Lights in the Darkness

Broken Idols
Session 31 to 41

Only a few candles illuminate the Abbots chamber of the former Tychite monastery as Osric writes into his journal.
“Exhausting days lie behind us but we finally stood victorious thanks to the Makers guiding hand! I have forgotten how often we have assaulted these cursed caverns down below but after long last we finally found the dark heart of the cults home: A small island guarded by the wretched remains of the cult, undead frogs, cultists, some priests of this croaking menace and the centerpiece of local problems: An unholy statue of the frog daemon.
It tried to gaze into my soul as we reached the beach and showed me the endlessness of its empty promises but with a prayer on my lips and the Makers vow of silence on my shield the trickery had no chance to ensnare me and so we crashed into them like a tidal wave.
Our might and magic were no match for their wicked frog shades and idol witchery and so one by one they fell. Sadly two managed to escape with trickery and we could not chase them them down effectively in these dark tunnels they call home and they even managed to murder our companion Orhan after ambushing us!
After that we decided to destroy the frog idol with a blessing from the Maker after stripping it of its magical protection with the help of Yrics scroll and just take whatever we can and leave this evil place for good. Before we departed we made sure that nobody else can go back in by collapsing the entrance with the help of Henryk and a good fire.
Once we arrived in Rishton we noticed an immediate effect of our deeds, the people there lynched some someone who apparently was part of the cult and set his house on fire. Maker be praised!

Chronicles of Zephyros - Chapter 10
Hounds and Horrors

“Yes, I too am looking forward to working with Thane Garnier and completing research together, updating our repertoires and giving Wilburg and Cenwulf the attention they need,” Zephyros said to Xenocrates. “I think we’ll head out maybe tomorrow, Osric and Zelik just had a little business with the church to deal with, apparently someone has disturbing one of the temples under the cover of darkness.”

“So we’re going to assist them this evening?” replied Xenocrates.

“Yes, that’s what I understand,” answered Zephyros. Later that evening the company gathered at a temple within the town. It had seen better days, certainly not receiving the full resources of the Makerites. While Osric spoke at length with the caretaker, Zephyros reminded his men what their role was here, “Now men, let’s be respectful while we are in the temple and remember, we don’t know who is interfering here, so let’s use our discretion. After all we are within Hewflore and are therefore subject to their laws and punishment. We’ll let Osric and Zelik sort this out and with some luck we’ll be on our way back to Taygle’s End soon.”

Later that evening a small group of men came into the temple and they were confronted by the Tarchoony Brotherhood. There was a brief altercation where one of the intruders was injured; fortunately aid was given right away. As it turns out the Hounds of Magos were the intruders, a division of the Makerites! Long and at times tense dialog ensued, but the company failed to establish any rapport with the Hounds, therefore the Hounds would not reveal what exactly their intentions were, although it was clear they had been excavating under the temple. The Hounds agreed to leave, but as they did they insisted that the Brotherhood not investigate their excavations. Needless to say as soon as they departed that was precisely what the Tarchoony Brotherhood did.

“What’s down there?” Zephyros asked, while peering over the shoulders of Osric and Zelic as they lowered a lantern on the end of a rope.

“There appears to be some water of what appears to be inside a green metallic tube, and what is that writhing mass?” Osric replied. The company’s curiosity took over and immediately plans were made to lower nearly everyone down, a few would stay behind to not only guard the entrance, but to provide advanced warning to the others should the Hounds of Magos return. Once the exploration team was lowered, the company made their way towards the sound of falling water. Soon they were at the end of the metallic pipe, which opened up into a deep chasm. On the opposite side of the chasm the other end of the pipe billowed out water. On the far side and just to the left of the flowing pipe there appeared to be a landing, with a few steps up to a doorway.

Burak spoke to one of his female companions, “Do you think you can make it over?”

She replied, “That’s what you pay me for, right?”

Burak answered, “Good answer, now we’ll put this rope around your waist and once you are on the other side spike it so we can assemble a rope bridge.”

“Got it!” she snorted as she scampered around the edge of the pipe clinging to the rock wall. After only a few moments she was safely to the other side and began connecting ropes to the stone wall. Osric was the first volunteer to go over, but after testing the ropes he decided to remove his armor first.

“I had better lighten the load, no sense pushing it.” Osric said as he removed his armor. The company tied a rope around his waist and to arrest a fall. After a brief prayer he inched across the chasm using the two-rope bridge. Once on the other side he investigated the door, its symbols and potential meanings. There was what appeared to be a fertility god dating back to the Tarchoony times, which would make this an ancient place. As more were preparing to make their way over suddenly Osric cried out, “Aaaaggggghhhhh! It has me!” A mass of sticky threads stuck to him and tried to pull him up into the darkness above, he narrowly escaped the attack by pulling off his shirt.

“Get archers into position!” Zelik yelled as he began tying a rope around his waist. Athelwine, Burak, and Dudda stepped up and began to fire at the contorted spiderlike mass, striking it several times. Moments later the female acrobat attempted to flee to the safety of the pipe with the rest of the companions by running across the single strand of rope.

A high pitched, “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawwwwww!” was the last the company heard of her as she fell to her death.

Zephryros completed his spell of magic missile; a small trireme jetted from above his shoulder to the creatures head, creating a small flash as it impacted it. Osric began to pray for sanctuary and was soon protected from further attacks, so the horror turned towards Athelwine, sending a single strand his way. He was hit, but it did not stick.

Another salvo of arrows and bolts erupted from the pipe, some of which made their mark onto the creature. But this time the creature’s web hit Athelwine and if were not for the quick actions of Burak he would have been pulled in. “I’ve got you!” Burak shouted as he pulled Athelwine around the edge of the pipe, which added tension to the web and reduced the spider’s leverage on the line. More companions piled on Athelwine to keep him from being pulled into the spider’s maw. Moments later another arrow pierced the creature end’s its miserable life.

“What the hell was that!” Zephyros yelled? “I’ve not seen anything quite like it.”

“A horror of the deep dark past, I’m afraid,” Replied Zelik. “Maybe the Hounds were right?”

“What do you think Xenocrates, will it have anything of use to us? Zephyros asked.

“Most certainly my liege, poison at the least, and I’m guessing more, but I have no way to access it I’m afraid,” Xenocrates replied.

“Nonsense, Dudda is an expert climber and is no stranger to gutting a deer,” Zephyros answered as he threw Dudda a wink.

“No problem at all boss,” Dudda snapped as he took off out of the pipe and up the wall towards the spider horror. As he neared it he could see the eyes and fangs of the creature, most terrifying really. As he was trying to remove the fangs and venom sac his foothold slipped and he nearly pricked himself. In the process of doing so he cut open the sac and ruined the contents. “Dammit!” he exclaimed.

The company all gathered back into the tunnel and collected their thoughts, “Osric what did you see?” inquired Zelik.

“There is a door with runes on it in what must be ancient Tarchoony script. There is a figure, like a fertility god with the top of a woman and the bottom of a man. They are holding a staff with what appears to be a pine cone on top. This must be an ancient religious place.”

“I thought the Hounds of Magos were Makerites,” snorted Zephyros in a sarcastic tone. “Why are they protecting this place?”

“So did I,” answered Osric, “So did I.”

“Well let’s get back to the entrance of the tunnel and consider our path forward. Clearly if we are going to investigate further we need to ensure we have the proper supplies for such a journey and we should only leave with full prayers and repertoires; the Maker knows we may need it,” stated Zelik. So the company moved back towards the entrance less one companion and with more questions then answers.

A Soldier's Song
Zelik can often be heard singing this song round the fire

We’ll sing a song, a soldier’s song
With cheering rousing chorus
As round our blazing fires we throng
The starry heavens o’er us
Impatient for the coming fight
And as we await the morning’s light
Here in the silence of the night
We’ll chant a soldier’s song

Soldiers are we,
whose lives are pledged to Geatland,
Some have come
from a land beyond the wave,
Sworn to be free,
no more our ancient sire’s land,
Shall shelter the despot or the slave.
Tonight we man the gap of danger
In Maker’s cause, come woe or weal,
’Mid Beastman’s roar and church bell’s peal,
We’ll chant a soldier’s song

In valley green, on towering crag
Our fathers fought before us
And conquered ‘neath the same old flag
That’s proudly floating o’er us
We’re children of a fighting race
That never yet has known disgrace
And as we march, the foe to face
We’ll chant a soldier’s song

Soldiers are we (chorus)

Sons of the Maker! Men of Geatland!
The long-watched day is breaking
The serried ranks of steel
Shall set the beast a’quaking
Our camp fires now are burning low
See in the east a silv’ry glow
Out yonder waits the Reaving foe
So chant a soldier’s song

Soldiers are we (chorus)

(The song is an old Geatish melody. The words have changed slightly since the original was sung during the Dreaman conquest, to reflect its usage during the Reaving. However, it is still regarded as somewhat subversive, and is mostly confined to common folk and not well liked amongst Dreaman nobility)

Leaving Taygle's End
Session 42 to 44

Back in Hewflore, Osric finds some time to continue his journal
After we made it back to Taygles End with the good news I could already feel how the breaking of the curse of the Frog Cult improved the mood of the villagers. I have the feeling that with time and hard work the Makers parish could flourish here, serving as a beacon of light near these tainted wetlands.
I managed to have some long talks with Lady Astrid and while we certainly have our differences when it comes to punishment and rooting out cultists who still follow the cult despite being no longer possessed I think she is a good person. I will, given the Metropolitans blessing, become the spiritual advisor of her domain, teacher of the local study and will be granted the now empty monastery with the surrounding meadow. While we had to wait for some of our wounded companions the recover I took the chance to burn the wicked books of the monastery in a small celebration following a service before the study in Taygles End. We have to work hard to stamp out any remains of the cult!
When finally travelling back to Hewflore I really started to notice the change in Cowal, the fake teacher and our prisoner. He seems very sullen and probably ponders about his deeds while under the spell of the frog daemon but he can be thankful that its not my place to bring him to proper judgement as I will hand him over to the church in Hewflore. What concerned me also was an attack by river pirates, not just because we lost a former henchmen in the foray but also because brother Zelik noticed that some of them seem to be under the same spell as the villagers before. Do the local pirates work together with the cult? A very troubling thought…
Today I handed over Cowal but it seems he was deemed redeemable… The Maker truly works in mysterious ways. Though the good news is that I was asked by Yuric the Elder to take over the parish in Taygle’s End, a task that I gratefully accepted!
I will now visit Ralf d’Arcy again, he seemed troubled about riff-raff skulking around his church and strange noises in the night.

The Chronicles of Zephyros - Chapter 11

After Osric and Zelik decided to pass on further investigation of the complex under the temple in Hewflore, Zephyros decided to focus on getting various other errands completed so he and his apprentices could relax in Taygle’s End and study in Garnier’s library. Before leaving town he stopped in at the Hewflore curiosity shop where he sold the Rod of Chains. As it turned out the patron was also interested in the Horn of Sea Summoning. The 5,000gp he sold it for would cover all the upcoming research; his mind was already working on the Summon Hero spell he hoped to master.

While in Hewflore he gathered his men, Ansger, Athelwine, Xenocrates, Henryk, Dudda, Wilburg and Cenwulf. “Men, please spend what remaining time we have here in Hewflore by preparing yourselves for the work we have before us. Go to the smiths and procure fine weapons and armor. Pick up supplies such that you are prepared to survive in the wilderness and in the darkest of caverns, for we know not where will be off to next, but you can be rest assured it will not be in the comfort of an inn. Xenocrates and Dudda, I appreciate your leadership in the ways of harvesting components from the creatures we encounter. Let’s please pass this knowledge onto Cenwulf and Wilburg while they also study the ways of healing, such that we can together we can pursue the craft of transmogrification and crossbreeds. In time we will develop our laboratory and library where we can perfect the craft. Additionally, I have collected a great list of spells for us to study together and expand our grimoires, so after we are done scribing we will agree on which spells we will retain in memory to benefit the Tarchoony Brotherhood. Once we have gathered everything we need, let us prepare the boats for departure to Taygle’s End.”

Once in Taygle’s End Zephyros caught back up with Garnier. “Ever heard of the ‘Horned Society?’ ‘Scarlet Brotherhood?’ No? Mmm. You don’t want to. You do? Well, I’m telling you that you don’t. Bad news, Zephyron, er, Zephrykos. Er? What’s your name again? Haha. Just joking.”

Zephyros replied, “Well Garnier, I have much to learn from you it seems. I’m afraid I’m not from these parts, remember what I told you about the portal, so you have me at a disadvantage with respect to the ‘Horned Society’ and the ‘Scarlet Brotherhood.’ Please enlighten me so I can be careful not to offend the wrong person during my travels.”

Garnier’s eyes narrowed and his face took a stern visage. “Zephyros, they seek mages like yourself; offer them power, greatness all in the name of chaos. It’s a dark path son, one you must avoid.”

“What do they do if you decline to join them?” asked Zephyros.

“You end up six feet under,” retorted Garnier.

“Ah I see, well I’m but a simple ship’s captain, I only dabble in the arts,” Zephyros said with a smile.

“I’m afraid you’ll need to do better than that Zephyros, word of your exploits has traveled farther then you think. Prepare yourself. And if a wise man may pass on some wisdom, stay on the path of law and order Zephyros.”

“Aye Garnier, I appreciate your wisdom. One more question, do you think these two groups are recruiting so heavily because of the threat of war? Another war of the wands if you will?”

“You’re a thoughtful man Zephyros, those are my thoughts as well,” answered Garnier.

Much was discussed over the weeks spent together researching in Garnier’s library. As it turned out Zephyros’s first research project was a failure. The only good news is that he knows the information that is needed for Summon Hero is not contained within Garnier’s library, so he will be keeping an eye out for some books on the subject of summoning. Aside from that, the scribing, learning and memorizing of the new spells went well for Zephyros, Xenocrates, Cenwulf and Wilburg. The spell signatures for his new spells are as follows:

Fireball – A trireme appears over the right shoulder of the caster and the catapult on its bow fires upon command a small pea-sized glowing orange ball. Upon reaching the target it bursts into a huge ball of fire, similar to that used in naval warfare.

Slow – This spell is very subtle, in that no visual component is noticed, safe that upon completion of the final word time stands still for an instant for all those around the caster. The next moment time returns to normal for all of those except those targeted and they see the world passing them much faster, although in reality they are acting slower, it’s just how our minds work.

Skinchange – Upon completion of the final word, having already decided which animal the caster wished to turn into, there is a slight whoosh sound along with a puff of black mist which immediately dissipates as the caster takes the new form. Should the caster change form again the whoosh and black mist occur again. There is no distinguishing the animal form from that of the real thing, in fact it is real, or is it?

The Chronicles of Zephyros - Chapter 12
Raiding Pirate Island

Zephyros supervised the preparations to the riverboats at the port at Taygle’s End. He was looking forward to some fresh air after months of research, but still being mid-winter he was aware of the hazards of naval exploration this time of year. But, the resources of the company were dwindling and so he carefully considered the weights and positioning of the personnel with Zelik, before the Tarchoony Brotherhood Flotilla set out for the North. The orientation of the riverboats was tactically sound, the front two vessels were comprised of our front line infantrymen, and the center two vessels were the caster flagship and archers. Finally, the last two vessels were the remaining archers and reserve infantry.

After departing the port some of the company recalled the passage to the North having been this route before. But the company soon found itself in uncharted waters with an island dead ahead to the North. A pillar of smoke could be seen rising above the tree line on the high side of the island. Zephyros thought out loud, “We can make it either way around this island either Northwest or Northeast, but I’m thinking those are pirates since this island abuts the main channel from the Northeast. They will have lookouts positioned on the bluff overlooking the channel, so let’s make full speed to the Northeast and cover their escape route.” The direction went out to all the vessels and the rowers strained as the riverboats leapt forward with every stroke.

Zelik shouted, “I see several boats on the shore up ahead and men running towards them! Put your back’s into it men!” The first vessel contained Haakon, Almund, Boguslaw, Zelik, Hidswith, Ansger, Henryk, Osric, Hanael and an infantryman. The second was comprised of all mercenary infantrymen. These two would make landfall first, with remaining mercenary infantry on the third vessel, which would fall slightly behind. The flagship with Zephyros, Godric, Cenwulf, Emyr, Athelwine, Wilburg, Xenocrates, Oswald and an infantrymen, would hold off the beach by about sixty feet. Vessel four with Ustig, Dudda, Toland, Jaromir, Burak and several mercenary crossbowmen would hold off at long range, mostly due to lack of rowers. Vessel five also stayed at long range, with the remaining mercenary infantry and crossbowmen.

As soon as our archers were in range of the enemies rushing to defend their shores and riverboats they began to fire. Both Zephyros and Xenocrates created mirror images of themselves to avoid missile fire. After a couple minutes several of the pirates would be dead, but their archers started to gather strength and punished our landing force. Oswald’s ballista certainly impacted their morale as did a well-placed fireball from Zephyros. Within moments of reaching the beach most of the pirate archers were shattered between spells and constant pounding from our archers. Zelik’s and Osric’s infantry force pushed hard into the pirate line and pushed them back into a steady retreat. With only one-third of the enemy force remaining a pirate leader yelled, “Back to the stockade!”

Zephyros thought to himself, “Should we push forward or hold our position? We have the beach and their vessels. If we push we could be exposed on our rear, especially those that stay behind. But if we push we may be able to end it now. He turned around and scanned the horizon for any other vessels.”

The Chronicles of Zephyros - Chapter 13
Vanishing Pirates

The Tarchoony Brotherhood counseled and decided and quickly decided to make formations and push toward the pirate stronghold. There would be an infantry force supported by archers that would make a frontal assault. A stealth force lead by Burak to move to the West shoreline in an attempt to hit the fortification from the rear. The remainder including Zephyros would remain behind to guard the boats.

Burak motioned to the West, “The five of us will go that way, give us a head start before you start the assault.” Dudda, Jaromir, Roland and Ustig were already moving off Westward along the shoreline.

Osric replied, “Aye, leave now and may the Maker be with us!” Meanwhile on the flagship Oswald continued to fire the ballista upon the pirate stronghold diminishing the door to rubble. “Form up the men!” Osric shouted. Zelik organized the infantry into two ranks. Zelik, Osric, Haakon, Henryk, Hanael, would make up the front line. Ansger and six infantry would make up the rear line. Athelwine, Emyr, Boguslaw and eight crossbow comprised the archer force. Moments later Osric shouted, “Rally up men, let’s move out!” With that the men marched towards the palisades.

It wasn’t long before the pirates started firing arrows at the Tarchoony Brotherhood archers and their aim was impeccable. Several of the men were wounded, to the point that they fell back to longer range. Boguslaw set about healing those as best he could. By the time the infantry force made it to the front gate of the pirate fort they were no longer supported by the archers.

Upon reaching the gate Henryk noticed a pit trap and the men were forced to split into two single file lines in order to breach the front door without falling in the trap. Of course the pirates had formed a horseshoe gauntlet inside the palisades. Osric yelled, “For the Maker!” as he charged in. The Tarchoony Brotherhood was in their element and made short work of the pirate infantry. Simultaneously, Burak jumped over the palisade wall at the rear of the fort, pulling an enemy pirate archer over the wall behind him in the process.

After a few seconds of fighting it was clear that the Tarchoony Brotherhood would have the day. Efforts were made to focus on the pirate leaders and ensure they did not flee. Osric cast a prayer of holding on the pirate boss, no effect. A moment later Zephyros appeared from nowhere and cast a stinking cloud on the pirate boss, again no effect. Only a few swings of weapons later and the pirate boss in the scale armor resembling that of a raptor began fading from sight! “What foul magic is this, stop him!” shouted Osric. His sergeant just a few feet away turned invisible. “Arghhh! Face me you coward!” yelled Ansger. The remaining pirate sergeant jumped from the wall towards the boats, but Athelwine, Dudda, Ustig and the infantry were on his heels.

Burak muttered, “Who can detect invisible? Haakon can’t your sword locate objects? Where his armor goes he goes!”

A Quiet Winter

Karl was cold. He’d thought Hewflore’s streets could suck the warmth off a man, but out here on the wind blasted Marish, he’d found out what cold was. The weak midwinter sun was just bright enough to stab into the back of his eyes as it glared off the sump water and promise a headache later. His muscles ached with unaccustomed effort and his palms chafed against the rough wooden oar. Spending the winter playing housecarl to an aging Baucharite soldier had made him soft, but the promise of an easy Season on the Taygle had lured him in. Sure, the Taygle wasn’t exactly the most appealing place these days, but after Hewflore’s Autumn Fair, pickings were scarce. Some of his compatriots had signed on with caravans to Weanapole, others had found rich merchants houses to guard, and the desperate ones had signed on for “adventure” with the Gangs at the Docks. He wasn’t that hopeless yet.

The Baucharite had taken Karl and Teagr, another would be solider, north to Taygle’s End as the Winter descended. He seemed to know the Lady Osthryd, her Advisor Osric and the famous Captain Zephyros. They called themselves the Tarchoony Brotherhood, whatever that meant, and they had grand plans to improve the town’s lot. It wouldn’t be hard to improve it in Karl’s opinion – flooding would count as gentrification. Still, they’d brought supplies, and pitched in to the rebuild the place, clean out the worst of the debris and see them through the winter. Karl and Teagr had watched as Zelik rose at dawn and left to do his rounds of the outlying steads and fishing huts, tending to injuries and illness, bringing the worst cases to the Monastery. He’d then work around the town, hauling lumber, helping build walls, or on one memorable occasions, digging out a clogged nightsoil trench. In the evenings, they’d sit around a crude wooden table by the fire and eat gruel, with lumps of fat and stale bread and drink weak beer, or mead if it could be had. Zelik would talk of campaigns past. There seemed scant glory in soldiering, the way he described it. Mostly lots of walking from dawn till dusk, not knowing where you were going, or hurrying up to wait for interminable hours in the arse end of nowhere for some sign or decision to be made. Interspersed among the walking and waiting were short periods of terror. An impression of unbearable noise, the reek of sweat and piss, straining with every nerve and sinew to simply live, and at the end, the sickly sight of blood and corpses.

And then, on a clear day at the start of the new year, they’d mustered three score and ten of their troops by the wharf in Taygle’s End, loaded them into six boats and told them to row North West out of the lagoon. North West, North East, East, North East, North West, North East, North West, they’d poled and dipped an oar now and then to keep moving with the sluggish current carrying them deeper into the Marish. The mist burned off towards midday, and with the clear air, the damn pointy eared man-eater hissed out that there was dry land ahead.

They drifted closer, the….officers? leaders? purse holders?….of the Brotherhood’s erstwhile flotilla conferring from boat to boat in hushed calls. Suddenly, the Alfar with his accursed eyes spotted smoke rising from the backside of the island.

Heads bent, they strained at the oars. The boats surged forward, with the helmsmen exhorting the crews to row as if their lives depended on it. Karl could only catch glimpses of the island flashing past, with people running and shouting, before the hail of arrows began. The hiss of shafts followed by splashes, solid thuds or worse, screams. Were they trying to land against a troop of damned archers? They’d all be skewered before they could make the beach! Cursed fools leading them into this. He didn’t want to die in a stinking marsh in the back end of nowhere…. and then his head snapped back with a jolt as the boat grounded. People leapt from the thwarts, snatching up weapons and shields. Someone stamped on his hand as they staggered to the bow, knocking his shield into the bilges. Karl jammed his helm on and tried to stay in the middle of the suddenly pitifully small troop. Oh Maker, they were the first boat ashore..and there were lines of men on the beach ranged against them, and those terrible arrows were still raining down. Karl tried to stop himself throwing up. And then as Osric bellowed something about the Maker before launching himself against the Horde, they exploded into fire. The screaming started in earnest; the sweet smell of roasted flesh was too much and Karl gagged on bile as he retched uncontrollably.

Carried along by the press of bodies and his fear, Karl stumbled onto the foreshore. The opposing brigands were falling over themselves, as half their comrades fell where they stood, struck down by some Eldritch force. The Brotherhood were merciless, cutting them down in the confusion. A severed hand lay still clutching a spear on the sand. Entrails spilled out of a split stomach. A man staggered by drunkenly, half his skull caved in and glistening grey wetness showing through.

And then a ominous pause. There was no one left to fight. Scattered remnants of the other side were running towards a stockade, and the Brotherhood were regrouping on the beach by the boats. Arrows still flew, but far fewer and from too far away to be a real threat. Karl saw at least half a dozen of the Brotherhood’s troops down – missing a leg here, a hand there; or lying still, staring glassy eyed into who knows where. Teagr was standing on the beach, with a confident grin – he’d been the third boat to land and it was all over by the time he stood on the shore. Karl slumped on the beach and gulped fresh air through his chattering teeth. Thank the Maker he’d made it through alive, he was safe…

A kick from another swordsman, as he nodded towards the stockade, tightening his shield on this arm. No no no no no. It was a good furlong across open ground to the walls! This wasn’t supposed to be how it went, running into arrows was dumb, he’d not stand for it. Except he was, lining up with the others behind the fool Brotherhood, hunkering under suddenly tiny shields as they jogged across the broken terrain in two lines. The sweat dropped off his forehead and his helm kept slipping over his eyes but he daren’t risk pushing it back with his weapon or shield arm. The arrows picked up with a vengeance but aimed at the crossbowmen they’d left at their rear. Karl was ashamed to be grateful they were firing at somebody else. They were all running now, breath whistling in and out, no talking, just fighting for each step not to be the last. Up the rise to the wooden stakes, someone crying out to go round the pit, and how were they getting in, wait, the gate was in splinters. But again, those men ranged in lines against them, so similar to him, probably even someone from the same city, but on the wrong end of a spear. Was this what soldiering was about? Being fool enough to go through that gap, broad enough for no more than two abreast, to dash out your guts so someone else could slip on them? How in all that was holy did anyone last two days let alone two decades doing this, Karl thought, as the aging Baucharite pushed forward shoulder to shoulder with Osric. Was that what being a veteran was? Not shitting yourself in battle and taking advantage of those that did? And then, he lost himself in the noise and the fury, moving with those around him to push into the thrice damned fort and kill or be killed.

Karl found himself on the beach again, an immeasurable time later. He was covered in muck, and blood, and guts, but most of it wasn’t his. The healers passed him by with barely a glance as they rushed to the others, groaning or screaming. Those who lay still merited no attention. He’d seen Teagr go down as they rushed through the gate – where was he now? He was no brother, but they’d overwintered together, shared crude jokes over mead and snickered at the Baucharite as he shovelled shit.

Zelik came down the beach, and looked him up and down. He nodded once, and clapped him on the shoulder. “Well fought, shield brother”.

Hanael's Winter at the Taygle

Hanael pushed through the snowdrift, Osric only a couple yards ahead of him. They still had to visit two homesteads before the sun sets and the weather was getting worse but Hanael knew that that this was not something that concerned Osric in any way. He has to admit though that this stubbornness and sense of duty was one of his more inspiring aspects.
The young Axiomar is very impressed how Osric works hard and unrelenting when it comes to missionary work, visiting all these families, reading from his book and giving the Makers blessings. He just wished Osric would base his lovingness on alturism and not on conscientiousness. He doesnt think that this is based in the suspicion that some folks might still revere this hideous frog demon, (Though that probably plays a part in it as well!) but that the Maker probably just decided to fill his heart with so much fervor that there was barely any space left for compassion.

The winter month in Taygles End are long and rather unpleasant but with all the missionary work Hanael had to do on command of Osric at least made the days pass quickly. He especially treasures the times where he was sent out alone so Osric could return to the monastery or study for prayer and contemplation. He noticed that the people here react quite differently to the Makers words when Osric is not around. Maybe its the stern voice that Osric always uses when speaking about the Maker, maybe its because he always comes back to the dangers of cults and witchery in his sermons or maybe its because he and the Tarchoony Brotherhood slew many fellow citizens who were under the spell of the fell frog idol. Hanael definitely wants to make sure that the habitants of this dreary town also hear something uplifting and encouraging for once, they sure need it. So far he feels that he does his job quite well and many are quite eager to hear his allegories.
Just sometimes he wished that he could find some time to talk to Zealik more, Hanael was sure that the older Axiomar must have some very exciting tales of strife and heroism to tell. After all these weeks in this frozen fisher village he really wants to test his skills against the beasts of the swamp once more, even getting back at training recruits would be a welcome change from all the evangelistic activity.

Stithwulf: The Cultists' Dungeon

I grew up in the Mornlands. Father was a trader, and we spent a fair piece of my childhood traveling up and down the River Hellfor. We always stayed away from the Great Marsh though, and we never plied the Morn Sound or the seas beyond. Father always said the Marsh was cursed. Something about a Sunken City, and ancient heresy. Maker knows, I should’ve listened, and stayed away from the Marsh.

After Father died, I made my way as I could. As it turned out, I was a fair hand with a blade and a bow, and I inherited some of Father’s talent for negotiating. I made my way, first as a mercenary, then as an adventurer, for some time. I took a job here, followed a lead there. The whole time though—my whole life, really—I watched darkness creep ever more into the Mornlands. Into my home. I finally decided to do something about it. I was in a tavern when a well-armed man walked in and started looking for “Brave souls, with strong arms and stout hearts!” Hah. I recognized another money-hungry adventurer when I saw him. I didn’t begrudge him his sales pitch, but I didn’t pay it much mind either. That is, until I heard him mention the Sunken City. My ears perked up; I listened a while more, and eventually struck up a conversation with him. Not too long after that, I was signed onto Red’s Raiders, and on a barge headed down the River Hellfor.

We all went—more the fools, us—and used the standing stone in the middle of town. The good news was, we survived the standing stone, and found ourselves where we thought we wanted to be: in the Sunken City. The bad news was, we couldn’t find our way back. After more twists and turns than I can count or remember, we found our way out from underground, only to see we were on an island somewhere in the middle of a swamp—probably the Great Marsh, but we couldn’t be certain. Eventually, another party, larger than our own, landed on the island. After a brief parley, we agreed to work together: We would support each other, split the loot and hopefully a few heretic skulls, and head back to civilization, such as it is, together. They had boats, and said they had enough room to transport us all back. We set camp for the night, preparing to delve back into the ruins in the morning.

Morning never came for most of us. The other party turned out to be occultists of some kind, operating out of a cave complex within the swamp. They killed everyone save Aart and me while our party slept. Only keen hearing and a quick tongue let me wake up and convince them we cared more about money than the Maker, leading them to spare us. The Maker will forgive us this transgression, I am sure… as long as we extract a blood price from the apostates for it.

At any event, the occultists believed my show, and let Aart and me live and work among them for a week or two. Eventually though, my devotion to the Maker could not be hidden, and they stripped me of my belongings, bound me, and imprisoned me somewhere in a cave complex. Aart, Maker bless his black heart, stayed loyal to me, and suffered the same fate. They set the living dead to watch us, rotting corpses with eyeless sight, while the living taunted us. I expected we were bound for torture and execution, if not worse, until one of the cultists ran into the room with a message. “Adventurers have landed on our island” he said, or something like that. The apparent leader was pleased. He used chalk to draw Aart and me into a rough square in the corner of the room, set the dead outside the square, and instructed them to kill us if we left it. He then left, taking the remaining cultists from the room with him. I think I heard others running as well, leaving the cave complex with them, but I cannot be certain.

We waited. What else could we do? There were six of the dead, only two of us, and us without our arms or armor. They left us to wait in the dark, but I know the dead kept their watch; they did not stir around us. Eventually, about an hour after they left, maybe less, the some of the cultists returned. A handful came back to the room where we were held, and brought blessed light with them. A dark cave with the dead is no place for the living. I noticed, though, that I didn’t hear nearly as many returning as I thought left. Perhaps the adventuring party triumphed against the cult? Perhaps the other cultists are outside, looting the corpses of the adventurers? Or perhaps the caves are playing tricks on my ears, and my sense of those going and coming is simply wrong? Only time will tell.

Now, if only I could reach my arms and armor…


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