The Undiscovered Country

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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What We Came For

Mortimer looked down at the book…

He was glad of the 6 skeletons that stood around the camp, around him, protecting him, protecting the book. It gave him the time, the tranquility, the peace and quiet of the cold clear night air. He needed that. His companions thought of him as the iceman, the cold, self serving weird guy who they all kept around because he was useful, he was the guy who brought people about back from the grey waste, he was the person who moved villages across the barrier (with a little help from his friends), he was the guys who he suspected everyone would keep around, right until he wasn’t useful any more. Then, he wasn’t hedging his 4’ tall bets.

It was three days after the escape from the Tomb Of Horrors, The Tomb of Acererak… the Tomb of the greatest Necromancer, the greatest ruler of the Western World that the world had ever know, and this was coming from a Gnome that grew up in the only city that had ever opposed him.

Mortimer hated the man, but not because he was anathema to him, but because he was a mirror held up to himself, he was a reminder of what he must not become.

And on that note, for the first time, Mortimer stopped and let himself dwell for a moment on what his prize had cost him:

He had lost a friend, and in truth, he did not have many of those. A friend who had known (nearly) his true motivations, had known, heck, had sparked his contemplation of the deities of old, inspired him to contemplate The One and Asmodeus as more than mere footnotes of historical delusions in the records and tombs of the past he had studied his whole life.

At this he laughed quietly to himself. Like he was a great believer, he had manipulated Carrig’s faith, getting her to show him the route to Asmodeus so he could turn him into something he could tap power from: Undead… Life if beyond a Necromancer’s purview, keep to what you know…

He’d spoken to a god and instead of falling to his knees he’d manipulated it into a battery to fuel his quest for immortality. If an agent of Asmodeus got off the chain he was so fucked! Carrig really couldn’t have been left to live, she did him a favour, and part of him hated that, part of him really didn’t.

He looked at the book again. It was getting harder to see Acererak as so bad

In here were passages, not just instructions for spells, lists of ingredients and actions, but whole diaries, justifications for the manipulations of the arcane, the elemental, the necromantic, and Mortimer couldn’t deny they didn’t seem logical, reasonable, inspired even.

Here, there was the moment Acererak innovated a way to sprint miles, in mere moments, to return to an apostle who had fallen ill, and use his power over life and death to reward his faith. There, a passage detailing the wizard turning the chill of the grave into an actual ice storm to vanquish a fire elemental an opponent had summoned against him.

Both of these he could learn from the pages of this book that he and his undead body guards protected with their lives, or, unlives. Such passages of an inspiring leader discovering universal truths right next to blatant instructions of the most efficient method to rip the lifeforce out of another living being with a touch… was… for the part of Mortimer that had taken to accepting there were still divine beings that inspire people to greatness, well… I didn’t sit easily, even for a necromancer…

if only he had a friend who understood matters of faith…

Closing the book Mortimer was relieved by the idea that actually it was just him wrestling with the concepts of morality and mortality that his necromancy brought, he wasn’t Acererak, his personal quest was not risking anyone else, Carrig had gotten herself into this, it wasn’t his fault, he didn’t have apostles!

He dwelt for a moment on the requests of Sir Marius… well true as an eldritch knight he’d been interested in Mortimer’s studies, but… he looked over at Jack, reborn from the grey wastes, a warlock already on his second life, but that didn’t prove anything! Finally Mortimer and Rima, fresh from the worst grievance she could suffer. A life lost he felt guilty he couldn’t reverse. The two looked up from their respective spell books at each other as they studied long into the night… his ancient, her’s brand new… well crap.

It was days back to Homlet. Far too much time to think.

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The Hunt

jump stream, mind tree, over root, scent ahead

It ran.

stag spoor, scent ahead, low branch, thorn in foot

Bounding on all fours, faster than its quarry, it ran.

scent left, foot pain, avoid thicket, scent ahead

Muscles rippling, a killing machine honed by the ages, it ran.

ready spear, scent ahead, scent ahead, KILL

It knew only the hunt.

quiet slow, find breath, remove thorn, scent ahead

In single-minded pursuit, it knew only its prey.

stag breathing, antlers beautiful, slit throat, close eyes

It didn’t notice its hunter.

knife sharp, cut hide, cut tendons, scent behind?

The crossbow bolt entered the back of its skull, severing the medulla oblongata, killing it instantly.

The hunter smiled. A gnoll and its prey was a good day’s haul.

He began to search its shoulder slung pouch. A whetstone; a handful of teeth; some scraps of leather. A small polished bone, carved with rudimentary letters in Common: “Tyrell”.

The hunter regarded this curiously. It had a name? The hunter didn’t care.

He knew only the hunt.

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Rose meets a thorn

(the insomniac brain obsesses over tiny things, I couldn’t get out of my head that this post had never made it online because I’d originally uploaded the wrong file. Time it did.)

Heavy rain beat down on her hood turning it from white and gold to grey, and drummed a muffled rhythm on the precious metal shield wrapped up in sackcloth across her back. It was large enough to cover most of her petite frame, so, at least it was keeping her mostly dry. The torn and missing sleeves however, they meant the young stranger shivered in the dark and the wet. Her robes were soaked, true her leather armour beneath priestly garb kept her dry, but wet robes, hung around her like lead and her shield caught the vicious headwind and felt like an anchor. She had to get off the roads.

Cutting into the woods was harder going but the trees broke up the wind and the rain, and she could see the lights of the town, not much further now. By happy accident this way also took her free and clear of guards at the town gates. Yes, she was an unarmed member of the clergy, It had worked at ever town she’d visited so far, well, except Phandalin, she’d arrived to find the place the scene of a battle, and recently deserted. The fallen Chasm Bridge shed seen a week or so ago hadn’t slowed the hand enough then…

If she did have to deal with guards they’d insist on taking her to the towns church, and while she would welcome the protection of The One’s roof over her head, she’d run out of lies to tell about why a novice from the capital city was now all alone weeks from home and carrying a war-cleric’s shield.

Easier this way.

She climbed over a broken part in the border fence and slipped into the town, it was far enough off the north/south line not to have attracted attention just yet. Still, it was in lock-down enough that she had to slip past a number of guard patrols before she found a deserted old boarding hosuse she could slip into. Everywhere was scared of the Hand now.
Floorboards creaked and the shafts of moonlight that pierced the storm clouds only served to highlight the choking clouds of dust that wafted slowly from the small back-room she’d entered to the larger saloon at the front of the building. She slumped against a wall under a tiny fogged 4-paine window that looked out on an alley beyond. She shivered, hugging her knees close to her chest, fished out the star of The One pendant that rested against her breast, and kissed it, muttering prayer.

“Because I am lovingly devoted to Him,
The One will deliver me;
I will fight for his, because he knows My name.
When He calls out to Me, I will answer Him;”

“You’re sure this is what you want?”
“You want to make me repeat myself?”
“Let’s see your coin purse then”

“I will be with Him in trouble.
He will rescue me and give me honour.
I will satisfy Him with my life”

“Is it all there?”
“You better hope so ‘cause I don’t see you arguing your point”

“and show him My salv….”

“Done, have your poison, much happiness it’ll do ya”

The One’s name! Was that really going on 3 feet beyond the wall she rested her weary back against?! She risked a look out the fogged window at an elderly man wrapped up against the weather accepted an impressive purse of coin, slipping over something small and unseen to the large man clearly not lacking in weaponry. Whatever illicit thing he had purchased this night, he secreted away about his person and turned his back on the man half his size, disinterested as soon as their shady deal was done.

‘The evil that man does, when he thinks The One can’t see him in the dark’ Rose smiled to herself, as she moved from the small room to the larger one. Once this kind of vice would have offended her to her core. Now her core had seen and felt far worse, her perspective of evil had been redrawn in the harshest of lights, she only had one righteous cause to focus on these days.

In the saloon room she fell asleep, curled up on the wooden floorboards by a stone cold iron fireplace. She could have lit it, the fires of heaven where hers to command since she became His weapon, but that would attracted unwanted attention. For now her faith would have to keep her warm.

She dreamt of a soft pink face, dark black hair, two little horns, black eyebrows crowning yellow eyes, and a scowl, she was always scowling, angry at the world. Rose had made her soften, and too soft, they had all died.

She awoke to a shuttered lamp-light sweeping across the room, the creak of floorboard under heavy boot.

The dim flickering light swung her way, she silently breathed a prayer, and vanished across the room, thank The One he blessed her with his perfect grace. The lamp swung again, was put down on the oak bar to reveal the back room, a dark figure made for that direction.
The old house creaked, dust clouded all her senses. A minute seemed to take an age, it was all she could do to stay hidden and not explode out at the stranger with all the power and righteous fury of Heaven, but then, righteous power could only be wielded with just cause, this could be a guard of an innocent citizen.

And then she felt the cold of the blade on her neck.

Her attacker’s breath fell not on her neck but into her short cropped hair. He had a foot on her, and hundred pounds easily.

He tapped her twice on the throat with a slim but wickedly sharp edge. He wanted her to yield. Oh, really.

“gladium caeli” she whispered, and a sound like a match dropped on lamp oil was matched with a brilliant glow that lit the room. It took a moment for her attacker to realise the glow originated between his legs, a burning sword of white gold heavenly radiance extended backward from her right hand backwards pressed against her attacker in a spot he really did not want to feel Heaven’s judgement.

“Come on! What’s this bullshit?! Magic sword? The fuck gets a magic sword they can just ‘fwush’ up? How’s that shit fair?”

She spun away as he removed his blade, she swept her lover’s shield onto her left arm in the same motion, coming up with a short-sword of manifest Heaven’s fury reflecting off a white silver and gold shield. Even as white/gold light played over two slim blades held at her throat.

“Go ahead, steal vs the power of heaven” she said, but her voice trembled along with her faith.

“Fuck this shit”

The swords withdrew, slipped into sheathes, her would be assassin slipped away from the stale mate to her right.

“You’re barred!”

“I’m… what?”

“You heard me, I’m done with this swords and magic, and I’m definitely done with some
divine bullshit.”

“My… what? I’m not a bard…”

“No you’re not, you’re barred, as in this is my pub, get out!”

“This is a… you can do that?”

“Yes, I just bought this shit hole, it’s mine now, gonna be the greatest ale house this side of the barrier, and I’ll not have some little shit turning magic weapons on me in my own bloody bar!”

At this he turned the lamp on her.

“oh, well fuck me….”

Rose just nodded, he had the measure of it, she thought she remembered the battle scared face the lamp revealed.

“Ross isn’t it? Pull up a pew lad.” Her would-be attacked gestured to the old broken bar stools, he pulled a sack he’d dumped by the door behind the bar.

With a flick of her sword hand Ross – Rose, dismissed her heavenly blade.

“First batch, up for a taste? Lad like you can handle an ale I take it?”

Rose smiled, she knew she hadn’t bound her chest in months, her hair was longer, she’d even put on eye makeup last time she’d had to get past some guards. yet Brond respected her as Ross.

“Yeah, pint would be good” Rose said in her own voice, taking a stool and beaming at a man that had once fought alongside the most important person in her life, in the defence of Hommlet. He had met her as Ross, so he was going to share a pint man to man with the young man Ross, and it was as simple as that, and that made her smile.

“This is yours then, you gave up the fight?”

“Oh I think the fight will find me again given enough time, but never fight in a war if you don’t think either side’s going to win… I earnt this.”

And with that he hung his rapiers crossed on the back wall above the dusty bar.

“I suppose you’re looking for them? Some bullshit campaign to pick up where you’re lady friend left off and be some One-damned hero?”

Rose gave a look over her pint, her eyes smoldered it had been awhile since they could shed tears, and the barkeep gave her a slow nod

“Sorry to hear that, vengeance it is then?”

She nodded again, and took a deep draught of ale.

“Fair enough.”

They sat for a while, around a newly built fire, Ross and Brond, two lads, sharing a few beers, and then morning came, and she knew where she needed to go, and Ross and Brond said an agreeable goodbye, Ross, at least, would never see Brond again.

Rose shrugged her shield more comfortably across her back, the road ahead was long, if she was blessed she’d find the heroes she was looking for at the end.

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Season 5 Session 8

It is Carreg’s birthday.

The party emerge from their Tiny Hut (including Jack, who has been disguised as Carreg for reasons best known to himself), and after Anarië’s most inspiring speech yet they once again use three swords to open the door to the room of pillars.

They march in and let it close behind them, confident of their ability to get back to the other side by magical means if necessary, and begin to to explore the room. Jack senses that all of the pillars are very magical, reinforcing the party’s firm idea that these pillars must be some kind of trap, and they resolve to avoid touching them under any circumstances.

Mage Hands with poles and skeletons go ahead of the party as usual, finding no further pit traps or the like. Impatient, Carreg goes ahead in her illusory form, finding that this room has three doors of different colours and two devil-face sculptures like the one in the entrance corridor, place high up on the walls. Tapping one of the doors with a pole turns its colour deeper, but otherwise they leave the doors alone, being much more interested in the throne which, as Mortimer keeps insisting, is “key and keyed” according to Acererak’s rhyme.

The throne is raised on a dais. Sitting on it are a golden crown and sceptre. The latter is of curious design, with metal balls at each end, one gold and one silver. On the base of the throne is a small silver relief of the same crown.

In a nearby corner is a circle of burned and blasted skeletons, with the remains of some weapons and armour. At the centre of the circle is a large, beautiful gemstone. It couldn’t look more like a trap, but Anarië is very tempted by the gem. Mortimer raises up a new skeleton servant from the blackened bones, which nods when he asks it if the gem killed it. Rima takes the opportunity to pick up some spare swords, in case they should need them for the door.

Everyone but Anarië goes back to the throne. No Name has a vision of Anarië putting on the crown, then being reduced to goo when something unknown touches it. Being very careful not to bring the two items into contact, Martimer and Rima use Mage hands to lift up the crown and sceptre. Mortimer touches the silver end of the sceptre to the small silver crown relief, and the throne sinks into the floor, revealing a narrow passage. Anarië, reluctantly, leaves the gem behind.

The narrow passage leads to a silver-lined room with stairs of various fine stones leading up to a set of huge mithril doors. On the steps, plainly visible, is a bronze key. In the middle of the doors is a hemispherical depression containing a keyhole.

It’s clearly a trap. Indeed, No Name senses a bewildering abundance of traps, including multiple lightning bolts and sudden drowning.

Skeletons walk through the room with no ill effect, but when Mage Hands hit the mithril doors with their poles they make indentations that seem almost blood-red. Mindful of the poem, Mortimer insists that this is some great danger. He sends one of his hands out to pick up the key and pop it into his bag, which it does without incident. Another Mage Hand inserts the golden end of the sceptre into the hemispherical depression, which it fits perfectly, and the mithril doors swing open.

Beyond the doors is a large room, ostentatiously finished in precious metals, and containing a sarcophagus, two chests, and a large urn from the top of which there seems to be a slight escape of gas. In each corner is a statue of an armoured warrior, each with a nasty-looking weapon. No Name, now in owl form, flies around the room and reports back via Rima that the sarcophagus is broken and appears to contain bones and artefacts.

Mortimer sends a skeleton in to open up the urn. As soon as it does so, gas billows out and forms into an efreeti, which thanks the skeleton for rescuing him and offers to perform three services in return. Mortimer’s protests that it was effectively him, not the skeleton, who did the freeing fall on deaf ears. As the skeleton cannot speak, the party are forced to communicate with the efreeti via written notes passed to it from the skeleton.

The first note reads “Request one: Take us to the true tomb of Acererak”, to which the efreeti heartily responds “Certainly! Tell me where it is and I will take you there!” This is deemed less helpful than had been hoped, so a second note reads “We’ll get back to you on that. Request two: Open every container in this room”.

Only too glad to help, the efreeti goes to the first chest and opens it up. As he does so, a small metal dart pricks his thumb and he keels over, dead. Oops.

The chest contains many platinum coins, on which Jack detects a great deal of magic. The party decide to leave well alone. Rima inspects the trap with her Eyes of Minute Seeing, and is then able to confirm that the other chest is similarly trapped. Meanwhile, Mortimer retrieves the two pieces of a broken staff from the sarcophagus and uses Mending to put them together again.

Clues from the poem seem to indicate that the statue holding a mace may be concealing something, and right enough after Lubash, Jack and Carreg manage to shift it along a little they reveal a circular plug in the floor with a handle.

Pulling up the plug reveals a short chute, leading downwards into a corridor. Anarië sends a Mage hand down first, and it seems that the near end of the tunnel at least seems to be safe. The part make their way down. The corridor turns off to the right, but Mortimer is by now getting exceptionally excited, insisting that a line in the poem about “left and left” means there must be a secret door in the left hand wall leading to Acererak’s tomb. Anarië urges him to calm down, but undeterred he implores Carreg to inspect the wall and there is indeed a concealed doorway.

Before the door is opened, Anarië insists on scouting the rest of the corridor, which turns out to be undistinguished and ending in a pair of plain doors. Regrouping, the party opens the secret door. Mortimer can barely contain himself.

Within is a small chamber, empty and unmarked except for a small square depression in the floor. At the centre of this depression is a keyhole. Rima rolls a ball bearing into the depression, and it rattles in without triggering anything. Mortimer sends in a hand with the bronze key. When the key is turned in the lock, the floor opens up and a mithril vault rises up.

The vault contains a skull and some bone dust, resting on top of a stone block. Also on the block is a large, leather-bound book, while in front of it are scattered various scrolls, potions and other magic items.

The dust rises up into a ghostly shape. Anarië tries to dispel its magic – this buffets the cloud of dust back a little, but then it resumes its position.

Very carefully, Mortimer sends a hand in to retrieve the book. It returns successfully. More Mage Hands gather the various magic items from the floor.

There is now an excited debate. Lubash is determined to smash the skull with his hammer, while Mortimer and Carreg both seem to be becoming demob-happy now that the quest seems to be at an end. Anarië argues that they must not stop being careful now – they have got what they came for, retrieved the secrets of Acererak, and now it is time to leave before some terrible fate befalls them.

Eventually Anarië prevails, and the party arranges to Dimension Door in pairs back to the entrance of the Tomb. Anarië takes Lubash first, much to his disgruntlement. Eventually, it seems that only Mortimer and Carreg are left. Mortimer tries to take Carreg with him, but arrives at the entrance alone. You can only take a person with you through a Dimension Door if they are willing, and Carreg has other plans.

She approaches the skull slowly, readying a sack. When she is close enough, she tries to quickly knock the skull into the open sack.

But no sooner does she touch it that the skull rises up into the air, its jewelled eyes and teeth now clearly visible. One of the eyes flashes, and Carreg’s body is instantly destroyed. The skull sinks back down.

Rima – who turned invisible and remained behind to watch while everyone else was Dimension Dooring – observes this and finally activates her own Dimension Door to rejoin the others.

All but one of the party have survived the Tomb of Horrors.

It is Carreg’s deathday.

Deaths so far: 1

Cause of death: tragic overconfidence

Some weeks or months later

Carreg is trapped in a cut jewel. She has been here some time, and there is no way out.

For the first time since she ended up here there is movement outside. Battle mages enter the crypt of Acererak. They are led by Clausis. She peers into Carreg’s confinement, amused to find there there is one soul already trapped.

One by one, she sends in her battle mages to be destroyed by Acererak. Those chosen protest and plead, but to no avail. When each of the skull’s jewels has been filled with a soul, Carreg’s point of view shifts, seeming to rise up and look down upon the remaining battle mages. “Arise, Lord Acererak!” cries Clausis.

Carreg’s soul, along with the others, is snuffed out.

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Snakes in a Box

Before I died, I had a lovely life, slithering around with my brothers and sisters in our box. Some days were filled with hissing, and having great discussions with my brothers and sisters about life, the universe and everything.

My brother Cedric had a dream of being in a grassy field with the sun on his back. He was a great entertainer, was our Cedric, and a very good storyteller to boot.

So I’m going to tell you about my death, for I think it is only fair. I was happily minding my own business with my brothers and sisters in our box. We were discussing trees and forests, and how we would make our escape.

Then we heard something. Tap, tap, tap with sticks, and bones crunching against the stone floor.

We were quite intrigued, as there hadn’t been many wanderers in these parts for a good long while.

Eventually, we heard a tap on our box. So we decided to hiss and make our presence known. Maybe we were going to be taken to a new place. Maybe these banging noises were going to take us to a tree, and the light, we secretly hoped.

Then we heard some voices. This was very exciting, and much more interesting than the banging. We strained, listening, trying to make out the words.

After a while, the chattering stopped. I looked at my brothers and sisters, and something had changed. It had all gone quiet, and we started to notice the lid being lifted.

We were super excited. Maybe these tapping things would feed us.

We looked up, and we saw a peering face. We were intrigued. We had never seen a face like this before.

The bravest of my brothers and sisters (for we are an equal opportunity snake colony) piped up and said “Hello! We’re very hungry. Will you let us out?”

Much to our surprise, she spoke to us. She told us she wasn’t going to let us out because we might eat her, even though we promised not to.

She gave us some dried meat, and then closed the box.

This is when it went terribly wrong.

We hadn’t eaten for days. We were hungry, ravenous. It felt like the pits of our stomachs would never be satisfied, and we started eating, and eating, and eating. We didn’t know where the meat stopped and we began, so we ate and we ate until there was nothing left.

My last memory is Cedric being eaten from the inside out, ripped apart by his brothers and sisters. And then they turned on me.

It was a happy life, in my box.

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King's Man

Jonathan is a king’s man. As was his father before him, and his mother too.

Some are made to rule, others to be ruled; others still, like him, made to serve the ruler. Burne is an ant, a minor pest made bold by inattention and misrule. While the king has been preoccupied, Burne has dared to snatch crumbs from the royal table. Like an ant Burne moves quickly and is difficult to deter, but he will crush him if he can.

The village is an annoyance, a few hundred farmers and craftsmen with the usual petty concerns: how much are my taxes this year, when will my son come home from war, should I sow peas or oats in the fields I have left. It is tedious, but he supposes at least they know their place. His men, frustratingly, are proving increasingly difficult to control; wandering eyes are becoming wandering hands and soon enough will be wandering feet in the middle of the night.

His lip curls – the old excuse. Far from home and no one would be the wiser. He has no wife to betray, but he respects himself more than to carry on with some dishevelled milkmaid, drunk on the fear of a foreign land.

He does not think about dishevelled elves, bold and laughing as they drag him through the brush.

The men bring him the bundle later, delivered via the tower’s teleportation circle. It had worked its way through gradually, inch by painful inch. It is a scarf, dirty and marked, holding 100 gold pieces. And bound into the knot holding it close, a note written in a child’s scrawl. The money is inconsequential to the riches he holds at home, so he orders it be dispersed to those most in need. His lieutenant raises an eyebrow at the unexpected act of generosity, but moves to carry out his orders.

Would this be what she wanted? He can hardly tell. When they first met she had struck him in the face, then escaped the cell he had thrown her into by turning into a rat. She was remarkably unattractive for an elf. He supposes he was not so handsome either. But in her expression he saw a resignation he recognised; the sign of a soul long dead. They are both buried under layers of endless rote, a life spent walking slowly along the line of duty and routine to the grave.

And what routine should he follow now?

Well, there is always patrol. He climbs the tower, looks out. Hills to the west, desert to the east. The unexpected world is full of promise and adventure and he is suddenly furious. How dare this land exist? How dare they be free? Don’t they know that they merely live to follow the king, to take their allotted place in life and serve, serve, serve, until there is nothing and no one left? Why should he want more?

His hands are gripping the parapet hard, the paper in his right hand crumpling. He had forgotten he was still holding her note.

SEE, it reads, NOT DEAD YET. It is nothing, but it is enough.

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