Session 23 - The Charred Demense
The band has tracked the vile thralls of the Court to Ille d'Pontieff in the heart of Lake Vivaine...but with two of the children still in the hands of the evil captors and night setting in, will they be in time to save them? And what awaits in the fire-gutted ruins of the House Pontieff manor...?
OutcomeThe session opened with the group sequestered in the ruined lighthouse, engaged in a protracted debate about whether or not it was right to take a well-needed long rest and risk the children being killed before they could be rescued, or rush to save them and risk walking into a trap whilst exhausted and underprepared. argued that even if the children died it was more important that the party not fail and lose their own lives in their attempt to destroy the vampires and save more future lives, whilst Alston suggested a short rest at least could allow them to recover some of their strength before they pressed on, and Aribaeshra and Dealan wanted to save the children as soon as possible, and Dealan did not want the others' discussion to upset Tremmy. As the discussion continued, Aribaeshra felt his hackles raise but could not pinpoint a source of his discomfort, and seemed distracted during the latter half of the argument. After the possibility of scouting ahead to determine the terrain and threats before making a final decision was raised, Alston sent his owl familiar Inkwell to soar over the island, noticing that no further ships were docked at or leaving the island, that of the destroyed manor's buildings, only the stables and the remaining tower had lights within them, that the stable appeared to be occupied by orcish mercenaries, and that a mysterious woman was singing and tending to an incongruous patch of flowers just outside the manor walls. With this information, the debate continued, until Liliko'i, who had initially supported Osborn's position, grew frustrated with the inaction and led a direct approach on the manor without waiting for the others' approval. They followed her, although their attempts to be stealthy failed miserably except for, amusingly, Alston and his mech. As they approached the stables, however, Dealan heard a noise of motion in the undergrowth nearby and saw a rabbit watching the party's progress. She attempted to speak with the animal, only to find it unnaturally unresponsive - and staring at her with one mismatched, bleeding human eye stitched into its left socket. Immediately, Dealan thorn-whipped the rabbit, instantly killing it and pulling it over to her, whereupon the eye blasted her with some form of mind-affecting magic. Dealan, however, resisted the effect and smashed the rabbit's body to pulp with her shillelagh; she pocketed the wooden, eye-shaped bead that rolled forth. The commotion, however, caught the attention of an orc guard who had exited the stables to relieve himself, prompting him to exclaim in shock and retreat inside, narrowly dodging a firebolt blasted by Lili. Inside he and his compatriots opened fire on the party with arrows, injuring Ari and Lili, and a battle was joined. As the fight raged on, Ari plunged into the midst of the orcs, before realizing how outnumbered he was and - with the assistance of an illusionary spike ring cast by Alston - focused on defense to tie up the orc warriors and distract them from the party. Lili and Alston peppered them with firebolts from a distance and Dealan used her thorn-whip and shillelagh combo to drag orcs from the shelter of the stables, and Osborn climbed onto the stable roof to drop a lantern inside and attempt to burn the orcs out with the flammable projectile. As the party overcame the orc thugs, however, some peculiar events started to take place in their rear ranks. Dealan heard a sharp, condescending whisper in her mind, viciously belittling her; she shook off the effect and ignored it to keep fighting. Alston, taking rear guard with Tremmy behind the cover of a tree, was not so lucky; a series of whispering giggles entered his mind, rising to a tide of raucous cackling, and he found himself laughing along, unable to stop himself, and falling prone within his mech. He could only watch helplessly as Tremmy, backing away from Alston's strange behavior in fear and confusion, was seized by the arm by a smiling, kindly-looking elderly woman, who told him to 'come along dear' and began effortlessly dragging him toward the forest. Dealan, hearing Alston's laughing fit, saw what took place and instantly turned herself into a tiger, crossing the distance quickly and pouncing on the elderly woman... ...only to discover her savage claws met with surprising, iron, griping strength, resisting the pounce's knockdown, and greenish-black blood smoking from the claw-wounds she inflicted. As the old woman smiled into Dealan's tigerish face with an ear-to-ear grin of hideous, dripping, jagged brown teeth, Lilikoi blasted a twin-spelled Chromatic Orb into the creature, dealing serious damage and wiping the smirk off its face. Now sneering, the thing withdrew its grip and chided them - 'Ooh, my, there's a lot of you. Well, no mind... If you wish to bargain, come visit Goodie Kinterkraaft in her parlour, dears, and we'll share a pot of nice, hot tea...and make a deal...." The shocked heroes caught a brief glimpse of the visage of a twisted, leering nightmare caricature of a crone flickering beneath the image of the old woman as she seized Tremmy again. Her flesh wiggled as insects crawled from her nose, beneath her eyelids, and out of her mouth, before vomiting forth in a shrieking cloud, engulfing Dealan and nearly destroying her tiger-guise in a sadistic display of power. When the cloud of pestilent bugs cleared away, the woman and child were nowhere to be seen, only her wicked cackling fading on the wind, and the party to their horror realized they were dealing with a hag, a dreadful being out of Valderia's darkest folklore... In the aftermath of the battle, with the party rattled and dispirited and Dealan deeply traumatised by her failure to protect Tremmy, Aribaeshra shook awake and interrogated one of the unconscious orcs. The prisoner, at first surly and taciturn, eventually opened up to claim that the orcs had no knowledge of what became of the prisoners, that they were sent only to guard the transfer process until 'he' came to collect them from the hag. They themselves never entered the mansion nor had any close dealings with the hag, whom they hated and feared. When Osborn suggested sending the prisoner ahead of them into the manor, the orc demanded he be given a weapon and face Ari in battle, so he could die a warrior's death on his feet, rather than be subjected to the supernatural horrors of the foul witch. Aribaeshra knocked him out again and hogtied him, with the party now agreeing that they had no choice but to take a long rest, and hope that the Hag would keep to her word of waiting for them to come to 'bargain' before harming the children. As a restless night settled over them, Osborn took the first watch. As he settled in, watching the walls of the stables, a strange sensation came over him and he felt a crawling presence attempting to probe and penetrate his mind - only to encounter the buzzing, scraping wall of metallic power, afforded by his new patron. As the slimy, withered presence recoiled and withdrew in surprise and curiosity, Osborn used Awaken mind to whisper after it, telling it that there were powers beyond its knowledge and its ability to control. As Osborn slept, Lilikoi took the next watch. A sleepless Dealan sat up with her and the two shared a personal moment, Lili admitting that she had not expected the world outside her island to be filled with so much darkness and pain, and that she profoundly missed her mother and grandmother. Dealan opened up about the loss she had experienced, that she had been taken completely offguard by her failure to stop the mask, her failure to protect the children, and the loss of so many at her home temple. She was beginning to understand why her teachers had been so harsh with her, trying to make her focus and be ready for what lay out there. As Lili listened, she felt the weight of sorrow and despair settle over her like a pall, weighing down on her, until she imagined the fire of her magic beginning to dim and fade within her. Feeling stinging in her eyes, she wiped them, only to find her fingers smeared with blood - sap - blood - bloody sap all over her hands, legs and body, bloody sap leaking from Dealan's eyes across from her, eyes that were now just twisted knot-holes, Dealan's flesh twisting into gnarled, fossilized wood.... As Dealan shook Lili awake, the horrifying image faded, and a shaken Lili said that she needed to rest. Dealan stayed up with her until she slept, and then immediately woke Ari for his watch. The two sat and talked for some time, with Aribaeshra admitting that he didn't understand the ways of the people here, particularly Osborn, and that he really isn't certain when Osborn is insulting him or not to him, and isn't sure what Alston is talking about when he gets professorly, so he just acts along. As the exhausted Dealan admitted she needed sleep, Ari took his watch. As tiredness overcame him, he started to feel as if the walls of the stable were shrinking inward. The claustrophobic sensation took him quickly and he attempted to flee to the outside - only to find himself blocked by the bars of a cage. Gripping it and pulling at it, he found himself too weak to bend the bars, and realized his arms were small and scrawny, his body shrunk back to the size of a hatchling - and that the stable stalls were now cages, imprisoning mewling, struggling animals. As Ari panicked, footsteps shook the chamber, and he looked up to see the familiar sandal and robe of Fazim approach his cage, only towering, impossibly gigantic above him. The giant Fazim looked down from a perspective far above, and grinned with the hag's rotting brown teeth as he leaned down to grasp Ari with his giant hand... Ari shook out of his nightmare to find himself frantically digging at the floor of the stables, the commotion also stirring Alston awake. He told the concerned Alston about his nightmare, that he had them sporadically for some time but that this one felt very different. They discussed the evil they faced, and that Ari struggles to understand the evil power that magic can have over others. Alston agreed that enchantment magic was problematic at best and they voiced their concerns about the way Osborn was acting and the changes he was undergoing. Aribaeshra observed that while he didn't understand Osborn's logic, he sensed that after so much of his life had been destroyed so recently, he was probably acting out to destroy any traces of who he had been because they were too painful to try to hold onto. Alston wasn't sure what's going on with him, but they agreed to keep an eye on him as things progressed. Alston took the final watch. Forewarned from Ari's experiences that the hag was going to try to mess with their heads, he tried to stay awake, observing that the orcish prisoner was struggling in the throes of a dream that Alston couldn't shake him awake from. Alston himself felt a dizziness come over him, and found himself standing behind the pulpit of a lecture hall cobbled together from his memories of many such places, giving an enthralling lecture on the usage of arcane mechanical engineering to better the lives of the populace. In the darkened lecture theatre he could see the faces of his many former students, friends, acquaintances, rivals and even lovers over his long life, all watching with him in rapt attention. As Alston reached the climax of his presentation and turned to see the hulk of his mechanical marvel behind him hidden beneath a sheet. He pulled the sheet off to reveal - not the familiar gleaming brass - but a hideous, fleshy abomination made of rotting patchwork body parts stitched together into the egg-like shape of his mech...parts he recognised as belonging to the members of his party. As Alston stepped away from the horrible sight, the audience began to snort, snicker, and laugh at him, and Alston found himself laughing too, uncontrollably. As the laughter turned to mockery and jeering derision and the audience, their eyes hollow holes, started throwing objects at Alston's back, the patchwork mech's 'core', now a giant, watery human eye, began to well with tears of blood, and its fleshy hatch opened to disgorge the pallid dead body of the child Tremmy at Alston's feet. The thump awoke Alston from his nightmare, to discover that the orcish prisoner was gone - the ropes that had tied him gnawed through by crawling vermin. Alston turned to see the orc, sweating, trembling and staring blankly, standing near him holding a jagged shard of wood. The orc whispered "I'm sorry" and Alston, fearing attack, batted the wood away only for the orc to dive after it, seize it and stab himself repeatedly in the throat. The commotion woke the party and Aribaeshra was quick to disarm the prisoner and use Lay on Hands to heal him. As the orc faded into unconsciousness he mumbled that 'she' was to blame, that he 'cursed' his own blood kin and that should he die, they 'must kill her' followed by the name 'Torinada'. With watery dawn filtering through the cracks in the ruined stables, and their eventful night concluded, the party crept forth - rested, but unsettled and weary - to face the grim, skeletal ruins of the La Pontieff manor, now the lair of Goodwife Kinterkraaft...
17 Nov 2019
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