The Eroding Empire

Welcome to the Eroding Empire Adventure Log!

Session 00 – Saturday 12 April 2014 – Intersections and Beginnings

Session 01 – Sunday 20 April 2014 – Prologue & Something Wicked This Way Comes

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Intersections and Beginnings
Session 0
A smear of grey across the sky
A warning in the distance
An indecipherable alarm

And there you stood, your mouths agape
Your minds adrift and far from harm

Smoke on the horizon …

- Black Company mantra

The boy and the wildling

Lithvar was just finishing shelving the day’s manuscripts when he heard the noise; when he was shelving Lithvar had a tendency to be distracted by every creaking and cracking sound in the temple compound, and especially by any sound or smell from the kitchen. So when he heard the rustling and banging in the kitchen, he immediately thought of someone was preparing something for tomorrow, something he could cadge a little of. Even though he spent all day sitting down in the library, Lithvar was at that age of boyhood where he was constantly hungry, and he had long since become a familiar fixture in the kitchen. Strict rules of asceticism were supposed to apply in this temple, but Lithvar was no trainee – just a library assistant – and all the serving staff liked him. Seeing his chance, he hastily stuffed the last manuscript into its slot – some pointless document about the coming End of Times – and dashed swiftly and quietly down to the kitchen. He was given a lot of leeway, but disturbing the monks in their interminable evening prayers was not part of it, so he had to move silently. No trouble for a light-footed wood boy on the cusp of adolescence …

… he reached the kitchen to find it abandoned and silent. It was dark, but he could hear a scrabbling noise from inside. He slipped through the doorway and found himself staring at a bizarre scene of theft and rapture. To one side of the kitchen the smaller scrap bin had been overturned, and something was digging around inside, scratching hungrily for food. At first he thought it an animal, but after a moment it seemed to sense him and stuck its head over the bin’s edge: it was a wild-eyed elf-child of some kind, its hair ragged and matted, its face covered in filth. In its mouth was the messy remnants of a fish head, and in one hand it held stale bread. They didn’t have a chance to lock eyes though before Lithvar noticed the other thing on the kitchen bench. The bench was a great stone thing, that ran along half the length of the middle of the room. It had been cleaned down after dinner but Lithvar had left a single illuminated manuscript here after dinner, when he had sneaked down to steal some apple pie and eaten it while reading the book. Moonlight streamed down from a window high on the south wall of the room, and the book lay in a pool of silver radiance like some holy text that the gods wanted to be found. And indeed someone had found it: squatting on the bench staring down at the book was a tiny creature, a gnome child no more than maybe half a metre tall. In one hand it held a leg of rotten chicken; a chunk of the festering meat hung half-chewed out of the side of the little beast’s mouth. But it wasn’t eating, or looking around, or anything: it was staring in wonderment at the gleaming letter “D” that took up the top half of the page, and with one grubby finger it was tracing the outline of the silver dragon that traced the outline of the “D”, a dragon that shone like a real living thing in this mystical moonlight. The little beast was so wrapt in the lettering of the book that it didn’t notice Lithvar at all – it was captured in the joy of letters, just as Lithvar had been two years ago when he was first brought here.

Lithvar knew of these things: they were wildlings, children abandoned on the edge of the Wildwood by slavers, bandits or reckless families and left to fend for themselves. Most died, but the smarter ones formed together into wild gangs, moving from town to town and living by their wits, mostly by theft and sometimes a little prostitution. They were lost to the wilderness, mostly they didn’t speak or they shared a language their own band had created, forged together out of all the tongues of the members. They didn’t usually make it to adulthood, but those few who did would end up at New Port or Santa Cora, living as thieves, or would be inducted into a bandit gang and used as savage scouts till they died. But these two were too young for that, still wandering the wilds stealing food. Lithvar found himself not at all scared of them, just moved by a desire to help them. He stepped forward into the edge of the moon’s glow and whispered a greeting to the tiny thing. As he moved the other wildling dissolved into shadow and was gone with that supernal grace and speed that only wild wood elves can master. The gnome-child, however, was not so fast – it leapt back from the book but, still part entranced, didn’t leave the bench; instead it crept slowly away from this giant boy striding into the light, but it kept one eye on that book.

“Would you like me to read it to you?” Lithvar asked gently, but this scared the thing even more; it slipped further back into the shadows, and out of the spell of the book.

“Oh, okay … how about some food…?” Lithvar stepped slowly away from the table and turned to the pantry, unlocking it and opening it as quietly as he could. When he turned back bearing bread and cheese the gnome-child was gone, lost in the shadows. He sighed, not unsurprised, and placed the food on the table between the book and the shadows, just on the edge of the moonlight. A few moments later he saw two wide, pale blue eyes staring from the edge of the bench. Slowly the child moved back onto the bench, looking for the food but staring at the book.

“Would you like to know what it says?” He asked gently. The gnome child obviously couldn’t understand him much, but it understood his tone; it seemed to relax a little as it reached for the food.

They shared a few moments more before some noise in the upper levels of the cloisters disturbed the gnome. Lithvar heard someone coming, and moments later the gnome was gone, properly this time, carrying a chunk of bread with it into the wild night. Lithvar hastily cleared the food away, sighing in disappointment as he did so. His moment of connection was over, and it was back to the books for him …

… but over the next nights the gnome-child returned, and for a few weeks he had a strange and savage friend. He taught the gnome-child a few of the rudimentary letters in the book, and helped it to eat and rest. But eventually they were caught; he was caned and the gnome-child fled, moving on with its band to the next village, probably to forget him and his kindnesses forever …

The prisoner and the knave

In the years after he met the gnome child Lithvar grew into an awkward, shy teenager. He still loved books, he still spent his days in the library, and he still had no patience for prayers and asceticism, though he had begun to learn a little of the secrets of the temple where he lived. He had also become more comfortable with the grounds of the temple, and especially liked to take the air in the Southern garden, which had a pretty fountain and pool that he liked to relax by in the cool of the early morning. He felt very lucky here in this temple. Though he knew nothing of the religion that had found and sheltered him – and indeed, knew nothing about why he was here or where his family were – he trusted the priests implicitly. They were sometimes strict and often distant, but he been treated well here and although he knew little of the outside world, he knew enough to guess that life would have been much harder in the outside world for a seemingly orphaned boy of his age.

So it was that one morning he descended the marble stairs from the library into the cool of the garden, to sprawl on the bench beside the pool and have his faith in his elders shattered.

When he emerged into the garden he found it already occupied, by a sobbing boy no older than himself. The boy was staring at himself in the pond, his reflection disturbed only by occasional teardrops. His sobs were almost silent, but it was enough for Lithvar to know that this boy was upset about something. He coughed gently, always shy of speech even now, and the crouched boy spun around. For a moment Lithvar was reminded of that strange evening years ago in the moonlight, but that child could not have grown so much, this must be some other interloper. This boy was obviously injured in some way: his head was bandaged, blood and something else seeping through the bandages that were clearly freshly applied. His tear-stained face appeared to be bruised, and he wore ragged clothes that, in the places where they were ripped away revealed fresh scars and bruises. Was this what Lithvar had looked like when he was taken in by his nameless temple?

The boy backed away from him in obvious fear. “It’s okay,” he said, slightly helplessly, holding out one arm cautiously. “I’m not here to hurt you, I just want to sit on this bench.” He sat down carefully. The boy stared at him for a moment longer, then with an outraged howl he tore the bandages off and thrust his entire head into the pool, shaking it under the water. Lithvar, shocked, rushed forward to pull the boy from the pool. “Don’t!” he gasped. “You should keep the …” his voice trailed off as the boy turned to face him, dripping water from … two horribly disfigured stumps growing out of his skull. They looked for all the world like the stumps of horns, as Lithvar was used to seeing on the strange beast head hanging preserved over the fireplace in the library. Blood and clear liquid oozed from the base of the stumps where the damage had been done. It looked incredibly painful! The boy was sobbing again, and collapsed with a howl at Lithvar’s feet.

“What has happened to you!” Lithvar asked in horror. And then, remembering to always be reassuring with strange interlopers … “Don’t worry, our priests will make it better.”

The boy’s head snapped up from its huddle, and he stared furiously at Lithvar through stunning eyes, one violet and one black. “Your priests did this!” he snarled.

“What?” Lithvar took a step back, shocked at the accusation. “No! They are kind!”

“Kind?” The boy spat. “They want to drive my demons out. They had me locked in a room, they cut me and beat me.”

“No! They must be trying to heal you!”

The boy rocked forward a little, head tilting to one side, eyes widening. “You don’t … believe they would do this?” He asked softly.

“No! They are kind. They have always been kind …” His voice trailed off. He remembered the night they found him with the gnome child, and the boy’s cries and screams after they dragged him away. Where was that child now? They would never tell him what they did …

The boy rose up onto his knees, grabbed Lithvar’s hand before he could recoil. Was it Lithvar’s imagination, or was the boy’s skin slightly dry and … scaly?

“Please, help me!” The boy gasped urgently. “You know this place. You can help me leave!”

“Nothing is stopping you! Just go to the gates! Here, I’ll show you!” Lithvar drew the boy up, but then paused. “But wait, if you’re leaving, I should get some food for the road. You can’t go off without food!”

The boy looked around urgently. “There’s no time! We should go. You can’t …”

His protests trailed off, eyes wide, looking over Lithvar’s shoulder. Lithvar turned slowly. The temple Elder was standing there, flanked by two men in steel armour. They carried some kind of chains, strung with wicked-looking barbs and ending in a nasty blunt hook-thing. They both looked levelly at Lithvar with cold, expressionless faces. One twitched his left hand, making the chain rattle. The boy stepped away from Lithvar and started moving towards the stairs he had come down, but stopped as another one of the guards emerged from the shadows of the stairwell.

“Lithvar,” the elder said, not unkindly. “Please, what are you doing here?”

“Um …” Lithvar stumbled. “This boy … I found … he wants to leave. Um, I was just going to get him food and show him the gates.”

“No Lithvar, you weren’t,” the elder said gently. “He can’t leave. Thybalt is sick, and he needs to stay here until he is better.”

NOT SICK!” The boy wailed. “Don’t hurt me more! Lithvar, help me!” He stumbled forward and fell to his knees behind Lithvar, wrapping his arms around Lithvar’s waist. “Don’t let them hurt me again!”

The men stepped forward smoothly and swiftly. One grabbed Lithvar by the shoulders and arms, and before he could even think to move the other had the boy Thybalt in a strong grip. Lithvar heard the chain rattling but noticed a swift glance from the elder, and the chain stopped. He couldn’t look around but he heard the sound of Thybalt kicking the guard’s armour, followed by a thumping sound and cries. The elder nodded at Lithvar’s guard, and he began to be dragged in towards the stairs.

“We will talk later, Lithvar,” the elder told him. “Thybalt needs to be returned to treatment.”

As he was dragged into the hallway Lithvar heard the boy crying and howling, then go suddenly silent as the chains rattled. Before the guard kicked a door closed he thought he heard muffled voices, the elder speaking loudly maybe, and then cries. But then the door shut and he was dragged into the cool darkness and merciful silence of the inner cloisters.

Later that day he spoke with the elder, but he learnt nothing of the boy, nor did he see him again. That day something changed in the happy silence of Lithvar’s life. Soon he was gone, taking a bundle of books and food and setting off into the world to find a new way…

The nightmare and the warden

Syrion was really still a boy when his father cast him out. Still a boy, but old enough to be caught atop his father’s third consort, and that was too flagrant an error for even his own long-suffering father to tolerate. Whether it was the shame of being cuckolded by his own son – and with his new favourite, no less! – or the realization that this child would only bring his royal house down, it cannot be said. Certainly as Syrion left the town incognito the next morning, bearing what little he could steal or beg from family retainers, head bowed in shame, the rumours he heard of that consort’s ill-omened end were not pretty. Still, he had got what he wanted, and what fault of his that her high-pitched warblings were fit to wake the dead (and his father’s guards)? Besides, the argument had been waiting to be had, and now he was free he could really show his father how great he was. He would make his own noble future, and return a powerful man to rival his own father. Then they would see who was an embarrassment to who!

… Syrion was still really only a boy a few months later when, down on his luck and too childish to manage his money, he found himself drinking his last gold piece away in a seedy tavern in some pointless town on the edge of the Wild Wood. It was hardly his fault – again, a woman had brought trouble down upon him because she couldn’t keep her ecstasy to herself. This time it was the daughter of the merchant whose caravan he had been guarding, and now here he was, unceremoniously dumped from his work and lucky not to have copped a stupendous beating – a good thing for him that the merchant’s retainers lacked any military prowess, and had been scared to touch him. Still, he had already handed over his deposit to a loan shark in Newport, and had been depending on the payment on delivery for food, clothes and lodging. So here he was, in a nowhere town with nowhere to go and no money. So it was that he found himself nursing bad ale and a bad heart, wondering if he would have to go slinking back to his father in shame, because there was surely no work to be had hereabouts, when a little group of men sidled up to him and offered him a paltry sum of money to beat up a local troublemaker.

Now that he could do! And what an easy troublemaker to find – some kind of demon that could be found in a barn nearby, a real demon with horns and a tail! They would only pay him a couple of silvers to do the job, but everyone knew that demons had treasure and besides! Think of the fame! And they bought him another drink! Which he downed ceremoniously, before staggering out to find this demon and collect his money…

… At the barn he staggered through the door, yelling bravely, and drew his sword with a yell. Standing there in the half-light was a full demon! It had red skin and fiery eyes, stood maybe 3m tall at the shoulder, and had huge horns and a long, whip-like tail. Was it scaled or furry? He couldn’t quite tell because of his blurred vision – some evil demon magic no doubt. This demon was standing over a supine figure, someone who was twitching and yelling in fear but transfixed before the demon, perhaps even semi-conscious with terror. A desperate tableau! Even though this demon, on closer inspection, appeared to be vague and barely material, in fact almost see-through – a seeming, perhaps? – it was still clearly a life-and-death moment for this poor traveller sleeping in the wrong barn! Syrion charged forward and with a couple of flourishes of his mighty sword arm was able to destroy the beast. It fled to its own plane, disappearing in a puff of sulphur, and leaving behind a little nick of horn. Syrion took the horn as proof of his job done, and sagged down beside the terrified traveller, who seemed to have returned to sleep. Now Syrion too was very tired. He needed to sleep off his drunken state. He would collect his reward in the morning …

… and so it was that he slept beside the warlock boy, Thybalt, and while he slept there for the first time in a long time Thybalt’s nightmares did not come – no demons manifested in his sleep, no infernal sendings or seemings troubled him. In the morning he and Syrion set out together, and it was only later in the day that Syrion realized Thybalt was the demon he was supposed to have given a beating. By then Thybalt had already proposed a money-making scheme to him: Thybalt would appear in villages to terrorize them, and then Syrion would arrive fortuitously, collecting money to drive Thybalt out. A lucrative venture! And one Syrion could hardly turn down. Thus it was that they became friends in crime, and wanderers on the fringe of the Wild Wood, as Syrion established his reputation as a paladin and demon-slayer…

The doomed and the saved

Smoke on the horizon
Can the flames be far behind?
You run for cover, but it’s too late
You are engulfed, you are
The smoke on the horizon

- Black Company mantra

The cult found Ayn bound and dying in the sacrificial pit of one of their sacred ruins. She had been dumped there by her tribe – some kind of honour killing – doused in acid and left to die, or to be eaten while she died by one of the many ruthless scavengers of the wastes. Of course they only learnt later that her fate had been of such mundane savagery – at first, finding her in that venerated and holy hollow, they assumed she was a message from their crazed doomsday gods, so they saved her as best they could. From that day forth she was their slavish devotee, but scarred beyond recognition and shamed by the accusations of her tribe, she insisted on always being swathed head to toe in layers of impenetrable red and black cloth. Her face was so disfigured that she could never show it: instead she had a blank white mask, lacking even eyes (for who needs eyes when one’s mysterious gods of the End will give one all the sight one needs?) She became their living shadow, perfect adherent of their teachings, servant of their unholy and morbid gods.

Life passed that way for almost a year. Ayn was coming of age, though no one could tell what changes might be happening inside those shrouds, and the cult too grew a little, found a wealthy patron, set up a little stockade in the edge of the wild woods. Things were going well, perhaps so well that their dreams of the 13th Age’s catastrophic end in fire and acid began to fade. Doomsday became a faint echo of their gods’ purpose, they went through the prayers and the motions but they did not, perhaps, care as much as once they did, living this comfortable life here in their little holy stockade. Except for Ayn. This cult had healed her, and its gods gave her sight – if her faith in their dread purpose ever waned or faded, so did her sight, and so every day she was perfect in her devotions to them, and in truth all she ever really dreamt of was the end of the earth – and especially of her old tribe, washed away in a tide of acid hate. When the Tiefling and the Paladin came, originally planning some scam but then deciding to stay for a few days so that the paladin could try and find what was beneath the strange girl’s robes, Ayn did not notice his attentions. She had thoughts only for the signs of the End Times, for that time when the world would be judged in fire and acid, and she would ascend to the heavens to become whole again. If she noticed the Paladin watching her impatiently, she ignored him. But she probably did not notice.

And noone noticed, either, the shadowy figure on the hillside watching them. The cultists were too comfortable in their easy life; Syrion the Paladin was too focused on Ayn and the mystery beneath her robes; Ayn was too rapt in her religious observances, praying to the dark ones so that she could keep the sight that failed to see the gnome scout hidden in the hills. So it was that he came, he watched, and he slipped away easily to his mercenary band, and he gave them detailed information on how to attack the stockade.

They came the next day: the Black Company, famed for its bravery and cunning, ill-famed for its brutality. Someone (some say the Priestess) had paid someone to pay someone to hire someone to find someone to buy a squad to go and slaughter a doomsday cult. The Black Company were the squad, and Cog 11 was their gnome scout. He had come a long way since a library assistant taught him a few words in a glowing book; now he was a murderous adult with no heart, drifting purposeless through life with no greater goal than to fill his empty soul with a lake of blood. The Black Company was his company, but not his place, he had no place. So he watched as they fell on the stockade, but he noted that once again they had failed to follow the plan he had sketched out. They would win, of course – they always did – but it would take longer and be more difficult than needed. Angry at their stupidity, Cog 11 slipped into the stockade through the postern gate he had so carefully opened for them the day before, and prowled the streets looking for men to kill. He cut down a few, the savage pleasure of it muted by his disappointment at being ignored again. They always ignored him.

Then he found them. Syrion, Thybalt and Ayn, trapped in a barn, fighting. He crept in above them, thinking to set some ambush, but he came to a slow halt as he crawled along the rafters to a good spot for the drop. These people did not seem lost. The big human, Syrion, was fighting with gleeful abandon, but he was brave, not a skulking backstabber like Cog 11. The tiefling and the paladin were obviously allied to each other – not by bonds of military discipline, but by some fierce joy they found in fighting alongside each other. And the girl in the red and black robes, though she could barely muster a prayer, was deep in ecstatic service to her sick gods, flinging weak and pathetic spells about in the vain hope that she could serve some higher purpose than her own shriveled skin.

Cog 11 was amazed. His amazement soon turned to a surprising resolution: he would help them. These people had hope. He had nothing. Perhaps there was an alternative to drowning his sorrows in blood – perhaps he could find a place with people. Not the false companionship of the Company, hard men paid to like each other, but something real. He had never really even sought it out – perhaps there was a way?

With this brief irrational moment of hope eclipsing his usual cynical emptiness, Cog 11 dropped to the floor of the barn and shouldered into the door – which of course didn’t move under his tiny weight. “I have a way out,” he told the surprised paladin. But as they all looked down at him, he heard the creaking boom of a Company trebuchet. Moments later the roof of the barn crashed inward in a torrent of broken wood and flames, and the barn collapsed on them…

… By the time Lithvald stumbled on the stockade the main force of the Black Company had pulled back, leaving a ruined and blackened shell. Ash was falling from the sky with a gentle rain, and the whole area stank of smoke and death. He pushed his way through the wrecked gates into the courtyard, and picked past piles of dead and dying, looking for someone he could help. The ash drifted, settled and formed a thin skein of filthy mud in the rain, and the fires dimmed as the rain intensified. Everywhere horses and men twitched out their last breath. It seemed hopeless.

Lithvald was just considering leaving and returning to his forest when he heard a moan from a low pile of smouldering wood. He dived in and began heaving the wood aside, and after a few moments found the tiefling, who he helped out from under the timbers. As the rain washed away the grime coating the tiefling’s horn and slanted features they stared at each other in amazement. They remembered! Was this the boy Lithvald had tried to help years before? As he hauled the half-demon out from the wood they collapsed into each other, laughing with joy. Such a coincidence!

They helped the mysterious priest girl out, and then Syrion, who was battered from the battle and the ruins. Finally they spied a small crossbow focused on the group from amidst the ruins – Cog 11 returned to his old suspicions. But when he saw his teacher from all those years ago, he too crawled out of the shadows, amazed and awed by the power of fate.

This could not be just luck. This had to be fate. This was a group whom fate had conspired to draw together, to some obscure purpose. They could not separate now. They each had their own goals – of vengeance, lost loved ones to find, fame to make. But they had been drawn into the tangled web of each others’ lives by more than just luck. As Cog 11 urged them to leave the stockade before the Company’s camp followers came to murder and loot the injured, they spoke in amazement of their good luck and their future.

There was something in this. Where would it take them?


Note: this is how our new 13th Age party met. The Black Company Mantra is a slightly edited excerpt from the Assemblage 23 song, Smoke.

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Prologue

Empires are born, empires grow, and empires fade away. This is an undeniable fact. You can ask any library-dwelling scholar mage and they will tell you that history dictates this so.

An empire begins with the dream of a better world, and is forged with the sweat and the blood of the countless. Under the guidance of wise leaders, chaos is given order, the people become organized, and peace, and prosperity follow. Yet, power and wealth inevitably leads to hubris, to the belief that now is the time when the forces of history can be brought to heel, that this is the eternal empire. This hubris makes us blind to unavoidable urges such greed, lust for power, insecurity, pride, jealousy as they strengthen across the empire. They begin as a small stream, but they soon grow to a mighty river, sweeping across the land eroding the empire away. When the erosion is complete, all that remains are vague memories of a once all-powerful empire and some crumbled ruins hidden deep a distant jungle.

The land in our story has seen an empire crumble twelve times, but twelve times it has also seen a new empire rise again from the ashes, each time heralding a new Age.

The empire in the 13th Age is known as the Dragon Empire. It is a place of order, and a time of prosperity. A benevolent Emperor sits on the throne in Axis, overseeing the government that works to maintain the order across the Dragon Empire. A kind and just Emperor, he has born the burden of the Dragon Empire for many years and has had to make many sacrifices for her.

However, maintaining peace and prosperity across the Dragon Empire is not a burden that the Emperor carries alone. The Archmage and his Order Magus work tirelessly to tame the forces of nature and harness the power of magic to make the Dragon Empire a safer and more pleasant place to live in. The High Priestess and her Church have devoted their lives to the spiritual protection and spiritual development of the citizens of the Dragon Empire. And the Great Gold Wyrm’s selfless sacrifice and the efforts of the Ordo Aurum keep the forces of Chaos at bay.

Will these four pillars be able to resist the forces of history and make the Dragon Empire the eternal empire? Or are the forces of history already at work, eroding the empire from within and from without? That is our story to tell.

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Something Wicked This Way Comes
Session 1

The eroding empire campaign begins in the rain-washed aftermath of the Black Company’s raid on the Doomsday Cult, which was the event that drew our PCs’ disparate lines of fate together. Having fled the Black Company raid, our PCs rested briefly in a clearing some distance from the Doomsday Cult stockade, eying each other suspiciously.

Though the group mostly shared a common link with Lithvard, Ayn did not, and had only briefly known Syrion (whose motives were, typically for him, very base) and Thybalt, not the most trustworthy of acquaintances. Thrown in with this strange band, she was even less inclined to trust the scarred and diminutive gnome with the ice-blue, frozen eyes who had led the Black Company to destroy the only good life she had ever known.

No matter! Cog 11 pointed out to everyone that when the Black Company is tasked with destroying a cult, it at least tries to do the job properly, and would be scouring the land for survivors at first light – they needed to get out of this area as quickly as possible and find the relative safety of a town. Lithvard, knowing the area slightly, recommended Tameron, and after a little pushing and argument they agreed to set out immediately for Tameron.

Our GM prepared a description of the journey, which I present here:

You set out from the campsite towards Tameron. Everywhere you look you see evidence of last night’s storm, with fallen branches scattered about and dank ground muddy underfoot. Rainwater continues to drip off the leaves above you.

It doesn’t take you long, though, before you can see the sunlight through the trees in front of you. It feels good as you step out of the forest and into the sunlight. You’re greeted with the view of a grassy green valley lying before you, with Tameron lying just a short walk below. A small huddle of buildings lies peacefully in the center of the valley. It is mid-morning and the sun has already begun to dry the muddy roads. You enjoy a cool breeze as you make your way down to Tameron, sticking the edges of the road where the mud has already hardened.

As you approach the town you are reminded of just how good life can be in the Dragon Empire these days. Farmers are hard at work, their ploughshares swinging at the ground semi-rythmically as they prepare their fields for the planting. A boy of about ten herds a flock of geese past you, at first staring at Ayn as he approaches, but then nodding politely as he passes.

Further in town more people are out and about. Some people are picking up roofing shingles that must have come loose in last night’s storm. One man loops a shingle onto the roof of a nearby house, where another man takes it and starts hammering it into place.

A small group of kids skip by, with a chubby boy lagging behind them slightly. They stop and taunt him, and hold out something as if to say “You want this? Ok, come and get it!” and then start running away again. As the red-faced boy sighs resignedly and waddles off after them again, his rotund body turns your thoughts again to how good the people of the Dragon Empire have it these days. Although they are far from wealthy, barely one step above poverty, it’s been many a generation since famine or even plague visited, and war is kept to minor skirmishes on the borders of the Empire, barely effecting the lives of the common folk. Considering the long history of the 13 Ages of the Dragon Empire, a tubby kid in a town like Tameron is a rare – and joyous – thing indeed.

The kind of description that encourages suspicions of impending destruction … Nonetheless, our heroes needed somewhere to hide, so they marched steadfastly into the town, looking for breakfast and if possible somewhere to hide. Soon after they arrived, as they stood in the main square waiting for the nearest tavern to open, they heard a disturbance and saw a boy riding pell-mell into the town, yelling something about destruction and chaos. Cog 11, suspecting the worst, slid into the shadows behind a verandah. Sure enough, the boy had rushed to town to report the destruction of the Doomsday Cult, which the townsfolk had been quite fond of. People gathered and voices were raised in favour of taking a group to the Stockade to look for survivors. Syrion spoke out against this, pointing out that the Black Company and its camp followers would be hungry for loot and unsure of who was a cultist – best to wait. With this counsel dispensed, the party retired to the tavern to enjoy breakfast.

While they were eating breakfast, a local rube entered the tavern and began reading a tale of sexual transgression involving a young knight and two ladies-in-waiting. Syrion turned bright red; though he did not tell the other characters, someone has somehow managed to document all of Syrian’s romantic exploits in painful detail, and is now distributing scrolls throughout the land depicting his scarlet adventures. Try as he might, Syrion is unable to find the source of these pornographic missives, and though he once again tried to identify the source with this latest reader, he learnt nothing. Of course the listeners did not know the stories concerned this particular visiting Paladin, and simply laughed uproariously at the ribald humour of the thing. A strange fate indeed, to be renowned across the land for this kind of night-time swordsmanship, but unknown to everyone.

During breakfast, a local farmer recognized Thybalt, who is unmistakable as the tiefling lad who used to live in a village not one day’s ride from Tameron, and told him that his father was near death three months ago. With little else to do, the characters decided to accompany Thybalt back to his village, to see if his father was still alive and if he needed any help. However before they set off they decided to return with Ayn, the Tameron sheriff and a group of villagers to the ruined stockade, judging it now safe from Black Company soldiers. They arrived to find a scene of complete destruction, the stockade and buildings collapsed in smouldering ruins and the open areas of the encampment scattered with dead cultists, all hacked and mutilated by camp followers seeking rings, gold teeth and hidden treasures. Ayn drifted around the stockade in bewilderment and shock, looking at the ruins of what her life could have been and stopping to shed tears over every member of her little cult. The irony of a Doomsday cultist distressed at the end of the world as she knew it was not lost on her new comrades, but they waited patiently for her to attend to her grief.

When her grief was done it turned to anger, and Ayn began invoking a ritual pledge of vengeance, calling upon the names of her apocalyptic gods to bless her in a quest for revenge. The sheriff, seeing this, attempted to force a deal out of her: that she would not turn vigilante if he would prevent the townsfolk from disturbing and robbing the bodies of her dead fellows. She agreed readily, though as the group left the ruined stockade she told them she would obey no promise to any mortal power, and only pledges to her dark gods counted for her loyalty.

A point that was well noted by her new comrades, no doubt.

From the stockade they traveled to Thybalt’s home village, arriving in the late evening to find a tiny hamlet of just a single cluster of large farming houses. They were greeted with suspicion and coldness – Thybalt was never welcome here – but Thybalt was led into his father’s house, to see the slowly crumbling ruins of his once strong and vibrant father. The old man lay on a pile of blankets and mattresses in one corner of the room, no longer able to climb the stairs, and only moved feebly when the PCs entered. A few villagers came with them bearing food, and sat around to eat as Thybalt’s father told him the true story of at least a part of his origins…

Before Thybalt was born the village was in danger from evil, and Thybalt’s father made a deal with the Crusader to protect the village. To fulfill his pact he simply had to give the contents of a small sandalwood box to Thybalt. He gestured to the box, a non-descript thing on top of a cupboard that had probably sat there all through Thybalt’s childhood, undisturbed in its mundanity. Thybalt took down the box, opening it to reveal a scroll. Like a classic knave, he unrolled the scroll and read it. Two words leapt out in swirls of golden light and swam into his eyes; with all the wisdom of corrupt youth, Thybalt immediately blurted out the words.

As soon as he uttered the words, growling them out in some ancient and sinister tongue, three things happened in three different far away places:

  • Somewhere deep and dark, a figure reads a book at an altar. Behind the figure is a grey wall. As the figure reads the wall folds slowly away, and the grey mass is revealed not to be a wall at all, but the scaly lids of some vast and terrifying eye. The lids open further, and a huge golden lizard eye swims into view. “It has awakened …”
  • Somewhere else, outside in a grim and windswept plain. Three rocks stand in a line in a rocky, scrubby part of this barren expanse. After a moment the middle rock vibrates, begins to hum, and then explodes. Where the rock stood a vortex opens, its swirling colours a gate into …
  • Thybalt hears a voice inside his head. “Who has called me?” it asks in a rattling, hollow tone. Thybalt, again showing the good sense that only youth can give, tells the voice his name. “Thybalt the untitled one. Why have you awakened me?” “It is an ancient pact,” replied Thybalt, opting again for truth over wisdom. “I see… There is much I must teach you.”

Though not cognizant of the distant eye and its import, or the vortex on the plains, the others did hear Thybalt say those words, and watched him sink into a trance. When he awoke he was … changed.. in fact, awoken into his Warlock powers.

Satisfied that nothing too unusual had happened – beyond one of their group binding himself to an ancient evil in exchange for a few weak curse powers – the group settled to sleep the night away, falling into slumber near Thybalt’s father’s slowly dying fire, and Thybalt’s slowly dying father. They did not sleep long though, before they were all woken by a high-pitched and terrified scream.

They tumbled outside to find a woman standing near the house, pointing into the open area that all the houses were built around. The night had brought with it a low mist that hung thick and still over the ground, and here in the middle of this small square lay a dead horse, gutted and still steaming, half protruding from the mist. A monstrous red semi-humanoid lizard-thing squatted in front of it, noisily indulging itself on the poor horse’s innards. When the characters moved towards it it fled into the mist and shadows on the edge of the village, but not to escape – oh no, now it was joined by some fellows, that prowled on the edge of the square.

Instinctively the party came together, forming a tight, outward-facing circle. Only Cog 11 chose not to join his comrades in the defensive circle: he preferred to trust concealment in the darkness and the mist than to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with his new comrades. Besides, he figured, he would be a more effective combatant if the enemy did not know where he was. He just hoped that these un-Godly beasts used their eyes to see, and not some other sense.

Fear gripped the party as they peered out into the darkness, catching fleeting glimpses of shadow-like movement. Something, or somethings were out there, waiting for the opportunity to strike out of the darkness. They knew little of infernal or otherworldly creatures, and their fear of the unknown was almost paralysing. A trembling hand held the only lantern aloft above the center of the circle, sending trembling shadows rippling in all directions, only to rest on the thick, roiling knee-height mist.

Two of the party members, however, were able keep their composure a little more easily than the others. Thybalt had seen these creatures before. They were the same creatures from the hauntings: the ethereal visitors who came to Thybalt in his night to loom menacingly over his bed. Only this time, these monsters seemed somehow… different … their simple physical presence, lifted from dreams and made flesh, emboldened Thybalt – what he could not confront in dreams he realized he could easily kill in the flesh. And there was no trembling in Syrion’s hands as he boldly held his sword forward, ready to pounce. For better or for worse, this boy knows no fear, and was looking forward to the opportunity to demonstrate to the Empire what a fearsome defender of the weak he is.

Moments later two great flame-limned dogs leapt into the square and attacked our heroes. They were followed by a strange, sluggish semi-humanoid creature seemingly made of tar, that sludged its way in from the shadows towards the party. From another direction that red-skinned humanoid lizard came loping out of the shadows on all fours, carrying a spear. Battle was joined!

The fight was short but brutal. After a few passes, Thybalt tried out his new powers, wrapping one of the flame-dogs in shadow-magic that extinguished the dog’s hellfire and tore the dog apart. Cog 11 drifted out of the shadows past the second flame-dog, which sank moments later into the mist, its flames banked and its innards sliding out of several deep cuts to steam in the mist. Ayn called upon her Gods of the End to bless her, and hurled a brilliant shaft of light through the the red lizardman, striking him dead as if he had been hit by a white-hot comet. Finally, Cog 11 hurled a chakram into the head of the tar-man, slicing the top of its head off. Bereft of strength, it slowly oozed out into a puddle in the thinning mist.

Catching their breath as they stood back to back, peering out into the darkness for the next attack, it slowly began to dawn on them that they were still alive. Some of them may have been in life-threatening situations before, and perhaps some of them had even experienced a violent attacker had trying to rip their lives from them before, but for all of them, this was the first time they had stood up to such a threat and defeated it. A combination of adrenaline and fear saw their bodies trembling in the light of the lantern, sending ripples out on the surface of the mist below them. They were alive, which was both a relief and somewhat exhilarating. Drawing breath, they looked around at each other, and for a moment they all drew strength from each others’ position in that circle of belonging. They had done it, and they had done it together.

Congratulating themselves on their first successful battle, the group began to clean up. But then, as if the whole group suddenly realised something simultaneously, they exchanged nervous glances with each other before wordlessly turning their heads in unison toward the wooden shack where Thybalt’s father lay. They had left it unguarded…

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Unresolved Legacy Issues
Session 2, part 1

At the end of the first session of the Eroding Empire, our heroes had just killed a brace of demons, but had suddenly realized that in the heat of battle they forgot to guard Thyvalt’s father. They dashed to his home, fearing the worst, but found him unharmed in his bed, trying to drag himself a little more upright. Once they had assured themselves of his safety, he declared “More will come!” and then whispered in aggrieved tones,

“They didn’t keep their word!”

Everyone stopped their fussing to look at him. Seeing he had an audience, he sagged back into his mattresses and said in a low voice, “Let me tell you a tale of treachery and hard choices, son.”

Many years ago, before Thyvalt was born, the village and its area experienced a terrible drought. For several seasons there was almost no rain, and in the second year the bad weather brought plagues of insects and rats. At first they thought the village could weather it; then they thought they could buy food from other towns like Tameron, but those towns began to sell food at too high a price. In the third year some of them left looking for work to support them until the drought broke, but they returned broken with tales of hardship and failure. After this they began to think that the town was doomed, and Thyvalt’s parents were considering leaving the village to find somewhere new to live when a strange woman came to the town, promising to restore the balance to the weather and replenish their fields. Her price was steep but they were desperate, so they agreed to pay it.

The woman invoked a ritual of fertility that was shocking and horrific, and so disturbing that though Thyvalt’s father remembers it as if it had just happened yesterday, he refused to speak of it to his son. Suffice to say it was a thing of horror. But it worked, and the villagers woke a day later to find the town’s fields and farms restored, a gentle and refreshing rain drifting over fertile land eager to be tilled. The woman left that same morning, and the villager’s counted their blessings … until they realized that she had opened a hellhole in the willowgrove down by the old creek. It was then that the monsters started to come …

Again, Thyvalt’s father groaned and whispered accusingly, “They didn’t keep their word!” But they had no time now to ask him more – out in the shadows they heard more demons howling. Another wave had come! Our heroes rushed to the door and looked out into the mist-shrouded night, to see more beasts gathering on the edge of the square. Realizing they couldn’t hope to make a stand all night against these creatures with an elderly man to protect, Syrion charged boldly across the open square to a large house on the far side, where the villagers had gathered together in false hope of safety in numbers. He banged on the door and raged until one of the bolder villagers slid a window open a tiny distance and, poking his nose out behind a knife, whispered a query. Syrion demanded that they let the old man in, and threatened to tear the building down around them if they did not comply. This doughty villager immediately agreed to Syrion’s request, and quickly slid the window shut. Gesturing madly to his fellows, Syrion moved into the middle of the open square to take a defensive position.

The others rolled Thyvalt’s father in a sheet and began shuffling across the square towards the house. As they reached Syrion a new horde of demons burst from the shadows to attack: 5 imps, a minotaur-like red-skinned demon, and a grey-skinned, winged thing that looked as if it had stepped straight from a picture book by that new-fangled Axis artist Dante. The imps spat some kind of gore that hit Cog 11 and made him retch, but before they could press the advantage Syrion was at the throat of the grey winged devil, slashing and hacking. Cog 11, hoping to make some distance towards the red-skinned bull demon, tried to slide under the old man in his sheet, which Thyvalt and Ayn were still carrying, but somehow tangled in the sheet and pulled the old man free. Thyvalt and Ayn, relieved of their burden, were now free to join the fight … was this a blunder of Cog 11’s, or some cunning plan to sacrifice the old man so as to guarantee the support of his allies …? Thyvalt, Ayn and Lithvard now began throwing spells at the demons, and Cog 11 slid into the mist to prepare an ambush. All of this frenzied activity happened under the continued barrage of toxic vomit from the little imp creatures, but their aim was poor in the darkness and mist and confusion, and they were forced to scatter under Thyvalt and Lithvard’s magical attacks. Ayn left Thyvalt’s supine father to fend for himself and made battle with the red bull-demon, which Cog-11 had ambushed to some effect, slicing it from hoof to groin.

After a few more moments of desperate struggle the tide turned. The final imp was scorched to death by a fire spear, icy hands appeared from the darkness to tear the red demon apart, and Syrion was able to kick the grey winged thing to the ground and decapitate it. The PCs’ battle cries, grunts and gasps fell still, and they stood in the mist panting and shaking, as the demon bodies suppurated and fumed into nothingness around them. But this time they had no time for congratulations or reflection – demons continued to gather, and they had an old man to protect. They gathered him up and carried him gently across the rest of the square, their ferocious victory having briefly quelled the demons’ appetite for blood. After only a minimum of banging and threats, the courageous villager opened the door to the house and ushered them in. They rushed in, depositing Thyvalt’s father by the fire, and stood to find the village’s full but tiny complement staring at them, as if they were the demons. Cog 11, looking around at them all, whispered to Syrion in a perhaps-too-audible voice, “Beat the elderly until they tell you what you need to know. I check defenses,” and disappeared to inspect the house. Thyvalt and Lithvard set about making Thyvalt’s father comfortable, while Ayn took guard at the door.

Cog 11 returned shortly to announce that the house was indefensible and vulnerable to fire. He may also have suggested forcing the villagers outside as a distraction so that the group could escape, though no one seemed to pay him any heed. Instead, they decided they would have to find and destroy the source of the demons – the hellhole. Thyvalt’s father told them the next instalment of his sad but predictable story of a contract gone bad.

After the woman left, the monsters came. Just a single little slimy thing at first, we killed it and thought it a strange beast. But then there were more, and soon we realized they were demons. What had we done? We paid this woman all our savings in good faith, and she gave us what we wanted at a price she knew we would pay with our lives!? At first the demons just terrorized our livestock, which we had saved at such cost … but soon they took the first of us, and our lives became a hell of furtive farming, occasional deaths, and night terrors.

Until the Crusader’s Knights came. They clattered into the village one evening just as we were returning, weary and wary, to our homes to begin the long, hard watch of the night. They rode huge black horses with fiery red eyes, their hooves striking sparks on our only cobbled road, the riders inscrutable in glyph-adorned armour of shining black. They rode into our square and cantered about it in a rough circle, whooping and hollering, and we were all sure that our time had come. We cowered in our houses, terrified at the form our death would come in. Would they torture us? Feed us to their fell horses? Or worse? But then their captain, a towering giant of a man, dismounted from his gigantic demon horse and strode up to my door. He banged on the door, declaring himself to be a captain of the Crusader’s Knights Eternal, and ordering me to open the door. Of course I did not, so he smashed it in with a word, and strode into my kitchen where I cowered against the bench.

And it was there, in that kitchen, that the deal was made. I don’t know if he chose me through chance or some evil purpose – perhaps someone needs some innate seed of evil that he can nurture, or perhaps I was just the closest door to his evil horse. No matter. He told me he would close the hellhole and destroy all the demons roaming our fields, but in exchange I would have to give up my first born son to the Crusader. Is this how that fell Icon recruits his servants? I confess I did not ask many questions – it was an offer I felt I could not refuse. I should have asked him to find and kill the woman, but I didn’t. Instead I just gave him you, my Thyvalt, though you were not yet born. He laughed, a booming, chilling sound with no humour in it, spat on his great palm and clasped my hand, promised me a long life and a good one, and strode out the door without looking back. And by morning the hellhole was closed and there were rotting piles of demon flesh scattered around our demesne. We never again saw the demons, and once we had summoned up the courage to go down to the willowgrove we saw it free of the hole that had been summoned there. We were saved. The following year you, my son, Thyvalt, were born, and lost to me the moment I saw you were a boy.

But I don’t regret having a child, even should you turn to evil. What I do regret is that I never bargained that blackhearted bastard into promising to close the hellhole permanently. He cheated me, and if you do enter the Crusader’s service I hope you can find him and extract payment!

So, our heroes have to do the job of 20 of the Crusader’s priests, by dawn. Fortunately, they were prepared. Thyvalt possessed a strange sword that he had received many years ago from his master but which he had always felt had some malevolent power contained in it. He also had a long history of fighting demons away in his sleep. Ayn was in close accord with the gods of War, Pestilence, Famine and Death – surely ready allies when a hellhole needs to be closed – and she was well versed in the mysteries of conjuring and abjuration, for her cult were steeped in ancient learning. If they could embed the sword in the hole, and fend off the demons while Ayn invoked the proper prayer, they might be able to close it. No one liked the thought of what would happen if they failed, out there on their own in the dark, but what choice did they have? They had to close it, so close it they would.

Between them, Ayn and Thyvalt put a magic circle around the building that would last until dawn. The group armed themselves, looked back on the terrified villagers, and stepped out into the darkness…

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I See a Green Door and I Want to Paint it Black
Session 2 part 2

When we left our heroes they were leaving the dubious safety of the village’s largest house, on a reckless mission to close the hell hole. The villagers clustered watched them fade into the darkness beyond the dim glow from the shuttered windows, and the demons circled cautiously in the darkness, grunting and hissing but temporarily cowed enough to restrain themselves from attacking. The party carried lanterns, and a small marsh light sauntered ahead of them under Thybalt’s control, the pool of light soon lost from view in the deep blackness of this demon-infested night.

As they moved away from the village, the group drew together, their lanterns seeming to dim in the inky darkness, strange sounds disturbing the usual bucolic peace of farms and forests. No frogs croaked; no foxes bayed; no fireflies drew up from the pools and streams of the rice paddies to their left as they walked. Where once Thybalt had known to expect an ageing, wizened toad to croak resonant grunts at his passing there was only silence. The nightingale in the hedges beyond Linus’s bean fields was obstinately silent, and the owls beyond the carp pool dared not stir. They had entered a liminal space, somewhere between two worlds, and soon they were lost in it, all sight of the village obscured in the mist and the impenetrable shadows. The only sound in this cloistered emptiness was the grunt and hiss of the demons circling beyond the light of their brave lanterns; the only movement the gentle swishing and sighing of the trees, and occasional shapes stirring in the mist – shapes that were darker than night, except where flaming red eyes pierced the gloom. The only reminder of the gentle farming community they had left behind them were the post-markers by the road, which loomed slowly on their left side as they walked, even the comforting fenceposts rendered eery and unnatural in the glow of the witch light and mist.

Cog soon noticed a lull in the hissing and groaning of the lurking demons, and guessed an ambush was coming. He directed the little cluster of mortals off the trail, gesturing for silence and care, and brought them straight on top of a nest of imps lurking near the road. Battle was joined before anyone had a chance to draw breath, and soon over. Lithvard threw a lantern amongst the imps, blinding them in a flare of burning oil and splintered glass, while Cog 11 disappeared into the shadows and Thybalt drew a useless curse screaming from the netherworld. The imps spread out to attack or spit, and six lumbering dretches dragged themselves out of the shadows to their death. These dretches did not come by choice, but were driven by a giant red flame demon, whipping them with a spiked chain. Ayn called forth the Spirits of the Righteous, and four pillars of fire greeted her entreaties, consuming a dretch and terrifying the others, while Cog 11 appeared from the shadows to gut four of the imps in a sliding, diving whirlwind of wicked knives and mist. Where Ayn’s pillars of fire guttered out they left a huge gap in the mist, and into this gap charged a red-skinned, dog-haired demon, that barked and whumfed its way to its own doom. Lithvard hurled a fire spear at the big demon and Thybalt yelled imprecations of pain and terror in a desperate voice, hoping to scare away the beasts before they could be surrounded; but to no avail, for these creatures were devoid of fear or mercy. It was then that Syrion hurled himself into the line, singing battle songs in a brave and clear voice, sword singing, drawing all the drenches to him to tear uselessly at his armour. Ayn and Lithvard joined back to back, hurling contrasting bolts of magical energy – one brilliant white and apocalyptic, the other burning with wrathful fire – until all five dretches were thoroughly consumed, their corpses steaming and wreathes of foul-smelling demon-wrack drifting through the mist. Syrion and Thybalt entered close combat with the giant red demon, but seeing all its minions scattered it turned to flee, taking the dog demon with it. Seeing it injured and terrified the party decided discretion might be the better part of valour, and quickly halted pursuit. They stood on the edge of the road, panting and gasping in the lantern light, Syrion cursing a myriad cuts and small burns and Cog 11 leaning against a fence post, staring into the mist with wide dark eyes.

They moved on. The hell-hole beckoned, a green glow in the mist ahead.

Closer to the hell hole the mist was burnt away, revealing the creek bed limned in green light from the hell hole, over which loomed a scraggly willow tree. The willow tree and nearby bushes were cast into stark relief against the distant fog by the green light of the hole, which scintillated and purred in the shadows of the far creek bank, ominous and impure. As they approached a demon slunk out of the hole and into the mist, reality shimmering disturbingly as it hauled itself through the dimensions and into reality.

Syrion grunted and charged forward, his sword leaving a trail of sparks on the stones of the creek bed as he rushed in to guard the hole. Everyone else followed, trying to hold their fear at bay as they realised that the creek bed was now swarming with demons, materialising out of that hideous gap in space and time as the characters attacked. The two demons they had fought before came crashing through the brush of the far side of the creek to join the battle, as a hell hound and a green-skinned, spiky human-like thing popped out of the hole, stinking of sulphur and rot and snarling with anger. The green thing, the red winged monster and its dog-haired friend all attacked Syrion, determined this time to snuff him out; the hellhound struck at Thybalt. Syrion, laying about him with his sword, yelled to Thybalt and Ayn to begin the ritual, but they refused to leave him, and joined battle. Ayn called on her gods, who were apparently more terrified of demons than she, for they abandoned her and her flame pillars fizzled uselessly in the demonic mist. The great red thing took a vicious swipe at Lithvard, a blow so ferocious it would surely have killed the little druid, but Syrion stepped in at the last moment and took the brunt of it on one armoured shoulder, grunting as something important gave way inside his enormous chest. Somewhere a demon cast a spell, and Thybalt began attacking Lithvard, useless in his confusion but a confusing threat nonetheless. While Lithvard struggled with Thybalt to try and bring him back from darkness, the dog-haired demon turned on Syrion, halberd striking at shield and armour. Ayn continued to aid him, striking with her sword at any demon that came close enough, while Cog tried to ambush the big red thing and Syrion desperately fended off a cascade of monstrous blows. The demons were grinding them down, but somehow they fought them off. Syrion smashed the halberd-wielding dog-haired demon and Cog disembowelled the green-skinned thing, appearing out of the mist at its feet and gutting it from hip to hip. Thybalt recovered from his confusion and he and Lithvard dispatched the others – just as a new beast, made entirely of mist and shadows, appeared from the deeps. Gasping with exhaustion, everyone turned on it and cut it to ribbons before it could even fully draw itself from the hole, and for a moment the creek bed was suffused with calm, a calm broken only by the gentle hissing, popping, groaning sound of dying demons dissolving and rotting and returning to their foul brood nests.

Time being suddenly on their side, Thybalt and Ayn began the ritual. Thybalt plunged his sword into the ground, and Ayn began chanting, clutching the sword and swaying from side to side, looking for all the world like a singing shade in her uniform of flowing black robes, dimly illuminated in the sickly green light of the hell-hole and swathed in mist. Lithvard noticed something about the tree and began to investigate it. While this was happening more demons started dragging themselves from the hole, and Syrion, Thybalt and Cog set about the unpleasant business of slaughtering them as they came.

A grim and desperate battle followed, as new demons emerged from the hole only to be cut down by the three defenders, who began to suffer increasing damage from the claws and teeth of the fiends. Clouds gathered and mist began to swirl around the fixed point where the sword was embedded in the ground. The sword itself had begun to glow red hot, and Ayn was trembling and shaking in fear. Glowing glyphs appeared and hung in the air, shimmering in the mist, forming a tenuous pattern in the air around the sword. The ground began to rumble and the hell-hole grew gradually brighter, becoming so bright that the branches of the willow tree cast shadows on the overhanging clouds. As Syrion, Cog and Thybalt fought on, Lithvard talked to the tree and Ayn chanted, and the glyphs began to pulse in unison. Ayn’s voice grew in strength, and she hurled an imprecation at the sky:

Thou shalt not envy the light, thou shalt not spread thy demonic blight.
Thou shalt not defile what is right
Thou shalt perish in the night


More demons began clambering from the hole, but now the mist and the overhanging clouds were beginning to be sucked into the hell-hole, stray tendrils at first and then larger, thicker strands of mist as the hell-hole began to swirl and groan. Syrion slew the last extant demon, and the demons crawling out of the hole began to waver, fighting now against some powerful force from below that gripped them and began to stretch them. They screamed and struggled, but to no avail – Ayn’s wrath had them now, and the sword was flaring up with purpose. The tree began to move under Lithvard’s guidance, its roots reaching out to curl around the hole and choke it off, entangling the emerging demons and drawing them back in, choking and breaking as it did so. Its branches grabbed arms and spines, tearing them off and beginning to seal up the hole. Demons screamed and the hole began to narrow, glowing brighter and roaring like the wind through doorway in winter. The tree roots tightened their grip, and horrible crunching sounds and screams resounded through the creek as the demons met their horrible end. Moments later, with an anti-climactic sigh and a blink, the hole was gone. Our heroes stood in an empty, darkened creek bed, blinking at the darkness and tripping over the roots of an old, hoary willow tree. The battle was over. They had prevailed!

Exhausted, they lowered their weapons. Syrion, covered in bruises and scratches, shoulder broken, battered beyond mortal endurance, sank down onto his shield and then, with a shudder, fell sideways, to lie on the dusty ground moaning and gasping. Ayn fell to her knees, shaking in terror at things only she had seen. Lithvard leaned against the tree, panting and muttering his thanks, while Thybalt looked around in exhausted wonder. Cog 11 emerged from the mist, flicking demon ichor from his face and panting, though unhurt.

They had closed a hell-hole.


Somewhere far away, the hooded servant of a giant dragon approaches it, bows and speaks. “My lord, shall we execute the plan? All arrangements are in place.” The dragon moves its huge eye slowly, alien iris narrowing so that only the narrowest slit of black cut through the gold of the iris. “No,” it hissed, the very ground trembling at the restrained power of its mighty voice. “It is too late. The scent is gone.”

The characters knew nothing of these icons. They rested on the creek bed until some of them had regained a little strength, and then carried Syrion back to the village. They emerged into the village square with the first light of dawn, Syrion still unconscious on a makeshift litter, groaning in pain and exhaustion.

They had closed a hell-hole. They had prevailed against all the forces of hell. What next for them? They could feel it moving now – some fate had them in its grip. Where would it take them, and what would become of them? Only time, and many adventures, would tell…

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Thybalt's Song
The horns never bothered me anyway

(melody: Let it Go / Frozen)

The sky glows red in the forest tonight
Hooved footprints can be seen.
A hellhole spewing demons,
and we got caught in between
Hellhounds are howling like there’s no way out alive
Couldn’t lock them in;
Hell knows I’ve tried

Don’t let them win,
don’t let them free
Become the chosen you always had to be
Unseal, don’t feel,
don’t let them go
so now they know

Curse them all, Curse them all
Don’t hold it back anymore

Curse them all, Curse them all
Blast their asses now it’s war
I don’t care
how they’re going to scream
Let my powers rage on.
The horns never bothered me anyway

It’s funny how some magic
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Now make me burn them all

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me,
I’m free!

Curse them all, Curse them all
I am one with the pact till I die
Curse them all, Curse them all
Never again I’ll cry
Here I stand
And here I’ll stay
Let my powers rage on

My sword is whirling through air into the ground
My soul is spiralling in hungry shadows all around
And one thought crystallises like a fiery blast
I’m never going back, the past is in the past

Curse them all, Curse them all
I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Curse them all, Curse them all
That frightened boy is gone
Here I stand
In the light of day
Let my powers rage on

The horns never bothered me anyway!

View
Of Fairgrounds and Freedom
Session 4

“Assassin!”

Syrion’s warning cry echoed out of the dead whore’s chamber, up and down the ice river connecting all the whore chambers together, and into the ears of all the whores and patrons in this bizarre, subterranean whorehouse. There was a pause as the whores and patrons took in what they had just heard, and then panic and chaos erupted. Patrons hurried to hoist their britches, and the ladies rushed out into the passageway behind their chambers to check that their neighbors were unharmed and to find out what was going on.

Amidst the chaos, the party briefly considered the dart that had killed the prostitute. Lythvard was keen to study it, but Syrion told him to leave it there because there was no time to investigate, and it would look suspicious if somebody found them carrying the murder weapon. Lythvard compromised and took a quick sniff of the dart’s poison before tossing it to the floor and exiting the chamber. It smelled vaguely familiar but he couldn’t quite place the odor.

In the passageway behind the whore chambers – now crowded and noisy with prostitutes talking to each other in nervous tones – the party reunited with Cabin Goodmar. Cabin was quite annoyed that his fun with his wench had been disturbed by these rumors of assassins in the whorehouse. He stormed off down the stone passageway in the direction of the tavern.

Just at that moment, before the party could chase after the man they were contracted to protect, a squad of guards arrived. They demanded to know what the party was doing in a restricted area. They soon discovered the murder victim, and began to suspect the party of foul play. The party tried to reason with them, to explain that they couldn’t possibly be the assassins, but one too many comments from Syrion about the guard sergeant being a peasant simpleton made the situation worse. At an impasse, the party had to decide whether to fight their way to freedom, or surrender to into guard custody.

While this discussion was going on, Cabin Goodmar had sheepishly rejoined the party, muttering something about there not being an exit “down that way.”

Another detachment of guards arrived, including the Captain of the Guard. Quickly apprising the situation, he decided it would be best to take all suspicious parties down to the cells for questioning later, after the area had been secured and order restored. Not wishing to become fugitives, and with Cabin willing to comply, the party acquiesced to the Captain’s orders and surrendered their weapons.

As they were being marched through a maze-like series of passageways, the lead guard suddenly cried out “It’s Corbus!” The guards at the front immediately drew their weapons and went on the look out for threats, and from the rear the Captain of the Guard demanded “What’s going on up there?!”

Corbus, it turned out, was an unfortunate guard who had also been murdered with a poison dart.

Sensing danger, Syrion pleaded with the Captain of the Guard to return their weapons so they can defend themselves against the assassin. A short discussion ensued, with Syrion at his charming best, and the Captain revealed that he had once served under Syrion’s father on garrison duty in the Giantwalk. Syrion’s father had proven himself to be a soldier worthy of the Captain’s respect, so the Captain decided to enlist the aid of the party. With the guards having their hands full restoring order after the panic and defending the guests from any further attacks, the Captain of the Guard tasked the party to seek out the assassin. They agreed, on the proviso that the guards protect Cabin Goodmar in their stead. The Captain indicated which passageway the party should follow, and then began barking orders to his guards to get the area secure.

As the guards began to disappear down the corridor en route to their posts, the party decided to spend a moment or two examining poor Corbus’ corpse. Given more time than before to examine the poison, Lythvard was able to place the poison’s odor. The poison is a root extract that causes instant paralysis, and then will slowly kill the paralysed victim. The root extract comes from a tree most commonly found in the Wild Wood.

With the guards securing the area and blocking all exits, the party set off down the passageway indicated to them by the Captain of the Guard, in case the assassin had already escaped the guards’ net. The passageway meandered and took the party slightly downward. All the while, Lythvard’s druidic intuition was giving him the sense of a trapped animal, for some reason.

After some more twists and turns, the party found another dead guard, lying in the middle of a t-junction. They inspected the body and found another poisoned dart. Lythvard announced that the assassin must be at least ten minutes ahead of them because, although the poison’s paralysis agent works instantly, death takes about ten minutes, and this guard was definitely dead, not paralysed. It is a horrible way to die, unable to move while you slowly burns up inside.

The party decided to take passage to the right from the t-junction. The passageway continued to meander downward, and some time was lost as the party investigated some side passages that led nowhere in particular. Eventually the passage came to an end at a doorway, with the door flung open.

The room had been ransacked, and another body lay dead in the center of the room. Papers, books, and scrolls littered the floor as furniture had been upended and drawers emptied onto the ground. All pillows and cushions had been slashed open, leaving a layer of down resting on top of the floor and overturned furniture. The corpse belonged to a portly man clad in the robes of a clergyman, with various religious artifacts hanging around his neck. Contrary to expectations, this man hadn’t been killed by a poisoned dart. A leather coin purse had been stuffed into his mouth, indicating that he had been made to suffocate to death.

The party quickly searched the room, conscious of the fact that every moment spent in that room could mean more time for the assassin to strike again, or get further away from them. Perhaps that’s why they didn’t examine the body for signs of torture, but they did rifle through all the papers to try and figure out who he is and why he might have been killed in this symbolic fashion.

Their search didn’t result in much, but they did find two sealed, but as yet unsent letters. They were reluctant to spend the time to read the letters, but they needed to have some kind of idea of what they were getting themselves into. They pried open the first letter:

Blessed Father Lassimpart,

I pray this letter finds you in good health and spirit.

Brother Nolse bore word to me that the Order Magus has again increased the gold demands for the service they provide here at the Fair. This troubles me for I fear that the believers already stretching their means to the limit in order to celebrate the grace of the Gods here at the Fair.

Yet, I must recognise that we have no choice in this matter. Be that as it may, I do believe – and strongly suggest – that we use this change in contractual obligations to parlay for greater safety guarantees here. Most specifically, we should demand that the Order Magus station a second mage here. For if something were to befall Maeran Prakare, the consequences would be disastrous; more blood on our hands for the Church’s detractors to feed upon. Should the Order Magus baulk at such as proposal, intimate that their fee increases are cutting Fair profits to almost nothing, and the Church is reconsidering whether the Fair is worth the risk, considering the minimal profits.

I pray to the gods for their wisdom in this matter.

Yours obediently,
Authost Baer, Fairmaster

It seemed that man lying dead on the floor was the master of the Fair. Intrigued, they opened the second letter:

My Dear Brother Nolse,

I thankee once more for your recent visit. It can get lonely here sometimes, surrounded mostly by layfolk. It was good to catch up with you and here all the news and stories from the Preceptory. How go your studies, by the way? And I trust Father Tomlins is still putting too much salt in the porridge?

I have a request of you. The mage that the Order Magus seconded to us has been behaving strangely of late. We both know that all mages behave strange, what with all their talk of these so-called “ley-lines” and all, yet Maeran Prakare’s recent behaviour goes well beyond what one could normally consider strange for a mage.

Can you please make some discrete enquiries into Prakare’s background. See if there is any history of spiritual imbalance and let me know if there’s anything I need to worry about. Should he suddenly become unreliable, all of our lives here at the Fair could be in jeopardy.

Many thanks and the Gods blessing be with you.
Authost Baer, Fairmaster

With the letters raising more questions than giving answers, the party hastily left the room and tried to pick up the trail of the assassin elsewhere. The returned to the t-junction and took the left passage. Some way down the passageway they found a solid-looking door on their left. Cog Eleven deftly picked the lock, and inside they found somebody’s comfortably appointed living quarters and study.

Judging by the contents of the bookshelf, the room belonged to a mage specializing in mind control, perhaps the mind control of large beasts. Not wanting to waste any more time, they did a quick search of the room, which yielded a few items of value and two opened letters, which they threw into a rucksack without reading.

They urgently pressed forward down the passageway, which took them deeper and deeper. They began to feel some tremors in the ground as they walked, and Lythvard’s sense of a trapped animal surrounding him gave way to a feeling of freedom, like something had been released from captivity. They rounded a corner in the passageway and stopped suddenly as they saw white light spilling from a doorway at the end of the passage. They heard some muffled voices coming from the room, but the voices soon stopped also, as though the owners of the voices had sensed their presence in the corridor.

With no other options presenting themselves, the party cautiously approached the doorway and entered the room. Three elves were waiting for them, spread across the room in combat formation. One had an arrow notched in his bow, ready to draw and fire, and the others had their hands on their sword hilts, ready to draw their blades from their scabbards. A dead mage lay on the ground in a massive pool of blood. Numerous magical artifacts and spellcasting tools littered room, but perhaps the most attention-grabbing feature of the room was the rear wall. The stone wall had been pulled down, leaving piles of stones and rubble at the base of the wall, and where the wall should have been there was a bright white pane of light. After their eyes had adjusted to the glare, the party could see that the white light was in fact some kind of flowing energy, like they were looking at a wall-sized hole in a giant vein of pure energy.

The lead elf and Lythvard recognize each other as soon as they lay eyes on each other. It was Sellaran, whom they had met in the tavern in Tameron only the previous day. Sellaran had passed on the High Druid’s thanks for dealing with the hell hole on the edge of her Wild Wood.

A look of disappointment flashed across Sellaran’s face as soon as he saw Lythvard.

“Wh- What? You? Of all the people… You shouldn’t be here. This is a shame.”

“Why, what are you doing here, Sellaran?”

“I suggest you leave now, friend, and find a way to survive. You are in great danger.”

“Danger? What have you done?”

Sellaran spread his arms wide to indicate the walls surrounding them. “Can’t you feel it, druid? We’ve freed her!”

“Her?”

The party listened in amazement as Sellaran explained that they were in fact deep inside a living dungeon, which the Church had invaded and conquered a portion of it. With the help of a brilliant magician from the Order Magus, they had cast a mind control yoke over the dungeon, and then transformed the upper parts of the dungeon into a travelling fair. And all of this was a means to fatten the Church treasury.

“And what of the fair patrons now that you’ve released this beast?”

“Should imagine that many of them will die.” Sellaran replied coldly.

Debate ensued between Sellaran and Lythvard over the morality of sacrificing so many innocents in order to free nature. As the debate continued the floor and walls trembled more strongly, and streams of dust began to pour down on them through cracks appearing in the ceiling.

“But what you don’t understand, friend Lythvard, is this more than just freeing a trapped beast. This is a message. A message that we will send to the whole Empire. The time of man throwing its yoke over the neck of mother nature must come to an end. We are the The Verisiels, and we will do whatever it takes to free mother nature. All those who oppress nature, even those who do so passively by supporting a system that leads to the oppression of nature, are our potential targets.”

Confusing as the situation was, perhaps the most confused individual in the room was Ayn. Her companions appeared outraged at the thought of the loss of thousands of innocent lives, yet Ayn felt nothing. Men are horrible to each other; that’s a fact of life in this horrible world. Why should she care that thousands of innocent people are about to die? Yet her comrades seemed prepared to take up arms to avenge this perceived injustice. Should the two parties come to blows, what should she do? She muttered a prayer from behind her mask, hoping to receive some kind of guidance from her Gods of the Apocalypse.

Whether it was a response from Ayn’s gods, or just a coincidence, no one will ever know, but at that moment a giant fissure split the room in half. The half with the elves was violently thrust upwards, while at the same time the half with the party dropped. When the party looked up again at the part of the room where the Verisiel Elves were, there was nothing but a rough stone wall.

The walls around them continued to shift and split as the living dungeon began to flex her newfound freedom. It was all the adventurers could do to drop to their hands and knees and hold on to their patch of stone floor as best they could as the dungeon walls moved around them, ceilings raised and lowered, and floors moved up and down, side to side, and even tilting on angles.

They could also intermittently hear the screams of the Fair patrons as the dungeon’s convulsions momentarily brought them within earshot, and then moved them away again.

After what seemed like an eternity, the convulsions came to a halt. Syrion’s torch had fallen to the floor and spluttered out, so the adventurers found themselves in darkness with the combined smell of stone dust and raw earth on their nostrils. They called out to each other, and the muffled responses indicated that the comrades were separated, but nearby each other.

The sound of maniacal goblin laughter also fell upon their ears, and they knew they were not alone in this darkness.

In complete darkness, Ayn started to walk toward Syrion’s voice. Syrion felt about on the floor in the darkness and found his torch, which provided just enough light through the cracks in the jumbled mess of walls, floors, ceilings, columns, and staircases for Ayn to see that she was about to walk off a precipice and fall about two meters.

Lythvard, guided by the glow of torchlight above him, pulled himself out of the pit he had found himself in. He negotiated a small passageway and found Ayn on her hands and knees, reaching into the crack where the torchlight was spilling from. Syrion was entombed on the other side of the crack in a small room, like a chamber inside a hollowed-out column. Together, they rushed to pull Syrion through the crack as the goblins’ laughter grew louder.

At the same instant as Syrion popped free of the crack, a swarm of goblins descended upon them from a ledge above them. On another ledge, a goblin shaman began its evil incantations and a goblin archer started raining arrows down on them.

Syrion pulled Lythvard behind him to give himself more room to swing his blade, and Lythvard used the momentary disengagement to cast spiderwalk. This allowed him to climb up a large pillar, out of the range of most of the goblins’ attacks.

Ayn broke free of the pack and took cover from the arrows behind a corner, and from that vantage point she began to send holy retribution towards the shaman and archer on the platform above them. Syrion made short work of the first, and then a second wave of goblins, while Ayn and Lythvard kept the shaman and archer busy with their ranged spells. The shaman, seeing his comrades dropping below him, decided to flee into the darkness and before long the party were left catching their breath and wiping goblin blood from their blades. As he carefully wiped his blade, Syrion began to think that perhaps his sword arm is being guided by some greater power, because some of the manoeuvres he performed today went well beyond anything he had learned in training.

With little else left to do, the party continued forward, picking their way through the random scattering of dungeon walls and askew floors, and squeezing themselves through narrow passageways hoping that the dungeon didn’t decide to close that passageway with them still inside it. The tremors continued as the living dungeon continued to rearrange the layout of the dungeon. The only fixed point – and “fixed” is perhaps an overstatement – was the sound of the patrons screaming and shouting in the distance.

They could hear that they were getting closer to the patrons, and at each crack they came to they would think, “Ah, the patrons must be on the other side of this crack.” However, after pulling themselves through these cracks, they could hear that in fact they were no closer to the patrons at all.

Progressed continued in this fashion for a little while, until they emerged from a crack to the chittering sound of giant scorpions, and the hissing sound of snakes. They drew weapons and prepared to defend themselves.

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Of Scorpions and Snakes
Session 5

We return to the heroes who are still lost in a fun fair that revealed itself as a living dungeon…

The hissing of snakes and clattering of scorpion feet proved to be an immediate threat, as the party was soon attacked.

Lithvard, with his keen elven reflexes, promptly burned a scorpion’s shell with a Flaming Spear, then turned into a wolf and jumped into the fray. Ayn, meanwhile, prayed to Death to spare us from his final call just yet. Thybalt sent the surrounding shadows to attack a Scorpion, followed by a Screaming Curse, but despited being dazed and shaking on all eight legs, the nasty critter hit him three times! Undeterred, the group joined forces as a magic artillery, and the combination of a Flaming Spear, a Javelin of Faith and Hungry Shadows finished off the scorpions. The remaining snakes wisely decided to slither away and look for some tasty rodent dinner instead.

Emboldened by their victory, the group then sent Lithvard out in bat form to scout for a passage up, and hopefully out. He returned with the report of an icy cavern. After a quick discussion, they decided to explore it. Apparently they were trapped under the ice sheet that formed the floor of the bar which they visited at the fair. They could discern the shape of a bear on top of the sheet.

Being a bit too smart for their own good, the group decided that Lithvard should use his flaming spears to melt the ice under the bear, and as planned, the poor animal was sent crashing through the ice and down a rocky slope.

But the bear was not alone, a tiger and a leopard decided to join through the hole, and the party found itself in combat yet again.

In an attempt to deter the bear, Lithvard changes shape into a bear himself, but to his dismay the creature’s territorial instinct kicks in and it moves to attack its rival. Thybalt, meanwhile, wonders how this gentle and slightly naive boy that he knew keeps turning into vicious wild creatures… ignoring the fact that he keeps throwing around much more sinister magic himself.

Initial attempts to rein in the bear with a Curse of Vulnerability and Ripping Vines don’t show much effort, and each party member gets hit badly by the combined efforts of bear, leopard and tiger.

Ayn prays to War to enchant her hammer, smacks the tiger and asks (which god?) for the power to heal Lithvard’s wounds. Bear-Lithvard meanwhile gets revenge on his aggressor, and both bears now bleed from bite wounds they dealt to each other. Ayn and Thybalt join forces on the Tiger, while the Leopard keeps clawing at Thybalt. A Gust of Air from Lithvard brings the bear near death, but a new foe joins the scene…

Another escaped zoo animal, a towering silverback gorilla, jumps down and faces the group, but in a combined effort, including Ayn’s Spirit of the Righteous, they manage to take him down. Meanwhile, Death collect’s the bear’s soul as his existence is ended by sustained cold damage. Tiger and leopard, both limping in pain, decide to use this moment to scram.

The party then bravely climbs up through the hole in the ice. A strange scene unfolds. Cabin Goodmar, the target of the party’s initial chaperone job, seems to have finished off the two poor cats, and brags about his hunting prowess to a dozen scared commoners who sit huddled on a float on the ice. Eight wolves, one pack surrounding the commoners and another feeding on downed prey, keep them at bay. Cabin then exits the scene, together with a bunch of guards, to retreat to a guard quarter.

After much back and forth, the heroes decide to goad one of the wolf packs into combat. With the routine gained in the previous fight, the three can dispose of the wolves without much further incident.

Cheered on by the thankful commoners, Thybalt enjoys a victory strut across the ice. Lithvard, meanwhile, is reduced to tears upon realizing how little he could do to prevent the slaughter of those poor wild animals, who had been trapped down here in this dungeon just like the party. Ayn’s true thoughts, on the other hand, are hidden behind her faceless mask as always…

The party follows Cabin and the guards off the scene, hoping to find a resting place at the guard quarters. What further adventures will await?

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Of Blood and Balance [Part 1]
Session 6

The party members peered through a doorway into a room where many survivors of the disaster had gathered. They had all unwittingly entered a living dungeon, believing it to be the Fair, a traveling carnival under the administration of the Priestess and the Church of the Gods of Light. Claiming the beast’s right to freedom, a group of elves had killed the mage that had been controlling the living dungeon, releasing it from its captivity. As the giant creature threw off its yoke, it rearranged its internal architecture, and people were crushed and families torn apart as walls, floors and ceilings moved around them.

Returning their focus to the present, a gritty scene unfolded before the party as they ducked their heads under the low-set doorframe and entered what used to be the guards’ barracks. Torches on the walls combined with particles of stone dust still hanging in the air to cast a yellow glow over the room. A room with plenty of straight lines, yet devoid of right angles, with walls rising out of the floor at odd angles, and the floor itself listing down to the left. Braced up against the wall on the left were the guard’s beds, occupied by injured townsfolk being attended to by other less-injured survivors. Those around some of the beds were working feverishly to try and stop some bleeding or clean wounds before they became infected. Some of the other beds had a more sombre mood about them, as family, or friends, or even complete strangers comforted the critically injured through their last dying moments.

Elsewhere, small groups of men and women stood in tight circles, speaking in hushed, serious tones about the situation that faces them. In one corner a distraught mother wailed at the top of her voice, rocking back and forth clutching a baby’s bonnet to her bosom. Sitting at a table that had also slid down to rest against the left wall was an officious-looking man, with paper in front of him and quill in hand. Before him, people were lining up to share what food, water and other useful items they have in their possession.

A thin layer of stone dust covered everything – and everyone – giving the survivors’ hair and clothes a grey sheen. Some spat in a effort to get the taste of stone out of their mouths, others had taken to breathing through rags they held in front of their mouths.

Pitching out of the floor in the center of the room was a solitary door, unattached to any walls. A group of young children, too young to comprehend the disaster that has befallen them, amused themselves by playing an improvised game of knock and run. One child would wait behind the door, and the other children would knock on the door then run and hide before the first child could open the door and catch them.

The party watched one child as she ran and hid behind a slightly rotund fellow, deep in discussion with a small group of men. As he shifted slightly and the shadows from the torchlight fell from his face, the party recognised him as Nestus Sequito, Mayor of Tameron, and – technically speaking, their client. He noticed them entering the room, smiled grimly, and waved for them to join him.

Mayor Sequito and the party formed an informal conference circle, where they discussed their situation quietly. Sequito was at a loss to explain what had happened, such that it was perhaps an earthquake that had befallen them. The party told him about the living dungeon, news which Sequito took with a touch of skepticism, but given the absence of any better explanation, he had no choice but to accept their version of events. He told the party that the survivors had no food or water, and they had already used up all their medical supplies. He pressed the party to help, to find some food or water, or even a way out of there.

As the party broke off for their own private conference to discuss their best course of action, a middle-aged man wearing a dirty apron and a knife belt approached them discretely. He told a tale of when he was a young boy, still an apprentice cook to a company of Church paladins. The company had been charged with entering and clearing a dangerous and wild dungeon. The paladins fought hard and established a foothold in the dungeon, but at a heavy cost. Deciding that pushing further into the dungeon would be folly, they decided to fortify their foothold, blocking off corridors with stone walls to keep the monsters at bay. The cook wasn’t to know, but at that point the Church brought in a mage, who managed to cast a spell to control the living dungeon.

Given that the dungeon’s internal restructuring would have destroyed any walls separating the secure section from the wild dungeon, the party members swallowed nervously at the thought of a disparate army of dungeon denizens descending upon them before they could find a way out of their for themselves and the Tameronian survivors.

The party left the survivors under the protection of a few surviving Fair guards and went in search of food, water, and a way home. Progress was slow, as they pushed through dungeon corridors strewn with piles of boulders, broken walls and all manner of obstacles. Often they were reduced to crawling on their hands and knees to find a way forward through narrow gaps in the rubble. Slowing them down further was Lythvard’s map-making. They would need a map if they were ever to find their way back to the survivors’ camp, but the layout of this dungeon made map-drawing very difficult and time-consuming indeed.

They had been proceeding in this fashion for about two hours when they heard voices and torchlight around a corner up head. They had bumped into a kobold patrol. The kobolds threw their pet stirges at the party, and as the giant, mosquito-like beasts flapped their way towards the party, three kobolds formed a line and started sending volleys of crossbow bolts down the corridor. The battle was fierce but brief. Lythvard used his druidic powers to turn himself into a giant ant and tore through the stirges in no time. Two kobold soldiers, who had formed a rank to shield the crossbow-bearers, fled, abandoning their crossbow-wielding comrades to a fate of dismemberment by giant ant pincers.

Lythvard maintained his giant ant form and scuttled down the passageway after the two fleeing kobolds. He dashed past them and blocked their escape, looming up on his hind legs. Terrified, the kobolds dropped their weapons and surrendered. Syrion and Thybalt soon caught up with them, having removed a few small crossbow bolts from their bodies on the move.

The party tried to interrogate the kobolds, but these kobolds had spent their entire lives in this dungeon, and knew nothing of the common tongues of the surface world. Through pantomime, mimicry and the occasional threat of violence, the party was able to find out that the kobolds drank some kind of water in the dungeon, but it was much too filthy for any surface-dweller to stomach. They also found out that the kobolds hunt other humanoids in the dungeon for food. Satisfied that there was nothing more to learn from this pair of kobolds, the party allowed them to scamper away.

They stumbled forward in the darkness for another five hours or so, the stone passages dank with moisture but nothing to drink. Lythvard continued to do his best mapping the dungeon by torchlight, using boulders and sloping walls as his cartographer’s desk.

They saw a glow coming from up ahead, so they edged towards it carefully. They emerged into an octagonal chamber with a spherical, domed ceiling and eight passageways leading outwards. In the center of the chamber was a huge, roughly spherical crystal. An inconsistent glow emanated from the crystal, casting an eerie light over the faces of the adventures as they stared at the crystal in consternation.

Upon entering the chamber, Lythvard suddenly felt as though he had had lead blanket thrown over him, forcing him to struggle to keep his feet. A huge wave of emotion and feelings bore down on the young elven druid. Feelings of relief and new-found freedom and lingering anger assaulted Lythvard’s psyche. The living dungeon could sense that Lythvard was affiliated with those who set it free – the Verisiels – so it was allowing Lythvard to sense its emotions. There was one feeling that stood out as more prominent than others. Lythvard could sense a feeling of… imbalance, like the time Lythvard’s body felt imbalanced when Meister Rattnab, his alchemy master, had forbidden him to eat meat for half a cycle. Just as Lythvard’s body had been craving meat to address the nutritional imbalance, Lythvard was now sensing a strong craving from the living dungeon for… kobold blood?

Syrion and Thybalt dragged Lythvard from the chamber before the pressure overcame him. After regaining his composure, Lythvard told them what he had felt, and the group discussed its implications. Lythvard also told them that he was sure he sensed that the living dungeon would be grateful if its hunger for kobold blood were to be sated. Was this, then, a way out of the dungeon? A way to get the dungeon to return to the surface? But where to find the kobolds? And how much blood is needed to quench a living dungeon-sized thirst? Would they be able to find the kobolds and kill them before the party themselves succumbed to their own thirst? And how does one feed a living dungeon? Does it have a mouth? If so, how would they move all that kobold blood to the dungeon’s mouth?

(This adventure log post to be continued soon)

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