Monthly Archives: October 2009

SOW Chapter4: Showdown At Dunesend

Showdown At Dunesend

They traveled through thorns to barren sands,
Where many men had died,
T’where forgotten, Dunesend, grimly grey yet stands,
And the place the desert’s Warden plies.
Where drake faced them, a lion at bay,
Seeing its head up-flung,
And brave Bingus did say, “Today we dare not die.”
When others fretted or held their tongues.

Showdown At Dunesend

Dunesend VillageThe village of Dunesend marks the frontier of two equally desolate lands. To the north lies the forbidding Thornwaste, across which only the most experienced or most desperate explorers venture; to the south, endless desert dunes march to the far horizon.

Dunesend was built on the ruins of the dwarven supply depot that once served Clan Ironfell’s hidden mining operations in the desert. All that remains of the original dwarven enclave are scattered foundations and a single watchtower. However, the dwarves carefully constructed system of spring-fed wells and cisterns still functions, allowing the villagers to farm the scrubland and eke out an existence in the harsh landscape. In years past, trade caravans made Dunesend a waypoint for southbound travelers. Today, the road is sand and the caravans have vanished. The handfuls of families remaining in Dunesend do so because they have nowhere else to go.

Thorny Passage

As the Brigade approaches the edge of the village from the north they find the brambles tightening until they find themselves passing through thorn laced tunnels that eventually emerge in the village.

Cresting over a low rise the thorns, a rustling in the thorny bracken reveals the presence of your horned shadow. Jimmy catches a glimpse of its bearded face. It snarls and races south quickly disappearing within the briars. Beyond the crest, the expanse of thorns suddenly ends, as a great sea of sand takes its place. At this transition, the drab, decrepit village sprawls, its huts and fields spreading to either side of an ancient stone tower. Seeing the village, Jimmy races forward even as he hears a sudden cry of pain.

In the center of the settlement, a sun-darkened man, obviously a villager kneels, pinned to the ground, by a massive gnoll; one of the beastly creature’s dirty clawed hands firmly gripping the villager’s throat, while he raises a blood flecked frail high over the struggling villager with the other. Other villagers observe in angry silence as the murderous gnoll swings the flail down, breaking upon the man with a crushing, sickening thud and a rain of fresh blood. As Jimmy emerges from the thorns the gnoll turns to face him, releasing the villager who falls in a cloud of sand and dirt, dead at the gnoll’s feet. Only then, to his horror does Jimmy take note of a massive coiled, serpentine creature, with glittering blue scales and a dozen legs which stands massively as a backdrop behind the gnoll, Jimmy having previously been blinded by the gnoll’s violence and realizing his oversight, freezes as the behir views Jimmy hungrily.

Warden and BehirJimmy pauses, too late to plan, almost too late to think … Certainly, too late to flee, rushing in as he had, the scene and circumstance giving him pause to question even his faith … undesired thoughts, doubts, and questions all at the speeds known only to the dying … those times when lives are revisited within split seconds. What opportunity did the god of healing offer him here … Jimmy’s god, Berronar Truesilver, consort of Moradin, goddess of home and truth — not travel and battle? But no, these people’s home are being threatened and they must be protected. Finding himself so far out in the wilds, beyond anything previously imagined in his short life as he stares up at the monster twice again taller than any man he has ever seen into golden eyes that are so cold, alien and expressionless both beautiful and hideous; a creature still hunched, fixing Jimmy in shock and with the inevitability of the demise poised swift upon him when from out of out no where Bhenedict leaps in front of Jimmy startling him challenging the monstrous behir. Reacting like greased lightning the behir bolts downward at the dwarf, like a great snake, snapping like a trap–rising to reveal empty space where the dwarf had stood–marking Bhenedict’s passing with a gnashing of dagger-like teeth and a lump in the she-beast’s gullet.

Slack-jawed and numb, Jimmy stares wide-eyed and the gnoll salivates, turning toward the young priest, its own spittle laced with blood, its own mixed with the blood of its victim, eyes – yellowed, glowing orbs, void of any iris, and clearly marked with madness. The gnoll vocalizes in odd, croaks – guttural and grotesques like a demon’s laugh or the croaking as someone dies … lurching it swings its massive flail at the stunned priest who pulls clear at the last possible moment.

Chaos follows, Asa turning to Bingus, “My Lord, I suggest we move to a position of advantage? Shall I convey you to the top of yonder building?” Bingus, nodding agreement rises with Asa in a burst of the desert wind whisks them off their feet to land atop one of the ramshackle huts used by the townsfolk perhaps twenty paces from behir. From atop the house Bingus still finds himself looking upward at the behir as it rears again. Eoffram, running, takes cover behind the same building, only at ground level. The three of them quickly confer to coordinate their attack on the gnoll and after a brief prayer to the gods from Asa Bingus and Eoffram together strike as one each using their own variety of magical attack as they drop the gnoll to its knees leading to a font of shouted curses and condemnation from the gnoll “Aaah, you bitches … Oh AH … Why can’t you leave me alone. Come on and get me! KILL you!”

In front of the behir and ten paces from each other Jimmy and Bairdyn stare from one another plotting an assault against the blue serpent as electricity suddenly dances over the behir’s body starting at the tail and crackling as it passes off the monster’s body until the dancing lightning leaps from the creatures outstretched claw exploding into Bairdyn who convulses involuntarily as the electricity strikes. Then moving with inhuman speed the behir stomps the ground with a thundering boom of power and sound pounding both Bairdyn and Jimmy while hurling them to the ground.

Finding prayers on his lips, Jimmy collects his wits and summons a healing spirit in Berronar’s name hoping that it might aid them as the battle rages, the spirit hovering around the beast. Rising to his feet, Bairdyn taking advantage of his position homes his dagger within the gnoll’s backside before it can react; the gnoll howling in pain. “Don’t hurt me … I’ll be good, I won’t do it again. Kill you!” the gnoll yells in varied voices, sounding to all like crazed thing unto Hell.

Then, opening its mouth wild, as if to growl; the behir unleashes a maelstrom of brilliant cascade of lightning in a dancing cloud that swallows Bairdyn, Jimmy and Asa. Asa responds through his tight clenched jaw whispering a spell that circles the behir in flames as he struggles through his pain moving backwards to protect Bingus. Cursing the Gnoll, Eoffram throws another spell at the possessed gnoll killing it before it can rise while the behir snaps at the fleeing sorcerer causing new wounds and fresh trail of blood on the dry thirsty ground.

Focusing on their plight, perched on the dwelling Bingus begins wrestling with the frayed threads of a plan before casting a fireball at the blue behemoth causing it some small injury while he moves unconsciously backwards away from the creature tumbling off the edge of the roof but reflexively catching himself with a featherfall spell before crashing to the ground.

Barely alive, Jimmy prays for strength and brings the might of Berronar down upon the snake-like monster causing it to feel weakened, bring forth glassy and brittle looking sheen to the behir and giving it reason to take pause making the monster tentative and cautious. At the same time realizing that the beast’s considerable speed made escape unlikely, Jimmy takes pause to speak a healing word for Asa who was also was suffering mightily under the behir’s attack and was even now being mauled again.

Eoffram attacks the monsters too but his spells prove ineffective against the behir’s speed and power. Watching alertly, a witness to the failure of the warlock’s spells, it comes to Bingus that if they are going to survive the day it would be the inescapable power of his spells that would save them. Yes, it was suddenly clear that he would have to step-up … his friends were falling, being crushed before his eyes and their lives weighed in the balance, but he knew spells that were irresistible, inescapable … much like the monster itself. Steeling himself up, Bingus lifts his orb to the height of his eyes focusing to a laser’s pitch at the twisting image of the monster through the looking glass round sphere which dispatches a flashing, magical missile, sickly violet in color, a light with liquid-like property which exploded on the massive serpent with a rain of acid that burns into its flesh.

Enraged the behir turns towards the gnome to find its path blocked by the priest and the sorcerer, shrieking its frustration it lifts its great serpentine body high, towering over Jimmy and Asa before slamming down a second time in another thunderous display hurling them off their feet again while snapping off lightning flashes into them again only this time to finding the electricity blocked by Jimmy’s protective spells. Crippled and on the ground Jimmy takes pause to tend to his injuries while Asa shields them anew with fresh flames.

Pulling deep from his well of spells, Bingus shouts, “Tyrannical talons, of death’s dirty grasp take hold off this foulest of sparkly wyrms.” In answer a wave of deathly claws rise erupting from the ground one and more for each of the monster’s dozen legs scratching at her with dead claw-like fingernails and holding her fast even as she struggles against them to rip herself free; struggling so hard as to wretch and in a flurry she vomits up the dwarf violently projecting him into the thorns at the feet of a cruel-faced, long-horned satyr, the pursuer from the thorns.

Calling out to the townsfolk Eoffram says, “If your lives still have meaning, make yourselves known … come to our aid people. When the day is over we will be gone, dead or alive but while we are here you fighting for you there is still hope for you and your families. More so than if we fall.”

The satyr sounds a shrill note on his pipes which is answered by a call, “For Queen Shephatiah!” and a hail arrows fired from points in the thorns and behind scattered buildings at Eoffram and Asa while the sharp, painful note of the pipe stuns Bhenedict as he gasps for air, coated in smelly bloody refuse, death, decay and digestive juices … truly wretched, so wholly disgusted that he barely notices the satyr as he comes to his senses and swings wildly at the quick footed satyr who easily dodges the clumsy attack.

Jimmy recovered calls down astral condemnation upon the serpent branding the monster with Berronar’s glowing symbol on it’s head between its spiked horns, setting the beast to renewed wailing as it breaks free of the grasping hand of the dead and retreats stumbling into a cloud of dancing daggers summoned by Bingus and one last especially sharp dagger thrown with deadly purpose by Bairdyn which scores deeply on the behir flank before magically returning to Bairdyn‘s hand. Looking about, Jimmy spies Asa’s ordeal as he targeted by the satyrs one-after-another, taking what shelter he can … as Jimmy lets the healing spirit fade as he places a healing upon Asa.

As the behir flees into the desert, the satyrs turn as a group and dart back whence they came into the thorn … all save their leader the first who turns to run but find his path blocked by the angry dwarf Bhenedict who knocks him upside the head subduing him. Calling for help, Bhenedict moves to drag the satyr into the village but as he does a volley of arrows find their mark skewing the downed satyr yet before the satyr can die Jimmy blesses him with a cure. Eoffram fires back into the thorns with magical attacks encouraging the remaining satyrs to flee while the other members of the Brigade secure their prisoner.

In the aftermath of the battle Bhenedict lays the unconscious satyr up against the stonewall circling the well in the center of the village while he toils washing the burning vomit from his body; Bairdyn keeping guard over the prisoner. Jimmy Satyrsees to the injured and Eoffram calls to the township again, “If there is a leader among come out … the monsters have either fled or they are dead. You have nothing to fear from us.”

Setting up near the well, Bingus sets loose a brilliant fiery display … a show with rainbows of multi-color sparks, purples, greens, reds blues and more while calling out in good cheer and celebration, “It is over and done, come out friends for we have won!” Encouraging a number of curious eyes to peek through shutter sheltered windows and waking the tied satyr.

A few bold townsfolk come forward including, a elderly smith who seeing the gnoll’s victim falls to one knee with the sudden onset of grief, obviously deeply impacted by the condition of the dead young man but recovering quickly and standing erect again the aged man walks over to the body and bending gently closes the eye’s of the corpse as his fresh tears fall from his cheeks to the hard ground. From one of the larger buildings near the desert gate comes a somewhat haughty looking man, haughty as one might look in disheveled, tattered clothing that might have one time been finery and a behind him, a plumpish halfling, in bright clothing that contrasts with his darker skin, skin far darker than common amongst the halflings of the Elsir Vale and with jet black hair set in a ponytail altogether marking him almost certainly as a foreigner from the east.

Approaching Eoffram inquiries, “Be one of you the leader I seek?”

“That would be I stranger … I am Lotho Elberesk, the proprietor of the caravansary.” says the man from the building by the gate. “If this place has a leader than it is I.”

“Then I pray thee, what goes on here and why are these monsters tormenting your village? Obviously there is hardship enough, what was it that the gnoll sought to came, or was cruelty purpose enough?”

“That one was the Warden, ‘e shows here bout’s months back makin claim fer the young and strong ‘mongst us. And a foul tyrant ‘e is what served the Queen of the Drylands. The blue wyrm was his steed and enforcer, and it had slain several amongst us in recent months. Those others were creatures of the Thornwaste in league with the Warden. They be the ones what prevents us from fleeing this place or seeking aid elsewheres. The Warden was here to make monthly collection of tribute, save the weather has been poor and our crops delayed, so ‘e accuses us o’ holding out. And ‘e uses poor Vaudnim to set example to us all.”

“To what purpose did he take the others?

“’E shows from the desert ’bout a year ago, stating that the Queen o’ the Drylands has come to reclaim ‘er throne, ‘er name meaning nothing to us but the Warden slayed several o’ our strongest when we stood ‘gainst ‘im and no and gin shows demandin’ tribute in goods and food lest ‘e feeds his wyrm yet agin. Of the others, ‘e says not, but takes ’em, anyhow … right. And to those that resist it’s the belly of the wyrm or worse, torture and slow painful death. An now you’ve made things worse, I fear.”

“How so?” asks Bairdyn. “He’s dead isn’t he, no thanks to you. Speaking truly, shouldn’t you be thanking us right about now?”

“What you’ve done is condemn us sirrah. The queen of the desert will be fast upon us and mercy is not of her nature. She will likely slay us all in ‘er fury. You’ve but slain the Warden, other servants has she. Where will you outsiders be when they come, I wonder?”

“Do you speak of the Ghostlord?”

“Nay, the Ghostlord is master of the thorns, the queen is the mistress of the desert, it is her wrath gives us reason to fear. Her anger runs hot like a storm in the sands.”

“And how is she called?”

“Her name is Shephatiah and I can say no more about her.”

Speaking up the dark-skinned halfling says, “Arey! What a good job you did, boss, but, oof, that lady is bad-bad, yes! And the Warden was her godman and she is angered for anything – right. We are ragging for a fagging now.”

“What?” asks Eoffram.

“Y’all have our thanks, there is much of joy in the meeting of well-meaning visitors – right, but we are, and I will speak softly, a tired and harshly used people. Still Baba, I offer my welcome, humble though it be. Y’all are welcome to refresh yourselves in my bakery where I might serve you a cup of sweet tea and a pastry.”

“That sound’s good to me,” offers Bairdyn forgetting the satyr for a moment. “Do you have a name, friend? I am Bairdyn and we are Brindol’s Brigade.”

“My name is Bede, Bairdyn-jee…it is my pleasure, yes-yes.”

Turning fast upon the satyr, Eoffram snatches him up pulling its slouch high and looking it straight in the eye, unblinking says, “We can do this the easy way or the hard way but one way or another you are going to answer my questions, that is a certainty.”

And despite the best efforts of Eoffram and the other members of the Brigade the satyr does not speak other than to renew threats or to forecast the Brigade’s doom. So after a night’s rest, the party takes shelter within the ruins of the dwarven tower, Eoffram wakes the satyr even as a pale blue fire rises over Eoffram’s brow bringing a eerie glow to his eyes, “By the hot blue flames of Khirad’s vengeance…flames burnt over apocalypses on old and no hotter flame than this that which burneth in a man’s heart day and night without rest, ’til quenched by blood, yours if necessary, so harkee me now wanderer of the thorns, for answer me you must these questions now as I’d promised! Tell me exactly who and what be your queen!”

Fighting to resist the warlock‘s spell that satyr answers “My queen is Shephatiah, a dryad.”

“Where does she reside and how do we get there?"

Veins swelling, eyes bulging the answer come unbidden to the satyr‘s lips, “She lives in the fortress, Ironfell, within the trackless desert, found by following rock formations in the desert while one travels south for three days.”

“What are the number and nature of her guards?”

Croaking the satyr replies, "Harpies of unknown number, shifters, smelly man-like reptiles, human villagers and a worm-like creature of massive size.”

Adding terror to his question, the blue flame intensifies as Eoffram demands clarification, “The behir, that wyrm that fled into the sands? Do not think that you might resist me, you but increase your suffering and my pleasure.”

“No there is another…a different sort of creature, not quite so large, softer with tentacles.”

“What does she want with these villagers, why have they been harvested?”

“They mine for the queen, devil inquisitor,” answers the satyr as he finally collapses and Eoffram’s blue flame dies over his brow.

Speaking up for the group, Bhenedict says, “There’s no doubt about it friends, she’s found the mine and it’s to the desert for us! We should be able to handle a three day crossing easy enough, and these papers that Bram gave us picture rock formations I’m sure are those the satyr spoke of. I see little point to delay, let’s pack and be done with it.”

 


SOW Chapter4: The Hammerfist Clan – Lost Mines, Part III

The Hammerfist Clan – Lost Mines, Part III

Dwarves find the Ghostlord
Their greed leads to their folly
The Brigade triumphs

The Hammerfist Clan – Lost Mines, Part III

Hammerfist“Woo, woo, whoop and hazzah!” cheered the dwarves
of Clan Hammerfist privately celebrating their unbelievable luck. None of
which, in their wildest of imaginations would have ever thought they might
someday gain the map to the legendary Karak mines.

“Greed and necessity make the strangest of
bedfellows … none could doubt that and so, Bram Ironfell approaches me … Urthal
Hammerfist, with the map to the lost mines. It only made sense when I stopped
to think about, in this day and age what other Clan could service the mines and
do a righteous, honest, job of it? No one that’s who! If it isn’t the Hammerfists its
not gonna to be done, no Sir! So when Mr. Ironfell his self suggests a
partnership who am I to say no? Of course not! And, to think … for a full share
no less, he asks a measly 10,000 gold pieces. I would have paid more than that
to even for a glance at the map, and for a share of the mines, ten times that
and more, rightly so, sight, unseen. Of course, men we’ve reason to doubt …
Bram may be an Ironfell, but he’s not known to be daft, but I say, even a black
sheep’s wool is warm and what have we to lose?”

So it was that the Hammerfists gained the map
provided by Bram. Urthal, Dorn, Tordok, Uore, Norin and Gegek Hammerfist now
traveled together southbound through the Thornwaste, west of their ancestral home
in the Wyvernwatch Mountains. Generally speaking, the Thornwaste was best
avoided and little known as any wasteland; it being best known as the gateway
to an even more desolate desert beyond. As such, the Thornwaste has been mostly
abandoned, untraveled and unknown for centuries since the mines closed so long
ago few living dwarves even remembered a time these trails were used. Traveling
this forgotten trail the intrepid dwarves, each picked for their skill and
valor, came across a strange ruin.

Stone LionThe ruin was obviously well crafted … a stone lion
of gigantic proportions and it was entirely unexpected. Oh, there were
rumors to be sure, stories told
to frighten the young. One story involved an old druid that disappeared long
ago. Another claim a druid stayed there that the other druids of the Witchwood
avoided. Some say, Gaia’s favorite, a
great druid who was at one with
the mountain lions. So great was she the young tribes of man built a massive
lion of stone in her honor and in turn she taught them the ways to be at one
with nature’s wild things. Yet when dark times fell, the Rotting Lord struck
crawling up through the bowels of her home the lion shrine. His insipid shadow
fell dimming the lions’ glory, so jealous had he become of the beautiful druid
and her relations with Gaia that he took her to corrupt nature itself, to bend it into his twisted
vision. He dragged her into his realm through the belly of the lion in those days
when the world was young, dragged her straight to the Land of the Dead. Yet so
great was her love that she came back, not as she had been but as an undead
thing, a shell corrupt so that none could love her and she was abandoned. In
her pain and solitude the lush plains grew thorny and twisted as her soul and
just as empty of life. And if this was true, who yet lived to say whether this
shrine might bring ruin on others who stood here? Be this Ghostlord’s lost lair,
for that is what the legends now call her, and many if not all legends have a
basis in fact? There is a reason these places go unspoken of, here, this shrine
certainly less than most, but none the less it was here, larger the life and
directly in their path. The stories about a dead lion cult, in the thorns
sounded very frightening as children, how much more than to see the shrine in
person as an adult? The dwarves were given directions and a location to find
the mines but the map said nothing of this structure, which clearly lay on
their path in route to the deserted outpost.

The approach of the Hammerfists
hadn’t gone undetected; in truth, nothing passing through
the maze of broken Ghostlordhills, briar-choked ravines, and dry, dusty
scrubland that make up the Thornwaste did without garnering the notice of its
undisputed master the Ghostlord of the Thornwaste. Witnessing their approach,
She … if one is inclined to describe the undead thing in terms of sex, focused
her attention to her dread haunt of lions, undead all, brought into being when
she drowned the still living lions in an arcane vat of necrotic waste,
torturing the beast’s spirits until they twisted into the hateful, baleful
brutes the Ghostlord called her pride, to these monsters she orders, “Bring the
dwarves alive if able, dead if not … I would know the purpose of their
trespass.” and the ghostly beasts’ growl in answer to her call.

The ghost pride races from their lair in the chest
of the stone shrine down the straight great stair meeting the Hammerfist clan,
who sighting the unholy beasts quaked retreating first with hesitation, then
madly through the thorns to no avail, slashing themselves on the dagger-like
needles until bloody and torn they were rundown and ripped not only of body but
soul, all dead, save Urthal who was taken alive, forced to listen to the
reaping his greed had wrought. Urthal heard everything as his brothers were
hunted down, hunted to death in a manner so horrific that he wished himself
dead. Unspeakable sounds, some vague and indistinct, other fearful and horrid …
the sounds of his kin’s souls being shredded and eaten alive high-pitched
indiscriminate screeching, the sounds of ultimate despair, mixed with the more
common sounds of scattering boots and the falling of their bodies on hard,
unforgiving dirt. All this and more Urthal endured as he shuddered, writhed and
groveled while being dragged, alive into the maw of the stone monolith by the
beasts that eat men’s souls.

Awakened from 10 years of lethargy, the Ghostlord
raged, one of the few emotions left to her in her undeadness. Like a spider in
a thorny web she reached outward through the vines finding the dwarves had not
entered alone. Further north Brindol’s Brigade waited but the interloper, Jack
was with them. Jack, Gaia’s dark avenger, the one man she could do no harm and
yet there was more … a graveyard’s chill, unearthly zeal, unending hate, the
Spirits of the Gate. Feeling their cold icy hatred, the Ghostlord devised a
plan. Infuriated that Jack had turned the coven of heroes away from her, the
Ghostlord determined to spin the gate spirits hatred as a mean to her ends.
Pulling the ghosts to her through the thorns she trapped them within the quickly rotting
shells that had formerly been the Hammerfist bodies, making them appropriate
tools for a reckoning; then magically whisked to point of intercept along with
one of her pride so she might watch the destruction to come, with the certainty
that death would follow.

 Possessed DwarvesSo
it was when Eoffram mused, “I really should have remembered the tales of the
Ghostlord but I
really
know very little about this Ghostlord. I remember a spot on the map was marked
with the name but not much more than that, a few rumors … a tale about an old
druid that disappeared long ago.”

“I liked that strange fellow, what did
you say his name was?” Bairdyn asks his ‘new’ friend, Asa Mantir.

“Jack, his name is Jack; he will be a
very great man…and perhaps more. Time will tell,” answers Asa.

“And exactly how do you know him?” inquiries Bhenedict.

“I am not sure, perhaps there are still
things I don’t remember, like when I thought my name was Aenied. I am pretty
sure he saved me, or maybe I saved him; I’m really not sure … he is a
friend…one I can trust with my life, that I know.”

 “He didn’t seem to know you,” points
out Bairdyn.

“True, but then Bhenedict doesn’t
remember Thunderhold either?” responds Asa. Suddenly there are shouts of
alarms as the dreary march through the thickening thorns in the dimming light
of day is thrown into mayhem as unliving Hammerfists burst from the earth’s
womb, aborted vessels forged in a warped mind, spewed forth evil’s purpose and
evil alone.

The battle in joined on all sides, as heroes
fly off in seemingly random directions, the spirit-possessed dwarves using
their malevolent power to hurl several members of the Brigade like ragdolls in
a hurricane. At the front of the party, Uore and Dorn attack, their backs
screened by a five foot wide ravine. Their side braced by a solitary
Hammerfist, Tordok, hidden by a boulder and thorns. Beyond these, across the
ravine, Gegek has mounted a twenty foot tall outcropping of rock attacking from
this position of advantage while Gegek and the Ghostlord’s beast remain
concealed watching. Already at a disadvantage the Brigade works to assemble
but find it impossible as they are thrown about by the ghost possessed dwarves.
Still, from the back of the party, Bingus, Asa and Eoffram are able to react
with spells of their own while Bhenedict battled Uore and Dorn at the front of
the party and Bairdyn and Jimmy were flying through the air at the whim of the
poltergeists.

They find this is a battle is waged as much in
the mind and spirit, as in body, as the ghosts relentlessly conspire to attack
the wills and minds of their foes through an unending psychic assaults that
would crush lesser men, the heat and focus of their assaults dazing both
Bairdyn and Eoffram even while providing an opening for Jimmy to recovery.

Intermittently
encircling foes in searing, stellar flames, Asa moves to guard Bingus while the valiant
gnome throws one spell after another at the undead to little affect. Just as it
seems the Brigade might recover, Gegek and the Ghostlord’s pet attack leaping
across the ravine throwing Bhenedict to the ground beneath the fetid jaws of
the beast, but before all is lost Jimmy channels succor from his Dwarven God
bring forth the healing spirit of
Berronar Truesilver appears hovering over Bhenedict
fueling him with renewed vigor and hope. In answer Jimmy is hurled back again. 

Capitalizing on Jimmy’s blessing Bhenedict finds
new strength to rise, and lands a telling blow upon Uore’s dead skull, while
Bairdyn uses this moment of confusion to sneak behind the ghostly lion landing
his own vicious strikes. Recovering again Jimmy raises his holy symbol
forcefully rebuking the spirits forcing them backward, dropping Dorn into the
ravine. Taking the moment to pushing forward Asa attacks with exciting flurry
of flames, but moves too far forward and he is trapped between Tordok and
Gegek. In the moments that follow bring more flames and spells, ending as Asa
falls. Elsewhere, the crushed body of Uore can no longer contain it, the spirit
within Uore erupts from Uore’s body seeking vengeance denied furiously
attacking Jimmy drowning his will in a sea of wrath but instead of finding a
weak-willed fearful boy the ghost finds Jimmy’s inner iron, an indomitable will
only too late realizing that without a vessel it can no longer subsist as an
incorporeal spirit as it fades to non-existence.

Seeing Uore fall, Jimmy realizes what he must do
but he is torn between rescuing Asa and destroying the remaining dwarves.
Seeing Jimmy struggle, Bingus forces the young cleric’s hand by foolhardily
rushing in after Asa himself, leaving Jimmy free to engage the remaining
dwarves with Bhenedict, Eoffram and Bairdyn; jumping between Asa’s body and the
dwarves, Bingus uses the only tool at his disposal, his own body as a shield
protecting his fallen friend from further attack while pouring his own healing
potion in Asa Martin’s mouth, all while being crushed to the ground and beaten
by two dwarves, saving himself using gnomish magic to disappear only after he’d
saved his friend.

Ultimately Bingus’s gamble and the Brigade’s
teamwork triumph, as spirit after spirit is destroyed, first in body by the
strength of arm and magical prowess and finally destroyed in essence when they
a rejected time and again by Jimmy’s stalwart will leaving only the spirit lion
to be dealt with which was in turn overwhelmed by the combined efforts of
Bairdyn and Bhenedict. Somewhere distant, yet not too far, in the center of the
thorns the grim silhouette of Ghostlord rises as the unnamable, she takes note
of Brindol’s Brigade.

 

SOW Chapter4: The Thornwastes, Day One

The Thornwastes, Day One

Jack a youth foretold
Slaying giants is his path
Seeks truth and justice

The
Thornwastes, Day One

One step beneath the thorns dim,
Cloaked in death’s grim embrace,
And here a stranger came to them,
To school them on the chase.

His eyes were mystical deep pools
That drowned unearthly things,
And the man lifted up his head
And spoke of his wanderings.

“Thank you, thank you my friends, never was I happier to be overcom,.”
effused Bingus having been near killed and rescued yet again.

“I
would not allow anything to happen to you were it in my power to prevent It.”,
offers Aenied.

“Even
so, with Jimmy’s help I am whole and unharmed, so we should make haste, no?”

The air grows steadily warmer and dryer as
the Brigade moves south along a dusty trail, ill-laid and poorly marked due to
disuse. They opt to stay southbound avoiding a competing westbound trail
expecting it would take them off course around the Thornwaste.  Dim thoughts
playing in Eoffram’s skull whisper tales of forgotten woe bought about near or
within these wastelands, yet they never quite capture his conscious mind and
so lie buried within. Thus they travel a full day and a half again after
passing the eastbound pass to the Hammerfist Holds, a series of mines held by
that clan of dwarves, dwarves and the same clan the Brigade chased, but never
quite entering the Thornwaste. Until at days’ end wearily they come to a rise
entering the brambles.  

The path through
the thorns rises to a crest, the brambles growing tight on either side; and then,
suddenly beyond the rise a flame erupts casting dancing fire light into the twilight
sky when without warning at the top of the hill, a man steps forward to stand
between them and the flames–a somber figure, silhouetted in the fire’s light.
Save for a bright red sash, he is dressed entirely in black and his weaponry, that
which they can see consists of a rapier, still it is clear he carries more.


Jack


From atop his
perch across the valley the stranger calls out, his harsh voice carrying easily
over the dead quiet of the valley.

“Judgment is upon you! I am the protectorate of this land and I sense the
taint of death upon you. You will tell me your purpose here or your journey
ends now!” the stranger calls to the Brigade.  

Aenied replies, “We are Brindol’s Brigade; we come seeking the lost
mines of Karak, upon request of the dwarves of Overlook.”

“I would know men who would trespass here and your purpose. Seek not to
waste my time with the idol waggling of your tongue … I will see your deceptions, the burden of lies bears heavily on one’s soul,” answers the stranger.

Aenied thinks to himself, Clearly this stranger is listening only to himself. We just told him what he as asked for. Ah, well… “We have already told you who we are and why we have come,” Aenied
calls out, "Did you not hear, or did you not understand?"

“Then I would caution you to rethink your goals. If you are not
willing to die for your convictions then perhaps you should find something else
to do; before you cross these wastelands you will be tested.” continues. The party continued to advance until they could see that the
stranger was a tall gaunt man, with a darkly pallid face and deep brooding eyes,
so deep they can not yet be clearly seen in the distance.

“Who are you to question us?” ask Aenied

In answer the foreboding wayfarer says, “For now, I am your judge, jury and if necessary your executioner.”

Hearing an odd noise, looking back at
Aenied, Bhenedict realizes all is not right with him as Aenied stands stunned
before dropping to his knees.

“What
have you done to him?” shouts Bairdyn.

The stranger replies, “I
know not of what you speak. These are troubled times; I stand at the threshold
of anarchy to deliver the wicked onto the fiery embrace of Hell when needs be;
but, I have not harmed your friend,” answers the nomad.

Not believing him
and with bravado taking hold Bairdyn begins a rush towards the stranger who
calmly places
a broad rimmed slouch
hat upon his head shading his face entire and then with practiced ease draws
first a staff, dragon-headed and sharpened on one end off his back stabbing the
sharp end into the ground at his left so that the staff stands on end and then in
the same movement draws a longbow off his back with his left hand stringing and
arming an arrow with his right hand. Though he is easily still out of a normal arrow’s range of the
party he draws back the bow letting fly an arrow which pierces the ground between
Bairdyn’s feet in a simple, clear warning.

“Come no closer, except I challenge
anyone amongst you to single combat, in that way I will find if you are worthy
to proceed,” says the wanderer.

Looking towards Aenied,
Bhenedict and Jimmy watch as he carefully unfolds his strange pack and begins
placing impossibly large pieces of equipment within in while muttering, “…This
is not my axe, a fine axe to be sure, but not my axe…what is this helm…where is my dagger… ” seemly unaware
of his surroundings. Not daring to take another step forward, Bairdyn backs up
asking, “Why must we fight?”

“In the fire of battle I can see straight through to a man’s soul. Is there not one amongst you with enough courage in
your convictions to face me alone? Is your cause not just? Are you ill at ease
with your faith or your god? Do you fear your final judgment?” is the
stranger’s reply.

Asa MantirRising, changed both in attitude and attire, Aenied
stands. Somehow magically, his skin has taken on a dusky hue; stranger still
tattoos appear where there were none before. Clear of mind and purpose, Aenied
steps forward stating, “I am Asa Mantir, and I beg your indulgence, Knight. We
mean not be in your way.”

Then speaking to the gnome Anied continues, "Lord Bingus, behind me,
fear not I stand ready to die for you if it is my time"

Then calling out to the
stranger again, "Does this fight need be to the death, or will first blood not
be sufficient?”

“It
is what you make of it,” answers the dark stranger.

“Then I accept your
challenge,” answers Jimmy.

With that the
wayfarer lowers his bow and grabs the staff from the ground approaching the
Brigade. When he arrives he again stabs the sharp end of the stick into the
ground and then drawing his rapier and long dagger he charges the priest menacingly
without hesitation, and with cat-like quickness feinting with the dagger he
causes Jimmy to near skewer himself upon the rapier. Pulling the long blade
away at the last moment the attacker spins slashing Jimmy’s cheek with the
dagger leaving a clear trial of blood. Wiping the dagger on his wide black cloak
the stranger asks,
“Do you yield?”

Wanting no part of
defeat, Jimmy calls on the healing power of his god,
Berronar Truesilver, healing
the wound and attacks. The stranger dodges taking up the cleric’s arm and
spinning him, dagger poised at his back pinning him next to himself and
pushing backwards trusts upward with the rapier bloodying Jimmy’s other cheek.

All
the while this is happening Bhenedict has been whispering to Bairdyn, “While he
is distracted go and grab his staff, it is likely the source of his power.”

Agreeing
Bairdyn has skulked around the fight and reaching out takes the staff
but immediately yells out in pain. Sparks fly from the staff into Bairdyn’s hand
causing a burning pain at a level deeper than the flesh in a way beyond Bairdyn’s
understanding, the power rips through him colder than ice as he drops the staff
in muted testimony of its power.

“Twice bloodied now, yet you continue, a liar and a cheat, backed no
doubt by a thief, who may yet kill himself and save me the trouble…this
combat is done, I have no desire to sully myself further on the likes of you.
Withdraw now while you are able; force my hand further at your peril. Did I not
say your souls would show themselves in battle?”

Eoffram interrupts and puts his hand on Jimmy’s chest, "Jimmy enough. He has clearly had first blood."

As if daring the priest to strike, the gaunt powerful man turns, ignoring Jimmy,
and retrieves his staff. Then looking back with deep icy eyes says, “Move onward
if you will, I care not what happens to you; but know this, if you do not turn
from your path this day will be your last, that which lies before you is not
near as forgiving as I.”

“Who
is yon?” asks Bingus.

Answering
the stranger says, “Do you not know upon whose land you tread? These are the
Thornwaste, lair of the Ghostlord; it is certain death to proceed on this
trail.”

“Then
you have our thanks for the warning, stranger,” offers Bairdyn.
“And
if I may correct you, and apologize. You mistook me; I had no intention of
stealing your staff; I thought only that it might be giving you some advantage
in the battle.”

“So
then, I am to take it that you are not, in fact, a thief; and, that rather I
should think of you as a cheat like your friend the priest?” responds the
traveler. 

“No
that’s not it at all…you said you could see a man’s intent, look at me now; am
I lying?” asks Bairdyn.

Jimmy begins to disclaim his being a cheat, but interrupting
Eoffram says, “It is clear that law and justice are important you; and, your
words, while uncomforting are true. You won fairly and while I make no excuses
we have been though many trials recently and mean no harm. Speaking for the Brigade, I thank
you for your warning. You are welcome to make camp with us tonight. It is evening and if this is
as dangerous a place as you have said, it makes sense for us to make camp
together. Our friend Bhenedict is a chef-extraordinaire; we welcome you to
stay. Perhaps you can direct us to a safer pass since you know these lands and we do not? ”

Without
answering the stranger unrolls a sleeping blanket and pulls a spoon and cup
from his pack. Pouring some water into the cup, as he stirs the water with the spoon
it magically transforms the substance to a thick, hearty gruel which he eats
with the spoon. Approaching with deference Asa Mantir sits with the traveler
and quietly says, “I know who you are and I know where you are needed. Far to
the east, beyond the City-State of the Overlord. The giant’s are waiting. You should make
haste. Seek out the oracle on your way and you will find your companions.”
The stranger looked as Asa Mantir with disbelief but saw something in Asa’s look that caused him to nod as if in acceptance.

The
next day following the stranger’s directions the Brigade retraced their steps
to the first competing westward trail, wasting a full day before heading west
then south into the Thornwaste and thus avoiding the lair of the Ghostlord.


SOW Chapter4: The Lost Mines of Karak

The Lost Mines of Karak

Spirits plague our steps

Bingus is their vehicle

Denied them our souls

The
Lost Mines of Karak

 

The 125 mile trip from Overlook to the lands south
of the Elsir Vale was largely uneventful; still most of the Brigade found the
trip exciting, it being further than most of them had ever traveled in
their lives…not including the trip to Umbraforge which had hardly been
planned or pleasant. Their plan was to travel westward on the Dawn Way commencing
at Witchcross and then take daylong hops starting at Talar, and moving on to Nimon
Gap, and Terrelton, before the final slightly longer hop to Drellin’s Ferry…the last ‘civilized’ village on their trail at which time their adventure would
really begin.

 

At one time there was a Dwarven, stone bridge at
Drellin’s Ferry hundreds of years ago, but it was destroyed. Now, the stone
pillars still plainly visible in the river was all the little that remained of the bridge.
A hundred feet downstream was the ferry crossing–a large barge
attached to ropes and pulleys on both sides of the river operated by halflings.
The river being 30 feet deep most places, the ferry is the only way to get
wagons, livestock and such across. Drellin’s Ferry, being as close to a permanent
home as the transient
Barleycorn family keeps in the Vale, the Brigade’s
welcome is both warm and exceedingly cheerful as distant relatives fussed over
their preparations or lack there of…and young halflings insisted on story-after-story
of the Brigade’s travels and conquests, a request Bairdyn was happy to oblige.

 

Things become more interesting as the Brigade heads south to
the Thornwaste. Traveling south of Drellin’s Ferry as far as daylight
carries them, the Brigade passes one trail with a westward heading but elects to
stay southbound towards the Thornwaste, as per Bram’s instructions; doing
so they find themselves at the edge of the wastelands by nightfall and make camp.
After some discussion three watches are set, the first – Jimmy
and Bingus, the second – Eoffram and Aenied, and the third – Bhenedict and
Bairdyn.

Witch light

As the sun sets to the west, Jimmy knows the night will be
dark; the moon, Ishtar’s Eye, will be closed and even now the plains were being
blanketed in darkness. As sleep descends upon the others, Jimmy and Bingus set
watch. After an hour, as Jimmy stares toward the brambles and to his surprise spots
a light dancing in and amongst the thorns.

 

Thinking enemies might be approaching Jimmy quietly
gathers Bingus’s attention and points out the light while waking the others. After
the others are awakened, Bairdyn and Aenied, both now fully alert, cautiously
approach the light using honed senses and practiced stealth but finding as they
approach the light it fades into the distance until it vanishes completely.
Seeing and hearing nothing more they return to the camp. After a quick
discussion at the camp, they determine the light may have been caused by an
idle pixies or perhaps a giant lightning bug; regardless, after a short time most of
the Brigade gets back to sleep after their long march, only the watch and Eoffram
remain awake. Eoffram restlessly tossing trying to sleep and failing until it is time for he and Aenied to
take their turn at watch.

 

At the transition of the watch both Bingus and Jimmy
complain of voices they have heard…insane giggling by Jimmy, and ungodly moans
by Bingus but neither heard the other’s sounds and seeing nothing they had let
the others rest. So, nervously, Eoffram sat on a large stone at the edge of the
camp while Aenied guarded the opposite side watching for any approach from the
wasteland. As time slowly passes and Eoffram finds himself starting to relax at
the same time he begins to miss the hour of lost sleep, as his gaze passes to
the camp and he notices that some of the gear and packs are silently floating
of their own accord, yelling a warning, Aenied snaps to the alert just in time to see the items suddenly fall to the ground. Aenied turns his gaze through the camp and out to the wilderness but he sees nothing. Taking
Eoffram at his word Aenied yells a challenge to the night, “We are not so easily
frightening by lights and parlor tricks, show yourselves fairies or be gone!”
There is no response.

 

Pulling the final shift, Bhenedict and Bairdyn take their
posts Bairdyn sitting close to Bennie, not due to fear but rather for company
as he rambles on incessantly about his family’s adventures on the river so much
so that they could not be sure how long Jimmy floated before they noticed that indeed he
hung limply in the air, not lifeless, but asleep. As they moved towards him
shouting a warning he was hurled through the air at breakneck speed landing in
a heap 15 feet away. All at once the air filled with a peel of frightful
laughter echoing in the cool night air.

 

Awaking, Aenied quickly scans the camp noting Eoffram has also
been awakened and Jimmy while bruised was obviously in one piece and awake…but Bingus eerily awake, seemed in a trance…eyes ebony-filled pits of black,
and a trickle of warm blood leaking from his ear. “Devil’s work!” exclaims
Aenied, as mumbling under his breath the entranced Bingus rises his orb casting
a cloud of magical daggers about Eoffram. Calling on the power of Erathis, Aenied summoned the spirit that he believed was inhabiting Bingus. “Come to me, fell spirit!” Briefly a misty
aberration  made an appearance as it was pulled from Bingus , a horror in the
half-light of the camp, a rangy figure, a scowl of hatred, and soul consuming
terror…before snapping the gnome back to it as together they are pulled to
the avenger. Raising his holy symbol Jimmy calls
out to the possessed gnome, "Begon, foul creature!" and shoves it away from Aenied. Pointing towards the ground the gnome snaps his fingers and in an
answering whip-crack, the ground lurches forcefully throwing Jimmy yet a
second time.



SpiritIn the
seconds that follow, the response is overwhelming as the others first bring
Bingus to his knees and drop him firmly to the hard earth with a combination of
physical and magical assaults. As the gnome’s body falls, the possessing spirit
rises from Bingus and in an attempt to overwhelm Jimmy, reaches out to the
cleric. Jimmy, with steely determination, rejects the brain-shattering
travesty with all his strength of will, knowing there will be no help for him
if he fails. The very thought of failure flushing the young cleric with shame.

 

Jimmy fights back with the only weapon he has left to combat
this abstract foe, hate and loathing given form in a ghostly thing…that
weapon–courage that flinches not in the face of danger, not even from the
undead devourer of souls.

 

Jimmy did not comprehend this, as a man understands a sword or
a spell but in his soul he knew, and in the pained whispers and yammering of
the spirit as Jimmy’s denial cast the spirit back into the oblivion that
spawned it.