"Out of the Frying Pan"- Book III: Fanning the Embers

Manzanita

First Post
Hey - I was on my state championship academic bowl team in high school. (of course it's a little easier to be state champs in Oklahoma than New York...)
 

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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #53 (part ii)

“Wake up! Wake up!” Martin shook Jeremy and Derek at once, while Kazrack sat up looking around in the dark.

“What’s going on?”

The earth was shaking and the great broken slabs of stone groaned as they tried to give way to each other. Dust rose in great cloud choking their lungs, and a rain of pebbles came down around them.

“We need to move camp!” Ratchis said, his arms full of everyone’s packs as he kicked Beorth awake. “We need to get out from underneath this overhang in case it collapses.”

The Fearless Manticore Killers moved out from under the overhang and down to the great plateau that was out under the dark cloud-covered night sky.

The shaking only lasted a few moments, but the echoing cracks, and the settling groans of the great slabs made them nervous. It took some time for them to settle back in their bedrolls.

Derek and Jeremy took over the watch.

It was not long before Jeremy was spooked, not by the quiet, but how the long patches of silence were broken up by a singular echoing drop of water, or a breeze blowing through the narrow cracks hundreds of feet above them.

“Something could come and we wouldn’t know,” Jeremy said.

“Calm down,” Derek replied, his smile was invisible in the darkness. “I can tell a moth’s wing from a dove’s fart.”

Jeremy’s laughter echoed out across the chasm and then he quickly hushed himself.

Derek stood up. “Did you hear that?’

“Stop messing with me,” Jeremy replied, laughter still in his voice.

“Footsteps in the water below,” Derek put hand to his ear.

“I am so gonna beat your ass if you’re messing with me,” Jeremy replied, but then he thought he could hear the arrhythmic splashing as well, and the sound of something clawing the stone wall far below.

“I heard it that time,” Jeremy said, even as the things began to whisper words in an indecipherable language.

They woke Kazrack, who when he heard the whispering, leapt to his feet.

“That is dwarven!” he hissed. “Wake the others.” The dwarf grabbed his halberd.

Derek began to light a torch, while Jeremy kicked Beorth and Martin awake. Ratchis, having heard the commotion was already on his feet and casting Nephthys’ blessing upon his long sword.

Martin an arcane word and his own torch lit up.

“You make yourselves targets with those,” Ratchis croaked.

Kazrack moved to the edge of the cliff and looked down, at the end of his darkvision he could see a dwarven form slowly coming up the face, digging its white claws into the stone, and looking up eagerly. Its beard and skin were shockingly white in the reverse world of dwarven sight, but it’s eyes were a disturbing black. The beard was wet and knotted, clinging to the creature’s hide, and dripping water to echo below it.

“What are they saying?” Martin asked, he moved up behind Ratchis who had stood beside the dwarf.

“Nothing that matters,” Kazrack replied, waiting above the climbing creature with his pole-arm poised to strike. “Things to try to unnerve us.”

But the hissed words of the undead dwarves did not dishearten the stalwart dwarf, inwardly he knew the words were ones any dwarf might fear.

He knew that these were the undead called “the grapplers” in dwarven legends, the cursed dead who died submerged in water, whether it be deep in caves or out at sea, and they wanted nothing more that to drag their former kin to watery grave as well, to increase their accursed and shameful ranks.

“Come back with us,” they hissed. “We will bring you down to your fathers’ fathers’. You will feel the sweet ecstasy of your lungs filling.”

“Let me turn them,” Ratchis suggested.

The first of the dead dwarfs made it to the top.

“Let them come! They must be destroyed!” Kazrack roared, bringing the blade of his halberd down on the head of the first one, cleaving it open. The creature screeched and tumbled off the clif to land on the plateau twenty-five feet below.

Derek spotted another of the things coming over the cliff twenty feet further to Kazrack’s right. He ran towards it and Martin and Beorth hurried after him. The dead dwarf hissed with black teeth. Derek could see the thing’s black knotted hair and deep blue-black skin, but blind white eyes. He buried the axe in its head as it came up and then yanked it back out. The dwarf laughed and black water poured out of his mouth. Martin swung his torch at it ineffectually. Beorth struck it with his longsword, and it shook as if it was about to lose its grip, so Kazrack ran over and gave it another hard blow. The grappler roared as it tumbled back off the cliff face.

“Now your family is forever safe,” Kazrack swore.

“Are there more?” Martin asked, and as if in answer two more began to pull themselves over the edge. Derek and Beorth went to chopping at one, while Kazrack and Ratchis went for the other.

Beorth cleaved the head from the one he dealt with, but the other leapt off the cliff deftly.

“You will join us, son of Rak-kazum,” the dwarf said to Kazrack, as he leapt.

Kazrack’s eyes went wide, and without hesitating he leaped after it.

“Kazrack!” Ratchis cried, and he leapt as well.

“What are you? Crazy?” Jeremy called after them, but he leapt as well.

Kazrack landed with a grunt, his left leg nearly collapsing beneath him as pain ran up it and into his chest, but he did not stop. He thrust his halberd at the fleeing undead dwarf, and black blood spurted from it. Ratchis ran at it and it screamed and leapt at him, arm’s forward in a wrestler’s stance. The half-orc shoved his sword through its gut, and the bones of fish and the rotten corpse of snake fell out of it, along with the stretching coils of guts. It reached for him, but then stopped moving.

Ratchis whipped his blade to get the corpse off of it.

“When our quest is over we must make an oath to return here and destroy every last one of these horrible things,” Kazrack said, and spit. “We must burn these corpses.”

When they had done just that, they climbed back up to the camp.

Kazrack took Beorth aside, “Beorth, do the dead have some knowledge of the dead from where they lie?”

“What do you mean, Kazrack?” the paladin asked.

“The undead dead thing he called me ‘son of Rak-Kazum’, that is my father’s name. How could have know that,” Kazrack explained solemnly, sadness creeping into his deep voice. He tugged on his beard nervously.

“All undead draw their power from one source,” Beorth intoned. “So it stands to reason that they might share knowledge through that source – but that does not mean your father is dead.”

“I hope not,” Kazrack replied.

“What does your heart tell you?” Beorth asked.

“It is shrouded with doubt,” Kazrack replied, and walking away, he paused. “Thank you.”

The party discussed if they should return to sleep or try to press on immediately.

“We will need to rest all though tomorrow, I think,” Kazrack suggested. “With our sleep interrupted we will be too tired to channel the power of our gods and prepare for our miracles in the morning.”

Ratchis said, “We are close to the Pit of Bones; a place where hundreds if not thousands of dwarves and men died grizzly death, swallowed by the earth. It will get worse before it get better, we need to make sure we have all our available resources or we will not make it.”

“We may not all make it regardless,” said Beorth.

“We may want to travel during the night and rest during the day when the undead are less active,” Martin said, ignoring the paladin’s pessimism, though there was both resignation and fear in his voice.

It was decide that Beorth and Jeremy would watch the rest of the night. As dawn approached, the young Neergaardian warrior collapsed in exhaustion, and Beorth woke Ratchis and Kazrack. Derek and Marin remained asleep. (1)

Derek yawned and stood watch while the dwarf and half-orc prayed to their respective gods for guidance and their daily allotment of divine miracles.

---------------------------------------------

Kazrack kneeled with his forehead pressed to his twenty-pound prayer stone. His calloused hands held it in place, and felt the many dwarven runes carved upon it that told the tale of the significant events of his life, every birthday, every honor, and one day the name of his wife and his children.

Ratchis sat with his knees up, and his head leaning on them, and his arms flat on the ground. He had his belt of scored chain links draped over the back of his neck, muttering words to his benevolent goddess.

Splat!

Something splattered on the hard stone before Kazrack. He did not rise from where he was, but Derek walked over and looked. It was a small bird with spotted brown feathers. A whippoorwill.

“What that…?”

Splat! Splat Splat!

Three more bird plummeted from the air, dying immediately as blood and feathers were smashed against the surface of the plateau they were camped on.

Ratchis looked up.

And then they came down like a rain of dead birds, until the floor was awash with tiny fractured bones, feathers and blood. There were scores and scores of them.

Martin, Jeremy and Beorth awoke, and again the party was forced to flee back beneath the overhang, and then a moment later, the birds stopped falling.

“Whippoorwills,” Martin said, solemnly. “An omen of death.”

End of Session #53

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Notes

(1) Martin had not yet put his ring, Lacan’s Demise, back on.
 



handforged

First Post
The whipporwills were great. I was already unnerved just by their presence, and then Martin's proclamation seemed to be an understatement. I think that this omen-idea is something that I am going to try and fit into an upcoming game. Thanks for the update.

~hf
 

Manzanita

First Post
I used the term 'riddles' above somewhat losely. I love this story & certainly don't want it to end. I was just saying I'm Constantly on the edge of my seat wondering about how it will all play out. Is there a dragon? What are the gnomes up to? What is Richard the Red up to? Where did that Manticore come from? Is Kazracks's dad dead? etc et all.

I guess that's what Rat Bastardly DMing is all about. Igot this cold chill suddenly thinking that when/if this campaign ends, what if Nemmerle losses interest in the story hour & stops writing it a year behind when it ends. Just tell us you'll write it all the way to the end, nemmerle! Don't leave us before the end!
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Manzanita said:
I got this cold chill suddenly thinking that when/if this campaign ends, what if Nemmerle losses interest in the story hour & stops writing it a year behind when it ends. Just tell us you'll write it all the way to the end, nemmerle! Don't leave us before the end!

I promise to nring the story hour as far the campaign does, no atter how it ends up ending. . . Except in the case of my D&D (death and dismemberment). :D
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
It's all down hill from here. . .

Session #54

Ralem, the 8th of Sek – 565 H.E.

The Fearless Manticore Killers spent their morning reviewing spells to prepare, healing and talking over the things that had recently learned. Though Martin’s eyes kept trailing over the splattered birds nervously.

“I have been trying to place that Tanweil,” Ratchis said. “He seemed familiar to me, and it came to me while I prayed. I met him in the woods west of Ogre’s Bluff, when I was on my own for a day or two after escaping from custody.” (1)

“You were in custody and escaped?” Beorth asked, looking at the half-orc suspiciously, while inwardly cursing his lost memory. Derek looked at Ratchis with narrowed eyes, echoing the paladin’s reaction.

“I guess Jana never told you that part of the tale,” Kazrack said, putting a hand on Beorth’s shoulder. “It was a misunderstanding and it was all cleared up.”

“Well… almost…” Everyone looked at Martin when he spoke. “We still have to retrieve that journal or whatever it is from Rindalith’s possession in payment for the favor Daniel the castle steward did by talking to the king on our behalf.”

“As far as I am concerned that is low on this of priorities, somewhere below hunting this dragon,” Ratchis said.

“Speaking of the dragon, Tanweil accused us of working for the dragon, if you recall,” Martin said,

“It was because we were helping the gnomes. There is some connection between the gnomes and the dragon, but those gnomes do not seem evil, but they are working for her anyway,” Ratchis said. “I think…”

“Well, we heard the gnomes had been making the illusion of a dragon to scare humans away from Greenreed Valley, maybe they were doing it on behalf of the dragon, or…” Martin began, scratching his head.

“Or, the illusionary dragon and the dragon sightings drew the attention of a real dragon,” Derek concluded.

“The more questions we have the less we know,” Ratchis sighed.

“Then we should definitely stop learning things and make our decisions with incomplete information,” Beorth answered sarcastically. Ratchis scowled at him.

“Well, what are our plans if we run into that man-lizard thing again?” Jeremy asked, trying to get back to the immediate problems.

“Not getting killed would be a start,” Martin said.

“Since we have more questions than answers, and he seems to have some answers, I propose we ask questions while we fight,” Kazrack suggested.

“So we should try to capture him if possible?’ Jeremy asked incredulously, his eyes growing large.

“He seems very dangerous, and I think he could kill us all even if we were fighting to kill and not capture,” Derek said, he got up to throw the last of the kindling he had brought with him into the barren broken land into the small fire.

“So? There’s nothing to stop us from trying to question him while we defend ourselves,” Kazrack replied.

“Except for the sound of us gurgling in our own blood,” Ratchis said. The half-orc’s huge ham-hands tightened into angry fists. It was clear he did not like having to contemplate a foe of that kind who could best not only him, but the whole group single-handedly.

“I don’t think it will come to that,” Kazrack said.

“It will come to that for each of us in time,” Beorth said. “If not from this Tanweil, then from something else at some other time. Those in our professions have little hope of dying peacefully in our beds someday.”

“Can we stop talking about death?” Jeremy asked uncomfortably. “What are we going to do right now?”

As if in answer, the ground shook again. It began softly and then seemed to pass beneath them to the southeast, growing stronger and then weaker again.

“We can’t stay here,” Ratchis said, looking up at the cracked and fallen rock.

It was decide that Martin would use his spell of levitation on Ratchis and raised him way up to look around and see if he could spot the pit of bones and a good route to get there. Since Martin had to stay close and it was hundreds of feet up, the watch-mage wrapped his arms about the strong half-orc’s neck, and went up with him. (2)

Ratchis and Martin were happy to feel the warmth of the sun, Ra’s Glory, on their faces, as they left the dampness of the broken slab below them. Looking around, scores of feet above even the tallest stones Ratchis could see that the great slab of stone that created a wall behind their camp led to an open and wider natural stairway, similar to the one they had climbed up in the dark. The steps widened as they went down, with tall walls stone on either side of them, but the ‘giant’ steps were even taller going down. While some were only a five or eight foot drop, even from this distance he could see most were forty feet tall or more. There would be a lot of climbing down, but they would have to go that way, for beyond it was a plain of dust littered with broken black shiny stone within a bowl in the earth, and just beyond that was a great canyon wall that seemed to obscure a great pit behind it. That had to be what they were looking for.

He could see the silhouettes of carrion birds circling that area.

“Carrion birds, huh?” Jeremy said, when Ratchis mentioned them back on the ground as he showed them the route the best he could on their undetailed map. “What are they carryin’?”

“…was that a joke?” Martin asked, looking at Jeremy agog. Derek burst out laughing.

“Yes,” Jeremy replied. “Someone need to lighten the moment.”

The Fearless Manticore Killers gathered their things and began the march up the shallow climb to the broad stairs. The earth rumbled again.

“I think this whole place is still settling,” Kazrack said.

------------------------

It took nearly an hour for the party make their way up to the top of the broad steps. It was like a wedge cut in several slabs of stone. Kazrack examined the area and decided there used to be narrower steps going down along side and sometimes winding across the greater steps, but they had long ago worn away and/or collapsed. He thought is was dwarven work, but their present condition suggested to him that they had fallen out of use long before the citadel had been swallowed by the earth.

Ratchis cast Bull’s Strength on himself, to help with climbing and lowering people and gear.

It was slow going.

It took several hours to get the party about halfway down. While they could simple sit on the edge of certain steps and slide off to jump safely, at other places Beorth and Kazrack were lowered with a rope first, to keep watch while the rest climbed down. Martin usually came down third, and Ratchis always came down last, wrapping the rope about his arm to bring it.

At the next ledge, which was 60’ high, Kazrack was lowered about halfway down the wall, while Beorth stood thirty feet back keeping watch, when stone around them began to rumble and shake again.

Kazrack gripped the rope for his life, and Beorth’s face grew confused. The rumbling grew louder and seemed to be emanating from the wall before him.

Suddenly the wall burst open. There was a shower of rock and dirt, and Kazrack let go of the rope to come tumbling down the last few feet onto his backside.

When the dust cleared into the bright shining sunlight, a huge creature came lumbering out of the sudden passageway it had created with its claws.

It was just over eight feet tall and its drooping shoulders nearly five feet wide. It had long muscular arms that ended in muscular clawed hands that nearly dragged on the ground, and short stubby legs that ended in broad round feet, and were bent backward at the knee. It was covered in an umber colored chitinous shell, and had a beetle-like head, with great sharp pincers that looked as if they could easily rip the head from a man. It’s great beetle-like multi-faceted eyes shone in many colors in the sunlight, and a set of smaller green-blue eyes were set between them, right above the comparatively small mouth that had another set of smaller pincers around it.

It made no sound in and of itself, but its feet crunched the shards of stone beneath it, and its pincers clacked arhythmically.

The great creature slammed into Beorth with body sending the paladin flying back near the edge of the plateau-step, and prone.

Beorth dragged himself to his feet, to keep from rolling over the edge and drawing his sword, thrust it at the creature. The sharp point of the long sword, made the smallest scratch on the thing’s shell, and it knocked the blade out of alignment, before the paladin could crack it.

Kazrack leapt to his feet and running at it, slashed with his halberd. The creature whipped around with unexpected speed and swung on its great clawed hands at the dwarf, before he could even get within the reach of his polearm. The dwarf ducked the blow, but his halberd fell short of hitting.

Jeremy scrambled down the cliff towards them, while Martin levitated down. Derek dropped his pack and began to send arrows at the creature, which only bounced off its thick shell.

Ratchis dropped the rope as the lumbering hulk brought a claw across Beorth’s thighs, drawing a gout of blood. The paladin was jerked of his feet and seemed suspended in the air for a second as the pincer closed in on his shoulder and jerked him around for a second, before dropping him near the edge of the ledge again.

Kazrack tried to draw it away from Beorth, but his blows kept skidding across the thing’s shell with no visible effect.

It even shook off Martin’s slow spell. Ratchis began to climb down.

The creature reared up and slammed into Beorth again. The paladin put his sword up to skewer the thing, but the blade just bounced between the two of them. Kazrack desperately shoved his halberd blade between the thing’s feet to trip it and keep it from shoving the paladin, but it was too strong. Beorth teetered on the brink for moment, and then disappeared over the edge, landing with a clang and an ‘oof’, his head reeling as he saw double, forty feet below.

Kazrack made to swing again as the creature turned to face him. The dwarven warrior-priest looked up at it, to thrust the halberd in its face, but something about how the light of the sun hit the polished metal blade, made him pause and drew it back to look at it more closely; a puzzled look on his face.

“Kazrack, are you alright?” Ratchis called, as he leapt off the wall. Jeremy already had his swords in hand and went charging at the creature.

“Yaaaaaah!” he cried, and he held his sword up, but before he could reach it, it reached him, bringing a claw down on his shoulder. Blood oozed down Jeremy’s tunic, and he stepped to one side to get by, but causing his blow to miss.

“You are not supposed to go so fast!” Martin chided the creature, wagging a finger at it. His voice was a bit slurred, and he just hung in the air, doing nothing, but looking deep into the tiny blue-green eyes set in the center of the creature’s face.

The lumbering creature turned to Jeremy and caught the Neergaardian’s head and neck in his pincers for less than a moment. Jeremy cried out, as he pulled away, tearing flesh from his ear, and feeling the crunch of his gorget being pressed into his neck. He held his sword up to keep the overwhelming creature at bay, but he felt his left arm jerk painfully. There was a sickening tearing sound.

From where he was, firing arrows from the level above, Derek had a moment of confusion as time itself seemed to slow down. He saw something go flying high into the air, as the monster’s swing came up and away from Jeremy. It was something limp and pinkish and just about two feet long, and it trailed line of thick red liquid behind it and then flipped end over end down to where Beorth had fallen.

He saw Jeremy’s blade hit the ground, and a moment later Jeremy’s body was next to it. A pool of blood spreading out too quickly on Jeremy's left side, spurting strongly from where his arm had once been, but now there was only raw jagged flesh and bone. Jeremy’s eyes rolled back into his head and his body began to shake violently.

“Look at my halberd,” Kazrack called to Ratchis with a sing-song voice, oblivious to what was going on around him. “If you look at it right you can see the reflection of your tusks.”


-------------------------
Notes:

(1) The town guard of Ogre’s Bluff arrested most of the party in session #27.

(2) DM’s Note: This is actually not[/I[ the way it happened. Unfortunately, I made a bad ruling on the use of levitation and did not realize that Ratchis would have to be within range of the spell for Martin to control his ascent and descent. So in writing this, I had Martin come along with him, while in game he stayed on ground level and controlled it from there, while Derek used his great senses to describe Ratchis’ gestures of whether he wanted to rise or descend to the watch-mage.
 



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