Death Knows No Honor

Interlude3-4
Interlude between Chapters 3 and 4

“Interlude” (A-line story)
A special “interlude” session between the end of Chapter 3 and beginning 4.

Cast: Bronan, Ranthin, Archibald, Cedric, Dellin

Two days after their harrowing experience at Dandrich’s estate, the characters have recovered their health and composure in Nuln. They’ve spread the word that Dandrich tried to ambush and assassinate the heroes of Nuln. Rumor has it that Dandrich has left town, ostensibly on an important mission, but more likely to evade any repercussions of his failed attack.

Ranthin, Cedric, and Dellin are lodging at Rolph Loffhofner’s Crossed Pikes Inn, where the heroes get free room and board. Bronan, deciding that he’s upset with the gentry class, has taken a room at the luxurious “Velveteen Pillow” of the upper quarter, where he does his best to be as annoying as possible. Archibald stays at the third most important temple of the light in his newly upgraded quarters for annointed priests. That evening, assassins sneak into Dellin and Cedric’s respective rooms and succeed in wounding both with poisoned throwing daggers before fleeing back out the windows. Dellin was gravely injured, but Cedric’s wound seemed less serious. He was able to spot the fleeing assassins running down a dark alley too fast for Cedric to do anything about. Dellin is nearly killed by the potent toxin, and Cedric, after alerting Ranthin and waking the inn keeper, also takes a turn for the worse.

Archibald and Bronan are summoned from their respective lodging, as well as a town healer and many guards. Archibald uses magical healing to purge the poison from the wounds, and the town healer does a good job bandaging and sewing up the wounds. Dellin and Cedric live to fight another day. Wondering why Ranthin wasn’t also attacked, upon investigation Ranthin’s window is warped in such a way that it is very hard to open and makes a loud squeaking and shuddering noises when it is opened. But Cedric only saw two assassins fleeing the scene.

The next day, a much-recovered Cedric uses his “organizational connections” to see if he can dig up info on the would-be murderers and also to verify whether or not Dandrich has indeed left Nuln. He encounters Mr. Tuetlaars in a dank alley as a particularly large cloud obscured the sun. After some banter, Tuetlaars indicates that the Dandrich job is considered completed and should Cedric require any services, it would simply be a matter of an “everlasting friendship” and a permanent bond of brotherhood. Cedric is tempted by Tuetlaars offer of bringing him the assassins dead or alive, in whole or in parts, in a box, in a bag, in a cart, etc… Cedric begs leave and returns back to the Crossed Pikes after finding nothing of interest in his queries.

Meanwhile, Rolph has hired additional private security for the Inn, including Josef Krunk, who left the Faithsworn because he felt they were up to no good. He tells the group that Sgt. Keft has been left in charge of the remaining faithsworn, and that they’ve taken “heretical” townsfolk into the “inner sanctum” of the manor house, and he’s pretty sure doing very naughty things to them! That, combined with their unexplained attack on the heroes, caused him to lose his faith in their organization and seek other work. And here he is! Bronan gives him a gold piece and hires him on as a permanent guard for the group. So happy with the deal, Krunk patrols the perimeter of the Inn, at maximum foot velocity, continuously for a few hours until exhausted.

Archibald receives a missive from a church functionary that one “Mortimer Shaefer” of Ostermark and his small retinue would very much like to meet with him and his companions. Agreeing, they meet later that evening outside the Velveteen Pillow. Mortimer turns out to be Britt Veebel’s (the Ostermark Alchemist) apprentice. Mortimer is clearly not right in the head, having suffered some recent trauma during the “Battle at Teife Vollegstein Mine.” Mortimer has a cart full of his alchemical reagents, black powder, and numerous other devices. Mortimer’s rag-tag retinue consists of: Oscar, a peasant who was a childhood friend of Mortimer’s and helps translate his ravings into sensible communication. Oscar has a dairy cow named Mathilda. The cart is pulled by Durdles, an enormous and somewhat deformed man who seems not much smarter than a domesticated animal. Durdles reportedly can lift 200-lb iron balls with ease and helped save Mortimer and crew during the Teife Vollegstien battle with other feats of strength. Finally, there’s Handy, a competent bodyguard that watches Mortimer’s back and tries to steer him clear of trouble.

The characters quickly learn never to touch the cart…it both infuriates Mortimer, who shouts things like “Ignorant children must never touch the powder!”, and also disturbs Durdles, who has been commanded never to let anyone touch the cart (other than Mortimer, of course). At the urging and un-subtle hints of the Velveteen Pillow’s staff, the characters and Mortimer’s crew head back to the Crossed Pikes, where the can all stay for free. They converse along the way (well, sort of…Mortimer is “just this shy of the crazy fence” afterall…) They learn the following news of Ostermark.

<begin>
After the Bull of Ostermark passed, Braden the Younger ascended to rule the Duchy. One of his first acts was to open the Teife Vollegstien mine in order to raise revenues for the Armies of the East, which are no longer being adequately supported by Altdorff military appropriations. Shortly after opening the mine, which was closed decades ago by the Bull because it was cursed, the Beastmen Raiders plagued the eastern marches (as the Characters vividly remember…Battle of Kerepault watch, etc.) They are led by Herre Stormur, the blue warlock, and seem to be based out of the mine. In fact, the Beastmen seem to be spawned from the depths of the mine somehow. After Kerepault, Braden the Younger decided that a new Field Marshal for the Armies of the East would be appointed to lead the military effort to retake control of the mine and remove the Beastmen plague.

So he hired a friend of his from Altdorff, an officer named Von Hesse. A highly decorated officer, trained at the Imperial War Academy and supposedly the veteran of many successful campaigns in the west, Von Hesse was installed in an Ostermark ceremony as the new Field Marshal of the Imperial Armies of the East. Thus, the previous Marshal, Boris Hargrave, a.k.a. “The Bear”, or “The Grizzly”, was demoted from the position he held during the last two decades under Braden the Elder. Boris is missing his left forearm, and can only speak in a whisper due to massive scarring on his neck, and “hasn’t slept in a real bed in 25 years.” Rumor also has it that Boris, approximately the same age as Braden the Younger (50-ish), may be the Bull’s illegitimate son. So it’s not surprising, perhaps, that the new Duke would wish someone “more appropriate” for the second-highest military command in the Empire.

Von Hesse installed new officers to top positions and planned his attack. He commanded the Alchemist to build six versions of his new siege weaponry and provide a consultant (his apprentice, Mortimer) to quickly train selected soldiers on how to fire the Ferrum Bombardum. So Von Hesse, with his very impressive shiny armor, riding a shining horse bearing a tall standard of the house of Ostermark, led his equally impressive and shiny metal-clad cavalry officers, supported by the Bombardae and ranks of infantry and pikemen, on an assault of the mine. The initial bombardment shook the ground, but didn’t collapse the mine. Like a swarm of angry bees responding to a shaken hive, hoards of Beastmen charged from the various mine entrances and other tunnels in the hillside. Completely confident in the superiority of his heavy cavalry, Von Hesse led the charge, just as a figure in an ice-blue robe literally flew out of the main mine entrance and brought down the fires of heaven.

Electricity shot from the skies, and the tall metal spikes adorning the officer’s stylish and shiny new helmets attracted the lightening…but none more than Von Hesse’s tall standard waving from the back of his horse. He was “lit up like a holiday beacon”, and then the lightning coursed from one cavalryman to the next, “pop! pop! pop!” as each man popped like an overcooked blood sausage in a frying pan. Von Hesse’s first campaign as Marshal of the East ended in his death within 15 minutes, and totally wiped out the other officers within the next few seconds. The pikemen and infantry fought a desperate retreat behind the Black Powder Catapults, but one-by-one the Ferrum Bombardum blew apart, as the inexperienced crew mispacked the powder or made other mistakes. All but the one manned by Mortimer, Durdles, and Oscar. Durdles, loading iron shot with frenzied speed and strength, combined with Mortimer’s expertise in measuring out the powder and calculating the appropriate firing angle, managed to escape the battle. But not without trauma, which is why Mortimer seems to have more cracks than the overworked cannon used in the battle.

Not entirely the fool, Braden the Younger has given the unofficial command of the Armies of the East back to Boris Hargrave, and has sent Mortimer to Nuln, accompanied by military liaisons, to begin mass fabrication of the Ferrum Bombardae. They’ve brought the surviving weapon, but it’s more to serve as an example of how the device should be built than for any further military use due to dangerous cracks in the metal. A mutual friend of the empire (hinted to be “Frederick” a.k.a. “The Lanky Man”), has instructed Mortimer to seek out the heroes of Nuln and accompany them on their mission in Marionburg, once his duties in Nuln are completed.
<end>

While learning all this (mostly told by Oscar), it is apparent that Mortimer has been working to miniaturize the Ferrum Bombardum technology to a hand-portable scale. (Think Blunderbuss). He has several prototype devices and wishes to test-fire them and observe how well they work, compute correct powder loads, etc. The characters suggest that they should be field-tested at an estate outside Nuln, aiming to have Mortimer’s black powder technology there to help them as they attempt to take down Sgt. “Tickles” Keft and stop whatever atrocities that may be happening at Dandrich’s estates. The characters convince (easily) Captain Tanner that Keft is evil and needs to be arrested, so Tanner sends a contingent of guards with the characters on their mission.

So the characters lead the assault on the manor house late that night. Keft refuses to surrender, of course, and the fanatical faithsworn loyalists engage the guardsmen in combat. Keft and his core followers engage the characters in the center of the battle in front of manor’s entrance. Durdles, Handy, and Mortimer (with his cart) are there to help, and to observe how well the new black powder weapons work in field testing. Josef Krunk is also there to aid his new employers and friends. Ranthin, Cedric, Dellin, and Bronan each have an experimental Blunderbuss, and they charge to the attack. Archibald uses Dazzling Light to dull the senses of a few of the faithsworn, while Bronan, Ranthin, and Cedric let loose with their Blunderbusses, which prove effective in both wounding several opponents as well as causing fear. But the faithsworn continue the charge, and Bronan, Dellin, and Krunk bear the brunt of the charge. Bronan and Archibald both take significant wounds, while Keft shouts orders from the rear. At one point Keft orders Krunk to attack the characters because Krunk is still faithsworn. Krunk replies that he owes no oath to naughty-spawn, and demonstrates his loyalties by helping the characters in the fight.

The tide of battle is abruptly turned back to the characters favor when Mortimer lobs some sort of Alchemical grenade at the enemy line and with the help of Ulric’s Fury, kills three of the faithsworn with excessively potent acid that instantly eats away their flesh and sizzles on their armor. About the same time, Durdles was ordered to “fetch” one of the faithsworn for some additional tests. Durdles wades into the fray and lifts a hapless soldier by his face and slings him over his back, turning to trot back to Mortimer with his prize.

Just then the doors to the Manor House explode outward and a beast of Nurgle, complete with sucking tentacles, slime trail, and horrific toothed maw, oozes its way onto the porch, seemingly under the control (or at least in coordination with) Sgt Keft. Unfazed, Archibald summons the light and banishes the beast with a small aethyric “pop”. Durdles, a half instant later, before he could realize the danger was gone, flung his captive at the beast, and the 200 pound man flew spinning head-over-heals, smacking against a column with a sickening back-breaking crunch.

Seeing this, Keft immediately surrenders, and the remaining faithsworn are taken into custody by Tanner and his men.

Thus ends the Interlude. Characters each earn 200xp.

Epilogue: Dandrich’s estate is searched, and hard proof of the cultists’ activities is found. While the beast of Nurgle was banished without a trace, the signs of the summoning ritual are apparent in the “inner sanctum,” as well as the sacrificial victims, etc. Dandrich is now a wanted man in the Empire, and Keft and the faithsworn loyalists are turned over to the inquisition for in-depth interrogation, inquisition-style.

The characters reputation as heroes is escalated another notch, and Josef Krunk’s wild stories about huge angry snails are finally taken seriously. Yet, they can’t stay to enjoy the accolades, as they must hurry to Mix Riggen’s rescue before it’s too late!

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Chapter3:Conclusion-Part2
Chapter 3 Conclusion, Part II

Chapter 3 Conclusion, Part II
Cast: Same as in Part I, but with the addition of Rufus.

As we start the session, the characters have just pounded their way back into Dandrich’s manor house, and find themselves in the large foyer area with a fancy staircase that leads up to an open 2nd floor balcony. There are faithsworn soldiers on the balcony, ranged weapons trained on the PC’s, commanded by Sergeant “Tickles” Keft (formerly of the Iron Cloak Artifact Recovery Division…see the “B” story line for background.) There are doors on both the lower and upper floors leading to the rest of the rooms in the mansion (but presumably locked and/or guarded), and large glass windows leading outside where Grimm and more faithsworn await. Talk about being boxed in.

Fortunately, Rufus is using his shadow magic “doppleganger” spell to impersonate a respected faithsworn Sergeant named “Gottfreid Ekhart” (or something like that…). Rufus, having previously escaped from the sewers (and the shrike), used his magic to get lost in Nuln. Then, remembering the deal made with Tuetlars and Van Gool, Rufus took the initiative to drug a Faithsworn Sergeant (and remove him from commission, so to speak), and use Doppleganger to take his place at the estate. For a few days he observed the various routines and successfully established a rift in the ranks between those soldiers most loyal to the sadistic Sgt. Keft (who is a newcomer to the organization, but highly valued by Dandrich) and those loyal to the more stable and affable Sgt. Ekhart.

So when the faithsworn on the balcony are bearing down on the PC’s, one of the Sgts (actually Rufus, but no one knows that) gives the command to hold fire, saying there’s a “misunderstanding” and “these are the heroes of Nuln, afterall.” The other Sgt, Keft, fails his command skills to motivate all the soldiers to attack…so only the small group that are most loyal to him obey. Compounding the effect is Archibald’s divine presence, his radiant gaze, and both Cedric’s and Archibald’s skilled oration and charm skills (which they succeeded on using effectively). Finally, Rufus was able to secretly cast a spell on Keft that attempted to strangle him…while it didn’t succeed in causing the harm he was hoping for, it did cause Keft to have difficulty giving orders clearly.

So things got very confusing when some of the guards attacked, some held back, the PC’s used (mostly) non-lethal tactics, and Josef Krunk came diving through a window (with amazing action-hero star agility) claiming that he’d sort out all the confusion of who’s the good guys by finding Dandrich. In doing so, Krunk casually forced his way beyond the locked doors (which Bronan had essentially failed to open, but which Krunk rolled a crit success and simply cranked the handle and popped the lock with no realization that it was locked). This helped sow more confusion and opened up the battle lines a bit.

The faithsworn from outside burst in, but seemed not terribly happy at being used by Grimm as cannon fodder, and thus were hesitant to attack when ordered off by Sgt Ekhurst and charmed by Cedric and Archibald. But Keft, Grimm, and the Reapers would have none of it, and they pressed the attack, cutting through the hesitant faithsworn as necessary to do so. The net result was faithsworn fighting faithsworn, the players battling Keft’s soldiers, Grimm, and Lt. Rockhurst (Grimm’s new #2), etc.

Things got really messy, but all characters managed to escape the trap through various exit portals (all windows, I believe, after all the bad-guys had been drawn in from outside.) Some of the combat highlights are as follows:

Bronan and Ranthin had rushed through an inner door that (eventually) Bronan bashed in…which led into a conservatory room where more soldiers commanded directly by Dandrich were waiting. Dandrich, seeing the crazy frenzy in Bronan’s eyes, decided to order the soldiers to kill Bronan and Ranthin, while Dandrich exited through another door (and locked behind him.) So Bronan and Ranthin were trapped in a small room with five trained and highly loyal faithsworn. Cedric and Archibald were still in the main foyer when Grimm and Rockhurst charged. However, the other Reapers were mostly held at bay by those faithsworn who were either loyal to Rufus (Sgt. Ekhart), were charmed by Archibald and/or Cedric, or were angry at being shot at by the Reapers when they had hesitated to attack.

Dellin went the opposite direction as Bronan, going through the door Krunk opened. He was engaged by Keft’s men and was held to a stalemate for much of the combat. Although maneuvered into a corner, Dellin was skillful enough to get free and flee after having drawn Keft and two gritty soldiers away from main melee.

Rufus (as Sgt. Ekhart) continued to issue commands to confuse the faithsworn and countermand Keft’s orders, while trying subtle magic effects to turn the tide…but instead managed to accidentally summon ghostly voices and thus more-or-less blew his cover. Rufus’s disguise having been penetrated by the Reapers, he was able to summon a Shadow Steed and escape at high speed.

Cedric also used a moment of confusion to run, and when Rockhurst went after him, Rockhurst crit failed on diving through the window…thus giving Cedric the edge he needed to outrun the pursuit. So Rockhurst came back inside to help Grimm get Archibald (at least).

There was a time when Archibald was surrounded by Grimm, Rockhurst, and a few other soldiers, but through the grace of a spell of divine protection, few were able to attack him but Grimm. But that’s bad enough…Grimm nearly cut Archibald down, but it could have been much worse. Bronan’s heroism from the adjoining room helped open an escape route for Archibald, and provided just enough of a distraction to those surrounding Archi, to keep him alive.

Ranthin’s archery was mostly held in check by being constantly threatened in melee, so he had to make the best use he could of sword-and-shield. His presence drew enough fire from Bronan to keep him from being overwhelmed. Ranthin managed to get out a window in the conservatory, and create an oil-flask bomb to cover their escape when finally Archi and Bronan also came through the same window. (Actually, Archibald took too long to get out the window, so Bronan made a diving tackle that sent both through the portal and out of immediate harm). With fire-bomb in-hand, pursuit was foiled, and Bronan, Ranthin, and Archibald escaped together.

In summary: Rufus and Cedric both fled out the front windows of the foyer when the chance arrived. Rufus using his magic to spirit himself away on a shadow steed, and Cedric using more conventional footwork to run around the side of the building, just as Bronan and Archibald crashed out the side window. On the other side of the building was the window that Dellin eventually used for his escape.

Josef Krunk ran around the manor opening doors and looking for Dandrich, to no avail. After the fighting stopped, he just shrugged and went back to guarding the front door.

So ended Chapter 3, with another foiled ambush by Augustus Grimm. While there were some serious injuries, no one was killed. The heroes manage to rendezvous in the wilderness outside Dandrich’s country estates and sneak their way back to the relative safety of Nuln.

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Chapter3:Conclusion-Part1
Chapter 3 Conclusion (Part I)

Chapter 3 Conclusion (Part I)
Cast Part I: Dellin, Ranthin, Archibald, Bronan, Cedric

The characters involved in bringing down Strussel and defeating the bone shrike are hailed as heroes in Nuln, especially Archibald, who is busy for a few days alternately being congratulated and then debriefed by church officials. Their exploits have earned them a discount at local shoppes in mid and lower quarters, and essentially free lodging at Rolph Loffhofner’s Crossed Pikes Inn.

They learn that Manfred Matterly is a spy, formerly in service to the Bull of Ostermark, Braden the Elder. In talking with Manfred, they learn off-handedly that the Bull passed away during the hard winter and Braden the Younger is the new Count Ostermark. Matterly, not being part of Braden the Younger’s trusted men (and not liking the new Count very much) is now working for Frederick. In that service he was instructed to find them and relay some important information.

Firstly, Frederick hopes that they’ve taken care of their personal vendetta and are ready to serve the Empire once again. Their untimely departure from Ostermark left Frederick with quite a mess to handle, especially since his erstwhile ally, the Bull of Ostermark, had passed away. Braden the Younger has foolishly re-opened the long dormant warpstone mine, seeking to regain the monetary wealth that has fled from Ostermark as the Emperor’s hand has “reallocated” the funds used to support the armies of the east to other programs. Manfred relates that another of Frederick’s spies has reported that the beastmen and Herra Stormur (the storm wizard) control the remote mine, and that beastmen seem to spawn from its very maw. Bismark and the armies of the Eastern Marches are still battling the beastmen, while simultaneously trying to hide everything from the local populace and the empire as a whole.

Secondly, Manfred was to pass the message that Frederick has learned that Rictor Von Kruger has been taken prisoner, and was last seen being held somewhere in Marionburg, awaiting “transport” to powerful interests from Brettonia. The characters surmise that Lady De Rochelle captured Mix Riggins after the debacle at Toltevsky’s lair, and is now likely using him for terrible experiments (because he regenerates ala Jonas Whitespore, and Rochelle has Toltevsky’s notes…) Manfred is a native of Marionburg and will help the characters pick up the trail. Also, Marionburg was formerly part of the Empire, and is an extremely wealthy independent city-state that controls the mouth of the Reik river (through which all sea-trade into and out of much of the Empire must flow). Frederick believes Rupricht is maneuvering to start a war by which the Empire can regain Marionburg. Forces have amassed in the northwest (and is another reason for the late Ubersoldaten program and the reallocation of funds from the East.) Of course, Brettonia would rather the Empire not regain control over Marionburg…so they have forces nearby as well….and De Rochelle factors heavily in their strength.

After these revelations, the characters decide they owe it to Mix Riggins to try to rescue him…but since Manfred will need a few days to re-establish his contacts in Marionburg once he gets there, they figure to take care of the Dandrich contract quickly and then head north a few days behind Manfred. Finally, Manfred seems to have arranged an invitation for the Heroes to be commended by the Countess Clarisa of Averland, Graf of Nuln, for their valorious deeds. Manfred suggests they be careful around her, keep their eyes open, and understand that she’s probably pleased that Strussel was proven a counterfeiter and killed — thereby conveniently erasing a substantial debt that she and other persons of power owed to Strussel. The Countess is believed part of a secret society of powerful women that believe women have the same rights as men, should have the same educational opportunities, combat training, etc. She is known to rescue women who’ve been treated badly and recruit them as her servants and guards, thus inspiring extreme loyalty.

The heroes get cleaned up as best they can and endure a decidedly uncomfortable encounter with the Countess. She is a collector of rare items, including a Bronze Statuette of Esmeralda (wow!), and a huge chunk of a purple crystal stone (that to Cedric’s magic sense, appears to warp the aethyr in its proximity.) She takes a liking to Dellins new lode-stone bolas (his magically attractive balls), and is eager to witness Ranthin’s archery skills. Although the Countess is about 50 years old, she still has a good figure and was in her youth quite stunning…and Ranthin is enraptured by her, ah, huge tracts of land. Ranthin, eager-to-please, manages to shoot a grape being held by a nervous guardsman in his teeth. Dellin demonstrates on this same lackey how his magic balls can wrap around the opponent and bring him down. Then she starts asking questions about Archibald’s magic rod, and how he uses it. To top it off, Cedric managed to reveal the previously unknown fact that they killed Murdoch Einhorn — that he was in fact the demon. This is something Countess Clarissa finds very interesting and the characters wonder if they’ve just put their necks in a noose. The Countess really wants Dellin’s “balls” and Archi’s “rod”, and it’s all that Cedric can do to charm her out of this notion. An uncomfortable meeting, indeed, but it seems to end well enough…

So the characters eventually return to the Crossed Pikes, Dellin’s new balls still intact, and are met by Josef Krunk, initiate of the Faithsworn, who eagerly invites them to visit Dandrich’s estate, where Dandrich seeks to meet and congratulate the heroes. So off the characters go again, enjoying their current fame and elevated social status, and take a coach out to Dandrich’s countryside manor house for more wine-and-dining. They figure to perhaps find a way to convince Dandrich to leave, or at least scope out the place for later action.

Well, they have a nice discussion, Dandrich is compellingly charming, and several hours later, after dark, the characters are escorted out the front door where they wait for their coach to be brought back around from the stables. Instead, they are ambushed by the Grimm’s Reapers (yikes!) and several archers who’ve hidden behind the bushes. The characters try to flee back into the manor house, but the door was locked behind them…the archers are wearing the uniforms of the faithsworn, so clearly Dandrich was involved in the setup!

Out numbered and taken by surprise, a few of the characters take wounds before they can bust down the front door and retreat from Grimm’s cavalry and the supporting archers…of course, inside the house awaits Sergeant “Tickles” Keft, Dandrich’s new enforcer, and a dozen faithsworn. Archibald, seriously wounded, drinks the party’s only healing drought, and summons Radiant Gaze using the rod of his holy order. [This is where Part I stopped.]

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Chapter3:Session8
Acquittal the Hard Way

Chapter 3: Session 8
“Acquittal the Hard Way”

Cast: Archibald, Bronan, Dellin, Ranthin
Introducing: Daveed, the outlaw-turned-stable-hand (played by Josiah)

Archibald is in the midquarter district of Nuln, visiting his friend Father Klaus. While in town, Archibald stables his horse at Rolph Loffhofner’s Crossed Pikes Inn. Daveed is a stablehand tending the horses at the Inn. Archibald learns of the raid on the Rooster’s Rebellion, but not in time to do anything about it.

Near to Father Klaus’ chapel, Archibald is surprised as a sewer grate goes flying through the air and nearly hits him. The too-curious-for-his-own-good Daveed has followed him from the Inn. Bronan, Dellin, and Ranthin emerge from the sewer hole in the street (now sans-cover), in a panic. Bronan clasps Archibald in a bear hug and won’t let go, blathering on about “demons in the sewers.”

An old woman, a street urchin, and a peddler of Rennie’s Penny Pies witness the commotion. The old woman smacks Bronan with her cane and demands he release the nice young priest immediately. Banter ensues, the street urchin thinks about stealing pies, and the pie vendor is paid to park his cart on the sewer opening. Dellin and Ranthin, famished from their near-death-experience snatch up the vendors pies and scarf them down. Dellin thinks they make him neigh invulnerable, and Ranthin believes that he can see through the darkness. (Yes, both ended up rolling amazingly on the toughness checks against the odd effects of the pies.)

Archibald escorts the frenzied lot back to the inn, to clean them up and have a discussion in a private room. In short order, Archibald gets the general idea that the rest of the gang escaped the raid, wandered in the sewers, happened upon Strussel and his counterfeiting operation, and got into a nasty scrape. The outcome was that Strussel was killed, a demon showed up, and everyone ran away in a panic. No one knows where Rufus, Konrad, and Cedric are. After Dellin’s bath, he realizes he’s losing clumps of hair…Rennies’ Pies Strike Again! As an aside, while at the inn and chatting with the proprietor, characters learn that a famous minstrel is coming in the evening to perform his renowned show! Master Minstrel Manfred Matterly and the Merry Maids of Marionberg!!!

A couple town watchmen arrive at the Inn, and notice Archibald’s horse, which has the same Ostermark branding as the others confiscated in the Rooster’s Rebellion raid. Questions are asked, good answers are lacking. Archibald and the stable-hand are brought (arrested politely) to the mid-quarter garrison and questioned some more. The stable-hand looks vaguely familiar to one of the guards and he’s suspicious that he might be linked to “the gang” in some way.

Meanwhile, Dellin, Ranthin, and Bronan rush to find Captain Tanner and convince them they caught Strussel red-handed, killed him in self-defense, and all the evidence they need to be acquitted is in the sewers…along with a very angry “shrike.” Tanner is skeptical about the monster, but agrees to personally command a large group to escort Dellin and Bronan back to the sewers to verify the claim. They agree to pick up Archi on the way. The Sergeant holding Archibald is not happy about being outranked by Tanner and ordered to release Archibald. So the Sergeant says he must bring a few men and see this outrageous claim for himself.

So…everyone heads down into the sewers…Daveed is forced to go as well. Captain Tanner, the angry Sergeant, and twenty guards form the “escort.” The counterfeiting room is found, because Bronan did his best to memorize the path earlier. The super heavy reinforced iron-bound oak door has been shredded…as in wood-chipper shredded, but there’s no monster to be found anywhere. There is, however, a ton of gore, and Strussel’s head and remains are identified. All the other evidence of the counterfeiting is obvious, the coin press, the forge, the cart with the silver ingots, the counterfeit coin molds, etc. A back stairwell leads up to a money changer’s office, where the furnace’s exhaust is disguised and mingled with the store’s. Everyone at the money changer is arrested, and Captain Tanner, no longer fearing Strussel’s retribution, also arrests the Sergeant for corruption and collusion. All seems well. Tanner sends a trusted escort with the characters to the magistrate with orders to await there in safety until the paperwork can be processed to acquit them of all charges.

Sounds too easy? Well yes indeed! The characters with guard escort trudge to the magistrates as dusk arrives. In a small plaza along the way the shrike, which was crawling upside-down along the roof line of an adjacent building strikes! It jumps down and rips apart the nearest guard, pulling his spine out through his abdomen. Characters and guards alike are shocked with fear, with a couple exceptions. The shrike rips through a few more guards while others struggle to snap out of their terror and form rank. Daveed runs for the hills. Ranthin moves off to the side and tries to shoot the shrike. The shrike shreds metal armor and shields like cardboard, and dodges multiple blows per round as if the attackers were moving in slow motion. Bronan and Dellin form a defensive posture around Archibald and pray for divine intervention.

Archibald summons the power of the holy rod of his order. He is filled with radiance, which bursts out through his eyes and scorches the bone demon. This inspires the allies, who snap out of their fear and help to defend the priest. Daveed recovers and rushes back in to help. At the same time, Manfred Matterly and four very competent female archers (the Merry Maids) come in from a side alley. Manfred is a skilled commander (who would have thought?) and the shrike is peppered with arrows (albeit to no affect). Just as the shrike is about to launch another deadly attack, Archibald again summons the power of light from the holy rod (with a critical success!) He invokes “Banishment” on the demon, which locks him and the shrike in a mental contest of will power. This prevents both Archibald and the Shrike from doing much else, and the Shrike becomes somewhat vulnerable to those who are attacking it…but nothing really penetrates its spiny armor, not even Dellin’s Ulric’s Fury!

Archibald sweats as he slowly loses the battle of wills. He can feel dark corruption filling his soul and worming its way into his head. Dhar swirls in his vision…soon he will be vanquished. But then, as all seems lost, the light prevails! Divine Radiance bursts from the heavens and surrounds the demon! (It rolled a critical failure on the opposed will check) It bursts into a fine black ash, which floats to the blood-damp cobblestones.

Thus ended “Acquittal the Hard Way.” Characters earned bonus XP for defeating another major villain. (Einhorn/Shrike).

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Chapter3:Session5-7
The Counterfeit Baron / Debt to Society

Chapter 3, Session 5-7 Summary
“The Counterfeit Baron I and II”, and “Debt to Society”

Characters headed back to Nuln, motivated to reduce the number of powerful enemies by at least one. Of those, Baron Strudel seemed the most vulnerable. The somewhat recovered, but also somewhat unstable Grolst Van Eyke has information about Strudel’s counterfeiting operation. Played correctly, this could bring down the Councilman and erstwhile crimelord. So the gang finds it’s way to The Rooster’s Rebellion, a bit outside of Nuln proper, and meet up with their old friend Cedric, who’s been rising in GVE’s ranks.

They capture Nigel Sneed and force him to talk about the counterfeiting. He tells them, under duress, that there’s a warehouse in an abandoned mill town up-river about ten miles where they mint the silver into the fake coins. The characters make plans to arrive at the warehouse just before the “coach” arrives that transports the coins to a bank. They plan to arrest the key operators, confiscate (steal) some of the silver, and hold the fort while friendly Guard Captain Tanner arrives with his men to make the official arrests and get the information needed to incriminate Councilman Strussel.

Unfortunately, it was a trap set by Strussel and Augustus Grimm. Nigel was planted to be “caught”, to divulge this information, to lead the characters to the isolated warehouse where Grimm’s Reapers would spring on them. The group didn’t quite walk into it, as they sent Dellin and Rufus to recon the locale before-hand. Unfortunately, Rufus, trying to be sneaky, was spotted. He used magic to make himself look like a little girl, but his deep voice gave away the illusion. Rufus and Dellin fought desperately against the Reapers, and the rest of the party arrived just in time to help out.

But they got their butts kicked instead. A few managed to escape into the woods, but the rest were trapped in the abandoned warehouse….which was lit on fire…and then caved-in by Bronan who chopped down the support beams. By freak luck, they survived the catastrophe and managed to escape, while many of them were presumed dead by Grimm.

They later met back up at the Rooster’s Rebellion, called off Captain Tanner’s raid, and looked like fools in doing so. Morale low, they debated what to do next, while spending a few days to heal some serious wounds. [End of The Counterfeit Baron Parts I and II]

The characters, barely healed and rested from their narrow escape, find that a large contingent of the town’s guards have encircled the Rooster’s Rebellion, and are “tightening the noose.” They were given a few moment’s warning by a cloaked Captain Tanner, and were advised to find the old bricked-up smuggler’s tunnel in the root cellar of the Inn. The characters search the root cellar, find the bricked-up doorway, smash through it, and head down a pitch-dark tunnel that leads towards the Nuln sewer system. Rufus uses his magic for lighting. Ranthin, the only character trained in Navigation, leads the way. They get lost. Really lost. Quite lost indeed.

Then they come across a main sewer tunnel wide enough to run a cart through. They are stymied at a locked and extremely sturdy iron gate/portcullis. Fog rolls in. A strange man in a top hat and cape walks through the foggy darkness, coming from the other side of the gate. He unlocks the gate, passes through, and locks it behind him. He banters with the characters for a while. His name is Mr. Tuetlers, and he introduces himself and his apparently imaginary friend, Mr. Van Gool. He informs them that he despises all things that lack virtue, including women of the night (prostitutes), cutpurses, criminals masking as honest councilmen, and counterfeit money. Mr. Tuetlers has information that the counterfeiting operation is happening not too far away in the sewers, and he can provide the characters with safe passage right up to the unlocked door into the room where the coins are being minted. Furthermore, a load of silver has just been delivered and Baron Strudel is in attendance. A deal is made. Tuetlers will provide the information and means for the characters to catch Strussel red-handed and in return the characters need to get rid of Ichabod Dandrich and the Faithsworn — who are making it difficult for Mr. Tuetlers to keep the lower quarter clean of vice and sin… :)

The deal is made (in fact, some expert negotiating by Bronan removes some of Tuetler and Van Gool’s initial conditions…like a pound of flesh for their larder, and that sort of thing.) The characters follow a foggy path through the sewers, and it hides them from the guards they pass. It leads right up to a door guarded by a half dozen men, but the door is unlocked and the men unaware of the characters in the mysterious fog.

Bronan opens the door, but the fog ends there and the guards inside the door sound the alarm! Bronan is trapped in the room with a few guards, while the rest are outside facing the bulk of the guardsmen. Bronan is surprised that not only Baron Strussel is in attendance, but also the court duelist/assassin, Murdoch Einhorn. Einhorn moves with exceptional speed and kills Bronan in single round. Jab, slice, thrust, and Bronan’s spleen is on the outside of his body!

A long fight ensues. The characters manage to beat up on the exterior guards, killing several and scaring the wounded back inside the mint-room. They push in to face the remaining guards, Einhorn, and Strussel, who swings a mean ornate mace. Rufus comes to the rescue and casts a spell that befuddles Einhorn, who runs to a corner and drops his guard. Ranthin peppers him with arrows and does significant damage. Bronan rises from the dead (fate point), and together with Konrad and Dellin, slaughters the remaining guards and wounds Strussel, who starts to flee. Einhorn is badly wounded and dazed by Ranthin’s arrows and a sword cut by Konrad, and Cedric rushes in and kills him with a final blow to the heart.

But then things get bad. Einhorn’s body convulses and bone spikes rip through his body. He rises back up, a demonic being with thorns and spikes protruding everywhere on his body. He strikes with amazing speed and shreds Cedric and then flings him across the room, where his back snaps in half on the door frame before landing limply on the other side (outside the room). Several of the characters are terrified by the bone shrike, but Dellin reasons, using his Monster Lore, that this is just another type of “Slaning” ala the Black Knights — but different in presentation. They realize that the shrike (bone demon) is too much for them, especially without Archibald’s magic of the light. They kill Strussel (who is as surprised as they by the shrike), and manage an orderly retreat to safety. Cedric uses a fate point to wake up in safety on the other side of the door. Bronan manages to grab Strussel’s ornate mace on the way out.

Thus ends “Debt to Society.”
REMINDER: Insanity Points earned by Bronan and Cedric!

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Chapter3:Session4
Magic Arcane, Magic Divine, and Magic Most Foul

Magic Arcane, Magic Divine, and Magic Most Foul
Cast: Rufus, Ranthin, Bronan, Konrad

Dellin and Archibald were assisting Bronan’s men in fending off the return of the beastmen that had previously been lured away from the rear guard by Rufus’ marsh lights. As such, they were not part of the final assault on the tower. (Neither player was able to make the session…)

Bronan and Konrad race up the watch tower stairs, only to be forced from their feet by a magical hurricane-force gale of wind. While somewhat immobilized by the wind, another lighting storm strikes, hitting three of the four characters and seriously wounding Ranthin and Rufus. The lightning coursed through Ranthin’s studded leather — the shock knocking him off his feat and cracking two of his ribs. Rufus was heavily wounded, but not to the level of a critical hit.

Ranthin and Rufus decide to back off and let the fighters forge ahead. Rufus detects that the watch tower is situated atop a “well” of Dhar — a source of black magic. Rufus wonders if there might be some secret lower quarters and searches for secret doors — finding none.

Konrad and Bronan push through the gale-force winds only to be confronted by two very mean looking Norscan berserkers. Rufus continues to use his magic sense to track the spells being cast from on-high and notices that the spells have stopped. (It turns out that the evil wizard rolled a major chaos manifestation, which caused him an injury, and he fled by casting a flight spell and flying away.)

Konrad and Bronan best the berserkers and the party rushes to the top of the tower. As Rufus expected, the warlock was gone — the only evidence of his presence was a seriously charred weather vane. From the vantage, the characters see that the Inquisitors have vanquished the beastmen horde, but the Bronze Chaos Knight is nowhere to be seen — probably retreated with what remained of his forces into the wilderness. The characters notice that Archibald is engaged in a lively discussion with the leader of the inquisition forces, which is none other than Lord Bismark.

Bismark and the characters have a private discussion. Bismark asks questions about the character’s involvement in the summoning of the demon, and believes their response that they were set up by Rene De Rochelle. However, officially, if Bismark were to have encountered the party here, he would have had to arrest them…fortunately he was distracted by the beasts of chaos and missed the characters entirely (wink, wink.)

The characters learned from Bismark that the demon was destroyed. A large contingent of empire soldiers, many from the Nuln-area Grey Mountain Company, supported by elite cavalry from the inquisition battled the demon. It didn’t go well. Almost all died in the battle, but Bismark was able to hack off one of the demon’s tentacles. As all lay dead or dying, and the demon was distracted by feeding on a thousand corpses, an ill-kempt man in travel stained white robes arrived on the scene. In a short conversation with Bismark, who was one of the few that survived the onslaught, the strange man said that his destiny had arrived and the moment he’d been waiting for all these years was upon him.

That said, he worked a ritual of some sort, and a bright nimbus grew around him. Bismark took him to be a saint of the light sent to them in their time of need. The brightness reached it’s climax, the demon turned from its feasting and roared the cry of a million pains, and then vanished abruptly.

The white robed main said his work was done here, and he wandered off. Bismark and the few survivors of the battle were too disoriented to stop him or ask him who he was. Instead, they did their best to regroup and carry on as befitting soldiers of the light. As Bismark put it, “One doesn’t pester a saint with inane questions…one just feels blessed to have been in his presence however briefly the moment.”

The characters leave the Kerepault Watch area and head back to the main fortress to report on the events, to heal up, and to re-supply for a long journey. Bismark made it clear that powerful people, both within and outside of the inquisition, have it in for the group and that making themselves scarce would be for the best. Meanwhile, Bismark’s forces leave to hunt down the Chaos Knight and the remaining beastmen.

After resupplying and healing at the main fortress a day or so south of Kerepault, the group decides that they should try to reduce the number of their enemies. The must vulnerable seems to be Baron Strussel of Nuln. Assuming some assistance and intel from Grolst Van Eyke, they may be able to blow the lid off Strussel’s counterfeiting operation and get him arrested by the Honorable Captain Tanner of Nuln. This fits in well with Archibald’s quest from father Burkholt to rid Nuln of the source of its corruption, and also agrees with Rufus who thinks he’d like to track down the “saint” in white robes — he may be a powerful magician that can teach Rufus some things.

While convalescing at the fortress, Rufus has time to study the rune-scribed arrow. Now more powerful in the ways of Magic, Rufus is able to discern how the “recharge” the arrow. It will take a ritual and a human sacrifice. Bronan quips that Strussel would be a good candidate….

Thus ends the Battle of Kerepault Watch. Characters earned 200 xp for not getting obliterated by the storm mage (Herre Stormur). Lucky for them that magic is dangerous and can backfire in unexpected ways…

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Chapter3:Session3
The Slaughter at Kerepault Watch

The Slaughter at Kerepault Watch
Cast: Bronan, Ranthin, Dellin, Archibald, Rufus, and Konrad(!)

The party, including Bronan’s platoon, has managed to stick together during the route. The beastmen horde, aided by uncanny lightning strikes, has slaughtered most of the Ostermark defenders. The characters fled in a different direction than the main forces, and are pursued by a smaller force of beastmen, a few hundred yards behind.

The party emerges into a small clearing in the forest near a hillock and encountered 14 beastmen in the area. Knowing that a larger group of beastmen was only minutes behind, the characters choose to engage this smaller force and hope to find a hiding place. They are surprised to find that Konrad has also come to this clearing — in fact, he saw the rise of the hillock and thought it a good vantage to find his friends among the chaos of the battlefield. How he came to be in the Eastern Marches is a story Konrad has not had the time to relate to them. The battle goes well. Wounds are taken, but the only serious injury is to Ranthin. Quick attempts at healing are made, and then the group is forced to move on or face the larger party of beastmen that are in pursuit.

The group moves to keep ahead of the pursuit, while occasionally finding opportunity to gain a vantage point and spy on the battle (er, slaughter). At one such time, they are surprised to hear the war horns of an inquisition cavalry, and a great number of beastmen appear to be fleeing from the forest and back towards the keep. Further observation reveals that a significant number of mounted knights of the inquisition have arrived and are preparing to charge the main force of beastmen that has regrouped at the tower base, led by the Bronze Chaos Knight.

Bronan knows that to give the Inquisition Knights a chance, they must distract or kill the warlock that casts the lightning. They decide to attempt to infiltrate the rear of the ruined watch tower opposite the direction of the knight’s charge. They hope to face a smaller force by surprise. Bronan’s men will hold off the beastmen long enough for the characters to get inside the tower and dispatch the warlock. Unfortunately, the group is spotted by a small company of beastmen that flee to the tower with warning of their approach.

Rufus shows his value by casting Marsh Lights to make it look like about 30 soldiers with torches are moving through the treeline, off at an angle from the party’s position. A large number of the Beastmen rear guard is fooled into charging off, and the group attacks.

The battle raged around Kerepault Watch. Knights of the Inquisition engaged the main army of beastmen led by the Bronze Chaos Knight. Meanwhile, the characters with the aid of Bronan’s platoon and Rufus’ marsh lights infiltrated the rear of the ruined keep and assaulted the tower. The characters fought through a rear guard of Norscan Barbarian Raiders in the watchtower, but an attempt at a rush up the keep’s stairs ended badly. “Combat Commander” Archibald warned of a massive gathering of Aethyr, and Dellin was overcome with a strong foreboding. Archibald ordered a retreat out of the stone passageway, but Bronan and Konrad charged ahead.

A lightning storm rushed down the stone stairwell completely incinerating Konrad (Ulric’s Fury) and killing Bronan and the two remaining barbarians as well. But fate had other ends in mind for Bronan and Konrad, and they stumble back up to their feet to the amazement of the rest of the group. Although dazed and charred, Bronan and Konrad realize that the Warlock must be stopped. The group of beastmen that were tricked by the Marsh Lights will return, and if the Warlock is allowed to blast away at the Knights, all will be lost.

There seems to be no option other than charging up the stairs before the Warlock can get another lightning storm cast…or is there?

The session ended at this point. 200XP’s awarded.

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Chapter3:Session2
Trouble on the Eastern Marches

A-Story Line
Cast: Ranthin, Dellin, Archibald, Bronan, Rufus, and newcomer Johann the Peasant (Stephen Bloomingdale)

While Ranthin, Dellin, Archibald, and Bronan were killing beastmen in the forests (see last adventure summary), Rufus was secluded in his suite at the “Walled Tavern” in Ostermark, studying the runic arrow. After an intense week or so of trial and error, he managed to energize part of the arrow. The end of the arrow, nearest the fletching, appears somewhat less charred than before. Rufus twice narrowly avoided a grim fate while studying the arrow.

A peasant arrives in Castle Ostermark toting a sack of turnips. He seems desparate and is claiming that his farmstead in southern Ostland was attacked by monsters (beastmen). Most of the town folk think he’s mad and give him a wide berth. However, the other characters arriving back from the Beastmen encounter of the previous session run into Johann at the outer gates and have sympathy for him. They buy his turnips and then Bronan decides to conscript him into the watch, as he seems a sturdy sort…not to mention that surviving a beastmen attack while remaining (mostly) sane is a high-enough recommendation in Bronan’s book. The peasant’s name is Johann, and he reports to the watch commander for equipment and training.

The rest of the characters report to appropriate authorities about the beastmen attacking the outer farms, with the “trophy cart” available as physical evidence. Braden the Elder, Duke of Ostermark, is apparently feeling under the weather, so Braden the Younger is the one they end up reporting to. Braden the Younger tells them about an Imperial Special Commission of the Grand Inquisition that is making its way to Ostermark, and that there is concern that the characters “colorful” backgrounds is a liability. Braden the Younger suggests the characters find something to do away from the castle for the foreseeable future.

There have been reports of heightened threats along the border, and now that Ostermark is blanketed in midwinter snow, starvation of outlying villagers is a dire concern. The Captain of the Guard in Ostermark gives Bronan the task of journeying out to the far-flung garrisons and watch towers to investigate the source of the raids. He is to coordinate with local watch captains at the various garrisons and is given official orders that explains his authority and duties.

Pre-dawn the next morning, Dellin is wakened by scratching at his window. He discovers Ladies Man (the crow), and a happy reunion occurs (bird poop on the bed covers, etc.) Ladies Man has a small pack strapped to him with a missive. It warns Dellin that a Norscan Warlock is behind the troubles in the Eastern Marches and that he is likely in league with De Rochelle, who appears to be “squeezing the Empire from both sides.”

The characters gather equipment and supplies after a short rest and begin their journey to the outlying forts. They arrive at one such place a week or so later, Fort Klumpter. A lieutenant at the fort indicates that he’s sent two urgent messages to Castle Ostermark and is wondering where the reinforcements are? Watches further to the north have been besieged by an enemy, and hundreds of soldiers have been lost. Fort Klumpter’s commanding officer rode out two weeks ago with a strong force and has not returned. The party agrees to journey north to investigate, backed by an additional 50 troops from the fort. The lieutenant will rally the nearby watches to gather a larger force of a thousand troops or so, but it will take time.

Bronan, his squad, and the other characters leave almost immediately. They are followed by 50 soldiers under the command of four competent sergeants and junior lieutenant officer (“Schmukhouser The Incompetent”, he is called by the Sergeants when not in his presence.) After another day or two of arduous travel, they arrive at a hill overlooking the ruins of a watch, smoke billowing from the ruins and bodies strewn about the red-stained snow. The character make their way towards the battleground when Dellin gets a feeling of danger and Ladies’ Man takes flight. Dellin hears the sound of hooves in the surrounding woods beyond the clearing, and others notice movement as well. Bronan yells an order back at Lt. Schmukhouser, who immediately deploys in a defensive pike formation. That apparently triggers those hiding in the woods to spring their trap prematurely.

About two hundred beastmen swarm out of the woods, led by a chaos knight in bronze-looking armor. Archibald’s excellent vision makes out an insignia of De Rochelle on the knight’s shield. The “good guys” are outnumbered at least 3 to 1, but they were not taken by surprise and have the high ground. Half the beastmen charge the hill, the rest staying back to protect the chaos knight. The defenders had enough time to smartly arrange the archers and wagons, as well as the forward pikemen and men-at-arms, to repel the charge. Just as the beastmen’s wedge formation nears striking distance, Archibald unleashes a dazzling brightness, causing disarray in the enemy. The soldiers strike and route the charging beastmen, who retreat down the hill, having lost perhaps 20-30 compared to the soldiers 5-6. However, the victory is short lived, as the Chaos Knight will be more careful, and his forces still vastly outnumber the defenders.

Bronan and the other army leaders decide to make an organized retreat to the treeline, where they may be able to mount a better defense, or at least provide for a few survivors to escape and get notice back to the watch. Archibald and Rufus feel the winds of the Aethyr moving near the ruined fort and they get a sick feeling in their stomach just as bolts of lighting begin to explode around them. As the defenders get to the treeline, trees are rupturing and soldiers are being blown to bits. The enemy Warlock must be attacking from the ruined tower and must be very powerful indeed! The defenders are routed, panic sets in, and the beastmen charge for the kill.

Thus ended the session. 50 XP awarded for the initial roleplaying/story aspects in town. Rest of the XP to be deferred pending the resolution of the cliffhanger!

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Chapter3:Session1
What lurks in them thar woods?

A-Story Line
Chapter 3: Session 1 “What lurks in them thar woods?”
Cast: Ranthin, Dellin, Archibald, and Bronan

Characters are staying at Castle Ostermark. The Duke of Ostermark (Braden the Elder) has a contentious argument with his son (Braden the Younger, who is now pushing 50 years old). The argument occurs in the castle temple, after normal service hours, and is overheard by Archibald who is praying in a quiet chapel room off to the side, unnoticed. Braden the Younger is a smooth-talking courtier who feels his father was quite foolish to get involved in the Toltevsky affair. More than two-dozen of his elite guard have perished, and Einhorn and Pohlmann will certainly figure out Ostermark’s involvement in the attack. Braden the Younger clearly is eager for his father to abdicate his title to his heir, and feels that his clumsy attempt to regain former battlefield glory will cause great harm to the Empire as a whole. (Inciting civil war, etc.)

Meanwhile, Sergeant Bronan is tasked with investigating a bandit issue at a farmstead a day away. Bronan is to take his squad of 8 Ostermark soldiers with him, and he’s welcome to have his friends go with. Ranthin is approached by one of Ostermark’s men to visit the Duke’s alchemist, who has made great strides developing a new weapon for the military. The alchemist is named Britt Veebel. His lab is a few miles away from the Castle, safe from prying eyes and ears. The project is secret, but the Duke trusts his new friends and wants their “independent opinion” on the progress of the new weapon.

So the characters go to visit Britt Veebel and then onwards to the farmstead. Veebel’s lab is in a fortified keep. Veebel is eccentric and scatterbrained, but apparently also highly skilled. He is thin, balding, and energetic. He resents anyone indicating that all alchemists do is to try to transmute lead into gold. His main project is designing a “cannon.” There’s all sorts of challenges in developing the right chemical mixture for the explosive powder, forging the metal cannon, designing an appropriate wheeled platform, choosing the right type of shot, etc. The characters get a demo of the cannon more-or-less working well, but the backfire destroys its base and burns one of the assistants — not quite ready for prime-time is the general assessment. While in the Alchemist’s shop, Dellin notices a lodestone, and he is given one as a gift. Britt Veebel asks the characters to report that he needs more supplies…including two more assistants and lots of butter.

The characters proceed to the farmstead. They interview the town elder who complains of bandits, livestock mutilations. Tracks indicate at least one of the bandits rides a huge Klydesdale-sized horse, and that other bandits must be ex-carnival workers who train pigs to dance…

Characters investigate, follow tracks, and chase someone in the woods. It turns into an ambush, but the bandits are not human. They are mutant beastmen, and a desperate battle ensues. Half of Bronan’s squad are killed, a few of the characters are lightly injured, but all the beastmen are killed — including the brutish boss, an enormous beastman whose legs were like a Klydesdale’s. Ranthin brought down this brute in a single round with two well-placed shots and a dose of Ulric’s fury!

The characters collect the heads of all the beastmen and the entire body of the brute. They report back to the farmstead that they’ve dispatched the bandits. They take the “trophies” as well as the bodies of their fallen comrades back to Castle Ostermark, to report on an apparent new threat to the realm.

Each character earns 200 xp.

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Chapter2:ConclusionPart3
"Per Veil, Ego Voco Nex", or "Some things are best left un-said"

Cast: Dellin, Ranthin, Archibald, Bronan, and Rufus
Continued from the cliff-hanger ending of the previous episode…characters have battled past the rear-guard of Toltevsky’s hideout, and are ready to charge into the entrance.

The characters make their way cautiously into the cave entrance to the Vivisectionist’s lair. After a hundred feet or so, the path through the cave turns into a crafted flagstone tunnel. Rufus casts Marsh lights to light the way, but spooks the other characters in so doing. They make their way through the tunnel, past the jail cells, and to the big double doors that mark the entrance to Toltevsky’s lab.

The find the doors unbarred, and so they enter. A few things are noticed immediately: the lab is in shambles, the desk and bookcases overturned and papers and other stuff scattered over the floor; a corpse is dangling like a marionette, tied by ropes to the rafters; there is a puddle of blood underneath the corpse, which has apparently been disemboweled; there are runes in blood surrounding the puddle; there is a crow nailed to the wall with a dagger, and there is also a note stuck to the crow.

Ranthin plays rear-guard and watches for oncoming danger down the tunnel. Rufus and the others enter the lab to take a closer look. Bronan notices the iron door on the far end of the “operatory”, and it is securely locked. Rufus glances at the bloody runes, and makes his way to the note and crow. Archibald and Dellin immediately recognize the dangling corpse as being Dr. Toltevsky. Someone has apparently gotten to him first!

Archibald puzzles out the meaning of the runes, reading them aloud as he recognizes them: “Per Veil, Ego Voco Nex”…Rufus hears what Archibald just said, translated as “Through the veil, I summon violent death,” and shouts that they need to leave immediately. At the same time, Rufus feels the winds of the Aethyr swirl and gust towards the corpse, where a black vortex visible to his witch-sight has appeared. To Rufus’ magic sense, it appears the vortex is sucking in the Aethyric winds and that the vortex is growing. The vortex is centered in the body cavity of the disemboweled corpse, about 5-6 feet off the ground.

Dellin’s hair stands on end, and even though he can’t sense what Rufus does, he knows from his sixth sense that something bad indeed has happened. He grabs the dead crow, which he recognizes as “Handsome” and the note, stuffing them into a pack and moves out of the room, behind Rufus who as already run out screaming doom and gloom. Archibald assumes that he’s accidentally cast a fear spell, so he casts courage on Bronan to steel his will.

Bronan and Archibald remain near the corpse as the vortex becomes visible even to them and a large bony/spiny mantis-like protrusion emerges from the void and anchors itself on the floor, like something monstrous is starting to pull itself through the rift. Meanwhile, Toltevsky’s corpse is swelling into a bloated sac of protoplasm. Bronan takes a swing with his axe at the corpse, which explodes into chunks of gore, and temporarily blinds Bronan as the bloody mess splashes over his face and body.

The “thing” is still coming through the rift even though the corpse has been destroyed. More protuberances appear in the void. Archibald has had a few seconds to think things over, and from his theology knowledge, he’s decided that he might have just accidentally summoned a Greater Demon into the world. Oops. He and others yell at Bronan to retreat, as they move out of the room. Just then, a spiked tentacle whips out of the void, narrowly missing Bronan and smashes into the overturned bookcase, where it gets temporarily stuck (a critical failure rolled by GM…saved Bronan’s life).

Bronan clears his eyes, realizes he was about 3" from death’s doorstep, and decides that fleeing is the better part of valor in this case. The characters all run out of the tunnel, through the cave, and back outside. They survey the battle below the bluffs. It looks like Ostermark’s men have won, but with massive casualties. There is less than a dozen defenders surrounding the Duke, and they look to have just dispatched the final Black Knight. They spot the characters emerging from the cave and ride to the path up the bluffs while the characters run down. Choppy and Spike are nowhere to be found.

Dellin retrieves the note he grabbed from the lab and gives it to Archibald to read it. Archibald relates that the note says something to the effect of: “Dearest Einhorn: You should have taken me up on my offer. I do so hate rejection. Dr. Toltevsky was a brilliant man who fortunately left highly detailed and clear notes of his research. I now have the means and the power, so you’d be advised to keep out of Brettonia and away from me. —R”

Archibald and others believe the note, which is written in a feminine hand, is from Lady Rene De Rochelle.

The characters and Ostermark‘s group meet on the path and they notice that a mounted army flying the Empire’s colors are galloping over the battlefield towards the bluffs. They also notice a dark cloud on the horizon. Archibald’s excellent vision sees that the cloud is an enormous swarm of black birds (thousands). He describes the leading banner of the approaching forces to Ostermark, who identifies it as Murdoch Einhorn.

Archibald relates that Toltevsky is dead but that a “major death demon” is coming. Ostermark had brought some extra horses up the hill with him, and so the characters each have a mount. They all try to gallop down the rough narrow pass to flee before Einhorn arrives. Ostermark’s trained men make it down the path, but several of the characters who have no horsemanship struggle. Archibald’s horse refuses to move, because Archy is yanking back on the reigns frantically while kicking the horse in its sides. Rufus falls off his horse. Ranthin and Bronan do better, but they can’t maintain the pace. Dellin is an experienced rider, but turns back to help Archibald and Rufus. Ostermark yells at Dellin to meet him at a certain road-side inn on the route to Ostermark. Ostermark and his remaining entourage flee the scene before Einhorn arrives, but unfortunately, the characters are unable to do so, and are trapped on the narrow path by Einhorn’s vanguard, which waits at the bottom.

Archibald moves down the path to talk to Einhorn. Einhorn accuses Archibald and the rest of interfering with the Empire’s business and a number of crimes. Archibald protests and says that Toltevsky was killed by Rochelle, and gives the note to Einhorn as proof. Einhorn swears when he reads the note, but is undaunted in his quest to apprehend the characters…except for Rufus, who is being saved for Augustus Grimm, who rides with the main forces (which are still a ways away across the battlefield).

Around that time, a gargantuan worm-like monstrosity bursts from the cave entrance at the top of the bluff — it is hundreds of feet long and has a maw like a lamprey eel’s, but with bony mantis-like mandibles surrounding the mouth area and several spiny whip-like tentacles lash out from the maw, stretching almost a hundred feet themselves. The demon is beyond huge, and is struggling to extract itself from the tight confines of the tunnel/cave through which it has been summoned.

Everyone is terrified by the demon. (Well, almost everyone). The horse bolt, soldiers flee, and general chaos ensues. The swarm of crows attack, and all this together allows the characters to escape, fleeing into the wilderness. A few instanity points are gained due to the trauma and terror of the demon’s emergence.

The characters regroup at their old camp site. Lt. Bronn’s horse has gnawed through its reigns and escaped. They gather some horses and make for the road to Ostermark. After a day’s travel or so, they find the inn that they were referred to. Ostermark is there with his remaining men.

Ostermark and the characters have a conference in a back room, and the entire situation was explained to the Duke. The Duke requests the character’s continued assistance as an escort back to Ostermark. He even offers Bronan to be a sergeant for a squad of soldiers in his retinue. The characters agree to escort the Duke home, where he plans to gather his armies and prepare for conflict. Ostermark also observes wryly that the demon should occupy the armies of the west for a while. He also suggests that the characters treat the battle as a glorious victory — that the goal of eliminating the Vivisectionist was accomplished and therefore the losses endured by the soldiers was not in vain. Archibald later gives a motivating sermon to lift the morale of the surviving soldiers.

The characters each earn 350 xp for the combined session (this one and the previous). They gain a valuable ally in Duke Ostermark. No monetary reward was offered, other than employment in Ostermark’s retinue…except for Archibald who is a priest of the light and thus can not serve directly as Ostermark’s retainer.

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