Monday, 16 May 2011

Cradle Plain -- Session 60 -- Sunday 5th December 2010

In which the old Warden of Karrick Kur enacts his final plan, an old friend is rescued, and the paths of the future throw up some uncertain surprises...

Roster (Party Level 11th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter (Dreadnought)
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard (Shiere Knight)
Finial - Half-elf Paladin (Justicar)
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger (Master Spy)

November 3rd, 370 Pale King's Reckoning (continued)

The gnome skulking behind the curtain is a sight: filthy, with a milky gaze and a mouth full of rotting teeth. Jonas's weapon slips between the patches of what look like crocodile hide which have been hastily sewn into the creature's jerkin, and blood drools out over the blade. The creature lashes reflexively out with its acid-soaked dagger, burning Jonas's flesh, and emits an ear-shattering shout which leaves the rogue's ears ringing in pain, completely deafening him. It also alerts other gnomes hiding in the various niches, who jump upon the party, bright beams of magic lancing from their fingertips. Finial and Berend stagger back, blinded by what looks like a miniature sun exploding into life before them.

Berend flails out with his weapon, but to little effect as the gnomes are able to use the thick hangings to defend themselves. Beside him, Finial's Wrath of the Gods expands to bathe the whole room in an energising radiance, but his spiked chain lashes out into nothing but thin air as the gnome he was targeting vanishes from sight. From within the ring of curtains, the creature's voice shrieks out in fury: "You have invaded the sacred throne room of the Warden of the Karrick-Kur! You will not survive to regret your actions!"

The gnome facing Jonas has similarly little time for regret, as a flurry of strikes from his deadly opponent leaves it choking to death on its own blood; Jonas, satisfied with his work, slips behind the curtain and out of sight. Meanwhile, Grioss, the self-appointed king of this domain, struggles to his feet on quivering muscles, leaning heavily on a crooked cane, and pursing his thin, pale lips, he emits a piercing whistle which even the deafened rogue can feel reverberating in his skull. his raven pets next door explode immediately into life, pouring like a tidal wave through the archway and engulfing Finial and Berend in a storm of feather, beak, and blood.

Elumai has worked her way around the melee, heading towards the eastern door which she sees is bolted from this side. But despite the possibility that Seraiya is imprisoned within, she can't abandon her comrades, and turns to unleash a Thunderwave upon the attacking flock.

It smashes into them, scattering a few towards the ceiling and propelling the plate-clad warriors within out of harm's way for now. Another gnome emerges from the shadows, is shocked to find the wizard more than a match for his dagger, and blinks out of sight, while one of his fellows takes the opportunity to slip a knife in from her flank. Finial quickly follows Elumai's attacks by unleashing a cold-infused Astral Thunder, and the air bulges with divine power, smashing the birds into wall, floor, and ceiling. Ice-rhymed feathers rain down around what's left of their bodies, crushed and twitching on the flag-stones.

Suddenly a voice as dry as the old throat from which it issues speaks out in elven: "I will speak to Elumai Nyastai!" The wizard ignores Grioss for now, slipps between the flashing daggers of his gnomes, and sends one of them reeling through the curtains in the wake of another Thunderwave. "Tell your boss I'm out here if he wants to talk to me!" she shouts after it.

On the other side of the room, one of the gnomes grows tired of Jonas's games and rips down the nearby curtain... but the rogue, hiding in the shadows above, is nowhere to be seen. Convinced some kind of magic is afoot, he shoots randomly into the alcove, but the bolt pings harmlessly from the wall near Jonas's foot. He turns and shrugs at his captain, who roars in frustration and unleashes a static bolt on Berend intended to stop his heart dead in his chest, but the effect discharges harmlessly across the dwarf's armour.

The nearest gnome to Berend has slipped back into cover but the curtain behind which it's hiding has become cold and brittle in the wake of Finial's attack. He swings his axe in a mighty arc which shatters the frozen cloth and thuds satisfyingly into the gnome behind it. "Who wants to talk to her?" he enquires over his shoulder as he wrenches the weapon free.

The air thrums with teleportation energies as the gnomes flit from place to place, seeking vantage points from which to do the most harm. Jonas ducks from alcove to alcove, stabbing his sword on whichever of the gnomes makes the mistake of passing within range, while Finial and Berend push through the ring of curtains to engage the Warden himself.

Even bent and crippled with age, Grioss towers over them, one palid eye glowing with energy. He swipes his cane at Berend but the dwarf ducks easily under the feeble attack, leaving the fomorian off-balance and staggering back, wheezing heavily, onto his throne, where he gasps for breath. Elumai appears on the periphery of the throne room, ready to support her friend. "Ah", Grioss wheezes, "here after all..." Elumai looks upon the creature with a mixture of pity and loathing; "Put down your weapon, and we'll talk," she offers, the words echoing disconcertingly from the mirror images arrayed around her.

The gnomes don't seem interested in parlay, however, and push their attack on Berend, sweeping him from his feet and launching him across the room on a bolt of static energy. Elumai is forced to Shield herself from a barrage of entropic bolts, and Finial staggers under the weight of a combined attack with poisoned daggers, tapping his stored Astral Thunder to try and even the odds.

Grioss' laboured breathing acts as the soundtrack to the battle, every shuddering breath sounding like it might be his last.

Jonas turns his attention towards him, leaping up onto the throne amd crushing several skulls underfoot as he sweeps his blade at the fomorian's neck. A thick layer of cloth deflects the blow, but that doesn't dissuade the rogue from kicking out with his feet in an attempt to dislodge him from the throne. He bounces off the leathery frame of the giant and ducks under the huge fomorian hand that swats out towards him.

"What future for Grioss of the Karrick-Kur? What future in his dotage? None. No longer."
-- Warden Grioss in the prison tower of Karick-Kurr

At the Warden's words, the company notices several dire ravens gathering at the archway to the western chamber. Cawing loudly, they hop forward, forming a line along the inside of the curtains. Elumai takes the opportunity to Ensorcel the fomorian, and his eyes seem to sharpen as the magic takes hold. "None shall attack this eladrin flower!" he commands, his voice stronger and clearer than it has yet been. The remaining gnomes suffer a brief moment of doubt but in the end seem happy to press their assault, including on Elumai, and Grioss is compelled to strike out at the nearest gnome. The pathetic creature jumps aside and shreaks pleadingly at his master: "But this is all for you, my Warden, my king! All for you!"

Jonas takes advantage of the giant's disorientation to lure him into what he thinks is an easy hit, but leaps nimbly out of the way at the last second and the Warden's fist crunches down on the throne. "No," he murmurs, "I will not be distracted by your antics... my orders were clear..." and he swipes out with his cane, not only sending Elumai reeling but crushing the skulls of two of his gnomes. The remaining gnome, caught between his previous instructions, his love for his master, and Grioss' unpredictable behaviour, turns tail and starts wrestling the bolt open on the eastern door, but the shadows lurking in a nearby alcove flash suddenly to life, and he drops dead on the end of Jonas's blade.

"Thusly did they play their part in the last duty of Grioss", the old fomorian mourns in a hoarse whisper. "I will see my clan walk in the sunshine of this land again..." He emits another whistle, harsh and discordant, and the dire ravens suddenly swarm over him, pecking and tearing the last of the giant's life from his wasted body. (The companions do nothing to stop the birds as they feast on the Warden's body, and later as the ravens disperse, they root amongst the remains for the spoils of combat, finding a belt of platinum badges worth several thousand gold, but no magic.)

With Grioss dead Elumai wastes no time wrenching the eastern door open. The room inside is circular, windowless, and bare, with guttering torches providing flickering light, and the wizard is overcome with relief to see Seraiya imprisoned inside, apparently unharmed. She is however chained to the wall, via a coil of rope wrapped around her neck. As the door swings open, there is an ominous *thunk*, and the wooden floor on which she's sitting hinges down, sending her plummeting. The chain and rope uncoil too quickly for Elumai to react... and go taut.

She desperately rushes forward... but there is a loud splash from below, and it seems that the rope has frayed and snapped, sending Seraiya plunging 150-feet into the boggy water below. Jonas pushes past and unhesitatingly throws himself through the trapdoor, and Berend follows. The two companions plunge through the air, smash through the tree canopy, and disappear into the depths of the pool, emerging coughing moments later with Seraiya in tow, all three of them alive but much the worse for wear. Seraiya clambers ashore, telling Jonas and Berend to keep their distance as they try and persuade her they're friends of Elumai, but a few seconds later Elumai emerges from the tower and the two friends are at last re-united.

Saraiya pulls a folded letter from a hidden fold of her clothes and hands it to the wizard. "I assume this wasn't from you then?" Elumai reads the missive with an angry frown, but doesn't share its contents with the others.

The company takes the time to investigate the hollow behind the waterfall. There, three suits of armour stand guard near an old relanic-carved archway, clearly a disused portal of some kind. Berend keeps one wary eye on the armour and brushes his hand over the wall... and indeed the suits tremble and collapse off the stands which were holding them in place. Elumai inspects the broken remnants and discerns that they were once constructs, but that whetever energies bound them together have long-since decayed (Berend wastes no time stacking the pieces in his Bag of Holding); she also turns her attention to the runes, reading "The blood of our enemies is our strength", but on close inspection she finds that they have already been stripped of the valuable residuum she was looking for. The portal itself seems long-dead.

The exhausted companions confer briefly but they're keen to return to the city, and decide between them that their work here is done for now. The token takes them without incident back to the lake at Emerandes, relatively still under a bright autumn sky, and the trip back to the harbour is free of incident. Upon arrival, the company decides it's time to make some money from their hard-won treasure and spend the rest of the day selling the various valuables they collected in Karrick-Kur. Between them, they negotiate a solid infusion of cash from various vendors and specialists in Emerandes, most of whom are delighted to find that a new group of powerful adventurers has moved into the vicinity.

November 4th, 370 Pale King's Reckoning

The party decides that the next order of business is to register their interest in the "Pillar to Post" cross-city race, due to start in a week-and-a-half. Under the temporary name "Berend's Band", with registered place of residence at the Fall Right Inn, they submit their entry.

No-one comments on the fact that Elumai seems to have dressed-down in the presence of her friend, or that she has carefully hidden the trappings of her magic in the folds of her leather armour.

With a little time to kill, the advert from "Uncertain Futures" looking for volunteers also catches their interest. The shop, located on Spivey Crescent in the expensive Master's District, is austere and anonymous, but there is a large frontage with a red velvet curtain draped enigmatically behind the glass, suggesting something tantalising hidden within. A bell jingles over the door as they enter into a pleasant-enough waiting area, decorated so as to put visitors at ease, and a young woman gets up from behind the small desk at which she was working. She introduces herself as Isabel.

"Good day, welcome to the Futures. It will be my pleasure to guide you through your reading today. Please take a seat." She offers her guests some wine as she explains what will happen next. "Dame Ambrose will soon invite you below, where she will walk the paths of your destiny and describe the many mysteries which await you. We can, of course, make no guarantees as to their accuracy. She will travel as near or as far as the tides of fate permit." She continues more seriously. "I must ask you not to speak to Dame Ambrose, Lady Underwood, or Lord Elerond, all of whom will be present during the procedure. Simply take your place at the table and await your reading."

Apart from what she knows of Uncertain Futures itself, which is a known offshoot of a renowned order of diviners within the Court, Elumai has also heard of Elerond, who presides, rumour has it, as they eyes and ears of the Court within the shop. To the question of why the fee has been waived, Isabel explains frankly: "Once a year, Dame Ambrose must re-synchronise herself with the energies moving through the city. If she didn't, she would find her perceptions drifting further and further from the center of this great place."

Jonas volunteers to go first. He's led down a short flight of spiral stairs into what seems for all the world to be the inside of a red-bricked kiln; the walls curve gracefully in a smooth dome a few feet above his head, and the walls are lined with graceful silk curtains which drift and ripple in the wake of his arrival. (Finial later suspects that there's something deliberate in the imperfections he notices in the construction, and something seems off to Elumai as well; at first she thinks the design focuses arcane energies into the center of the room, but some niggling doubt remains which she can't put her finger on.)

In the center of the room is a large table draped in a black cloth which fans out at its base, carpeting the floor in a to a radius of a few feet. An intricate cotton embroidery reminiscent of the lattice in the Grand Foyer of the Spire is laid on the table, in the center of which, resting on a small wooden plinth, is a green crystal ball. Several chairs surround the table but only one is pulled out.

Sitting on the opposite side of it is a woman who Jonas assumes to be Lady Ambrose. She is of noble bearing, with elegantly coiffed hair and a light dusting of make-up, and wears an assortment of fine-looking jewelry over the top of a courtly dress and bodice. Nearby, another woman, presumably Lady Underwood, observes him with a friendly smile, and opposite her, sat stock-straight on a high-backed wooden chair, is Lord Elerond.

He's an imposing figure, dressed in a tightly-buttoned suit set off by a purple cravat and a tall top-hat. Round-framed spectacles, reflecting Finial's face with mirror-perfect clarity, rest on his crooked nose, underneath which a flowing white moustache drapes past his chin. So little movement can Jonas discern from Elerond that he's unsure if the man is alive or dead. (Elumai later detects some kind of aura on his glasses, something designed to obfuscate arcane effects.)

"Take a seat, sir. Dame Ambrose will address you shortly." Isabel withdraws back up the stairs leaving Jonas alone with the diviners. He gets the impression the Dame's air of confidence is a little superficial, but can make no more of his observation than that before a flare of light glimmers in the depths of the crystal ball. She sits forward and rests her hand on it. For a few seconds there is quiet. Lady Underwood observes the globe with interest, while Lord Elerond sits like a statue a few feet away, staring -- or so it seems -- at the table.

"I see many potentials here, yes," Dame Ambrose whispers, "but these energies can shatter so quickly..." She withdraws her hand briefly as if burned, then returns it to the crystal. "A crack of lightning, like history torn asunder! The fates are aligning! The dimensions have no hold over this one! So much to tell... so much to show..." The light in the crystal ball dims and she turns a placid look on him. "You may leave now."

"I don't think so," Jonas replies bluntly, and Dame Ambrose quirks an eyebrow at him.

"No? You were apprised on the rules of your reading? You already seem to have broken one of them, sir."

"If you really knew about me, you would have expected this."

"I tread distant tides. I could read a future which is but minutes from the moment, or years from now, how can I tell? I will scribe your reading in due course, but you must return upstairs so that I may walk with the spirits of your friends."

Jonas shrugs and acquiesces, whistling his way back to his companions. Five minutes later, a distant bell sounds, and Isabel collects Jonas' reading, inscribed in flowing handwriting on a small scroll tied with a red ribbon. One by one the companions are called, enjoying a very similar experience to Jonas, and receiving their readings in turn.

Elumai's reading:
"You are unbound. I cannot see you.
"I see a spirit that was not what it once was. Is it you?
"I see fear in the light of new dawns. Is it you?
"I see hope in the shadow of old wrongs. Is it you?
"I see a spike through the cloud, and oil poured upon the clear waters. Is it you?
"I see the child of the harvest, reborn in the sun's dimmed eclipse. Is it you?
"I see the rage of the monster, and the unkind gift. Is it you?
"I see the pride of the king and the windrider's long fall. Is it you?
"I see you."

Finial's reading:
"You are unbound. I cannot see you.
"I see the drake and the firestorm. Is it you?
"I see the lost quarter, and the re-discovered hope. Is it you?
"I see the rudder that steers the captain. Is it you?
"I hear the screams of ten-thousand souls in the wind. Is it you?
"I see the first strider, and the light of knowledge in its eyes. Is it you?
"I see you."

Berend's reading:
"You are unbound. I cannot see you.
"I see a circle of thorns about the uncharted chaos. Is it you?
"I see three brothers but one face. Is it you?
"I see the son become the father. Is it you?
"I see the march of the unhomed and the face of the teacher at its head. Is it you?
"I see a shadow at the gate of the hub. Is it you?
"I see rage unhomed and the agony of promises fulfilled. Is it you?
"I see a disease of the flesh and the heavens brought to earth. Is it you?
"I see you."

Jonas's reading:
"You are unbound. I cannot see you.
"I see fear in the face of friends, and triumph in the face of enemies. Is it you?
"I see the call of one and the answer of many. Which is you?
"I see innocence at the gateway to revenge. Is it you?
"I see blood on the scar of the world and a great wheel turning upon it. Is it you?
"I see the player become the game, and his cards arrayed. Is it you?
"I see blades in the moonlight, and the five corners of the world crying out. Is it you?
"I see you."