Friday, September 7, 2012

Session #24: the Charge of the Light Brigade...

{Game clock resumes at 12:01pm 03/23/3200:  Session starts off with a re-cap of the last game and getting everyone back up to speed… then everything goes pear-shaped.  I’ll summarize the remainder of their time in the army camp so as to spend more time on the important bits that happened later on.}

Milo informs everyone that the spring equinox will soon be upon them and that this is one of his holy days as well as the traditional day upon which campaigns begin in the north lands.  He informs them that this is a good omen and the most fortuitous time for them to undertake the next part of their journey; so they decide to scrap plans for leaving with the third wave and start looking into new options.  Thingerlun has been talking and searching amongst his wizardly compatriots within the army camp and looking for a way to short-cut all the remaining travel, and he cooks up an idea that he then sells to Dwight…

The Plan:
Scrap the remodels and such and get a couple of regular mule-powered wagons and a bunch of pack mules so the whole company is still mobile.  Thingerlun has tracked down several wizards of his order that can cast the Planar Step spell, but none of them will risk performing the spell as a ritual and that is the only way that everyone can be transported.  So Dwight informs his commanders that it is imperative that they order the wizards to comply.  The reason for this is simply that no matter how the company preps, they will never be able to push their way into Blessings Be with a frontal assault; the town is already 80+ miles behind enemy lines… and the Empire cannot risk the Scourge getting their hands on a creature with perfect fore-knowledge! 

The Commanders agree to the ritual which is only 4 days long; so they will save a significant amount of time and probably catch the orc horde by surprise.  Unfortunately, when the party approaches Archie and asks him if he will bring the engine with him when they jump to Blessings Be he says, “Guild engines are too big to travel that way, and I’m not going to let them cast any spells on me or my equipment… but I hope you folks have a safe journey.  Thanks for the up-grades.”  

There are 6 wizards that are able, but they refuse to work together, and in the end the ritual is performed by 3 wizards… the spell ritual fails and one of the wizards disappears in a swirling purple vortex.  It takes 3 days to convince the remaining wizards to try again, but by then the first of the “Embers” of the Phoenix Lord’s return are spotted on the horizon.  Everything in camp stops for the 5 day observance of the Equinox.  Over the course of the next few days the shadowy arch of Valdreth continues to narrow, pressing into a single line in the heavens due east with the sun rising behind it.  The sparkles and comets of golden light climb from the horizon brightly at sunrise and blotting out the “the celestial shadow demons” (See post XX for details on the Skies of Áereth) growing and waxing in intensity until neither golden embers nor shadow demons are seen.  The arch of Valdreth begins to separate and the days are noticeably longer.  By the time the holy days have passed and the ritual is completed on the 14th of April; the third wave of the army has been on the road for 4 days; but this time everything goes smoothly and the party is transported instantly to their destination.  {Ritual total was 41, (16, 17, and leader got a 25) this could have transported the entire army, but the wizards were under orders not to transport any but those within the circle.}

 As they transit their way through the purple nothingness between spaces, they all see the missing wizard screaming silently and falling away from them, dwindling in size until he vanishes in the haze of distance.  Everyone within the casting circle ends up exactly where they are supposed to be: the road junction with the path to the Temple.  It is 1pm on April 14th and they have still managed to save themselves nearly 9 days of travel.  However, they are at least 80 miles behind enemy lines without any support beyond what they brought with them.  They spot a trio of colossal draexodons each carrying a howdah with a platoon of orcs just outside of maximum short bow range to the south.  The road to the temple is un-powered and leads uphill to the east for less than a quarter mile to the entrance.

The orc patrol spots them, hauls around and begins to advance upon the new arrivals: screaming and working themselves into a hateful fervor.  The extremely large quadrupeds wear leather barding along with the howdah on its back.  They are powerful beasts about half the size of the coal car of Archie’s train, but they are not the fastest of creatures even when they aren’t pressed into service as transports. Fortunately for the travelers, they had pre-deployed the buggy, and everyone was already packed onto the wagons.  All the pack mules had been distributed evenly and lashed onto leads, so it was decided to make a dash for the temple.  At least the high ground would give them the advantage.

Thingerlun thinks to Sythrixis; Hey, how many of us and our gear could you hide with an invisibility spell?

Sythrixis;  A fair few if the spell goes well and I can maintain my concentration.

Thingerlun;  Do it!  The best you can!  To everyone else “Try to stay together! I’ve got an idea!”

Sythrixis lands at the center of the cluster and gets a 27 on the spell check which is in fact sufficient to cover all of them, but they fail to realize that they still leave a trail that even orcs can follow.  This tactic does allow them to get nearly to the plateau where the temple doors are closed tight before the spell wears off.  The orcs had found the trail and followed it up the hill but not at any great speed, so they were only just inside maximum short bow range, but still too far to sprint close enough for melee combat.  The adventurers got the advantage in the initiative, and Lex spotted the weak link in the enemies plan.  Each of the beasts had a drover that was lightly armored.  She figures that without anyone to direct the beasts the orcs would have a really bad time and be too busy to cause trouble.  She took out the lead drover with one clean shot that arced high and then pinned the drover to the howdah behind him.

Dwight, Bob and Thingerlun advance back down the hill a short distance and manage to take out the other two drovers.  Dwight kills the drover of the last beast in line; Bob misses, but Thingerlun managed to conjure up a screaming eagle that did enough damage to the drover of the middle beast that he simply vanished into a glowing ash.  The Draexodons buck and gyrate in fury as the orcs try to get control over them, but most of the orcs are thrown and trampled as the beasts head away from the danger.  The company sets up a defensive perimeter around the entrance to the Temple.  The huge brass doors are each10ft wide and nearly 20ft high.  Lex examines them and declares them unlocked and safe to open.  Dwight gives orders to have the door opened, and several of the troops rush forward.  The doors are well balanced, but it has been a while since they were opened and they squeal a bit as they are pushed inward to reveal the grand entrance hall.  It is a simple affair of polished white and gold marble that is as wide as the doors and just as high.  The hall drove straight back into the hill for less than 40ft and there were several alcoves carved out for statues of Arden Brightheart in various poses on either side.  There are scattered leaves and debris on the floor, confirming for them that they are the first to enter in some time.  This is taken as a generally good sign.  Dwight starts to organize who is entering and who stays to guard the entrance while Bob goes in and checks for traps and the equipment and mules are brought into the temple.  The company had been organized into “front line” and “archers” back at the depot based upon their talents.   The archers stay and along with two of the steam knights, one of the wizards and one of the clerics to defend the wagons and entrance.  Everyone else follows along into the temple after Bob. 

As their eyes adjusted to the lesser illumination within the temple they see that there is a wide, natural looking cavern that branches off to their right, and a smaller carved tunnel branches off to their right. Milo drops into prayer and asks “Which direction will take us to the Dread Watcher by the quickest pat?”  A few moments go by and he points to the left with reasonable assurance.  They head out, but Bob gets in their way and stops them just in time to avoid the statue that is rigged to collapse on anyone heading towards the left hand tunnel.

Dwight pulls out the sword of conviction; “OK, what can you tell us about the layout and such for the temple, secret doors, number of levels?”

Sword cheerfully; “Sorry, can’t help you there.  I have no idea.”

Dwight, annoyed; “WHAT!  You were in here for centuries, so you say!  How can you not know anything about the layout?!”

Sword, smugly emphasizing itself: “I… was pinning the Dread Watcher to the wall in an old cave.  The humans built the temple around me; I never saw anything but the room I was in.”

Hearn; “But what about when you were stolen?  You must’ve seen something then?”

Sword; “Nope… the thief put me into a scabbard and then tossed me into a sack.  Didn’t see anything outside the chapel where I resided for the better part of 1400 years.  Sorry.”

They set out again, but they need to move 2 by 2 down the hall with Bob in front, followed by a Gavid, Ffwylldyr, Khrasus, and the remaining Steam Knight and the rest waiting to go down the hall.  Everyone was so intent on looking at the floor that they missed the inky black shapes unfurling in the shadows above them.  Gavid and Ffwylldyr are enveloped by these black octopus type creatures and hauled back up to the ceiling.  The critters have eight tentacle legs have membranes connecting them and end in vicious hooks.  The result is a ‘bag’ that is more than sufficient to envelope even a large creature.  In the instant before the fracas begins they see that Gavid’s boots drop to the ground and still have his feet in them.  There is no struggling inside that critter, but Ffwylldyr’s feet are still twitching and kicking. 

The ceilings are 15ft high so Bob gets the steam knight to lever him up, but the knight overestimates his strength and accidentally tosses Bob about 20ft back down the hall.  Bob escapes with only minor injuries.  They try again and Bob succeeds at cutting the critters attachment to the ceiling while several of the others are using spears to kill the other one.  Milo tries to cast Bless but fails and has to spend time after the fight praying for forgiveness.  Hearn Blesses Bob to aid him in his attempt to cut Ffwylldyr out of the critter, Milo casts paralysis on the creature and Bob manages to open up enough to let them see the partially dissolved face of the Bard.  Lex poisons the creature with one of her ‘special’ daggers, but it is too late… the Ffwylldyr is dead.

Milo consecrates the bodies.

A few moments later Lex and Bob set out down the hall; each of them checking floor and ceiling until they find two doors, one on the right and one on the left directly opposite each other.  In a display of synchronized ditch digging Lex goes right and Bob goes left.  Lex discovers that her door is blocked from the inside and can hear something moving around inside.  Bob discovers that the door he is examining is locked, but he deals with it deftly and pushes it open ever so slightly.  He sees that the room has benches in it and murals on the walls.  There is a soft golden light illuminating this room, but he cannot see what it is.  Everyone decides to check out that room first and they push open the door to see a strange scene. 

There is a black robed and hooded figure transfixed by fancy magic sword and pinned to the wall on the opposite wall to their right.  It is the sword that is emitting the soft golden glow that lights the room.  Bob, Dwight, Lex and Milo are the first ones into the room, and when Dwight sees all of this he must succeed at a willpower save against the sword’s ego… and fails.  {Player says nothing… just bows his head and hands me the character sheet.} Dwight then screams, “Destroy the sword!” and charges at the transfixed figure; leaping from bench to bench.  When everyone else sees this there is a moment of horror that passes over their faces as the same thought seems to occur to all of them at the same time. 

The thought might have gone something like this: “The sword of conviction is supposed to pin the Dread Watcher to the wall immobile and imprisoned, the scene in front of them suggests that that nothing is wrong here and that they’ve been duped into carrying a false sword to the temple in an attempt to get them to actually free the Dread Watcher.”  {Although the Player’s thoughts were probably more along the lines of; “That bastard tricked us!!”}  They immediately suspect Dwight is possessed by this ‘false sword’. 

Bob tries to kill Dwight, but misses.  Hearn fails at her attempt to use Command, Lex misses her shot, but Thingerlun successfully casts Sleep upon Dwight before he gets more than halfway across the room.  Dwight falls between a couple of benches and they secure him while they try to figure out what the hell is going on.  They check out the room in a lot more detail and notice the murals that seem to depict the opposite of everything they’ve been told.  The scenes show the Dread Watcher as the hero and Arden as the fiend that needed to be vanquished.  This just seems to confirm their suspicions.

{And all I did was describe the room… the rest just seemed to explode entertainingly around me.}

Bob: “OK!  Everyone gather around we need to figure this out! Lex, you and some of the rest watch the hall for any trouble.”  Everyone sorts themselves into the room and they start to rehash everything they know about the Dread Watcher. 

Thingerlun; “Sword, why have you tricked us into coming here to destroy the true sword of conviction?”

Sword, indignantly says; “I’M the true sword!  That is the false abomination!  IT must be destroyed!”

Thingerlun; “Riiight.  And we’re supposed to believe you?  It’s obvious this place hasn’t been entered since the thief supposedly left here, and then we find that the Dread Watcher is still hanging on the wall like a beef curing for market.  So tell me again, what is your goal, why have you brought us here?”

Sword; “To destroy the Dread Watcher!  To keep his power of Perfect Foreknowledge out of the hands of mortals… it is a power that you shouldn’t have.  It’s dangerous!”

{That is when a previously vague notion that had been lurking about in the backs of their brains pounced out of the shadows: they were fighting a creature that is supposed to have the ability to accurately predict the future…}

Hearn; “Well, if it can predict the future, then doesn’t it know who we are and what we’re going to do next?”

{Oddly this thought just amplified their sense of existential horror…  I love it when a plan comes together so nicely.}

Lex says from the doorway; “I guess the important question is: ‘what is the nature of Precognition?’”

They all turn to Thingerlun and Milo to answer this question… and while they cogitate upon the nature of Precognition, Hearn decides to take a more practical approach.  She casts Detect Evil and starts to survey the room in detail… including a rather candid search of Lex Anne. 

Lex; “What are you doing?!”

Hearn, impassively; “Detecting for evil.”

Lex says exasperatedly; “I’m NOT EVIL!  Now go look around the rest of the room!”

Bob turns to Hearn; “So, what do you see?”

Hearn; “Well, she’s not evil, but the sword and several splotches on the walls where some kind of evil spell has been used to mask them over are most definitely evil in nature.”

Bob; “What about the sword in Dwight’s hands?”

Hearn; “No, that sword isn’t evil.”

The conversation returns to the idea of precognition and Milo and Thingerlun tell everyone the following;
Milo; “Mortals, have never been given the ability to see the subset of ALL possibilities, which is the preview of the gods…”

Thingerlun; “Even if mortals can see the nature of the events, there is still no context for the events witnessed and the observer invites their own biases into the interpretation.  If this creature truly possesses the ability to accurately predict the future then how was it imprisoned the first time?”

Sword in Dwight’s sleeping hands; “Bravery!  Arden’s entire company died to get him into position to make the final strike, and he had to take a mortal wound to accomplish the deed!”

While this is going on, Bob finally gets up the courage to go over and examine the golden bowl on the altar at the front of the room, and then sidles over to the corpse pined to the wall.  He sees that the sword is glowing, but otherwise looks just like the sword in Dwight’s hand.  The corpse and his robes don’t appear to be that old, a few years at most.  He looks at the walls where Hearn had shown the ‘edits’ and he comes to the conclusion that this was a trap designed to fool them into killing one of their own and taking the real sword far away: possibly even destroying it.

They decide that ‘perfect’ precognition might not be so perfect after all, but that their enemy probably still knows a great deal about them.  They wake up Dwight, who succeeds at his willpower save this time and after he is briefed on what happened during the last half hour that he can’t remember: he wanders over and smashes the faux sword with one mighty chop from the Sword of Conviction.  They decide to take a better look at the entrance to see if there are holy runes or wards that are still intact or if they have been destroyed.  It takes them a few minutes, but they find them inlayed with gold into the door-jam, and threshold.  The Ward is still active, which tells them that the Dread Watcher must still be in here somewhere.

They circle back to the natural grotto that they passed over earlier and see that there are a few steps down into a pool of water that is of indeterminate depth.  The cavern itself is probably less than 50ft across, but the pool of water covers most of the cavern’s floor.  There is a large marble statue of Arden Brightheart in the center of the pool wearing full platemail armor inscribed with the religious symbol of Thormyr.  The long dead hero has a penitent, kneeling posture and is looking directly at the entrance to the grotto.  Lex tosses a copper coin into the pool and offers a prayer to the dead hero and thanks Thormyr for watching over them thus far.  She spots the submerged ledge that circles the cavern and points it out to the others.

Milo, Lex, Dwight, and Bob are standing side by side on the last step above water, peering out at all of this when Lex points out the ledge that is actually the extension of the last underwater step when two sets of skeletal arms lurch out of the pool.  One misses Bob, but Dwight is Paralyzed and pulled deep into the pool.  The sword in his hand begins to emit soft silver light that reveals to the party that there are two undead humanoids lurking at the bottom of the 10ft deep pool; along with a couple other inanimate bodies.

Milo grunts, then says; “Lacidons.”

Thingerlun; “What’re those?”

Milo; “Ghouls that live in the water ‘cause they drowned.  Watch out, they can paralyze you with a touch.”  He then holds up his holy symbol and invokes the power of Ormazd to cast away the minions of darkness.  The results are so powerful that his aura of light concentrates down into a beam that lances out from the golden sun disc medallion in his hands to strike the nearest of the foul creatures leaving a sizzling, streaming trail of bubbles in the water and both of the lacidons scramble to the back of the pool trying to escape the righteous power emanating from the cleric of the Sun God.  Several of the warriors are tasked to help Milo with destroying the fell creatures while Lex and Bob perform another amazing display of synchronized ditch digging.  This time she dives for the jumble of bodies at the near end of the pool, and to help drag Dwight out of the pool for Hearn to check over.  At the same time and without prior planning, Bob dives in and swims to the statue and begins to check it over for traps and clues. 

Hearn directs several of the soldiers to lift him up by the ankles and let the water drain out of his lungs before the paralysis wears off and then casts Detect Magic and looks into the pool.  She sees that there are some magical crossbow bolts and a mace that glows with arcane power.  Lex brings them up to the surface without having to be told that they are special… she assumed that since they weren’t tarnished or otherwise degraded from their long submersion that they needed further study.  Bob finds the placard which reads: When strength of steel in trouble fails, Silent reverence shows the way. / Arden’s arm was strong and true, but ‘twas his faith that won the day. Is what he reads out to everyone, then, “What the hell does that mean?” 

Before he delves into that he also notices that the statue is well balanced and can be rotated to the left or right rather easily.  He spins it around a couple of times while everyone else ponders the words and discovers that there is a slight ‘catch’ in the rotation when it passes over a certain section.  “Everyone get ready for anything strange!  I think I found a secret trigger for something.” And he sets it in place without even waiting for anyone else to really understand what he was doing.  A section of wall on the far side of the cavern lowers into the floor revealing another room.  The heroes of Silverton make their way over to the new room and leave their retinue to guard the entrance.

They find a cloister that is maybe 5 paces on each side, but was oriented at 450 from the entrance.  It is packed with a desk and shelves on their left and a chest of drawers and cot along the right hand wall and there is a petrified corps in robes upon the cot.  A few dozen flies are flitting about the room and everything is silent but for their breathing and the buzzing of the flies.  Then they see a translucent copy of the dead humanoid rise up from the corpse.  “BE GONE FROM MY CURSED SANCTUARY!  LEAVE THIS PLACE OR SUFFER MY WRATH!!!”
{Game clock suspended at 2:30pm 04/14/3200}

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