Campaign of the Month: November 2007

Varis: The Broken Land

Chapter 5.2: Steepleton

A source revealed

Several of these separate stories are solo games as people couldn’t make it to the game.

Updated to include the first half of Nuras’s solo game, Alois’s solo game, and Cherin and Alois’s reunion. Just updated for an abridged version of the rest of the game. Will fill in as I get time. The next game is today

The group is standing over the doppleganger’s body at the edge of the bell tower as we start the game. They are looking out over the town. Below is the writhing mass of humanity that lives in Steepleton. The few people not poisoned work feverishly to help the afflicted and even from more than sixty feet above the mess the smell of vomit and other more putrid odors is still strong.

It is Nuras who sees the danger first: a group of shadowy figures approaching the village. “I’ll handle them, Cherin you need to collect that plant Nadia told us about.” Cherin Nailo nods solemnly as they race back down the steps of the bell tower and out the chapel doors. Cherin runs and climbs over the top of the northern palisade and races out through the torched farmland as he follows an old rutted dirt road overgrown with weeds northward.

Nuras

Nuras exits the palisade’s gates, ordering them locked behind him. He cautiously limps out into the shadows of the abandoned cottages, his keen eyes looking for movement as he smells a strange musky scent. From the hiding places among the abandoned cottages nine bandits move to surround him in a loose circle, circling like wolves. Nuras feels a chill roll down his spine as he realizes that they are behaving in different manner from the previous mind-controlled ‘bandits’ he had fought. He gets the feeling that they are evaluating him.

Nuras tumbles back towards the gate and braces himself against it as the bandits come after him, surprisingly cautious and well organized. Each wears a mind-control collar and wields a wickedly sharp longsword. As they move to surround him again one says in a strangely accented and guttural human tongue. “Surrender warrior, you cannot defeat us. Surrender and we will not kill you.”

Nuras sneers at them, “Why should I? From what I’ve seen you kill just for the pleasure of killing.”

The spokesman of the bandits chuckles and the musky odor becomes overpowering. “Only the weak need to die warrior, you have proven yourself strong.” He says as the bandits tighten their perimeter around him. One is too eager to get close and leaves himself open and Nuras takes the advantage, slashing across the man’s arm with his kama. Nuras laughs, “I will not be taken so easily I’m afraid!”

Then to his shock the form of the man he just slashed wavers and fades into a transparent image superimosed upon a muscular yellow-skinned creature in studded leather armor. The creature’s ugly face has a large blue nose and a mouth full of sharp yellow teeth and Nuras recognizes it as a Hobgoblin. The injured hobgoblin backs away, clutching his injury and his companions close ranks around Nuras, preventing him from pressing his attack.

The spokesman of the “bandits” speaks again, “Well placed warrior, you will bring much honor to us when you are captured.” He motions and as one the goblins ready to strike.

The battle is furious, Nuras uses his evasive fighting style to avoid strike after strike while retaliating viciously. His dance of death, his weaving and spinning, greatly impresses the hobgoblins who he strikes blow after blow against.

“Surrender warrior! You honor yourself in battle but there is no reason to continue. You cannot win.” The spokesman calls out and Nuras, growling, responds: “You will take me only when I can no longer fight!” The spokesman seems to accept his words and nods at respectfully as he takes a defensive stance.

Nuras focuses his attacks on the spokesman of the hobgoblins and sends the creature sprawling to the earth, bleeding from half a dozen cuts. Again the hobgoblins close ranks around him and slowly they wear him down.

Small cuts add up and finally Nuras falls to the earth, having taken three foes out of the fight, and his world grows dark.

Alois

We rejoin Content Not Found: aloisttaber in Harborage, earlier in the day (Let’s do the Time Warp again!) It is early afternoon when he meets with Templar Evander in front of the courthouse of Harborage.

Alois finds the Templar speaking with some lower-ranking soldiers of the Order. After dismissing the soldiers, the Templar greets Alois. He looks weary but resolute. “Alois! I’m glad you made it safely, what is the situation in Steepleton? We know the bandits are guarding the road to and from the village but not much more than that though our divinations have told us you are still in command of the village.”

Alois explains the situation as it was when he left: the hunger of the people and the constant battle with the mind-controlled bandits.

Templar Evander listens quietly and when Alois is finished he gives Alois a frank assessment.

“It sounds as if you have been doing well considering your limited resources. I did not want to take you away from your duty but things in Harborage have become much worse. The enchantment you uncovered has spread rapidly and now brushes against the edge of town. We have been working with the clerics in this town to bless the town and keep it out of the enchantment but our wards are weakening.”

He pauses to gauge Alois’s reaction before continuing, “We can no longer split our resources between Steepleton and Harborage. I believe it is time for the people of Steepleton to be evacuated, they will be given refuge in Caedwyr.”

Their conversation is interrupted by a man shouting, “Lord Evander! I must speak with you immediately!” Within moments a pudgy man in a pale blue suit imposes himself beween the two and Alois gets an uncomfortably close look of his clothing’s lace ruffles.

Templar Evander shoots Alois an exasperated look and says, “What can I do for you Lord Tolton?”

Lord Tolton draws himself up and his three chins wobble as he speaks, “Lord Evander, you have not done enough to save this city. I have sent word to the High Templar. If you do not resolve this quickly we will all be bankrupt and living on the street.”

Templar Evander sighs, “Lord Tolton, I have told you already that the situation is far more complex than a simple curse. A malevolence guides this power against us and even the blessings of our clerics cannot hold out forever. But I will tell you that you have gotten your wish. The Seropaeneans are going to be assisting us within a few days at most.” He pauses and says wryly, “An upstanding citizen such as yourself will not have anything to fear from their arrival I’m sure but you are aware of their methods.”

Lord Tolton seems taken aback, “I have nothing to hide Evander. I welcome the Witch hunters, they’re surely more useful than you.” Then he turns on his heel and walks away without even a “good day”. Evander turns his atention back to Alois. “Alois, what do you need to help you evacuate Steepleton? I am afraid we are going to need your help here very soon.”

Alois asks for soldiers to help guard the villagers as they make their way to the safety of Caedwyr along with food supplies to last them the journey and Evander readily agrees.

Templar Evander then asks Alois to follow him to the dungeons of the courthouse. At the end of a particularly dark cell-lined corridor he stops. “The man in this cell has been found guilty of kidnapping and slavery.” He inserts a rusty key into the lock of the solid metal door and holds up his holy symbol and pronounces as he opens the door, “Pelor called upon his light to protect his children!” The symbol ignites with white fire and bathes the area in pure light and sends the man in the cell, who was about to leap upon the Templar, howling in agony and falling into a huddle at the far wall of his cell.

The Templar acknowledges the man by saying, “Alois, I would like you to meet Skaven Gretsmuth or as he likes to be called: ‘The Ghost’.”

The man inside the cell is albino with pallid white skin, hair, and horrible red eyes. He cries out in pain, “Stop! Please! Please!” But Templar Evander only sneers at him, “This is just a taste of the pain you will feel in the afterlife, scum.”

“For the past month we have had dozens of people go missing from the streets and even the dungeons of Harborage and Caedwyr.” He gestures at the man in the cell, “Skaven here has been caught selling prisoners and criminals to a man calling himself ‘The Gray Lord’. I believe that he is the source of your bandit problem.”

Templar Evander slams the door to the cell and locks it behind him and as he walks Alois back to the street they talk. “The Seropaeneans are not going to be happy to find you working with mages. They are… extreme in their views. But I will try and protect your allies as well as I can but the sooner this menace is defeated the safer we, and they, will be. After you help evacuate the village I want you to find the one controlling those thralls attacking the village and kill him, break his power over them. I wish I could help you more but with the worsening conditions here…” The Templar trails off and Alois promises to do his best.

“Pelor protect you my young friend.” Evander says, and he kisses his holy symbol in farewell. Within an hour Alois has the supplies, and the manpower, he needs to evacuate Steepleton and he heads off back to the beleaguered village.

Cherin

The forest north of the village is old and thick and the old path is soon surrounded by fir trees. They grow up tall and claustrophobic and their boughs, laden with sharp needles, edge up against the path so closely that Cherin must slow his hurried pace to push his way through the branches. The smell of vomit and sickness is long behind him but the knowledge of the fate of the sickened should he fail drives him ever onward.

The trees grow thicker and thicker until suddenly Cherin pushes his way through and he stands at the edge of a clearing lit by the nearly full moon. Nearby he can see the gloomy silhouette of a decaying cottage. As he moves towards the cottage he can hear a woman’s voice whispering through the pines behind him and his step quickens.

The wooden cottage looks to have been abandoned for a long time: the sod roof has long since collapsed through the supporting beams and the quarried stone walls have collapsed outward in some places. The house’s remaining support beams stand with nothing to support. Debris and rotting furniture: the remains of a bed, a weather-worn armoire, and a few shelves with moldering, rotted books remain mostly intact amongst the rubble.

Cherin looks around the cottage and finds an overgrown garden surrounded by the remains of a wooden fence that is filled with blue flowers and other plants, both strange and mundane, behind the cottage. Though one of the cottage walls has partially collapsed upon the garden the plants have grown over it vibrant and strong. In the corner of the garden, near the collapsed wall, is a dark hole in the earth several feet wide.

Cherin recognizes the blue plant as both the “Ratweed” Nadia told him to get and by another name: Jordan’s Wort, the semi-mystical healing herb the villagers back in Hardell love so much.

As Cherin gathers as much Jordan’s Wort as he can hold he hears soft footsteps behind him and as he turns a small man in dark furs leaps at him. A blade flashes in the bright moonlight and, with an unholy-sounding scream, Cherin feels cold steel push into his chest.

Cherin drops his load and stumbles back and the wild man kicks his feet out from under him while screaming in common about an invasion. Cherin denies he is invading as he tries to scramble away but the man interrupts him with a scream of “LIAR!” He slashes at Cherin again, cutting his arm, and Cherin (who sees no alternative) summons forth the mystical energies within him and unleashes a gout of fire that splashes against the man, burning his flesh and causing him to scream in pain and rage. Despite the burns the man keeps coming, tripping Cherin again as he tries to get away and stabbing him repeatedly. Cherin, who is rapidly losing his strength, breathes fire at the man who is again engulfed in flame. But Cherin’s attacker is tenacious and soon he stands over Cherin with the dagger in both hands. His eyes glin angrily and Cherin knows his life is at an end. Cherin raises his arm to defend himself as the man brings the dagger down - and collapses on top of Cherin, totally unconscious. Alois is there, holding out his hand to Cherin with a wry smile. He calls upon Pelor to heal Cherin’s wounds and with a touch the wounds heal over until they are just bright red scars in his flesh.

The two hear noises coming from the hole in the ground and Cherin says, “Let’s get out of here!” They gather the Jordan’s Wort and sprint for the tree line. Cherin looks back to see two small winged creatures flying in the moonlit sky behind them and watches them land next to the fallen wild man, chittering. Then they are back in the trees, rushing back towards Steepleton.

Back in Steepleton they help Nadia brew the massive batch of Jordan’s Wort to relieve the suffering of the sick. Though at least a few people had already died from the poison the concoction prevents the vast majority from nearly certain death.

In the following days the sick slowly recover. Alois announces that they will be abandoning the city and the Order will give them refuge in Caedwyr. While the village packs what it can Justar asks Cherin to look at his daughter, Amyra, who is still sick and burning with fever. He tells Cherin that there is magic inside of her and asks Cherin to take it out. Cherin explains to him that in born magic is part of who a person is and not a foreign entity to be stripped from them. He tells Justar to take his daughter to a friend in Caedwyr and fellow follower of Jin: Cecilie Edmead.

After three days the beleaguered troop marches out of the village unmolested. Their spirits low and their bodies still wasted by the poison they trudged on towards Harborage and from there towards Caedwyr.

To be Continued

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