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Of Heists and Heresy (Updated 3/27)

zevon

Villager
My first story hour...


The Cast

Ariston (air-is-ston), Half-Elven Bard, 5’11, 178lbs, (lvl 11)- Ariston is a typical bard in the sense that he loves a good, stiff drink, entertaining at taverns, and is an awful braggart. However, in many ways he is more of a burglar than a Bard. He has an awful avarice, and can hardly even attempt to deny a chance to acquire wealth. He is an accomplished liar and cheater (something he is quite proud of), a result of being raised by gypsies (Ariston claims to have been found by a traveling troupe of gypsies in a ditch, alongside the road, but we'll never know the truth). He is Chaotic Neutral, but has a soft spot for helping people (awww).

Basylasin(Baz-el-la-seen), 6’4, 165lbs. Human Wizard (8), Fatespinner(4)- Basyl is the party’s requisite spell caster. He is True Neutral, and will often join Ariston in his schemes, so long as he has something to gain. He is highly intelligent and the party refers to him on all manners of things. He is a serious student of magic, but has a true passion for Crafting and he is often seeking a certain element or rare material for his work. Like most mages, he thirsts for power, and from time to time has been known to stray towards a Chaotic or even an evil nature.

Aliimulu (ali-moo-loo), 5’3, 112 lbs. Human Ranger (8), Outlaw of the Crimson Road (3)- Ali is a Chaotic Good bandit whose heart belongs to the wild. Donning a magical set of hides that make her difficult to spot and wielding dual-stilettos (often throwing a javelin before drawing the second), she is very formidable in combat. She frequently spends time with an Owl named Hazel, and often ignores other humanoids in his presence. This is partly because Ali has been a bit perturbed of late as trouble has been brewing in the wilder areas of the world.

Fortinbras (fort-in-bra-s), 6’6, 240 lbs. Human Cleric (10)- Fort is a Cleric who is traveling with the other 3 on assignment. He serves Aviva, Goddess of Joy and Spring. It is she who brings the balmy March breezes, spring flowers, and Deliverer of Sweet Dreams. As are many of Aviva’s followers, Fort is always finds a way to enjoy himself (often through naiveté). She appeared to Fortinbras in one such dream, requesting (she rarely gives orders) that he follow the above group and follow their lead as he would follow Hers. This was quite perturbing to Fort because as much fun as they seem to have together, he is quite dubious about banding and bonding with a group of well-known criminals!

Bearing the title of ‘Protector’ the church has burdened him with the mission to protect those that would bring a ‘permanent and dark winter to our fair land’. Donning heavy armor and a blessed flail, Fortinbras often acts as the party’s tank as he reluctantly accepts Aviva’s will and tries to puzzle out his purpose with this group. So far the quick-to-laugh and easygoing Fort has coped quite well.

*note- Fort joined up with the group at level 9, has been with them about 3 months of game time. The rest of the group has been playing together since level 4.
Also, a Rogue’s Gallery thread is forthcoming soon.

The stage: A custom campaign world.

Kelmar is the largest area of my yet unnamed campaign world (…this gives me an idea: stay tuned for the ‘Name Zevon’s Campaign World’ contest!). It is controlled by the Orthodoxy. The Orthodox church worships Seijam (say-jaam), God of Rightful Law and the four members of His court: Abdelim, Seijam’s aide and least powerful of the group, Aviva, Halimah, sometimes referred to as the Gentle Goddess, and Sameh, the Forgiver. There will be more info on deities (and background in general) as it becomes relevant to the story. Of course, if anyone has any questions, I’ll do my best to answer them.

On the other side of the border lies the Druid Wood. It is a fairly large area that occupies most of the east coast. It is heavily forested (strange I know), and largely lawless. However the Druids live by their own code and look out for their own. So while strangers are neither welcome nor shunned, trouble-makers are quickly dealt with as the forest cares for its Druids as much as the Druids care for it.

The Story So Far:

We join the group after a nearly successful series of raids forced them to drop a significant amount of treasure/gold and (quickly) travel to an area of *Kelmar, where their faces are not recognized as criminal. Hoping to out distance the news of their exploits, Aliimulu has led them south-east to a cliff-side cave on the eastern coast of Kelmar, near the border of the Druid Wood. (I know this is weak given the character’s levels, but we’ve been playing a long time! Any references to previous adventures will be explained either through doctored up dialogue or footnotes.


Phew! *stretches his fingers* That seemed like a lot just to lead into the story, I hope someone actually reads this!....here goes nothing….


Ariston squeezed his long, blonde hair, from top-to-bottom, draining it of water before pulling it back up into his usual pony-tail, showing his Elven heritage.

“Well Ali, you’ve really outdone yourself this time. This is great! The combination of being both cold and wet in the dark….well this just can’t be topped!” Aliimulu watched Ariston paw futilely at his hair for a bit before replying,

“Well, in the morning we can find the nearest town and get you a room in a nice inn where you can recover”.

The bard froze, a bit surprised by Ali’s sudden sympathy and was not surprised when she used his pause to make a crack at his expense.

“After all, I know how important beauty sleep is to a princess such as yerself!”

Ali fell into a fit of giggling at her own joke, and was joined by Fortinbras’ booming laugh. Ariston made a face and rolled his eyes, but he didn’t try to deny his vanity. He was just happy to hear that they would be going to town tomorrow, he was lost in the woods and entirely reliant on Aliimulu (and Ariston would rather not be reliant on anyone).

Aliimulu left in search of dinner and Fort followed her out the door, presumably to collect firewood, leaving Ariston and Basyl alone in the cave. The Bard stretched out on his bedroll and lay staring at the cave’s ceiling, hands behind his head.

“Well, Basyl ye’ fate meddling bastard, what do you make of our current state of affairs?”

Ariston jibed, but he took the Fatespinner’s word seriously, Basyl had proved himself time and time again in the advisory realm.

“Must I remind you Nightingale*?” The wizard replied coyly, “I attempt to alter fate, not predict it. However, if you are asking for my counsel, I think we are in a spot of trouble. We don’t know where we are, we’ve no known allies in this area, an entire regime of militia is after us and we are caught between them and an enchanted forest. It will take no small amount of cunning and luck to carry us out of this one unscathed. On the other hand, we’re richer than we’ve ever been before, this cave is well-hidden and more than adequate as shelter. We could hold-out here for months if need be”.

Ariston winced at the mention of sticking it out in the cave. He’d rather take his chances with the law any day. He was superbly confident in his ability to talk circles around some farm town’s sheriff and if the unthinkable happened and he was jailed, well they hadn’t yet built a cell that could hold him for long. He let out a long sigh,

“I suppose.”

The mage gave him a knowing look, reminiscent of a parent delivering a warning look to their child,

“Don’t you dare think about compromising the group because of your wanton desire to drink yourself senseless and fornicate!”

“Why Basyl, I wouldn’t dream of letting my promiscuity get in the way of the group!” He exclaimed, giving the mage a hurt look, to which Basyl rolled his eyes,

“Now we both know that’s a lie.” Ariston blinked twice,

“Yes.”

****

A few minutes later, Aliimulu’s silhouette appeared at the mouth of the cave, ending the argument as both men looked up eagerly to see if she had brought meat for dinner. They’d been living off of bitter nuts and roots for nearly two solid weeks.

She strolled up to Ariston’s bedroll and tossed the already plucked bodies of a pair of large seabirds down next to him and smirked. She took no small pride in being the ‘bacon-bringer’ as the only female in the group.

“You scouties** haven’t gotten the fire started yet?” She shook her head mockingly,

“I guess I’ve got to do everything for you boys. Sometimes I can’t figure out how you two get along without yer Mama’s.” She unfurled a bundle of bound firewood from her pack and quickly had the birds spitted over a roaring fire.

****One Hour Later****

“I have to hand it to you Ali, I mean, sometimes I just don’t know if I’d even bother to travel without a Ranger around.”

Ariston was stretched out on his bedroll again, strumming his lute in an idle manner over his swollen belly. Listening to the waves crash upon the cliff face below, he decided that the cave wasn’t such a bad place after all, and that he would never again spend more time in the woods than was necessary for a picnic. It’d been some time since he’d had such a large, filling meal.

“You know, with Fort’s massive appetite around, I don’t usually get such a generous portion, we should let him wander off at dinner time more often.” He said wistfully.

“Where is Fort anyhow?” Ali queried, “has he been off praying all this time?”.

“Nope” the bard replied dreamily, “He went to collect firewood, left about the same time you did in fact.”

“The same time I did?!” Ali was livid. “That was nearly four hours ago!” but Ariston was unresponsive, and only continued to strum his lute.

She turned to Basyl and glared at him accusingly, “I was off providing food for the group. Weren’t you on baby-sitting duty?” (baby-sitting is something of a private joke between Ali and Basyl, given the child-like naiveté of Fortinbras, and Ariston’s impulsiveness). The wizard’s flickered in Aliimulu’s direction,

“I was meditating.”

“That’s your excuse?”

“Why would I lie?”

“I didn’t think you were lying…” The ranger half-said, half-growled. She was entirely exasperated at this point. “But now we have to go find him, and its dark out!”

Basyl nodded and rose, gathering his robes about him. Ariston strummed his lute and muttered,

“I’ll just stay here and guard the camp.”

Ali hesitated. She hated letting him off the hook, but he had a point, what if the Cleric returned to camp only to find it empty? Finally his Elven blood made the decision for her, he would be invaluable in finding Basyl, or detecting a threat, in the dark.

“Oh, no you don’t!”

She grabbed him by the pony-tail and jerked him into a standing position. “You’re coming with us, we need your Elvish eyesight, even with the full moon.”

As they emerged from the cave into the night, the Bard rubbed the back of his head and winced, muttering,

“You said you knew how important my beauty sleep is….”

*Once upon a time at a tavern, a group of local girls became smitten with Ariston as he played. Drunk as they were, one of them proclaimed Ariston to be ‘sweet as a nightingale.” Prompting several weeks of mockery at his expense. It has not yet been forgotten.

** Scouties are the Kelmarn version of Boy Scouts.

This post is to serve as an introduction to the characters (with the slight exception of Basyl). The adventure portion of the story will be get rolling with the next post).

I love feeback!
If anything can be done to make this story-hour more readable, let me know. A Rogue's gallery is on its way...

zevon
 
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zevon

Villager
The rain had stopped, but the air and ground were still heavy and wetted. Aliimulu allowed her eyes to adjust to the ample moonlight, and knelt close to the ground, scouring for tracks.

“FOORRRRT! FOOORTINBRAAAAS!” Ariston had cupped both hands around his mouth and was shouting the cleric’s name. At this the Ranger shot him an enraged look and hissed balefully,

“You imbecile! You….you moronic, incompetent *mudsucker!”

Ariston, as usual was oblivious, or pretending to be so.

“Who?” He paused for drama, unnecessarily. “Me?”

“YES” Ali was now struggling to keep her own voice in check. “Use your pitiful excuse for a brain.” She stood chest-to-chest with Ariston (or more accurately, chest to waist), jabbing her finger into his rib-cage for emphasis.

“If Fort can here you shout like that, so can everything else and we are wanted criminals, we’re not exactly discussing advanced Rangering here!”

Ariston let this sink in for a moment, scratching his chin (which had acquired a good bit of blonde stubble since bolting into the wild) before replying.

“I suppose I would be attracted to a voice as elegant and melodious as my own. Very astute as usual Ali. Perhaps Basyl should commence with the shouting.”

Aliimulu growled and clenched her jaw so tightly that her teeth made an audible ‘click’.

“Then again, perhaps not. Have you found any clues to where Fort might’ve gone to?”

“Yes, but I’m not entirely positive they’re his tracks, the rocky terrain here in the cliffs makes it difficult to track anything, let alone in the dark.” She sighed, “That’s on reason I led us here actually. You said he went to collect firewood right? It should be easy to find his trail at the forest’s edge.”

Aliimulu had no trouble picking up the trail once reaching the forest, and she spent the better part of an hour with her eyes on the ground, enduring Ariston’s chatter and Basyl’s silence-shattering shuffle-walk, every step of the way.

Miraculously, Ariston suddenly stopped talking. Aliimulu was about to sent a prayer of thanks to Munamani, the androgynous deity of Wishes and Aspirations, when he spoke again.

“Hold!”

His whisper drifted softly to the others’ ears and all three of them froze, ears cocked. Aliimulu heard the sound of voices being carried downwind. She was annoyed at herself for letting the Bard get to her and in her frustration, letting her guard down. She should have picked up the voices thirty paces back.

The Bard and the Ranger remained frozen, listening intently, the Wizard and Fatespinner began to meditate and clear his hate.

The first two conferred, whispering.

“Sounds like a fairly large group, I hear at eight voices”

Aliimulu bit her lip and concentrated, “No, there are more, I hear at least 10. Maybe more. Let me go ahead, I’ll do a bit scouting. You two wait here. Hazel will come for you if I’m in trouble.”

Basyl glanced up, suddenly aware of the large, velvety-black Owl. Hazel hadn’t been around in several days, but now was perched on Ali’s shoulder. He raised his eyebrows passively, her relationship with the raptor never ceased to amaze him.

The Wizard frowned, “I don’t have invisibility prepared…” Ariston spoke up, much too loudly,

“Here, I’ll do it!” He said plainly. Aliimulu waived him off. Save it, few have eyes or ears enough to make me in broad day-light. In the darkness, I’ll be nearly invisible anyhow.”

She patted her *Stalking Hides for emphasis and silently slipped off into the forest. Barely 100 paces from where her companions were standing was a clearing, in the center of which stood a makeshift building of some sort and off to the side, a large fire. Circling the fire, 8 commonly dressed men stood linking arms and singing hymns of Seijam.

Now Aliimulu was perplexed. She had been expecting to find Fortinbras held captive by nothing less than a group of Ogres, only to find some sort of ritual in Seijam’s honour (being very poorly versed on theology herself, she recognized the hymn and put 2 and 2 together)

A top the platform stood a large man wearing the robes of a priest. Was it Fortinbras? In the dark, it was hard to tell. She furrowed her brow. She knew Fort’s Goddess, Aviva, was a member of Seijam’s court, but knew little else about their relationship. It was possible Fort was leading, or at least taking part in this religious ceremony.

She was about to return to the others to give her scouting report when a buzz of excitement began to build amongst the crowd.

A boy, about 11 years old, Ali guessed, was being carried by two large, armored men. As they came closer to the fire’s light it became obvious the boy was dressed in the robes of a Druid, and the armor of the men carrying him bore the symbol of the Kelmarn Army; Justice’s hammer, striking a pool of hardened, black lava.

The man standing on the makeshift tower spoke,

“Step forward boy.”

He had a deep, commanding voice that somehow managed to have a soothing quality as well.

The boy stepped forward.

The man on the platform lit a torch on either side of him. He was a strapping man who appeared to be in his mid-thirties but it was hard to tell for certain. His head was shaved bald and his face was covered by a neatly trimmed and rather distinguished goatee. His robes were adorned with the markings of one of Seijam’s Priests, a Righteous Judge. He spoke again:

“You were found trespassing on land that was not your own or owned by your peoples, do you deny it?”

The boy made eye contact with the Judge and shook his head firmly.

The Judge opened a large book and held it in front of him.

“As is written in His book, you shall be given the opportunity to explain yourself and perhaps receive an acquittal for you crime in the process. If you wish to do so, do it now.

The boy spoke clearly and firmly, but in a child’s voice:

“I claim no land as my own, nor do my peoples. Where is it then we should tread?”

“When you refer to ‘your people’ you mean those residing beyond the border of Kelmarn, in the Druid Wood, correct?”

The boy nodded.

“So you have wittingly crossed the borders of Kelmar, a land in which you are a foreigner, correct?”

“We acknowledge no such border, but are aware of it. Yes.”

“Then, as is bidden by Kelmarn law, you must swear allegiance to one of the Gods or Goddesses recognized by the Parthenon. If you refuse, it will be assumed that you follow one of the Fallen, or one of the Unmentionables and will be cast from our lands; bound and blind-folded, we will carry you to the border of your people and place you on their land. Once removed from our country on these grounds you will be considered exiled and unable to return for punishment of death.”

He spoke eagerly:

“I swear allegiance to our Blessed Mother, the Life-Giver.”

The priest frowned deeply at the word, 'our' and continued his speech,

“There is no such God or Goddess in the Celestial Hierarchy. Do you proclaim yourself an Atheist?”

“I commune with no God or Goddess, nor due I revere one.”

“According to His book, failure to acknowledge the Glory of the Heavens or the Hells is Atheism, and punishable by death, do you understand this?”

The boy nodded, numbly.

The priest stroked his finely-trimmed beard, grasping the Holy-Symbol around his neck before speaking,

“Then you are sentenced to burning, on the charge of Atheism”.

He snapped his Tome shut and nodded to the armored men who carried the boy to the far side of the fire and bound him to the trunk of a large oak tree. The crowd who’d been watching suddenly came alive. Some piled kindling at his feet, others jeered and cast stones at him.

The noise from the crowd snapped Aliimulu out of her horror-borne daze. She cooed, signaling Hazel to fetch the others and began to creep around behind the oak tree to which the Druid child was bound.

The sticks, rocks and curses continued to fly,

“You’re going to BURN, He-Witch!”

“If you think this fire is hot, wait until you feel His wrath, heathen!”

“After the flesh has melted from your bones, your mother will be tortured and executed because of your needless insolence!”

A river of tears began to stream steadily down the child’s face, mixing with the blood pouring from a gash on his face.

*****
Ariston was just drifting off to sleep when Hazel descended upon him, fluttering and screeching frantically.

He stood up and stretched his arms out wide.

“Alright then Basyl, I suppose its time to save the day once again! Do you have a plan in mind, or should I come up with one?”

The wizard nodded.

“Just follow my lead.”

*****

Before Ali had crept close enough to attempt to free the young Druid, Fortinbras burst into action.

Appearing, seemingly from thin air, he bellowed and charged towards the boy, knocking aside the rabble-rousers with his mace and shield. Before he could get to the child however, the two armored men cut him off, striking at him with their bastard swords.

The first soldier's strike cut him deeply across his left shin, Fort deflected the second man’s attack with his shield and quickly froze him with a hold person spell.

The Priest who had conducted the trial had meanwhile climbed down from his platform, and imbued himself with Righteous Might, growing to a height of nearly 3 meters.

Ali, wary of a mob, cast entangle upon the crowd. Vines sprung up from the earth at her command and held 7 of the 10 fast. The other three sprinted for the woods as the She-Ranger drew her stilettos and burst into the fray. She sprinted towards the soldier engaged at melee with Fortinbras.

She arrived just as Fort had taken a particularly nasty blow to the head. His helmet had saved his brains from being spilt onto the forest floor, but he hadn’t yet recovered from the impact of the blow.

In a whirlwind of motion, Ali jabbed at the soldier from behind** with both weapons and they responded in kind, penetrating armor and biting, hard. She then swiftly kicked at his knee, landing a solid blow that sent the soldier tumbling to the ground and plunged her elongated dagger into his throat. In a matter of seconds, the Ranger/Bandit had reduced a Soldier of Kelmar to nothing more than a pathetic, dying gurgle.

The Righteous Judge of Siejam thundered towards them and stopped at a distance of two meters. He extended his unnaturally large finger and accused them:

“You have interfered with, then committed murder in a Holy Court of Seijam. You are sentenced to death! Will you release yourselves into my custody until the date of your trial?”

Fortinbras responded my hitting the Priest with Searing Light.

“You dare to accuse us of murder when you would execute a child? You will be the one who burns, you have fallen !”

Fortinbras was nearly purple with rage.

Ali cut furiously at their enlarged accuser, but couldn’t penetrate his armor or even disrupt his sell-casting.

Seijam’s Judge grasped his amulet and spoke shortly in a beautifully undecipherable language. Suddenly Fortinbras was upon his knees, writhing in pain so severe, only a victim of Siejam’s wrath could know. He finally curled up into the fetal position and with a few hard-fought breaths, granted himself Aviva’s Sanctuary.

Aliimulu swallowed hard. This didn’t appear to be a fair fight. She jabbed at the Priest again, cutting him lightly on the arm and sprinted to the other side of the clearing, trying to reach the boy, who was still bound to the oak..

The Righteous Judge opted not to give chase, instead grasping his amulet once again, preparing to end Aliimulu’s life in a burst of holy fire.

Suddenly, Ali received a message from Ariston.

“Get…DOWN!”

She dove behind the largest tree she could find.

Before the Battle Priest could finish preparing the spell however, the sky opened and he was bombarded him with ice shards of all shapes and sizes. Some were in fact, quite large.

He futilely attempted to ward off the attack with his hands, but they were cut to shreds. He was bleeding, bruised and quite angry when it ended.

He looked around furiously for his attacker, but found nothing and suddenly becoming quite nervous. He spotted the girl untying the druid-child from the tree and grimaced. She couldn’t have evoked such magic and he was loathe to let a sentenced criminal(s) go freely, but apparently she could call on allies he was not prepared to defend against.

He kissed a ring on his left hand and disappeared with a *CRACK*


*Mudsucker is a term used by Rangers for those inexperienced in the wilderness. They always seem to end up face down in the mud.

** Aliimulu's magical set of hides were a gift from her father and In addition to being Hide Armor +2, provide ample bonuses to hide and move silently(12). She has carried them with her from the start and only recently has she been able to wear them. Ali has not yet discovered the full extent of the armor's enchantment.

***As a level 3 Outlaw of the Crimson Road, Ali receives +2d6 ambush bonus (works the same as a rogue's Sneak attack).
 
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