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You are here: Home --> Forum Home --> Rules-based RPGs --> Dungeons and Dragons --> For Whom the Bell Tolls Epilogues
Parent thread: For Whom the Bell Tolls Q&A
GM for this game: Vorrioch
Players for this game: Jozan1, SilentOne, Kaelyn, Dragon Mistress, Brianna
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    Messages in For Whom the Bell Tolls Epilogues
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Vorrioch
Chaotic Hungry
Karma: 38/6
406 Posts


For Whom the Bell Tolls Epilogues

Echoes down the corridor…
A memorial service was held on the green outside the village church a five-day after the warrens beneath the old keep were finally cleaned out. Twice more the intrepid heroes chanced the labyrinth of dark passages beneath the earth, not resting until every last one of the shambling, restless dead had fallen before their ready blades, spells and arrows and the souls trapped within granted oblivion.

The service was well attended, folk from the hamlets and farmsteads a full twenty-mile from Lostwithial (having lost friends or kin themselves or simply wishing to show solidarity with those who’d suffered loss) flocking to the village to pay their respects to the dead. Five rows of graves, each adorned with flowers or other remembrances, had been dug in the hard ground at the churchyard’s far end and a slow file of mourners proceeded past each as the afternoon wore on to pay their last respects to the dead.

Father Johan, the village priest, an elderly cleric of Pelor, led the service giving a simple, but moving sermon in memory of the fallen villagers. He offers sincere thanks on behalf of the entire village to the company of bold adventurers who had four times risked their lives to put paid to the evil presence in the old ruined keep. Not all the townsfolk seem quite as grateful, many no doubt bitterly remonstrating that more was not somehow done to rescue their murdered loved ones, but little is said openly and on the whole the village seems to desire little more than to mourn for a time, come to terms with the loss and move on with their lives. The county sheriff, having already paid the group their promised two hundred golden crowns has little more to do with the affair, duly attending the funerals but saying little to make his opinions known.

***

The vast ironbound chest hauled from the dungeon’s furthest reaches is finally dismantled and pried apart with the ready use of a hammer and chisel in the home of a local carpenter. Amidst a tangled heap of clothes, boots and other personal accoutrements a vast heap of gold and silver coinage- several hundred crowns in all- glitters in the room’s bright lamplight. Astrological equipment, star maps and other sundry trinkets which the party struggles to identify are to be found amidst the accumulated debris, but though a good many of the more obscure items radiate some manner of enchantment the party is at loss to discover their true purpose.

The mace recovered from Sorudin’s witchly consort, her discarded alabaster skin, and the huge battleaxe pried from the butchered ogre’s twitching paws also radiate some manner of dark sorcery. Father Johan simply advises that the things be consecrated and destroyed outright…. though perhaps the group might find some more profitable use for these ensorcelled items?

***

The evening after the funerals are held, the group are approached by a familiar figure, that of the young woman rescued from the old elfish temple, guided by an earnest looking young man you have been led to understand is her brother. She looks a little better than when you saw her last, but remains deathly pale, her eyes red from crying.

“I… I just want to thank you for what you did back there,” she begins hesitantly, refusing to look up and make eye contact with any in the group. “We’d all have died back there in that awful place if you hadn’t come to help us.”

“We all want to thank you,” her brother reiterates firmly. “A lot of people here in this village… well, they seem to want to put you down and what you did. But I just want to let you know that you’re heroes, every last one of you.”

The pair turn to depart, but not before he presses a small cloth pouch into the hands of Isilfeline, the closest party member. Assuming that this gift is accepted, the group find a meagre haul of coin inside- perhaps five crowns in all- in assorted silver and copper currency.

***

Of Jagna Firetouched and the other kobolds there is no further sign: the group simply vanishing into the overgrown forest, or perhaps journeying on in search of better fortune elsewhere.

Fearful of any renewed undead incursion the villagers heap the bodies of the slaughtered ogre, kobolds and hobgoblins on one great mass pyre out in the forest, charring them away until nothing more than blackened bones and ashes remain.

***

In his dreams Emmerus stands once more in the circular, crystal chamber. A hundred- no a thousand- flashes of pure, molten magical energy shake back and fourth across the broad cavern, bathing it in a searing, unearthly light as the floor burns and smoulders underfoot. Wraithlike, shadowy apparitions, spindly creatures resembling nothing so much as the distorted shadows of elves, spin from the rocks overhead, flying pell-mell in a great, huddling cluster from crystal-encrusted wall to crystal-encrusted wall and chittering in untold dozens of alien, insect tongues.

“Revive!” the shadows scream, in a dark chorus of babbling voices. And though the syllables- some long forgotten dialect of the present elfish speech- are lost to him the cleric can discern their meaning readily enough.
“Return!”
“Rejoin!”
“Rebirth!”
“Revenge!”
“One - Final - Cheated - Moment!”
“We!” “Will!” “Live!” “Again!”

Disappearing into one another, the elf-spirits merge into one great, churning mass: a vast figure of purest shadow that somehow burns brighter than the sun itself, radiant with the unnatural light of the luminescent crystals. “Mine,” the towering behemoth intones, fixing the priest of Pelor with a fiery stare, as its dark visage is burned into the deepest crevices of his mind.

***

Already bleeding heavily from a wicked cut from the ranger, Arys Lotusbane’s, sword the half-drow flickered and faded, his image jolting wildly in all direction in the pale lantern light. Sorudin unleashed another flurry of blows upon Emmerus, but he was already dematerialising and his sword passed harmlessly through the aging cleric’s armour and flesh. There was another flash of blinding azure light, accompanied by what could have been either a roar of triumph, or a cry of utter despair, and the sorcerer was gone.

***

On a barren hillside some distance away, the half-elfish wizard re-emerged, collapsing to his hands and knees on the cold earth as blood gushed from the wound at his side. Had any other been there to see it, they would have perceived a cloud of what could almost have been fireflies- apparitions burning with a pale, unearthly fire- swarming about the fallen sorceror. Sorudin screamed again, but the only sound to issue forth from his gaping mouth was that of a score of competing, chittering voices, the still night air alive with the rapid-fire babble of their long-dead tongues.


Posted on 2008-04-08 at 18:12:18.

Vorrioch
Chaotic Hungry
Karma: 38/6
406 Posts


The Best Laid Plans

The group calls by again at Abraham Willowby’s house the morning after returning the stolen tribute money. Once again his apprentice- whose name you have learnt is Anna- shows you inside and leads the party up into the wizard’s study. Abraham is garbed somewhat more formally this time, in the sky-blue robe of the local diviner’s guild and the items recovered from the battle at the ruined elven temple have been arranged neatly on a white tablecloth, draped over the work surface of one of the room’s many desks. The room is filled with the cloying smell of burning incense from a brazier in the far corner, competing with the less savoury aromas of bitter herbs and rancid fat from the wizard’s alchemical experiments.

Abraham nods politely as the group enters, while Anna closes the door behind you and fetches a half-dozen chalices of mulled wine from a cauldron bubbling above a small wood fire in the room’s centre. Impatient to begin, and enlighten you on the results of his investigation, the old magician pauses only briefly to exchange pleasantries before striding briskly over to the table to fetch the first of your recovered items.

“This” he holds aloft the discarded demon-hide, “this is the skin of a fiend, spawn of the black pit. If I might hazard a guess: I would imagine that she shed it whole- like a snake’s - when you cut her down. Should one of you- ahem- don the item in question then it would bestow upon you certain powers: to shape and change others’ perceptions of your mortal form as you saw fit. As one might expect, however, such things will normally exact a price of their own… one you may well prove reluctant to pay.”

“The flail bears minor runes of accuracy and wounding, etched together as one,” “It will strike a more damaging blow than a mundane item of its type.”

“The axe bears more a more potent enchantment powerful spell of warding has been cast upon it and it will deal great harm to all but the most resistant of adversaries. In the right hands, I’d imagine it would prove an impressive weapon indeed.”

“Two of the telescopes are also enchanted. The first will simply afford its user an uninterrupted view of the heavens… unimpeded by clouds and the like. The second bears a more subtle encirclement, when peering through it one might prove able to discern movements of the stars normally invisible to mortal eyes… precisely what I am at a loss to tell you.”

- The six murdered guardsmen are buried in closed caskets in a service presided over by Bishop Abner himself. There’s a lot of anger in the town over the deaths as all six appear to have been local men and reasonably popular. There’s also a fair degree of suspicion that Aliira may have somehow had something to do with the ambush… especially once word spreads that the guard’s had been Entangled before they were killed and that their bodies had been partially eaten by the wolves.

- Mayor Craythorne will be grateful to the group for returning the tribute and placating the dragon. She’ll be irritated but not particularly surprised at Emberburn’s demand for a further 1000 Crowns by the end of the week and will share her view with the group that the dragon is essentially throwing its weight around to underscore its dominance over the town. The town can probably raise the money by taking out loans from Craythorne’s trading coster and certain prominent citizens, but these will of course need to be paid back later. If the party offer to help raise some of the money themselves then she will certainly welcome the suggestion and will emphasise that they’ll be repaid in full for their efforts.

- At some point over the next couple of days Emmerus and anyone else who’d like to go along will receive an invitation from Bishop Abner to come and talk with him at the Minster. The Bishop appreciates that you will all need to make tracks to help raise some of the money and will have scheduled the meeting for the end of the week… after your next adventure.

- If Aliira remains with the party while they remain in Bridhvale then they will fall foul of the suspicions of many of the local residents. Inns and shops will politely refuse to serve them, people will cross the street to avoid her or openly make the sign of Pelor (the equivalent of crossing themselves) to ward off evil when in her presence. Most of the townsfolk will be genuinely appreciative to the party for their efforts but there will be a lingering suspicion in certain quarters of any characters who are seen to associate with a known witch and werewolf and a distinct feeling that no good will come of this association.


Posted on 2008-04-08 at 18:18:10.

Vorrioch
Chaotic Hungry
Karma: 38/6
406 Posts


Sleeping Dogs

The party ride alongside a squadron of the bishop’s templars to deliver the assembled tribute money to the dragon. Five hundred crowns- some raised by the party, others by the townsfolk- are heaped in a small sack inside the gold coated elvish cauldron.

The journey is made without incident, save a great deal of resentful grumbling among the templars (most of whom are of local stock) at the dragon’s outrageous demands. The general consensus appears to be that the mayor’s proposal- imposing an emergency tax to pay what remains of the second toll- will impose a great deal of hardship on the town: especially at this stage, nearly a month before the harvest is due. All can see, however, that things would be far worse is not for the adventurers’ efforts- they might not have a town to return to at all. There is some talk of the mayor's plans to hold a ceremony in thanks of the party- awarding them titles of some sort as defenders of the town- but no one particularly knows what’s going on and the topic is soon dropped.

It is a warm day after a hot, dry summer and the group’s horses and clothing is soon caked with dust. You are unable to shake the feeling that little more than a spark would be needed to engulf the entire forest in flame. Emberburn seems to be expecting you, the dragon is perched atop the rock face a before, idly chewing at the body of a plump doe. The dragon makes a few more threats, evidently pleased at the fear it still inspires from the town but soon permits the group to depart, eager to count its reward in solitude.

***

The night after the party returns with the dragon’s tribute Arthur Bridley, a local woodcutter, goes missing while working on the outskirts of the woods. A rescue party is hastily assembled from the town, joined by a number of the adventurers (if you want to say your character was involved then feel free) and much of the following morning is spent scouring the wood for any sign of his presence.

Eventually, after some hours of exhaustive searching, the body is spotted- hidden in a small dell some half-mile into the woods. The body is almost unrecognisable, having been savaged by some unknown woodland creature during the night but the broad rip -running from the corpse’s neck to its navel and the splintered ribcage are unmistakeable. Something has quite literally torn this man’s heart from his body, though the remains appear curiously desiccated and there is little blood.

One of Arthur’s fellows, a fair-haired hunter whose name you don’t quite catch, swears to have seen a pale, green-skinned figure running further into the woods during the morning’s search and this strange revelation excites a great deal of interest among the assembled townsfolk. A few local hotheads appear ready to mount a second search to scour the woods for any sign of the “tree witch” but most have work to return to and, having lost a morning’s labour already, can spare no further time here. Some cast furtive glances in Aliira’s direction- certain that she must somehow have had something to do with the disappearances- and some openly express a willingness to string the druid up “just to be sure”. Calmer counsel prevails, however, and the group heads back to town- corpse in tow- to spread the word and comfort Arthur’s grieving family.

***

One of the Bishop’s acolytes, a ruddy-faced youth in his early twenties, shows Emmerus into Abner’s office. It is not hard to see that the Bishop must have been a great warrior in his youth, he stands tall, broad shouldered and defiant for all the ravages of time, a great many scars and old war wounds displayed proudly on his shrivelled, crinkled face. An old mace and battered shield- which you do not doubt have seen a great deal of use over the years- are displayed above his desk, though the rest of the office is simply furnished, favouring a frugal- almost Spartan- look.

The Bishop listens intently to Emmerus’ account, interrupting occasionally with a shrewd question or to clarify a particular point. When the priest has finished he sighs deeply, reaching for something buried in one of the draws of his desk. “When I first came here…” he begins, his intention absorbed on the rising heap of papers and he unearths the draws contents. “When I first came here the land was not yet fully tamed. Evil spirits- demons who clung to trees and brooks up in the abandoned places, in the darkness of the forest and lonely crags in the surrounding hills and mountains- yet stalked this valley thirsting for the blood of the innocent. With mace and shield and the blessings of Pelor we fought them back, until the land was cleansed in His name It sounds as though your friends,” he frowns, “and I don’t doubt their motives, have reawakened one of these spirits.”

“Elisha… he was Bishop here before me, prepared a batch of amulets back when … I suppose it would be a good sixty years ago now.” He smiles, obviously some distance away. “They offered some measure of protection from the enchantments of the evil creatures of the woods. I have one here for yourself and one for the halfling who accompanied you… I can’t help but feel you’re going to need all the friends you can get.”

***

Anna once again shows you into Abraham’s study. As before, he takes your items, instructing the party to return the following afternoon for collection. The master conjuror is obviously impressed with your devotion to helping the town and there is no mention of payment.


Posted on 2008-04-08 at 18:19:14.

Vorrioch
Chaotic Hungry
Karma: 38/6
406 Posts


The Primrose Path

After a long, hard fight the swamp-demon Black Marsh is finally struck down, felled by Pelor’s divine vengeance. Exhausted by the battle the party chooses a third batch of sentries and finally settle down to get some sleep. The rest of the night passes without incident and, come morning, you are all roused from your slumber (or meditation) by the sight of sunlight seeping through the canvas of your tent.

The campsite appears much as you remember it: the ground seared and blackened in several places by lightning flashes while a circle of drying mud and dead insects is spattered across the entire hilltop on which you set your tents. Aliira and Isilifeline both appear pale and feverish, no doubt infected by the touch of the demon’s filth-encrusted claws. Iskandel, in contrast, whether by mere chance or the unseen blessing of his god, appears as healthy as ever and healing magics are soon prepared to cure the duo’s illness.

No more light or heat can be coaxed from the gorse-fire than you had managed the night before, but after a meagre breakfast of hard tack and salt pork (washed down with the dregs of your water skins) you all feel somewhat better prepared to tackle the old ruins where the demon had made its lair.

Four broken, crumbling walls mark what is remains of the ruined building, rising above a great deal of rubble and broken masonry. Once the group manage to pick their way across the accumulated debris, and through the boggy earth in which it is engulfed, entry proves easy enough and you are confronted with a broad tunnel in the ground within, offering an almost vertical drop through the black, marshy earth and down into the darkness below. After dropping a few stones into the hole to check its depth you decide that there’s nothing for it but to make the plunge. Securing a rope around a collapsed pillar, and cautiously checking the weight before departing, the first of your group is lowered down into the waiting darkness.

The tunnel descends through a good forty feet of wet, sucking earth- perhaps more- and the first to descend have good cause to fear that the rope will be exhausted before they reach the bottom. The passage is never more than a few feet wide, and appears alive with large, pale worms and burrowing insects that thrive in its demon-filth encrusted walls. A good deal of this greasy, noxious filth rubs off on your faces and clothes as you continue downwards, but appears to have little ill-effect save the unpleasant smell.

After some time, the first of your group emerges in a broad chamber at the tunnel’s end. Whether by virtue of natural dark-vision or of hastily lit torches you soon perceive a large, tapered cavern- littered with what you can only assume to represent the remnants of Black Marsh’s previous victims. Amidst a mess of well-gnawed bones, torn rust-pitted armour and broken weapons you are able to piece together a ready prize of treasure, which is summarily hauled up to your waiting companions.

Nearly ninety crowns are unearthed amidst the wreckage and stagnant mud of the demon’s lair, along with a tidy haul of items in better repair. A timely casting of Detect Magic on Aliira and Emmerus’ part is able to confirm that some of these items do indeed bear some manner of enchantment.

A large, smooth blue crystal is discovered near the bottom of the pile and, once examined closely under the light of day a distorted, smoky figure can to be perceived within. A flanged, iron mace is also excavated, fast becoming an object of some interest among your group once it is discovered that the weapon emits a bright glow at the merest touch. A dented and greatly battered triangular shield, bearing the emblem of five faded red chevrons upon a peeling and now mud-spattered white backdrop, a chipped red garnet and a slender electrum circlet complete the haul. A few old books and what might once have been scrolls are also unearthed, though these are illegible after years of water immersion.

When the group finally decides to depart these valuables are loaded, along with the tents from your camp, into the badly scorched sailboat. The winds are favourable, skirting northward over the placid, boggy waters but such is the state of your sails and rigging that you’re given little option save to row back.

***

By the time the group return to Bridhvale the Minster is already preparing for that evening’s service. The four templars stationed as door guards have obviously been given instructions to expect you, and in any case immediately recognise Iskandel as one of their Brother-Sergeants, for the group is shown through with a minimum of fuss. Candles are already being lit in the Minster’s central chamber as your party is shown through, and the acolytes are busy filling braziers with incense and hastily straightening cushions on seats.

In short order the six are shown up into the Bishop’s office, where Abner is busy reviewing his sermon for the service. The old warrior rises stiffly from his desk to great you as you enter, garbed already in a cassock and yellow chasuble for evensong. It is obvious that he had expected you back some hours before, but makes little move to interrupt or hurry along your account. He seems genuinely relieved to hear that Tomas’ soul stone has been successfully recovered and nods approvingly when you inform him of the destruction of the demon, Black Marsh. The merchant, Tomas Wainwright, is on hand to verify that this is indeed the crystal in which the demon entrapped his soul, and the promised reward (500 crowns) has been assembled in expectation of your return in a large, muslin bag. With the church bells already calling the faithful to prayer there isn’t much time for further conversation, but Abner takes the time to invite any party members so inclined to stay for the service and ask any further questions afterwards.

***

On the night after your return some disturbance can be heard from the heart of the forest: the sounds of shouts, an unearthly keening and the noise of running battle, echoing down from across the hills that overlook the town.

Come morning you are first on the scene. A frenzied chase appears to have been cut through the wight’s devastation: dead, rotting foliage and black, withered branches trampled and snapped in the wake of a great stampede of bodies.

After perhaps half a mile the tracks near their end, culminating in what appears to have been a fierce struggle near the undead’s lair in the old abandoned chapel. The results are plain to behold- a shrivelled, long-dead corpse swings loosely from the branches of a nearby tree. The body has been quite literally torn apart, bearing the marks of a great many teeth and claws (most of which you easily identify as canine or ursine in origin) and the ribcage has been liberally pried open in some feat of inhuman strength. Further investigation into the withered, rotting crevice reveals that the heart and a good many other vital organs are missing, the wound has also been stuffed with holly and mistletoe.

For the sake of completeness, you make a quick search of the overgrown chapel, but any treasures the wight may have stored there are gone. Impossibly, fresh green shoots already appear to be growing through the carpet of dead and decomposing plant matter in the woods outside…. perhaps the spirit of the forest truly is being restored.

***

Abraham agrees to cast a spell of identification over the treasures you’ve recovered in the course of your last excursion as before. It seems that he’s been getting good use out of the telescopes you sold him, for the diviner speaks at some length about recent astrological movements (little of which you particularly understand). One point that does particularly catch your attention, however, is when he speaks of a star having fallen some distance to the south. This unlikely occurrence was, as far as he can tell, only visible to him through the second telescope. In any event, it is clear that you have garnered some measure of respect in his eyes through your good work on behalf of the town.

When the group return the following morning, Abraham has assembled the items as promised. Anna is absent, apparently off visiting a sick sister on the other side of town, so the master conjurer shows you in himself.

“This shield,” he holds aloft the first of the items, struggling slightly with its heavy weight, “is warded to draw missile fire. Arrows- or any other sort of projectile I suppose- fired at its wearer will be drawn magically towards it. Not a bad tool to hold onto in a fight, I’d imagine. Though it is perhaps noteworthy that said projectiles will be compelled to take the most direct route,” he pauses a moment to allow the significance of that last statement to sink in. “I’d also be surprised if it could withstand a direct hit from a ballista or catapult.” Tapping the already battered shield gingerly with his left hand, Abraham passes it back to you and moves on to the next of the treasures.

“The mace,” he hefts the second of your recovered items, which responds to his torch by illuminating the chamber with a warm, azure light, “is a fairly simple weapon. It is lighter to the touch than a mundane object of its sort,” Abraham passes the mace nearly from one hand to the other, “facilitating easier use in combat. And yet it is warded to deal more grievous injury. The mace does have one other noteworthy feature, as I’m sure you’ve noticed: a Light spell has been cast upon it and, once drawn, it will offer some measure of illumination. Not a bad trick, I’d guess, for those exploring dark places.”

“The pendant is a slightly more interesting item,” he holds aloft the silver ornament, carved in the shape of a running horse, by the chain to which it is attached. “It’s been enchanted to offer some measure of disruption against any spell cast upon the wearer. Of Serian make if I’m any judge,” he continues, naming an Empire to the South.

“This circlet,” he proffers the slender electrum hoop, the last of your treasures, “has been enchanted to offer some measure of protection against simple mind reading spells. With a little concentration, its wearer could possibly even focus its power to try to decipher the thoughts of another.” He frowns, “the ethics of such use I’ll leave in your, no doubt, responsible hands.”

***

Three days after the group returns from Black Marsh’s fens, a public ceremony is held in your honour in the town square. Appropriately polished medallions are offered to the six heroes who played some part in warding off the dragon’s ire and you are proclaimed “protectors of Bridhvale”. The Mayor makes a speech praising your achievements and any of your number who feel particularly inclined to polish their oratory are invited to do the same. There is a healthy turnout, which includes a good many of the town councillors and other local dignitaries. The Minster also appears to be out in full force, a few clusters of acolytes and religious figures up to the Bishop himself intermingling with the crowd. The town anthem is played at the beginning and end of the ceremony, and a hog roast and drinks have been prepared for those intending to stick around a little longer.

There is a decidedly parochial feel to the proceedings, though for the most part the townsfolk appear appreciative enough of the group and their efforts. A good number of the councillors and other local worthies take the time to pass their thanks on and offer handshakes to the group, and there is ample room for networking (not to mention a free meal and drinks) for those with the good grace to stay until the event’s end.

***

In her dreams, Aliira hunts the overgrown forest, the wolf-pack hard on her heels as she darts through the tangled, densely packed wilds, racing southward towards the town. In the darkness, ahead of her, she knows there runs some great, magnificent prize- perhaps the finest, most dangerous quarry she has hunted yet, but the druid knows not what.

Faster and faster she runs, till the trees and bushes to either side- underfoot- overhead- are little more than a haze of green and brown. The scent of her prey- an acrid smell of anger and fear- is almost impossibly strong in her nostrils. It cannot match her pace. It is losing ground and she will soon be on it, her fangs, her claws tearing savagely for its jugular. In a heartbeat she will be on it and it is too late to turn back. Maw slavering, the wolf she has become clears the last patch of foliage with one almighty bound- and finds herself at the edge of the forest. Far below, little more than fireflies from the heights of the hillside, glitter the lights of Bridhvale- warm and terrible in the valley below.

There is a figure beside her, one the druid had not noticed before, “Power has its price and I sense you must soon depart from this place,” Immuriel informs her sadly. The dryad appears flushed, some hint of colour in her formerly deathly pale cheeks and the vines woven about the dryad’s skin and tunic have flowered with some manner of sweet-smelling white blooms.

“Bring me another offering from the town, a gift of retribution,” the dryad implores. “Then the woods will be strong enough to extend their blessing over you- to offer you their fellowship- as you venture further from their hold.”


Posted on 2008-04-08 at 18:22:27.

Vorrioch
Chaotic Hungry
Karma: 38/6
406 Posts


Whose Woods These Are [Prologue]

Faith and Fire
A sharp northerly wind blew through the Minster parade ground. A storm was gathering overhead, a tempest of clouds, grey and swollen with the promise of a heavy downpour, brewing above the waiting foothills that encircled the town. Somewhere far above, hidden in the wood-strewn heights surrounding Bridhvale the dryad Immuriel was waiting, and a bloody vengeance in the name of Pelor and for the sake of their murdered townsfolk was to be exacted upon her once she could be found.

Two squadrons of the Bishop’s templars- ten men and two women in all- stood neatly arrayed in the middle of the square as though awaiting inspection, their well-polished mail gleaming brightly in the thin flicker of overcast sunlight. The templars stood stock-still, their faces half-hidden beneath the masks of closed visored helms, betraying little sign of trepidation or anxiety at the fight ahead of them. All twelve counted themselves Pelor’s chosen warriors, veterans of his wars and honed by many years hard training, sworn to follow where his Bishop would lead them, unto the very gates of the abyss itself.

They were not alone. Sheriff Woodshall and his five sons had arrived earlier that morning, their own arms and armour concealed discretely beneath heavy, water-proofed coats and wide-brimmed hats that leant the group a vaguely inquisitorial look. The shrieve himself, a broad set man of middling years who sought unsuccessfully to conceal a ruddy face and mess of varicose veins beneath a handsome handlebar moustache, was already making the rounds, passing around a battered hip-flask and bantering with the assembled townsfolk. His sons, heavily built youths of a somewhat thuggish demeanour, clung clannishly together in a tight cluster, heavy bastard swords swinging loosely at their sides. Over the past hour an angry mob of townsfolk, many of whom appeared to be family or friends of the late Arthur Bridley- the murdered woodcutter- had been milling in small groups into the courtyard. It appeared that a good handful were also veterans of the XIXth, Sheriff Woodshall’s old regiment and that of Bishop Abner before him. Before long the air was thick with their pipe-smoke, with ruminations on old campaigns and with angry talk of the hanging to follow when the tree-witch who’d blighted their town was finally brought to justice.

Not too far away, a little to the side of the square, the Bishop himself was being helped atop an enormous brown stallion, the beast snorting indignantly at the weight of its armoured rider. The old warrior’s plate mail clung loosely about his withered shoulders and chest, he’d evidently been a somewhat larger man when the armour had been crafted for him, but Abner seemed in high spirits nonetheless. “I’ve fought demons of this sort before,” the Bishop spoke off-handedly to Iskandel, interrupted by a sudden wince of pain as he was lowered into the saddle. “But they were weak and cowardly spirits, the dregs of their kind you could say. Those with the will, the rude arrogance, to fight,” he breaks off coughing, “had long since been dispatched from this world but a handful yet clung on: spineless, vampiric things hiding in the trees or streams of the forest far from Bridhvale… content with the harvest sacrifices brought to them by ignorant farmers, with stealing the lives of those poor unfortunates who wandered a little too close into their waiting jaws. This wood-spirit, I suspect,” the Bishop’s voice is firmer now, taking on an almost steely tone, “will be stronger, perhaps one of the most powerful of its ilk: a creature of dark and terrible sorcery.” Abner reaches inside his overcoat to throw the paladin a simple pendant, tarnished with age and inscribed with the image of Pelor’s holy fire. “Here, take this. The tree-demons have a magic of their own but they’re hard-pressed to harm those so protected.”

Walking the horse easily enough into the middle of the square, Bishop Abner calls the assembled townsfolk to order. Their chatter is immediately cut short at the sound of the Bishop’s voice, and as the dozen templars neatly fall in behind him. The old priest still cuts an imposing figure in his armour, snowy white hair tousled to and fro in the sharp wind, his age-lined face framed by the scars of old battles. Abner’s expression sours slightly at the sight of Sheriff Woodshall, and the shrieve looks away, unable to meet the Bishop’s frosty gaze, though his five sons glower defiantly back. “Pelor has given us this land,” the Bishop begins, his voice hoarse with a scarcely suppressed emotion before he finds his pitch and it broadens into a deep, booming roar. “In days long past, when the Kingdom was new, your forefathers and mine claimed it in his name. With sword and fire and the blessings of the almighty the dark places were cleared: the foul demons which clung to its trees and rivers were vanquished one by one and flung back into the furthest reaches of the black pit. Brothers, Sisters, the time for brave deeds is upon us once more.” A ragged cheer erupts from the crowd, half-heartedly echoed by the Sheriff and his sons, the templars remain silent. “By means of a foul ritual I had thought long since forgotten a she-demon, a pale vampire of the woods, has been stirred from its slumber and day by day it gathers strength on the stolen blood of your kinsmen.” The townsfolk fall silent, hushed by the ominous mention of sorcery, a taint of sorts- a suspicion- has hung over the forest for longer than any of them can remember, though they have only whisperings of old, half-forgotten tales of its true cause. “Arthur Bridley, may our lord Pelor rest his soul,” the Bishop’s great voice is quieter now, in a heartfelt reverence for the dead, “has been martyred, robbed of life and blood to sate its dark and unnatural appetites. We go now to avenge him. Be bold, be vigilant and, as Pelor be my witness, let our efforts not be in vain!” The clouds above him hang grey and pregnant, a storm is brewing in the air overhead and there will be a heavy rain to fall before the day is done.

Oak and Iron
Daybreak creeps slowly across the sleeping forest, a cool breeze sending the first autumn leaves spinning- red and yellow- through the trees, dancing to some unknown tune. The wolves rouse and stir themselves from sleep, stretching like dogs and sniffing the air judiciously, as the first pale tendrils of sunlight weave through the forest canopy. A strange odour cleaves to the air- a smell of blood and steel and sweat and fear all together- it is the smell of a hunt and a greater hunt than any have yet known. A fight for merest hope of survival is upon the woods and the pack is stirred, along with the forest’s other denizens, to meet its siren call.

Aliira cannot say whether she leads or follows but soon she, along with the wolves of her pack, find themselves mounting the trail through the hills back to the old elven burial mound. Even the sounds of the forest about her as subtly altered: the woods march to a drumbeat of falling leaves and pounding feet as the forest is summoned to war.

The dryad Immuriel sits, waiting within the circle of trees, poised on the hard earth of the tomb’s entrance. She seems smaller somehow than you remembered, willow thin and with a countenance as hard and brittle as river clay. And yet, a life has been breathed into the tree spirit, no less than that of the burgeoning, swaying oak branches around her. A tint of colour, of stolen blood perhaps, cleaves to the spirit’s formerly deathly pale countenance and the once wilted flowers about her tunic are blooming into sweet-scented flowers. By the dryad’s side sits Alendar, the spectre in much the same condition as you saw him last, never-drying rivulets of red dripping from his blood-stained bandage about his ruined eyes and down the slopes of his face. The elf seems at peace, however, or at least resigned to his fate, for he looks up at Aliira and smiles as the wolf-pack approaches, setting down the pipe (or perhaps it is merely the memory of a pipe) that he had been smoking on the grass by his side.

“We are glad that you have returned,” Alendar begins simply, and his words seemed sincere enough. “I had thought that perhaps…” he shrugs, leaving the thought unfinished, “but I was wrong to have doubted you.” The ghost smiles sadly, “the trees know you have watched over this place long enough.”

“The town will be coming soon,” Immuriel interjects, the soft lilting note Ito her voice in stark contrast with the tree-spirit’s steely tone, “and we must be ready. Once, we were without number here and the land was strong. And now, so little remains.” The dryad glances apprehensively upward, at the trees about her. “They will be coming again with axe and fire, and the words of their stone god- and they must be held back or the land here will perish.”

“You’ve won us one more throw of the dice, and we thank you for that,” Alendar continues smoothly, taking up his pipe once more. “The valley folk will be coming, as they did so many years before, but you’ll soon see the forest has tricks of its own. Once her people,” he gestures with the pipe towards Immuriel, “were as gods here, and our kind were happy enough- living about the rubble of our ruined cities. So little we knew of the ways of men back then,” he favours you with a wry smile, but there is a fierce anger about the elf’s dead face. “Five hundred blighted years on this cold hillside have helped me see that much. Make no mistake, it will take more than treacherous words and cold iron to rob us of this second, golden chance.”

The bark of the ancient oak to Aliira’s right peels open like a curtain and in a heartbeat a strange figure has burst through, the bark sealing up behind him as securely as ever. A being half as tall again as the tallest man, his hide as green as the long grasses which carpet the clearing’s floor stands before the druid. His head is that of a great stag, capped with antlers that branch into a great score of points and the wolves circle apprehensively about him, sniffing the air, before sinking back down again in a sort of knowing acceptance.

“This is Helvellian,” Immuriel introduces the huge, deer-headed figure, “reawakened from the heart of a tree-feller from the valley below. He is here to help you hunt.”

Helvellian’s ivy lips curl back in what could have been the parody of a smile or merely an expression of eagerness at the chase ahead. The forest avatar reaches with once arm back inside the tree behind him, re-emerging with a huge spear: nothing more than a vast bough of still-living, still-leafy wood capped with a jagged-edged cone of obsidian. The trees overhead rustle with a sudden chorus of birdsong, almost as though heralding the unveiling of this great, primeval weapon. Even after the passage of so many years, and for all the defiant, self-confident blaze of so many fires in the town below, here -in this clearing- there is life in the old woods yet.



Posted on 2008-04-08 at 18:25:45.

Vorrioch
Chaotic Hungry
Karma: 38/6
406 Posts


Whose Woods These Are [Epilogue]

As night fell and the heavens opened overhead the adventurers- along with the remaining townsfolk- fell back towards Bridhvale. It was a great, terrified, headlong chase back through the darkness, and many of the expedition- unfamiliar with the woods or simply oblivious in their blind panic- stumbled, fell behind or otherwise became hopelessly detached from the group’s main body. Fortunate indeed that the forest’s bloodlust had apparently been sated for the present at least, for if any further pursuit had been offered then your losses would no doubt have been greater still.

Soon, only Emmerus remained: rooted to the forest clearing by the force of the druid, Aliira’s, enchantment. The full fury of the storm broke across the forest about him: lightning dancing across the grey dusk sky as wave after wave of thunder rolled down the hillsides and into the valley, a heavy rainfall lashing the blood-soaked soil where the templars had fought and died. The stag-spirit Helvellion, seemingly unperturbed by the deathly cold, biting rainfall, continues to tear at the fallen Pelorites’ lifeless bodies, his strong hands easily sundering the links of their mail hauberks and then- with a series of sickening cracks- the ribcages within, to feast messily upon their hearts and innards. By the time he is done and each of the ten stilled bodies in turn has been summarily defiled the hunt-spirit turns his blood-spattered muzzle back towards the priest, snorting and sniffing the air sceptically, but his appetite must have been sufficiently blunted by the heavy meal for Helvellion is soon gone, ambling off back into the trees in search of sleep for the night. Emmerus is not far behind him, exhausted both by the past day’s fighting and by his fruitless efforts to repair the damage done to the clearing’s plants by the Bishop’s scorching vengeance. Exhausted, he tumbles to the forest floor, too tired even to remove his armour, and finally succumbs to a troubled sleep.

In the priest’s fevered dreaming a bloated, rotting corpse hangs from the bough of each tall oak in the forest clearing, swaying weakly from side to side in the brisk, woodland breeze. The bodies twitch and whisper amongst themselves- or perhaps they are chanting- but their voices are strangely disjointed and the words make precious little sense to the slumbering Pelorite. A figure stumbles from the treeline, clad in the tattered mail and bloodied tabard of the Minster’s protectors, it’s movements clumsy and ragged like those of the animated cadavers the group fought in the tunnels beneath the keep’s ruins. There is a gaping, tattered hole in the visage’s chest- again like those poor unfortunates the drow had sacrificed there- and the figure opens its mouth to speak but only a torrent of maggots and green spring leaves issues forth.

When Emmerus awakens it is already early morning, pale fingers of dawn light stretching through the canopy and into the clearing once more. The old priest’s form is tired and aching from a night sleeping in chain mail, bruised where the rings and plates of his armour bit into his supine flesh. His erstwhile comrade Aliira is standing nearby, deep discussion with the ghost Alendar. The subtle syllables of the elfish tongue in which the two converse is lost on the cleric, but from their expressions and body movements it is plain enough that his fate is indeed their topic of conversation. Finally, the druid approaches the fallen Pelorite, instructing him to return to Bridhvale and trouble the woods no more- magically compelled, he had little choice but to obey.

***

The morning after Emmerus returns from the forest, a messenger from the Church of Pelor arrives with a letter inviting what remains of the party to visit Bishop Abner in his office at the Minster.

Four bodies- the townsfolk killed in the first ambush in the woods- are displayed in open coffins atop a raised dais at the far end of the cathedral’s central hall and a number of their friends and relatives are still paying their last respects when you arrive. Some glance up to greet you with angry, accusing frowns as your troupe files past, while others are more welcoming, offering their condolences for the friends that you too have surely lost. A small number appear simply indifferent, or so lost in their grief that they are blind to your passage. Sheriff Woodshall is there too, bearing great, gaping facial wounds- now beyond even the a cleric’s power to heal fully- where the wolf tore off his nose and much of his forehead. He looks ready to approach you, to tell you what is difficult to say, but evidently thinks better of it and instead departs in the opposite direction. The heavy scent of burning incense is already insufficient to quite mask the odour of decaying flesh and you have little doubt that the funerals must soon follow. In the meantime the Minster resounds with the sounds of ringing bells and with prayers offered up for the town’s fallen.

A red robed acolyte is on hand to show you in, and wordlessly leads you up to the Bishop’s office. Abner himself appears in a sad state, devoid of any hint of the all-consuming passion that had fired him when you saw him last, and you are greeted instead by a tired, listless, beaten-looking old man, slumped back in his chair behind the battered oaken desk. Hollow rings of blue-grey bruises beneath the old priest’s eyes betray two nights missed sleep and, from the thick growth of grey stubble about his face and chin, it appears unlikely that he has been motivated to shave over the past couple of days.

Making an effort to stand the Bishop invites you all in, offering you each a place at the half-ring of chairs arranged before his desk. After a couple of awkward false starts the ancient warrior finally summons the energy to speak, and here at least there is some sign of the priest’s old familiar strength in his pitched, resounding tone. “Men say,” he begins, “that I was the first to flee. That much you will be aware is not true. Nonetheless,” it seems almost as though he’s trying to justify himself to you, “there was once a time when none could doubt that I would sooner stare death in the face myself than abandon those under my command to a hopeless fight.” He frowns, spreading his hands palm down on the battered old desk, “I have prayed long on the matter and will accept the penance that my lord Pelor decides for me.”

“You should also be aware,” and here he fixes your group with a penetrating stare, “that rumours have been spread about that it was the elves who betrayed us. There are a great number of frightened, angry people in the town at present and I would not care to speculate on which way their anger might turn if events were left unchecked. Put bluntly: Bridhvale is no safe place for you to remain for the time being .”

“Now, I can offer you a choice of employment for the week ahead- something which should see you far from Bridhvale and on to pastures new.”

“A number of the people here- woodcutters and their families for the most part- are planning to travel southward to the city of Goss to seek alternate means of employment until things blow over.” From the Bishop’s dour expression you doubt he quite approves of this initiative. “Word has it that the south has problems of its own and they’ve called on the Minster to provide them with protection for the trip. I’m going to need a group of capable warriors to journey southward with them through the old Massingberd barony, to make sure that they’re not attacked en route and try to ensure that they’re not robbed of all they own upon arrival.”

“Alternatively, if you’ve had enough of my townsfolk already,” there is little enough humour in Abner’s voice but the Bishop feigns a weak smile nonetheless, “the coster which funds Bridhvale has also called on the Minster to provide armed guards for one of their caravans as it journeys northward and up towards the Trollspine Mountains. There’s an old dwarven mining village up in the hills there and the merchants send some of their people up once every once in while to trade grain and other foodstuffs for the ore which the dwarves mine. As you might expect, the surrounding countryside is rife with goblins and their ilk and, while the filthy little creatures are generally seen off easily enough, rumour has it that some of the tribes there have been unusually aggressive of late.”

“In calmer times, I would simply send a patrol of templars along with either group. With the losses we’ve taken of late, however,” the Bishop frowns, running one finger along an old scar across his left cheek, “we can no longer spare the manpower for both. The people here are scared- rightly so by my wager- and every group of woodcutters who still dares set foot inside the tree-line is calling for templars to accompany them.” Casting a black look at certain of your number, Abner sinks bank into his chair. “Should you see fit to take on either task yourselves then I can offer recompense to the sum of one hundred Crowns: two if you decide to take employment with the coster.”

You make your views known and Abner rings a bell at his desk, presumably to summon another acolyte to show you out. When the door opens, however, a familiar figure stands smartly to attention in the corridor- clad in one of the Minster’s own flame-Sigelled red and white tabards over a suit of burnished mail. “No doubt you’ll remember Brother-Corporal Joshua Cayton,” the Bishop intones, a note of slight disapproval in his voice. “Joshua has requested a period of leave from his duties here to accompany you on your travels. That much has been granted. He believes that he’ll have a better chance to avenge his murdered brothers- and sisters-in-arms at your side.”

The Bishop slumps back into his chair, defeated. He does, however, have one final parting shot to pass on before you leave. “I’ve sent word southward to the Archbishop about the problems here, requesting that he send me a team of inquisitors to put paid to make the woods safe for travel once more. Word travels slowly over such distances- and no doubt a great many more innocent lives will be lost before they arrive- but, as Pelor is my witness, the matter will be resolved.”


Posted on 2008-04-08 at 18:26:31.

   
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