Humble Beginnings

Session 23: The Deer and the Dog
"I thought you were a deer!"

Our intrepid adventurers return to the capital during the night to be greeted by known balm drinker Princess Aliah, who informs them that the king will receive them on the morrow. The following morning they meet the entire royal family. King Richard announces they exceeded all expectations and asks them to help recruit isolated individuals whose abilities could greatly assist them in the struggle. Specifically a group of cloistered individuals, suspected to be mages who have stayed pointedly neutral thus far. The group agree to this.

They are handed the basics of a map to the holdfast of the group and allowed to rearm and provision themselves from the royal stores. Thus equipped they head out.

As they head out on the road some things become clear: firstly that James and Brody are having some sort of magical effect on them, secondly that the party is being trailed and visited by a strange creature, and thirdly the taint is encroaching, with creatures attacking with increasing regularity.

On Brody’s watch, a creature sneaks into camp and deposits him a scroll, saying “this is for you, sir.” before skipping off.

The next day, following the now daily routine of something happening they can’t quite figure out, Brody shows the group the letter delivered during the night. It’s from the royal confidante, Elena Flarah, who applauds the party for infiltrating the enemy and asks them to recruit the mages into the service of the Elder Queen instead. Shocked at the mention of the name, James tells the group that Elena is his mother, but she died ten years earlier. Brody suggests that his parents told him that to be rid of him in his typically understanding fashion. In any event, the party decide to continue on with the plan.

Serra’s growing prowess against the undead continues, as she effortlessly eliminates a group of ghouls who attack the group outside a temple to “Pelor” – apparently a sun god.

James eventually realises he strange presence in his mind is someone scrying on him, and determines Brody is similarly being watched. They resolve to avoid talking when they notice the spell’s effect. A difficult proposition for this particular group…

The midnight deliveries continue, with a bag full of gold, and a map that Chris hides from the group. Serra captures the creature at one point, determining it to be an imp. It “disappears,” using a trick James has used on occasion, and tied up shuffles off into the shadows.

The party have another encounter with an old “friend” in their travels. As they head along Brody is shot with an arrow. This turns out to be their shortsighted friend Spanik, who claims he thought Brody was a deer. Again.

Brody, suitably incensed, attacks him, resulting in Spanik throwing some magic of his own at the group. He claims he’s been tracking his dog. Good Dog Best Friend is his pet. He also suggests Needle didn’t tell them everything. In the fight for GDBF’s affections Serra draws daggers, and Spanik flees, taking the dog with him. He drops a letter addressed to Serra from Trixy. It’s pilfered by Chris, who later passes it on after reading it. Serra slaps him and blanches. Her mother has fled the village and her father has died from the shock of thinking Serra had died.

The next day all hour of the party are scried upon. Word of Serra and Chris surviving mysteriously having got to whoever is watching them.

Running low on supplies, the party happen upon an unexpected village – well apart from Chris, who seemed to know all about it. They figure out that he’s got the map the elder queen sent the group. The village has a statue to Queen Glasya, and the villagers are destitute, it’s enchanted as the previous one was, so the group stay clear. James being well-dressed makes a target for a local pickpocket but, ever the philanthropists, our soft hearted group still allow the villagers to gouge them for money when they’re buying provisions.

The scene fades to the group readying themselves to continue, with the statue of the Elder Queen looking down…

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Session 22: The Crusty Old Man and the Converts
"Warning: for external use only"

As Brody marches over to the stables to arrange travel for the march to Rivenkeep, he happens upon an unusually belligerent… sorry, usually belligerent Princess Alliah. Her skin looks unusually tanned and goes wonderfully with her ginger hair, she says her mother let her take her vows. Then asks him to hit her with his hammerplow. For fun. Hesitant to commit regicide, Brody refuses, eventually being convinced to hit her with his unique, Brodyesque fists. The only apparent damage done from the solid blow being to his fist, she indicates the cause is because she drank a balm given to Heironeous’ chosen. As they fight more, she explains more about Heironeous, who is apparently a “god” who isn’t Yondalla. He rewards people who follow his code. By the time the rest of the party meet him, our strong-willed ex-baker has finished his free personality test and is wearing the fist of Heironeous around his neck.

That’ll sort out those thrice-damned Thetans. Sorry, Hextorites.

While this is occurring, Serra suggests the group go see the other, special, daughter of the king, Princess Pepper. She hands over a painting of a royal wedding the party took from the Avalancher, asking if it’s one of hers. Apparently Pepper had a weddings phase. How many phases she could have at her age is an interesting question… Thanking the group, she offers to paint something for the group besides the portrait she’s unknowingly secretly painting for Chris. They take their leave and head out on their mission.

As the group passes into the stables to meet Heironeous’ latest slaves, a courier catches up with James and gives him an envelope, it contains the map he asked for. Sadly for our singer/songwriter map reading wasn’t considered a useful skill for a nine year old by his tutor in Erebaster so it takes a lot of searching for the city they’re in. It’s a task not helped by the fact the map is pre-cataclysm, and the world shifted around after the eruption. But it’s a start. Chris then steals the map and graffitis it. Serra is simultaneously dropped off a book by a raven, she blanches when reading it and hides it away.

Serra and James attempt to make contact with Janus and Adrienne, using a homunculus to sneak over the lines. It dies, indicating some malign influence is stopping anyone getting word out.

They decide to stay the night and set out the next day. As they wash up, Chris steals and burns James’ clothes. Tired, James can’t be bothered with a planned retaliation and instead ensorcels him with the urge to parade through the palace naked for five hours. James then kits himself out in more noble attire before they head out the next day. This day is the first day that James and Brody feel something weird happen they can’t put their fingers on. It continues daily from then on…

The trek to Rivenkeep takes several days, helped in no small part by the fact the map is in no small part inaccurate now. They eventually happen upon a ruined village with a partially intact temple. Upon further investigation they find a statue of a unicorn in the temple, with a rune inscribed upon it and an arrow embedded in its side. Serra and James both recognise this as a temple to Ehlonna, goddess of the hunt and the forests. Chris quietly leaves an offering, suggesting he might be converting to Her worship. Or continuing his existential crisis. Or just plain going nuts, who can say.

Eventually after some more days’ travel, the party reach Rivenkeep. The village has all the mod cons: a bakery, a castle… erm… anyway, moving on, the party approach the guards and demand entry on the King’s business to meet his cousin, the titular crusty old man. The guards refuse ingress, and so the party leave. Well Chris has already left to break in. Finding an open door, the group sneak in to catch him up. As their stumbling has alerted the guards James disguises them magically as guards. They then find an old madman in the cellar, who claims he’s the next in line to the throne here. Through Berwyn’s madness it appears he’s been imprisoned for three years now.

The group, as one break into the keep and attempt to find the lord. Eventually as they close in, a guard sees through James’ glamour and they attack. Or seem to, it becomes clear they’re mind-controlled somehow. Eventually the group disable to soldiers and press on. Serra meanwhile has managed to pen in some spectres patrolling the upper corridors.

They enter the lord’s throne room, to find the crusty old man poised and ready to attack. Brody leaps in to bravely tackle the pensioner, while James, Chris and Serra bypass him and see what lies behind the certain he’s guarding. It’s another copy of the crusty old man, but Serra realises it to be another disguise, it’s actually a mind flayer. The others don’t realise he’s not human, maybe suspecting something when he attacks, paralysing Serra and Chris who are both poised to attack. The creature, deciding discretion being the better part of evil, disappears, relinquishing control over the lord and his guards.

The geriatric noble, recovered from the injuries inflicted on him by the heroic Mr Copperfield, agrees to dispatch troops to reinforce the king and queen. Their job done, the group set out back with word of their success, not thinking to mention about the undead things Serra locked in the upstairs toilet…

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Session 21: The Princesses and the Portrait Gallery
“Leaving the adventure log three months to write up will be fine!”

As our intrepid heroes gain their bearings in the city, they decide to at least spend some time gathering information for Needle and his band of resistance fighters. Their last solid lead suggesting that the old kingdom having information on the elder queen Glasya and her intentions, they head to the library.

To find it stripped bare.

On questioning the librarians, or warehousemen as they’re technically without books, it seems Prince Xanthor has hoarded the books in the palace. They then head off to the keep, and are pointed in the direction of the prince’s quarters by a suitably placed gaggle of urchins. They then enter the castle and are confronted by a large portrait of a dragon facing down the castle stairs, which seems to give a small nod at them. There is generally a lot of artwork, all apparently animated in some way, and apparently the work of the same hand.

The party is then challenged by Princess Aliah, daughter of the king and queen, and insufferable paladin in training who demands to know what they want and where they came from. They retort that they are here to see her brother and she eventually indicates which direction they need to go. Mistakenly, or perhaps deliberately given the outcome, the party allow Chris to do the talking, which results in her storming off.

After much mirth and many hi-jinks they find the domain of Prince Xandor, and enter his chambers. He is, as expected, surrounded by books. He gives the party some grounding about the family, and generally responds to questions in verse, and deliberately confusing riddles. It eventually becomes clear that the youngest sister might have the most information to be had, and so they begin to trek out, where they are met by Aliah again.

Aliah is somewhat more forthcoming this time, telling the group of recent and unproved defectors who are definitely not assassins that she and her siblings are fated to kill the false queen, and that she would lead the assault on the enemy now but she has been forbidden by her father. She says that her sister is responsible for the paintings, which all tell of the prophesy as well, and she can tell them more. So they continue on to Princess Pepper’s quarters.

The trek to her quarters is not without its perils, some of the paintings are actively dangerous, one of a volcano explodes near the party, deafening them in the process.

The portraits include:

Pepper holding a small golden dragon

Three heroes holding swords, fighting evil. They look like the three siblings.

Bloated monstrosities, one black and red dragon, monstrously sized man atop a dragon with a big sword and a dark red beard. Jarros, from the stories. A woman who surely cannot be GranGran is in the same picture, riding another dragon.

The group discuss whether they’re a prophesy of the future or a retelling of the past.

Finally they see a painting of what seems to be a queen surrounded by men with strange faces, painted on mirrored surfaces. She’s pointed out to be a small part of the prophesy.

After a meeting with Princess Pepper (who offers to paint for them), they head to see the King himself. He is in his throne room speaking with his sister on the matter of surrender. She’s adamant that they should give up, their allies have all fallen or capitulated and it’s only a matter of time. Eventually she leaves and the party enter.

King Richard III recognises Serra as the daughter of his father’s would-be assassin. Her mother was convinced to spare him. Serra, suspecting he or his father was the one to break her mother’s hands, is enraged to the point of attacking him, but relents. He points out that her mother’s mercy earned her people’s deaths at the hands of the Queen’s army.

Once heads have cooled, the King tells the group the history of the war.

Once, there were five kingdoms in the lands, but this was before the volcano erupted and the world changed. Red beasts spewed out of the Abyss and waged war for the lands. The five kings fought back but were overwhelmed one by one. The rulers of the beasts vie for control of the lands, with one taking the form of a queen, a form most pleasing to her, and is served by a clergy who are granted powers by her. It is said that the one which emerges triumphant will rule over the Abyss.

The populace have all but forgotten, the king has tried to hold onto the old ways but like the war it is difficult.

He asks the party for their help…

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Session 20: The Trenches and the Time Traveller
"Choo-choo mother-f**kers, let's go get killed on the landmines!"

Having just been cured of the taint, Chris wanders out of the tent, and straight into a large group of zombies. Hearing the commotion, Serra steps in and assists him in moving clear of the shambling corpses surrounding them. In the darkness the party try to get away but it soon becomes clear they’re moving out into no-man’s land. As the zombies draw in around them, Serra holds up a jar of the ointment, cries “back you fiends!” The zombies all collapse spectacularly.

The party move towards a trebuchet, a trio of spectres moving them in. James and Brody attempt to drive them off ineffectually, the hammerplow and crystal sword proving equally unsuccessful. The spirits then wound Serra mentally and drive Chris to the point of suicide. Serra then repeats the process of driving the fiends off.

The party decide to wait for daybreak by the trebuchet, but not before they find the crew, dead by their own hands and with a suicide note close by. Previous victims of the spirits.

Dawn breaks, and it seems the horde of zombies is being commanded back to the front lines. Someone up above seems to have a message for the group. That message is “Choo-choo mother-f**kers, let’s go get killed on the landmines!”

To distract the zombies, James creates a diversion. An army for them to attack. An army of Chris. They ignore it and shamble forth, being driven on by priests serving the queen. The luckless troop decide to brave the minefield, Serra and Chris disabling the traps and James maintaining cover with the army of Chris. A lone archer starts targeting the zombies, then moves his attention to the party. After deciding the odds of hitting a Chris to be slightly low he targets the others. Mercifully they emerge unscathed (Serra healing Brody when he is hit) and reach the wall. Deciding they have to press on to survive the zombies approaching them like a steam engine approaching on rails they attempt to climb the wall.

Dumping uniforms at the bottom, they reach the top of the wall and “surrender” to the lone guard. Or general. There seems little difference in such a small army. General Barry speaks to someone magically and they’re taken prisoner.

Alone in their cells they procrastinate the night away, James decides to use the time to examine the cards GranGran left him. Thinking of home, he finds himself back in the Fortune’s Rest, his grandfather in the tavern and the golden sword on the mantel. He doesn’t seem to have seen James even when he tries to speak to him, and it becomes apparent why when he walks out and speaks to Robb, James’ father. It’s ten years earlier and young James is asleep. Robb tells his father he’s off to find Elena, and heads off, leaving James in his grandfather’s care.

The image breaks, and he quietly joins the others in sleep. The next day they’re taken to be interrogated by the queen. Not the queen queen but this kingdom’s queen. Rosalyna. She asks them their background and their intentions, pointing out they’ve had very little information from the other side in recent days. The elder queen has anyone who leaves the other side killed as a spy and due to the siege few people get in. Most of the population of the city have been evacuated and it’s mainly the royal family and their retainers holding back the army of the elder queen.

She eventually releases the group, allowing them to do as they will in the city. Free to do as they will, they discuss what they want to go back or stay and learn more. Eventually deciding to do the latter, they begin the next chapter of their journey.

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Session 19: The Fatht and the Fuwiouth
"Medical marvel!"

As the group enter the main army encampment, overlooking the valley, there is a general hubbub to be heard, exaggerated tales of heroes, presumably stories of the fighters at the front lines. The sharp eyed Chris and Serra spot a guard trying to get their attention and simultaneously nudge James forward towards him. The guard Farthight… Err… Farsight or something, of the Night’s Watch or the nightwatch, takes their details and notes they are a lot fewer than there should be. He then directs them to the medical tent so Chris can get his leg looked at.

As they approach the medical tent James recognises Janus, one of his old childhood friends from Erebaster. The two embrace and catch up briefly, with Janus surprised that James is here and an officer no less. Apparently he was taken to the front lines and now spends time healing troops in the camp. James queue-jumps and gets the squad looked at. Chris being the first to be checked, Janus heals his leg, being careful not to remove the troubled young man’s scars, then gets to the subject of the rash that is spreading over Chris’ back. Apparently it’s incurable but an ointment he can provide can slow its progress, but it’ll ultimately drive him insane. Chris demands he not tell anyone about it and leaves.

Brody is next in, Janus noting that apart from some minor scarring he’s a picture of health. He then uses magic to remove the scars, an act that Brody takes as being the sort of magic he can get behind. James follows and Janus notes he’s got a rash as well, but his is healing, something he’s never seen before. He thinks the rash is caused by the taint in the forest they passed through, and that it affects the weaker willed people over the stronger ones. Ultimately sufferers become mindless and are sent to the front lines where the stronger clerics tend to them. He then confides that Chris is suffering but is not recovering.

They then get assigned a billet. James manages to negotiate a private tent for the group and they rest for the night, for the first time in forever not setting a watch. What could go wrong?

As it happens, nothing. The next day they get a fitness test, which they excel in, and are placed under the command of General Hawthorne, first ranking upper class general. Top general of the camp. James is now a full officer. After setting the troops to training, they go about exploring the encampment and eventually find a forge. The forge has another old friend of James: Adrienne. James’ childhood sweetheart from Erebaster. He’s distraught over the prospect that she doesn’t recognise him, but she eventually realises who he is. She is also astounded that he’s an officer. They catch up for a while, then mentions that she never expected to be working in a forge when she joined he army, but nobody else can do it. She hates it, explaining that she mainly works with scavenged materials from the front as the trade route is closed. She explains more about the camp, pointedly mentioning the moaning coming from the front lines at night. As they part ways, James plans to return with some wine and plans to catch up more fully.

As they head towards the front lines, they hear a yell and a scream. Someone runs off with a bloody knife and pearls. Serra, Chris and James pursue her and Brody goes to investigate the wounded woman. The thief is cornered, obviously tainted with the rash forming a skull over her face. She makes a swipe at Chris and gets stabbed repeatedly for her troubles. Chris takes the pearls and gets confronted by Serra about the extremity of his behaviour. Meanwhile Brody finds the fallen victim and is extremely irritated as she expires before he can heroically save her.

Sandra. Her name was Sandra.

They investigate the wounded woman and take her back to the tent. James and Brody head off to find Janus, a ruse to fill Brody in on the subject of Chris’ taint. Janus explains that he got the ointment from his old temple in Erebaster and it slows the rot but doesn’t stop it. He seems different from the other priests there.

They then hit the subject of Brokai, Brody is incredulous that he could be a twin, horrified that it might mean someone is as great as him. Janus manages to get it into his head by referring to it as a medical marvel. A Medical Marvel.

He then grabs all the remaining pots of ointment until James investigates where the supply came from. It’s from the temple in Erebaster and there isn’t any more. After finding that Chris already has some he gives it back. James asks what they can do to prevent it, and where Janus gets his blessings from. He suggests prayer, pointing that he prays upon the sunrise, and his god grants him powers via the queen.

Medical marvel.

Meanwhile, Serra tries to stop the turning of the woman to a zombie with a wand. She fails, then sneakily tries again on Chris. She sees a bit of rash fade then reappear. Then Chris reacts violently and tries to disarm her. He fails then Serra tries to cast the spell again, this fails and Chris tries to stab her. This attracts guards who try to drag him off to the front lines. Serra bluffs them into hesitating long enough to get him under control. She fails and he gets dragged off.

Serra turns to the zombie and in exasperation asks what’s wrong with her.

James and Brody get back when Chris is being pulled off. He’s going to the naughty tent. Brody wants to have dinner and let him stay overnight to learn his lesson, while Serra and James realise he’s not himself and time is of the essence. They go to the naughty tent and find a sullen, murderous and most horrifyingly, nearly naked Chris in a wooden cage. Chris reacts violently at the idea of Serra using more magic to make him do what she wants. James replies that she won’t. He will. He then “Suggests” that Chris wants to let Serra do what she has to do to cure him and the newly compliant Chris walks calmly and chattily back with them.

They head back to the tent and after putting the ointment on Chris’ back, with James playing music quietly in the corner, Serra keeps jabbing Chris with the stick until the rash starts to disappear. As she does so, Chris starts to remember things… The things he’s done! All culminating in his most heinous crime: betraying Trixy in Erebaster.

The rash faded and the wand exhausted, Serra symbolically snaps the small wooden stick. Chris retrieves his clothes and walks out to be alone with his guilt. Sadly for our poor, downtrodden ex-psychopath, the moaning heard outside suggests he’s not as alone as he might want to be…

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Session 18: The Terror and the Tree
"Careful Marabelle, there's wolves!"

Marabelle, the slightly vacant flower girl from Burnside, stands before Brody, flanked by wolves. The alpha of the pack is attacking Good Dog Best Friend, while the rest of the pack growl at both the dog and the man. Calling the wolf back off the dog with a bark, she explains to Brody that they’ve been fleeing the taint, but doesn’t know how long for. They’re headed to a place called the Forgotten Plane (which Brody surmises to be some landmark), but the pack won’t let her tell him more as they don’t trust either Brody or the “birth mother abomination pup” as they term the dog. Saying that she belongs with the animals, she and the pack leave, as she leaves she turns to Brody and mouths the words “north west” to him. The alpha notices and bites her leg for her troubles.

Next morning, Brody asks James where they’re going, he responds north. When James presses the other officers on the matter they say they’re two weeks away from the front lines.

Serra translates more of the dragon book as they travel. It speaks of a ritual to become divine, but nobody who isn’t of dragon blood can do it. This all seems to be referring to lands far to the south. There’s much talk about how to take on the dragon’s powers from Chris, much thought about the treasure from Serra, disbelief from Brody and quiet interest from James, memorising the story as best he can.

Next day as they continue the march a pall of smoke can be seen off in the distance. James gets the officers’ nod to go investigate, although they won’t wait for them and will have to catch up. The typical level of interest from the defenders of the realm… They approach a clearing, finding a village up in flames. In the centre of the conflagration they find a red and black hooded figure, while the sharp-eyed Serra notices a red haired woman who bears a passing resemblance to James off to one side. The woman shouts “enough Brokai!” and vanishes. Brokai turns to the group, revealing himself to look identical to Brody. Claiming to be Brody’s brother, he says he can’t stay but leaves a present. Summoning some fire elementals, he sets them on the group then vanishes.

In the ensuing firefight the elementals are dispatched. The party then set about rescuing the villagers, with varying degrees of success. The majority of the villagers are holed up in the temple, but some were in the burning houses, so Chris, James and Serra set about rescuing them. Chris gets caught up in memories of Burnside, as the situation is uncannily similar, James is literally left holding the baby after rescuing one from a house, which he and Serra leave with the villagers, and explain to be careful about hooded priests coming to help with the reconstruction.

They then find Brody in the woods, unable to help due to the resemblance to Brokai, and convinced this is some plot to discredit or blacken his name.

Next day they catch up with the troop and resume the march. James is told to make a report but it’s again clear the officers really don’t care what happens to the populace.

As they proceed on the woods take a sinister turn, appearing more sickly and tainted. They continue the march until finally the entire regiment is attacked by zombies, and worse, a large, corrupted, sentient tree shambles out. It terrifies most of the group besides Chris, James and Serra, and a few others. The ensuing chaos leads to soldiers being pulled down and killed by the zombies, and in turn the tree begins raising the victims as zombies under its control. The three decide to hold their ground and give the rest time to escape, or try to kill it for the glory, or the valuable components… But officially to let the others escape, at least that’s what James plans to tell people should they survive.

In the ensuing fight all are badly wounded and barely escape with their lives. They manage to find a hiding hole where Brody again questions James’ authority. James, injured and tired of Brody’s attitude snaps at him to shut up and keep an eye out for survivors, or signs of pursuit. Serra tends to Chris’ injuries in the meantime.

Once the group are recovered and capable of travelling, they press on in silence. Finally, the forest starts to thin out as hurt and demoralised, the last free children of Burnside* trudge onwards towards their destination. Eventually finding a large canyon lined with fortresses, they gaze out upon the old Kingdom, the end of this journey and the start of the next, and the place where they hope destinies will be forged and truths will be exposed.

(*James’ note: For dramatic effect, neither a certain ranger or druid count when determining free children of Burnside.)

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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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