Saturday, 23 October 2010

Cradle Plain -- Session 55 -- Sunday 25th July 2010

In which old arrangements come back to haunt Elumai, and Jonas decides to make some noise upon his arrival in Emerandes.

Roster (Party Level 11th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger
Aerallo - Tiefling Warlock

'Elumai Niastai, on warrant of the Court of Stars and by direct order the Summer Queen, you are under arrest.'
-- Lord Hyseth to Elumai upon her arrival in Emerandes

The words hang in the air for a second before Elumai demands to know on what charges she's being arrested, but Lord Hyseth refuses to recount them in public. Jonas's efforts to intercede on her behalf are met with derision, and as the rest of the party step up in defense of their comrade, the tension is palpable. Many citizens crowd around to watch, and conflict seems inevitable.

Nevertheless Hyseth entreats Elumai not to risk an incident in the streets of Emerandes, and when she asks him once again about the case against her, he reveals only that she is accused of "conspiring in the ongoing campaigns against the Summer Queen". Upon hearing this, she agrees to go with him to the Consulate... on condition that she can bring her husband, Finial, with her.

The bluff is risky. A look of despair passes over Hyseth's face, noticed only by Finial, as he hears this apparent news, but after considering it for a moment, he waves his men back and steps forward to face the paladin. "This woman is promised to me," he says. "You have no right of matrimony and you will give her up to me now."

Finial speaks out in support of his friend but Hyseth picks up on a subtle note of discomfort in his carefully chosen words, and demands that whatever the truth of the situation might be, there is a case to answer for one way or another. Either way, Elumai must be returned to the consulate until the problem is resolved.

Finial and the rest of the group again try to intervene but Hyseth's patience is at an end. "Enough talk!" he shouts. "You will accompany me to the consulate, or we will settle this in the street paladin!" Despite the expectant murmurs of the crowd, Finial maintains his cool, and agrees to be escorted, along with Elumai, wherever she is to be taken.

Flanked by the rest of the company, Hyseth troops Elumai and Finial through the streets towards the eladrin consulate. Constructed around a fey portal which locates into the world every few weeks, its bright copper domes are clearly visible above the lush ree-canopies of the Park.

The two of them are taken inside, led past a large pool of water which reflects a starlit sky quite different from the copper roof overhead, and Finial is informed that this is the portal itself, and that the stars above occupy the sky as it would be seen in the Feywild. Beyond, in the western dome, is a small island in a little swathe of marshland, and the adventurers are told to wade the water and wait on the island to be addressed more formally. As they do so, the water saps their strength, muddying thoughts of escape.

While they wait, Elumai explains to Finial that she was once betrothed to Lord Hyseth, but that she ran away before the marriage was to take place. Of this "conspiracy" against the Summer Queen, she has no idea. Finial promises faithfully to defend her in this matter, and Jonas, who has gained entrance to the consulate and is hiding nearby, does the same. In the meantime, he decides to dodge the staff of the consulate and reconnoitre Lord Hyseth's apartments.

Some time later, flanked by guards, Elumai receives a visitor. It's none other than Lady Rhonttha Hyseth, Lord Hyseth's mother, a stately woman of imposing demeanour and advancing years.

'Elumai, still so pretty... what a perfect match you would have made for my Koryl. My dear, you have no idea how much trouble you've caused me.'

'I'm still waiting to find out what these "charges" actually are.'

'Oh, I'm sure I can come up with something.'
-- Lady Hyseth to Elumai

She demands to know of Finial's connection to Elumai, and how he believes his claim over her can in any way exceed that of her son's. Finial, however, is unrepentant, and moves straight to the heart of the matter, stating that these charges of conspiracy are obviously trumped up in order to get Elumai into Fey territory. Lady Hyseth is amused, but doesn't deny it. She makes Elumai an offer: return to the besotted Lord Hyseth, and all charges will be dropped. Elumai is ready to refuse immediately, but Rhonttha gives her one hour to mull over her future.

Meanwhile, for Jonas, the possibilities looks grim, as the residential wing has sturdy oaken doors which resist his efforts to open them. However, help comes in the form of Berend who, having persuaded/tricked the guards outside that Elumai is a member of his clan, has gained entrance and demanded of the flustered clerk an audience with Lord Hyseth. As he impatiently emerges, Jonas slips inside the room.

His apartments are spectacular, wreathed in living flora. Jonas moves quickly past a reception room, looking for something relevant to the proceedings, or which otherwise cataches his eye. In a dressing table he finds a small leather book, containing hand-written pages in elven script, describing diplomatic courtesies required of visitors to Emerandes. Of note, the instructions state that he is to consider himself a guest of the Court of Cloaks, not the Pale King; that his actions are bound by the Third Statute; and on a scrappily-written last page, "the consulate cycle is tied to the third phase of the neraphym". A small clay bowl also stands out, but he doesn't give himself the time to check it.

A few minutes later, Hyseth leaves his room once more, and goes to face Elumai, where, unexpectedly, he simply gives her leave to go.

'Enough of these games. If this is the way you want to play the game, then I shall just let you go. I'm sure I can find another one of your little friends to face these charges.'
-- Lord Hyseth to Elumai.

Elumai asks the consulate staff after her friend Seraiya, but the clerk is apologetic: she hasn't had anyone by that name come through the premises. Elumai hands her a scroll, and asks that the message be passed back to Seraiya in Dyonosis, the enclave from which she hails. Worried and relieved in equal measure, Finial, Elumai, and Jonas exit the consulate.

At last free to explore, the party sets foot into Emerandes. The great emerald spire pierces the clouds above their heads, but red cloth awnings strung across the streets protect city-dwellers and visitors from the worst of the glare, and after the paucity of opportunities available out on the Plain, they hungrily go about the business of buying new equipment from multiple shops well-stocked with a variety of goods.

As they wander around, they're accosted by a short, fat human, with his wife and kids in tow. He stares at Berend -- "You're 'im, aintcha?" -- and finally works up the courage to grab the dwarf's hand and give it a firm shake. "You're that dwarf I've 'eard about! Birin... Brin... Berend, that's it!" Catching sight of Elumai, and Finial, he's almost beside himself. "If I'd known I'd be meeting heroes the likes o' you, I'd o' scrubbed up after getting out of bed this mornin'!"

After this uncomfortable interlude, they decide to visit the "Big Board", a well-known center of opportunity for risk-taking types. Amongst dozens of uninteresting job advertisements ("Dog sitter required, payment optional"), several things stand out:

Elzeeb's Circus of Tooth and Claw: This event is advertised in all the main trade districts of Emerandes and the carnival is due to arrive five days after the adventurers arrive. This is significant, because the fliers claim that the carnival's main attraction is a captured dragon, the very dragon that Corrash, an old companion of the party's, believed might be the creature his clan had venerated for generations.

New Horizons: The Court of Cloaks has recently excavated an ancient portal beneath the city, and will soon be advertising for adventurers to take on exploration commissions. Interested parties are to report to the spire for registration, and will be contacted in due course.

Test Subjects Wanted: Pasted over the bottom corner of the New Horizons poster is a notice from a group of diviners called Uncertain Futures, advertising for volunteers to help them "tap into the divining energies which run through the core of the city."

Wanted: Valedakrun Jenomy: A well-crafted wanted poster -- one of many -- stands out on the noticeboard. "By order of the Court of Cloaks, rogue mage Valedakrun Jenomy has been declared an enemy of the Pale King and is to be brought to justice at all costs. This skilful wizard operates outside of the protections offered to the citizenry by the Court, and is to be considered extremely dangerous." The picture on the poster bears a striking resemblance to Valthrun the Magnificent of Winterhaven.

Planar Symposium: This notice is half-ripped from the wall, and has clearly been up for quite some time, but the remaining piece advertises that noted expert Fennig Darshue will be arriving in Emerandes to give the keynote at an upcoming forum to be held in the Bassilica, where luminaries of the various Courts will be given an opportunity to exchange knowledge on the subject of "the great infinity beyond the dome of the world". The date advertised is in just two days' time.

Pillar to Post: The great cross-Emerandes foot race is now open for registration! To be held as usual on the longest day of the year (coming in two weeks), entrants start at the Pillar of Dawn on the eastern side of the city, and the first to touch one of the posts of the western watch-tower wins a bounty of 2000g and their pick from one of the great treasuries of the Court of Cloaks. (Elumai: "Does it say teleporting is illegal?"; Berend: "Does it say whether killing the other competitors is illegal?")

From here, the companions decide to get a room at a tavern Jonas knows, Franky's Stein, and on the way they notice that they're being followed again, by what appears to be a small monkey made of metal. It leaps from one irritated person to the next, landing on Finial's shoulder-pad, and offers him a scroll from one ratcheted clockwork claw. After delivering the note, it bounds off down the street. Finial reads the following:

To Whomever This Note Is Presented

It is my understanding that you have enjoyed the patronage of that most esteemed Dustboot, Lord Riva Armand.

As a long-time friend of this worthy gentleman, I am concerned at his lack of communication for the last several weeks, an uncommon and worrying development for a man who otherwise enjoys the sound of his own voice above all others.

In respect of this, I ask that you present yourself to my office at your earliest convenience, so that we may discuss the matter further.

Yours in anticipation of new friendships,

Lord Arnold Hottentoat of the Third-Removed.

Elumai knows that "third removed" indicates the sender of the note is only third in succession to the Emerald Magister himself, the highest archmage in the Court of Cloaks. Clearly, some important people have once again taken an interest in them...

Cradle Plain -- Session 54 -- Sunday 18th July 2010

In which the denizens of the Shadowfell are made to pay for their crimes, a reluctant hero joins the party, and an ancient mystery is uncovered.

Roster (Party Level 10th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger
Aerello - Tiefling Warlock

The party arrives back where they left Shortham's caravan to find a scene of devastation. The wagons have moved on, but they were clearly attacked. Two of them stand smashed and smouldering, and in the centre of the site, in the remains of what was the camp fire, several bodies have been bound cruelly onto pikes jammed into the earth.

Investigating the scene of the attack, the party discovers small eruptions like exploded earth all around the camp site, and it appears that the attackers emerged from these locations. Gingerly checking the bodies, they're horrified to find the corpses of the Sisters of the Ashen Cloth, their faces horribly mutilated, their bodies lashed together with razor-wire reminiscent of weapons used by the shadar-kai, a race native to the Shadowfell. Rellanic runes on the pikes deliver this grim warning: "Let this death mark the cleansing of the Ashen taint from the earth."

In the midst of this carnage, the group contemplates its next move. They know that the Sisters were pilgrims, visiting sites of mystery and intrigue around the Plain, and that the Caravan was due to stop, at their behest, close to the Winding Stone, being a site of standing stones from which evils are said to emerge whenever the stone plinth at its heart pauses in its ceaseless turning. They also know that the elven race was all-but obliterated by a series of deadly plagues hundreds of years ago, plagues which, legend reputes, were delivered to the elven princes by on a fabulous tapestry called the Ashen Cloth.

With all appearances suggesting that the Sisters were killed purely out of racial hatred, the party resolves to follow the attackers into the wilderness (including Jonas, although he seems to have a moment of intense despair upon seeing the murders), and they spend the better part of the day tracking their targets to the south-east. In time, a needle of camp-fire smoke appears on the horizon, and with little cover, the adventurers have few options but to approach in the open.

They come upon a camp of tents with a sputtering fire at the centre. One shadar-kai is on guard; another digs at a nearby patch of earth, filtering the soil through his fingers before giving up and moving to another spot. As he spotes the approaching party, he grabs his weapon and barks a gutteral order in goblin. At his command, other members of the camp emerge: another shadar-kai, and several goblins as well.

Finial orders them to drop their weapons and be judged for the crime of murder, but the scarred and tattooed man facing him simply laughs in his face, making no effort to hide his part in the crime. "There is no justice to be had in this wasteland," he chuckles, an answer which causes the paladin to simply shrug, ready his weapon, and attempt to prove him wrong.

As the parties engage, two large forms pick themselves up from the ground near the fire: shadow mastiffs, massive canines native to the Shadowfell. Jonas creeps into the camp, and in the first tent he finds a trussed-up tiefling, a member of the caravan who the group hasn't had much to do with until now and who seems to have been kidnapped by the shadar-kai. The rogue wastes no time with pleasantries or introductions, and unties the potential ally as quickly as he can, since outside he can hear the low growls of one of the dogs sniffing around near the tent flap.

Meanwhile the other mastiff launches itself like a clawed, furry meteor at Finial, raking his face. He shoves the dog aside and unleashes holy vengeance on the nearest shadar-kai, who grins openly at the prospect of the ensuing pain, but remains unfortunately disappointed as the paladin's attack rolls
ineffectively off him.

Nearby, the leader of the enemy band swings his mace in a complex pattern, the whisper of his voice carrying to all: "Can you feel it? Night is falling..." and almost at once a preternatural dusk seems to settle over the battlefield. At the same time two pillars of utter darkness punch down from the heavens, painting a starry nightscape over the landscape beyond, and tracking across the ground as if seeking light and life to snuff out.

Meanwhile Jonas leaves the reluctant tiefling behind and dodges into the second tent, dispatching the goblin cowering within, while Elumai is forced to activate her Shield spell to avoid the effect of a beam of black, soul-quenching power from the nearest shadar-kai. She retaliates by killing two of the goblin servitors with a devastating Thunderwave, as nearby Finial is savaged by the giant dog that still grapples him.

The pillars of night begin to slowly move across the battlefield, but it seems that even those who call the power of the Shadowfell are not immune to its dangers, as the leader of the shadar-kai is forced to dive out of the way. Finial isn't so lucky and the darkness rolls over him, causing thick shadows to descend over his vision; the dark is as deep and complete as any he has experienced, and he is struck blind, giving the nearby shadar-kai ample opportunity to step in and smash the paladin with his mace before he's able to shake off the effect.

Now all of the goblins are killed or incapacitated, and the party is able to turn its full attention on the shadar-kai and their hounds. Jonas darts around the combat zone, doing massive damage with his gladius, while Finial issues forth waves of healing and divine power from near the centre of the fight. Aerello emerges from his tent to support the strangers who have rescued him, cursing his enemies with the power of his distant patron, and there is a moment of sweet irony as the leader of the shadar-kai is blinded by his own pillar of gloom.

From that point the fight quickly turns against the outsiders and is brought to a swift end, neither the shadar-kai nor their pets fighting to anything except the death. With all of their enemies dispatched, the group finds several sacks of goods stolen from the caravan, most of which are personal trinkets and possessions suggesting that many of the people under Shortham's protection are intending to make a new life for themselves in the city, as well as a few gold coins and all of Aerello's gear as well.

Intrigued by the small excavations being undertaken when they arrive, the party scans the surrounding countryside and finds, under small patches of earth on which the grass is subtly discoloured, a selection of marble-sized platinum baubles. Elumai identifies teleportation magic upon them -- perhaps a focus for ultra-long-distance teleportation spells? -- but can't draw a connection between these devices and the elves or shadar-kai. Finally it's Jonas who remembers tales told to him by his old mentor, legends of eladrin raiders from long ago, who were reputed to "explode like devils from the crust of the earth" and viciously attack trade caravans crossing the dangerous wastes of what was then a nascent King's Hand. Certainly this depiction marries with Aerello's recollection of the attack, albeit it was shadar-kai exploding from the earth instead.

Uncertain of the significance of these events, but content in the knowledge of at least one life saved, the party turns their attention to catching up with the caravan. They do so after three days' hard travel. It's much depleted and still stunned in the aftermath of the attack. The Very Unroyal Brigade is reduced to two now, their other members having been killed in what was, by all accounts, a valiant but fruitless defense of the Sisters, but they refuse help from Finial until he has seen to the civilians. Shortham favours one leg, but is otherwise fine; Olak Grentz is alive but has taken a severe beating, and is surprised but gratified at the return of the party, which is carrying goods which he desperately needs in order to re-balance the books.

Ranolph, a young squire who lost his eye while braving the defense, is overjoyed to receive back the money for his prospective commission into the Kingsblade, but morosely informs Jonas that he has no hope of being inducted into the upper ranks of the King's forces now he is disabled. The wily rogue nods in sympathy, offers the young lad a tidy sum, and promptly hires him for purposes of his own.

Ashenport, and what transpired there, isn't brought up by Shortham or anyone else in the caravan, and thus-strengthened by the return of the party, the caravan moves on. As the sun languishes overhead, the open gates of Emerandes, strong and welcoming beneath the glittering emerald spire, finally come into view.

Outside, a veritable town of tents and awnings is the first sight to greet the visitors. Traders ply their wares, and folks familiar with Shortham, of which there seem to be a lot, doff their caps or shake his hand and welcome him back to the city, while dirty children play happily amongst the wheels of the wagons as they roll towards the main gate.

Passing through the massive crystal curtain wall, Shortham is stopped by several members of the watchful Royal Arcana, but he vouches for the everyone under his charge and it seems his word is plenty good enough for the city guard. The broad main thoroughfare of the city is something of a relief as they step onto it, since the piercing and painful glare of the Spire is mitigated by cloth canopies referred to by the locals as "chutes", strung from tall poles sunk into the cobbled streets or attached to buildings overhead.

The company says its goodbyes to the caravan (Shortham barely has time for a word as he makes a multitude of delivery arrangements with several merchants who seem to have been waiting for him to arrive, and Olak is curt as he thanks the company for their assistance), and begins making plans. Their discussions are cut short, however, as the crowd before them swells and parts.

Five eladrin dressed in exquisite armour layered in complex patterns over long white robes stand there, swords and halberds at the ready. One of them, a young and handsome fey of noble disposition, steps forward, a look of utter distaste on his face as he addresses Elumai directly:
"Elumai Niastai, on warrant of the Court of Stars and by direct order the Summer Queen, you are under arrest."

Elumai stops, recognition on her face, as the rest of the company ponder this new mystery...

Cradle Plain -- Session 53 -- Sunday 4th July 2010

Unfortunately there was a technical problem with the digital recorder for this session, and nothing was actually taped. This is bad, because it was July, and I can only remember vaguely what happened. For the sake of brevity I'll reprint what I entered into the Story So Far page:

Session 53 - Bahamut's Flames
In the wake of their victory, the party returns to Ashenport where Finial wreaks stern justice on the complicity of the townsfolk. Amidst evidence of a vicious fight where they left Shortham's caravan, the Sisters of the Ashen Cloth have been cruelly murdered and left on display as a warning to those who follow.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Still kicking

...Well, apart from being nailed by something akin to Captain Trips for the last few days, but that's another story.

Cradle Plain took a break while we were hoping to play out another campaign for a while, but we'll be warming up the fires again very soon. In the meantime, I have no less than four journals to catch up on (that's sixteen hours of recordings, arithmetic fans) and hope to start that process in the next few days.

So, to all our tenacious followers, we are far from finished. The Heroic Tier was, as they say, just the beginning...