Monthly Archives: November 2009

SOW Chapter4: Beyond Dunesend

Beyond Dunesend

The truth is revealed

Trackless desert marks their way

Death is in the air

Beyond Dunesend

Setting out
from Dunesend the Brigade makes its way into the trackless desert, trackless
save for intermittent desert landmarks they pass which are a perfect match for
Bram’s directions. These are a scattered series of unique rock formations, both
beautiful and strange in their desolation; sentinels in that sand … forgotten
soldiers of some volcanic god.

White Sand Pillars

They wander into the wilderness of the desert in a solitary
way, together but alone over a waste of burning sand.

“It’d be treasure and little else that would bring a dwarf
to parts such as these. Treasure certain as the sand beneath our feet, and damn
near as much.” remarks Bhenedict.

“This may be true, lord dwarf … but desert sands have a way
of purifying a strong man’s spirit, even while a weaker man’s spirit might
faint within them.” adds Noe.

“Strong or weak, a man caught in the desert without water,
exposed to the burning sun, without shelter would die a horrible death … his
lips and mouth will swell, then there is a hollowed ringing in your ears before
the onset of deafness and then you would feel as if your head swelled until
finally parched and dried out … blistered, bloodied, cracked and crusty you
would find relief in death’s embrace and a welcome ending it would be.” says
Eoffram.

“That’s a cheerful thought.” muses Bairdyn.

“That is why I where a hat.” says Bingus … “It keeps the sun
out of your eyes.”

Having packed plenty of water, the Brigade travels through
the desert for the first day and night without incident moving from one rock
formation to the next until on the second day of travel they spot a figure
emerging from a haze of wind-blown sand, the emaciated form of an elderly human
woman. She crawls toward you through the sand on hands and knees, tragically
sunburned and blistered beneath the hood of a ragged cloak. Seeing you she
calls out, voice raised against the wind: “Turn back! Nothing but death awaits
you in the heart of the desert!”

Dune Hag

"By what means did you come to be here?" asks
Bhenedict, not quite trusting his eyes.

"Turn away!" is all the woman answers.

"Might we offer you some food or water?" ask
Bingus.

Suddenly excited, the old woman struggles to rise and with a
wild look to eyes she says, "Water, you have water you say?"

Reaching into a bag Bingus withdraws his sturdy traveling
mug and carefully fills it with water then pausing he mutters a few magical
words, ending quickly with a flourish of gestures … as he finishes and
disembodied hand appears and grasps the mug and begins making its way to the
old woman floating over the burning sand. 

Following the hand the Brigade cautiously approaches the old
woman on the downside of the dune’s crest behind the floating mug. As they
approach Jimmy watches closely, not trusting the woman’s motivation … she
seeming much more interested in them than the life-giving water, watching her
the woman shimmers like heat haze realigning her in such a way that is replaced
by the standing form of a wizened hag, grinning with sharp needle-like teeth
barred in a hideous half-moon smile as she giggles horribly in a twisted
semblance of glee, as from nowhere, pain washes over the Brigade in waves of
woeful sound, whispers, the wailings of the lost souls, her victims, the
suffering dead prevented any final rest by the cruelty of the hag’s prior
feasting … the very substance of her unholy power.  

Watching the Brigade with cloudy, blind eyes the hag’s face
shifts to a deadpan stare, tight-lipped and cruel, then without warning her jaw
stretches grotesquely as she unleashes a ghastly screech, a thundering,
mind-ripping, ear piercing, unholy sound powerful enough to kill cuts like a
knife through the approaching heroes ending in a deafening howl of such
irresistible force it hurls the closest of the Brigade backward over a dozen
paces even as the hag vanishes in a cloud of sand and the crack of a whip.
   

While on the opposite side of the crest on either side of
the hag sand erupts as suddenly a pair of bestial humanoid forms rise from the
ground, sand spilling through their mottled fur as they leap at the brigade wielding
razor-sharp short swords, snarling as they attack.

Shifter Attack

Moving quickly to form a defensive line Bhenedict finds
himself sinking to his shoulders in the soft sand at the base of the dune.
Finding himself trapped by the sand, a third, massive man-beast emerges from
the sand at a full run, leaping the valley of soft sand, over Bhenedict landing
on the opposite side it attacks biting savagely at the trapped dwarf.

Even as he moves to help Bhenedict, Jimmy finds himself
suddenly surrounded by the other two shifters who slash at the young cleric
with their swords. Adjusting Jimmy too finds himself sinking into the sands.

Concerned for his friends Eoffram finds that he is even more
worried about the hag as he cranes his neck while backing to a high point on the
dune searching for the vanished hag spying her some distance away on the
far-side of the dune she once occupied. While Eoffram searches, Bairdyn, Bingus
and Noe move to help the Bhenedict and Jimmy, Noe flanked by a white spirit
panther which moves easily over the sand.

The battle rages like a dust devil in the desert, neither
side giving quarter … Noe aiding Bhenedict with his panther and Jimmy aided
by Bingus while Bairdyn keeps busy running between the two fights striking with
advantage whenever possible.


As the others busy themselves with the shifters Eoffram
stalks the hag through the dunes eventually striking her down with a plethora
of eldritch calamities from distance as the others finish off the shifters. In
the end none of the desert patrol has survived and the Brigade is battered yet
whole, their injuries are quick work for Jimmy’s healing prays all save the
bite received from the largest man-beast, the one that had bit Bhenedict … that
wound burned and resisted healing, angering and frustrating Bhenedict.

Victorian golden griffin brooch pendantMace RockSearching the fallen Eoffram found a golden griffon brooch
upon the hag, while Bairdyn relieves the fallen werewolf of 250 pieces of gold.
Jimmy found a pair of healing potions upon the other dead shifters.

After the briefist of rests the Brigade set back upon their
path spying the last of the landmarks they expected before the final push to
the forgotten outpost. The landmark, known as ‘Mace Rock’ was a sure sign that
their goal was near.

 

Resting
one night, the following morning they saw it, deep in the desert, three days
south of Dunesend while following a rocky track the Brigade sees an isolated
outcropping of basalt marking the location of a defensible fortress set within
the rock of the basalt bluff.

Atop the basalt bastion, a gatehouse is plainly visible, no
doubt giving anyone within a clear view of the desert for leagues beyond. As
the track curves around to the south side, they see two guard towers of hewn
stone set into the face of the bluff. Narrow gouges that might be arrow slits
flank a narrow track leading directly into the rock. Though worn by long years
of sand and wind, the towers are clearly of dwarven construction, standing as
strong as the day they were built.


Abandoned Dwarven Mines

 A long darkened entry tunnel the corridor extends
inward between rows of arrow slits. At the far end, a massive stone gate banded
with iron stands closed. Halfway along the corridor, a rusty portcullis blocks
further movement. Windblown sand has come to rest within the corridor covering
the floor and also marking recent footprints and signs of a heavy object being
dragged.

Dark figures loom beyond the closest of the arrow slits and
foul odors waif from deep within the tunnel an unhealthy sickening stench.

Pulling forth a magical light Bingus shines it towards the
slits and reveals that the twisting figures are crudely made straw dummies, dressed
in old dwarven helms and with ancient polearms lashed to them with rope.

In the shadows of the corridor’s ceiling Jimmy sees a
concealed deep grove ten step before the stone door. Asking Bingus to shine the
light towards the groove he makes out spikes within the groove, a second
portcullis there, ready to be dropped.

Moving cautiously, quietly the Brigade moves within the
tunnel to make their way to the first portcullis. Bhenedict bends down gripping
the bars of the gate firmly and lifts with all his might yet find the gate
unyielding until he is ably assisted by Noe and Bairdyn lifting the gate as
high as his stout frame can Bhenedict strains holding it until all the other
have passed before he lets the gate fall trapping the Brigade between the
portcullis and the stone door even as Bairdyn checks out the stone door finding
it secured from the other side. 

Moving quickly Bhenedict yells to the other to get out of his
way and he looks upward spying murder-holes in the ceiling … as he rushes the
stone door with all the speed and power his sturdy legs can muster. Even as he
hits the door shield first, the second portcullis falls suddenly and the board
barring the door cracks and the Brigade rushes for the door but in the mad rush
Jimmy is trapped behind the fallen portcullis beneath the murder-holes while
Bhenedict finds himself within the complex his way blocked by a fearsome,
stinking troglodyte.


  Troglodytes

In the moments that follow a vicious battle breaks, neither
side speaking or giving quarter; the interior of the gatehouse guarded by
seven troglodytes, including impalers, maulers and a curse chanter.

The impalers busy themselves trying to kill Jimmy through
the murder-holes set in the floor on the second level of the gatehouse supported
by the curse chanter until the chanter is distracted when Bingus summons a fire
warrior giving Jimmy respite to heal himself while Bingus with a certain
advantage engages the troglodyte spell caster in a magical free-for-all. The
larger maulers battle Bhenedict, Eoffram, Noe and Bairdyn but find themselves
outnumbered and eventually overpowered by Brindol’s Brigade. The pace of the
battle is slowed by the monster’s overwhelming stench.

Outside trapped behind the portcullis Jimmy darts and dives
throwing his body tightly into corners trying to make a difficult target of
himself dodging volley after volley of javelins … wishing he could join the
others; vengeful, violent thoughts racing through his mind helpless to find
expression, realizing in this very moment that he is not meant to stay back, he
being no cleric of the home.

“No! These are times of war, when men must be counted and
their measure be taken, and who better to lead than me. The Brigade needs me,
Brindol need me. I must be who I need be.” Jimmy thinks aloud. “I should be
there now, leading … Lords tell me who I need to be, lead me … give me a sign!”

Canary (Serinus canaria)As if in answer, a beautifully colored canary
comes flying from the interior of the gatehouse through the portcullis joining
Jimmy in his small prison. Chirping a song the bird dances in the air encouraging
Jimmy to fight on, giving him hope and keeping company until finally,
time-forgotten the portcullis rises seemingly of its own accord.

In truth within the gatehouse, Bhenedict had made his way to
the second floor of the overlook where he located the winch which controlled
the portcullis which had barred Jimmy’s way.

Seeing the way open the canary chirps with excitement and
darts back within the gatehouse as Jimmy notes the attacks had indeed ceased and
confused he staggers forward reborn into what he senses to finally be his true
destiny.

 


SOW Chapter4: Into The Wastes, Part 3

Into The Wastes, Part 3

The truth is revealed

Trackless desert marks their way

Death is in the air

Into the Wastes (continued)

Jimmy took a second to catch his breath. He considered for a moment his chances and what prayers he had remaining. Then he spoke, "Creature, I do not lie to you now. Allow me to see to the healing of my companions and I will then gladly trade my life for that of the the fellow in side of you."

Eyeing Jimmy clearly trying to determine if the behir could trust him it nodded and started to regurgitate the gnome.

Asa looked over at Jimmy and called out, "I’ll see to Bhenedict and myself. You take care of Eoffram and Bingus." and so saying the spirit flew out of the behir’s mouth and transformed into a white panther and licked the dwarf causing his wounds to heal.

Jimmy rushed over to Bingus who was not breathing and was badly burned by acid. He laid healing hands on the lifeless form and prayed as he never had before to Berronar. As first he thought his efforts were in vain, but then a spark of life returned to Bingus and he began to breathe again.

Looking to Eoffram he saw that his wounds were not as bad as he had initially thought and after Eoffram caught his breath he was only sligthly scratched.

The fight between the dwarf and the shifters had turned back in the party’s favor as Jimmy saw the healing spirit that he thought had been dispelled healing Bhenedict and Asa as they delivered finishing blows to the shifters that caused them to fall or flee.

Jimmy looked at the behir and considered taking his chances now that the party was again off the ropes. But he had given his word and as a servant ot Berronar he was expected to keep it. He approached the creature and spoke, "Very well creature, I stand before you ready to give you my life." And so saying he placed his spear on the ground at the creature’s feet.

The behir hissed again, "I wasn’t sure I could trust you, but I see that you are not full of lies. The Warden spoke lies to me as well. He promised to release my children but never did. You are a fine two leg." And so saying, she swallowed Jimmy in a single gulp. Just before he did so, Jimmy caught out of the corner of his eye sight of the woman he had seen before. She was talking with Bairdyn who looked uninjured and he realized that her small size was not a trick of the distance, but rather that she was short, not much taller than Bairdyn.

As the darkness of the creature’s gullet enveloped him, he splashed into the acidic stomach and then oddly felt a cool breeze.

He sat up drenched in sweat and realized that he had had a nightmare. They were all still in the dwarven tower in the down of Dunesend.

Asa was on watch and as Jimmy sat up he came over to the shaken priest. He was carrying the spear that Jimmy had seen in his dream.

Asa spoke, "The spirits have returned you from your journey. It is good. The earth mother, she is kind to those who respect her ways."

Jimmy was a bit confused, "’journey’…’earth mother’… what are you talking about?"

Noe of the Cliff-PeopleAsa continued, "As I was keeping watch, Great Bear came to me and told me to wake up. I asked her, ‘Why, it is still winter?’ She said to me that an astral flame was flickering and needed tending. So I woke up. Once awake, Grandma Spider, spoke to me and I saw that you were wrapped in her protective embrace but it looked as if you might suffocate so I asked her to loosen her webs. She said, ‘It is not my web but his own that has become tangled. Should he find his way, I leave a thread for him.’ I thanked her for her kindness and wisdom and spoke to the spirits in the tower. They spoke of their longing to return to their homes, to have the mines be under the hand of dwarves again. I told them we would help them. And now you are returned from your spirit walk and have returned with a gift."

"A gift?"

"Wisdom and a thread."

"I’m still not sure I understand…"

Asa looked over as if someone was talking to him from the wall of the tower, "They say you will understand in time, but that you should rest. Grandma Spider told the spirits here that we were destined for great things, slayers of wyrms, leaders of armies, that we would bring honor back to the dwarven people…unless we break the threads that bind us to the world. Go back to sleep, we will talk more as we travel. I will ask Soul Serpent to sooth your dreams. Sleep."

 


SOW Chapter4: Into The Wastes, Part 2

Into The Wastes, Part 2

The truth is revealed

Trackless desert marks their way

Death is in the air

Into the Wastes (continued)Behir returns

 

Suddenly and without warning the behir that the party had encountered but a day before burst out from under the ground. It let loose its shocking blast dazing all participants in the battle, both shifters and the party. While everyone was still reeling, the creature snapped Bingus into his jaws and quickly swallowed the dainty morsel.

Whether it was the blast from the creature or perhaps simply a moment of indecision, Jimmy suddenly lost control of the healing spirit and it faded back to the astral realms. Confused, he looked about to see what might have dispelled the spirit; and, again, but for a brief moment, he saw the female in the dunes. She was quickly obscured from sight as the combatants resumed their battle and began to kick up clouds of sand and dust.

Asa was about to leap into the behir’s jaws desperate to recover his lord before the gnome was dissolved into a puddle of static slime. However, he glanced around the creature as if he had seen something. Then in a fit of crazed idiocy, he stood as if dazed mumbling to himself and began to put his daggers into his sack and pulled out a spear. After a moment he spoke in Elvish, "By the Great Bear, what is going on here? Earth Mother aid me, " as he said this a spirit appeared in the air and immediately dived into the behir’s gullet, "protect the fey one." Having done so it appeared that he was about to go to aid the dwarf and halfling. The behir on the other hand seemed about to pounce upon Asa, who seemed to be ignoring the lizard, whether because of his spirit that was not inside the great beast or some other reason was not clear.

Eoffram called out, "Friends, we must retreat, this fight is untenable!"

Jimmy thought to himself that that was good advice, but he called out, "But what about Bingus and…what’s his name now…Asa?"

Eoffram blasted one of the shifters with his dire radiance hoping to prevent the creature from advancing now that Asa and Bingus were not providing interference, "I…I’m not sure, perhaps they can escape and join us…" As he watched, the shifter’s wounds closed and it began to approach the warlock even through the slight pain that it was suffering for doing so. It was slowed but clearly not dissuaded.

Jimmy moved to assist the retreating warlock, but as he did so he noticed that both Bairdyn and Bhenedict seemed to be receiving the worst of the attack from the remaining shifters. The lead shifter continued its relentless attack on the dwarf almost completely ignoring the halfling’s attacks. It would receive a cut occasionally noticeable, but usually minor and in moments it would heal from the wound. Worse one of the shifters that had been attacking Asa now was moving to flank Bairdyn.

Jimmy called out, "Bairdyn, watch out, another beast approaches to surround you."

He called back, "Thanks for the warning. I fear, however, that I am running out of options, energy, and healing potions. We need some healing over here!"

Jimmy couldn’t tell for sure but it looked as if they too had had to strain to defend themselves reopening the wounds the Jimmy had so recently closed. He saw three potion bottles at their feet and the dwarf was drinking his last one as the two tried to back up in the direction of Jimmy and Eoffram.

Jimmy called out, "Bairdyn, there is a woman in the dunes that I think must be controlling the behir and perhaps these others. She appeared and my healing spirit disappeared. If you can get to her we might be able to make them break off."

Eoffram also called out recalling the discussion they had had earlier regarding the intelligence of the behir, "Great beast, we mean you no harm. You know that we are capable of causing you pain and we don’t want to do so again. What is it that you want?"

Bairdyn began to disengage from the shifter and moved into the dunes where Jimmy pointed, in the direction that he had seen the woman.

The great lizard licked its chops and hissed, "You lie. You do mean me harm and would probably even enjoy my suffering. You lie. You are of no worry to me. You are almost dead. You lie. You do not want to know what I want. Lay down your weapons and implements and I will be merciful to you, is that what you wanted to hear?" Sparks of lightning flicked off of its teeth and tongue as it lowered its head and glared at Jimmy and Eoffram.

Shocked at the creature’s answer Eoffram looked to Jimmy and whispered, "I don’t think we can trust it. I’m not thinking we should lay down our weapons. Do you?"

Jimmy looked over at the dwarf, bravely battling the two shifters that had surrounded him. He was clearly fighting a loosing battle, but he was struggling to hold the creatures where they were as long as he could so they could not approach Jimmy and Eoffram.

The shifter that had been advancing on Eoffram had disappeared in the confusion and was no where to be seen at the moment.

 


SOW Chapter4: Into The Wastes, Part 1

Into The Wastes

The truth is revealed

Trackless desert marks their way

Death is in the air

Into the WastesMace Rock

 

All in agreement, the party set out immediately after breaking their fast. The first day’s travel was uneventful. At one point Jimmy thought that he saw tracks that might have been from the behir, but with the desert wind obscuring them they could not be sure. They encountered the first rock outcropping, mace rock, that marked their way and so knew that they were headed in the correct direction.

 

Similarly, through the first night, though they started at the unfamiliar sounds of the desert, the party was able to rest through the night. However, whether it was the dry, bitter cold of the evening that came so quickly after the heat of the day or perhaps the uncomfortable dreams the reminded them of their previous brush with death, all were grumpy and sullen during the second day’s travel.

White PillarsDuring the second day, the party was briefly trailed by some sort of dune cat, but when Bairdyn snuck off to see if he could get closer to it, it scurried off into the wastes. Half way through the day they encountered the second trailmarker, the pillars of sand.

As they paused to take their lunch, Jimmy thought that he heard something approaching from one of the dunes they had just passed over. Quickly the party assumed a defensive ring as whatever it was make closer. It was making a sound the reminded the party of the fire creatures that they had encountered in Umbraforge.Dune Cat

 

Suddenly, from the side opposite where the sounds came from a dune cat burst out from under the sand where it had apparently been burrowing. It quickly pounced on Eoffram who while prepared for combat was not expecting to be lept upon by a huge sandy cat. As it knocked him over it dug its claws into his flesh but only just barely scratching the skin, the brunt of the creature’s claws being stopped by his armor.

Shifter AttackAt the same time another cat, though this one clearly more of a hybrid between cat and man, burst from another dune and charged Bhenedict. The creature grappled with the dwarf and both went rolling in a cloud of dust.

From the dust appeared another pair of what they party now realized were shifters. Asa stepped between them as they tried to approach Jimmy and Bingus. Bingus tried putting them to sleep, but they shrugged off the sopophoric magics as if they were nothing. The creatures ripped into Asa and Jimmy was hard pressed to keep their attacks from felling the sorcerer.

The fight raged on for what seemed like hours to Jimmy as he ran from one side of the encampment to the other side trying to bolster his comrades, encouraging and healing and striking where he could. The creature that was fighting Bhenedict was clearly the leader of the pack and within moments both it and Bhenedict began to vascilate between realing bloodied and causing the other to fall back bleeding. It seemed they were at a stalemate.

Bairdyn tried to maneuver into a position where he could attack the creature with advantage, but it took a swipe at him every time he came close causing him to approach cautiously. Thinking he saw an opening he moved in closer only to find himself falling into an unseen sinkhole that the creature had apparently left in its wake. The fall dazed him a moment or two and when he stood he winced with pain; he had either sprained or broken his ankle in the fall. As he climbed out of he thought he felt the ground tremble, but couldn’t straining his senses he realized that it was just the difficulty of trying to climb the shifting sands that was making his mind play tricks on him.

Eoffram had teleported out from under the attack of the shifter that had attacked him, but when he tried to stand, the creature somehow dogged his path and immediately knocked him from his feet again. Calling out for assistance, Bingus used his magics to cause the creature to float into the air, giving Eoffram the time he need to recover and beat a hasty retreat. Jimmy came running to lay his healing hands upon the bloodied stump of Eoffram’s hand where the creature had been gnawing. The godly energies suffused the ruined appendage and returned it to a functioning hand.mysterious woman

 

The party was bloodied and was quickly becoming exhausted with the brutality of the fight, if the tide didn’t change quickly they were in danger of tipping the turning point and entering into the domain of the Raven Queen. But Jimmy called out for his healing spirit and as it appeared the party thought that their luck was about to change. As the spirit appeared however, Jimmy thought that he saw a shape in the far dunes that had not been there before. In the heat of battle it was hard to tell, but it appeared to be a woman, dressed in desert robes. She seemed to be watching Jimmy, at least that was what he thought as he caught sight of her in the periphery of his vision. His attention was quickly and violently jerked back to the battle however, as the rumbling that Bairdyn had heard earlier was not his imagination…