Friday, September 3, 2021

#1: Stirrings

Throughout history, the Greypeaks have been home to all manner of creatures—goblinoids, orcs, giants and worse.  And throughout history, these creatures have struck out against encroaching towns and villages; sometimes these attacks are repelled, and the creatures sent back to their mountain lairs.  Sometimes, however, these onslaughts are successful and villagers are forced to either uproot and seek sanctuary elsewhere or die by the fangs, claws and swords of those that would do them harm.  The High Forest is littered with the remains of such battles, the soil fertilized by the blood of man, skeletons of abandoned huts and houses overgrown and consumed by the waxing and waning borders of the High Forest. 

The bustling camps, homesteads and buildings of Pelanor form one such village, and it is here where our tale begins.  Pelanor is not large enough to demand a proper inn—we are given area in the common mustering grounds east of the village where we can set up our tents and build our fires.  There are perhaps a dozen other tents, though not all are currently occupied—most are used by transients passing through, mostly tradesmen and travelers. 

As we arrive in Pelanor, the environment is tense with rumors of evil humanoids and creatures seen along forest paths or viewed from afar in the mountains, and the remote villages along the River Delimbiyr have become relatively crowded by the comings and goings of those seeking fame, wealth, and adventure.  We are one such band, and as I look to my companions, I am hopeful that we will make a reputation for ourselves in this harsh, unforgiving land.

Ged of Arabel is a priest, a Windwalker in service of his god Shaundakul.  He is the seniormost member of our company, older than me or Khadhras by nearly a decade.  More so than fame or wealth, this wandering priest seeks converts among the rough folk of the Delimbiyr Vale and seems most comfortable when out under the open skies.

Bungo Proudfoot is a halfling whose skill and agility belies his short, pudgy frame.  He is accompanied by his faithful hound, Furryfeet.  Little more is known of this halfling or his past, but I’d wager that we’ve run in similar circles.

Contrary to Ged, who seems at home in the wilderness, Khadhras is a traveling wizard and academic who appears completely out of his element.  Similar in age to me, he is well learned in the arcane arts and a historian of some sort, knowledgeable of the High Forest and its history.  Such knowledge and power could prove invaluable as we enter uncharted lands.

Our goal is to push through to the forest camp of Aryen’s Hope, established a year past, which lies a hard day’s travel through forest and hilly terrain north of Pelanor, along the River Delimbiyr.  The trails leading from Pelanor are rough, though should be easy for us to follow as long as we keep the river within earshot to our west.  The leader of Aryen’s Hope bears the title Lord Forester, and it is he with whom we seek audience.  Trade and travel through this dangerous terrain demands guardians with special skills, and we intend to perhaps apply ourselves profitably to such efforts.

Our preparations for camp are interrupted as Bungo tugs at my arm, pointing to a curious exchange occurring amid the village.  A tall, aging man stands near a bedraggled woman in filthy robes.  He passes something to her with a few words, perhaps a coin, and we watch as she draws a small knife and runs it across the flesh of her arm.  It has the trappings of some kind of occult ritual, and we look to Ged for enlightenment.  Ged shakes his head though, unfamiliar with rite—it is likely either a local custom, or something completely foreign to his knowledge.  Khadhras mutters something about “a backwards custom of an uncivilized village.”  The man takes his leave, and we return to our duties.

I ask those in the mustering grounds if other bands of adventurers or soldiers have been through Pelanor, either heading towards Aryen’s Hope or back from it.  A tanner is willing to share words with us, recognizing that we are new.  He shares the recent village news that a supply cart was sent north to the forest camp several days ago with two armed guards, and no one has yet returned.  This is longer than typical for traffic between the settlements, considering that there are no known human settlements beyond, and concern is rising.

As we are finishing our preparations, we witness a pair approaching our small camp with purpose.  We recognize one of them as the man from the ritual—he wears a broadsword at his hip, perhaps nearing fifty, though otherwise dressed in plainclothes.  His companion is a female, garbed in a suit of chain and armed, younger than the man—perhaps soon encroaching on middle age.  She carries herself with the air of confidence of an experienced warrior.

The woman introduces herself as Sere, field marshal of Pelanor.  The position is nominally in charge of security and safety of Pelanor, and her companion is Kayd, the village horsemaster.  We can tell that they are interested in hearing our business in town and they welcome us.  She reiterates the tanner’s news of the lost supply cart and asks if we might return word of any findings.  “The village would be in your debt,” she explains.

Speaking for the group, Bungo says that we will do our best.  With our destination obvious, I ask if there are any other services we can provide, perhaps other goods to deliver.

“One of the men guarding the supply cart was my son,” the older man reveals, “and I would like to see him returned to safety.”  The cart was carrying tools, dry goods, rations and a small assortment of arms.  We empathize with him, and with that knowledge, we convene as a group to discuss our plans.

Ged asks if there is anything we should be aware of, knowing the forest and region to be dangerous.  Sere explains that nothing outside of the ordinary has been reported.  “There are always going to be dangers,” she replies, but has no specific leads.

I ask if they would send a runner with us—we’re not likely to turn back if we find something just to report news, so having a runner seems a smart course of action.  She is amenable to the plan.  When asked about compensation for our efforts, the man steps forward.

“You may come and go as you please through our village,” he explains.  “We ask nothing of those passing through, and grant shelter and what services we can.  If you return my son safely, you will always have a place at my table.”  It seems reasonable given the meager wealth of this small village.

Reading the skies, Ged informs us that the weather ahead will be clear.  With that in mind, we agree to the terms of the arrangement, and we alert Sere that we intend to leave the next morning.  “Well met,” she agrees, and thanks us before turning away with Kayd to return to Pelanor.

* * *

We awaken early the next morning and head towards the northern edge of the village.  There waiting is Sere, accompanied by a younger man, perhaps three years my junior.  He is outfitted with a small blade on his hip and some ill-fitting leather armor.  He is introduced as Nulwen—he knows the paths near Pelanor and is knowledgeable of the forest but obviously green when it comes to combat.  She trusts our judgment in directing Nulwen and seeing to his well-being.  “We will take good care of him,” I tell her. 

“Don’t worry about me,” he chides Sere sheepishly.  She wishes us well, and we head north from the village towards Aryen’s Hope.  As the sun rises, we pass through the outlying farmsteads quietly, hugging the River Delimbiyr as we travel throughout the morning.  As we approach midday, the woods become thicker and the path more treacherous—the rising sun becomes obscured by the dense tree cover.  The difficulty of traversing this path with a small cart or wagon becomes apparent, and we keep a careful eye for any signs of recent passage, Ged surveying the path carefully at varying intervals.  Nulwen proves an able companion, if a bit shy in our presence.

I take point as we travel, with Khadhras and Nulwen behind me.  Ged follows them, and Bungo with brave Furryfeet guards our rear.  All is well until we descend a small, tree-covered hill.  Ahead, we see an overturned cart with a mule standing peacefully nearby, tail swatting at flies.  We’re not close enough to make out much more detail from this distance.  Bungo and I take point, relying on Furryfeet’s keen senses to alert us of any danger, and the others follow several paces behind.

The cart is tipped on its side, one of its wheels entangled in some large tree roots that cross the broken path.  Supplies are strewn about, racks of tools and small barrels.  Furryfeet’s ears lie back as the scent of death wafts towards us, and ahead we see a bloated body covered in flies.  Bungo & Furryfeet approach the corpse as I watch over the area—scavengers have done their work on the decaying body, but it does appear as if the skin is torn by claw or blade.  We call the rest of the group forward, asking if Nulwen can identify the body of the deceased as Kayd’s son.

Nulwen pales at the sight of the corpse.  “No,” he replies.  “It’s not his son, but the second guard.”  It doesn’t look like the goods or rations have been picked over, nor any of the weapons.  The mule, largely oblivious to our presence, is still bound to the cart and is wobbly with fatigue or malnourishment.  It looks like it has been stuck in the same spot for days.  Khadhras moves forward to cut the mule loose and care for it, trying to give it food and water from the mess of supplies available.

While he does, I scan the area for any signs of prints, especially any leading away from the cart towards Aryen’s Hope but am disappointed to find no discernable tracks.  As we are perhaps halfway or more to our destination, there’s as good a chance as any that any survivors may have continued ahead.

Ged speaks with Nulwen about returning to Pelanor, and Nulwen responds that he will do as we ask.  As he can likely make it out of the forest before nightfall, we decide to send him back to Pelanor with news of the cart and the corpse, in the case that Sere desires to reclaim the goods.  Nulwen pauses to express that he doesn’t have any news of Kayd’s son.

“Kayd’s son is secondary to the news that the cart has been found and one of its guards slain,” I explain.  “We will continue our search and send what news we can.”  He nods, and we send him on his way.

I take a few minutes to bind some of the weapons found, bows and swords, knowing their value and not wanting them to fall into the wrong hands.  Others do the same, and we decide to press on, wanting to arrive at Aryen’s Hope before nightfall.

Our pace is slowed somewhat by our burdens and by the mule, which Khadhras has seemingly adopted.  The forest feels like it’s getting darker as the afternoon wanes, but after several hours alone, we can’t help but jump at shadows and personify what’s likely the natural occurrence of the setting sun.  We trudge on until suddenly Furryfeet stands rigid, hackles raised, and even the mule seems to sense something unnatural, and I start to regret dismissing the darkening wood.

Bungo slips into some nearby brush while the rest of us form a circle, standing silently as we wait for any sign of threat.  Furryfeet seems focused on one of our flanks towards a nearby ridge, and in the shadows we see the silhouette of a large four-legged creature, perhaps the size of a wolf, that moves with an unnatural gait or limp.  I raise my bow, knowing of no benevolent creature that fits such a description.  Before firing, I send a questioning gaze to the others in the group, but Khadhras shakes his head.

He begins to chant, his hands making the complicated gestures of an enchantment as we wait patiently.  The air fills with the scent of ozone as he finishes the spell, but it seemingly has no effect.  Not wanting to let it approach, Bungo and I loose a pair of arrows, each one finding their mark.  The creature lets out no sound, neither cry nor growl—only the dull thud of arrows striking their target.  It begins to approach in earnest, silhouette more clearly now that of a wolf, as Bungo and I send another pair of arrows over the creature, missing their mark.  The others brace for its attack.

I put myself in the path of the creature as it rushes forward, Bungo letting loose another arrow and Khadhras slinging a heavy stone which crunches into the creature.  As it pierces the shadows of the forest, charging towards us, we see that one of its front legs is hanging impossibly by a few lengths of tendon, the bone shattered.  Its hide is ragged from open and decaying wounds, and there is an odor of death not dissimilar to the corpse we found at the cart, its eye sockets empty, but jaws full of sharp, gnashing teeth.

I swing out wildly with my sword but miss as it bears down on me, jaws tearing through flesh and armor as it nearly brings me down.  Ged flails at it with his mace, unable to land a telling blow.  Desperate to escape lest I suffer another attack, I spin around and bring my sword level, cleaving the creature in two, cutting through spine, hide and flesh to spill its guts on the forest floor.

Mule Lives Matter
While the others scan for other threats, Ged rushes forward to tend my wound, offering some slight relief.  The creature is a true horror, having defied a normal death, and lest there be other creatures like it in the shadows of the forest, we decide to continue hastily on.  There is some discussion over whether to leave the mule and what supplies we have gathered behind, but deciding their value outweighs the danger posed, we press on with our burden.

Eager to put the horror of the encounter behind us, we move as quickly as seems safe, eating our evening meal on our feet so as not to lose any more time.  The welcome sound of the Delimbiyr gives us comfort that we are still on the correct path, but the remaining sun quickly fades and before long, we are forced to pull out supplemental light sources.  Ged, calling upon Shaundakul, conjures a globe of divine light.  Perhaps by virtue of the light or even the presence of Ged’s deity, the forest seems less shadowed than before, and once again we can hear the natural sounds of the forest.

After an hour, the light from Ged’s spell fades and I pull out a torch and strike a small flame.  It is then, however, that we notice the scent of a campfire on the wind, though no light from such a fire is visible through the dense forest cover.  Bungo examines the nearby trees, choosing one to scale up nimbly, hoping that the increased height will grant him a vantage we are denied.

Over the next ridge, Bungo sees what appears to be a roaring bonfire behind a wooden palisade.  Having no reason to doubt that this is Aryen’s Hope, we press on as quickly as the light from my torch allows.  We discover the ridge that Bungo spotted and ascend, and once atop it we are able to discern multiple bonfires, tents, and lean-tos, and can hear the sound of voices and activity from within the walls.

We approach and hail those that guard the palisade, and are granted access to our destination.  A dark-haired and bearded man approaches us, sword at his hip and bow slung across his back.  He introduces himself as Iphan, Lord Forester.  We exchange his greeting eagerly, glad to be behind the walls of Aryen’s Hope.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Map of the High Forest and surrounds

Map of the High Forest and surrounding major settlements south and west, including Waterdeep and the High Moor. The village of Pelanor and forest camp known as Aryen's Hope are located seventy-five miles northeast of Loudwater, along the River Delimbiyr, roughly fifteen miles apart.

Click to enlarge


Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The Silver Prayer

The wahn lowered her head and bowed, the dregs of her cloak seeping into pools of filth-ridden water run off from the lone dirt road through the village of Pelanor. The man standing before her, sinewy and tall, with copper locks graying from the toil of almost fifty winters, brushed his rough hand past the hilt of the broadsword dangling at his hip to retrieve a threadbare pouch fastened around his waist. From it he produced a tarnished silver coin, its edges corroded and uneven.

He placed it in the woman’s open palm, the long strands of her dark, unkempt hair swaying in the subtle wind that breathed through the village like a hymn. She closed a fist of yellowed fingernails around the offering.

“A prayer for my son, departed into the forest, four days past,” the man uttered lowly, so that no one else around them could hear.

The wahn withdrew a small knife and raised the sleeve from the hand that held the coin, revealing a forearm raw with fresh scabbing and undercoated with old, deep scars. She slowly drew the blade across flesh, whispering words in a language he could not understand while blood trickled down to mix with the stagnant puddles where she stood.

“Llathlu blesses your son’s return,” she replied in a soft voice. “The Pale Hand guides him safely to the forest camp, so long as he remains in the Divine’s true path.”

“Thank ye, maiden,” he answered quietly, taking a step backward, his gaze drawn to the cowled woman’s rose-colored lips as she began to raise her eyes.

He turned and made quickly for the street, ere she pocketed the coin as crimson wept into the folds of her robe.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Looking ahead, and final XP totals for the Khedrun Valley

First-level characters. 0 XP. With as few as four meager hit points.

A single, well-placed hit could kill a party member outright. Zeb and Audric have become the stuff of legends. Level 6 may not have felt so high before, but now...

It may be hard to emotionally invest in these PCs, before any sessions have been played. I don’t expect anyone to. It takes time. Effort. Luck.

Survival.

But, for those who reach 2nd, 3rd level, and beyond... the attachment will start to form. The work you’ve put in will matter. The story will matter. The characters will matter. Taking a night off from being on your game will mean risking the loss of everything. Most of us have been there, know what it’s like. Every decision is important. Don’t hinge it all on a roll of the dice.

Read this post.

...and have fun. May it be a truly epic ride.

* * *

With all that said, I’ll soon retire the previous campaign’s XP totals from the sidebar. Here they are, one last time, for posterity:

  • Vonn - 13,088
  • Audric - 34,389
  • Zeb - 3,000/56,869
  • Selben (h) - 18,451
  • Lom (h) - 10,730
  • Zargon (d) - 14,789

Game on!

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Map of PCs in the Forgotten Realms

I know I always kick around the idea of starting a new, homebrew setting, then keep coming back to FR anyway. While I have a lot of ideas for a custom world that I hope to eventually use, it's tough to start over when I have so much D&D history tied up in Faerûn. How much, exactly? Well...

Here's a map of every character played in campaigns I've run in the Realms (with close-ups of various sections), dating back to 2004. Each campaign is depicted in a separate color which shows (roughly) the region(s) it encompassed. This is pretty crazy to look at, all laid out at once.

The Sword Coast North and the Western Heartlands


Cormanthor and the Moonsea


The Vilhon Reach


Rashemen


Full map (attribution)


This doesn't even include my favorite FR campaign I've played in, a game run by Jason over twenty years ago. I thought about adding Cadazcar and Erik Estrada, but I don't know their geography perfectly, and I had to draw the line somewhere.

In addition to the visuals, a few fun facts:

  • Total number of characters played: 52
  • Total number of players: 15
  • Most characters played by the same player: 7
  • PC descendants of other characters: 2
  • Total character deaths: 9 (seven in the last five years...)

Will this be the last new Realms game before I finally switch?

Thursday, August 19, 2021

The Darkness Borne: Prologue

Born to winter’s clutches on a mountain in Icewind Dale,

Raised by wolves of the Beastlord in the vestiges of spring,

Perished on a hillside in the death throes of summer,

And on the first night of winter, reborn.

—Black-Blooded Fables

* * *

The Year of the Scowling Duchess (774 DR)

The High Forest


The raven-haired woman walked lithely amid the ruins, her dusk cloak flowing in ashen waves behind her supple form. Fetishes of feather, gutstring, and bone adorned her body, a chill wind severing the air through which she trod.

She had walked here before, lifetimes ago, had seen a city erected on this site and, years later, reduced to the wreckage that now remained. She had watched its founders traverse the Black Glade, had spoken with he who wrought the city’s ultimate destruction. Even now, as trespassers lurked across these wicked grounds, his essence loomed: unseen, undetected, unknown.

Not unlike her own.

Keravela was the name by which she was recognized, though the true origin of her people transcended continents, worlds, even time itself. Before her eyes would close for the final time, she would bear witness to hundreds of thousands more sunsets across countless planes of existence, to her mere doorways unveiled at the will of the gods.

Scant few could fathom the magnitude of her bloodline. Defier of ages. Defier of death.

That the men and women who traipsed hither and about thought this place a suitable refuge from the forest was a great irony indeed, she mused, watching the unassuming mortals with an idle curiosity. How frivolous it must feel to labor through their menial tasks and dealings, oblivious to the fell shadows that, even now, had begun to eclipse their diverging paths.

For calls to the darkness rarely remained unheeded.

* * *

The Year of the Groaning Cart (1267 DR)

Xantharl’s Keep


The boy rose to his feet, blood from his opened wrist streaming down his crossguard. The injury was superficial, would heal. He snapped back at his attacker, tasting a salty mix of sweat and grime. The ringing of steel echoed across the grounds as blades danced and clashed.

The sparring went on for quarter of a bell, until finally the two combatants lowered their arms, exhausted. A lone man stood in audience, hitherto silent, but watching, ever watching. He nodded his approval, gaze fixed on the dusty-haired boy whose sword hand still bled freely.


“A valiant effort, one to make your father proud. Your fathers, both,” he amended, regarding the second. “Go and clean yourselves, lest your mothers worry overmuch.”

The pair collected their halters and waterskins and tarried off. “Well fought, brother. Ye almost bested me,” said the bloodied boy, markedly. His smoke-gray eyes narrowed. “Almost.”

* * *

The Year of the Blade (1275 DR)

Delimbiyr Vale


Only by understanding the past can we hope to endure the future.

The words, scrawled on a weathered sheet of parchment stowed away somewhere in his pack, resounded in Phelan’s mind as he surveyed the roadside battleground.

A caravan had been set upon here, less than a fortnight past. More than a score men, women, and children, rich and poor, master and servant alike, had been ravaged and slain. Remnants of blood-stained clothing, pikes, and arrow shafts yet littered the site, the victims’ bodies having already been claimed, if not by passersby, then scavengers.

Phelan had studied the history of this land, knew well the cycles by which the road through Delimbiyr Vale, near the outskirts of the High Forest, grew more treacherous as denizens of the Greypeak Mountains pushed their way through the woodlands from the east, much like the waxing of the moon itself.

Some years hence, the evil tide would abate once more, but not without the help of those fearless, or foolish enough to counter its advance. And, this time, Phelan and his new companions would find themselves among the worthy or misguided, as they made their way over the southern foothills to the forest camp known as Aryen’s Hope.

As the reddened sun began to set over the trail to his back, he felt a subtle twinge of pain from a scar above his wrist.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Should we talk about the weather?

I wrote this post before we played the last session. Seems a shame not to publish it, even though things took an unexpected turn.

This is an awesome book. I recently dug out my copy to help preparing for sessions again:

AD&D Wilderness Survival Guide

While technically a 1e resource, much of the content in the WSG is edition-agnostic... not to mention that many of the bits that aren’t, like encumbrance, are direct predecessors to out-of-the-box rules in 2e. All in all, the WSG provides tons mechanical depth to the perils and nuances of overland adventuring. This is the stuff that turns drab, handwavy periods of travel into immersive, challenging, and memorable game experiences.

Some of the rules dealing with things like being under- or overdressed in extreme temperatures, though useful, are only occasionally relevant, but the weather system presented in the WSG is pretty much always of benefit. Without going into detail on how exactly it works, here’s a look at the weather forecast I used it to predetermine for session #45. This is based on both the general climate (the Frozenfar is considered subarctic), terrain (hills surrounding the mine, forest surrounding Fireshear itself), and time of year (late summer into early fall):
  • Day 1: 50 degrees Fahrenheit (high) to 30 degrees Fahrenheit (low); no wind or precipitation. Even during the ninth month of the year, we’re hitting a point below freezing at night. This is something the miners didn’t have to deal with in midsummer; the party, however, finds itself in a situation where at least one campfire is needed, heightening the chances of being noticed from afar (though it’s pretty likely that any local denizens already know they’re here).
  • Day 2: 60º F high, 40º F low; no wind and trace levels of rain. With the brief cold spell passing, a more comfortable temperature sets in, though overnight campfires are still desirable for optimal sleep. Small amounts of rain are at worst a nuisance, barely worth mentioning.
  • Day 3: 65º F high, 45º F low; light breeze and slightly more rainfall. On the third day, the temperature rises a bit more, but this is offset by more substantial rain with wind. Characters may be less than comfortable if traveling back to Fireshear, or inclined to take shelter within the cave if still working at the mine.
  • Day 4: 60º F high, 40º F low; moderate wind. Temperatures remain reasonably comfortable, but the wind is enough to disrupt missile fire at anything but close range (i.e., penalties to attack rolls will be assessed, based on distance).
  • Day 5: 35º F high, 15º F low; heavy winds and moderate precipitation... that means SNOW! The first snowfall of the season occurs on an uncharacteristically cold day. Such are the risks of adventuring in the Frozenfar, even at the onset of autumn. If the party is travelling this day, they’ll need to find ways to stay warm and protected from the elements.
  • Day 6: 50º F high, 30º F low; moderate rain. The flash snowstorm abates as temperatures rise back toward the seasonal norm. Flurries turn to rain, creating slippery and treacherous travelling conditions in the hills outside Fireshear. Hopefully the party is safely back home by this point.

This is as far out as I calculated the weather for this session, but it’s easy to see how, depending on timing, the party’s return journey to Fireshear could be impacted. Precipitation is also of particular importance as it relates to the ecosystem of the mountain cave: rainwater flows into the base of the chasm from outside, replacing the stagnant water and washing away rot.

While I’ve always taken weather into account throughout the campaign, the party’s arrival in the Frozenfar escalated the need to track it more closely. The PCs did ride through a snowstorm between Griffon’s Nest and Longsaddle, but that was during the dead of winter, further south. Hopefully this provides some insight on what they can expect in the weeks to come...

Monday, July 12, 2021

Awakenings

I stare at Audric blankly, still unable to vocalize anything meaningful, my head still reeling.  Closing my eyes for what seems like an eternity, I try to clear my mind, to grasp and come to terms with the sheer enormity of my return from death, I struggle vainly to purge the echoes of Bonie’s final whispered words.

When I finally reopen my eyes, Audric is in a trance of his own, his mouth moving slowly as if in conversation, or perhaps communion with his own god.  After several long moments, Audric steps forward and embraces me, giving voice to what feels like a farewell.

Throughout the embrace, I find myself paralyzed.  Not a paralysis like that of the ghasts that slew us, but a complete paralysis of mind, body, emotion.  When Audric finally releases his hold, it takes all the strength I have not to collapse instantly.

Unable to return Audric’s embrace, indeed unable to even give voice to any meaningful words in reply to the warrior’s farewell, I simply stare, numb.

Obvious questions spring to mind.  Who is Audric speaking to?  Where does he think he’s going?  But these thoughts flee before I can even attempt to comprehend.

And then, after one final parting quip, Audric turns his back one last time and fades away, dissipating slowly.

Where the hell am I?

I am…alone.

The significance of that thought strikes me like a battering ram. 

Unable to bear the terrible consequences of the decisions I have made, I collapse.  I try to let loose a roar of anger, but it instead comes out as a wail of helplessness and remorse.  My grief is staggering and threatens to overwhelm.  Black spots appear behind my eyes as the pressure in my head grows to the point of danger, and I nearly swoon.  My eyes redden and swell as my tear ducts empty, my voice is ravaged by screams of torment, which eventually fade into soundless cries of self-pity.  I am broken.

I am…alone.  Not just Audric, my companion and brother in arms, but Nerrick and Lom, Vonn and Selben.  Bonie and…and…my unborn child.  Once again, grief threatens to overwhelm.

Malar has abandoned me, or I Malar—and no presence now fills that void.  No patron will arrive to carry me away like Mystra did Audric.  For me, there is no peace.

I draw my knife from a rotted sheath at my side, its blade pitted with rust, the edge dulled from age.  I entertain thoughts of a second death, of spilling my guts once again on this cavern floor.  There are no more tears, no more cries, as there is nothing else left to give.  All is lost.  My death is all that awaits.  I am too broken, too tired, too weak to complete the deed, to end my own life.  I fail at even that task, and collapse in fatigue.

Several hours pass before I awaken.  The glowing orb remains, casting a dim light in the cavern.  The knife is still in my hand.  I am still…alone.

It takes several minutes to shake the cloudiness from my head, and to suppress the emptiness that once again threatens to seize my soul.  In defiance of these thoughts, I try to give voice to words, but no sound escapes my ragged throat.

Malar, I forsake you.

I have wasted countless years in pursuit of blood to slake your endless thirst.  I have slain beast and men to appease your bloodlust.  And despite that, I was outcast.

I killed those you sent to hunt me, that bastard Korvich and the beast Carcerus, thinking it a test.  But I see now that it was fear that drove you.  Fear that I would expose your false virtues, fear that I would cause those to question before spilling blood needlessly.

You cannot abandon me, for I had already abandoned you.

I wince, expecting to be struck down for my blasphemy, expecting to be overtaken by emptiness and lack of purpose…but no lightning or plague manifests, and I find comfort in embracing the void where Malar’s anger and lust for the kill once lived.

I look down at the blade in my hand, ashamed of the thought of killing myself.  Ashamed of the thought of abandoning those I love, and those that love me in return.  Ashamed of giving in to weakness.

When I was cast out from the beast cults, my situation was no different.  I was allowed only this same knife so that I could defend myself…not against the wild, but to make of me a “fair kill” for those “brothers” who would seek to hunt me down.  They are all dead now, some of them by this very blade…but I persist.

“Nobanion.”  The word is foreign to my lips, nearly inaudible as it escapes my raspy throat.

I know very little of you, and I am best known by my actions.  One of your faithful, the druid Maglarosh, was slain by my former brethren, and I placed his frailness at your feet, castigating you for the virtues you extol.  Virtues that I thought pointless, frivolous, weak.

I was wrong.

It is these very virtues—community, compassion, dignity—that I have come to know and understand by my actions.  I was not alone in this realization—I had excellent exemplars, chief among them Audric, the steadfast warrior of Mystra.  Zargon, brave bard of Mirabar.  The many men and women of Carrock, of Dagger’s Deep.  The daring captain and crew of Moonmaiden.  Bonie, the love of my life.

Guide me to my loved ones, in this life or the next, and in exchange I grant you all that I am.  I will do all that you require, for as long as it takes.  My blade, my being, my soul are yours, Nobanion, Firemane.  Allow me to prove myself to you.

Slowly, I clamber to my feet, still alone…but coming to terms with that reality.

Audric.  You always bore as a burden the torment of others in addition to your own.  You were a great companion, and a greater friend.  I hope you have finally found peace, brother.

Leaving all else behind, I walk to the edge of the cave, peering down at the black water below and the ledge that I know to reside in the shadows above.  Gripping the knife between my teeth, tasting its iron, I swim to the far side of the cavern.  Reaching out in the darkness for handholds in the cavern wall, I begin my dangerous ascent, my awakening, my rebirth.

No, there is no eternal peace for me, Audric.  For there is yet work to be done.


Sunday, July 11, 2021

Everlasting Peace

The last thing that Audric saw was a small black ball of fur hissing at the creatures before everything went black. He rises with no pain, as if waking from a restful sleep, and stretches. Even the ever present pains that magical healing could not rid him of are gone. He looks around and, recognizing the location, dread fills his heart. He silently looks around for a few timeless minutes with Zeb, before shrugging. As he stands there, a light appears, unwavering, unlike a torch or fire. It grows until it envelops the man.

“Hello, my child.” The words are in his mind, but he understands them at once. “You have done well. You were a good servant, and have made me proud.” At this statement, Audric realizes who is speaking in his head. He falls to his knees. Many times he sought the words of Mystra, but she had always been silent.

Audric involuntarily twists the ring he still wears, a habit that has grown since the battle in Malchor’s tower. “Yes,” the voice says, “destroying the ring was your purpose, but also so much more.”

“Bu.. Bu… but…” Audric stammers, unable to fully form a sentence.

“You do not need to know and understand all, only that you have succeeded in the tasks I set for you. Now that your tasks are complete, I have one final gift to bestow upon you, but first I sense your thoughts on your friends. Rest assured that they are fine.” All at once several images flash into the priest’s mind. Almost too quick to grasp.

...A man stalking a deer. Next he is bringing it back to a settlement. He dines with a woman with loose blonde hair. They both have the respect of the people around them...

...An older man in robes, surrounded by ancient tomes. He is engrossed in one such book, an ink smudge on his cheek goes unnoticed...

...A man singing a song to a woman in an unnamed bar. It takes Audric a moment to recognize “Ode to Laerch”...

...A young man walking into a settlement. A short time later, an older man and woman rush to him, hugging him. A son returning home...

Audric blinks away the visions, or perhaps memories. He notices Lume sitting beside him, also engulfed in the light. “What is this, five?” The words seem to come from the light. Lume issues a gentle meow. “Four, my mistake. Well, another awaits. Safe travels little one.” Lume steps through a tiny portal that seems to have appeared out of nowhere, and is gone as soon as the cat is through.

It is time, child.” Audric feels another presence beside him. He turns and instantly recognizes his wife. “Nicola!” he gasps. He enfolds the woman in his arms for several long moments. “I thought I would never see you again.” He kisses her softly, before just staring at her, drinking in the sight of her.

I would not put you through so much, without giving you eternal peace. Now, though, it is time to depart.

Audric takes a step forward, before pausing. He turns back to Zeb, who is still standing there. Audric does not know if Zeb realizes what is happening, but he walks back to the man, embracing him. “Thank you my friend—no, my brother. You taught me so much, and were there when I needed you the most. You lived a troubled life, and I hope that I was able to help bring you the peace I know you were seeking. I’m sorry my foolhardiness brought it to this, though. You deserved so much better. I hope you find your peace in an eternal hunt with Malar.” He goes back to his wife and takes her hand, “I’m ready.”

As Audric fades away, he turns again to Zeb for parting words. “Be careful on your eternal hunt, brother.” Then remembering the words that Zeb spoke in Carrock and thought Audric did not hear, the priest grins widely. “Careful, I hear there’s bears in the woods.”

Friday, July 9, 2021

Epilogue

The procession through Fireshear’s north gate was silent, unchecked by guards.

Bonie walked with a heavy limp, for two days having refused Vicus’ offer of letting the supply cart relieve her burden. Her right leg had been shorn open from hip to knee after slipping on a foothold making the climb down into the chasm after Zeb, Audric, and Nerrick failed to return. Near the bottom, with a flickering torch in hand, she discovered all that she needed to see.

Her memories of the hours since were tattered, strands of a broken web. Lying sleepless in blood-soaked bandages; the proffering of a bone fetish from a slender hand; high winds and a flash snowstorm battering weary travelers on their descent along a mountain trail.

The remaining party numbered seven: Bonie, Lom, Arcon and Raganok Tunterhorn, and engineers Vicus, Tirynia, and Smedlock, along with their mule and cart. Selben had slipped away into the forest a few miles outside the city. Vonn Wintershade had gone missing shortly thereafter.

Lom imparted that he would seek Revenant, bearing the news of their return. The Tunterhorns saw Bonie safely to Moonmaiden, then took their leave in search of Captain Azurris. Alone, Bonie trudged into the party’s quarter. The beds were unmade, untouched since the morning of the group’s departure for the mine. She collapsed upon the plank floor, clutching a trembling palm over her abdomen.

* * *

In the Captain’s Quarter aboard Moonmaiden, Shantor Ilfaen regarded Dame Azurris with a dour expression. “With Audric and Zeb gone, how fares your planning?”

The captain eyed the walls of the chamber with suspicion, as if scouring them for invisible, unwanted ears. “They were paramount to the endeavor. Honorable, staunch allies, greatly skilled in magic. Qualities not easily found... nor replaced.”

“And of the girl? She’s not eaten in days. Will you speak to her?”

“Aye. Though to what end, I know not. If our intended journey was foolhardy before, it’s naught but a death wish now. Still, I see in her... my daughter.”

The captain lowered his gaze, raised a closed fist to his lips and kissed an iron ring adorning its smallest finger. “Angeline.”

“I take my leave of you, Captain,” said the lieutenant, turning for the door.

“We must set sail,” Azurris answered. “No matter the circumstances.”

* * *

Lom watched from the bow of the merchant ship Vainweather as Moonmaiden’s newly-repaired third mast disappeared over the horizon, still docked in Fireshear’s harbor. If all went according to plan, Captain Azurris would see the vessel launched within a fortnight, embarking on an ambitious journey from which he and his stalwart crew would be unlikely to ever return.

By that time, Lom and Bonie will have safely put into port in Neverwinter, ahead of the winter snows.

The woman at his side was frail, docile, and barely spoke. Gaunt from malnourishment, Lom couldn’t bear to see her left to her own devices, nor could he abandon her in Fireshear whilst signing himself onto a reckless voyage across the Trackless Sea. Azurris had been disappointed, but understood: the collective loss borne by the party cut deep, would change all their lives forever. The captain knew well the shackles of grief.

Bonie lurched forward suddenly, stumbling to the bow’s rail and spewing bile over its edge. Lom reached out and collected her supple body. Shaking, her eyes fluttered, then closed. She crumpled into his arms, unconscious.

* * *

The deadfall around them instilled a preternatural sense of calm as they made their march over frozen earth, along the lightly-beaten trail that forked to the northeast near the site that would come to be known as Minstrel’s Glade. Bonie stepped lithely despite the extra weight she now carried, which had required her to relinquish her trademark dark leathers for a loose-fitting kirtle and woolen traveling cloak. Lom traipsed steadily several paces ahead, the ranger forging their path over familiar ground. Whilst the pair had conversed little in the aftermath of their departure from Fireshear, an unspoken bond had brooded between them, at least insofar as their present course was concerned.

The year had come to a close quickly; Bonie could recall few details of the months past, and fewer still that she cared to recount. The summer voyage christened Mirabar Run seemed an old relic of a forgotten life, and in many ways, it was. She dwelt not upon such things, however, for doing so ushered forth a torment too harrowing to be permitted to draw breath.

As they crested a final hillock, a crenellated tower came into view, and beyond it, a river. Along its banks was pitched a scattering of tents and cottages amid life-giving bonfires and a retinue of would-be villagers. A single word burgeoned its way to the forefront of the woman’s thoughts.

Home.

* * *

1256 DR (The Year of the Dusty Throne)

The cold night festered, and Bonie once again found sleep elusive. She emerged from the tent shared with Odesia and Young Laerch, taking special care not to disturb the latter, and made her way across the grounds, wrapping herself in thick furs. Atop a small ridge stood her quarry: a shrine constructed from worked stone and branches, bearing intricate carvings, symbols of beast, magic, and claw. The site had been well-tended in the party’s absence, and better still since her return. Bonie looked upon its etchings and adornments with a piercing stare.

How could you!” she screamed, sweeping a booted foot in a high arc and pummeling the sacred structure, scattering its plumage on the snow-covered ground. Losing her balance, she landed firmly on her back, eliciting a deep groan. “How could you leave me, Zeb?” she sobbed, warm tears streaming in rivulets down her frosted cheeks as pain from the fall coursed through her body. 

“How could you leave us?” she uttered, her voice barely a whisper, to the dead of night surrounding her. “I never had a chance to tell you.”

Darkness claimed her.

* * *

(Year unknown)

The vision of the woman lying prone and anguished next to the broken shrine of Mystra and Malar awakened him, awakened them both.

Bonie’s final words echoed in Zeb’s mind.

Audric was the first to stir, the crushing pain and sense of weightlessness dissipating as he rose. Wherever he stood was pitch black, though he could feel wet stone beneath his boots and detected the nearby presence of his companion. The horrific encounter with the undead creatures returned to his consciousness, but he noted that, despite feeling utterly disoriented, he bore no wounds. Strangely, he yawned, as if having just woken from a long sleep.

Zeb staggered to his knees, and the pair searched their collective belongings for a torch, finding that those they still possessed were too wet to carry a spark. Instinctively, Zeb entered a trance-like state for several minutes, and when he came to he conjured a magical orb of light, just above their heads.

They stood, alone, in the cave below the chasm. The putrid smell of rot and death was absent, as were any signs of Nerrick, or anyone else. Their weapons and armor were intact, though Audric’s splint mail was weighted down with algae-ridden water.

They regarded each other quizzically, trying to make sense of it all.

They discerned no answers.

#45: To The Victors

A brief patrol of the camp does little to ease my ill temper.  Upon return, I find the others gathered around the remnants of last evening’s fire, and we enter a discussion about our course of action. 

Vonn makes his position known that he intends to use this as an opportunity to retire from a life of adventuring—he intends to live off the proceeds from the mine and shows little interest in exploring the chasm or the origin of our demonic foe.  He was contracted to oversee construction of the bridge and removal of any evident threat, and that accomplished, he considers his service to Revenant complete.  Vonn expresses his desire for a life of seclusion and study.  It is hard to argue with him, though leaving the chasm unexplored does not sit well with me.  He commits to guarding the camp for the remainder of our stay.

Audric, for his part, wants the bridge constructed safely first before pursuing any further conversation about the chasm.  Before we can discuss it further, we are interrupted by one of the dwarven guards.  “When do we go back in?” he asks gruffly, “so that Clanden will not have fallen in vain?”

“Right now,” Audric states, pulling himself to his feet, and the dwarf seems to appreciate the response and call for action.  The dwarf introduces himself as Nerrick, and confirms that the engineers are ready, so we do not delay.

Tirynia, one the female engineer, steps forward to volunteer herself for the critical first task of securing the remnants of the bridge, and we elect to assist her magically as we did Clanden.  We leave the Tunterhorns to guard the camp, joined by Vonn and Smedlock, another of the dwarven guards accompanying the crew.  I impart one additional protection on Tirynia: a ward similar to that which protected us during the battle with the demon that should hopefully prevent a fate similar to Clanden’s should we find our position besieged once again.

To their credit, the engineers are eager to conduct their duties and seem to pay little regard to the Clanden’s loss or to the danger that could possibly be involved with today’s mission.  They are orderly and professional, so we do our best to protect them in their endeavors.   There’s a palpable moment of fear as we watch Tirynia pull herself towards the middle of the chasm across the single remaining rope, bolstered by what magical assistance we can provide.  I work through a divination, this time focusing on the depths of the chasm, knowing that Clanden’s death could have been avoided had we been more alert of our surroundings and potential threats, but detect nothing untoward.

The first tense minutes pass without incidence, and by the time our spells begin to fade, Tirynia seems well into her task and we release a heavy sigh of relief.  Vicus runs for supplies that are fed through the shaft, and when Tirynia is finally done with her work, she returns with sweat dripping from her brow.  The bridge has been successfully stabilized, and with the sun now high in the sky, we break for a midday meal.

The engineers feel that by the end of this first day, should all go well, they may be able to get someone safely across to the other side of the cavern.  We contemplate setting a guard on the opposite side of the bridge, but until the bridge is complete enough to support multiple people crossing at a time, splitting the group seems rash, so we decide to continue along the conservative route of watching over the construction from the ledge nearest the shaft.

As the engineers progress in their work, we interact with the dwarven guard Nerrick, who has taken post beside us in the cavern.  Nerrick has a history of working mines and other construction projects, seeming to be an axe for hire.  He reveals that he’s from the Undercity of Mirabar originally, and Audric and I cast wary looks at one another.  Fortunately, it seems as if his family ties are weak, the likelihood of any connection between Nerrick and anyone we may know small.  We decide not to relate our experiences in the Undercity and leave it at that.

“After I saw what happened to Clanden, I wanted to do more to serve the lord Moradin, and better protect those that pay me to do so.”  He explains the impact that Clanden’s death had on him and reveals it as the reason that he stepped forward to join us in our vigil.  “I’d like to put my axe to better use.”   He composes himself as a classic Frozenfar warrior whose axe bears the notches of many battles, and we are glad for his company.

Work is completed late in the day and the engineers and laborers collapse into their bedrolls.  The rest of us oversee the camp throughout the night, granting them the ability to rest and regain their strength.  Bonie lets me know that she has no desire to share a watch with Nerrick; I raise an eyebrow questioningly, but she waves me off.  We split up into watches, much as we have done before, and the night passes uneventfully.

We are greeted the following morning by the welcome warmth of the sun in the clear sky, but it does not last long—clouds roll in and gather, and a chill rain makes any time outside the cavern a cold and uncomfortable experience.

With the bridge repair proceeding rapidly, Nerrick, Audric and I decide to explore the base of the chasm.  Rope is in ample supply, so we tie together three lines so that we can rappel down the cliffside simultaneously—ropes will be secured above and watched over by Bonie, Lom and Selben as we descend.  I layer magical protection against any potential threat.

Audric and I are able to manipulate the rappelling lines without a problem, but Nerrick seems unaccustomed to being off his feet and can do little more than dangle helplessly, unable to navigate the descent.  Selben steps forward when called, casting a spell upon Nerrick to make it possible for him to nimbly scale the cliffside, much as Selben had done days before.

Blackness overtakes us as flickering light from the torches above fades.  Nerrick, by virtue of his heritage, alerts us that he can see the bottom of the chasm floor and that it ends in a body of water below.  He also sees an opening across the way—an opening of thirty to forty feet in diameter, seeming to be a cave entrance.  The ropes drop into a pool at the base of the chasm, and investigating it, I find the water too deep to stand—some sort of underground lake or pool.  Knowing that Nerrick’s time under Selben’s enchantment is short, we decide to retrace our steps and clamber back up the chasm wall, Nerrick beating us in our ascent handily by virtue of Selben’s craft.

We cross the chasm using the bridge—the engineers seem pleased that it passes this test of sturdiness.  We decide to descend from the other side, this time with me leading the way.  I proceed into the black with magical detections and protections in place, using my feet to feel along the chasm wall until I find the opening and calling out to the others when I do.

I trust in my magical protections and drop to the cave entrance— the ground is wet and slick.  My boots land in the muck, but I catch myself and avoid falling to the ground.  My divinations reveal that there are four concealed beings in the cave lurking against the walls in the darkness ahead, the closest fifty feet from the entrance, the furthest perhaps a hundred.  I conjure forth a globe of light behind the nearest of the unknown creatures, and the cave bursts into blinding illumination, the dark suddenly and completely dispelled. 

A humanoid figure is revealed—its flesh deteriorated to sinew, bits of tendon and muscle, its eye sockets black and empty.  It stands with a hunch, and as soon as my light bursts forth from behind it, the creature stands and begins to shamble towards me, pinpoints of red light beginning to gleam from its empty eye sockets.  I am frozen in place for a moment but manage to shake off the surprise and grab for the rope, calling to be hoisted up.  My feet slip as I ascend in a panic, but eventually I find my footholds and, assisted by the others above me, reach the safety of the ledge.

Evaluating our options, Nerrick decides to remove his armor so that he can more readily attempt the descent under his own power.  He and I hoist Audric down first—the Mystran warrior’s intention is to conjure a group of foes for the creature below to deal with, or to ascertain if indeed the threat still lurks within the cave entrance.  He manages to find firm footholds and, supported by the rope to free his hands, conjures forth his minions.

Audric is greeted by the sound of myriad flapping bats whose screeches echo throughout the cavern—but the sounds are quickly stifled, and nothing answers Audric’s call to return.  Whatever lurks below, it slaughtered the conjured minions quickly.  We pull Audric back to the ledge, and not wanting to submit the engineers to any risk, decide to call an end to operations for the day.  We enlist the aid of the engineers to effectively barricade the tunnel and split up for watches—this time with the knowledge that a threat resides in the chasm.  Knowing nothing more of the caves, or any alternate exits that the creatures may have access to, our rest is uneasy.

Partway through the night, the silence disturbed by the sounds of screams from outside.  An alarm is sounded by the evening watch, and in the sudden scramble of being awakened in the middle of the night, the members of the camp are assaulted by spears from multiple angles.  Vonn is pierced by a thrown javelin, falling backwards as he grasps its shaft, and Vicus and Tirynia are felled by the missiles.  Lom and Bonie can see nothing clearly enough to find targets in the dark, cursing in frustration as they are forced to watch the assault below.

Selben retreats from the area illuminated by the bonfire, taking cover behind a nearby minecart.  Bonie and Lom hold arrows to their cheeks, waiting for targets and clearly torn by their inability to provide more effective protection.  A pack of vicious goblins overruns the camp, hurling more javelins and spears as they approach. 

The Tunterhorns raise weapon and shield in defense.  Nearly a dozen goblin forms are visible in the shadows cast by the bonfire.  Arcon and Raganok deflect several missiles with their shields but are unable to ward off all, bearing the brunt of the goblins’ attacks, each pierced by several shafts.  Selben manages to evade harm and find words and gestures to power a spell upon his lips.  The Tunterhorns return strikes as the goblins charge, flailing at their enemy wildly and felling one of the creatures.  Vonn unleashes a spell in the night, but it’s unclear what effect it may have had.  Another pair of goblins fall to the remaining members of Clanden’s crew and the Tunterhorn brothers. 

The goblins continue their assault as Bonie levels her bow, ready to loose arrows into the melee.  Audric struggles to climb down but finds trouble manipulating the ropes in the panic while Nerrick uses a rope to quickly descend, landing heavily on the dirt below.  A furious melee ensues with blows traded on both sides.

Suddenly, all but two of the remaining goblins collapse, Selben standing from cover to weave an enchantment.  I unleash one of my own, freezing in place those that did not succumb to Selben’s spell.  The Tunterhorns seize the moment and begin hacking away at their foes, Smedlock at their side, slaughtering the sleeping and held goblins.   Bonie and Lom look to the wounded to staunch bleeding and bind wounds—they manage to catch Tirynia just before death.  Vicus was mortally wounded as well, but any loss of life is prevented as Audric bends down to administer magical healing.

After our triage of the situation is complete, additional guards are posted throughout the night, and when morning comes, we turn once again to the wounded, discussing plans as best we can with Vicus and Tirynia.  Another full day of work is required with a complete crew in order to finish repairs on the bridge.  Audric intends to complete the magical healing that he started, and I commit to helping to the extent I’m able.  We decide to delay our return expedition into the cave below and see to the care of our wounded.  A roaring fire is built to allow those that need it to get the warmth and rest they need.

A few coins and other valuables are recovered from the fallen goblins as we pile their bodies into a shallow pit, the capable among us heaping rocks atop them.  We consider ourselves fortunate that all survived the attack, and the spirits of the engineers and others in the camp seem high despite the danger.  Audric works well into the night completing his ministrations to those wounded in preparation of tomorrow’s work.  We decide to leave the tools below and bring the most valuable commodity we have—the lives of the engineers—into the tunnels where we can more directly watch over them.  The mule is left below, but we are fortunate and the night passes without further incidence.

The following morning, we are greeted by a moderate and growing wind, the temperature dropping severely.  This makes us feel better about our decision to move everyone into the cave where we can keep fires burning to keep everyone warm, and where all are protected from the cutting wind.  With the intention of completing repairs on the bridge, we remove the barricade and climb through the shaft once again.  I conjure light ahead of me but see no threat, so Nerrick and Audric follow as we investigate for signs of danger.  Audric crosses the bridge safely, inspecting it against any damage that may have occurred, but finds nothing.  We bring the engineering crew in to continue their work.

Peering into the black below, I focus my magical senses to where I know the cave entrance to be and feel a sense of evil emanating from the fell opening.  It’s almost as if the creatures haven’t moved for days, lurking silently and stilly near the cave entrance.  We turn our discussion towards ridding the cave of the unnatural threat.

As we split the group and begin to make magical preparations, Lom steps forward, offering Nerrick his enchanted axe.  Having encountered undead before, it is known that mundane weapons are sometimes of little or no use—a mighty gift indeed.  “Just make sure I get it back,” Lom imparts.

Several minutes are spent layering what protections I can bring to bear on myself and others in preparation for our descent and likely melee.  When we eventually drop down, we find our foe much as we expect to, standing silently in the tunnel entrance.  With a globe of light emanating from my own enchanted weapon, we clamber along the ceiling of the cave—once again, Selben’s craft has proven useful indeed.  The creatures twitch and are quick to track our movements, moving swiftly to match our progress into the cave.  Once again trusting in my protections, I drop to the cave floor to attract their attention, buying time for Audric and Nerrick to descend and prepare for combat.

The creatures race towards me with hissing maws and raking claws but are shunted away by my abjurations.  My heart beats in my chest as I stand and face them, the creatures content to wait in lifeless silence as my allies prepare for assault.

A wave of nausea overwhelms us as two other creatures approach, the cave’s air thick and stifling.  While we seize the initiative, none of us are able to land effective strikes.  Nerrick and I fend off attacks, though Audric is scratched by one of the creatures and is nearly overcome by wracking paralysis before managing to shake it off.  The true danger of our foes lies not in their claws and fangs, but in their ability to steal our freedom of movement.

I spare a moment during the melee to gesture towards the cave entrance and the water beyond, asking if perhaps retreat is the better course of action.  Audric and Nerrick both shake their heads, seeming eager to put an end to this threat.

Unfortunately, the tides of battle do not turn in our favor.

We are assaulted by claws which seem to come from all angles.  Both Nerrick and Audric manage to avoid succumbing to paralysis after being struck, Audric managing to stand strong despite several landed attacks.  Another of the creatures tears into me, rending my magical protections and flesh, though an abjuration yet remains that protects me from the paralyzing effect of its claws.

Sensing a need for allies, Audric withdraws from the melee to conjure forth minions, though not before receiving yet another attack from the creatures and shaking off its effect.  Nerrick crushes into one of the undead as four small creatures appear—kobolds, each armed with tiny spears or cleavers—and they begin hacking into our enemy.  One of the undead is run through by a tiny spear, but it only snarls in response, clawing at the kobold.

All four of them are slaughtered in an instant as we each land heavy blows upon our enemy.  Our attacks are spread out in the chaos of melee, however, and we are beset by our foes relentlessly.  Audric is struck again and again, each time managing to fight off their paralyzing touch, though our own attacks are wild and ineffective, failing to effectively wound or cripple any of them.

Turning a questioning look to my comrades once again, I can see that they are overtaken with bloodlust.  Unwilling to abandon them, I raise my maul and we counter the attacks of the creatures.  Audric finds purchase, his enchanted sword cleaving one of them in twain.  His victory is but a momentary relief, however, as Audric is struck back twice in return. 

Nerrick, as well, is wounded by claw and fang… though this time, the dwarven warrior’s resilience proves unequal to the attacks, and he is overcome by paralysis.  Two of the creatures descend on Nerrick and feast upon his helpless form, one dislocating Nerrick’s shoulder as it tears mouthfuls of the dwarf’s flesh away and his blood sprays whilst the other rips into his torso.

Audric and I, overwhelmed by nausea, wounds, and now a growing sense of defeat, are unable to land return attacks of our own.  Our foes seize initiative once again, one of them nearly disemboweling me with its claws.  Bright light flashes behind my eyes as I call out a weak challenge, bringing my maul to bear on the creature.  It is but a glancing blow, however, and my vison fades to black as one of the creatures pulls me to the ground and completes its task, spilling my guts on the cave floor.

Audric, standing alone against two remaining horrors, swings his enchanted blade wildly.  The Mystran warrior conducts himself honorably against the overwhelming threat, surviving yet another blow and its crippling effect.

Outmatched, Audric is overrun by one final lunge of the creatures, his flesh torn, blood splattering the cave walls as they pull him to the ground.

We perish in an unnamed cave in an unnamed mine beneath an unnamed mountain in the wilds of the Frozenfar.


Sunday, July 4, 2021

Tooth and Fang

Exul’tul.

...

Exul’tul.

I know not that name.

But you do.

...


Wolfslayer.

Zeb’s eyes fluttered open, his nostrils flaring, hackles raised. Smoke from the party’s campfire billowed around him, yet he found himself alone.

Nearly.

Malar has betrayed you, and you him. The Beastlord with his actions, you with idle thoughts. Notions of... abandonment. Would you deny this?

Zeb looked around, trying to gain his bearings. An encroaching haze shrouded a vague presence. Distant, yet closer than arm’s reach. An omniscient force of overwhelming and unfathomable power. It uttered its will into Zeb’s being, an echoing cacophony through his bones, neither mortal man nor mortal woman, silent yet deafening.

Who are you?

Heed my call where the land is unspoiled, untarnished, untethered. Amalgamate my followers where the rivers weep the lifeblood of the unchained. You are bound by no god to follow a path that ill-befits your station.

Who are you?

A challenger to Malar’s throne.

Zeb awoke in a cold sweat, the frigid night air cut by the taunting, flickering flames. Bonie slept soundly beside him, her supple form caressing his body for warmth. Instinctively, Zeb reached out to Malar, seeking a conversation with his deity.

Before the Beastlord would answer, sleep took him.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

XP awards for session 44

I'm going to go ahead and allocate XP for last session now. There's only one award to distribute, but it's a doozy...

The demon from the chasm is worth a massive 22,000 XP. Sure didn't feel like it thanks to Zeb's protection from evil, 10-ft radius spell, but well-earned nonetheless. The award is divided as follows:

  • PCs/NPCs (4, including Bonie) - 4,400 each
  • Henchmen (2) - 2,200 each

Updated totals, then, are as follows:

  • Vonn - 13,088
  • Audric - 34,389
  • Zeb - 3,000/56,869
  • Selben (h) - 18,451
  • Lom (h) - 10,730
The only level-up goes to Vonn, though Audric, Zeb, and Selben are inching close. No training outside Fireshear, so Vonn will remain at 3rd level in terms of ability until the party makes its return.