Monday, July 24, 2017

Session Four: Betrayal Among the Dead

With the jerry-rigged barricade removed the entrance to the black tunnel beyond stood wide and gaping. The heroes and the group of bandits prepared to enter it but the wounded man protested that he couldn't make it and his friend refused to leave his side.  The adventurers were firm: everyone goes into the tunnel, no exceptions. After some negotiations and persuasion, the injured bandit decided to go: it was better to go out fighting to get away than to die starving and trapped in the cellar.  Reluctantly, the bandit's friend helped him limp into the tunnel with the others they descended into the ancient cave beneath the earth...

The tunnel twisted and turned as it wound its way toward what the group hoped would be an exit, and they fought scattered groups of shambling zombies here and there along the way.  After following the tunnel for some time, it suddenly widened and they found themselves in a very ancient tomb.  Caskets and sarcophagi were tucked into niches on the walls, and around the room some stone caskets sat on raised platforms.  Beyond these was a strange, chilling sight: on a throne made from stacked coffins sat an emaciated, rotten corpse dressed in ancient rogues' armor.  As the nine people entered the ancient tomb, there was a hideous creaking sound as the corpse's head rose from its chest and cold embers peered from its eye sockets at them.  The creature - an ancient wight - laughed horribly and stood, and as it raised its hands several sarcophagi broke open to reveal armored skeletons as they crawled forth and raised their weapons.  Wordlessly, the attack began.

The fight was pitched and feverish, with the heroes and bandits working together to defeat the undead.  The wight never spoke a word... until Lander the warlock attacked it.  Fixing the half-elf in his glare, the wight pointed his finger at him and said "You... I know you boy, oh yes. Your master has such plans for you!"

The wight cackled as he continued attacking the other members of the party, leading Lander to ponder his words until the human rogue that he had tried to attack the day before snuck up behind him and tried to stab Lander in the back. Turning his attention to the rogue, Lander battled furiously against his new opponent until he went down, dead.  Mila, the leader of the bandits, caught Lander's eye as she shrugged and muttered "Ah well, that guy was an asshole anyway..."

As Garnet trained his battle-hardened sword-skills upon the skeletons' onslaught, Jinvar the paladin rushed in to confront the wight: Jinvar's sword glowed white-hot with the holy light of St. Cuthbert as he smote the undead menace down.  The wight fought back long and hard against the group, but at last succumbed to the heroes' fight against him.  As he crumbled, his ruined skull seemed to stare at the group mockingly until it was nothing but dust..

After resting-up briefly, the group set out again, following a hole in the wall to the end of the tunnel... it was a dead end.  A cave-in had occurred long, long ago and what should've been a cave opening had been sealed off for good.  The only course of action was to backtrack to Valkenheiser Manor, but when they emerged from the cellar, they found stilled zombie corpses everywhere.  The weird curse upon the land had ended when the wight was defeated, and the doors and windows now opened freely, allowing them to leave.

Upon leaving the house, the team discovered the bandits were no longer with them. Checking around, they spotted the bandits running as fast as they could for the forest behind the mansion. They were torn over what to do: should they follow them to attack or subdue them, or let them go?  They decided to go after them, but it was too late: during their argument the bandits had slipped into the forest beyond.  Tracking them would be difficult with such a head start working against them, so they decided to just go back to Reeve Valkenheiser: he'd asked them to get the bandits out of the manor one way or another, and they had done just that.

Back in town, the reeve listened to their story intently.  "Why didn't you tell us there might be zombies?" they asked him.  Valkenheiser shrugged.  The reeve had told them the land was historic, but had never told them why: thousands of years before, a group of cutthroats had been terrorizing the area until a heroic paladin had rallied the town against them.  Defeated, the criminal scum had taken refuge in a cave in the hills, and the paladin & townspeople had sealed the cave, shutting them inside for eternity.  The wight, Valkenheiser told them, would've probably been their leader, a truly evil rogue and killer called Devvin the Viper. He must've made some kind of deal with something dark, he reasoned.

The reeve paid the group for their services, and as promised he gave them the name of a local sage that might be able to identify the book they'd taken off the Midnight Conclave mage in the underground complex.  The man's name was Caldor and he lived in a small forest just outside of Hawksmith.  Reeve Valkenheiser warned them that Caldor's mental state was a bit shaky, and encouraged them to have patience with him.

The heroes stayed the night at the Tipsy Tankard inn.  Lander's sleep was troubled after the encounter with the wight: he dreamed that he was running down a dark stone hallway with Jeremina, the human girl he'd wed back when the two were running cons in Rock Harbor.  But this was impossible: Jeremina had been murdered by unknown killers, driving him to make a pact with something that had gifted him with dark powers.  How could she be here with him now?  Suddenly, the floor beneath Jeremina opened up and she slipped into a red-lit abyss below.  Lander tried his best to hang on to her hand, but felt her slipping away.  Suddenly, black chains wrapped around his love's legs and they pulled her down and out of the warlock's grasp.  As her screams died away, Lander heard a deep voice rumble a single word: "Mine..." before he awoke.

The next day, the group found Caldor's tiny shack: it was stuffed with books from floor to ceiling, and was filthy and cramped.  Caldor was a wizened little gnome who only ventured outside when it was a full moon (because he only liked it then, he explained, and not because he was a werewolf) and was extremely paranoid.  The heroes got into Caldor's good graces, however, and they first showed him the brass eggs (the gearhawks) and told him what they did.  Caldor was a gnome and loved tinkering, however he had no idea that such object even existed.  The book was a different matter: the old man told them it was indeed written in a code, but that he would probably crack it if given a day or two.

The group camped outside Caldor's shack for the next few days to keep the gnome guarded, until at last on the morning of the third day he waved them inside the shack.  The little scholar's tone was very different than it had been as he told them what the book was.  It was a codex of binding spells, apparently concocted specifically to bind the extra-dimensional creatures known as the Others to the caster's will.  After the crystal-elves had accidentally let the creatures into their world using their strange machines, the Others had very nearly taken the planet over many thousands of years before during the Third Era of Hybrith, known as the OtherSiege. They had been beaten back to their home-plane and the gateways shut, but they were still a potential threat.  "If someone has plans to bring the Others back and bind them to their will," he told them, "then this is a very dangerous situation indeed."  He told them to take the book somewhere safe, and that he never wanted to see it ever again.

After some somber discussion, the group decided they had best take the book and the gearhawks to the capital city of Rock Harbor, just three or four days walk to the west. There, surely someone would be able to help them find out what was going on...

Behind the screen: If anyone is reading these, I hope you're enjoying them.  The sessions seem to be a lot of fun, both for me and for my players and I'm having fun with the improv aspects and playing off their characters.  The next session will throw me into some unknown territory as I set up my first big city and all that entails.  I have some ideas, but I have no idea if we'll even get to them.  We'll see...

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