Rise of the Planar Trade Consortium

Run 39 Rise of the PTC: The Hero's Journey Pt. III, "Bright Calembel"

Having consulted ancient oracles and having been refreshed the heroes return to known worlds.

Okay, a bit more detail.

Constrained by Pieter’s Knights of Unyielding Valor the kraken mauls Aeran and Alruna a bit more. Aeran escapes it’s grasp, but Alruna is caught and flung into her allies a few times. Finally the kraken, badly wounded, retreats from it’s hunt and withdraws into the depths of the black lake.

The group wades out to the gate they believe holds the portal. The water is foul, and chest-high near the gate. Sioned tells everyone to try to think thoughts of death and despair, the key to open the portal, and helps folks along with some ancient tales of woe and horror. The portal opens. A vast current pulls everything within ten or fifteen feet of the gate through it as water rushes through the portal. After only a second or so the portal snaps shut behind a dazed and disoriented party and the mass of choking fish and lake-creatures that were pulled through the gate along with the lake’s waters.

It is soon apparent to experienced planar travelers that the world they have come to is neither the Shadowfell nor the Outlands. A blue sky, with wispy clouds, above and a pleasant, but hot, temperature color impressions of “courtyard as garden” with citrus trees and pleasant-smelling herbs. Before anyone assesses more than that a well-dressed servant standing near a door addresses them.

Paulo inquires first if they are friends of the Duke Stormcrow Abruzzi, then if they are his enemies, then lastly if he may offer them the Duke’s hospitality. It becomes clear that the Duke pays some attention to what comes out of his gate and that accepting his hospitality, at least until they meet him themselves, is not an optional thing. Sioned accepts his offer of hospitality and the group is shown to rooms where they may prepare themselves before meeting the Duke. Baths are taken, gear is cleaned, and in a bit under an hour Paulo returns to tell them that the Duke has cleared his schedule and would be happy to see them at their earliest convenience. Everyone interprets that correctly and immediately follow Paulo to a library.

The Duke (“The Duke, the Duke will die before these eyes and he’ll know, he’ll know, that it is I, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, who encompasses his doom!”, sorry, love that quote) is a tall, and somewhat guant, man. He has grey hair and the signs of age, but appears to still remain vital and full of energy. He is a tiefling. When the party enters the library a number of courtiers will depart to let Duke Stormcrow speak with his “guests”.

The conversation goes well, for Sioned and her companions mean no ill to the duchy and are candid and truthful. The Duke does get Sioned to examine a long fore-arm bone that proves to be the “gift” Ogg gave her that was wrapped in silk. The bone is powerfully magical, it’s easily detected by anyone with good arcane senses at the range of an entire city, however the silk seems to be shielding it’s power and keeping it secret. What little can be told of the bone is that it is very old, it’s powerful magic seems to be trying to reconnect it to the other pieces of whatever it once was, and that it’s not a piece of anything anyone has ever heard of.

Further questioning reveals that the Duke visited the Oracles long ago. At their request he moved the gate from the Shadowfell to his lands and waited, they told him that in the future travellers would come forth from it, and that he must guide them to the Grove of the Eldest. For twenty years nothing had come through the gate, then Sioned et al arrived. Stormcrow connects the bone to his prophecy and believes that Sioned is surely being used as an agent by the oracles, and that she should probably be aided as best he can since he thinks well of them.

At the Duke’s invitation the party spends the night, taking rest in the castle. His hospitality is impeccable, the company educated, the city nearby (Calembel) easily accessible and welcoming, his wine and brandy cellar is possibly the best Rook has encountered, and when morning comes everyone is refreshed.

Riding out from Calembel on phantom steeds, and aided by a traveler’s chant, the party makes excellent time as they race north along the coast. Asking at villages they guide themselves towards the Grove of the Eldest, which the villagers are happy to direct them to though they won’t speak of what goes on there. Cresting a ridge running down from the mountain Ioa they see a forested valley that matches the description of the grove, in a clearing near a stream they can see smoke rising up though the distance is too far to see more.

Working their way through the forest the party breaks into the clearing near the stream. There they see an older woman tending some fish she’s roasting over a low fire. She seems well enough, and readies herself to flee until assured the group means her no harm. She then offers to split the fish with them for lunch if they will share their food with her, everyone agrees and people sit down to a simple meal. Elegeia is not terribly forthcoming as a conversationalist, but it’s apparent she’s a very good listener as she gets much more information out of the party than they give her. In particular she won’t tell them who “The Eldest” is, though after lunch is finished she tells everyone that she will introduce them to “The Eldest” if that’s their desire.

Following Elegeia into the forest the group travels for a bit. Elegeia is quiet by nature and doesn’t speak much on the trip. Pieter looks around the forest for anything out of place but it seems natural enough to him. Suddenly Elegeia stops and turns and asks the party what they see. Looking around more closely the group slowly realizes that the tree behind her is a branch of Yggdrasil, the World’s Tree. Commending them on their observation, and having finished her introduction of the group to the tree, Elegeia departs as quietly as she led them to “The Eldest.”

It takes some time before the group manages to climb up into the branches of the tree, having determined nothing unusual was to be found at ground level. Swinging around the bole of the tree (maybe 10’ in diameter) Aeran finds a hole leading into Yggdrasil, arcane energy seems to indicate that the tunnel inside the hole is a planar passageway. Some people slam against branches as they swing over to the hole, but no one falls the forty or so feet to the ground below. The tunnel itself proves a tougher job, it’s been chewed out of the tree by something (or things) and is winding and steep, and not very big, it’s seriously claustrophobic. It’s also slick enough that Alruna fails to hold her grip and falls down the tunnel into Rook, who falls into Pieter, the three are only back-stopped at the last moment as Sioned braces herself and stops the disaster about to unfold. With more caution the group finishes the climb.

They emerge onto a large branch of Yggdrasil, perhaps 20’ wide at it’s narrows. Below they can see a fork and they head towards it, seeking the trunk.

Before they get to the fork they are assaulted by a pair of neogi slavers, each caring for a swarm of neogi spawn that are pursuing (and consuming) a writhing mass of rot grubs. The neogi slavers spread out to sides, climbing along the sides of the great branch with their spider-legs gripping the tree easily. The rot-grubs, pursued by the neogi spawn, slam into the party’s front-line. Rook petrifies a mass of the swarms, and Sioned uses a Wail of Anguish to punish them as well. However the group is held back by the slavers, for each neogi repeatedly blasts and fries their minds with psychic attacks, shackling their minds with commands they must resist. (and dazing them) The fight is nasty, and closely fought, for a very long time. But once the swarms start to fall it’s but second before the entire enemy forces are in collapse. One of the slavers escapes by climbing to the underside of the branch and moving away, there are no other survivors.

The group takes a short rest and proceeds along the branch of Yggdrasil.

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Run 38 Rise of the PTC: The Hero's Journey Pt. II, "Oracles are Always more than they appear"

Our heroes appear outside a gatehouse of Astrazalian, traveling via a linked portal. Alas it appears to be winter, and the Fomori-led hordes are actually assaulting the city-walls when the heroes arrive.

Atop a wall a great Fomori leader, the King of Baradh Durr, battles under a banner sporting a Black Cauldron. At the gatehouse a unit of hobgoblins attempt to storm the gatehouse with ladders. Atop the gatehouse Shandria, the eladrin leader of the city, hews down a cyclopean opponent and casting his head down to the hobgoblins bellows, “Let loose the cavalry!” The gates begin to open as hobgoblins begins scrambling back, their leader tries to hold them to their assault, but fails. As the broken unit streams away from the gate, and towards our heroes, Shandria looks down and calls out, “If you would serve Astrazalian this day, HOLD THOSE GOBLINS FOR THE CHARGE!” in a tremendously commanding voice.

Sioned advances into the teeth of the hobgoblin unit, Pieter raises a wall along one flank, while Alruna holds in the center. Rook has already raised the fiery forces of Ugar in the center. As hobgoblins begin to engage the hobgoblin Hand of Bane is banished by Pieter’s prayers. Without his leadership the gobbo horde swarms around, and while they damage several people they do not escape when the eladrin cavalry comes charging out from the gates of Astrazalian. Aeran probably has the worst time of anyone as he discovers that an open battlefield is not the most friendly environment for an assassin.

The party is given into the command of an Astrazalian captain, Gil Gallorian by name, who debriefs them. On hearing their quest he turns them over to Shandria for a decision. Shandria says that she can’t afford to spend the resources needed to send them to The World from Astrazalian, but that if they’ll help her she can still help them escape the Feywild. She offers that if they take a letter to a spy of hers outside the city and return word via a sending ritual of whether or not the spy’s news is believable she’ll have the spy give them the location of a fey portal, she knows the portal goes to either the Sargasso Graveyard or to the echo of the original graveyard in the Shadowfell. Shandria hopes the spy can bring some enemies of the Black Cauldron to drive away the besieging army, buying Astrazalian some time to prepare for the next assault. When the party accepts she commends them on their courage and has wizards prepare for their journey with ritual aids.

The five heroes ride out on phantom steeds, passing over the bay in an attempt to outflank the camp of the Black Cauldron. They are fiercely pursued by the fomori warriors, but escape them as they pass into the Iron Hills. Some tough navigation is needed to pass through the Iron Hills, and it is only by Aeran’s skill that they manage to evade a hunting party of hill giants. But soon they come to a thick fen, within which they believe lies the Island of the Oracles. (where they are to meet the spy, the youngest of three sisters) The fen turns into a deep swamp, and navigation is difficult even for those atop steeds that can ride over water, which is incredibly useful here. But in the end they find the lake with the island in it’s center, but cannot approach due to a magical circle that repels them. With effort, and help, Rook and Sioned temporarily drop the circle just long enough to ride past it.

The Isle of the Oracles proves to be a low, bramble-choked, patch of semi-dry land. As they approach the center of the Isle it rises slightly, and eventually they discover a low hut in a clearing, smoke rises from a rough chimney. As they approach a hideous ancient crone comes out and demands to know who they are, she is visibly blind, having only black and empty sockets in their place. When hearing Sioned’s name she cackles and calls out to her sisters to bring “the eye”. A second hag comes out of the hut, she give the first an eye she plucks out of her own skull and returns inside. Placing the eye in head Ogg, ogles the group.

Over time the party meets Ogg, and her sisters Gogg, and Magogg. The three ancient crones claim to be oracles, and share a single “all seeing eye” between themselves, trading it off for incomprehensible reasons. The spy turns out to be Gogg, the middle sister, and Magogg, the youngest is clearly friendly towards the eladrin. Ogg, the eldest, is more clearly a friend of the fomori. The three argue fiercely over what to do, what to tell the group in particular since they know word will get back to Shandria. In the end Magogg decides it by telling Sioned she believes that the King of Mag Tureadh is not insane, but is instead the “Wise King from Below” spoken of in prophecy. Gogg agrees to pass on Shandria’s letter, and takes Shandria’s payment for her service. Ogg is tremendously unhappy and as the party leaves declares, “So be it then, if Shandria will gain in this let her lose in another realm. Take this gift girlie, and don’t open it until you’ve left the Isle. Shandria shan’t be allowed to win in all things,” and she hands Sioned a long, thin, object wrapped in red silk. The other sisters violently object and the party departs as they begin fighting amongst themselves.

At the edge of the lake, as they are leaving the Isle of the Oracles, they find the graves wherein their portal lies. The three grey ladies had given them the portal key, thoughts only of death and despair. As they approach they can see that the muddy waters of the lake have risen to cover many of the gravestones, and the portal itself is now at least thirty feet off-shore. People prepare to wade out to it, but notice a huge bulge of water approaching the island, as if of a massive submerged creature moving at high speed. As they watch in horror a mass of huge tentacles bursts forth from the water’s surface, and is soon followed by the hideous bulk of a kraken’s body. The kraken eyes the group, and moves to attack. Aeran engages it more closely as the majority of the group tries to stay away from the beast’s tentacles. However it spits poison and blinds a few people with that attack. As the battle rages Pieter summons four celestial warriors to help pin the monster in place.

But as the session ends the battle remains very much in question.

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Run 37 Rise of the PTC: The Hero's Journey Pt. I, "Surprise, the Return of The PTC!"

The session opens with Sioned waiting, cooling her heels, outside the library in House Duncam. Within are Duncam, Pizarro, Melina, and Estevan. When brought in she sees Estevan is using his true form. Estevan tells her the time has come for him to retake his House in Sigil, he says the great war between the factions is nearly spent and when it finishes he can return. He will cast out the imposter who has taken his place and seize what is rightfully his, all to the profit of the Consortium of course since he’s a far better factor than the current occupant. Estevan seems to possess some inside information as he says that he will begin in three days, and that Sioned is to meet him at The Golden Apple in the Cage in three days. Before she does she needs to deliver some cargo for him, oh, and she needs to acquire some gold for Estevan prior to then as well. Estevan is vague on the details of who/why/where regarding the cargo, and especially vague on how Sioned is to get to the cargo, but he’s perfectly clear on the gold. Sioned is to bring him 100,000 gold pieces in three days.

Back at the ranch grandma is beating off the injuns . . ... okay, not so much. In fact there is a large gathering at the Simkins’ Ranch. Everyone rides out to gather the locals, at the end of the day there are near 100 men (and a few women as well) gathered in the farmyard to discuss the coming of Torgar. Consensus is that the 500 or so men the settlers can muster will not cut it in a fight against the minotaurs, help will be needed. It’s agreed to send messengers to Tablarax to ask aid of the city. But some dispute over whether to send Pieter and his “boys” to Erathis for help or whether to send Boss Simkins and Robb (who are both willing to pledge Erathis their souls if that’s the price of saving the people of the Berare river valley) arises.

As the congress of ranchers and farmers debates Alruna is distracted by a voice only she can hear, a voice from her past, Sioned’s voice. Sioned is in danger and calls to her saying “If you can get the feather of the Raven Queen come and help me.” Alruna can sense there’s danger from Sioned’s voice, and can feel there are drawn weapons involved. Alruna goes to ask Rook about the feather. As she does she again hears a cry for help, followed by a sharp pain as if of a cut to someone’s wrist in a sword-fight. Rook can not help her, though he’s fascinated to hear of the Raven Queen’s interest in her and her vision of Akasha (the exarch of the Raven Queen). Alruna then hears Sioned cry out for help again, and feels a sharp pain in her wrist as if from a viciously applied disarming move, she can sense a large figure attacking Sioned. In increasing distress Alruna presses Rook for any information about the feather that he knows, in a corner Aeran sees what is going on and sneaks nearer to Alruna and Rook to watch. Alruna falls to her knees and cries out for the Feather of the Raven Queen as she is overwhelmed by a sharp pain in the side of her chest and a clear vision of a large Oni standing over Sioned’s fallen form piercing the side of her chest with a great sword, worse yet, she recognizes the Oni as Davakara, the Oni hired by Colonel Vailor to try to assassinate them. Taking compassion on her plight, and obvious distress, Aeran pulls the feather out and hands it to Alruna.

Alruna collapses to the ground unconscious, and the feather vanishes.

The discussion of what to do breaks down as the congress of ranchers dissolves into chaotic talk about Alruna, and what her collapse means. (if anything) While things break down Tara rushes into the house to get medical supplies, but on her return finds there is nothing wrong with Alruna that she can determine. A few seconds later something momentous occurs. . . .

About a day’s walk out of Tradegate, in the forest nearby, Sioned and Estevan are setting things up. Along with them is one of Estevan’s cousins, an assassin by trade, an Oni named Davakara. Estevan explains that he’s not sure exactly how it works, but that it was prophesied by one of his clients (referred to as “I”) that if Sioned cried out for Alruna’s aid after three summons, when things seemed most bleak, Alruna would appear and that Sioned would depart The World with her. Estevan explains that this is how she is to get to her “cargo”, he’ll now answer that he believes the cargo is some people, but that he’s still not sure exactly who, nor where they are to go. Sioned and Davakara agree to stage a “duel”. Sioned calls, with no effect, for Alruna’s help and the two begin to fight. Davakara is (for now) the more skilled swordsman and as he slices Sioned’s fore-arm she again calls to Alruna. Pressing her backwards he pins her against a large rock and disarms her with a skilled trick, forcing her to cry out to Alruna for a third time. For the final call to Alruna he twists his sword so that his strike to Sioned’s chest is merely a flesh-wound instead of a mortal blow, but it is bloody and painful as Sioned cries out a final time for Alruna.

In a blaze of radiant energy Alruna appears behind Davakara. Sioned sees a blaze of light eclipsed by the large Oni’s body, and then the tip of Alruna’s sword cuts through his side with a vengeful thrust. Davakara leaps backwards, and crying out “Damn, that hurts” he flies up and away and vanishes in mid-air. (Estevan puts his hands up before vanishing into the woods.) Sioned looks up at Alruna and tells her she’s okay now, but could use a ride. As Alruna stays she can feel Divine Power blazing through the feather and into her, the feather seems to get more “real” over time. (almost like it’s larger, heavier, denser, except that it’s not) Clasping hands with Sioned Alruna decides it is time to return. There is a thunderous flutter of black wings, and a feathery touch, and the forest is once again empty.

Back in the yard everyone is surprised as Sioned appears, standing over Alruna, armed, armored, sword in hand, and bloodied. For her part Alruna sits up, recovering consciousness now that her spirit has returned.

Simkins does not take to Sioned, whom he clearly considers flighty and prone to improvising things as she goes. He doesn’t like the sounds of her mysterious “employer” either, since she won’t give many details about them, not even naming Estevan nor the Consortium if I recall rightly. However, given what his friends have to say about her, he’ll grant that her desire to choose envoys and get moving is the right one. In the end it is decided: Sioned will lead the party out to seek Hestavar, Simkins will send Aeran with them to look after his interests, and Simkins will keep Wythe since he’ll want a wizard to help defend the valley. The settlers will contact the orc tribes to help scout the badlands, then they’ll take the materials for Erathis’s church and use them to build up a defensible position, while they do so the non-combatants will try to move south ahead of the horde, the hope is that they can hold out long enough for Erathis’s forces to relieve them.

Summoning Phantom Steeds and using the Traveler’s Chant Sioned immediately heads out, taking Wythe to open the shallowing to the Feywild.

On arrival in the Feywild the five heroes are attacked by fey guarding the passage from the World into the Feywild. Two dryads lead a pair of su monsters and a basilisk. The su monsters and basilisk fall, and the dryads end up negotiating peace with the party. Aliera and Mabh tell the party they are near to both the Labyrinth of Fathagn and the Sakbe of Kan Balaam. Sioned recognizes the Labyrinth, she knows it belongs to a fierce dryad queen and is rumored to have the First Tree at it’s heart, the Sakbe of Kan Balaam is not something she recognizes. (though Wythe told people he knew it was a great white road leading to a dark goblin city) Aliera warns Sioned not to trespass the Labyrinth lest she be slain by the guardians, but says that if they approach respectfully they may be able to treat with the druids there.

Heading towards the Labyrinth the party stops and pulls back at the first sign that the undergrowth is thickening and their path is appearing more clearly from the surrounding growth. Sioned knows that if she continues the undergrowth will turn into impenetrable walls stiffened by saplings, at which point everyone will be inevitably lost within the maze. The group spends almost an hour calling and waiting before an older human man will appear, he has a salt and pepper beard and calls himself Diarmuid. He asks their business and invites them to his hut to discuss it. He lives in a rough and simple wood cabin alongside a stream, he serves them simple food culled from the forest and fresh water. Diarmuid says that he knows of no portals in the area that they would wish to use, though he can get them into Mag Tureadh if they wish to try that dreadful place. (it is sure to have a portal to almost anywhere they want to go) The group says that’s not of interest to them and he sighs and asks them to wait while he finds a wiser head than his to ponder their needs.

Some hours later he returns to the cabin, walking alongside him is a magnificently beautiful woman. Or so she appears, as she draws near it becomes apparent she is a dryad of some sort. Diarmuid introduces the party to Surlief, handmaid to Queen Fathagn. Surlief says that she can’t offer the party any more ready route to The Land than through Mag Tureadh, but if they agree to send a merchant to her Queen with certain texts (that they will buy for a fair price) she can open a gate to either Astrazalian or Cendrianne for them.

Knowing that while Cendrianne almost certainly has plenty of portals to choose from it is also a dangerous city of ruins (from the Eladrin/Drow war) everyone agrees that Astrazalian is the better choice to start out from next. After all, if it’s the right season Astrazalian will actually be in The Land, which would make travel easy. And if Astrazalian is still in the Feywild, well, at least it’s a civilized place and will probably be easier to find a route out of than the deep wilds where they are now. Surlief casts a linked portal ritual, opening a gate to of of Astrazalian’s teleport circles. The party steps through the gate.

Five heroes emerge atop the ramparts of Astrazalian at the height of a Fomori-led assault on the walls of the city….

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Run 35 Rise of the PTC: Revelations Pt. I, "Grithka's Challenge"

Six weeks after Alruna’s near-death experience with “Consumption” she is finally getting back into shape. As she finishes her morning exercises, in full armor, Tara approaches her. Tara’s spent weeks nursing her back to health, and tells Alruna she wishes she wouldn’t head back out so soon, she’s sure she’ll meet her death out in the wilds some day. She wonders, quite pointedly, why Alruna doesn’t just find a good man and settle down. But since she isn’t she asks Alruna to help her out with a small problem . . . .

Out in one of the high pastures Robb is working with Rook, Pieter, and Wythe. As they head back in to the ranch for breakfast Robb asks the three if they could help him and Alisse with a small problem. Everyone knows Alisse is pregnant, just as everyone is pointedly not saying anything about how Alisse and Robb have only been together for a few months and the pregnancy is clearly late-term. Robb reveals that the child is assuredly Bart’s, as he raped Alisse several times, each when he and his boys would come into Wycliffe. Robb then surprised everyone by saying that he and Alisse do not want to bear an orc baby, and asks for Pieter’s help with this.

No one expects the truth that is revealed, by Alisse to Alruna and Robb to the rest. The race of child in this world is not determined by who it’s parents are, but is instead determined by the god who crafts that child’s soul. As most of the local gods craft orc souls, which is why the natives to the Upper Berare river valley are orcs, it’s certain the baby will be an orc. (or at least a half-orc) If two people are both possessors of a god’s soul, and both still worship that god, then a foreign god could craft the soul instead of a local god, but as Alisse is a human and Robb an eladrin this isn’t possible. But Alisse has a plan, if the group can’t get Erathis to craft her a soul, which Erathis can’t do, they can instead try to bring the spring rains early. If they can release the Thunderbird from Grithka’s control early it will fly across the land bringing the spring rains early, and while the Thunderbird soars overhead all the land it brings rain to is under Grithka’s dominion. As such Grithka could craft a soul for their baby, and she makes goliath souls instead of orc or half-orc ones.

The party is highly skeptical.

However Ol’ Man Simkins’ voice carries a more respectable weight. And when he chimes in that an early spring would do a world of good for the folk of the valley and their cattle the group agrees to try. No one really knows how to get Grithka to send out the Thunderbird early so Simkins gives Alruna and the other three a small herd of cattle and a bag of gold to use to try to bribe the goddess into helping them out by releasing the Thunderbird early. The journey to Grithka’s city is uneventful, and though there’s no road leading to it it lies off a tributary of the Berare and the way is at least not difficult.

The four heroes know they’ve reached Grithka’s land when they follow a rapids upwards and crest a low ridge leading into a valley. In the valley lied a large, green, lake. Surrounding the lake are miles and miles of fields, being industriously worked by people. And in the midst of the fields, and next to the lake, lies a great city. (call it 40-50 thousand people) The city shines with white adobe walls, and in it’s center is a complex of great pyramids. At the other end of the valley a great volcano rises up towards the clouds.

As they approach the city they are stopped by a patrol under the command of a noble man, Seven Mantis. The patrol asks their business, and then escorts them into the city. As they pass through the mass of people and commerce it is apparent that this city is very much alive and well. At the base of one of the four great pyramid-temples the noble hands them over to a priest and departs with his patrol to tend his lands again. The priest hears their mission and has them wait while he calls down Fourteen Water Turtle, a higher-ranking priest of Grithka.

Fourteen Water Turtle welcomes them in Grithka’s name, and (very formally) agrees to hear their words on her behalf. He does not refuse their offer of a sacrifice, but clearly can’t accept it either, and so tells them to depart and return the next morning with their offering. Unsure of what they’ve done wrong, but aware they chose the wrong thing to sacrifice, the group spends a night asking around as to what Grithka would like in sacrifice. They determine her favorite sacrifices are of food bought from the peasants and of service, in the form of time spent healing and caring for the poor. They then sell off the cattle in the market and buy as much produce and goods from the people there as they can, and the bearer’s to carry it to the temple as well.

The next morning goes much better. Fourteen Water Turtle is very pleased to accept their offer of healing services, from Pieter, and to accept the goods they offer in Grithka’s name as well. Leading them to the top of a low pyramid he leads the group in a prayer to Grithka, and conducts a ritual sacifice of a bit of food from each of the baskets that a long string of bearers carry up to the top of the pyramid. The party notices that the vast majority of the goods and food from the market make their way right back down the other side of the pyramid and into priestly buildings. (later they will also notice early morning crowds of the poor and hungry being given food and supplies from those same buildings, it is apparent Grithka cares about her people, or at least her priests do)

The sacrifice complete Fourteen Water Turtle leads the group down from the temple towards the Emperor’s Palace. There he reveals he is more than just a priest of Grithka as he blithely walks past guards who all defer to him. He stops, eventually, before an official and declares he wishes to speak with his nephew. The official brings him, and the party, into a golden audience chamber where they all can see the Emperor conducting business. After he finishes with his current task, mediating a conflict between two noble families, Fourteen Water Turtle brings the party to the front and introduces them to his nephew One Reed Wind, the Emperor. They tell One Reed Wind of their mission.

One Reed Wind cautions them that what they intend is very dangerous. But if they are determined he will do what he can to aid them. He says that if they wish to release the Thunderbird they shall have to enter the spirit-world. There they must travel from Grithka’s Temple into the depths of the earth seeking out the palace of Tenochpotetl The Fire Lord. If they can survive the journey The Fire Lord will challenge them, and if they have the courage and strength to meet his challenge he will release the Thunderbird to them, which will allow Grithka to let it fly free. Normally her greatest angel would make the journey, but as the angel’s strength waxes and wanes with the seasons it will not be strong enough to win the Thunderbird from The Fire Lord for many weeks to come. (which coincides with spring’s normal onset)

The next morning finds the party, Fourteen Water Turtle, One Reed Wind, and a host of other priests of Grithka’s atop the largest temple in the city. Atop the Temple of the Moon the group begins a sacred ritual designed to send the heroes into the spirit-world. Sacrifices are offered, and at the end of the ritual each of the heroes gives their blood to the flames of the sacrificial fire. As the smoke from their blood rises up, so to do they, pulled out of their bodies and translated into spirit.

In the spirit-world the party finds itself atop a vast pyramid. Below them vast fields of people stretch forth, covering the valley floor. It is then that they notice the figure of a magnificently beautiful woman, turned away from them observing the fields. As they say that she must be aware of them she turns and says that indeed she is. Grithka asks them if they are certain of their task. She asks why they would do this thing, and seems disinclined to help them until they mention that they are doing it for a young woman and her child’s soul. After hearing that she takes pity upon Alisse and agrees to give her a soul from her fields if Pieter can indeed get her brother The Fire Lord to release the Thunderbird early. With a dizzying change of perspective the Temple of the Moon becomes the volcano Popochtepatl, and with that change the party can now see a dark tunnel leading down into the heart of the volcano. With Grithka standing watch over the entrance they descend into the earth.

Descending downwards they pass through tunnels and caverns, the air gets warmer and warmer as they descend. Soon caverns begin to show the heat, pools of lava begin to appear. Entering into one particular cavern, where lava pools line the walls and a stream of lava falls from the ceiling to form another pool, they are assaulted by fiery beasts and demons. Defeating them they continue downwards, eventually entering a vast cavern. In the center of the cavern they can see a magnificent palace, surrounded by a lake of lava. At the lake’s edge there is a great gate, think Shinto temple-gate, over a path leading to the bridge over the lake. At the gate stands a great fiery angel, and extending away, along the lake-side, is a legion of angels. The party informs the angel of their purpose, and it allows them to pass onwards to The Fire Lord’s palace.

Inside the palace they, eventually, find The Fire Lord himself. He sits atop a great golden throne, with a wall of fire between him and any petitioners. He hears their petition, and says that if they wish it he will gift them the Thunderbird, but he will test their courage and skill first to be sure they are worthy. Everyone agrees, and he summons up fire elementals and fiery archons to assault them.

The fight itself is anti-climactic. By drinking potions of fire resistance the party neutralizes the strengths of the fiery challengers. The archons hold out for a while, and one spars with Alruna for most of the fight. But nothing they or the elementals do can seriously hurt the party.

(note that this is actually the break-point for the game-session. the rest of this story actually takes place during the first part of the session the following week but will be included here to make the story easier to follow)

After defeating the challenge The Fire Lord applauds the heroes, not mockingly but very seriously. He commends their spirit, most mortals lack the courage to confront gods in their own homes, and he says that he will honor his words as their courage has honored him. With a wave of his hand a great metal pillar grows out the floor, and turns into a large, golden, cage. Within waits a great bird made of flames and black smoke. The Fire Lord vanishes, leaving the party with the Thunderbird.

They speak to it, explaining their purpose, and then release it from the cage. There is a tangible feel of raw power as it sweeps out of the palace on fiery wings of smoke.

Returning to the surface the party finds Grithka still standing guard over the entrance to her brother’s realm. On her shoulder the Thunderbird sits, impatiently given how it shifts around and startles. Grithka says the Thunderbird must gain strength before it can fly forth, and with a great scream it leaps from her shoulder into the air. It ascends to circle above the volcano, where a dark cloud forms, lightning flickering within it.

Grithka then says one more thing before returning the heroes to their mortal bodies. She offers that if “their goddess” (Erathis) does intend to come to this world that she (Grithka) will offer friendship to her. Grithka further says that if Erathis wishes she will teach her the secret of soul-crafting, but that Erathis must send a messenger of greater strength to carry the secret to her, for it would destroy any mortal to whom it is imparted.

As Wythe, Alruna, and Rook vanish from the spirit-world she bends down to Pieter and says that now “I will take my price for what you wish” and leaning in towards him she kisses him. Though it’s brief it’s quite memorable. With that he too vanishes from the spirit-world. The four questers awake atop the pyramid to discover the day is mostly gone despite only an hour or so appearing to have passed in the spirit-world. The next day they spend recovering, and healing the needy.

Before they depart a runner finds them on their way out of the city and begs that they come attend upon his mistress, a noble lady named Three Rabbit. The group agrees and finds themselves awaiting her in a comfortable garden courtyard at her house. Three Rabbit is an elderly woman who also happens to be an oracle, and when she appears she tells Pieter she must tell him of her recent vision. Three Rabbit speaks of an oncoming flood, and of how dangerous it is. She says she has seen a great shrine, carried upon the backs of slaves, and knows it is drawing near the Berare river valley. She warns them again of the danger, but has nothing else to offer beyond those words and her vision. Pieter thanks her, and the group departs the city to return to the Simkins’ ranch.

At the ranch there is much rejoicing. In fact the news of an early spring is so good that the folk of the valley gather together at the Simkins’ ranch for a good old-fashioned shindig. There’s music, dancing, lots of drinking, good food, and a lot of match-making.

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Run 34 Rise of the PTC: Revelations Pt. I, "A Fun Guy from Yuggoth, Pt. II"

The session opens with Alruna standing near a sick-bed, which is being attended by Tara and Melissande. As she approaches she discovers that the person dying abed is herself, and she’s a spirit. She proves to be trapped, tethered to her body by an invisible force. As Alruna’s body begins dying she sees a light from “above”, and soon is joined by Akasha. Akasha mentions something about this being the second time she’s come for Alruna, but the conversation mostly centers around a deal she offers Alruna. She tells Alruna that her friends, who are trying to save her, are in grave danger and are likely to die soon. But she offers Alruna a blessing from the Raven Queen, the power to send her spirit to aid anyone who calls upon her name if she wishes to. There is a price, a soul needs to be given to the Raven Queen. Akasha is clear it’s not Alruna’s soul, nor anyone she knows, but is also honest about it being the soul of an innocent. In order to serve her god, Erathis, and the charge to protect Pieter, and the larger goal of expanding into this world, Alruna agrees. Somewhere in Port Liberty a young death-cultist of the Raven Queen, and a young mother, does something unspeakable and Alruna feels a wash of divine power enter her, imbuing her with the power to escape even Death Itself for a time when she is called by those in need. She knows it will work but three times, Akasha warns her the magic to use it more than that would burn out her mortal soul.

Deep in the depths of the earth four heroes desperately battle against abominations and a great black pudding, they are failing. Akasha whispers in Wythe’s ear, “If you would live, call to her.” Wythe calls out to Erathis, who does not answer. Akasha whispers to Rook, “If you would live, call to Her.” Rook does not, death is no stranger to him. Akasha whispers to Pieter, “If you would live, Call To Her!” Pieter calls out to Alruna and Erathis to aid him. And though he chooses the wrong god to call to, his call is not unheard by Alruna’s spirit. (now nearly taken by the Raven Queen)

There is a blaze of radiance that fills the grotto deep beneath the earth where four heroes battle desperately. In that blaze of light Alruna appears, shining bright radiance around the whole cavern. She engages a destrachan, keeping it from continuing to blast the heroes. Even with the “angelic” aid of Alruna the battle is tremendously difficult. Many people are engulfed by the black pudding. Wythe and Aeran are both knocked unconscious. And everyone is so damaged that without Pieter’s consecrated ground it is certain the foul abominations would have won. When the fight is gone the vision of Alruna vanishes, leaving our heroes in darkness.

Back at the Simkin’s ranch Alruna seems to have fought death off for a time, her body survives the coughing fit and lies more peacefully. (though it seems as if she’s become weaker since Alruna’s spirit can now wander farther from her body before being pulled back) Akasha is still there, and shows Alruna a vision of her companions descending further, seeking Yuggoth’s shrine. The vision expands outward and she can see them approaching a kingdom of myconids. She has Akasha whisper guidance in Rook’s ear that helps the party avoid the myconid patrols guarding their kingdom. But in the end the heroes must pass one of the guard-posts, Rook charges it leading a successful battle, though Pieter fails to catch an escaping guard. Aeran then sets up an ambush point from which the party destroys the reinforcements summoned to help the guard-post. Wythe uses his magic to shield the party from the onslaught of Yuggoth’s thoughts, and with Alruna and Akasha’s guidance they proceed further towards the shrine. There is a massive battle in which they barely manage to split the myconid army’s lines, after which the survivors flee into the darkness as the party decimates the myconids.

Entering into a massive cavern the four heroes finally approach the Shrine of Yuggoth. As they approach the oddly organic-feeling shrine an Angel of Valor appears to challenge them. “Be Thou Afraid oh invaders. And then Be Thou Dead,” the angel intones. At it’s words a pair of shambling mounds rise from the fungi covering the floor and beetles swarm together to attack the heroes, lastly, but not least, a host of angelic legions arises.

The angelic legions charge the group. The Angel of Valor rises on wings of black power to fly above the battle, seeking the leader of these invaders. Aeran is bloodied in a single attack from one of the horrible shambling mounds of fungi and vegetation, which then pulls him inside itself so it can feed on him. The swarm advances, and the angelic hosts charge Pieter. It is at this point that Alruna finally decides to enter the battle, after ignoring several pleas for aid. The Angel of Valor then leads the hosts against Pieter, and despite Alruna’s aid the party is pushed back again and again. In desperation, surrounded by enemies, Wythe drops a Winter’s Wrath at his own feet, hoping to catch some of the angels in the blast. He is more successful than he dreamed even his nightmares (as he crits himself). But in the end the Yuggoth’s defenders fall.

After Alruna disappears the party takes a desperately needed rest during which Crazy Horse appears, it seems he’s been following them. It turns out that his “crazy” is uniquely tailored to act as a conduit between humanoid thought and the remarkably alien thoughts of Yuggoth. With him as a translator the group threatens to destroy Yuggoth’s shrine if he does not release Alruna from his power, and if he does they will depart peacefully. Crazy Horse tells them Yuggoth agrees to the bargain.

Back at the ranch grandma is beating off the injuns . . . .. I mean, Alruna sees the end of the affair in Yuggoth’s shrine before Akasha departs and her world turns to black as her spirit is reclaimed by her, disease-ravaged, body. She wakes, but it terribly weakened and barely alive. It will be weeks of healing, followed by more weeks of hard work, before she can possibly be in shape for anything strenuous like combat or adventuring.

Thus endeth the tale.

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Run 33 Rise of the PTC: Revelations Pt. I, "A Fun Guy from Yuggoth"

The story begins with the drive being sold off in Kanda City. Simkins pays everyone off, and gives them a few days to waste while he gets a wagon train of supplies for the folks on the Upper Berare river together. Rook spends the time drinking, the rest stay out of trouble. Robb asks for some advice about himself and Alise and is told (by pretty much everyone) “Man up boy, life’s hard and you have to make choices, so make the decision. In the end Robb convinces Alise to join him and his mother in moving to the Berare River valley, Mel has decided to go work for the Simkin’s ranch.

The wagon train arrives without event, several days pass as it’s unloaded and people head to their homesteads.

Once things stabilize a bit life begins in earnest. Simkins and his folks begin looking into their herds, and into where to raise a church to Erathis. (as he’d sworn, and he doesn’t break his word) One day, while working a herd in a valley up in the hills, the group discovers that the cows in this herd are looking sickly. Some investigation reveals that many have died recently, from lung diseases. The whole valley seems to be sprouting up fungi in various forms. As everyone begins rounding up the cattle to drive them to another valley Alruna is struck by a falling bit of rot as she passes under a tree. She falls from her horse, which soon keels over and dies. Alruna tries to get to her feet a few times before collapsing, and then passes out while trying to crawl out from under the trees. Aeran succeeds in lassoing her shield and the group pulls her out into the open. Pieter checks her over and discovers that she seems to be dying from a long-term lung infection, like the cattle. It looks like she’s been infected for months, clearly a supernatural agency has been involved. Some spellcraft reveals that a divine miracle has taken place, but nothing more is found about what happened.

Returning with Alruna, who is put under Mel and Tara Simkins’ care. (Tara is Dar’n Simkins sister-in-law and is an old hatchet of a woman who runs the ranch with an Iron Fist that even Dar’n himself won’t buck.) In an outlying field they find Boss Simkins and ask for his advice. Dar’n tells them it sounds like Alruna has run foul of “Ol’ Yuggie”, one of the local gods. He doesn’t have much to say about Yuggoth except to note that he’s popular with the young, and is old enough that he mostly sleeps a lot. He does say they could find Crazy Horse and ask him, and directs them upriver if they want to find him.

Heading up the Berare Pieter asks at each homestead he comes across about Crazy Horse. At Jeb’s ranch they finally put together a story. Many years ago a dwarf from the old world arrived, with his wife. When Roj Baker’s wife was killed he abandoned his life and lands. Wandering the hills Roj came to believe in, and worship Yuggoth. He went native, taking a native wife, and changing his name to Crazy Horse. Over the years since then he’s wandered the local area acting as a priest of Yuggoth and generally being a crazy hermit. He doesn’t know where he is now, but says that if they head NE of the Berare into the hills they might be able to find Crazy Horse’s home.

Wythe confirms that there’s something magical going on to the NE of Jeb’s place, across the river, that seems to be affecting the weather in a broad way and is divine in nature. Pieter leads the group into the winding box canyons and valleys in the hills seeking for a good hill from which to look out for sign of Crazy Horse. Rook does some mountain climbing to set pitons and ropes in place, because heavily armored people don’t get to the tops of hills without help. And once atop a few hills Aeran and the group try to spot signs of humanoid habitation. Off in a distant valley they see a trickle of smoke rising into the sky.

Entering the valley in question after a few hours hiking they spot a sod cabin at the other end, near a pond. Around the house are ritually butchered carcasses, skeletons hung up, and plenty of evidence that the inhabitant seriously nuts. The valley itself seems to harbor a prolific amount of fungus as well. As they approach the cabin a crazy dwarf, entirely naked, with one blind eye, wielding a staff comes out to confront them.

Crazy Horse proves to live up to his name. He’s bugger-nuts crazy, drifting in and out of reality, and is completely incapable of a coherent conversation. It seems he’s been eating the “magic mushrooms” a bit too much. Due to some insightful analysis of the fractured conversations he has by Wythe the group figures out more about Yuggoth and learn an ancient tale that may help them out.

Many years before Roj Baker became Crazy Horse there was an Indian maid who was taken by Yuggoth, just as Alruna was. Her beloved, a formidable brave, set forth from his tribe to seek Yuggoth’s shrine so that he could bargain for her life. Once there the brave was cast aside by Yuggoth for he had nothing of value to the Fungal Lord. Unwilling to relinquish his intended bride the brave then killed everyone in the shrine, he then held Yuggoth to ransom threatening to violate (or even destroy) his shrine unless he released the Indian maid. Yuggoth relented, and the on returning to his tribe the brave found the maid had been healed.

There is a good bit of lying involved in getting Crazy Horse to reveal where the shrine is. He’s not about to betray his god, but by convincing him they are pilgrims going with him to the shrine the group manages to get him to divulge the location. They are warned that it’s very dangerous, there are the Children of Yuggoth who guard the entrance. Within lie the abhomination-filled perils of the underearth, and deep below the Shrine of Yuggoth lies within a kingdom of fungi. When Crazy Horse heads into his cabin to get some things for the pilgrimage the group bolts, leaving him behind.

After more travel they find the valley Crazy Horse has directed them too and begin searching for the entrance to the shrine. They are unsuccessful in concealing their search and are attacked by a band of troglodytes (Yuggoth’s Children). The fight is quite nasty, and though they do slay some warriors and a shaman they only succeed in driving off the troglodyte javelineers, who retreat to play Adam and Eve for their Fungal God. Inside the group finds a lapis lazuli, crudely carved, fetish of Yuggoth, which is worth 500 gp to anyone who buys lapis. They also find a tunnel leading further down.

Below the entrance cave the tunnel quickly breaks into a meshing network of tunnels and caverns the group must search. Some time and effort are put into the search. Soon enough the party runs into trouble, as they enter a cavern they see (and are seen by) several horrors. A fierce black ooze squidges out of a glowing pool to attack and bottle them up while a displacer beast and a destrachan attack from range. Two alpha gricks also move to engage. Despite petrifying the ooze and one of the gricks for a time, and despite a brilliant blow by Aeran that practically kills the displacer beast, the fight is very dangerous. Many people are bloodied, healing words are used, and most of the enemy is still standing, and are in fine shape.

Deep below the surface-dwellers things look quite bleak for our heroes. The Raven Queen seems to be drawing near . . .. .

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Run 32 Rise of the PTC: Drive To the Railhead Pt. IV, "Showdown in Wycliffe"

The session begins with Pieter, back in the chuck-wagon w. Melissande and the drive. He is terribly fevered, and delerious, but is driven to consciousness by the voice of Erathis speaking in his head. She urges him north, immediately, saying if he does not hurry Wycliffe will surely perish. Despite opposition from Simkins and Melissande Pieter mounts up and rides north, swaying in his saddle. The next several days are a blur. Exhaustion, divine will driving him onwards, and visions of a vicious cavalry officer all combine such that Pieter recalls little as he rides down a valley towards a small town. All he can recall well is that this is the town in his visions, and that if he doesn’t warn his companions that the Oni Mage Davakara (summoned with an evil scroll by Vailor) is coming as an assassin in the night they shall all surely die, and Wycliffe with them. He stumbles off his horse and up some stairs in the building he’s been shown by Erathis.

The party wakes to Pieter pounding on their doors. Just in time as Davakara, disguised as Mary, appears at the top of the stairs and blasts most of them with lightning before retreating downstairs. Alruna charges after her, clad only in nightclothes, bearing sword and shield. Aeran and Rook are close behind. In common room of Mary’s a battle of wait and watch begins, some blows are exchanged before Davakara pulls back to the street. Outside, in the street, the battle resumes for a few more swings. But once bloodied Davakara declares “I haven’t been paid enough by Vailor to die for him. You’ve won safety from me this time.” He bows as he rises into the air and vanishes.

Pieter is given some critical help in tending his wounds and the disease that’s been ravaging him. The fever drops enough that he is no longer dazed all the time, and when told of the situation he begins preparing for battle.

The first of the Roughriders to arrive is Captain Viridian, sent ahead by Col. Vailor for a sneak attack on the town after he found his own point force was wiped out. Viridian charges into town and towards Alruna who is standing in the center of Main Street waiting for him. He then sees a third of his force fall prey to the trap the townfolk have dug. He leaps the pit to spar with Alruna, several of his Roughriders try to leap the pit but fail and fall into the pit or are thrown from their horses when the horses balk. His sergeant begins shooting the party with deadly-accurate poisoned crossbow fire. The party attacks, and calls the townfolk atop the roofs to join in firing down on the Roughriders. In the end Viridian dies, and most of his troops with him, the sergeant and a few riders escape to return to the Colonel.

The main force of Roughriders sets up an HQ atop a low hill a few miles from town. From there the Colonel directs units of men to begin burning the fields and the outlying buildings. In the town the villagers begin to despair. The party considers briefly, then waits for a time when the detached units are too far from the Colonel to support him. They come charging out of Wycliffe, heading straight for Col. Vailor and his HQ. Seeing he can’t call back forces before they get to him the Col. detaches his sergeant and troops to attack the five as he takes his headquarters company into the field. He uses bugle calls to direct some of the detached units to unite with his headquarters.

The sergeant and his unit rapidly close with the five heroes charging out from Wycliffe. The skirmish turns nasty as he directs sub-groups of Roughriders to deal with each hero. He uses his net to restrain Alruna, leaving her tied up with Roughriders. Wythe runs into some trouble as a quartet of riders surround him, he is forced to teleport off his mount to take shelter near Rook. But in the end the Roughriders don’t have the strength to stand against their opponents, and the sergeant perishes soon after all his men are down. A few minutes to catch their breath reveal to the heroes the tactical situation.

Col. Vailor has taken his reformed headquarters into the town center and is raising hell. Robb and Luke are both leading forces of town-folk fighting units of Roughriders who have charged in at the Colonel’s command (damn bugle-calls), one on each side of the town. As they watch Luke falls trying to turn the tide as his town-folk’s battle-line begins to collapse against the bandit’s pressure. Robb has left his unit and is charging to the town-center to face Colonel Vailor. Realizing the moment in which the battle is decided has come the party charges the town-center!

As the five charge into town they find themselves facing the same trap Capt. Viridian had been up against. To them it proves less of an obstacle. The Colonel and his berserker bodyguards prove quite vicious and, with support from other Roughriders, do some serious damage to Alruna and Wythe. Neither Rook nor Aeran escape the enemies notice. Pieter is forced into summoning his healing spirit lest the battle be lost. But after the Roughriders are mostly downed the berserkers fall. Once the berserkers are down it soon comes down to Colonel Vailor standing alone. Golden hair waving in the wind, having lost his cavalry hat, Vailor refuses to die. He swings at everyone around him, but in the end is brought down by the combined strength of his enemies. He dies in the middle of Main St., Wycliffe, his story ended. Robb on the other hand does not die, he lies unconscious, critically wounded by the Colonel. But is saved from death, to spend a few days recovering in the company of Alise.

The folks of Wycliffe rejoice and celebrate, after fixing up things a bit. Several days pass as Pieter recovers in a sick bed. Magic items are found. Eventually Simkins and the drive will arrive. Picking up their wounded Simkins and his men will proceed onwards to the lightning rail. There they summon engines and cattle-cars to take the herd to Kanda City, where Boss Simkins will sell it. He pays out everyone absolutely fairly. Herd owners get the value of their herds, less the cattle contributed to paying for the drive, everyone else gets an equal share of the contribution. Shares are set aside for the family of those who died on the Drive to the Railhead.

Thus endeth the story.

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Run 31 Rise of the PTC: Drive To the Railhead Pt. III, "Trouble in Wycliffe"

The drive continues on up the Rioja and after several more weeks crosses over the Taloq river where it joins the Rioja.

Pieter takes ill and is confined to the chuck-wagon to recover from his fevered state. Surrounded by Mistress Mel’s trio of young girls, and beside a fairly unhappy baby, this is either domestic bliss or the purest torture conceivable depending on how you feel about such things. Either way, it’s memorable, even through fever-dreams.

Boss Simkins gathers the drive up and explains that he’s going to send some scouts ahead. He’s heard that there may be an easier pass to use to get to Fort Lamarre. It’s further up the Rioja than Jonner’s Pass, the regular route for the drive, but if it’s easier on the cattle it’ll easily be worth it. He details Jeb and Aeran to each take a handful of men, “and you too Miss Alruna if’n you don’t mind,” and ride out ahead of the drive. They’ll reach the split in a week or so, and each should take their boys to scout the various routes. If they return to the split in three weeks they should arrive about the same time the drive will, and Simkins can then choose the best route.

Jeb and Aeran split ways at Jonner’s Pass. A coin-flip has Jeb and his boys riding Jonner’s Pass to scout it for the drive while Aeran is to scout further up the Rioja for the rumored better route to Fort Lamarre. A few days later another split takes place as Aeran, Wythe, and Robb go to investigate a possible pass while Alruna and Rook ride a bit further along the Rioja, the two groups will re-unite in a few hours, around high-noon.

The trio rides over a low pass between two hills and find the landscape rapidly changing around them. Whereas most of the Rioja river-valley is scrub and low brush over the pass there is a well-watered valley that opens up before them. It stretches away to the northeast, towards Ft. Lamarre, and has green grass and an easy route for the cattle. Near a small lake in the center of the valley is a small village.

As they ride into the village of Wycliffe they notice two unusual things. First, despite the well-tended fields around the town the town itself appears quite poor. Second, as they approach most of the (thin and hungry-looking) villagers clear the streets pulling children off them and into their houses. As they ride into the center of town Old Man Terl steps out into the middle of the street to talk to them. He determines they aren’t bandits, and welcomes them to have a drink or two before moving on. The four men head indoors entering Mary’s the local saloon.

Mary gets Wythe a whiskey, and Aeran a local beer as they chat with Old Man Terl. Robb asks Wythe for the coins to get a drink, and when refused goes outside to tend to the horses. Aeran and Wythe get the feeling something’s amiss, but Terl ain’t telling and Wythe’s gut-instincts tell him it’s from fear of something so neither push the issue. Terl does tell them that Jonner’s Pass is now dangerous territory, and that the Federal Lightning Rail is working to push a spur from Ft. Lamarre to the Rioja that will pass through Wycliffe.

As folk talk with Old Man Terl, asking for more details about the rail, there is the sound of a female scream from outside. It is followed by another scream, and a male bellow of rage. Aeran races to the front window and finds that he can’t see Robb, and that the streets have been cleared of folk again, continued screams from an alley beyond indicate something bad is up. Wythe and Aeran race outside and around the corner to see what is happening, they see a girl screaming in fear and between them and the girl is the silhouette of Robb with a bloody Bowie-knife in one hand standing up from the body of another man on the ground. Before anyone can begin questioning what’s happened the girl flings herself into Robb’s arms and begins sobbing frantically.

Rook turns back down the Rioja to rejoin Aeran, Wythe, and Robb. Alruna says she’ll be right behind him, she just needs to check out one more possible pass away from the river. Riding on he heads up the pass and down into Wycliffe. As he rides into town he discovers a commotion; Aeran seems to be trying to keep a crowd of townfolk back from Wythe and Robb, who is comforting a sobbing town-girl.

Robb claims he was just relaxing in the shade when he first met Alise (eh-LEES-ah), the local girl, as she walked by Mary’s. The two got to talking and discovered they had several things in common despite him being eladrin and she a human. Some time later a man rode into town and began pestering Alise. When he pulled her into an alley and Robb heard her scream he ran to her aid. The man drew on him, and Robb defended himself. Robb says he didn’t mean to kill him, “but I couldn’t let him hurt Alise, so I tried to stab him in the leg, but in the heat of the fight I missed.” Robb’s knife went cleanly into the man’s chest, killing him almost instantly. Alise backs Robb’s story 100% as Robb falls to his knees and vomits up everything he’s eaten over the past few days, or at least it feels that way to Robb. (first kill nerves you know)

The town panics. The man turns out to be Bart Lassur, a bandit riding with Colonel Vailor’s Roughriders. The unit went bandit after the Alliance failed to win the war and their home state joined the Federation. Currently the Roughriders have become a band of vicious bandits who’ve been terrorizing the local towns, after taking all their weapons so that no one can resist them. Bart’s brother Jark Lassur, and his boys, are certain to be coming to town soon. A local pointing across the valley to the north says he just saw a group of men riding down into the valley, there’s at most a few hours before they arrive. Aeran, Wythe, and Rook plan an ambush in town. They order Robb to wait in Mary’s Saloon so that if the bandits win at least someone will survive to warn Boss Simkins.

Alruna discovers, as she expected, that what looked like a pass between two hills turns out to be far too difficult terrain for a cattle drive and turns back to rejoin the crew. Riding along the Rioja she turns off to head up the pass towards Wycliffe. As she rides into town she sees eight men on horses hooting and hollering and causing trouble on the town’s main street. She notices a woman slam shutters closed on a second-floor window, and a small boy peering out from behind curtains. As she begins to suspect something is up she sees Rook hiding behind a building corner. As the high-noon’s sun blazes, baking the small town, she gets the feeling there’s Trouble In Wycliffe. (the soundtrack plays music apropos to a high-noon showdown on Main St.)

Robb bursts out of Mary’s Saloon to warn Alruna, and the fight begins.

Jark Lassur charges Alruna while his bandits and a slaver tangle with the rest of Aeran’s crew. After a few bandits go down Jark leaves Alruna off to try to help his men, to no avail. In the end he declares he’ll try to hold ‘em off and orders his second-in-command to retreat and warn the Colonel. The slaver nearly escapes, but Wythe’s stinking cloud brings his horse down, thus ending his attempted escape.

As the town undertaker begins fitting the corpses for coffins the town panics. Col. Vailor is now certain to kill them all, and he’s due in town in a few days to collect their “tribute.”

The group convinces the men of Wycliffe to take up the weapons they have gotten from Bart and Jark’s men. The others arm themselves with pitchforks and home-made spears. Under Wythe’s leadership they start fortifying the town, setting traps for horses and blocking off routes of approach. Aeran begins training the villagers to fight together with what weapons they have. Alruna determines there’s no good points in the hills to position scouts while Robb gets bandages and healing supplies together and organizes the women and children of the town to help heal the wounded when the battle comes. Rook thinks over how past similar battles have gone and determines there is a real need for scouting, an essential need. So Aeran takes to the hills and finds some good hiding places where scouts can observe the approaches to the valley but still be able to retreat unseen to warn everyone of what they find.

Days pass in a montage of preparation.

One evening, after an exhausting day of work, a scout comes racing into Mary’s Saloon. He tells everyone that he’s seen the main force of the Roughriders, they’re approaching from the north. He says the main force is camped about a half-day’s ride up the next valley, but that they’ve broken off a scouting force of a dozen or so men who are mere hours away from Wycliffe. Wythe and Aeran both agree that taking out the scouts now, while they’re separated, is clearly the right answer and the four (leaving Robb behind in Wycliffe) set off for a fight.

They try sneaking up on the bandits, but one of them spots Rook as he creeps towards the camp and combat ensues. The group’s mage is one of the first casualties, targeted strongly by Rook. Their leader directs the rest of the outlaws, but falls to Aeran’s blade. Two javelineers try to take out Wythe, but fail. The rest of the men go down fairly quickly once everyone else is dead.

Returning to town everyone finds that they’ve been joined by one of Jeb’s boys. Luke says that he and Jeb encounterd bandits in Jonner’s Pass. Though they lost Bar and Natch, the rest escaped the bandits. Jeb and Quexchil, the sole Mixtec (the hobgoblin empire to the south) are riding hell-bent for the drive to warn Boss Simkins. Jeb sent Luke on to warn Aeran about the bandits.

So now there are six, count them, Six heroes to defend Wycliffe. I wonder where the Seventh “Samurai” could be . . . ..

The only thing anyone knows for certain is that the coming dawn will bring the bandit onslaught.

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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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Run 29, Rise of the PTC: Drive To the Railhead, Pt. I, "Plague at Laredo"

Pieter and Alruna are split from the party and cast adrift after the ship everyone is aboard is wrecked in a storm. As they drift they are visited by an, un-named, angel with white and salmon colored wings. The angel tells them to swim towards the sun, then to follow the pole-star from an oasis they will find. The angel also admonishes them for having freed Prince Balaam, but tells them forgiveness will be theirs from Erathis should they save “one town and one soul”, each. A vision is shown them of Boss Simkins at the start of his cattle-drive, he swears an oath that since none of the gods he knows will help him he’ll build a shrine to any god that will. They follow the angels instructions and come ashore, find the oasis, follow the pole-star into the desert, and pass through a shallowing to the Feywild they find hidden within a cave they come across.

Rook is pulled beneath the waves along with the stern of the ship after it breaks up. He and the wreckage are seized by a kraken and pulled further down, he then drowns.

Wythe, an eladrin wizard on the run from himself, has finally managed to find a nicely isolated spot to live out his life. He’s found two shallowings that lead to The World, and one day sees a pair of humans stumble out of one of them. After some conversation with them it’s apparent to him that Erathis has not let him go free, at least not yet. The three agree that divine providence is clearly at work, and take the other shallowing back to The World. (as it happens this second shallowing leads not to the world of the Earth Kingdom and the Caliph Al Raschaid but instead to the world of “Carta”, the world of the Crimson Port, the Maelgrimm Empire, and Port Liberty)

They emerge atop a pass between two peaks, below they can see a massive cattle-drive moving alongside a river, beyond the pass is a valley, they decide to approach the cattle-drive. Heading down they find an off-shoot path leading away from the river. At the crossroads is a dead horse, shot through with massive arrows, and a dying Pony Express rider. Nearby him is Rook’s body.

In darkness Rook wakes, he finds himself speaking again with Akasha, the Exarch of the Raven Queen. She talks with him for a bit about how his life has been led this time around, then tells him the Lady has decided to send him back for another try, again. As his vision grays, and he collapses like a corpse to the ground, she bends down and whispers in his ear, “As always, it must be a life for a life.”

Pieter fights desperately to save the life of the Pony Express rider. He’s terribly fevered from a massive compound fracture of his leg and the resulting infection. As he works the rider suddenly dies, just as Rook gasps in pain and sits straight up. Rook notices a small, black, raven’s feather fall from his chest as he sits up and quietly pockets it. Some introductions ensue.

As the group begins to question what’s happening here a group of five men from the cattle drive ride up. Initially things are quite hostile as it looks like the group has just murdered a Pony Express rider, but after seeing the actual situation is quite different the two work together to examine the scene.

It seems the rider was going as fast as he could for the “town” of Laredo, a small mining village not more than a few day’s journey away. Letters indicate that Laredo is in the grip of a fierce plague, Red Spotted Fever, and that they sent to a healer priest of Graahk for aid. The rider was returning with the components to finish a ritual, a ritual to produce a cure to the fever.

The leader of the riders, Jeb, is pleased when Pieter says he’d like to meet the leader of the drive since he was going to have to bring them in anyway and this way there won’t be a fight. At the tail end of the drive Jeb brings them to the chuck-wagon where they meet with Boss Simkins. Simkins is a tall, whipcord-thin, salt-and-pepper haired, grizzled man with a grip as hard as steel, though he doesn’t crush the hands of folks who will shake his hand. He’s a hard man, but on hearing Jeb’s tale, and Pieter’s desire to join him, says that “As I lost some boys recently” he’ll take Pieter and his crew on. He warns them the work is hard, and the trail long, and payday isn’t until they reach the railhead and sell the cattle, but that he’s a fair man and will pay them fairly for their work. Everyone agrees.

For their first job Simkins tells them to talk to “Cookie”, a half-elf named Aerun, who will set them up with horses and gear they’re lacking. Once they’re set they’re to take the medicine to Laredo and then return. He says to ride the horses until they die if that’s what it takes, “But save that town, folk what don’t stick together out here don’t survive and I’ll not have Laredo’s dead on my conscience. After that’s done ride on back, you should catch us up in a few days, I won’t drive my cattle more than 15 miles a day if I can help it. brief pause Well, what are you still doing here, get moving!”

Kitted out by Aerun the party rides for Laredo.

Rook takes a spare moment when no one is watching to examine the feather and determines that it’s very definitely divine magic, but that it seems to be waiting for something, like it has a purpose….

Along the trail to Laredo they are ambushed by a party of orc braves. Sporting war-paint and bows, to go with their obsidian axes, the braves aren’t quite good enough to surprise the party. Arrows fly before the two sides clash together. The lead brave, an orc blood-rager, nearly downs Wythe. But in the end the party defeats the war-party and moves on.

Later that same day they crest a ridge only to see a huge “indian” camp in the valley below them. It rests alongside a small lake. Several parties of braves charge the group to test their courage, but won’t attack while near their camp. Pieter’s group is stopped outside the camp by a line of braves and their chief. Chief Red Bear doesn’t speak common, and no one in the group speaks Giant, so for a time nothing happens. After a while a half-orc “slave” appears and translates Red Bear’s words for the group. The two sides agree to be friends, for now. But while the Chief will offer them the hospitality of the camp he is reticent to send them on towards Laredo as they seem unsuited for such travels, the group succeeds in convincing him otherwise.

The night passes uneventfully as the group succeeds in intimidating one group of challengers and being diplomatic with another group, and chooses correctly which group to do what to. Early the next morning they leave the indian camp, heading for Laredo.

The trail to Laredo rapidly becomes extremely difficult. There are navigational obstacles, it’s exhausting, and it nearly lames one of the horses though Pieter is able to save it’s leg by walking it the last bit of the trip.

Laredo proves to be an, apparently, empty walled village of 30 or 40 buildings. The gate is closed. Some hollering produces a badly weakened young man named Jarit who warns them to “go away, there’s Red Spotted Fever here, we’re all as good as dead since no medicine has come yet”. The group convinces him to let them in anyway after explaining their mission to him.

Jarit takes them to the house of Leria, the local healer. Leria is infected and is delirious with fever, and is the only source of knowledge about how to transform the herbs and powders from Graahk into the medicine needed to fight the fever. Pieter cools her down with his healing knowledge, and the rest manage to decipher her rantings enough to realize that the process for the medicine can be found in her house. They toss the place in an intense search until they find letters and a book that help them figure out the right ritual.

After finishing the medicine, which is very volatile, they begin curing the villagers. Alas about a quarter of the villagers have suffered permanent brain and nerve damage, leaving them practically vegetative, and death from Red Spotted Fever is brutally nasty. It burns out your nerves in a remarkably painful way and then kills you by turning your lungs into bloody clots that you cough up until you die.

Rook acts on a hunch and puts the Feather of the Raven Queen upon a dying young woman’s forehead. In his head he hears an old woman’s voice whisper, “It must be wakened with a death.” He draws his dagger and gives the woman mercy, plunging it into her heart in a swift blow. As she dies the feather bursts into a black cloud of dust-like motes, which rapidly stream out of the house and across the town. People begin to notice that everyone who can’t be cured is now dead, even folks who shouldn’t be dead yet seem to have died peacefully.

Jarit and the group, and some other survivors begin the hard task of cremating the dead of Laredo. When that’s done everyone rests for the night. The next day Pieter exchanges his horse for a fresh one, with Jarit’s promise that he’ll see to it that the horse is treated well until it’s healed enough to ride again.

The return trip from Laredo is much easier. Chief Red Bear’s tribe seems to have moved on, they’re no longer camped at the lake, and after that it’s a quick day’s ride back to the pass where they first appeared. Boss Simkin’s drive has moved onwards while they traveled though, and it takes another two days for them to catch it up. Simkins is pleased with their efforts, and happy that at least some of Laredo survived.

But he remains quite the cynic, and is clearly still hostile to most gods. There must be something going on we don’t yet understand Pieter thinks.

Night falls and the cowboys bed down, making ready for another hard day the following morning.

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