Humble Beginnings

Session 17: The Fortune and the Flower Girl
"I've got UMD, it'll be fine!"

As Chris finds Trixy’s letters, he screams, attracting the notice of the others. They leave the troops on guard and go investigate, finding Chris alone with a bag. He relays what’s happened, explaining GranGran disappeared. The group discuss in private what GranGran said about the village, with Chris insistent that they return to the village as soon as possible so that he can “scour it clean” – he’s the one who makes the realisation that maybe the taint she mentioned is the failing soil and lack of wildlife that they all noticed in the land surrounding the village prior to leaving. James is insistent that they can’t leave now: they’ll be labelled deserters and hunted down, and it’ll take months to get back. They need to find someone who can help them travel as fast as GranGran did. As Serra heads back to the troop to allay suspicions, Chris tries to see what’s in the bag. Upon noticing it’s empty he hands it to James who notices it’s magical. He then tries to open it. Badly. It explodes and scatters the contents across the floor. There’s a letter from GranGran:

_"No doubt Serra is looking for some proof of all this, so to Serra; Hello yes it’s me GranGran, calm down and stop overthinking things.
James if you have not searched the bag yet, then do so now…now heed these words. The power of these cards is not for the faint of heart, nor the weak minded. Be careful when using them.
Brody, my dear Brody, I am sorry for what I have done but it was unavoidable.
Tellon, aim true and you will find what you need.
And lastly Chris. I hope you are still being a good boy, please don’t forget to smile and make others laugh along the way, or you will never unlock your true potential.

Bless you all and farewell

GranGran."_

Also in the bag is a deck of cards with the Fortune’s Rest (whose power is not for the faint hearted), James confirms they’re magical but is reluctant to use them after the bag. They carry the symbol of Lebellas Ennarath, god of the passage of time. Serra reminds him to keep them close when he shows her as they both realise they’re a relic.

Also in the bag is Brody’s hammerplow, James confirms to a magic-weary Brody that it’s absolutely not magical. Not at all. This follows a long discussion about the nature of magic, where Brody is leery of it on one side and James on the other thinks the way to guard against it being used against them is to learn to use it himself.

The small regiment press on. James is placed in command of one third of the troop, which by happy coincidence consists of the rest of the party and two other recruits. The next evening the group is guarding one side of the camp to find boars are attacking. Bigger and spikier boars than those they killed before. Dire boars.

In the fighting, Chris and Brody are badly injured, Chris incapacitated in fact, before one is killed and the other runs off to die in the woods. The troops decide to cook and eat the boar the next day, which manages to poison almost everyone except Serra and the injured Brody. The troop remain in place for a day to recover.

The watch during the day is uneventful save a large mixed flock of birds which seem to be migrating unseasonably early. This alarms Brody and James who think an attack may be imminent but on examination there seems to be nobody around. Chris and Serra think upon scouting that there may be taint creeping into the area.

The following day one of the officers wants to march his troop on (half have recovered), while the other wants to remain. James doesn’t want to let the troops be divided so convinces him to wait another day. This proves fruitful as the camp is attacked through the night by an owlbear. It sneaks into the camp and eviscerates one of the troopers before it is surrounded by the party. On the second application of grease it falls down and Chris and Brody hack it to pieces.

Next morning they decide to press on and continue to march for days to catch up to schedule. As it wanders in the woods GDBF is attacked by a wolf during Brodywatch. There’s a familiar soft cry of “Noooooo!!” as Brody intervenes. He turns to see everyone’s favourite flower girl Marabelle headed towards him.

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Session 16: The Goons and the Guerrillas
"We get it! Serra's not dead!"

Part 1: The Keep

Serra is officially dead, killed in the zombie attack. So the newly minted Lydia is sat with the group, and will be carried around by Hodor… Sorry Brody… While the cripple formerly known as Lydia will stay with needle to explore the tunnels. Needle relays the group’s marching orders to them: they’ll be headed out the next day with the rest of the recruits bound for the front lines.

Needle is coerced into being more open by the not even slightly secretive Serra, and relays the story of how he was sent to find her by way of a riddle: “The east hides its valuables well, questions from the smallest you must answer, answer them well, they are not yours.”

This seems to have led him to the gold dragon’s cave, an experience he barely survived with his life. He confirms Serra is one of the people of the east, and Serra responds by claiming he has something of hers, showing her quickrazor. He acquiesces and shows her the weapon’s partner on his wrist, explaining that he stole it from the fortress years ago. He shows the document they were listed on: a manifest claiming they were commissioned 70 years ago for Serra’s mother, and they were specially designed to pierce those with copper skin.

The manifest also has a sword listed, which resembles the one James’ father now has: a golden holy longsword, one of five, with Heironeous inscribed on it, and with the ability to resist mental compulsions. That disappeared 30 years ago.

With regard to Serra’s people, one of her kind was tasked to kill the king, but shied away at the last minute. This caused her to be hunted and her people to be mistrusted. Serra speculates that her mother was on the run, with damaged hands when she went into hiding in Burnside. James voices concern that if the priests have gone to Burnside and suspects she’s there they may punish the village for hiding her. At this point it’s agreed they’re too far away to return, and being branded as deserters won’t help their cause.

Serra draws a map to Burnside for Needle before they depart: he agrees to look in on the place before they part ways.

Part 2: Capture

The party head out, James with the officers and the others in the ranks. Brody loudly complaining that he’s of no use that far away, Chris mockingly following orders and Serra in a sack disguised as half a half elf. James arranges the watch order for the troop, using his own watch to practice magic (knowing what he does from Serra’s revelations) away from prying eyes, and Serra using the time and her own magic to transcribe the book on dragons into common. Brody keeps name dropping Serra’s real name, in fact completely forgetting to call her Lydia at all!

One morning the column of troops meet a solitary figure on the road through the woods, the officers send James forward to speak to them, who takes Chris along for support. The rest of the troop is oblivious to the shadowy figures surrounding them. As James approaches he is grabbed by the figure, an elf woman who puts a knife to his throat. The rest of the troop is attacked by the elves in the woods, who kill one of the guards before capturing them. James tries to negotiate with the woman unsuccessfully, Chris threatening to kill her if she kills James. Seeing the situation lost James gives the order to Chris to flee. Chris runs one direction and Chris runs in the opposite direction to confuse the elves, eventually escaping, knocking out one of the elves in the process.

The rest of the troop is blindfolded and led to an encampment. The elves are a group of resistance fighters hose homes have been burned by the queen’s troops. As they leave the troops in tents bound and blindfolded, Brody and James try to get the guards attention, but only succeed in getting gagged. Brody eventually gets his gag and restraints off, and Serra explains to him that a jailbreak in this situation isn’t a good idea. He then doesn’t ungag James, inadvertently preventing him from using magic. He does manage to get the guards’ attention, and tries to cosy up to them while relieving himself. Name-dropping Spanik he does learn that Spanik has some double meaning in elvish, but little else.

The next morning James manages to convince the elf feeding him to leave off the gag, and is surprised that no one has come to interrogate the officers. He creates an illusion that the tent is on fire, but the inattentive guards don’t notice so he adds sound to it. The guards raise the alarm and move the troops to another tent while they put out the fire. Or at least realise the fire is a hoax…

This plus Brody’s shouting attract the attention of the elf leader, who unblindfolds Brody, and exclaims “Brokai!” in horror, before fleeing, taking the entire guerrilla force with her. Except one who Chris takes down and steals a knife from.

As the troops take control of the camp, they loot the place for information. The party now being in charge of the troop, technically, they organise the guards. Serra and Chris try to interrogate the captive elf but to no avail. He’s too terrified by Brody for some reason and Chris’ newly sociopathic attitude doesn’t help. They’re going for honey and vinegar, and get vinegar and battery acid… Eventually while Chris is away James compels the elf to leave and go home.

The next day they set out again, Chris acting as an advance scout. Chris hears a weak voice call out for James and Brody, and approaches. It’s GranGran, who says the village has been taken over by the clerics, who’ve brainwashed the villagers. She mentions something about taint and that she barely managed to escape. She hands over Chris’ unopened letters to Trixy and disappears.

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Sessions 14 and 15: The Wicked and the Witless
"Oh yeah I'll be able to remember what happened after a month!"

Session 14: “I’ll just take her to my workshop”

After the attack through the night Chris and James build a cairn for the PDS sufferers. Serra and Brody keep watch.

The next day the party march to the fort. They near the fort at nightfall, approach and are let in after discussion.

A spidery cleric woman comes to collect Lydia and promises to give her legs. Keeps commenting on how pretty she is. James and Brody take her to the cleric’s workshop…medical centre then she shrilly pushes them out. Except Serra who she doesn’t notice. There are sounds of someone insane pottering about in the cleric’s next room. Lydia complains about needing to pee, the dog tries to get in the room until Serra manages to calm it.

The rest of the group meet another officer recruit who helps get them geared up. He realises they’ve already got gear, asks what sort of styles they fight with, gets flustered then sets them off to the courtyard. In the courtyard fighting with a rapier is a quipping midget. He fights Chris, sends him off to train others, then James, asks where he’s from and mentions he was in Erebaster.

The cleric moves Lydia into another room, Serra sneaks in and notices the place is full of necromantic constructs. Lydia screams, giving Serra the chance to knock out the priest. She gets Lydia back to the barracks and tries to calm her down.

James and Brody eventually find an officer and make their report. He’s more interested in the details of who died and survived than the details. Brody considers reporting the officer murder, as he hesitates James figures out what he’s planning on saying and pushes the report into the zombie attack. That shuts the officer down completely and he sends them off to train. Brody then comments on the way back about how Serra and James owe him, James snaps back that everyone’s responsible for each other’s actions. Brody threatens to march back in and report what happened. James ignores him and they head back to the yard.

The party reunite at the barracks. Serra explains to them about the cleric and the undead, James comments that it’s strange that the officer cut down the report on mention of the zombie attack, then dismisses it that it’s unlikely. Brody storms off at being ignored. The group is then arrested for interrogation.

Brody says everything he knows, Chris gives highlights of his day, as does James. Serra however gets fingered for the attack on the cleric having been spotted. As they move to chain her she attacks. Knocks them out cold and charges to the cleric’s lab. She then (borrowing a trick from James) uses grease to knock the guards at the door down and brains them too. As she approaches the cleric’s sanctum she sees the cleric, who laughs maniacally and releases all 27 zombies…

Session 15: “They’re killing my babies!”

The zombies attack the courtyard, the guards call for the recruits to clear off, putting Brody on the gate and sending James to get the cleric. James throws a glob of grease at the gaggle of zombies attacking Conan and runs to collect her, bumping into Serra en route. James collects the cleric and hurries back, to find Conan on the ground being pounded on and Brody, Serra and the dog approaching the fight. Chris, spying the scene throws himself from above into the fray, acrobatically making his slip on the grease look intentional. James gets involved in the fight to rescue Conan, the guards withdraw and order the group to do the same. Brody dutifully runs away, James pretends to not hear the order and attacks.

…and in chaos that ensues, a badly injured Chris and James, Serra and Good Dog Best Friend manage to retrieve Conan, while the mad cleric begins striking Brody, screaming on about how her children are being murdered. She then sees Conan and demands he’s turned over to her. James refuses and stands his ground against her as she threatens him with a dagger. Then a sword appears through her chest.

It belongs to the midget swordsman. Shorty, or Needle, guides the group away from the carnage into the tunnels below the fortress, which bear a striking resemblance to the tunnels the group sheltered in earlier. He then gives away hints that he’s the gnome Tim and Sylvia intimated were in their circle, specifically the blue outfit. James shows his blue scarf and the group settle down to discuss matters. Needle is surprised that Rob Arsmith’s son is associating with the resistance, wondering if it’s a double bluff on someone’s part.

He then explains that the zombies the party are encountering are legally sanctioned in the kingdom, and that as anyone enlisting gives “body and soul” to the queen in the contract they signed. This means the group all tacitly agreed to being raised as a zombie by the queen and her priests.

Needle explains his history, or a little of it, he originally came to these lands from the north coast years ago, and the war was already well underway, as it had been for years. The queen started sending out waves of recruiters, the first was a wave of merchants. James remembers this as being the time his father joined the army, shortly after his mother died. There is some evidence that the hooded clerics are yet another wave. He’s also surprised about the group originating in Burnside, as he’s never heard of it and nobody else had either.

He explains a little more about the situation in the battle for old land, specifically mentioning that the king on the other side is called Richard. The party still disagrees on what the queen is actually up to, not helped by Needle not knowing much more than Sylvia and Tim in that regard as to what she actually wants. It seems the queen has been very successful at keeping her cards close.

Needle then tells the group that they should lay low for a while, and goes off and deals with some loose ends. Eventually returning to announce that Serra is officially dead, and that the muster is happening as scheduled tomorrow. The party being in part injured decide to keep to the tunnels for the time being. They weren’t being mustered out for another month anyway.

The party settle for the night, James and Chris head to bed to rest up while Serra and Brody have a heart to heart. James overhears the entire exchange, but doesn’t let on he’s awake. Serra is amazed that Brody seems to be the only one of them who hasn’t developed some magical talent, and goes about demonstrating a spell she’s figured out. Brody tries to mend bridges for his part, claiming that he decided not to say about the guard’s murder.

After this charming scene of reconciliation, there is one, small issue. Unbeknownst to the rest of the group, Chris is still under the effect of the ritual at the statue, and knows about the resistance movement…

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Session 13: The Avalanche and the Amputee
"Suddenly, she's not half the elf she used to be..."

As the party recover from the attack, they move up mountain for shelter from the elements. Lydia seems most badly hurt, her legs a shattered mess, and Chris also looks like he has a broken leg. They manage to get into a cave.

As they explore the cave it turns out to be a finished room, the avalanche took out the exterior wall and exposed the room to the outside world. Serra investigates the injured party members and rapidly concludes that (perhaps as some punishment from some cruel god) her legs are going to become infected and she will die unless they’re amputated. James muses that maybe she would have been better dying in the avalanche. Brody, still incensed by the murder of the officer, hits the roof and refuses to leave Lydia alone with the rest.

By the next morning, James and Chris head off to scout the area for survivors and a herb for Serra to anaesthetise Lydia for her legstraction. They find the barbarian on the road and lure him back up with food, he’s unwilling or unable to speak. They keep him bound for safety’s sake.

Despite James’ best efforts to involve him in some activity, Brody remains steadfastly focused on preventing Serra, the only person in the group with medical knowledge, from murdering Lydia. Serra meanwhile gets her alchemy on, and spends a day brewing the anaesthetic. Duplicate Chris makes a repeat appearance in the room, with Brody thinking there’s a magician nearby. Serra and James realise it’s something Chris has made, confirmed to them when he dismisses it, but Chris doesn’t realise it. James and Chris go exploring the tunnels off the room with James trying to get him to admit to casting the thing, and find evidence that the place has been abandoned for at least a hundred years. James recognises a statue as being of one of the blacksmith people he knew in, with Berenar, safety, truth, home written on the base of the statue in their language.

The next day brings a change to James, though not to Chris. James realises in horror what he’s done the last few days, this happens to coincide with Lydia waking up in agony. Throwing himself into the moment, James calms her down, trying to convince her she’ll be fine while getting her to drink wine to ease the pain. He shouts down the snarky Chris and argumentative Brody in the process. Serra then asks him if she should proceed with the operation, which almost paralyses him before he forces himself to agree. Brody then holds her down while Serra sets to work.

When the now half elf is stabilised, they set off down the mountain, realising that Highguard is closer than thought. It’s on the other side of a forest. They trudge on in relative silence the rest of the day. That night, Chris sees shambling, ill-looking people approaching the camp. He wakes Serra, who then wakes the rest of the party, suspecting they might be zombies.

As the partially deceased syndrome sufferers attack, the party move to take them down. Serra moves to take on the largest of them, while the other zombies attack Chris. Brody moves to help Chris while James lays grease down under the big one, then moves to support Chris and Brody. The party take down the zombies, then burn them and move on away from the battle site.

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Session 12: The Exposition and the Exodus
"Good dog best friend"

The Exposition

In their study, Tim and Sylvia give a size three exposition dump to the party. They claim to be part of an underground who are trying to investigate the queen. The Battle on Old Land doesn’t seem to be just about land, the queen has systematically conquered almost the entire continent, over several hundred years. The current war seems to be about suppressing knowledge held by the other side on her origins. The underground hasn’t managed to find out or get there. Serra is rather scathing of the whole idea, Brody seems uncomfortable but is still very drunk. James gives his word to keep the information to himself, which may involve not telling Chris…

Sylvia then tells Serra about the man she’s been following on orders from the dragon. He’s a member of their circle called Harrington Flaunder the Third….etc. etc. or Needle to his friends. A particularly odd name and apparently he’s similar in stature to Serra. They give her information where he might be headed. Serra then heads off to the tavern, looking for Til. Meanwhile James and Brody continue to make conversation, until Brody passes out from exhaustion and booze…

Serra fails to find Til and spends the night hunting for him with no success. Maybe he did run off to join Maurgrim’s band of conchies.

The next day, with time ticking, Serra heads back to chez Nightwood. On the way she spots Spanik, the ranger with deer recognition problems. She tries to avoid him but she’s spotted as she meets up with the others. In a short conversation he lets slip he’s working for “the council”. Serra heads back to the library to pick up books on people matching her description. There’s an entire tome on Peoples of the East. James and Brody head to the barracks.

At the barracks James and Brody arrive to find the muster underway. Chris is being beasted by the guards and Brody goes to join the ranks. James heads to his father’s office, who asks where Serra is, muttering about punctuality… James forgot he’d arranged to meet him the night before! They head down to Rob’s personal armoury, where James picks out a peculiar crystal sword for his use. The jewelled sword is placed in secure storage for the future.

Serra eventually arrives. Rob gives her her contract, which declines to give her any gear but places a guard dog in her custody. A dog which seems to be bigger and better trained than she is, and doesn’t seem to obey a word she says… The party are then loaded down with survival packs, Brody barely notices the weight, James manages but is slowed a bit, and Serra and Chris almost unable to carry them. They set out.

The Exodus

For a whole day and night march… In which a lot of the 21 recruits are exhausted and bullied into line by the guards, James struggles with the forced march and starts lagging behind too but is generally left alone by the officers. Blessed nepotism…

The next couple of days pass in the same gruelling manner until they arrive at a village, where the entire troop are made to abase themselves before a statue of the queen, flanked by robed priests. This causes a strange effect on James and Chris, and several of the platoon. James notices too late some nimbus of energy about the statue but isn’t able to avoid its effects. Serra notices James noticing the effect but isn’t able to see what he’s seeing. Ineffectuality abounds.

Brody uncharacteristically goes off to a bakery and buys a sweet roll. Offering it as a friendly gesture to another pleb he watches the recruit throw it to the ground and stomp on it. James spots this and demands the recruit apologise. As he refuses, James sees red and fascinates him into paying attention before disciplining him.

The march on this time has Chris grinding down with exhaustion, as he’s being punished by one of the officers, the column grinds to a halt due to a cart being in the way. The other officer heads up and confronts the woman in the cart, then stabs her in front of her kids. As Serra vainly tries to save her, James demands to know why he did it. He claims she and her kids are traitors and orders the goods confiscated. Serra protests and is eventually chained up with the barbarian prisoner. Brody runs off into the woods to find the kids. Eventually finding them and trying to talk them into heading back to the village.

But not before the column moves on driven by the officers…

That night Chris sneaks up to the tent of one of the officers, intent on some errand, meanwhile Chris is walking on the edge of the camp to make a distraction. Serra notices Chris and Chris, and Chris notices being noticed, Chris meanwhile fails to notice being noticed. Chris heads over and picks Serra’s cuffs. Brody gets back to the camp at this point and offers to let the other officer get some sleep, the noise of this waking James. As they discuss this the Chris who didn’t notice being noticed is also noticed by James and Brody, along with the other Chris heading to the officer’s tent. Fearing an attack Brody raises the alarm, and the camp is placed on alert all night.

The next day they enter the foothills headed to Fort Highguard, as they gain height there is an avalanche. As the dust settles James and a pinned Lydia are on one side, Chris, Brody, Serra, the barbarian and one officer on the other. And Serra’s dog. Everyone else is either crushed or falls to their deaths. James notices a weird rocklike creature above them and Lydia trapped under the rocks but does nothing until the others attack the thing, which causes more rocks to fall, injuring James and pinning Chris. They eventually dispatch the Avalancher, but not before James and the dog slip and are hanging from a branch over the precipice. Brody helps James up then they set about recovering the survivors, including the dog. With one exception: Serra walks over to the surviving officer and guts him like a fish, with Brody looking on in horror. James then pitches the body down the cliff, one last victim of the avalanche as far as he’s concerned.

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Session 11: The Baker and the Bumfight
"Let me in! I'm a baker!"

Joining the guards

Continuing the discussion at the fountain, James and Serra agree to join the army with Brody. Chris also wanders off to sign up, still fuming about Serra calling him out on his night with the whore. Telon meanwhile flatly refuses to sign up, and says he’s going to join Maurgrim and his people in the woods. Nobody really believes him, least of all Serra, so they let him go. As the crowd thickens en route Chris gets buffeted about. The others spot him and he gets pulled aside by Brody.

At the barracks James’ father recruits Chris, sending him off to the armoury where he picks out a pair of curved fighting knives and some chain armour, while James is taken on as an officer cadet and given the pick of his father’s personal armoury. He agrees to let his father keep the jewelled sword, but hangs onto it until they depart. Serra gets refused on height grounds, as she storms off and screams in a corridor James goes back into his father’s office and tries to persuade him to take her. He agrees to discuss it with his superiors.

To the Library!

The plan being to trek to Fort Highguard to begin basic training in two days, the group separate to finish things off. The next morning Serra and James head to the library – in James’ case to find out more about the sword and a bit more about the nobility in the area. Serra to find more about dragons and other things she’s not willing to share with the group. James finds the appropriate page of a book on swords is ripped out, the librarian however has a poster offering 10k gold for the return of the golden swords to the queen.

Serra goes researching dragons. One has a legend of a dragon guarding a library in a place called Candlekeep. She finds a book from the non-fiction section called the Disciples of Arshedallon , written in a indecipherable language. Serra distracts James and goes looking up magic. She buys the book on magic, in part payment agreeing to translate the Disciples of Arshedallon.

Brody and Chris spend some time meeting the other recruits, including Lydia, who seems to be struggling to figure out a weapon from one end or the other. They then go about trying to persuade people not to join the army to increase the odds of Serra joining.

The Underworld

The group then set about trying to find Tim and Sylvia. There’s a note telling James the location of the safe house waiting for him, but on approaching it seems the door is pretty solidly trapped. James remembers Tim’s system for getting a code word involves listening to the lyrics of a song in a bar, and so they decide to head there. Or rather they were, but Chris has been attempting to not recruit people to the army, and manages to get into a knife fight with some hobo! As the bum cuts Chris, James throws a glob of mud, making an unusually accurate pool of grease about the tramp, causing him to slip and fall. Serra then brains him and they leave him unconscious in an alley.

Chris, who’s been behaving even more erratically since they arrived is confronted by Brody, who thought it was a good idea to let him take a few knife wounds. Brody berates him and makes it clear he thinks the Millers did a terrible job raising him. Chris finally cracks at this and storms off tearfully.

The rest of the group meanwhile go looking for the tavern. Eventually the prerequisite vegetable-obsessed musician comes in and they listen intently. Aaand James thinks the code word is aubergine with Brody thinking its cucumber…

The combination of bickering and possible code words gets the attention of a little kid from inside, who goes to get his da, Tim. Tim doesn’t trust them but sets them a task anyway: to investigate who’s knocked over a bakery, the Maiden’s Flour, that Tim owns.

The group arrive at the bakery with moments to spare before the owner locks the door, with Brody uttering the immortal lines: “Let me in! I’m a baker!”

…It does the job. As he’s in uniform the baker thinks the group are legitimate guards come to investigate. A thorough investigation leads to one conclusion, it looks like an inside job and there was a strong smell of booze so maybe the pub is a good target. Brody starts gathering information and ends up getting a little drunk, and the absolute centre of attention. A cloaked figure runs out, spotted by James and Serra, who give chase. Serra corners and tackles her, and it turns out to be Sylvia. They escort her back to the tavern, with her unwilling to talk, and particularly infuriatingly unwilling to do business with them. Eventually they head off to Tim. Drunken baker in tow.

Said drunken baker figures out en route that this was all a test of loyalty, if someone’s willing to tell a man that his own wife (who’s a childhood friend herself) has betrayed him, then that man’s loyal. It turns out to be true, when they arrive, Tim and Sylvia embrace James with open arms…

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Session 10: The Sword and the Sex Workers
"I'm going to get EVERYONE laid on your first night in the city, no matter how hard it is!"

After selling the horses, James distributes the money made… Then to spare Brody’s feelings he doesn’t outright say they’re sold, but that they’re being stables there permanently. For free. And here, have some gold!

They make their way to the Old King’s Head, to find it slightly more seedy than James remembered it. In fact on closer inspection it’s a brothel. As they approach the bar, an old man who James recognises as Athelred asks if they’re wanting service. Eventually recognising James, he offers them a place to stay and fires his musician in favour of James.

As they settle into their new digs, a room so dilapidated that to call it seedy is an insult to seeds, with a rusty mattress and a powerful smell of incense, Brody gets ready to meet his date at the Salubrious chain inn and goes off across the city to find him/her/it/them. Chris disappears off into one of the rooms after being seduced by a woman who looks somewhat like Trixy, Telon sits somewhere very quietly for a bit and James and Serra are left alone in the room. Serra then bursts into a fit of giggles and gives a gobsmacked James a hug, claiming that despite being mad as hell about James lying to her and the others she’s so happy they made the trip! Then she throws the coin purses she stole from the thief into the bed. There’s about the same again if not more than the money they got for the horses! Serra insists that this is fantastic and they’ll soon be able to call for their families, James cautions her they should find ways to launder the money so they don’t get caught. Eventually James sets to work in the bar room and Serra passes the time dancing.

Brody meanwhile has failed to find his date and instead falls in with a large group of locals who find his stories endlessly entertaining! One suggests he have a song written about them. On his way home to the cathouse he gets hopelessly lost, and ends up talking at length to a pretty young woman who later charges him by the hour for listening! He spends the rest of the night wandering the streets.

Serra meanwhile has found her mark. She gradually seduces/drugs a guard who walks in off duty and by the end of the night they retire up to the boudoir. She then proceeds to root through the unconscious guard’s property until she finds his weapons license and forges a copy for the rest of the party each and in so many words tells Til he can now get his bow back.

The next morning the group make themselves scarce for the return of the Garry’s consciousness. The dishevelled returning Chris is given instructions to go with Til to get their weaponry while James and Serra go out for breakfast, and to try and find his old alchemist teacher Sylvia. They rendezvous with Brody on the way and the three of them head to Nightshade’s, or what turns out to be now a small subsidiary of Nightshade’s the Alchemists. Sylvia it seems in the last ten years has married Tim, one of James’ other friends and expanded her business. The shopkeeper says she lives in a house in the poor quarter but owns a lot of shops. There’s an experiment caged in the shop, which turns out to be an extremely well-spoken goblin named Glibglob. As it outlines its plans to become goblin king the shopkeeper mentions Sylvia keeps it there to keep it away from the children. It’s the most successful of her experiments so far, Serra correctly guesses its been treated with a particular rare/legendary herb. As she and James come up with ideas of how to make money on this, Brody seems to think it vitally important to give it to the guards for safe keeping. James leaves contact details for Sylvia and they depart, discussing legendary poisons and their ramifications as they go. Surprisingly a passing guard takes notice of this and also taking note of James’ sword asks for their weapons licenses. This then makes him assume they’re in the guard and asks why they’re not in uniform. James immediately retorts that they’re off duty and he leaves. On closer inspection the licenses Serra forged are guards’ licenses…

With plans to set up a smuggling ring brewing in their minds, Serra and James plot to get Brody in the guard. James and Brody head off to see James’ father, now a lieutenant in the army, while Serra heads to the library. As for the others, Til’s gone missing again… Chris heads off to find him. Chris finds Til mid-press gang and rescues him from the guard. On their way to the Queen’s fountain in the main square a messenger hawk is spotted – they summon it down, retrieve the note and shoo it away. Chris is troubled by this…

Serra meanwhile has been looking for a library, and finding one bullies the librarian into taking her to the magic section. There her eyes are opened, magic seems to be real and James has been lying to her all along! She eventually returns to the fountain, finds Chris and reads the letter he’s been sent. Dismisses it out of hand and comments on how quickly he forgot Trixy once some cheap trollop came along. In the shocked silence that follows the three of them wait.

James and Brody go to the guard office, and explaining to the recruitment sergeant that James is the son of Rob Arsmith they’re taken into a waiting area. Brody is led in first, and is sweet-talked into signing on the dotted line, and comes out with dreams of 3000 gold on completion of a few months duty. James then goes in, and has the reunion with the man who abandoned him with his grandparents ten years earlier. Apparently Rob left the sword with him to let the prize for its return grow, and offers to split it with him – 10k each… The elder Arsmith then explains the war on the old lands needs him, he’d be given a commission and the two of them could rise in the ranks quickly. Especially with the return of the sword… And Elena, James’ mother would have wanted it. James wavers, clearly taken in by everything his father says, suggests they meet to discuss it further and walks away to meet Brody in the barracks.

Brody with some convincing agrees to wear heavy armour, and spends the entire trip back to the fountain going on about the gold. When they get back they explain the situation to the sullen group, with Serra stating that she isn’t leaving him to die out there. Chris uncharacteristically announces he’s signing up, with the scene closing on them planning on how to keep their gold and make more when they’re in the army.

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Session 9: The Garry and the Garry
"Yes we definitely paid 300 gold each for these horses."

The party continues its trek to Erebaster, speeded up by the acquisition of horses Brody acquired from a really really keen horse trader! Suddenly they notice they’re being pursued, by goblins riding large wolfish things called wargs. As Brody spurs the horses pulling the cart along to a run, Serra does likewise with her pony whilst also dipping an arrow in a vial, nocking it into a shortbow and taking out the lead warg rider. James throws a gob of grease at the second one, which slows it but otherwise has little effect. He then starts singing an inspirational song to bolster his allies. More jump onto the cart from the trees and more riders appear. As the fight gets closer, James and Chris both take out goblins on the cart, and Serra and Telon continue to shoot at the attackers. As one rider attacks and gores one of the horses, Brody moves over and kicks it out of its mount, which is then itself cut down. Eventually the remaining goblins are dispatched and the group stop to inspect the damage. One of the horses is badly injured and it’s decided to stop for the night to let it rest up.

One of the goblins is wearing a shirt which James identifies as being able to summon a mist. Serra scorns the notion of this until James activates it and the whole area fills with a concealing mist. Convinced there must be some alchemical trigger James isn’t willing to share with her, Serra spends an hour investigating it and eventually manages to reproduce the process. As the party settle down she glares at James, convinced he’s being more economical with information than she thought.

The next day as they trek along a deep singing voice becomes audible. James after a moment to register it recognises the song and its singer. He runs off into the woods, hotly pursued by the party. As he hits a clearing he sees the massive form of Maurgrim, his old music teacher, who happens to be another of the large green people with tusks. Maurgrim recognises him too and they meet in a big old emotional hug.

After an emotional meeting James tells the group that Maurgrim taught James music as a child. He’d been travelling in the meantime but he’d recently left Erebaster with his two companions to avoid being drafted into the army to fight the war for the old country. He explained that James’ father Rob is now a senior officer in the army and had tried to recruit him. Given his attitude to war (his clan was wiped out years ago) he fled the city before it got locked down. He also mentioned that it required a permit to carry weapons in Erebaster. As James catches up with Maurgrim it becomes clear that 1) he’s not told everything to the party he knows (or he knows less than he lets on about the city) and 2) bards are far more friendly to Chrissie Brownpants when they’ve not been poisoned by him! Fact one causes some more awkwardness with Serra, with her assuming he’s been playing the party for his own ends (which to a certain extent he has).

With the knowledge James’ father is an influential figure in the city, they part ways with Maurgrim’s group. As they head off, Serra accuses James of leading them to their deaths. James responds that they know what’s been happening locally more than the party and they’re unlikely to run into the dragon. At the mention of the dragon Serra pales and goes silent.

Following the road further, they eventually reach the city. Most of the group are struck dumb by the sight of the massive walls looming up before them and they dally a while before heading in. Knowing her new dagger is likely to be illegal, Serra hides beneath the cart as they approach. Brody doesn’t have much of value on himself so enters unimpeded, while Chris gives up some of his mountain of weaponry. James, perhaps being over eager with the thought of going home, forgot he’s carrying thousands of gold worth of sword and walks in without hiding it, and ends up bribing the guards to let him in with it. Telon has no such luck and gives up his bow to the guards until he can get a license.

The party then try to find a place to stable the horses. As they’re disoriented by the massive, massive crowds Telon loses his purse. Serra notices and pickpockets the pickpocket. Coming away massively in profit. Based on the tip Brody received they end up at an abandoned stables. Following a few leads they end up at the other end of town. The stable owner recognises the horses and offers to pay them triple what they paid for them. As Brody begins to explain they aren’t for sale, James jumps in and explains how much they paid for them. Maybe exaggerating a bit. Ok a lot. Chris notices what James is up to and takes Brody for a walk while James haggles the man out of 1000 gold for the horses.

Coin purses in hand James and Serra rejoin the party and they begin to look for a place to stay…

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Session 8: The Farmers and the Firedrake
"That dragon's so shiny! Can I keep it?"

As the party gets ready to settle down for the night a large convoy arrives headed by several robed figures. Brody being the only about town he subtly and deftly walks up to them. And escapes the notice of two out of eighteen of them. The convoy are made up of priests and colonists sent to “assist” the survivors and recolonise. Brody explains that the forge is up and running and the survivors are in the quarry with Zanzan. He also asks if they can spare some support for Burnside, which the absolutely non-hive mind clerics didn’t even know about. They agree that some settlers will be sent there.

The rest of the party is in the forge, studiously avoiding strangling Chris as usual. A hooded man and a large green man with tusks arrive at the forge and it’s established that the green one will take over there but he doesn’t speak common. James establishes that he also doesn’t understand dwarfish, but he does manage to understand words like “greenskin” and “wazzok” (=oafish clod in the blacksmith’s language), James’ name du jour for Chris (du jour meaning “of the day” in some incomprehensible dead language). As they retreat from the forge Serra wonders whether they’re normal for priests, as they’re nothing like Nerrah. James mentions that in the city you don’t see much of the priests, and he’d never heard of Yondalla before coming to Burnside.

The next day the party decide they’re going to move on to Erebaster. James and Serra try looking for a vendor to sell the gem they got from the goblins, and find a gem merchant. He tries to sting them for five gold and despite a bit of haggling James eventually decides to leave it until they get to the city. Finding they have no place to sleep they commandeer a house on the edge of town, Chris puts up a sign “Adventurers Incorporated” outside which gets immediate interest from a townie. He tries to recruit Telon for heavy lifting. Chris agrees for five gold. James then wanders around the campfires playing and trying to garner a bit of information about where the villagers are going. They also meet someone making the trip home who agrees to deliver letters for them.

The next day, the party write their letters and the totally trustworthy fellow takes them. Brody then befriends a girl who’s very, very fond of horses and amazingly manages to persuade her to sell the party some. James goes about buying up travel rations and Chris… Chris is ambushed by the guy who paid in advance for Til to do some unpacking. As the indignant hunter refuses to enter into the indentured servitude Chris has prepared for him Chris obligingly goes and “works” for reduced pay. He then tries to make up the difference by liberating supplies. Poorly. He’s caught and sent packing without pay.

The party set off from Cinnabar on their new horses, with Telon and Serra helping eke out their travel rations and Telon and James looking for “medicinal” herbs to sell when they get to the city. At a fork in the road they find a signpost heading to the Golden Cave, a place James doesn’t remember. With the weather worsening rapidly, it seems almost like fate that any shelter present itself now.

There are fairly recent tracks leading up, four in fact, with one leading back. They make their way to the cave, only for the horses to try and bolt. As Serra and Brody get the horses under control the rest approach the cave entrance. The inhalation of breath they hear from inside makes James think of nothing so much as a monster from legends, which raises a snort of derision from Serra.

As the party enter the cave, with only Serra able to see, the noise gets larger. Eventually a flame bursts in front of the group, leaving the party in no illusions that it is facing a dragon. A fairly wounded looking gold dragon with a tiny hoard. It seems the creature has been luring people in with the sign and taking their possessions. It’s particularly taken by the smell of Serra, saying one of her people was one of its attackers. It claims that like Serra, it is the last of its kind. News to the party who just dismiss her as a midget.

As the dragon tasks the party to find the attacker, it passes a strange weapon to Serra, claiming that the other is on the attacker, and that he is like her. The dragon then dismisses them, except Chris won’t go. He’s oddly fascinated and keeps trying to get it to let him come closer… The light-fingered trickster is eventually convinced to give over and head out the cave. As they leave, the weather isn’t calming down any so they make a camp at the cave mouth. Chris and James get the sign from the road and burn it to keep warm and prevent anyone else getting lured in.

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Session 7: The Sweatshop and the Sticks
"Why do we even need clothes?"

As the party come to terms with the devastation of Cinnabar, the biggest thoughts on various minds range from “Are these kids all going to die?” to “How are we going to last on the roads?” via “Why won’t Brody put some bloody clothes on?!” The question of the naked baker seeming the easiest to answer, Serra attempts to get him to dress and arm himself. The relative merits of clothing seeming to be a subject overlooked by the Copperfield household, and it becomes readily apparent why: Brody thinks he’s invincible! Even James mentioning that nakedness is frowned upon in polite society doesn’t get through. Eventually he relents and Serra is allowed to dress him.

Serra then sets about restoring the smithy. James, voted the least likely to send children running in terror three years running in Burnside, identifies which children are likely to do best in the smithy and sends eight of them to work for free helping them make tools for the village and travelling leathers for the party. Not necessarily in that order.

James sets about asking the surviving noble children about the surrounding area. Some of them have some idea of the world outside and he manages to sketch out a crude map of the surrounding area. They make plans for the party to head into the city.

Telon goes foraging for food, helping the kids identify edible roots and berries. Chris decides to go gathering fuel with some of the children. He disappears for most of the fortnight only returning with his young charges and bundles of sticks. And gets. Increasingly. Irritating.

This comes to a head when Serra is poring over the scrolls they’ve gathered over their travels. Serra can’t read it, while James can but can’t understand it. He reads one out with no effect. One of the noble kids mentions that the priests use them to perform acts in services. He seems to be about to explain more when Chris irritates him and he runs off. At this point Serra snaps and James walks off. As James gets annoyed with Chris a twig leaps over the room and jabs him in the eye…

As this all settles down, robed figures ride into town.

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