Sunday, May 27, 2007 from 3:30 PM to 7PM.
Details of our interactions prior to the game on that day are now forgotten. Since I recorded the time when the session started, it seems we had lunch together before playing.
This was our penultimate game session. I knew our time together was coming to an end, and needed our campaign to finish with a ‘bang’. The idea up to this point was to let the PCs investigate the plans of the alchemists of the Ogden Suhl further. They would have discovered the construction sites of a few more of the seven alchemical cannons, maybe investigated the experiments of the alchemists with the rifts created millennia ago in Kem by the Wars of Fire, or their prior relationships with the Forsaken, the Fallen and the Necropolis of Ptolus.
But as I realized at that time, most of the players of the game would leave their jobs on the island and not come back for the next school year. We had a handful of sessions to play, 5th level characters, and a huge finale in the works. From there, I was left with two options: either downgrade the finale to fit 5th level characters, or drastically improve the efficiency of the players’ characters to make them tough enough to face the threats of Goth Gulgamel and the Ogden Suhl.
As the following session clearly shows, I chose the second solution and found unexpected ways to level up the characters, upgrade their existing equipment, and provide them with allies which they would run themselves, thus ensuring they would be up to speed to face the dangers of the Spire… and beyond.
Session 13 – The Jewel of the Mind
Still the 26th of Rain
The echoes of rocks crashing above the runebearers’ heads fade in the distance. All becomes dark and silent. There is then a feeling of movement and acceleration; a cacophony of many shades and colors, as if experienced directly through their own minds instead of their worldly perceptive organs; strange patterns swirling all around on courses too complex for their intelligence to fathom. There is a sense of twisting and turning; abrupt stops, and acceleration again.
Light. Too much light.
They all open their eyes. The forest all around them is quiet, almost silent. A light breeze caresses the high foliage of a century-old tree nearby. There is the sound of a stream in the distance. No bird songs. No animals of any kind. Something is not quite right with this landscape.
They stand up, check on each other.
Beket, Hennie, Simone, Iliana, Hamrick, Oscar… they are all unscathed.
“Do not move.”
The voice came from the low bushes and high ferns further away.
“Drop your weapons.”
They all comply. There is a moment of doubt, though the voice did not seem particularly menacing. The ferns slowly part, and a group of three strange-looking humanoids walk up to them. Their bodies are lean and muscular, covered with a thin fur, two brown, one black. They have long, narrow hound snouts and large, pointed ears which give their faces the vague appearance of jackals. They are equipped with bows, swords, leather shirts and even one with plate armor, just like any other group of adventurers.
“Where are you coming from, and what is your purpose in these parts?”
The runebearers explain they are coming from Ptolus and are pursuing a group of alchemists in the hopes of stopping them from destroying the world. The creatures seem genuinely surprised by their explanation: “We do not know this Ptolus you are talking about. We are the Sibbecai, the servants of Lothian, the redeeming messenger of our Faith.”
Hennie seizes the opportunity: “If you are the servants of Lothian, then the actions of the alchemists threaten your way of life just as much as ours. We should stop them before they destroy all that we hold dear.”
The Sibbecai seem to believe her, but they seem hesitant nonetheless. “We have to bring you before Savvan, our guide and leader. Only he can determine what should be our next course of action. He will be able to see through your souls and find out if you are trustworthy. Will you come with us, or fight us?”
The girls look at each other silently. On one hand, time is of the essence, and they have to find the alchemists as soon as possible. On the other hand, they cannot deny that the Sibbecai’s help is needed. They do not even know where they are. They still need all the information they can possibly get to thwart the Ogden Suhl’s plans.
The walk to the Sibbecai’s encampment is a blur. Still no bird songs, no encounters in the forest. Just the unnatural, quiet peace of it all. As the girls look at each other and their companions, they notice subtle changes in each other’s appearances. One moment, a shade looks much darker than it is supposed to be. At another, the patterns of a cloak look like they have slightly changed. There is something about this place that feels definitely off.
The runebearers, their companions and their guides finally arrive to the Sibbecai settlement, deep within the forest. There, they meet Savvan, a Sibbecai zealot who leads his brethren with an iron grip. He listens to the girls’ story for the next while. After carefully considering what they told him of the Ogden Suhl, the Vallis moon and the possible end of the world, he finally announces: “Lothian alone knows the hidden truth behind your tales. You must prove yourself before the One God, and this requires an holocaust, a sacrifice worthy of Him and His Wisdom.”
The girls do not know what to make of his words.
“I know of unworthy visitors to this Jewel who came to me a little while ago. They are sinners in the face of the One, and must be brought to Justice. They brought one of the Damned souls of the Netherworlds with them, a Demon of formidable power, and it is that wretched creature which must be sacrificed at the Grove for you to prove your worth.”
“Once they realized we would not hear what they had to say, they flew North with the Beast. We sent scouting parties to find them before they could do the Jewel any harm. That’s how my brethren found you. Go now, find these heretics, and bring them all before us. You will then find our help.”
“Be weary, however, for this is Av, the Jewel of the Mind. The forest will play tricks on you, and you must do your best to ignore its callings. Should you falter on your quest, you will be lost forever to the light of the Lord and His charitable Redemption.”
27th of Rain
Thus the runebearers left the Sibbecai in search of these visitors who preceded them. If they are Ogden Suhl and brought a demon with them, this would prove to be a terrible confrontation. The girls and their companions, Hamrick the Halfling and Oscar the Otyugh, explore the forest. It soon becomes clear that the forest indeed tries to communicate with them. Some trees shift places. They find themselves walking into the same clearings they explored earlier in the day, time and time again.
Beket finally decides to climb up a tree to have a peak at their global surroundings. Once she reaches the upper branches of a large oak, she suddenly realizes that the forest stretches in all directions far beyond the horizon. As she silently prays to the Old Man, she suddenly realizes that the faces sculpted in her bracers look at her with real, flesh and blood eyes.
She takes them off, raises them above her head and examines their detail in the sunlight. The entire sculpted faces now seem alive. They smile at her, and whisper: “Do not worry. I am here. Wear us, and you will hear.”
Taken aback by such a turn of events, Beket hesitates for a moment. She remembers Savvan’s warning: “The forest will play tricks on you, and you must do your best to ignore its callings.” This is not the forest, however. These are her own bracers! She decides against the Sibbecai’s advice, and puts the bracers back on her wrists.
Everything suddenly seems clearer. Beket feels the world around her, and the world beyond, as part of herself. She feels as if she was in contact with the Old Man himself, and as such, gets a sense that all that is happening to them makes no sense whatsoever in the grand scheme of things. Everything is part of the grand tapestry, and the grand tapestry cannot be destroyed by the actions of just a few of its knots. Why then must she fight? Why resist at all?
She ponders these existential questions, sitting high on the branch of the oak.
Far below, Hennie and Simone are experiencing similar doubts.
Hennie feels the flames gather around her, and realizes that this whole fight is about her and her place in the world. It is for her to seize all these opportunities to develop and refine her magical might. This isn’t a curse, but a boon to be cherished, and cultivated.
Simone looks at her bow. The very matter of darkness seems to emanate from its limbs and string. She shoots aimlessly. The arrow leaves behind it a trail of black fumes and wisps of darkness. She feels the Dark surround her; infuse her mind, thoughts, conscious and unconscious. Does she have to betray her friends and companions, just like she betrayed the House Sadar before them? Or is this all about her final steps into the arms of Death, and ultimate oblivion?
The sudden arrival of an enormous horned beast breaks the charm. Two trees are flattened when the muscular purple humanoid charges through the clearing head first. The Demon! It stops at the foot of the large oak Beket climbed, crouches powerfully… and jumps high up through the foliage like a bullet fired from a dragon rifle! It head-butts Beket on its way up, seizes her at the same time by the arms, and they both crash through the branches and finally back to the ground with in a loud thump that sends pieces of earth and wood fly around them.
“WHO ARE YOU? WHAT DO YOU WANT?” The creature yells as it grasps Beket’s head with one of its massive hands, ready to squeeze it between its oversized claws. The monk is about the resist when she notices a strange look in the beast’s eyes. There is anger within, some amount of fear for sure… but no hatred. No evil. This puzzles her, and she decides to try to negotiate with the creature.
“We hail from Ptolus. We are searching for the alchemists. We need help.”
Another male voice comes from the trees. “This is all right, then. We need your help as well.”
Three individuals walk into the clearing. One is wearing a purple hood and robes; another a plate armor and a massive broadsword of stone; the last one is a minotaur wearing priestly clothes. The one with the purple robes speaks first: “I am Odhanan Baoisgne, and this is Orien de Saeth,” he says as he points to his armoured companion wearing the huge blade of veined marble. He then points to the minotaur: “This, is Shibata.” Odhanan then seems to realize the purple beast is still squeezing Beket’s head: “You can let it go now, Amalruth.”
The creature lets Beket go with a grunt: “You are lucky I am not hungry.”
Orien steps in: “Now, now. They did not start the fight. We did.” He smiles and adds to Beket's attention: “Amalruth is a Devil who freed himself from the clutches of his masters. He only seeks to live on his own terms, and is a valuable asset for our little team.”
He extends a hand towards her: “I apologize for the attack, but we just weren’t sure what your intentions were.”
Hennie walks to the newcomers. “We were sent to hunt down your friend here. The Sibbecai want to sacrifice him to Lothian. Only then would we be deemed worthy of their help.” Shibata, the minotaur, seems very interested by these revelations.
Hennie goes on: “We are here for the alchemists of the Ogden Suhl. We want to stop them from precipitating the end of the world, or whatever they truly want out of the return of the Vallis moon. What are you searching for?”
Odhanan and Orien look at each other. The minotaur answers: “The Cask of Frozen Dreams, a powerful artefact which we must bring back to the Pale Tower.”
Simone and Beket do not seem to understand what Shibata is talking about. Hennie fills in the blanks: “You mean to say… you were sent here by the Malkuth, the angelic powers of Ptolus?”
Odhanan nods: “This is the truth.”
Hennie seems genuinely puzzled: “What is the Cask of Frozen Dreams? Why do you have to bring it back to the Malkuth?”
Shibata the minotaur shakes his head: “We are not at liberty to say. Suffice for you to know that this could be one of the instruments needed to bring about the end of the world. Maybe the alchemists you mentioned are searching for it as well. We need to take it off this pocket plane back to Ptolus, at the Pale Tower. Will you help us?”
The girls are now faced with a conundrum: Helping Savvan sacrifice Amalruth, or band with these adventurers, and recover the Cask of Frozen Dreams. Beket asks: “How can we help?”
Shibata nods: “We need to defeat Savvan and get him away from the Sibbecai. We need to get the Cask from him. He is not what he seems. He is…” Amalruth cuts in, baring his teeth: “I know a Spawn of the Abyss when I see one.”
The Devil straightens up: “He is the ‘demon’. I don’t know how he got there, and how he managed to convince these Sibbecai he is some sort of Holy priest sent to lead them in Lothian’s name, but he is what he is: Evil and power-hungry.”
Odhanan: “Maybe he’s done so with the help of his advisor, this human… what was his name again?”
Orien cuts in: “Zalathar.”
Simone is the first to react: “Zalathar! But he’s dead. We killed him! He’s the one who’s done experiments on us. He’s in league with the alchemists. He’s the key to all this!”
None of the girls’ new companions seems the least bit surprised. Odhanan explains: “This is this place. Av, Jewel of the Mind. It responds to the sentient beings within its reach. Your alchemists probably saw an opportunity there, and brought Zalathar’s soul back from the Netherworld. That or it was just coincidence, a subconscious answer to the alchemists’ desires. I’m sure Av talked to you already.”
Hennie confirms: “It has. It seems to exacerbate my own desires. The selfish ones…”
“The ones you want to suppress,” Shibata points out.
Beket nods in understanding: “We need to attune ourselves to Av’s whispers.” She walks to the tree she climbed earlier. She reaches for her sacrificial dagger, and stabs its bark. Sap slowly starts to bleed from the tree as she pulls her knife from its wound. “We shall drink, and remember.”
The girls take turns and drink the sap from the tree.
At first, nothing seems to happen. But then, then… they remember.
To be continued...
Mark Hammill's Contract Beard
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