Where we left off
Our heroes are traveling south from Talynbourg fleeing Captain Dekelor and his men. They have just defeated a barnyard full of tainted pigs after four days of travel through pouring rain and mountain storms.
They are tired. It is evening, and it is raining…
Eleanor pauses at the entrance to the vacant farmhouse. The screams of a frightened horse drift through the rain from the barn.
The party gathers around the barn door as Eleanor attempts to push it open.
Piruk hefts his maul and gestures for her to step aside. With a mighty overhand strike, he blasts the door from its hinges, but instead of falling inward, it rebounds back out propelled by a collapsing mass of timber. The dwarf dodges out of the way just ahead of the crashing logs and the horse’s frightened screams double their intensity.
“Door’s open.” he says as he steps aside.
Eleanor approaches the open doorway, her holy symbol radiating light from her Celestial Brilliance spell. The glow illuminates the barn’s interior and glints off of the dust motes and bits of hay shaken loose by the collapsing timbers. It appears that half of the hayloft had been leaning on the front entrance and came crashing down with Piruk’s strike.
Through the musty snow of drifting hay, a rearing and snorting clydesdale can be seen, his eyes rolling wildly in fright. A wave of putrefying stench rolls out through the open door, boiling over the cleric and forcing her to steel her suddenly churning stomach.
“Ceffyl, you speak horse don’t you? We could use your help over here!”
The unicorn looks indignant. “What!? Speak horse? It’s not like… oh, nevermind…” He noses up into the doorway beside Eleanor and assesses the situation. Locking eyes with the terrified clydesdale, he suddenly rears, silhouetted in the light from Eleanor’s spell. The unicorn emits a distinct aura of command.
The terrified horse responds. His bucking slows and his whinnies lessen until he eventually stands calm, breathing heavily from his exertion and appearing entirely exhausted. Ceffyl turns and leaves the doorway, and a few minutes later, the horse makes his way tentatively out of the barn.
Lanna approaches the beast, “You must be starving,” she says, reaching into her pack for a carrot, “here.” The horse wolfs down the offered carrot hungrily and then another. Ceffyl watches from the side, mildly dismayed that his supply of treats seems to be dwindling so rapidly.
A search of the barn uncovers the body of the horse’s former owner lying next to a dropped riding saddle, a massive festering horseshoe-shaped contusion lending a lopsided look to his head. The corpse had a purse with some gold in it, and a second, weathered saddle is found on a hook nearby.
Their search of the barn complete, the party now sets about making camp for the night. Daethin elects to give the man a proper burial – Rayne’s offer to turn the barn into a funeral pyre is rejected for fear of a massive blaze drawing unwanted attention. Given the foul odor lingering about the barn, the party then opts to risk a rainy night in the structurally compromised cabin.
As everyone settles in around Eleanor’s holy symbol, still basking in a Celestial Brilliance effect, Virago speaks.
“I would like to thank you for aiding my escape back in Talynbourg. You have all proven yourselves quite resourceful in a tight spot. I realize there is still a lack of trust between us, so in the hopes of remedying that, I would like to fill you in a bit more on the situation here in Cydon. If for no other reason than to let me piss in peace for once… Anyway, so as to avoid rehashing what you already know, why don’t you give me your perception of what is going on, and perhaps I can provide further clarity.”
The group talked into the evening, huddled in the small one room shack as rain pattered on the roof. Their discussion ranged from the king’s murder, to Virago’s mission, to the extent and potential sources of the Blight, all of which appear thoroughly intertwined. What follows is a summary of the information that was gained.
The Situation in Cydon
The King’s Murder
- The King was murdered on Midwinter’s Night while under guard in his chambers. The murder weapon appears to have been a dagger belonging to a Royal Guardsman.
- The guards stationed outside his chamber were killed as well, but none of their weapons were missing.
- Steponas was in town for the Midwinter Feast, and had been heard arguing with his father earlier that day. When the King’s murder was discovered at the watch change, Steponas was nowhere to be found.
- Immediately after the King’s murder, troops from the army were sent to seal and reinforce the main border crossings out of the country.
- Once the traditional mourning process was completed, Tornas assumed the throne as was his birthright.
- The fact that Steponas was still MIA did not help ease the growing suspicion against him.
The fractures were most obvious among the militarized nobility since Tornas commanded the army and Steponas the royal guard.
- In order to quell any question of potential divided loyalties among the Guard’s officer corps, Tornas insisted that each man swear an oath of sole allegiance to him, renouncing any authority formerly held by his absent brother. Any who refused were discharged from service. Any who were suspected of knowing Steponas’ whereabouts, or who were considered potentially dangerous were kept under close watch.
- Tornas’ attempts to quickly restore order rubbed some people the wrong way. Some officers did not take to being discharged and began to rally their commands to them, taking refuge in their keeps and holdfasts on their own lands. They did not wish to renounce the man they had called general and friend so easily. Most felt that Steponas at least deserved the chance to represent himself in honorable combat.
Virago is working for the Cydonic Rebellion. The leader of the rebellion, a man by the name of Brahm had sent him in search of someone who may know the last whereabouts of prince Steponas. Virago was on his way back from that mission when he ran afoul of Col. Dekelor. He has been making his way back towards his friends by a circuitous route when he was finally caught and arrested in Talynbourg
Virago hints that he was successful in his mission, but declines to go into more detail at this time.
Through the Blight
The next morning, our heroes set off once again, traveling south into the band of Blight spreading from the river Ossir’narrh. After several days of storms, the weather appears to be cooperating at last.
As they make their way southward, the countryside grows more barren and bleak. Birdsong is entirely absent, with the exception of the ominous squawk of scavenging crows. Spring fields lie unplowed and overgrown with weeds, and homesteads and villages stand vacant and gaping at the lonely group of companions. Even the trees appear twisted, and despite a clear sky, the spring sun seems weak and diffuse.
The absence of people emboldens our heroes who now stick to the road for their travels desiring to cross the cursed landscape as quickly as possible. After two days of hushed travel, Daethin’s ears pick up a new sound ahead. The unmistakable rush of a river grows ever louder with their approach.
As the traveler’s crest a rise in the trail, they spot the serpentine flow of the Ossir’narrh unwinding across their path. The water flows swift, and muddy and the banks appear swollen with the recent storms. The road winds down the far side of the hill to a crossroads, where an abandoned inn stands facing a stone bridge across the river.
Making their way cautiously down to the edge of the bridge, Kit and Daethin discover that the middle of the span appears to have washed out in the storm. Bits of the crumbled decking poke just above the surface on the downstream end leaving an empty space of about 15 feet. In the reeds on the far bank of the river, the duo can make out the low silhouette of a rowboat.
The bridge is a squat stone structure consisting of three arched spans. Four pillars rise from anchor points in the arches, to a height 10 feet above the bridge deck. Wrought iron lanterns hang from hooks on the sides of the pillars and each is topped with a glowering gargoyle.
Kit makes her way cautiously out onto the bridge, searching for traps or anything out of the ordinary. She notices a pile of broken stone lying at the base of one of the gargoyles and looks up suspiciously at the statue.
Edging out to the gap, the rogue prepares to peer over the edge when she catches a flash of sudden movement. A pair of tentacles lash out from the lip of the bridge, wrapping tightly around Kit’s arm as she tries in vain to dodge out of the way. The dripping rubbery arms begin pulling the rogue towards the gap in the bridge, as another tentacle pops up above the lip, this one sporting a single alien-looking eye at it’s tip. Kit struggles and manages to wriggle free of the tightening grasp, scrambling back out of reach. Her shout brings the others rushing down to the riverside.
Kit returns, shaken, to her friends on the bank and explains the nature of the tentacley obstacle blocking their path. The group starts to ponder ideas for dealing with the creature, and Kit eventually decides to go have another look… this time while firmly tethered to prevent her from being dragged into the water.
She looks around for a sturdy anchor point from which to secure her line, and decides to try hooking her grapple to one of the gargoyles looming from the bridge’s pilings. She flings the hook towards one of the statues, but just before it hits, the statue moves and flaps off the pillar with a snarl.
Having discovered that at least one of the gargoyles is alive, Eleanor attempts to politely question it about the creature in the water. When the gargoyle proves contrary and ill-tempered, the cleric, along with Daethin, take a different tack and threaten it with violence.
While this futile discussion is taking place on the bridge, Rayne moves downstream slightly, hoping to get a better line of attack on the source of the tentacles. As she moves off alone down the bank, suddenly, the other three gargoyles launch from their perches and converge on the sorcerer, raking at her with their claws and snapping with their bites.
Then, everything is movement. Kitrushes to aid her friend, stabbing the nearest gargoyle in the back with her short sword. Rayne steps back and blasts her attackers with Color Spray, leaving one blinded by the dizzying fan of magic light. Daethin, sensing that negotiations have broken down makes good on his threats and lets fly with three arrows of shock.
Daethin’s arrows catch the hovering gargoyle full in the chest as it attempts to flap out of range. Its body goes stiff with the violent jolt, and plummets into the rushing current. A moment later, a dark tentacle lashes out from the gap in the bridge, hurling the gargoyles stony corpse at Daethin and Eleanor. The body falls harmlessly short and chunks of gargoyle scatter down the bridge as it shatters on the deck.
The other gargoyles fare little better than their fractured companion as the rest of the group rushes to Rayne’s defense. Lanna’s sword sends molten flecks of gargoyle flying as Santiago lays into one with a flurry of blows. One of the creatures, suffering from horrible injuries attempts to flee with it’s life, but is brought crashing back to earth with a well places strike from the butt of Rayne’s crossbow.
The remaining two gargoyles soon follow their companions into the great darkness, brought down by the ferocious defense mounted by our heroes… leaving only the troublesome tentacles blocking the way across the river.
As the group is half-heartedly lobbing arrows and alchemist’s fire in the direction of the partially submerged creature, Daethin’s ears perk up. He straightens suddenly and turns to the south.
“Horsemen… lots of them, by the sound of things… we’d best move quickly before they see us!”
Rayne once again steps up to the river bank.
“Okay, enough pussy-footing around… let’s go fishing.”
The sorcerer narrows her eyes in concentration and lets fly with a series of fireballs aimed just below the water line in the bridge gap. Each blast sends a plume of magically heated steam and water up and out from the site of impact. Rubbery chunks of blasted tentacles begin to plop down onto the bridge and into the river… still the sound of approaching horse grows louder.
“That should do it.” She says, “Let’s get moving.”
Santiago takes a running leap across the gap, easily clearing it.
“That’s all well and good…” grumbles Piruk, “But what about those of us with less spring in our step?”
“Must I do everything?” Rayne sighs heavily and tromps out to the gap in the bridge. She pulls out her rod of frost and points it at the river below. When she speaks the command word, a beam of sublimating air arcs out from the end of the rod as the river below begins to rapidly ice over. Soon, the space between the two nearest bridge pilings has frozen a foot thick. With no place else to go, the river water begins to slosh over the icy surface.
“It’ll be slick, so go slow.” Says Rayne, lowering herself gingerly over the lip of the gap.
One by one, the party slowly makes their way across Rayne’s makeshift bridge. Those with mounts coax them to jump the gap, rather than trying to convince their creatures to climb down and then up the five feet between the regular bridge and Rayne’s icy stopgap.
After some coaxing by Ceffyl, the new-found horse makes the leap and the entire party gathers on the far bank of the river. Looking back across, they can just make out the specks of riders appearing over the distant hillside.
Virago speaks in urgent tones, “We’d best get moving. The bridge will delay them, but not forever.”
Seeing the wisdom in the rogue’s words, the group heads quickly towards the treeline. They have only moved a dozen yards into the sheltering woods, when they hear a rustling in the branches above. A voice with thickly rolled r’s speaks from hiding.
“O hai thar hoomin. We has finded u. U has frendz.”
Virago slows to a halt… “Oh, shit… the twins.”
A pair of catfolk drop from the trees above landing in front of the puzzled group. They are dressed in monks robes, one in blue, the other white. They strike a dramatic pose, respectively brandishing siangham and a quarterstaff.
“Sapphire. Diamond. Let’s get out of here.” Virago nods to each of the catfolk in turn and pushes past them heading deeper into the woods.