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19 October 2014 @ 08:28 pm
Flight of the Phoenix: Final Session  
The session opened with skipping over the running of the blockade, due to the extensive heist-style planning the group had done at the end of last session. So with Máli and Twisted Cedar on board, the Aurora took the trip down to the dim shadows of the lower reach, avoiding the occasional fungal web left by a traverser, the ruin of crashed ships, and the giant insects. They reached the blockade around Sheol disguised and managed to make it through by following the instructions that Wild Pekos had left them, though the biscuits that Petrichor offered the naval officer helped.

On the way, Mara spent some time brewing up an alchemical salve that would allow those who put it on their eyes to see better in the dark. The crew discusses the map that they had received from Luquasz:


Máli and Autumn Oak pointed out that the map was far too small to be a Noble's dwelling. The Nobility were nothing if not vain, and their constructions tended to be much grander even when they were single-purpose buildings. Máli said that there must be some kind of bolt-hole or laboratory underneath, and everyone agreed that they would have to keep an eye out for entrances to lower areas. The crew disperses and goes about their business for the rest of the trip, though they remain on edge. While Bartleby and Autumn Oak have been to the lower reach before, Mara and Petrichor have not, and no one is comfortable with not being able to see the sun. Aurora as well is nervous, and it is a tense and jumpy crew that lands finally on Ahnaméd.

The island was barely larger than the ruined castle it holds, and there's really no place to search other than the inside of the ruins. The front "door" was simply a wrought-iron metal lattice, and Autumn Oak concentrated on enhancing his senses, and he heard an odd skittering sound coming from somewhere inside. The front hall had a pile of rubble on the ground and fungus growing in patches here and there on the walls and floor, and he could tell that there were passages heading off in three directions. He stepped back, warning that there was something alive in there, and Máli used her mining pick to lever it open, where it fell back with a crash.

The group entered, with Máli using a quarterstaff to poke at the walls and ceiling and Twisted Cedar's hands twisting slightly into claws. Autumn Oak nodded to himself as his suspicions were confirmed, and shared a brief eyeroll accompanied by fur-color changes with Twisted Cedar as Bartleby and Mara wondered aloud what his skill-set is. The discussion was interrupted by the noise growing louder, and Mara readied an alchemical fire cocktail as Twisted Cedar and Autumn drop into combat crouches and Bartleby hides behind a wall. Their preparation was rewarded when a swarm of devourers came around the left-hand passage and leapt at the crew.

The battle started well, with Autumn Oak leaping up and ripping a devourer apart in mid-air, Petrichor killing on in a single air-rifle shot, and Mara using her thaumaturgy to drain the life from one. After that initial success, the devourers' superior mobility started to give them the upper hand. Two of them attached themselves to Twisted Cedar and Autumn Oak and one leapt near Bartleby, and it was Petrichor's great accuracy with his air rifle that really turned the battle in favor of the crew, who escaped with only light injuries.

Autumn Oak and Petrichor went down the hall and around the corner [near 3] and found an old, dessicated devourer nest, which Autumn Oak lit on fire. They checked the door to the nearby room, and Autumn Oak warped the wood around the lock, springing it, then motioned to Petrichor and they returned to the rest of the group. There, Autumn Oak explained the vital importance of staying together at all times due to the Nobility's mind-twisting powers. He also told the crew that the Nobility could shapeshift and control animals, disguise themselves as other people, and hide in the shadows, depending on the specific Noble. At that, Bartleby suggested they light more torches, and torches were passed out to all before Bartleby asked Máli if there was a way to identify the Noble's abilities from the castle. Máli replied that she hadn't seen anything identifiable around the castle and wasn't sure.

The crew headed around and down to the door Autumn Oak had unlocked and pushed it up, revealing a short stairway down to a sunken floor and three metal coffins. Máli immediately mentioned that sometimes the Nobility would stock their lairs with false coffins that contained monstrous servants or traps, and started to check the coffin for any signs of that kind of trouble as Bartleby, Mara, and Petrichor entered the room. Autumn Oak stayed near the door, keeping watch on the hall and using thaumaturgy to shape a stake out of the wood in the door. As he did so, Mara asked him how to kill Nobles, and Autumn Oak replied that they'd use wave tactics or overwhelming force, hitting them hard and fast when they were vulnerable during the day. Mara picked up that he said "we," and while she quickly confirmed her suspicions, she decided to wait until a better time than the middle of a dangerous Noble ruin to ask about it.

Máli quickly opened the first coffin and ripped something out of it, throwing it away. Inside the coffin were three finger rings, two blood-red rubies and one emerald-green gem, though closer inspection revealed that one of the "rubies" was actually some kind of crystallized blood. The crew briefly discussed what to do with them and how likely it was that they were cursed, but in the end, Bartleby won out, taking a silk handkerchief out of his pocket, he wrapped up the rings and put them away. Máli moved on to the next coffin, but as she opened it she froze, and yelled, "Run!"

Autumn Oak was out the door in a flash, but Petrichor heard the faint hiss from the trap and raised his hands, whipping up a wind that blew through the chamber and prevented any of the poison from affecting the crew. After realizing that they could contain the poison but not disperse it without risking harm themselves, they backed out of the room, Petrichor last, and then closed the door. Autumn Oak laid a hand on it briefly and warped the wood into a warning in Patrian for any future explorers, and they continued down the hall [Room 5]. They quickly got the door open and revealed an utterly black room on the other side, and throwing a torch inside caused a monstrous insectile form to rear up and surge forward toward them--a shadow hunter!

The crew piled on, and while the shadow hunter's scythe-like blades injured Petrichor severely, its chitin armor was cracked and brittle from years in the moldy damp of the lower reach, and Máli's pickaxe especially made quick work of it. As its ichor sprayed out, it collapses and shrinks, getting smaller and smaller until all that's left is a wiggling caterpillar as long as Mara's little finger that Autumn Oak stepped on.

As the others burn the shadow hunter eggs, Máli examined the sarcophagus in the middle of the room and managed to get it open, finding a cup inside! It looked like polished wood with some faint writing around the rim that resembled the odd glyphs they had found inside the Mazatl ruins in the upper reach. When Máli picked it up, it quickly became obvious that the cup was actually made from highly-polished stone, but rather than examine it in too much detail the crew went back to the main room near the entrance when Autumn Oak, tired from his magic, asked for a moment to rest. Petrichor's injuries needed tending as well, and so the crew spent some time in the front room, keeping a wary eye on the corridors they hadn't traveled down yet.

Once they felt more up to continuing, they took the right-hand corridor and went around the corridor until they came to another door in the wall [Room 6]. This door was also made of wood, and Autumn Oak warped the wood around the lock and opened it. He had just enough time to notice the dirt floor and the lush greenery before something whipped down from the wall and wrapped around his neck, lifting him in the air. Before anyone else could react, he reached out with his magic and withered the vine tendril, and then a wave of dessication spread around the room, reducing the writhing vines within to dust.

As Autumn Oak rubbed his neck, the rest of the crew entered the room and began to look around, and Bartleby quickly found a silver bracelet carved with intertwining vines. He picked it up and almost put it on, but even as Mara reached out to stop him he threw it down, saying that he heard something. Autumn Oak picked it up and heard nothing, and Bartleby paused a moment, then asked for the bracelet back and told Mara to hit him if he tried to put it on. He held the bracelet, paused for a long moment, then took out more silk, wrapped it up, and put it away. Autumn Oak checked the room again, but didn't find anything and they moved on.

The next room [Room 7] was mostly empty except for the sarcophagus in the center of the room. Máli did a quick check over before levering the sarcophagus open and revealing...a staircase leading down. The crew conferred, trying to determine if they wanted to head down. Bartleby was for it, but Autumn Oak pointed out that they still hadn't explored the main hallway and that anyone behind them would be able to drop the lid and block them in. Bartleby threw a torch down the stairs, and it bounced down several dozen steps before coming to rest at a hairpin turn. Deciding that it was too risk, the crew dropped the lid back in place and moved on to the central hallway [Area 8].

The hallway used to be decorated, but the gems in the statues' eyes, the ivory fangs, and all the other decorations had been removed long ago. Most of the statues were worn by fungus and damp, but Autumn Oak and Mara recognized one as a likeness of Four Sun Lynx, an infamous Noble from the upper reach. Unsure why a statue of him would be found so far away but now more on their guard, they continued forward into the larger chamber [Room 10].

There was a well on the floor with a stairway descending down into darkness, and when Bartleby dropped a rock into the shadows it was some time before they heard it hitting the bottom. In front of them was a temple of Tyan, the Night King, whose worship had been banned in the entirity of the Summer Empire. Through some Noble sorcery, a beam of light shone from the ceiling but was blocked by Tyan's upraised hand, so that each of the series of concentric daises was darker than the last and the floor was in almost complete darkness. Mara readied another alchemical weapon while the crew searched the room, and while they found a spearhead-shaped indentation on Tyan's hand where a spearhead could have gone, it was currently empty. They also found a note on a bit of hide that apparently came from another exploration team that met its end at the talons of the shadow hunter.

Finding a blank wall behind the statue of Tyan but noting the room on their map, Autumn Oak checked the wall until he found a section of brick that depressed and part of the wall swung inward. On the other side, he saw several suspiciously lifelike statues of people, their faces frozen in masks of fear and horror, and a soft hissing sound coming from within. As the others came up to see what it was, he pressed the brick again and let the wall swing closed, telling them that it was better not to go in and they could come back if necessary. After a moment, the crew agreed, and they descended down the stairs.

At the bottom was a door, this time of stone, and while Autumn Oak couldn't affect it at all, Máli had the affinity for stone that some People of the Earth have and was able to bend the door away from the frame just enough to allow them to slip in. The room on the other side was mostly filled with clutter and a thin lair of lichen, but there were signs of relatively recent footsteps and a door leading outward, so the crew went through that into a hallway coated with mushrooms. Bartleby began to feel queasy, and as Mara tended to him Autumn Oak withered all of the mushrooms into a thick sludge.

On the other side of the corridor was a door, and Máli opened it again peeked through, then closed it and said there were some...things in there that she didn't recognize. Like giant moles the size of ponies. Mara asks Autumn if he had ever heard of the Nobility using moles digging, and he said he had not, but anything was possible. Then he gestured for Máli to step aside, cracked the door, and told the moles that they were just there to look around and meant them no harm. The moles barely heard him, and as the torchlight fell on them it quickly became obvious that they were very ill. Parts of their skin were gangrenous and rotting, and much of the rest was covered in mushrooms. Autumn Oak's magic allowed him to understand them, but all they said was, "Dig...dig...dig..." as they struggled to summon up the energy to rise. The crew conferred, and after some discussion Autumn Oak called them forward, Mara mixed up something that would put them out of their misery, and then sprinkled it on some of Petrichor's biscuits and fed it to them. Immediately after that, Autumn Oak tore off part of his robe, soaked it in water, and tied it over his nose and mouth to keep the spores out, and the rest of the crew quickly followed suit before they continued on.

Further on was a set of double doors that Máli carefully opened and peeked inside before throwing the doors open. Inside were more statues of Nobles, and these were considerably better preserved than the ones upstairs, and Bartleby asked Máli to check for traps and, if possible, pry the gems out of some of the statues. She got to work and successfully stripped one statue of its riches, but as she moved to another statue and began her check for traps, she suddenly pulls her hand back with a curse and an oddly-colored spiny lizard an armlength long crawls out from where it had been nesting behind the statue. They recognized it as a stone lizard, and Autumn Oak shouts for Petrichor to fire. Both Bartleby and Petrichor fired on it, the former with his crossbow and the latter with his air rifle, severely injuring it, and Twisted Cedar ripped it in half before it could recover.

As Mara checked Máli's wound, Autumn Oak examined the lizard to determine if the it had been poisonous before it had been Ridden and was releaved to see that it was not. Once her hand was bandaged, Bartleby asked Máli to check for more gems, and she rudely told him to look himself if he wanted them so badly. He proceeded to do so, but was unable to pry the gems out of their setting. As he stared up at the statue, he pulled out the silver bracelet he had found earlier and made to put it on, leading to an argument between him and Mara about how good an idea that was. Mara eventually convinced him to put the bracelet away, which he did reluctantly, before storming down the hall and throwing open the next door as the crew followed behind.

The room was a laboratory and, unlike the rest of the ruin, was obviously well-kept. Animals in various states of life and unlife were on different tables, there were bubbling chemicals and beakers full of unidentifiable substances, and the far side of the room had a cage with what might have been the remnants of a former team of explorers, though the bones in the cage and their disheveled, snarling appearance meant the crew avoided them as they searched the room.

Behind a sheaf of notes, Bartleby found the spearhead! But as he picked it up, he heard a slight click and saw a button beneath it rise up from the platform. As he frantically tried to press down the button, the crew heard a wall from the far side of the room start to move, and as they turned to look they saw a very pale, aged man in formal academic robes step through and look at the group. But remembering his experience in the Dawn War, Autumn Oak was already running across the room and thrust his torch in the Noble's face, who recoiled with a hiss.

Petrichor and Máli ran up and began to attack, but the Noble was inhumanly fast and none of their attacks managed to hit him. Fortunately, Autumn Oak's torch kept him back, but he injured Autumn Oak with a light blow as Twisted Cedar dropped to all fours and transformed himself into a grizzly bear. Mara frantically grabbed some chemicals and mixed them together, nearly causing an explosion before she realized she had grabbed the wrong chemical and swaps it for the correct one. She handed the mixture to Bartleby and told him to throw it over the Noble, and Bartleby called out to Petrichor, who moved back slightly and began to attune himself to the waters.

As Petrichor finishes his movements, Autumn Oak's flailing with the torch connected, and the Noble hissed as the light of madness kindled in his eyes and he began transforming into a horrific monster, all fangs and claws and spines and glistening skin. As the Noble tried frantically to break through the line imprisoning him in the small room to escape, Bartleby threw the alchemical mixture and Petrichor took control of it and sent it flying toward the monster. Unfortunately, even with his mind in the grip of Lyral's madness, he retained enough presence of mind to dodge the liquid, and it splashed on the ground behind him.

His work with the torch done, Autumn Oak hurled the torch past the Noble onto the ground, kindling the mixture alight, and stepped backward to allow Twisted Cedar to take his place. The skinchanger lashed out with his bear claws, but the Noble's skin turned the blow. Giving up on that tactic, Twisted Cedar surged forward, driving the Noble back with his bulk and pushing him directly into the flames. Shrieking and clawing at Twisted Cedar, the Noble tried to escape, but Twisted Cedar held him down firmly until the flames consumed him and Petrichor called up a wind to disperse the ashes.

Mara tended Twisted Cedar's burned claws as Petrichor administers mercy to the twisted things in the cage that had once been perihuman. Not wanting to stay any longer than they have to and already having found both things they came for, the crew quickly left the ruins and went back to Aurora, running the blockade with ease thanks to Wild Pekos's tips and making their way back to the Capital. On the way, Autumn Oak sent a messenger raven to the Bannor Inquisition, alerting them to Noble activity on Ahnaméd.

When they reached the Capital and met with Luquasz, he had a woman there with him, and as Autumn Oak turned his gaze to the spirit world and looked at her, he saw a majestic golden dragon overlaid on her image and just barely managed to avoid reacting. Mara asked who they were working for after all the danger they had gone through to get the artifacts, and Luquasz told them that it was a private collector doing indepedent research on the Mazatl, and supplied the name "Lorien Dauphiní" when Mara said she might be able to pass it on to some of her contacts in the university.

Bartleby, strangely, barely spent any time negotiating for more pay and spent almost as much time looking at the woman as he did at Luquasz. When negotiations were finished, he pulled her aside and said he wanted to meet with her later and might have another job based on something he found in the ruins. Their mission done, the group disperses for a well-deserved meal.

Before the woman left, Autumn Oak stopped her and asked her simply, "Why are you here?" With a slight smile on her lips, she replied, "Because I'm interested," and, not wanting to put himself at risk anymore than he already had, he left it at that and nodded goodbye to her.

Epilogue
Mara receives a glowing letter of recommendation and her portion of the spoils from Bartleby and uses it to open her own clinic in Malak, bringing her expertise and knowledge of formal medicine back home to her people. She's certain she's had enough of adventure and nearly being killed, and the most adventerous thing she does is to offer a series of medicinal lollipops for those who aren't willing to take their medicine, including grub-covered lollipops for the alfar. They quickly become bestsellers and secure her place in medical history books as well as providing curatives for thousands of people who would not otherwise have gotten them.

Autumn Oak foregoes his share and takes Aurora, intending to sail down to Svartheimer and sign on with the merchant marine fighting against Noble piracy in the lower reach. He hires on a new crew--and Petrichor, who having discovered he is talented at much more than just being an assassin and wanting to do his part against pirates, signs on as the ship's cook. The Aurora's crew has an extraordinarily high morale, and several pirate boarding parties are very surprised when the cook comes roaring up from the kitchens with his battle cry of, "You made me burn the biscuits!" before laying into them with wind and wave.

And Bartleby...Bartleby vanishes almost immediately, being gone even when the crew meets up after their last meal together. He goes to the woman with the meeting, says, "Payment for services rendered," takes out the bracelet, and puts it on. None of the others ever hear from him again, but when they're in populated areas, they occasionally think they see someone that looks like a much-younger version of Bartleby out of the corner of their eye, and a few months later when they hear that the dragon Onayephaeton the Golden has won election to a senatorial seat in Kyria, they are almost positive that one of his advisors looks a lot like Bartleby. But the Summer Empire is large, and they are never quite sure.

And over time, they hear news that more and more, the dragons are awakening.

-----

Yay!

You probably recognized a lot of the monsters here. The image for devourers gives them away, and shadow hunters were taken from the SCP Foundation. Also, when I statted up the shadow hunters, I forgot to give them an armor rating, so what should have been a miniboss battle turned into a bug stomping. Rather than changing it in the middle of the battle, we fluffed it up as that particular shadow hunter being old and decrepit.

I wrote up the battle against the Noble in a lot more detail because it was really the climax of the game and, in some ways, of the campaign. You can find the statistics softlykarou used as a basis if you follow the link to Four Sun Lynx above, though after the game she told us that the rationale she was using was that this was one of Four Sun Lynx's brood, which is why he had similar habits but was a lot weaker. softlykarou also had really bad luck with his dice rolls, other than dodging. He only landed two attacks, only one of them serious, and failed every single roll to break past us when he was in Rötschreck. My original goal was just to get him to run away in panic and then for the crew to go to Aurora and leave, but when Mara's player started mixing up an alchemical molotov and the Noble kept failing to escape, I realized that we might be able to kill him.

nWoD's numbers bias also helped us a lot. The (lack of) action economy means that the side with more people wins unless one combatant is overwhelmingly powerful, and since softlykarou had to adjust his stats on the fly and since we were running out of time in the session, she didn't make full use of his powers or add in the szlachta that he probably would have had guarding him. And it would have gone differently if he hadn't failed 11-die Dexterity + Athletics rolls to get past us. Since he had Celerity active, there's no way we would have caught him.

It was softlykarou's first time running a real dungeon crawl, and I thought it went pretty well. The Noble she was basing it on explicitly stocked the ruins with weird traps and monsters, so the usual, "Why the hell are all these things in here?" questions had an answer. And we had a map of the top but no map of the lower story, which was nice.

If you want to read softlykarou's comments on running the game, you can find them here! And you should!

This really stoked my interest in running or playing in another game in the Summer Empire, which is really odd because I wrote the whole setting and I didn't realize just how much I liked it. I guess seeing it brought to life like that was much more compelling than writing it. Now I have a bunch of campaign ideas running through my head, which is a bit of a problem with all the other campaign ideas I have running through my head. So many games, so little time.

I'm pretty sure Autumn Oak, Mara, and Petrichor will show up as NPCs in a game I run, though, or at least as rumors. And maybe Bartleby too, depending on what kind of game it is...

All in all, I'm very pleased!  photo Emot-loveheart.gif
 
 
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