Death, Sacrifice, and Family

We have a short discussion about our next path. Klyce is worried that the locked door to the throne room is too obvious, and we should check the basement first. Having no better arguments, we all agree and head downstairs to an even worse dungeon than the attic. This one has clearly been used, if not for some time. There are no bodies here, and no creatures attacking us. So, we investigate and Nat finds on Iron Maiden that will not open.

Nat tries a few times, but just cannot get it open. Dalish casts Knock on it, make a very loud noise, and still doesn’t open it. It does, however, catch the attention of something. There are suddenly winds in the room, and a growing moaning noise. Just as I’m about to take control of the winds, five ghostly shapes enter the room, the moaning crescendos, and there is only blackness.

When I wake up again, Natty is leaning over me, with blackened, smoking eyes. Oh no! Oh Dawnmother! Natty what happened? What have you done?

She made a deal, she says, to get us back from the Dancer. Gerhardt limps in from the hallway then, naked, and with a deformed leg and shriveled arm. He tells Dalish that his master sucks and gave him this body. He says my body didn’t work, thank the Dawnmother, and Dalish’s hadn’t had time to regrow yet. We gather up Gerhardt’s original body, and some woman in rags they found in the Iron Maiden and head back upstairs.

Klyce and Nat decide to minimize the risk and take all two keys each, and turn them all at once. There is a click and the keys dissolve. Smoke pour out of the door and becomes a giant figure of Death. It stares down at us for a moment before shrinking down to a more human size.

He asks if we seek audience. Yes. We have proved ourselves worthy, but there is one final test. “Face me, Face Death, Or Take the Hand that Fate Deals You.”

We have lots of questions, that he mostly won’t answer. He says we have to draw a full hand, but it doesn’t matter who draws what. Remy tries to step forward, but Klyce stops him so we can decide what to do. He has to stop Nat from jumping forward, too. We decide that we’ll draw the hand, we have faced too much death already in the last day. I think we should each draw one card, but Marybeth and some of the others want to protect those of us that just came back from death.

Remy steps forward first, and says he will draw three cards. He drew the Star, Euryale, and Ruin. I didn’t seem much on the first two cards he drew, but on the last, his clothing got shabbier? Nat stepped up next and drew two cards – Talon and Gem. On the first one, her dagger disintegrated, and on the second, a huge pile of gems appeared at her feet. This deck is Crazy! Marybeth stepped forward next. She also got Ruin and her clothes got ragged, and a look of fear overtook her. Klyce stepped up next and drew Vizier. Nothing much happened to him, either, though he looked very thoughtful.

With one card per person drawn, though not by every person, Death declared our hand drawn. He bowed and the doors opened to the throne room. We head forward, and I put my arm around Marybeth. I don’t know what happened, but those cards were very strange.

Lord Tepish sits in a throne at the end of a long plush carpet. He wants to know what we’re doing. You took over Nat’s castle. He asks after Stephen. We don’t know, you were the one looking for him. He says he’s been preoccupied with Van Helsing. Who then crashes through a window, Tepish waves and he falls through a hole in the air. He says he’s sent him to the Shadow Realm, but he’ll be back. He keeps coming back, faster and faster for the last 200 years, on an oath of vengeance.

Nat presses on Stephen’s parentage. Lord Tepish says he is his father, he slept with his mother (and father) on their honeymoon in his country all those years ago. They stayed with him for three weeks. We talk about Stephen not turning until he died, and the boys go on bout the seed of evil. We talk about the curse and the meaning of evil. Klyce tries to redirect the converstion to getting us a map of the castle so we can go find Stephen for him.

Then Van Helsing reappears, and stabs Lord Tepish. This time, the fight lasts a lot longer. I’m very annoyed by Van Helsing, this is all his fault, making this last so long because he won’t let Lord Tepish finish his business and be gone. He’s put us all in danger, and some of us have Died! So, I toss some spells at him as the fight goes on. Marybeth tries distracting him, and Dalish sends spells at him, too. The rest of the group just watches and stays out of it. Part way through, Nat says Van Helsing has Dawnmother symols on him, and I slow my attacks a little, but I don’t see them, he’s jumping around so fast. Lord Tepish turns into a huge firey bat monster, and I back the rest of the way off. Dalish is still throwing spells, but at his possessions now, and Marybeth’s distractions are less effective. Eventually, Van Helsing is killed once more.

Lord Tepish says that Van Helsing will be gone for a couple years now, and we can get back to our business. He can grant us full access to the castle, and stave off some of the confusion it causes, so we can find Stephen and bring him to talk. But Remy has some questions, since we just helped him. Lord Tepish is distracted by the help we offered and doesn’t answer Remy right away. Instead, he offers Boons to the three of us who helped. Dalish asks for help on his quest, with getting the things he needs to finish his process. Marybeth asks for protection for her family from Van Helsing. Both of these things are granted. I don’t know what to ask for, I have a lot of things on my mind. He says that’s alright, he owes me a boon, and I can ask whenever I decide.

Remy starts in again. About giving more than taking and doing more good than bad. Lord Tepish says he tries to minimize the harm his curse causes, but Remy thinks he ought to do more. I tell him to knock it off, as he has absolutely no idea what Lord Tepish does with his life and his time. Lord Tepish then asks Remy what is the worth of a man. Remy says it is the hearts he fills, the hope he gives, and the lives he saves. Before I can reflect on the arrogance of that answer, Lord Tepish asks another question. What is the worth of a man who lives forever, who is cursed to live off others, to have ruin in his wake. Ruin that is outside his control? He then offers that time will likely see Remy wrong that his actions do more good than harm. I’m furious with Remy, but there’s no time, and he’s let it drop.

We head off to find Stephen, and the castle is much easier to navigate, the monsters don’t attack us, either. After a few hours, we do find Stephen in his lab, locked and staked through the heart in a chest. Remy removes the stake from him, just like we did with the servant in the entry, and he, too, wakes up. Klyce tells him that his dad wants to meet him, but Stephen misunderstands that his father has asked for him. Dalish, Nat, and Klyce explain what has been going on. I ask if he’ll just go meet the guy so he’ll leave. Nat further explains the mine fiasco and the shadowman. We really just need this all to finish so we can deal with things.

Stephen says he wants to talk to their parents first, so I send to Lord Tepish and he agrees. He head into town and find the family at the inn we left them at. Nat spars with her older brother and then we get into the room. Stephen demands an explanation, and his mother is uncomfortable with us all there, so we leave the family to their business.

After a while, they all come out, including Nat’s father, dressed and ready to go talk to Lord Tepish. We head back to the castle and lead them into the throne room with no issue. He greets them warmly, and leads the family into a side room to have another private conversation. Nat tries to listen in, but she can’t hear any of the words. Ten minutes later, they come back out.

Stephen says that the timing of his birth indicates he is certainly not Lord Tepish’s son, but they do have similar gifts, and he could learn a lot from him. He’s going to take him up on the offer to go away for a while and learn what he can. Klyce reminds him not to miss the wedding. Nat reminds him to keep in touch. He tells Dalish and Nat that he left notes downstairs that may have cracked the trouble with Grandfather Skull. Lord Tepish hands Dalish a small chest, that he turns into a large chest, with the ingredients he needs to finish his process. He tells me to contact him when I’ve decided on my boon. He will do whatever I ask, within his power. Then, Stephen and Lord Tepish leave the castle.

Into Vlad’s Domain

Back to the castle, to find it even more changed than when we left. Even the tapestries have changed! That poor old hunchback is still lying, shot full of bolts, by the door. Remy pulls them out, and they guy wakes up! What?? We just left him there for days, unconscious!

He starts asking for his Master, then notices the curse has taken root and asks how long it’s been. We tell him a few days, and that his master and the crazy man (he says Van Helsing), are still running around the place. He says Van Helsing has a vendetta against his master, then starts listing off a bunch of weird names for him. Including Vlad the Impaler! What Is this guy? He also calls him the Prince of Caprathia or something, and Remy says that was 400 years ago. When we ask if his master is undead, he says ‘beyond death.’ Like that means anything.

Okay, but the castle? Can we fix it? He just laughs, but does agree that if the master leaves, he’ll take his curse with him. Every place he stays becomes his home, he says. Okay, how do we find him? Beyond the throne room, but all his servants will attack us if we haven’t sworn fealty to him. But we can’t swear fealty unless we find him. Oh great! He won’t even help us, says it’s against the rules! Ugh! Stupid adults and their stupid rules!

We leave him behind. Nat says she doesn’t know of any throne room, but maybe she can get us to a library where we can learn something more. She can’t, and we wander for a while, dispensing with various dogs, bats, and zombies in the hallways.

Heading back to the front entrance, we start over, mapping the first floor as best we can. This time we find a giant glass arboritum filled with impossibly green trees and plants. I hesitate at the door. I don’t… last time… there were so many bodies… Philomena calls back to me, taunting me to come in so she can have someone to banter with. Deep breaths, I can do this. It’ll be different this time. If she can do it, so can I. Nevermind that she’s riding atop her fiance turned giant scorpion.

There are eyes on us as we walk, but we can’t see the watchers. Klyce clacks a warning and we proceed carefully. Right into a clearing with an overgrown and blackened fountain. Where we are immediately surrounded by gigantic wolves and werewolves. The leader shouts “All glory to the Master!” as they attack.

The wolves breathe out ice! It nearly takes me down, and as soon as I can, I thunderstep Philomena and myself up into the trees. Gerhardt puts a bubble around the leader and his biggest wolf that lasts most of the fight. I eventually toss a few rocks up at the glass ceiling so I can call some lighting inside to help finish the fight. The werewolves all crumble to dust, leaving only the wolf corpses behind. How odd.

We take a few moments to rest and heal folks up while Nat looks around the fountain. She finds a key with a blue shiny gem in it. Pocketing that for later, we head on.

The trees give way to a manicured garden, full of the pungent smell of flowers and fruit. There’s another fountain here, but this one is fresh. There are frollicking nymps in the water and a demonic woman nestled in the arms of heroic statue. The nymphs dive into the water and disappear as soon as they see us approach.

I ask if she knows where the Master is so we can go swear our fealty to him, hoping to avoid another fight. She suggests we stay with her, to eat, drink, rest and have fun. Oh, um, sure, that sounds nice. I promised the hag that I’d always accept hospitality, so I try to get the rest of the group to agree. They aren’t so happy with the idea. Nat notices that she has a key around her neck and tells her that we need it. She asks what we’re offering for it, and when we waver, asks for a kiss. Nat’s not so keen on that.

She starts looking us over for something else to ask for, but when her eyes fall on Marybeth, she screams. Bloodfeud!!! And starts a fight.

She’s so pretty though, why would I want to hurt her. And her hugs are so nice. Okay, her kisses hurt a lot, but that’s okay. Everyone should just leave us alone. I toss a storm sphere out to keep the rest of the group away. Marybeth is mean to her, so I pull a couple lightning bolt out of the sphere to try and chase her away. Then there’s darkness as Dalish calls out dark words.

When I wake up, I still don’t feel good, and everyone insists we all take a long nap. I wake up from nightmares and remember I was going to ask Hank a question. So, I send to him, asking about the six-armed, green, glowing figure from the mine. Is that what the Green Witch looks like? He says yeah, he felt it happen, but it’s not time yet, and he’ll be in touch. I go back to sleep, but I don’t rest easy here.

When we get up, I feel a whole lot better. On from the greenhouse and find a grand hall with a big locked double door. Nat pulls out the two keys she gathered in the greenhouse, but there are spaces for four keys with different shaped gems. So, she tries to pick the lock on one of the ones she doesn’t have.

Black smoke pours out of this lock and forms into a hooded figure with a scythe. “Die, Interloper!” It shouts as it attacks her. Remy tries to help, but his shots just cause another one to form and attack him. “Do not interfere!” So, the rest of us sit back while these spectral figures carve up our friends, until they put them both down. Gerhardt patches them up after the fight, and we head on towards the kitchens.

Darkness in the Mines

I swear it was dawn, but as we headed back up to the castle, it grew dark once more. There is chaos in the courtyard. The prisoners that didn’t go to town came here, and took a dozen more down into the mines. Nat takes charge and sets an elder of the town to manage the citizenry. She gets the men to building tents in the continued storm and the women and children inside to the banquet hall for shelter. After checking to be sure Nat’s family is alright, we all try to get a little rest. We have to go to the mines, but not in the exhausted state we’re currently in.

After our rest, and a bit of orange juice (Remy is still obsessed with the juice’s existence), we talk about what to do. It’s decided that we’ll go to the mines through a secret entrance from the castle, instead of the front gate. We head down carefully, because the crazed crossbolter has set bear traps all down the path. Fortunately, we don’t run into him or the strange bat-man. We find a phantom hound, like Dalish’s upstairs. Gerhardt dispells it so we can get by.

We get down to the mine level, but the chamber between us and it is full of the inactive undead, stacked like cordwood. Remy starts freaking out again. You’d think he’d seen enough undead by now, but I guess some people just can’t handle the creep factor after they’ve tried to kill you repeatedly. Remy starts flying and the rest of us start climbing our way through. One twitches, Remy shoots, and then all heck breaks loose.

I grab Marybeth beside me and dimesion door us out of the room to the far side. Dalish and Gerhardt join us after only a moment. There’s a huge explosion on the other side of the door, and Remy yells at us to get Nat. It takes some doing to get the door open after he exploded all the zombies in front of it, but we managed to pull her out and get her healed back to consciousness. Just in time for Remy to get himself out before we slam the door back shut.

Back awake now, and with all of us gasping for breath, wondering what we’re doing down here, Nat shares a vision from the night before. The guy we’re after is deep in the earth. He’s been here a long time and to stop the current disaster we have to break his body. But to finish him, we have to break his mind. Oh good, riddles to go with the creepy shadow monster.

The group has a bit of a fluff up with Remy about zombies again, until said creepy shadow calls out to him, saying it can work with a fear of zombies. We call out to it in turn, asking why it’s doing this. It says it got a gift and now must destroy the Bones, as they kept him trapped here. We try to figure out who he is and how he got free, but it’s no use.

We head on, and come across a group of people, beaten and tied. We call out to them quietly, and they say that the miners check on them every half hour or so. Deciding to set a trap, we cut their ropes and send them back to wait outside the zombie room. Marybeth and I sit where they were while everyone else hides. They show up on schedule, and though the fight is rough, we put them down.

The shadow starts talking again. He asks about the mage revolution, and we tell him the mages won. He was put down here before it started. When we mention Rictus, he seems interested. We try to make a deal, don’t go after the Bones and we’ll help him get Rictus. He won’t be disuaded, though.

We head onward, freeing captives as we go, sending them back along the paths we’ve cleared , and hoping for the best. Then we come across a group of miners that are still working. Some are badly mutated, but some are only slightly affected. Nat recognizes one as Philomena’s butler, Ulysses. She approaches him carefully.

Asking what happened, he slowly, painfully replies punishment. Then asks after the family. She assures him they are safe. She asks what happpened. Bad things go bad, but not him. Remy steps up to take a look at him. The mana exposure has caused severe damage. It seems the mana has weakened them, made them easier to control for the shadow. Nat delves a little into his mind, with his permission, to try and understand. The shadow takes the weak, but he doesn’t know where they go. He keeps working so he can keep control. He says he’s been here in this mine for a year now.

We try to get him to stop working and go wait with the others, but he won’t. He doesn’t want his family to know what became of him, begs us not to tell Philomena. Remy thinks maybe Triplehorn or Klyce can figure out a way to fix the damage. Nat says it’s too late, he wants it to end. While the boys argue, Nat steps forward, and stabs him through the heart.

I… I can’t look. I… we knew him. He was innocent… Not a monster… not bad. He… I… what… No…

Military Service: Genocide or Treason

We sink into the mire of military service. Ten hours of marching a day, under spells that make us go further than we should and longer than we ought. We are instructed to use as much mana as possible to stress test the device. Our first goal is Gainswood, and then on to the south. Dalish takes a turn on the machine, while Remy heads off to find Aranea.

When Remy gets back, he gathers us all up to talk. We have to destroy the machine, he insists. We have to do it in a way that doesn’t seem like sabotage, so they think the design is faulty. We discuss various transmutation options with Klyce. Using various spells to mask what he’s doing, so he can weaken the machine and then we can quickly destroy it. We decide to start in the morning.

Nat looks into our futures the next morning, just to see. She stop the plan in its tracks. Our plan is a Bad Idea. Simply blowing it up with fireballs, as suspected, is also a Bad Idea. Remy decides to try and have a chat with Lt. Colonel Durance. I really don’t understand why he thinks this will work, but it’s Remy. He goes to try.

He returns and gives the expected answer — do your job, and also, Durance has been spying on us, and heard the entire conversation last night. We’ll have to be more careful. Then it devolves into a political discussion about systems of oppression, and one being just like the others. Someone suggests turning everyone into mages, for equality and Dalish pipes up. He says he’s been feeding bits of flesh that used to be Garion to people and it gives them magic for a short while. What the hell, Dalish??? I don’t want to hear any more about this, and engage Nat in conversation about where her Grandmother’s caravan travels, and if Canada is nice this time of year. She brings up the darkness and the six stars, and we try to remember the names of all six gods from the cave so many months ago.

Nat decides to scry on her brother, but similar to my messaging, nothing goes through. She tries her parents, but quickly drops the spell, and doesn’t try anymore for a while. Then she tries a new spell, pulling us all inside her head for a chat. It’s super strange. Remy and Klyce do not have good time, but it could be useful later. Nat and Marybeth decide to dream together, so I sit up and keep watch for them. Marybeth does not seem to be having good dreams, but at least no one goes wandering off, and they both wake up in the morning.

Once we’ve been traveling for a while. Durance lets us know that the Mage Corp will be splitting off from the main force, and splitting up. He and the other three will be going after one target while the rest of us go aver Gainswood Plantation. Our orders are to assess their strength and determine if there are any mages. If there are, execute them. If there aren’t, just leave the troops and civilians alone. We are mage hunting, nothing more. In two weeks, we will meet up on the other side. The Majors will be in charge, and are expected to handle any disputes like well-reasoned adults. The mana tanker will be traveling with the main force while we’re on assignment. We will have forty soldiers in our detachment. We are to keep them safe.

We gather up and head out. Sargeant Clem is in charge of our soliders, and he seems reasonable enough. We march through hot, sticky, wet swamplands. It is awful, but I do my best to keep the wind moving for us. The first night, while on my watch, I hear things all around us. I shout for everyone to get up as zombies charge in. We keep them men out of the fight, the zombies are focused on us, and we don’t fancy getting shot, or losing any of the men. Marybeth falls in the fight, and before we can help her, darkness gathers round.

“Who dis who has trespassed in my swamp”? the darkness asks.

Dead and Gone

One more tree to go. I’m running near empty. Klyce looks deathly pale, but he’s still going. Dalish tries to heal the bullet out of him with no luck. We don’t have enough mana left to Circle and Banish at the last tree. Does Remy have worm in his ear? Oh, Dawnmother, what are we going to do???

We have to find the tree. We have to get up above ground and search quickly. We head back up to the rooftops. Natty casts a locate and we search the areas we haven’t been, yet. Nothing. She gets no indication of a tree. We did note three crowded areas. Two apartment buildings and an old Royalist library. Each one has hundreads of people outside, all of them with a weapon at their own head or throat. Oh gods, how many worms are there? Is it really just one last tree? So many people outside, but no movement in or out now.

There’s a lot of arguing about which makes the most sense. Which is most likely a trap. How we’re even going to get inside any of them. We end up sending Heyhey up to circle above the smaller apartment building and Ceres down into the sewer below it. Natty says the roof is the same as the ground. Ceres reports an assassin in the sewers, and we decide that’s our best option.

We head down and somehow manage to make quick work of the assassin. It was the one who ran from us the night before. We get near the building and send Ceres up a waste pipe to look around for the tree. He sees a collapse first floor and cleared away foundations. He also see Aranea, who buries him in earth and kills him.

There’s a quick arguement about chasing her down, but we don’t have time for that. We head for the library, through the sewers. Nat finds us a secret entrance in, and after another secret door, we find ourselves in the basement archives. We search around by find nothing. Upstairs, we find a pit dug deep into the gallery floor, filled with earth, but no tree. As we are considering this, a fireball lands on our heads.

We start fighting with two mages on the edge of the gallery, but they seem frightened. Klyce eventually indimidates them into stopping by saying we’re not wormed and we’re here to stop the worms. Steven and Berald, they tell us, had worms, but after a really painful episode, the worms were gone and they had control again. We ask what they know, but it isn’t much. They were from the hotel tree, and when they checked in with Pyrus, he said they should stay here and guard the hole. Nat says they haven’t got worms, but that Remy does have. When she tries to probe deeper, she passes out.

When we manage to revive her, she says she saw a land cloaked in eternal winter and a tree covered in snow. Well, it’s summer here, so that tells us nothing useful. We leave the two de-wormed mages behind and head for the other apartment building. Time is running short. Gerhardt sends his snake up the drain this tiem, but once again there’s no tree.

Frustrated, we decide it’s a shell game. The tree has to be in one of these buildings, it’s just hiding where we haven’t looked. We head up and find everyone dead. Oh Dawnmother! Oh No! we push on into the buliding and search the pit more thoroughly. Nothing. We head upstairs. We find more nothing until we get to the fourth floor. There we run smack into Aranea.

Remy stops her and asks what’s going on. She grabs him and sticks her ‘tongue’ down his ear, pulling out his worm on a tiny sliver of a spear. Once it’s dead, she’s willing to talk to us again. She hasn’t found the tree either. Nothing in the walls or the roof, Remy and Klyce break open a wall just to be sure. She tells us the snowy landscape is where the worms originated, back in the fae world.

We head back to the first apartment complex, where everyone is also dead, and search. Still no tree, so we run back to the library and those two de-wormed mages. Remy and Dalish slide down into the pit and uncover the illusion hiding yet another tunnel. We all go down, convincing the two other two to come with us. When we get to the end of the tunnel, fireballs erupt again, and I fall.

By the time I wake up again, the tree is gone and the enemies are dead. We head up and out of the library to streets filled with death. We search around the bodies and the streets as we walk back towards the barrier. I reach up to gingerly touch my burned hair and feel it crumble away, I can tell the earth magic’s granted bounty has faded, as well. I grit my teeth in frustration. This has all gone wrong, so wrong. But somehow, we’ve all survived.

Gerhardt sends a message to the Major to tell him we have succeeded. And then he collapses. When he wakes up again, he says they pulled him into a spell to report. Rictus will clear the dead, and the barrier will come down. As we reach the edge, it does just that. Nat goes off with a medic to see about her thumb. Klyce is taken to hospital and I head straight for the church of the Dawnmother. I do Not want to see what Rictus does with the dead. A few days later, when we debrief, they tell us that 51,208 people died, much better, they say, than if they had unleashed the battlemages on the entire burrough. I spend quite a lot of time with Fathers Kevin and Carmine over the next while, and when I’m not with them, I’m with Xin Yue, trying to renew my pact with the earth.