Session Date: April 8, 2019
Effective Character Level: 2
Prelude: On Nightmare Borne
Theren quietly watched the fire as his companions slept, silently reviewing a spell he had spent the last four days crafting. Gleaned from hints and descriptions in the stories he read, he had hypothesized a new magic that would help protect him (or his friends) from creatures significantly alien to their own biology. From there, it had been a trial-and-error process with the Weave, until he had stumbled on a procedure he felt would work.
The party anticipated making Elderham sometime tomorrow, during daylight. The rest of their journey had been uninterrupted. That is not, to say, that it would be completely uneventful.
A sudden rustling in the grass caught Theren’s attention. There was shifting of the stalks, and a glint of light from a scale. Something like faint whispers caught just the edge of Theren’s hearing.
Then it was gone, slithering out into the darkness.
Theren double-checked to see that all was still quiet about the campfire. Then he too had departed, following the shadow into the night. He neither let it leave his sight, nor ventured too near it. If this was indeed sent from his patron, She demanded a modicum of respect.
The slithering form led him down a hillside into a clearing in the trees; he did not recall this area from when they had scouted in the evening. An uneven granite slab sat in the middle of the cut. As he watched, the guiding serpent raced to the stone surface and disappeared into its wide cracks.
On the granite’s weathered surface, a dark object awaited. It seemed to be a single ivory animal horn, hollowed to form a hearing aid. On its open side, multitudes of animals reliefs showed; its narrow end had been carved into the shape of a serpent’s mouth.
Although Theren could see it well enough in the starlight, thanks to his elven eyes, he could also feel the object waiting for him. It felt not unlike sitting near a healthy fireplace. The exposed skin on Theren’s face and hands nearest the object tingled with a strange, alien warmth. He turned about slowly to verify that it was indeed the object, and not some new rash, that was the source of these sensations.
The whisperings on the breeze only seemed to grow louder, funneled through the horn’s shape. Holding the object carefully in two pricking hands, Theren carefully put it to his ear.
“I will be the sparrow that plucks your hair for my nest.”
Startled, Theren spun around. Sure enough, the sparkle of a tiny bird eye watched him from a dark birch.
“I will be the raven that plucks your eyes for my dinner.”
A raven settled on a nearby rock in the moonlight. It gazed at him intently.
“I will be the fox that feasts on your tongue.” A nearby bush shivered in delight. “I will be the beetle that gnaws your thumbs.” Something eagerly crawled across his leg. “I will be the worm that consumes your flesh.” The very soil beneath his foot squirmed with anticipation.
When Theren’s wide eyes finally found his hands again, they were now empty. The horn, discarded, lay broken on the granite slab. Yet the voices from the world continued, only mounting in intensity. Every plant, every animal, every insect yearned for his succulent flesh.
Theren turned and ran in a mad dash. His only panicked thought was escape. But what escape could there be, when the very earth he stood on hungered for him?
When they found Theren in the morning, he was huddled beneath the mule cart, shivering and drenched in sweat. His eyes were clouded and unseeing. He only spoke in squawks and grunts for the next hour, and it was fully three more before he seemed himself again.
He did not offer much explanation for his sudden affliction, other than “his Patroness had visited him in the night.”
The party was set to arrive in Elderham sometime in early of their fifth day of travel. Along the road, conversation sometimes turned to their backstories, or of what had convinced them to leave their lands and seek adventure on the Rapier’s Edge.
Rudolfo, it seemed had prepared his own form of statement for the group. The second day, not long after noon, he sat himself next to Damien on the cart and began a sort of speech:
Rudolfo the Red, the Hill Dwarf
As a cleric of Hanseath – the Dwarven god of chaos, strength, travel, war, alcohol, and carousing, I embrace chaos in most domains of life. In fact, I feel that life itself is surely a domain of chaos (or at least the best bits are) love, sex, reproduction, brawling, and carousing–if you’re doing them right! And so the focus of my priestly pursuits has been the domain of life: the healing arts and magics. But be clear – all my powers of blessing, protection, smiting, and healing flow from my god and are divine, and so I will not force them on those who have no trust or faith in divine beings…
Here Rudolfo turned to look at Yesod, who was walking alongside the cart.
…though to judge all divine beings by the failure of one such being is surely a shortsighted and unfair judgment. Probably more common more among the short-lived races of humans, I am guessing.
Theren coughed uncomfortably. Fortunately, Rudolfo changed the topic.
In my (comparative) youth, I served as an acolyte in the temples of Hanseath, where the ale and cakes were best, and where our ceremonies where full of feasting and festivities. It was there that I finally chose the path of the priesthood. With my nascent powers to heal and my proficiency with the hammer (both smith’s and war) it was natural for me to consider joining the Dwarven military to protect my people from the low, dirty races of goblins and orcs (no offence, Lyman) and so, cautious by nature, I volunteered in a support capacity first, to see if it was to my liking… and indeed at first I was enamored by the thrill of victory and by the feeling of being of use to my people… but this was not to last.
“…No offense,” Rudolfo noted to Lyman, the group’s paladin. The half-orc merely shrugged a response.
And so, cautious by nature, I volunteered in a support capacity first, to see if it was to my liking. And indeed, at first, I was enamored by the thrill of victory and by the feeling of being of use to my people. But this was not to last.
Being a cleric of Hanseath, I was eventually placed as support for the berserker Dwarf regiments of Hanseath. I doubt that any of you have seen true fury or felt true fear until you have faced down a company of berserker Dwarven warriors!
But war is a domain where chaos already rules, and to invite even more of it can, and did, backfire. My company of fearsome warriors were wont to rush headlong into battle, heedless of the odds, and, in fact, many times beat the odds through sheer aggression and Hanseath’s blessing.
But odds are such that they cannot be forever beaten.
Here, the hill dwarf clenched his fist in fury, and a dark cloud of memory filled his eyes.
And it came to pass that a well regimented and trained battalion of fucking-dirty-dog goblins laid waste to my company of berserking heroes simply by being better organized and coordinated.
Surveying the field of my fallen companions, heroes all, I decided to wander the lands on my own–to adventure and learn both the martial and spiritual arts–so that, one day, I could bring back my experience to the benefit of my people and the glory of Hanseath!
A few things impressed themselves on Theren as he listened to Rudolfo. First, the dwarf’s military experience shone through in much of what he did, from the commanding voice, to the take-charge mentality, to the adherence to protocol and the push for a battle plan.
Second, he was distinctly xenophobic–although whether this had originated before he lost his regiment to the goblins or because of it was unclear to Theren.
Third (and Theren verified this later), while Rudolfo had said he would not “impose” his deity’s blessings on Yesod, this did not mean that he would never heal his injuries. Just that Yesod would have to specifically request it first. (“And,” as Rudolfo had explained, “he would then have admitted he needed a deity’s help.”)
Gariff Ranling, the Human
Interestingly, on the third day, Gariff also gathered his courage and took a turn to talk about himself. He had been noticeably quiet and introverted since the group had formed, perhaps intimidated by louder or more active personalities.
“Orphaned from birth, I was raised in Miss Hanling’s orphanage in the hamlet of Norworth. Under Miss Hanling’s watch, the mortality rate was high and the manual labor grueling. However, at the age of eight, a grownup called Varlos taught me thievery, thus earning my keep at the orphanage. A few picked pockets from the neighboring towns was enough to satisfy that crone. At the age of 16, I was released from that accursed place and haven’t looked back since.”
He also spoke of a brooch he had kept with him since his earliest memories. He had guessed it was of a family crest, but there was no one to explain it to him.
Rudolfo directed the conversation to what Gariff could provide the group. The human blinked at first, then assured he had rather quick fingers and was good at picking pockets and locks. The hill dwarf nodded in satisfaction.
Theren noticed that he was able to avoid any significant questions about his patroness, often just referring to Her as his “benefactor.” Declaring the demigod of nightmares as your personal idol was never the best way to make introductions. Instead, Theren hoped his actions and usefulness in combat could win the trust of those around him, before he was forced to give a true account of himself.
It was on the fourth day, as they passed south of a sparsely-populated grove named “Figgy Wood,” that the party experienced their first real combat. Rudolfo, quickly assuming the role of party leader, was reiterating the importance of collecting their group strengths and weaknesses.
“I can mend your wounds when I place my hands on you; but I also have a special word, given to me by the divine, that allows me to heal anyone that I can see–“
He halted, abruptly, mid-sentence.
“There’s something moving in those trees nearby. I heard a small crunch.”
Surprised that the dwarf could hear anything else over his own voice, Theren turned towards the northern woods. Then he realized why the small noise might have stood out to Rudolfo: there wasn’t a single bird or animal in eyesight or earshot. The trees were empty…save a faint dusting of silky threads atop their crowns, like the nests of spiders in spring.
“Hang on,” Theren said, hopping from the cart to the ground. “I’m going to take a closer look.” The warlock had plenty of ranged options to choose from, and his newfound abilities to both talk to animals and see magic would give him an edge over whatever was waiting.
Anticipating more bandits, Theren was taken by surprise by the real culprit. As he neared the closest tree, a dark and monstrous face quickly peered out at him before disappearing again. The number of eyes alone alerted the half-elf that this was no normal opponent. He quickly returned to the cart to report his findings.
“Ettercaps!” gulped Damien, as soon as he’d heard Theren’s description. “We had a bad rash of them not far from our farm, once the blight started growing. My older brothers and I had to fight them a few times. They’re not much for speaking, but they love catching and eating things. People, mostly. I can tell you three things with certainty:
“First, they have a network of web-like filaments that connect the tops of all these trees. If you touch one, they know you’re here.
“Second, these filaments stretch all the way back to their lair (sometimes miles away), where they store their loot.
“Third, they’re stalking us now in preparation for a nighttime ambush.”
Rudolfo pursed his lips in thought. “Let’s continue on towards Elderham then and stay vigilant. If we push our mules, we might even be able to make town before nightfall.”
“I’d much rather engage these ‘ettercaps’ here, in the open, while we have some idea of the terrain and what we’re up against,” countered Theren. “At night, they could come from any direction, at any time. Plus, some of our friends can’t see as well in the darkness as you and I.”
As luck would have it, the decision was made for them. Upon seeing two separate trees begin to twitch and shiver on their own, Rudolfo stood as high as he could on the mule cart and projected his voice into the trees.
“REVEAL YOURSELVES, FOUL CREATURES!”
And reveal themselves they did. Two of the aforementioned ettercaps moved through the canopy towards the party, and battle was joined.
“Arm yourselves!” Lyman called, already unsheathing his two-handed greatsword and running towards the monstrosities.
Behind him, four crossbows twanged in unison–an opening volley to weaken the enemy. However, adrenaline had unsteadied the party’s aim, and two bolts went wide. The other merely glanced off the carapaces of the creatures.
The ettercaps had apparently decided now was as good a time as any to cull the party. They leaped through the treetops towards their targets, the closest leaning down and sinking its mandibles into Lyman’s shoulder.
The half-orc yelled in pain and frustration, and swung his greatsword in response. Hampered by the grip of his foe, his sword too bounced uselessly off his enemy.
Seeing Lyman’s difficulty, Damien took a knee and steadied his crossbow with both hands. Lining his shot carefully, he sent his bolt into an exposed section between the first ettercap’s carapace plates.
In response, the ettercap screeched an unearthly hiss and released the half-orc. Deciding to reposition, it leaped out of the tree it was in and sprinted towards another, nearby.
Several of the party gave chase. Lyman threw a javelin (which went wide), and Gariff used his quick feet to close the distance. However, his short sword made little headway against the creature’s thick skin.
Unperturbed, Damien reloaded his crossbow and again took careful aim. This time, his shot entered through the back of the ettercap’s head, braining it in an instant. The monstrosity convulsed once and fell limp.
Sensing the others’ visible astonishment, Damien only gave a little shrug. “Told you I’d fought these things before.”
Nearby, Theren and Yesod moved to attack the second ettercap. Theren led off by creating an illusion of their resident hill dwarf, standing near the monster, to distract it from Yesod’s charge.
The ploy worked, but not as Theren had anticipated. Instead of engaging the illusion, the ettercap leaped into the tree directly above the warlock and sank its own mandibles into his flesh.
It finished its assault by spreading its jaws and covering Theren and Yesod both with layers of sticky webbing, in an attempt to pin them down.
“This is proving trickier than expected,” Theren grumbled to himself. He successfully pulled the ettercap’s webbing from his shoulder, only to see his wounds reopen and gush blood.
“Rudolfo!” he shouted behind him. “I could use that ‘healing word’ you were talking about earlier!” He was neither as beefy or as well-armored as some of his friends, and he could already feel himself becoming light-headed from his injuries. To add insult to injury, he was finding it difficult to apply pressure to the creature’s feeble mind.
Rudolfo breathed a single word to his deity, and Theren’s body began to knit together on its own. He fired again with his crossbow at the remaining ettercap, and again saw his bolt clatter away harmlessly.
“This is why we need a battle plan, BEFORE the battle,” he grumbled loudly.
It proved to be Yesod who finished the short, chaotic combat. While Rudolfo and Gariff failed to find purchase against the remaining monster with their weapons, Lyman used the point of his javelin to cut Yesod free from his restraints.
“Finally,” Yesod grumbled, to someone no one else could see, “now I can end this.” Hefting his large greataxe in both hands, he brought its massive blade down upon the misshapen spider creature once, then once again.
Thick as it was, the ettercap’s carapace was no match for Yesod’s mighty swings. In moments, it lay in oozing pieces at his feet.
“See?” he continued, again to no one in particular. “I told you I had it well in hand.”