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The Cabal of Eight Pt.30: Black Day

The impact of the magical force tore off the black swan’s/white knight’s great helm and sent himBlack, White, & Bloodied and a few splinters of carriage flying. A blast of ice spears hit Szoosha (played by Isis) through a window from inside the carriage. The naga attempted to dodge but failed. Gornix (played by Gil) cast mass Ghost Form again. The white knight pulled out a potion of maximized Heal and drank it. His wounds miraculously closed restoring him to full health. In the distance, the black knight, in full control of his mount now, was charging back towards the fray. Fauna (played by Jenn) tried to command the black knight’s horse once again to turn tail but failed as the animal was too far away.

Hufom peaked out of the window and ghostly white flames erupted from his palms in a cone at Gornix. The flames only slightly singed his phantom form. Gornix responded with an Elemental Blast (frost) which the ratling easily dodged landing near Fauna. The white knight stood up and pulled his weapon, his war-hammer. The black spurred his charging mount forward. Fauna attempted to cast Wizard’s Trick on Hufom but couldn’t get the spell off. Szoo threw flames on Hufom but the fire didn’t even singe his whiskers.

Gornix summoned two large-sized earth elementals next to the white knight. He was forced to dodge their stony grip. The black knight was near and very soon would charge right into the fray. His light lance lowered and aimed at Szoosha. Gornix slung chrono-missiles at the white knight injuring him even through his armor. The black knight came roaring into battle trying to skewer Szoo though the naga was still able to dodge away.

The GM (me): “Um. You know you’re still under his Ghost Form spell right?”

Meanwhile 10-miles north of the battle on the trade road Excor was trudging along the dusty road having finally reached it from where he had teleported. From behind him, a small caravan of Southern Nomads came trundling along. They asked if he wanted a ride but he refused.

Cris: “Hell no I’m not taking a ride with gypsies! They’ll rob me blind and leave me naked and tied up out in middle of the desert!”

The nomad caravan trundled away into the distance, a gaggle of young women (each an exotic mix of human, faun, and naga) waved and winked to him from the back of a covered wagon as it disappeared into the distance. The bitter mage just kept walking north along the road.

To the south however, the battle raged on. The white knight gripped his war-hammer with both hands and said a prayer but nothing else seemed to happen. The black knight shouted out what also seemed to be a prayer as he reared about on his horse. Szoosha suddenly became solid losing all bonuses and abilities from the active mass Ghost Form spell. Fauna once again attempted Wizard’s Trick this time aimed at the White Knight but again she failed the casting. Hufom cast Ghost Fire at the druid. Her shield spell caught the damage. The earth elementals slammed their fists into the white knight injuring him badly. Gornix attempted to cast Force Ram on him again but failed.

The white knight’s hammer did little to the stone behemoths assaulting him. The black knight circled around and decided to try to stick Fauna but his lance passed harmlessly through her as he rode by. Fauna tried to use Wizard’s Trick yet again, on the black knight this time but again her spell failed. Hufom tried to cast Ghost Fire but the spell went wild resulting in a sudden explosion of magical energy. Fauna dodged away from the blast as it would have injured her even in ghost form. Szoo was caught and needed to do a recovery check or be instantly killed. The white knight also dodged. The elementals were chipped and pitted but were still almost at full strength. Gornix cast Force Ram at the black knight knocking him from his horse and horribly injuring him.

The black knight threw his helmet to the side and drank a potion as he sat up. Hufom cast Ghost Fire again catching Fauna and Gornix in the silvery flames but causing only a little actual damage. Gornix cast Force Ram again at the white knight but he dodged.

Gornix’s elementals attacked the white knight. He dodged the first blow but the second smashed into him. Blood spewed from his mouth and nose. Gornix cast Force Ram once again at the white knight forcing him to dodge yet again.  The black knight got to his feet and drew his black mace. Szoosha still on the ground from the magic explosion simply stayed down and “played dead”. Hufom cast Ghost Fire again at Fauna, who bumbled right into the blast in her effort to dodge it. She was in bad shape.

Gornix cast Force Ram again on the white knight forcing him to dodge again but this time the spell still smashed into him pushing him into the carriage. Luckily, he wasn’t pinched in between the wagon and the magic force avoiding crushing damage (he got a successful luck roll to avoid the crush). The wagon overturned with a crash. He was barely staying on his feet.  The black Knight screamed at Gornix and attacked but his mace passed harmlessly through the mage’s ghostly form. However, Gornix felt as if the strange weapon had stirred his ghostly vapors. Hufom cast Ghost Fire at Fauna again forcing her into a recovery check to avoid death.

Gornix tried to cast another spell but the spell failed. The black knight swung again and this time his mace connected dealing minor damage to the salt-lotus mage. Hufom again cast Ghost Fire at Fauna catching her again. With a shriek, she collapsed to the ground.

Meanwhile in the north, a group of farmers drove by Excor but completely ignored the lone and dirty mage. He sighed and kept walking. A sudden gust of wind blew a small cloud of yellow dust across the road.

The first elemental smashed a fist into the white knight flinging his body like a ragdoll into the air. His limp form fell into a clump of high yellow grass off road. The second tried to grapple the black knight but he was able to stave it off. Gornix tried to cast Cloud Memory on Hufom but the ratling wizard fought off the magic, barely (he rolled within 1 pt. of the save). Hufom moved up towards Gornix and cast Ghost Fire at the salt-lotus mage dealing a little damage to him. The black knight swung on Gornix again but his weapon passed harmlessly through. Szoosha meanwhile crawled to Fauna and pulled out a potion uncorking it with his teeth.

Again Gornix tried to cast Cloud Memory on Hufom and again the ratling was able to fight off the magic (again he saved successfully by 1 pt.). From the corner of his eye, Hufom spotted Szoosha pulling out a potion and shot Ice Spears from the tip of his staff at the naga injuring him badly. The black knight furiously swung at Gornix but his weapon again passed harmlessly through. Szoosha poured a healing potion down Fauna’s throat.

Gornix cast Slow on the black knight but a Shield spell saved the white swan. Hufom moved further away from Szoo and Fauna’s position. The black knight swung impotently at Gornix again working himself into a frothing rage. Gornix again cast Cloud Memory at Hufom which took this time causing the ratling wizard to take pause as he forgot what he was about to do.

The first earth elemental tried to stomp on Hufom whom easily dodged. The second elemental grappled the black knight. Gornix then moved towards Szoo and cast Close Wounds on him. Fauna came to and prepared to cast a spell at Hufom. Meanwhile the black knight struggled valiantly to free himself from the stony grip of the elemental, in vain. Szoo cast Elemental Half-Plate Armor (fire) on himself.

Gornix cast Chrono-Missile on Hufom but to no effect his robes protecting him. The black knight broke the elemental’s grip. Fauna successfully cast Wizard’s Trick on Hufom turning him into a harmless snail. Szoosha coiled and then whipped his tail crushing it. The black knight wailed in rage. Gornix cast Slow on the white swan.

Fauna took control of the black knight’s warhorse and her and the naga leapt onto it and rode away. Gornix commanded his elementals to grapple the black knight, which they did. Sir Illin was helpless within their crushing grip. He was shouting “I’ll KILL YOU ALL!” at the top of his lungs repeatedly. Gornix cast Nature’s Ability on himself, grew wings and flew away.

Meanwhile to the north Excor continued his slow progress towards the city. He was covered in road dust and sweating profusely. Occasionally he grumbled to himself.

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight Pt.29: Knight Crash

The dense musk of damp earth crowded the desert air. The light rains had just subsided and the dark grey clouds were in the distance, only bare bright blue sky was above. It was nearing the tail end of early afternoon and the sun was high and blazing. Already the temporary mire that the storm had created hardened and the vaporized rain hit the air thickening it to the point of making every breath a sluggish chore.

It was second watch and the cabal mages and their three draft horses had gotten approximately 4 hours of shut-eye. Excor was keeping lookout and noticed in the distance about a thousand feet or so away a small group breaking camp and packing their horses. He could also make out the presence of a carriage or wagon. He immediately jumped down from the carriage and woke everyone inside.

Gornix got out and used his magic ring of Call Nature’s Ally (Eagle). He had the eagle fly in towards the knights at a low altitude and circle a few times to catch their attention. The eagle then flew back over the mages and flew in a low circle over them a few times.

Gornix (to his companions): “It’s them alright!”

The knights were easily able to pick out the cabal mages in the distance. They waved in response although they still packed up and rode out at high speed on three horses leaving the wagon behind.

Fauna: “Well, I guess the chase is back on.”

Szoosha: “Aww. I didn’t get enough sleep!”

Excor: “None of us did!”

Wearily Fauna took the driver’s seat and spurred the horses into a full run. The elegant blue carriage was off with a jolt and a spray of pebbles and moist clods. They passed the former campsite of the knights and could see the ironclad wagon and what were they assumed the driver and the crossbowman tending to a broken wheel. Hufom’s wagon had sustained damage in the battle with the blue dragon after all.

Excor turned his head and happened to glance out of the open window in the opposite direction. He caught a sudden glimpse of an abandoned wagon in an open field. In that field, he could clearly see three headless corpses and the distance a pair of oxen grazing on the sparse, rain freshened grasses.

Excor (leaning out of the window): “Fauna! Stop! I think I see Corje!”

Fauna: “Does he look alive!?”

Excor: “No!”

Fauna: “Then we don’t stop!”

Thus inside Excor and Gornix decided to inspect the blue dragon’s/blue-stranger’s gear. The curved dagger and scimitar with silver wire wrapped grips and large sapphire pommel stones were superior quality weapons with a +3 magic modifier each. The purple velvet shoes with gold tracery granted their wearer a +3 bonus to Dodge and a +5 ft. bonus to Speed. The blue robes with black and silver embroidery granted the spell Elemental Alter Self (Water) twice a day and Conjure Water once a day to the wearer. The blue cloak with the silver clasp was a level 10 item with the ability to cast Teleportation I once a day. The two mages gathered the gear together and left it in a neat bundle on the floor of the carriage when they finished identifying the loot.

It was late afternoon as the blue carriage was rumbling up behind the twin knights on their warhorses, a third horse in tow. On the third steed was a small hunched shape in a powder blue wizard’s robe with silver fringing, a small lacquered staff on his back, and a long wormy tail trailing behind from under his robes.

Jenn: “Guys we got ‘em!”

Cris: “Ugh. It’s a ratling isn’t it?”

Gil: “Can’t you like put his horse to sleep!”

The black knight, Sir Illin, turned towards and glared at the mages as they drew in closer.

Fauna: “Um guys? I think they know.”

Cris: “Of Course they KNOW!”

As the black knight was looking away from his charge, he didn’t notice when Hufom’s horse fell out from under him. However, the small ratling wizard leapt easily from his horse as it collapsed into the road dirt onto the back of the white knight’s horse.

Jenn: “Damn!”

Hufom turned and taking his staff in hand began waving it around obviously targeting the carriage horses. However, he was unable to cast the spell due to the rough ride of the chase.

Gornix: “Fauna! Get me in closer. I got this guys!”

Jenn (to Gil): “Hey! Aren’t you still high!”

Gil: “Oh yeah.”

Excor cast Neutralize Poison on Gornix. The salt-lotus mage instantly regained his wits and climbed out an open window.

Excor (to Gornix): “What are you doing!?”

Szoo (to Excor): “You know I think we should cut our losses and get out of here! This is a disaster!”

The wind whipped through Gornix’s hair and gouts of dust blasted into his eyes and mouth as he strained to make his way to the seat next to Fauna. Eventually he made it. Both knights were on guard with light lances couched. The knights on their steeds tried in desperation to outrun the carriage spurring their mounts on but Fauna was somehow able to keep on their tails and even ride up even closer on their tails. Gornix took his chance and cast Force Ram at the white knight’s warhorse.

The column of force smashed into the unfortunate animal crushing its ribs and throwing it and its riders into the speeding dirt road. The white knight flew head over heels into the air and crashed into the ground with the crunching of metal. Fauna yanked the carriage to a screeching halt nearly turning it over in the process.

A cloud of yellow-red dust enveloped all save one. The black knight, quite a ways ahead, was turning his horse around. None of the mages could see where Hufom, their target, had been thrown by the crash.  Excor cast Shield on himself and stepped out of and away from the carriage. Gornix used his acrobatics skill to roll with the impact of the crash when he was thrown from the carriage landing on his feet. Fauna smashed hard into the dirt road headfirst but the shield ability on her magic necklace saved her from damage.  The white knight/black swan achingly got to his feet on shaking legs. Szoosha slithered out of the opposite side of the carriage to try to remain hidden from the knights and Hufom.

As the dust cleared, the Black Knight lowered his lance and began to charge, targeting Fauna as she slowly got to her feet. A Bolt of Stunning shot from an unseen position striking Gornix. Fortunately, he was not stunned. Excor cast Invisibility I on himself and disappeared from sight. Gornix successfully cast Mass Ghost Form. Three of the cabal mages faded into incorporeal phantoms, Excor had resisted it for some reason. Fauna took control of the Black Knight’s warhorse causing it to turn and flee from battle. The White Knight suddenly had a silvery war-hammer in his gauntleted hand and struck at Gornix but the weapon passed harmlessly through him.

Suddenly and unexpectedly, the mages just surrendered.

Cris: “WHAT THE HELL!?”

Excor rushed around back into the carriage and picked up the blue cloak of teleportation. The White Knight shouted at him and charged swinging his hammer in a devastating arc. The weapon hit its target but only served to dispel the active shield spell on the mage. Excor took the opportunity to use the cloak and disappear from the carriage reappearing about one mile north on the road.

Jenn: “I don’t believe you just deserted us!”

Isis: “YOU RAN AWAY! What the HELL!?”

The White Knight (pointing his hammer at Gornix): “I command YOU to return to flesh you COWARD! You are ALL under ARREST!”

Ultimately, Szoo was able to convince the white knight to take to the carriage and Hufom and leave them alone as they were proof against his weapon and were out of “tricks” so to speak. Therefore, the white knight convinced that they were more concerned about their own skins than fulfilling their mission climbed into the driver’s seat. Hufom’s tiny frame leapt from seemingly nowhere straight into the carriage. The white knight readied to leave.

Gornix (to the White Knight): “This isn’t personal. We weren’t trying to kill you. Just business. … Oh hey! Let us get our equipment first before you go!”

The White Knight ignored him and was about to spur the horses. Gil was twitching.

Isis: “Bro! What are you doing?”

Jenn: “Guillermo I’m pretty wounded here and out of magic!”

However it was apparent that he was not about to just let it go.

Isis: “Okay then, I start getting ready to cast something!”

Jenn: “NO! Don’t encourage HIM!”

Gornix got the drop on the white knight and cast Force Ram.

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight Pt.28: Wagons & Dragon

The motley caravan began to slow and the dust clouds that the wagons had sent billowing as they tried to maintain top speed for the past few hours inevitably shrank as they slowed. The lead wagon was iron plated and assumed to be carrying one Firstborn Hufom, target of the cabal mages. Leading that were the twin swans, a pair of twin black and white knights. Two horsed lancers were riding alongside either side of the lead wagon.

Behind the lead wagon was a blue lacquered coach being driven by a hunchback and pulled by a team of six horses. Aboard was the Blue Stranger, dragon in disguise, and three of the cabal mages: Gornix (played by Gil), Fauna (played by Jenn), and Szoosha (played by Isis). A ways behind them was a rickety farm wagon driven by the cloaked and mysterious Corje. Aboard it: a pair of cloaked associates of the driver and an unconscious Excor (played by Cris).

It was late in the day though evening was still a few hours off. The horses were tired and the black and white knights relented allowing the caravan to slow. They figured they had left behind the enemies that had attempted a hit on their charge back at Farmers’ Cross Lodge. Meanwhile on the boards of the rear wagon Excor was tossing and turning in the grips of a fitful nightmare. He was mumbling something unintelligible over and over again.

Fauna, Szoo, and Gornix were stiff as boards as they sat with what they knew to be a dragon in the fancy blue carriage. Its interior furnished in black leather and the seats padded. The rear bench had small table that projected out from one side and stretched about halfway across the width of the cabin. To the left on the bench was a built-in cabinet/bar tinkling with bottles of all kinds of liquors. Only Gornix had indulged in some of the wine offered by his host. The others just stared wide-eyed at the Blue Stranger.

Meanwhile Excor continued to toss but ever more violently. The cloaked pair beside him noticed his eyes had almost opened. His words were becoming ever clearer.

Excor: “Lightning…..dead horses…”

In the blue coach the stranger seemed bored of the terror he inspired and of drink as did Gornix, both were visibly agitated.

Isis: “Oh boy…”

Jenn: “Uhm. Bro. Be careful…”

Gornix: “So you’re a dragon huh, the blue one that killed our oxen.” Szoo and Fauna face-palmed.

The Blue Stranger turned slowly to the lotus wizard and suddenly a wide toothy grin broke across his mirthless face.

The Blue Stranger: “Well. Let’s stir things up and see how luck favors the bold shall we?”

With that, the Blue Stranger opened a window shutter and began screaming at the top of his lungs: “No! Watch out that mage is casting a spell at YOU!” He lunged forward sticking his head out the window, suddenly his jaw dropped absurdly extended his gaping maw, and his teeth lengthened into fangs.

Excor (leaping to his feet wide-awake): “The DRAGON IS ATTACKING!”

A blinding blue-white bolt of lightning shot from the dragon’s throat at the two horsemen on that side of the caravan blasting them and their horses to bits. In response the twin swans reared their war-horses. The other horsemen began to circle around the carriage.

Szoosha leapt from the carriage out the opposite side from which the dragon blew its breath weapon and cast Elemental Half-Plate Armor (Fire) on himself. The dragon leapt out of his finery leaving it a heap on the carriage floor as he took his true form that sprung from the carriage in time to blast away the last two horsemen with another bolt of its breath. Excor leapt from the farm wagon and activated the Shield spell on his amulet. Fauna exited the carriage and cast Throw Flames at the dragon but to no effect. Ice Spears flew from the general direction of the lead wagon striking the dragon only slightly scratching it. Gornix cast Mass Nature’s Ability (Flying and Thermal Vision). Unfortunately, as it caused everyone besides the dragon to sprout wings the twin swans fell from their horses in excruciating pain as their wings sprouted under their armor.

Gil: “Um. Whoops?”

Szoosha immediately flew next the lead horse on the ironclad wagon. The dragon had snapped its jaws at him but missed by a hair as the winged naga flew past. Excor cast Slow on the dragon breaking through its magic resistance. The players cheered. Stepping from the carriage Gornix cast Cone of Energy (frost) at the dragon but to no effect. Fauna cast Air Flurry at the dragon successfully knocking it from its feet (it rolled a Natural 1 to maintain balance). More Ice Spears struck the dragon from a slightly different angle from the last time hurting it a little.

Cris: “That’s Hufom!”

With a little luck, Szoo unhitched the lead horse from the ironclad wagon. The dragon flung its tail at Excor smashing down his Shield spell. Gornix failed in an attempt to cast a spell but quickened a Force Ram at the dragon but could not break through its resistance. Three more Ice Spears flew from a random direction nailing the blue dragon.

Gornix cast another Force Ram striking the dragon and dealing some damage this time.

Gil: “Yeah! When in doubt cast Force Ram!”

However, as the spell failed to push the dragon’s mass the white lotus wizard was flung to the ground instead.

Szoosha cast Elemental Alter Self and grew a pair of fire tentacles. Fauna again cast Air Flurry at the dragon successfully keeping it down with another bout of winds. More ice spears flew from an unseen location dealing some damage to the dragon. Excor cast Mass Shield erecting protective fields over all of his companions as well as himself. Excor cast another Force Ram at the dragon dealing it a serious blow. The twin swans, the Nature’s Ability spell having expired, shook off the lingering effects of extreme pain. The dragon regained its footing.

Szoo cast Elemental Half-Plate Armor (Fire) on Fauna. Fauna again attempted an Air Flurry against the dragon but to no effect. Some ice spears flew at the dragon but shattered harmlessly on its blue hide. Excor tried to cast Force Ram but failed. Gornix got to his feet. The swans got to their feet and drew their weapons. The Black Swan/White Knight drew a war-hammer from nowhere and the White Swan/Black Knight pulled his black mace. The dragon inhaled and blew a lightning bolt at Fauna. Luckily, she was able to dodge the earth-shattering bolt.

Gornix tried to cast Blinding Flash on the dragon but somehow the magic got away from him and went wild. He nearly blinded himself. Three ice spears stuck into the dragon dealing some damage.

The angry young blue dragon got to its feet and unleashed a blast of lightning from its mouth blasting Fauna. Fortunately, it only managed to blast away her magical protections. Excor dodged because he was in a direct line with Fauna. The White Knight attacked the dragon with his war hammer but missed. The Black Knight missed with his mace. Szoo for some reason leapt onto the back of the horse he had unhitched and as a result was promptly bucked off as he was covered in flaming half-plate armor. Gornix using his staff to channel the spell cast Force Ram yet again at the dragon. The force of the spell smashed into its side dealing significant damage.

The chromatic blue dragon beat its mighty wings flinging itself 15 feet into the air and blasting its attackers with a wave of dirt. As a result the twin swans were blinded as was Excor. Fauna cast Air Flurry again in a desperate attempt to keep it from flying away but it had no affect other to clear the lingering dust cloud. From somewhere out of sight there was a burst of blue light and an alarmed shout. Hence, the cabal mages knew that the invisible Hufom had fumbled a spell. Excor tried to clear the dirt from his eyes and Szoosha got up off the ground. Gornix again channeled Force Ram through his staff and the spell smashed into the hovering dragon crushing its ribs and throwing it to the ground in a flurry of gushing blood.

Immediately Szoo and Excor fell upon the dragon’s corpse like hungry hyenas hoping to dismantle it for components. Gornix rushed to the carriage and began eagerly searching it picking up the dragon’s finery in the meantime. Fauna decided to Commune with Nature in order to try to find the dragon’s lair but she failed. That was when she noticed that the hunchback was gone.

Excor broke a dagger trying to cut off a claw. Szoo managed to “pop” out an eyeball. Fauna and Gornix joined them but like Excor were unsuccessful as they were not dragonslayers. After a long while, Excor remembered that they had a job to do and looked around for the other members of the hasty caravan. All were gone.

He could see a slight dust cloud far north of them on the road assuming it was the ironclad and the knights riding for Ezmer. He could only assume Corje and his pals were following because they were nowhere to be seen either.

Eventually the cabal mages gathered their wits and prepared the blue carriage to ride. Fauna tried to cast Control Animals on the draft horses but the magic went wild and she turned three of the six animals into mummified corpses. She instead cast Communicate with Animals and got the remaining horses to agree to pull them along the road at a reasonable speed.

The clouds moved in as they took off and it began to rain. Szoo noticed Gornix counting a handful of gems. He had taken 100 sapphires and 2 large diamonds from a purse that he had found among the dragon’s things. Of course, they split the take getting 25 sapphires apiece. While Gornix retained the diamonds for safekeeping.

The white lotus wizard leaned back and presented the gear he had picked up that the dragon had dropped when he had shed his human guise. Gornix then picked up a crystal decanter filled with what appeared to be a very dark wine. Of course he took a big swig of it and fell back very high and barely functional. Fauna snatched it up and identified it as Assassin Berry Wine.

Szoo: “What the HELL are you doing here!?”

Fauna: “What?”

Excor: “Aren’t you DRIVING!”

Fauna: “It’s okay I talked to them. It’s fine. Besides it’s raining I don’t want to be out there.”

Finally, after some protest, Fauna with a sigh climbed back out of a window and took her seat as carriage driver. The storm grew quickly in ferocity. The road became a yellow quagmire hot wind howled, lightning cracked. Fauna drew the carriage to a slow stop and cast Calm Storm I creating an eye in nature’s fury. She drove until they reentered the storm from sunlight through a wall of humid gloom.

All night long, she pushed the hapless horses. The storm subsided near dawn and as soon as the great-ringed purple moon made its appearance, she spotted for a suitable turnoff and campsite. They eventually turned off the muddy road and stopped for rest.

To Be Continued…

 

The Cabal of Eight Pt.27: Farmers Cross Fiasco

The great purple moon and its ring gave way in the gloaming to the gold-red then orange-white of dawn. The sun rose over the far off farmhouses and laborers’ hovels as the sky went blue then shone on the banners of Farmers’ Cross Lodge as they unfurled over the front gates. The four mages of the cabal walked into the tavern side of the lodge from the reception area after coming down from their rooms on the upper floors.

They saw the Blue Stranger sitting at the first table beyond the door and spread out before him was a feast of roasted ribs, steaming vegetables and heaps of fresh flatbread. It smelled sweet, savory, exquisite. He motioned for the mages to join him addressing Gornix (played by Gil) by name. Excor (played by Cris), Fauna (played by Jenn), and Szoosha (played by Isis) shot him dirty looks. They joined the stranger regardless that they already knew to be the blue dragon in disguise.

After Fauna and Szoo started eating the Blue Stranger asked, “How’s the food” he had not touched any of it.

Gil (horrified): “It’s POISONED! I didn’t eat anything! Wait. Would he…”

Isis: “WHAT!? NO! WHY DIDN’T SOMEONE Tell ME!?”

Jenn (shrugging): “My girl doesn’t eat meat so…”

Cris: “No. He’s a dragon, hell it is a blue dragon…No. We’re eating our oxen.” He shrugged. Excor dug into the ribs, they were as good as they smelled.

The Blue Stranger smirked in entertainment at Gornix’s and Szoo’s wave of initial horror. Hence the mages and the dragon finished their meal under a cloud of weird tension. The Blue Stranger was the first to take his leave and then the mages left after and tried to refocus on their mission.

By late morning, the mages were circulating amongst the flood of wagons, merchants, and farmers that were making their way through the crossroads with destinations in all eight directions, some close by others as far away as Ezmer. Szoosha kept a vigil at the front gates, namely due to his ability to remain in direct summer sun for extended periods of time and keen eyesight, for the arrival of their target.

Suddenly, Szoo caught glimpse of a cloud of dust riding up from the south cross. He thought its size indicating the caravan that they were waiting for. It wasn’t long before the Black-scaled Naga’s sharp vision picked out a caravan of a covered supply wagon, 3 armored wagons, all protected by a small force of horsemen led by a knight bearing a white longshield with a black swan upon it.

Isis: “Guys! I think he’s here, I think Hufom’s here…”

Cris: “You have to come get and tell us.”

Isis: “Well. Where are ya at?”

Excor was wending his way through a dusty crowd to a large covered area on the east side of the lodge building where most were parking their wagons and tending their animals. He was trying to find Corje and the wagon. It wasn’t long before he bumped into him, the cloaked driver had two others with him.

Corje introduced them as “reinforcements” for the mission. Excor was less than thrilled and quickly made an excuse to get away from the wagon-driver-probably-assassin-in-disguise and his similarly dressed two pals. They were looking for Fauna. The only positive as far as he saw it was that Corje had managed to replace the oxen on the wagon.

Utterly paranoid and a little exhausted already, Excor quickly retreated to his tiny corner room on the third floor. To try to gain a little “insight” into his and his companions’ situation he decided to take a dose of some yellow lotus that he had lifted from Fauna without her knowledge. Its quality was a little higher than expected. As a result he fell into a drug-induced coma. As he collapsed onto the sleeping mat, an intense vision ripped through his brain, a chaos of shattering wood, smashing stones, a blue dragon and roaring lightning, and a black mace whistling through the air.

Fauna was wandering aimlessly around the lodge-enclosure talking to the occasional stranger that might peak her interest. Eventually Corje and his two allies found her.

Corje: “There you are little sister! I’ve made contact with our two allies!” He introduced them but Fauna did not pay attention to their names.

He went on about how they were ready to deal a blow for “our good lady” and if need be do it here if the chance should present itself “even at the cost of all our lives”. Fauna humored them and mentioned it would be a good idea for her to track down her friends and formulate a plan before Corje and his compatriots should do anything. Meanwhile it would be best if they would get the wagon ready to leave at a moment’s notice. She parted ways with them and disappeared into the road-weary press of the yard.

At the same time, Gornix joined Szoo as the caravan the naga was spotting rumbled through the gates, a blast of yellow dust preceding them. The three armored wagons had shutters over the windows and thus any passengers hidden from view. On each wagon were a driver and a crossbowman. The wagons also bore the pennants of the Iron Wheels of Ezmer. The emblem of the Iron Wheels being an iron grey wagon wheel against a crimson field. The horsemen on the other hand bore the arms of the Yellow Spears on their wooden longshields, wore chainmail shirts with steel open helms and were armed with light lances. Their heraldry being a yellow diamond-headed spear against a field of orange and azure bent sinister. Leading the whole lot was a white knight in a checkered surcoat, atop his white great helm was a carved wooden black swan.

The Black Swan/White Knight was as a towering and intimidating figure as his brother in full regalia. However, when he removed his helmet he was the spitting image though his brow was more prominent and his chin stronger. He also had a wide scar across his face and another across his lips to his chin. He was very systematic in habit, the stripping down of his equipment even his dismount. At his hip was a great sword with a gleaming golden grip and pommel.

The pair of mages tried to approach the White Knight but he kept them at a distance while he stowed his equipment. Even when he was finished, he arrogantly brushed off any attempt to engage him. Therefore, Gornix and Szoo were trying to gather as much info as they could just hanging around and keeping an eye out on the whole scene. Gornix spotted out someone moving between the armored carriages but he could only catch a glimpse of a long wormy tail.

Szoo: “Is that our guy?”

Gornix: “I don’t know.”

Eventually Fauna met up with the pair and without waiting for Excor, who was still unconscious, they tried to formulate a plan. They would wait for the horsemen and most of the guards to go into the tavern and then Szoo would set the wheels of the carriages on fire so they couldn’t get away and then Gornix would use his Summon Elemental IV spell to summon a giant earth elemental to cause a diversion. After that, Excor could keep guard with his magic and Fauna and her crew could move in with their daggers to finish off the job. They hoped they could escape in the ensuing chaos.

The mages held and waited while the carriages were parked. After they had been parked near the front wall in their own special cordoned off area, Fauna went to scoop up her people and Excor. She soon found Excor completely knocked out and realized he would be out for quite some time. However with Corje’s help she dragged him to the wagon.

Not long after the carriages had been parked Sir Illin, the White Swan/Black Knight, met his twin brother with a roar of a greeting and they started to the tavern. The dismounted mercenaries and crossbowmen followed. Left behind the drivers tended the carriages and draft animals. The passengers within had failed to disembark. It was still early in the afternoon.

Isis: “Can I BURN things now?”

Gil: “Do it.”

Szoosha kept his distance and using the minimal somatic components to remain unseen set the first two carriages wheels ablaze. Unfortunately when he targeted the third carriages wheels, the magic got away from him and nearby piles of hay and the supply wagon burst into flames letting loose a massive fireball into the sky.

Isis: “Hee-hee, YES!”

The Lodge guards were panicking and ran to the well attempting to establish a bucket line. Meanwhile, Gornix cast his spell at the rear of the lodge. As a result, a giant semi-humanoid earth elemental rose from the ground.

Gil (*roll*roll*): “Uhm. Oops.”

Isis: “What’ya mean OOPS!?”

Gil: “I can’t control it.”

The elemental giant immediately smashed its massive fists into the corner of the lodge building tearing out an entire corner. It had completely taken out what had been Excor’s room. Then the creature swept its arm across some nearby guards killing them all.

Isis: “This is not going well.”

Fauna: “Corje! Get the WAGON!”

The Black and White Swans ran from the tavern weapons drawn. They gathered up their mounts and ushered the last remaining armored wagon to the gates. So Gornix approached as close as he dared and shouted to the White Swan/Black Knight. The knight shouted back that if he wanted to caravan with them they were pulling out NOW. Four of the horsed lancers were already galloping through the gates. The cabal’s wagon pulled up with the unconscious Excor in back along with the pair of cloaked men he had met earlier that day.

Isis: “Wait. This might be perfect!”

Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere a very fancy blue coach with a train of six horses rode up to the gates from the yard driven by a very familiar hunchback. The Blue Stranger opened the door into the vehicle and shouted to Gornix to get in. He would also be joining their little wagon train.

Isis: “Oh gawd NO!”

Gornix of course leapt right into the Blue Stranger’s coach followed by Fauna and a reluctant Szoo. In a storm of chaos and fire, the makeshift caravan fled north from Farmers’ Cross.

To Be Continued…

Moths of Tanglethorn

After a full year in the Game-Master’s chair, I finally was going to get to play. Of course, Cris was GMing Tanglethorn - City of mothsand going to set his campaign in the Poisonwood capital of Tanglethorn. It was going to be an “Evil Game”, a campaign where all of the Player Characters have an evil base alignment. Everything was fine and dandy, everyone showed up to the table with their characters already done for the most part. However, as with most of Cris’ games the ending would be abrupt.

Four Evil Characters Enter a Bar

Seated around a small dagger-scarred table in the Bronze Tankard Tavern sat four villains. The place was small and cramped due to the briskness of its business. It was a repurposed ruin of strange orange stone and as dark as a cave. It was also dank but with the stench of spoiled ale and the noxious sweat of generations of drunks.

Around the small table awash in the stale smoke of scavenged pipe weed sat Suttradra (played by Jenn),Xiani Weiren (played by Isis), Vorahk (played by Gil), and Aigi (played by me). The four were contemplating on ways to make money, wet their blades, or both. Suttradra was a poisonborn human blackguard wearing studded leather armor and a demonic bronze mask. A great sword hung at her side.

Suttradra was the only Tanglenite, a native of the Poisonwood, and was essentially the de facto leader of the gang for the time being. She had been a black guard of a rather strong cult of demon-worshippers whose makeshift temple within one of the old orange ruins was raided and burned not long ago.

Xiani was an Ivoran Death Grin, an assassin/juggler dressed as a clown. She leaned back in her seat in fuchsia and yellow jester’s clothes. Her weapons were a pair of iron claws she wore on her hands. She gave some ‘tude to Suttra whom laughed at her and replied, “You’re lucky I like you’re looks and clothes”.

Vorahk was an Arborean Rune Warrior. Every inch of his ugly knotted wooden hide was covered in deeply carved runes that granted him various magical powers. He was from the Granfor Forest, an ethnic Arborean, and looking for mercenary work. He had a great club next to him and wore a bronze pectoral plate. His hollow black eyes swept the crowded tavern. He noted that only a single patron was unarmed. The man who was sitting at the bar bore a red rose and a black scorpion embroidered on his waist sash. Suttra said that the guy was a proxy champion for members of the Bottled Rose, best to avoid him.

Aigi was a young Hyvalian man from the crumbling empire’s western reaches. He had been a temple orphan and trained in the martial arts as a temple defender. He was a Sword Saint and very skilled with his paired “Lion Swords”. They were modified long swords with straight dual-edged blades and bastard grips with bunches of brightly colored ribbons and tasseled cords hanging from the pommels. He had wended his way to the Poisonwood on various ships and caravans that needed a swordsman. Across the chest of his dirty tunic was embroidered the image of a dog, the symbol of the common soldier of the imperial armies.

His sole purpose in life was to test his metal against “worthy opponents”. He was told that he would definitely find plenty of those in Tangelthorn. Suttra was sure she could make some money on him somehow. He was sure that XIani was thinking of stabbing him in the back the first chance she got just for fun.

The four villains were drinking the last of their coin except for Aigi but he wasn’t about to let them know about his small reserve of gold coins and bronze thorns (the bronze currency of Tanglethorn). Just then, the sound of a wagon sliding to a stop in the road preceded the blast of road dust that whooshed in through the entryway. A stranger in leather armor bearing the mark of a gray moth on his chest strode in after.

The stranger walked up to the bartender and began to haggle. Suttradra said that he was a member of the Moths, a street gang. One of the largest in Tanglethorn and there were a lot. XIani pranced up to the moth and said in her most charming tones, “is there a problem here sir?”

The Moth: “Who’re you foreigner?”

Xiani: “Just a simple entertainer, hee-hee.”

The Moth (tossing Xiania a small vial of yellow lotus): “Here. Take this. If you want more you can find us, the Moths, everywhere. I’m Fenik. I have no need of entertainers at the moment.”

Aigi shot up and walked over to Fenik with his hands in the air, “Sir, what about swords?” Fenik said that if Aigi and his companions were warriors go see Vornor at the Empty Bottle, tell him Fenik sent you. Not long after Suttra led the foul four to the Empty Bottle Tavern.

The Empty Bottle was an even smaller bar though fortunately mostly empty. Only the afternoon rays that seeped in through a long horizontal window next to the bar and the entryway lighted the place. It wasn’t long before the crew of four had their marching orders, kill a Hill-Lander Whiskey Merchant named Ba’acor. He was staying at the Long Rest Inn and had two heavily armed human bodyguards with him. The job paid 1,000 bronze thorns apiece.

The Long Rest

By evening the group found themselves in the Long Rest Inn. It was a three-story structure housed in a restored orange-stone ruin. The taproom and reception shared a large common room, which was packed with merchants and foreigners as well as the occasional inattentive city guard. Xiani was disguised as a whore (an unguilded prostitute).

It wasn’t long before they located their prey. Ba’acor, a faun, was in a far corner at a table guarded by his two very large Tanglenite bodyguards, one armed with a great club, the other a claymore. The guard with the claymore appeared to be the more experienced of the two.

Thinking quickly Aigi goes to the bar and buys their cheapest grog in a glass, a glass being somewhat expensive. The others hung back at a table and watched. The young Hyvalian swordsman walked carefully through the place and when he got in front of the great club-wielding bodyguard, he stumbled and dropped the glass.

Aigi then challenged the club-wielding guard to a duel but botched the language and thus the guard looked dumbly at him. Therefore, Aigi spat in his face and the fight was on.

Aigi swung with his swords scoring a single hit as one of his blades was parried. However, he scored another two hits on the backswings horribly wounding his opponent. As his blood gushed over the floor the bodyguard swung his only to be parried by one of Aigi’s blades and the other opened his belly spilling his intestines over the filthy floorboards.

Isis (to the GM, indicating Aigi): “Um. I’m not gonna stab that guy in the back now.”

The GM (Cris): “Why not?!”

Isis: “He’s SCARY!”

Suttra fought with the Claymore wielding bodyguard and Vorahk fought with Ba’acor who wielded a knobkirri against him. Xiani snuck in behind the whiskey merchant and managed to coup-de-graced him with her claws. After the slaying his compatriots the last bodyguard surrendered and Aigi let him flee after he dropped his coin purse and sword.

A city guard intervened shouting, “Enough! Fair fights only!” He pointed to the killers, “You clean up the bodies!”

Aigi hacked off the merchants head and left the Inn headed for the Empty Bottle. The other three assassins looted the corpses before they paid a couple of drunks to haul the bodies to the charnel house.

Not long after Aigi delivered Ba’acor’s head to Vornor in the Empty Bottle did his companions follow.  They were each paid 1,000 bt as agreed and given a free bottle of Hill-Lander whiskey which was watered down by almost half. A few wagons trundled by outside each loaded with hogsheads of whiskey and each bearing the mark of Ba’acor on the side, a whiskey bottle crossed by a knobkirri.

Vornor: “You guys did good. I don’t know if anyone’s hiring right now but I’ll put the word out. Oh, there’s a city Lieutenant of the Guards named Neelom at the Bronze Tankard after dusk usually. Tell him I sent you.”

Vorahk pulls out some coin to pay for drinks, Vornor stoops him.

Vornor: “Ahh! My friends your money is no good here. Barkeep! More drinks for my friends!”

After several rounds of water-diluted Hill-Lander whiskey Vornor appears to be very drunk. Aigi had been careful to not drink too much.

Vornor: “Ah! I like foreigners, so quick with swords. The drink has loosened these lips! Ask me anything!”

So, Aigi asked him who the best match of a swordsman for his caliber was in Tanglethorn. The answer was Drox Bloodsword, a Hill-Lander Duelist. The Empty Bottle began to become very busy. Aigi noticed that a couple of guys were filling the bottles of whiskey that they were selling through the window to customers on the street with water thinning the whiskey down by half.

Aigi (somewhat outraged): “DO your customers know that you’re diluting their drink!?”

Vornor: “Ah my friend, you know Tanglenites cannot handle Hill-Lander whiskey at full strength!”

Aigi: “Ha! You’re right! Tanglenites are weak; I should know I’ve faced a couple in battle already!”

Vornor shot him a dirty look.

Suttra had already done a little recon the said duelist and found out that he was a member of the Blood Moths street gang, a subset of the Gray Moths. She also knew that he could be found at the Blood Moths favorite hangout, a tavern called the Broken Cask. The Blackguard offered to guide the group there; she knew the way like the back of her hand.

Scuff Up

Hence the four criminals were traveling down a back alley headed towards the Broken Cask Tavern in search of the Hill-lander Duelist Drox Bloodsword. Just as they neared the end of the wide alleyway with the tavern within sight, a couple of cloaked thugs stepped out to block their way.

One of the Thugs: “Stop there foreigners! Drop yer coin and we might let you live!” Both had red moths painted on their chests.

Three more were suddenly behind the four adventurers. All five were armed with shortswords, dirks, and bronze bracers.

Suttra pulled her greatsword and charged the lead thug, he parried her sword slash easily with his dirk. She in turn parried his dirk. Another at the rear struck at Xian, she used her claws to parry his dirk. Aigi flew at the second thug; all his blows were either parried or missed. The last was clinched on the thug’s bracer. Xiani’s claws were parried and her attempt to kick dirt in her assailant’s face failed. Vorahk rushed to the rear and let loose a powerful swing missing his target but catching him on the backswing. Surprisingly his weapon spewed acid upon contact horribly wounding the street gangster. The street gangster replied with his dirk but it glanced harmlessly off Vorahk’s bark on a direct hit. So the gangster turned to flee and Vorahk splattered him on a wall on an attack of opportunity

The thug clinching one of Aigi’s swords stabbed the young Hyvalian wounding him but in turn took a slash to the belly nearly killing him in a single swing. Another thug stabbed Vorahk but only managed to score his pectoral plate even on a critical strike. A Darkthorn Arborean suddenly appeared out of nowhere and punched at Vorahk but missed. Suttra cut into the lead thug horribly wounding him. Xiani parried a dirk blow and struck back ripping a nasty wound in her foe. A few more thugs came out of the woodwork and made it hard on Xiani wounding her to near death but the tide had turned. Soon each adventurer was dropping an enemy at a time.

The fight was over and the street thugs that had stayed to fight were dead. Xiani was barely standing. The last one left on his feet was the Darkthorn who was smashed to bleeding splinters by Vorahk’s greatclub. The four battered adventurers had barely time enough to take a breath before they were surrounded by dozens of Blood Moth gang members to the front and rear and all along the roofs.

They begin to close the noose when Vorahk shouted that we were looking for Drox Bloodsword. A very big human pushed his way to the front of the mob, “that’s me”. He was huge, about 7 ft. tall and a over 300 lbs. some Hill Giant’s blood probably coursing through his veins. He was armed with a Claymore and a buckler. So Aigi challenged him to a personal duel come next morning. Drox was about to charge anyway until he saw the wound in the Hyvalian’s side and thus agreed to the duel after a full day’s healing.

The Duelists

Finally the day of the duel with Drox Bloodsword came and the group found themselves in a massive crowd of Blood Moths and various others in an unfamiliar part of town. At the center of the rowdy mob was a small clearing made by arm linked city guards to be used as the arena. The captain of the city guard was refereeing the fight. He was a fat man in bronze scale mail with an open-faced peaked bronze helmet with a white and black feather plume and a green cape thrown over his shoulders.

Bets had been made throughout the crowd with Xiani and Suttra betting 100 bt apiece on Aigi to win. Vorahk however, had bet 10,000 bt (which he didn’t have) on his companion with the only one in the crowd who could cover that kind of money. The guy was dressed in green robes with gold trim and bore the symbol of the Bottled Rose Guild on his chest, a red rose surrounded by a ring of thorns. They were one of if not the most powerful guilds in the city.

Meanwhile at the center of the roaring crowd stood Aigi stripped to the waist his swords still sheathed and looking supremely confident, his only bit of armor were the chain mail gloves on his hands. Opposite him towered his foe, Drox Bloodsword the Hill-Lander Duelist. The duelist was similarly stripped to the waist exposing his scar-matted flesh, his claymore in one hand and his steel buckler in the other. His claymore was rusty and blackened as it had never been washed.

The captain shouted, “As soon as this gauntlet hits the ground FIGHT!”

Aigi had it all figured out in the second before the gauntlet clunked onto the cobblestones. He was going to wait for his opponent to attack him and he would defend by simultaneously attacking and parrying with either sword. He maintained his middle stance. Of course, when the gauntlet hit the floor Aigi broke his stance and charged flailing wildly with his paired blades. Drox parried both in a single swipe of his claymore. Then Aigi came with the backswings and nearly fumbled the first and clinching the claymore with his second.

Meanwhile, the Captain approached the other three adventurers and warned them that if Aigi should lose the Blood Moths WILL swarm them.

Aigi kept the clinch on Drox’s claymore easily preventing his attack. He struck and then backswung with his free sword but Drox easily deflected the belly blows with his buckler. Drox used his superior strength to break his claymore free of the clinch. Aigi struck again but his third strike was parried and he fumbled his second sword throwing it 12 ft out of his reach. Consequently he made use of the bastard grip of his one remaining blade.

Drox swung with claymore and scored a nasty hit nearly killing Aigi in a single blow. The younger fighter was bleeding out and would soon drop. Meanwhile Vorahk tried to get to the thrown sword in order to throw it back to his horse but the guards stopped him. Xiani tried to bluff a guy to throw a rock at Aigi, in hopes that would stop the fight, but failed. However, Suttradra successfully cast Pain on Drox causing him some penalties.

Drox struck again but Aigi parried it. Aigi took the middle stance, struck his first blow, and then followed it up with a nasty backswing horribly wounding the Hill-Lander. Suttra cast Wound on Drox hurting him a little bit more. Drox swung again and struck the young Hyvalian hard nearly killing him. It was a miracle that Aigi was even standing (it was a very high recovery check). It was clear that the Hyvalian was going to drop soon. In anticipation of this Vorahk quietly pulled his club. That was when he noticed the subtle sounds of a legion of daggers being stealthily pulled from their sheaths. Suttra cast Wound again hurting the Hill-lander a little more. Xiani tried to bribe the Captain with a ruby, he refused.

Drox swung and very nearly fumbled his sword. Aigi swung and hit and again with the backswing almost dropping the Hill-Lander. It was down to whoever could get in the last lick would be the winner. Drox got the last hit in immediately after hacking the young swordsman in twain. Xiani flung her dagger at Drox nailing him in the back killing him.

Gil: “Well. Some dice are good guys but other dice; those dice, they’re motherf@#%ers.”

The Captain strode out into the clearing and shrugging picked up one of Aigi’s swords and dropped it on the dead Hill-Lander’s chest, “There’s his trophy”. Hence the guards quickly snatched up the bodies and began to depart. That’s when the Blood Moths descended upon the surviving three adventurers.

The first to fall under a rain of daggers was Xiani, the second was Suttra. They had at most taken out only a handful of the moths.

Isis (in response to Gil’s “why didn’t you just runaway?”): “Aww man! I couldn’t run! If I did they would’ve all taken their attacks of opportunity on me and would’ve killed me anyway. At least I took some out with me!”

In conclusion, Vorahk, the sole survivor, ran away ablaze as several alchemist fires had been hurled his way. He continued to run right through the city gates having a greater chance than a fleshy creature for survival in the Poisonwood. Besides, he couldn’t stick around now that he owed a guildsman so much money.

Isis: “Death? Screw death we have new character sheets!”

The End

Campaign Played between July and August 2017

Afterword: Gil let us know that due to work and potential move he has to leave the group.

The Cabal of Eight Pt.26: The Stranger

Leaving Corje with their wagon the mages of the cabal of eight stumbled into the tavern half of Farmers’ Farmers' Cross Lodge emblemCross Lodge through the saloon doors from under the covered porch outside. The place was busy but not overcrowded mostly farmers, grain traders, and produce sellers. The ceiling was high; the entire log and timber structure of the lodge was three stories, the tavern ceiling reached all the way up past a long balcony on the second. The blue smoke that clouded there from the mass of pipes below concealed the timber ceiling. Scattered beams of light shone from various small square windows. Along the walls, the dusty preserved heads of pronghorn, wild bulls, and a few lions hung. Between those trophies dangled the hunting horns of lost hunters.

The bar was at the rear of the place behind it were massive hogshead-barrels half-built into the rear wall. Therefore the gang of adventurers/would-be assassins took an empty table nearest the east wall. Excor (played by Cris) led because he wanted to keep his back to a wall. A waitress approached the table. She was a well-fed country girl and awesomely attractive (very high BEA and CHA). So Gornix (played by Gil) made multiple attempts at seduction and failed every single one to the amusement of Szoo (played by Isis) and Fauna (played by Jenn).

The mages ordered an entire roast pig, a cask worth of ale, and a bottle of Breadbasket whiskey. A virtual feast was laid bare before them and they partook of it vigorously, especially Szoo. Not long after did a stranger of note stride heavily into the tavern.

Those heavy steps belonged to an Ivoran Knight shaking off the dust of the road. At his right hip was a straight bladed longsword, a black mace dangling on the other. He wore a full chainmail suit covered by a checkered surcoat. The knight removed his steel great helm and a gush of dirty sweat dumped onto the floor. Atop the black helm was a carved wood swan painted white. His face was perfect, unmarked by blade or talon, and beautiful framed by long blonde hair. If he was Hyvalian then he was from its farthest northern borders.

Cris (Excor’s player): “Lemme guess. So that guy’s with Hufom.”

Gil (completely lacking sarcasm): “You think so?”

Cris: “Pfft! Jes’ look at ‘em! C’mon! I pass the barmaid a gold coin for some info on tha’ stranger.”

The barmaid tells Excor that the Ivoran knight’s a foreign knight, probably Hyvalian, of some renown. He’s the White Swan of the Twin Swans, his brother being the black. They have quite a reputation as marshals of the prairies and guardians of travelers in the Breadbasket and Ezmeria. They’re also serving as the personal bodyguards of the Landsmen’s Representative headed to Ezmer city.

Meanwhile the knight approached the bar; the trembling bartender passed him a mug of ale free of charge.

Isis: “Yup. That’s one of them alright!”

Gornix immediately stood up and invited the weary knight to eat with him and his companions. The White Swan graciously accepted introducing himself as Sir Illin. After the player jeers and chants of “Sir Illin be chillin’ at the bar” subsided, he took a seat at their table and immediately began stuffing his face and gulping down lakes of ale.

Sir Illin turned out to be an amicable guy. He cracked a couple of jokes, charmed Fauna, and even got on the good side of Szoosha. At first, the black-scale naga was more than a little wary of their guest-soon-to-be-enemy. Apparently, Illin was sent ahead of the caravan which consisted of his brother, 3 armored wagons, and 10-horsed guards from the Yellow Spear security outfit.

At that, Excor told the knight about their encounter with a blue dragon on the road not far from this very place using his best manners. Sir Illin waved away his concerns and did not seem to care a lick about social protocol. Regardless he thanked Excor for the skinny on the dragon and as long as they had their own wagon anyway, invited the mages to travel with the caravan. They seemed all right to him (he couldn’t sense any evil from them anyway). Besides he and his brother had faced dragons before and come out unscathed. Granted they have always been Whers, not a particularly strong sort of dragon but not weak either.

Excor: “So. Tell me my friend, what’s the purpose of your caravan?”

Sir Illin: “Just escortin’ a politician but don’t worry about that. There’s drinkin’ to be done!”

After quaffing a full mug of ale, Sir Illin bragged about the speed and power of his warhorse. But the mages did not catch its name. However, the heroic amounts of booze and food began to loosen his tongue and he regaled them with his past adventures. This and as he took a liking to Gornix so he let them in on a little secret. His brother was the stickler for the law of the pair but he, the white swan, was the truncheon of justice.

One time his brother let a known criminal go just because he was “starving “. His excuse as to why he stole that loaf of bread in the first place. So after his brother rode off he circled back around and laid the man’s head open with his mace just like that scum deserved. He burst into uproarious laughter. The mages shrank into their seats.

After an hour or so, the White Swan excused himself and went to procure room and board. The night was almost upon the four mages before they knew it. Hence Excor and Szoo went to procure rooms, a wide doorway opened up in the west wall to allow entry from the tavern into the reception area. Excor got a room for the night for himself, a tiny room in the northeast corner of the second floor. Szoo paid for a room for both himself and Fauna on the second floor as well. Gornix and Fauna meanwhile were pounding down whiskey and ale in the tavern. Szoo had rejoined them only long enough to give them the room number and then retired for the night.

Later the place was beginning to empty save for a few armed guards in studded leather taking a break from the ramparts. As a result of the late hour the servers had all been dismissed and a new younger bar-back was slinging drinks. Suddenly the saloon doors burst open and in stepped a stranger dressed in vibrant blue.

Jenn: “Aw crap.”

This stranger wore blue robes with black and silver embroidery, a billowing blue cloak with a silver clasp, and a scimitar and curved dagger at his hips. Silver-wire wrapped the grips of each weapon and large sapphire pommel-stones glittered. On his feet were purple velvet shoes with gold tracery. Behind him hobbled into the tavern a bent and hideously pathetic creature.

The unfortunate man was a disagreeable mix of naga, human, and faun. Patches of alternating scaly skin, hairy hide, and bare human flesh covered the visible portions of his twisted body. His fingernails twisted into mostly useless talons, one of his feet was a hoof, a tail protruded from his rear, and his misshapen head appeared as if horns would burst any moment from that clammy forehead. Over one shoulder swelled a large hump.

The hunchback led his master to the bar, tossed a heavy red leather sack of coins onto the board, and ordered a meal.

The Blue Stranger (smacking the hunchback about the head): “No Onions you fool!”

After he was served and as the hunchback looked hungrily on, the Blue Stranger gorged himself.

The Hunchback: “Master! I’m sooo hungry!”

The Blue Stranger: “Shut up. You will eat when I say. Besides, do you want to make these good people sick should they see you stuffing that thing you call a face!”

Jenn: “I really hope he’s the dragon in disguise. I really hate that guy!”

Gornix, very drunk, stumbled up to the Blue Stranger and sat next to him. The hunchback hissed and put his claw on the handle of his dagger. The lotus mage engaged the stranger in small talk and then began to try to glean some information from him. However, the tables quickly turned and Gornix gave away that he and his companions, he named each, were going to travel to Ezmer with a caravan that was to arrive probably tomorrow with the Twin Swans. Realizing what he had done Gornix immediately walked away at as a fast as pace as he could manage with Fauna following shortly thereafter.

The Blue Stranger (after Gornix): “I hope you and your friends will join me for breakfast!”

Cris (scowling at Gil): “What did you do!?”

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight Pt.25: Wagon East!

The group of young mages found themselves being beaten down on by the sun while breathing the dust Helpful map for a wagon tripof the road once again as they traveled south along the Trade Road East. Fauna (played by Jenn) in an effort to relieve her companions of the blistering rays used her pup tent as a covering for the rear of the wagon. Excor (played by Cris) sat shotgun next the driver, Corje whom he engaged in conversation. Corje believed that their goal laid 3 or possibly 4 days ahead if all went well.

The wagon wheeled along at a somewhat frantic pace. The crew had decided they should push the oxen to the limit to reduce their time on the road. They also feared overlapping by their mark and that they should somehow miss them. However the mages wanted to be prepared before they ran into Hufom and his guards.

It was late afternoon, the unforgiving sun continued to blast the land with its shriveling rays. The sky was smeared with a few clouds here and there. The air grew heavy and increasingly humid as they continued south. They had made great time although the pair of oxen was losing speed and strength. They needed water. Therefore, the wagon stopped for a break near a low scrub thicket that partially leaned over onto the road.

Suddenly a lion leapt from the underbrush onto the back of one of the oxen tearing open its back with a great gush of blood and pulling it to the ground. Gornix (played by Gil), having spotted the lion the second before its leap, cast Spook. This causing it to turn tail and run away disappearing into the thicket. Gornix and Excor cast Close Wounds on the oxen as the lion’s attack had nearly killed it. It took Corje an hour to calm the animals and tend the still open though not bleeding wounds. They continued as soon as the animals were ready.

The landscape changed gradually from barren desert slopes with small tufts of woody tangled thickets and clumps of pale thread grass to flat spans of weedy fields of tall grasses and increasingly large thickets of yellow pine. It was early evening by the time they crossed the bridge over the River Wuhar stopping at the small hamlet there. The pennant that hung limp over the open-air tavern there bore a gold sun on a green field.

The hamlet, they failed to get the name of the place, was surrounded by a water filled moat carved directly from the river and instead of walls to protect it on the other side of the moat it had porcupine hedges, large shaved logs bristling with sharpened wooden stakes. They pulled into the wagon-park area just beyond the bridge and a gate and went to the tavern for food and drink.

Fauna commented on the amazing speed and endurance of the oxen having covered such a great distance in such short a time. Excor and Gornix innocently acknowledged as much and then exchanged a knowing glance as they took their seats at a table.

The group ate grilled fish and drank a couple of pitchers of ale. Gornix talked to the waiter as he delivered their food. More than likely the guards around Hufom would be guilded spearmen of the Yellow Spears outfit operating out of the city and not the Iron Wheels, which Gornix had surmised. Fauna asked the waiter about the safety of the road and the waiter replied that there have been plenty of dragon sightings lately, Wher mostly. Fauna turned to her companions and explained that Whers were nocturnal so they should be fine. Szoo (played by Isis), still chewing a fish, asked if there was another nearby settlement. The waiter said that the closest were back northwest and into the interior, mostly small ranches. Further south following the trade road, at least 3 days, there was Farmers’ Cross Lodge just before the territory of the Breadbasket.

Tempting fate the group decided to head out and try to close more distance in the few hours of daylight they had left. As soon as they finished eating and interrogating the waiter, they headed out at full speed. Only a few hours out a giant constrictor came alongside the moving wagon probably aiming for the oxen. Gornix easily spooked it away.

As night fell Fauna guided them to a well-hid campsite where they bivouacked. The night passed uneventfully.

The 2nd of High Summer – they had been on the road for some hours when suddenly just before noon Fauna shouted at Corje to stop. When he brought the oxen to a halt, she leapt out of the wagon and ran to a large blue-green bush specked with white blossoms growing a ways from the side of the road. Her companions looked on as she simply stood in front of the bush for some minutes before they realized something was wrong.

Cris: “Ha ha! I thought she was just taking a piss break!”

Fauna tried to back away as her mind reeled from a sudden psychic surge but found that some invisible force grappled her. Szoo leapt from the wagon and slithered close enough to conjure flame on the bush but to no effect. The strange flowery bush didn’t seem to do anything at all. Gornix jumped down and moved in as close as he could. He was unable to identify the plant. Excor jumped from the wagon and moved 15 ft. from the road towards the plant. He pulled his copper spike and shot a lightning bolt at the bush dealing a little damage.

Fauna again struggled in vain to free herself. Szoo summoned his fire naginata and slashed at the bush hacking free a few thick limbs. The strange flowery bush didn’t seem to do anything at all. Gornix pulled his sword and cast Brighten Blade upon it. Excor once again shot the bush with a lightning bolt dealing some damage.

Gornix slashed at the monster plant with his brightened blade chopping away a few blue-green leaves. The strange flowery bush didn’t seem to do anything at all.

Then Fauna winced as if in pain and the wounded bush seemed to heal a little.

Fauna again struggled redoubling her effort, as she knew the thing was now draining away her life but again failed. As all of the mages were close enough to be sensed by the plant’s tremor-sense it unleashed another surge of psychic energy stunning all of them. As a reflex Szoo struck with his flaming naginata but it simply glanced harmlessly from the plant. Gornix slashed with his sword and again only managed to hack free a couple of round leaves. The salt-lotus mage then quickened a Cone of Frost dealing some damage but nowhere near expected. Excor again shot a bolt from his copper spike but this time it had no effect. So he quickened a lightning bolt which upon striking its target blasted the bush to smoking bits.

Wounds were tended, the battle was over. Fauna was finally able to identify the plant as a Mind Trap Flower bush. She collected a few of the white flower petals veined with red and peach patterns akin to the striations of the mammalian brain. After this, they hopped back onto the wagon and Corje drove the wagon on.

Come evening however Coje suddenly stopped the wagon dead and pointed out a bright green bush growing at the side of the road ahead, its umbrage hanging over their path. Excor identified it as a Spring Jaw Plant. He quickly spotted for more as “they tend to grow in patches”. He saw no others. So Fauna cast Call Lightning on the plant from a safe distance successfully 3 times (out of an overall total of 6 attempts).

The bush was a smoldering wreck but not yet completely “neutralized” so she went to cast her spell for a fourth (technically 7th) time. However, the magic got away from her and went wild (Natural 1 casting check) with the spell detonating in a magical explosion. Gornix was able to dodge, barely. Szoo and Excor taking the brunt had to make recovery checks to stay alive. Both managed to remain standing but they were still badly injured. Fortunately, the plant had been completely obliterated.

Gornix cast Close Wounds on Excor. Fortunately, Szoo was able to use his Silver Ring of Close Wounds and using up its uses-per-day was able to fully heal himself. After the healing had been dealt with, Gornix sifted through the ashes and found two of the Spring Jaw’s poisonous red speckled fruits. He stashed them in his robes.

They moved further down the road from where the Spring Jaw had been and pulled off the road to set up camp. Fauna handed Excor a healing salve as they settled down in a reasonably concealed area that the druidess had already scouted out.

The night was relatively quiet, almost too quiet as the natural sounds of insects, distant night birds seemed to be absent, and if present, could only be heard with some strain. They set the watches as usual with Fauna on the first watch, Corje on the second, and both Gornix and Szoo on the third. Excor needed to rest and heal and so was exempt this night from a watch assignment.

The night had been quiet for the first and second watches. When it came to third watch Gornix had his nose buried in a spellbook with his staff providing the light. Szoo on the other hand, was jumping at every sound real or imagined. Suddenly Szoo froze with terror as he saw a massive blue-scaled dragon sitting right across from him just staring with a mocking and somewhat amused expression on its beastly visage.

From somewhere deep inside, Szoosha was able to pull some strength and resist the need to flee from the utter horror that he felt. He demanded what the beast wanted.

Young Blue Dragon (in an ultra-deep rumbling voice): “Maybe I’ll pull your arms and legs off and leave you to die if you’re lucky.”

The hideous voice alerted Gornix to the intruder and trying to think his way out of the situation started with some light flattery. Excor had awakened and was feigning sleep with one eye open. Fauna was dead asleep and still snoring.

Gornix: “Oh bright blue beautiful scaly one! Oh mighty dragon we are but lowly mages! We could um help you maybe uh sir, lord, dragon? Blue mighty, uh, giant, scaled one?”

Cris: “You should’ve asked for its name first. C’mon!”

Isis: “Yeah, geez!”

Gil: “Sorry guys I was too busy s#!ting my pants.”

In response, it lunged lightning fast and leapt into the air. Before any of the mages realized what had happened the dragon had absconded with their last ox.

Cris was notably upset.

By morning (the 3rd of High Summer) the mages and their driver headed out trying to maintain their highest rate of speed (without any experimental potion meant for a rat). However, the landscape was working against them. It began to undulate as the road passed over a series of low hills and into oblong depressions. The morning was utterly quiet as was the afternoon. Around evening, they spotted the young blue dragon flying above them. It was intentionally letting itself be seen circling like a vulture above.

By sundown, the dragon had disappeared again and Fauna spent some extra time seeking out a well-hidden campsite. They packed into a small hollow in the side of a high hill a ways off the trade route surrounded by high, dense, and pungently fragrant bushes. The night passed uneventfully but it was still just too quiet.

Come morning (the 4th of High Summer), Corje prepared breakfast. Meanwhile Fauna scouted the wider area around their camp. She found that the dragon had indeed been prowling the area last night. By the circular paths it took, she surmised it had been looking for them. They decided to move as fast as possible even if it meant driving the ox to death.

Breaking camp they sent clouds of yellow dust up as they fled tearing the sod from the road. The day passed quickly without a sighting of the dragon.

Cris: “The dragon won’t show up near civilization and we should be close by now.”

They then came to an especially high hill that the ox struggled to surmount. From its summit, they could see what they assumed to be the lodge just a few miles away. They cheered. The players cheered.

Suddenly a lightning bolt shot from the sky and blew their last ox apart. They looked up in time to see the young blue dragon turning flying away laughing. Cris cursed.

The group of mages and Corje pulled the wagon the rest of the way themselves. A few hours later at sundown just before the gates of the wooden ramparts shut, they dragged their wagon in. The filthy, sweaty mages collapsed into the dust before collecting their wits enough to look for the saloon. They ponderously dragged their road-weary hides from the lodge courtyard into the lodge proper.

To Be Continued…

 

The Cabal of Eight Pt.24: Plate of Scorpions

Fauna (played by Jenn) rapped on the black lacquered wooden gate beyond a rounded plaster archwayGornix mages guild insignia sunk into a white plaster wall. Meanwhile Excor (played by Cris) cast Prestidigitation on himself to clean up and produced a 15gp bottle of fine wine from his robes hoping to allude to his social refinement (an Ivoran noble enraptured with Westlander chic).

The cast iron peep opened and through the iron grill, they could see the sour-face of an aged servant. He immediately admonished Fauna to use the bell-pull, which was right next to the gate next time. So she pulled it as the servant opened the gates to let them in eliciting a disgusted sigh.

Cris: “Ha-ha! Typical druid.”

The servant was a skinny hunched Ezmerian of advanced age. He had a short but pointed white beard, a polished sun-darkened pate, and a well-worn dark blue cloak hanging from his boney shoulders. They entered the gate and thus the servant guided them through the short outer courtyard into the entrance foyer. The primarily Hyvalian style home was a luxurious two story which they could see as they walked through the courtyard.

The entrance foyer had red plastered walls with a black lacquered double door in each with only the one through which they were to be led ajar. The ceiling was open to the sky with the tiled roof over-hang angled down to direct rainwater into a shallow central tiled pool, a water collection basin. Tucked in a corner, a plaster model of the city surrounded by bronze dragon on a columnar pedestal. The dragon’s gold plating was flaking from the collecting verdigris of the bronze underneath.

He led them through the open door into a colonnaded walkway surrounding a formerly lush atrium through which they could see the shuddered windows of the story above that overlooked it. They walked to the right where three archways opened along the walkway, the first being the dining room. All three white plaster walls of this room bore murals depicting well-dressed diners, though in archaic fashion, enjoying drunken feasts of plenty. However, the paint had fallen away with some of the plaster in several places due to neglect.

The group took their seats in high-backed chairs set around the rectangular dining table. The dark wood table was set with gold candlesticks and plates of fresh fruit on a plain white cloth. The group was jenky about sampling the fruit and the hors d’oeuvre when served fearing poison or drugs. Gornix (played by Gil) and Excor were loath to eat until Fauna having faith in her cult leader partook. Szoo (played by Isis) was stuffing his face regardless.

It was during hors d’oeuvres that their hostess made her grand entrance and introduced herself as Virtra Wefa. She carried herself with great confidence in her elegant attire. Sweeping into the room she glided to her seat after the refined manners of an Ivoran noble. She was quite a beautiful older woman. Although worn deep into her face was a permanent bitterness. She had stark black eyes with straight dark auburn tresses that fell well below her waist. Her hair was secured with two large gold hairpins and pulled back tight from her high ivory forehead. Gold raindrop earrings dangled from her ears.

The Ivoran dinner tradition was followed ritualistically not out of a true sense of tradition but out of habit carried out joylessly by the lady and her servants. Excor and Gornix were the only members of the cabal to interact at this time. They exhibited a refined social aptitude and understanding of formal Ivoran tradition. This prompting questioning glances from Fauna and Szoo that were left unanswered. Dinner started with an aperitif, a strong syrupy yellow wine-liqueur. Awkward conversation and pleasantries ensued.

Virtra told them that they were awaiting a late and for now nameless dinner guest so seconds on the aperitif would be permissible. For some reason this prompted Gornix to try to charm the stone faced and grim woman.

Gil: “It’s so I can get in there. I want to marry her for her money.” Cris high-fived him.

Nevertheless, it was all in vain Virtra easily saw through his clumsy overtures. Clearly, she considered him her social inferior though he decided to give his full name and aristocratic lineage in the effort. His full name was Achiren Gorenix and he was the youngest son of a minor noble family in an Ivoran city-state to the north along the Ivoran Coast.

After an hour or so according to the candle-clock at the rear of the room, the last guest finally arrived. To the consternation of the young mages, the long awaited surprise guest was Crochi Aengham. The very same Crochi Aengham that was the Sapphire Confraternity Seeker that summoned them to the guildhouse for a discovery hearing. As he sat, Excor spotted a similar rope scar around his collar as Fauna had also happening to spot the same on Virtra even under her heavy gold and silver necklace. He did his best to not share this observation via voice or expression.

Cris: “D@%n! Why didn’t I notice before?”

The GM (me): “Because you didn’t bother to check.”

Cris: “D@%n guilds! D@%n cults! Screw this I’m not doing anything she wants us for!”

Dinner ensued. Bread and ale soup with bits of smoked meat and onions sprinkled with dried seaweed along with a platter of smoked fish, fried eel in salty sweet sauce, stacks of steaming flat bread, roasted mild yellow peppers, and a very dark purple wine in clay decanters were served. The few bits of conversation had in between dishes and dripping mouthfuls acquainted the young mages with Virtra’s dwindling family fortunes. As well as her plan to run for mayoral office on the Green Sash (the Oaks) ticket since she could no longer afford to be a part of the Gold Sashes (for a description of Ezmer’s political parties see The Cabal of Eight Pt.8: A Second Meeting).

Once upon a time her family had been of the top nobility but the current era had diminished her inherited holdings a generation prior and prevented any reclamation on her part by any effort. Excor thought that the candidates had already been declared. She explained that the vote to officialize them had not yet been made. There were just no other contenders currently. However, she had a plan.

Cris: “Ugh, I f@*#in’ hate politics.”

After the meal the digestif arrived, a berry-brandy served on a wooden tray, and the pipes came out. It increasingly seemed that Virtra and Crochi had something to say to the group. Nevertheless, they were saving it until their hospitality had relaxed their guests. Again, the young mages, save Fauna, became paranoid after realizing such.

Isis: “Let’s just hear what they got to say and get out of here!”

Gil: “Yeah man, before they try and do something crazy to us.”

Virtra began by telling them that the Dragon Summer (see The Cabal of Eight Pt.8: A Second Meeting) could be an advantage to her and her comrades’ goals but didn’t elaborate. Her “plan” implied that it would attract Whers to the city somehow. Then she dropped that she wanted the mages to do a job for her.

Virtra: “A representative from the Breadbasket is arriving in a week or two under guard to confirm the Oaks’ candidate, one Firstborn Hufom.”

Excor: “Reasonable people for reasonable cost.”

Cris: “Wait man, they may want us to assassinate him.”

She explained that if Hufom did not attend the inter-party vote those who would normally vote with him could be easily swayed. Therefore she could swoop in with her confederates to become the chosen candidate.

Virtra: “It would be best if he were to be permanently in dispose.”

Gornix: “Nope.”

Isis: “No WAY!”

Fauna (still internally trusting her leader): “I dunno guys…”

Excor: “Hell No!”

The group had made their decision and in no uncertain terms carved it in stone. Full-well knowing that they were now privy to information that could get them all killed they prepared to take their leave . It was likely that assassination attempts were to come their way shortly.

Excor (taking a rare break from his pipe): “Well. Just out of curiosity. How much would it pay?”

Virtra: “10,000 gold pieces.”

Fauna: “We’ll do it!”

Gornix: “Well we just have to stall the guy so he can’t vote right?”

Szoo: “Hell YES!”

Excor: “Okay we’ll do it but we won’t kill him. We’re not assassins. Also a 2,000 gold piece advance from the 10,000.”

Virtra: “Done.”

Before they departed, the time-scale would demand their leaving the city heading towards the breadbasket along the Trade Road East. They hoped that they would run into Hufom already in transit in 5 days’ time on the road. Virtra was to supply the driver and a wagon.

Over the next three days the young mages divvied up Virtra’s advance into 500-gp apiece shares, Gornix studied Haxat’s spellbook, and Excor busied himself transferring the rat cages housed in his and Gornix’s apartments to Jirek’s warehouse with a pair of porters he had hired for the job. Fauna on the other hand embarked on a small adventure on her own.

In preparation for the coming adventure, Fauna went to pick up alchemical supplies and components to brew some potions in the bazaar. She also wanted to stock up on yellow lotus and unable to secure a supplier on her own tracked down her contact, one Kosapio Belahgastro. Kosapio was a Creschan ex-pat and somewhat successful sea-trader. From the dusky Creschan woman Fauna learned of some adventurers of the Brighthouse faith, Kosapio being one of the faithful, newly arrived in town that have encountered something that they called The Tower of the Lotus (see A Mage from Poisonwood II Pt.8: Tower of the Lotus) in Rockhollow in addition to a possible lotus dealer. Therefore, the druidess decided to track a lotus dealer in a seafront dive that Kosapio had warned her against doing.

By late that afternoon, Fauna had found her way to the aforementioned locale in the harbor district alley-side between the shipwright and the Rondel (see The Cabal of Eight Pt.7: A Red Rat). It was an infamous bilge-polluted watering hole called the Black Barrel due to the scorched rotted wood barrel hanging over its saloon doors. From just outside she could smell the gross stink of ammonia, sticky dried ale, and a hint of the soaked lemon peel used halfheartedly to scrub the bar. As she entered, she saw a mostly naked corpse lying face down in a dark pool of its own coagulated blood. The Black Barrel was full of salty sea dogs, some obviously pirates mixed with thugs and various other shady individuals. Their bodies certainly added a palpable spice to the already thick and foul air within. None acknowledged the corpse.

So ignoring the corpse and the thick atmosphere Fauna surveyed the scummy crowd. She located her man holed up in a far corner surrounded by Bronzehead bodyguards who occupied the tables to either of his sides. Without much issue, she was able to procure some yellow lotus, 5 doses at 100 gp each. After that she continued to the market district to purchase more supplies amounting to a half wheel of cheese, 2 shovels, two 50lb. sacks, and 40 days trail rations.

Cris: “Man! One-Hundred Gold Pieces a Dose! You should’ve went for my contact um … Babia’s shop she might have a new shipment.” (see The Cabal of Eight Pt.6: Gold Devil for more info on Babia)

The following day before their departure the young mages continued to hurry to prepare and finish a few things. Excor & Gornix spent the day copying spells from Haxat’s book and Fauna brewed a See All potion. Gornix also managed to brew a Bear’s Endurance potion but which had the opposite effects (a fortunate[?] roll of a Natural 1). Finally they attended their cabal meeting on the 28th of Early Summer of which their leaders (Belrae and Riahm) were still absent yet to return from their expedition. The meeting itself was uneventful. The young mages had enough courtesy to alert the other present members (Jirek and Bumble) that they were also due to depart and would miss the next meeting on the 7th of High Summer.

The young mages filtered into the taproom of the Red Helm after the meeting. Gornix demanded from his companions that they have a “real plan” before they left on “the mission”. The players actually did spend about an hour arguing back and forth and coming up with various plans and ideas. Ultimately, however, they decided to “just wing it”.

The next morning of the 1st of High Summer as the golden orange of dawn was still just peaking over the walls the integral four mages met at the city gates. There they found the wagon waiting and its almost too friendly teamster, Corje ready to move out. They began to ride away through the massive city gates at opening. As they passed under the great arch, Excor spotted the ever ubiquitous noose scar around Corje’s throat.

Cris: “They sent that guy to make sure the job’s done. Whatever. Long as I don’t see ‘em do it.”

His tone of voice suddenly switched.

Cris: “Or to get rid of us after it’s done!”

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight Pt.23: Trial of the Cabal

Dawn broke over the high walls and battlements of Ezmer. The sky was aglow with deep gold and streaked with shadowed purples, pinks, and reds. The large purple moon and its great ring was but a shadow quickly fading. Similarly the lurking dregs of the city that lurked sank back as the sun rose. The foot traffic over the cobblestone streets turned from rag pickers to early rising laborers, merchants, and then tradesmen. The filth that had spent the night fermenting in the gutters began to flow anew as fleets of chamber pots emptied and faulty jakes began to overflow with the city’s morning movement.

It was the morning of the 24th of Early Summer, Excor (played by Cris), Gornix (played by Gil), Fauna (played by Jenn), and Szoosha (played by Isis) gathered for breakfast at the Red Helm tavern. They were uncharacteristically silent during their meal as the cool salted morning air was heavier than usual. After finishing breakfast, they had uniformly decided to leave all of the items that they had stripped from Haxat’s corpse in the Cabal Room upstairs for safekeeping. In preparation of the mandatory hearing that afternoon, they agreed to meet back up in front of the Red Helm on the eve of the hour of their appointment. From there they would then swing by and “scoop up” Jirek as a friendly witness and go as a group to the sapphire guildhouse.

Gil: “What if we don’t show?”

Cris: “Man they’ll just hunt us down!”

Gil: “We can hide or something.”

Cris: “They’ll find us! We can hide outside of the city.”

Gil: “Well…”

Cris: “Do you want to leave the city! ‘Cause that’s what we’ll have to do!”

Gil: “Oh.”

Until then they were on their own and free to finish any business they had before the trial. Hence Excor went to the shop district and there he bought a silver chain. Fauna went to Wensaer’s little alchemy shop and bought an Alchemist’s Kit. The old shopkeeper kept trying to engage her in conversation and asked about the Sapphire guild. Wensaer asked if she knew Gornix, she lied and said no, the old brown-robed alchemist believed her (successful bluff). Therefore she left with her kit. Szoo put in an order at a tailor shop for a new cloak, red with gold trim. Gornix was in the cabal room copying spells later joined by Excor. Eventually came the fateful hour and they gathered in front of the Red Helm before scooting off to the college library and from there to the Sapphire Confraternity Guildhouse in Guildsman’s Square.

The Sapphire guildhouse was a large multi-story expensively masoned stone-block building with a bronze mansard roof bearing a turquoise-green patina. The guards showed them through the finely made bronze double-door into a cathedral-like main hall with a huge dragon’s skull set into the floor among the flags. Guards herded them into a side passage then through a plain wood double-door and into a high ceilinged drearily plain room with unadorned stone block walls. The only light was from three tall and narrow glass paned lancet windows with intersecting tracery crisscrossing in black over the white sunlight.

Directly under the windows and limned by the blue shafts of light beaming in from the outside was the high bench upon which the stern-faced arbiter sat and on either side of that was the council-box where 12 council members of the guild sat and heard the evidence. In front of the tall and intimidating bench stood the Bailiff, a large humorless man with a brown beard striped with white and a well-made longsword at his side. The defendants’ box was before the bailiff and under the bench, a raised platform surrounded by a high wooden railing.

To the right of that was the Advocate’s table. An advocate being a guild official that presented the defense. On the left was the Informants’ table that acted as the prosecution or investigator for the guild. Behind a short railing which separated the front of the room where the tables, the Defendants’ box, council-box, and the bench were two rows of benches in the rear. Among the sparse pew-like benches meant for an audience sat a city magistrate and a few city guards should the need of arrest arise.

Cloaked in various elaborate clothes and robes with a blue and silver motif all of the guild officials were all old Ivorans. Some bore the silver acorn symbol of the Ezmer branch, some the eight-pointed star, though most bore a combination. Among them there was not a finger, neck, chest, or wrist that did not sparkle with expensive jewelry. It was also apparent that each was a wizard of some consequence. Along the lower gallery where the seeker (as Informant) and the young mages’ Advocate and themselves would stand adjudged stood several city guardsmen at attention armed with halberds just behind should the committee find them in criminal offense.

Thus they were put in the Defendants’ Box and the gate shut and bolted behind them. The arbiter banged his gavel and addressed the defendants.

Sapphire Guild Arbiter: “This court’s purpose is to assess the evidence before them concerning the slaying of one Haxat the Greater and to see if it warrants a trial or the involvement of any other authorities including the civil. There are no charges as of yet and any necessary fines will be levied for any violations of city statute or guildlaw due to our investigation. Do YOU understand?”

The wide-eyed defendants all nodded silently.

Excor (to his compatriots): “Aww man, these guys are here to find us guilty.”

The first order of the court was the checking of their paperwork to make sure that they were all licensed mages (the licensing fees and licenses being issued by the guild of course) within the city walls. All practicing mages were required to register with the guild office and obtain a license to practice magic with certain restrictions, which can be overcome by purchasing additional licenses and/or extensions. Otherwise, a mage cannot practice any magic or cast any spells whatsoever and is subject to fines and/or imprisonment possibly even indenturement to the civil authority or the guild. Certain other things such as brewing potions and even medicines are license extensions of which the alchemists’ guild and barbers’ guilds get a taste. After a few hours it was determined the defendants had all of their paperwork in order.

However, as the court made its way to the story of the incident with Haxat it was found that Haxat did not possess the proper paperwork. Thusly, he was deemed an outlaw mage. This boded well for the defendants. Of course, the story was told, retold, and recounted ad nauseam until the committee was satisfied that they had the whole story with every mundane detail no matter how trivial as a part of the “official record”.

This continued until the council decided that they could tease out the facts which were then scrutinized for any violations particularly those that the committee could levy fines against. The long silences between each question of the court was not only frustrating but also agonizing for the defendants.

The extreme boredom of listening to the ritual monotone readings of law and legal regulation and the signing of documents made even longer by Excor’s insistence to read everything thoroughly in addition to the group’s anticipation as to their fates was definitely wearing on them (as well as their players).

Gil: “Damn. Should we just tell them everything.”

Cris: “NO! Don’t anybody tell them anything!”

Isis: “What!? Why’re you staring at ME! I don’t know anything!”

Jenn: “F@*k these GUYS!”

Isis: “SIS!”

Fauna: “SO you didn’t find anything right?!”

Arbiter: “NO.”

Fauna: “So we’re innocent then right?!”

Arbiter: “This was not a trial. This is a fact-finding committee to assess if anyth…”

Jenn: “F@#$ you guys then! I’m outta here!”

Fauna tried to open the latched gate to the defendants’ box but a guard stopped her.

Fauna (to the bailiff): “Are we free to go yet?”

Jenn (copping a ‘tude): “I’m just going to leave I don’t care what they do!”

So Fauna leapt over the railing ducking the guard trying to block her way. The Bailiff shouted, “Hey you street urchin you can’t leave!”

Fauna (at the top of her lungs and with the dismissal of her hand): “That’s what your father said to your MOTHER!”

As a result the entire courtroom burst into laughter. The guards at the entrance smiled but crossed their halberds to prevent her leaving; the Bailiff was not so jovial.

Isis (face palming): “Oh No Sis! You don’t get us off the hook like THAT!”

Several hours later the proceedings finally adjourned. In conclusion the young cabal members were acquitted of any wrong-doing. They did garner some commendation for rescuing their comrade Jirek. However, they were also admonished to apprise the proper authorities instead of taking matters into their own hands if similar circumstances should arise.

Hence they burst out into the waning sun and tangerine pink striped sky of evening from the main doors. Fauna chose that time to inform her companions that an acquaintance of hers had invited them for dinner. Of course, they all agreed to go never ones to turn down a free meal. It was when she guided them to the gate into the Western Cliffs District that they became a little wary.

Gornix: “How do YOU know someone who lives here!”

Fauna: “Well, we all know Bumble!”

She remained vague in any answer she gave to any question related to their host so eventually they gave up. Excor was the only member not to grill her, he just watched her intently. Regardless of any doubts they followed her anyway. The guards let them through the gate as their names were on the list for the evening. Then gave them directions to the house.

Gornix: “Uh. Wait. You don’t know where she lives? HOW do you know this person?”

Needless to say, Fauna was not forthcoming with that information as she lead them following the guards’ directions.

To Be Continued…

 

The Cabal of Eight Pt.22: Cloak and Blather

Excor (played by Cris) cut Jirek’s bindings. The young scribe was visibly in shock. He stared blankly as his rescuers fell icon on blue robeupon the gory remains of Haxat’s corpse looting anything that appeared valuable or that they recognized as magic. Afterwards, the young mages decided to take their loot back to the cabal room and properly identify and divvy it up. Jirek, traumatized, decided to stay behind in order to “clean up” and assess the damage to his warehouse.

Later in the cabal room in the upper floor of the Red Helm tavern, the young mages commence to inspect and identify their booty. What they had was: a polished red agate necklace (level 1, Shield, 1/day), a silver ring (Level 2, close wounds 3 x day), a gold ring with turquoise (Level 4, circle of protection I), and a gold ring with a large ruby (Level 8, scry, 3/day; scry image appears in the ruby).  They also had a set of purple robes (Level 6, grants a Damage Reduction of 12), a High Quality light silver longsword, and a high quality alchemical-gold dagger with a curved-blade and black enameling with an emerald pommel stone. They also came away with 2 potions of healing: a potion of Dispel Curse, and a potion of Impervious to Energy (Frost).

Gornix (played by Gil) took possession of the robes. Fauna (played by Jenn) took the necklace. Szoosha (played by Isis) took the silver ring. Excor claimed the gold & turquoise ring. As the characters had some left over items after the even split the players decided to have a roll-off for the remainders between those who wanted them. Cris and Isis rolled-off for the Dagger, which Isis won. Cris and Gil had a roll-off for the sword; Gil won but let Excor have it. The gold & ruby ring went to the group hoard hidden behind the false brick in the fireplace (see The Cabal of Eight Pt.16: Fight for Sleep).

After this acquirement phase concluded, their attentions turned towards Haxat’s spell book. They were careful not to directly touch the book itself as its leather cover bore a magic ward and it had an iron latch with a small key lock as well. Excor identified the mark as the Burning Symbol. If anyone besides Haxat touches the book, the ward and book would burst into flames burning the hands of the interloper. Gornix just decided to “go for it”. Therefore, Excor handed him a small key he had fished from the purple robes when he had first “salvaged” them. Gornix positioned the book on the table using the sack to cover his hand, inserted and twisted the key, and then opened it. The ward flared as he touched the book but his new robes granted him full protection against the flames.

Within Haxat’s spell-book, they discovered 12 spells and 2 potion formulae. The spells were, in no particular order: Inferior Fireball, Cone of Fire, Imp Summoning Circle, Pain, Bolt of Stunning, Blur, Burning Symbol, Mass Pain, Shield, Slow, Close Wounds, and Ring of Blades. The potion formulae were for Blur and See All.

After the group decided that Szoo should take the Impervious to Frost potion and Fauna the Dispel Curse potion Szoo got up to go grab a round of celebratory ales. Excor tossed him some silver. While the naga was downstairs the remaining three stashed the papers (Haxat’s notes on the Gold & Amber Bee; seemed he was looking for a hive and wanted the queen) and the Amber Bee with their other treasure behind the false brick.

Suddenly Szoo rushed back into the clubroom frantic.

Gornix: “Hey! Where’s the ale!”

Szoo: “That guy in the BLUE ROBES was watching ME! He’s downstairs RIGHT NOW!”

Excor (bluffing humorously): “Well Naga, sounds like the sapphire guild is after you because you’re a Black Scale! Ha …”

Szoo believing him immediately ran away home in a state of utter panic. After that incident, the others checked downstairs for the “blue-robed guy” before calling it a day and going their separate ways.

Fauna was retreating to her spot in the grove (essentially Ezmer’s Central Park) when, while passing through the Old Market District, she spied a woman she recognized as her cult leader entering a high-end dress shop. Of course, Fauna decided to follow ducking into the very same shop just behind her quarry. The woman tried to deny that they knew each other but eventually relented when it became apparent Fauna was not backing down and willing to make a scene.

After some extended awkwardness, she learned the woman’s true name, Virtra Wefa, and eventually spilled the beans about “her friends dealing some justice to a demon summoner”. As a result, Virtra invited Fauna and her friends to a dinner at her residence in the Western Cliffs District the following night (the 24th of Early Summer). After the invite, Virtra had an accompanying footman boot the young druid from the store. Fauna continued on to the park with a big smile on her face.

Later that evening Excor dropped by Gornix’s apartment. It took very little convincing to get the salt-lotus wizard to take a break from his spell research to accompany the other to the meeting with Doubab at the Red Helm.

Meanwhile Szoosha was slowly learning to read going through dozens of old water-damaged ships’ logs and manifests piled in the corner of his flat by his roommate Paej. Most likely a resource kept by the Ferenoi to sell for the paper when in need of some scratch.

Later on in the evening at the Red Helm, Gornix and Excor met up with Doubab. They sat in a curtained booth against the wall that separated the theater from the rest of the tavern. They began with small talk, Excor asked where the “goods” were, and Doubab punched the squirming sack he had set on the seat. Gornix however was getting bored so he offered to fetch a bottle of “something good” from the bar.

On his way to the bar, Gornix spotted the mage in powder blue robes. For the moment, Gornix feigned disinterest. However from the corner of his eye he noticed that the blue-robe was eye-balling him. He bought a bottle of Hill-Lander whiskey from the bartender. Then told him to send a barmaid to the booth to serve them. He tossed a silver piece on the ale-soaked board and returned to the booth.

A few minutes later, the server hobbled up to their table and introduced herself as Stranez. She was a half-faun southern nomad woman with messy coarse grey hair over most of her body. Excor butted in. He paid to send a bottle of “decent quality but not too expensive” wine to the blue robe’s table. He offered a gold bit should she return with his name. They soon learned their stalker was one Crochi Aengham. He was a seeker for the Star Sapphire Confraternity (the sapphire mage guild).

Excor also paid her to go back to the seeker and “keep him busy while they talked business”. She tried, half-heartedly, but the seeker wasn’t having it, old Stranez had seen better days (see The Dragonslayers II Pt. 9). She had done so mostly for her own entertainment. Besides she managed to lift the man’s purse before she limped back to her job.

Meanwhile Excor and Gornix paid Doubab for the bag of rats. The ratter was their “rat hookup” and a possible ringer when it came to betting on the rat fights. He was also well informed as to when and where the fights were held. After a few minutes, Gornix got antsy and decided to approach the seeker. So, Excor and Doubab retreated to the theater. There they drank and listened to the performer, a young minstrel fresh from the bardic college. He was singing a rendition of the Dragon-Wars epic poem, very badly.

Gornix sat down at the table with Crochi the blue robed mage and introduced himself. The sapphire guild seeker was not amused especially when Gornix went on about “a good business opportunity”. The salt-lotus wizard began talking about how he and his comrades were looking for investors for their soon to be operational rat-fighting outfit.

Crochi (in disbelief): “Wait. Are you telling me that you guys are rat-fighters?”

Gornix (shrugging as if it were obvious): “Well, yeah! And we need money… investors.”

Crochi (he finished off a small glass of fine red wine): “You and your companions are nothing more than rat fighters. Bunch a’ gutter-mages. Well-then…”

Crochi (getting up to leave): “Well, what a waste of mine and the guild’s time. We’ve been watching you and your friends for nothing.”

He motioned to a city guard posted at the entrance that they were to leave.

Inexplicably Gornix kept following him on his way to the door then shouted something to the effect that he and his friends are more than ratters “we defeated a demon summoner named Haxat”. That made the seeker turn around.

Cris: “WHAT! What’re you DOING! We had him and the guild off of our @$$es!”

The next hour was spent at the bar conversing with Crochi. Of course, Gornix told him everything about the confrontation with Haxat that very afternoon. A messenger that Crochi had sent off just after his talk with Gornix had started returned and handed him a sealed scroll. With a grin, Crochi handed it to Gornix telling him that he and his companions were summoned to the Star Sapphire Confraternity’s guild house in Guildsman’s square for an “initial appearance before the guild court for a fact-finding session”. The scroll was a court summons for the following high noon.

Cris: “He thought we were just rat-fighters! He wasn’t going to pay any attention to us! That guild doesn’t care about the rat fights! We were FREE and CLEAR!”

After some justified belly aching from Excor, both Excor and Gornix took the sack of rats back to their respective apartments to transfer the rats from the bag to the cages. They lost quite a few rodents in the process. Soon they realized that their apartments and buildings would soon have a severe rat problem.

To Be Continued…