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The Thorns of Winter -(updated 10/3/21)

Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise

A Past Recollection - 12/18/2020​


“Ah wonderful! Thank you for finding our wayward guest Debrika,” beamed Taryn as the old woman limped into the doorway followed by the dour Mror. Doxx surveyed the lot and saw a motley band. A full blooded Orc gnawing on a ham bone, a halfling drinking some mead, a shadow of an elf in the corner, with a glass of untouched wine in his hand, and a pair of Warforged, one a large Juggernaut, and the other one, with almost no plating on it in any way.

“And who might be this…ah…venerable, person?” the halfling drawled as she took a small sip of her mead, looking at the woman dubiously.

Taryn smiled and looked at the old woman, “Indeed, how should we address you?” and looked at her expectantly.

“Oh…old Doxx is fine,” the woman smiled and moved to the table and them she poured a glass of water from a pitcher on the table.

“She doesn’t seem to be the type for this endeavor,” the Juggernaut remarked.

“Any endeavor,” the other Warforged said, quietly.

“What’s the stupid job,” the Orc said bored with the entire exchange.

“Ah yes, well…in the interest of time, you are being hired as a group of…well…problem solvers. My Uncle is setting up a march to take back a mine known as the “Draktenflugen” or Drak’s Sieve in the southern Ironroots. And as part of this, we need able bodies and minds that can handle challenges an army cannot. All for a percentage of proceeds from the mine over the next five years with a guara—”

“—I don’t mean to be rude, but why are we negotiating in a ranch town, and not in Mror?” the halfling asked.

“A good question, Rosa. The fact of the matter is we have a problem that needs solving here. We need cattle to march the army, and the cattle are missing, and no messages returned as to why. Our best guess was Ogres but—”

“—Ogres? Not smart enough to ranch. I know this,” the Orc stated.

“Quite right Mobad, but the Ogres are hungry and are organized enough to raid and steal them. Why bother raising them, if there are others that do that for you?” Taryn held up both of his hands in a helpless gesture.

“Why?” the elf said, still holding a glass of untouched wine.

“Why what? Mr. Blade?” Taryn answered.

The Blade,” the elf corrected. “Why us. Why a d’Jorasco, an Orc, an old woman, a late model scout, a Juggernaut and a hero such as myself?”

Taryn smiled again, “I hired a woman who has a reputation in finding the right people. And she believes all of you are it.”

“Melisandre,” The Blade said quietly.

“And I don’t suppose we could ask her?” Doxx asked, smiling.

Taryn frowned, “Well…I think that is a reasonable request. And I would…except she isn’t here. She was delayed in Cattbron and was to have arrived by now. However, if you all sign on, I will make her available when I can. If you have issues then, we can go our separate ways.”

“So, what exactly did you need doing?” the juggernaut Sage asked.

“Simple enough I hope now you are all here,” Taryn said. “There are two ranches to the north; the Tannock and the Keldran. We will head there, and confirm if there is an Ogre problem, and assist the ranchers with their problems, so they get the cattle down to Cattbron.”

“We?” the slender Warforged asked.

“Yes Bookshelf,” Taryn addressed him. “Debrika and I will take a small group of Blademarks to one, while the seven…sorry six of you go to the other. We then return to Denning, and by then Melisandre should have made her way here, or if not, we’ll find her in Cattbron.”

“You said seven first…why?” The Blade said.

“Ah well…yes. I had sent a member ahead to do some…reconnaissance. She had five Blademarks with her, and we were to meet here. But she hasn’t returned. So, I want you to look for her as well and find out what happened.”

“Where are these ranches?” Rosa asked. “I’m not familiar with the area after all.”

“Two days ride north; the trail is well marked I have been told. And yes, horse will be provided,” Taryn said cutting off Bookshelf’s question before he started.

“Well…all of this for a pile of gold from a mine. Why not? Although I still want to have words with Melisa—” started Sage when everyone else agreed. Even Mobad who was disinterested in the conversation before, was engaged now.

“I will make her available I promise,” Taryn said raising his hands defensively. “If that is all, Debrika can you please produce the contracts?”

Debrika opened a small bag at her side, and reached in down to her elbow, and one at a time, produce a set of thick tomes, each one alone, far larger than the bag itself. She went to each person in turn, handing them one, and then she set a seventh on the table, open to a page with two signatures.

Each of the others cradled their own tome, when Doxx voiced everyone’s’ thoughts.
“You have got to be kidding.”




The doors to the dining room were open, and the various members were drifting around the main bar. Taryn, Debrika and their Blademarks had already retreated upstairs for the evening. Mobad took his place at a table, chasing off the farmers who were sitting at it prior and settled his attention on one of the serving girls. Bookshelf moved to a corner and sat alone, while Sage moved his lumbering bulk upstairs. The Blade, Rosa and Doxx clustered near the bar.

“Well,” Rosa started, “I expected something, but not track down a herd of cattle.”

“Yes, my dear,” said Doxx in a tone resembling a doting grandmother. “But I do want to have a word with this Melisandre. She does seem to be in the know of…many things.”

“Too many,” The Blade grumbled. “But until we meet, questions will have to wait. And as for the other—”

WHERE IS THAT WOMAN?!” a voice bellowed from the door. Turning, the trio saw a heavily armored man, flanked by a foursome of liveried men. His eyes swept over the suddenly hushed crowd. He strode inside, and threaded his way through the inn, searching.

“She isn’t here, and hasn’t been for weeks, Gard.” Flinsa said with a slightly raised voice in challenge.

Gard turned and strode to the bar, as his men scattered around the room looking at the patrons. “That’s convenient. You sure you haven’t seen her? She’s wanted back at Salenhold for questioning.”

“My! What in the Nations did this woman do?” Rosa asked aloud. Gard turned his attention to the halfling, and slowly strode forward towards her. Rosa glanced at her sides, and discovered that both the old woman, and the cowled elf had slipped away from her flanks, leaving her to face the bellicose warrior

“That woman…what was her name? Myrai…she is wanted for the illegal use of sorcery on the Warlord’s soldiers,” Gard said his eyes flashing anger as he answered Rosa’s question.

“I wasn’t aware of such a crime in the code of Gali—,” Rosa started with an innocent drawl when she was cut off with a snarl.

“Karnnath is under martial law, and here,” he snapped, “The Code of Kaius takes precedence.”

“I…I see. Well, we were told to…keep an eye out for her by…another party.” she said mildly.

“Really?” Gard straightened up looking at Rosa with interest. “Well then…its five hundred gold if you can bring her to Salenhold. She does need to be able to…answer questions.”

“I understand completely,” Rosa smiled sweetly. Gard narrowed his eyes in suspicion and nodded.

“I am glad you do. As I am willing to entertain…accomplices as well.”

“Well…is there anything else we can do for the Warlords’ fine men?” Flinsa said trying to cool down the agitated man.

“My men and I are riding out tonight and do not have time for frivolity,” he responded coldly.

“Of course not! But I can get you some fresh goods for this evening’s camp. If you and your men ride your horse to the back entrance, we can see you supplied and on your way. Just knock, and Box will see to your supplies.”

Gard’s face softened a little bit nodding, “That is…kind of you. Your inn certainly represents the best your license stands for.” He then turned to look at Rosa again, “Five hundred. Salenhold. And good night.” He said and turned, snapping his fingers. His men, looking around the room for a woman who wasn’t there, quickly responded, and fell in line behind the warrior, and the five departed slamming the door behind them.

“He sounds like a patriot of order,” Doxx said sardonically, suddenly appearing next to Rosa. She turned and was about to lecture the woman, when she heard the gravelly voice of The Blade on her other side. “Not a hero, just a man pretending.”
“Where in Khyber did the two—” Rosa started angrily at the pair when Flinsa came up to the three with drinks in hand.

“Thank you for distracting them. They have a tendency to cause a lot of…problems.” And she clapped her hands, and the two serving girls came out from the kitchen and resumed their duties. “I hope not to intrude, but you really should leave that woman—”

“—Myrai?” Rosa asked.

“Yes her,” Flinsa said. “Leave her out of anything Gard wants.”

“Do you know why he’s looking for her?” The Blade asked with interest.

Flinsa grimaced looking around to see who else might be listening. “It’s not much to tell, but like with most things, it isn’t what was said, it was what wasn’t”




“Wy…you told me that the pain would go away,” I said keenly feeling my muscles complaint as I sat at the bar.

Wy, a dark haired, tanned human man in his late thirties grinned, “You weren’t kidding Myrai, you really hadn’t much time in the saddle.” He took a quaff of his ale and turned to look at me with amusement.

“Like you couldn’t tell in Cattbron?” I retorted.

“I just wanted to confirm my suspicions were accurate,” Wy said mildly.

“I think you had a fine idea when you laughed your ass off at my poor attempts to ride that first morning. Flinsa, another please.”

Wy looked at me with concern, “Not for me to tell you how to handle your pain. It’s one thing to shame my men and drink them under the table. But you do have to get up in the morning.”

“As long as I don’t dream…I’ll take my lumps.” I said. I had discovered since leaving prison that my mind had decided to return to prior habits. Last night at the camp, I scared Wy and his blademarks with me screaming myself awake. I spent a good part of the watch apologizing to the others who I woke up and couldn’t return asleep.
The Blademarks, were an experienced team. I had learned from their leader Wyan or ‘Wy’ as he preferred, that they had worked together over the last ten years as a group. They served somewhere in Karnnath during the Last War, but had managed to create a name for themselves, and were in high demand when a team was needed. Of course, even as jaded as they were, I was something novel to them.

We had a brief introduction in Cattbron by Melisandre and Taryn, and I was ‘interrogated’ over dinner. Well…It was friendly, but I guessed that while I was nominally in charge, that a Deneith Blademark did have a responsibility to protect their patrons. And as such, they inquired to understand who they were protecting. On that first night, I kept them up until well after Anti-peak, telling them stories of pirate dens, lost tombs, and hobgoblin hordes. They found my story of me breaking out of a Soldorak jail hilarious and they were equally relieved that I had ‘spent time in the mud,’ camping and wasn’t some pretty city girl.

But over all the time in the last six or seven months, I never rode a horse. Carriages and wagons yes. But I never sat stride one before. Wy knew this from our conversation, and the next morning, he took me to the Valadis stable. There the master found me a gentle mare, who I swear was smarter than I was. It was strange, learning to guide her with the reins, and after a little practice my knees. The frosty cold wind in my hair was exhilarating. And bone chilling as the afternoons hot bath confirmed I needed warmer clothes.

Clothes and supplies were purchased, horses secured, and Melisandre introduced me to a Cannith worker that supplied me with access to some local magic that I could incorporate into The Apochrypha. I really wanted to try them before we left but it was quickly forgotten as we journeyed north. But all the prep did nothing to ready me for the pain.

My legs felt stretched in the wrong directions, my stomach and rear ached from trying to sit in the saddle properly. The first day I didn’t notice it. The next morning however, I was in a frightful amount of pain. So, when we saw the walls of Denning it was a sight for sore…well not my eyes.

“You’re the boss,” Wy said.

“Sure I am. Your men wouldn’t follow my instructions if their life depended on it,” I pointed out.

“Well…they might. But we don’t let it come down to that,” Wy finished his drink and stood down from his stool. “I’ll be back; the ale is seeking a new home.”

“You’re on your own for that,” I said smirking and feeling the warmth of the liquor soften my mind. I watched him walk off to the side entrance. He didn’t stagger; he was fully in control of himself and his faculties as he made his way to back where the public privys were found. Wy was a rugged man, and it had been a while since I spent time alone with any man that wasn’t…well…far off friends. I found myself watching his posterior with admiration as he left the bar, and I sighed contentedly.

“Here you are dear,” Flinsa said pushing me another whiskey in front of me. “You know five of these is a l—”

The door to the front of the bar, slammed open, and I heard booted feet enter. I didn’t turn but as I took a sip, I saw one of the two girls who waited the tables, practically drop her tray on the bar top, and rush into the back. I frowned wondering what that was about, when I heard a nasally voice speak.

“Ethena…come over here and get our order!”

I turned, and saw a quartet of men, in brigandine armor, taking a seat at a table. All had deposited their helms with a loud clunk on the wood. I glanced and saw Ethena, the second serving girl, gulp and looked at Flinsa with a look of desperation. Flinsa gritted her teeth and sighed, and closing her eyes, said nothing, but motioned with her head towards the men.

Ethena swallowed and straightened up and walked quickly to the men and was about to ask them a question, when the nasally voiced once, grabbed her by the arm and pulled her down to sit on his lap.

“Now then…you should look us all in the eye, when we ask for what we want,” he said with a sneer.

I clenched my glass in my hand as I watched. Ethena, her eyes closed simply asked,
“What can I get for you, good sirs?”

“Now now…you need to look at us,” and the man ran a finger under her chin, forcibly nudging her head to face in his direction. He then swatted her on the cheek, and I could see her open her eyes, meeting his gaze.

“Ethena; you know us better than that. A pitcher of ale for the lot of us, and you can come back to warm my lap.”

“I..I..have customers to serve!” she said looking for a way out.

“Nah…your mate can serve the rest. In fact, why don’t you stay here, and let her fetch the drinks.”

“I’d rather—” and she tried to stand, when the man jerked her back down to his lap.

“I think you do what the Warlord’s men command you do,” he said in a cold tone.

“I think you should let her go, and take your ale like good little berks,” I said finishing my whiskey and slamming the glass down.

The four men suddenly noticing me, stared uncomprehendingly. The one with the nasally voice stood up, almost dumping Ethena on the floor. His comrades in arms quickly followed in turn. I could hear Flinsa hiss, “Miss don’t…this will be trouble.” If they heard, they gave no indication, but the man addressed me.

“Well…what do we have here?” he said as I turned around and faced him, still sitting on the stool. “A golden-haired minx with…my word. I can see myself in those peepers!” he said as he drew close. In my left hand I removed a small circular glass mirror from my pouch. I spun it on the bartop casually, while touching my right hand to my symbol on my chest, all while whispering quietly to myself as I pulled on a single white strand.

“You’re clearly not from around here,” he said. “We probably should take you in for some…questioning. Never can be too safe.”

I straightened up and looked the man in the eye, gave a wan smile and said simply, “I don’t think so. And I think you will leave the women here alone.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that Wy had reentered the inn, and had a hand on his sword as he looked at the nasally voiced man with contempt.

“I think its best you come with US,” and he reached for my arm. He was perhaps a hand width away when he stopped, his hand outstretched. He looked it his own limb with confusion, and he started to lean into his hand, trying to force it to touch me. He instead found himself pushing against some unmovable object. His face grew redder and redder as he strained harder and harder to secure me in his grasp.

“Flinsa another please,” I said calmly, and I heard the halfling move off and uncork a bottle and pour. All the while the man tried to get closer to me. Finally, he barked an order at his men, “Don’t just stand there!”

The three others came up to me and they too found them constrained. A half circle of men reaching out with their hands trying to close the gap in futility. Their faces contorted with effort, frustration, and in the nasally man’s case growing anger. Flinsa slipped the glass to me and I took it in hand and calmly took a sip. Just then the nasally man vented his frustrations aloud.

“What enchantment is this? What have you done to us?”

“Nothing. But my god, has my back. Not yours,” I said calmly but my head swimming a bit. “And you do not challenge a loyal servant of Death, unless you have dug your own grave first.” I said feeling a bit of fire in me.

The nasally man’s face paled, “By the Dark Six…the Keeper?!? Here?” I tilted my head in confusion. But the men backed off and returned to the table and collected their helms.

“You best make yourself scarce. We’ll…we’ll be back.” And the four made for the door, each clamoring to be first. As the door slammed behind them, I realized that the inn was quiet and all the eyes were on me. Turning I looked at Flinsa and she too looked at me.

In fear.

I didn’t understand, and I heard Wyn move next to me. “We should get you out of here.”

“No wait…I don’t understand. Who…who is ‘the Keeper?’” I asked.

Flinsa and Wy glanced at each other before Flinsa answered me. “He…he is one of the Dark Six. He steals the souls of the dead for himself and—”

“—He’s the god of death here?” I asked suddenly concerned.

“I…I…guess,” Flinsa said nervously.

“Flinsa. Wy. I apologize, and I swear…whoever this Keeper is…that is not my god! The god I worship…he doesn’t steal souls; he guides them to their final place. He wants us to live as long as we can, and not die before its time.” I saw in their eyes doubt as they glanced at each other.

I bowed my head and stood up unsteadily. “I…should probably lay down. I ‘ve caused enough excitement as it is.” I started to walk across the room to the stairs, feeling every eye follow me each step of the way. I was just heading up, when I heard behind me Flinsa call.

“Miss Myrai…thank you.”




“She then left the next morning with the Blademarks, and that’s what I know,” Flinsa said, pouring a water, a mead, and patently ignoring the untouched wine in The Blades hand. “The only trouble she is in, is showing up the Warlords men. But when they returned, she was already gone.”

“Lovely men,” Doxx said disapprovingly.

“Yes, well…not all of them, just a couple of the have caused problems for my girls. And Gard too…he’s the worst really. But Myrai is the only one who ever spoke up for them. So, I’d rather not have anything happen to her.”

“What about this god then she worships?”

“I only know she said that she didn’t worship the Keeper. She didn’t really tell me anything else.”

“She has a strong sense of faith. Interesting,” muttered The Blade, fingering something beneath his tunic, where a necklace might be.

“Well, I hope you find her before Gard does. Excuse me,” and Flinsa moved down the bar to fill a patron’s drink.

“Well…I suppose we should get some rest then. I will see you tomorra,” Rosa said, and she slipped off her stool to head upstairs.

The Blade and Doxx looked at each other, before The Blade spoke, “Justice doesn’t sleep, and nor do I. But I must prepare.” And whirling his cloak, the Blade made his way upstairs. Doxx looked around, and noticed that sometime during the story, Mobad and Bookshelf had also disappeared to the rooms above. Nodding to himself, and humming quietly, Doxx made her way over to a chair near the fire, and settled in. As she did so, she heard a noise, and she turned her head around before looking upwards into the rafters. There, a raven stretched out its wings and preened a bit before looking Doxx in the eye.

Doxx shook her head and stared into the fire letting her eyes droop. Her exhaustion finally won out, and soon Doxx was snoring softly.

All the while the Raven looked on. It ever took its black eyes away from the sleeping old woman. All the while it quietly, and ever so softly, laughed.

Session Notes:

Everyone was starting to get a feel for the characters at this point; while the wealth of the gold mine was there, it was nothing compared to the desire to meet Melisandre. That really became a focal point for everyone really.
 

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Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise


Four Oaks - 1/3/2021​

(Apologies on the tardiness...holidays are a thing)​


The next morning had no sun, just like the days before. The gloom of grey clouds hung overhead, threatening rain on the drenched town of Denning. The gloom even pervaded the Inn, where Doxx slept fitfully in the chair near the fireplace. The old woman opened her eyes slowly, noting that Findo had started placing a new log on the fire, to stir it to life. He turned and nodded at Doxx with a smile saying nothing.

Doxx stretched and realized that sometime during the night, someone covered them with a warm blanket. Stretching in the chair, they saw that Taryn, Debrika and their blademarks were already down and were talking quietly. After a brief exchange, Debrika and the blademarks headed out the front door.

Doxx smiled, and rose from their chair and moved over to Taryn, who seated himself at a table nearby. Doxx moved quietly behind the seated Dwarf, who studied a tome laid out on the table’s surface.

“Yes Doxx?” Taryn’s tired voice grumbled as Doxx froze in her steady approach. Doxx tilted her head, and smirked at being observed so casually.

“Ah, yes. Nice to see the evening’s drinking didn’t wear out your senses,” Doxx said as she sat down at the table next to Taryn. “I had wondered what you could tell me about your assistant.”

“It’s probably best you ask Debrika about—”

“—No, not her. The other one. Melisandre.”

Taryn looked at Doxx levelly saying nothing, as Findo laid a plate of steaming sausages and a mug in front of the Mror. Doxx looked into the Mror’s eyes and the Dwarf returned the even expression. Findo smiled and moved on back to the kitchen.

“She did say you would be…curious about her. She is simply, my assistant in finding the right people, and you can ask her yourself when she arrives.

Doxx smiled, “As you said. But I am…uncomfortable with…the exposure as it were.”

Taryn took a deep sip of his drink and gave Doxx a hard look. He then said, “I understand. And as someone who…professionally understands your concern, I think it is best you let things lie until the two of you can talk.”

Doxx squinted at Taryn and caught the undercurrent of the Mror’s tone before nodding politely. They then heard the creaking and groaning of the wooden beams above. Coming down the stairs the juggernaut made its way cautiously, as if in fear that the stairs would fall away from the massive warforged’s weight.

Juggernauts were a rare sight these days; the heavily armored living constructs were never common, but they had the reputation of being implacable foes as unrelenting as the armor plate they wore. But this one, Sage Redoubt seemed to have a glimmer in its eye; more curious, more attentive.

More dangerous, thought Doxx.

Sage stood in contrast to Mobad now coming down the stairs. He was in many ways nature’s answer to the warforged. Equally large, Mobad was a figure of pure muscle beneath thin leather skin, and none of Sage’s curiosity. Coming down with the Orc, came the halfling Rosa who spoke to the Orc in her drawl, “Well now…hopefully that will help the itch you had prior. Let me know if you have anymore problems."

The Orc grunted and seated himself next to Taryn and Doxx, as if expected. He pointed at Taryns meal and shouted. “More o dat!” while Taryn and Doxx continued to stare at each other.

“Oh Taryn, I’m going to check in at the House’s lil enclave here before we set out, if you don’t mind.”

“Feel free to,” Taryn said, never tearing his eyes away from Doxx.

“Don’t bother Rosa,” Findo said bringing out more plates of various meats and eggs. “The house closed up the Enclave some twenty years ago when the war for Karnnath got a little hot. You might be the first one we’ve seen in as long a time.”

“What?” Rosa said in surprise. “You mean we left the town without help at all for almost two decades?”

Findo, motioned to the seat next to Mobad for the Halfling to sit at. “Your House was quite clear, that ‘others’ had greater needs. But honestly, a lot of the locals thought it was because most of the ranchers’ wouldn’t pay the price of health.”

Rosa blushed a moment before recovering. “I..I can’t say I agree with that perspective.”

“Most citizens aren’t clear on priorities,” came the gravelly voice of The Blade, who now stood silently next to the fire, dressed in his black cowled cloak. Rosa turned to look at him with frustration.

“Sir, you must stop doing that!”

“Doing what citizen?”

“Just…appearing out of nowhere with a comment like that!”

The second warforged, Bookshelf, came down the stairs hurriedly, and moved to a corner of the Inn, with a tome clutched in its arms. It placed its back against the wall and read the book, its eyes looking over the cover at the rest.

Sage moved over to the smaller Warforged table and spoke, “Interesting reading there?”

“Nothing you would find interesting,” Bookshelf said as if issuing a challenge to the Juggernaut.

“I don’t know about that. I find myself a curious observer. Like noting how the fortifications to Denning make no sense. Any army could get in here with ease.”

“Ah…they are different,” Findo said as he offered a plate of cheese and bread to The Blade. “But they aren’t meant to keep things out; they are meant to keep things in.”

“That makes no sense,” The Blade said.

“It does if you were worried about Ogres,” said Findo as he gathered some empty plates. “Its too expensive to build walls to keep them out, but since the Ogres around here just want horse to eat, the walls are a problem enough to keep Ogres from lifting horses over them. They have to use the gates, and the gates on the inside have enough protection to keep the Ogres from escaping with a horse or two. “

“Have they been tested recently?” Sage asked curiously.

“About once or twice every five years, and then the Ogres remember why they leave the town alone. Honestly the ranchers have more issues with them, but usually they just find a weak member of their herds and let the Ogre try to take them.

“You mean they aren’t that dumb then. Interesting.” The Blade said thoughtfully.

“No; they are. But they do learn, and they are very very cagey. Good at pits, ambushes and deadfalls. But not smart enough to trade.” Findo said confidently. As he moved in the kitchen, the Inn’s front door opened, and Debrika stepped inside and nodded at Taryn.

Taryn tore his eyes from Doxx and smiled. “Excellent; we can get started.”
Outside the Inn, stood a number of mounts, all with the brands on their flanks indicating they were a part of the Valadis stable nearby. Nine magebred horses waited patiently for their riders, as several stable hands checked cinches and saddles on the mounts. Three of the mounts were massive; the breed looking to be the type used as a heavy draft horse, but each with a wide leather saddle. One was a much smaller pony, its stirrups pulled close to the saddle, so a halfling could control the beast.

“Excellent; Good work Debrika. These should do nicely.”

“How far to the ranches then?” Rosa asked as she looked at the pony dubiously.

“A day to Four Oaks, and then the Ranches the evening after. Beats a four day walk,” Taryn said, selecting a smaller horse and pulling himself up into the saddle gracefully.

“Four Oaks?” Doxx asked. A pair of Valadis stable hands attempted to help the old woman into her saddle, to which she batted away with her stick. As she easily pulled herself into the saddle Taryn responded.

“It’s a campsite kept up by the ranchers for folks going north. Its well marked, and usually has a stock of dry wood, and access to water. And if we are ready, we can head out and reach it before the weather turns.”

Bookshelf looked at his mount blankly, unwilling to mount it.

“If it can hold me, it can hold you.” Sage said astride one of the draft horses, who only nickered as the juggernaut mounted it.

“I know it can,” Bookshelf said morosely.

“What is the issue, citizen?” The Blade asked, seemingly at home in the saddle.

“They never seem to do well in the horrors of war,” Bookshelf said, as they pulled themselves up into the saddle. “Or anything else beyond basic transportation. And I have a strange feeling about this job.”

“Like what?” Doxx asked in a grandmotherly tone.

Bookshelf shrugged. “I don’t know. Horses just seem to die a lot.”

“Not interested. We should move.” Mobad said, sitting tall on another draft horse.

“Indeed. Onwards!” called Taryn. The group clustered together, and they made their way to the northern gate, and began their trek to the northern ranches.




The clouds threatened, and roiled and churned above, but they never saw a need to empty their contents upon the road or its travelers. The river valley floor was a large plain, but they travelled on the eastern ridge, staying close to the hills. The valley floor had also scattered copses of trees here and there. The air was a damp chill in the morning, but as the horses moved northward, the air warmed. By late in the day, everyone’s skin grew slick as the sweat poured down their foreheads.

“First spring isn’t here, and now we’re thick into summer,” one of the blademarks grumbled.

“It’s a nice change,” Sage remarked looking around for something interesting.

“It’s nothing but change!!”

“Compared to the same vault for over five years…its nice,” Sage said resigned to the difference of perspective.

“You’ll want to crawl back soon enough,” Bookshelf muttered.

“You have a bitter view of the world,” Doxx observed.

“No. I’ve seen its best side. And it isn’t different from its worst,” the slim Warforged said.

“Oh, brighten up. A warm fire and a stretch will do us all a bit of good. That and some old oak trees would warm my heart,” said Rosa with a smile.

“Well then, look ahead down into the valley,” Taryn boomed. Ahead, the trail dipped down to the floor of the valley. There in its center stood four massive trees, oaks. Oaks as old as Galifar’s founding it was said. Their twisted trunks extending a hundred feet in the air, full of gnarled branches, with only the hint of budding green on the tips.

“That does warm my heart…I wonder what they have to say.”

Following the wide trail, it ran next to the oaks. There under the canopy of branches were logs split into benches surrounding fire pits. An earthen berm stood near, with canvas covering the front to a log stand. Hitching stands for horses, away from places to pitch tents. It was a travelers’ rest; well designed and well maintained. Scattered here and there were large bushes between the tent flats.

Rosa wandered around breathing in the air and admiring the ancient oaks. Oaks that would seem more at home in the Eldeen based on their stature and majesty. As she walked, she took out from her pouch a pair of looped mistletoe and hung one on each of her ears as she sung quietly to herself. As she sang, she heard the deep baritone of warm elderly wood as the empty branches shook in in a light breeze.

“Hmmmm…a druid calls to sing with us…such a nice change.”

Rosa smiled as she sang softly; the trees didn’t need much to hear, or rather feel what was around them. “And good evening to you great oak. And how are the seasons for you?”

“Hmmm…. too quick…too quick…winter was here…now it’s gone.,” the oak whispered softly.

Rosa nodded, “The weather seems all off…far from here it was still frozen and snowing.”

“Ice and snowing? It has been long since the rings said the weather was upside down.”

Rosa walked around the oak, and looked back at the camp, where the horses were being hitched, and tents set up for the evening. Mobad, while not having much talent for working with people, seemed to have a way with the magebred steeds. Doxx, was having a one way conversation with Taryn while the two blademarks were starting up a fire under Debrika’s watchful eye. The Warforged made themselves busy looking for dry logs. Finally, The Blade was moving through the camp, his bow drawn looking around at the bushes.

“Anyone else been travelling here recently?” Rosa sang to the great oak.

“Hmm….yes. A nice couple came by either. That one had quite a rack—”

“—I beg your pardon!—”

“—At least twelve points…maybe more and still hadn’t shed them. He was quite impressive.”

Rosa laughed at herself for a moment, “No no…not the natives. People…humans or others like them.”

“Oh…not in while…been many dawns since…but there was a small herd of little ones that passed by. Had manners those did. One was strange though; had a touch of something different. And she had a small one—”

“—A child?

“No…no…”




“You might as well let him roam up there; he’ll come down when he wants.”

--See now? Listen to Wy

Goss…really?

--I do like the outdoors. Besides keeping watch requires a certain altitude.

Attitude.

--Whatever. Anyway, I’ll be watching from up here.


Wy prodded at the fire with a stick “I know you are talking to him,” he said with a smirk.

“And?” I said looking at Wyn, with a note of irritation in my voice.

“He’ll come down when he’s ready.”

“I suppose.” I looked around. There wasn’t much to the campsite ‘Four Oaks.’ Horse stands well away from the fire and the clear spots for tents. Logs surrounding fire pits, and a stream to get water. However, compared to the spot of bare earth I had camped in before I suppose it was a bit more sophisticated.

“I take it there is a bit of traffic on this trail,” I said still looking over the site.

“A bit. The ranchers use it as a way stop for the drives towards the south. I heard the throng of cattle outside of Denning makes for quite the sight…and the smell.

“Make sense,” I said nodding.

“You would think so…but it’s the wagon trains north that are more interesting.”

I looked at Wy with confusion, “Wagons…what’s north from Denning?”

Wy shook his head, “Specifically I don’t know. Generally, I can tell you that House Cannith has a private train heading up north followed by another heading south after about two weeks. Happens every three months. But you can tell it’s a great secret in the way that no local talks about it. You ask, and you get a silent shrug.”

“Alright, so what does it mean?” I asked, a little annoyed at the game being played.

“There’s a Cannith installation somewhere up north. Probably the worst kept secret too. As to what they are doing; that’s the real secret.”

I sat down on a log and looked at the fire and then at Wy.

“So…the Ogre problem…”

Wy shrugged, “You saw Denning. They built the town walls to keep Ogres from stealing stuff. And it works; you know how you can tell?”

I shook my head and waited.

“Almost no guards. The Ogres tried their luck, and gave up. They may not be the smartest bunch, but they do know to pick on better targets. I would say stealing a cow or two would be easy but…”

I leaned forward a bit, “But…what?”

“Have you ever seen a mage bred cow?” I shook my head and Wy continued. “Well…they are much larger than the Ogres, and the Ogres aren’t great cattle drivers. A band might try to pick off a weak one, but only if they outnumbered them. And besides…mage bred horses are more to their taste. Literally.”

“Acquired taste?” I asked helpfully.

“Yes…and magebred horses are easy to lead. So easy that—”

“—I could do it?” I said giving Wy a level gaze.

Wy grimaced, “Your skills are much improved. But the horses are too well trained…Ogres can lead them around…anywhere they want to go, as long as that halter is on their head.

I turned to look at our horses, tied to the hitching posts nearby. “So, we at risk of losing our horses?”

Wy thought about it a moment, “Well, the Blademarks reputation might give them pause, or they would go and get more to even the odds. But a lone Ogre or two like we saw—”

I squinted hard at Wy, “What do you mean ‘like we saw’ Wy.”

Wy shrugged, “While you were setting up your tent, Griff saw a pair. Once they saw they were spotted they bolted. We are a good day or two from the western slopes of the mountains, so we are probably safe. Might be more a problem coming back I suppose.”

“Any reason you didn’t tell me?” I asked pointedly.

“Slipped my mind; it wasn’t to keep you in the dark.”

“Well,” I sighed. “I know what I am looking for at least.”




“Strange one that one was…but her pet enjoyed sleeping in my branches.”

“Did they come back?”

“Hmmm which ones? The one with the nice—”

“—No, the other—"

“—The small ones like you, or—

“—Yes the…wait or? Or what?

As Rosa sang to the oak, The Blade moved around the bushes carefully his bow half drawn. He was more at home in the urban heights and gloomy rain of Sharn. Here he felt exposed; like anyone and everyone could see him. But all of that was a distraction, as his gut told him, something was amiss. As he walked around the soft muddy earth his cloak caught on a branch, and it snapped as The Blade walked by.

The Blade whirled at the sound. Seeing that the others didn’t even turn he bent down to look at the broken branch. Picking it up, he turned it over in his hand and then pressed with his thumb against it. It quickly snapped under the pressure. The Blade repeated this, moving toward the base of the branch, each time it snapped quickly and easily.

“What are you doing Blade?” Sage called out to him, over Rosa’s singing.

The Blade. This bush is bone dry dead. Yet…” he leaned into the bush sniffing. “It smells fresh…like pine?” The Blade stopped a moment and looked at the bush, and realized it wasn’t a pine nor related to one. He looked up an around wondering where the smell was coming from then.

“Or the bigger little ones,” the oak sang.

“Bigger little ones?” Rosa was trying to figure out what the Oak meant. “Well first, did the other small ones return?”

“…umm…. no.” the Oak murmured.

“But the ‘Big Little Ones,’ did?”

“…ummm yes…still here with you little ones.”

Rosa’s furrowed her eyes in confusion and turned back to the camp. She saw The Blade close by a bush and looking around upwards.

“What are you doin dear?” Rosa called out.

“Looking for pine, citizen,” he replied circling the bush and sniffing the air.

“Pine?” Rosa said aloud softly, a little puzzled.

“ummm….Pine? There is no Pine here,” the Oak rambled. “But the big little ones do smell like that yes.”

Rosa waved her hand in irritation as she tried to think. As she looked at The Blade, she realized that he appeared to be growing, as his head started to get closer to the oak branches above. Quickly glancing down she realized that was wrong, it was the bush growing taller. And then she realized the truth.

The bush and the soft earth around the dry roots rose. Underneath it, was the bald misshapen face of a humanoid, with broad ears and a bulbous nose. Its body had smeared over it, a black tarry substance that gave off the strong smell of pine. In its hands it held a human sized long bow with an arrow nocked. Rosa quickly glanced side to side and saw that about a dozen other bushes rose from the earth, each with a ‘big little one’ armed and ready to fight.

Rosa screamed at the top of her lungs;

“OGRES!”

Notes:

I will say, trying to weave the two separate sessions to the same game is a bit of work. There was a lot of though put into the area like how DO you deal with ogres, and bits of lore about Cannith, how Ghallanda knows a bit of everything. But the players were still trying to gel how their characters did (or did not) get along with each other. Doxx did press Taryn quite a bit about Melisandre.
 

Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise

Ogres and Ranches 1/30/2021​

(I've been swamped, but I have freed myself to write more often once again.)​

Bookshelf looked straight at Rosa at confusion and then turned to look at The Blade being lofted into the air. The ogre below him, took aim with a bow and shot an arrow to the nearest figure to them, the old woman Doxx. They wondered abstractly if they would need to bury the old woman, when Doxx spun as the arrow hit her chest.

Except it didn’t as Doxx completed her spin, Bookshelf noticed in surprise she opened her hand and dropped the arrow to the ground. “Interesting,” the warforged remarked, and they watched as the old woman leapt at the ogre, swinging her stick and smacking it three times, each one causing her foe to yelp in pain, until the ogre was staggering around in a daze. Bookshelf shrugged, and they pointed their finger at the same Ogre, and a beam of cold white light emitted from their finger, striking the ogre in the torso, causing it to bellow and fall to the ground.

As it did so, The Blade made his move and jumped down from the ogre’s hatlike bush and took aim with his longbow, missing with his first shot. But as he moved to gain distance his second one sank deep in the hulking humanoid’s chest. Looking around, The Blade saw that more ogres had emerged. But instead of attacking, they headed to the sides of the campsite. The Blade watched one pair of ogres moving quickly, discarding their bushes, and ran to one of the horse stands. With one on either side, they squatted and tried to pull up the wooden posts from the damp earth. “Citizens! They are after the horses!” he shouted, which was followed by the sound of bone cracking.

Turning Bookshelf saw Debrika had swung low with her maul on another ogre aiming his bow at Taryn, and had connected it squarely with its knee, causing it to bend an unnatural angle. It howled in pain and dropped its bow in favor of a club, and swung at the dwarf, connecting solidly in the chest. But she didn’t even flinch or give ground. Debrika simply spat on the ground, smiled and waited. The ogre looked at the solid dwarf in confusion, when suddenly from a smokey mist, Taryn appeared, swiftly swinging a short sword, making four deep cuts in its hide, causing dark blood to spray everywhere. Bookshelf noted this aspect of Taryn; he was more than just a simple merchant or Dragonmarked scion. Behind the Mrors, another pair of ogres made for a second set of horse stands, and too were working to remove them from the earth. Close behind them, Taryn’s Blademarks with drawn swords ran to stop the abduction of their mounts, but neither blows seemed to register with the focused ogres.

“Face ME!” Mobad bellowed and Bookshelf saw the orc, charging towards another ogre. The ogre shot the rampaging orc, but it didn’t stop him. The orc raised his axe and brought it down, through the bow and deep into the chest of the ogre. The ogre blinked in surprise at the assault, bellowed and quickly pulled out a club and swung it at the raging orc, only to find his blows bouncing off Mobad’s grey skin, all while the Orc continue to hack away at his prey. Bookshelf nodded in satisfaction, knowing that Mobad was unlikely to need help.
Meanwhile, Sage Reboubt pursued another pair of ogres heading to the third stand of horses. The Juggernaut, charged at the pair; his massive steel frame, caused the ground to tremble as he bore down towards the ogres. Affixed to his arm, was a warforged arm blade, which he pulled back for a large swing. As the massive warforged started to swing forward, his blade erupted with a green flame, slashing the first ogre, who bellowed in pain. But the flame spread to the one next to it, searing the ogre’s flesh. Both ogres stopped in their tracks, and both swung a club at Sage, but he simply clanged his blade against his shield, causing a quick flash of light. The ogre’s weapons never found their mark as they seemed to hit something solid in front of Sage. “That’s even more interesting,” Bookshelf remarked realizing that the Juggernaut wasn’t some simple sword and shield for the line; he had arcane skills as well.

Bookshelf heard a crack and turning they saw that the tiny Rosa had created a whip of vines and thorns, and she used it against the ogre where The Blade once stood on top of. The whip wrapped itself around it, and the halfling pulled the ogre straight towards herself, heedless of the danger, as she yelled, “Now, you just leave my friends alone.” Bookshelf fired another white beam of frost, striking and slowing down the ogre as it turned to smash Rosa.
“You should stay back Rosa!” The Blade said, as he ran through the camp, loosing four arrows at the Ogres trying to steal their mounts. Shooting on the run, each arrow found its mark sinking deep into ogre flesh, and each causing an ogre to grunt in pain. As The Blade ran, he passed the Mrors and their blademarks, all trying to stop the theft of their horses. Their ogres had managed to lift one post out of the ground, but were now busy trying to defend themselves. Debrika swung once, and leveled one ogre, while Taryn quickly darted around another, slashing it with deadly drawcuts, spilling blood everywhere.

Mobad had turned into a storm of fury, slaughtering his foe, and charging headlong into the ogre who Rosa had given a whipping. His greataxe and body was covered in dark blood, but in his fury, the ogre somehow managed to avoid the orcs uncoordinated attacks. But it wasn’t so lucky from a swiftly moving Doxx, who’s stick slammed into the side of the ogre, with the resulting sound of cracking ribs and the ogre bellowing, “Not faaair!”

Sage ignited his blade, and the flames once again seared and slashed at the ogres, unable to get close to the horse stand. They howled in frustration as they swung, their clubs only bouncing off the juggernauts’ shield with no effect. Bookshelf was considering their options, when they heard the sound of a horn blow from the edge of the campsite.

There stood a lone ogre female, who must have stood a head taller than her kin in the melee. Her face was knotted in frustration and disapproval. Her frustration grew, as The Blade fired another pair of arrows, piercing the ogre’s hide easily. She blew the horn again, and the ogres in the camp, ran towards the female. Bookshelf concentrated and a bead of fire started to manifest in their hands when the female spoke.

“YOU! THE PRICK!” and the female pointed at the elf who turned and aimed his bow at the sound of her voice. “YOU BEAT US. WE REMEMBER YOU!”

“It’s ‘The Blade’ you stup...Just go!” the elf retorted. The would be thieves all ran past the female with the horn, and after all the surviving horse rustlers passed her, she then turned and retreated into the darkness. The sounds of the horses panicking settled down into tired whickers, and everyone’s labored breathing started to slow.

“Is anyone hurt?” Rosa shouted, as she moved back into the campsite.

“I think Mobad got shot,” Bookshelf said pointing toward the orc.

The orc grunted, and in response simply pulled out the arrow from his pectoral and discarded it. He was drenched in blood, but almost none of it was his own. As he approached the fire, he waved off a frantic Rosa trying to examine him.

“Did we lose any horses?” Sage called out, as he wiped his blade on a fallen ogre and also returning to the center of camp.

“Good news, no!” Taryn replied, stepping next to a fire and warming his hands. He was all smiles and had a look of giddy excitement. “I knew that Melisandre had found the right people,” and he pulled out a rag to wipe off the blood from his short blade, completely oblivious to Debrika shaking her head in quiet disagreement. “And if the ogres here are the culprits to the missing cattle, they will have second thoughts on causing problems in the future!”

The Blade frowned at this. While the Blademarks, along with Sage moved the corpses to the side of the camp, he knelt down by the one that moments ago was a bush rising up. He looked at the ogre and its equipment, and with his bow poked the body’s stomach.
“You shouldn’t poke the dead like that,” Rosa said as she looked over The Blade for injury. “Last thing we want is them to get back up and smack us.”

“It doesn’t make sense,” The Blade muttered.

“What doesn’t?” Rosa said confused.

“These ogres aren’t exactly well fed,” he said poking the loose skin fold around the dead ogre’s belly. “If they had been taking cattle, I would expect them to be more round.”
Rosa frowned a moment and looked at the ogre’s corpse. “You might be right, this one looks a bit…hungry. Hungry enough to want to take horses from us.” She then hummed a tune looked aloft at the great oak above her. “So, what do know about cattle?”

“Cows? No…no cows. No cow droppings for hungry roots. Not in…a while…” the oak mumbled and drifted off.

“Well the oaks haven’t noticed any in a while,” Rosa relayed. “I wonder if something else is going on.” As she said this, Sage and a blademark, dragged the corpse off to outside of the camp.

“We have to make inquiries at the ranches,” The Blade said, and he moved to the edge of the camp, and quickly climbed up onto one of the oaks, and planted himself on a branch looking towards the direction the ogres ran.

“Hhmm…hmm…tickles…” the oak murmured to Rosa.

“Oh enough…I need to sleep,” Rosa hummed back, and made her way to her tent. Next to it, Mobad was already asleep, his head poking out of his own tent, his axe in easy reach.

Directly across, Debrika, Taryn and the Blademarks, finally done with the bodies were settling in to sleep.

But in the center Doxx warmed their hands. Turning they noticed that Bookshelf watched the woman intently. “Keep doing that you’ll go blind dear,” Doxx said mockingly.

“I see, things are hidden,” Bookshelf mumbled. “ You aren’t useless as you appear. Taryn very skilled as is Debrika. Elf has inaccurate name, to hide his skills with bow. Juggernaut knows how to use spells. What does Rosa hide I wonder?”

“What do you Bookshelf?” Doxx said, their eyes narrowing at the slender warforged.

“I hide? Yes I do. A pleasant face to hide the…” and Bookshelf looked downwards for a long moment before speaking again. “Doesn’t matter.”

“You are one strange Warforged.” Doxx said and then they retreated back their tent, closing the flaps behind them.

“Did you expect everything to be so open?” Sage said, setting their shield down next to a log.

“Honesty rare. Hoping things were as they appear. Nothing ever is though,” Bookshelf said shaking their head. “Does it matter? Could it matter? Will it save them? No. No it won’t. Hiding never saves anyone; it only makes it worse. Death finds you all the same. Death isn’t fooled.” And the warforged went silent.

Sage stared for a moment at Bookshelf. He had seen dwarves that came back from the war, unwilling or unable to find the selves they left behind. Some did find a semblance of being normal. But Bookshelf seemed to be one that had seen too much and too often. Unwilling to probe the damaged Bookshelf further, he took a stone and a small flask of oil from his pouch and started to sharpen his blade, and pass the night away.




The next morning’s heat woke them before the sun finally crested the Ironroot mountains to the east. The clouds were a solid blanket of grey above, unwilling to provide rain, and equally ill disposed to allow the sun’s light to pierce their veil. It didn’t take long to strike camp; as Sage took time during the night to replenish wood in the covered berm, They also burned the dried bushes, to prevent the ogres from trying again with future travelers. The group finshed packed their things, saddled the horses, and continued north, following the road to the outlying ranches.

The road led up out of the valley, leading into tall grasses and low hills, while stands of trees started to thicken down on the valley floor. The heat only grew, and the damp air made it uncomfortable for the majority of the travelling band. Before midday they came to a split on the road and Taryn halted the caravan.

“Well, here we must part. This branch heads up to the Keldran ranch, where Debrika and I are headed,” the Mror said.

“How far to the other ranch?” Rosa asked squirming to get comfortable in her saddle.
“After midday you should see a marker for the Tannoch ranch,” Taryn replied. “We’ll all meet up in Denning after we see what is going on, and to be clear; I value you. Don’t take any unneeded risks, but please find my cows and find Myrai! Good luck!” and with a quick flick of the reins, the Mrors and the two Blademarks started their way toward the Keldran ranch. The group watched for a moment, and then turned their mounts and continued northward.
The road followed the valley walls, with the forest below growing denser, and grassland on top growing thicker and thicker. It was well after midday when in the distance they saw something standing tall above the grass. As they approached, they saw it was a sign, set between a pair of posts and stretched across a branch in the trail. On the old grey wood were letters carved out in relief the words:

“Tannoch Ranch”
They paused a moment to look around. For as far as the eye could see north and south was grassland, while to the east the grass started to thin as it climbed hillsides and forests on the side of the Ironroots. To the west, the river valley was full of trees, only just touched with green spring buds.

“Well…I can say one thing, he’s right,” Sage said somberly. “Not a cow or a cow cake—”
“—Patties. Or Pies.” Rosa corrected.

“Whatever. None of them either.” Sage continued. “Nor any ogres.”

“Well, hopefully the ranch will have answers. Let’s get moving citizens.” The Blade said sitting tall in the saddle, eyeing the grass with suspicion.

The horses plodded forward quietly along the trail and the light overhead was starting to fade. Along the trail, it the grassland was waist high and swayed in the faint breeze. But for as much grass as there was, there was nothing moving in the grass and certainly no cattle. Even the birds seemed to have abandoned the area. Finally it was Bookshelf who broke the silence.

“Smoke ahead.” the warforged said with a curious tone.

“Chimney smoke,” Doxx said squinting under a wizened brow.

The horses continued, until they reached a simple fence line, made of a single thin log, supported by a pair of shorter logs in a triangular brace. The line appeared to surround a compound of various structures; two small buildings that appeared to be bunk houses, a larger two storied house, and a large barn. Most of the buildings were grey from the weathering, and the bunk houses and the main house all had smoke rising from the chimneys, and lights from everbright lanterns near each of the doors. Hitching stands for horses were lined up in front of the manor house, along with a trough filled with water. But the ranch was devoid of any horses or cattle. It was still, with only the barest whistling of the breeze through the grass and open barn,

The group sat on their horses and looked at the ranch with unease and then at each other with confusion and trepidation.

“Where is everyone?” Sage asked. “I would have thought we would have been seen and greeted by now.”

“It is too quiet citizen,” The Blade said frowning. “But the fires are lit, we should find someone here.”

“Let me look around first,” Rosa said, sliding down from her magebred pony. She walked forward in front of the horses for a number of paces before stopping.

“You should stay…” The Blade started to say, but his voice faded. As he watched, Rosa started to grow, her shoulder and hips broadening. She shifted her stance to accommodate it, and then she fell gently forward, as her hand sprouted claws and then deep brown fur. The fur then spread across her, enveloping her clothing and gear. Her face elongated, and her ears shifted upwards along her skull. She opened her mouth and gave a noise that was between a growl or a grunt, her jaws now filled with larger teeth. Then the bear started to move quietly towards the bunk houses.

“…Or you could do that.” The Blade said as he rested the length of his bow crosswise across the saddle and waited.

Rosa ambled into the center yard and moved towards the bunkhouses. She sniffed the air cautiously as she approached. The scent of burning pine was strong, as was straw and grass and something musky in the air. But ahead she smelled nothing else; no person, no horse, no cattle. Rosa could only make a grunting sound, as she approached the closest bunkhouse. She moved to a window and then raised herself upright, using her forepaws for balance and looked inside.

Through the dirty windows, she could see eight bunks a large table, with some chairs. Around the bunks were pots with plants, their shoots dry, dead and listless. A table with mugs and plates set, with some stools around it, while a fire blazed against one wall. But it was empty of any person or even so much as a cat.

Rosa looked and blinked squinting. She resumed smelling the air, and beyond the smells before, there was no scent and no sign of any person in the bunkhouse. Suddenly, she heard in her ear a sound…louder than a whisper, but it still echoed in her head.

“Rosa, this is Bookshelf. Do you see anything? You can reply to this message.”

Rosa made a grunt, and then with some effort thought back to the dweomer in her head, “No darling. No one is here. Only a lit fire. Come up to the main house.” And Rosa turned towards the two-story structure, and again stood up looking inside a window, next to the front door. She saw through the somewhat cleaner glass, that the fireplace was a blaze here too, near a long trestle table and benches. A stair way led upwards to the second floor, while a hallway wrapped around the side and headed towards the back. Again, her nose told her almost the same story as before; smoke, musk but here there was also the distant scent of pine tar in the air.

Still standing, Rosa began to shrink, and her hair and claws receded back into her body. She scratched her ears, freeing loose fur away as she returned to her halfling self and waited. Soon the others rode up and dismounted from their horses, tying them to the stand. She turned to look at them shaking her head, “I don’t smell anyone; just things related to plants and smoke.”

“Wut idiot lights fire and leaves,” the taciturn Mobad said, his axe in hard as he suspiciously looked around, sniffing the air as if to confirm Rosa’s investigation.

“Some one afraid,” Bookshelf said also looking around.

“If that were true, I should have smelled someone,” Rosa said shaking her head.
“Let’s search the house. Perhaps there is a clue inside,” The Blade stated. Mobad didn’t need any encouragement and lifted the latch and pushed the door open with his massive shoulder. He then moved inside, keeping his knees bent, and his back hunched over, as if ready to take arms against the furniture.

The rest stepped inside, and they too could smell the smokey pine. But no one was cooking, and the light amount of dust on the floor and tables, made the place look unattended, despite the fire on the hearth.

“Mobad, Bookshelf, head upstairs,” The Blade commanded. “Doxx and Rosa, check towards the kitchen. Sage, follow me.” The group looked at The Blade and collectively shrugged and followed the suggestions.

Rosa and Doxx, moved to the left, and passed the table and benched and entered the kitchen area. Doxx swept a finger across a butcher block, pulling up more dust. Despite the fire being lit, there was neither a kettle or pot on it for an evening meal. And looking around, there was no sign of any cooking. No bread was present in the nearby baskets, and no plates were in an empty tub that was likely used for washing. Above them, they could hear the heavy steps of the orc and the warforged as they examined the second floor. But Rosa and Doxx could only look at each other in bafflement.

Meanwhile, The Blade and Sage made their way to the left around the stairs, passing by large cabinets. About halfway down they came to a small hoist that stood above a door in the floor. The Blade bent down and looked at it closely, as Sage took a couple more steps down the hall. The Blade looked around at the dust on the floor, and then noticed that the door itself was clear of it. “Sage, someone has used this door,” The Blade said.

Sage turned and looked over the The Blades’ shoulder. “Indeed. Perhaps they are below.” Nudging the elf out of his way, the warforged used his armblade to lift open the trap door. From below, the strong smell of musk filled the air as they both peered into the darkness.
Just beforehand, Bookshelf and Mobad made their way up the stairs. As they did so, Bookshelf opened a panel on his chest, and pulled out a brass globe, which then emitted a warm yellow light. He tossed the globe up and with a finger gesture, pointed ahead of them. The globe obediently surged forward, shedding light in the darkened floor. The pair climbed the stairs to the landing and looked around. From the landing were three openings to different rooms. As they stepped forward on the wooden planks suddenly Bookshelf put a hand on Mobad’s shoulder. Mobad turned in confusion, as the warforged, put a thick finger to his jaw, and pointed ahead towards the ceiling.

Mobad held his breath and followed where Bookshelf was pointing. There on the ceiling was a panel that led upwards into the attic space. But as he looked, he heard scraping on wood, and a faint amount of dust fell from a crack in the slats above. Mobad nodded and moved ahead and stood just beneath the panel.

Rosa, started to investigate the kitchen further. Something nagged at her as she looked around. After several moments, she whirled and looked around. It wasn’t that bread was missing; there was no food at all to be seen. Barrels nearby that would have contained roots or vegetables were empty. There was no sign of cheese. Opening cuboards it was apparent that the pantry was empty of any food at all.

Doxx in the meantime, rounded the staircase and saw that Sage had lifted open a trapdoor and he and The Blade were peering down below.
“What do you see?” Sage asked the elf.

“Shelves and some barrels. But not the entire cellar; too many things in the way.”
Doxx shrugged, as they walked towards the pair. As he did so, he saw that one of the doors to the large armoire like cabinets was slightly open. He reached towards it and pulled the door aside.

Mobad, leaned his axe against the wall and looked up. Giving himself a three count, he lept upwards, knocking aside the panel with his head, and caught the edge of the hole with his forearms. As his eyes adjusted to the sudden darkness, he saw a girl. She had brown hair, set into a messy ponytail, and her face was streaked in pine tar. Her blue eyes bore into the orc, as her the look on her face changed from fear to hate.

As Doxx started to move the door aside, he was struck as both doors broke away from the cabinet, followed by two other cabinets doing the same. From the dark interior, four arms stinking of musk and rot surged forward towards Doxx, as they tried to grab him by the neck.

Mobad blinked in surprise, as the girl surged forward, with a feral snarl on her lips, and the orc bellowed in pain as the girl’s, dagger sank deep into his shoulder, causing him to roar.
A startled Bookshelf whirled around, as he the saw figures, rushing on all fours, from the rooms around them on the second floor. The smell of death and musk strong on them and as they dash towards the warforged and the orc in the ceiling, it was all that Bookshelf could do to shout:

“AMBUSH!”
 

Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise

The Conflagration of Home and Hearth - 2/15/2021​


Mobad came crashing down onto the floor, but quickly rolled and with his great axe swung it at one of the encroaching figures scrambling towards Bookshelf. The axe bit deeply into the back of the musky corpse, causing it to stop. It twisted around and leapt at Mobad, staring with rotten dead eyes. Three others, swarmed towards the orc, each one’s boney claw like fingers trying to rend Mobad’s grey skin.
Downstairs, Doxx swung his staff, landing a series of blows against one of his opponents, and cracked its skull. But heedless of the damage, the corpses pushed the woman backwards. Sage swung his armblade, igniting it with green flame and searing the stinking rotten flesh on both the corpses. But they clung onto Doxx, and quickly pushed him over the open trap door, and then all three tumbled down into the darkness below.

“Doxx!” Rosa yelled as she ran forward in an attempt to grasp the falling woman. But her fingers grasped nothing but air as they fell. She looked at Sage and The Blade, her face aghast.

“Stand back citizen,” The Blade yelled, and pulling his bow out he deftly swung into the darkness with a hand on the trapdoor’s edge to assist him in his descent. Sage however, simply shrugged and stepped forward, and ropped down into the hole Rosa heard the resulting cracking and splintering of flagstone below in the black depths.

Mobad swung his axe around trying to cleave his foes into pieces, when he heard the sounds of an incantation. Suddenly he found himself surrounded with ice and rime, that struck the dead men. Their limbs cracked and snapped as bone shattered in the sudden frost, and he took advantage in the change, swinging his axe and smashing the skull of another corpse, the broad flat side, causing its skull to crumple.
Sage saw little beyond the faint light from above. But he quickly ignited his armblade, sought out a target. The green flames illuminated the woman, who’s fists, and knees connected with the ribs of the corpses clawing at her. Sage then swung quickly, cutting across the spines of the scrambling dead. They twitched, and Doxx crawled out from under them and stood, breathing heavily.

The Blade needed no light and shot the corpses at close range. One of his arrows struck so hard, that it pulled the corpse to the wall, and hung it in a grotesque display. Turning he shot at another corpse, who only paused a brief moment before continuing to stumble forward.
“Thanks for dropping in,” Doxx said dusting themselves off. The juggernaut nodded, and the pair turned to look around. Crates of wood, shelves, barrels and broken furniture were littered around the room. Doxx squinted and wrinkled his nose. The cloying sent of musk was strong in the room, causing them to cover their mouth and nose with the front of their cloak. Then as the sound of a distant impact and yells echoed above, they heard the slow scraping of leather on stone far closer to them.

Looking around, Sage saw shadows in the darkness, making their way to their feet, and slowly shuffling towards them. Sage raised his shield in preparation and said grimly, “However, we aren’t alone.”

The Blade fired another quick volley of arrows, and they struck another corpse, causing it to stumble and fall to the floor. But it had barely rested there a moment, before it started to climb back upright. “Yes, and they aren’t getting the message to stay down,” The Blade muttered, and nocked another arrow.

Bookshelf squinted as the white snow drifted down from the ceiling. Mobad brought down his axes blade down on the back of another corpse, cleaving through bone all the way to the floor. Ripping it away, wood splinters flew everywhere, and he quickly swung and connected with another trying to claw at him madly. To his surprise, two of Mobad crushed foes were struggling to rise. From behind the warforged, he heard a noise and he whirled around and saw more bodies scrambling from another room straight at the warforged. Bookshelf backpedaled towards Mobad when he heard another noise near the orc.

From the ceiling a filthy young girl dropped from hole above. Her long hair streamed behind her, covered in a mixture of tar and dirt. He wasn’t familiar with the ages of humans, but this one wasn’t a child, and might have been in what was…early teens? She ran with nothing more but stained rages, and a dagger covered in blood. Mobad’s most likely.

“Interesting,” Bookshelf said, and they started an incantation. He focused on the magic and created null spaces around the orc, his driftglobe, himself, and then on a whim the girl. The then tilted his head, and muttered, “Perhaps ice alone does not suffice.” In Bookshelf’s open palm a bead of light appeared and then blossomed into gout of flame engulfing the floor.

Rosa, felt the rush of heated air pushed down the stairs, causing her hair to whip around furiously. Tearing her eyes from below, where the Juggernaut and the old woman stood now back-to-back, while The Blade circled around them, taking shots in the darkness. Then she saw to her surprise a young human teen running down the stairs, holding only a bloody dagger in her hand. Flames chased and licked at her unable to set her or her things ablaze. Rosa, stood up and ran towards her, as the girl made for the front door, when she saw motion outside the windows flanking it. Rosa yelled at the girl helplessly, “Don’t open the door!"

The girl if she heard, gave no indication and simply ran toward the door in desperation as the flames surrounding her fell away. She grasped the knob to the door, turned it, and flung the door open. She backed away quicky and screamed as; another half dozen figures streamed inside slowly, bottling each other up as they forced their way through the open door. The girl shivered in fear, and held her dagger close, when she heard a thunderous roar. Turning she saw a great brown bear, lumbering forward and placing itself between the girl and the pack of bodies squeezing through the now door.

“What’s going on upstairs?” Doxx said, hearing the distant roar.

“Rosa has found a problem and is dealing with it in her own way,” Sage remarked.

“Its more than that; I think Bookshelf cast a spell based on the sound,” The Blade said, loosing an arrow and nocking another.

“That’s nice. What about…about…us?” Doxx said in a dreamy voice. Sage turned to glance at the woman in alarm, and saw her stumble falteringly, towards a corner of the room, cluttered with debris and crates. As he watched, he was surprised to see the corpses ignore Doxx as they stumbled past them.

“Doxx! Get back here citizen!” The Blade barked, but made no moves to block the old woman’s effort.
The Juggernaut spent no more time thinking about the problem, and lunged at a pair of close figures, igniting his armblade once again. The sizzling sound of flesh against fiery steel, and the dull crack of bone were the grim reward for his attack, causing one to fall, and the second to stumble. Glancing over his shoulder he watched as Doxx stumbled towards the corner, seemingly unconcerned with the throng of musky corpses around trying to kill them. Or at least only Sage for now as The Blade kept his distance and used his mobility to stay away from their clumsy foes.

Doxx blinked and stumbled towards the sweet musky odor that pervaded the air. As their eyes got used to the dim light, they could make out a mass of roots and vines in the corner. It’s glistening dark green leaves dripped with oil and slime onto the floor. As they approached, a vine moved, and the tip unfurled into a sickly yellow flower, with spots of brown. As it opened, the smell of musk engulphed him in a cocoon of love. The flower reached forwards and Doxx could only briefly acknowledge the pain that coursed through his mind as he stared helplessly at the blossom that beckoned him forward.

Mobad opened his eyes and saw the bodies around him were scoured of their flesh, leaving only charred bones behind. Confused he glanced down at himself and saw no signs of burns or soot. Tuning to look at Bookshelf, they appeared nonchalant as the fire on its palm died away. But as it did the flames caught on the wooden rafters and walls. Grunting again, he knew that there was little time before the beams would burn away and the roof would collapse down upon them.

“Neat trick, choosing not to burn,” the orc grunted, looking around for another opponent. “Where’s the girl?” he asked, and Bookshelf pointed down the stairs disinterestedly. Mobad grimaced and spat, “Your work is bringing down the—”

A shriek cut off the orc, and he leapt downstairs, leading with his axe and colliding with another one of the wretched bodies. Standing again, he wasn’t terribly surprised to see a bear fending off more. What did surprise him, was the girl, rather than hide and cower had thrown herself at the corpses, tears streaking down her cheeks. Grasping the haft of his axe, he grinned and threw himself at the corpses as well with a fierce roar. While he didn’t care much for humans, this one had fire. Fire he could respect he thought as he hewed limb from bodies. Beside him, the bear bellowed and charged into the throng of corpses in a storm of claws and teeth. The bear tried to push the girl behind her, but the girl simply rolled beneath the bear’s legs and continued her assault against the corpses.

The roars of orc and bear stood in contrast to a high-pitched screaming. Sage didn’t understand what was happening above, but the situation around him was already a mess. And now black clouds of smoke were descending into the cellar, making breathing difficult and vision even poorer. His blade had cut through the last of the corpses, their charred remains now hacked into pieces, Sage turned to see what had occupied Doxx. Moving forward cautiously, he saw a flower with delicate filaments attached to the skull of the old woman. Shaking his head, he lifted up his armblade. From his forearm extended a trio of dragonshard crystals. Quickly they spun around and each one launched a brilliant white bolt of energy, each one striking the body of the sick plant that held Doxx in its thrall. In between each one, an arrow from The Blade’s bow also struck deep into the flesh of the plant. As each bolt and arrow struck, the vines and roots quivered, and finally the flower tore itself away from the woman, and it emitted a fresh blast of musky pollen into the air.

“What is this with the produce attacking us?” The Blade grumbled aloud.

Doxx stood there a moment, and then vigorously shook their head. Looking up they were taken aback by the giant plant that now slowly shambled forward towards them. Gritting her teeth, she grasped her staff in both hands and spun, striking the monstrous plant twice. It quivered, leaves and fronds trembling, when another burst of green flame cut and severed tendrils. Sage hacked and sawed at the plant; the smell of burned musk now mixed with the acrid smoke from above. Root and vine fell away and Doxx hit the center of the plant with their staff before finally punching twice more at the bulb in the center, causing the vines to collapse in limp heaps on the cellar floor.

“Thanks Sage, that musk made it hard to think,” Doxx said sounding disappointed in themselves.

“Its something foul indeed,” Sage said. “Perhaps Rosa can explain it. What’s going on—”

From the cellar entrance and the cracks in the boards above, the light of flame from, followed by the roaring sound of heated air. The three looked at each other and scrambled to the cellar trap door. Doxx quickly bounded and climbed out, as if they were decades younger. The Blade easily jumped and with a quick twist of his body, leapt out. Sage grumbled, and rumbled below the trapdoor, and with great effort heaved his bulk upwards, catching the edges of the door with his arms. Pulling himself up he groaned at what he saw.

Mobad was cleaving corpses, now covered in flames, as a Bookshelf calmly walked down the stairs, using a beam of frozen white light on another. Rosa was clearly the bear in the room and was finishing up mauling a corpse. However, he tilted his head in confusion at the whirlwind of a girl, crying and screaming with dagger in her hand.

“We need to leave!” The Blade yelled. “It’s going to collapse!”

Rosa gave out a giant roar, and lumbered through the doorway, followed by the warforged, the elf and the old woman. They stood outside looking at the conflagration, now consuming the house. Wood cracked and steamed, splintered in the heat, as the roof started to fall in upon itself. Just then, part of the wooden frame fell, collapsing the front doorway behind them.

“Where’s Mobad?” Rosa yelled, as the fur pulled back into her face and body as she returned to her normal size. Then came a rumbling from the second floor, as it collapsed. As it did so Mobad burst out of a window, with his great axe in front of him clearing the way, and over his shoulder, kicking and screaming the dirty girl. He ran from the disaster behind him and slowed and gently put the girl down on her feet.
The girl looked at them all with a dead eyed look, with tears still streaking down her face. She slowly turned around and looked at the house, as the four walls finally gave. And as they all watched, the structure folded in on itself, in a final gasp of flame and smoke. The girl sank to her knees and fell forward onto her hands, her body heaving.

“I’m…I’m…I’m sorry. Jeda. Kalin. Kester. Vern…all of you,” she said in between ragged breathes.

“Now little girl. Can you tell—” Doxx started to ask in a sweet grandmotherly voice.

“Shut up!” the girl spat. With effort she stood up and whirled to regard the party with a cold glare. Taking a deep breath, she spoke again.

“I am Adrissa Tannoch, and this is my Ranch. Who in Dolurrh are you?”
 
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Wilpower784

Smug Bladesinger
Aaaaand, we’re live!

Certainly an interesting batch of characters so far. I think my favorite new character so far is The Blade, for reasons I don’t think I need to explain. This whole ranch setup has been pretty cool so far. I enjoy the setup and the eventual chaos that erupts from the seemingly quiet environment. Overall, definitely a different feel from “Souls of Legend”, but right now I’m the most interested in how you’re going to be highlighting Myrai’s character in a more crowded adventure, and to what extent we will be exploring the others as well.
 

Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise
Overall, definitely a different feel from “Souls of Legend”,

It should have a different feel. JoTL in some ways was about family and finding yourself. That applied all around, and the Kershak certainly has that mafia style "You can never leave the family."

Thorns...well I think that it shares a lot of aspect of the horror genre. How much you will see soon, if I can finish my editing tonight.
 

Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise

Tales by the Houselight - 2/24/2021​


The group looked at each other awkwardly and then back at the girl standing before them. Her posture was a stark contrast to her appearance; matted brown hair, face streaked with dirt. Her clothing was torn, stained and now covered in soot. And while she stood there with only the slightest hint of a quiver in her nerves, her eyes bore into each of them, one by one.

“Now, little girl,” Doxx said, stepping towards Adrissa and smiling sweetly, “Where are your parents? We really need—”

“Don’t ‘little girl’ me,” Adrissa said flatly. “I want to know who you are. I want to know why you are here, and I want to know,” and she turned away and stared at the conflagration she had only moments before fled. “Who decided to burn down my…my…home,” she said her voice choking on the words as she stared into the flames.

Rosa bit her lip and then stepped towards the girl, “Honey, we were sent to...talk to your family because they thought there might be trouble.”

Adrissa nodded, “Trouble doesn’t even describe it.” She said, her voice quavering.

“What happened here?” Sage asked. “I take it you know the…corpses that attacked us.”

Adrissa looked down at the earth and sighed. “It started two months ago. It was a normal cold day, when the pots appeared.”

“Pots?” The Blade said thoroughly confused.

Adrissa nodded and continued, “Little clay pots, each with what looked to be a…what did mom call it?...a cutting. A yellow green plant with a flower ready to bloom. One for every bed in fact. My mom thought dad had arranged something, but at dinner he said he had no idea where they came from. That evening we all went to sleep…and the nightmare started.
“I woke up and the cutting had bloomed, and it was moving…reaching for me. I started screaming, and I woke my parents. My father grabbed an old sword he kept from the war and…hacked at the ones in the house and told us to run. We ran downstairs and out of the house. Outside, we found that some of the hands were…dead, and they were gathering some of the others together. I panicked and ran into the grass, while my mom and dad…stopped them from following me. Later I snuck my way back into the house, grabbed all the food I could and hid in the attic and…watched as they did things. And I saw their…leaders.”

“Leaders?” Bookshelf asked.

“They were small…but they were armed. Spears and bows, but the dead listened to them, used them to gather up the rest like our dogs guiding cattle,” Adrissa said choking at the irony. “I never saw one up close, and they hide in the grass real good. Then as the weather warmed, others came.

“What do you mean?” The Blade asked. “More little ones?”

“Yes…but they were…driving. Cattle. Sheep. People. Lots of them. They…they pushed them to the barn, and I heard people scream and they…faded away. And no one ever left.”

“And…your parents?” Rosa asked, her eyes watered expecting a grim answer.

“I didn’t see. They weren’t turned into those…corpse things. But I…I haven’t seen—” and she fell on her knees and hugged Rosa in tears, finally overcome by the ordeal.

Doxx looked at the cavernous barn and frowned. “A bunch of little folk with weapons pushed everyone into a single barn? This doesn’t make sense.”

“None of this does. We are missing something.” Bookshelf said quietly.

“Honey,” Rosa pulled back, and looked at Adrissa and clutched her hands. “There was another group. A woman and some Blademarks. Did you see them?”

Adrissa nodded, “Two weeks ago…I saw them.”




“Where is everyone,” I said. It was midday and we had dismounted from the horses and walked them to the large ranch house.

“Well, I would think the ranchers would be where the cattle are,” Wy said as he and I started tying our horses to the hitching stand. “But that isn’t here. Men, by twos check the bunk houses and report back.”

“Yes sir,” the Blademarks responded, and in pairs started to look at the bunk houses.
Wy nodded, and looked around. “Well, if it were ogres, they seem to be very neat. Nothing broken or smashed.”

I nodded and thought a moment.

Goss…what do you see and smell?

--About the same as you; too much time camping and not enough time to groom.

Goss…

--Ah right. Well, I don’t see anything more than you, but I do smell two things. A lot of a strong musky smell…and I smell wet…mold? No idea why.


“Can’t you just talk to him out loud?” Wy said smiling at me.

I chuckled, “And what? Look like I’m talking to myself all the time?”

“That’s just means that you are your own best friend. What did he say?”

“Musk and mold scents…not sure what that means.” I said as I squinted in the window. It must have been dark inside, but with my eyes I didn’t see people or anything. “It looks like no one is home here.”

“That is odd,” Wy said looking around again confused. “I would have expected someone to be here; the wife, children, to be doing things around the house. Some hands in the barn working on tack, fixing things. This is all…wrong.”

I stepped away from the house and used my hands to shield my eyes from the light, and took my own look around. I had a strange sensation though, nagging at me. I looked at the house behind me. But I saw nothing on the upper floor, only the creaking around the eves near the roof.”

“Sir, the bunk houses are empty, but there are a lot of tracks leading toward the barn.” Said Tiggart, a silver Blademark. Wy and I looked at each other and shrugged.

Goss…keep an eye out. This is all wrong still.

--Of course.


We walked over to the barn cautiously, and it became apparent that we were misled. The barn was farther from the house than we thought. The perspective I had was off for a simple reason; the barn was massive. It was far taller than the ranch house as two of them would easily fit inside the mammoth structure. The barn doors were wide open, and I could see empty stalls with straw bedding. We walked up to the edge of the wood planks and looked around, and seeing nothing obvious, we stepped inside.




“I swore the woman looked right at me,” Adrissa said. “But I didn’t say anything. I was scared to. I knew that the yellow corpses hid under beds and cabinets when they weren’t needed.” Sighing a moment she looked at the others with tears in her eyes. “I watched the seven of them—”

“—Seven?” Doxx interrupted.

“Seven. Six people and that strange cat,” the girl answered.

“Strange? How?” Sage asked.

“It…had wings. I’ve never seen a winged cat before.”

“That’s silly,” Doxx said dismissively. “There isn’t such a thing.”

“I saw what I saw,” the girl said, anger creeping into her voice.

“Its just a barn,” Mobad muttered, looking around.

“We are missing something,” The Blade muttered, as he nocked an arrow. Frowning he looked around slowly, when his eyes settled on the hitching stands. “Hold it. Didn’t we tie up the horses?”

“Of course we did,” said Rosa, who was once again embracing the girl.

“Then, where are they?” The Blade asked, his eyes looking over the ranch compound. As the group looked around, it was obvious, the horses were no longer tied and were nowhere to be seen.

“They must have been scared by the fire,” Doxx guessed.

But Mobad leaned down and looked at the ground. Frowning he shook his head. “No. They did not gallop. They walk…no, they were led. Small tracks between hooves. Not familiar with them.”

Adrissa wiped her nose. “The little ones led animals to the barn.”

“What? We were fighting inside, and they just walk off with our mounts?” Doxx exclaimed.

“You are catching on citizen!” The Blade beamed.

Doxx glared at the elf, “It’s ridiculous.” At that moment, the sounds of neighing came from the barn.

“It seems that the old woman’s senses aren’t very sharp,” Bookshelf commented.

Doxx ignored the jab. “Well, I’m not walking back to Denning, Let’s get them and start riding back tonight.”

“Miss Tannoch,” The Blade said, “Do you have a weapon?” She nodded and pointed at the dagger belted at her waist.

“She shouldn’t be carrying that,” Doxx said condescendingly. “Give that to me.” And he reached for it. As he did so, she backed up and drew it and glared at the old woman.

“She knows how to use it,” Mobad observed, grinning as he rubbed his shoulder.

“She shouldn’t have a dagger,” Doxx said.

“You’re right,” agreed The Blade. He moved over to Sage and took a hatchet that was strapped on the outside of his pack. He then walked over and holding its head, he pointed the handle towards the girl. “She needs a backup weapon as well.” Adrissa looked at the masked elf in surprise and took the handle.

“That’s not what I meant,” Doxx said with disapproval.

“She has been surviving here for months with only a dagger, an axe will make her twice as effective,” The Blade said confidently.

“I’d rather a bow,” Adrissa said sadly.

“I’ll keep an eye out Miss Tannoch,” The Blade replied. “Let’s get our horses.”

Then in the darkness above, a heavy rain started to drench everyone and causing a large cloud of steam to erupt from the burning house. Eager to find shelter and equally eager to leave, the group jogged over to the barn. The huge structure had no light at all, and to many in the group, all they could see was darkness. But to the Blade, he saw something in the middle of the barn.

“The horses are in a circle, noses inwards,” he said confused.

“More than that…they are tied to something,” Adrissa said.

The Blade looked at her surprised, “Your eyes are sharp.”

Adrissa shrugged. “If you want to hunt at night, you need good eyes,” she said simply.

They continued forward, until all of them entered the barn. It was easily the equivalent of a four-story house, with rafters and ledges on the inside stacked with bales of hay. The sides had stalls for horses, and bedding but all appeared empty. Mobad pushed his way through the horses, and quickly he saw why they were all nose to nose in a circle.

In the center, the reins of all the horses were tied together in a knot of leather and what looked to be rough twine. But the knot was pierced by a spear, embedded deep into the wooden floor, and fixing the horses to that point. “Someone spiked a spear here, forcing the horses to stay,” the orc muttered. Looking closer at the horses, he realized that something else was wrong. “They aren’t acting right either.” He pushed a horse, and it simply stood its ground and didn’t even glance at the hulking figure. “I think they have been given something.”

Rosa pushed her way to her pony, and grasped it by the halter. She pulled its head to level with her head, and looked it in the eye. “Mobad you are right, I think they have been fed something.”

In the darkness behind them, they heard a noise. It sounded like a rattle, with wood bouncing off of loose wood. Then they heard another rattle. And another. Turning around, they saw at the entrance a score of small humanoid figures. Ten of them held bows, and in front of them, another ten had spears and shields made of leather stretched around a wooden frame. Each shield had a number of strings that ended in what looked to be pieces of bleached wood. Each one shook, causing the wood to bang against the shields wooden rim, creating the sound.

Rosa turned away from the horse and stepped towards the small figures. As she looked at the shields and the figures, she realized that it wasn’t wood on the strings, but bones.

“I think we have a problem,” Rosa said.




“You think Wy?” I said. The humanoid figures rattled their shields faster, and then I realized that the sound wasn’t just echoing around us. Looking upwards, I saw more figures; some with shields and spears, and some with bows.

“Men,” Wy commanded. “ Form a line and, keep the shields up. We’ll have to push our way out, and get our backs to the wall. Myr keep your shield up and face the rear and keep your eyes upwards. Warn us if you can if they start to shoot.”

I nodded, and appreciated Wy taking charge. I didn’t know what these things were, but I didn’t want to be pierced by a dozen arrows either. Looking above there must have been another dozen of the thing looking down at us. Beyond the rattles, I could only just hear hissing from their mouths.

“Ok, lets start pushing for—” Wyn started to say when we all heard a loud crack, and could feel the floor vibrate as something scraped the wood beneath us.

“What in the—” Wy started.




“I don’t know,” Sage said kneeling down and feeling the vibrations in the wood.

“We should charge now,” Mobad said a grin creeping across his face.

“I don’t think that’s a good—” Bookshelf started, when everyone felt a sharp jostling from the floor and a sudden shift downwards. “—idea.” Suddenly, the strange figures stopped shaking their shields, and in response the floor gave way and the group, tumbled down into the darkness, amid screams of terror and the squeal of horses.

Session notes:

Now, you might have picked up a clue here that there were some cinematic inspirations here. There are actually two different major ones (and homages spread around here and there). Adrissa in the attic is pretty blatant. But the other one...well we need a bit more before the influence of that book (And subsequent movie) becomes clear.
 
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Wilpower784

Smug Bladesinger
I’m really liking the two different perspectives. Helps give a better grasp of the the world outside the lens of just one party group.
 

Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise

The Pits of Progeny - 3/5/2021​



Doxx didn’t think, they leapt towards the horse stalls. Landing on the wooden floor on their stomach, he quickly rolled and righted himself to see what had happened. Where the floor once stood, it now had pitched downwards, and they could just see the others tumble down into the darkness, chasing after the screaming horses that too slid downwards. As he stood there, the sounds of bow twangs sounded. Catching an arrow in a hand he dropped it and saw only two real options. Gritting their teeth, Doxx jumped down into the now open slide. Landing on the mud feet first, they kept their balance and slide down chasing after the others.

Farther down, Sage slid on his back in the darkness on slippery, muddy earth as they continued deep into the earth. It curved and spiraled, and the juggernaught struggled to find their footing or balance. Around him the others we rolling and twisting as well, and near by he could hear the sounds of the panicked horses. As the slide started to straighten out, he finally was able to right himself, and place his shield in front him. Reaching out he tried to grab the closest person he could find.

His hands grasped something, and he realized he had grasped the halfling Rosa. Pulling her close, he placed the woman behind the shield, and on top of his arm. He then reached out again and grasped a thick arm that felt like orc Mobad.

“Grab on to me, and get the others,” Sage shouted, and as he held on the orc, he leaned forward and pressed the edge of his shield into the mud and used it to slow their descent. Looking over the edge as the mud sprayed everywhere, he saw flickering orange lights ahead. Glancing behind him, he could just make out in the darkness the others were grasping onto Mobad and were no longer tumbling freely. Glancing forward, he saw that the horses had suddenly stopped.

“Hang on! This will—” and his shield slammed into a body, with the sounds of broken bone and screaming horses, and the spray of warm blood over his shield. It took all of his strength not to crush Rosa between his barrier and himself, with all the weight of the others pressing down on him, as the pile finally stopped at the bottom of the slide.

Rosa was first to emerge from the pile and she simply said, “Oh dear.” The horses had all tumbled down, and found themselves wedged on a barrier of sharpened spikes. They pawed with their hooves, slowly as their lifeblood poured out on the muddy earth, their pained neighs fading fast. But while her heart broke to see the animals die this way, her attention was occupied with what lay just beyond.

A great door, that seemed to be made of woven wood fibers, about six paces wide. And twice the height of the warforged. Near the tops of the door, were brackets that held torches, next to a small landing with an opening just shorter than Rosa herself. The door itself seem to be set into dark granite, and not earth. In fact, as she turned around, the walls and ceiling were all rock, and only the steep slide was made of mud. As she turned, she then saw Doxx, who balancing on two feet slid down and stopped just short of the group’s pile as they slowly stood up to look around.

“Where are we?” Rosa asked herself aloud.

“Underground, by at least a hundred feet,” Bookshelf said calmly, pulling out their driftglobe and setting it alight.

Rosa turned with a grimace, “Underground. Never would have guessed.”

“The depth is more interesting,” The Blade said pulling out an arrow and nocking it. “This is a bit of construction, and it isn’t completely natural; it was carved somehow.”

“The little things did this?” Mobad said shaking his head, and helping Adrissa to stand, while he looked around for his great axe. “They really small.”

“That could mean there are a lot of them. Or there are other bigger ones.” Sage said, refastening his armblade onto his right hand.

“My dad said that the hills had a lot of caves,” Adrissa said in awe as she looked around. “ One of them was supposedly equipped as a shelter during the war, in case it came up here. I saw the entrance once, but I was told there was a door and it was locked. Never did find out where my dad hid that key, and I never entered it.”

“Fear like that is to keep you safe dear,” Doxx said sweetly smiling.

“I wasn’t afraid,” Adrissa said glaring at the old woman. “There isn’t much point in going someplace if you can’t open it. Besides,” and she turned away from Doxx, “I was busy hunting.” She then saw the dying horses on the ground and said sadly, “I guess they saved us.”

Rosa nodded and stepped up to the barrier that the horses had collided into. It appeared to be a series of larger thorns, that wasn’t just set in the ground, but had seemingly grown from it. Its wood was a dark, almost black color, and it twisted and coiled around like ivy around an invisible column on its side. It reminded her of tales that she had heard other druids tell, and she muttered aloud, “It’s like something out of the Gloaming…”

“What’s ‘the Gloaming’ ?” asked The Blade, unfamiliar with the term.

“It’s an area deep in the Eldeen Forest,” Rosa replied. “It’s a manifest zone with Mabar, and dark things grow and die there. One of the sects consider it sacred ground. But I’ve never been there. Just heard stories.”

“Well citizens,” The Blade said. “We are about to become stories, if those things open that door, and charge at us.”

“How do we open it?” Bookshelf asked looking it over.

“We could boost Rosa into those openings above, and she could—”

“I am not going to—” Rosa started.

“You’re right. We will send Ms. Tannoch instead—”

“You are not sending a little girl—” Doxx said angrily, wagging a finger at the masked elf.

“I can do it,” Adrissa said ignoring the old woman.

“You really should ask first Blade…sorry The Blade. That is awkward to say you realize?” Sage commented.

“It would be faster so the girl can find her dead parents,” Bookshelf said, earning him a cold glare from Adrissa.

As they were talking, Mobad moved over to the door and hand his hand over the thick weave. Frowning, he stuck part of his axe into the fibers, and then he pushed straight against the door, and to his surprise, it pushed open.

“Hey. It not barred.” He grunted, and the others went silent. After pushing a moment, he made an opening wide enough for all of them to pass, and he stepped forward. What he found was a tunnel. It seemed to be partially a natural cavern, but the floor and some of the walls showed signs of being worked. On the opposite wall, a hallway extended deeper and curved to the left, and on the walls, about halfling height, were lit torches. But the room itself was full of strange objects. Mobad took no interest in them and moved to the hallway and peered down it.

Bookshelf moved to one of the objects and tilted their head in curiosity. They were in the shape of a cylinder, with three or four bands of tough ridged wood or hardened fibers while about five or six poles were set lengthwise. Each of the poles was pierced with holes throughout the length and at different angles. Looking around they saw on the walls were pegs on which hung coils of rough twine. Most of the objects were as tall as person, but there were others smaller, and others that were much larger.

“These look familiar,” Bookshelf said simply.

“Looks like barrels missing their staves on the sides,” Doxx said scrunching up their face.

Bookshelf nodded a second and then straightened up. “No…not barrels. They remind me of gibbets “

“What's a gibbet?” Adrissa asked confused.

“A cage,” Rosa said quietly.

“For…what?” Adrissa pressed confused.

Rosa swallowed. “People.”




I remember falling, twisting and sliding with Wy and the rest of the Blademarks. I saw earth give way to rock as we tumbled down together. I finally rolled onto my shield, and laid on it, and used it to ride down the muddy slide. My other hand was busy wiping away the mud that kept spraying into my eyes as I tried to see ahead. The tunnel twisted and spun us downwards, until I finally saw it open up into a chamber ahead. I was about to breathe a sigh of relief when I heard Gossamer in my head.

--There’s a row of sharp stuff ahead of you Myr!

“Spikes ahead, brace your—” I started to shout, when I slammed into the barricade, and I hit my head on some of the hard wood and everything faded away.

I could then feel the pounding in my head, and a sharp pain in my right side. My body felt broken and beaten as I took shallow, painful, breathes. I wanted to rub my head and make the pain settle down, when I realized I couldn’t move. I opened my eyes and I saw rock, and just on the periphery of my vision, I saw slats. I was on my back staring upwards. I tried to lift my head, but I found that it was bound to what felt like a pair of poles, with rope or something around my forehead and another piece around my throat. My arms and legs seemed to be similarly bound around the ankles wrists, elbows and knees, but since I couldn’t move my head I couldn’t see. I lay there, and decided I needed another perspective.

Goss you there?

--Yes! I’m hiding right now.

Can you see me?

--Yes I can.

Ok look around me a bit.


I then in my mind pulled a small light strand from my eyes and cast it out to where Gossamer was, and I stared at my predicament.

I was naked lying down in a wooden cage of sorts, my limbs and head were bound fast against the ribs of wood that ran length wise. I could see I was bruised and I had several puncture wounds. Next to me I saw Wy, bound much the same in a different cage. But off the others I saw no sign. Nearby, out of reach I saw a pair of baskets, where Wy’s and my things seemed to be stashed. And of course, we weren’t alone.

In the room I saw about ten short humanoid looking things. I could smell a damp moldy smell coming from them, and they had a pallor between grey and blue. Half of them had spears and shields, while the others had bows. They said nothing, and their gray green eyes stared at myself and Wy, but none of them looked at Gossamer, who appeared to be hiding on a ramp that led into the room, while a passage led elsewhere, and a large door made of thick fibers was closed nearby. I also saw a number of the cages of different sizes scattered in the room.

I sighed, and continued to talk to Gossamer. Where are the others?

--Um…another one they put into a cage and carried him off. The other three…they didn’t make it

“Wy? You awake?” I said quietly.

“Myr you’re here? Thank the sovereigns!” I heard the man said relieved. Our captors didn’t move or say anything in response to our talking. “Are you hurt?”

“I’ve felt better…but like you I can’t move. At least one other person was in a cage, and the rest…might not have made it. I’m…I’m sorry Wy.” I said choking back a tear.

“I know…I could barely see them as they carried off Tiggart in a cage. The rest…damn these things!

I wanted to console him better; with an embrace or something. But I could barely nod in agreement. “I’ll say a prayer for their souls, but I want to know what these things are, and what they want.”

“I have no---wait; some are coming.”

I cast my strand out again to Gossamer, and looked. I saw about another dozen enter the room, carrying long, thick poles. Six of them approached each of the cages, and threaded the rods through the cages framework, and then they lifted us. They slowly carried our cages towards the hallway.

--I don’t think I can follow you safely.

Its ok…I’m going to hide you.
And I pulled the strand with Gossamer attached to it, until the familiar was then a ball of light next the bundle of strands within me.

“Where are they taken us?” I asked Wyn.

“I don’t know…but I expect questions; they could have killed us.”

“I guess, but I saw there were a number of other cages laying here. Seems they ask a lot of them.”

“You don’t sound confident about that Myr.”

“The last time I saw a cage like this…it wasn’t a great day for the person inside.”




“You aren’t serious,” Doxx said. “Why would these things need cages?”

“They use cages like this in Graywall,” Mobad snorted. “Usually, to let stupid folk die in.”

“We should move on before—” and the The Blade cut himself off and pointed towards the hallway. Down the dark passage was visible a flickering light, moving down the hall. The elf quickly moved to the edge of the room and peered around the corner down the passage. There he spotted a pair of the little creatures. One carried a torch, and the second carried a small bundle. As they made their way down the hall, the first one pulled a sputtering torch off the wall, and dropped it to the ground. They then took another from their partner, and stuck it into the sconce, and lit the new one. Then they moved on down to the next one in line.

The Blade pulled back the arrow nocked on the string and waited. The pair moved closer one torch at a time. He then heard a soft noise, and realized that the girl was next to him, with dagger and axe at the ready. He looked down and made a soft hiss, grabbing her attention, as he shook his head. He then turned to look at the pair down the hall and held his breath.

The pair had halted their journey between two scones, and were looking straight at The Blade. They stared at the elf with two unblinking luminous pools of blue. The Blade pulled on his bowstring and was ready to loose an arrow, when the pair moved again. They moved to the last sconce on the wall, replaced the torch, lit it and then turned away. They slowly moved back down the passage, unhurried and unconcerned.

"What in the?" Adrissa asked aloud in a whisper.

“What are you two doing?” Rosa hissed, flattening themselves against the wall.

“I was about to shoot the pair…but they saw me.” The Blade said confused.

“And you forgot how to shoot?” Doxx exclaimed.

“No! They…well…Didn’t care,” The Blade finished.

“This reminds me of something they said about Warforged Titans,” Sage said.

“These aren’t titans,” Bookshelf pointed out.

“No. But Titans only follow orders they are given.” Sage replied.

“So…they are stupid, and not the Blade?” Doxx said annoyed.

“I don’t follow that.” The Blade commented. “But we might be able to walk out of here then. Let’s move.”

The group then started down the newly lit hall. As the travelled, they noticed that the floor was littered with stubs of torches against the walls, and a fine layer of ash covered everything.

“Not much for house cleaning,” Rosa said.

“This isn’t exactly a house,” Bookshelf noted.

“Keep moving,” Doxx retorted. “I want to get out of here.”

“More light ahead…I think it opens into a room,” Adrissa said grimly.

The band moved forward, and entered a large chamber, which was half natural and half worked. Larger braziers lit the room from the corners, but even their light did little to brighten it up. As their eyes grew accustomed to the dim light, they saw more of the small humanoids. There were four of them, each with a large wooden pole standing by a pit. The four pits each held a concoction of fluid, with a reddish crusty substance. The four, used their poles and stirred the liquid methodically and patiently. Across the room was another wickerlike door that closed off the room.

The four didn’t look up from their work, and continued their care of the organic stew, when Adrissa said, “What are they? And what are they doing?”

“I…might know, but I’ll need a closer look to be sure dear,” Rosa said quietly and with a note of concern on her voice.

“What? An introduction? This isn’t a social gathering,” The Blade pointed out.

“A corpse might be a better choice here,” Rosa said patiently.

“A…oh. That does make more sense. I like your thinking,” The Blade said with a small smile.

“One small problem,” Sage said.

“What’s that?” replied the Blade.

“They stopped stirring,” the Warforged finished.

The creatures had indeed stopped, and they looked at the group with unblinking pools. They said nothing, but nor did they turn to run, or move at all. They stood quietly watching and waiting.

Thump, thump, thump. One of them started to lift and pound his pole deep into the pit in front of him slowly and rhythmically. Then the second start to do the same, followed by the other pair. Now all four pounded their poles together in unison in the same slow pace. Then the pools began to move and churn. Froth began to form as the contents of the pit splashed over the edge of the pit.

Suddenly a hand burst forth from the pit closest to them. The wet slick hand was the same color as the little creatures stirring them. The hand grasped the side of the pit, and a massive form started to lift itself from the liquid. It looks similar to the smaller ones stirring, but It was easily the size of an ogre. As it pulled itself upright, more hands burst forth from the other pits, and three more humanoids began to pull themselves free of the russet colored muck, and they all turned to look at the stalwart band.

“Correction. Four large problems,” Sage said grimly as he prepared for battle.

Session notes:

I seem to remember a Prince Bride comment here, about the Pits of Despair. And a joke about how mounts never seem to survive many adventures.
 
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Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise

The Wailing Darkness - 3/16/2021​



I was stuck looking at the ceiling as my cage was paraded down through the depths. I could only see the stains of soot on the rock above and the occasional flicker of torchlight from the corners of my eyes. Not helping was the swaying movement of the cage as the creatures moved unevenly through the dimly lit caverns. The smell of wet mold still hung in the air, growing stronger for a while and then weaker as the passages twisted around.

Finally, I felt the creatures turn, and they shifted my cage so it stood upright, while I hung helplessly inside, my limbs still lashed to the wooden slats. The room held a dozen of the things and had a long table with broad stools next to it. On it I could see cutting instruments; scissors, hooked knives, and flensing tools. Nearby in open baskets, I could see our gear had been set down, far out of reach. Wy was set next to me, and next to him was Tiggard. The angle of my cage let me have a good look at the man, and I shivered in fear. He hung there twisting in his cage, his life’s blood spilling from a hole in his chest and spilling into a cache basin beneath his cage. I squirmed and struggled, trying to wrench my hands free from their bonds. But all I succeeded in doing was making the binding cut deeper into my skin.

As I struggled there, I saw on the floor, a pair of the creatures approach Wy and my cages. Standing below me, I saw that each of them carried a small sack, and they both motioned to another of their troop, who moved a pair of stools over to the cages. The one in front of me, stood up on the stool and then cocked its head. It then reached into the sack it carried and threw some type of powder into my face. The dust covered my nose and eyes, causing me to choke and my eyes water. Next to me the same thing happened to Wy.

I ‘stood’ there coughing and looked at my captors; half of them stared unblinkingly at me expectantly, while the rest stared at Wy. I coughed, and I felt my eyes watering, irritated by the dust. Next to me, I heard Wy grunt in pain, taking in air in sharp hisses.

Then, despite the tools of pain on the table, nothing happened. No questions, no demands, and no pain besides the burning in my throat and eyes. I don’t know how long we hung there; our breathing labored with the pain we felt. But after a while, the pair stood on the stools again, and I watched as one lean closer to my face. Angrily, I spit at the thing, striking it on the cheek. It stood there a moment, not even flinching when it suddenly reached towards my face with its sharp talons. My head, bound tight against the wood, couldn’t twist out of the way, and I blinked at their hands came close to touching my face. The creature backed up and made a gesture towards another of his fellows, and a pair ran out of the room.

“Myr…Myr…I can’t…I can’t s—“and my eyes turned to see that one of the creatures had stabbed Wy in the chest, in the same way Tiggard had been. I watched crying as I saw Wy’s life drain away, as his blood was exsanguinated from him and into the basin below. His last words fell into a hushed silence, as a I heard a quiet death rattle shook his form and tears of blood dripped from his eyes.

I renewed my struggle in my cage, knowing that my own death approached. My captors stood disinterested nearby, unconcerned with my pathetic attempts to escape. My wrists felt raw as I twisted them futilely as I tried to escape. I was making no progress and was tiring rapidly. It felt hopeless and was nearing despair when I heard something unexpected.

“This can’t be! You stupid vegepygmies must have done it wrong!” Into the room walked in a gnome woman, her hair pulled back into a pony tail,, dressed in a brown robe, and wearing an assortment of leather belts and straps. In her hands she carried a glass, framed in metal, with a cylinder of horn. She batted away the vegepygmy on the chair, and took its place. She placed a hand on my chest and leaned in close, her eyes locked with my own. As she leaned in, I saw that her brown eyes squinted looking me, but I saw that on the left side of her face was covered in an ugly tattoo, an oily black color, with streaks of purple and red streaked throughout.

“Interesting…they are right. And she…she is different. It hasn’t taken hold. Over a hundred tested and she is the first. This is bad…I must find a remedy.” She started to twist the glass around in her hands, adjusting something and ignoring me.

“Look, just let me go,” I said, looking for something to hook into, a sign of sympathy, a hope for compassion. But when she then spoke again, I found no comfort in her voice.

“Go?…no no no…you are too valuable to free just yet,” the glass glowed a bright purple now as she looked through it and examined my face. “Ah…you are like those shifters…no no more like that one Tiefling. Same kind of eyes, if a different in manifestation. Yet…yet…yours are stronger. Hardier. You are touched with stuff beyond the realm of Eberron. Syrianna? Davanni perhaps? Doesn’t matter. I can find where you are weak soon enough. I’m afraid you will have to live…for now.

“You dare taunt me with death; that’s isn’t your place” I said angrily.

“Hmm? Spoken like a true faithful adherent. Your faith must be strong then.” She said, cracking a smile of perfect gleaming white teeth. “But as someone who waits for the fullness of time…I think my faith is a bit stronger than yours if you seek to live.”

“Life? You don’t control that. And death? You have even less control of it,” I said, feeling like I was being tested..

The gnome smiled, “Well I guess we shall see whose faith is stronger.”




The Blade rolled to the right and loosed a pair of arrows at the closest monstrosity and both sank deep into the gray skin of the hulk. They stood almost as tall as the ogres, and they only made soft rasping sounds as they breathed. They did not bellow or scream. And nor did the one flinch at The Blade’s volley, as it shifted towards the elf, its gait more than enough to catch up with his pace. With a pair of slimy hands it swung, one of its fists swinging wildly, while the other connected with The Blade in the chest. The Blade wheezed, “Take care citizens, it certainly knows how to use its size to its advantage!”

Doxx then moved towards a second one pulling itself out of a pool. She then made a motion of pushing with both or her gnarled hands. There was a sound of the air rushing, and the hulk visibly quivered as its chest was blasted with an invisible blow. It staggered backwards and then fell backwards back into the pit it had just climbed out of. Doxx was about to move over to a third one, when she stopped and screeched, “What are you doing little girl?!?”

Adrissa’s teeth were clenched and her face was a tight knot of hate. She charged at the hulk who was focused on The Blade, screaming. Her speed was quick, and reaching her quarry she chopped ferociously with both her dagger and the hatchet, cutting deep gashes into the monstrosities’ leg. Fibers tore away, and a greenish red fluid sprayed over her as she continued to tear and rend.

“She doing FFINNNE!!” Mobad yelled, charging at the fourth hulk. But before he reached it, he swung and clove the nearby thumping Vegepygmie and its pole into two before swinging again and sinking his axe deep in the flank of the hulk. The hulk turned and swung striking the orc. But if Mobad was hurt, he gave no sign as he spat and prepared to strike again.

Doxx continued to shout, “She is going to get herself killed!”
“Perhaps after this fight we can have a proper dialog,” Sage Redoubt said, marching to stand beside Adrissa. As the juggernaut moved, the armblade again lit with green flames and he was rewarded with the smell of burning plant matter as the fire seared it. But with a quick motion of the armblade, the flames spread and engulfed the pygmy standing and still thumping its pole in the pit, causing it to fall over in a smoldering heap.

“Dying would solve many of her problems,” Bookshelf said calmly, as he flung a mote of fire into Mobad’s foe. “Might be for the best.”

“How can you say that?!” Rosa yelled at the warforged. She flicked a wrist and a vine of thorns extended and wrapped themselves around the hulk, tearing at it as she pulled the fibrous cord back. The hulk staggered and fell to the stone floor, its torso collapsing down into a heap.

The Blade pulled more arrows from his quiver and shot at Mobad’s opponent. Only one arrow found its mark as it disappeared deep within its torso. “That’s going to be a mess to get back,” muttered.

“You’re worried about an arrow? Not, “ Doxx said as the fourth hulk swung and missed the agile old woman, “—the fact that the girl is hacking at one,— ” And Doxx swung his staff with a resounding crack into its leg, “—Or that Bookcase thinks her dying is better?” and with a quick spin, used the other end of her staff to bludgeon it.

Mobad only grunted, as the hulk swung at the orc, and the orc seemingly was unaffected by the strikes. He simply smiled and swung twice, both times his axe found their mark and tore through it. The smell of burning wet plants pervaded the room now. Mobad was about the strike again when suddenly the fallen pygmy stood up again and leapt at the orc with a small wooden blade in hand. Mobad blinked in surprise and confusion at his once fallen foes’ attack, and he attempted to swat it aside..

Meanwhile the second hulk, had climbed back out of the slimy pit, and now charged at Doxx. But the old woman simply slapped away its attacks with her staff, much like a school teacher rapping the knuckles of a misbehaving student. But as she avoided her foes blows she saw that the crushed section of its chest was filling back out, as evidence of the damage began to fade. “This one is…healing I think?”

Sage quickly glanced around and quickly noted the common thread, “The ones that have been burned seem to stay weakened. More fire is in order.” And with Sage moved to strike at Doxx’s first hulk with his armblade, and letting the flames spread to his second opponent. The hulk twisted and swung, and a fibrous fist came down on the Juggernaut. Sage didn’t even flinch as it seemed to strike a barrier, leaving him unharmed.

“We probably should test that…” Bookshelf muttered as a ray of cold light left his hands and struck Mobads’ attacker. Frost and rime formed on it, and fibers flaked away, as slush like fluids spilled from the wound. “Frost is good too, And its BookSHELF not BookCASE.”

“Sirs, we should focus on the…DOXX!” Rosa yelled too late as the old woman was struck in the back, causing them to momentarily loose their footing. Rosa reached her hand and wisps of green light flew to the fallen woman, wrapping around them like vines. Doxx shook their head, and stood and again used her stick to shatter the wooden bones of the hulk.

“I agree. Several orders of fire are needed here.” The Blade said, running along the wall, while his arrows brought down the remaining Vegepygmies, and Mobad’s axe hew the legs out from under a hulk, causing it to collapse on the stone with a dull thump.

“Done,” and from Bookshelf, a small bead of light appeared, and he threw it into the midst of the melee. It erupted into blazingly hot flames, which seared the thin skins of the creatures. They didn’t yell or scream, they only made a hissing sound that grew quiet, as they all slumped to the ground unmoving. Almost everyone stopped their attacks and looked around at the piles of ash, and smoldering remains. And then almost everyone looked at themselves, to realize that there were unharmed by the blast itself.

All except the girl, whose hair smoked still from the wreath of flames, as she continued to hack at the fallen plant. Her face was streaked with tears and her pace at hacking and chopping had not even slowed. Suddenly she stopped and stood upright, her breathing still labored from the effort. She spat at the corpse and moved back towards Rosa. Her hands and arms trembled a bit, but as she walked, she gave Bookshelf a cold stare, but said nothing.

Mobad ran toward the door that led deeper into the complex and examined it. He quickly slid a beam a of wood in place, to hold it fast nodded. “We safe for now.”

“Safe? The cynical warforged would probably point out that safe means we’re dead—” Doxx started.

“—A reasonably accurate assessment—” Bookshelf started.

“—The little girl here was safer in her house, before the same warforged burned it down—”

“—It did kill most of the—” Bookshelf again tried to interject.

“—And for the rest of us, we are stuck here with how many more of these…these…things. At least Mobad thinks we’re safe. I feel better already.”

Mobad shook his head. “I could undo—”

“NO!” Several voices called out at once.

“Look Doxx, everything is relative in terms of safety my dear. Its safer in here than—” and she stopped and listened. In the distance beyond the door, came a wailing scream, that faded softly.”





My head hurt. I don’t know how long I have been hanging here and my eyes water all the time now. My limbs ache as I am surrounded, and poke and prodded by the little humanoids. They cut me for blood, and they throw more things in my eyes, and I cry. I don’t feel sorrow though. I am waiting, hoping, praying for something else.

A mistake.

Wy was cut out of his cage not long after they killed him. But they dutifully kept me alive. Food is stuffed into my jaw, and water is poured down my parched throat. It wasn’t much at all, scraps truth be told, I didn’t even know what it was I ate. Hanging from bonds, the fibers cut deeply into my arms and legs now, the dull pain a constant reminder of where I was. I must have been filthy at this point, and covered with cuts of blood, and soiled waste that ran down my legs. The only thing they cared about was I was alive; all for scrapes of blood and tears. And I think for the first time in a very long time, I wanted to sleep. To dream a familiar nightmare, rather than the waking one I found myself strapped into. So, I did the only things I could do; watch and wait.

I was never unattended. Six to twelve of the things seemed to be in the room constantly. They worked in pairs most frequently. One would cut and arm, the other would take my blood into a jar. Another pair would puff something on my face, and the other collected my tears. They didn’t however toy with me, or ask questions, or even say anything. They hissed occasionally, but that was all. But I knew there were more. At one point I heard a massive commotion, as many many countless feet scraped the floor, and the sounds of bone on wood rattled along. But after that, I could only hear and glimpse at the small group that watched me.

But I was patient; I was tired, but the strands didn’t leave me. Gossamer was safe and I could summon him at anytime. I had an idea if I could free an arm and even more if I could turn my head. You would have thought that getting an arm free would be the key, but my plan required me to see. And all I could see is that there was a wall four paces in front of me. And while I had something that could break me free, it was likely to kill me in my weakened state. But the last thing I needed was for someone to gag me or blindfold me. So no strands, no wings, nothing to change how they had secured me. I just needed time.

But time was running out, I was sure of it. And while I didn’t know exactly how long I was there, but I had a rough guess based on counting the only things I could for the passage of time. How often they fed me, and how often I soiled myself. It was something to keep my mind going, as I didn’t want to talk and annoy the things. I wasn’t sure it was possible but being gagged was a risk I couldn’t take.

So, it was my best guess that it was maybe ten days, before I saw the gnome again. I was tired and weakening. The food they gave me wasn’t enough to keep me alive really. Just alive for long enough. The gnome stared at me with a glass that made her eyes look huge. As I could not do anything but stare, I looked at the mark that surrounded half her face. Looking at it I saw it wasn’t a simple tattoo, or a birthmark. It was…alive I guess. The oily black boundaries, and the red vein like structures weren’t static; they twisted around and squirmed. And Looking into the red lines, I realized that it was looking into a peephole, as there was more lines and patterned chaos. It dawned on me that it was like how Taryn’s and Wy’s dragonmark looked, but unhealthy or corrupted.

I could feel the gnome’s breath on my cheek as she stared into my eyes. Her fingers pulled at my eyelids, keeping them open and unable to blink as she stared and spoke to me, “Well well…you are something. Strong; even as you waste away in your gibbet your body fights to live; to resist my work. But I see the truth of it now. It just took time to take hold in you. Probably because of your extraplanar origins. But it doesn’t matter; I won.”

“Are you sure?” I said, feeling desperate now that my usefulness was ending and I struggled weakly, mostly for show I supposed. “You’ll never see another set of eyes like mine again.”

The gnome smiled, “And that is certainly the truth. I have to say I admire the pluck in you as you face death. Any last requests?” she said mockingly.

I sighed, “I just…just…want to understand why.” I thought that if I could get her talking about her plan, herself, maybe I can get on her side or something to keep me around.

She smiled, “Its interesting how you believe I control death or life. I do nothing of the sort. But things are out of balance, and we need a cold winter so we can have a wonderful spring. Death and life are just a small part of it all.”

“Death is part of life, not an ending but a beginning,” I said trying to bait her to say more.

“You say that with such reverence. I suppose that given time you might understand us,”

“I’ve got a lot of time on my hands at the moment,” I said feeling a bit of hope that I found something to stay her hand.

The gnome stood back on her stool and nodded, “I suppose you do. Or did. Unfortunately, in the fullness of time; yours is up.”

She jumped down from the stool she was standing on and moved out of my vision to the left. “No no…wait!” I stammered when I felt it. I looked down with my eyes and I started to pant as the pain flooded through my chest. I could feel my heart beat, and I could feel the sharpen wood that it now surrounded and caressed with every pump. I saw the blood spurt in great gushes as the spear pushed through me. I could feel the warmth of it pour forth down my chest and legs to fill the basin below. I then began to wail with all the strength I had left. It was such a familiar feeling as the blood boiled up in my throat, cutting off my screams as I spat it out trying to gasp for more air, more time, more life.

The room swam and became indistinct. I hung there, and felt my breathing growing shallower and my heartbeat slowing, still pumping around the shaft of the spear. As the room darkened, I wondered if I could have done something different. As the last of my blood poured from my chest, I closed my eyes and whispered aloud with my last breath of life.

“My father, I…don’t…”

Session notes
So close yet...so far. And Myrai seems to have met her end again. Funny how it doesn't stick. But on this leg the encounters were design explicitly on the number of recommended encounters per day.

And note; we are all out of fireballs.
 
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Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise
Another day, another way to get Myrai captured by endless torturers.

Also, that’s...not good. Is she really dead again?

Its not like she's looking for it...but if she is consistent in one thing; extricating herself from problems like this.

And if weren't for conflicts like this, its hard to have adventures!
 

Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise

Hatchet Job Gone Wrong - 3/24/2021​

(Special thanks to Ryan for his contribution on The Blades' interrogation)​


The wailing sound faded to nothing while the group looked at each other apprehensively.

“Someone else is alive down here?” Doxx stated in disbelief.

“The cages implied capturing of people,” Sage noted. “Prisoners are therefore possible.”

Rosa frowned, “That…that would be strange for vegepygmies”

“Vege whats?” Mobad asked confused.

“They…are known to me. They feed off the weak and dying,” Rosa said quietly.

“How do you know this?” Bookshelf asked slowly.

“There…there is a sect of druids in the Eldeen known as the Children of Winter,” Rosa began. “And one of their sacred places is an area of the forest called The Gloaming. In that place you can find…tribes of them. They use a type of mold to…give birth to new ones,” and she pointed at the pits with the russet-colored slime. “But I thought I heard they were hostile to…everyone. Even the Children of Winter.”

“So why do you think it is strange they have prisoners?” The Blade asked.

“To make a new one, you throw the dead bodies into the…mold; it’s how they grow the tribe. The bigger the body, the more pygmies it creates. That seems to be their cycle; kill and multiply. They don’t trade or socialize otherwise, so why keep prisoners?”

“Something has altered the cycle somehow,” Bookshelf observed. He opened up part of his abdomen and started to type notes on a machine. “This is interesting, do you know more?”

Rosa thought a moment, “The tribes grow to certain size, and stabilize or collapse,” Rosa said. “Most likely because they…run out of dead things and living things with any sense run.”

“Wait…Adrissa,” The Blade said with a tone of alarm. “You said they led people and animals to the barn. How many are we talking about?”

Adrissa looked around in surprise at being asked a question, but she quickly answered. “Well…I saw ranch hands and others from outlying homesteads. But I saw a lot of cattle.”

“Cattle…” The Blade said thinking before Sage continued the questioning.

“The cattle here…they are magebred right?” To which Adrissa nodded. “How large is a cow?”

Adrissa frowned, “About twice your height…real passive, easy to herd with dogs.”

Rosa’s eyes widened, “A single head would create a lot of them. How many came through here?”

Adrissa grew alarmed, “Well our ranch had two hundred heads, and about half were magebred. But…but…they led other ranches cattle here too!”

“Then…where are they?” Bookshelf asked. “If they slaughtered her fam…um… her herd, shouldn’t we have seen more?”

At the word slaughter Adrissa tensed up and looked at the slender warforged with hate.

Bookshelf looked at the girl coldly, “Don’t.”

“I agree there should be,” and Rosa stepped in between the pair. “Adrissa, if there are prisoners down here, what did your family look like?”

“I look like my mom…dad had grey hair and a beard, and a large tattoo across his back from his time in the war.”

“And who was the last ones you saw led to the barn?” Rosa pressed.

“Only that woman you asked about earlier and her Blademarks. And that was weeks ago.”

Rosa nodded, “We should finish our breather and start looking for them. They might be still alive,” and she glared looking at Bookshelf. “But we can’t afford to die down here; we need to get out and get to Denning and warn people.”

“Yes, and get the girl,” Doxx said pointing at Adrissa, “To family or someone to take care of her.”

“I can take care of myself,” Adrissa said her brow furrowed in anger as she looked at the old woman.

“She has the right to choose. And she chose to stand against the evil here. Good job by the way,” The Blade said, as he struggled to pat Adrissa on the shoulder as she squirmed away. He reached out and pulled on her shoulder to turn her around. “Listen, I’ll keep you safe. Just ignore him.”

“That…this... this is no way for a child to live!” Doxx said angrily at the elf.

“Don’t matter. She surviving. Better to help her do that, instead of being coward,” Mobad muttered.

“Or faster way to die and join her—” Bookshelf started before Rosa hissed at him to keep quiet.

“Let’s eat and move on before someone finds us,” Rosa said, still glaring at the warforged, who simply shrugged.

They sat and munched on the rations they brought, while the pair of warforged looked on. It was silent, with no sounds coming from beyond the barred doorway, and no repeats of the wail they heard. After they finished, Rosa checked everyone to make sure that there weren’t any injuries that needed treatment. After she was satisfied, she nodded at Mobad, who unbarred and pulled open the large wickerlike door.

Beyond was a three-pace wide passage lit by torches in sconces, that curled around to the left. But ahead they saw a four-way intersection. They moved cautiously through the tunnel, and Doxx moved ahead and peered around one corner and then the other before waving them forward. When the group reached him, he pointed towards the right hand opening and whispered, “Look.” They all turned and entered a chamber.

The chamber was shaped like a kidney bean, with only the single exit, and a smoldering camp fire and it reeked with the smell of wet mold. The room was in a disarray, with cloth and what looked to be random bits of wood and bone all across the floor. On the walls was what a appeared to be a woven lattice work of fibers, that suspended small cubbies. Each one was an armlength wide and inside were visible small nests of rags and straw. But what stood out was the number of cubbies.

“It’s like a beehive,” Rosa said looking at the structure.

“Several hundred could nest in here,” Sage noted, and Bookshelf nodded in agreement.

“In the other direction crosswise is a similar chamber in size and it is also empty,” Doxx said.

“This is bad,” Rosa said. “Most tribes are small, like twenty or thirty.”

“I think big ones slept here too,” Sage said pointing out large nest like shapes on the ground. “Maybe ten or fifteen, based on the size.”

“We should continue on,” Doxx said. “And see if there are more.”

Returning to the passage, they continued and came to another intersection and once again they saw another pair of chambers, but these were larger than the prior two and equally empty of any vegepygmies.

“How many?” Rosa asked.

“I estimate now over a thousand now, and that is just the little ones,” Sage Redoubt said grimly.

“And a hundred of the larger ones,” Bookshelf added.

“But not here,” Mobad grunted.

Rosa sighed, “Let’s continue.”

The passage was now slopping upwards as it twisted around, finally it started to straighten out, and ahead was another thatchlike door. Rosa closed her eyes and fur and claws sprouted all over as she once again turned into a black bear. Nodding at each other, they quietly approached the door. As they did so The Blade began thinking to himself:

I was sure this was going to be a typical band of mercenaries. Just another group of shady individuals I'd have to tolerate in order to get a job done. But that farmhouse tonight changed everything. I saw what they were really made of. Faced with deadly enemies and an innocent in danger, they didn't run. Every one of them stayed and fought. Could it be that I've underestimated them? Could they have the potential to be heroes?

And under my expert tutelage, there's no telling how far they could go: how many innocents could be saved, how many families protected. A multi-city crime-fighting team isn't entirely out of the question. There would be trademark and franchise negotiations of course… monthly meetings… invention exchanges? Well, I suppose we should play that by ear…


The Blade has been studying a flimsy thatch door a bit too carefully, for a bit too long. “It's not trapped,” he assured the party waiting behind him.

With a look that was equal parts confusion and exasperation, the old woman asked with strained patience “And what exactly would a trap on this thing be?”

Oblivious to the question, The Blade pulled the door just far enough to slip inside. A few seconds later, the door is pushed wide open behind him, revealing to the party a room full of disturbing equipment. Two Vegepygmies were working on a frame where they were stretching a piece of leather across it. The Blade approached them with odd confidence.

All right, this is where I truly shine: interrogation. And now to squeeze every bit of vital information out of these hapless minions.

Facing the creature on the right, he began to display his masterful extraction technique. "Where are the rest of those bask—"

The creature suddenly burst into flames and dissolved into scattering ashes as a fiery blast hit it from over The Blade's shoulder. He sighed. The momentary expression of frustration on his face was immediately overwritten by a slight smirk.

Ah of course: destroy the first creature to let the second one know we mean business. Perhaps more aggressive than I'm used to, but an understandable tactic.

He turned his menacing gaze to the other creature, who must have been sufficiently worried by now. "Now then, where are the—" he started again, when the orc and the old woman brushed each of his shoulders as they ran past him to kill the remaining creature.

The Blade's smirk faltered slightly, but then returned as he slowly shook his head.

Ha! Overzealous. What a rookie mistake. These fledgling heroes have a lot to learn if they want to be revered champions in the endless battle against the forces of…

Turning to face the scene behind him, his cheeks went pale and his eyes glazed over.

…evil.

Lying on the floor, the dying girl's frozen form rested at the feet of a remorseless warforged. The desperate roar of a black bear filled the room as she leapt into the air. Two halfling feet landed next to the dying child, as Rosa attempted to keep her from the jaws of death.

How could I have been so stupid? I had every reason to know, every chance to expect it. Unlike most villains I've met, this one plainly announced his intentions. Like a fool, I dismissed his threat as bluster and cluelessness. I told her I'd protect her from him. But I turned my back.

The world around The Blade came back into focus, as his attention settled on an arrow sticking out of the warforged's torso, and then on the bow in his own hand. Gathering his senses, he subtly scans the faces of everyone around him, and it became clear: they're not going to help kill him.

These are mercenaries. I can't be sure they won't turn on me before I can destroy this monster. And if I fail to finish him off, she'll only be in more danger.

He lowered the bow. "That warforged is defective. Secure it. I don't care how.”

Doxx, and Mobad stepped in between Bookshelf and the fallen girl with Doxx already berating the slender warforged.

“Why did you do that?!?”

“She put a hatchet in my leg,” And Bookshelf pointed to their left knee at Adrissa’s axe sunk deeply into the wood between two metal plates.

“And why did that happen?”

“I said out I found her father,” and he pointed back to the wooden frame. While the leather wasn’t fully stretched across it, one thing stood out clearly. The leather had a military campaign tattoo inscribed upon it.

“Human leather,” Mobad said grimly.

Rosa was on the floor comforting the unconscious girl, with the larger juggernaut standing at her side. Whether intended or not, his posture seems to be that of a protector. The Blade stepped to his side, the three of them now looking down over the girl.

"Sage. You're a mercenary, right?"

After a thoughtful pause, the warforged offered a tentative reply. "Sort of?"

"I'd like to hire you for a… side job. We can sort out payment later. But the job has to start now."

"What's the job?"

"Bodyguard. I need you to protect her." The Blade's eyes shift only briefly to the expressionless face of the child's assailant. "…from anything."

"Deal."

No hesitation. No question about the payment? There might be more to this one after all. No. If I overestimate them again… the consequences could get much worse. They're mercenaries. They're just doing a job.

But still. In a situation this precarious, fighting in an unfamiliar land with pure evil traveling at my side… true allies would be too valuable to ignore.


“I am sure she misunderstood my intent,” Bookshelf said as he wrenched the axe free from his leg and then started to work the arrow out of their chest.

“I doubt that,” Doxx said. “Stay away from her, and don’t talk to her.”

The Blade came up to the group around Bookshelf and simply glared at them. “Let’s look around, and we’ll ask her what happened when she wakes.”

The main room was rectangular in shape, with another thatch door opposite of the one they entered and on the long walls were four side chambers. In the main room, along with the tools, were bins on the sides. The four of them walked over and looked inside and saw they held various kinds of gear.

“This one has leather…belts, jerkins…even some armor.” Doxx said.

“This one has knives…swords…a mace…nothing quality,” Mobad remarked.

Bookshelf started to look into another one, when a glint caught their eye from a fourth bin. They walked over and stared for a long moment quietly into its contents.

“A Blademark baldric,” Doxx said. “They were here,”

Mobad looked at the third bin that Bookshelf passed by, “Bows and arrows here.”

“Parts,” Bookshelf said simply, and they reached in and pulled up a round metallic object and turned it in their hands. As the others turned to look it took a moment to realize that Bookshelf held a warforged head.

“How many?” Doxx asked with a tone of disgust.

“Five.” They said grimly looking between the bin, and the leatherworking station. “People for parts. All kinds.”

Sage and The Blade approached, both with grim looks.

“Will she—“Doxx started.

“—She’ll live.” Sage replied.

“You better hope she does,” Doxx said angrily glaring at Bookshelf.

“I’m supposed to just stand there and take an axe to the leg? It might have removed yours,” Bookshelf replied calmly.

“And I’m sure you needling her had nothing to do with it,” Doxx snapped.

“Enough! We have enough problems without creating one. We will deal with this later,” Sage said. “For now, we should watch the other door to make sure we aren’t disturbed.”

Mobad grunted, and walked to the far door, pushing his way past Bookshelf, nearly knocking him over. The rest then moved into one of the antechambers that flanked the room. Inside were two of the cages but set upright on their ends. A table nearby had sharp knives and tools, while on the ground two baskets sat half empty, each with an assortment of clothing and equipment. In the back corner, small cloth was spread out on the floor.

Doxx moved towards the cloth and realized that something was under it. Using their staff, they moved the cloth aside, and Doxx jumped back suddenly. There underneath was a pair of vegepygmies. The others whirled at the motion and were ready to attack when Bookshelf spoke.

“They’re dead.” They walked forward and drew a dagger and used it to move limbs and roll their heads side to side. “No wounds, no fire, no frost. Something else killed them.”

“And no one noticed?” Doxx exclaimed.

“Apparently they aren’t very bright.” Safe noted.

The Blade in the meantime looked over the cage when something drew his attention. High on it, stuck on fragment of wooden thatch was a strand of long golden hair.. Frowning he looked down and saw that the cage was set upon a basin. Sniffing the air, he was certain from the scent that it held blood. He then frowned and leaned closer and looked inside. The basin was filled to the brim with the all too familiar liquid. He was about the straighten up, when he thought he felt something on his cheek. He reached out his hand towards the basin and realized what it was.

“It’s warm. Someone was exsanguinated here very recently,” The Blade said, then noticing something else on the floor and moved to pick them up.

“If that was the case, who left this?” Sage had squatted down and pointed to a set of red smears on the stone floor. Doxx and The Blade moved over to look, and it was clear that the smears were a set of bloody footprints.

Doxx squinted at it a moment, “A woman’s footprint based on the size…or a male elf.”

“It must be Myrai’s. And I suspect she is a wizard of some kind.” The Blade said, holding out a bit of black fur, “A black cat—” and then he produced a black feather in the other hand, “—with wings.”

Doxx blinked in confusion, “I…thought the girl was telling a tale. But I suppose with a familiar of some kind anything is possible.”

“So, her familiar got her free?” Sage asked.

“Yes, she used magic then to kill the guards, and—” The Blade moved over to the bins in the room, “Got dressed…I don’t see anything in here that a woman could wear.”

Doxx looked closer at the ground near the entrance to the side chamber, “That seems to be the right of it. There is a boot print her against the wall. I bet she sneaked out. Perhaps she distracted the others and is ahead of us now.”

Bookshelf had been quiet, but now they looked at the basin of warm blood, “But this…this basin is full. The amount of blood here…a human shouldn’t be alive after shedding this much blood.”

“I agree,” The Blade said somberly. “But, the lack of a woman’s body, and two pygmies’ corpses tell a different tale.”

The four stepped back into the main room, and Rosa moved towards them with Adrissa rubbing her head. “She doesn’t remember what happened in the fight with vegepygmies here,” and she leveled a gaze at Bookshelf, “Nor how she got knocked out, but I told her it wasn’t important right now.”

The Blade looked at Sage Redoubt and the juggernaut nodded, “I will stay closer to her and keep her safe.”

“She’ll be safer in Denn—” Doxx began to start his tirade again.

“Nowhere is safe. No one is safe,” Adrissa said quietly, bringing Doxx up short. “Not my home. Not Denning. Not the ranchers.,” and she pointed to the leather frame with the tattooed skin stretched across it. “Not my father. And not me, so save your sermon Doxx. Just get me out of here.”

The Blade was about to respond, when he closed his mouth, and moved to the third bin, and found a shortbow and a quiver of arrows. He brought them over to the dead eyed girl and offered them out. “Perhaps not. But that doesn’t mean you have to accept it. It’s your life.”

Doxx sighed looking at the girl, and her innocence lost, “Well…at least we know Myrai was here, and is ahead of us. Might as well follow her.”

The rest nodded and moved towards the barred passage out. Mobad slid the bar back and pulled the wicker door a little, peeked through, looking for trouble, before he opened it and entered the passage way. As the group moved through the doorway, the girl stopped by the leatherworking station, with her father’s flayed skin on the frame. She reached over with a shaking hand and touched it gently before saying softly for the last time.

“Goodbye Daddy.”

Session notes:
So, The Blade's player kindly allowed me to adapt his original piece into the story, and thanks again Ryan. However, there is a small thing that happened at this point. After Adrissa was hit by the Ray of Frost, there was an interesting change. That change was that my daughter started to play Adrissa as a character. Her personality changed a bit from the frightened passive girl that originally appeared, to something quite different. Originally it was just going to be temporary as well; it was the first time she had ever played Dungeons and Dragons with her father (Myrai) and her brother (Sage Redoubt). And instead, she became a permanent member of the group that plays today.

So what was a side character became something more important, and has hooked my daughter into the Pen and Paper world, and she has even dm'd a group of my friends recently for the first time. So this story has a lot of personal memories for me, beyond just the game.
 
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Wilpower784

Smug Bladesinger
Geez, framed skin? Talk about a hellish way to find your dead relative. The Blade is still great, definitely needed in the face of fleshy portraits, massive blood basins, and a couple too many vegepygmies for comfort.
 

Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise
Its called "Recycling" in the grimmest possible way. In talking with "The Blade" last night, he's amused as well.

So enjoy!
 

So after a lengthy hiatus I'm all caught up.

Must say I'm thoroughly enjoying the rather dark and grim tale you're currently unfolding. And the characterisation of the various party members (particularly Bookcase).

And congrats on getting your daughter hooked to D&D!!
 

Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise
So after a lengthy hiatus I'm all caught up.

Must say I'm thoroughly enjoying the rather dark and grim tale you're currently unfolding. And the characterisation of the various party members (particularly Bookcase).

And congrats on getting your daughter hooked to D&D!!
Welcome back. I was afraid I chased you off :)

And Bookshelf is challenging to write; It was always the small things at the table with tone, less action. All of them have their secrets and subtleties, and I am glad you have been enjoying it.
 

Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise

Confrontation with a Lesser Winter - 4/12/2021​



The passage beyond, resembled the earlier one, if a bit wider. The floor here was stone, but with a fair spattering of damp mud in the center of the corridor. But beyond the sputtering torches on the walls, there was no sound, and no movement.

Mobad stood in the center, axe ready alongside Sage, with The Blade, and Adrissa close behind them with bows ready, and Bookshelf and Rosa behind them. Doxx however, stayed along the right side wall, watching the floor.

“Her trail is clear, and fresh. The prints have no water in the mud here. But no sign of the cat though.”

“It’s flying dear,” Rosa said patiently.

Doxx winced, “Of course it is.”

“Told you,” Adrissa said smartly.

The group continued forward, and found more branching intersections, to caverns on the sides. Each one was like the prior ones they had encountered. But they were each twice the size of the previous ones. And like before, each was as empty. Eventually, they saw ahead of them, torches flanking a door. They all pushed themselves against the wall and peered ahead.

“A door,” Mobad simply said. “Iron bound though.”

The Blade looked at the girl, “You said your family secured a cavern to hide because of the war right?”

Adrissa nodded, “Yes. But I never saw the inside of it.”

“We should be cautious,” Sage responded. “For as dim as these pygmies are, something else leading them is far more cunning.”

The group moved to the door, while The Blade examined it, and Doxx pressed her ear against the wood.

“I hear…talking, can’t make out what,” Doxx said, and she gripped her staff tightly.

“Well, I’m sure we have the element of surprise,” The Blade said confidently, and he pulled open the door.

The circular chamber was well lit with braziers on the floor and with oil lamps hanging from four pillars that reached the domed ceiling. The stone floor here was finished flagstone, and the walls here showed signs of being worked smooth, with some brick work in places. Along the edges were two stacks of crates, some marked with House Cannith’s sigil, and others blank. By each stood another set of the giant sized vege hulks they had fought earlier. On the far wall, were shelves, full of books and various objects, and another door was on the left, barred shut from this side.

But it was the thrumming of fingers on a tome that grabbed their attention. Near the center of the room, behind a large worktable and standing on a box, was a small figure in a brown robe. Her eyes bored into the band as they entered. Around her right eye an ugly black and red stain writhed on her skin; an Aberrant Dragonmark. Her face had already a deep frown, as she addressed the band;

“So…you are the ones who burned down the house.” She said coldly. “Pity, but it has outlived its usefulness I suppose.”

Adrissa hand tightened around her bow, as Rosa spoke, “Where is the woman?”

“Doesn’t matter she…wait…” and a warm smile spread across the gnomes face, “Rosa? Rosa d’Jorasco is that you? It has been a long time since you visited. I don’t suppose you have decided to rejoin us?”

Rosa looked around at the others in wide eyed surprise, her words stolen away by her shock. She finally took a breath and replied, “I…don’t…think so. I’ve seen enough to see that this—”

Rosa was cut off for a moment, as the ground heaved and shook. The quake caused rock and dust to fall from the roof of the cavern and was violent enough that even the hulks had to steady themselves using the nearby pillars. The gnome had put both of her hands down on her worktable, but she looked around with elation. After several moments, the rumbling and shaking subsided, but now a wave of nausea came over the group as they recovered their bearings.

“Of course not,” the gnome continued. “You never had the stomach to do what was necessary. And now…well it is far too late. The coming of Winter has truly begun! Morrigon has completed his labors, and his toil is bearing fruit. I suppose he might have wanted to have a word with you…but perhaps one bitter parting is enough for everyone.”

The Blade stepped forward and spoke in a strong commanding voice, “Now I suggest you give up quietly, and we ensure your safety when we take you—”

“—You are taking me nowhere elf.” The gnome sneered. “I am no cutpurse on the streets of the cities of waste and detritus. I am a herald of the change, and Morrigon seeks to change the world for the better. As for you, you are out of your element city boy, and out of your league. And while the woman you seek had a clever trick up her sleeve; it won’t save her, and nothing will save you. Dispose of them!”

“I think you should—WATCH OUT!” The Blade said as a large crate sailed overhead and slammed into the floor, among them all. The crate split open, releasing fractured glass, and a thick cloud of dust that covered everyone and everything nearby. The group’s eyes started to water and burn a bit, and they coughed a moment as one of the hulks strode forward.

“You stupid idiot! Not THAT one!” screamed the gnome, “Just go crush them!” and she waved her hand, and a green ball appeared in it and she tossed it at The Blade. It sailed across the room, and struck the ground where he once stood, splashing a caustic liquid at the elf and Rosa as well. Fortunately, Rosa had also avoided the liquid, as she scrambled backwards out of reach, growing hair, claws and teeth as she transformed into a bear once again.

Doxx then wasted no time and ran towards the hulk that threw the crate. But as she passed a pillar she was struck and pulled backwards by a thorny vine. There in the shadow another brown robed figure, stood ready with a quarter staff. But Doxx ignored the blow and continued to surge forward. Evading another blow from the figures’ quarter staff, she then assaulted the hulk with her staff and a pair of kicks, trying to slow it. She glanced behind herself to see what the others were doing and cursed quietly.

Adrissa had also bolted forward, loosing an arrow as she ran, the shot going wide. She wore her anger openly on her face as she quickly dropped the bow and drew her short sword. But she swung and missed the spry gnome, and she growled in frustration, staying close to her quarry.

Mobad was of the same mind as Doxx, and charged into the second hulk followed by Sage Redoubt. The orc’s great axe had no trouble finding his mark, as he cut pieces of hulk away, just in time for Sage to sear it with green flame from his armblade. “Fire and frost!” Sage yelled to remind the others.

“That’s nice. I don’t carry either,” and The Blade ran to the edge of the room and spied another robed figure behind a pillar. His bow shot arrow after arrow and the figure staggered, with both shafts sunk deep into their torso. “And Adrissa, you aren’t supposed to drop your bow!”

“Frost is a good idea,” and Bookshelf pointed, and the blue, white beam of frost struck Doxx’s attacking hulk easily, causing ice to form over its legs. The hulk however ignored the ice and was busy trying to club Doxx without success. Doxx danced and confounded the brute as it struck the ground several times in an attempt to smash the old woman.

The other hulk was slightly more successful in that it hit Mobad. But Mobad just roared and reveled in the pain. And he whirled around, his axe once again carving grey moldy skin away. Sage ignited his armblade again and the stench of seared rotten plant matter filled the room. The hulks’ strength was fading fast.

Rosa gritted her teeth and gave out a loud roar as a bear, and then charged at the gnome. She lumbered forward, and passed by Doxx, as she built momentum to attack, but the gnome was ready for her. She was unfazed by Adrissa’s fury, as her sword and axe strikes kept hitting nothing. But she turned to look at Rosa as she simply smiled and waved her hand.

From the top of the chamber, a beam of white light struck the ground, hitting both Rosa and Doxx. Rosa bellowed in pain and shook her massive head as white smoke wafted from her fur. But glancing sideways, she saw that Doxx had a different reaction to the light.

Doxx stood there and screamed as she was fully illuminated by the light. But as she did, her voice deepened. The old woman’s gnarled arms became smoother, as the liver spots faded away. Her scraggly hair fell away revealing a white mop of short hair. Finally, her face of lines and wrinkles, melted to smooth skin, with grey eyes, and an indistinct face.

“Knew it,” the gnome said with satisfaction. “If you are going to play as an old woman, don’t run around like a young fella, changeling! Not quite the stern stuff that Rosa is made of ACK!” And the gnome leaped backwards off her box as Adrissa screamed at her, swinging her sword and axe. Her face was a such a knot of rage and hate, that it made Mobad’s own a pale shadow to the girl’s emotions now on display. But despite her attempts to land a blow, her weapons seemed to be nudged away from connecting.

But Mobad’s opponent had neither the agility nor the guile to survive Mobad’s continued assault. The great axe cleaved more and more plant like material from the hulk, as The Blade continued to move and shoot around the room, laying low another figure behind the columns and turned to land the second shot deep into the trunk of the hulk. Sage quickly thrusted into it, and then ignited his sword, causing gouts of flame to flare from the open maw of the ‘giant pygmy.’

Doxx meanwhile rolled to the floor, as the Rosa bear changed targets to help Doxx, and sunk her teeth deep into the second hulk. Glaring at the gnome once, the revealed changeling gripped their staff and whirled it around themselves in a fury. In a flash, the staff was now illuminated with a burning light as fire-streaked trails from the ends. Finally, Doxx rotated the spinning staff in front of them, and a pair of fiery tendrils wrapped themselves around the hulk, setting it aflame. Amid the smoke the hulk stumbled around for a moment, before it finally collapsed on the floor of the cavern in a ashen heap.

The Blade stayed at the edge of the room and took aim at the gnome, who cackled in laughter as the shot seemed to be deflected away from the mark. Taking careful aim, he let fly another arrow, which was to be deflected from his target again. Frowning, he took even more careful aim again and releasted. As it flew towards the gnome, a dim green light surrounding the gnome flickered and died. The arrow struck the diminutive figure in the ribs. “I knew my aim wasn’t off. Hit her now!”

Adrissa yelled, her hair flowing behind her as she swung with her weapons. Both struck the gnome hard, and blood sprayed the girl. Her mouth was contorted into a vicious grin, as she watched the gnome stagger backwards.

“That’s good!” The Blade said getting another arrow ready. “Now make sure that—”

Mobad’s axe came down on the gnomes clavicle and severed her left arm away from the small body. A great gout of blood burst forth and drenched both the orc and the girl. He retracted his axe looking for another opponent and said, “—that’s how to do it little girl.”

“—we leave her alive to ask questions.” The Blade said defeatedly, and shook his head.

“Do you think a Zealot like her would talk to us?” Doxx said glaring at The Blade.

“She might have talked to Rosa,” Sage said looking at the bear.

The bears fur and claws began to shorten again and she spoke awkwardly, “Roawt—what do you mean?”

“She knew you.” Sage said simply.

“I…I…don’t know her. Nothing she said made any sense.”

“You told us about the Children of Winter befo—” Sage pressed.

“That I understood the faction,” Rosa pleaded. “That they’re mad…thinking that casting the world into Winter will make it a better place. But I still didn’t know her or how she thought she knew me. I only played along to try to understand what was going on here.”

“Well…it looks like she died with her secrets,” Doxx said bitterly.

“And you seem to have shed your obvious one,” Sage pointed out.

Bookshelf ignored them and cast a spell, causing his eyes to twinkle in a blue light, and started to look at the shelves at the back of the room. Some had books, and others had flasks and beakers. “Hm, a magic orb, a stick…no a wand, and a stack of arrows? These might be serviceable.” Continuing he looked at the spines of the books that were scattered on the shelves. “These are…recent books. Key battles in Cyre, several are on the soldier’s experiences. Then a bunch on diseases, and enchantment. An eclectic mix.”

Mobad rolled his eyes and sat down by a pillar and started to wipe the blood from its edge, “You did good little girl. You have my respect.”

Adrissa looked at the orc, “It isn’t enough. This is someone’s errand gnome.”

“It never is,” the orc nodded, earning a dark look from Doxx, who was ignoring Sage’s jab.

Resigned that Doxx would continue to ignore him, the juggernaut continued. “Well, let’s see if there is something else, we can learn here.” Sage said walking to the table where the gnome was working. There among the experiments was an open notebook, the ink still wet. Sage narrowed his eyes at it. “I can’t read this. I don’t even recognize the glyphs used.”

Bookshelf walked over and they too shook their head. “I don’t recognize it either. I can perhaps translate it with a spell.”

Rosa joined the pair of warforged, and climbed up on the stool and looked at the notebooks’ contents. Sighing she said, “Its in Druidic of course. Give me some time to read through it.”

The Blade wandered the room, when near the door when something shiny caught his eye. Bending down he picked up a small flat object; a copper coin. “This is out of place here. Wait…what is this?”

“What is it elf?” Doxx grumbled and walked over, slowly changing back into the same old woman he was before.

“This coin…I don’t recognize it. I’ve even seen coins in my…in a collection that were said to be Dhakhani. This doesn’t look like any of them at all.”

“You know you don’t need to hide changeling,” Mobad muttered.

“Keep your nose out of it and say nothing,” Doxx snapped and the non-plussed orc just shrugged. “Let me see that.” Doxx took the coin and frowned. “It’s not from the Five Nations, or Q’barra, and doesn’t look like an Aereni coin either.”

Bookshelf came over, his eyes still glowing. “Well…it’s a normal coin, but it had something cast on it. A bit of evocation with negative energy. I know I have seen this before. But…what is also strange is that there is a bit of…conjuration on it as well. Not cast on it, but in close proximity.”

The Blade looked down and the ground and then noticed the same boot prints they had been following earlier near the descending tunnel. He followed them back to door they entered from, and followed them to the other door, talking aloud. “She entered the room, stood there a moment, and then she ran to the door, only stopping to open it.”

“Not bad for someone that was captured and bled dry,” Doxx remarked.

“I concur, they underestimated her,” Sage said.

Thinking a moment, Bookshelf spoke again, “She clearly wasn’t dead, and I think I know what she did.”

“I can stop you there citizen,” The Blade stated confidently. “This Myrai person escaped from the cage below by charming the vegethings, and then using her persuasive skills to convince them to turn against the gnome, allowing her to dash outside to safety.”

Bookshelf blinked at the explanation and calmly said “I suspect something very different…”

Session Notes:
Moonbeam is a great spell to create havoc with. Adrissa at this point, really, really, liked hitting things, and wasn't really keen on ranged combat, despite being offered weapons for it. But she liked to be in the thick of things. Finally, Detect Magic in this game was evolving to be used forensically, like an inquisitives tool kit. So seeing past effects was a part of the how the world worked.
 
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Wilpower784

Smug Bladesinger
The forensic vibe is really cool. I like to see that kind of creative problem-solving. Although, that’s probably nothing compared to whatever magic trick Myrai pulled.
 

Nthal

Lizard folk in disguise

The Thorns of Winter - 4/21/2021​



“My father, I…don’t…”

I felt my heart beat ebb as the spear was pulled out of my chest. All the air within me passed my lips uttering a last plea. My vision grew blurry, as I watched the vegepygmies wander out of the room leaving me to die in the cage. My breathing had stopped, and I felt my heart slow and then stop.

I waited.

And waited.

Nothing was happening.

I was confused. I remembered the last time I died, that I awoke on the ashen ground of the Fugue and was meet by a petitioner named Alionus. But I didn’t remember waiting like…this. I thought a moment and tried to move. Unsurprising I found that my soul was unmoored from my body, and now I was adrift beside it hovering.

No…drifting. I was moving, not of my accord but I could feel myself being pulled somewhere. As I looked around, I saw that only two of the vegepygmies remained in the room, the others had moved on other things. The gnome too was gone, seemingly with more important things to do. Finally, I looked at myself hanging in the cage.

I knew I was in bad shape, but I didn’t realize how bad. My body clearly had lost weight, and color. My golden hair was matted and hung limply against my skin, covered in dust and filth. And my eyes…my eyes were closed, but tears of blood had dripped out of the corners and streaked down my cheeks. Offset in my chest, was a hole, where even now, blood dripped, cascading down my stomach and legs to collect in the basin below.

I had seen many corpses; some of which I created myself. But it was uncomfortable looking at my own, hanging there helpless. And this made me angry. I guess I could empathize with ghosts and spirits who felt like their work wasn’t done, and why they clung to the world of the living. Did that mean I was one?

No…I was being drawn away, but I hadn’t left yet. Watching around me, it seemed that time had slowed as my captors continued with their duties, but at a snails crawl. Ironically, I realized this was that moment I was waiting for; few guards and the ones here were not paying attention. Only problem was I wasn’t alive to take advantage of it.

“Sodding Baator,” I muttered to myself under my…breath? Well, I was fairly sure no one could hear me. But after I cursed, I realized I could feel something. Not air, not warmth or cold. Not pain. But something more familiar. I thought a moment and flexed and I realized what I felt were the Strands. Looking at myself I could just on the edge of vision see that they connected my soul to my body, and as I concentrated, I could see the intricate weaving of light and dark strands, and as I watched I could see they were fraying and unravelling.

That’s why I was still here; I wasn’t dead yet. I was close though. Given time my Strand would unravel and finally would cast my soul loose. And while time had slowed to a crawl, it was still finite. I focused a moment and realized that I could still pull on the Strands themselves, but I wasn’t sure what I could do with that knowledge. But it didn’t long to for me to realize that unlike the last time, I didn’t want to pass beyond.

I wanted to live.

Time was against me then, as I started to pull on the energy within the Strands. I left the dark ones alone and focused on finding every one of light. I then in desperation threw them around my body, weaving a lattice and then I pulled on the slack. It was hard…my body was being pulled away. The Fugue was calling me…or was I bound for Dolorrh? It didn’t matter; I wasn’t going to go. Not this time.

I focused, and strained. I felt the strands tighten, and I could see the dark ones unravelling faster and faster. As I puled my soul closer, I cast more light out from the slack in the Strand, weaving more and more loops around both my soul and my body. As I moved closer it was becoming easier and easier. Finally, my soul and body were almost touching and with one final pull I whispered ‘aloud;’

“My father, I am…not going to die.”

My eyes opened wide, and I struggled not to scream as I could once again feel the pain in my chest. I forced myself to breathe slowly and quietly and not gulp for air. I then and looked around with my eyes. Just as I had saw before, the pair of pygmies were busy at the table and noticed nothing. As I took each breath, I realized that the pain in my chest was subsiding. I could feel and hear my heart beat stronger and I had the sensation of blood running through my head once again. I hung there quietly wondering what to do next, when it happened.

The pair of vegepygmies left the room, unaware of my sudden return to the living. I noticed that on the table, they had left behind a number of tools and one item caught my eye; a thin blade made of bone I thought. It resembled a skinning knife, and it was exactly what I needed.

Smiling, I focused a moment and beckoned my familiar from his hiding spot, and with a quiet rush, Gossamer appeared on the ground and he stretched his wings.

--Well…that was strange. I thought I was going to unbind, and yet here you…wow. You look like crap.

I feel about the same. We don’t have time. There is a knife on the worktable over there. Fly over, grab it and put it in my hand.

--We expecting company?

They stepped out for a…just get it!


Gossamer didn’t argue, and after looking around, he ran across the floor and leapt onto the workbench. He grabbed the blade by the hand with this mouth and then quickly flew over to my cage and carefully put the handle into my hand.

Stay quiet, watch the entryway.

--Sure thing.


My forearms were bound at the wrist against the wood, and were elevated above my head. With my hand, I carefully manipulated so I could slide the blade between my skin, and the fibers that bound my wrists to the wooden lattice of the cage. Then once in place I straightened my wrist, causing the knife’s edge to cut against the fiber. I slowly flexed, moving the knife in a sawing motion. Quickly I could feel the fibers release and pull away, and my right forearm was free.

Goss; I need you to help me to trade the knife to the other hand.

--Yeah yeah. There are a couple outside by the way working on some frames.


Gossamer flew up and grabbed the knife and deposited it in my left hand and he returned to the ground to watch for pygmies to return. I clumsily repeated the maneuver with my weaker hand, and while it took a little longer, I was able to free my left forearm. With it free, I could now bend it over and inserted the blade between my right elbow’s binding and I quickly started to saw it.

--Myr, the pair is coming back. And he scampered and hid behind my cage as I desperately worked to finish and release my right arm. Just as they were about to walk into the room, I felt the knife had cut through the fibers, and I quickly moved my hand back above my head and held my breath.

A pair of the Vegepygmies came in, the same ones or different I had no idea, but they returned to the bench and started to clear tools off the surface. I could see them clearly, and I smiled. My right arm moved and gestured, throwing a dark strand around the pair, as I muttered under my breath. Ghostly skeletal hands then reached up and grabbed them by the through. I could see the vegepygmies reach up for their necks and then they stopped and fell lifelessly onto the ground.

--That was lucky you know.

I’ll take what I can. Go watch for others.

--How are you going to reach the rest of you?

With an arm free, I’ll create a new hand.


I then pulled on a light and dark strand, and with a quick wave I created a ghostly hand in the air. It moved and took the blade from my left hand and I directed it, bond my bond to set me free, starting with my head so I could look around, my torso, waist and then my legs and feet. I wasn’t sure how long it took, but once I severed the bonds holding my legs, I practically fell out of the cage. I staggered forward and leaving wet bloody footprints on the stone. My limbs were sore from supporting my bodies weight on the bonds and the fibers left red inflamed marks where they cut into my skin. Breathing easier I finally summoned the courage to look at my chest.

Looking down, between my breasts was just unmarred flesh. I felt with my hand, pressing to find where the hole was. There were clear blood stains from where it poured from my heart, out of the hole, but the wound was closed without any sign of a scar or other mark.

“Thank Kelemvor for this miracle,” I whispered, and I moved to the workbench and the baskets nearby. The first thing I did was drag the small bodies over to the far corner of the room and along side the workbench. Looking into the baskets of gear, I found what looked be some sort of canvas or sail cloth, and I quickly draped it over the dead bodies, all while muttering, “I have no idea what passes for death rites for you, but I’m sure my god will forgive me for skipping them with you, berks.” I then quietly dug in to the baskets and found then one that had my gear. I quickly rummaged, around looking for my belts.

--Two are out there in the room…still ignoring us. Not sure how long that will be.

Just keep me informed, as I get dressed.

--you going to bathe while you are at it; you smell like you crapped and pissed your—

Please don’t remind me. I’ll cover the smell, can’t fully clear right now. Need to get my armor and stuff.

--By yourself?

Nope.


I found my waist belt and pulled it out. On one side hung a long thin sheath, next to my greensteel stiletto. From it, I pulled out a silver shaft of metal, and I quickly waved a pattern in the air with it. I could feel it pull on Strands around me, and I could feel something manifest, a helper.

“Help me dress and put on my armor,” I said. I couldn’t see it, but I heard some digging and the shapeless form pulled out my leather breeches out of the basket. While it did that I did take the time to use a light strand to scrub away the wet blood on the feet and lower legs. The breeches floated over to me and I dutifully stepped into them and pulled them up over my hips. The helper started to lace up the calves as I then put on the belt around me. And so, it went on with boots, blouse, armor, sword belt and the rest of my gear, easily cutting the time by half. I sighed as I realized that all my gear hung on me looser than I remembered, and my stomach’s growling reminded me on why. But once dressed I did use some strands to cut down my odor. Finally, I placed a hand on my returned holy symbol and pulled from the brightest strands to rejuvenate myself and my strength, if not quell my hunger.

--You look better…except for the blood around your eyes.

What?

--You are still crying blood.


I put a hand to my eye, and I pulled it away. As Gossamer said, my fingers were covered in blood and I was now aware that my eyes burned. Thinking back, I realized that the gnome was interested in me becoming blind and her experiments seemed to focus on the fact I could still see, even after Wyn was blinded. I flexed a moment and called from that place deep inside and focused on restoring my vision. I felt the rush up and down my back, as my wings appeared momentarily as I released the power within me. Quickly the pain dissipated, and I focused again on leaving this prison.

Now dressed, I moved quietly up to Gossamer on the floor and looked out in the main room, where there were several exits to side rooms. There were two vegepygmies working on a piece of leather on a frame. But near them, on end of the room stood two massive vegepygmies. Well calling them pygmies was absurd as I think I would have come up to mid chest if I stood close to them.

--You might have a problem killing all four.

You’re right. But I have an idea.


I whispered under my breath to my helper. “Go to one of the side room across from us and knock things over and create noise.”

--Is that going to work?

I could send you to do it.

--I’m totally sure that will work.


I waited and watched. It wasn’t long before I heard objects clatter and fall to the stone. Of course, the four vege things didn’t react at all, but as time passed, the noise got louder and louder, until finally I heard glass breaking, followed by metal banging on metal. So, while the creatures were basically unaware, they weren’t completely stupid, and all four of them moved towards the sound. I waited till they passed by, and snuck quietly along the wall, reaching the formerly guarded door, with Gossamer trotting on the ground behind me. I pulled the wicker door open quietly and saw an empty passage beyond. I then darted through, with Gossamer in tow. Then closing it, I moved quietly up the tunnel.

--What about the…wait the noise stopped.

The helper can’t exist without me being close to it. So now there is nothing to find.

--And how do you know this is the right way?

I’m guessing, but they were guarding it for a reason, and I thought we came up from the other direction in the cages. But the passage is leading up, so this is a good a guess as any.

--Luck is with you, I guess.

I wish I had Iesa’s luck. I’ll just have to settle for my wits.

--Don’t trade them; his wits were never that good. You still smell by the way.

Critic.


The passage was partially worked, with torches in sconces along the sides. I snuck along the side of the wall, with Gossamer and I both listening carefully. My heart was the loudest thing I heard, and I noticed to my chagrin that the pain and itching to my eyes had returned, as did the bloody tearing. But having no solution to that, I pressed on. We passed by several intersections that led into strange chambers with cubbies set on the walls. Far too many to count, and if full would have been more than enough to overwhelm Denning. But the passage and the rooms were empty and finally I arrived at a normal, iron bound wooden door.

Sighing, I decided to use my wand again and summon another helper, unsure on what to expect in the next chamber. I then grasped the handle and attempted to open the door quietly. But luck had seen fit to abandon me, as the door creaked open causing me to grit my teeth. But seeing that nothing more could be done, I stepped inside.

The room was circular in shape, with four pillars stretching from floor to ceiling. Next to each pillar was a lit brazier, illuminating the room in a warm orange glow. Crates and boxes were scattered around, and shelves and beds lined the back wall from where I stood, and another bigger door was on the right side of the room. In the middle of it, I saw the gnome on a box, accompanied by several other human sized figures. Any chance of being unnoticed was quickly dismissed by the gnome addressing me.

“Well. I seem to remember having you hung out to dry as it were. How interesting,” the gnome said casually, as her companions turned to face me.

“Sorry, but while I did say that Death is part of life, not an ending but a beginning, I should have mentioned that my god is the one who judges whose time has come. Not you.” I started to edge slowly to the door on the right, trying not to draw alarm. “And as his servant he decided that it isn’t time for me.”

“A servant of the Keeper,” the gnome spat. “Stealing souls isn’t death my girl. Your ignorance is astounding.”

“The Keeper? That’s not who I serve,” I said still inching towards the door. “My lord has no need to steal things that come naturally. And he only holds the faithless or the false within his realm; a just punishment for non-believers.”

The gnome cocked her head in thought, “This is something new. I insist you stay, and stop moving to the door. I’m sure we’ll have more to talk about as your eyes rot away one and for all.”

I slipped a hand into my pouch and pulled out a greenie casually, along with a small bit of bat fur, and smudge of coal. And I walked towards the gnome. “Well, that’s the thing. Just because you have eyes…” And I mentally wove dark strands into a web around me. “…It doesn’t mean you can see.” and I uttered a simple word of binding.

For me, the room was alive as if the sun shown down in this cave. But for them, the gnome and her companions looked around in confusion. I quickly put the coin into the ’hand’ of my helper and said under my breath, “Walk around in a circle” and dashed to the door that I hoped led out.

“Well played girl,”: I heard the gnome behind me say “But darkness always fades away; but not for you. Its all you are going to know now. So, enjoy your brief respite.” And as I pulled open the door, and saw the tunnel leading up to natural light ahead, she began to cackle maniacally. I closed the door and ran up the passage, with Gossamer still close behind me. I kept the strand of darkness going, hoping to delay pursuers.

--What is she talking about ‘brief respite.’

I’m running out of time.

--What?

I’m going blind.







Bookshelf explained his theory to the others, explaining the incantations used and how that aligned with the footprints seen, the excessive amount of blood spilled, and the comments the mad gnome had made to quiet nods. After the warforged finished, they all were quiet, when suddenly The Blade burst out, “That doesn’t make any sense. My theory is far more logical.”

“It isn’t supported by the magical—” Bookshelf started.

“A spell of darkness? Unseen helpers? Willing themselves alive? That’s all nonsense.” The Blade confidently.

“Well…Bookshelf is right about one thing,” Rosa said her voice quavering.

“About what?” Mobad asked, bored with the posturing and theorizing.

“This gnome,” Rosa started. “Gwen Squirlnet according to this...that’s what she was doing. She was trying to make Myrai blind.”

“Why her?” Doxx asked.

“It wasn’t about her,” Rosa explained. “She was resistant to this…magical infection she created. So, she kept Myrai around long enough to make it stronger.”

“So?” Mobad asked, unclear on the point.

“Gwen was going to use this to…infect the town of Denning. Everyone there is going blind in a matter of days. Even the warforged.”

“How?” Sage asked confused. “We aren’t affected by diseases.”

“This isn’t a normal disease…its more like a curse. Gwen found it in the Mournland and she’s…refined it.” Rosa said sadly.

“Let me guess. There’s no cure,” Doxx said rolling their eyes.

“No…there is…or was one.”

“Was?” Sage asked.

“That crate that was thrown at us…that was the antidote.” Rosa said and then everyone looked at each other in silent horror.

“Can we make more?” The Blade asked.

“I need to read more here, but we should see if there is anything left and keep it. If we get back to Denning, I can use the Jorasco aid station to see if we can make more.” Rosa replied.

Adrissa had moved over to where the crate had landed in the midst of them all, and started to sort through the wreckage. “There are …two vials intact. Everything else is smashed,” the girl said.

“Let’s grab them and get out of here,” Doxx said. “The sooner we get back to Denning and interrogate Melisandre on this the better.”

“Melisandre?” Sage asked confused.

“I am certain she knew more that she told us. And if she had told us up front, we might have been able to do…something.” Doxx said seething.

“Well citizens, there’s only one door. We should use it and head back to town.”

“At least we can agree on that,” Bookshelf said.

Mobad opened the large door, that revealed a large natural passage, leading upwards to a foggy light. With weapons still drawn, they ascended the passage and soon were blinking in a hazy dawn. light of the outdoors. The clouds were now roiling and churning visibly above them, with the echo of thunder through the area. They had exited from a wedge of rock on a hillside, with trees flanking them to the east heading towards the Ironroot mountains and to the west the river valley. But as they exited the cave, it was clear that all around them, the grass and other foliage was crushed flat into the earth, by many set of feet.

“They were here. All of them.” Adrissa said quietly. “And now they are headed to Denning.”

“I don’t think that is the only problem.” Bookshelf said pointing to the north, and then sweeping his hand around to the west.

“By the Sovereigns what is…what is that?”

In the distance where Bookshelf had pointed, was what looked to be a distant wall, reaching from the ground and deep into the skies. But even from the distance away it was, the wall didn’t appear to be a solid contruction of stone or earth. Rather it resembled a distant hedge, sans the leaves. It twisted and trembled, as if alive. It was massive, stretching across the horizon, and it cut a path along the hills and the river valley, sweeping southwards on the western side of the valley. As they stared they saw new ‘growth’ spurt from the earth, and with in moments, reached the heavens. As they watched they felt the earth tremble, and they watched another section grow and expand.

“It’s…it’s alive.” Adrissa said in awe.

“But what is it exactly?” Doxx asked.

“Its…part of a circle. A circle of thorns,” Rosa said. “And we’re in the middle of it.”

Session notes:
So Richards, apologies in the LONG delay on the meaning of the title of this series. I blame COVID and other writing projects to get to the meaning here.

Also at this point, Doxx (or his player) was starting to get obsessed about interrogating Melisandre. Poor woman. But this is indeed a bit of a curveball compared to the promise of a gold mine.

For sci-fi aficionados there is enough clues here to see what book/film that this is an homage to. As a hint, the book was published in 1951, and the movie released in in 1962. Two different TV series were produced as well in 1981 and in 2009 by the BBC. And I admit when I first saw it as kid on TV, at the time I found it horrifying.
 
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