Rise of the Planar Trade Consortium

Run 30, Rise of the PTC: Drive To the Railhead, Pt. II, "Badlands"

The session opens with a flashback detailing how Aeran came to be with Boss Simkins and won his trust by saving a favored grand-daughter during a barn fire.

The scene quickly shifts to current-Aeran, now asleep in the chuck-wagon. He dreams of his escape from the City of Brass, and his time training and growing up in the Shadowfell and how he left there for the prime Carta. In particular he’s shown how at a few steps along the way Akasha intervened in occasionally subtle, and occasionally not, ways to ensure his survival and training. The dream ends as he wakes, and hears the whisper of her voice in his ear telling him that things are changing and he should seek to learn more of “the Lady’s ways.” When he wakes a long, silky, raven’s feather falls from his chest to the ground, he pockets it unseen by anyone and rousts himself to the chaos in the camp.

It seems the camp outriders standing watch have captured a horse-thief. The thief seems to be a young eladrin boy, looks like a local farm-boy actually. Boss Simkins says that he can’t take the boy with them to the judge for trial, and he “ain’t willin’ to hang ‘im ‘less it’s done fair and proper.” He and Jeb put their heads together and declare that as most of the boys on the drive have a stake in it none of them are fit to act as judge or jury, almost all the cowboys in Simkin’s drive are just ranchers who have joined their herds together for the cattle-drive. Dar’n (Boss Simkin’s given name) decides that the thing to do is to appoint Pieter and his “boys” (Simkins actually says, ”..., and you as well Miss Alruna if that’s all right with you.”) to investigate the affair and judge what is to be done. But since he’ll need to be sure it’s done proper he requires them to take his “trusty”, Aeran, along with them so he (and the whole of the drive) can be assured the whole things fair. Everyone agrees to this, though the drive as a whole grumbles pretty loudly about it as they’re of the “Hang ‘em high” school of horse-thievin’.

Questioning the suspect reveals that he’s what he seems. Rob says he’s a farm-boy who’s father died in a plague last year, he’s been trying to keep the farm going for his ma and his sisters and baby brother, but the land just ain’t no good. They’re on their last legs. Which is, of course, the point at which it went worse . . . . their plow-horses died. Now the whole family is probably doomed; bad land, no plow-horses, no more money, nowhere to go. So he thought that if he could just steal a pair of horses from the drive as it went by maybe, just maybe, he could save his family. Foolish youth combined with a lack of anything to lose prompted him to try to follow through on his idea.

Boss Simkin’s isn’t particularly moved by the boy’s story, but is a good enough man that he can’t discount it entirely. He says he’ll hold off the drive from lynching the boy for a time, but that Pieter needs to find out the truth of the matter. If he can save the family Boss Simkin’s would be happiest, even if he has to hang the boy he doesn’t care for the blood of innocents to be on his hands, and he feels strongly that “folk oughta stick together out here, it’s a hard enough world as is and it’s just worse if’n we take it on alone.” He warns Pieter that he’ll likely have to hang the boy if he isn’t to lead the drive to questioning his leadership and decision-making capacity.

Pieter and his companions, plus Aeran, ride off to investigate further. Just a short distance away they find a farmhouse. The situation is pretty much just what was described by Rob. The group are stopped at the farm-yard by an eladrin woman standing in the doorway who warns them off, “I have a bow, and children inside to protect” she says, and does though she hasn’t drawn the arrow yet. Alruna calms her down and she agrees to let the five in to talk provided all of them except Alruna leave their weapons outside.

Inside the claustrophobic confines of a frontier house, sod walls and only one room, she offers them what little hospitality she has. The party declines as “grass soup” isn’t really on their list of acceptable cuisine. They also note that she has three young girls and a baby as well, confirming Rob again.

She turns out be Melissande Darkleaf, a cousin of Res’Tar Blackrock who was forced to flee Maelgrimm many years ago when Prince John (she spits at his name) took over the kingdom. Her husband and her managed to escape with only what they could carry away from their estates. They took ship for the New World and, along with some other nobles, pooled their goods to form a wagon-train into the wilds with which to seek new lands. Some of the noble’s died on the way, most of them settled on poor lands further downriver, but her husband and she tried to push on as long as they could in the hopes of finding some decent farmland to make a new life on. It didn’t work out and this was as far as they got. She hasn’t seen her son Robert since last night, and is desperately worried once told what’s happened to him.

After convincing Mel to come back to the drive the group decides to try to convince the ranchers towards lenience for Rob. They make several arguments ranging from compassion to greed, including even legalistic “But he didn’t actually succeed so there wasn, technically, no crime.” The cattle-men are skeptical, but in the end are convinced that hanging Rob isn’t the right answer. Boss Simkins accepts Pieter’s solution, Rob will be indentured without pay for the duration of the drive and let go afterwards. Dar’n asks Aeran to take a place riding with Pieter so that he can put Melissande and her kids in the chuck-wagon since they’ll die if left alone on the farm.

There’s some grumbling over the next few days about the whole affair. Everyone is so busy healing hard-pressed cattle, scouting the trail, riding herd, and doing the thousands of other exhausting details that make up a cattle-drive that the grumbling soon recedes. It helps that while Rob is utterly clueless as a hand he’s good-natured, learns quickly (except about riding a horse), and works himself to the bone.

A few more days pass uneventfully when Pieter and his crew find themselves riding herd on a few hundred head of cattle as they pass alongside the river between it’s banks and a low hill. Scrub-brush and wind-whipped trees cover the ground. They all notice a grinding sound beneath their feet, soon after they see a low mound, as if a creature is burrowing underneath it, approaching. In moments all hell breaks loose as a bulette bursts forth from the ground seeking prey. The cattle scatter in terror. Aeran gets badly bitten by the bulette, but in the end they defeat it without loss of any cattle, though their horses get a bit bruised. Boss Simkins thanks them later that evening for their good work that day.

The last event of note before the drive leaves The Badlands takes place soon thereafter. It seems a good day as Pieter and “his boys” (Miss Alruna included) are working driving a few hundred head of cattle along the Rioja river. A low rumbling growing louder, and the shaking of the earth, are the only warning they get of an on-rushing stampede from the front of the drive. Most of the folks scatter to the “lee-side” of things like trees or large boulders seeking shelter from the herd, two of them try to ride it out racing alongside the herd.

As soon as it’s safe the group all begins trying to get their herd back under control. It takes hard work, skills in animal handling, and no small amount of brass-balls to pull off. But without anyone getting hurt, or their horses, everyone works together and succeeds in bringing their herd to a stop. And just in time as well, for now the front of the drive is thundering down on them. Rook has a clever idea and works with Wythe to erect a barrier of magical flame. Alruna and Aeran help spread the fire in a line towards the nearby hills, and Pieter closes the gap with a wall of thorns erected magically with his Green Thumbs. This basically blocks the stampede from proceeding on except towards the river. As they watch near 900 head of cattle come thundering down on them, and turn into the river where they bog up and eventually are forced to stop.

All that’s left is the tail end of the drive, being herded by Jeb and his boys. It’s exhausting work but after many hours of it everyone manages to stop the tail end of the stampede. The next day isn’t any easier as everyone works together to seek out any cattle that got away during the confusion. In the end it’s a bad day as Boss Simkins, Jeb, and everyone else, tally up the losses. 12 cattle were killed outright in the stampede, or needed to be from injuries incurred, and another 10 are gone missing.

But as with everything some good comes of it, the drive eats steak that night.

Thus endeth the story.

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absimiliard

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