Last time, our “heroes” laid hands on the Under-Dean Stanton & his assistant Simmons, were banned from the Fortinbras College of Mines, sent six members of the City Watch to the hospital, and delivered an ultimatum to the mayor. They are no longer welcome in town.
The mayor wants Gleador and Lucia brought to City Hall, but that’s in the center of the volcano’s caldera and it’s the deepest building in town. Our heroes don’t expect to escape from there. Their counter-offer, delivered by a City Watch-man dragging his wounded co-worker, is for the mayor to meet them at a rest stop two days walk west of Templeton. The rest stop has powerful magic, and those lit by its fire cannot harm each other. They mayor has three days to get there, and our heroes are watching the road out of Templeton to see if he goes or not.
That morning, the first traffic on the road towards the rest stop are two large carts, drawn by four horses each. The carts are covered by canvas supported by wooden frames, like covered wagons or WWII troop trucks. The canvas is extra-long, covering the sides of the wagon, but the horses are being driven fast, and the wind blows the canvas aside, revealing the name “Mister Bill’s Tack Shop”. That’s the building that Gleador saw burning yesterday. They pursue. Gleador transforms into a chimera of horse and eagle. It also breathes fire.
GM: What animal do you know from that Sapphire Islands that breathes fire?
Gleador’s player: The Giant Salamanders, of course!
GM: I can’t argue with that.
Lucia rides Gleador (on the ground for now) and they swiftly approach the heavy carts. They see the driver of the rear cart look back and shout instructions. Someone in the back of the cart reaches out through the canvas cover and dumps the contents of a bag onto the road: gold coins! Our heroes marvel at this strategy. What is its purpose? They stop and examine the coins. They appear to be normal Templeton gold pieces. Lucia suspects they may be counterfeit, since Flint was creating alloy with the same density as gold for some unknown purpose. The coins don’t appear to be magical, poisonous, or trapped, so our heroes grab a handful. As they are stopped, they look back towards Templeton and see another party approaching. Four figures, taller than Dwarves, wearing black cloaks. Three ride horses, but the leader rides a great wolf. The leader points at our heroes and the group of four accelerates. Gleador takes to the sky, out-pacing both the riders and the two carts. The carts see the riders approaching and stop. Gleador lands in front of them. One cart has a single driver. The other has a driver and someone riding shotgun. Lucia prays to reveal what is evil and gets five pings: the three visible people and one in the back of each cart. Gleador asks, “Are they after us or after you?” The people on the carts appear confused. A person pops her head out of the back of one cart to see what’s going on. It’s Shaela, one of the dwarves getting alloy from Flint, and probably the one who locked our heroes and Flint in that deathtrap a few sessions ago.
Lucia is really curious what Shaela knows about Flint’s whereabouts, but the three black-cloaked figures on horses are approaching. They have pulled white, skull-themed masks over their faces. The leader and the wolf are not in sight. Lucia prays to see if the riders are evil. They gets a ping from each rider, but not from the horses. She also gets two pings in thin air between her and the carts. The leader and her wolf appear from invisibility poised to strike! The wolf leaps at Lucia (who is still atop Gleador’s fire-breathing Hippogriff) Lucia braces her shield with her sword beneath it and strikes a heavy blow, aided by the wolf’s momentum. It collapses on Gleador’s shoulders and slides to the ground, but the rider leaped off as the wolf attacked. She is six feet above Lucia, holding a spear that’s attached to her gear with some sort of cable. Gleador unleashes a gout of flame. She drops the spear and throws her cloak around her, twisting in the air and dropping in an ungainly heap to the side, instead of directly in Lucia. Both the wolf and rider are back on their feet quickly. They back away, giving our heroes a respectful distance. The rider gives a hand signal, and the three other riders advance with their spears trying to encircle our heroes.
Gleador takes to the air. The three skull-faced horse-riders winds cranks at their hips to build air pressure, then fire their pneumatic spears at our heroes! Gleador swoops away and circles the group (two carts, four mounted assassins) within shouting distance. Lucia asks what exactly is going on! The wolf-rider, an Orc woman named Beth, yells back that they are a threat to the city, and they mayor has sent her and her team to make sure they are brought back. Gleador doesn’t have to deal with this, he’s a flying horse, so he takes off at full speed for the rest stop. Beth orders her riders to pursue them, and stays to tend to her injured wolf.
Gleador is faster than a horse, and horses must either respect the path of the road or push through unfavorable terrain. They know that the riders know that they are headed for the rest stop, but the hippogriff will reach it by nightfall, and the horses will take hours to catch up.
Gleador and Lucia reach the rest stop at nightfall and Gleador shifts back without regard for the ten or so parties already stopped for the night. People are cooking dinner together over the large central fire pit. As is tradition, people have brought firewood to stoke and maintain the fire.Gleador looks for animals to use as scouts and allies. Lots of animals gather here, since humans bring food and aren’t allowed to attack them. Gleador sees a pika snatch an unattended hunk of cheese. The cheese’s owner yells and grabs a rock to throw, then puts the rock back down. This is the magic of the rest stop’s fire of community. Those lit by the fire may have means and will for violence, but they cannot act. Even animals are protected. Gleador asks the pika if it and its friends could scout beyond the firelight and warn them when the riders approach. That’s no good. The rest stop may be safe, but just outside, predators gather, waiting for animals to wander from the safety of the light. Indeed, the trees are obviously full of waiting hawks.
Gleador asks around, wondering if anyone has heard of black-cloaked skull-faced riders. People think that’s a great campfire story, and he soon has a circle of eager listeners wanting to hear his spooky tale. He describes Beth and her group, saying they are bogey-men that wander the roads, and the only way to escape if they pursue you is to thumb your nose and say, “neener neener neener!” They can’t stand being mocked. A young lad, eager to seem brave and smart, scoffs at Gleador’s description of the terrible black wolf that bears the leader of the band. “Everyone knows the Black Beast is more like a giant cat. Not a wolf at all!”
GM note: The Black Beast is a legend started in Fairmeadow only a few days ago, based on the exploits of Gleador himself!
Blogger note: I need a better way to link callbacks. if you, dear reader, don’t remember the Black Beast, how can I easily remind you with the power of hyperlinks & the Internet?
After successfully entertaining the crowd, Gleador looks around for interesting people. He sees a group of people wearing robes that were once white, but are stained with long use over the road. They carry their gear in handcarts, and have no pack animals. Gleador strikes up a conversation with Talion, a young-ish Orc man. Talion explains that they are religious pilgrims returning from a famous shrine, far to the west, past Sugar’s Crossing. The expedition was started by an old human woman named Vanni. The journey is like a river, people join the group as it travels, expanding it. In that sense, Vanni is like the source of the river. Now they are returning, and people leave the group as it passes their hometowns. By the time Vanni returns, she will have been on the road for four months. Our heroes enquire about the shrine, and what rituals the group performed while there. Gleador has heard that the shrine grants petitioner foresight. Talion expands: Vanni was the reason for the expedition, so she alone went inside and received the foresight, but all had a part in the ritual, and the foresight echoed and rippled outward, granting each participant some small gift. After his experience at the shrine, Talion recognizes one face in each town he visits. He has no other insight into the people he recognizes, but he’s meditating on the visions and the interactions he has with the people the shrine has shown him. He records it all in a worn leather-bound journal. Tonight, Talion is expecting an Orc woman, but he has checked the camp and hasn’t seen her. Gleador and Lucia are pretty sure he means Beth, the leader of the strike team pursuing them. She was wearing a cloak and mask, but from her height, build, and the skin they could see on her hands, neck, and shoulders, they are reasonably confident she’s an Orc.
GM note: I told Gleador’s player that Gleador knew the shrine the pilgrim’s went to. He said that the shrine granted foresight, and I thought, “You power-gamer! I’m not giving you an NPC that knows how to get you out of trouble!” Thus, the shrine grants foresight once, for a specific request, not an ongoing power to see the future.
Gleador encourages Lucia to talk to Vanni. Lucia isn’t sure what to say, but goes anyways. Vanni is quite old, so the pilgrims give her special treatment out of respect both for her leadership of the expedition and her frail physical condition. Vanni recognizes a fellow truth-seeker in Lucia. She tells Lucia about the trip to the shrine, which leaves the main roads and goes through a forest. That’s why they must use handcarts. Larger vehicles and beasts of burden cannot pass. Lucia asks why Vanni would make such a journey, what was so important to foresee? Vanni looks sad and doesn’t answer directly. Lucia says, “I guess it wasn’t a blessing.”
Vanni: All truth is a blessing. That’s very hard to see, but if you can accept that, it’s enlightenment.
Vanni excuses herself. It’s late, and she is old and tired. Lucia and Gleador also prepare to sleep. Lucia walks the border of the rest stop and casts Sanctuary, so she will be alerted if anyone entered with hostile intent. Our heroes are worried about the strike team somehow out-smarting the magic ward against violence. Gleador says they need to have a serious talk about possible mortal actions. He suspects the wolf may be a Druid, or at least someone Druid-adjacent, and the combination of evil and power that he sensed has him considering taking a life for the first time. (They destroyed some zombies when cleaning up the freezer room, but they had been dead for a long time, and had terminal diseases, so it doesn’t count, right?) They go to sleep back-to-back, weapons at hand.
Around 4AM, Lucia hears a ping from her Sanctuary spell, then three more. She sneakily opens an eye and see the four members of the strike team entering the rest stop. Their mounts remain outside. Their cloaks, masks, and armor are laid over the mounts. The strike team approaches unarmed, hands visible. Without the cloaks, their black armor is visible: mostly leather, with partial chainmail. The chain links are coated with a substance that turns them black and prevents them from jangling. Beth approaches to within a few paces and crouches down to address them. She wasn’t able to apprehend them before they reached the rest stop, and she can’t lay hands on them while they are protected within the rest stop’s ward, but she can prevent them from leaving while she waits for further instructions. Beth pulls out some paper and a pencil. It’s not very sharp. Beth reaches for a knife that’s no longer at her side. She glances back at her gear on the wolf, stares at the blunt pencil, and with a sigh, starts writing a message. When she’s done, she fold the paper into an origami bird and throws it into the air, it flies off towards Templeton to magically deliver a message. “Now we wait”, says Beth.
Gleador is not content to wait, and uses his situational invulnerability to ask an unending series of impertinent questions.
“Who do you work for?” Beth says, “The mayor calls on us to solve special problems that the City Watch and normal channels are not equipped to handle. You are a special problem.”
“Are you like the mayor’s little body party?” Resh, one of the three human riders, chimes in, “You could say it’s a body party once we get involved!”
“Are you going to bring the wolf in? Is he OK out there beyond the fire light? He wasn’t doing so well earlier.” Beth narrows her eyes and hisses, “Don’t you ever talk about my wolf!”
Shortly before dawn, some people start to stir, make breakfast, stoke the fire. One of them is Talion. He spots Beth and arranges to get as close to her as he can while cooking breakfast. Beth notices him stealing glances and goes up to him. “What do you want?” Talion stammers, “Well, I, uh, I saw you in a dream.” Resh calls out, “She’s heard that one before!” Talion is embarrassed. “No, it’s not like that. There’s this shrine, see?” Beth leans in, “So you saw my face in a vision? Are you sure it was mine? Take a real good look.” She leans uncomfortably close, staring Talion dead in the eye. She suddenly barks a war cry, twisting her face into a terrifying snarl. Talion stumbles back, startled. The riders laugh and jeer and he retreats.
Beth sights a response from Templeton. A larger messenger bird flies towards the rest stop and is snatched out of the air by a hawk! Remember, many predators wait just outside the fire’s protective light. Beth yells, “Aleph!” and points at the hawk. Her wolf turns and runs after the hawk, which flies back into a tree with its prey. Beth also run out of the camp, intercepts Aleph, pulls her knife from her gear and flings it into the hawk’s tree. The hawk falls out dead, still clutching the messenger bird. Beth picks up the hawk by the knife sticking out of it, extracts the messenger bird from its claws, then offers the knife to Aleph, who pulls the hawk off and eats it. Beth walks back towards her companions. As she crosses the threshhold of the rest stop, she pauses and looks down at the knife in her hand. She takes a step back, throws the knife into the ground, then continues forward. She unfolds the messenger bird, It’s a cloth square about 2 feet on a side, with writing on one side, and magic symbols on the other. Lucia recognizes the magic symbols as a teleportation spell. Beth reads the message, then hands the cloth to her blonde companion. “Yod, you’re better at this stuff.”
Yod prepares to cast the spell. Gleador is very curious and crowds her, asking what she has, what it’s for, what she’s going to do. Yod raises a hand, then lowers it. She scoots away. Gleador follows. She lays the cloth flat on the ground, then strategically scoots around so that Gleador is crowding her right arm instead of her left. then she grabs a corner of the cloth with her left hand and lifts the cloth with a flourish, yelling a magic word. There’s a puff of pink, glittery smoke, and when it clears, there’s a male Dwarf standing there. He wears a top hat, handlebar mustache, white gloves, tailcoat, and vest. “Ah, wonderful! Good to see you again, Yod! Beth. And these must be our, umm, persons of interest. Good to meet you in person. I’ve heard so much about you. My name is Dory. I must say you’ve put us in a bit of a spot. Allow me to consult with my colleagues.” Dory surveys the scene and huddles with the four riders.
Dory decides that the mayor will come to see Lucia and Gleador, but all these spectators are no good. He goes around the various camps, some of whom are beginning to stir, and offers them 5 gold pieces if they clear out in the next fifteen minutes. Most people are very willing to do so, and hustle to get themselves together. The pilgrims have no interest in earthly riches, and have several venerable members who mustn’t hustle. Dory maintains his effusive and jovial attitude, but is clearly annoyed. Talion gets between Dory and the group, demanding that he show respect. Beth steps in between Dory and Talion, hand on hips. She’s really good at threatening and belittling people. Talion’s hands keep balling into fists and then suddenly relaxing. Dory, who is 22 inches shorter than his champion, his head out into the space between Beth’s side & her elbow to get a few verbal barbs in himself. Beth has had enough says she’ll wait for Talion outside. She leaves the rest stop and waits at the entrace, which the pilgrims need to pass when they leave.
Dory finds he can’t rush Vanni and the other pilgrims because it would actually be unhealthy for Vanni to move too quickly, so he leaves them alone. Our heroes go to consult with the pilgrims. It seems that Talion will be attacked as soon as he leaves. Talion thinks he has a good chance, and he’s full of righteous anger. He’d probably make a good Paladin, but he is not a Paladin yet. Our heroes tell him that Beth is very dangerous, even without her wolf and weapons. Our heroes will also be attacked as soon as they leave. They are willing to draw the strike team’s attention in order to let the pilgrims flee unharmed. The pilgrims are impressed by our heroes’ self-sacrificing offer. One of the pilgrims steps forward with a tunic painted with some strange symbols. He says that his vision showed him this pattern, and he thinks that Lucia and Gleador should have it. They recognize it as the same teleportation spell that Yod used to bring Dory here. Racking their brains for arcane lore, they also remember that while being teleported, a person is in neither place. This means that our heroes can disrupt the mayor’s teleportation spell, because the mayor will not be in the rest stop, and thus not protected yet.
Dory gets ready to summon the mayor. He’s annoyed that the summoning cloth has holes in it (from the unfortunate hawk’s talons) and repairs them with a few flicks of his magic wand. Gleador and Lucia crowd close around him. Yod explains that they do this sort of thing and whipsers in Dory’s ear. Dory does the same little dance around the cloth to get one arm free, then snatches the cloth up. At almost the right time, Lucia puts her toe on a corner of the cloth and adds an extra syllable to the magic word Dory yells. The teleportation spell is disrupted, but not in the way she hoped! Both ends of the portal open at once. Dory, Lucia, and Gleador feel the space around them bend down into the space where the cloth used to be and they are pulled down with it! Once past the ground, they find themselves in a large, translucent, glowing tunnel. All around them, similar tunnels or threads stretch for infinite distances in all directions. Looking up, the underside of the ground is not visible, only more threads. They are pulled forward by a current and miles away at the other end, they see a figure racing towards them, no doubt the mayor. Gleador tries to snatch the teleportation cloth away from Dory, but he resists and the cloth tears. When it does, the thread they are in also tears, splitting and spiraling into at least three different channel headed who knows where. Lucia tries to grab Dory, but he’s aiming for a thread that goes deeper into whatever space this is, below reality. That’s scary, so Lucia lets him go. She and Gleador are above the original thread. The mayor is still racing along and will pass them by if they just float along this thread. They can fight the current, try to push through the wall of the thread and risk what’s in-between the In-Between, or use the teleportation spell on the tunic that the pilgrim gave them. Gleador turns into a dolphin with a frog’s tongue. Lucia grabs his fin and with a mighty thrust he swims against the current to rejoin the original thread. Now our heroes are on a collision course with the mayor. How wil lthe opposing currents interact? The tunnel is wide enough that the three could pass without colliding, or bounce off each other and continue. Gleador wants to secure the mayor, so he reaches out, arms getting longer and bulkier as he transforms into a gorilla. The gorilla seizes the mayor, who is a Dwarven woman. She’s wearing a formal, refined, but still decorated and beautiful dress. Gleador’s hand crushes one of her puff sleeves and he feels some of the embroidery rip. The three of them are holding on to each other and will all end up in the same place, but where should they go? The rest stop with the mayor’s magician and personal strike team seems bad. Going the other way probably leads to Templeton City Hall, one of the most secure buildings in the city. Lucia pulls out the teleportation tunic and aims for the swamp near Fairmeadow, home to their friends Samantha and Ferdinand. She completely botches the spell. The tunic unravels and weaves itself into the side of the tunnel, creating a branch that sucks the three of them up and up and up. They feel the transition back to real space, and there’s water. They rise and rise. They break the surface. Darkness. To be continued.
GM note: There is little that gives me more freedom than an uncontrolled teleportation spell at the very end of the session! I have a month to figure out where to put them.