Legacy of Brutality

Retreat and the Return of a King
May 10th session

The heroes sat round the campfire in the wreckage of the Old Elf’s hut, discussing their plans. There were multiple routes into and about the swamp, all precarious routes across wet logs above icy waters. Eventually they decided to “take the highway” to the south. Then Cedric heard a splash in the dark swampwaters beyond the fire light. Drawing his bow, he moved to the other side of the fire. Marquis D’Annunzio “The Picador” moved to the edge of the waters and chucked a spear at the dark shapes he saw millng about the darkness. A hissed grunt was his reward as he struck home. Then Dyffyd Kinewatcher brought forth a globe of light about the head of one of the intruders, and lo they were revealed as lizard headed lurkers, skulking about the waters with nets and spears. It took the young but now seasoned warriors little time to send them back beneath the watery muck.

What would be the next course of action? There they were within the bounds of a seemingly endless swamp far from civilized lands. Somewhere lurked a dragon which may or may not have bits of Stephan D’Annunzio in its belly. In the fog to the south the knew was a large stone fortress ruled by Sondra the Witch Queen from which could be heard the sepulchral rhythmic clanging of metal on metal. Ash fell as frequently as snow.

It was bitter cold, and those fighters who had plunged into the icy waters in search of discarded weapons shivered in their damp woolens by the fire. They spoke of Delvers Dale and the comforts of the taproom, sorely missed during these fugitive weeks on the road. The Lady of the Lake crept into the conversation as well. The Finch had already absconded back there to be with his father in his time of trouble. There the weather had not seemed so harsh… Yet thoughts of either returning to Delver’s Dale empty handed or even whiling idle hours at a lake while there was evil to confront did not sit well with the fires of youth and indignation that burned within the bellies of the Brotherhood of Universal Platonitude. So it was decided to “take the highway”, due south to the fortress of the Witch Queen.

It took little time to thrash their way back to the path that led to the south end of the small island, where the clanging rhythm of industry could be heard more clearly. There, a wooden bridge stretchied across the waters, its far end lost in the fog, a light dusting of white snow covered a fresh layer of soot that hung in the air and settled on the logs. A dozen sharpened stakes lined each side of the bridge, and a skull was impaled upon each one. A crow sat atop one of the more recent craniums, picking at the vague strands of flesh that were once a man. Catching sight of the Brotherhood, the crow cawed and took wing.

Twill Bell stepped forward and a quiet song of eulogy sprang to his lips.

“Whither and wence did your end come boy?
And how’s the Otherside treatin’ ya?
Does it blow and it freeze like the winds do here?
Or is Moradin’s trencher still feedin’ ya?”

At this the skull moved of its own volition and replied:

“I’m down in the muck, buried and stuck, ruined by the Maw that ate me.
Trampled underfoot, worked to my bones, the Witch Queen our lives she has taken.
Devils bile we have dug, as our souls they have screamed
and my faith in Mother’s Mercy it is shaken.”

The ensuing battle was one the Order of Platonic solids in later years prefered not to remember. They were stopped at the gates of the Witch Queen’s palisade where they were peppered with arrows, attacked from behind and doused in boiling oil. The mighty heroes who had slain the dread gnoll priest Griznak and rescued the Prince of Delver’s Dale now fled before an army of kobolds hidden safely behind a wall of logs. Across the frozen pools of the great swamp they fled and they did not stop until their boots touched the soft green grass that still grew in mid-winter along the Lake the was the Home to the Lady.

Finch and his father went purposefully to the shore and knelt in penance. They knew not how long they waited but then came the Lady, fair and terrible and she took with her the Prince Caradoc who was still downcast and stricken with his Curse and she bade the Finch and his companions to reside along the pleasant shores of her lake for a time and await the her return.

And so the Platonic Brotherhood passed pleasant days that blurred together in a dream of restfulness and ease. They darned their socks and restrung their bows, they sharpened their axes for foes they knew they would meet again. Then one day, the Prince emerged from the waters, look now like a king. For Caradoc was changed. He was kingly. His long hair was held in a plait behind his neck and his mustachios were braided and entwined with silverlight. Moreover, his eyes burned. Gone was the haunted, shiftly and vacant stare of recent weeks. Caradoc, as he approached looked in the eye of each young man of the Brotherhood and although he did not smile, he was pleased. And of a sudden, that pleasure was important. The curse upon his soul was lifted and he strode in royal glory. This was no prince, this was a King.

And so the Brotherhood of Universal Platonic Solidity strode forth from the Lady’s lands and began the journey back to Delver’s Dale.

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Tales of Cedric (the lazy) - Respite
From the minstrel tales of Cedric, Lord of the Forest

The legends are strangely quite about the time between the recovery of Balean Nakt and the return of Prince Caradoc. Some reputably authentic journal entries from the young Forestwalker have been recovered.

Cedric’s Journal- 9th day of Jól – Year of Four Dragons

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A Prayer to Demeter

Just before Dyffyd rejoins the party during the April 14 session

As he slowly hiked up the hillcrest, Dyffyd Kinewatcher recalled the kind but stern words of Mother Patria. It was not the churches place to meddle, but if the Celestial Wheel begins to wobble, soon enough everything would fall apart. The rightful heir must be restored. Justice, kindness, and truth must live in the land.

Dyffyd prayed softly:

“Oh great goddess of the home and hearth,
May Thine Will Steer me on the Right Path
May Mine Actions Be True and Kind
May injustice and justice alike find their True Rewards
Whatever Thou Willest Them To Be”

Amen

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Ghosts and Dragons in the Great Swamp
The Heroes Forge Ahead

Surging forward, the Brotherhood of the Platonic Solids came through the trees to find themselves on the edge of a great swamp and also upon a scene of fresh carnage. A great wyrm of familiar darkling scale arose out of the waters edge and set upon the hapless remnants of a band of gnolls, a roaring serpentine shape out of the swirling mists that moved with impossible quickness. Corpses were cast about like bloody dolls; broken spears and shattered shields littered the battlefield. Deep furrows rent the muddy ground and the stench of rot wafted across the battlefield.

As the last gnoll fell, Marquis D’Annunzio “The Picador” charged across the field, followed by his new compatriots. The dragon, roared in pain beyond the evidence of its wounds, though the disheveled state of its scale belied some other more awful affliction. After the trading of a few blows, the beast leapt into the air and flew into the fog.

The sun shone bright then through the miasma of mist, parting to reveal a lonely tableau as the Great Swamp stretched interminably south (some Bards claim that it reaches to the sea). Iced and frosted with winter cold, the swamp was a broken land of small islands amid brackish shallow fens. Great gnarled trees stretched their wooden fingers across channels of freezing water to interlock in tunnels of moss filled foliage before falling inevitably to the sucking muck below. It was not an entirely abandoned landscape, crude low bridges stretched from the banks in two places, connecting island to island, some more precarious than others. In the distance a cloud of smoke darker than fog hung over a large island. Upon this sodden hillock perched a dismal pile of stones, a dark keep. A circuitous road of makeshift log bridges seemed to lead towards that maze through the amazed mire. Then the fog descended again and all was murked with that great miasmic soup.

Not ten yards away a bridge led to a nearby island where the last survivors of the gnoll band brandished their weapons and barked in the dark speech: “Begone in the name of the Witch Queen and the Mountain King. Uh, All Hail Lady Sondra the Witch Queen, Mistress of the Forge! We’ll gut ya!”

These defenders were quickly defeated. Their weapons were ugly things, but each carried a golden coin hung from their necks by a lanyard, bearing the stamp of a Three Fingered Claw.

One beastman carried a pouch which contained a crude map.

After some discussion, the heroes continued across another bridge to a large overgrown island. Cedric climbed a tree and looked about. To the south, a wide bridge led into the fog. To the east, a smaller lash of logs provided some access to a nearby hillock, and just below on the north end of the island, was a small hut at the base of a rotting tree. A thin trail of smoke wisped from the doorway. The party approached this hut and a strange sight greeted them, an ancient elf with long pointed ears, stringy hair hanging lank like folds of his decrepit flesh, in a creaking voice invited them into his noisome abode.

Inside the hut was a boiling cauldron handing over a small fire. A short stack of skulls formed a pyramid against the back wall. The elf stared with unblinking eyes filled with a sort of fey madness. He spoke, nearly incoherently about something called Obitu-que, about the Wars of Endless Dark, about the Fall of the Savage Kings, the skulls of heroes, the plague of savage bestiality which kills lizards, princes and queens, a plague which only “THE DEAD” can cure. “Do you come to Fight the Witch Queen then?” The Old Elf raised his hands and a dozen skeletal warriors arose from the sodden earth and brandished rusty implements.

The battle was like a vision, like a dream. The cleric spoke a fervent prayer, “MOTHER!” and the skeletons crumbled to moldy ruin. The heroes stepped forward and struck the old elf cleaved him in twain. The old creature’s body faded to nothingness leaving only a cackle and a laugh, “Can you Survive the Legacy of a Savage King?”

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The Fall of D'Annunzio
April 12th Session

In the Shadow of Balean Nakt

The day broke clear and cold, with a whipping wind. The young heroes rose stiffly and surveyed the scene. The pale winter sun was just beginning to kiss the far side of the snow covered Eamonvale. To the north they knew was Delver’s Dale, for whose future they had been struggling so mightily. Somewhat to the south was the enchanted lake where the lovely Lady awaited the return of her Cauldron of Selahine. Cedric groaned when he thought it. Dragging the 3’x3’ cauldron through the winter snowdrifts would be back breaking labor, and would slow them down. It would take days to reach the lake. Nothing if not dutiful, the lad sighed and began casting about for some slender trunks that might make the beginnings of a litter.

Twill Bell sat in the old guard tower of Balean Nakt, in which he had discovered interesting acoustics. Idly he strummed his instrument and stared out across the land. The Finch was drowsy by his side, mumbling something about the Iron Key of the Dwarves he had found and how it looked to fit in a niche below the great Anvil of Moradin in the chambers below ground. Twill nodded. Another song. Stephan D’Annunzio had not slept. He greeted the dawn fully armed, gazing morosely at the pile of bestial bodies his sword had helped to accumulate. The helm felt heavy upon his brow. He stood in the company of death.

Not much later Dyffyd Kinewatcher returned to the heroes, having been directed to Balean Nakt by the friendly advice of Voldor Goodgnome. He found Cedric busily constructing a sled of rope and stripped pines while young Finch ardently argued for a second foray into Balean Nakt to try out his key.

“Hello my friends, and a good morning to you all. May Demeter’s Smile grace your day! I say, have you all noticed that great winged worm thrashing about in the valley below?”

The Brotherhood of the Platonic Solids reached for weapons as, on que, a great dark cloud crested the line of the scarp, flying towards the old monastery at great speed. The youths rushed for the relative safety of the guard tower while Stephan D’Annunzio merely hefted his greatsword and climbed atop the pile of broken corpses to get a better view. He gripped his sword hilt in tense anticipation. The thunder of bloodlust pounded in his skull. Hurtling towards him, the dark cloud took form like a revelation, a black dragon! No small wyrm like the one under Skull Point, but a lizard of immense wingspan and gaping jaws that could swallow a man whole.

The others sought refuge in the tower, scrambling for bows and quivers. Dyffyd Kinewatcher knelt and raised his spoked wheel of Demeter above his head as he blessed his companions: “Fight well in defense of our hearth! The Blessing of Mother Patria upon ye!” Twill Bell began a HUMMM deep down in his belly that soon resonated throughout the room focused upon his arrows which trembled like tuning forks. The Heroes of Platonic Solitude unleashed a volley at the murderous flight bearing down upon the lone figure of Stephan D’Annunzio. Finch sent forth the brimming passion of his young life in a dart of magical energy that shot to such range that one could hardly see the impact, if any. Cedric launched two arrows in quick succession and the arrow Twill Bell made its own harmony as it streaked through the sky into the oncoming giant.

The dragon blotted out the sky. Stephan D’Annunzio struck a mighty blow that tore scales from its neck and showered him with putrid ichor like opening an infected wound. The dragon roared in fury even as it grasped the fighter in both talons, tearing through leather and mail, lifting the Zingarran off the ground and into the air. As it flew over the ruins of Balean Nakt the defenders of the tower shot more arrows, noting that some hit and also that this dragon had ragged wings and its scales which hung loosely from its slack belly were even missing in patches. Beating its great wings the dragon rose high above the Scarp and then dove back down to the valley below, disappearing from view as quickly as it had come, its captured prize struggling helplessly in its grip. Once again, the wind whipped across a cloudless sky and the Heroes of Universal Platitude were alone on the Scarp.

At the Vault of Kings

What now? The Finch and Twill still wanted to return to the temple below and test out their Iron Key of the Dwarves. Cedric was not so convinced, arguing that they had just lost their senior party member, whose sword protected them all from harm. Such arguments could not sway the Finch and Twill and so they descended back to the defiled Temple. What had been the Living Temple, now reeked of rotting flesh. What had been glistening pink slime now hung ragged from the walls and ceiling, decomposing rapidly. Within the gloom shining silver was the Anvil of Moradin, cleansed of all evil. At the base of the Anvil was a key hole. It seemed safe enough so Finch placed the key within and turned. A sepulchral voice filled the room, “Long Live the King”.

“What was that?” said Dyffyd. “I dunno,” said Twill. "Moradin ," said Finch. In the center of the room a great slab moved, revealing a stairway descending into the earth. Cautiously, the companions walked down, coming to an archway of polished hardwood, crafted beautifully and engraved with Dwarven runes. The Finch translated: “Strength Enables Leadership”. The boy remembered stories of elaborate Dwarven rituals of lordship by which newly crowned kings were tested and found worthy. His confidence quailed. Was this test meant for his father? What did fate have in store? There was a large, oddly shaped room beyond, echoing with emptiness. On the wall opposite the door a circular dial-like mechanism made of iron showed four concentric circles, one nested within the next. The outer circle was about eight inches across. On the floor in the middle of the room a square stone plate one inch high and ten feet across bore a message in Dwarven: “Welcome, my child, to the Vault of the Rings. It is here that you will pass through three trials to determine if you are fit to rule this grand kingdom. To succeed, you must unlock the vault itself, using an exacting proscribed method that you will discover as you meet challenge after challenge. Attempting to bypass the tests and reach the center by means other than the proscribed method, will result in a terrible punishment that will likely cost you your life. There is no need to wish you luck. A true monarch will have the strength, the knowledge of the land, and the spirit to reach the center without luck.”

The group spoke as one: “Perhaps we should return here another day.” And so the Heroes returned above ground.

A New Companion

With the funerary pyre burning the bones of their foes, the Heroes of Platonic Solidity descended the treacherous switchbacks back the to the valley floor. They dragged the Cauldron of Selahine on a makeshift sled. It was slow going and the trail was icy. Far out along the valley, at the site of the Battle of Bargle, a lone horseman could be seen. That night camp was made not more than a mile from the base of the scarp. It had been a hard day of ice and slog, to say nothing of the dragon encounter of the morning. They huddled around a small fire, savoring the warmth and hoping it did not attract any of the fell creatures of the darkwald. Twill plucked a small tune from his Myrdonic Harmonizer. Cedric sat apart in the shadows. He heard the snap of a frozen branch cracking in the darkness nearby.

Walking out of the darkness came a man in leather leading a liver colored horse. The man was slight with a luxuriant mustache. He carried a slim sword at his waist, a spear in his hand and a bright red cape over his shoulder. The swordsman bowed elaborately, “Hello, I am… Marquis D’Annunzio “The Picador”, a picador. I come seeking my brother Stephan D’Annunzio, who I have sworn to slay him in a duel of honor.”

The Finch was shocked. The boy jumped to his feet in outrage. “Why would you kill Stephan? He is a boon companion to us, a member of our brotherhood. He has fought for us, protected us and he is an honorable man.” The young sorcerer’s eyes blazed with passion, confusion evident on his boyish face.

The Picador replied, “This is a family affair. My brother Gabriel has seen with his second site the fall and corruption of our dear Stephan’s soul. For the good of his name and that of his family I am honor bound to kill my brother before his evil spreads to become great infamy throughout the land. I shall challenge him to a duel and I must not fail.”

“No! I will defend my- our brotherhood!” protested the Finch. Now his hands blazed with eldricht flame. “I will not allow you to do this. Stephan is one of us!”

Marquis D’Annunzio “The Picador” drew his rapier. Quickly Dyffyd Kinewatcher stepped between the two. “Nay, nay, stay thy anger, for can you not see that we are all on the side of virtue. Do not be blinded by words and emotion for perhaps we serve a common cause. Stephan was good to us, but his soul was dark and had of late grown darker still.”

“Yes,” piped up Twill Bell. “Ever since he wore that damned helm he never took it off and seemed tormented.”

After much discussion soul searching and honorable legalese peace was restored. It was decided that Marquis D’Annunzio “The Picador” should travel with the party as they searched for their missing companion. They would decide the warrior’s fate when they found him.

The Finch scribbled furiously in his diary.

In the meantime, there was a cauldron to deliver. Finch had had a hushed yet intimate conversation with his father that exposed the pain and moral torment which the future king suffered, doubting his ability nay even his right, to rule. The boy tried to comfort him, but thought perhaps he would only find solace in the arms of the Lady of the Lake.

To Bring a Cup to a Lady

It took three days of hard travel through the snowdrifts and ice of deepest winter for the party to reach the shores of the Lady’s Lake. There the ravages of winter were hardly noticable. The lake was on frozen and the breeze was cool. The sun even had more warmth. The Finch went to the lake shore to greet the lady, intending to drive a hard bargain for the return of her cauldron but when the lady appeared, her otherworldly loveliness smote his young brain like a ray of light from heaven, his tongue was tied and it was all he could do to nod and smile and gesture at the great bronze vessel he had help drag halfway across Neradia.

The Lady’s smile was wan, “I am glad you have divested yourselves of the corruption that was the Horned One. I will take your Prince to my home and treat him with the cauldron’s magics for 30 days and 30 nights. Only then will his curse be put in abeyance. He will have to return in the summer solstice for his soul to finally be put to right. You may stay here in my demense to wait and take your leisure.” Then the lady gestured to Prince Caradoc, who took a deep breath and stepped out onto the water and took the lady’s hand. The cauldron floated beside them as they walked out into the lake of mist.

“Well, that’s done,” said Marquis D’Annunzio “The Picador”. “Let’s go to the Swamp and find my brother.”

The Great Swamp

A thick fog hung heavily over the swamp, turning the sun into a weak, red glow. Dead trees loomed like skeletons in the mist, and everywhere was the stench of rot and death. Of a sudden, the silence was broken by a terrible thrashing sound. Through the trees could be heard cries of frightened horses, mixed with the ragged screams of the dying. A horse emerged from the mist, dragging its fallen rider behind. Where the torso should have been were just wet loops of intestines trailing through the grass and mud.

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Tales of Cedric (the lazy) - Corruptions
From the minstrel tales of Cedric, Lord of the Forest

Cedric’s Journal- 29th day of Winter Finding – Year of Four Dragons

The tale as told by campfires and hearths of Eamonvale, a tale of one of their own:

Those were dark days for young Cedric, not yet a man, with only a thin fuzz to cover his chin. But for the grace of Daladon and the ministrations of Demeter’s disciple, Cedric would have been ground to dust in the hellhounds’ maws.

May his example be a lesson to us all, for the youth persevered. Despite his wounds, he built a cradle to carry home the precious cauldron of Lady of the Lake. In that lifeless monastery, he labored while others slept.

And after a short respite to recover their strength, they began their journey back to the lake. Fate had other plans. Just as they left gate, a dark cloud sped toward them in defiance of all wind and sanity. Cedric and Stephan, The Cursed One, stood proud, challenging the coming doom. Then the foul smoke billowed away, revealing Stygoth, the cursed dragon of the Great Swamp

Forestwalker loosed his arrows at the beast as Stephan just laughed. Horrified, Cedric watched as The Cursed One lept to the dragon and was carried away.

Yes, those were dark days for the young Cedric, a woodcutter’s son thrust into the politic of high powers. The winter cold that pricked his bones paled compared to the betrayal of his heart. His friend, corrupted, had joined the dark powers. His mentor had played them like Twill plays the royal court. When next the met, well, you know the tale.

.  .  .

The trek proved almost more than the lads could manage, berift of the strength of their supposed friend. The Wolf’s Winter bit down on them as they struggled through the early snows. Winter’s Night still approached. Would they have Stone Freeze, as told in the olden tales? Cedric pondered these questions has he laid Daladon’s Vigil for his new friends.

For such is the heart of the forestwalkers – though the travel the lonely path, they repay loyalty and kindness in kind.

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"Lesser Men Should Hide"
Stephan D'Annunzio's parting words...

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Finch Diaries: The Broken Circle

For whom do we fight if not for each other?

Long days have been followed by longer nights. The dangerous path we walk has weakened our resolve, and the brotherhood I took as iron forged has been broken.

The mightiest among us has failed an internal struggle and is a stranger. His joyous lust for glory and battle has been swallowed by a cold, mad hunger for slaughter.

To view my companions do harm to each other even as we face our sworn enemies has stolen something from me. I can no longer feel safe with my fellows, despite having no choice.

I struggle against foes, nature, even against my own Father’s curse. Now must I question my brothers?

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Victory at Balean Nakt
Turning The Tide

The glinting eyes of winter wolves hostile to man ringed the bonfire set by the Heroes of Universal Platitude in the ruined courtyard of Balean Nakt. Unsettling as those eyes were, there was an understanding between the packleader Blackpelt and Iorweth, the Druid of Unquenchable Odor, and so the wolves kept other, worse apparitions at bay through the long starless night of Winter’s Finding. The companions rested fitfully within the hastily cleansed walls of the old monastery, recently occupied by the beastial worshippers of Dark Gods. The remains of those occupiers had been tossed in a heap before the front gates to be lit afire when morning came. Until then, the men of Delver’s Dale fought the shadows of fear from their minds and hoped no reinforcements would arrive.

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Man vs Nature

For Twill, the dawn brought a rude awakening. He sighed at the ancient memory of his cocky and brash self of yesterday. How heady was the power of charisma! The feeling of control over that dark wizard had been a high point in his short life. But, what works in the spheres of Man may not work at all in the realm of Nature. The enraged Owl Bear seemed to not even hear his tunes; the a-rhythmic Gnolls cared little for his driving rhythms, and that disgusting blob… Yes, it was a dark dawn for Twill, flush with the knowledge of just how much of a naked city boy he is out here in the rough and tumble Vale of Eamon. His thoughts went out to his ever-wandering brother Arco Bell, the wild one. If anyone could, he would know how to influence these untamed intelligences. But, Twill reflected, the bardic craft only touches the civilized. Out here, I am a babe among…

A wolf circling the camp paused near the reflective Songspinner long enough to meet eyes, then continued it patrol, seeing nothing to fear. The Myrdonic Harmonizer began a low hum of its own accord, gently waking those of his companions that still slept.

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