Oh my, it has been months since my last recap? Time for a new one
Don't worry, I just had (and still have) a lot of work going on right now.
The price of shame
Besides feeling sorry for Asrabey, we finally have some clues where we could find out more of Kasvarina's lost memories with her old enclave Ushanti and Resal. Auryn quickly adds another place to visit with wherever it was that Asrabey and Kasvarina married, as soon as she may get him to return, so he may find a glimpse of happiness again and remember the good times he had with his wife.
As we guess that Resal and the memories that belong to this place might be tied to Dala, Launga and maybe even Pillai, we decide to not contact Asrabey before we went there as we really do not wish to hurt him even more. In addition, the vision had cost Kasvarina a good portion of her strength, so we all agree to spend one more night in Sentosa before we leave the enclave for now.
The next day, we're about to say goodbye to Desok, Faedhraven, Talios and Betronga when Kasvarina is feeling drawn to another place inside the city again. So we just let the Arc do its magic. Kasvarina walks straight towards the pyramid and ascends the steps to the seat of the three High Matriarchs. Then the scene shifts to a hot summer day and all of a sudden Kasvarina is wearing the splendorous garb of one of the High Matriarchs. She is accompanied by a group of warriors, walks up to her seat and takes her place without a flinch. Right next to her are the two other Matriarchs Latika and Athryalla, whom she addresses with a sense of urgency and dread.
Kasvarina then states the reason why she called the Triune: Her daughter Launga has been abducted by the Dragon Tyrant Rilego of Seobriga and she requires help to rescue her last remaining child. Without hesitation, Latika agrees to join her cause and promises her fellow Matriarch a squad of her best trained warriors, including her one-armed General Sor Daeron on top of that. Kasvarina seems to be thankful for that quick response and then looks to Athryalla. But when it is her time to speak, she instead gets off her seat and grabs Kasvarina by the shoulders and shakes her.
Kas utters a quick scream, gets torn away from her vision and we realize that this is the actual Athryalla who resisted the urge to play her part and didn't want the scene to continue. Before the magic of the vision dissipates violently, risking a hefty backlash on Kasvarina, Auryn manages to contain the magic and shield her ancestor's mind from the twisting memories.
“What are you doing? Stop it, you're hurting her!” she shouts at Athryalla, who still has a hold on her fellow Matriarch.
“This is my... no, I won't allow it. This must not continue. Leave at once.” the Matriarch responds.
“With all due respect, Matriarch, you gave us the permission to restore Kasvarina's memories with the Arc's powers. If you continue to torture her like this, you will endanger us all. Is keeping this moment of yours a secret really worth it? Is a Matriarch's promise worth so little?” Carlyle protests, trying to press the right buttons here.
Athryalla doesn't give in at first. She looks back at us and with one glance we see that she seems... frightened. When we ask her again what it would be that would make a person like her so afraid, she explains that it would be Kasvarina's reaction to what she did that day and that she would never ever be able to forgive her for what she had done on that day, four centuries ago.
“Don't you understand? She will inevitably remember that day once her memories are restored, no matter what. And then you won't be around to explain yourself.”, he says all while Kasvarina is still caught up in the magic.
“Wouldn't it be better to rekindle your relationship and built it on trust this time? If you continue this path, there will just be more discord between the two of you.”, Auryn adds.
Athryalla breathes in heavily and then finally agrees. She lets go of her fear and shame, releases Kasvarina and replaces the lost magic by interweaving the Arc's remaining, fragmented vision with an illusion of her own memory. There, her past self stands up and claims that she has a bad feeling about the plan of having all three High Matriarchs together in such a dangerous place. Instead, she offers the two her best troops. Both Kasvarina and Latika agree that this is a wise choice and that the two and their small army will most likely be enough to pincer the Dragon.
When we ask her why Athryalla would be so ashamed by her seemingly wise choice, she explains that it was this decision that most likely cost poor Launga her life. She did have a bad feeling back then and was actually too afraid to join the others. She didn't know what happened in Seobriga, but when Kasvarina returned back to Sentosa, she was injured and all alone and didn't speak a word about what happened. Athryalla guessed that there might have been an act of treason among the rescue squad, but wouldn't dare to inquire further.
“I- I could have saved the girl, had I just been there.”
“Or you could have fallen victim to whatever happened there. You did what was best for Sentosa. Risking all three Matriarchs would have been brave, but foolish indeed.” Auryn replies, reminding her that these are the tough choices you have to make when you're Matriarch. And after all, Athryalla offered – and obviously sacrificed – her elite guard as reinforcements for the mission.
Bit by bit, Kasvarina recovers from her memory, but she still seems very much confused and doesn't understand why this would be such a big deal for Latika. All she felt however was fear and desperation as she knew that Launga was in grave danger.
“I didn't want to cause you more pain, Kasvarina. Whatever happened between you and me shall stay in the past. Let us take this opportunity and start anew.” Athryalla says, and this time she finally sounds honest. To make amends for her mistake, she offers her own headband for Kasvarina as it may give her enough insight to better understand her visions.
(Technically a headband of wisdom to help Kas with the wisdom checks)
She also warns us to not go to Ushanti right now as there could likely be agents of “the old Kasvarina's life” on the lookout for their mistress. Also, but this seems really natural to us, Seobriga would not be the best place to start as this would be too stressful in Kasvarina's current state.
As soon as Kasvarina is able to walk again she, too, thanks Athryalla for her help and honesty. And as her mental state is now even worse than before, we agree to spend another night in Sentosa so Kasvarina may recover and maybe sort out the memories in her dreams.
Just when we're already lying in our beds, we receive a magical message from Flint stating that Vitus Sigismund has been released from custody and is now on his way back to Crisillyir. He seemed to be thankful and sends greetings to those who had so much patience with him.
(Finally! We thought he'd never come down from that high horse...)
Session 49 Dirge
Before we depart to Resal the next morning, we send out a magical message to Ottavia since we are worried about her and Luc as we haven't heard anything about them since the disastrous Obscon. Besides that we also want to talk to the Oracle about our worrisome vision of the future that may or may not come to be. To our surprise and joy, she answers our call almost immediately and leaves a promising reply. She says that she's very relieved to hear from us as she didn't know whether we made it “out of there” alive. She also leaves instructions to meet her in Sid Minos in two days. Her message is a bit cryptic though as she mentions a certain Ninth Pretorian who will welcome us at pier no. 4.
We're glad to see that Ottavia doesn't seem to be as manipulable as Luc, but still mentally prepare for the worst and also agree to not bring Kasvarina to this meeting. Auryn then asks Gabriel to sit with her in private for a bit longer and asks him to watch over her “inner fire” so it may not turn as dark as the old Kasvarina's. She explains that apparently the two of them share more than a face and are both tangled in the strands of destiny. Which is why she sees the danger that ill strokes of fate could have on her path.
Carlyle though turns to her, takes her hand and looks her straight in the eye.
“I will look after you, but I have no worries that you will go astray. I know you quite well. For every shadow you may feel inside you, there is an even bigger light. And while you may make hard decisions, you will never make sacrifices easily or let your heart grow cold and distant. So don't be afraid of who you are.”
Auryn thanks him for his reassurance and explains that she's simply worried by the harsh contrast between the current Kasvarina and the woman who apparently somehow was one of the figureheads of the Obscurati.
(And I'm still very much surprised that none of the Obs ever really tried to recruit Auryn or Carlyle. Both would have been perfect candidates. Well, maybe old!Kasvarina would have vetoed getting anyone of her family involved after what happened to Launga and Dala.)
After that, we finally gather Kasvarina and start our journey to Resal. To speed things up, we look up the nearest point we know and decide to teleport there. And as Sentacore tells us that Resal is now known by the name of Aione Azurro and also one of the earliest Crisillyiri colonies, we get that Vendricce would be a good starting point. So Carlyle takes everyone by their hands and teleports close to the little inn he had memorized.
To our surprise, the teleportation effect leaves a little sproutling that grows into a small tree pretty fast. We see that this growth is most likely connected to life energy from the Dreaming and are again being worried about some strange dimensional tear going on already. Carlyle is especially spooked out as he usually has perfect control over his space-time-altering abilities and muses if the reward is worth the apparent risk. Still we know that we'll have to cross larger distances in the near future, so we decide to stick to teleportation as long as the side effects are minor.
(I don't know whether these effects of the Ob ritual being prepared are actually in the adventure or just some random fluff made up by Tiz to emphasize the “burning threshold” between the Dreaming and our realm)
Once we arrive in Vendricce, we see that the city is packed with military and has increased security measures by a large margin. So we do our best to sneak out unnoticed and then buy some horses in one of the outskirt settlements. The rest of the way to Resal is very easily reachable that way and we arrive in our destination a few hours later.
In Resal we see several really old Eladrin with dull looking eyes working on the fields and we get that these men must be veterans who have given up their fight and surrendered to Crisillyir after the events of the Malice. We feel pity for them, especially as they even wear the emblems of the Clergy and don't bother to look up to us newcomers, which is clearly a sign that they have given up hope long ago.
In town, we also meet another Eladrin man who appears to be pretty uninvolved but not as absent-minded as the others. He's selling flowers and instantly catches the interest of Auryn who talks to him a bit about his wares and botany in general. They trade one of her new cultivated flowers for some local seeds, but she cannot really point her finger on that man's character. Carlyle feels a bit uneasy in the man's presence and his magic detection reveals that the guy is emanating divination magic. So nothing dangerous, but nonetheless mysterious.
Still we have no time to investigate some random flower guy and decide to put a distance between him and us before we let Kasvarina place the crown on her head again.
(As FF7 veterans, we should have known better than to let the mysterious one with the flowers just do his thing )
We let the crown unfold its magic and follow Kasvarina who walks straight to the other end of Resal. She only stops as she reaches a field where the surroundings change and a large group of Eladrin suddenly appears out of thin air. We see their distraught faces and hear their laments about everything being lost now and understand that this must have been a gathering that happened right after the Malice. Besides remnants of the Eladrin army, we also see another, slightly younger version of Sor Daeron, but also the three Matriarchs and Launga. The Eladrin men appear to be in despair and have lost all hope while the few remaining women seem to be unsure whether there could ever be a future for their nation.
After a while, they all attend to a funeral ceremony for all those who have fallen in the great war and the Malice. The poet Vekesh agrees to do the elegy for those who lost their lives, but as soon as he starts his song, everyone realizes that this is a song about Srasama as she best represented those who died in the catastrophe. He sings about both the Maiden and the Mother, but stays silent the moment his song would switch to the Crone.
Kasvarina appears to understand his message and she encourages the other Matriarchs and women to perform a ritual dance for the fallen goddess. In this moment, Auryn feels drawn towards Launga and takes her place in the dance while Carlyle merges with Sor Daeron. Like Vekesh, the women celebrate the aspects of the Maiden and Mother, but leave out the aspect of the Crone as a symbol of their rejection of grief. They then swear to leave grief behind so they may lead their people and forge a future for those who remain.
After Vekesh has finished his performance, the Eladrin men who had listened to him all have tears in their eyes as they have sung the final parts alongside the poet. Vekesh then calls to his people to not give up their lives seeking revenge for the dead women. Instead, he urges them to make sure that the remaining women make it safely back to their homeland as they have to be the backbone of their restoration. Kasvarina is the first of the women to agree to this plan and the others soon join in, with Latika and Athryalla as the other two who do the organization.
The vision ends and Kasvarina falls on her knees, being overwhelmed with all that she just experienced.
“I... how could I have been so strong in such a moment of despair? All while still feeling the pain of the loss of my... oh my dear Dala... she must have died mere moments ago”
Auryn is the first one to fully come back to her own self and leave her experience of Launga behind. She wraps her arms around Kasvarina and comforts her.
“This strength of yours is still inside you, waiting for you to be found. If you really wish to progress further, we will stay by your side till the very end.”
She then helps Kasvarina to get back on her feet and moves to Gabriel who's still caught up with Sor Daeron's feelings about Vekesh's performance. Auryn wipes away the tears from his face and kisses his cheek. Once Gabriel leaves the effect of the Arc behind, he says that he now understands why the Dirge would have been such a turning point in Eladrin history. Auryn agrees and she is really grateful for this rare chance of going back to this moment in history. She takes these memories of Vekesh and the Matriarch's dance with her as she finally understands why her own version of the Dirge wouldn't even be close to the original.
(She'd really try to improve her opera with the knowledge she gained that day, but it would be a long time till she'd get another chance)
After these powerful memories and emotions, we take a short rest on the side of the road. The Eladrin farmers and workers who happened to be nearby when the vision happened don't seem to understand what they just saw and ask us what they just witnessed. We tell them that these were ghosts of the past, remnants of the people who had been here five hundred years ago. After all, a great calamity came to those who lived here five centuries ago and the shadows of the past may never fully vanish until these wounds are healed.
(Can I just say that I loved the way we were able to experience the Dirge of Vekesh? I know that there is a lot of exposition going on in this adventure and it really did its best to do a “show” instead of simply “tell”. It might be a bit awkward if your party doesn't have any connection to Kasvarina, but with our party is was just really personal.
For Gabriel, I guess that this and the whole journey did play a pivotal role in his understanding of the Eladrin, his own place in the world and also what set him apart from Nicodemus. Also, I don't think that we have ever seen him really cry until that point (well, he did have wet eyes when he was knighted by King Aodhan, but there were tears of overwhelmed happiness and pride). Even if these tears were not exactly his own.
And for Auryn, the memory event made her realize even better who she was and what she was fighting for. It also taught her a lot about the meaning of true strength and resilience in a moment of deepest despair. Just wait and see till the “you have to leave grief behind you” will appear again.)
After our short rest, we get up on our feet again. Kasvarina points out that she can feel the Arc resonate once more, which means that at least one other important memory would be nearby. So she places the artifact on her head again and instantly feels drawn into a wholly different direction. We almost stumble over one tired Eladrin worker who appears to be sleeping by the road and follow her to a grossly polluted river. Before we can frown about the obvious destruction of nature by the nearby crisillyiri mine, we suddenly see a humble eladrin house appear in front of us.
Kasvarina enters as if she was really familiar with the structure and we follow her into what turns out to be her original home. A few moments later, Auryn feels drawn to Launga again who is very obviously annoyed by her little sister's impatience. Kasvarina does her best to explain her plans to her daughters. She says that she and her accomplice have a bold plan, one which would include a return to Alais Primos, but that the Ranamandala might reject it and that they all may be branded as outcasts. So she asks the two to please not have any part in it and be loyal citizens.
Dala then jokes that she'd better tell the army that her mother is hiding a human in her house, to which Launga rolls her eyes. But then said human – who appears to look just like Miller from the visions of the Crypta – enters the room. The man's features shift back and forth between the Eladrin we just saw sleeping by the road and said human in his forties. Both Dala and Launga thank him for saving Kasvarina back in Alais Primos, but the man then all of a sudden touches both Dala's and Launga's cheeks and apologizes for not being able to save them as well. He then returns to his role briefly and explains that the civilian populace of Crisillyir is not to blame for the war or the Clergy's aggression.
The vision then ends and the man, now back in the form of the old Eladrin and, obviously possessed by Nicodemus, asks Kasvarina to come with him as he wishes to help her recover her memories. We understand that this is apparently Nicodemus' plan to get his hands back on Kasvarina. Auryn leaves Launga's image behind as well and looks him straight in the eyes.
"My, you look just like her..." he mumbles before Auryn makes her statement.
“We have a common goal then. We're here to help Kasvarina as well. If she has no objections, we are willing to let you come with us on this journey, Nicodemus.”
Of course, this was not the response that Nicodemus has expected, so he turns to Kasvarina again and asks her to come with him once again. Being a bit baffled by this development, she takes a few moments to answer to his request by stating that she would be fine to gave him come along as he was obviously someone who had helped her in her past. But she wouldn't leave what's left of her family behind.
(All this has happened before apparently... I guess the Launga part was just too fitting)
“So you leave me no choice here. If you want to learn your true past, you'll have to come with me. Either willingly, as a prisoner, or as a corpse if you so desire. As for you two, I have no desire to kill you, but I will not hesitate to do so should you not surrender.”, Niodemus says calmly.
Now both Eladrin women look at Nicodemus with a look that could kill. And while Kasvarina simply shakes her head, Auryn steps in front of her ancestor, placing her between Kasvarina and Nicodemus.
“She just said no, is that not enough? I won't let you harm my family, so quit your petty threats!”
It appears that Nicodemus understands this active act of defiance as a threat to himself, so he whispers a secret word and summons six witchoil golems, each equipped with a lantern emitting purple light. And this light, being fueled by Bleak Gate energy, in turn calls two groups of female Eladrin undead into our realm.
Nicodemus then walks away at a slow pace and lets his reinforcements do their job. Kasvarina and Carlyle waste no time and take on a golem each. Meanwhile, Auryn sees that these undead women might be the casualties of the Malice. She damns Nicodemus for his impious action, but then starts to sing the Dirge that had been composed in their name. This calms them down and Auryn asks them to be still while she joins the others in their fight against the golems. Fortunately, these constructs are not the Ob's best works, so we demolish three of them and their lanterns in a pretty timely manner.
Carlyle then looks at Auryn and Kasvarina who are about to take care of the last one.
“You both will be fine without me?” he asks and when the two women agree without hesitation, he puts away his kukris and tries to catch up to Nicodemus, who is still walking away and smoking one of his signature leaf-sticks.
“Nicodemus!”, Carlyle shouts after Nicodemus, who turns around in surprise. Especially as Carlyle's stance is very much relaxed.
“I'm not here to fight you. Just listen for a moment. I know that you met with Ashima-Shimtu. Should the Obscurati's plan in any way be based upon her ideas, her magic, or her ploys, then please be careful. You don't want to be a pawn in her great plan to reopen a gateway to her hellish home. And you know that she has quite the forked tongue.”
Now Nicodemus seems to be even more surprised. He utters a quick laugh before he answers.
“I appreciate your wisdom. But rest assured that she is not a threat. She has no part in our plan and is out of the equation.”
The possession of the old Eladrin ends there and Carlyle suddenly looks into the face of one confused man.
(Oh yeah, Carlyle is paranoid as hell when it comes to Ashima-Shimtu. For a great deal of the AP, he saw her as a potentially far bigger threat than Nicodemus and the Obscurati)
Meanwhile, Auryn and Kasvarina completely devastate the last golem and it turns out that the two of them are much more effective in team maneuvers than on their own. The two then discuss possible means of putting the undead eladrin to rest. As soon as Carlyle returns, Auryn asks him whether he could prepare a large bomb that would just annihilate their bodies, but unfortunately he doesn't have enough material. So we just disassemble the last lantern and the undead vanish back to the Bleak Gate.
As soon as all enemies are dealt with, Gabriel hands a small pendant to Kasvarina, the same one that Dala had worn during the memory event. She is very thankful and grasps the amulet with both her hands.
In the Aftermath, Auryn is very openly piqued that Nicodemus turned from wanting to help Kasvarina to being alright with her death in a split second. But Carlyle states that his actions are very much logical from the leader of the Obscurati's point of view as Kasvarina would be a major source of information. And as we are some of the few people who actively try to thwart their plans, it would be risky to have her be close to us.
Kasvarina just shakes her head and says that this is just too much for her now. All she knows is that she doesn't want to be with this man, no matter who he might have been.
“He is none else but Miller, the philosopher. Well, at least he was Miller in my visions of you and him.” Carlyle explains.
“Still I don't get why this compassionate man, this great mind would turn out to be so cruel when it comes to his grand plan. Especially regarding the woman he likely once cared so much about”, Auryn adds.
(Yeah, I admit that this was quite the clever framing of Nic as the manipulative utilitarianist. And it wasn't even fully intentional. Also, Carlyle had the gut feeling that Nicodemus could be Miller the moment he learned that Nicodemus had some special connection to Kas. And I guess that makes our revelation of his true identity a pretty early one. But it was quite obvious in this scene to be honest.)
Ashima-Shimtu does cast an influential shadow, my players were either worried about her or determined to free her as soon as they met her, of course one of them then married her.
And Nicodemus/Millar so certain he is right and so willing to do anything to achieve his goals, and as a result can never reach them
Dang, now I'm wondering how things could have gone if Nic had accompanied the party.
Firstly, needlewire doesn't last long enough, so he'd have to show up in a more permanent body, and given whom he is riding, that would probably get things off on the wrong foot.
Second, he'd probably give one more go at trying to persuade the constables to side with him, maybe by letting them meet with some of the folks picking the planes to create a new system, and giving them the toys to play with, to let them see what it feels like to have the option of making the world better. And of course while doing this he'd be working to ingratiate himself with Kasvarina again.
Third, he'd probably plot a way to kill them.
But hm, I wonder if having A Christmas Carol style view of his life and choices might make Nicodemus reconsider anything? He's a ghost, and they don't change easily.
Wow, one of your players married her? And here I thought we were the ones with the weird romance stories
Oh and yes, having Nic with us on the journey would have been quite the ride. Maybe like one of those episodes where the party is stuck with the antagonist for some reason and there is constant bickering going on, especially as a certain somone would return at some point. Of course we would've been on the lookout and of course Nic would have tried to gain the upper hand.
But the offer was pretty genuine as at least Auryn thought that there would be some good core left inside that man. And even he didn't know the full story of Kasvarina.
Well, at least we now have some evidence that Nicodemus isn't permanently fused with our dear friend Andrei, another misdeed of the ghostly form of Miller which we readily share with Kasvarina. So there might still be hope that we can save our friend.
We then search for a safe place to rest for the night as we don't know whether the grand vision of the Dirge of Vekesh would attract any local Clergyfolk to investigate. This is why we decide to only rest for a short period for now, as there still might be more visions lingering in Resal.
This assumption turns out to be correct as Kasvarina is drawn deeper into the forest after placing the Arc on her head again after a couple of hours. The occasion is a mournful one though as we witness the funeral ceremony for Pillai. Kasvarina appears to be both heartbroken and vengeful in this vision and she is accompanied by her two daughters, who are much younger this time. It doesn't strain the current Kasvarina as much as we fear though and she finally seems to understand the source of her antagonistic emotions toward the Clergy and Crisillyir.
She only needs a few minutes to recover and then uses the crown again. This time, she walks to a forsaken chapel which turns to a sacred smaller temple of Srasama. Inside, we see a heavily pregnant Kasvarina who is about to give birth, surrounded by female members of her family, including a young Launga and a priestess. When Carlyle realizes what is going on, he withdraws, sensing that this is no place for a man, even less a non-Eladrin. Auryn stays on Kasvarina's side who gives birth to Dala and appears to be both exhausted and happy afterward. The whole scene repeats a second time with a slightly different crowd, but this time it is Launga who is being born.
Carlyle returns after the birth of her second, or rather first child to look after Kasvarina's physical and mental well-being. But it appears as if she is actually pretty energized by the experience.
“My two little stars, you were my world and our future...” she says with both a smile and tears in her eyes.
She then uses the crown for a last time and is drawn towards the town square. Her last vision is another happy memory, that of her joyous wedding ceremony with Pillai.
“See, this is what I told you about back in Flint. It is beautiful, isn't it?” Auryn says with a wink.
After this last vision, we return to our hideout as more and more people gather to see what this second ruckus is all about.
(Can I say that it was cute to include these little personal details of Kasvarina? It also helped the two women bond over these family events. Oh and yes, this could have stirred something in Nic had he stayed with us. )
The next day, the three of us discuss on how to proceed from here. We still agree that Ushanti would be potentially dangerous, especially now that Nicodemus knows that we're looking for Kasvarina's memories. Seobriga would be too straining for Kasvarina's current psyche, and there might be a dragon in her vision so that'd include the risk of a diplomatic incident if not handled carefully.
After a while, we settle on Flint as the next step as we know that Kasvarina was present in the Bleak gate complex and understanding her role within the Obscurati would help us solve a part of this puzzle. Carlyle's teleportation magic has been malfunctioning the last time, so Auryn decides to give her hearthstone teleport a try.
(She got that one from Teraklir as a gift after we accepted her as a guest in our home. I don't remember if I ever mentioned the hearthstone in a previous chapter. It was Tiz' idea because Auryn had been stranded once after Carlyle left her and he wanted to give her more freedom of movement. So she has this one spell that lets her return to the place she marked as “home” with the stone)
Auryn's teleportation goes off with a flash of light and the group vanishes at an instant. But when we can see clearly again, we find ourselves standing in front of the entrance of Pallita. Which is obviously “home”, but not the kind of “home” in Flint where Auryn has left her hearthstone.
Of course, all three of us are pretty much surprised by arriving at that place, but are also glad that no one caught fire or something like that. So we use the unexpected event to introduce Kasvarina to her other descendant, Matriarch Galadin, and the rest of the family. It appears that some of the very old inhabitants of Pallita recognize Kasvarina as they act very formally and treat her with high respect. Galadin herself is very much surprised, but sees this as a positive one. She even jokes that as it is now, it seems like Auryn returned to bring her another daughter of hers. With the same breath she adds that of course she is very honored to welcome her famous ancestor she has heard so much about from her own mother. Auryn takes on the lighthearted atmosphere and explains that while they are on the search for Kasvarina's lost memory, her connection to her ancestor does indeed feel like that of a long-lost sister despite the age difference.
Gabriel stays a bit in the background during the family reunion. Nevertheless, he is welcomed warmly by Rajh, the Matriarch's tiger companion.
(We didn't go too much into detail here, but I assume that of Galadin's three husbands, Thorandil would be the most chill as he was actually alive during the Malice and he is also a veteran of the war. Maybe he even was present during the Dirge, but we didn't try to spot him there.
Estelar would most likely burst with pride and try to impress Kasvarina, the High Matriarch. He'd also try to make sure that everyone adheres the proper protocol so the powerful matriarch would see him favorably in the future.
Kalaren... well, he'd love to cross blades with Kas. He knows very little about politics but he has heard about her legendary combat prowess. He'd also have loved to spar with Carlyle if they just had more time in Pallita.
Oh and yes, Nic coming along would have really unsettled Auryn here. Pallita is very much a secret and her family is her weak spot.)
We stay in Pallita for one more day to let Kasvarina breathe in the atmosphere of a wholly different Eladrin enclave. We use the time to also tell Galadin all that we've learned from the visions in the Sanctum of Ingathan. We also discuss the plan of the Obscurati and the possible transformation of the world and of course the Matriarch is very worried about the possibility of losing the Dreaming in the process. Auryn also shows her the Arsenal of Dhebisu, to which Galadin adds that nothing happens without a purpose, especially not when the gods are involved. Gabriel uses this opportunity to point out that following the path of fate and destiny doesn't have to be a bad thing.
After this conversation, we risk another teleport, this time without Kas, to go to Sid Minos to meet up with Ottavia. We end up in Alais Primos at first, but manage to hop to Sid Minos from there without causing too much ruckus. Then we don our disguises and go to pier no. 4 and look for Pretorians on patrol.
We manage to find said ninth Pretorian who is clad in all black leather and she asks us to aid her in searching for illegal substances in an abandoned warehouse. As soon as we are inside, the Pretorian drops her hood only to reveal that she is actually Ottavia Sacredotte. She promises us that this place would be safe from prying eyes. She is also very glad to see us doing well since she didn't know what happened to us after the events of Mutravir. After she and Luc had been evacuated, the two were separated and she doesn't know more about Luc's whereabouts. Which is why she is extremely worried what the Obs could have already planned for him. Ever since that day, she was sent to join the Pretorians, but she doesn't really plan to spy on them as she has very much internally broken up with the organization.
After hearing that, we carefully ask her for her opinion on the most recent events. Ottavia explains that she has had her doubts ever since their “recruitment” of Andrei while Luc was quick to believe their stories about Andrei being a willing vessel.
“I have seen what this man has done for you. He cared for free will and freedom and never would he have given up on that willingly”, she says and adds that she feels extremely guilty regarding his fate as she was the one who told Nicodemus about that fabulous man who rescued a whole train from a group of bandits with his bare hands.
Bringing the subject back to Mutravir, she explains that Luc is not a bad person, but rather very impressionable. That, and he was merely following orders when it came to the incident with the lanterns. He and her were also told that the island and the lighthouse weren't safe anymore and so the two of them got evacuated.
We get the impression that Ottavia is being really honest with us and so we tell her everything that happened between the Obs and us from our point of view, starting with the alleged abduction of Andrei. We explain that Isobel, the woman she once saw by Elanor Yanette's side is his companion who misses him very much, so yes, Andrei would probably do anything to break free. Which is what had briefly happened when Nicodemus tried to fight us. We also tell her all about we had learned during the Obscon, including the planar seal, Nicodemus' plan and our efforts to save as many defiant Obscurati as possible from Nicodemus' murder attempt.
Lastly, we tell her about our terrifying vision of the far future and hint that this is what might happen should Nicodemus' and the Obs' plan succeed. It seems like Ottavia actually believes everything we said, but alas she doesn't know how to contact Luc and educate him on his mistakes. She'll try to do her best to find and reach him though.
She also has more information for us regarding Crisillyir: She did her best to keep an eye on the Obs officers who were sent back to their home nation after we had captured them on Mutravir. Officially, she explains, they just vanished and are marked as missing people. She doesn't know much about their status and we hint that they might be questioned as the Clergy might not be too happy about the existence of a conspiracy within their ranks.
But when she also mentions a certain Vitus Sigismund and that he's being accused of disobedience and that he will be summoned to the High Pretorian to testify, we explain that this man's trial will most likely be a farce for the public and a chance for the Clergy to learn more about the Obs as we know for sure that Crisillyir is happy tho have their Godhand back. Either that or the High Pretorian is actually an Ob in disguise, but that would be something that Ottavia would be better suited for to find out. We also agree to send Vitus a message to ask him about his whereabouts in the not too far future.
Before we say goodbye to Ottavia, we hand her two sending scrolls so she may contact us should she need our help or find out something of importance. One we advise her to use for contacting Luc. We also mention a certain trusted contact for the Clergy we might use in Flint (who is of course Morgan Cippiano even if we don't mention his name). Lastly, we ask Ottavia to stay safe and keep a low profile as we don't want to cause her trouble. She appreciates our care and promises to stay in contact.
(That went far better than anticipated. Seems like at least one half of the duo still has some sanity left. Ottavia is very brave and we were really happy to see her again in this episode. She, too, will have a role to play.)
We return to Pallita with the reassuring feeling of having at least one reliable ally within the Obscurati besides Alexander Grappa who is still inhabiting the body of Leone Quintal. Before we reunite with Kasvarina, we once again talk about the Arc of Reida and the opportunity it could provide for getting a deeper insight into Gabriel's memories regarding the assault on the Vantrys estate. Gabriel seems very much interested, but insists that his own interests have to wait until our mission of restoring Kasvarina is done.
Auryn suggests that, as Kas is usually taking quite some time to recover from her memory events and we're heading for Flint anyway, he could just take that opportunity right now. Still he doesn't want to risk any interference between his memories and those of Kasvarina. So we tell the Matriarch that our short detour is finished and we're ready to depart once more.
To not risk any more teleport mishaps, we decide to travel to Sawyer a more traditional way. There, we inform governor Roderick about our talks with Matriarch Athryalla and our current mission. The governor is alarmed by our warning of the possibility of a planar incident and a possible activity of the Mad King Vardanis, but she confirms that Sawyer appears to be safe for now.
Next, we take a ship to Flint. After a few days without any happenings whatsoever, we finally arrive in the city harbor. Kasvarina is instantly repulsed by the stench hanging in the air, but nonetheless surprised to see that the Flinter citizens don't seem to mind at all and appear to be quite content with their situation. We tell her that everyone is basically welcome in Flint as long as he or she plays by the rules. On top of that, the people of Flint tend to stick together should troubles arise, which is why she shouldn't be surprised to see the occasional protest.
After we leave ship, we first head to the RHC to give Chief Inspector Delft a full update on our progress so far. In return, he informs us that all of our Crisillyiri prisoners were sent to their home in the mean time as diplomatic negotiations turned out to be pretty fruitful. We also hand him a message to Slate regarding our talks and the political situation in Elfaivar. Then we're formally introduced to the newest recruit of the RHC, Agent Xambria Meredith (in her new body). We hold a small, spontaneous celebration in our office in her honor. Unfortunately, neither we nor Delft have heard any news from Grappa yet so we fear that he might have been uncovered. Delft tries to soothe our fear by stating that Grappa is prone to silence on his missions but the situation is still unsettling.
As Kasvarina is pretty new to Flint, we invite her on a tour through the city by carriage. This way, she can get a feeling for this place and also get a hunch for any stray memories. And just when we're about to leave Central District behind, Kasvarina senses one important memory coming from the Navras Opera House.
So we stop our carriage and enter the Opera where we see that a group of Docker singers is doing a rehearsal for an upcoming performance. We wait until their session is over and then move towards the main hall. Kasvarina then places the Crown on her head and her hidden memory takes over.
Slowly, the roof of the Opera house vanishes and we see a scene from a time when its construction was still in progress. We see one older eladrin man with thick, black hair standing in the middle of the room directing workers and we guess that this must be Navras himself. But then Kasvarina approaches him and calls out to him:
“Vekesh! I never thought that, of all people, I would find you here.”, she says with an earnest surprise but a much more mature voice.
Kasvarina appears to be pretty calm, but the Eladrin turns around and looks at her with eyes full of fury and disgust.
“You! How dare you come to this city, High Matriarch! After what you have done to our ideals, our future and my name.”
Kasvarina looks a bit baffled but now not too surprised at a slightly older version of the poet Vekesh, and it seems like she knows what his anger might be all about.
“I didn't come to argue with you, my old companion.”
“And I cannot stand to watch you see turn another work of mine to ash. You and your fanaticism are not welcome in this city. And the Guardian won't let you pervert the hearts and minds of those disciples who still go by my old name. Here I am known as Navras, the Builder, but that shall not bother you. Leave immediately and never return here.”
Vekesh's words bear enough weight to instantly shatter the memory event, leaving Kasvarina all confused about his sudden shift of temper. She shakes her head and states that Vekesh must have utterly despised her in that moment even though she does not understand why that would be. And what she asks about “those going by his name”, Carlyle points to Auryn and says that this is something she would be fitted best to explain.
But just when Auryn starts to explain the nature of the Vekeshi to Kasvarina, and the special role the Guardian of the Threshold would play for the Flinter branch, the Arc of Reida resonates in a blue light. In response, the stones of the Opera house release their very own magic and the world swirls and turns black for a moment.
When we open our eyes again, we realize that we suddenly are inside bodies who are not our own and who must have lived several decades in the past. All of a sudden, we feel fear as we're in the middle of the night among a group of people lead by Roland Stanfield. We look around and see that we're on the way up to Cauldron Hill. Stanfield declares boldly that he will make an end to the threat of the Witches of the coven of the Red Comtessa this time and we follow him as faithful members of the militia.
Unfortunately, all of us get killed as three Witches attack our team one by one until finally the one called Red Comtessa puts a dagger to the chest of Roland Standfield.
(That was quite the detour from the usual Zeitgeist lore of Vekesh. Tiz wanted to put an emphasis to why the Vekeshi of Flint would be different, and also not tainted by the Obs at all. So he used both the Guardian Fey and Vekesh himself to establish their order.
In this version, Vekesh was disillusioned after decades of trying to keep the spark of hope alive in the Eladrin people. He then saw that Kasvarina used the Vekeshi for her own goals and while he felt sympathy for her losses, he couldn't get past the fact that she perverted his ideals for her seeming lust for revenge on the Clergy. So he basically said “screw it”, left Elfaivar and eventually came to Flint. There he met the Guardian, the exiled Storm Fey who was damned to live and be reborn among mortals and who came to care for them.
He switched his name to Navras to signify his new start and envisioned establishing a community where everyone was welcome to exchange their ideas and their art. And so the idea of building an Opera House was born. He oversaw its construction and, when it was finally finished, performed his Dirge of Vekesh for the very last time. Then he vanished, never to be seen again.
So yeah, there is a good reason why Auryn wasn't able to get the same audience reaction with her Dirge as Navras.
Oh and yes, this is the spot where our group inserted Bonds of Forced Faith. Stay tuned for who played whom )
After reliving the experience of one of Stanfield's many deaths, we suddenly find ourselves in different personalities than before. Among them are King Lorcan, inhabited by Carlyle, who is accompanied by Green Knight Dame Melissa, inhabited by Auryn, as well as Harkover Lee and a Godhand called Tomas Masarick. The four of them are on their way to the estate of the “Mayor” of Flint, who is actually Stanfield, reincarnated.
All four are welcomed by Stanfield who seems to be both desperate and relieved that the King is finally taking matters in his own hands. Lorcan promises that he has heard the cries of the citizens of Flint, which is why he came to fight the witches with his own hands. Carlyle however understands the King's inner workings and sees that Lorcan is tired of his job and seeking for a successor as well as the fact that the Kings feels the need to prove his worth one more time.
Stanfield ignores any subtle twitches of the King however as he has far more important matters at hand. He introduces himself as the representative of the desperate people of Flint who are currently being terrorized by a coven of witches. The witches, he explains, have established their domain atop the “green hill” which is now dubbed “Cauldron Hill” or “Witch Hill”. They had been in hiding for several decades at first, but became much bolder over time. He tried to take care of their looming presence, but had been killed thrice so far. So he is quite thankful that King Lorcan finally listened to his pleas for help.
The King replies that it is his job as Sovereign of Risur to take care of powerful, magical foes and that the brave citizens of Flint will be able to live in peace again soon. Tomas Masarick adds that he has joined the King's quest as Crisillyir has to take its responsibility this case of witch infestation as the “Comtessa”, one of the witches, is a former Crisillyiri who got exiled for her blasphemous acts. He adds that, had she been burned at the stake as usual and not treated with mercy, the people of Flint would have been safe from her heinous acts. Especially as he suspects that she is currently using magic that she stole from one of the most forbidden vaults of his home nation: The Crypta Heraeticorum.
(Oh my... this place is coming back again and again)
Tomas briefly explains that one of the rituals she stole is one that'd give her the ability to tie her own life force to that of others, thus making her really hard to kill. Stanfield confirms that the Comtessa is wielding strange magic unknown to Risuri mages and adds that she is also very capable in the field of Blood Magic per se. He then explains the abilities of her fellow witches Deliria, who is a skilled illusionist, and Pernicity, who can summon and command both Fey and Undead.
Lorcan is eager to get this job done, but Stanfield insists to wait for Rachel Lang, a Skyseer who would be their guide to the Hill and who appears to be running late. But before the woman arrives, the group witnesses one very unusual event: The arrival of a Danoran steam vessel in Flint Harbor.
As no one expected the Danoran's arrival, King Lorcan sends a slightly piqued Dame Melissa as his emissary to look for the Danoran's intentions and hail them while the rest continues their wait for Rachel Lang. Auryn senses that Dame Melissa is a bit torn by feeling a sense of pride to be chosen as Lorcan's emissary and her fear that King Lorcan and Harkover Lee might be discussing something important in her absence. She also gets a sense of rivalry from Melissa towards Lee, which she finds a bit amusing given the fact that she knows more about the true nature of the King's advisor.
When she arrives at the harbor, Dame Melissa is surprised to see a single Tiefling Lady leaving the enormous ship. She introduces herself in a very friendly and formal manner as Amielle Latimer, member of a scientific community which wishes to establish a collaboration with Risur and leave the nation's squabbles in the past. She adds that she knows about the King's mission to deal with the nasty witches and stresses out that she has important information that may be crucial to the mission's success. Dame Melissa is very much skeptical at first, and so are the risuri bystanders, but she is willing to listen to this information and share it with King Lorcan and the rest of the crew.
So Dame Melissa takes Amielle to the Mayor's estate where she introduces herself once again. She then quickly explains that she knows about the lunar eclipse that's taking place this evening, an event which is casually called as a “blood moon”. Amielle adds that on top of this bad omen, there are also various stellar and planetar constellations that would greatly empower any skilled wielder of blood magic.
Stanfield agrees to this assessment as his reports show hints that the witches would be working on some grand ritual which may be connected to the eclipse.
“Well isn't that great... the Crisillyiri and Danorans seem to know more about our local problems than the Risuri scholars.”, Lorcan remarks snarkily. “And where the bloody hell is this Skyseer? I don't remember that 'making the king wait' is a local Flintish custom, Mayor Stanfield...”
“I don't wish to add oil to the fire, my King, but the connection between a 'bood moon' and a 'blood witch' are quite obvious, don't you think?”, Dame Melissa adds with a sigh.
But before the Green Knight can add any more sass to her statement, she is interrupted by a loud explosion. Then the small group can see a grand column of smoke coming from the harbor and all of them hurry to the front door of the estate. From the front window, they can see that the smoke is actually coming from the Danoran ship and Amielle Latimer is horrified to see her beautiful vessel in flames.
She urges the party to rush to the harbor, but the moment they open the front door, they are confronted by a bunch of Flinter citizens. The murmur something about having a witch in a boat when suddenly one of them takes out a knife and slits his own throat.
As the group watches in terror as the man falls over and dies, the blood gushing from his neck takes on the form of a beautiful woman with lush locks. She calls herself the “Red Comtessa”, Lady of Cauldron Hill. The Comtessa explains that she came to congratulate King Lorcan to his birthday and adds that this birthday will mark the day of his retirement as he has never taken the needs of his citizens seriously, lest of all the citizens of Flint. People she deeply cares for. Which is why from now on, she will be Queen of Risur.
As she utters these words, Dame Melissa cuts off the blood-witches' head.
“Impertinent bitch should watch her bloody mouth”, she spits out and nods to King Lorcan. As the woman's figure dissolves to a puddle of blood again, Harkover Lee points out that there is indeed some ruckus coming from the direction of Parity Lake, which might be related to the “witch in the boat” the crazed people mentioned earlier. Lorcan agrees that all of this is troublesome news and that they should definitely look into this “witch” report. After all, order has to be restored and Parity Lake could be a good starting point.
(Dame Melissa pulling the same move on the Comtessa's image as Cuin and Tinu did on Pilus' clones during our WotBS campaign in adventure #11. Every time he tried to give a speech they just cut him in half )
The group now consisting of King Lorcan, Dame Melissa, Harkover Lee, Roland Stanfield, Amielle Latimer and Brother Tomas hurries towards Parity Lake where they see a group of Flinter locals who are busy firing burning arrows at a boat. Stanfield is shocked to see that the person they are firing at is no one else but Rachel Lang, the missing Skyseer.
King Lorcan calls out to the citizens and states that, should there be a dangerous witch in this boat, it would be his job as King to deal with this mistress of the occult. Which is why they should take cover and leave everything else to him and his entourage. Some of them back down immediately, but several others, including husky Pete, have to be pushed by Dame Melissa to give their King the necessary attention.
One by one the people of Flint withdraw and the team boards one rather small ship to get closer to Rachel Lang. Just when everyone is ready to go, Pete turns into a witch and signals a group of trolls that were hiding among the other abandoned boats to attack the party. Tomas is the first to react. He instantly jumps at the witch and buries her in wild punches. To his horror, the still present crowd takes some bruises from his attacks despite being a good distance away. Few of them run away in panic, but almost twenty people appear to be frozen in awe despite being hurt.
Tomas remembers this effect as part of the ritual Bonds of Forced Faith and he informs the others that attacking the woman could be lethal to the innocent citizens she bound herself to. The witch, who calls herself sister Deliria, laughs in amusement and throws an anti-firemagic-curse at Harkover Lee, but Tomas redirects the curse at himself. Now it is Harkover who grins at the witch and releases a massive firebolt-volley at the trolls.
“You know what they say about these trolls... they burn quite well”, he says and signals the King and Dame Melissa that he has their backs. King Lorcan then jumps at one of the trolls and engages him in melee combat while Dame Melissa buries her spear in the head of another one. Meanwhile, Tomas tries to grapple the witch but isn't really successful. Amielle tries shooting at the trolls but doesn't do much harm while Stanfield duplicates and fires more magic at them.
As soon as the swampy creatures are dealt with, Dame Melissa summons her stag mount, teleports behind Sister Deliria and catches her with a net. She then nods to Tomas and points towards the lake. The Godhand then grabs the witch and drowns her in the lake. To everyone's relief this doesn't cause more harm to the enchanted citizens of Flint. Moreso, the enchantment wears off the moment the witch dies. King Lorcan calms them down and promises to take care of the whole witch problem for them so they can all go back to sleep.
Roland Stanfield then signals Rachel Lang that she may now safely return to the shore and meet up with the group. Rachel asks her company to row her back and is really grateful for this swift rescue. She apologizes for being late to the appointment, but y'know, there wasn't really much she could have done against this angry mob. She repays the rescue by healing Stanfield's wounds and then talks about the vision she had most recently: In this vision, she saw victory for the King, but that victory happened after the witches' ritual. Which is why they should wait till morning for their attack on the witche's lair atop Cauldron Hill... unless they want to risk a calamity that is.
Now this is a real quandary as the group is faced by two contradictory advices. King Lorcan tries to listen to his gut and feels that he'd rather go with the traditional Risuri Skyseer who had served her city for years than with the Danoran “scientist” and the foreign religious zealot. Dame Melissa, who seems to be opposing King Lorcan for nothing else than to stand out herself, argues that it might still be necessary to climb the mountain as soon as possible. After all, this is a “blood moon” and the witches will be able to draw power from their ritual.
Rachel Lang understands and agrees to their plan as long as the King orders her to lead them. King Lorcan finally agrees and Rachel offers them a protective ritual including blood, herbs and milk. They gratefully agree, but then Dame Melissa is overcome with a quick sting in her head. In what appears to be flashes of images scattered through time, she understands that these are also components of a witches' ritual.
(Tiz had it be Auryn's presence that acted as the catalyst for Dame Melissa to unlock the knowledge Auryn had previously gained from Mayor Macbannin. Wibbly woobly timey stuff of two people connected to the fey and bound by the Arc of Reida's planar magic. Which was way more awesome than the really well rolled nature check)
Dame Melissa takes Roland Stanfield aside and shares her fear that Rachel might somehow be bewitched or even in league with the witches and the Mayor discreetly checks the Skyseer for unusual magic. Unfortunately, he cannot find any illusions on the woman. So both Mayor and Green Knight are not really sure on how to act: Either they'd accuse an innocent woman of witchcraft or they might doom them all by letting a witch put a spell on them all.
Then, all of a sudden, an old fisherman walks by. He takes a curious look at Dame Melissa's stag and tries to pet the steed's head. And to Melissa's surprise, the stag rears his head towards the stranger.
“What a beautiful creature. Take good care of him”, the fisher man says and continues his walk. Without any warning, the stag then leaps at Rachel Lang and lowers its antlers, ready for attack. In return, Rachel Lang tries to throw a curse at King Lorcan, but Tomas is ready to intercept this curse once again.
“Careful, King Lorcan, she's a witch!” Dame Melissa shouts and charges towards Rachel. Tomas then trips Rachel with his hooked chain and King Lorcan hacks at the witch. Rachel understands that fighting here would be futile, so she transforms into a raven and tries to fly away. But she is stopped by a well-placed rapier stab from Amielle Latimer and a jab from Dame Melissa's lance.
After Rachel Lang's death, King Lorcan turns towards Roland Stanfield and demands an explanation why their trusted guide would turn out to be a traitor to Risur. Lorcan calls this a “conspiracy of witches” which has taken roots in the heart of Flint and through which the witches were able to gain information about Stanfield, his plans and his weaknesses. Stanfield is very much embarrassed by all of this and vows that he had no idea that his trusted Skyseer would be one of the coven.
Dame Melissa the ever sarcastic one points out that she now understands why the witches have had such an easy time killing the poor Mayor again and again. She then takes King Lorcan aside and whispers that, should every Danoran turn out to be as informed and clever as this Amielle Latimer, Risur would have a lot to catch up to.
The group now finally starts their ascent to Cauldron Hill. Dame Melissa, being the only one with a steed, takes it as her job to scout ahead and look for signs of undead. After a while, she spots a person bound to a stake, rides a bit closer and hears faint moaning. So she returns to the group and warns them of the danger ahead. The rest of the group advances towards the presumed corpse with all proper caution. As soon as he sees the face of the now-undead person, Stanfield exhales a short gasp as this is one of the people who accompanied him during his last expedition.
The King kills off the undead with a precise shot of his bow and then promises Stanfield to take care of all the witches' victims as soon as the immediate danger is dealt with.
The path is getting much harder to traverse now, so King Lorcan calls upon his royal connection to the land to ease it up for the rest of the group. Meanwhile, Harkover uses his super strength to help here and there without drawing too much attention on how he's done that. Tomas makes good use of his undead radar, and combined with Stanfield's very good eyesight, they can spot a group of specters approaching before they can really see what's going on. So all of the group manage to find a good hiding place (built and reinforced by King Lorcan) in time and they let the undead fly past them.
This way, the team reaches a small plateau where they see shining flames in the distance. Knowing that this must either be the hideout of one of the witches, a trap or both, they decide to stay hidden and watch the scenery from afar. After a while, they spot more corpses bound to burning stakes and dancing dark fey who tend the flames. And then they see a young witch, sitting on top of a cauldron, humming a silly song. Tomas is about to charge at the witch when Stanfield spots more cages with hostages and he urges the Godhand to reconsider his plans as he doesn't want him to sacrifice his citizens.
The team discusses their strategy and finally settle on Lorcan going in first with a silencing shot and having Tomas then drag her away from the hostages. Fortunately, Lorcan's shot is on mark and Tomas manages to wrestle the witch down. But then, to his surprise, the ground turns out to be made of burned corpses coming alive. And the corpses begin to grapple him as well. Meanwhile, the dark fey all gang up on the poor Godhand and throw their barrages of flames at him. Amielle understands that this situation is looking very dire for Tomas, so she throws a grenade at the fey and undead. Stanfield splits up again and summons his loremaster to unleash a barrage of spells at the fey while Dame Melissa singles out other fey to mow down with her steed. Harkover Lee uses a dispel on the Witch after he saw that she isn't really impressed by fire magic, but he only manages to unravel her spell of youthfulness. Which makes the witch turn rather old and seemingly more appropriate for her presumed age.
(oh my, the creepy kid witch archetype)
Tomas remains stalwart in pinning down the witch, Sister Pernicity, and Harkover Lee rushes to his aid, bringing along a rope to tie her up. Meanwhile, the rest of the party deals with the fey and undead. Harkover and Tomas then drag the witch out of reach for her Bonds of Forced Faith ritual and King Lorcan decapitates her without harming the hostages. Stanfield frees them all and asks them to take shelter in Pernicity's hut and stay hidden until the Red Comtessa has been dealt with. They are really grateful to see both their Mayor and their King coming to their aid and do as they've been told.
Being confronted with that many undead, Tomas offers to anoint the weapons of his comrades with holy water from the channels of Alais Primos. Amielle si a bit skeptical at first as she fears that the water may ruin her gunpowder, but she still agrees to dip her bullets in the holy substance. The weather now turns bitterly cold and Dame Melissa protects all of the more vulnerable people with her endure elements spell. King Lorcan continues to support the ascent with his earth magic and after what feels like an eternity the group finally arrives at the top of Cauldron Hill.
They all know that this is where the Red Comtessa, mastermind behind all this, has established her lair, and so they approach with stealth and caution. Stanfield summons his loremaster who casts a spell to scout the location from all sides. He then shares what he learned through his magic with the others: First, there are more fey, which will most likely mean more fire. There are also several witches dancing around a cauldron, which might be part of the Comtessa's ritual. A chimera-like creature guards the witches, and he describes the beast as a lion with a snake-like mane.
(that one sounds... oddly familiar)
Stanfield continues to state that the Comtessa holds more people captive who are being guarded by specters. So the group discusses all possible options and decide to go all out on the Red Comtessa as this might be the only chance to stop her. Especially Stanfield knows that this is payback time and he cannot hold back after all he and Flint have lost. So he summons all of his incarnations and offers to team up with Tomas against the fey and the specters. Lee is ready to unleash a fiery barrage on the witches without harming the Comtessa as he doesn't want to harm the prisoners.
That's actually all the planning they need before they spread out as Amielle is more of an independent agent anyway (she also swears to not harm the prisoners) while the King and Dame Melissa will take on single targets one by one.
The actual battle starts with one surprise fireball from Harkover Lee which turns all of the dancing witches to cinders. This tells the Comtessa that her guests of honor have finally arrived. So she orders the fey to attack whoever comes close. She then spots Amielle and Harkover Lee and throws a lightning bolt into their general direction. Amielle is able to roll aside, but Harkover gets hit by the full blow and withdraws. Meanwhile, the fey throw their fire at the King, Tomas and Dame Melissa who retaliate in melee combat. Melissa then sees that being too close to the others may be too much of a risk, so she charges at the chimera while Stanfield harasses the fey from a distance. He directs his counselor to support the group and lets his warrior go into melee as well.
Tomas sees that Harkover Lee is badly burnt from the lightning bolt and heals him with his healing fist. Lee recovers and continues his rain of fire on the fey. Amielle stays at a safe distance and shoots at the fey with her revolver, but with little success. Melissa keeps her one-on-one with the snake-maned lion, but she takes some blows and bites in the process. King Lorcan and the Stanfields engage in a heavy battle with the fey and the Comtessa tries to bring down the King with a curse. But she didn't expect the intervention of Tomas, who takes the full effect upon himself.
(We should call him Tomas the martyr at this point... he intercepted every single curse in this adventure. Most times he made his save, but he wasn't too lucky in the final battle.)
“Damn your bloody gods of the Clergy! They shall all rot in hell!” she screams.
Tomas ignores her curses and teams up with Dame Melissa and Amielle Latimer to put an end to the chimera. Stanfield and Harkover Lee withdraw again and agree to free the prisoners first as they might have to fight the Red Comtessa directly. Together, they eliminate the specters and Harkover Lee shatters the risuric knot with one of his spells.
The Red Comtessa tries to curse the King again, this time with a stunning curse, and Tomas intercepts again. Unfortunately, he takes on the full effect once again and falls to the ground. Things aren't looking too well for the team right now as the cauldron all of a sudden seems to gain a consciousness of its own and starts hopping down the Hill.
But then, a storm rises seemingly from out of nowhere and a single lightning strikes the Hill. With the roaring thunder that follows, a huge stag steps on the top of the Hill. He rears his head and lightning emerges from its body, imbuing the weapons of the Green knight and King Lorcan. Another flash strikes Harkover Lee's chest, invigorating his magical abilities. Melissa's stag turns its head towards the mythical creature which is when Melissa realizes that this fey stag must be connected to the man she saw earlier. Auryn however instantly realizes the true nature of the “Old Stag”, giving Melissa the uncanny feeling that this one would be somehow a kind of guardian spirit.
The stag then turns to the group of frightened captives, who have since been released by Stanfield and Lee. It calms them down somehow and leads them away from the site of battle.
(Yeah, this is no one else but a prior incarnation of the Storm Fey known as Old Stag or Guardian of the Threshold. The fisherman was the human form he was reincarnated into at the time, the stag is his spirit form and his magic is tied to lightning. He obviously may not interfere directly in this case which is why he resorts to influencing and empowering)
Harkover Lee uses his replenished magic to throw a final fireball at the fey, which is enough to kill them off. He then tries to dispel the moving cauldron but isn't successful. Amielle and Melissa then try to stop the cauldron together: Amielle starts by throwing a grenade at the thing which sends it flying through the air. Dame Melissa throws her lance at the flying cauldron, the lightning that surrounded her weapon strikes the object and the cauldron falls down the cliff with a bang. Meanwhile, King Lorcan fights against the pillars at the ritual site which seem to come alive as well.
The Red Comtessa is very much surprised by this turn of events. She throws another lightning bolt at King Lorcan, but he isn't too impressed. As soon as the prisoners are out of sight, the group agrees to take on the Comtessa together. They kill her and then disassemble the moving pillars one by one.
King Lorcan and the rest are very much intrigued by the sudden appearance and disappearance of the mysterious stag.
“The presence of the Fey must be really strong here, and they didn't like what the witches were doing”, Dame Melissa guesses.
They move down the Hill after a long, hard battle and rescue all of the previously captive citizens of Flint. The first group they find, the ones guided by the stag, explain that the creature vanished into a gust of wind after they arrived at a safe distance from the battle, but they also don't know more about it.
After being finally rid of the witches and their dark magic, King Lorcan is finally able to celebrate his birthday. He uses it as an opportunity to step down from his role as King and names Dame Melissa his successor. Stanfield promises to never forget what the King had done for him and Flint that day and he openly thanks Lorcan for his support.
The memory then ends and we all find ourselves back inside the Navras Opera house, slowly recovering from the experience we just had.
(So that's our Bonds of Forced Faith!
I must say that it would work really phenomenal as a standalone adventure, especially with a larger group. Many of the playable characters have really creative power suites that are unique to them and don't stick to y'olde character class restrictions... which I totally love! I fear that Amielle might have gotten the short end of the stick, which wasn't too bad in our case, but she could need a bit of a beef up in comparison to the others. Also, we kept the party rivalry pretty civil and I know it would be much more fun in a one-shot. That last battle was really intense as well... we had a streak of bad luck, so Tiz helped us out a bit with the Stag... he just didn't want to re-write his canon with a dead Harkover Lee )
Kasvarina is very much surprised and confused by this memory event as she doesn't remember being part of this expedition, even though she somehow knows Amielle Latimer. To explain what could have happened, Carlyle theorizes that the Arc's power could be not solely limited to people, but could also extend to places. After all, he knows certain spells that can connect him to events that happened in a certain place in the past. And if Kasvarina, the current wearer of the Arc, was having a strong, emotional memory that connected her with the man who built the Opera, a house that is known for its recording properties, the link could probably arc over to Flint as a whole.
As to why the time of the Witches was chosen, he guesses that it might have something to do with that being the event that tied all of Flint's citizens together in a communal memory. Oh, and he'd have it ingrained in the memory of his part self as well. Kasvarina seems satisfied by this explanation, but chooses to remove the artifact from her head for now.
We then talk about each of our experiences and we finally find our that each of us shared the experience of a different person: Gabriel inhabited King Lorcan while Auryn connected with Dame Melissa and Kasvarina was linked to Amielle Latimer. We don't know why each of us ended up in these personae, so we discuss their intrinsic personalities and what we've learned about them.
Gabriel puts his hat in the ring first as he states that King Lorcan was a very conflicted man, but also one who lived for his royal duty despite all odds and circumstances. He says that the King was in a very depressed state as he was losing the backing of the general populace of Risur after his losses in the second Yerasol War. So his quest to defeat the Witches was actually a gambit to set things right one way or the other: either by succeeding and restoring the faith of the people in him before passing the crown or by dying a heroic death. He'd still consider him a good monarch despite his flaws. Then he adds that this case, for the first time ever, made him question the system of royal power in Risur:
“I always believed that the fact that a King is only as strong as the support he is given by the Risuri would ensure a just rule, but the case of King Lorcan revealed a fatal, exploitable flaw. One that the Comtessa was almost able to abuse when she was the one who tried to offer 'protection' to the citizens of Flint. It only takes one really skilled demagogue to bring a Monarch to fall and I shiver when I think about this possibility”.
(And yes, he had the Obs in mind as he knew that Nicodemus was one charismatic leader.)
Auryn is next to talk about her experiences with Dame Melissa Amarie. She first explains the concept of the Green Knight to Kasvarina and then adds that this particular Green Knight seemed to be really close to her King. A relationship that isn't a given, as the current King is much more closely tied to his adviser than to Dame Jillian.
(we omitted his name as we didn't want to push Kasvarina nose first into the fact that this adviser could be the very same “Harkover Lee” from 200 years ago which would most certainly raise more questions)
Other than that, Dame Melissa very much seemed like a career-driven woman who definitely wanted to become Queen. Auryn got the feeling that this is what Melissa Amarie had been working towards over decades. She doesn't condemn this drive as she herself had been taught to be ambitious and the best version of herself, so she'd rather laud the Green Knight's determination. However, Melissa was way too focused on herself, which is what might have easily caused her to lose the essence of what being Queen truly means: To be a paragon and protector of your people. And this is what Lorcan managed to show her by his willingness to sacrifice his own life for the sake of his people. She then adds that the fight against the witches and the help of Amielle Latimer and Tomas had shown Melissa that following a strictly traditional risuri path could lead to a dead end.
Kasvarina then says that she didn't learn too much from Amielle, but she did get that the Tiefling was sent on a mission and that this involved showing off the evolving danoran technology to Risur in a non-hostile way. We tell Kas that we know that the Amielle of now would be a ghost in league with the Obs, so that would make perfect sense.
Kas then asks about the strange stag and states that she had never seen any creature with these kinds of power. Auryn explains that the Stag is one of the many forms of one of Flint's guardians, and that the old man who whispered to Dame Melissa's steed was the human incarnation of this guardian.
“He is undeniably a fey creature, how strange...” Kasvarina says.
“And he has close ties to the Unseen Court, even if they are the one who exiled him to the Waking lands in the first place”, Auryn adds.
She then tells Kasvarina about Vekesh and what he could have meant when he scolded her for the “perversion of his name”: After all, Kasvarina is said to be the founder of the group called the Vekeshi, a group that has done so much more than simply defending and bringing home eladrin women. By seeking revenge, Vekesh would have been under the impression that these “Vekeshi” who used his name and cause as a pretext would lead his efforts of restoration and peace ad absurdum as following the path of revenge was the last thing that he'd wanted.
She thinks about the Flinter circle for a while and then states that it would have been both Vekesh's influence and the guidance of the Guardian that influenced the more peaceful path of the Vekeshi of Flint.
“I still don't understand why I would have turned completely against my and Vekesh's ideals... but alas, I'm tired and I need rest.”, Kasvarina whispers, being totally worn out by the experience. We respect the Matriarch's restraints and Gabriel spontaneously invites her to be a guest in his home. So we all call it a day and return to our home in Stray River.
The next day, we all share a good breakfast and then Auryn excuses herself as she has to visit a dear old friend of hers who has been suffering from ill health for quite a while. Gabriel agrees to show Kasvarina more of Flint for the time being.
So Auryn heads off to the Dawkins' estate and is instantly invited to a second breakfast by Milena. Morris joins his wife this time, indicating that his condition has increased a lot since last time. Auryn is very glad to see him getting better, but he warns her through subtle hints that things might just turn worse as the source of his problem is still looming around.
(of course he's talking about the Obs and their ritual that is about to shatter the planar boundaries)
Aruyn and Morris Dawkins then retreat to the Dawkins' beautiful garden to discuss the recent turn of events. She tells Morris that she and Carlyle are on the lookout for more information regarding the ritual and the Obs which is why they are trying to restore her ancestor Kasvarina's memories about the Obs' schemes, who is currently suffering from amnesia.
Dawkins is very much shocked to hear this name spoken out loud after so many years.
“So she returned to Flint despite being expelled and warned to never return back here?!”
Now it is Auryn who is really surprised by her friend's reaction.
“Expelled? How? When? And even if, I doubt that she remember that event. She barely remembers...anything about the past five centuries. But she wants to sets things right.”
“That's what she always claims. She and her ways are dangerous. Too dangerous.”
“She is harmless. Even less my ancestor and more of a sister, in desperate need for guidance.”
Dawkins sighs finally, takes Auryn's hands and squeezes them gently.
“I trust your judgment. But please, be careful . If she would do anything that could harm the Vekeshi or you, then I'd doubt I would hold back a second time.”
Auryn thanks Morris for his trust and apologizes for the trouble she and Kasvarina already caused.
“But, you know, she is my family after all. And I'd do anything to help her find a new path and a new self. Just like you are part of my family and I'd do anything should you ever need my help.”
Dawkins seems really touched by her last words as Auryn is the closest person to thins incarnation, besides Milena of course. He tells her that there might be a time when he'd really need her help as this incarnation only has a few decades left at best, and she will be still in her prime when the cycle starts anew. Morris explains that he is always being reborn as a baby boy without any knowledge of his past lives, and that the Vekeshi will be without a leader in this time. Which is why he'd ask her to lead the covenant of Flint in his absence.
“I know that your ideals and mine align, and you'd be able to keep the spirit of the true Vekeshi alive. As for me, my next self will be guided by dreams once I come of age. So I will already be a young man when I finally realize who I truly am.”
Auryn is very much touched by Morris' trust in her abilities and she promises to take good care of the Vekeshi of Flint. She also vows to find him again in the future and that their friendship will last for longer than one lifetime.
(Anyone else feeling the Dax/DS9 and Avatar vibes here?)
Before Auryn leaves again, Morris recommends her to visit the charred rocks should she really wish to restore Kasvarina's memories. After all, this was the place where he fought her last time before he banned her from ever returning to Flint. He doesn't know what she had done next, but she could have been headed to Shale. Auryn thanks Morris for this valuable information and returns home to Carlyle's house.
(so it seems like our friendly neighborhood Stag had quite the history with Kasvarina... who would have guessed that? Also, I really like how Tiz expanded the story of Navras and the Fey Guardian here.)