A few days later we rejoin our pair of survivors in Merdna. After recuperating from their wounds and grieving for their lost companion they decided to try to bury the hatchet with the Crossed-Staff gang once and for all. Vorwulf and Bers tossed a street urchin a gold piece and told him to send word for the new leader of the Crossed-Staffs and meet with them at the beerhall. That evening a shaky small man, not wearing yellow, arrived and cautiously introduced himself as the acting “guildmaster” of the Crossed-Staff. Vorwulf simply put it to him that they were tired of killing his people and were willing to pay. They passed him a purse of gems and silver pieces amounting to a fairly great sum. He hastily accepted their offer and summarily made his exit. Cris’ reasoning was that if they were going to try to found a guild in the area they couldn’t conduct business with the local mob out for their blood.
The next day after purchasing new beasts of burden, a pair of strangely reluctant oxen, and their dragon-hide bandoliers heavy with potions they departed Merdna for another attempt at a foray into Varidna. By just after noontime they were approaching the fork at the edge of the Varid Wood having just passed through the latter part of the Pass Road where Dead-Eye had met his end. They had taken a lunch of trail rations by his grave before continuing on. As they neared the fork determined to take the northward path, the West Road, they spotted a strange creature step out of the shadow of the trees.
It appeared as a dragon-man with an elongated jaw and draconic face, a pair of horns and thick, scaly skin with a pair of small leathery wings on its back. The creature was armed with a falchion, a buckler painted black and wearing a bronze pectoral plate. Behind him filed 3 men with swords and unpainted shields wearing yellow silk robes bearing a black spiral wreathed in black flames. Wooden masks painted white and carved into the image of a dragon’s skull covered their faces. Vorwulf engaged with his sword and dagger, a fighting style reminiscent of his master, and Bers pulled her (currently) favorite magic ax and went to meet the dragon-man (their first Draconian). Bers fought with the draconian for the first round killing it and losing her ax in its death-throes as it immediately transmuted into a puddle of acid thereby destroying the ax and forcing her to dodge to avoid any acid-splash. Vorwulf fought with the swordsmen using a consistent combination of parry-simuls (simultaneous attacks). Bers waded into the skirmish with the swordsmen on the second round and picked off two as well destroying the last’s shield. Vor slaughtered the remaining fighter at the beginning of the third round. They inspected the bodies leaving the pool of sizzling acid alone of course. They found a piece of paper, Vorwulf was literate unlike his former master, but could not decipher the writing as it was probably in code but he did take note of the three symbols which were stamped on the bottom of the note. The first was recognizable as that seen around the left-eyes of the savage ratlings which had been raiding their dragon-bone supplies, the other the symbol on the robes of the swordsmen and finally a peculiar coiled dragon.
They continued on as they were not particularly injured from the encounter. They traveled on for a few more hours and as the time reached early evening they noticed that the Varidvir Wood was on the north side of the West Road. There was the sudden earsplitting sound of cracking wood and the trees flew apart and a dragon crashed into the road out from the Varidvir Wood. The creature’s scales were colored red, magenta, crimson and deep purple. Its horns and claws were gleaming blue-black with a long neck and lacking wings it had six legs. Spines ran along its spine gathering at the tip of the tail which it was whipping back and forth in agitation. The dragon roared and charged them.
Jenn: “I try to get in front of the oxes between the dragon and them so it can’t get ‘em.”
Me: “It’s not charging them it’s charging at you.”
Vorwulf (after a successful dragon-lore check): “Don’t that thing spit on you!”
They took it out rather quickly with Vorwulf claiming the deathblow on his second attack. They camped there for the night to allow Vor to skin and bone it. He realized it was a young dragon as it was only about 30 ft long from tail to nose and barely breaking 1,000 lbs. He had identified it as a Crimson Reaver (see Monster Magnus Vol.I) and was happy they had a new reserve of dragon-bone and hide. He then failed his roll to skin it and ruined the hide but boned it successfully. In the morning they continued west along the West Road.
They soon encountered an old rancher sitting out front of his ranch-house (a typical Westlander longhouse with a porch) smoking his pipe. He introduced himself as Varder and after finding out that they were dragon-slayers eagerly updated them on the local goings-on. He told them of the dragon problems they were having with the dragon, the slayers mentioned nothing of their killing the young dragon on the road, and when shown the symbols on the paper they had taken from the draconian he identified the ratling tattoo as the mark of the Daggertooth ratlings a savage tribe which make their homes in the North and Nor forests, worshippers of that old dragon. He told them of Sawback, the dragon which rules this region from the shadows using the ratlings to carry out his will and deliver messages. Rumor has it that the Druid of Hirok-Nor is in league with him.
Vorwulf: “Corrupt @$$ druid.”
They were also updated on the presence of a dragon cult that wears yellow silk robes.
Varder: “Ivorans I think. Came up this road here and went that aways.” He pointed east towards the Pass Road with the stem of his pipe.
Varder also mentioned the Black Cathedral when asked about any local ruins telling them that the land there was cursed and no one goes anywhere near that place when the sun goes down. So justifying their decision to seek the Black Cathedral out by convincing themselves that the dragon may have used it as a lair they immediately took off south off of the road. They had been instructed by Varder the old rancher that the ruins sat atop a low hill south of the North Road. They pulled their wagon up below said hill by early evening. The ruins were indeed the remains of an old cathedral built by the Hyvalian Theocracy probably over 100 years ago give or take. Its stone walls were indeed black, fire blackened that is. The slit set high up in the walls and empty. The front entrance gaped the interior visible but cast in deep shadow and mote polluted beams of golden light shot through the west-facing slit windows and the multitude of holes in the old lead roof. The floor of the nave was covered in detritus and dirt, the flags beneath being completely buried. They carefully entered the gutted building and spent some time tiptoeing around as they checked it out. They avoided the choir since they could see a large statue on a raised platform of a young man in possibly monk’s garb in supplication praying due to their (or at least Bers’) past experience with statues in lonely places. They found a crusted bronze door recessed in the west wall which Bers kicked down. In the small and strangely clean and barren room behind they found a stairway down through the floor. They descended and made their way through a subterranean complex of rooms and fought with the denizens found there including 2 blackened mummies, 4 undead skeletons and scarab swarm summoned by the last mummy. They reached the last chamber after defeating the last mummy and using a bottle of lantern oil to defeat the swarm. They found a room littered with black and crumbling bones with a small silver casket at the far end set in niche in the dirty plaster wall. They were both badly wounded at this point having been hit at least once in each fight. They were debating whether or not to enter the chamber but as they looked on a roiling black mist began to seep into the chamber from between the cracks in the floor along with an audible moaning coming from below. Vorwulf dashed in and snatched the casket.
Vorwulf: “Run, run, run!”
He tore off for the door as did Bers. The black mist having flooded the final chamber, hideous faces filled with pain and horror could be seen swirling randomly about within it and as they ran it followed. Vorwulf barely jumped over the threshold of the entrance to the nave as it caught up to him and made a snatch at him with a smoky claw. There it waited and slowly began to ease outside staying within the shadow of the building. They both noted this peculiar action and realized it was now dusk and rushed to their wagon committed to fleeing as far as possible from the Black Cathedral as they could. They looked black at the silhouette of the building against the red-orange dusk.
They continued moving for a few hours until they reached the farm house of Varder and threw down their sleeping rolls for the night. At dawn they opened the casket and found a longsword with a razor-sharp blade and covered in decorative runes. Its grip was wrapped with gold wire and had a large rock-crystal pommel stone. The only other item in the casket was a gold ring emblazoned with tower of inlaid adamantine with an onyx dragon winding about it. The ring was encrusted with diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires. They were pretty sure the stuff was magic but had no way to tell until they got back to a decent sized settlement. They took breakfast with Varder and his family and went to investigate another dragon sighting finding a footprint which Vorwulf identified as those of an adult Crimson Reaver. They also noticed a couple of shrouded bodies and were told that a sickness was sweeping through the ranches and seemed to start in the west. They told them of a shaman who crept in from the wilderness was trying to help the victims for the past week or so but was so far unsuccessful.
They found and talked this shaman who introduced himself as Grom (played by Jenn’s brother Gil). He told them that even his spiritual arts have had no result leading him to believe that the plague is supernatural. An Ivoran merchant caravan passed along the West Road early that evening and stopped at one of the farms where they had the farmers send for the shaman. Bers and Vorwulf followed Grom to them. The group found that several in the caravan were also sick, all those who had drunk from an old well they had found a mile or so off of the road.
To Be Continued…