Sunday, 13 April 2014

Doggerland Session 4:26 (Pool of the Standing Stones)

Pool of the Standing Stones (9th April 2014)

The Adventurers
Bow – Ranger
Cormac – Fighter
Gull – Thief (NPC)
Johan – Cleric
Vox – Magic User

RnR in Nulb - Moonday 15th Quinquember (Day 48) – dawn

The smell of acrid smoke from the Pool wafted down the river towards the half-a-dozen battle weary adventurers on the late morning breeze. The Boatmen’s Tavern and several surrounding buildings had been razed to the ground thus ending the pirates’ stranglehold on the surrounding area. The screams and shouts of glee from the children at play beside the river resounded around the village and were welcomed by the fisher folk who cast their nets upon the water. Barge traffic across the Pool and up and down the short stretch of the Imeryds Run beside the village increased as the Nulbian locals realised their new found freedom.

The adventuresome party spent the remainder of the day resting, and occasionally helped the baron and lady Mathilde with a few tasks before they got stuck into the free drink at the newly conquered Waterside Hostel for the rest of the night. Whilst the Thuringians had sent most of their troops, equipment and prisoners back to Castleford throughout the day, they had left enough troops behind to enable them to carry on with constructing the motte and palisade of the fortification and to protect the two Thuringian nobles on their return journey the following day.

After a late evening hog roast and plenty of ale, everyone involved in the battle for the village lay up for the night and got a good rest before they headed back to Castleford the following day.

Castleford – Tirsday 16th Quinquember (Day 49)

The bright sun greeted the companions as they mounted the wagons that were to head back to the town. They heard a command barked by the baron Tancred and saw several of the men-at-arms who were to be left behind cast torches upon the tavern to raze it like they did the other inn in the village. Johan questioned the baron as to what was happening and he was told that the village was now under the control of the Thuringian Empire and would be brought into the fold with a brand new tavern, a temple dedicated to the almighty Sol Invictus and a fortification to protect those that they had just rescued from the clutches of evil.

Upon arrival back in Castleford the party saw what had been going on in their absence. The pirate ship that had escaped from Nulb was scuttled mid-river, its keel burst and its wooden hull holed in several places. The second pirate ship and several of the dockside buildings had also been destroyed in a raid that had captured many of the Temple recruiters, as well as ferreting out some of the Iron Ring thieves’ guild for close questioning.

Castleford – Tirsday 17th to Thunorsday 25th Quinquember (Days 49-58)

Vox visited the castle every day where he paid the lady Mathilde for several days’ worth of training. He could see that she had a soft spot for him but as time went on he realised that her affections could go no further than just a professional relationship; the gap in social status was just too great, not to mention the gap in ages.

Bow spent the bulk of his time searching out an improved magical sword. He was able to find one being sold by a merchant, but the cost meant that he had to sell his original magical sword in the bargain. To try to make up the difference he decided to buy into a shipment of grain headed from Loidis to Castleford. His idea was that as the harvest was due to be very poor this year, there would be a need for grain in the coming winter months. Unfortunately his investment went awry as many other merchants had the same idea and the price of the goods when sold dropped in value due to the glut.

Cormac spent his time looking after his weapons and getting the blemishes out of the plate armour he had stripped from the fallen Temple captain in the Waterside Hostel in Nulb. Then, seeing that Bow had grabbed a nice shiny new magical sword, he decided to look out for one of his own. As magical items were hard to come by, it took him a little longer to track one down, but he managed to find another merchant that was willing to sell one within a few days.

Gull was just happy to be in the presence of his fellow adventurers, knowing that their next job would benefit him greatly financially. He spent most of the ten-day as a time to carouse and reconnoitre the town. He was able to find and present himself to the Iron Ring but due to the hammering that the organisation had taken recently he was not tasked with anything to prove his loyalty and start paying his way just yet.

Johan spent most of his time at the Temple of Woden. It turned out that this too had been a secret den of the Temple cult. The head cleric was a High Priest of Zuggtmoy and he, along with several others, was caught at prayer when the raid on the docks happened. Johan took over the duties of the head priest until such a time as when a replacement could be sent from the west. He saw to the needs of the sick and the poor, and the congregation flourished during his time in charge. His god, Balder, saw to it that he was rewarded with more spiritual powers for his efforts.

A New Mission – Thunorsday 25th Quinquember (Day 58)

On Thunorsday 25th (day 10 at Castleford), the baron Tancred called for the party to attend him. He outlined the next mission that would help in the fight against Zuggtmoy and the Temple cult. He mentioned that after the last rise of the Temple, the demoness was bound within the confines of the ruined Temple by several of his fellow lords and ladies. Four great portals were magically sealed to stop her escaping until they could find a way to banish her to her own realm for good. The keys to the great portals were given to four guardians. These were not powerful people but it was hoped that they would be undetectable by their anonymity. Unfortunately, over the last ten years, the amulets had been discovered by the Temple’s agents and taken from their guardians. One amulet had most likely already been used to open the first portal if the earthquake and lightning that was experienced last new moon were anything to go by. The second amulet had been traced to the traders in Staneford but when men-at-arms were sent to arrest them it was found that the amulet had made its way up the chain of command within the Temple hierarchy. The third amulet was found to be on the person of Lareth and was now in safe keeping. The fourth amulet was missing still.

However, the means of rejecting Zuggtmoy from the world rather than just imprisoning her had also gone missing. Zuggtmoy owned a powerful talisman; a golden skull missing its lower jaw – also known as the Golden Orb. The four amulets were made to be placed upon the orb to curb its powers and thus keep the demoness imprisoned more tightly than just using the portals alone. A sword was then crafted that would enable anyone brave enough to use it in her realm within the Temple dungeon to destroy the orb and the four amulets thus banishing the demon princess back to her own realm within the Abyss for 666 years. However, just as the sword was finished being forged it was stolen.

The person who stole it remained unknown but it was last seen in the possession of a druid known as Ash. He managed to grab the sword about a year ago before he fled into the Gnarley. His last known whereabouts was a village called Steeplefell, a small village that lay about two days’ travel from Castleford in the south-east of the county.

The job of the adventurers, the baron stated, was to now hunt down Ash, take the sword from him and return it to Castleford. In the meantime a search was being conducted into the whereabouts of the last amulet and the Golden orb, and questions were being asked of all of the prisoners as to how the Temple was going to react to these set-backs.

The Story of Steeplefell (Days 59-60)

After a good night’s sleep and a restock of their adventuring equipment, the party set off towards Steeplefell. They travelled by day and camped at night without being attacked by bandits or their like and arrived at dusk on the second day. They quickly booked rooms at the local tavern, and then they washed away the dust of their travels from their parched throats and ate a hearty meal. The common room of The Gryphon was busy and patrons came and went all evening. Bow spotted a group of merchants and vowed he would take revenge upon them for the money his last encounter with their ilk had cost him.

The rest of the party caroused for a few hours, and closely watched the locals. After a while they noticed a young lad had been nursing his drink all night whilst watching the party. Vox approached him and thrust a jack of ale in front of him whilst asking him what was wrong. The beer soon loosened his tongue and he told his story. He recounted that about a year ago a druid named Ash had come to their village. At first all was great as he helped out with various husbandry and farming tasks. Around mid-summer last year though, he invited the whole village to a celebration up by the old standing stones within the forest. He enticed several of the young girls from the village (one of whom was his sister) to come forward and got them dancing with some strange looking woodland beings. The girls were then led off to the dismay of the crowd but as soon as they tried to do something the druid ensorcelled the plant life to bind the villagers from pursuing their daughters.

The blacksmith managed to escape from his bonds but was struck by a bolt of lightning the druid called from the heavens. He was killed instantaneously. The druid sauntered off laughing an evil laugh and the girls have not been seen since.

The party asked the youth directions to the standing stones and was told that this area had many such monuments to the old people but the old northern trail led directly to the circle. This particular set of stones could be recognised by the fact that it was the only set of stones that surrounded a pool of water. It lay about two or three leagues’ distant, and should be reachable after an hour and a half to two hours’ hike. It was situated at the top of a very large hill deep within the Gnarley.

Bow was a little suspicious of the youth and his sob story so asked him if he could take him to where he lived. The young man agreed and Bow was introduced to his mother, who recounted the exact same story, albeit with a more stoical air.

Later that night, Bow concocted his plan of revenge against the merchants. After the tavern was closed for the night he snuck out of his room and into the stables where the horses and wagons were kept. He poked his head inside the stable door and spotted the solitary guard asleep at his post. He investigated the merchant’s wagon a little more closely and found that he appeared to be shipping barrels of fish from the Silver Lake to Staneford.

The ranger slipped back outside and wondered what he could do to scupper the merchant’s deal when he espied a few empty wine barrels of about the same size as those used to store the fish. He quickly filled a couple of them with enough soil to make them feel as if they were full of fish, and then very carefully and quietly replaced two of the barrels on the merchant’s wagon right under the nose of its snoring, drunken guard.

He then carried the two barrels of fish out of the stable and dumped them deep into the forest where they would not be found for a few days at least. With a smile of satisfaction of a job well done, he returned to his room for a restful slumber.

Copyright Games Workshop - Image taken and amended from White Dwarf #12

The Pool of the Standing Stones - Sunday 28th Quinquember (Day 61)

The party set out at dawn towards the standing stones deep within the forest. They took the directions proffered by the young lad from the night before and found that their journey north through the forest was exactly as he said. After a few miles, the narrow path veered off to the east for a few hundred yards, as he said it would, before it opened out into a glade that contained a circle of about sixteen large menhirs that surrounded a large rectangular pool.

The party approached the pool carefully before Vox noticed that there was writing in an old magical script (over a millennium old) that ran around its low plinth. He cursed himself for not learning that particular Read Magic dweomer for this mission so asked the party if they would mind sitting around for an hour or two whilst he tried to decipher the cryptic message. The weather was balmy, so they readily agreed and either used the opportunity to rest up or explore the rest of the glade.

There was nothing unusual about the standing stones that they could make out, but the ancient clearing did leave them feeling rather on edge. The ancient trees and weird bird calls did nothing to assuage the feeling of pent up evil.

Bow decided he could not rest so began to investigate the pool at the centre of the stone circle. He was warned not to cross the threshold of the pool or to touch the water just in case. He peered into the depths and saw that it was maybe ten or twenty feet deep. Wondering how he could get around the boundaries put upon his exploration by his fellow adventurers he made his way to the edge of the glade to grab a branch with which to poke around.

The Druid Ash

As soon as his hand touched one of the branches several shafts with fire hardened points burst from the thickets catching him unawares. He yelled in anger and pain which roused the rest of his companions from their reveries. He could not see where the shafts had come from so blundered into the thickets to find their source. The rest of his companions charged across the glade to his aid, including Vox who had now lost concentration on learning his new spell. Johan began to cast defensive magiks to aid his fellows.

No sooner did they get up than they were struck by several more shafts coming from the treeline. Bow was able to spot a small feminine shape flit between the trunks and branches of the trees so he returned fire. The rest of the adventurers closed into combat.

The ranger and fighter both managed to hit one of their targets but upon causing what they felt were hefty wounds, the fay creatures disappeared from sight. After seeing his prey disappear before his eyes, Bow turned round to see where more of the shots were coming from. As he searched through the thickets he caught sight of a man in an undyed robe; most likely the druid Ash he surmised. Just as he was about to shoot at the druid, the trees and thickets all around grew up and engulfed his legs and torso so he could not fire as well as he might.

Vox tried to hide behind one of the standing stones but he found that wherever he went he could find no peace from the buzz of arrows. Cormac crashed into the woods and managed to bring down another of the fay creatures before he noticed on the other side of the glade things had gone very quiet; the druid had been Silenced and Held by Johan’s magical conjuring. The rest of the party rushed to take down the druid but his four remaining woodland companions tried to carry him away from the melee until a series of Magic Missiles from Vox and a volley of arrows from the fighter and thief put paid to the attempt.

The combat was over within just a few minutes and the trussed and gagged druid was brought back within the glade for questioning. He was held down beneath the vast bulk of Cormac sitting upon him, and the apple used to gag him was removed from his mouth under pain of death if he tried anything silly.

Gull was sent back to the village to gather a posse who would no doubt be more than happy to put the druid to trial for the kidnapping of their daughters a year ago. The rest of the party either prepared spells whilst they awaited the arrival of the villagers or asked the druid questions of their own. He answered most of them to their satisfaction and they were pleased to know that he was indeed Ash who had stolen the sword but he had passed it on into the ownership of a bone-devil called Dando that lived within the hill. He told them of the two entrances that he knew of, but mentioned that the easiest way in was down through the pool as the other entrance was very well guarded. He also mentioned that he did what he did for the good of the Temple and that he was trying to redress the balance between good and evil in the area. He also mentioned that the bone-devil had the girls from the village but was not sure if they would still be alive.

When the villagers arrived and caught sight of the druid they had to be restrained from lynching him there and then. The village leaders said that he would get a fair trial, which was more than could be said for their daughters. The villagers made sure of his bindings then knocked him unconscious for the return journey to Steeplefell.

Into the Pool – early afternoon

In the meantime, Bow had tied a long rope around the standing stone nearest to the southern end of the pool and had lowered it into the water. It fed in without any ill effects, so the ranger held his breath and plunged in after it. The adventurers saw the splash he made and awaited the outcome of his foray. Bow held his breath while he descended far too quickly the ten feet to the bottom of the pool. He realised that something was amiss when he found he could hear perfectly well and did not feel at all wet. He opened his mouth and took a deep breath … of air. He laughed as he realised it was only an illusion; albeit a very great one.

He called for his companions to join him, which they did do, sliding one-at-a-time down the rope. They looked around and saw that they were in a very wide corridor that was almost entirely composed of a long, wide stone stairway. The walls were decorated with friezes of cavorting forest creatures that Johan recognised from his studies of the grimoires and texts at the various Sol Invictus temples he had frequented recently. The bottom of the stairs ended at a pair of large wooden doors with carvings of satyrs’ faces upon them.

Beside them was a shield-sized bronze gong with a small, padded hammer hung beside it. Bow took up the hammer and struck the gong once, allowing the sound to reverberate and die down before doing the same thing twice more.

Nothing appeared to happen so the party made their way down the stairs towards the pair of giant wooden valves, the faces carved upon them seemed to leer at them every step of the way. After a few moments, Vox felt a tickling sensation at his neck. He scratched at the itch but it started to get worse as he dislodged several tiny darts. He yelled out in anguish as the poison coursed through his veins and the party looked around for the source of the darts.

Gull began to search the walls for secret nooks and crannies but could find nothing, whilst the two fighters and the cleric looked for a way to open the doors. Then the thief too found that his flesh started to itch and he began to cast about himself for the source of his pain.

Cormac and Johan kept on trying to push open the doors but they felt as if they might as well have been painted on bare stone. Bow returned to the gong and beat out a succession of notes, but it was only when he tapped out three gongs in rapid succession that the darts seemed to stop flying.

The magic user and the thief were now in a real state of panic as the poison slowly made its way to their hearts. Johan stepped in and gave magical aid to their dwindling health to keep them alive long enough to administer better aid when the panic was over.

Bow rapidly returned to Cormac and Johan at the doors and struck at one of the faces carved thereupon with the gong hammer. The bash was answered by a magical voice that stated there was no need for that kind of behaviour. Bow, shocked by the response he got from the door asked it to open, which it did do, revealing in the darkened corridor beyond the snarling visages of six angry gnolls.

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