it is not something that will help us find Harth.”

They continue their journey. Wounds itch and throb. Porthos moans in his unconscious state. Bates, the lad, stays close to Lord Cedric, who leads from the rear. Benito’s electric ranseur is in his hands. The stink of rotting corpses gets even stronger as they head deeper into the destroyed city.

Suddenly a haggard figure clad in rags stumbles out of a nearby alley.

Everyone’s weapons are drawn in a second, but the old man makes no hostile moves. Instead, crying, he stumbles towards them. “Please,” he cries in Palantian, which some but not all of the party understands. “Have some wine. Have a cup of wine...” He breaks down, sobbing. “I’m sorry!” he cries.

Somewhat dumbfounded, our heroes hesitate- and suddenly a fireball explodes around them, killing both the man and Angora, the village sheriff. “No!!” howls Sheriff Jorgen.

A cloaked figure steps out from an alley. Our heroes gasp as it casts back its cowl. A gleaming white skull is revealed, but in its eyes are large gems. One of them smokes and hisses. The other one-

Next Time: The other eye!
 

Alcar

Visitor
Perfect

Perfect monster for this era of cydra, along with the wolf-in-sheep's-clothing. I appreciated this fight, I should have seen it coming.


BUMP
 

the Jester

Legend
The poor man who tried to get our heroes to drink some wine has no chance. The fireball that the cloaked figure cast from one of its eyes killed him instantly. After all, it did not matter whether the party accepted the poisoned wine from the man; what mattered was only that he made the offer, that he tried to murder them, that he committed evil. Satisfied, the gleaming skull-faced, gem-eyed monster slew him with its right eye, and now it unleashes a wave of fear from its left.

Our heroes, meanwhile, have already unleashed a devastating volley of magic missiles and weapons at the monster. It looks undead; Cedric moves forward, determined to attempt to turn it and make it flee. To his surprise, he sees Sheriff Jorgen, Me and several of the peasants dash away in a panic. He changes his mind and casts remove fear instead. Meanwhile, the strange gemstone-eyed monster is caught in a grim cross fire of magic missiles between Adelle and Otis and is slammed into by Sir Colder and Benito. The monster staggers back, and a final volley of missiles from Otis destroys it.

“What was that thing?” exclaims Goer. “It was freaky!”

“You’re telling me,” Kyle agrees. “That fireball would have killed me if I hadn’t dived behind you!”*

Shakily, our heroes do some quick healing and then move on quickly. They wish to linger here for as short of a time as possible. Fortunately, the peasants avoided the worst of it; only Angora, their sheriff, died in the blast. Sheriff Jorgen sheds a tear for her; they had grown close over the last few weeks. Now... now she is gone.

But only a half hour later, another group of war machines appears from a side street, and another desperate battle breaks out. This time there are four of the constructs, rather than the trio that our heroes faced before, and they were enough trouble! Immediately, Otis unleashes a fireball, but the war machines are in a widely-separated skirmish formation, and he can only catch two of them. They close in on him swiftly, hitting the party in the flank, and Dahlia catches two of them with a heat metal.

Wisely, Kyle retreats to guard the peasants. But then, to his dismay, one of the war machines stabs Otis twice in the head! There is a shower of blood as the wizard is cut down! “Master!! No!!” Kyle screams.

Dahlia casts another heat metal, catching both of the other war machines. The party begins to move in and fight back, and Sir Percival gives a primal scream as he smashes one to pieces in two mighty blows!

Kyle dashes forward to where Otis lays on the ground. Is he alive? the apprentice wizard wonders hopefully. If he is, I have to save him! When he reaches his master’s body, though, he is forced to spring away from a war machine attack, and cannot even tell whether Otis is alive!

Another of the war machines tumbles over to Me and slices his leg with a sweeping blow, bowling him over. He lands on the smoking ruin of the war machine that he just destroyed, and then cries out as the war machine stabs him again.

Dahlia rushes over to Lord Cedric, who is trying to work his way forward but is impeded by peasants and the need to mount Thunderpuss.** “Cedric, wait!” she cries, and he reins in long enough for her to bless him with the strength of a bull. Thunderpuss rears back and kicks at the air; then, with a mighty roar of both horse and rider, Cedric and Thunderpuss charge forward, smashing into one of the war machines with his lance. The machine shudders back, smashed hard by the blow, and then flips nimbly out of the line of Cedric’s lance and into a fighting stance.

Sir Colder and Sir Jorgen are fiercely battling the war machine that is advancing on Sir Percival, which leaves only the one menacing the unmoving Otis and Kyle. Biting his lip, the lapidary-cum-adventurer darts in and grabs his master under the armpits. He strains with all his feeble muscles, and manages to start dragging him away.

Unfortunately for him, the war machine takes advantage of his burdened movement to run Kyle through. With a warbling cry, the apprentice joins the master in a state of rather profound immobility.

Meanwhile, the war machine facing Lord Cedric neatly unhorses him. With a surprised cry, Cedric crashes to the ground. His eyes widen as he sees another first break one of Me’s hands, then whirl around and cut Colder’s longspear in two! These machines are of consummate skill, he admits to himself. Aloud, he shouts, “We mutht redouble our effortth, my friendth! We cannot let thethe thingth thtop uth from thtopping Harth!” Then he snarls in dismay as the one that he is facing stabs Thunderpuss and neatly slices through a wide slab of muscle. The horse gives out an agonized whinny as blood fountains everywhere.

Me roars as he enters a rage and begins spring attacking, and Colder and Jorgen together bring down the one that they are facing. Even the peasants begin to get into the act, firing crossbows and shortbows at the war machines. A moment later Sir Colder manages to drop another! They are almost all gone-

“Look out!!” shouts Adelle. There is the whump of a fireball exploding down the same alley that the war machines came from. “Three more of them!”

Cedric laughs wildly and takes a quick swig off of his wineskin. “Let them come!” he sneers. “We thall overcome them with eathe!”

One of the newcomers tumbles up to Me and neatly disarms him. He roars and picks his weapon back up and begins smashing angrily at it. Over and over again he hits it; it crashes and stumbles back, until finally he crushes into a ruin of broken metal and smoking wires.

Meanwhile, Kyle’s raven familiar*** digs around in his gear, looking for potions. When it finally finds one, it pulls it free of his belt with its beak, carefully uncorks it and promptly spill it all over Kyle. But as the liquid seeps into his wound, tissues begin to knit. The flowing blood slows, then stops, as veins and arteries reconnect where they have been severed. Kyle’s eyelids flutter and he gasps as consciousness returns to him.

Dahlia begins healing the wounded as they fight, first Sir Colder, then Otis. Otis groggily pulls himself up. “Are you all right?” Dahlia asks the wizard.

“What? What’s happening?” Otis yells, looking somewhat confused. “Hello? HELLO?” He grimaces wildly. “Ahh, I’m deaf!!” His eyes widen as he sees the war machines, and he rises to his feet unsteadily and backpedals away a dozen feet. “KEEP YOUR DISTANCE!” he shouts. “THEY ARE VERY DANGEROUS!”

“We know,” groans Kyle. Dahlia heals Percival- Me- and then moves on to the apprentice wizard. “Thanks,” Kyle sighs, reveling in her touch as she uses her powers to knit his wounds. She doesn’t respond to his flirtations; not right now.

Me and one of the war machines keep struggling together, trading blows and cuts. Finally, the half-orc’s superior endurance and powerful rage wins the day, and Me drops yet another of the war machines. Sir Porthos and Sir Jorgen move together to charge into another, Jorgen using a lance while mounted and Porthos simply charging on foot with his sword.

Adelle curses one again at how spell resistant the things are and, out of magical resources, pulls out her sling. She whirls it around and fires, pegging one of them in the head with a bullet! The thing is already severely damaged, smoking and giving off sparks and leaking weird, oily fluids. The bullet smashes it flat, and the war machine struggles feebly to rise for a moment before going still.

The final machine whirls around madly, springing for Sir Jorgen and only narrowly missing him. But the angry Sir Percival rushes in and begins hacking, ignoring the pain of his broken hand completely, and in a few short seconds he crushes the last remaining war machine.

“Good gods!” moans Kyle. “That was a close one.”

“Clothe?” Lord Cedric scoffs. “We are triumphant, of courthe, ath I knew we would be. We thall overcome all oppothithion and defeat all of our enemies. With contempthuous eathe!”

“As you say, my Lord,” Goer sighs.

“Should we rest, or move on?” inquires Dahlia. “My magical resources are pretty well used up...”

“Perhapth we thould find a thuitable plathe to hole up,” nods Lord Cedric. “We could have a few drinkth.” He tousles Bates’ hair.

“Yes, let’s all keep our eyes peeled,” the sheriff agrees. The party walks along for some time through the blasted city, following the track of the Shadow Train. The sky remains that same dark maroon color the entire time.

“I wonder how that goes away?” remarks Sir Colder. He points at the sky. “What would get rid of it?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Adelle responds. She looks thoughtful for a few moments, then says, “The sky is a side effect of the spell engine destroying all magic not protected. It’s very powerful magic, epic magic in fact; it would require epic magic to destroy it. Either that, or you’d have to starve it.”

“You mean, if it sucked up all the magic in the land-“

“Unprotected magic. Exposed magic.”

Kyle is shocked by the thought. “Maybe that’s what happened! Maybe-“

“Almost certainly.” Otis' brow is furrowed in thought.

“Something else you should think about,” Benito says, “is your tickets. Do you have enough money to buy tickets for everyone to wherever we’re going?”

Puzzled, Goer says, “Buy... what? Tickets? What?”

“Surely you didn’t think that you could ride the Shadow Train for free.” Benito sounds surprised at the very thought.

”How much are thethe ticketth?” asks Lord Cedric.

“Oh, it depends,” Benito answers him. “Where are we going?”

“To the Isle of the Elves,” Sir Porthos answers. Everyone looks at him. “That is where Harth’s goal is.”

“But for now, we need to rest and recover our resources,” Dahlia reminds them. “Remember to keep your eyes open for somewhere that we can rest.”

“So we’re looking for something like... that?” Sir Colder points dramatically.

Ahead of the party is a very colorful building, painted yellow, red, green and blue. Out front, a sign shows an image of the masks of comedy and tragedy. The place looks largely intact.

“Why not?” shrugs Sir Colder.

The party moves to investigate.

Next Time: The Disparager!


*Kyle evaded. Hurray for rogue levels! Especially when your full hp total is 17 at 8th level...

**He actually failed his quick mount check. But you know, dramatic license and all.

***Similar, in many ways, to V’s raven familiar in Order of the Stick. :|
 
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the Jester

Legend
The building, though at first glance abandoned, is clearly some kind of theater. There is a large stage, with props scattered about here and there. Rows of seats face the stage. The curtains are closed. Ropes and rigging dangle from the darkness above. The smell of corruption is as strong inside the building as it is outside.

Suddenly- dramatically- the curtains rise, and mocking laughter rings out through the theater.

“They look as tasty as the dead- and as stupid and slow!”

The voice rings out in the local tongue, but its tone is plain even to those of our heroes who cannot understand it. It comes from the shadows above. Somewhere in the rigging, thinks Dahlia.

Four figures, shambling, grey-skinned ghouls, emerge onto the stage, wheezing laughter. They are costumed brightly in a morbid parody of the theater they are in.

“Ghouls!” she shouts. “Watch out!” She casts barkskin on herself. The ghouls start to creep forward, and then the stench hits Dahlia and she wants to gag.

Sir Colder springs forward, stabbing violently at the closest undead with his longspear. He hits it in the chest, and it staggers back- and laughs. The stink assails him, as well; it makes his gorge rise. What foulness is this? he groans to himself. Behind him, Lord Cedric and Sir Fwaigo move in together, and suddenly the crash of battle is in full swing as our heroes and the hideously odiferous ghouls collide in a shower of violence. Our heroes have grown mighty, and- at least for now- none of them succumb to the paralysis threatened by every small wound the ghouls cause. And the stink! It is ghastly!

Cedric grins as he reaches the ghouls. “By the power of Clymorian!” he cries. “Turn away, foul creatureth!” With that, he channels positive energy, and the nearest pair of the undead cower back away from him. One of them turns to flee, and he cuts it down with his mighty sword, and a glad cry escapes his lips.

The voice cries down from above. “Witch-woman!” it sneers, “You with the tangled hair!” Dahlia stiffens. “You look as though your association with nature is as shallow as your veneer of civilization. I am surprised that you can cast a spell!” She gasps, somehow wounded by his barbed remarks. She bites her lip and gazes resentfully into the shadows.

Where is he? she wonders. She peers... is that a shape? Yes! In the rigging...

But he is too quick. Suddenly silence drops around her. She grimaces and takes a few steps away, until she can hear the battle again. “You want to see me cast a spell?” she yells, and hits him with a flame strike. The ropes he is hanging in burn up in a flash, and the figure- another ghoul, dressed in more fancy costume, drops from the rigging. But, to Dahlia’s surprise, he twists his body and hits the wall, then catches himself and clings to it.

Simultaneously, with the ropes that tied it back burnt away, a heavy bean bag swings out across the stage. Sir Colder dives down and it passes over him, narrowly missing his head. Lord Cedric, Sir Fwaigo and Sir Percival (Me) continue to duel the undead. Cedric slays one with a mighty blow of his blade; Me crushes another with his flail. Finally, he finishes the last one as well.

Cedric growls and hops off of the stage, striking a ready stance. “Thpread out tho that the varlet may not eathily catth uth all in a thpell!” he commands.

Meanwhile, the disparager- the last undead facing our heroes- titters and leaps into more of the rigging. Sir Colder shakes his head in disbelief.

“Fools! Welcome to the show!” the figure above them cries. “I am Xerthos, player of many parts, and I will feast on you all!”

“We have already thlain your lackeyth,” Lord Cedric points out, “and we thall thlay you nektht.”

With that, Dahlia casts another flame strike on Xerthos. The flames engulf the ghoul and the ropes holding him. This time, rather than twisting towards the wall, Xerthos gives a rabid scream and dives directly at Dahlia.

The stench hits her an instant before the bite. She vomits uncontrollably, staggering back; and if it weren’t for Me, she would probably be dead. But Sir Percival steps in, striking at the foul-smelling ghoul with his magical flail. He roars a challenge while Dahlia staggers away, gagging. The stench is horrific near Xerthos, making even Me fight a bout of strong nausea. But, though it is difficult in the extreme to effectively attack the ghoul in melee because of the strong odor, our heroes do manage to deal a significant amount of damage, and then Kyle finally kills Xerthos with a magic missile.

“That guy was a jerk!” exclaims Dahlia.

“Yeah, he kept spouting off mean stuff,” Sir Colder nods.*

Though the playhouse stinks of death and has a number of bodies in it, our heroes decide that it is as good of a place to rest as any. They clean a dressing room up enough that it doesn’t reek of carrion and proceed to get a few precious hours of sleep, banishing fatigue, at least for the moment.

***

“What we need,” Otis muses as they move along, “is a bank.”

“A bank, master?” Kyle is intrigued.

“Yes. Benito and Adelle have told us that we will need a great deal of money to take this ‘Shadow Train’. This city is probably not going to have a much better place to look for money than a bank.”

“That’s a very good point!” Kyle agrees.

All around them, rubble, debris, the dead. Destruction, ruin, craters, broken buildings, battered roads. Here and there a few scavengers. The maroon sky.

Colder shudders. What a terrible, terrible place, he thinks. What a terrible time. I hope we can really escape it. I would hate to be stranded here for the rest of my life...

The heroes find themselves paralleling a stinking canal full of fetid, foul water. This canal runs alongside the metal tracks that they is following. They continue along. After fifteen minutes or so, as they clamber along a large jumbled pile of rocks, several of them spot a figure hiding. They approach, and force a man out into the open. He is slender- scrawny, even- with shaggy brown hair. He has no shirt nor shoes. The only accoutrement he seems to have is a pair of tattered purple pants.

“Who are you?” demands Sir Fwaigo.

“My name is Banner,” the man replies sadly. “Please do not make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

“We can handle ourselves just fine, thank you,” snorts Goer. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m... surviving. I’m a survivor of the war.” As he says this, he seems very sad.

“What’s up with you?” the perceptive Dahlia demands. “You seem... guilty.”

He looks at her. His eyes are green and as deep as the sea. For a long moment, he says nothing. Then, finally, he says, “This is all my fault.”

“What is?”

“This.” He gestures around at the ruin around them. “The death. The war. All of it.”

“How so?” asks Sir Porthos.

“I invented the gamma bomb,” Banner replies.

Next Time: Our heroes recruit- the Hulk!!


*Xerthos was a disparager- a prestige class, pretty much for bards, that gives them to ability to inflict penalties on their enemies by calling them names and such. Oh, and for the record, these were actually ghasts, not ghouls per se. Xerthos was a ghast bard 4/disparager 5.
 

the Jester

Legend
The Incredible Hulk!

“Maybe the elves were right about us,” Banner muses sadly. “We can’t be trusted. We reached too high. We sought out forbidden knowledge, sure in our hubris that we could handle the burden of knowing too much. But knowledge without wisdom...” He heaves a sigh. “Knowledge without wisdom led us here.” He gestures at the ruined city, stinking of death, stretching all around him. Everywhere there is devastation. Broken chunks of street and building form a massive pile of debris. The skeletons of the many city’s former houses and businesses stand on all sides, but as many do not stand, not any longer. The stench of decaying, rotten flesh fills the air everywhere, along with the stink of greasy fires elsewhere in the city. There are stranger aromas, too. The combination is the smell of defeat, of despair, of the collapse of a great society. The smell of the end.

Sheriff Jorgen shudders. “We have to find Sir Harth,” he mutters to himself. “We can’t let him do this to our time too!”

Wordlessly, Lord Cedric pulls out a bottle of looted whiskey and offers it to Banner. For a moment, the man seems to be considering it; then his face falls. “No,” he whispers. “I don’t dare. If I lose control...” He trails off, his face contorted in agony.

Cedric shrugs. “Thuit yourthelf,” he replies, taking a long pull from the bottle and passing it to Kyle. He tousles Bates’ hair. “Well, Banner, we are from another time, and we are in purthuit of a foul villain who theekth to take powerful weaponth from your war-ravaged time to ourth, whith ith a more peatheful, friendly time. Do you think it ith likely that your ‘gamma bombth’ are what he ith after?”

Banner’s expression twists in horror. “Science,” he whispers, “it could be. You have to stop him! If he-“

“We came back here to stop him,” Kyle interjects. “We’re quite aware of what the consequences could be if he succeeds. We can see.”

“And smell,” adds Dahlia.

“Can you help us?” asks the Sheriff.

“Him?” bursts out Adelle. “Help us? Didn’t you hear him? This is Banner!” Her face is growing red with fury. “He invented the gamma bomb! We don’t want his help!”

“She’s right,” Banner whispers morosely. “I-I’m trouble. I’m dangerous. You can’t trust me.” He stares down at his bare feet.

“Nonthenthe,” Lord Cedric answers magnanimously. “We will not leave anyone here in thith foul time. If you have been an evil man, you will be tried and punithed appropriately, but we will not leave a man behind that witheth to come forward with us.” He looks Banner in the eye. “If you can help uth, it will thpeak well of you.”

“I... you... all right. But... you must be careful. I am dangerous. I have been... exposed. Changed. By gamma radiation.”

“Oh, we’ve already fought some gamma mutant dogs,” Sir Fwaigo dismisses his concern. “We’ll be all right. But what do you mean? Can’t you control yourself when you change?”

“No,” he answers gravely. “I can’t. I can’t even remember what it’s like, to be... the Hulk.”

“The Hulk?” asks Sir Colder.

“That’s what they call his gamma form,” Benito snarls. “Cedric, are you sure about this? I don’t think that it’s wise-”

“I am thertain,” Lord Cedric lisps. Grumbling, Benito, Adelle and the villagers subside.

Joined by Banner, our heroes continue looking for a place to rest.

***

Eventually a ravaged house presents itself. It has no corpses inside of it, and though there are a few vermin within, they scatter as the party appears. Clearly, the scavengers in this ruined city have plenty of easier meat to eat than a large, well-armed group of adventurers (and peasants).

The party moves on under that flat maroon sky. It is maddening, oppressive; how long will it be until our heroes see sun or stars again, or even the blue of sky? Sir Fwaigo grits his teeth. This place angers and frightens him. To think that it was his ancestors, ultimately, that did this to themselves! And worse, to think of Sir Harth bringing the capacity to do this back to Kamenda- it is almost too much to bear.

“Hey, look,” calls Kyle, pointing up the road about a hundred yards. They hurry up to the place his is indicated. Ahead of them alongside the road is the remains of a cook fire and a recent camp. Multiple flat stones show greasy stains, and a pile of guts is on the ground. The remains of some kind of carcass lie a few feet away, but it has been stripped of its meat. Could this be a sign of Harth?

Sheriff Jorgen and Dahlia examines the scene. “This was a horse,” Dahlia announces. “It was slaughtered here. Those are its guts. You can see the blood splash from where they cut its throat.”

“Yeah, and they ate a meal and smoked up its meat,” adds the sheriff. “Whoever they were, they were low on provisions; they came in with one more horse than they left with.”

“Harth,” breathes Lord Cedric. “We almotht have him. Come! We mutht continue!”

The party continues following the metal track in the ground. The fetid canal remains off to their left side. As they move alongside it, something starts to move within the slimy water- something transparent, almost made of water itself. It separates and then there are two of them. They flow out and move swiftly towards their prey, intending to capture a prisoner for their masters.

“Look out!” cries Sir Colder as the things flow down towards the party. He can barely see them, but that just worries him more. Adelle fires a volley of magic missiles but can’t really tell whether they have any effect.

“Banner, stay back!” Benito barks. Then the first of the weird things slams into him- and grabs him! Benito gives a shout of dismay as he is dragged into a crushing, wet, cold embrace, and then worse- it engulfs him completely! He struggles within its form, but cannot free himself!

“What the hell are these things?” shouts Sir Fwaigo. “I can’t even see them!”

The other one rushes up onto Sir Percival- Me- and grapples him as well, trying to crush him into submission. Me gives out a great roar and goes into a blinding rage, struggling mightily to free himself! The creature crushes him mightily, but slowly he manages to force it to open its grasp and release him!

Dahlia, meanwhile, retreats far enough to be out of immediate danger and then outlines one of the creatures with faerie fire. It is revealed to be an undulant mass of four large tentacles joined to a central mound of thick, syrupy liquid. “Gross!” she exclaims.

Sir Colder retreats backwards. “Wizards to the fore!” he shouts. “Our weapons are useless here!”

“Shaboaths!” Ferick (the crotchety old man of the villagers) exclaims. “Beware, boys, they serve aboleths!”

The party redoubles their efforts, landing several blows on the creatures, but not having much effect. Benito is completely submerged within the body of the shaboath that has engulfed him, and though he struggles mightily, he cannot escape. Banner cries out, “No! Let him go!”- and rushes forward, trying to pull him free.

“Banner, NO!” shouts Adelle. “Get back! You know what will happen if they hurt you!”

“I can’t just let him die!” Banner shouts.

The shaboath swipes at him with a tentacle, knocking him back and bloodying his face. “Aargh!” Banner shouts, and collapses to his knees, shaking his head. He wipes his nose and shouts again. He seems to be swelling up, becoming larger. His skin darkens, turning green. The ragged remains of the purple pants that he is wearing tear further, until they resemble tattered shorts on his massively-enlarged frame. “RAGGGHH!!!” the Hulk roars. With a fierce glare, it turns back to the shaboath that hit Banner. “HULK SMASH!!!”

While it is distracted, observing the gamma transformation of Banner, Benito manages to burst free. He is gasping for air and bruised all over; clearly, the creature squeezed him fairly severely.

Our heroes watch in awe as the Hulk rushes in on the shaboath. The shaboath’s tentacles reach out and wrap around the Hulk, but the green goliath peels them off of him. Lord Cedric gives out a cry and rides in to flank the shaboath, striking with his flail.

The other Shaboath, meanwhile, engulfs Me completely. The pissblood doesn’t even have time to shout for help. Benito thrusts his ranseur into it over and over again, and Dahlia has called lightning to strike it. The combination proves to be too much, and finally the first shaboath falls!

Meanwhile, the Hulk is smashing the other one to bits. With a final push from Dahlia’s electric strike, it collapses into a pool of thick liquid too.

Leaving our heroes- and the Hulk.

The Hulk glares at the party. “HULK SMASH!!” he thunders. He takes a threatening step forward.

Our heroes back off. “Whoa, there, big guy, we just want to help,” Sir Colder says in his most soothing voice.

“Indeed!” cries Lord Cedric. “Would you like thome wine?”

“Not wine,” Dahlia says quickly. She pulls some biscuits out of her belt pouch. “Here, Hulk. Do you want a biscuit?” She offers it to him with a smile. The Hulk takes it, then sniffs it, then swallows it in a single gulp. He seems to be calming down, even shrinking a little bit. Soon he is Banner again.

“Wow,” says Goer, with feeling.

Next Time: The Bank Job!
 

the Jester

Legend
CURRENT PARTY ROSTER

Sir Fwaigo "Goer" Smith- fighter 8
Sir Colder- fighter 5/rogue 3
Lady Dahlia Laagos- elfblood druid 8
Sir Percival "Me"- half-orc barbarian 4/scout 4
Kyle Goldenbow- elfblood rogue 4/wizard 4
Sir Jorgen Boatwright, Sheriff of Whitewater- fighter 4/rogue 4
Sir Cedric Whitewater, Lord of Whitewater- knight 7
Otis Optimus- wizard 8
 

the Jester

Legend
Ahead of our heroes in the devastated city, a large building looms. It seems mostly intact, though it shows char marks and other signs of attack. The large doors are open, and even in the poor light provided by the sunless, maroon sky, our heroes perceive a sign on the awning out front that shows a stack of coins.

“A bank!” exclaims Benito.

“Maybe we can fund our tickets on the shadow train here,” Kyle suggests slyly.

“That sounds like a fine idea,” Otis smiles.

But when they enter the bank, the party finds that they are not the only ones who have had such an idea.

The interior is 100’ square, with a large lobby that measures 100’x80’. Oddly enough, three small wheeled hand carts are in the lobby. On the extreme left of the back side of the room is an open door that leads behind the counter, and in the space behind the counter is a stairway heading downward. “The vault should be down below,” Adelle opines. The party heads towards the door leading behind the counter.

Two stone statues rise up.

“Hey wait!” exclaims Goer in surprise. Sir Colder just grimaces and thrusts his spear forward, over his friend’s shoulder, but it barely scratches the statue. Still, a concerted attack by our heroes swiftly overwhelms the statues, leaving them shattered on the ground.

A figure starts to emerge from the stairwell. It starts upon spotting our heroes and quickly retreats back down the stairs.

“Orc!” Me cries happily.

Our heroes race down the stairs, but instead of a simple orc, they find themselves in a battle with a formidable orcish fighter, a sneaky halfling rogue and another four of the stone guardians! The battle is fierce, intense, harrowing; but our heroes seem blessed by good luck, and their enemies seem cursed by a malaise of bad luck. Add these together with a healthy dose of good strategy, and soon our heroes have taken the bank, slain most of the enemy and destroyed the statuary. The orc, rendered unconscious, is still alive.

“Kyle,” Otis says gravely, “let me see your spellbook.”

Reluctantly, the apprentice hands his tome over to his master. Otis scratches out Kyle’s grade- presently a D- and writes a C in its place. Kyle beams proudly. Then his practical side takes over, and he suggests a thorough search and inventory of the vault. It proves to measure about 50’ wide by 30’ deep and is lined with shelf after shelf of built-in, elaborately-sculpted boxes. Adelle explains that these are boxes that people would rent and keep valuable items hidden within. At one end, a thick door has been drilled through by the orc and halfling, but another, inner door still remains. It does not look like the robbers had had any luck with it whatsoever. It seems to be built from some kind of weird greenish, metallic-looking material that feels almost like cloth. Some fruitless moments trying to open us turn our heroes to more easily available loot.

Of the most interest are the bags and bags of cash easily available. There is far more wealth than the heroes have ever seen before; there are literally thousands of gold pieces.

Benito and Adelle, on the other hand, think that it’s a pretty petty amount of cash.

Nonetheless, everyone is aware that having plenty of money might help ensure a successful train ride. Therefore, they gather up the loot and load themselves, the peasants and the mounts with all that they can find. A lengthy, strenuous effort finally pries open one of the secure, built-in boxes in the outer vault, only to find- papers.

“Utheleth,” Lord Cedric says in disgust.

The party revives the orc, whose name turns out to be Grulthug. At first he is defiant; but upon learning that his partner, the halfling, is dead, he nearly breaks down in tears. The party questions him, but he is just what he seems: an opportunist, taking advantage of the moment of chaos that he has found himself in. He and the halfling were burglars; in recent weeks, they had gained control of the stone guardians by means of a special ring, which- with the guardians now smashed to rubble- is now useless.

Unless I can learn from it, Otis thinks hungrily. Visions of himself, at the head of a massive band of mobile statues, dance through his head.

However, our heroes get the real payoff from the orc when they inquire about Sir Harth. They describe him and his band, and immediately, Grulthug replies, “Oh, I saw a beholder not long ago. Within the last week or twelve days. We didn’t dare approach, of course.”

“Where?” demands Goer. “Where did you see them?”

“Further towards the center of the city.”

“They’re still ahead of us,” Dahlia laments.

“We’re catching up,” Sheriff Jorgen answers grimly. “It won’t be long.”

In the end, the party not only lets Grulthug live, they even return some of his gear to him. “Good luck,” Me rumbles to him with a smile as the party hurries along. Before long, a small branch of the canal just ahead of them runs into what appears to be a very large bath house. The scum-choked water must have once been clear and fresh, but now the bath house is filled with a disgusting mess of algae, mold and corpses and body parts, some of them floating in the water.

“I bet there are ghouls in there,” Dahlia grimaces.

“Forget them.” Sir Fwaigo shakes his head. “We need to stay focused on Harth.”

“Yeah, I want to get home,” Kyle complains. “This era is horrible!”

The party moves past the bath house, ignoring the ghouls feasting within. They move along for about another half hour, passing down shattered avenues replete with the remains of rich storefronts. The metal tracks in the ground that they are following continue inexorably forward.

And suddenly, with a shout, a figure that several of our heroes recognize as one Sir Helios (one of Sir Harth’s men) rides forth, a longspear couched like a lance, and leads a handful of obviously haggard- and mutated- men-at-arms from Harth’s entourage in a surprise charge on our heroes.

Next Time: Sir Helios comes with a big green surprise!
 

the Jester

Legend
This is the test, thinks Lord Cedric grimly, as he heaves his bastard sword from its scabbard. Here is where we find out where Sir Porthos’ loyalties really lie!

Indeed, for the ambush that our heroes have walked into was set by Porthos’ former master, Sir Harth- Harth, the traitor. Harth, archenemy of all of our heroes. Harth, the very reason that the party has come here, to this devastated time, where the sky is a featureless cloud of maroon and all sanity seems to have vanished.

Sir Porthos seems caught by surprise. His mouth hangs open in stupefaction. So long as he does not betray us, Cedric thinks, I shall assume his good faith remains.

Then the Lord of Whitewater is distracted as Otis calls out strange, mystical syllables; and suddenly a fireball explodes all around the knight and the onrushing enemies closest to him! They scream and cry in agony as flames lick over them. Sir Helios’ horse whinnies in fear, but dancing out of the way of the blast, behind a large chunk of rubble, then continues to push forward. The mutant men-at-arms howl in agony even as they advance through the flames.

“A nice start!” Sir Colder declares, setting his spear and thrusting into the closest mutant with a feral grin.

Then there is a loud roar, and everyone jerks their attention to Sir Helios.

Though his mount evaded the blast, he did not. Now, wounded, he roars, shaking his head- and starts to grow. He topples from the saddle as his stirrups burst, and he drags himself up to his feet, still roaring. Somehow, he no longer looks as though he will fit on the back of his mount. His armor’s straps stretch and snap; rivets pop. In several places, the metal plates seem to pinch themselves solidly into his flesh, making his anger- and his form- grow. His blond hair shades to a deep swamp green; his skin grows murky, first brown, then grey, and then a jade color.

Sir Helios faces our heroes, a huge, green goliath full of rage.

Adelle cries out a curse, stepping quickly back. “Don’t let him get too close to you, he’s a gamma mutant!” she cries. “Like Banner!” She casts a fireball of her own, and the blast catches Helios, his mount and one of the mutants. The blast throws the mutant down in a sizzling pile of roasted flesh, but both Sir Helios and his horse manage to withstand the blast.

Two of the mutants, their skin covered in strange, seeping blisters, limp forward eagerly towards Otis and Sir Fwaigo. Though they themselves are filthy and unkempt, it is quite clear that they have taken fine care of their bastard swords: the blades shine in the light of the flames from the fireballs.

Kyle backs away nervously, casting mage armor on himself. Then he casts another spell, more complex: invisibility. Suddenly he is gone! The mutants are a little startled, but they are also a little distracted, as the leading edges of the two parties crash into one another. Lord Cedric cries out, “Thir Helioth, thurrender! Harth hath betrayed you all! Throw down your armth and we will thow merthy and help you find your way back home!” The front line fighters of the party- Me, Goer, Jorgen, Colder, Cedric, Benito- stand as a wall, thrusting, cutting, blocking and dodging the blows of the mutants. Inevitably, some get through, and several of our heroes takes wounds. Sir Helios is near the front rank of the enemy troop, though the incredible transformation that he has undergone seems to have slowed his advance for a moment. Now Me steps forward, swinging his magic mace at the great form of the irradiated knight, and lands a telling blow.

But Sir Helios just roars and punches Me with a mighty, mighty blow. Me is knocked sprawling, and barely drags himself up to avoid another blow! Spinning, he swings his mace again, but Sir Helios jerks his arm out of the way.

Biting his lip, Otis hurls another fireball at the battle. This time, he comes inches away from hitting Sir Percival- Me- with it. But the wizard does not care. If a simple dog mutated by this ‘gamma’ sorcery was so dangerous, he thinks grimly, how much more deadly will a trained knight be??

The flames wash over Sir Helios, his mount and a mutant. This time, to Otis’ delight, the horse drops to the ground, its skin blackened and cracked! Otis cackles, but his face falls when he sees the brute rage written all over Helios’ giant green face. He starts to move away, stopping long enough to cast a maximized magic missile at the hulking agent of Harth. He’s still going! Otis thinks in disbelief. That, on top of three fireballs... He shouts, “We have to take out the knight, now!!”

“Surrender, Helios, my friend!” Sir Porthos cries at last. “Please! Do not make us slay you!”

Sir Helios just throws back his head and roars loudly, an earth-shaking roar that can probably be heard a mile away. It makes everyone’s ears ring for a moment.

Lord Cedric, meanwhile, manages to draw back to a well-defended position and begins magically healing Sir Percival. The blow that Helios dealt him was remarkable. If Me were smart enough to feel the full effects of the blow, it might even have killed him!

Several of the mutant men-at-arms, laughing wickedly, begin to close in on the peasantry. Though most of them cringe back and start to retreat, Bates- the lad of 13 summers with whom Lord Cedric has been getting awfully chummy- pulls out a dagger and stands his ground bravely. “Leave my people alone!” he cries.

Dannelle, Adelle’s sister, steps up with a club. “Yes, leave us alone,” she says bravely. She shakes the club in her hand. “Or else we’ll beat you!”

The mutants laugh and attack, but both Bates and Dannelle stand their ground and fight!

Meanwhile, the other mutants have found themselves no match for the fury of Jorgen, Goer and Colder. The three of them together easily slay the mutants facing them, then turn to race to the aid of the peasants.

Watching all of this, Banner clenches his fists tightly. He retreats, but slowly, gradually letting the peasants move away from him... just in case.

Just in case, he thinks sickly. Just in case. Please let them stop him before anyone... before anyone dies. His head swims. His pulse begins to pound. Fear, anxiety, anger all build within him. No! he tells himself. I have to stay calm. I have to! It’s too dangerous! He continues to move slowly away, breathing deeply, trying to relax himself.

But it is almost more than he can take when Sir Helios charges forward at Benito, ignoring the thrust that the warrior lands in his torso on the way. Helios’ fist- the size of an anvil- cleaves through the air and smashes into Benito’s face.

His head veritably explodes.

Benito falls to the ground, clearly- undeniably- dead.

“BENITO!!! NOOOOO!!!!” cries Adelle. With an incoherent shout of rage and grief, she fires another volley of magic missiles into Helios, and the jade juggernaut gives another roar of pain. He turns to face her, shaking his fists and giving a great, wordless scream at her. “Come on, then!!” she screams back, tears flowing down her face. “COME ON!!!”

“Adelle, no!” shouts Otis.

“Do not worry, Otith!” Lord Cedric cries. “For even thith beatht ith no matth for the power of Clymorian!” And with that, he begins to intone a prayer to his god. Sir Helios is advancing on Adelle when Cedric gestures at him, and he simply freezes in place.

“Quickly!” cries Cedric. “I am not thertain how long my powerth will hold him!”

“In a moment, my lord!” cries Goer, running the last mutant through. “There, that’s better!”

Everyone converges on Sir Helios. Sir Porthos cries, “Please, surrender!”

“He’s too dangerous!” shouts Sir Colder, charging up and stabbing Helios viciously. “If we don’t kill him, he’s going to kill us- even if he doesn’t want to! Look at that!!” He gestures at the large, unmoving green form. “It’s so strong that we have to kill it, or it will certainly come out and kill us at some point!”

What does that say about me? Banner wonders coldly. The Hulk is even stronger than this thing. He shudders. His stomach is full of butterflies.

Sir Percival and Sir Jorgen both charge in, striking with all their might. But Sir Helios is healing very, very quickly. As hard as they hit him, they cannot finish him off! Frantic sword and spear and mace blows do no better. Suddenly Kyle appears, as he launches an arrow into the held enemy’s kidney.

Then, of all people, young Bates springs forward. Instead of blind thrusts and cuts such as everyone else has tried, he quickly scales the bulky green form, and simply draws his dagger across its neck. Blood begins to pour out. At first it is green. Then Bates gives a cry of surprise as his footing shifts, and he falls off of the shrinking form of Sir Helios, who is returning to his normal form- with his throat most assuredly cut.

“Well done, lad!” cries Goer, clapping him on the shoulder. “You’ll make a fine squire some day!”

Bates beams at him. Covered in blood, scared for his life- but alive. And more: he is triumphant. He made the kill. Even if he should never again do anything worth speaking of in his life, he deserves a song for that one!

Adelle, on the other hand, is inconsolable. She and the other villagers mourn for Benito, and everyone pitches in to build him a cairn. Clearly, he was someone who meant a lot to them. Before they lay him out, they spend a long time debating whether to take his gear, but in the end, they decide that they really have no choice. It could be the difference between life and death, and as Kyle points out, if they all die, then Benito died in vain. The group piles stones high atop his corpse, many of them weeping as they do. Otis is impatient to move on, but Dahlia shushes him until the burial is done. The scavengers will just dig him out soon enough, he thinks, but wisely, the wizard says nothing.

After it is over, they move on, looking out for a place to rest. They are bone-weary, but the city is so pulverized that they cannot find a suitable place that does not reek of death. “This place sucks,” Sir Fwaigo says, for perhaps the hundredth time. “Do you think we have enough money to buy passage for everyone on the train?” He looks at Adelle.

She shrugs. “I don’t know exactly.”

“Is there any reason why we can’t just overpower the train?”

She stares at him as if he were insane. “Yes,” she answers.

After a moment, Goer asks, slightly annoyed, “Why?”

“First of all, do you know how to drive the Shadow Train?” She shakes her head. “Do you know how to get where we want to go?”

Goer’s face falls. “Good point,” he is forced to admit.

“Wait!” Dahlia exclaims. “Listen!” Everyone falls silent for a moment.

“What the hell?” Sir Colder sputters. “Do you hear that? Is it- it is!” He looks at his friends. “There is a party going on.”

“What?” Sheriff Jorgen is astonished. “A party? Here? Now?”

“I hear it too,” Dahlia nods.

“I think it’s coming from over here,” Kyle declares, and leads the others to a nearby building that has not been blasted to smithereens. With some effort, they manage to find a crack that they can look through, and to their surprise, they see dozens of people inside through the windows, having a great deal of drink and merriment. Platters of food are interspersed throughout the room, with pitchers of various drinks out in abundance.

There is a sign on the building’s front. In Palantian, it reads, “The Party that Never Ends”.

“Who could they be?” wonders Dahlia.

”Who cares?” Goer shrugs. “They aren’t Harth, and they aren’t the Shadow Train. That means that they’re a distraction.”

“What if we can rest in there?” Colder counters. “We need to get some sleep, and heal some.”

“Do you think it’s more likely that we’ll be able to rest in there, or that we’ll find some kind of trouble?” Goer returns.

After another few moments of debate, the group moves on, ignoring the party house. Goer is probably right. It is probably more trouble than it is worth. They walk along for another ten minutes. Then Colder exclaims and points to the side, where a huge building, probably 400’ square, looms. A large empty lot dotted with craters is next to it, and multiple large, colorful signs adorn the place, showing both colorful images of people holding a large variety of food and the characters of the Palantian alphabet.

“That thing is bigger than most castles,” Sir Porthos says. He sounds impressed.

“What is it?” wonders Sir Colder.

“It’s a greater market,” Bates explains. “It’s where you would go to get food.”

“What do the signs say?” asks Kyle.

“The City’s Farm- that’s the name of the place. That’s the big one, there.” He points. “And to the right, it says, ‘Where All Your Food Needs Are Met’. On the left it says ‘Farm Fresh Produce Every Day!’”

“So it’s a big market? All for food? Do you think there’s anything left in there?” Sir Colder inquires.

“Well, I assume that survivors would have gone to the greater markets, but they’re pretty big. There’s probably something, at least in jars and cans.”

“What do you think, my lord?” Colder asks Lord Cedric. “I could go scout it out and take a look around.”

Cedric nods. “Yeth, we might have need of thupplieth. Food, or liquor. Thtrong drink! Yeth, keep your eyeth out for thtrong drink!”

“As you say, my lord,” Colder bows his head. Then he moves into the front of the great market.

Everyone waits for a few minutes. The building is huge. “Colder could be in there for quite a while,” Kyle murmurs. “I wonder if they have anything... interesting... in there.”

Otis shoots him a dark look.

”I was just wonderin’!” he says defensively.

Still, no Colder.

Suddenly Otis’ weasel familiar* starts freaking out, making strange noises and clinging tightly to Otis. “Colder is in trouble,” the wizard announces.

“Of course he’s in trouble,” groans Goer.

Next Time: Colder’s in trouble! Will he make it to the Shadow Train? Because, somebody will!

*Similar to the raven familiar in Order of the Stick, apparently. :)
 

Alcar

Visitor
Dah

It was fun playing a deaf wizard... for a few.

Don't you forget, I did most of my communication thanks to lip reading.

STOP IT.. DON'T
 

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