The Undiscovered Country

Season 6 Session 4

It is the morning after. Mortimer wakes up early in the tower bedchamber, eager to learn another new spell from the Book of Acererak. He is successful in this, even if he does start like a naughty schoolboy when Rufus and Burne wake up and see what he is up to.

No Name awakes elsewhere in the tower – in Jonathan’s bed, to be precise. His attempts to introduce her to dwarven coffee are less than successful, and they have a characteristically awkward conversation by the window. Jonathan has decided that, once he has written his daily report, there should be a council of war.

Mawgojzeta goes for a morning walk, out west beyond the village boundary in the hope that her Sending spell to the citadel will work outside of Hommlet. It doesn’t. But in happier news, she sees a company of soldiers from the citadel approaching from the west, and she goes to greet them. This diverse unit – gnomes, humans, an elf, and even a skeleton – are suspicious at first, until she explains that she is an operative reporting to Thatcher in the citadel, and she has intelligence for them. She sketches out the situation in Hommlet, and mentions that some of the adventurers have returned alive from the Tomb of Acererak, which causes no little astonishment. The soldiers have come across the same huge, dead, strangely decayed worm that the party encountered on their way back from the Tomb, and are just as puzzled about what might have happened to it. As the group has identified itself as the 13th Company, she reveals that one of their number – Greysprocket – is in Hommlet. The commanding officer is delighted to hear this, and happy for her to guide the company into Hommlet to see their long-lost colleague.

The council of war is held in the Headman’s house, which now doubles as a village assembly. All are quickly agreed that they should use the crossing amulets once more to return Hommlet to the east. As the assembly breaks up, Mawgojzeta appears at the door and beckons Mortimer outside, where he is reunited with the 13th Company. Corporal Skeleton seems particularly pleased to see him. Even Lille Nisse Hansi pops up to say hello, causing Mortimer to explain to his incredulous friends that yes, nisse really do exist, and if there’s one thing he’s learned about them on his travels, it’s that it’s hard to be a nissemand.

Just then there is a terrible, far-off screeching sound. A copper dragon, flying through the air, crying out in pain – and coming straight for Hommlet.

The dragon’s jets of acid breath devastate buildings and melt people alive. The 13th Company head for cover. The party – and Jonathan – head for the tower.

Once at the tower, most of the party go to the terrace, watching the dragon wreak havoc in the village. Mortimer and Jack stay in the cover of a downstairs room, watching from a window, while Lubash goes all the way to the very top and loads up one of the fixed ballistae. He shoots a couple of bolts at the dragon as it flies screaming back and forth, and eventually manages to get its attention.

As the dragon turns towards the tower, Mawgojzeta intones a countercharm to keep the party safe from fear. This proves timely. The dragon approaches in a rush, ancient, gargantuan, spitting acid, but its fearful presence is resisted by all except Tuakiin, who knows too much about dragons not to be terrified of this one. Even so, despite his fear he calls out to the dragon in Draconic, imploring it to stop and let him help it with whatever distress it is in. The dragon takes no notice.

Downstairs, Mortimer attempts to dispel magic on the dragon, on the grounds that it may be some spell that is causing the dragon’s pain. It has no effect. Beside him, Jack casts his Armour of Agathys, on the grounds that a great big dragon is approaching.

While Lubash struggles to reload the ballista, Tuakiin calls out to the dragon once more. Its only response is to blast a jet of acid across everyone on the terrace. Most manage to leap out of the way of the main jet, taking secondary splashes which are quite bad enough, but Tuakiin takes the full force of the acid and is very badly injured. Despite this, he continues to call on the dragon to stop, and accept his help, to no avail.

No Name tries to enchant the dragon, which is unsuccessful but does arouse a shriek of outrage from Jonathan, at which point she decides she can’t be bothered with him at the moment and turns into an air elemental in order to heal herself. As the dragon comes back for another pass, Mawgojzeta leaps and rolls down the stairs with catlike grace, finishing beside Mortimer who she implores to do use whatever power he has to stop the dragon. He decides to run upstairs, leaving behind Jack who is merrily shooting eldritch blasts at the dragon from the relative safety of the room. Mawgojzeta attempts to beguile the dragon with a hypnotic pattern, but its legendary powers are such that it bats the illusion aside.

Outside, No Name attempts to harm the dragon while in air elemental form, but to little effect. After clawing her as she retreats, the dragon wheels round and blasts the terrace once more with acid. Only Jonathan and Tuakiin are left up here, and both are killed by the acid breath, the middle parts of their bodies dissolved into goo. Nasty. The dragon then settles down on the upper platform, with the ballistae and Lubash. Or, as he likes to be called, Lubash Dragonslayer.

Lubash Dragonslayer leaps onto the dragon’s back, and whips off his loincloth in the hope of tying it round the dragon’s eyes. But this is an older and huger creature than the black dragon he wrestled in the sky above Rhest, and he quickly realises no such shenanigans will prove successful. Instead, he hits it with his hammer.

In a downstairs room, Enderis loads his crossbow and heads towards the sounds of combat.

Now at the top of the stairs, Mortimer sees the pitiable remains of his friend Tuakiin. Pitiable, that is, unless you are a necromancer. As Mawgojzeta catches up with him on the stairs, he dashes out, picks up what is left of Tuakiin and dimension doors back down into the tower. It’s all go on the stairs as Jack comes up too, jumping out onto the terrace long enough to eldritch blast the dragon then ducking back into cover, and Enderis appears too, doing the same as Jack but with fearsomely precise crossbow bolts instead of magic. Meanwhile No Name reverts to her usual form and performs the unusual task of sawing off the late Jonathan’s head with a scimitar before popping it into a bag and heading down the stairs – past Mawgojzeta, who gives the bag a disapproving look.

The dragon shakes off its unwanted rider, and proceeds to bite and claw at Lubash. But Lubash stands his ground, swinging his hammer at the dragon and achieving many palpable hits. This is all happening above the terrace, and out of sight of Mawgojzeta, who can see no one left alive on the terrace and the dragon’s tail whipping in the air above her. She rushes down once again to find Mortimer, who is busy tending to Tuakiin’s remains, and gives him the most urgent pep talk he’s ever had. He is reluctant to go back upstairs, but when she points out that he is the most powerful wizard for miles around his ego overcomes his cowardice and he returns to the fight.

Lubash is doing damage to the dragon, assisted by Jack’s eldritch blasts and Enderis’s crossbow bolts, but Lubash is also becoming increasingly bloodied. He pulls back from the fight as Mortimer approaches, ducking back into the cover of the stairway with Jack. Mortimer, the tiny gnome, faces up to the gargantuan dragon and touches it on the nose, causing necromantic energy to blast through it.

Jack comes out of the stairway for another blast at the dragon, and on his way back in, without so much as a by-your-leave, he turns Lubash invisible. With this new advantage, Lubash returns to the fray, pounding the dragon with near-impunity. As he does so, Mortimer runs underneath the dragon, rams his clawed hands upwards into its belly, and induces a surge of necrotic magic that turns the dragon to dust and bone. Lubash Dragonslayer takes a tooth, to add to his collection.

The fight over, most of the party rest. All but two. Mortimer goes to work to restore Tuakiin to life, but with so much of him gone he needs some new reptilian body parts. Reluctantly, Master Burne gives up his pet green lizard Fluffy for the greater good, and Tuakiin is soon resurrected, albeit with the middle part of his body now green instead of his usual beautiful gold. This interrupts the conversation he and Jonathan were having in the Grey Wastes, in which Jonathan insisted on clinging to religious orthodoxy despite Tuakiin’s assurance that, on this side of the barrier, God is dead.

Mawgojzeta and Enderis share an intimate moment. She asks him about where he went off to with Vivien, and he describes a beautiful place that they were both sent to for all too short a time.

In her own private place, No Name takes the severed head of Jonathan and weaves druidic magic about it. He is brought back to life, but such are the unpredictabilities of a druid’s powers that he is reincarnated as a halfing.

The relative calm is shattered by an announcement from Burne. He has figured out what caused the dragon to go mad – an increasing time differential that affects the largest creatures first, but which will soon destroy Lubash, and then the rest of them. There are only two ways to put an end to it. One is a ritual which will seal the barrier for all time – but will kill every magic-wielding person on the west side. The other is a ritual that will collapse the barrier entirely, causing this world in the west to become joined again to the east, such that anyone can pass back and forth between them. The party must decide what to do – and there isn’t much time…

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When the Man Comes Around

Mortimer watched Burne and Rufus sleep, it had been a trying ordeal for them, and that was partially, okay largely, his fault, but he felt confident that with enough time he and Burne could come up with a way of moving the right souls into the right bodies, of course time was the one thing they didn’t have, the Time Wraiths must but his next concern, there was no two ways about it, they had to move the village back across the barrier. But could they do it without Burne?

They had Spugnoir, Jack, Himself, where was that knight with magical talent? Where was Lady Anarieay for that matter? He could hear most of the voices he recognised down in the tavern below him, but he couldn’t hear her bossing people around.

She was the least of his worries, he suspected they would need Burne and Rufus back at their respective positions of import sooner rather than later, he hoped the village would rally around their traditional figureheads, but how would that even work now… now he’d confused things a little? At least Jack’s appearance shifting spell had calmed them enough that now they slept.

Sleep… That was something he could put off no longer, for a Necromancer the line “i’ll sleep when I’m dead” is a blatant fallacy.

“An’ besides, I don’t plan on dyin’” he muttered to himself as he let his head and body sink lower, lower, till it rested on the large, black, evil looking spellbook he cradled like others would a teddybear these days.

Soon he slumbered, and in his dreams he ran over and over the events of the day, which, for the pintsized spellslinger, had been mostly necromantic ritual after ritual. In his mind he went over and over the circles, the pentagrams, the Existential Markup, the dribbly candles… till in his dream all he saw was grey.

He sat, in the featureless grey for a long while, long enough for him to become aware he had some seriously boring dreams. At that moment of realisation however, he heard a voice and looked over to see a man in a sharp grey suit, with a trilby hat, and a goatee beard.

“There’s a man goin’ ‘round takin’ names. An’ he decides who to free and who to blame. Everybody won’t be treated all the same.”

“No offence…” the wizard clad in midnight intoned, “But you’re one of the last people I wanted to dream about, especially on that subject!”

The smartly dressed man gave a slow nod, as if accepting that this was a fair statement, but he approached anyway, gestured as if asking to sit, and then dropped down beside the smaller figure.

“Wadda’ you want friend, I was kinda hoping to sleep like the dead, not dream some cryptic bullshit. I don’t suppose you have a real straight forward revelation about the current situation that you’ve going to give me in simple, plane, Common do you?

Instead of an answer the suited man reached into his right breast pocket and, inexplicably, produced a simple clay vessel, full of a dark red liquid.

“The hairs on your arm will stand up. At the terror in each sip and in each sup. For you partake of that last offered cup, Or disappear into the potter’s ground. When the man comes around.”_

Mortimer regarded the offered cup for a moment, but halted before drinking, trying to change the subject instead:

“If this is about your disciple girl, I actually tried to save her y’know, I’ve started doing that now, saving people, I think I’ve started having ‘friends’… terrible habit to get into. I tried to save two people today, not because they would be useful, not because I could use them to get the powers I need to know, but just because they didn’t judge me, one of them was excited to know me and what I knew, the other accepted me because I was important to one he cared about. Now I’ve got this horrible feeling, like I’m gonna’ have to make things right by ‘em just cause of that. Why do those feelings even exist, ‘whatsa use of that to anyone?”

The man smiled a little and nodded slowly. He opened his mouth to speak, closed it, as if thinking better of it, and then said:

”Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers. One hundred million angels singin’. Multitudes are marching to the big kettle drum. Voices callin’, voices cryin’. Some are born an’ some are dyin’.”

“Oh geeze, yeah, that clears everything right up, why’d I gotta’ get such a freakin’ cryptic subconscious. Some are certainly dyin’ cause they’re being poisoned as part of some dumb-as-rocks political maneuverin’ around a king who aint’ even in this land! Jonathan and his men want this place so bad, they’re a thousand years away from their home, the only ruler in these parts is my Queen in the Shining City. They want to poison the one guy who can keep them safe and get them home? I aint’ got time for these games!”

The suited man put a reassuring hand on the smaller figures shoulder

“The whirlwind is in the thorn tree. It’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”

“True that’” the robed mage smirked. “First sensible thing you said so far!”

He reached behind him and produced a black leather clad volume that he currently converted more than anything else in the world.

“I got betta’ thing to be doin’, y’know, secrets to be learning, like how to not make your acquaintance again at the end of it all, no offence like, I mean I’m on message, I feel where you’re comin’ from, you run a tight ship, I just rather it sailed widout’ me on it, y’know?”

He paused, but the figure seemed genuinely amused by this notion.

“Is it even in here? What I’ve been striving for all my life? Did Acererak ever find the secret?”

The besuited figure raised a conspiratorial eyebrow, and then grinned a wicked smile. He paused for a moment to stroke his goatee beard, and replied:

”Till Armageddon, no Shalam, no Shalom. Then the father hen will call his chickens home. The wise men will bow down before the throne. And at his feet they’ll cast their golden crown.”

“Just once I’d like to have a dream that made an ounce a’ sense, it’s like bending your mind to the arcane arts all day is worst than cheese a’fore bedtime, y’know?!”

Mortimer threw up his hands in despair

“Can I get a straight answer ova’ here?”

”Listen to the words long written down, When the man comes around.”

Mortimer opened and shut his mouth, he looked down at the spellbook he cradled,

“Ooo-kay, that actually kinda made sense, surprisingly.”

The man nodded, and rose, doffed his trilby hat, and made to leave.

“Wait! Before you go, what’s waiting for us, what’s back East, when we move the village, I got a bad feelin’ I’m stuck with this till the end here, whatdo’I got comin’?”

The suited man looked back over his shoulder, smiled a knowing smile, and added:

”It’s Alpha’s and Omega’s Kingdom come…”

With that mortimer woke with a start, it was dawn, the pub below him sounded quite. He blinked away sleep for a moment then flung open the spellbook he cradled and searched desperately through it’s pages

“Ah shit I’m gonna’ need a plan B, ‘case the man comes around!”

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The Hewlett Household, part 1

kachunk

“Dammit!”

The bolt had sailed straight past the target, embedding itself in the dirt some dozens of yards away.

“Now, that’s not bad, but you’re locking your elbow. Loosen up”. The instructor braced herself; she’d been trying to teach the youth for weeks. She knew what was coming.

“I fucking know what I’m doing wrong! Here! Watch!”

kachunk

This bolt struck the edge of the target, spinning wildly away in a cloud of straw fragments.

The instructor smiled sardonically at the space where the youth had stood. He was striding away, fuming.

She’d seen that part coming, too.

Lord Hewlett noted the absence at the dinner table with resignation. “He’s gone on another of his walks. That boy always ends up in the strangest of places!”

The servants had set down the platters and taken their places at the head table. In the Hewlett household, the staff always ate with the family; this tradition had lasted for generations.

The guest chuckled. “I’m sure he’ll turn up, Your Grace”.

“Oh, he always turns up. It’s where he goes in the meantime”. The lord was shaking his head, in disbelief even now. “One time, last year, he found this temple. Wouldn’t shut up about altars and elements for weeks!”.

The mage tried to hide his fascination. “A temple of the elements? Wherever did he find that?”

“Lord Hewlett requests your presence, Master Hewlett.”

The youth’s lank hair flew in all directions, driven by the wind rushing up the cliff. He turned where he was sitting.

“How the fuck did you find me this time, Crawford?”

The servant pulled his furs tighter and sat on the edge of the cliff next to the boy.

“I’m not going to claim your father was worried about you. We both know that’s not the case. I was worried about you, young master”.

The youth swung his legs around. “One of these days you won’t find me, you know. Maybe Lord Hewlett will worry when his heir is actually missing”.

“Come now. Let’s go home.”

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Season 6 Session 3
Anarië Dies At The End

The battle with the insect-men and their queen now over, Jonathan decides to continue leading people to the tower. His soldiers are with him, along with the mage Vivien and an as-yet-unnamed priest. Also following along are Burne’s Badgers and a rabble of villagers. The party follow too, although Anarië turns invisible before doing so.

In the tower, Mortimer is having some difficulty explaining his actions to Rufus, who he has inadvertently resurrected in Burne’s body. Rufus is also having some difficulty moving, with resurrection sickness adding to the problems of trying to coordinate an unfamiliar body. The commotion wakes Jack , who is busy downstairs trying out new forms in front of a mirror.

Jack comes up and knocks on the door, but it is opened and swiftly shut before he realises he is not in hs usual Jack guise, so he changes back and tries again. This time Mortimer is glad to see him, and together they manage to dimension door Rufus and the remaining dead body straight to the pub, where Jack loses no time in having a large beer. Mortimer begins the ritual again. Surely he can put it right this time.

Anarië, invisible, begins reading Jonathan’s mind. Meanwhile the Bard barracks Jonathan about his role in the alleged killings of burne and Rufus, and his responsibility for what has transpired. Unfortunately, his surface thoughts are little but anger and determination to press on, and Anarië has to probe deeper to find out the truth about Jonathan’s actions, and what he knows about the killings. Jonathan becomes aware of this, and angrily cries “Stop that!”, to which Anarië responds “Stop what?”, hoping to lead him into an admission that his thoughts have been read.

Instead, he directs his troops to attack the place where Anarië’s voice came from. The crossbowmen shoot, to little effect as Anarië remains invisible. Jonathan angrily denounces Anarië for “rummaging in my thoughts”, and that is just the cue Anarië needs. With excellent timing, Vivien chooses this moment to dispel Anarië’s invisibility.

Anarië appears, and addresses Burne’s Badgers, saying that she has indeed been rummaging in Jonathan’s mind, and she has discovered that his troops killed Burne and Rufus, that jonathan has already killed once to cover up the crime. They are trying to kill her now because she knows the truth, and next they will turn on the Badgers. While she tries to persuade the Badgers to attack Jonathan’s soldiers, the latter continue their crossbow attacks, while Vivien and the priest join in with magical assaults. Even Enderis joins in, pointing a crossbow at Anarië and telling her he will shoot her if she does not stop. Anarië merely gives him a disdainful look and says “Shoot”. He does so, but even though it is particularly well-placed and damaging shot it still does not goad Anarië into attacking him.

No Name, seeing Anarië under attack and being quite comfortable with this, heads on towards the tower. Back in the pub, Mortimer has made some progress. He has now managed to raise Burne in Rufus’s body. This is viewed by both Burne and Rufus as, at best, a partial success, and some consternation ensues. Jack pops in and helpfully casts an illusion spell to make Burne look like Rufus and vice versa, which is acclaimed by all as a good move, at least until an awkward kiss reveals to the two men that the effect is merely visual and not physical.

Anarië’s rhetoric finally gets through to the Badgers, and they begin to fight Jonathan’s soldiers. Vivien turns Jonathan invisible, and he apparently wanders off – at any rate, the Bard’s attempts to catch hold of him and get him to safety come to naught. Vivien and the priest are still magically attacking Anarië though, and she attempts to banish both of them. Vivien’s counterspell is defeated by Anarië’s counter-counterspell, and she is banished temporarily to another plane. The priest’s defences are superior, however, and the banishment intended for him instead alights on Enderis, who also vanishes.

Unable to gain entry easily to the tower, No name returns to the scene of the fight. By this time, Jonathan is attacking Anarië invisibly, while the priest sends divine strikes against her and the Bard pleads fruitlessly for an end to the conflict. Seeing that none of her adventuring colleagues are coming to her aid, the fight between the Badgers and the guards looks set to be a long slog, and still under attack by Jonathan and the priest, Anarië decides to become ethereal for a while, to recuperate. Able to observe, but not to interfere, and undetectable by anyone else, Anarië watches for a while as Jonathan tries to regain control of the situation with ever more extreme threats, No Name tries to get him to become visible again – it turns out he can’t until the spell wears off – and the Bard plays songs of peace and reconciliation. Vivien and Ederis pop back from their planar exile, the latter with an oddly satisfied smirk on his face, and in due course everyone troops down to the pub. Mortimer and Jack manage to hide Burne and Rufus away just in time.

In the pub, some kind of weary peace takes hold. Mawgojzeta tries to find out from Enderis what has been going on, but he evidently has developed a new interest and goes off with Vivien instead. Seeing the Bard looking all dejected and vulnerable, Mawgojzeta goes over to comfort him instead. No Name assures Jonathan that, King’s Man or not, he will always be her man.

Anarië does not go to the pub. Instead, she walks out of Hommlet, going north to a place where the barrier remains intact. On this grey ethereal plane, which some call the Grey Wastes, the barrier appears to be a grey desert stretching out into the east. She waits here, recovering from her exertions and considering her next move. Hommlet appears to be a lost cause. With Burne dead there seems little prospect of returning it to the east, and the military command utterly dysfunctional there would seem to be little point in trying to form a fighting force. There is no good reason to return to Hommlet, except to destroy that jumped-up commoner Jonathan with a blaze of fire. Which, to Anarië, is reason enough.

However, she has been away from Ser Gweneth for too long. Her love is waiting on the other side of the barrier, and Anarië feels that she now has enough magical strength to get through with her own power, with no need for Master Burne. It is a choice between love and vengeance.

She chooses love.

Knowing that Ser Gweneth will be waiting for her at Starsong Hill, Anarië teleports herself directly there. The spell is perfectly accurate, and in moments Anarië and Ser Gweneth are reunited in a passionate embrace in one of the great tree-houses. Anarië tells her that now they can go anywhere in the world, see everything that there is to see. But Gweneth notices that Anarië seems to have aged unnaturally.

Going down the wooden stairs, Anarië seems to age more with each step, her hair greying, her skin becoming like paper. Too weak to get on a horse, Anarië instead teleports both of them to Bahtriah, City of a Thousand Kings, which lies resplendent amidst the great Achamin Mountains of Southern Escapar. They gaze out of a window over the great brass domes, shining in the sunlight, Anarië lying exhausted on a couch. Gweneth tucks a blanket round her, making her comfortable, and gives her one last, loving kiss before she passes away.

The sun shines over the city. Gweneth stands at the window, alone.

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Oh Beardie
ode to a lost lover

Morning, just another day
Hairy peasants pass my way
Looking in their eyes
I see a memory
I never realized
How happy you made me, oh Beardie
Well you came and you looted without taking
But you went to the Toom, oh Beardie
And you kissed me and stopped me from shaking
And I need you today (because of that basted Johnathan) , oh Beardie
I was standing the edge of the grey waste
and you called me by name,
Caught up in a world of uphill with wraith coming for us all
The tears are in my eyes
And nothing is rhyming, oh Beardie

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Nothing a Little Necromancy Can't Fix

Mortimer’s hands didn’t shake despite the lack of sleep. Why would they? This was his stock-in-trade, there was no emotion involved here (despite his reaction to the scene earlier. He blamed politics, never get involved in that). This was a simple transfer of information, from one (admittedly tricky to access) location to another, and placing that information back in the repository it belonged. True, said repository was a squishy and fallible bag of chemicals that was currently reacting badly to said bag being punctured and said chemicals spilled… but fixing that weakness was one of the other things on his to-do list, right here, right now, it was simple. Find the information that was Burn, return it to the physical form that everyone recognised as Burn. There was no drama, there was no rush, there was just precise eXml work and then things would be well again.

There didn’t need for the panic and grief and anger of senseless murder because these were setbacks only the morons who thought with their fists considered final, traumatic, to a learned Necromancer – Cleric of the Undead Gods indeed – these were simply setbacks, souls could be found, retrieved, vulnerable bodies could be mended.

There was no need for unhelpful emotion.

He chanted on, the Grey Wastes swirled around him… no… he corrected himself, his brain simply processed the alternate plane of existence in a visual way his mortal form was used too; “Grey Wastes” just a name used by the superstitious, he had no need for gods and heavens at this time.

And there is was, there they were, Burns and his husband Rufus, right where they should be. Variables to be parsed and relocated to another container, nothing more. For a moment he idled on the simplicity of finding Rufus, and the frustration and failure to find Vani, to be able to do this hear, for himself, but being unable to do this for Rema… but he dismissed it, emotion wasn’t needed here.

He reached out across the featureless grey to the two souls (except it wasn’t featureless now… the wallpaper was troubling… he suspected The Bard).

“I can take one” he informed Burn and Rufus, reassuring them one of them would have to wait a little longer till he could perform the ritual a second time, only another ten minutes, then things would be sorted.

He prepared to close the functions and end the ritual, Master Burn would be restored, all would be…

Burn’s soul stepped back into the grey.

The ritual ended.

Channelling the power of the Undead Gods, the body was healed.

“Burn?” said the patient.

Mortimer said nothing, he knew. When it came to the mortal remains, the squashy bodies we cast off and leave behind, he could command, he could use force. When it came to the essence of the living he could only guide, there was always a choice.

A choice that had been made, out of ‘love’ he had no doubt. That one concept always alien to him, the one variable in the equation he had failed to factor in.

“oh boy…”

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A Dream in the Welcome Wench

The dream came as it always did. As it had every night since the Tomb of Horrors.

The throne room. Deserted. The throne. Empty.

Walking – floating? – up the central aisle. Approaching the empty throne.

To the left and to the right, rows of wooden pews. Empty.

The cold dust dancing in ghostly sunbeams.

Sitting down on the throne. Resplendent in her majesty. The gold crown perfectly poised on her head. The rich royal robes.

Looking out and down. The rows of pews now crowded, filled with rows and rows of faces. Her subjects.

On the left (so many faces!) the Earl of Rookburgh, Ser Balustrade, the Cloistered Monk, all (so many!) who had crossed her, defied her, been obstacles to her ascent, and many more (so very many!) blank, anonymous, but suffused, all of them, with that eternal No.

On the right, benches bursting with the delight of the crowd, faces caught in light, adoring faces, her true subjects overflowing with love for their queen. At the front, Papa (where is Mama?), further back all the little people from Castle Warbeck, almost lost amidst the pressing, joyous crowd.

Looking left. Looking right. Looking left again.

The left hand side erupting in sudden fire, every recalcitrant body a writhing mass of flame, shrieking voices a single perfect note of agony swiftly fading into silence.

Calm.

The luxurious quiet.

Then she woke. Some cacophony outside. That grasping little commoner Jonathan, bellowing some nonsense or other.

She got up. It was time to sort him out.

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Season 6 Session 2

It is the aftermath of the fight against the insect-men. We see, from the rear, a man wearing the clothes that Sir Ian McKellen was wearing in the last session. He gives a grateful wave and departs, his face carefully left unseen. Budget issues this season, or saving up for an extravagant finale? We shall see.

At Anarië’s suggestion, two of Jonathan’s soldiers fill in the pit, from which insectoid sounds can already be heard. Our heroes head to the Welcome Wench for a well-deserved drink.

Within, they find a notorious local drunkard in conversation with the Bard, the major topics of conversation being the inadequacy of the Bard’s musicianship and the strange ghostly sights to be seen out towards the east. The party are interested in going to see these phenomena, but the man refuses to go out there again. Even Anarië’s prodigious powers of persuasion will not sway him, so they resolve to go out there themselves. All except for Anarië, who decides to stay at the inn and rest, putting a bag of gold on the bar and asking the landlord to give drinks to everyone – except for that unhelpful drunkard. The man staggers off home, muttering bitterly.

Mortimer, meanwhile, is helping Rufus clear up the dead bodies in the chamber, where Master Burne is still recovering in bed. He plans to tell Burne’s Badgers to be ready to act against Jonathan’s soldiers, but unfortunately all of the code words have long fallen into disuse. Instead, Rufus gives Mortimer his ring, intending him to use this as a token of authority when speaking with the Badgers and telling them of what has happened to their master. When he Dimension Doors out onto the road, however, he finds the party on the way to the barrier and joins them. Revealing nothing of what has transpired at the tower, he claims only to have been refused entry and turned back.

Out to the east, the party first go to inspect the hole in the barrier which was letting water flow from the other side into Hommlet. The hole is the same size it always was, but the flow has slowed right down. Possibly a result of the temporal mismatch between the two sides of the barrier.

Even more troubling is the transparent shape that appears to be emerging from where the barrier would be, if the barrier were visible from this side. Hanging in the air, barely visible, the outline of the head, arms and body of a time wraith. On closer inspection, other time wraiths seem to be in various stages of emerging along the barrier. Some mud smeared on one of them reveals its shape distinctly – and after a time, the transparent strip that is evident at the edge of the mud shows that the thing is indeed moving towards the west.

Concerning as this is, there is little the party can do about it for the moment, so they head back to the Welcome Wench. There they find Anarië sharing a very fine wine with Spugnoir, who has been telling her all about Master Burne’s recent experiments with bringing the dead back from the Grey Wastes using a single diamond in place of the previous array of mirrors. This is immediately fascinating to Mortimer, of course, but less so to the rest of the party, who decide to rest for the evening.

In a corner, Enderis is showing off the mechanism of his hand crossbow to a woman he has just met – Mawgojzeta. He is sure she is very impressed, and is happy to share with her many details of what he has seen on his travels in the wild lands. On the pretext of a comfort break, Mawgojzeta goes out to the outside privy and attempts a Sending to the citadel. The spell fails, and she emits a sharp shout of frustration before composing herself and heading back for more of Enderis’s doubtless fascinating conversation.

The Bard attempts to buy a jug of fine spirits from the landlord, or failing that, vaguely decent spirits. When even that turns out to be an unrealistic expectation, he settles for some not actually poisonous spirits, and accompanies Mortimer as he heads out to curry favour with the guards and speak with the Badgers. In this he is successful – the spirits are moderately repulsive, but welcome nonetheless, and he manages to speak to a few of Burne’s people, telling them what Jonathan’s people have been up to. The Badgers are convinced by Rufus’s ring, and listen closely to Mortimer’s story.

While he is busy doing this, the situation in the tower deteriorates catastrophically. Jonathan’s guards pile into the bedchamber and slaughter Rufus and Master Burne, although the two do at least go down fighting hard to the end. One of the guards then leaves the tower and goes to Jonathan’s home – and is followed by No Name, in the shape of a cat. Jonathan brings the man in, and No Name changes into a spider so as to crawl under the door. She observes the guard explaining to Jonathan that Burne and Rufus are now dead, and Jonathan stabbing the guard to death with a knife.

Once the grog has run out, Mortimer Dimension Doors back into Burne’s chamber, only to find a bloody scene, with Burne and Rufus lying slain. He returns to the road the same way he arrived, prestidigitates the blood from his boots, and is met by No Name who informs him about the murder she has just seen Jonathan commit.

And that’s when it all kicks off.

By now, most of the party are asleep in rooms in the Welcome Wench (in the case of Enderis and Mawgojzeta, the same bed…). They are awoken by a great hue and cry outside – Captain Jonathan is shouting incoherently and rousing the whole town. Quickly dressing, the adventurers go outside to see what is going on (apart from Mawgojzeta, who feigns sleep while watching Enderis depart).

Outside, Anarië orders Jonathan to pull himself together and report. This does not go down well, and Jonathan becomes extremely riled with Anarië, even ordering three of his crossbowmen to aim at her before declaring that he was going up to the tower to see what was what. Resisting the urge to disintegrate him on the spot, Anarië announces that everyone should follow Jonathan. A small crowd heads off with them, including most of the party but not Mortimer. You see, the initial shock of seeing Burne and Rufus dead having worn off, Mortimer remembers that he is in fact a necromancer, and Dimension Doors back to the tower with resurrection on his mind.

The tense deputation also heads towards the tower, but before they can reach it the ground opens up. Out pour insect-men, and, rising horribly out of the earth, the great insect queen.

Battle is joined. Both Jonathan and Anarië engage the insect queen, the former with sword, the latter with disintegration. Enderis joins in with rapid crossbow shots, while the rest of the party melee with the insect-men. The insect queen claws and bites, with Anarië receiving a particularly nasty attack, but the damage is not just physical – she deals out psychic violence as well.

In the tower, Mortimer succeeds in casting his spell. He sees into the Grey Wastes, where Burne and Rufus are waiting. Seeing him, Rufus steps forward, protective of his partner, while Burne moves back, volunteering to stay behind. But Mortimer had already begun the ritual on Burne regardless. Burne’s body sits up, alive – but the soul inside it is Rufus…

Eventually the insect queen is killed. Her death causes all the insect-men to cease functioning, ending the battle. But it also releases a wave of psychic energy that shares past traumas and future dreams of all those near it. The Bard’s memories of a final confrontation with his father, the Grand Vizier. Enderis’s memory of being denied a ring, tears clouding his sight. Jonathan angrily telling his men to take no action against Burne and Rufus. And finally, Anarië’s vision of herself on the royal throne, the nobility arrayed before her in two groups, one on the left, the other on the right – and the left hand group being incinerated by her magical fire.

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At the Sign of the Welcome Wench

“Up, you feckless lizard!”

Alice dumped the bucket of icy mop-water on the sleeping form of Tuakiin. He rolled carefully to his back and sat up, clutching his head and steaming slightly.

A rumble as if a far-off landslide. “Whhttmm’sit?”

“Ninth bell. I’ve got customers coming in, respectable customers, and I don’t need some drunken dragon littering up my doorstep!”

Doorstep? Oh. This was the front door. His hay bale was around the corner. Tuakiin’s spine popped several times as he rose to his feet and stretched. Spiny hands fumbled for a coin purse and produced a gold piece.

“Frryertrrble. Nnth’drr.”

Said door was charred and smouldering in one corner, where the Dragonborn’s head had rested and snored.

later that day

Spittle flew from Jonathan’s mouth.

“We are going to log those trees! And we are going to build a wall!

The assembled village elders looked grimly on.

Master Burne slid sideways off his seat and collapsed in a heap on the dais.

later

Tuakiin and Bill heaved and ho’d at the saw, the burly man and muscular lizard making short work of the trunk. Bill cried “Timber!” as it fell. More of the soldiers began limbing the tree as Tuakiin retreated into the shade and poured water from his waterskin down his face and bare torso.

The village council looked on: Jonathan making a show of directing the proceedings; Canon Tergon offering prayers to no-one in particular; even Jaroo, who had lamented the loss of the woods, was giving advice on types of wood and proper saw technique, while casting small blessing spells on the trees as they were felled. Notable by their absence were Master Burne and Rufus, who had been quarantined in the tower “for the safety of the village”.

later

“The river. Oh, One above.”

later

As the red sun set and lit the western sky on fire, Tuakiin’s walk brought him to the edge of the cliff where once the path had led to Fandolin.

He’d walked through the desert a little, before the darkening evening reminded him of the dangers of this country. It was a strange feeling, walking in the sand; at once familiar- Escapar was arid- but also utterly alien: soft yellow sand, not the hard red dust and rock of home.

To the east, the few remaining trees stood proud among the field of stumps. They’d done good work today: dozens of logs ready for the barricade, a handful of post-holes already dug.

In the south, the lights of the tower and the tavern. Burne had deteriorated rapidly. He had fought side-by-side with Tuakiin in the siege, all those months ago. They had been allies, planned battles together. Tuakiin counted the master among his few friends.

He’d never tried to heal disease before; but it was the same principle as injuries, surely? Just… will the disease to be right. You didn’t need to know how tendons and bones knitted together to heal a broken arm.

But it was late, and the day’s work had been hard. “I’ve earnt a drink” he said to himself.

Just one pint.

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Season 6 Session 1

The survivors of the Tomb of Horrors take stock of the treasure of Acererak, before heading back north to Hommlet. Mortimer is quick to take possession of Acererak’s spellbook.

Anarië attempts to teleport the group straight back to Hommlet without bothering with all that tedious trudging through the wilderness, but the spell fails to take effect. Inspecting the teleportation chest, Mortimer finds that it is sparking with light as if malfunctioning. He throws a Frost Bolt at a nearby tree to confirm that other magic still works – Anarië double-checks by burning the tree down.

For the first few days, the trip north is uneventful, the party travelling by day and Mortimer eagerly learning new spells by night. That is, until their travels one morning are interrupted by the sudden appearance of a battle-scarred ranger, pointing hand crossbows directly at Anarië and Lubash. His repeated demands of “Are you with them?” do not impress Anarië, who resists the urge to disintegrate him and instead asks the stranger’s name. He is called Enderis, and it turns out that he is a native of these lands and strongly opposed to the battlemages who have been devastating the countryside he holds dear.

His arrival is timely. He informs the party that a huge battalion of battlemages is on its way, travelling south towards them en route to the Tomb of Horrors. They decide to take a large detour to avoid this force, and apart from seeing the lights from their – very large – camp overnight, have no contact with the battlemages.

Enderis joins the party travelling north, and over the next few days Mortimer and Lubash try to explain the sudden existence of a village in a place that Enderis knows to be uninhabited. They have only partial success. The journey is enlivened by the putrefying corpse of a 100-foot long worm lying across the route. Its cause of death is uncertain, and the fact that one end seems to have decayed faster than another is mysterious. What is quite certain is the foul smell, and after some inconclusive investigation the party decide to move on.

A few days later, the party arrives at Hommlet. It is a little different from when they left it about three weeks ago. Wooden barricades block the main ways into the town, guarded by a mixture of King’s Guards and Burne’s Badgers. RIma turns herself invisible before getting within sight of the village, while the rest of the party approach openly.

At the barricade, the guards are happy to let the party through, although they do insist that Anarië vouches for Eneris before granting him admission. They inform the party that Burne is confined to his tower, suffering some terrible illness. At this, Mortimer shoots off towards the tower as fast as his little legs can carry him – which turns out to be pretty fast thanks to some of Acererak’s magic. Rima, still concealed, slips past the guards and also heads for the tower.

The others are directed to the village council meeting, where they find a very drunk Tuakiin and a no-more-than-usually drunk Bard, who is devastated to hear of Carreg’s demise in the Tomb of Horrors.

It is a fractious meeting. With Master Burne being indisposed, power is now split three ways among Jonathan, Captain of the King’s Guard, Jaroo, the local druid, and Canon Terjon of the Church of St Cuthbert. This disputatious triumvirate is attempting to cope with the crises afflicting the village, including lack of water and attacks by some kind of insect-men. The supply of fresh water from the other side of the barrier has slowed, and the village is now reliant on Jaroo’s magical water jug, which becomes the focus of a dismal and inconclusive political struggle. The insect-men have apparently taken to popping up out of underground tunnels and dragging villagers off – six so far. It appears they were disturbed by some of the villagers attempting to dig a well, despite the party having specifically warned against this after the last insect encounter in Hommlet.

At the tower, the guards refuse Mortimer entry. The tower is now a plague house, and no one who comes in can be allowed out. Unwilling to be so easily put off, Mortimer recalls the secret entrance that he found some time ago, and enters the basement of the tower by that means, Rima following invisibly.

Going up the stairs, they find that Burne’s room is guarded by a very bored King’s Guard who is reading one of Lubash’s pamphlets for lack of any other diversion. A Sleep spell sends him to blissful slumber, and Mortimer and Rima enter. Inside the bedchamber, Burne is lying on his four poster bed looking very ill, tended by Rufus who doesn’t look a great deal better. Indeed, Rufus is not at all happy to see Mortimer, as coming into this room is a sentence of slow death, but Mortimer insists he will find a way to cure them both.

After the meeting, the assembled villagers (who, it turns out, are played by distinguished British character actors in non-speaking cameo roles) disperse. Anarië takes the opportunity to have a private conversation with Captain Jonathan. Suspicious of being Charmed, Jonathan insists on being accompanied by two of his guards, but soon becomes talkative when Anarië asks him to tell her what he wants. He seems attracted by the idea of returning the village to the east side of the barrier, particularly when Anarië explains that the month they have spent here is only three days there, so that there is still hope for the Kingdom of Arnest, and that the removal of the tower from the conflict could readily be blamed on Master Burne alone, while Jonathan and Anarië could gain credit for returning it.

There is a sudden commotion. A pit has opened up in the ground, and insect-men have grabbed one of the villagers (played by Sir Ian McKellen) and dragged him down underground. The villagers played by Victoria Wood and Sir Patrick Stewart have managed to get clear, but the one played by Sylvester McCoy is still in danger as more insect-men emerge from the pit.

Anarië banishes two of the insect-men, allowing Sylvester McCoy to escape, and feather-falls elegantly into the pit where she sees a multitude of insect-men dragging Sir Ian McKellen down a tunnel. Enderis leaps into the pit after her, only slightly hurting himself in the fall, and soon both are beset by insect-men while Lubash secures a rope and lowers it down. Enderis shoots rapid-fire from his hand crossbow at multiple targets, while Anarië dashes after Sir Ian, deflecting attacks from teeth and claws with her magical shield and dimension-dooring them both to safety.

Enderis, meanwhile, is getting into some trouble, being poisoned and paralysed by the insect-men’s bites. Fortunately, Lubash comes down to help, hoisting him over his shoulder and smashing the insect-men with his hammer. Soon, Enderis manages to shake off the poison and resume shooting, while Anarië returns to the fray firing scorching rays, and between the three of them they manage to destroy the insect-men and return to the surface.

Meanwhile in the tower, the guards come into Burne’s bedchamber with some food. Mortimer’s attempts to avoid being seen are comically ineffective, and he ends up having to explain that he is trying to cure Burne of the plague. At this, Bill the guard expresses his regret and unsheathes his sword. Mortimer and Rima join battle with the guards, who turn out to be a tough pair. Rima’s sleep spell proves ineffective, but a handful of animated spikes from the Tomb of Horrors do rather more damage. For his part, Mortimer is keen to exploit the new magic he has learned from the book of Acererak, and sucks the life force out of a guard by firmly grabbing him by the bollocks.

Eventually, Mortimer and Rima manage to wear the guards down, and with the help of a well-timed sword thrust from Rufus the two are dispatched. Some magical investigation confirms that this is no plague after all, but rather the result of poison contained in the food that the guards have been providing. With a little more research in Acererak’s book, Mortimer is able to cure both Burne and Rufus.

The discovery of this plot makes Mortimer determined to oppose Captain Jonathan – who has just allied himself with Anarië. The next session may reveal whether they manage to sort it all out with a cup of tea and a chat…

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