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4/16/2014 7:28 pm  #41

Re: This year is Fish

III. Poisoned Fangs and Poisoned Dreams

Audgisl flung his rope across to Comhan, who made it fast to a tree. The shaman looped the other end around a boulder, and Comhan prepared to shimmy across the ravine. He paused, though, as he realized that like his sword, hauling himself across a rope might require two hands. He spent a few minutes spinning about the clearing, trying to see if he could wedge the six-foot blade between his armor and his underclothes. Before straining a muscle, though, he cursed, spat out a warning, and flung the great blade across the chasm. It clanged loudly against the stone, and the echoes rose and died and were reborn to die again between the cliff and the woods. "We're both coming for you, you bastards!" he cried at the silent cliff. Then he swung out on the rope, wrapped his ankles around it, and began to shimmy hand over hand across the unknowable gulf. The others waited nervously as the fighter slid through the mists. Comhan tried not to look below him. Even though there was no way to see the bottom or to know what gulfs he moved across, the sense of menace rising from the cleft was palpable, and cold sweat dripped down his arms and neck as he hurried across.

He had almost reached the far side when a swirl in the mist caught his eye. Something was coming, rising up from the hellish depth, and it was almost upon him. The big Kelt cried a warning and tried to hurry, but it was too late. A face out of nightmare broke through the fog from below, seeming to leap out from the very wall Comhan was racing toward. For a confused instant he thought it was one of the hyaena-men was somehow unfolding from the chasm wall, somehow clinging with invisible limbs and stretching its head impossibly forward. But then he realized that the head was almost lost in a bloated and furred abdomen. It was a spider, a spider the size of a mule, and it leaped easily from a perch on the chasm wall, unfolding itself onto the rope above Comhan, reaching its nightmare face almost delicately past the twisted hemp and the fighter's desperate hands. Comhan felt a single drop of venom splash on his neck before the fangs slipped through his skin. He screamed, fought to keep his grip. Then his whole body clenched in pain, and he felt his limbs slip from the rope. Silent now, he disappeared downward into the mist, which marked his passing not at all.

The others were stunned by the sudden appearance of the spider. In the brief moment that it considered them with its too many black eyes, though, they recovered, and arrows began to slam into its chitin from the bows of Euthymios and Siomha. The spider screamed, seeming to vent hate through its every limb. Then a missile of silver light flashed from Demostrate's Hyperborean tube, and the spider slipped off the rope and plummeted, disappearing into the chasm's fog as suddenly as and finally as Comhan had.

Euthymios and Audgisl rushed forward and stared into the chasm. There was no sign of the fallen fighter, and no sounds no matter how they strained their ears. Finally Euthymios retrieved the Kelt's great sword and gave it an experimental swing. He gestured up the winding trail. "It is from hell's heart he stabs at them now."

"Swings at them, you mean," Demostrate pointed out. "If you want to use that thing, you had better know that much."

"Let us go," the Kimmerian said. And so silently, they formed a line and began to climb.

In places, rocky steps were cut into the cliff face to form the trail. It twisted up the cliff, narrow and steep. As they neared the ledge at its top, Euthymios nocked an arrow to his bow, and Siomha hefted a hand axe, ready to throw. After making sure all were ready, they moved at speed around the last bend, seeking to get as many of them as possible to the ledge in case anything waited there. And the precaution was well taken. Ranged across the ledge now were four more of the hyaena-men, which howled and yipped in bloodlust as they party breasted over the edge. The beasts fired arrows as Euthymios and Siomha loosed their own missiles, and then all thought of strategy and aim disappeared as screaming bodies and flashing steel filled the narrow ledge. It was a chaos of blade and desperate action, and though it lasted less than a minute, when the fight ended, every member of the party was bleeding and battered. The four hyaena-men had fought with hysterical frenzy, attacking even as death came for them and whatever hell awaited their bestial spirits opened its gates. The survivors grimly bound their wounds and confronted the door in the cliff.

It had no hinges and no latch, a square of green-black stone set in the natural rock of the cliff. A circle had been carved in it, and within that rune-edged area, the now-familiar spiral and skull were deeply engraved. These were marked with old, dried blood. Audgisl examined it critically for a few moments and then moved across the ledge to where the severed hand of one the hyaena-men lay, still loosely gripped around the haft of a battle axe. He held the wrist above the carved spiral, and shook out drops of fresh congealing blood upon it. With a scraping sound they could feel in their spines, the door rotated on a hidden pivot and swung open. Beyond it, a passage, worked in the same green-black stone as the door, stretched into darkness. Demostrate grabbed the shaman before he could advance. "No, Viking! We are too wounded. We must rest, and you must tend to Euthymios's wounds before we face that dark."

"What do you suggest, fire-witch? That we bide here on the doorstep? That will make it easier for whatever waits within, that is sure. Will you light a blaze to guide them to us?"

Demostrate turned and looked back, down the cliff and across the mist-shrouded ravine to the black pines on its other side. "No," she said. "We shall light no fire this night. We will use the dark to hide in before we must bring the flames to it."

An hour later they had crossed back over the ravine. The carcasses of the hyaena-men had been flung first down the cliff face and then into the chasm, Euthymios thinking it might even please Comhan's spirit to have vanquished enemies in what had become his tomb. They had crossed the rope by turns, watching all around for ambush. Once across, they untied the rope from its anchor on that side. Nausa, whose family were wiredrawers for the farms and shops of Hawkford, cleverly wove the wire he had brought into the rope's end and then lowered the rope into the chasm. "If anyone comes down from the other side, they might at least think we cut the rope at this end," he explained. "And we can draw this up in the morning." He looked around at the dead white light that came from everywhere and nowhere in the fog. "Or whenever we decide the morning has come in this rotting corpse of a place."

As carefully as she could, Siomha led them a few yards into the pines. The skeletal black branches were too thickly and tightly intertwined for them to penetrate deeply without hacking an obvious trail. The ranger did what she could to conceal their path, but it was impossible to hide the passage of so many. Finally, they settled in to a cheerless hollow, resting by turns as the hours dragged changelessly on. When they were able to sleep, their dreams were torn and twisted, seeming to follow the bone-white spiral through spaces far beyond Hyperborea, into circling realms of madness where insane piping seemed to emerge from the fleshless lips of skulls. It was a haunted but somewhat more whole group that drew up the wire some hours later and recrossed the chasm.

Last edited by Handy Haversack (4/16/2014 8:55 pm)


4/16/2014 8:56 pm  #42

Re: This year is Fish

[III. Continued]

Grimly, they mounted the stairs. The door was closed, and there were no more fresh corpses from which to get blood. Audgisl wordlessly drew a blade across his arm and dripped blood onto the carven spiral. As he did, he felt something flow outward from the spiral and skull, questing up the thread of his blood and into his body. He connected. For a moment the same piping madness seemed to sound in his mind. He panicked, trying to pull away from the eldritch presence that suddenly joined him in his own soul. He sought the bearmind, but it was no use. The laughter of rotten bones echoed in his mind. His vision cleared, but even as the party formed its lines and lit torches, the shaman could still feel the presence, like a layer of filth between his skin and his bones. They moved down the dark passage and into the silent hall.

Siomha bent carefully over the dust in the hall. She could see older tracks from, she guessed, a day or more ago. There were several sets of booted feet. More fresh, though, a single set of huge tracks in heavy boots had come recently, at some time after they had retreated across the chasm. But she could make no guesses as to the identities of any of them. The corrider went fifty feet, turned to the right, and then immediately back to the left before opening into a chamber. Their torch light picked out a statue across the chamber from them, made of ages-old black stone. It was Mordezzan. The god of death's black robes hid his skeletal form, but not the long talons that extended from his fingers. A spiral of dull white stone was affixed to the statue's face, the mark of Azathoth. Whoever had built this shrine had melded worship of death with pure chaos. Behind the statue, black tapestries decaying into dust hung from ancient rods. Siomha was in the lead as the party advanced to investigate the statue. From the darkness above her, something dead white, coiled and sinuous dropped onto the stunned ranger. It seemed a serpent, with flaring head and flicking tongue. But instead of scales, its whole body was dull white flesh. Its jaws gaped as it struck at Siomha, and even as she sought to evade the poisoned bite, she saw that the inside of its maw was the same dead white flesh. Only its eyes showed any difference, dully glowing pools of red malevolence. It struck in silence. The ranger barely beat down the massive head before the jaws could close on her, but she was badly shaken. The others charged forward. Again the flesh serpent struck, and again Simoha dodged, smashing against the wall rather than chancing the venom that splashed from the thing's mouth as it struck. Now they had it surrounded, and blades flashed in the guttering torch light. Siomha's axe crashed into the thing's jaw, and as it reared above her in silent agony, Euthymios struck with Comhan's sword, slicing cleanly through the horrid trunk. It fell in two halves, but no blood exploded from the corpse. Small drops oozed instead from each side of the cut. The dead white flesh was solid, filling the creature completely. In horror, they pressed on, talking Audgisl out of hauling the black statue down before they left the chamber.

Another passage exited the room from the same wall through which they had entered, though two short sets of stairs dropped downward during its fifty-foot length. As they neared narrow left turn at its end, they could hear the rising and falling of a human voice. Leaving the party around the corner, Siomha sneaked forward. A narrow archway led into another room, almost square except for one rounded-off corner. A wooden table surrounded by several chairs occupied the room's center, and tallow candles set on the black wood guttered and spat and illuminated in shaking light the source of the voice. It was a man--or had been. Battered chain mail hung loosely on his wasted form. The chain coif left his face exposed. His mouth worked without cease, but Siomha had trouble focusing on the words as she gaped at the face from which they poured. The man's skin crawled. Bits of skin detached and ran down his face, mirroring the spitting tallows that pooled on the table. With horror, Siomha saw that the skin on his hands was the same, shedding gobbets that crawled as if possessed of some questing intelligence. Each would wander some distance across the man's flesh and then either disappear under the rusted chain mail or, sickeningly, be reabsorbed, sinking back into the body even as more were spawned and began to describe their own hideous course. He seemed old, though Siomha could not guess how much of what she saw was the effect of his years and how much the effect of whatever daemonic power now ruled him. Chunks of flowing skin flowed into his mouth during his constant litany.

"--an' back taegither alls again my Brigid in HIS power an' thro' his works Brigid the long years are gray an' faded now since you were lost still so lovely Brigid in the sun an' the song o' the wind in your eyes an' long an' long I waited pissed on an' pissin' away in that sinkin' alley thrown slops like a dog but now Brigid HIS power is in me an' through HIS name life again taegither us an' all an' always as we was Brigid young an' whole the years ta'en awa agin thro' HIM and HIS name an' HIS power O my Brigid I ha' waited lass the long years an' dreich years an' drank awa the dark years all without you Brigid but I be the first o' HIS servant first to take in HIS name the skin that was an' you an' I shall be taegither an' young an' all an' always O my Brigid--"

Shuddering, Siomha withdrew around the corner and told the others in a fevered whisper to follow her. They all stopped in shock at what they saw. Audgisl and Euthymios held their weapons forward, but Siomha gestured them back. The old man's litany never stopped, but when he saw the armed group enter, he heaved to his feet, a fresh eructation of crawling flesh running over his face and arms as he hauled an old short sword out of a battered scabbard.

"Wait!" Siomha cried. "Who has done this to you? Who is HE? What power holds you? Tell us, and we shall seek to free you to be with your Brigid!"

The old man lurched forward, bringing the sword about. "--HIS is the power tha' shall free us Brigid never hear the words of the fallen they shall be skinless bones for HIS pleasure an' we in HIS name'll know HIS power O Brigid--"

"Whose name? What is the name? Stop old man, I don't want to hurt you!"

"--ne'er pain ne'er fear ne'er wither again like untasted fruit O my Brigid in HIS name taegither--" the old man drew his arm back to strike at Siomha, and Audgisl and Euthymios were there on either side, striking him down. The old man shuddered once, and his crawling skin seemed to writhe in one last furious effort. Then all was still.

"There is a name we must learn," Audgisl said, shuddering as he felt resistance from whatever power was in him. "It is what has taken this place. It must be whatever Ottvar's master was able to call up before the druids flushed him out of his den."

"I'd say so," Demostrate agreed. "I don't think it's wisdom one would gain from eating this." From the table she picked up a wooden bowl. Within it was a single withered berry. "Though perhaps this weak-willed creature believed otherwise. I wonder who else has sampled these wares." She looked meaningfully at Euthymios, who took the bowl from her hands, dumped the berry on the stone floor, and ground it beneath his heel.

"Come on. I have a debt to pay to the bastard who grew that."

     Thread Starter

4/16/2014 9:47 pm  #43

Re: This year is Fish

IV. Dark Knowledge and Dark Deeds

They left the room through a door that led deeper into the cliff. A thirty-foot hall opened into a long rectangular chamber. In each corner stood a chest, all black with age. After a hurried conference, the split up, heading to the various corners to open the mysterious chests as best they could. In one, Audgisl, after much careful smashing of the lock, found 3 rings: gold set with jade, silver set with jade, and bronze set with fire opal. He considered his job more well done than that of Euthymios, from whose chest had exploded four dead-white, hairless rats, their eyes the same mat glow as that of the daemon snake. The cataphract had cleverly stood behind the chest while opening it, and he was able to smash the lid back down, trapping three of them. The fourth he smashed with his war hammer before picking Comhan's sword back up and checking on the others. Demostrate's efforts revealed a lantern, four torches, and some old black candles. She filled the lantern with lamp oil and added to their light. In the last chest, Nausa's determined smashing revealed, under a pile of rags, a secret compartment. From within it, he drew forth a parchment. It showed a round room with a column in its center. Hallways marked by doors left the room at the northern, western, and southern points. Demostrate kept the map in case its provenance became clear.

They went through a door opposite the one they had whence they had entered. The hall beyond bent sharply after only a dozen feet. Two narrow alcoves were hidden in that bend, and as they passed them, two forms launched out of the shadows. They were dead, but they moved with horrible speed, their jaws stretched wide, lashing out with terrible power in their dead arms. Worse, they were freshly dead--citizens of Hawkford, normal folk of the Keltic town. But now they raved for flesh as they attacked. The party was able to fend off the gnashing teeth, though Siomha and Euthymios were both battered by terrible blows. In seconds the dead were still again, and the party pressed on.

The hall shortly ended in a door, but it resisted all their efforts to pull it open. Set in the wall next to it, though, was a lever. After a cursory inspection for obvious traps, Demostrate shrugged and yanked the lever down. There was a grinding noise. When it ceased, Siomha tried the door again, and it opened, revealing a round room lined with bookshelves and thick with the smell of rotten leather and parchment. A column rose from the center of the floor, shrouded in deep red drapes. Near it, a stone pillar rose to waist height. A compass set atop this pointed north toward the door from which they had entered, but the other two doors in the room did not match the positions marked on the map they had found, being in the east and southwest. Next to the pedestal, another lever was set in the floor. It could be pushed clockwise or counterclockwise. The walls were lined with bookshelves between recessed alcoves. Demostrate and Nausa moved toward the books as if compelled, but a few moments' investigation proved that the books were almost all completely rotted away. Those that were not, Nausa noted, proved so mundane as to be not worth the effort it took to inscribe them. They split up, tasking the warriors to bring them any tome that seemed whole enough to investigate. Demostrate also insisted that no one try to open a door until after they had searched the shelves. Several minutes' more investigation had turned up no useful books, but then Euthymios called the others over. On a shelf in the southeast, he had found a book that seemed in much better condition than all the others. This was because it was no book but another lever concealed as a book.

They decided to hold off on that mystery until they had solved the position of the doors. Nervously, Demostrate pushed the lever near the pedestal widdershins. There was a great grinding sound, and the whole room trembled. The only clear change, though was that the needle on the compass swung slowly through a tenth of the circle. North had shifted. Or rather, the room itself had shifted while the compass kept pointing toward far, haunted Mount Vhuurmithadon. After checking the map, Demostrate pulled the lever once more. Now the doors lined up with the map, and they moved over to the false book that Euthymios had discovered.

The warrior gingerly tugged it, and the shelf swung away from the wall, revealing another shelf hidden behind it. With cries of joy, Nausa and Demostrate shoved the big Kimmerian out of the way to inspect the hidden volumes. They proved on the whole in much better shape and of much greater value. The entire shelf concerned the mysteries of architecture, and indeed, a quick perusal showed a diagram of a shifting room much like the one they were in. Another volume concerned the nature of the great, age-haunted towers of Khromarium. Demostrate was about to lose herself in these books when Nausa pointed out that the lever that rotated the room must rotate an inner shell. The outer, where this shelf was, would stay in place, possibly swinging other shelves into place. After that, many hours passed as the pyromancer and the illusionist lost themselves in Many a Quaint and Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore.

The hidden shelves each held one to four salvageable volumes. After architecture, the shelves revealed libraries concerning elemental magic (eagerly claimed by Demostrate), portals and teleportation, chaos and destruction, mind control and empathy (which Nausa claimed as his own), death and necromancy, alchemy and poisons, demonology and summoning, and animal and plant magic. Audgisl claimed the two bark-bound volumes on this last shelf for his own. Euthymios argued that the books on necromancy and demons should be immediately destroyed. Demostrate quailed at the idea, and then realized that these, possibly, could be immediately useful. She and Nausa divided the four books and, by the light of the replenished lantern, began to pour over them. For two hours they chased tantalizing clues until Nausa finally called out in triumph.

"I have it! I have found the name!

"We face a skin daemon. While it is summoned it seeks to turn everyone alive to its worship. They can join its cult, become its zombies, or be flayed by its power. I'm sorry, Euthymios. Your brother failed some test in the daemon's mind after sampling its wares. And that's what happened to the people in town, too. But there will be others who have passed the test and now must serve it as it summons more power here. It is probably not even manifested. But it will seek to create a vessel. I would think the tracks Siomha found are people of Hawkford now forced or choosing to serve as its cult. Somewhere here they are summoning its avatar.

"But we're armed, too. We have its name.

"It is called Zlgrur.

"And I have a daemon bone.

"So let's go kill the bastard."

Last edited by Handy Haversack (4/16/2014 9:57 pm)

     Thread Starter

4/17/2014 9:34 pm  #44

Re: This year is Fish

(IV. Continued)

They headed out of the library. Demostrate, Nausa, and Audgisl brought with them the books they had found most precious to their arts, in which, so they hoped, the formulae for more spells might be hidden. The rest that might prove valuable they left in sacks in the library, hoping to grab them before leaving, if any of them were able to leave the hidden temple alive. At random, they chose the southern exit from the library. A short hall opened into a square chamber. It seemed to be an old sanctum, long deserted two of the walls were lined with stone shelves, the wooden dividers rotted away with the silent years. From the center of the room, black eyes stared at them from a lean, savage face. It was another of the gaunt hounds that they had found so many days ago ravaging the body of Harlan the druid. Those had attacked in silence, but this one yowled and screamed, tearing hellish sounds out of its thin neck. It leaped to attack, still screaming. Though it slammed its body against Euthymios as he avoided its jaws, Audgisl speared its sinewy haunch. As it turned to snap at the pain, Euthymios brought Comhan's great sword down across its spine and chopped the beast in two.

Nausa began to move toward the shelves to investigate their contents, but Siomha and Euthymios insisted they keep moving--the gaunt hound's cries could have attracted notice. There were two exits from the room. From the northwestern corner a passage sloped down and curved away to the left. And in the western wall, another rough arch led into what looked like a natural cavern. They formed up and moved toward this narrow opening. Stairs were roughly cut into the passage, leading downward into a larger cave. They were still strung out along these stairs when something moved into view from the cavern's shadows. Audgisl could not stop the cry of pain and fear that tore itself from his mouth. He felt the unclean presence that seemed to slide and coil between his skin and his bones clench as if in sick glee. What came out of the shadows was a bear--or had been. Its fur was almost completely gone. Chunks of dead skin hung at the ends of tattered strands of flesh, and they seemed to dance as the undead creature roared a silent challenge and raced across the cavern. With a cry of inarticulate rage, Audgisl planted the end of his spear firmly against the stone floor and met the bear's charge. His spear head plowed a deep bloodless furrow along its flank. One of the thing's paws caught Audgisl, barely cushioned by the bearskin totem that covered his upper body. Euthymios's swing went wide as the bear thrashed toward the shaman, and Siomha's axe clipped a dead ear and sent it sailing into the darkness.

But then Demostrate and Nausa called out from the group's rear, still in the sanctum chamber. The gaunt hound's howls had been heard. From the other passage an enormous hyaena-man charged the spell casters. The thing was almost eight feet tall. It wore leather armor studded everywhere with bones, and its shield, strapped to one arm, was made of human leg bones, sickly white in the flickering torch light. In one hand it held a huge flail, hinged with sinew and vertebrae and ending in a human skull into whose jawbone iron spikes had been hammered. Blood ran from its face where it had clawed bloody furrows, rending off strips of its own flesh, and these were in its maw as it charged, screaming out a spray of crimson foam. Demostrate had no time to react. It swung its great flail, missing her head by inches. But the skull crashed into her hip, the spikes digging deep into flesh and bone. The pyromancer went down in a convulsing heap.

Nausa was already retreating as Siomha and Euthymios turned away from the undead bear and raced back into the sanctum. The great sword rebounded off the hyaena-man's shield, shivering in Euthymios's grip. Siomha's battle axe scored a glancing blow on its ribs, turned by the splints of bone. But its return strike sent the iron-studded skull over her shield, smashing into her helmet. The ranger flew backward and lay unmoving against the wall. "Audgisl, help!" Euthymios had time to call before a fan of hellish colors suddenly leapt from Nausa's fingers. The illusionist's spells, carefully hoarded as they won their way to the shrine, rested, won their way in, read, and won their way forward again, were finally being used. Unfortunately, the hyaena champion seemed not to notice. Euthymios, though, was overwhelmed and slumped unmoving to the ground. "Audgisl, help!" Nausa echoed Euthymios's cry.

The shaman warred within himself. What he faced was filth, a crime against the bearmind, against the spirit to which he dedicated his life. But if he slew it while his companions were killed, he would never live to cleanse his own spirit. For a moment, he could not decide. Then a desperate plan came to him: "Zlgrur!" he screamed, and he turned and raced away to aid his companions. No claw raked across his back as he did. The undead bear had turned and fled at its master's name. Audgisl came into the sanctum as the hyaena-man advanced on Nausa, its flail ready to strike. He chanted and pointed, and a nimbus of light sprang into being on the creature's face. Blinded, it lashed out, and the Esquimeaux danced back from its flail. "You did it! You cast a spell, too!" he cried.

"Quiet, fool! Help the others!"

Audgisl moved forward. His spear lashed out at the hyaena-man, distracting it as Nausa bent over Demostrate, bandaging her hideous wounds as best he could. He began to drag her from the room as Audgisl continued to fence with the blinded hyaena-man even as he tried to keep it between him and the . The creature's armor and incredible reflexes continued to foil the shaman's blows, but he also was able to dodge the wild swings of the flail. Nausa raced back into the chamber, grabbing Siomha under the arms and preparing to haul the ranger out of the room. He stopped and stared in terror as something else emerged from the passage. The hyaena-man seemed to sense the presence. Its screams rose to an ecstatic pitch. Bloody froth sprayed from its mouth as it waved its flail wildly above its head. Its inarticulate cries could not name the thing that had appeared, but there was no need. The daemon was among them.

It was humanoid and eyeless and white. Its flesh stretched taut over empty sockets under a high receding brow, stretched taut over rippling muscles and joints that seemed hinged both ways. From raw red slits in the white flesh at the ends of its arms, long, skinning talons emerged, seeming to absorb the torch light that fell on them. Obscene joy seemed to radiate from it as it took in the room. Then, though it had no mouth, it screamed.

The sound was the hellish incarnation of fear. It tore through Nausa's mind, and he lost himself, lost his desperate mission, lost everything he knew but the wild desire to flee. Dropping Siomha, he turned and raced back toward the library. Audgisl, though, resisted. Even as the foul presence within him whispered wordless mindless terror in sympathy with the scream, Audgisl clung to the bearmind. He knew what he was. And he knew what he was not. He was not frail. He was not human. He was not afraid. He was the bear. He screamed back, roaring animal rage at the daemon form.

The daemon was not alone. Behind it, four humans poured into the room. Two of them Audgisl knew: Tam, whom they had rescued from the mountain-ape's cave, and the guard in Hawkford who had set them up to be robbed and killed. This one was drawing a short sword as he came, and Tam was struggling with him, trying to keep the blade in its sheath. The boy seemed to be struggling with himself as well, as if torn in two. Tears leaked from his eyes, and he was biting his lips so hard they bled. "I cannot fight it!" he cried. "Set me free, O set me free! I will not be its creature any longer!"

The daemon turned toward Audgisl and began to advance, fanning its talons in an obscene parody of grace. Audgisl did not stop roaring, but he found a word within the bearmind. Even as he reached into his pouch and drew forth a flask of Green Fire, he roared its name.

"ZLGRUR! Go back! You shall not have the flesh of the bear!" The daemon flinched, reeled, made to leap forward, and the flask of Green Fire caught it full in the face. Almost carelessly, Audgisl sidestepped the wildly swinging bone flail. "ZLGRUR! Can you feel my claws, you filth? Do they burn? Come feel my teeth as well!" And with a wild cry, the shaman lowered his spear and charged.

As he did so, Euthymios rose to consciousness, staggering back into his mind from the chaos of colors he had been lost in since Nausa had cast his spell. He found his actual surroundings almost as confusing. Four Kelts were staggering about the room. One was the boy he had had kept Comhan from killing, and another was the fat gate guard who had disappeared after trying to kill them all. These four were clutching their heads as Audgisl cried out his rage against a form out of nightmare. All this was confusing--as was the enormous bone-draped hyaena-man who had somehow covered his face with light. But he still knew what to do. Ignoring the fallen great sword, he drew his war hammer and smashed the hyaena-man's shoulder as it lurched after the sound of Audgisl's voice. Screaming in rage, the creature turned on him. But Audgisl was roaring in triumph now. His spear transfixed the daemon. Its talons lashed out, striking sparks against the metal head as it tried it claw it from its body. Green Fire still flashed along its flesh, which burned and dripped off in sickening rivulets of filth. It screamed again directly in the shaman's face. But the spear held it off, and Audgisl twisted it in the wound, roared his defiance, and yanked the weapon free. The daemon dropped, for a moment, twisting spirals of energy seemed to dance along its form. And then it dissolved, and the sick white puddle it formed extinguished the last of the Green Fire. Audgisl turned to face Euthymios and the hyaena-champion, which had sensed the passing of its master. It mewled piteously, and the Kimmerian's hammer smashed it back against the wall. Still roaring, Audgisl charged. His spear smashed through the bone splints and pinned the creature against the wall. Audgisl bared his teeth. "I am the hunger in the cave," he whispered. "I am claws on the bark. I am untouched by stinger and alone in the sun on the last stone of the mountain. I am the spirit of the bear. And you are my prey." And he wrenched the spear out, followed by a geyser of blood.

With an inarticulate cry of rage and despair, the Keltic guard from Hawkford finally wrenched his sword from its scabbard and charged at Audgisl and Euthymios. Almost casually, the Kimmerian stepped in front of his companion, swinging his hammer in a low, deadly arc as he avoided the fat man's blade. The hammer took him in the chest, and blood fountained from his mouth as he tumbled to land on the fallen hyaena-man.

The only sound in the chamber was the sobbing of the other people of Hawkford, now suddenly released from their thralldom. Euthymios was turning to Audgisl when Nausa sheepishly reentered the room.

"Did we win? I was never in doubt! Well done, all. Oh, also, I checked--the books are still in the library. So we don't have to worry about that."

     Thread Starter

4/18/2014 10:55 pm  #45

Re: This year is Fish

I don't think there's time to run through all the cleaning up and crying. They got several potions. The gnoll champion's bone shield is magical, and Euthymios took it. The sold off a bunch of books in Hawkford for 1,500 GP. Demostrate leveled. She, Nausa, and Audgisl spent another month going through the books important to their classes and found spells in them. Some were castable at their level (Nausa), some not (Demostrate), who elected not to take write as her next spell and instead try to preserve the books.

She went down to -8! She lost a point of DEX to a permanent limp.

[Edit]: Oh! And a ring of warmth. Perfect for her.

I'm sure an important festival happened in those weeks. I'll figure it out tomorrow.

Last edited by Handy Haversack (4/18/2014 10:56 pm)

     Thread Starter

4/21/2014 7:07 pm  #46

Re: This year is Fish

Session 4:
Em: Demostrate Agauedoros (Amazon Pyromancer, N)
Iain: Wapping Morden (of the Wapping Mordens) (Keltic Druid, N)
Jamie: Euthymios (Kimmerian Cataphract, N)
J: Demetios Eunikedotos (Amazon Berserker (male), CG)
Audgisl Liknmunarson (Viking Shaman [bear], N)
Ross: Nausa (Esquimaux Illusionist, N [f*** Y'all])
NPC (played by Em): Siomha Inghean Niall (Keltic Ranger, CG)

They had indeed won. and there was little left but the cleaning up and guarding the wounded. Audgisl got Demostrate stabilized, and with Tam's help the party cleared out the remaining rooms after first ending the existence of the now strangely bereft and directionless undead bear. They found several potions and a black iron ceremonial dagger. They also took the bone shield of the hyaena-man champion, which would prove to be enchanted (as was the dagger, though no one could quite tell how). Forming their new charges into a protective square, in the center of which Tam bore the unconscious Demostrate, the collected the books from the library and set out to figure out a way to navigate the chasm. But when they emerged from the stone door, they were shocked. Standing only twenty feet away in the dim daen light were Ross, Lanboat II, and the silent druid acolytes. Ross raced to Euthymios, exclaiming, "But sir! You only just entered the mist wall, and then it boiled away into nothing, and this hillside was suddenly in front of us! What has happened?"

The big Kimmerian shook his head. "It was beyond the veil, boy. And there it stays."

Following again the swift-moving druids, they got the grateful former cult members back to Hawkford. The sorcerers began studying those books that were most directly related to their crafts, and Euthymios and Siomha sold the others, selling those on demonology and necromancy to the druids, who would rather pay gold for them than risk they fall into their enemies' hands. The books fetched 1,500 gold all together. One the rings also proved enchanted, and Demostrate experimented with it, realizing soon enough that while wearing it she did not feel the chill early-spring winds. It conveyed magical warmth. She claimed it eagerly, finding within it a power that chimed with her own. The other rings they sold.

They stayed five weeks at the Tarnish while the sorcerers studied the tomes and recorded the spells they could. Demostrate ended up entrusting the books on elemental magic to Brocc when the spells they contained proved too powerful for her to record. Nausa recorded mirror image in his book of illusionist spells, and Audgisl recorded the recipe for enchanting berries with health and healing power. In the final week, Demostrate returned to her hidden masters and trained, increasing her power. In that time, Audgisl researched among the woods and listened to the spirits, learning after great sacrifice how to cause plants to entangle his enemies. Nausa, too, spent a week in research and learned how to create free-standing phantasms.

They reconvened at the tarnish, for the most part much lighter in coin, at least the sorcerers. But the group still possessed funds. The sorcerers had been working hard at their craft while the warriors idled away the days, and the forced inaction had begun to chafe . . .

I. Drunkenness and Debauchery!

Demostrate discovered that Siomha had never been drunk before. Somehow, this made the plain-spoken Keltic ranger more alluring to the Amazon pyromancer. "Come!" she announced. "We will go out, you and I, and perhaps we will both find what we desire . . ."

At some point hours later, Siomha, who had found herself suddenly freer with her coin than ever before, felt a sudden urge to explore this freedom in greater depth. She did not turn her explorations in the way Demostrate had hoped. Rather, the ranger leaped to her feet in the tavern and grabbed a cittern from the startled bard who had been earning meager coin from the drunken louts of Hawkford. The ranger began to play and sing, two things she had never attempted before! She ignored the enraged howls of the bard and the pained howls of the crowd, and she ignored, too, the more amorous howls of Demostrate. The Amazon, cruelly rebuffed, now grabbed the finger cymbals from a thoroughly amused dancing girl, who had found that her loss of profits was more than made up for by being finally among the entertained rather than the entertainment. The pyromancer began one of the Amazon Dances of the Huntress. She had just reached the passage called "The Flower Opens to the Sun" when some of the town guards, who had been hauled in by the outraged bard, decided that no matter how diverting the spectacle was, no pyromancer should do *that* with flame in a decent Keltic tavern. They grabbed the drunken Amazon and hauled her off to the gaol, tossing her in with a particularly disgusting foreign berserker whom they had hauled in on general principle based on his smell. He proved, however, to be an Amazon, who had allowed himself to be imprisoned because of his general sense of his own worthlessness and degradation. Once he saw an Amazonian lady, though, he stood so fiercely over her that the guards were terrified to approach. Once she had found her legs enough to find the gaol, it cost Siomha most of her coin to get Demostrate free. The guards insisted she take the berserker, too . . .

Euthymios had accompanied Nausa on his carouse. The cataphract had drifted off at some point when the illusionist began yet another diatribe about the narrow-minded Kelts. Though the big Kimmerian agreed, he had heard the topic covered at length and in anatomically precise and impossible detail several times already. Nausa was just saying something about how his master should have been the one to defend his student to the piglike Keltic swine-laying pigs and how that Kelt would be made to pay for how he had treated his pupil. When Euthymios pried his eyes open again, the Esquimeaux was gone. Sensing in his befuddlement that this was probably unsafe, the big warrior rose, and something skittered out of his open hand to land on the oak planks of the table, now just touched by ruddy dawn light. He bent to retrieve the object. It was a gem--a moonstone, perfectly shaped in the red light, like a moon covered in bright blood. Confused, the Kimmerian pocketed the stone and stumbled outside. He did not have to go far to find Nausa, following the early crowds who had gathered to watch what the Esquimeaux kept slurringly referring to as a sorcerous duel. It did not last long. Almost contemptuously, his master gestured and emitted a string of ear-twisting syllables. Nausa was caught even as he began his own mystic gesture. The young Esquimeaux paused for a moment in midgesture. Then the dim but savage light went of his eyes, and he began to drool as he looked stupidly around at the crowd. His erstwhile master tipped his hat and walked away. Euthymios approached Nausa nervously. "Ah, how fare you, Nausa? Has he robbed your wits away?" A murderous gleam suddenly showed in the illusionist's eye. Ripping his long sword from its scabbard, he swung at the Kimmerian, who sidestepped easily. "Hold, Nausa!" he cried. It is doubtful his words were effective, but Nausa did hold, now staring stupidly at the crowd again. Euthymios took advantage of the pause to wrap Nausa in a wrestling hold and pin him to the ground. He waited while the Esquimeaux shifted from confused drooling to murderous rage for some time more, and then the light of reason, or some semblance of it, returned to the Esquimeaux. "Damn," he muttered. "That was a bad idea. Ah, well. At least he did not kill me. I suppose I will have to leave town, though. But what holds us here in Swineford anyway? Get off of me, Euthymios. I will buy you a breakfast ale."

Audgisl had spent the night drinking alone, his bearskin totem pulled forward over his head. He found himself explaining to a woman about his totem, confused when she kept calling it her fetish. He tried to insist that no, it was his totem, not her fetish, but she kept insisting that his totem and her fetish were the same thing. Blearily, he tried to change the subject and explain to her that he had recently learned how to entangle. This did not clear matters up the way he expected, but she did grab him by the arm and drag him off to a clean chamber above a shop. By the time had awoken the next morning, he had learned several times what the difference is between totem and fetish. He stumbled back to the Tarnish, where a portly druid commended him on his efforts to make himself clear and asked how it had all ended up. Trying to summon his dignity, Audgisl said, "The bear and the she-bear do not share their territory after the mating has been." The druid laughed, clapped the shaman on the back, and ordered them breakfast ales. "It's right enough," he said. "And a totem, it seems, can be a fetish to some." The two bent to the serious business of morning drinking.

By that sunset, they had all assembled in the yard of the Tarnish, now joined by the portly druid Wapping Morden (of the Wapping Mordens, he insisted) and Demetios Eunikedotos, the Amazon berserker, who was completely devoted to Euthymios, though crawling with fleas that would plague the Hawkford gaol for months. Enough of Brocc's Rooster Brews had been consumed that everyone's hands were much steadier on the drinking horns. They watched with the other gathered drinkers as three strange blue lights chased one another across the southern skies for some half an hour before disappearing, leaving many bets settled one way or another. "What do you think that could mean," Siomha asked.

"It means it's time to leave this swinish pig town!" Nausa snapped. "So let's leave the bastard."

Last edited by Handy Haversack (4/23/2014 5:12 pm)

     Thread Starter

4/23/2014 8:40 pm  #47

Re: This year is Fish

[NB: Edited the above to reflect what happened when they left the dungeon]
II. Old Friends and Old Enemies

Kitted out, gear replenished, and after several of Brocc's breakfast ales and thumping handshakes (and warnings that the other towns of the Gal Hills were even worse than Hawkford), they set off on the rough track that passed as a road to Strongfort. It roughly followed the course of the river that started at the hill of the bird-men, joined another stream passed under the bridge near the farming thorp, and then flowed toward the lake near Strongfort. Road and river both showed the signs of the Fish Year. The road was washed out in many places, and the river, swollen by melting snows and the suddenly freed earth, ran in frothing brown torrents through its narrow passes and spread out over boulder-strewn flood plains where its channel allowed. The river was almost never navigable until almost all the way to Strongfort. The Kelts and others of that town sent boats out onto the nearby lake and some small way up the stream. Strongfort was said to sit directly on the river, though somehow this did not lessen the town's reputation as a defensive fort. No one in the party had seen it, and so they did not know how this reputation had been earned.

The first day's passage was quiet. The road deviated from the true south, wandering toward the prime meridian and then away again. Siomha made their camp just where it left the grasslands and entered the pine forest again. They watched in turn through the night, but nothing threatened them, and the blue lights did not reappear in the sky. Siomha had the last watch, and she roused the others early as rain suddenly erupted from the black sky. By the time they had gathered their gear and Ross had Landboat II saddled, the rain was pouring down as hard as any of them had ever seen, and the storm still waxed in ferocity. They set off along the track, which was now washed in mud, brown torrents running down it with every declivity. They could barely see, each focusing on the back of the one in front of them as Siomha led them on, seemingly into the roaring mouth of the storm. Euthymios had to dismount and lead Landboat II, and even the trained warhorse trembled and rolled his eyes as the thunder seemed to crack the skies directly over their heads and the lightning seemed as constant as torch light under the black and tearing skies. But this torch light reached out fingers of crackling doom, smashing ancient pine trees to the ground all around them. It was all Ross could do to control even the stolid mules. They struggled on until Siomha realized they were becoming spread out. She knew that any one of them could easily become lost in the maelstrom of water and noise, blown off the track by the screaming wind. She called the others together, screaming to be heard over the sound of the tempest.

"We must find shelter! It is suicide to keep on!"

"We can shelter under the trees," Nausa cried. "They grow thick enough to block some of this black crab-lung wind!" As if to answer him, a nearby tree exploded as a lightning bolt struck it. Siomha merely looked at him to make sure the point was made.

"Stay here! I will go forward and see if I can find anything along the road. Tie yourselves together while I am gone so I can lead you to whatever I find. Stay here! I will not find you again if you move!"

"Go with her, boy!" Demostrate shouted to Demetios, and the big berserker bowed to touch her mud-covered feet with his shaggy head. He rose and stood by Siomha, beaming with pride at his mission. Audgisl motioned Siomha over and tried to call the bearmind around him and wrap a torch in fireless light. But the wind buffeted his armor, and the unfamiliar weight staggered him. He could not find the calm and shed his human thoughts, and the darkness was unabated around them. Siomha and the Amazon berserker staggered off into the tempest while the others began to tie themselves together and Ross tied the mules' leads to Landboat II's saddle.

The ranger led the Amazon along the road, planning to walk down one side of it a ways and then come back the other, searching desperately for any sign of shelter. Only the wild lightning revealed the tossing, maddened world around them. They almost stumbled into the wall before Siomha saw it for what it was: a small cabing of logs, wattle, and daub. Hides were stretched tight across a square-cut window. Across a small clearing was a stable, its wooden door shut and solid looking. "Here!" she called to the berserker. "Wait here, and I will get the others!" Demetios nodded, causing more misery to the fleas in his soaking matted hair. Not even thinking about taking shelter, he stood at the road's edge where Siomha could find him when she brought the others back.

As quickly as she could, the ranger returned to the party, gathered one end of the rope and led them on. The tempest's fury seemed to continue to grow as they hurried as best they could toward the cabin. Only the presence of Demetios, standing straight and uncaring in the chaotic gloom, kept them from missing the place entirely. The ranger led them to the stable and pounded on the door. She did not wait for any answer before she yanked the door open. Within, dry straw covered the floor in three stalls, and hay drifted down from a small loft. The party was almost blown inside the stable by the force of the winds behind them. Euthymios yanked the doors closed, and they stood gasping. The roar of the storm, now muffled by wooden walls, suddenly seemed a distant murmur. The Kimmerian bent and felt the straw. "Not moldy. Old, but dry. I think the place has not been tended in some time, but it has not stood abandoned long." He told Ross to stable the horse and mules and untied the rope that bound the party together. "Stay with the animals, boy. We will explore the house and bed there if there be room."

"You stay, too, Demetios," Demostrate instructed, finding the stable a meet place for an Amazon man to stay. She handed him her lantern. "Get this lit, but do not burn the place down. Fire is mine to control--respect it." Nodding happily, Demetios set about his task.

The door of the house yielded readily, and the party piled inside. Whatever they expected, it was not what they found. Demostrate used her fire hand to light a torch and reveal the room around them. Against one wall stood a small bed, child-sized at best, and neatly made with silk sheets and a good wool blanket over a goose-down mattress. On a small table stood two delicate goblets of dark green glass. Within them, Nausa could see the dregs a wine so dark it seemed black. A stone hearth surrounded a fireplace with a chimney of stone and baked mud. Two rafters stretched the length of the room.

Audgisl reached into his pouch and withdrew a handful of berries. He had imbued them with the power of the bear totem, and they held the power to restore health and strength. He offered them to the others. As he did, a high, piping voice spoke from the rafters. "Is there one of those good berries for me? As the hospitality of my humble homesome house is yours, it is meet that you extend a gift in return and so make our roofmeet whole." Audgisl looked upward, the last berry still in his hand. On the rafter a daemon perched.

It seemed that it could be nothing else. The creature was only two feet tall. Small, almost useless looking black bat wings curled from its shoulders and swept forward to frame its face. This face was bone-white, skin stretched tightly over sharp and strangely angled bones. A bulbous red nose jutted incongruously and improbably long and swollen. Above this were two eyes of a black darker than black, browless and lashless and flat, and above them a horn of black steel caught the torch light. From the end of the thing's long and twitching tail a blade of the same black iron extended, and it reached this long tail down toward the stunned shaman and pierced the berry delicately with the blade's needle tip. As the tail coiled back, the berry withered and blackened. When it had reached the thing's mouth, it was already rotting away, filling the small room with the stench of corruption. The creature opened an impossibly wide mouth and popped the moldering berry into it. "Ah!" it smacked its lips. "Perfect with the perfect dressing. Bear and berry, meat and fruit, I find a seasoning to match the season. Now," it fixed its eye on the party, seeming to stare at each of them at once, "my master bids me greet you after bidding that I meet you. Now I have met and gret you guests and guess that you find my house well found. We shall have many words to say."

Audgisl clamped shut his hanging jaw, yanked a dagger from his sheath, and the entire party erupted into action. Demostrate had started forward to respond to the thing on the rafter, and Euthymios held back Nausa, who seemed as if he would charge the thing. But Audgisl's dagger sliced through the air and struck the creature fully in the chest. The shaman could see the blade shiver and hear a thin ringing as it rebounded back and flew across the room. The creature was unharmed, though blacker than ever grew the abyssal depths of its eyes. "That," it piped, "was impolite. And impolitic, too, for my message unto you was not even half delivered. Control the quiver in your nerves. Your betters would have words. My master bids me bid you, and his bidding you will heed. Seek not to make me bleed again or whether bear in rut or glen I'll boil you like a hen and pluck your claws from all within." It stared at the shaken Viking until Demostrate stepped forward.

"Forgive us! We were shocked is all, with the sudden storm and then to hear a voice from above. We--we thank you for the roof and the hospitality you show. We would fain know more. What master do you serve? And what shall we call you."

The thing smiled. "Many names have I, and tongues far stranger than yours have twisted in their saying. But you may call me the Eft ["You will be," Nausa muttered], for I have more growth to come upon me in the wet dark world you call your own. Overturn the log, then, and see what crawls out to die.

"My master knows you well, and well will you know him. My master is yours as well, though you are slow and balky thralls. But in teaching and in leading, our master knows the way. You have served him already, though you knew it not. It was he who taught your Ottvar what he ought to know, he who skinned the thin-skinned who could not learn to grow. So you see you have served him already, though still you know not how."

"Ah ... so ... the necromancer then?"

"The master is the master. The Eft is but the Eft. What you are you will know when the master deigns to teach you. But I bring you his bidding and something else besides."

"We, ah, thank you for the hospitality, as I said, but we have no master nor want one. We must refuse any further gifts, though, truly, it is kind of you to offer."

"Kind will answer kind, slut of fiery witches. Something hither twitches, someone rings the chimes. Who is at the door, scratching to get in? All will serve the master, even those lost beyond the veil."

With that, the door burst open, and a nightmare poured in. The storm still raged, and fire and water and noise filled the open door for an instant before swift forms leapt through it. Four hyaena-men lunged forward, but these hyaena-men were the product of necromancy. They were long dead, and most of the flesh had rotted off their bones. But like a true nightmare, the worst was the familiarity that all felt as they saw the creatures. For they recognized them. As one lunged at Simomha, she realized that the jagged bone that projected from its wrist had been exposed when she had cut off the same creature's hand weeks ago when they fought in front of the door to the shrine of Mordezzan and Azathoth. These were the same hyaena-men, now risen as skeletons. Worse, though, was the fifth form that came through the door. Its eyes were red and flashing, and long, forked tongue licked out between black and rotted lips. Black talons tipped its dead-white fingers. Battered armor hung on the gaunt familiar form. It was Comhan, and with a cry of lust for flesh, the dead Kelt led his dead troops forward.

     Thread Starter

4/24/2014 5:58 pm  #48

Re: This year is Fish

(II, continued)
Euthymios dropped the great sword he held a pulled out his war hammer. In the small room with his companions all around him, there was little room to swing the thing. And more, he felt strange at the thought of striking this monstrosity that was once Comhan with the blade the Kelt had treasured so in life. Euthymios would strike down this flesh-eating abomination that his fellow warrior had become. But he did not have to like it. Nor, it turned out, would he have the chance. As he and the ghoulish Kelt came together, his hammer was turned by Comhan's mail, still stout despite the gravemould that clung to it. But the black claws on the thing's talons raked across Euthymios's neck as he pulled back. The wound was not deep, but he felt a numbing cold spread out from it. As the fight raged around him, the Kimmerian collapsed to the ground. He was joined a moment later by Nausa, who was smashed down by the exposed and gnawed-on arm bones of one of the monstrous hyaena-men. Siomha had better luck with her axe, fending off the jagged stump one of the creatures slashed at her with and then smashing the thing in half with the flat of her blade. She raced to confront Comhan before the massive thing could get to the sorcerers. Demostrate sought to use  the power of the strange Hyperborean tube, but when she moved it through its subtle passes, she felt no resistance as she usually did when its tip passed between worlds. With a curse, she dropped the useless tube to the ground. Instead she summoned a flaming missile and sent it full in the face of one of the skeletons. She was crying out for Demetios in the stable, but there was no sign the berserker had heard her.

Indeed, he had not. The tempest was still waxing, and even in the brief moments between savage gusts and crashing thunder, the sound of the rain was enough to drown out any sound. It was this that made the berserker miss the sound of the stable door opening. Only when the roar of the storm grew even louder did he turn. Silhouetted against raging storm in the open door was a spider almost as large as the mules who had begun to bray and kick in their stalls. Ross leaped in with his charges, though, rather than face the thing on the doorstep. He clung to Landboat II's flank, peeping around the warhorse at the berserker and the monster he faced. With horror, Demetios saw that the spider's chitin was cracked and stained with ichor. Its eyes were gray and dull, and the fur of its face had fallen out in great clumps along with the flesh beneath it. Somehow, though, the thing moved, scuttling forward on broken legs, its fangs catching the lantern light as it leapt at the berserker. Demetios howled. Even as he fended off the thing's first leap, he stomped his feet on the wooden floor, chewed his lips, and tore hair from his head. Suns burst behind his eyes, and the arrows of the moon pierced his body from within. With a scream, the berserker leaped forward, his great scimitar flashing in the lantern light. As he met the undead spider, Ross could not say which was the more fearsome monster.

In the house, it went badly for the suddenly embattled band. From its perch on the rafter, the Eft watched silently as Siomha also fell to the paralyzing talons of what once was Comhan. Facing two of the dead hyaena-men and now the dead Kelt as well, Audgisl, Wapping Morden, and Demostrate fell back toward the door, trying to draw the things toward the stable and Demetios. Audgisl brought down one of the remaining hyaena-men, though its bones still twitched as if the compulsion to rend the shaman could not be defeated by a second death. With Audgisl and the druid holding off Comhan and the last hyaena-man, Demostrate turned and ran through the tempest for the stable. She found Demetios in the last throes of his rage, still slamming his two-handed scimitar into the pulped and broken mass of the undead spider. The berserk rage was passing from him, though, and the light of what passed for intelligence was returning to his eyes. "To me, berserker!" the pyromancer cried. "Your work is not done!"

Exhausted but filled with pride, Demetios charged into the teeth of the storm. He arrived as Audgisl, too, was felled by the deadly talons of ghoul Comhan. Uncaring, the berserker struck. His first blow almost cut Comhan in half, striking up under his mail and chopping deep into the rotting viscera. The abomination screamed, a black stump of a tongue wriggling eel-like in the deluge. Ignoring the skeletal hands that slashed at his side, Demetios yanked his blade free and then sent it through Comhan's dead neck. The head the flew aside spilled black ichor that was washed away in the deluge. A moment later he had smashed down the last of the skeletons. He raged forward into the house and seemed as if he would leap to the rafters to assail the Eft on its perch. But Demostrate grabbed his arm. "No! It is beyond your skill! Guard me now."

She stared up at the Eft and steeled her voice. "If we have insulted your hospitality, I hope that insult is now forgiven. We have paid. What more do you want of us?"

"I? An eye for I perchance? No. An ear. Listen here. You are bidden. The master tells you this: Find the Moonblade before he finds you again. You will serve him. But you will find the service sweeter when you bear the Moonblade."

Emerging from the dark door, Wapping Morden called up to the thing in the rafters, "And where do we find this blade, hellspawn, that we might sink it in your back?"

"Search you where the cleric Laoise sleeps her final sleep, rootgrubber. Even the cheap tools will be made to serve."

The Eft lashed its bladed tail around its body and disappeared suddenly from view. Wapping Morden heard a leathery flap and felt a tongue of disturbed air lick lasciviously across his body. Then all was still within the house, though the tempest still raged without. The druid sighed. "Drag the others to the hearth. I shall toss the trash out to rot. Perchance the storm will wash this place clean."

     Thread Starter

4/26/2014 4:29 pm  #49

Re: This year is Fish

III. Pigs in the Grass, Rats in the Walls

It was a battered and limping group that marched down the muddy track the next morning. Audgisl had done what he could for Nausa once the paralysis had worn off, and the Esquimeaux was able to walk. Siomha and the shaman head scouted around the cabin early in the morning after the storm broke, searching for berries for the shaman to enchant, but they found nothing nearby and, wounded and weary, had desisted lest they drift too far from their companions. The storm had ended, but the land bore its scars in blasted trees and washed out sections of the track. Strangely, though, they had walked for no more than a couple of hours before all evidence of the storm ended. It had been wholly concentrated over the thick pine woods where the abandoned cabin hid.

They marched all through the short day, but Siomha declared they would have to camp again or march several hours into the night to reach Strongfort. Warily, the group made a lightless camp in a hollow off the road, hoping they would not have to fight anything else until their wounds had had another night to heal. And the night passed without event, leaving them much fresher, the terrors of the storm and the risen dead forgotten in the ruddy spring sunlight. With the river on their left now flowing in a deep channel lined by ox paths, the group aimed for Strongfort. They were no more than a couple of hours from the town and had already seen more evidence of settled lands when Siomha caught sight of something on top of a nearby hill. Six brutish, stocky creatures were there, staring south across the rolling grassland toward Strongfort. But one caught sight of the party, and the things howled in savage delight as they turned to charge downhill. They were thick-limbed savage creatures, as if mixed of human and some savage pig beast. Their hides varied from sickly piebald white and brown to a deep porcine pink. They carried an assortment of crude weapons, war clubs, morning stars, axes, and black iron broad swords. The party fanned out, and the arrows of Euthymios, Audgisl, and Siomha began to tell on the creatures before they were halfway down the hill. One dropped, rolling brokenly forward with Euthymios's shaft in its throat. Its companions hurtled the bloody body and charged on. When they were some thirty yards away still, Wapping Morden called out in a guttural voice, rattling the antlers he wore and gesturing at the ground before the charging creatures. Instantly, the tall yellow grass seemed to come to life. It writhed and wrapped around the swine creatures, tripping them and pinning them in place. Only one managed to avoid the grasping sward, and this one finally lost its nerve. It turned at a right angle to its present course and sought to race away. Two arrows in its back dropped it to the ground.

The party surrounded the trapped creatures, careful to avoid the area of entangling grass. They shouted questions at the beasts but were answered only with curses. With little regret, they fired arrows into the things until the shouting had ceased.

When Wapping Morden's spell had ended, they gathered the bodies and sorted through them, finding only the crude weapons and armor and an assortment of electrum coins. Siomha went to the top of the hill and began circling outward, reading the tracks she found. There had been many more of the things, perhaps thirty. These had set out in bands of six in many directions some time in the night, leaving only gnawed human bones and fouled ground behind. Deciding against pursuing any of these other groups, the group set out again toward Strongfort, leaving the bodies of the slain creatures stiff and rotting in the bloody grass.

Strongfort on first sight seemed to be making every effort to deserve its name. A stockade of thick wood surrounded the town, watched over by towers of wood and stone. A double gate required crossing a bailey where invaders would be the targets of arrow fire from all sides. Here the group was challenged by burly Keltic guards in the livery of the town, their shields and surcoats showing a black stone tower topped with the antlers of Yoon-Deh on a green field. Though seemingly better dressed and trained than the thuggish guards of Hawkford, these proved no more welcoming. They barred the party's way with spears and challenged them, wanting to know why such a well-armed group sought entry. Demostrate stepped forward.

"We are simply travelers. We are bound for Greenlee and the Black Fief. We will not be long in Strongfort and seek no trouble here."

One of the guards laughed and grasped at his loins, "I have some trouble for you, Amazon, no matter what you seek!" Demetios growled and stepped toward the guard, his hand seeking the hilt of his great scimitar. Nausa held the youth back, shaking his head, and the guard called out, "Let him come, slant eyes! We have enough for him and you and still some left over for the Amazon slut!"

"Is this how you greet travelers? Is the the hospitality of the Kelts?" Demostrate demanded. "We seek an inn and safe rest and then to move on. We have already done more this day to defend your reeking pile than you fat filth grubbers will do in your lives. Now direct us toward an inn or arrest us if you care to try. But know that one of you will burn to ash before the issue is decided. We have more than steel to defend ourselves with."

Hands went to weapons throughout the two groups, but the guards' leader interposed himself and gestured for his men to stand down. "Mind your tongue, slut, or we'll have it out of your head. We are the law here, and if we wish to take you in, we'll do it no matter what you threaten to burn."

From behind him the same guard called out, with the same gesture, "I have something that can make you burn." His fellows elbowed him silent, perhaps also feeling that that line had gone as far as it usefully could.

The corporal was about to go one with his threats when an officer emerged from the tower and spoke quietly into the tense confrontation. "No, corporal. The law is the law here. You men are its strong right arm." He turned to the companions. "And strength often does not know how to speak delicately. Forgive your rough welcome, lady, you and your companions. Now if you would, tell me what you meant by having acted in defense of the town."

In clipped, angry words, the party summed up their battle with the creatures that morning. The officer nodded but did not offer any information in return. Instead he turned to his men after hearing the tale. "Send these travelers on and let them go in peace. They have indeed done more this day than you have to guard your king's lands." With that he returned into the tower.

With ill-concealed anger the corporal gestured toward the river docks. "Go to the Silvery Eel, then, if you need an inn. It is a place for foreigners and witches."

Siomha was calmly running a thumb along the edge of her axe. "Do I look like either of those to you, greasebag?"

The guard restrained himself with obvious effort. "You'll go to the Eel and keep the peace here, or we will see you lot again!" he almost shouted this last. The whole troop of guards watched the party until satisfied that they were headed for Silvery Eel. Then they fell to laughing at the joke they had played on the wandering scum who had shamed them in front of their officer. If they stayed at the Silvery Eel, then the last laugh would not belong to the adventurers.

     Thread Starter

4/26/2014 5:45 pm  #50

Re: This year is Fish

(III, continued)

The Silvery Eel was hard against the river. Boats were moored to a pier in front of a warehouse next door, and a cool wind blew up the river, scattering the town's reek. Euthymios gave Ross a few coins and instructed him to take care of the animals in a nearby stable. Demostrate kept her war dog, Sparky, at her side, though. The inn was a two-story affair, of typical Keltic half-timbered construction. A stairway ran up the outside wall, and a sign depicting silver eels circling a mug of ale hung above the door. The whole place looked solid but run-down, in need of cleaning and whitewashing and general repair. Weary from the road, though, the travelers thought little of these matters as they pushed through the door and into the dark common room. The dishevelment was continued there. A fine wooden bar was lit by the fire in a great hearth. But the whitewash was peeling off the walls in places, and many boards had been nailed against the walls as if to stop up holes there. From behind the bar the innkeeper hustled forward as they entered. He was a "round-faced balding man" of the mixed common stock of Hyperborea, the product of a hundred generations of interbreeding among the tribes and nations under the dim red sun. The tavern keeper combed "over his remaining hedge of hair" to partly hide his balding pate, but this was poorly and haphazardly done. He put on a strained beaming jocularity as the party entered.

"Welcome, welcome indeed, friends, to the Silvery Eel! What is your pleasure? We have wine and ale and whisky from the wild hills. Please, enter, be not reticent. My board is at your service. Come, sit, good mistresses and masters. I am Xill Vuntos. I bid you most welcome to the Silvery Eel!"

With some trepidation still, the group sat. Only one other patron was in the place. Alone at a table, a tall man with a great mane of golden hair, milky white skin, and piercing violet eyes--a Hyperborean, scion of the fallen nation that had given the land its name and once had ruled it from Mount Vhuurmithadon to the Rapids at the End of the World, now a rare and bitter folk, their eyes turned back toward past glory and forward to the time when the dim red sun would gutter out and dead R'lyeh would rise from the otherworldly depths of Dagon Bay and Hyperborea would be the plaything of the Great Old Ones as they ended their ages-long sleep. This man regarded them coolly from beneath his golden brow and then returned his attention to the bottle of pomegranate wine that rested on the table before him. Demetios, overwhelmed by the luxury of these civilized ways, called out for whisky, scoffing at the idea of a gill and scattering electrum coins from the swine creatures as he demanded a bottle. Demostrate asked for wine, and the others ale. Nausa invited the Xill Vuntos to join them, but the man insisted nervously that he would see to their board. He rushed into the kitchen, and through the open door they caught a glimpse of a haggard-faced serving girl there. Nausa turned instead to the Hyperborean and invited him to their table. "No, sub-man," the man said, no expression breaking his gaunt golden mask, "I have no need of your company." He turned his attention back to his wine, and Nausa wondered whether there was anyone in Hyperborea with courtesy still intact.

As they waited for Xill Vuntos to return, they noticed the many boards tacked and nailed to the walls as if plugging holes therein. A faint scent of sour rot seemed to pervade the place, but they could not pinpoint it anywhere. As Xill Vuntos returned with trenchers steaming eel stew, crusty bread, and sweet potatoes, the party looked nervously at the food, except for Demetios, who plunged his face into the bowl of stew, slurping noisily as he sought the chunks of eel in the rich broth. Xill Vuntos's hands shook as he placed the other trenchers on the table, and Nausa gently eased them from his trembling grip. "What ails you, man? You act as though you have never served a table of hungry travelers before, and it seems as if that might be true from all the custom around. What trouble holds this place?"

"No, good Esquimeaux, I assure you, all is well at the Silvery Eel. Please, please, eat. Will you stay the night? The common room is strong and warm, and your rest--" he broke off, drew a shuddering breath. The Hyperborean at the  other table smirked into his wine. Xill Vuntos turned a haunted gaze to the boards patching the walls. "No. No, you must not sleep here this night. The rats ... the rats ..."

He trailed off. Nausa reached for Demetios's whisky bottle, ignored the berserker's growl, and poured a measure for the tavern keeper. "Here, man. Drink this and tell your tale. Perhaps there is something we can do. We are not without skill."

A glimmer of wild hope flashed for an instant in Xill Vuntos's eyes, and then the haunted look returned. "If only you could," he murmured. "If only someone could have done something sooner ..." His voice and hands shaking, the tavern keeper began his tale:

The Rats in the Walls wrote:

Every dockside tavern gets its share of rats; it is unavoidable. At the outset Xill’s problem seemed no worse than that of any other tavern, so he took the usual measures – cats, traps, etc. Nothing seemed to work: the traps were found broken; the cats dead, their throats ripped asunder. The rats, many of unseemly size, would scurry across the floor, over his patrons’ feet, biting ankles, and chewing holes in the walls. Xill would spend hours plugging the holes during the afterhours whilst listening to the dreadful sound of scratching in the walls – claws scrabbling up and down, up and down.

Each of Xill’s three serving wenches were bit, and after two of them took ill and died, the third one quit. Xill was hard-pressed, forced to work his wife and eldest daughter long hours. One night, while the three served a rowdy group of seamen, Xill’s youngest daughter was left unattended for several hours in a bedroom chamber above the tavern proper. Later they discovered the child withered and listless, riddled with puncture wounds. When she died, Xill’s wife went mad of it, eventually killing herself. Now there are only Xill and Annesta, and the word is out amongst the locals – the Silvery Eel is plagued and cursed; except for the occasional arrival, no one patronizes it.

"You see? The guards sent you here as a joke, a cursed joke! They thought the curse would take you, too! That is what we have become. Annesta and I are alone, and every day is a torment, every night a dark dream. We are alone, just waiting for the curse to take us, too."

Demostrate nodded, gazing past Xill Vuntos to the kitchen where his daughter, Annesta, hid behind the door. "Your poor daughter, to live in such fear. She must need comforting."

"I--as you say, lady," the tavern keeper said. "Could you help? If there is anything you could do to rid me of this nightmare, I would pay you! I have a necklace, set with the finest pearls. It was my dear wife's dowry, but I would gladly part with it to end this plague and set her spirit to rest! Too, another who sought to end the curse was brought low by it. His shield is still here, and it seems to me to be a valuable and enchanted item. Could you help?"

Euthymios nodded and reached for his cooling stew and bread. "After we eat, man. After we eat."

Nausa drew deep on his mug of ale. "Aye, we can help. We'll find the rat plague at its source, man. And then we'll gut the bastard."

     Thread Starter

4/29/2014 8:48 pm  #51

Re: This year is Fish

[Warning: Contains spoilers for North Wind Adventures module The Rats in the Walls for AS&SH]

IV. Cages and Chains

Demostrate arose and moved to the kitchen, where she cornered Xill Vuntos's daughter, Annesta. The girl sought to avoid the Amazon at first and even after she kept her eyes downcast, avoiding Demostrate's forceful gaze. She sought to end the questioning as Demostrate asked about the rats and what she had seen. Finally, meeting the pyromancer's eyes at last, she said, "It is just--my father has so many worries now, and he must bear them all alone. Please, lady, do not tell him, but--I have been bitten, too. See?" Shyly she pulled her hair out of the way and showed Demostrate a puncture wound on her neck. The skin around the bite was gray and scaly, an unnatural pallor spreading from the wound. "And there are more! My ankles, my stomach ..."

"Show me, Annesta."

"No, lady. They are the same--please, for my father's sake, find out what it is."

Demostrate briefly considered pressing the matter, but instead she called Audgisl into the kitchen to examine the girl's wounds and see if there was anything he could do. The shaman growled and hummed as he probed the wound and felt the skin around them. Finally, he shook his head. "This is no natural poison," the shaman told them. "There is nothing to draw out, no antidote that I know how to concoct. Whatever afflicts the girl, it will not be remedied by herbs and poultices. Tell us how you were bitten, girl."

Annesta, her voice shaking, eager that her father not overhear, told the sorcerers quickly about the times she was attacked. Each time, she had been sleeping, trapped in a nightmare where a woman with the terrifying face of a swine mocked her and called to her at once. There would be a sudden pinch of pain, and she would awake to the scuttling sounds of fleeing rats and blood on her bedclothes.

In the common room, Nausa and Wapping Morden had once again put questions to the haughty Hyperborean. The tall man was dismissive, but as he finished his wine, he told them that he did indeed have knowledge of the place, "such knowledge as you submen could not be expected to possess. My father, a sorcerer of fell power and reputation both, has told me that when your ancestors still knew their station and had not spread their spawn across the land, a sorcerer built his tower here, where this pig run of a town has grown. It was burned in the years of the Green Death, when the Hyperboreans of the pure blood and spirit retreated from this land. I tell you this, submen: look for sandstone foundations. Those will mark the abode of one whose majesty you will never approach. How fitting for you to crawl in the muck of this place searching for the works of your betters. You are the world writ even smaller."

"And would you care to join us in this search?" Nausa asked. "You could add even more to your great knowledge."

"No. I care not to burrow through the stench with such as you." The Hyperborean tossed down the last of his wine. "I wish you well, though. You delve in secrets beyond your understanding when you seek the ways of my ancient kind." Without another word, he left the Silvery Eel.

Demetios had watched all this almost in silence, punctuated only by his belching in appreciation of the spicy eel stew. After the Hyperborean left, the big Amazon arose. "Why do we wait? If there is something to kill, let us find it and kill it. We shall be rewarded with more whisky when it is over!"

After stowing some of the gear and checking on Ross and the animals, they prepared to explore. Vuntos Xill assured them they had their run of the place and could go wherever they felt they should. After listening at the walls and hearing the scurrying of rats moving up and down, they elected to start in the place's cellar. This they reached through the kitchen. The cellar was a single large chamber, its walls crowded with crates, casks, and boxes of supplies for the inn. Several of these were emptied and pried apart, used by Vuntos Xill to patch the never-ending holes in the rooms upstairs. Nausa pointed out the cellar walls--cyclopean sandstone blocks. These had settled and cracked with the passing of the ages since they had been laid, though none of these was large enough to admit anything but a rat either up into the walls of the inn proper or down to whatever was below, the existence of which the group became more convinced of as they took in the ancient construction of the walls.

But for long minutes their searching was fruitless. Then Demetios, shifting boxes away from the walls in one corner, disturbed a nest of enormous rats. These were nothing like the animals they had encountered before. Their fur was deep black and shaggy, and a red glow spilled from their eyes as if some taint burned within them. They boiled out over the surprised berserker, but the party was still able to make quick work of them, smashing them across the stone floor. Back in the rats' nest, they found  a pile of coins and filth. When separated and cleaned off, they found the rats had secreted more than 50 gold and 100 silver coins in their nest. But there was no further path revealed there, just the dank hole. It took almost half an hour more searching before Audgisl realized that the stone in the center of the floor was a slightly different color than the others. Using his pry bar, he levered the thin stone away, revealing an iron trap door set among the flags. Euthymios was able to pry this up, and the smell that poured like a stygian pall out of the dark hole reeked of corruption and rat. A spiral stair, shrouded in darkness and ancient webs, led downward into the ancient foundations of the long-forgotten tower.

They lit a torch and a lantern and descended into the rancid depths. The stairs spiraled into the center of large chamber, revealed gradually and incompletely by their lights, which seemed swallowed in the thick darkness. They fanned out at the end of the stairs, trying to illuminate as much of the massive chamber as they could. The sandstone flags were scratched and covered with the huge crimson droppings of the rats. Four stone pillars stretched into the stygian gloom to support the tall arched ceiling. Across from them, another set of stairs descended farther. Behind them, the wall was dominated by a stone dais capped by a massive sculpture. The statue was twelve feet tall, carved from a deep green soapstone. Its lower body was lost in the dark, carven folds of its robes. Above these, the body rose to a head adorned with three inscrutable female faces looking outward in three directions. Even from across the chamber, it was clear that the dais and statue were completely free of rat droppings. The rear wall on either side of the dais and, for a ways, either side wall were hung with ancient velvet curtains that depended from bent iron rods. To either side of the other stairs, the corners of the chamber were deeply jumbled with chaotic piles of boxes and casks. Demostrate immediately identified the curtains as something that needed burning. Demetios, of course, accompanied her as she set off to attend to such an urgently pyromancerial matter. Nausa set off for the boxes in one corner, and Wapping Morden moved toward the other. Audgisl, Euthymios, and Siomha, arrows nocked and ready, waited by the central stairs.

They did not have long to wait for everything seemed to happen at once. Audgisl and Nausa began to rummage through the piles of boxes as Demostrate held a torch up to the black curtains in one corner. The flames raced up the ancient cloth, which threw deep black smoke into the chamber even as they burned swiftly away. The pyromancer was just crying out in triumph as the vanishing curtains revealed a hidden door, a stone pivot in he wall that the curtains had concealed, when her cry was joined by calls of alarm from both the Esquimeaux and the Viking. From each pile, the enormous daemonic rats began (predictably, Euthymios thought) to pour forth. Audgisl, Euthymios, and Siomha, their lines of sight blocked by the swarmed sorcerers, dropped their bows and drew weapons, charging in separate directions to rescue the others. Nausa and Wapping Morden were engulfed in the creatures, four having boiled out on the illusionist and six on the druid. Demetios, with Demostrate's blessing, charged toward the closest fight, his great scimitar throwing bloody light as it cleaved the smoky air. The combats against the fierce and swarming creatures were fast and deadly. Euthymios, Audgisl, and Nausa were aided by flaming missiles from Demostrate. Siomha and Demetios joined Wapping Morden, and though the druid received a nasty bite on his leg, the rats were soon destroyed, reduced to twitching unidentifiable masses of tissue and filth on the stone floor. As the party reassembled in front of the portal Demostrate's flames ("of revelation," she insisted), Euthymios suggested they try not splitting up while in this ancient temple ...

The great block of sandstone turned grudgingly on its ancient pivot to reveal the room beyond. This was a much smaller chamber, forty feet on a side except the far wall, which opened into a trapezoidal alcove. The center of the room held a cage of bizarre construction. Closely placed steel bars stretched from the floor to the ceiling. No door or gate broke the ten-foot-long walls of the cage But something was within it Bony fingers of an ancient skeleton were wrapped around the rusted steel bars. The creature within must have been daemonic. It would have stood nine feet tall, and something about its bones suggested it had been female. Its skull was inhuman, though, drawing toward the snout and tusks of a swine. Ram horns spiraled out of the top of the skull, and the thin armature of wingbones still stood out from its shoulders, their reach suggesting how the creature in life would have filled the cage. The way its finger bones still grasped the bars made it clear the thing had died that way, staring away from the door they had entered and toward the alcove. There, a protective magical circle encased a pentagram carved on the floor. In the center of the star, the blade of a silver dagger gleamed, untouched by the passage of long, dark years. Wapping Morden was the first to throw off the inaction that held them all. He approached the pentagram, paused briefly, and then entered it to retrieve the dagger. Even as he did, a red glow kindled in the eyes of the skeleton. From everywhere and nowhere, a voice surrounded them. It seemed a woman's voice, but unearthly, eldritch, at once sultry and mocking and deeply, anciently evil, secure in its power to endure whatever stretches of mortal time crumbled the walls around it.

"You have failed sorcerer. In your absence I have taken a new host. And soon I will have another." The voice was replaced by laughter that seemed to mock all mortals and their plans, knowing that time was deeper and stranger than anything human minds could conceive. Wapping Morden, though, was not impressed. "Nice dagger," he said. "Silver. We'll hang on to that." He tucked it into his belt.

Nause approached the skeleton. The bars were too closely packed for him to reach through, but he drew the daemon arm he had bought in Hawkford out from where he carried it close to his heart as the old man had told him. Cautiously, he touched it to the bones wrapped around the bars. He regretted it instantly. Something reached into him, pushing past the outer layers of ego and knowledge that he thought separated him from the yawning, nighted gulfs through which this presence moved. They peeled back the Esquimeaux's defenses, rendering them as illusory as the magic he worked. Worse, the presence pressed inward, filling all those psychic spaces Nausa thought of as himself. Wherever he was, it was, too, a malevolent and ancient intelligence now coterminous with the boundaries of Nausa's self. And it mocked him.

Shaken, the Esquimeaux fell back, silent and withdrawn as he placed the daemon bone under his toga once more. The party retreated from the room, returning to the main chamber. As they crossed in front of the dais, they could see now that bolted to the floor between two of the stone pillars was a set of iron shackles. Their ancient chains were untouched by rust. The statue on the dais gazed imperiously in three directions as the party surrounded the shackles. It was Wapping Morden who realized the identity of the statue then. It was Aurorus, the Shining One, the chaotic goddess of aurorae, stars, comets, and sorcery. It was said that she was granter of secret knowledge, though she had her price. The lights in the sky were hers, the strange aurorae that glimmered in the haunted nights of Hyperborea. Here she was said to dwell, within the lights that sometimes clung to the far horizons, tempting seekers of knowledge with the promise of revelation.

None in the party knew the secrets of her cult. But Nausa indicated that this was the only clue they had found to the mysteries that surrounded them. If Aurorus was the goddess of hidden knowledge, the illusionist argued, than here was a way to pierce the veil. Clearly the one who had built this place had been a seeker of knowledge, and here was a way of seeking it more wholesome than the daemon in the cage. The Esquimeaux faced the rest of the party. "I will look through the veil and at the mysteries of the goddess--if someone will aid me"

Euthymios and Demetios scoffed. "You're mad!" the berserker told him. "You chain yourself there, and you'll rot there. Knowledge comes in knowing who you can kill against who can kill you! Who ever heard of seeking it in chains. Even I know that." Euthymios also tried to talk the Esquimeaux out of the plan, but Nausa was already kneeling. He fastened one of the shackles about his wrist and looked at Audgisl. "It is for knowledge," he told the shaman.

The Viking moved forward. "May you find what you seek, then, Nausa. If you cannot join the bear mind, perhaps other ways of knowing wait for you." He knelt by the Esquimeaux and fastened the other shackle about Nausa's other wrist.

Nausa looked toward the statue of Aurorus. "I am ready, goddess," he said.

Light began to glow and sparkle around the statue. For a moment, Nausa felt the presence that had flowed into him in the other chamber rise and thrash in anger in the psychic spaces beyond his flesh. It seemed to lash out as the sparkling lights grew thicker about the statue of the triple-faced goddess. Then a great light filled the Esquimeaux, and with fierce joy he felt the foul and ancient presence driven from him. He had no chance to tell the others, though, for now the light was upon him and within him. Demostrate gasped. Nausa's bones stood out sharply within his body as the light seemed to grow and swell within him. In blinding effulgence it poured forth, and Nausa began to dissolve into the light, in layers from the outside in, his skin incandescing, his muscles transmuting into ropes of light, his heart flashing away between visible beats. A moment later the glow disappeared, and the blinded party heard only the sound of the shackle striking the stone floor. When their vision had cleared, Nausa was gone as if he had never been. Audgisl nodded. "He is with the goddess now. I hope he finds what he seeks." Losing interest, the shaman went to examine the curtains that had escaped Demostrate's fires, and soon the others joined him. There was nothing to do for Nausa.

Wapping Morden convinced Demostrate, over her disgusted protests, not to burn these curtains, and instead they hauled them carefully down. They searched the wall behind them and soon found the outline of a door to match the one that had led to the summoning chamber. After some experimentation, they found the catch, and another great stone ground slowly on its hidden pivot. The room within was smaller still, barely twenty feet on a side. Within were a bed, a dresser, and a small bookshelf, all covered in dust but in fine shape despite the passage of years. The two side walls were lined with more curtains. Demostrate reacted in triumph, announcing that she had tried their way and now they would go back to hers. Wapping Morden darted past her and grabbed a leather-bound book and a cedar box from the bookshelf. He retreated out the door. "There. Now do what you must," he told the pyromancer.

Only Demetios joined Demostrate as she stepped forward to light the curtains. Before she could, though, they exploded inward. From behind the curtains on either side, erupted six skeletal warriors dressed in the tattered remains of armor but carrying still quite usable halberds. The six skeletons had the pyromancer and the berserker surrounded. Seeing his lady so threatened, even as the skeletons came for him, their great pole axes flashing in the dim light, Demetios summoned the rage of the sunfire. Snarling, growling, frothing, he leapt into the battle. It was too late for Demostrate, who fell, smashed down by the shaft of a halberd even as Euthymios and Siomha piled into the room. The berserker was among the skeletons now, already bleeding from a dozen wounds. Ranger and cataphract stood over Demostrate, fending off the halberds of two of them until Audgisl could pull the felled pyromancer to safety. Demetios had smashed one skeleton down, but his scimitar was nowhere near as effective as Euthymios's war hammer in damaging the undead warriors, still doing the last bidding of their master, now lost in the long years. Even as he put down another one, the shaft of a halberd swung in a low arc smashed against his legs. Still fighting, the berserker stumbled and went down. Even as he lashed out, another skeleton stepped forward, bearing a halberd that seemed untouched by time and showed none of the rust that spotted the others like ancient blood. The berserker's wild thrashings carried his scimitar wide, and the skeleton buried its halberd's head in the Amazon's skull. A moment later, Euthymios had smashed the thing to the ground, and the fight was over. But it was too late for Demetios, whose blood and brains mingled on the splintered bones that now covered the chamber's floor.

Audgisl was bent over Demostrate, who was muttering weakly now as the shaman sought through the bearmind for the sources of her wounds and worked on them with gentle fingers. As he finished, Wapping Morden opened the book he had secured before the sudden attack. He flipped hurriedly through the pages, then returned more slowly. He looked at Euthymios. "It is a prayer book of the goddess Aurorus. It describes the use of her Chains of Light. Just as we saw. One places the sacrifice in the chains and prays to the goddess for knowledge ..." the druid trailed off, looking back to the iron shackles.

"It's too late for Nausa. And it will be too late for all of us if we have to face anything else right now. We shall go back up. We'll take the gold we found in the rat nest and give it to Xill Vuntos. He and his daughter need to not be here tonight. They can go to the finest inn and lord it over those who have insulted them.

"We'll make ourselves secure in the basement and seal that trapdoor. Demostrate needs to rest and heal. And before that we can see if that prig of Hyperborean or some other fool wants to join us. And then in the morning we come back down here. And we send whatever waits below back to hell.

"This time," the grim Kimmerian said, "it's personal."

Here endeth session 4.


     Thread Starter

5/05/2014 12:25 pm  #52

Re: This year is Fish

Very entertaining read, Handy. I can't wait to read what happens next!

HYPERBOREA- A Role-Playing Game of Swords, Sorcery, and Weird Science-Fantasy

5/05/2014 5:23 pm  #53

Re: This year is Fish

Thanks, Ghul!

I'll get started on it soon. We played Sunday. That Gal Hills random encounter table I cobbled together based on the one you made ended up costing them dearly . . .

     Thread Starter

5/07/2014 6:26 pm  #54

Re: This year is Fish

Session 5:
Demostrate Agauedoros (Amazon Pyromancer 2, N)
Wapping Morden (of the Wapping Mordens) (Keltic Druid 1, N)
Euthymios (Kimmerian Cataphract 1, N)
Audgisl Liknmunarson (Viking Shaman [bear] 1, N)
Mordos Ouaras (Ixian Cleric 1, LG[!])
NPC (played by Em):
Siomha Inghean Niall (Keltic Ranger, CG)

I. Hospitality and Hosts
The party followed through on its plan, giving the gold and silver they had found in the first rat nest to Xill Vuntos and telling him to stay at the best inn he could find and to take it as his revenge on those who had abandoned his place. He and Annesta left, nervous and harried but grateful that someone had taken charge. After much debate, the companions settled in the common room, hauling some bedding down from the upstairs for Demostrate, whom Audgisl had stabilized but who was still weak and in deep pain from her wounds. They decided that plugging any of the obvious rat holes in the walls was a fool's errand; none of the work Vuntos had performed had served so the effort seemed pointless. They were bloodied and weary and eager for revenge. As they ate a cold meal from the inn's stores, the door opened. Framed in the wan ruddy light was a big-bodied, black-haired, black eyed man, his eyes staring from beneath a beetling brow--an Ixian. On his brow he wore the symbol of Yig, a lidless eye, the pupil a vertical slit worked in green. The Ixian bowed. "I am Mordos Ouaras. I met the owner of this place, who told me of the work you attempt here. I come to offer my aid."

Euthymios leaped to his feet. "Your aid is not needed, snake! Go back to your black masters and their wriggling rites. We need no such aid as you would provide.!" The Kimmerian spat on the timbered floor. "Ixian serpent!" (It turns out Kimmerians consider Ixians their racial enemies! News to your Dungeon Master, but the players were on it.)

Mordos took this calmly, meeting the Kimmerian's fierce gaze. "I am far from Scythium and farther still from Ix, and my masters are not those you think, Kimmerian. I have come to help, whatever you might think."

"Krimmr! Help from an Ixian! Why not ask the rats? What do you have to offer, hey, Ixian? Gold?" Euthymios eyed the cleric's plain armor and his long sword in its battered scabbard. "For fifty gold I'll let you stay! What do you say, snake? Have you swallowed coins with your filth?"

"I have only twenty-two gold."

"Ha! Fine, then, Twenty-Two, we have no need of you. Slither back to your masters."

"I have no masters, either, except the Great Serpent, which stays always in the sun. But I can pay my way in, with Yig's blessings. Your companion is hurt. Let me heal her." Mordos moved over to Demostrate and laid his hands upon her, hissing between his teeth as he swayed above the wounded Amazon. As the party watched, her wounds closed, and her ragged breathing calmed as the pain left her.

"I thank you, Mordos. If that is how you follow Yig, then I think you can find a place with us. Leave him be, Euthymios. Think what Nausa would say."

"Nausa would say 'let's gut the bastard,'" the Kimmerian muttered, but he relented, moving away from the Ixian to his interrupted meal. "I shall be watching you, Twenty-Two. Krimmr!" Still cursing under his breath, Euthymios stared moodily into space and ignored the Ixian.

They set watches, with Wapping Morden taking the first. The sounds of rats moving through the walls were constant, rhythmic scratchings that seemed to come from everywhere, sealing the sleeping party inside an alien, unclean presence. To Euthymios, the shadows cast by the lantern light seemed to fall in to the blackness of the rat holes. Sometimes he thought red eyes gazed back at him from the darkness, but these sometimes seemed impossibly close, as if the rats were hovering in front of him or, somehow, inside of him, chewing their way out. The big Kimmerian shivered, but he did not realize it. He leaned on the sword, his eyes closed, the darkness gathering around him. On clawed feet, a strange lethargy filled the inn. Even Sparky, Demonstrate's war dog, slept, his great head fallen on her lap. Neither the dog nor Euthymios moved as Demostrate began to thrash and moan in her sleep and a darker shadow detached itself from the gloom and moved toward her. In her dream, Demostrate saw a female face, somehow both alluring and disgusting. A swinish snout and fangs elongated the glowing ruby skin. The eyes that fastened on her were lascivious, captivating, alien, and without pity. Demostrate tried to escape, but she was paralyzed, anchored in her dream like something fallen from a great height. The incarnadine lips of the nightmare figure parted, and a voice, low and feminine and alluring and utterly evil, seemed to surround Demostrate. "Mortal, mortal, such strength. But you sought to touch what I have named as my own, fire witch, and I will not have that. Instead, I shall have you. A fitting host. In blood and flame will I show this debased world of flesh what revenge means. Do you hurt? All pain will leave you when I enter you. As my host, you shall drink the blood of your companions and cry for more. You shall call fire into being within the bodies of those who cry out for the privilege. You shall bring flame to the world! Ah, you are mine now, wretch. But remember, it is your glory to host. Your hour will soon be at hand!"

Demostrate cried out, feeling a searing pinch in her neck. She jerked awake, crying out in pain and fear. Sparky and Euthymios roused just as suddenly, though they were powerless to catch the fat black form that raced away from Demostrate and into a hole in the wall, leaving a spotted trail of blood behind it. On Demostrate's neck, a raw puncture wound was surrounded by cracked and graying flesh. Though Audgisl tried, he could find no poison to draw. Euthymios hustled the party out of the common room. They dashed across the darkened street and pounded on the door of the stable where Ross and his charges were bedded down. As the confused animal handler admitted them, the stable boy objected angrily as he emerged from the loft. Mordos tossed the stunned boy a gold coin. "We shall stay here tonight with the animals. It shall not add to your burden, lad. Return to your sleep, and dream of more gold."

"Get to sleep, Twenty-One," Euthymios muttered, shoving the cleric all the way into the stable. "You need to get Demostrate in fighting form for tomorrow. We have a rat to hunt."

     Thread Starter

5/07/2014 8:11 pm  #55

Re: This year is Fish

(I, continued)
The next morning, Mordos and Audgisl brought Demostrate back to fighting strength. They assembled in the inn's basement, and Euthymios and Siomha pried up the flagstone and the metal trapdoor beneath it. Their passage the day before had disturbed the dusty webs that festooned the spiral stairs. A fresh layer of large, crimson droppings coated the steps, and the smell that poured out of the stygian depth was even worse than before, now sharply tinged by blood and decay. In the temple below, Demetios's body lay where he had fallen, but the rats had been at work on it. The Amazon berserker's face had been chewed off, and his shattered skull leered under the tatters of flesh the rats had left behind. The daemonic creatures had waited until the warrior's blood had pooled and then chewed through armor fastenings and flesh to release the red flood. Little escaped their hunger, though fresh spoor showed the results of their feasting. Mordos picked up the grisly corpse and carried it to the dais on which the statue of Aurorus maintained its vigil. He laid the corpse out and placed the great scimitar in Demetios's dead hands. The cleric hissed a prayer to Yig that the warrior's spirit might rest quietly in the sun and know peace. As he turned to the others, he spotted the manacles in the floor.

"What are these? Some relic of the goddess?"

"If you want to know, Twenty-One, just strap yourself in," Euthymios began, but Demostrate stopped him.

"Enough. Do not touch them, Mordos. Our business lies beneath."

By light of lantern and torch, they descended the straight stone stairs deeper beneath the ancient foundations. They went slowly, for the steps were worn and slick with rat spoor. Forty feet down, great piles of bones almost choked off the stairs. Human skulls seemed to scream silently from the jumble of arm and leg bones and the bones of other, stranger creatures, seemingly a blend of man and ape. The bones were gnawed and chewed by the sharp teeth of the rats. An aura of ancient horror clung to the bones, as if man and ape-man had died in pain and terror, which had not faded with the long, dark years. At the bottom of the stairs, a corridor stretched forty feet into the gloom. It was lined on either side with dungeon doors, rotted and falling off their hinges. Through the small barred windows in each door, they could see that the cells were filled with more bones. At the far end of the hall, a jumbled mass of debris gave off a fetor that filled the corridor. Cautiously, they advance toward this, halting only as a voice they had heard before welled out of the stinking mass. It was the voice that had emerged from the air in the summoning chamber, and the voice Demostrate had heard in her dreams, a horrible blend of allure and evil, rich, deep, feminine, and evil.

"Oh, how divine," it said, both purr and screech, enticement and howl, "Never do my children bring me enough blood. But now my host brings me all, body and the blood to feed it. This shall be a day the world remembers. Mortal pigs, your hour is upon you. Kneel, and it will end swiftly!"

A shape heaved itself out of the mess of filth and bones. The daemon rat was eight feet long, its almost hairless body a piebald blend of black and ruby. From eight engorged crimson teats hung eight ruddy black pups, blindly sucking thick blood even as their mother moved forward. Drops of crimson flew from her flesh, catching the torch light, splashing noiselessly into the gloom. The sight of the heaving bulk of corruption stunned the companions, and too late they realized that more of the creature's children were pouring forth from the welter of bones behind them. Mordos and Wapping Morden, in the back rank, were engulfed in tearing black shapes that keened and screeched in delighted bloodlust as their dam charged the front rank. The party was divided, the druid and cleric fighting desperately to keep from being overwhelmed. "Helios burn you, hell spawn!" Demostrate cried in rage, and a missile of fire flew from her hand to strike the daemon rat. Euthymios and Siomha struck with war hammer and halberd, though the taut rubbery skin of the creature seemed to shrug off their blows, rebounding into place with obscene health. Growling loudly, Audgisl thrust his head forward, and from the bearskin cloak that was his totem, a glow flashed out. This light landed squarely on the eyes of the daemon rat, who squealed in pain and rage as it partially blinded her. The shaman turned to help Mordos and Wapping Morden, who were each bleeding from several wounds. He pulled the druid back even as Wapping Moden sliced a rat in half, and the shaman moved into the breach. Siomha and Euthymios moved to either side of the rat daemon, lashing at her flanks as the creature's teeth flashed in the magical light. Sparky was between them, darting in to lunge at the creature's throat, turning its head to allow a killing stroke. But the rat daemon's jagged fangs opened a long slash in Euthymios's arm. Siomha was there, striking with the shining halberd that had slain Demetios. The daemon rat squealed and recoiled, and Euthymios pounded its flank with his hammer, smashing one of the squealing pups against the swollen teat that it clung to even as its dam fought. The little horror disappeared in a crimson explosion. But the daemon was crippled, listing to one side even as it struck again at Euthymios, almost knocking the Kimmerian from his feet. But another flaming missile struck it, the blood that covered its hide sizzling and steaming. The beast keened in shrill agony, and Siomha swung the halberd agani, burying the axe blade in the thing's black skull. Like a pierced bladder, the daemon rat deflated as a stream of bright blood poured forth, a seemingly endless torrent. The rat pups lapped and sucked, blindly seeking more, tearing at one another as they fought toward the dead mouth of their daemon mother. Siomha did not wait, yanking Mordos out of the way to and lashing out at the giant rats that still assailed the group's rear. Euthymios dropped his hammer and yanked his bow from his body. He aimed carefully, attempting to thread the needle through the struggling combatants. He fired, and the arrow lodged in Siomha's back, driving the ranger forward slightly as she smashed the last rat under the halberd's blade.

"Watch it, Kimmerian!" the Kelt cried. "I will tell you when I need that kind of aid."

Panting, the party surveyed the carnage. Mordos, Wapping Morden, and EUthymios were all badly wounded, and the cleric did what he could as Siomha, Demostrate, and Euthymios crushed the last of the rat pups into bloody ruins. When that was done, they carefully and distastefully searched through the nest, finding a pile of gold, electrum, and silver coins, a gold chain, a silver ring set with a pearl, and a silver pendant set with an aquamarine opal--trophies carried along with bellies full of blood, borne by the daemonic rats to their daemon mother.

Leaving the carnage behind, they returned to the inn's common room. It was dilapidated and abused, but the feeling of oppressive evil had left it. Demostrate, though, was still afflicted. As they sorted through their finds, the pyromancer began to shake, cold gripping her bones. Mordos, though, could feel heat coming off her in waves. A fever had set in, and in minutes the Amazon slumped over, unconscious. Unsure where to turn, whether to seek local druids somewhere beyond the town walls or find a temple to Xathoqqua and ask the clerics of the toad sloth for aid, they instead decided to test the potions they had found in the old vestry by the temple of Aurorus. The sorcerers experimented gingerly, but Wapping Morden was convinced that the elixir he sampled would cure any disease. With no better idea, they poured it down Demostrate's throat. In moments, her labored breathing eased, and the deep flush left her face. Minutes later, she awoke, her hand moving to the wound on her neck. Audgisl saw that the unnatural gray pallor had left the skin there, and the wound was closed.

When Xill Vuntos and Annesta returned, they reported all they had learned and done to the innkeeper. His hands shaking with gratitude, he pressed into Demostrate's hands a pearl and gold necklace that had been his wife's dowry. He also gave them a shield left behind by the first adventurer who had sought to end the threat and had paid with his life. Vuntos insisted the shield was enchanted, and, indeed, when he gripped the strap, a pale radiance emanated from the shield's unadorned front. This was given to Mordos, who also kept the potion of invisibility he had tested. Euthymios claimed the last potion, which Audgisl insisted would heal his wounds. The shaman kept the silver pendant, which proved to be enchanted, and he would later pay a magician of Strongfort to identify it as a periapt of health, proof against all disease. Siomha kept the enchanted halberd that had killed Demetios.

For two weeks, they stayed on at the Silvery Eel, and as the story of their deeds there spread, custom returned. Euthymios spent the days drilling with the cavalry of Strongfort, paying their commander each day to allow him to practice with lance and hammer against the thundering charges of the horse soldiers. Audgisl disappeared each day into the wilderness, returning grim-faced and silent, unable to leave the bear mind in which he was immersed. Siomha, too, trained with the local rangers, stalking through the woods by day, identifying the spoor of animals and fouler creatures. Demostrate, Wapping Morden, and Mordos were left to their own, exploring the town of Strongfort, which was larger but more ordered than Hawkford. The Ixian attracted many strange looks from the Kelts who made up most of the town, but it was Demostrate who found herself hailed by a bluff older man in fine chain mail, his green surcoat worked with the black antlered stone tower of Strongfort.

"A word, lady. I am Fadlan Macc Domhnall, by word of the king sheriff of Strongfort, warden of the river, and castellan of the Green Lady's tower. I have heard that when you arrived here, the guards did not show you the respect that is your right until you have given cause to lose it. I wish to offer you my apologies, on behalf of the king, the town, and the land. If there is aught I can do to make up this insult, say so now."

"Ah ... no, sir, sheriff, ah, as you say. All is well now. Thank you, though, for your courtesy."

"The hospitality of Strongfort is yours, lady, and may all your enemies founder on its walls.

"With that said, I would like to speak to you and yours about a matter that could prove profitable to us all. Is that possible?"

"See us this evening at the Silvery Eel, sir. We will hear your offer then. Sun and fire light your way, sheriff Macc Domhnall." Demostrate nodded coolly, thinking how much smoother these conversations went when the others were not around to stir up trouble, and she returned to the Silvery Eel to gather the party.

     Thread Starter

5/13/2014 6:37 pm  #56

Re: This year is Fish

II. Man and Beast

The sheriff's offer was less immediately profitable than any of them had hoped. He had heard of their fight with the piglike creatures on their way to Strongfort. These, he told them, were a debased admixture of Pict and daemon, creatures of the far south that had been appearing around the Gal Hills in greater numbers. Macc Domhnall believed that they all came from the same direction, up from the west. Between Strongfort and Gal City were two more towns, the Antlers and Gold Hill, and it was near the latter that he suspected the daemon Picts were based. The "Constable" of Gold Hill, he explained, had been a bandit leader only a few years before. The High King in Gal City had finally grown sick of the continued raiding in the area and had named this Lonan Macc Osan the Constable of Gold Hill. The upstart brigand had quickly moved against the other scum that raided those hills and soon had either driven them out, made them join his band, or killed them. Macc Domhnall admitted that Gold Hill thrived now as it had not for years, perhaps since the Green Death. Farms had been reestablished, the old mine opened again, and the standard of the fanged stag flew over what was reported as a thriving market town. But Macc Domhnall doubted that all the goods sold there had been parted with willingly. More, he suspected that the daemon Picts were taking advantage of the slack rule of the erstwhile bandit and had a war band of some strength hidden in the area.

His offer was this: to each member of the party who survived to return with information that he could use about the daemon Picts and the true state of affairs in the town of Gold Hill, he would give 500 gold coins of Gal. He asked only that they set out soon, as he worried that the threat of the daemon Picts was only growing. The party promised to answer him soon.

The next day, Demostrate and Audgisl paid the temple of Xathoqqua for admission to their records. There they searched for mention of the Moonblade and the holy woman Laoise who had wielded it. The records were obscure, recounting tales from the years of the Green Death, but it seemed Laoise had been a holy fighter for Yoon-Deh, not a druid, but a figure of holiness who had helped the ancient Kelts as the Green Death rose around them in those dim days of Hyperborea's past. She had lived it seemed, near a gold-mining town in the Gal Hills--as best they could tell, the same area that now held Gold Hill, which the sheriff had mentioned. There was the hint of some obscure darkness in the tale. Somehow, despite the good works Laoise had done for the people, a taint attached itself to her, something dark and rancid, a filthy tangle on an otherwise golden trail. The sources were obscure, but she had been interred in a tomb that had been built in her honor before this darkness entered the tale. The records specified that her blade had been placed somewhere separate, somewhere secret. The reasons were not given.

Deciding that with more than one thing urging them toward Gold Hill, it would prove the course of least resistance, they elected to take the sheriff's offer. "I feel for this woman of the Black Fief," Audgisl said as they readied themselves in the ruddy dawn. "I hope someone else is on the way to help, as it seems we are never going to reach the place."

"Since she never knew that we were coming, she has no reason to fault us for not showing up," Euthymios announced, swinging into his saddle.

The passed through Strongfort's main gate. The guards under the banner of the antlered tower glared but said nothing as the party passed smiling blithely by. Soon they were on the narrow track that passed for a road between Strongfort and the other southern Gal Hills towns. On their left the hills divided the northern and southern reaches. Far across the plains on their right, a low smudge showed the deep forests of the north and east. The day was fine and the red sun rolled around a high, deep-blue sky, the rings of Saturn seeming to sink into the horizon like the edge of a blade.

The day passed quietly, and Siomha found them a campsite on a low hill crowned by softly waving golden grass. Selene was a great crescent low in the sky, shining in solitary glory. The small moon Phobos was dark, lost in Hyperborea's shadow. In the morning, as they gathered their packs and finished a cold trail meal, Landboat and the mules began to shy and strain against their tethers where Ross had set them to graze. Instantly alert, Siomha spotted a long, golden-furred form moving almost invisibly through the tall grass--a lion. She alterted the others, and Wapping Morden stepped forward. He gestured and shook, calling on the green goddess, and the grasses around the lion began to whip and writhe. In seconds the great cat was entangled fast by the animate grass. "There," the druid said. "Now let us be on our way."

"What? And let this chance go? I want a lion skin, and there's one waiting there as if on the table at the bazaar!" Euthymios unslung his bow and moved to the edge of the writhing grass. Wapping Morden turned on the cataphract. The druid seemed to consider whether he had any reason to stop the Kimmerian from killing the helpless beast. Finally, he shrugged, as if he had not received the answer he sought, and turned aside. Euthymios took aim, and Audgisl, with the easy contempt one great predator has for another that has failed, also unslung his bow. Soon the lion was dead, though it had taken a dozen arrows to do the bloody job. When the grasses had ceased their action, Euthymios hauled the carcass into camp, and Demostrate helped him skin it and treat the hide enough that it would last until they reached a town where the Kimmerian could have it made into a cloak to match Audgisl's bear totem. Finally, they set off, though it was later in the day than they had intended.

     Thread Starter

5/13/2014 7:58 pm  #57

Re: This year is Fish

(II., cont.)

The day was more raw than the day before, with tatters of crimson-dyed clouds shrouding the sun. The track wandered from the hills, passing through a low, swampy area where tall reeds grew from the muck and pools of black water rippled in the cool wind. There was no warning as enormous forms suddenly broke the surface of a stretch of mucky water, five frogs the size of horses, leaping among the party, biting and slapping at the surprised marchers. Demostrate and Mordos felt the great toothless maws clamp on their limbs like vises even as they fumbled for their weapons. Worse, though, two of the creatures sent their grotesquely elongated tongues like spears, striking a terrified Ross full in the chest. The boy only had time for a brief scream before he was reeled in like a wriggling fish and swallowed whole. A menacing growl ending in a strangled yelp told the same tale for Sparky, Demostrate's war dog. The fight was chaos. Demostrate sent a flaming missile into the beast that had swallowed her dog, which sought to escape toward the water again, only to find Euthymios atop Landboat II in its way. The cataphract was finally in his element, fighting on horseback with the wild cold wind blowing about him. His lance bit deep into the giant frog, pinning it to the mucky ground. Landboat II reared up, his hooves crashing down on the struggling beast--and on the dog in its gullet. Wapping Morden and Mordos had cut off the beast that had swallowed Ross, and their blades told on it even as it sought the safety of the water. The cleric and the druid were stunned when a dagger blade suddenly erupted from the thing's flank and Ross, shocked at both his survival and his critical success with his blade, tumbled out, covered in slime and blood. Euthymios cheered for his servant. "Your first one, boy! A green cherry on a red day! You'll never forget it. We'll make a man of you yet!"

But the battle was not over. Euthymios turned Landboat II to pin another frog to the ground with his lance, sending a gout of blood over the swaying reeds as he pierced it end to end. But Siomha plunged her axe into another, yanking its jaws from its skull with the force of her backslash. But the smallest of the creatures leaped forward, engulfing a distracted Demostrate as she sought to find out what had happened to Sparky. The pyromancer did not even have time to scream. Wapping Morden lashed out at the frog as it turned to leap back into the water, his scimitar just nicking its great haunch as it gathered itself to spring. Audgisl, who had been about to charge to the rescue, stopped abruptly, reversed his grip on his spear, and even as the frog leaped, he cast it. Frog and spear met in midair over the still black water, outlined against the low red sun. It was the throw Audgisl's life, and the flint-tipped weapon transfixed the grotesque animal, which dropped into the water like a boulder, bearing Demostrate with it as it began to sink into the muck.

Audgisl was still in motion, yanking his rope and grapple from beneath his pack and casting the iron hook after the fallen frog. His luck held, and the spikes bit deep into the frog as it sank. Everyone who could reach hauled on the rope and dragged the bloody carcass out, and Wapping Morden met it, carving into the dead white flesh with his scimitar. Even as the druid exposed Demostrate in the bloody ruin of the frog's gullet, Mordos was reaching past him, hissing and swaying as he prayed to Yig the Serpent. Audgisl's spear had opened Demostrate's throat, and the flow of blood from this wound was beginning to slow and grow sluggish, though as the cleric touched it, it closed. Cursing, Euthymios lifted the pyromancer from the dead beast. Audgisl immediately knelt next to her, growling softly as he sought the bear mind, finding the places where the Amazon's bones had been wrenched and ground against one another, setting them gently back in place. "Will she live?" Euthymios asked.

"Aye," growled the shaman, emerging from his trance. "She will live now."

Euthymios contemplated the deep lines scored on Demostrate's face by the stomach acids of the frog. He quoted an ancient Kimmerian saying, its origins lost in the myths of Old Earth: "She ain't pretty no more!"

     Thread Starter

5/13/2014 8:37 pm  #58

Re: This year is Fish

After collecting the mules from the short distance they had run in their panic before they forgot its source, the group pressed on only long enough to find higher ground on which to camp as Demostrate was still unconscious. That night, as he turned over in his blanket in the cold camp, Mordos saw a star shoot across the sky, leaving a trail of light behind it that curved like serpent. The cleric felt the blessing of Yig upon him, but there was little for him to do with the feeling but offer a prayer of thanksgiving and return to sleep. In the morning, Mordos and Audgisl were able to restore her strength. She mourned only briefly for Sparky and still more so for her scarred face. "Fire," she pointed out, "can restore all things." With that benediction for what was lost, they pressed on.

Their bad luck held. In the bright afternoon, Siomha spied two large winged shapes approaching from out of the red sun. The party fanned out, nocking arrows and gripping weapons as the forms rapidly grew: two eagles, with wingspans that would dwarf most buildings. They bore down on the party, not slowing even as arrows began to flash upward. Most of the shafts could not penetrate the thick feathers, but Euthymios aimed for eye and the soft underbelly, and as one of the eagles passed over him, blood rained down from it to show him he had hit the mark. The eagles paid almost no attention to the terrified group, though. Instead, they swooped down on the mules, which were bucking a screaming as Ross tried to hold them. Ross cried out and dived for cover as the enormous raptors swept down, and when they rose again, each held a mule in its talons. One of the mules continued to scream and kick as it was borne aloft, but the other was pierced through by the great claws. Chased by a last flight of arrows, the huge eagles flew away, dwindling rapidly into the distance. The party stared after them in stunned silence.

"We will track them down! I shall burn their nest and hardboil their eggs! I shall make a cloak of their feathers and then burn that!" Euthymios raged.

"They're gone," Siomha told him, "and I can't track birds."

"But my lion skin was on that mule!"

"Then that's gone,too."

Wapping Morden whistled and nodded to himself.

By evening they had reached the small town of The Antlers, defended by a stout wooden stockade with wooden towers at its corners, banners of green antlers on a gold field flying from their tops. The guards on these towers called out a challenge.

"We are simply travellers," Demostrate called up, "seeking to escape the dangers of the road."

"Simple or no, we know you not. It is a tithe of ten gold coins for strangers to enter The Antlers. If you cannot pay, you are welcome to sleep by the walls."

"But that's madness! We will give business to your inns and your merchants! How can you charge us for the privilege?"

"I charge you only to pass the gates and prove you have the coin for inn and merchant. If you had definite business here, you would come with goods to prove it. Now pay or stay without. We will be on the wall one way or the other and protect you if we can."

With a great deal of grumbling, the party paid over in coin and goods until the guards were satsfied. They were sent to an inn called the Green Bounty, where more coins got them a place on the common-room floor and meal of grain cakes, thick sausage, and dark ale. Demostrate ran to the bazaar, and in a shadowy booth that reeked of incense, she found a bronze mask wrought with the symbol of Helios. Soft leather backed the bronze and tied around her skull to hold the mask in place, and her eyes flashed behind the worked rays of the sun.

"Fire," she told the bemused merchant, "can restore all things."

Here endeth session the fifth.

     Thread Starter

5/14/2014 8:03 am  #59

Re: This year is Fish

Let's see if this works. I'll try to UL the players' campaign calendar so far. Note that Month XII was all training but that was mainly the sorcerers poring over books they had found. I love the first of Month XIII. Perhaps that should be a Drunken Debauchery holiday across all of Hyperborea.

     Thread Starter

5/25/2014 7:26 am  #60

Re: This year is Fish

Just getting caught up since I last commented on this thread. Great reading as usual, and nice use of the calendar. It's a little confusing IMC right now because we have different groups separated by time, but I'll sync it all up sooner or later. Saturnalia was the theme this past week -- now that was some drunken, lotus-chewing debauchery. ;)

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