Basically Fantastic, Session 22: The Ice Cage

Valdis, Annonciade, Søren and his henchman Kurzol, Kestrel, and Calendel shivered in the darkness illuminated only by light-enchanted arrowheads, in the company of disoriented and confused body doubles for Tolfree and Jannara. Soren communed with his owl to try and get a sense of whether these specters were even real; indeed, they were flesh and blood humans. But they were unscarred and unbent by time or habit, new somehow. Sloppy overlapping glyph burns were invisible to the eye, but deeply marked the fugitives.

The Pit

The adventurers convinced their fugitive guides to take them to “the pit” that repelled them. Reluctantly, they traveled through the darkness until they reached a shaft down into the earth, surrounded by a balcony that sloped down towards it, with a pulpit on a protrusion to stand over the darkness. The walls seemed to be shaped by rapid ritual work, as the tunnels had been. Glyphs glowed with a violet light that hurt the head, curling down the sides of the shaft in a double-helix pattern. Some corrosive force rendered the walls flaky and filled the air with a haze of dust that was probably toxic.

Dropping a glowing arrow down the shaft, they determined it was about 50 feet deep–and they had just enough rope to manage the descent. Kestrel also heard the doubles make an offhand comment that at least the screaming stopped for now.

Annonciade used her magical bracelet to spider climb down the walls, careful not to slip on the loose stone of the shaft walls. Kestrel climbed down the rope. The others remained on their guard above. The Tolfree and Jannara doubles suffered from some random bleeding from the eyes and nose, dazed and in pain so close to the shaft.

The low-ceiling cavern at the bottom of the shaft was filled with a mound of dust, and drifts of dust and ash. Calling out to see if the shifter was present, Annonciade saw the dust move as though something was beneath it. A general path was indicated, and she led Kestrel along it until they reached a break in the wall of the cavern leading to a lower area where pillars of shaped stone rose out of black water. The invisible and shapeless guide seemed to slosh an indication of a path in the water. Reluctantly, the two adventurers followed into the knee-deep liquid, wading into the unknown.

Ambush of Bones

At the top of the shaft, the adventurers stood watch. They heard something skittering in the darkness from several entrances, so they were ready with a rolling wave of bones formed into a horrific mass rushed them. Calendel leaped down the rope with Soren at his heels while their guides ran screaming. Valdis and Kurzol withstood the rush of bone, and Valdis managed to batter it apart enough to crush its meaty center with the Rod of the Crescent Moon. Valdis and Kurzol headed down the rope with the others before they attracted more site guardians. Once they reached the bottom, they followed the tracks of the rest of the party.

Communion

Annonciade and Kestrel reached a gummy wall with many fist-sized holes where something forced its way through a weak spot. A mass of flesh-like material pushed through to form a torso-sized face modeled loosely on Annonciade’s features, but it could not manage to speak. It beckoned, and Annonciade approached and touched it, pulled into contact with its mind.

The shapelessness extended past the flesh into the mind, so Annonciade spoke to a flawed mirror. The thing explained it was the part that could still reason, so if it was talking to her they should hurry, as the other part was “unsupervised.”

Apparently the shifter had forced a passage connecting to the ocean. It could not escape, but it could draw in water and power from the ocean so it swelled and pressed hard at the bars of its cage. Speaking quickly, it asked Annonciade to find the “golden spike” that the Templar had, for if the shifter got that it could free itself.

The Screaming

The cavern started screaming. Mouths formed on the stone, and some substance roiled the water as it moved. Kestrel was debating what to do when Annonciade was released from the communion; they decided to retreat. However, without the guiding ripples, the way out was not clear in the shallow black water. They plunged on, feeling increasingly desperate.

Meanwhile the other adventurers ventured into the black water, calling for their allies, their shouts drowned out by the screaming walls. Soren bolstered the magical light, and it caught the eye of the others, who sloshed towards them.

As the stone formed reaching hands and screaming faces that pressed out (sometimes melding into the stone columns) a fleshy mass rushed them. Soren’s magic tore it down, spraying them with the horrible interior fluids and gobbets of shifterflesh. Retreating as quickly as they could, they reached the chamber of ashes and dust.

The powdery stuff was forming into the suggestion of helms and shields and armor. Weapons made of bones raised through the drifts. Templar shapes were forming to stand against the incoming walls of flesh; a shapeless defense taking form to contain a shapeless prisoner taking form to escape.

As the adventurers climbed out of the shaft and fled, they realized that an inexorable wall of shifterflesh would build below, drawing on the full-moon energy of the ocean. It pushed out of its prison, extruding through the powdery defense chamber, pressing up past the glyph prison of the shaft, through the maze, to the Moon Gate. And whatever could make it past that was separated from the source, dazed, burned, harried, and tortured. The shapes the flesh took on were echoes of the dead Templar who were likely interred in the dust trap chamber, the shape sealed in place by the prison glyphs in the shaft. Their minds were disconnected and wiped by the trauma.

The forms for the escapees included Tolfree, Gennara, and Chet, as well as one other they did not recognize. As the adventurers ran, they passed a slick of blood and slicing sounds in the shadows; the fugitives had likely been caught by bone guardians, their skeletons harvested for limbs. The adventurers did not investigate.

Through the Moon Gate, they finally felt they could catch their breath.

Sniper Ambush

Weary and distressed, the adventurers discussed their next move. The afternoon was waning, and tonight would be the final night of the full moon. The agitation and high tide would likely combine to send a rush of shifterflesh through the defenses, so snipers would likely occupy the perch the adventurers found on the way in. They resolved to ambush the snipers to find out more.

They followed the path to the sniper ledge, intending to set up an ambush. They were not yet in position when the snipers strolled along the path; moving fast, the adventurers got out of sight, except for the owl. One of the snipers spotted the owl, so the surprise was not complete as the adventurers pounced.

Five of the six snipers were downed in seconds, the survivor pinned down so he could not flee before Soren cast a spell on him to adjust his perspective to friendship. Soren led him away to answer some questions as the fighters undertook the vicious work of making sure the fallen were dead, stripping their corpses, and tossing them off the cliff.

Snipers

The adventurers were dismayed to find that the survivor was only 16. Of the slain, only one appeared to be older than a teen, and he was in his twenties. The sniper explained to Soren that the Order of Plenty tithed orphan and refugee children, raising them in their clerical tradition to battle the dead. The sniper and his cohort had won contests and competitions, they were bright and promising, and they had been sent on this detail as a test. They had to demonstrate the strength and resolve to kill people.

Feeling disgust, pity, and rage in various degrees, the adventurers waited in the sniper perch with their new friend. He sang hymns to pass the time and strengthen his resolve.

A Rush of Flesh

Around midnight, when the moon was at its peak, the vague screams and thuds from beyond the Moon Gate resolved to a couple dozen escapees staggering into the night sobbing and hysterical. The sniper mastered himself enough to shoot some of them, retching afterwards. The adventurers also fired into the mass, dropping the blood-slicked shifterforms with the cleric bows.

Towards the end of the long night, Calendel approached one and pulled the arrow out, allowing the prisoner to escape. It was one templated off of a form that the adventurers did not recognize.

Return to the Tower

After a rough night, they slept, then had a modest breakfast with their sniper friend. He was to return to the tower when the rush was complete. They decided to go with him. There were a series of towers on a road that eventually led back to the Fallows Overlook. The first tower was likely to have only a skeleton crew. Also, there was a sally port they could use to enter unobserved if they wished.

Simmering with anger at the various secrets and practices of the Order of Plenty and their Templar progenitors, the adventurers accompanied their bewitched dupe towards the church soldiers entrusted with guarding the Ice Cage.

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Basically Fantastic, Session 21: Sandalprint

Valdis, Annonciade, Søren and his henchman Kurzol, Kestrel, and Calendel overnighted in Port Dive Bar before heading to Sandalprint. Annonciade agreed to let Chet borrow her Thesmalian History Book of Power; he wanted to read up on some things. He returned it, somewhat bemused, before they left.

Sandalprint

They arrived late afternoon. The port was a depression snugged against the mountain, as though a ridge of sand was trodden by a sandal. They saw crews of two ships playing tug-of-war, the losing crew paying for drinks for the winners; this sort of civilized struggle characterized the city, overbuilt with stone and statuary of grim-faced saints and reapers. They found their way to “The Stadium” public house, with statues in alcoves all around it and a fighting ring in the center.

Calendel cozied up to the elven bartender, Cirrus, and asked after guides to get at a location in the mountains besides the Fallows Overlook (home of the Order of Plenty.) The roads were watched, and miscreants observed, so Cirrus attempted to locate some help for them. He did send a drunk over to their table, but that wasn’t the kind of help they were after.

Most of the adventurers turned in for the night after doing some peoplewatching in the public house common room. They saw some vicious bugbears drinking and skulking. (The term is “a slope of bugbears.”) Valdis honed her carousing game, taking on crowds of hopefuls in the fighting ring and winning some coin.

Calendel ghosted about the darkened streets through the shadows, flanked by his shadow scouting for him. He glimpsed a shadowy reaper figure in an alleyway, and it moved on. It had echoes of a Silamosan vibe, but it was all wrong. He also discovered a camp of traveling people built around a gap in the wall out of the town, and in the shadows there he discovered some crude enchantment traps to injure shadow creatures (while harmless to those who stay in their bodies.) Perhaps they were there to ward off the shadowy thing haunting the alleyways.

Into the Mountains

The next day the adventurers discussed next moves and decided to head up the mountain slopes in search of the Ice Cage. They passed through the traveling people camp, imposing with their weapons and numbers. As they headed out of town, they passed through bugbear territory and were stalked, but Calendel shot one, and they backed off without springing an ambush.

They found the remains of a once-maintained stone road that had been pulled up for its paving stones to make houses in the bugbear settlement (and probably other settlements.) Following the remains of the road, they saw that a massive battle had occurred on the road at least decades ago (and more likely centuries.) The bodies and armor had not been recovered, but were rusting while intertwined with the roots of the trees and brush on the way. The scars of powerful magic remained.

After an uneasy camp overnight, they continued their journey until they reached an impassible chasm and the stumps of where a bridge once spanned it.

Crossing the Void

Gansel the Pterawizard rejoined them, having kept an eye on them from a distance to assure they did not get into trouble without the Captain Bron getting fair warning. They consulted with him on the chasm, and he told them they probably didn’t want to cross; he knew a little of the history.

The Templar and their allies needed to isolate Lunestra to slay her, and she responded to their trap along this very road. The Templar did not want to face her allies, so they needed to isolate her, and the road battle was intended to cut off her reinforcements without allowing her to retreat. The Templar had Lunestra’s shape-shifting lover, and tortured it so she could feel its pain; it likely survived the end of the battle, insane and trapped in the guts of the mountain. Why investigate something so horrible?

Setting aside his reservations, Gansel allowed the adventurers to persuade him to help them get across. They joined hands and he chanted a ritual to make them all buoyant, then he turned into a pterodactyl and towed them across the chasm. He withdrew afterwards, intimidated by the place they wanted to visit.

The Sniper Nest

The adventurers proceeded along the road with caution. They found a narrow pass, smeared with fairly fresh blood; a stone shelf above was a sniper perch with an organized and tidy camp site and chests for supplies and such. They followed the blood trail to a cliff. The wizard’s owl scouted the bodies and brought back images.

Tumbled broken corpses at the bottom of the cliff were naked, and there were a dozen or so–on a mound of corpses and bones. Hundreds, at least, were disposed of here. More shocking was the face of a corpse; it was Tolfree! Another resembled Chet! Also Gennara! That was not possible, but the features bore an uncanny resemblance.

The Moon Gate

Continuing on up the road, the adventurers found a massive gate. It was etched and fitted with supernatural metals, traced with odd patterns. It was a dimensional moon gate, its layers of reality shifting with the phases of the moon, impossible to batter through physically.

Using Soren’s owl, they identified the current way through, and squeezed past. Beyond there was a rough tunnel into the mountain, formed by mighty and careless magic. Pressing on, they encountered Tolfree–or someone who looked just like him. Naked, out of his mind, and unsteady, the man spoke an accented and older dialect of Metrian. He was trying to find his way out, away from the Pit.

They took him along, and deeper in found a naked woman who looked just like Gennara. She too suffered from confusion and memory loss, vaguely remembering that she once served in the shadow of the moon–and that she died…

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Basically Fantastic, Session 20: The Haven

Valdis, Annonciade, Søren and his henchman Kurzol, Kestrel, and Calendel were aboard the Wave Wolf, at risk of becalming in a strange and unseasonal fog that Kestrel foresaw in dreams as a bad, bad thing. Valdis was alarmed by the lighthouse and singing, straight from a spooky story from her youth.

Leeman, a superstitious pirate, blamed Kestrel for their misfortune and suggested their best course was to throw him overboard. The fog wants the dreamer, hand him over! He got some support among the crew, and Valdis and Kestrel were well prepared to deal with the threat, evaluating the entire crew for shark chum; the mass grave of the ocean was plenty big enough for everyone, and no tiresome digging was required.

Annonciade insisted they turn right around and get out as fast as they could. There was some damage to the Thesmaelian Barrier here that could unravel and worsen in time, but it was not up to them to fix the world’s problems.

The adventurers found the captain and crew easy to convince, as Calendel appealed to their experience so far. The adventurers were lucky for the crew, and led them to wealth; why put that at risk? The pirates they coaxed some movement from wind power. After a tense hour or so, they were clear of the fog.

Port Dive Bar

The Wave Wolf arrived in the Crag’s List Isles, and navigated to the Isle of Sarban. Rather than going straight to Sandalprint, the port governed by the Frost Court, they tacked north and weighed anchor off the coast by Port Dive Bar. They sailed in past diving platforms hosting parties, and when they came ashore they were welcomed by the dock master, mayor, and all-around official for the city: Chet. They paid a “docking fees” bribe for him to ignore any paperwork or inspection, and he invited them to the beach party already in progress.

Calendel and Annonciade found shady spots out of the direct sunlight and waited until sunset. Valdis enjoyed the surf and made friends with an islander who had a mantis ray companion trained to be a living bodyboard. Chet shared one of his umbrella hats with Søren. One of the burly locals had a sling bag of a local fruit, cocomangos, and he shared drinks in the husks for free. A stonepig barbecue was in progress–a drumstick for everyone! Generally the locals were really friendly and relaxed.

Chet did make an offhand comment that he looked forward to everyone getting along, it would be a shame to have to kill them all. The locals invited the adventurers to netfish and chill.

The Stranger on the Beach

One of the pirates got disgruntled by competition from another crew member over a woman, and the drink server (named Cocomango, after his favorite fruity beverage) stepped in to calm things down–the pirate stabbed him. Kestrel wasn’t having that, and murdered the pirate with a couple surprise stabs, challenging anyone else to misbehave and screw up the nice party.

Captain Brun figured the pirate had it coming, most of them shrugged, but Kestrel’s enemies glowered. Kestrel used his healing skills on Cocomango, his new friend, while Valdis glowered at the troublesome pirates who still weren’t on board with the adventurers. Leeman mouthed off, and she gripped his shoulder to bruise it, intimidating him. Søren casually followed up by putting a spell on Leeman so he would be a friend to Valdis, eager to please her.

Maybe Things are Weird Here

Understanding that this idyllic beach was too good to be true, the adventurers tested the waters. Søren asked about local dangers, discovering that big sea monsters were in “the blue water” further out from shore, there were flying fish big enough to decapitate sailors as they leaped over ship rails (usually escaping a surfacing monster below), and there were some local adventure opportunities. A nearby cave was full of what the locals described as “medusa statues” but there was no monster still there. Also, a local geode cave was sparkly and a holy site for the Funereals, an undead slaying faction called the Order of Plenty, that came out for week-long spiritual retreats sometimes.

The Funereals paid in part with enchanted stones that generated cold or heat. The cold stones were currently in the floor of the magical cocomango hut, and Cocomango carried one in his sling bag to keep the fruits cold. He happily showed them to Kestrel.

Apparently the mayor, Chet, was ageless (or at least super old.) One of the locals explained that Chet had been in love with his grandmother, and since the local man’s daughter looked so much like her, maybe Chet would have a romance with her when she was old enough. Wouldn’t that be fun?

Exploring

Annonciade shifted around the settlement, scouting. She noted that there were only temporary structures on and around the beach, and pathways led back about a half mile to a stone structure that connected to underground passages.

As the sun sank towards the sea, Annonciade and Calendel withdrew quietly from the festivities and headed into the stone building. She bore a Mark that made noticing her a challenge, and Calendel drew from his shadow powers to evade detection. The entry to the stone building had a long corridor, and several dog-sized rats were secured in the corridor to discourage local pests from intruding. The adventurers carefully slipped past them.

A large interior chamber was designed as an audience hall, complete with stairs to a raised podium. The chamber was outfitted with makeshift and ramshackle beds and furniture, mostly salvaged from ships; this was the central living area of the locals. Most of the multi-level exits were barricaded; not to prevent thieves or escape, but more like robust “baby gates” to keep people from straying out of the living area.

They followed a corridor, finding the better-furnished living quarters of local important people, and the treasure room for the locals. It was fitted with modest wealth, mostly for trading, including the pearls the divers harvested. They also found a dusty unused chamber with a still black pool. Investigating further, Annonciade’s mechanical background and knowledge of runes informed her that the old writing (likely Templar era, but not Templar marks) was about barriers. Adjusting the moveable stone of the rim would also raise a pillar to waist height, and an indentation was made for an amulet or something similar, probably to activate the pool to be a portal or communicator. Calendel prodded the bottom of the shallow pool; maybe it would open if activated.

The shadowy adventurers retreated to the main living chamber, and pried a gap in the barrier to go deeper into the underground complex.

The Death Knight

They found an alcove in the hallway with a skull inside. They touched it, and an apparition stepped closer to their reality, breathing cold into their space. The ghostly armored figure demanded to know if there was a threat to slay. They engaged in some chit-chat with the somber spirit, discovering that the death knight would slay anyone identified as a threat to the Haven and the Innocents. They affirmed that there was currently no threat, and the death knight faded back.

Continuing on, they found a dank stairwell down deeper into the earth, but they turned back when they encountered the first of the spiderwebs. A fancy decorated corridor led to stairs to a meeting room with closed stone shutters (presumably to the surface of the mountain). Beyond that they found a tomb chapel.

The Tomb of Thrones

The barrel vault ceiling lent the chamber a sense of width. Six stone sarcophagus blocks were on each side of the room. They had grooves on the lids so arms and a back could be added, turning each coffin into a throne. The far end of the room had a dais with a massive throne, and alcoves in the throne back carved into the wall had 12 skulls. Flanking the stone, supported with chains (but not restrained) there were two objects. On one side, a long two-handed black sword. On the other, a black staff with a crystal head. They appeared to be easy to take.

Annonciade studied over the ancient writing, discovering that this tomb was for leaders of the Blood Kings. She approached the throne and touched one of the skulls, waking the spirit within.

Saintslayers

The king formed on his throne tomb, pulling her closer to his resting place adjacent to reality so she could see and hear him, but Calendel could not. The resting king asked if the Innocents were threatened and it was at long last time; Annonciade told him the Innocents were not threatened. They had a chat.

The twelve Blood King rulers interred here each had the distinction of being Saintslayers. The powerful necromancers each managed to slay one of the iconic Saints that founded the clerical orders that succeeded the era of the Templar.

The conversation with the Saintslayer was difficult, as his information was centuries out of date and undeath was hard on lucidity anyway, plus he made references to things no longer commonly understood. Still, Annonciade got some general impressions.

Apparently there was a complicated truce between the Blood Kings and the Frost Court that didn’t please either side; a truce resulting from their cooperation, deploying the Saint Slayers in addition to the other various forces employed to kill an avatar. The Blood Kings did not have access to their former stronghold, which was this Haven, but the Frost Court didn’t either. The role of the Innocents was unclear from the conversation. The sword and staff were revealed to be genesis artifacts, and the Saintslayer encouraged them to take the objects out into the world. Candidates would be attracted to their power, but unless they had the necessary compatibility, death would find each until the weapons bonded with the one who could grow into their power and be the next avatar of Nuzagoth, the Lord of Death.

Annonciade let the Saintslayer go back to sleep, and in a brief consultation with Calendel, the adventurers decided to leave the weapons in the tomb.

Chet

The adventurers decided to return to the others and share what they learned. As they climbed out through the barricade into the common room, they found Chet waiting for them. He asked where they went; honest, they told him they found the death knight and also the Saintslayer tomb. He shrugged, clarifying that if they wanted to take the weapons from the tomb he was fine with that. He was evasive when questioned about his back story, mainly revealing that he was here looking after the Innocents–but their role remained unclear. The adventurers also discovered Chet had a death knight at his command, invisible and quiescent unless summoned.

The Ice Cage

Annonciade pressed Chet for more detail about the Ice Cage. He told them about the war the Templar waged on the godslaves, and the way they slew Lunestra. The avatar fell in love with a shapeshifter, for the moon and the sea had ever been interlocked. The Templar caught her shapeshifting lover and imprisoned it in a trap she could not ignore, tormenting it.

Only Lunestra could win through the defenses of the Ice Cage, and when she confronted her lover’s captors in the heart of the trap, they assaulted her with many various powers and warriors and weapons, including the Saintslayers. She was destroyed, and a certain balance was struck between the Frost Court and the Blood Kings.

Now You Know

Chet had no particular instructions or requests, he did not seem to prefer any outcomes to the current situation–just wanted an update. Wary, the adventurers withdrew back to the beach, where Kestrel had bedded down for the night alone under a boat, Valdis joined some new friends in a treehouse back from the beach, and the others were winding down.

The next morning, over a breakfast of fresh-caught fish, the adventurers caught each other up and considered what to do next. A number of mysteries remained.

The Order of Plenty and their Funereal undead slayers seemed awfully cozy with the Blood King necromancers, all things considered–their cooperation and war seem strangely intertwined. The terms “Innocent” and “Haven” seem to echo a prophecy, and that’s just uneasy when you combine Saintslayers (and add an avatar to the bodycount) but have such a casual site as Port Dive Bar. And what was Chet’s history and role here? Why would death knights be at his disposal? How great was the military power of this site really?

Maybe it was time to visit Sandalprint.

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Spider Dragon

Check out this charmer. When I talk about re-skinning monsters, this is the sort of critter that can result. My skill doesn’t distill down an image to the sort of nightmare fuel I can describe or imagine, but it will have to do.

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Basically Fantastic, Session 19: The Stonegods

Previously, Valdis slid down the side of the volcano when the rock shelf at the entrance to the Path of the Dead gave way. She slid down beyond recovery, even for someone as agile as Calendel or Kestrel. However, she managed to halt her descent on the lip of a chasm. Isolated, most of her equipment and weaponry (including the Blade of Tolfree) lost in the chasm, she considered her options.

Valdis’s shock lizard Ohmsa blasted, elsewhere on the slope, attracting the attention of a circling pterodactyl. Fortunately the flying dinosaur was Gansel, the pterawizard. He spotted Valdis and joined her on the ledge, casting a spell to render her levitating and weightless, then he towed her up to the entry to the Paths of the Dead. While he brewed tea, she attempted entry, but the dolmen entry was the exact image in her mind from the scary stories and folk art of the entry to the land of the dead from her people, and she sensed those she had slain waiting on the other side, ready for her. Struggling with her nerves, she joined the wizard for tea, and he asked her to watch over him as he slept.

Gathering the Party

The next morning, Annonciade, Soren (and Kurzol), Calendel, and Kestrel woke refreshed after the priests stood guard over them through the night. They traveled through the Paths of the Dead, leaving the Sacred Valley and the Zadabad Treasure Vault behind. They passed the Obsidian Guardian without incident, and startled Valdis as they exited the Paths. She was relieved to see them, but surprised to see that Gansel had moved along; at any rate, he was no longer there.

They returned to the dangerous gap where they had previously used rope to cross, and Kestrel light-footed across and restored the bridge. Kurzol struggled with his nerve through all this, getting by on promises of bonuses and rewards for service above and beyond what you’d expect of a henchman.

Crowbros

They followed the path back down to the shrine, and took the shrine gate through to the other shrine. Again, Ohmsa grew sleepy, and again, Zhadum vented excess cosmic energy into him. This time Ohmsa formed a bit of a crush on the hypnotoad, starting an irritating habit of foraging for tasty snacks and bits of brightly colored material as gifts for the disinterested creature. There were signs that the site had been casually clawed and marked by a giant cat-like creature, and Calendel decided on the spot that someday he would ride one. Calendel was also reunited with his very happy (and stuffed full of bugs) bat.

As the adventurers crossed the grassy stretch by the edge of the jungle, they were accosted by hunched little crow people in cloaks and hoods, some with goggles or armor bits. The crowbros considered attacking them, but were talked out of it. Calendel’s bat was hanging behind him, and it stretched, so he appeared to have upside-down leathern wings; that was exciting to the squat little squabblers. They received gifts of coins; they didn’t have a way to spend them, but liked that they were shiny. Taken with the adventurers, they agreed to escort them back to where the sailors were turning them from “alive” to “delicious” (which makes sense if you eat carrion. One of them got a hank of Calendel’s hair to chew, and that was thrilling; he took a great interest in the elf.

Crew of the Wave Wolf

It was after dark when they emerged from the jungle to the work site where the pirates were toiling around the clock to knock down trees, turn them into lumber, replenish the ship supplies, and prepare to leave. Captain Brun seemed happy enough to see them; he was genuinely surprised when Calendel returned his telescope. His previous experience with elves had not prepared him for one keeping a promise.

Annonciade and Kurzol helped out with the ship repairs and the adventurers and crew got some vigilant rest in before heading out to the Wave Wolf the next morning. They decided to visit one of the Stonegods, as per the original plan.

The Stonegod

They arrived in the afternoon, choosing one of the islands with a stone head fifteen feet or so tall to investigate. Annonciade sketched the giant stone head, Kestrel mounted it to gaze out from its high vantage point, Calendel studied its surface, and Soren meditated in its presence trying to identify the strange flavor of energy it exuded. As Valdis was looking at its massive face, it grated and creaked slightly, moving.

Startled, the adventures prepared for anything. The shiny obsidian eyes peeked out from under the rough stone lids, and the Stonegod spoke slowly. He was roused by the presence of “sparks” and he was vaguely surprised that he was not surrounded by a village or town, as was usually the case when he woke. The clever adventurers realized that “sparks” were gems; the Stonegod wanted to eat them for energy.

His name was Solon, and he had been trapped for a long time; something about a sea witch curse. He offered them a secret. Valdis fed him first, and Kestrel decided to gamble and offered up a mass of gems from their cache. Solon invited Kestrel to put his head on the Stonegod’s mouth, and he planted a Secret in his essence–an essence that deepened his ability to see signs, so that he would also be an oracle of sorts. This bolstered Kestrel’s daring, and embedded weird knowledge. Valdis was given a lesser secret; she experienced a prophecy in the Stonegod’s mouth, that the underwater lightning would lead her to what is not a tomb.

Their bargain complete, Solon shifted; apparently the stone head was connected to a lanky body over 70 foot long, and the Stonegod climbed up out of the imprisoning earth and waded out to sea.

The Stonegod Crater

The crater left behind was intriguing with otherdimensional shadows, and apparently some crystal material had built up around the quiescent Stonegod. Annonciade realized that the Stonegod was a Child of Mekk, a true ancient. Mekk was one of the primordial gods, who animated things by infusing them with energy. When Mekk was destroyed, the only way to bring life was through the power of Kamu, the god of blending, who would mix energy from things to create new things. The Children of Mekk began as life breathed into stone.

Therefore the crystals would be valuable to those who built constructs or other mekkanical devices that were powered by fiat rather than blending. Gansel joined them, drawn by the spectacle of the Stonegod wading away from the island. Kestrel climbed down, loading up with crystals, and Gansel empowered him to levitate out of the hole with the full load.

Calendel’s Dream

Fully within the shadow of the pit, Calendel had a moment; the world turned grayscale, he was alone, and a shifty white-haired fop stepped out of his shadow. He seemed to be speaking to a version of the shadow god Silamos, who was delighted with his work. Calendel’s shadow was sacrificed to Silamos, and he became a Silamosan Dancer. He gained the shadow borrowed from Annalise, the Oracle of Silamos.

Securing Passage to the Isle of Sarban

Their business with Kalmatta Isle concluded, they decided to investigate the treasure vault where Tolfree was freed from his undying prison. They would undertake the two week voyage to the Isle of Sarban.

To purchase the Wave Wolf’s services, they offered Captain Brun (and Gansel) a mass of the Stonegod crystal. The captain agreed. (Each adventurer kept a small piece as a souvenir.) They weighed anchor and departed, headed for the other end of the Gemlit Sea.

The Ice Cage

Annonciade shared her research from pirate lore and the Epochal History. They were headed for the Isle of Sarban, in the Crag’s List Isles. There they would arrive in Port Dive Bar, a sort of neutral and seedy place famous for pearl diving locals. Their next destination on the island could be Sandleprint, a port city where the Frost Court ruled. The Winter Duke was the head of the Frost Court, supported by the Pale Vizier, a cleric of the Order of Plenty in service of Saint Garisand, Patron of the Harvest. The Frost Court stood in opposition to the Blood Kings, necromancer pirates with massive barges full of Strongback corpse rowers and in command of a dark force known as Writhers.

The Pale Vizier would be a Funereal, the undead slayer clerics of the Order of Plenty. The Order was based out of a fortress built into the cliffs on the other side of the mountains, overlooking the sea but without a port. The Fallows Overlook was constructed with a secret task, according to the Epochal History; it was to protect the Ice Cage, deep in the mountains. Annonciade concluded that the Ice Cage matched the description of Tolfree’s prison. This lore and background was patchwork, and much of it was generations old, but the materials in Tolfree’s sketches and books matched with this location, and if it was indeed another vault (like the Lightning Vault and the Treasure Vault of Zadabad) they would discover secrets within that twined with the foundation of the world.

Voyage Into Fog

As the ship sailed day after day, Kestrel had a few troubling dreams about fog, and a terrible danger within. He was patiently assured that with the region and the weather, fog was not a thing; yes, they were sailing towards a temperate clime, but conditions were such that they need not worry about fog.

They found themselves in a fog bank. Consulting the Epochal History, Annonciade was concerned that it might be friction between one dimension rubbing against this one, and they should definitely sail clear.

Valdis felt oddly hypnotized by the sightless and substanceless mass, and found herself remembering a story from her youth about a lighthouse, and something singing in the lighthouse; ghosts, perhaps. Those who answered, who drank in the fog and song, were destroyed.

The first strains of singing drifted across the still waters.

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Dwarf pictures.

I don’t want to be unproductive, but my day fried me and I needed to do some emotional hygene instead of doubling down. Sometimes that’s how it goes. So, kick on some music and make a little art and defy anxiety.

My reach exceeds my grasp when it comes to art especially, but that is not ever going to result in me adjusting my ambition to match my skill level. These pictures want to be better than they are–but I think they get the idea across. Right now that’s what I’m driving towards in a lot of ways.

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Rescue on Silas Moon: Black Space Session 13.

422/6/10

Lynx was still out of range handling espionage, and O needed to detox his systems and do some additional research; while he was out of action, Darla sent Kojiro and Marvin to pick up Flavius and a couple squads of Strays for a job. They greeted each other warmly, but Flavius was worn down from struggling to handle the duties of leadership. His working relationship with Ulixes and Silea was smooth enough, and the Strays had established some success in their operations. Traveling in the Noonlight, a Delberand combat freighter, they rendezvoused with the Revision, meeting with Captain Draft Crook and Darla.

Darla briefed them on the situation. With Candle Cradle out of the picture, Serram (one of the major Wolf Legion deserters with an entire company of resources) was ready to discuss joining the Strays. They traveled to the meet, an out-of-the-way spaceport pit stop, and Serram came aboard with a maintenance crew.

The Mission

Serram explained that the Queen of Five Ways controlled acess to the Verix control quadrant on the Silas Moon Hub, one of the Nomori Corp automated factory cities. The site had been carpet bombed and hit with orbital bombardment, and the fighting had moved on. Since the Queen of Five Ways had a major automated manufacturing center, she sent resources to the Silas Moon Hub to sift the wreckage and scavenge automation technology, plans, and data. Her operative for that area was the Gatekeeper of Urazal, who used their Dustrunner bots to maintain security.

Two independent operators, Rudra and Snare, crash-landed the Lightspear, their Revelation class lancer, in the Verix control quadrant. Serram wanted the operatives rescued, but her resources were out of position and she could not mount a mission. All she offered for payment was the possibility of an alliance, or merging of resources, contingent on how the rescue operation turned out.

The Crash Site

The Strays took the Noonlight and two squads, jumping to the Silas Moon Hub. Firing a probe down in range of planetary defenses, they found the crash site and accessed the memory banks of the monitoring satellites, witnessing the crash and the subsequent uninterrupted search pattern of the bot defenses. It appeared like either the operatives Rudra and Snare either died in the crash or escaped the wreck undetected.

The Noonlight fired off a noisy probe to attract attention, then aimed for a gap in the algorithmic defenses to set down. They traded the safety of orbit for the stealth of setting down in a difficult-to-scan valley of wreckage. Flavius and Silea were armed with powerful railgun sniper rifles, so if they had a shot at the Gatekeeper of Urazal they could finish him off before he could coordinate the bots. With Silea scouting and pointing the way, they headed out, leaving a squad to protect the ship and taking a squad along (and Marvin.)

The Strays reached the ship without incident, with Silea providing overwatch. As Kojiro searched the breached cockpit, he accidentally hit the activation for the distress beacon; desperate to shut it off, he opened all channels for the broadcast before smashing the panel in frustration and killing the signal. Knowing that there was sure to be an investigation, the Strays pulled back without further time spent examining the wreck for clues.

Bot Clash

As they headed down a slope, some of the ruins shivered off, revealing a concealed bot that got the drop on them, opening up with a pair of miniguns. Flavius took cover behind Marvin to line up a shot with the railgun, the rest of the Strays managed to get behind the wreck of an assault vehicle that protected them from the assault, and Kojiro leaped clear. In a flurry of action, Kojiro hurled a pair of EMP grenades and tried to snap off a shot with the rifle, but the rifle was jammed up from getting banged around and the radioactive debris in the wind. Fortunately, one of the grenades took out the bot, and as the Strays raced to relocate, only one was caught and destroyed by bots.

Down We Go

Silea scouted out a rendezvous point and directed them to join her there. A shaft sunk under the surface; maybe underground would be a better way to travel, avoiding the eyes of the satellites that were positioning to cover the area.

Avoiding the sick machines that had reinterpreted their missions in the absence of commands from the central core, they picked their way through the destroyed corridors and tunnels, looking for communications equipment to try and see if the crash survivors had an active signal the bots did not find.

They tried to rest for a few hours, and some repair bots found them and had to be dissuaded with gunfire followed by Kojiro’s EMP grenades. They blasted and cut the downed repair bots to make sure they wouldn’t rear up with a surprise attack. Silea followed a damaged bot back to its base, and discovered there was a node that controlled a number of repair bots, warming some up to go “fix” them. They retreated at speed, and found a maintained rail car. Silea caught up as they used Marvin to interface with the system, activating it so the car would take them down the tunnel.

Contact

They saw a lift, probably access to the surface, and investigated the area in hopes of finding a communications array. They found one, and used Marvin to access it, working through his interface. Bot channels were active, but there were two others; Ulixes had an open channel they could use to communicate to the Noonlight, and there was a mystery channel. Kojiro broadcast on the mystery channel and made contact with Rudra and Snare, who were detected and holding off their attackers as long as they could, with maybe 30 minutes until they were overrun.

The Strays contacted Ulixes, authorizing dustoff and rendezvous on their location. Silea reported that feral local bots were approaching their position, so they relocated to the lift, only to find it was not powered and they were short on time to manage the climb. Working together, they connected Marvin’s power source to the lift, draining him to propel the platform to an upper level.

Pickup

The Noonlight awkwardly maneuvered as close as it could get, lowering wrist-thick cables so the Strays could board. Flavius connected a cable to Marvin’s drained form, and lifted out with Silea and a couple Strays. The three Strays that climbed with Kojiro fumbled the heavy cable, and they fell as Kojiro activated his braided muscle mutation to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. He tried to snag one of the falling Strays with his harpoon gun, but missed; trying not to think about it, the Strays held on, reeled in to the ship’s bay as bots fired at them.

The Noonlight heeled around and powered over to the coordinates provided by Rudra, closing in on the battle zone and its column of smoke. Dustrunner bots were clambering up the sides of the tower, firing on the beleaguered spacers, and the Noonlight fired cables down to them. Rudra and Snare managed to climb up in the hail of blaster bolts, and the Noonlight powered up past the orbital lasers, escaping to the relative safety of space.

Conclusion

Rudra was deeply appreciative of the last-minute save. One of her cyber arms had been replaced with a repair bot arm, and her companion Snare had been holed through the torso, requiring repairs to her cybers. Still, they were safe now, and it was a sure thing that Serram would be pleased with the outcome.

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