GM Tips: Expand your reading material

One of the aspects of the roleplaying that I really enjoy is producing campaign wikis/blogs, etc that provide more of an insight into currently running games and campaign worlds, it lets me keep my writing-hand in, keeps up my enthusiasm between games and also helps refresh my (unfortunately poor) memory concerning the salient details of the campaign.

Another benefit–and one that I don’t see mentioned all that often–is that doing this work has encouraged me to read information that I might not have looked at before.

My most recent example of this came whilst I was setting up a series of pages on this site for my Rose of Westhaven campaign, particularly the entries concerning the fictional calendar that I have created–using Donjon’s excellent Fantasy Calendar Creator–for the game. Days, months, seasons, moon phases and all those sort of things that go into a calendar are elements that I have often neglected in past game and I’m hoping to bring them more centre-stage to my campaign. While setting up the three moons of my campaign world using the calendar, it occurred to me that I had no idea what the figures in the lunar cycle section of the calendar creator were referring to. A quick search on Google and Wikipedia lead to me reading a wiki-page about the Me tonic cycle and various methods of measuring times used by different cultures throughout history.

All of this was information that I had not even considered before and–even if I only remember a fraction of it–it has still educated me and will hopefully enrich my game in the future. When you’re writing up your session notes in future, if you see something that you don’t know much about whether it be a style of architecture, settlement demographics, religions or whatever, spend a few minutes reading around the subject on the internet, you certainly won’t make anything worse by having more knowledge.

Rose of Westhaven: Session One Write-up

Date: Primaday, 9th of Moon Month. 1490 AU

A few nights after a terrible storm has lashed the nearby coastline, four people–wearing wet weather gear–arrive at the foot of the ancient lighthouse known as the Beacon, situated a couple of miles to the west of Porthcrawl village:

  • Edwin Locke: a man who has recently returned from fighting in the war between the Royalists and Parliamentarians, he remains silent concerning which side he fought for and his eyes have the haunted look of a man who has seen too much death.
  • Maarku: one of the strange, pale-skinned elves from Fada Siar, Maarku settled in the village of Porthcrawl some time ago and–despite some initial resistance–has earned some grudging respect due his ability as a carpenter.
  • William: to all appearances a normal young boy, however sometimes a shadow falls across his face or he speaks in a voice old beyond his years.
  • Sasha: sister to William, a young flame-haired woman dressed in the garb of a highwayman.

The wrinkled old lighthouse-keeper, Thackeray West tells the four that he has invited them to the Beacon because he saw a Royalist ship get wrecked on the treacherous rocks around Windy Bay during the great storm a few nights previous. With his in-depth knowledge of the local currents, Thackeray believes that much of the cargo from the vessel will have been swept into the sea caves that pock-mark the nearby cliffside. No longer a young man and unable to reach the caves himself, Thackeray volunteers to reveal a concealed smugglers passage down to the caves, in return for 20% of any salvage that the four can recover. After thinking for a few moments–and sharing a drink with the eccentric old man–the four guests agree to his deal and are giving the directions to the smugglers pass.

Creeping down the pass, the four individuals find themselves block on one side by a huge rock-face whilst on the other there is a 100 foot drop down to the crashing surf below, Edwin spots some detritus from the ship that has washed up against the face of the cliff far below. For a moment they contemplate using their rope to get down to the wreckage, but decide to press onto the caves, Thackeray’s warning echoing in their ears:

“You should be fine as long as you don’t delay, when the evening tide comes in those caves will be flooded, I wouldn’t want to be in there when that happened.”

As they reach the end of the smugglers pass and the entrance to the caves is revealed, Maarku’s keen sense of smell picks up the scent of tobacco in the air. Williams sneaks to the mouth of the pass and peers out, a guard wearing mustard and black colour clothes in the Royalist style is sat on a broken crate, smoking a pipe and occasionally shouting to companions of his that remain out of sight further in the caves. Unfortunately William dislodges some stone made loose by the sea air and it crashes down, alerting the guard who begins advancing on their position with a pistol drawn.

Edwin initially tries to speak to the Royalist, soldier-to-soldier but–when it becomes clear that he isn’t getting anywhere–he draws his arquebus and fires. Unfortunately the dampness has seeped into his powder and there is just a short puff of smoke. Whilst the guard is shouting to raise the alarm, the four are able to finish him off, William–seemingly lost to a strange bloodlust–continues to stab the guard long after the Royalist has breathed his last.

During the confusion Maarku has snuck further into the cave system, wading through the waist deep water and sees two Royalists attempting to dislodge a large, coffin-shaped box wrapped in chains from where it has become wedged between two rocky outcroppings, they are arguing with each other and mention the name Lord Rothschild. One of them leaves to find out what has happened to their lookout and is set upon by Maarku’s three companions, whilst the other spots the elf and moves to engage him. He is accompanied by his Captain who had been lurking–previously unseen–behind a rocky protruberance. Maarku attempts to fend them both off but is severely injured. It looks for a moment as though he is going to fall when Edwin–having helped finish off the guard nearest to him–grabs one of the Royalist’s pistols and neatly blows a hole in the Captain’s head.

Moving to investigate the coffin-shaped box, Maarku realises something inside is attempted to get out and he notes–with mounting concern–a number of holy symbols fastened to the box. Before he can fully warn his companions the box bursts open and a shambling corpses wearing the tatters of a monks robe climbs out, swinging it’s bony claws at the elf. Recovering from his bloodlust, William hurls a pot of lantern oil at the advancing corpse, which is ignited by a pistol shot from Edwin, causing the flailing creature to burst into flames. Seemingly unconcerned by the burning of its flesh, the creature cuts Maarku down and turns to advance on the others, hurling itself at Edwin, luckily he is able to fend it off for long enough that the fire finishes it off. Edwin drags Maarkus unconscious body out of the water to prevent him from drowning.

Exploring further they discover a great mess of debris and salvage from the wrecked vessel at the far end of the cave, William also finds a thin crack that appears to lead out of the cave and plunge further down into the depths but elects not to explore it at this time. Amongst the other salvage, they find a small wooden box with brass fixtures, when opened, it contains the partially ruined remnants of the a ships log, it talks about a weapon taken in far Kalam on the orders of Duke Rothschild that they hope to use against the Parliamentarians. The log refers to the weapon as an abomination and speaks of meeting people near Porthcrawl so that it can be offloaded and taken to the Sage Salazar.

They also find:

  • 50 silver pieces
  • 3 barrels of wine
  • a silver mirror
  • 5 pouches of tobacco
  • a spyglass

Gathering up all their new found wealth they return to the Beacon–carrying the injured and unconscious Maarku–where they give Thackeray a share of the silver, a barrel of wine and one of the pouches of tobacco.

[Session Write-up] Sapphire Islands – Dungeon World Mini-campaign – Session 9

Korra stood on the deck of the ship, emerald green sails billowing in the wind above her, Mikhail was stood nearby steering the mighty vessel on it’s course back towards her home, the Sapphire Islands, he had bought them worrying tales of the Sapphire Emperor joining the dark forces of the The Child that even now marched on the Kingdom; but the bards thoughts were far away, dwelling on the deal that she had made with Hel half-rotten, northland goddess of the dead when the boot of an orc-man had crushed her chest and the corpse-deity appeared before her with her damnable bargain. She had three days to send a soul of equal worth to the depths of Hel’s dark domain or her own would be forfeit; Korra didn’t want to die, no-one did (well maybe those berserking northlanders but no-one else), and for a moment she had entertained keeping her side of the bargain, she had even sized up a couple of people such as James, the vessel’s young chef, but how could she honestly live with herself knowing that someone languished in the underworld, condemned in her place?
Demanor meanwhile stood far away in the halls of the mountain dwelling elves, she was lead to where three ancient members of their tribe stood encased in thick white ice, the people of the floating fortress had gathered around, eager to catch a glimpse of one of the rare stangers to their kingdom; a small child darted from the crowd and handed the forest dwelling druidess a necklace crafted to look like a snowflake which she accepted gracefully. A soft but commanding voice in her head from one of the frozen figures informed her that they had felt the corruption of the twisted elven blashpemies that roamed the mountainside but that they had also sensed Demanor and her pure link with nature, Thalin had been sent to guide her to them; Demanor began to speak, to warn the ancient elves of the danger posed by the The Child, and felt the minds of those ancient elves join with her, as she spoke they walked through her memories seeing the visions that she had seen of The Child, his part in the burning of the ancient elven settlement and his initial meeting with the savage orc shaman known as the Rugorim.
Hesitantly Demanor asked the ancients whether they could sense The Child and told them that her friend was making for Ironholme, in return she saw a vision of a great force of orcs and humans besieging the city, Strike was camped nearby with the ragtag group of tribes that he had rallied to his banner.
Strikes scouts had returned with news of the orcs around the city, but they did not seem to be actually attacking it, they seemed to be waiting, undeterred the would-be king of the north strode through the horde almost daring anyone to meet his gaze and challenge him; a huge orc strode infront of him but, rather than lifting a weapon as Strike expected, he simply said “Azgog wants to see you.”
Allowing himself to be lead to a hide tent near the city, Strike met with the leader of the gathered orc tribes, a huge female orc known as Azgog, left behind as a lieutenant when Rugorim departed for the mainland to join The Child’s attack, taking most of his man-orcs with him; it seemed that, although Azgog had initially supported Rugorim, the old shaman’s pollution of orc bloodlines to create the man-orcs had soured her opinion of him, she had only been waiting for a sign to act with the man-orcs and the shaman himself gone, and here Strike was. The burly orc proposed that they join their tribes in marriage according to the ancient customs and that together they could take the northland and hold it against Rugorim’s forces should they attempt to return; realising that such a marriage would give him a huge force and almost uncontested rulership of the tribes not directly under Rugorim’s control Strike agreed and shortly afterwards the ceremony was held according to the ancient northlander customs.
“This isn’t right” shouted Captain Mikhail as the wind dropped to nothing and his ship fell becalmed, “there’s some devilry afoot here!”
Korra barely had time to look up, she had been composing an ode to Hel, hoping that her words might mollify the ancient deity somewhat, when a huge tentacled beast burst from the water, the body of the ancient goddess sprouting from the end of one of the tentacles like a rotting bloom; before anyone even had chance to shout or register surprise, Korra was snatched from the depth and pulled into the waters icy embrace, disappearing from view forever.
“The price has been paid” said the Hel-beast in a sombre funerary voice and the beast vanished back into the depths.
James the young chef rushed to the side of the ship, peering into the water, “She’s gone lad, no-one crosses the gods and lives, the winds coming up, we’ll all live longer if we get out of this damned place.”
Standing in the icy floating city Demanor gasped as she saw a vision of Korra’s death and somehow knew that what she had witnessed had happened and that she was too late to prevent it, startled voices filled the air and she realised that the ice containing the elders had started to darken and turn black; in her minds eye Demanor watched as the mainland burned and the dark forces of The Child destroyed all who did not surrender.

"Talons of the Winter King" – Serpents Fall Session 10 – Writeup

Moroveer has gathered the necessary items to effect his disguise as a missionary and sneak back into Winchester, the spiritually altered Lord Wulfric is wrapped in rags and disguised as a leper to both hide his appearance and discourage future investigation by guards in Winchester, they have scrounged a bell from Cenhelm’s farm to add the finishing touches to the disguise. Benito meanwhile, plans to contact some local smugglers once they arrive in Winchester, hoping to forment rebellion against the Regent; he hopes that his previous popularity with the poor of the city will help with this.
Moroveer explains that he plans to sneak Benito in disguised in women’s clothing (borrowed from Aesc, Cenhelm’s wife), Benito’s head will be covered as he plays the part of an adultress accompanying the missionary in the hope of forgiveness for her sins.
Ozuchi and Horesh plan to travel to the wooded copse a couple of days from the farmhouse where Horesh’s familiar spied the boar riding Celt warriors; Kron still lies unconscious (although no longer frozen) and Moroveer suggests that the norsican is better off being left on the farm, he says that once they get into the castle they should attempt to free the Queen (Emma Harcourt) and use the loyalty that the people have to her as leverage against the Regent.
Finishing his missionary disguise, the well travelled Moroveer disguises the spear Aelfgar as a walking stick and, knowing that the patron god of Saxony is Seaxneat he improvises an appropriately religious symbol (an angular letter ‘S’) from sticks and lashes them to the top of the disguised spear. Moroveer collects some horse excrement from the stable and rubs it into their clothing to discourage casual inspection, it takes him some time to get the details of the disguises to his satisfaction although Benito begins to suspect that the grim-humoured ex-slaver is taking his time deliberately for his own enjoyment.
Ozuchi and Horesh head to the northwest on the trail of the celts, it takes them just under three days to draw close to their destination; as they draw near the copse they can see a few days to the north a large storm front slowly moving southwards, heavy snow falling from the thick clouds. Horesh dispatches his raven to see whether the celts are still present in the copse, sharing his familiar’s senses, the death-priest doesn’t see any obvious sign of the celts outside the boundaries of the copse but cann’t see through the thick canopy; worriedly he suggests that they may have organised an ambush of some kind and they slow, moving more cautiously as Ozuchi uses his hunting knowledge to look for signs of the celts passing.
Moroveer’s group ride towards the outskirts of Winchester (in disguise) on the rickety old wagon, in the distance he spots the silhouette of a figure carrying a spear or some sort of pole in the distance on the main road and, assuming it to be a bandit, he steals himself ready for an attack, but as they draw closer they hear a cawing of crows and see them circling the figure. Drawing level with it they can see that it is actually the body of Mervane, impaled on a spike and planted on the centre of the main road, he has obviously been dead for a couple of days; always alert for a potential money-spinner, Moroveer searches the body but finds nothing of any value, he says that the Regent must be feeling more secure in his power since he was keeping Mervane alive as leverage, his over-confidence may actually help them.
As the cart rumbles into Winchester proper they notice an eerie silence hanging over the place, the streets are deserted aside from a patrol of 10 saxon guards on the main road; Wulfric begins to ring his bell as Moroveer cries “Unclean! Unclean!”
One of the soldiers goes to inspect cart put pulls back when Wulfric the faux-leper leans towards him groaning, shuddering the guard asks them their business and Moroveer replies that he is a missionary helping some reprobates to prey for their souls; the guard nods, saying that after all the deviltry that has gone on recently they could do with some penance.
A little more respectfully the soldiers ask to search cart, Moroveer agrees but says that Wulfric is contagious and they should stay back, he helps the bandage swathed figure off the cart; the guards keep their distance as Moroveer describes leprosy’s effects in detail.
One of the guards leers a bit over the disguised Benito and offers to help “her” down, slapping the disguised pirate king on the backside as he does so; he ask whether the lady would like to take a walk with him in the nearby trees, despite Moroveer’s stuttered objections the disguised Benito nods and departs with the guard whilst his fellows take their time searching the wagon.
Moroveer addresses one of the remaining guards complaining about the state of the woman’s soul, but the guard replies that it gets lonely on the road, you can’t blame Cedric for looking for a bit of fun; Moroveer claims that earlier in the day his female companion had sex with a flamboyant sea captain whilst he was menaced by a huge norsican. Eyes narrowing the guard pulls out a wanted poster that has a good drawing of Benito on it and says ‘Wanted for practice of the dark arts and demonology most foul, the infamous and murderous pirate Captain Benito of the Sword Isles, wanted on multiple counts of murder and consorting with demons.’
Moroveer tells them that’s the man and he must be no more than an hour down the road; gratefully the guard gives him a coin and shouts for his men that they have to head down the road quickly, he sends out of his guards to go and fetch the amorous Cedric.
Meanwhile in the copse, the guard Cedric has lain down his all weather cloak and gestures to it; the disguised Benito shows a bit of leg and, as Cedric rushes in (overcome with lust), he flings his pouch of Arrowroot (a herbal irritant) into the face of the guard who collapses, choking and coughing. Before he has time to plan any further Benito hears the second guard approaching, shouting for Cedric, saying that they need to go, the4 disguised pirate runs out to meet the second guard and attempts to seduce him, the guard politely declines (saying that he has a wife and child at home) and Benito points him in the wrong direction.
Knowing he only had moments before Cedric is discovered Benito runs out to Moroveers cart and dives aboard, lashing the reins they head into Winchester, discussing their plan as they travel. Benito explains that, once Horesh and Ozuchi arrive, his people will cause a distraction to draw the Regent’s guards out of the castle, during the distraction Moroveer can enter the castle and free the queen. Moroveer suggests that Benito have one of people bribe one of the child servants in the castle kitchen to slip a laxative or something similar into the guards food.
Ozuchi and Horesh continue into the copse, they are surprised when the celtic warrior woman Asinor, hails them and jumps down from the canopy overhead, she explains that she spotted Horesh’s raven earlier and arranged to meet them; the warrior woman apologises for the lack of welcome but they are currently discussing their response to the holding of Mervane. Ozuchi asks if they can join the discussion but is told that Asinor is just here to collect some of her clansmen and that the actual discussion will take place in the Great Forest of Celtia, if they wish to travel with her then she will ensure they are heard; shaking his head Ozuchi says there is not time, an attack from the north is imminent and that they need to try and free Emma Harcourt from the clutches of the Regent.
“Most of my people have left, but I have some dozen or so warriors that could perhaps help although they are not at home in the so called civilised lands” replies Asinor, she continues, explaining that she wanted to go and rescue Mervane straight away but it was felt that, due to Mervane’s exalted position, the decision could not be made by any single clan. Ozuchi asks for her help getting to Winchester, Asinor says that she cannot give much aid but perhaps can speed their journey, she has two of the celtic warriors bring out a dire boar steed for each of them; he thanks her but says that they could really use an envoy and is able to persuade Asinor to accompany them. They set off with Asinor riding one boar (with Horesh on the back) and Ozuchi riding the other.
As Moroveer’s party move into Winchester it is eeriely silent, numerous wanted posters have been put up, denouncing them as demon worshippers and students of the dark arts, the cart heads up to the castle gate with the disguised Benito changing into some rough peasant clothes, slipping from the cart and making his way into the poorer parts of Winchester. After a few hours of searching for vagabonds, Benito has had little luck, but several times he has had to avoid patrols of heavily armed Saxon warriors that pound down the streets with frequency.
Benito makes his way to the riverside slums and eventually finds his way to a seedy tumbled-down taverna called the Pustulent Leg, he spots a man  who is sitting at a table, ramming items into a travelling chest whilst glancing around nervously; Benito attempts to sneak up on the man but he spins round and pushed Benito against the wall, holding him at knifepoint.
“Who are you!? Who sent you?” hisses the man, jabbing the knife forward with a hand that is missing a finger.
Benito drops one of his golden rings onto the man’s finger stump and nervously says “Drinks for everyone.”
The man (who later introduced himself as Hrothgar nine-fingers) lifts Benito’s hood up a bit with his knifepoint and appears to recognise him, releasing him saying “It’s you isn’t it? Sorry, you can’t be too careful with how the Regent’s been recently, but i’m getting out. My contacts tell me that in about 10 days Saxony might not be too healthy a place to be if you know what i’m saying.” Hrothgar says that since Benito and his friends turned up, whatever they did has made the Regent really crack down on criminal activity, there is a curfew and the citizens are like prisoners in their own city.
Hrothgar says that he has contacts who can smuggle him to the sword isles, Benito says that if Hrothgar helps him now, when he gets to the Sword Isles then he’ll be a very wealthy man; Hrothgar seems skeptical and asks for a down-payment at which point Benito waves the Regent’s seal about, Hrothgar licks his lips and agrees to hear what Benito has to say, he shouts the landlord Tranter to bring some booze over. Benito says that he wants people around the city to riot and cause a distraction, Hrothgar assures the pirate that he knows pretty much every vagabond in the city, he’s sure that he could sort something out, Benito smiles and lays out the rest of him and Moroveer’s plan before handing over the Regent’s seal and a couple of coins, assuring Hrothgar that there’ll be further payment. He tells the vagabond that the signal will be when he sets fire to the flag atop Castle Harcourt.
Moroveer is approaching the castle, he talks to a local and asks them whether there is a chapel in the castle, although the locals seem suspicious he is able to draw out of them that the main chapel in the castle is a chapel to Seaxneat the patron deity of Saxony and the Harcourt Lineage (who can apparently trace their descent from this mythical founder of the kingdom), warming to him the locals tell him about the mythical slaying of the Dragon of Celtia by King Godric used the legendary spear Aelfgar.
Continuing his disguise as a pilgrim leading the “leprous” and cloaked figure of Lord Wulfric, Moroveer approaches the castle gate, one of the guards points his spear and says “State your business at the castle.”
Moroveer claims that his friends leprosy is extremely contagious and that they are here to entreat Seaxneat for forgiveness on his soul but the guard captain flatly refuses, saying that they are under orders to let no-one in; Moroveer begs just a few minutes in the shrine, and offers some coins, saying that a man’s soul is at state, the guard captain relents, taking the coins and says that he’ll lead them to the shrine for “just a few minutes.”
Moroveer turns his cart and parks it under the portcullis and the guard leads them to the shrine.
Horesh, Ozuchi and Asinor ride on their boar steeds, they reach the outskirts of Winchester and head down the main thoroughfare, Ozuchi attempts to tell Asinor about the secret passage from the castle but she appears not be paying attention having spotted the impaled, rotting body of Mervane, set on a metal spike in the middle of the road. With his expert knowledge of death Horesh can see the body has been dead for three days and that Mervane was impaled alive and left to die, although, not wishing to upset Asinor even more he keeps the information to himself.
Asinor passes Horesh the reins and dismounts, with Ozuchi’s help she removes the body of Mervane from the spike and begins to wrap it in her travelling cloak; once done she tells Horesh to get off the boar. Ozuchi tells her that they can still seek revenge but, with cold fury in her voice Asinor says that she will take the body back to be buried in the Great Forest and then her people will take such revenge that it will make the Great Dragons themselves weep.
Ozuchi says that the person responsible will be dead before Asinor can return, Asinor replies “Better for him that he die by your hands than suffer our vengeance.” In somewhat muted tones she continues saying that although tragedy seems to follow in the wake of Ozuchi and his allies, she knows this was not their fault and that they will be welcome by her clan as long as she draws breath. She takes the body and rides off on one of the boars, Horesh and Ozuchi ride on the remaining boar into the cobbled streets of Winchester, arriving by midday; they take a wide run around the outskirts of the city, seeking to head towards the inlet to the secret tunnel by the castle. A single guard stands watch by the tunnel, Horesh charges the boar towards him, the boar flips him into the air, Ozuchi grabs him midair snaps his neck and flips the body into the river where it is swept downriver by the treacherous currents. Reaching the tunnel they see that it appears to have been filled in; Ozuchi calls upon the ancient spirit of the mole-lion to lend him it’s power to dig through the earth and begins to shift it rapidly (although noisily).
In the castle, Moroveer is lead into a long-disused chapel, it is decorated with a lone statue showing an ideallised portrayal of a Saxon Warrior holding the spear Aelfgar, the guard says that he’s a follower of Woden so he’ll wait outside for a few minutes whilst they pray; as he turns, Moroveer attempts to run him through with Aelfgar but the guard hears him and dodges, before he can raise the alarm, Wulfric pulls the bandages from around his face and tears the guards throat out with his sharp reptilian fangs. The guard’s body collapses with an exhalation of breath and Wulfric re-bandages himself; Moroveer swaps clothes with the guard and Wulfric dons the robes of the pilgrim, the ex-slaver quickly fashions rudimentary wrist shackles from some rope he finds in the shrine with which he pretends to shackle Wulfric and then leads him into the castle.
Benito makes his way to the castle having asked Hrothgar to create a distraction to get him into the castle (and paid him with one of his finely balanced stilettos), there are nine men and a sergeant guarding the gate, Benito sees Moroveer’s cart parked beneath the portcullis; as he gets nearer, one of the guards steps forwards to challenge him, when an arrow shoots past Benito’s head and hits the guard in the throat.
One of the guards shouts “Up there on that building!”
They run off after the shooter forgetting about Benito and he slips into the castle; as he enters the castle Benito spots a guard leading a shackled pilgrim wearing the same robes that Moroveer had on, Benito slips into the shadows.
Moroveer stops as an arm flashes out of the shadows, holding him at sword point, he recognises Benito’s sword arm but decides to play along and claims to be one of the castle guards; however the hissing voice of Wulfric from beneath the pilgrims robes says “That’s Moroveer.”
Momentary confusion over Benito explains his plan just as they hear footsteps running towards them, Moroveer pretends to arrest Benito, turning his fae towards the walls as a party of guards runs past, the last one stops and shouts “Haven’t you heard the alarm?”
Moroveer claims to have caught some thieves and asks the guardsman for help, “We don’t have time for petty thieves someone is trying to break into the castle dungeons using the old smugglers tunnel,” replies the guard. Moroveer takes the guard by the shoulder as though to talk with him and, whilst he is distracted, Benito slices the man’s throat and Wulfric takes his uniform.
“Set your signal and we’ll look for the Queen” says Moroveer as they split up.
Benito fights his way to the top of the castle whilst Moroveer & Wulfric reach the top floor and locate what they believe to be the Queen’s quarters, they take out the two guards outside the door quickly, grab their keys and drag the bodies inside; in the centre of the room on a divan sits a be-shawled woman with her face turned away from the door wearing the Queen’s dress. “We’ve come to rescue you and help depose the Regent” says Moroveer.
The woman turns round and says “Thank goodness!” but keeps her face lowered, Moroveer sends Wulfric outside to guard the door and tells her that she must overthrow the Regent; the woman’s voice suddenly turns cruel and mocking as she throws off her shawl to reveal the face of Morwrei the Regent’s witch-consort “Overthrow the Regent, why would I want to do that?”
Guards burst out from alcoves behind the drapes, locking the door and surrounding Moroveer, the sorceress continues, “Did you honestly think we would be foolish enough to keep the Queen here knowing that you misguided fools would attempt to rescue her? Now we have all of you.”

"Eight Days of Winter" – Serpents Fall Session 9 – Writeup

The group are resting, wary of pursuit by the Regent’s forces in a small farmhouse owned by Cenhelm and his wife Aesc, Moroveer plans to sneak into Winchester disguised as a trader whilst Horesh wishes to ally with Celts. The spear Aelfgar, having once belonged to Godric the deceased king of Winchester, has been disguised and given to Kron whilst the body of the soldier who originally carried it has been buried a short distance from the farmstead; before searching the soldier our heroes searched him but found only a broken dagger and a picture of a beautiful blond woman painted on the inside of it, Moroveer also took the man’s chainmail shirt. 
Since arriving at the farm Moroveer has been collecting the necessary components for his disguise and, under his instruction, Cenhelm has been collating the information that Moroveer requires in order to carryt out his scheme of buying a share in the farm. It is the 20th and final) day of the first month of summer, called Pallisade in Saxon but the weather has begun top turn unseasonably chilly and, as night falls, there is a frosty chill in the air. Our heroes are maintaining an informal watch, occassionally checking through the windows of the wattle and daub hut, Moroveer wants to keep it informal so they look less suspicious if anyone should happen this way. They are interrupted by a shout from Ozuchi, who has noticed that snowflakes have begun to fall outside, seeing his lack of comprehension concerning the “white rain” Moroveer laughs and tells him it’s called snow, explaining that it is as plentiful in the north and sand is in the south. Thinking to have a joke with his companion Benito tells Ozuchi that it is magical, but the medicine man fails to realise and rushing outside to collect some in one of his stonewear vials.
Moroveer realises that the weather pattern is extremely uncharacteristic for the summer months in Saxony, but the snow outside has begun to fall heavier, seemingly defying his meteorological prediction as Horesh begins to note potential methods of leaving the farmhouse so they don’t get snowed in and suggests that he commune with the spirits incase anything unnatural occurs. Trying to sound casual Benito says that it’s just a freak weather condition and no doubt nothing to worry about. Moroveer suggests that, since they are on the flat that him and Horesh should walk in opposite directions to determine the extent of the snowfall but he is interrupted by Cenhelm comes stumbling out in his long-johns desperate for a piss, Horesh warns him about the snow but, until he opens the door, the farmer doesn’t believe it; as his mouth hangs open in shock Cenhelm tell them that Pallisade is normally one of the warmer months and that they normally only get heavy snowfall like this in the month of Nightdays, the last snowfall was 3 months ago.
Wanting to learn more Horesh sends his familiar into the air and, through it’s eyes, spies a lone shrouded figure trudging through the snow towards the farmstead from the direction of Winchester; exasperated Moroveer asks Horesh why he doesn’t just use the raven to check out the extent of the snow? In response Horesh tells Moroveer about the lone figure but they decide it an unnecessary risk to approach it.
Wanting to ask Kron about norsican shaman and how they deal with snow Ozuchi approaches the sleeping norsican and reaches out a hand to nudge him awake, the instant his skin makes contact with the slumbering norsican a painful cold runs up his fingertips giving him the first signs of frostbite, it is like nothing Ozuchi has experienced before; having experienced cold weather condtions Benito shouts for Ozuchi to warm his hand by the fire, he then asks Moroveer to get a blanket and help him turn Gunnar over, but warns him not to touch Gunnar’s skin. Rolling Gunnar over they can see a thin covering of frost across his entire body, he is breathing but his skin is very pale, he is still holding the spear; Moroveer wraps a blanket around his hands and slides the spear out of Gunnar’s hands, but the weapon doesn’t appear that cold. Moroveer has heard vague rumours and legends of it being an heirloom of the Harcourt family and that it is able to kill the most hardy of beasts, but nothing concerning any powers over weather or the cold.
Horesh, through the eyes of his raven, can see that the snowstorm is a local phenomenon, it appears to be moving southwards from the northlands and the farmstead is on the edge of it, he wonders whether the weather front has made it’s way towards the spear rather than rising around it; his caution about the struggling lone figure overcoming him, he directs the raven to swoop down towards the lone figure. The man wears saxon armour, has a grey beard and is covered with a thick rough cloak, there is a noticable patch of reptilian scales around his eyes. Ordering his raven home and snapping out of his trance Horesh heads back in and tells the others that the weather is localised and that the figure approaching may be Wulfric, he tells them that the weather doesn’t seem to be centrallised on the spear.
Horesh asks Ozuchi to explain what happened with Wulfric before they met Moroveer, but the Stygian shaman is too excited that he may be meeting Wulfric (and his familiar who now resides within the Saxon Lord’s body) and rushes outside to meet him; Horesh explains that they helped the nobleman Lord Wulfric escape a plot to poison him, seemingly on the Regent’s orders and that was how they came to be embroiled in this whole affair, when they travelled to Winchester the Regent seemed affable but he attempted to fell Wulfric with a poisonous enchantment in the form of a snake. Desperate to save Wulfric, Ozuchi fused the komodo dragon spirit of his own familiar into the Lord’s body, making them effectively one entity, it saved his life but had some unexpected side-effects, not least amongst them was Wulfric taking on certain reptilian traits. Benito throws some furs over Ozuchi as he runs out and follows him. Horesh suggests that perhaps Wulfric has a link with Ozuchi and that is why he was heading to the farmhouse, at this point he realises that Cenhelm hasn’t come back in yet; Moroveer goes out and finds him, he’s struggling to have a piss in the cold by the side of the farmhouse.
Benito catches up with Ozuchi and they continue towards the figure, and sure enough the figure is revealed to be Wulfric, there is a sibilant tone to his voice, he has forked tongue, patches of scales on his cheek and solid black eyes, he regards Ozuchi angrily as they approach saying that after they disappeared from Winchester the Regent convinced the people (using Wulfric’s new appearance) that they were evil sorcerors and turned them against him. Wulfric and Asinor the celtic warrior woman split up to give their pursuers the slip but there is a small mob of panicked citizens following him; although capable of defeating the mob Wulfric chose to flee saying that his pursuers are just frightened people, they are not evil. They begin heading back to the farmstead, but Benito has fallen quiet, he is a little taken aback since Wulfric’s appearance hits a little close to home given his own relationship with his curse.
In the farmhouse the ice on Kron has started to thicken, as he enters Benito checks the large norsican, but he is still breathing; trying to help, he stokes the fire up whilst Moroveer has Cenhelm wake Aesc to get her to put water on boil. Meanwhile Ozuchi apologises to Wulfric for the effect of his ritual on him, but said it was done to save his life, offering to do whatever he can to help to get Wulfric back to his old self.
Horesh sends his raven to investigate the centre of the storm, unlike normal storms where the centre is calmest, the opposite appears to be true here, shapes move at the centre of the storm at the speed of a horses gallop and the storm seems to be keeping pace with them. Shocked, Horesh snaps out of his trance as Aesc and Cenhelm start warming towels and broth for Kron.
Wulfric continues his discussion with Ozuchi, in clipped tones saying “I understand that what you did, you did because it was your only choice, but I am now an outast, a demon amongst my own people.” He continues saying that he can’t go home and put his own people at risk, he had a feeling that he had to go west, and was surprised when the feeling took him to Ozuchi, he thought that he’d seen the last of them when they vanished from Winchester. Puzzled, Lord Wulfric asks how they did escape? Ozuchi relates how they escaped thanks to Benito and his knowledge of hidden smugglers passages. Ozuchi offers to attempt to remove the spirit to see if Wulfric returns to normal but Horesh cautions that removing the spirit might not solve the problem and may weaken him; Wulfric agrees with Horesh and says that, if they are going to deal with the Regent, that they will need all the strength they can muster – he cannot afford to be weakened, they can deal with his problem after the Regent is deposed.
Moroveer suggests that they disguise Wulfric as a leper and that they may be able to use that as a cover to get back into Winchester, Wulfric recognises Moroveer as a trader he’s previously seen in Winchester during the summer seasons; Moroveer greets Wulfric and tells him that the Regent double-crossed him and imprisoned him, in return for his freedom he offered two years of service to Benito. Wulric agrees to the plan, but Ozuchi reminds them that they only have five days until the norsican force arrives. At this point Horesh’s eyes focus as he leaves his spiritual trances and tells them about the shapes he has seen in the storm.
The darkness of midnight has fallen outside.
Still thinking about the legend of Aelfgar, Moroveer recalls how it is passed down through male heirs of the family but that it’s powers only become active when possessor proves themselves and that the name Aelfgar comes from the fact that the Great Dragon spirits passed it to the first of the Kings of Saxony. He still can’t think of any connection to the frost though, Benito however, has been thinking about the frost wolves of the north who can freeze themselves into hibernation when food is scarce and asks Horesh to see how close to death Kron is. Horesh holds his hand over Kron’s heart and concentrates.
Suddenly Horesh finds himself standing in a thick snow covered pin forest, snow is falling all around him, he can just make out the silhouette of a mountain or huge peak a few miles in the distance, after a few minutes pass he realises that the mountain seems to be moving towards him and, as it gets closer, he realises that it’s not actually a mountain but the single point of a gargantuan crown. A huge face wearing the crown rises out of the ground and is soon followed by the body of a giant armoured colossus, he can barely see the person beneath the armour but gets an impression of something otherworldly writhing beneath the surface, as though the armour was filled with snakes or worms. The Armour is vaguely reminiscent of that norsicans wear but is covered in all manner of etchings written in an unknown script, it hurts Horesh’s eyes to look at it. Trying to divine the meaning of this vision his concentrates on Kron and a stone sarchophagus with a carving of Kron on it bursts out of the soil, the phrase “Blood of norsica” is carved on the side of the sarcophagus.
Horesh pulls out of his vision, as he sudders into wakefulness he gains an impression of a fading voice saying the words “Iad Oroburos”, as Horesh repeats the word, Ozuchi recalls a similar term on the oldest most ancient writings of his people, a collective term referring to the most ancient of demons of the outer darkness; a worried expression crosses his face as he helps the very shaken Horesh into a sitting position. Horesh explains his vision and theorises that perhaps it means a norse king is approaching and that somehow Kron’s death is involved, Ozuchi says that they must be using dark magics of some kind. Khemrians retained more writings from the time of the Serpent Empire and Horesh (now he has recovered somewhat from the strain of the vision) recalls Iad Uroboros being a collective term for the oldest of the demons, the Great Dragon spirits battled with the Iad to first bring forth the world from the darkness that existed before, he remembers odd references to them either not existing, that they shouldn’t exist or that they existed outside the world.
Worried, Ozuchi says that they need to find a way to snap Kron out of his trance and he begins to set up a ritual with Horesh’s help, calling on the spirits of knowledge to provide him with information. After fifteen minutes of chanting they have gained the knowledge that Kron is under the spell of something called the Winter King, and that to release him they must remove the influence of the Great Mountain from him. The Great Mountain is the tallest peak on Serpents Fall from where, legend says, it is possible to see beyond the northern edge of the world; unfortunately the spirits also tell them that the Iad are moving through the blood of the norsicans sweeping southwards and that their advanced scouts ride within the storm.
* Horesh sends out his raven once more to get an idea of the direction that the storm is going; Benito also attempts to see if he can work out the storm’s behaviour from his knowledge of natural weather patterns, but not being able to see the stars or any known landmarks he is unable to work out anything useful. The raven flies straight up and attempts to gain an aerial view of the storm by flying above it, through it’s eyes to the south Horesh can see eight figures carrying torches making their way towards the farmstead. Moroveer is sat by the window smoking his pipe as Benito hears shouting voices and says that they must be the townspeople coming for Wulfric, Wulfric suggests that he could attempt to lead them away from the farm but Ozuchi says that’s not a good idea, the Saxon Lord re-iterates that these are just frightened people and they are not evil. Aesc offers to hide him in the back under skins and blankets, everyone agrees and she hides him in the back.
A few minutes later there is a bang on the door, Moroveer says that he should answer the door (since they wouldn’t recognise him) and send them on their way, outside is a group of about eight angry saxons holding torches who shout “Send out the demon, we have to burn the evil out!”
Moroveer claims ignorance and says that it is impossible they could have tracked anyone to the farmhouse due to the snow, playing the part of irritated farmer he refuses to let them in, slamming the door in their faces; he quickly grabs a pan of boiling water incase they kick the door open.
From outside there is some confused shouting that quickly turns to screaming, Benito draws his sword as something slams into the door; Ozuchi climbs out of one of the farmhouse back windows and runs around the front of the farmhouse; a huge norsican warrior wielding a hammer, sits astride a giant winter wolf that stands over a dead saxon. A few metres beyond more large silhouettes are moving about within the storm and occasionally there is a scream or snarl, Ozuchi leaps up to attack the wolf rider who swings his hammer, it strikes Ozuchi around the head causing his ears to ring as he falls to the ground. Inside, as Moroveer bends down to pick up his dropped tobacco pouch, a round object hurls through the window just missing him, it is a severed saxon head.
Moroveer runs out with the spear, intent on fending the frost wolf away from the door of the farmstead, he shouts for Ozuchi to make for the door; the norsican warrior on frost wolf slowly pads towards the dazed Ozuchi, testing the weight of his hammer and relishing the oncoming kill. Benito exits the farmhouse through the same window as Ozuchi, attempting to sneak around the side of the farmhouse but one of the wolf riders pounces on him and rakes his chest with it’s claws. Benito staggers back and then darts forward, jumping up level with the wolfs nose, he stabs it through it’s head, running up the neck of the beast as it lowers, he slices the throat of the warrior and lands nimbly as the warrior and wolf both fall dead.
Horesh has been communing with the spirits to aid his companions but feels a dark, strange presence bearing down on him, the presence of something old and incalcuably evil, he feels it trying to influence him but, with the aid of his training, he manages to shrug it off. Drawing his daggers Horesh moves to the nearby window and signals Ozuchi to get inside. As Ozuchi picks himself he sees two more of the winter wolf riders circling around him and he attacks one of them, striking several vicious blows, seeing this Horesh runs to support, willing the spirits to aid Ozuchi; plants and roots burst from the ground restraining the wolf rider, Ozuchi takes advantage of this and finishes it off. One of the wolves dives at Ozuchi but he dodges, another rider hooks Ozuchi’s legs out from under him with his hammer, causing the Stygian to fall prone.
Benito looks up as two more riders gallop towards him, leaping over the body of their fallen companion, he quickly dodges one (it crashes into the wall of the farmstead) and forward rolls under the other as it leaps at him, he rises to his feet, spinning round and attacking the wolf with his sword, his blade seems to glance off the tough hide of the winter wolf though. Moroveer thrusts Aelfgar into the wolf near the farmhouse wall, piercing both rider and wolf, slaying them. Horesh calls on the spirits and leaps at one of the remaining wolves, swinging his daggers in two figures of eight he slices both rider and wolf to shreds, blood fountaining into the air whilst Ozuchi leaps at another wolf, grabbing it’s neck he twists, there is a loud crack as he lashes out with his foot snapping the neck of the rider.
Only one wolf remains, facing Moroveer and Benito, Moroveer spots there are some large objects in the saddle bag of the final wolf rider and shouts “I call dibs on the bag” as he throws the spear; seeing this Horesh calls on the spirits to guide the weapon, a phantasmal dragon forms in the air around Aelfgar as it sails towards it’s target, it hits the side of the norsican, puncturing both rider and mount, they fall to the floor dead. Moroveer runs over and opens bag, inside is a decapitated Saxon head wearing a small gold crown. Looking around they can see that the agitated villagers are either all dead or have run away. 
Dawn breaks over the bloody aftermath of their night-time combat, but the storm has begun to fade away and the temperatures have slowly begun to rise to something more typical of summer.
Moroveer throws the Saxon crown to Benito who puts it on whilst Horesh takes some frost wolf teeth and makes them into a necklace (he also makes one for Benito) and Ozuchi takes their fur with the help of Cenhelm & Aesc.
By the time they have finished they are tired almost beyond words and retreat inside the farmhouse, the ice on Kron appears to have melted but he has not woke up; they barricade themselves in the farmhouse and sleep.
Next morning Horesh sends his raven up, the localised storm has disappeared, but far to the north (about 6/7 days away) a far larger storm front is rolling slowly southwards.

"A Cold Wind from the North" – Serpents Fall Session 8 – Writeup

Moroveer languishes in the dungeons of Winchester castle where he has been for last 6 months since being double-crossed on a slave deal by Regent Eadweard Harcourt.
Horesh stands in the courtyard at Castle Harcourt, having attempted rouse the mistreated people to rise up against unjust rule of the Regent, calling on them to support the rightful ruler Emma Harcourt (wife of King Godric); he looks around for support from Gunnar Gunnar Kron but the norsican has disappeared down into the dungeon to assist the others. The Regent click his figures and archers file out onto the battlements of the castle, surrounding the courtyard; the Regent lowers his hand and a single arrow is loosed. The arrow pierces Horesh’s robe, but instead of killing him it hits the small piglet concealed within his robes, killing it instead; the Regent smiles and raises his hand again.
Horesh removes the dead pig with a look of distain and anger, hurling it’s limp porcine body at the Regent, but two of the Regents bodyguards cover him with shield and the pig bounces off with a dull clang. Horesh dives down the steps into the dungeon as arrows thunk into the floor where he was standing.
In the dungeon the sage Mervane explains that Benito’s ancestry and the power within his Lemurian blood is attempting to fight off the curse inflicted on him and it is this that causes his nausea near the sea rather than the curse itself. The curse is more powerful than a single mortal could conjure, something connected with the bloodline of Lemuria has been used to boost the power of the curse – only the power of Benito’s blood saved him from death. Mervane says that the curse wouldn’t actually stop him travelling on the seas but that strange fortune would be attracted to it; unfortunately Marvane suspects that the only way to cure it is for Benito to expose himself to travel on the sea and give it time, or he could gain access to whatever boosted the power of the curse in the first place.
Benito offers to free Mervane, but the sage explains that the Regent has threatened that should Mervane escape he will kill Emma Harcourt and her unborn child, he continues “The fate of that child is worth far more to me than my own freedom.” Before Mervane can say more Horesh lands at the bottom of the stairs with a thump; Ozuchi sees the blood splattered on Horesh’s robe and checks he’s not injured, the Khemrian tells them breathlessly that there are archers covering the only route out of the dungeon.
Moroveer suggests that they focus on freeing the Queen and re-uniting her with her husband, Ozuchi & Horesh agree, saying that she has to be freed as a high prority and that the Regent must fall. Moroveer theorises that if the Queen flees her people will be made to suffer by the Regent, he says they should make it look like she was kidnapped against her will to spare her people and that they should use the river next to the castle to flee.
A loud voice from outside shouts “If you have any sense you will surrender, if not then there will be immediate and deadly consequences.” Horesh falls to his knees and attempts to contact the spirit world for aid whilst Moroveer begins exploring the other caves that comprise the dungeons (with Ozuchi in tow) looking for air inlets, he locates some small ventilation shafts but they are far too narrow for a human to pass through, he shouts to the others that they’d be better off fighting in the open, saying that the only way they’ll get out is to feign capture to avoid being shot straight away.
Horesh has summoned an ancestral spirit of the Harcourt dynasty who promises to aid Horesh in return for his help restoring the rightful honour of the Harcourt dynasty. Moroveer is examining the ventilation shafts when something obscures the end of the ventilation shaft as though someone was covering it, he shouts to the others saying that they might be trying to suffocate them out. Horesh suggests that perhaps Gunnar Kron might be able to break them out; Benito has been sat thinking for several minutes and recalls that castles like this often used to have smugglers passages or secret entrances/exits, they all fan out and begin frantically searching.
Eventually Moroveer locates an area where there appears to be airflow coming in from somewhere and he directs Gunnar Kron to pick up one of the metal prison bars and begins to work the stones of the passage loose; it appears as though there once was a small passage here and it has been bricked up a while ago, Gunnar Kron uncovers the passageway. They all begin crawling through the tunnel with Benito in the lead, but the tunnel ends in a metal grate that is fastened into the walls of the tunnel but it looks a bit rusty, Benito boots the grate but is unable to loosen it.
Benito suggests switching places with Gunnar Kron but there isn’t really enough room in the narrow confines of the tunnel; Moroveer shouts for Benito to take of his jerkin, tie it to the bars of the grate and then, using a chair leg (that he passes forwards), twist it round and round and the force will break the bars, he is successful and the grate bends, they are able to push the bars aside allowing exit from the tunnel. The grate falls out of the tunnel with a loud splash.
The tunnel emerges at an inlet besides the castle, above the river running westwards away from the castle towards the coast; they hear a metallic sound from inside the dungeon behind them, and a strange acrid herbal smell drifts to them, it appears the Regent’s forces are attempting to gas them out of the dungeons using an incense burner full of poisonous plants.
Without further word Benito dives into the river whilst Moroveer heaps debris near the entry of the tunnel and sets it alight to discourage anyone following them; Horesh is next and looks down after Benito, he can see that Benito is attempting to swim to the river bank but is being swept further down river by the undertow. Horesh jumps after into the freezing cold water and seems to be doing better swimming, Gunnar Kron leaps in afterwards and swims towards the bank.
Ozuchi leaps in the river and is swept quickly past Horesh, flailing his arms about, Moroveer is the last to jump in and is also swept down the river waving his arms about. Benito quickly struggles out of as much clothing as possible and hurls it at the bank, swimming with the current he begins striking for the bank of the river; Horesh has reached the shore and is running along it keeping pace with his comrades, he scoops up Benito’s gear as it lands near him.
Benito swims to where Ozuchi and Moroveer are flailing about to assist, over the course of the next few minutes, with shoreside help of Horesh and his spiritual allies, Benito is able to get Ozuchi and Moroveer to the shore. The ancestral spirit summoned by Horesh looks at Winchester, a sad expression on his face, he nods at Horesh and then his body collapses into the river becoming one with the water.
It is midday on the 18th day of the fifth month (‘Pallisade’ in Saxony).
Benito suggest that they lay low for a bit since the Regent’s forces will be out looking for them, Horesh pulls Benito to one side, gives him his stuff back and asks whether he though to rescue his pig; a look of horror crosses Benito’s face as he hears a squealing from the water and sees his piglet thrashing about in the river. Benito dives into the river, grabs the pig and begins struggling back towards to the bank but with the pig wriggling about he finds it difficult to swim to the bank. Horesh strips down and jumps in, assisting Benito and his cargo to the bank of the river.
Moroveer suggests stealing guard uniforms and using them to sneak back into the city, the plan is considered but it is felt that they look too distinctive to use such subterfuge; Horesh suggest that, since they gave the money from the fighting competition to the poor, they could use the aid of the local commoners to help them. Eventually it is agreed that they should lie low in a local farmhouse and they agree with Moroveer’s suggestion to head down river for a few miles incase the Regent sends animals after them.
Benito scales a tree and spots a farmhouse, it’s about a day and half to the southwest of Winhester and is little more than a few fields and three ramshackle buildings. As they approach the farm they spot a weather-beaten old man ploughing the fields, a ruddy complexioned woman is talking to him. Benito approaches, planning to make a bit of an entrance and, as he draws closer, he can hear the two of them arguing about someone throwing money about in the capital and the Regent being in uproar.
“What kind of person gives out free money?” scoffs the man, at this point Benito steps in and replies “This kind of person.”
The man introduces him as Cenhelm and asks who they might be, Benito introduces himself and his companions (including Aloitius the pig); the woman is introduced as Aesc (Cenhelm’s wife), she identifies Benito as the person giving out the money in the tales, his clothes match the description from the stories, she asks them to come in since they are soaked. Cenhelm doesn’t seem so keen, saying that you can’t be too careful with strangers abroad, especially given rumours of the northmen being on the march, but he relents and invites them in to share fire and soup, complaining about the Regent taxing them dry.
Benito gives them a gold coin as he enters, which seems to improve Cenhelm’s opinion of the flamboyant ex-Pirate King immensely.
The group offers what few provisions (hard tack, jerky, etc) they have remaining to go in the soup/stew, Cenhelm appreciates the offer & tells them to throw it in the pot; he tells Aesc to stir the pot, she moans about why he couldn’t do it but goes over and stirs it anyway. Having been in prison Moroveer scoffs his bowlful rapidly, seeing this Horesh has a small spoon of his and passes the rest to Moroveer.
After they have warmed up Cenhelm asks them what their business is whilst Horesh asks about trade; Cenhelm says that they pay tithes to Winchester, but winter has been hard and taxes are high. Benito tells the farmer that they plan to stick it to the Regent, Cenhelm looks worried and warns them that the Regent has spies everywhere; he tells them that last Darkling month a neighbouring farmer refused to pay taxes, the Regents soldiers dragged him away in the middle of the night and he was never seen again.
Attempting to re-assure the frightened farmer Benito says don’t worry i’m king of the Sword Isles, Cenhelm doesn’t seem to know where that is saying that he has lived on the farm all his life.
Moroveer notices that everytime Benito looks at Aesc she glances away and her cheeks colour slightly; and, seeking to give Benito an excuse to be alone with her, he talks to Cenhelm about his countrymen having new farming techniques to enhance his crops & uses them to talk the farmer into going outside; Horesh goes with them to ask if Cenhelm has a cart. The farmer replies that he has an old wagon, but hasn’t used it since his horse died last winter, the wagon is in fine repair but needs an animal, he couldn’t afford a new one.
Aesc meanwhile, offers Ozuchi and Benito some more soup, Benito accepts but Ozuchi goes of to the side to meditate on the spirits; Aesc looks worried and asks Benito what Ozuchi is doing whilst ladling Benito out an extra portion of the soup. Benito explains that Ozuchi is a priest of some sort, but that he doesn’t understand the details, this seems to calm Aesc a little.
Horesh sends his raven familiar up into the air to scout out the area for horses, it is early evening, some days travel to the northwest on the borders of Saxony he sees a heavily wooded copse of trees, a small group of celts is having an animated discussion on the outskirts of the wood. The group consists of half a dozen woaded Celtic warriors riding dire boards.
Ozuchi asks the spirits what challenges would they have in rescuing the queen and he is given a vision of many things, armed saxoned warriors, Morwrei the Regent’s consort, a large tanned horse nomad with cruel features and Castle Harcourt itself.
Moroveer asks how Cenhelm normally gets his cart into the city and is told that the soldiers search his cart but normally let him go about his business.
Benito has noticed that the farmers wife Aesc is well disposed towards him, it’s nothing serious but she is a little dazzled by the fine figure that Benito cuts; in the course of conversation she relates how they used to have lots of labourers but haven’t been able to afford it with high taxes. She does as much (if not more) than Cenhelm since she helps on the farm and manages the house, but she’s not sure what they’ll do this year now they don’t have a horse to tale their tithe to Winchester.
It is 7 in the evening when Moroveer asks about the taxes/worth of the farm, Cenhelms says that they pay half their crops to Winchester, it used to be a quarter but has raised since the Regent came to power. Moroveer expresses his wish to buy a share in Cenhelms farm and to use his cart, Cenhelms seems agreeable to the idea but explains that his horse died last winter from pox & he can’t afford a new one; it will take him a couple of days to get the information together and that he’ll have to discuss it with his wife Aesc. They returns to the farm building.
Horesh pulls his companions aside as Cenhelm talks to Aesc about Moroveer’s proposal and tells them what he has seen through the eyes of his familiar; he says that perhaps the Celts are trying to recover their wise man Mervane and that could be useful to them. Ozuchi suggests they recruit the Celts to help in their mission, perhaps they can even borrow a boar.
Moroveer says that he’s seeking credit from contacts in town to provide a horse to the farm, but it may take a couple of weeks. Ozuchi informs Moroveer that they’re heading to the west coast and time is of the essence if they want to catch the black corsairs, a quest that Moroveer is completely unaware of, having only joined the party recently. Ozuchi reminds Benito that they were travelling to the west coast to stop an attack by the black corsairs on a settlement on the coast of Saxony; when Moroveer asks why they want to stop the attack, Benito says because it will bloody Horningold Blythe’s nose and Ozuchi wants to find out what their plan is.
Moroveer asks how Benito is getting an edge and how he can break his curse, to which Benito replies that apparently he needs to travel the seas to allow his body to fight off the curse. Moroveer explains there are two small islands on the east that he could use as stepping stones to get to the Sword Isles whilst Benito considers that there may be more than simple raids going on, Blythe is playing with old magics and things that shouldn’t be messed with. Moroveers says that, if that is the case, then Benito will need more strength at his back and that if they help reveal the Regent’s treachery to the King and save his queen then Saxony may be inclined to help.
At this point Horesh tells Moroveer about his vision of King Godric dying on a battlefield in the north and Moroveer respondsd that if the Regent finds out he will no doubt just assume power militarily.
Horesh hears the sound of a horse approaching the farmstead, looking out of window, in the moonlight he sees a silhouette of a horse and rider approaching the farmstead slowly down one of the many dirt tracks criss-crossing the landscape; he can see from the reflected moonlight that the figure is wearing metal armour. Horesh asks Cenhelm if he’s expected visitors and he says no, they are the first visitors in month, he tells them about the horse approaching with an armoured rider. Cenhelm immediately leaps to the conclusion that the Regent has sent men to apprehend the PCs and refuses to go outside.
Moroveer puts on a straw hat and slips outside pretending to be a farmer, with the horse being closer now he can see that the figure is a Saxon warrior slumped in the saddle, his right arm hands limply, a long, ornate spear is loosely gripped in the hand, the blade dragging along the ground. Moroveer supports the man and slides him off the saddle, his body is criss-crossed with wounds and his chainmail is covered in dried blood, the trader shouts to the farmstead to bring water and Ozuchi runs out with a wooden bowl.
Sensing the death Horesh begins to prepare himself as Moroveer gives the man water and asks the man who did this; the injured warrior coughs, his chest rattling, he lifts a hand and points northwards, the spear drops out of his hand onto the floor. Ozuchi says they need to get him into the farmhouse and, with Moroveers help, they carry him inside; examining him more closely Ozuchi realises that the man is too far gone to help and all they can do is have Horesh try to make his passage as comfortable as possible.
As life departs his body, the injured soldier grabs Horesh and gasps “Godric… gave me chance to get away” and then there is only his long, final exhalation of breath.
Still needing answers Horesh holds the warriors spirit on the threshold of entering deaths realm so that they can ask him some questions, they discover that the great Norsican force united by a warlord called Fenris-Ur is making its way south towards Saxony. Nodding, Horesh releases the mans spirit, as it fades his voice says “Guard Aelfgar” and then silence falls over the farmstead for a few moments.
Benito says that Aelfgar is Godric’s spear (having seen it on a statue in Wulfricingas); Moroveer runs back outside and examines the ornate metal spear that is lying on the floor, saying that they need to guard it from the Norse and the Regent. Horesh theorises that Godric sacrificed himself so that the soldier could escape and take the spear to safety.
Moroveer suggests disguising the spear, he gets some leather thonging and wraps it around the spear; “At least we now have a horse to drive the cart to Winchester” says Ozuchi with a touch of sadness in his voice. Moroveers suggests entering the city to see if they can rouse up support for the Queen against the Regent.

"Curse of the Pirate King" – Serpents Fall Session 7 – Flashback session (write-up)

Far below castle Harcourt in the dank dungeons the ancient sage Mervane places his hand over Captain Benito’s eyes and asks him to cast his mind back to the time when his curse was first inflicted on him; the years seem to fall away as Benito finds himself transported back through the alchemy of his memories to a time long passed.
* * *
Captain Benito stands proudly on the deck of his ship as he sails the seas just south of the Turtle Islands, the coast of Celonia lying within view on the horizon; accompanying his own vessel are two of his closest allies, on one side is the ramshackle but brutal ship of the marauding Pirate Lord Draven Naysus and on the other the immaculate vessel of Lord Lantino, crewed almost entirely by blue-skinned sailors of Atlantean descent. Benito instinctly touches the Piece of Eight signifying his position as Pirate King when a shout from the crows next warns him that there are three sails on the horizon, a gentle spattering of rain begins to herald a storm brewing out at sea. Benito orders his fleet to unfurl their sails and close on the, as yet unidentified, vessels.
Over on Lord Lantino’s vessel his second in commmand Hannibal Hawkins reminds his commander that, since the vessels are in Sword Isle waters that they are legitimate prey; nodding Lantino none-the-less says that they obey the will of the Pirate King and will await his order to attack.
Drawing closer it becomes obvious that the three vessels are Saxon ships, King Benito gives the orders to prepare cannons, for the crew to take up arms and board the enemy vessels; a random firing of cannons and violent cheering from Naysus’ vessel accompanies the order as his berserkers gnash their teeth and wave weapons, their patched together ship cutting through the waves towards their prey. Having a more tactical mind, Lantino orders his men to prepare the special cannon shot; numerous cannon balls with chains hanging from them are bought forward and loaded into the cannons, those of Lantino’s crew capable of breathing underwater thanks to their ancestry drop over the sides awaiting the sight of the chains falling into the water so that they can use them to climb aboard the enemy vessels. Meanwhile on King Benito’s ship his first mate Lord Shivers begins ordering the men to prepare themselves for a boarding action and start handing out cutlasses.
Onboard one of the Saxon vessels a group of shackled men is stood on the deck of the ship, they have been bought up from below after rowing for several days, amongst them is the grimey and bedraggled form of Moroveer, once a slaver himself, misfortune has found him confined to the fate that he has overseen for many others; infront of him is a ragged, blue skinned man known as Horningold Blythe, sentenced to a life of slavery on a charge of murder (although he claims it to have been self-defence). The slaves have been bought up following a shout from the crows nest, one of the slaves nearest the mast whispers to the others that the shouting is because pirate vessels have been spotted in the area; thinking back to his time as a slaver Moroveer is worried that the Saxon vessel will attempt to dump their slaves so they can escape the pirate vessels and he begins to hushedly discus the prospect of escape with his fellow slaves. Blythe is interested in Moroveer’s plans and has tells him that he can breathe underwater and is willing to help, nodding Moroveer turns to the three guards and tells them that they’re gonna die fighting pirates in his home waters if they don’t choose the right side and free him now. One of the guards looks a little uncertain and, when the other guards look daggers at him, says “Look boys, i’m not saying we should just let them go but we aren’t getting paid enough to die on this leaky tub. I’ve got a wife and child back home in Wulfricingas, I want to get back to them.”
Ignoring the protests of his fellow guard the worried Saxon unshackles the slaves and flees up onto the deck; the slaves quickly incapacitate the guards who resist and dump them over the side, a huge melee breaks out as more men rush from their quarters and engage the slaves. 
From the crows nest on Benito’s ship a shout goes up that a mutiny his broke out aboard one of the Saxon vessel, smiling the Pirate King orders his crew to make all speed; ignoring the slave ship that is already incapacitated due to the mutiny, Benito aims his vessel towards one of the escort vessels smashing into the side of it with the battering ram mounted just below the waterline on his ship As he climbs aboard the enemy vessel one of the Saxon crew throws a small knife, it glances the side of Benito’s head and embeds itself in the mast. Seeing Naysus heading for the second escort vessel, Lantino has his own ship sail around the other side of the ship already engaged by Benito’s vessel; there is a cavalcade of cannon fire as Lantino unleashed a deadly broadside, inflicting heavy damage on the escort vessel, as the chains connected to the cannon balls fall into the water Lantino’s blue skinned buccaneers begin to climb aboard the Saxon vessel.
Heedless of the potential danger to their own vessel, Naysus’ ship plows into the escort vessel, Lord Naysus using the momentum to catapult himself onto the enemy ship; Naysus’ berzerkers begin swarming aboard, easily smashing aside the Saxon troops and beginning to strip the vessel to repair the damage done to their own done by the ramming. Meanwhile Moroveer is overseeing the mutiny, shouting out vulnerable targets for his fellow slaves as he punches the cruel overseer of the slaves, grabs the mans whip and cracks it in his face, he avoids a return blow, throwing his attacker off balance. 
Naysus’ berserkers continue hurling themselves onto the escort vessel, some of them miss and fall into the sea but the rest don’t seem to care; taking in the massive brawl raging around him, Naysus sees that his berserker tactics have thrown the Saxon sailors into disarray, he stomps his way towards where he thinks the captains quarters might be located. Opening the door he sees that there is no-one in there but the porthole at the back of the cabin is open and he can hear the sound of quiet rowing from outside. Naysus shouts to his men to deal with it and runs up onto the deck, looking over the back of the ship he can see the captain and another man escaping in a rowing boat, the Saxon captain shouting “Quickly! Row you fool! Row!”
Without hesitation Naysus picks up one of the cannonballs rolling around on the deck and hurls it at the small boat, it smashes a huge hole in the boat with the sound of splintering wood, disappearing below the waves with its passengers; Naysus orders some of his men to recover them.
On the ship where the mutiny took place, the door of the captains cabin bursts open and a man wearing a black Saxon naval uniform strides forth; Benito recognises the figure as the Black Stone Admiral Dunstan, one of the most infamous figures in the Saxon navy, Benito tells his crew to finish off the escort vessel and engage the mutinying ship. Shouting that he’ll meet them over there Benito runns along the mast of his own ship, leaping the distance between the two vessels. He is just in time to spot Admiral Dunstan lifting a rare black powder weapon and aiming it at Moroveer who is cracking his whip and keeping the Saxons as arms length; Benito swings down from the rigging, slicing part of the sail free with a cutlass, it drops down on the overseer who is grappling with Moroveer. Moroveer smashes the overseer in the face with the butt of his whip, knocking him unconscious. Seeing Benito swinging in, Dunstan fires his black powder weapon at Benito, but the Pirate King rolls out of the way of the shot; there is the sudden crack as Moroveer’s whip flashes out and yanks the black powder weapon from Dunstan’s hand, taking advantage of the opportunity Benito knocks Dunstan to the ground and kneels on his chest putting a knife to his throat. Sneakily Dustan starts to slide a knife from his sleeve unseen by Benito, Moroveer cracks his whip and one of Dunstan’s eyes is snapped out, Benito stamps on Dunstan’s hand and the knife falls out onto the deck.
With Dunstan incapacitated his men lose heart and they begin to surrender, walking up Blythe shakes hands with Benito saying, “you couldn’t have arrived at a better time”, Benito introduces himself and Blythe seems impressed to be in the presence of the dread pirate king, introducing himself and Moroveer. Moroveer thanks Benito for distracting the man and saving his life, he says that he might have momentarily owed him a debt, but he now considers it repaid after dispatching Dunstan. Benito begin to talk about dividing the plunder but Blythe isn’t concerned about it, he wants to check on the other slaves to make sure they’re okay; Moroveer runs across to the ship rammed by Captain Naysus that is sinking to check there are no slaves still chained up. There are no slaves left onboard the ship and Naysus’ men are already stripping the vessel to repair their own.
Horningold says there’s nothing left for him on the mainland, but the pirate king has impressed him, he’s half a mind to make a living on the Sword Isles;  Moroveer seems less sure and says there’s good slaving still in Stygia, to which Horningold responds that he’s heard that the Timberwolf Norse tribe is planning to raid Stygia and that it might not be a very healthy place to be. Nodding Moroveer says he owes Horningold a debt and agrees to serve him faithfully for a year before returning to his job as a slaver, Horningold says that Moroveer’s financial acumen could help him establish himself in the Sword Isles and that he’s going to ask to keep the ship for his own.
As Benito’s ship pulls alongside the captured vessel a figure falls from the rigging of Benito’s ship – it is first mate Shivers, covered in knife wounds, he falls into the arms of Moroveer and Blythe, trying to speak but blood is bubbling out of his mouth and a Saxon blade protrudes from his ribs; looking up Moroveer can see a couple of Saxon seamen in the rigging of Benito’s ship.Benito shouts for a physician but the sawbones, after examining Shivers, shakes his head sadly; gritting his teeth Moroveer swings up into the rigging using his natural agility and his whip. Lantino and Naysus have rounded up the Saxons from the ships they fought and taken them prisone; spotting the Saxons in the rigging Lantino hurls a harpoon at them, one of the Saxons cries out in pain and topples to the deck pierced through his midriff by the weapon. Moroveer lashes his whip around the waist of the remaining Saxon and swings forward, the two of them topple from the rigging like some kind of human Newtons Cradle, swinging towards each other, the ex-slaver lets go of the whip and falls to the deck avoiding the Saxon’s clumsy attack, a few moments later the Saxon also lands on the decks
Benito runs towards the edge of the ship, grabbing the rigging he cuts it and catapults himself towards the Saxon circling Moroveer, landing next to him he draws his sword in one fluid movement and slices open the sailor’s chest, as the dead Saxon falls to the deck planks Benito’s crew let out a great cheer.  Blythe shouts over that he doesn’t think Shivers will last much longer, Benito runs over, shouting for them to take him below deck and make it easy on him; Shivers has grabbed Blythe and is whispering something to him, Blythe looks confused, Shivers eyes look across at Blythe, then he dies.
Lantino and Naysus join them on the central vessel, Naysus seems non-plussed by the acrobats on display but Lantino reports that the day is theirs.
Blythe says that he’s sorry for Benito’s loss and that he didn’t really understand the last words Shivers said to him, he asks whether he can take one of the ships, Benito nods and gives Blythe one of the small escort ships, saying that he has to work his way up, the blue skinned ex-slave nods and says that Moroveer will be acting as his quartermaster. Benito warns Blythe that he must stick to the pirate code, at the mention of the code Blythe’s brow furrows and he says that Shivers mentioned the code in his last words, he reveals a piece of blue/grey metal that Shivers gave him with his dying breath. Benito nods as he recognises one of the legendary Pieces of Eight signifying the rank of Pirate Lord, “You have a steep learning curve ahead of you Lord Horningold.” Benito reveals that, in passing on the piece of eight, Shivers has made Blythe a Pirate Lord, dumbfounded Blythe asks Moroveer how much it would cost to employ him for longer than a year, but Moroveer suggests that is a conversation best had once they have all had time to absorb what has just happened.
Benito introduces Blythe to two of his fellow lords, Lantino and Naysus; approving of Blythe’s Atlantean descent Lantino introduces himself and offers 50% of his plunder to help set Blythe up, Blythe is glad to see another blue-skinned person explaining that he was the only one of his kind where he grew up on borders of Saxony and Celtia, he was attacked because he looked different, he killed one of his attackers and was arrested for murder. “It was the word of three of them against an outsider” he continues, relaying how he was sentenced to a life of slavery; Naysus introduces himself and says that he has no island and riches don’t matter to them, plunder is their reward, as he finishes speaking his men drag forward their chests of plunder and dump them at the feet of King Benito who distributes some of his share to his own crew to impress them, the crew cheer and shout his name.
Moroveer & Blythe head off with their crew (consisting of former slaves and some of the surviving Saxon crew who signed on) and as the years pass Lord Blythe settles into his role as a Pirate Lord, living on one of the smaller Turtle Islands, he adapts well aided in a financial capacity by Moroveer. 
As the years roll by Benito starts hearing rumours about some of the Captains who owe him personal loyalty disappearing, the odd loss of a pirate ship is nothing unusual, but as the number of disappearances grow Benito finds himself troubled; Moroveer watches as Blythe forges a strong relationship with Lord Lantino and slowly but surely he replaces the non-Atlantean crew members with those of Atlantean descent.
Worried Moroveer seeks out Benito in a small drinking establishment, to attract Benito’s attention he refers to the Pirate King as a slave and mentions his heritage, Benito attempts to draw his sword to discipline Moroveer but (drunk) he stumbles and the sword ends up sticking out of the wall, Moroveer gives his some rum and Benito swigs it back, the altercation of a few moments ago seemingly forgotten. Moroveer assures Benito that he has his best interests at heaty and points out that there are people out there more concerned with power and not bothered about money and that they covet his position. Moroveer asks Benito who takes his place when he dies and says that there’s probably a queue of people wanting to take his place, pointing out the antagonism between those of Lemurian and Atlantean descent. His warning given Moroveer leaves, Benito slumps into the vacated seat and continues drinking.
Over the next few months the number of Captains who owe personal loyalty to Benito who are disappearing continues to grow.
One morning on patrol Lord Drayven Naysus comes across the wreckage of a ruined ship, his crew find a single survivor clinging to a barrel, Naysus has the survivor pulled aboard, he is weak from dehydration and exposure, the survivor gestures with a shaking hand. Lord Naysus says “Speak before it’s too late, what happened?”
The survivor mouths the words “The black corsairs” and dies; Naysus’ and his crew search the surrounding waters but find nothing, it seems as though the attackers have just wrecked the ship and killed everyone on board.
Two days pass as Naysus returns to port.
Naysus makes his way to the island of Crown Port and Fort Crown, in a nearby tavern he finds King Benito regaling the locals of his daring exploits, it is a tale Naysus has heard before, each time it is told it gets more exaggerated; Benito has only seen Naysus onshore once before at his coronation as Pirate King, realising it must be urgent news he beckons Naysus over and the two head into a private booth. Naysus explains the incident he had a couple of days earlier with the wrecked ship and how it just seemed to be an attack designed purely to destroy. Benito knows that the Black Corsairs are the Sword Isle bogey men, a ghost story about a pirate crew that was so cruel and evil that when they died hell itself wouldn’t take them, forced to sail the sea forever looking for evil people to pressgang into their crew, he is dubious since the locals are very superstitious suggesting that it is more likely someone in local waters is posing as the Black Corsairs.
A salty old seadog know as Old Seamus has overheard the conversation and stumbles in to the booth shouting “Did I hear you mention the black corsairs King Benito?” Benito nods, telling him to keep quiet but to tell him what he knows, the old seadog doesn’t appear to be aware of how loudly he is talking and  says that he heard the Black Corsairs were evil spirits and not mortal men, they don’t just kill you but that they bind your soul into their crew for the rest of their days.
Moroveer has been managing Horningold Blythe’s assets and has noticed that most of the Pirate Lords have been unaffected by the recent attacks, only those who owe direct fealty to King Benito have been targetted, he also notices that Blythe hasn’t been moving as much wealth through the books as expected; realising that something underhand is going on he goes to confront Blythe, who is in conference with Lantino. As he enters they are in discussion with a brown cloaked and hooded figure, the conversation stops as he enters; Moroveer tells Blythe that Benito wants a report on the books and asks what Blythe wants him to say, he continues that they all know what is going on but he wants to know how close their plan in and that he doesn’t want to be hung if they aren’t ready. Blythe says that he values Moroveers service and that he may make his report to the Lemurian pretender to the throne as he sees fit – he will not be Pirate King long enough to take advantage of anything in it anyway, “Now is the time when Atlantis should rise again.” Moroveer hear’s a wheezing laugh from the hooded figure and, thinking he may be a shaman of some kind, he exits the room quickly.
Moroveer tracks down Marcus Dunstan, Benito’s current first mate, Dunstan is a loyal but not particularly intelligent person, he spends a lot of time gambling in the port-side taverns, he is playing blackjack with some of the other sailors, including Old Seamus; as Moroveer enters Dunstan is bemoaning his luck as Old Seamus scoops up his winnings, Moroveer gives Old Seamus five gold coins to give him some privacy with Marcus. He tells Marcus to let Benito know that “He has succeeded keeping his friends close and his enemies closer” saying that the message comes “from someone who always thinks he’s always going to be a slave.”
Later, as Benito is heading back to Fort Crown he is approached by his first-mate who passes on the message given to him by Moroveer, Benito is puzzled but gives Marcus a coin as a reward and goes about his business; Benito visits Naysus who is onboard his anchored ship, he plans to get Naysus and a couple of his men together so that they can pay Moroveer a visit and get some answers, before they can do so they spot a local sailor running towards the ship and trying to attract their attention. He comes aboard (obviously out of breath) and says he was sent by Capt Jereboam of Benito’s fleet, ships bearing black sails have been seen off the coast of Crown Port, without wasting any time Benito runs to the nearest alarm bell and begins to ring it.
Looking out across the dock of Crown Port he finds it odd that these Corsairs seem to have abandoned their previous hit and run targets and then he realises suddenly that almost the entirety of his own personal fleet are moored in Crown Port and that they are more or less defenceless, he shouts for all hands to ready themselves to defend the port. Suddenly he experiences a flash of pain and he sees a vision of a large circular chamber where a brown robed figure steps forward towards a huge object on an altar, it seems to be a huge crab claw the size of two men laid end-to-end, the figures pulls it’s hood back and to reveal grey skin and a face combining the worst features of shark and man; it begins to chant in a whispered language over the object.
Snapping back to his present surroundings Benito hears a cry of pain from behind him and something heavy hits him on the back, he turns round to see Naysus is still stood there, blood fountaining from his severed head, his first-mate Cragg pushes the old lord’s body out of the way, pulling his axe out of the corpse. Grappling hooks come over the side of the ship, Blythe, Lantino and their men swarm aboard the ship; Benito plans to attack Lantino to pay him back for his betrayal but he knows that he has only one chance before he’s overwhelmed and it is obvious that Naysus’ crew are loyal to their new Captain Cragg. Benito glances ashore looking for help from his men but a melee has broken out on the gangplanks leading to Naysus’ ship between those loyal to Benito and those attempting to overthrow him. The Pirate King draws his cutlass and attempts to throw some coins in the face of Lantino to distract him, the blue-skinned Lord ignores them and kicks Benito between the legs, he collapses down on one kneww.
Blythe steps forward and, on the wind, Benito hears the strange voice pronouncing some whispered syllables, “It’s already too late for you Benito, surrender and we’ll make your death quick” says the mocking voice of Horningold Blythe. Benito lashes out but his muscles cramp and a pain comes across him as Blythe reaches towards his neck and takes his Piece of Eight. Through the pain Benito feels himself raised into the air before Cragg hurls him over the edge into the water and, unable to sink, he begins to sink, the last thing he hears is the mocking voice of Blythe saying “The curse will take him now, he’s already dead” and a ragged chorus of buccaneers crying “Long live King Blythe!”
* * *
Back in the present Mervane removes his hand from Benito’s face as the vision of the past finishes, Benito shudders as he remembers the chanting of the robed figure over the giant claw, he doesn’t remember seeing that originally, was that some side-effect of Mervane’s magic or did it really happen?
At the back of the cell, previously unnoticed and swindled out of his money by the Regent sits Moroveer, he has been councilled by Mervane to bide his time and that an opportunity to escape would present itself; hearing a familiar voice he runs forward and in a disbelieving voice asks Benito how he survived. Moroveer says he is in jail as a result of being a slave to money and offers 2 years loyal service for his freedom; Benito nods and has Gunnar Kron bend the bars far enough to release him.

"The Serpent Idol" – Serpents Fall : Session 5 flashback (written summary)

A days travel north of the small village of Wulfricingas our heroes have settled down for the night to sleep; Horesh Komanio their Khemrian death-priest rolls over, fitfully in his sleep and his sleeping mind carries him back down the river of time and memory to an incident that occurred many, many months before.
***
The southern jungles were hot and sticky, forming a natural boundary between the two seperated nations of Khemri and Stygia and acting as a balwark to prevent all out war erupting again between the two kingdom; from within the tomb cities of Khemri however the Sorceror King’s gazed longingly out at the thick expanse of jungle, all that seperated them from forcibly annexing Stygia. The Stygian tribes wanted for nothing more than to cleave to their old ways of being respectful and living with the spirits whereas the Khemrians wished to use the ancient knowledge that their forebears had preserved from the mythical times of the once great Serpent Empire that had ruled the world in the dim and distant past.

A group of six death-priest aspirants hesitantly entered the tomb at the bidding of their master, a senior death-priest called Baufra; they each knew that this test, this trial, would see one of them elevated to the status of a death-priest adept, howeever it would also see those who failed or whose spirits were too weak dead. Horesh ran over the object of the trial in his mind, the group had to enter the Serpent Empire ruin deep within the jungle, only one of them could survive and the victor would emerge bearing the obsidian daggers of a true death priest. Am-Hotep the most headstrong of the group was the first to make it into the ziggurat, running ahead of the others, keen to claim the prize.

Some distance away to the east, on the other side of the jungle expanse, bright, blood red flames danced in the air above a small Stygian village and the crackling of the flames mingled with the screams of the dying; amongst this scene of carnage strode the blood splattered norse warriors of the Timber Wolf clan, their axes and hammers smashing structures and people with little discrimination in their pursuit of plunder. As a large hut collapsed a figure could just be glimpsed dragging a dazed survivor from the ruins, the figure was clad in the same furs as the norse raiders but there was no bloodlust in his eyes only horror and sadness; Ozuchi looked up as he was dragged out of the burning ruins of his village by one of the very same Norsican raiders responsible for destroying it, but he could sense a difference in the barbarian, a dawning realisation or awakening. Pointing at the boundary of the nearby jungle the Norsican shouted “I don’t have time to explain, make for the trees, hopefully they’ll miss you and come after me?”

“May the spirits bless you” mumbled Ozuchi running towards the trees

“Just go!” shouted the Norsican before turning and charging towards the mob of frenzied warriors emerging from the smoke swinging a large hammer into the first of them; forgetting about the fleeing Stygian the norse warriors attacked Ozuchi’s saviour, but the Stygian didn’t have time to think about it as he plunged into the forest, swearing to himself that he would not forget his saviours face. Running at his heels Ozuchi’s guardian komodo spirit whispered “If it is the will of the spirits then you may yet meet again.”

Horesh had been running around inside a ruined jungle ziggurat for what seemed like hours, the words of the death-priest that set him this task seemed to ring in his ears still, “This is one of the ancient tombs, the oldest remnant of the Serpent Empire, if the spirits bless you then you may find your way through this tomb and emerge awakened, if not or your minds are not enlightened enough then you will never emerge from this place.”

Occasionally a scream echoed within the ziggurat, but everytime Horesh got to where the sound was coming from he was too late to see what caused it; the ziggurat was a square shaped pyramid with corridors spiralling towards the centre of it, Horesh remembered the old legends of his people about the dire sorceries and traps that the Serpent Empire used to protect their lands from interlopers, perhaps some influence was yet at work on his mind since it felt as though he had been running for days, but that was surely impossible. Horesh was bought out of his reverie by the sound of a scream and a dull thud from just around the corner, moving like a living shadow towards the sound Horesh was is just in time to see a panel in the wall sliding back to conceal an entrance and a pair of legs clad in death-priest robes being pulled into the concealed corridor. Examining the scene Horesh saw a few splatters of blood, running his hands across the panel he began to examine the carving of a great coiled serpent or dragon that adorned it (possibly a depiction of one of the great mythical dragon creator spirits), until his hand roamed over a gemstone forming the eye of the serpent, there was a click as he exerted pressure on it and the stone panel slid upwards, revealing a concealed corridor clogged in dust and cobwebs. Horesh can see a trail in the dust where the body has been dragged, pulling his cloak closer around him the aspirant death-priest hurried into the corridor.

Ozuchi made his way deeper into the jungle, the sound of the massacre fading behind him, he reflected on his knowledge of the Serpent mythology that his tribe had passed down throughout the years about how the once great empire meddled with blasphemous entities or spirits and bought about their own downfall; he eventually arrives at the foot of a large white sandstone ziggurat and stands there admiring it for a moment. Suddenly his warrior instincts cried out and he threw himself to one side as a body fell from the sky and broke upon the ground in the place where he had just been standing. Looking up Ozuchi could see a shadow on top of the ziggurat retreating from view as though someone had hurled the unfortunate person from the top of the stone pyramid; running over to the broken victim Ozuchi could see that the man was not long for the world and was gasping out his last few breaths. Dropping down onto one knee next to the unfortunate person Ozuchi asked “What did this to you?”

Spasmodically the man grabbed Ozuchi’s shoulder and whispered the word “Am-Hotep”, and then life left his body in a rattling final exhaltation.

Ozuchi’s guardian komodo dragon spirit seemed to be sniffing around one of the large stone blocks at the base of the pyramid and, when Ozuchi looked closer, he could see a razor sharp stone spike carved into the slab, it appeared to be stained with dried blood, a carved channel running from the spike down the slab and spiralling towards a small hole in the stone, there was also traces of blood within the carved track. Realising that blood must be the method to open an entrance to the ziggurat Ozuchi shed a couple of drops of his own blood onto the spike, the slab shuddered for a moment but remained still; thinking that perhaps he had’t offered enough, but unwilling to risk bleeding himself in the jungle, Ozuchi picked up the body of the deceased death-priest and pushed it onto the spike. As the blood of the death-priest turgidly flowed along the carved channel and into the hole at the centre of the slab it opened with a grinding sound to reveal an entrance to the ziggurat.

Horesh continues=d to explore the cobweb filled corridor within the ziggurat, the light in there started to become very dim but the death-priest was able to rely on his excellent night-vision to help him, but eventually he is forced to feel along the walls for guidance as the light leaves completely; he suddenly pulls his hand back as he feels the unmistakable contours of a human face below his hand.

“Hello?” asks Horesh, but there is no reply and so, carefully, he begins to examine the figure but is distracted by a slight hissing/rattling sound from further down the corridor; he eventually identifies one of his fellow aspirants (now deceased) who appears to have been mounted on a sharp stone spike protruding from the wall of the corridor. There is a thump as Horesh’s examination of the body disturb it and a long-extinguished wooden torch falls from the dead fingers of the deceased priest, thinking to protect himself from potential traps Horesh tears some strips of cloth from the deceased priests robes and wraps them around his hand before scooping up the fallen torch, although he lacks the means to light it, behind him the stone slab slides downwards, trapping him in the corridor. Moving the unlit torch infront of him to guide his movements and ward off threats, Horesh begins to slowly move further down the corridor; from up ahead he hears another hissing sound, but this time he believes it sounds more like gas escaping or some sort of mechanism than a serpent fiend, before he had chance to think on it further there was the sound of footsteps and a dark shape bolted down the corridor towards him, colliding with him.

Untangling himself from the other figure, Horesh looked on the pale face of his fellow aspirant Am-Hotep who looked fearful and panicked; Horesh asked Am-Hotep what he was doing there and whether he’d seen the bodies, “Yes I was with Ra when they took him” replied Am-Hotep

“When who took him?”

“Strange hissing creatures who emerged from the wall and took him like the ancient serpent people of myth” babled Am-Hotep showing Horesh his arm, that bore twin puncture wounds, marring his otherwise white flesh. Horesh explains about the secret door that he had discovered and Am-Hotep relays how he had encountered a number of doors with stone spikes where blood has to be spilt on them in order to open them. The hissing sounds again, getting louder and louder, Am-Hotep starts to panic, shouting about it the serpent people coming for him.

Unexpectedly Am-Hotep suddenly pushes Horesh in the direction of the hissing and runs in the opposite direction screaming “No! Take him! You promised you’d let me live if I gave you the others!” Picking himself up Horesh dashes in pursuit of him and, drawing level, strikes Am-Hotep on the back of the head with his unlit torch, driving the other death-priest to his knees; pulling Am-Hotep up into a head-lock Horesh points his fellow death-priest towards the hissing, walking backwards with him. As they draw close to the closed concealed door that Horesh used to enter this passageway, a shadowed mess rounds the corner and slithers closer towards them, twin points of red light staring out of the darkness; Horesh pulls on his knowledge of the ancient legends and shouts out “Hear me serpent of the ruins, I have with me the pretender who would dare to go against his teachings and make a deal with you.”

Am-Hotep screams out “No! You don’t want me, you want him!”

“One must die so the other may live” comes a hissing voice from the darkness

“Why must it be this way? asks horesh

“It is the balance, wherever there is life there is death” replies the sibilant voice

“Is there a way that we could resolve this in a fair manner?” asks Horesh

“There is no fair, there is no right or wrong, there is only the choice” comes the response.

A short distance away, Ozuchi has crafted himself a flaming torch and has been exploring the ziggurat for some time; he suspects that some form of sorcery is at work that confuses the mind and makes the dimensions of the pyramid seem far more vast than they actually are. Continuing to move down the passageway Ozuchi’s sharp sense suddenly pick up muffling voices and a hissing noice from behind a wall to his left, thinking that there must be a concealed entrance he begins to check the wall carvings until his hand moves across a gemstone studded into the wall, they is a loud scraping sound as the gemstone presses in and a secret door opens.

Light bursts out from behind Horesh as the door creaks upwards and he turns his face away so that the sudden influx of light doesn’t ruin his vision, Am-Hotep takes advantage of the distraction and wriggles free of Horesh’s grasp; peering into the corridor Ozuchi see the two death-priests struggling as one of them breaks free from the other. Too late Am-hotep skids to a halt just before a patch of darkness, a large reptilian claw reaches out, taking hold of Am-Hotep and pulls him into the shadows, there is a muffled scream that rapidly fades into nothingness; the red-eyed shaped begins to advance on Horesh and Ozuchi, quickly grabbing hold of Horesh, Ozuchi pulls him back through the door as the cowled reptilian creature moves forward. Ozuchi spins around and hurls his torch at the creature that emits a high pitched screaming and retreats backwards into the corridor, the secret door slamming shut behind it. There is no sign of Am-Hotep.

Now out of danger Horesh thanks Ozuchi for saving him from the creature, Ozuchi nods and the two of them enter a brief discussion about whether the creature was some sort of snake spirit or if it was some previously unknown remnant of the Serpent Empire before they continue to explore the pyramid, travelling together since it would appear that the ziggurat is more dangerous than otherwise expected; as Horesh mentions the name Am-Hotep, Ozuchi confirms that Am-Hotep had already slain at least one of the other aspirants.

“He obviously had a weak heart and gave into the darkness of the spirit world” said Ozuchi when Horesh explained a little about the trial that he was undergoing and how Am-Hotep had tried to offer him to the serpent creature. Eventually they enter a small chamber containing the dead body of one of the death-priest aspirants, a pool of blood congealing on the floor around him, Horesh moves to examine the body when one of the flagstones moves under his weight with a clicking sound, he hurls himself backwards just in time to avoid a series of small darts that whizz across the chamber from hidden boltholes, they embed themselves in the wall and, a few moments later, crumble into dust. Picking up a crumbling chunk of masonry Horesh drops it on the rooms flagstones, occasionally triggering the trap, until they establish that there is only a single line of trigger stones stretching across the width of the chamber, both himself and Ozuchi leap over the trigger stones and continue their exploration.

The two south-landers emerge into a huge, tall chamber decorated with crumbling friezes and peeling gold leaf, the central feature of the chamber (lit by a shaft of sunlight bursting through the crumbling roof) is a large clear pool of water, a huge stone serpent statue taking up centre place; littered around and in the pool are the bodies of the remaining death-priests. Cautiously heading over to them Horesh sees that each deceased aspirant bears a set of twin puncture wounds on their bodies, Ozuchi realises that, although only recently dead, the muscles of the dead bodies have seized and locked into strange positions as though they had died spasming in agony; as he counts the bodies, realisation dawns on Horesh that he is the last death-priest aspirant remaining alive and he begins to search the chamber for the item that heralds success in this trial.
Hesitantly Horesh enters the pool and begins to peer at the statue, his eyes widen when he realises that both the snake statues fangs are made of the obsidian blades that he seeks, checking that his hand-wraps are still secure Horesh reaches up for the fangs.

Bursting into life the stone serpent sinks it’s fangs into Horesh’s arms, he feels a strange, numbness creeping through him from the puncture wounds, with the last of his strength the Khemrian grasps the two obsidian fangs and pulls them from the statue; ignoring the potential peril from the animated statue Ozuchi turns his back on it to minister to his injured companion, pulling some medicinal herbs from his small travelling bag and pushing them into the Khemrian’s mouth. Unfortunately with his attention elsewhere, Ozuchi is unable to prevent the huge serpent from wrapping it’s coils around him and pulling him away, the Stygian feels his ribs begin to creak and crack, however his medicine has done it’s work and Horesh begins to feel some of his strength returning; snatching up the obsidian blades from where they had fallen from his numbed fingers Horesh slices out at the animate statue, severing it’s head, the statue reverting to normal stone as it ceases to be animated. Gently, his strength continuing to return, Horesh eases Ozuchi free of the statues, sheathing the two blades and the two of them begin to make their way towards the exit of the ziggurat.

As they leave the ziggurat Ozuchi notices that someone appears to have removed the body that he placed on the spike and there is no sign of it as they emerge into the humid jungle air; the two of them are preparing to make camp when, amidst a rustle of foliage, the blood-soaked figure of the nordic warrior who saved Ozuchi’s life staggers out of the trees; the warrior grins lop-sidedly and gasps “I’m glad to see you made it” before collapsing face-forwards infront of them, half a spear sticking out of his back.

***
Horesh groaned as he opened his eyes, he looked out across the campfire at where Gunnar Kron and Ozuchi were sleeping, their bedrolls next to Lord Wulfric, he remembered well the trial and how he had met Ozuchi and how the medicine man had later healed the injured Kron, he smiled before settling back down to sleep.

Serpents Fall: Death in the Forest – Session 3

Thinking about recent events Ozuchi calls on the knowledge of his ancestral spirits and asks them “Where will the dark corsairs target next?” A whispered voice on the wind speaks to Ozuchi as a flock of seagulls take to the air and spiral around the stygian medicine man, the spirits of the air tell him that the dark corsairs will strike next on the western coast of Saxony; as Ozuchi relays the information and Horesh points out that it’s a very long journey, Gunnar rankles at the fact they can’t even take a boat due to Benito’s curse.
Meanwhile their captive, Captain Hannibal Hawkins, observes them from where he is confined, Benito says that he’s going to interrogate him and asks for aid from the rest of the party; feeling unsettled with the notion of interrogation and possible torture of an enemy who cannot fight back, Gunnar sits in to make sure that no dishonourable methods will be used to extract information from their captive. Hannibal Hawkins, is a bald, weather-beaten man who obviously mucks in with his crew and is used to feeling the lash of the elements as he works on deck, he breathes in sharply as he is ungagged since the gag restricted him breathing through his mouth and his nose was still bloody from the fight, he spits on the ground at Benito’s feet.
“It is good to see you” says Benito, attempting to remain conversational
“The feeling is not mutual, how do you come to be here? I was told you were dead – better for you if you were” spits Hawkins
“I’m Captain Benito, you can’t kill me, how do you think I came to become pirate king?” asked Benito glibly
“I don’t know, i’m more an expert on how easy it was to depose you” replies Hawkins with a spluttering cackle
“Cutting, but you’re not really in a position to make insults are you, bound as you are on your own ship that we’ve taken from under your feet?” says Benito
“How do you think the real pirate king will respond when he realises you’re alive?”
“He’ll prob piss his pants and get someone else to deal with it, like he normally does” said Benito with bravado
“Things have changed, there’s a new order in the Sword Isles Benito”
“Who?” asked Benito
“Captain Blythe, he has promised to return the Sword Isles to a position of rulership over the world, as it was before Atlantis sank”
“He’s taking his time”
“Only a fool rushes his plans, as you should know”
Benito asks Hawkins where they were taking the slaves to be sold and Hawkins says that they weren’t selling them to anyone and that he was buying, not selling; they were providing herbs & spices to the Picts in return for the slaves since some of the ingredients are hard to get on the mainline, but the more tropical environment on the Sword Isles are ideal for growing them. Hawkins says that he doesn’t know why the pirate king wants the slaves since he doesn’t reveal his plans to Hawkins.
“So he’s not revealed his plans to you, that is a quite intelligent move on his behalf, for once” says Benito, his opinion of the usurper Pirate King Horningold Blythe obvious in his expression
Hawkins refuses to say anything further, Kron picks him up and carries the beaten pirate lord to the brig of his own ship, securing him soundly in the brig; Gunnar says that, before they deal with any thoughts of what is going on in the Sword Isles, they need to get the survivors back to their village, but before they depart Benito renders the ship unsailable without a few hours work re-tying all of the ropes and supports that he has undone.
Moving back through the tunnels, Horesh becomes aware of his spirit companion as he moves within range and that the villagers are still okay; they enter the cavern leading the survivors from the ship and the young girl Keira is re-united with her mother Kayla, both breaking down in tears of happiness. Gunnar says that they should escort the people back to the remnants of their village and make sure there’s enough for them to survive.
The party begins leading the group of malnourished villagers through the darkness of the Great Forest, Horesh and Gunnar moving carefully whilst Ozuchi and Benito moving ahead quickly, scouting out the way ahead of the group. Ozuchi becomes aware of dark shapes moving just behind the treeline, quietly seeking to surround the party and briefly sees crouched human figures with dimly glowing eyes; he holds his hand up to indicate to the rest of the party that he has seen something and then leaps into the thick foliage of the treeline.
Benito draws his weapon, Kron does likewise whilst moving up to take a defensive position besides the villagers, Horesh draws his daggers; Ozuchi dives towards what he thought was the light glinting off one of the pictish blades, but he finds that it is actually a decoy, a blade deliberately stuck into the tree so as to reflect the light, before he can retreat the stygian feels a jagged flint blade stabbed into him. Captain Benito hears Ozuchi crying a pained oath in stygian, he attempts to assess the situation but can only see silhouettes running through the trees a short distance off; yo Benito the enemies move so silently that they seem less like people and more like spirits of the woods, he has heard tales of the Picts and how they worship strange unclean spirits and perform ceremonies seeking to make them like unto spirits themselves.
Horesh sends his familiar raven spirit into the air so that, via his spiritual link with it, he can get a birds-eye view of the situation; the picts are skillfully blending into the forest (almost supernaturally so) but, sharing the senses of his familiar Horesh can see a pict fighting with Ozuchi, two are closing on himself and Kron whilst a third is drawing near to Benito. Horesh relays what he has seen to Kron; using this information Gunnar strides across the clearing and attacks as a pict rushes out of the undergrowth, the warrior is clearly taken aback that the norsican has seen through his camouflage and Kron swings his hammer at his opponent. The warrior manages to throw itself to one side, avoiding the blow although it drops its knife in the process.
As the warrior fighting Ozuchi prepares to attack, the stygian shaman sees that his opponent seems to be in the grip of the hallucinogenic woad, almost as though looking through him, the look is similar to someone viewing the spirit world; the stygian summons his komodo dragon spirit to join with him, his skin briefly becoming scaley and rough, and easily able to turn aside the knife attack of the pictish warrior. Sparks spray into the air as the pictish knife glances harmlessly off Ozuchi’s skin. Benito runs forwards to help out Ozuchi as he sees the shower of sparks shortly ahead of him, he is taken by surprise when from the undergrowth besides him another warriors bursts out of the foliage, slamming Benito down to the floor and jabbing a thin flint knife into his ribs.
Horesh thinks about running to help Benito but realises that he would be leaving Kron and the villagers at the mercy of two warriors, so he holds his position as another warrior emerges into the clearing; seeing the spirit-stare of the approaching warrior, Horesh briefly wonders if the effects of the hallucinogenic woad goes far deeper then they had previously thought, but he doesn’t have much time to think about it as the pict moves to attack.
Looking for a weakness in his enemy, Horesh takes advantage of his opponents drugged state as he ducks under the blow of the warrior and jabs his twin sacrifical knives into the underside of the pict’s skull who gurgles and topples to the floor dead. Kron leaps to the side of the remaining crouching warrior, as the warrior glances over at his companion meeting an end on the sharp blades of Horesh’s knives, the norsican swings his hammer down, impacting squarely with the pict and slaying him. Further up ahead Ozuchi, still engaged in combat, strikes his opponent in the chest and then, in an impressive display of stygian martial arts, flips the pictish warrior so that his body falls onto his own decoy-weapon, killing him.
Benito pushes off the warrior rolling around with him and, grabbing some of the hanging vines, attempts to swing clear but the pict grabs him and stabs the ex-pirate king in the neck; the warrior leaps clear of Benito’s return blow, scuttling halfway up a tree with it’s flint knife gripping between it’s teeth. Hearing the noises and cries from up ahead Horesh concentrates on the spirit world, summoning a lesser spirit of the forest to aid his companion whilst, being reluctant to leave the villagers, Kron lets out a loud norsican battle-cry in an attempt to distract whatever picts are still fighting; he feels a bestial presence briefly enter his body, making his cry reverberate around the forest as the spirits summoned by Horesh re-inforce his action.
The warrior fighting Benito is scared by the unholy sound, a fearful look entering his eyes; Ozuchi meanwhile runs back into the clearing to where Horesh and Kron are protecting the villagers. The pict leaps from the trees at Benito, his knife held high but Benito neatly sidesteps the attack, avoiding it, spins around and stabs his sword into the chest of the warrior, bringing him a quick death. The forest once again fall quiet, the echo of Kron’s mighty roar still fading slowly, Benito searches the body of the fallen warrior and takes his flint blade from him.
Thinking about the stares of the picts, Ozuchi summons up his ancestral spirits and asks them to reveal to him, what sort of spirit power the pictish warriors are using; all of the birds filling the trees turn to look at Ozuchi, and amongst their cawing, a voice says “The warriors call upon blasphemous creatures of the Outer Darkness, they are not of the spirit world.”
Ozuchi explains to the others that the anient almost mythical empire of Atlantis trafficked with spirits from the Outer Darkness and it destroyed their empire, Benito wondered whether that was what Horiningold Blythe was up to. Benito explains to the others about how the Inner Sea used to be Atlantis, and that the landmass sank after they meddled in forbidden magic creating the Inner Sea and the Sword Isles; most of the atlanteans and their slaves the lemurians were killed but some of their bloodline continued in the modern world, Benito himself has lemurian blood. Benito says that he needs to go home to stop whatever Blythe is up to, but that he can’t do so with the curse still hanging over him; Kron asks Ozuchi and Horesh if they can break the curse and Ozuchi, thinking for a moment, says that the curse is permanent must be extremely powerful and that someone of equal or greater power would be required to remove it.
Ozuchi tells his companions that the more information he has about how the curse was cast, the better; Benito suggests that, one they have made the villagers safe, they return to Hannibal Hawkins and see if he knows anything about it.
Arriving at the burnt out remnants of the village, a number of the survivors break down weeping when they see the dead bodies and the ruins of their former home; both Ozuchi and Gunnar find the experience quite moving, Ozuchi because his home village was destroyed, and Gunnar because he destroyed many such villages before he saw a way to a more honourable life. Feeling a little uncomfortable Benito removes himself from the situation and begins wandering through the wreckage; in the treeline he spots a large flat leafed plant called Arrowleaf that he remembers being used as a ships spice by one of his cooks, he tries a bit and finds it has a peppery taste and has a little heat to it. Benito picks some, planning to dry and grind it and put it in a pouch so it can be thrown in an opponents face to distract them.
Ozuchi goes to begin preparing graves but Kron stops him and suggests it may be better to make a funeral pyre; Ozuchi sells the villagers on the idea of the pyre and they agree to help build it whilst Horesh begins to delicately broach the subject of last rites. Ozuchi suggests to the villagers that they use the ashes of their dead to fertilise the land, blessing it, and keeping the spirits of the dead with them; Horesh leads them in a simple khemrian death prayer as Ozuchi and Kron place the bodies on the pyre, the villagers seem more at peace and have a renewed determination to rebuild their lives and their village. The villagers make some temporary lean to shelters and sit around a fire telling stories about those they have lost, saying that the group will always be welcome in their village.
Calling on his experience of the norsican tradition of oral storytelling, Kron tells a tale of a saxon settlement of the northern edge of Saxony, which was one of the first to be raided by the northern tribes before the horse people existed as a buffer between the two nations. In the story, there were many norsicans who gave into their anger and bestial sides, becoming something more and less than human, becoming berserkers who could shift their shapes into monstrous creatures. Despite their strength these individuals were cast out when their comrades saw the depravities that had been wreaked on this village by the deviants, for the deviants could not stand up against the pure of heart. Kron tells the villagers that they are pure of heart and no evil, no setbacks, can prevent them from rebuilding their village and story, the only thing that can is their own fear.
Horesh leaves his familiar on lookout whilst they all go to sleep. Gunnar Kron awakes first and is helping the villagers move the larger pieces of rubble ready for the rebuilding project; Ozuchi looks around to make sure there is no danger but, given that the picts seem to prefer attacking under cover of darkness, there is little sign of any trouble. Benito approaches Ozuchi as he awakes and says that, noble as helping the villagers is, there is a much larger issue and they should perhaps press on with their efforts to halt whatever nefarious scheme Blythe has afoot; Ozuchi agrees and rounds up the rest of the party, they make their way back to the burial mound and through the tunnels to the small bay where Captain Hawkins is still confined on his ship.
Benito asks Horesh to conjure some spirits to lend support to their attempts to intimidate information out of Captain Hawkins; as they move down the scree slope towards the waters edge, above the sound of tumbling rocks, Horesh hears a human scream coming from inside the boat, he shouts to the others and they break into a run towards the boat. Benito and Kron get to the boat first and jump aboard, drawing weapons and running towards the brig; Kron leaps through the trapdoor drawing his hammer whilst Benito grabs some hanging rigging and swings down after him pulling out his sword.
Hannibal Hawkins is being held up by his throat by a figure of living shadow that is throttling the life out of him; without pause Kron hurls his hammer at the strange, dark elongated figure, it strikes home causing it to drop Hawkins onto the deck. Benito draws his sword and attempts to begin negotiating saying “Now we have your attention”; as it turns towards Kron, part of the oily surface peals back to reveal a skull like head/face. It raises a skeletal hand towards Kron and begins to slowly close it’s fist, the norsican feels an increasing pressure on his heart and cries out in pain as he clasps his chest; Benito’s sword flashes out, aiming for the creatures outstretched arm, it screams and the skull collapses back into the oiley mass of it’s body, although it continues moving.
Horesh drops into the chamber and instantly recognises it as a manifested death spirit that has been summoned and empowered by someone to act as their assassin, he slices out with his daggers, striking the creature, the skeletal hands collapse back into the mass leaving just an amorphous black, thrashing blob that lashes out at Horesh; the khemrian death priest nimbly sidesteps the attack. Bereft of his hammer, Kron glances around and then grabs a barrel before smashing it down on the huge blob, it screams and lies still, before it slowly begins to fade away.
Kron rushes over to Hawkins and sits him up as Ozuchi arrives in the brig, the stygian medicine man examines Hawkins crushed throat; Benito tells Hawkins that, since they’ve saved his life and if he cooperates, they’ll help him, Hawkins nods in response. They give him water and Ozuchi applies some medicinal herbs to help sooth the inflammation of his throat; on a suggestion from Benito they take Hawkins upstairs so that he can take in some of the healthy sea air, this seems to revive him somewhat.
“That thing would seem to have been sent by Blythe since he must have realised that you’ve not been successful” says Benito to the bedraggled pirate as he once again becomes capable of talking, his throat soothed somewhat
“The pirate king does not tolerate failure” splutters Hawkins. Meanwhile Horesh tells them that a lot of power must have been used to allow the spirit to manifest at such a distance, but that the spirit itself was only a lesser spirit; Benito tells Hawkins he needs all the information he has on the curse.
Hawkins tells him that a short time before Benito was deposed that Blythe recovered something from the shores of the Inner Sea, and it was afer that he first started talking about his new world order and making arrangements to overthrow Benito, shortly after this he began to negotiate with the pictish tribes; all Hawkins knows is that the slaves are apparently essential to usher in Blythe’s new age of atlantean supremacy. He tells Benito that somehow Blythe used the blood of lemurians to lay the curse and that the solution might also lie within that blood, Ozuchi nods and says that they need to find some more lemurian and that their best chance for this is to head for a larger settlement to see if they can find an other people with lemurian blood.
To prove he is a better king than Blythe, Benito returns Hawkin’s ship to him on the understanding that he no longer traffic in human lives or have dealings with those who use black magic; Benito threatens to hunt him down if he breaks this bargain and tells him to let people know that the true pirate king still lives, Hawkins agrees. After a short discussion the group decide to head to one of the larger cities of Saxony, and begin heading towards the capitol city of Winchester.

Serpents Fall: The Darkness Beneath – Session 2

Horesh leads the group through the darkness of Celtia’s Great Forest, following the strands of death energy ahead of him, Ozuchi follows behind, his eyes darting over the varied vegetation of the Great Forest, occasionally he pauses to pluck some herbs and roots that he thinks might help with his healing arts. The trees they pass are huge and ancient, having been there for many years before they were born and will no doubt be there long after their deaths; the ground, covered in moss, rises into a burial mound or Tor infront of them. Horesh snaps out of his spirit-trance as they reach the burial mound seen in his vision, he is momentarily disorientated but is re-assured when Gunnar and Ozuchi tell him that he’s bought them to the place where the savage warriors may have come from.
Kron and Ozuchi begin searching the area for tracks and, a few moments later, Ozuchi gives a shout as he spots a concealed wooden entrance to the burial mound covered with moss, Kron congratulates him on a job well done as he pulls the concealing wooden slats aside; the wood covers a tunnel entrance heading down underground at a roughly 45-degree angle, Kron steps forward, hefting his hammer and saying “I’ll lead.”
Inside, the tunnel is narrow, only allowing them to move in single file but they make there way forwards with Kron leading, followed by Ozuchi, Horesh and with Benito bringing up the rear; the peat laden soil is damp and it is dark and cold within the tunnel. Kron keeps a hand on the wall to steady himself and maintain his position, he has them all place a hand on each other’s shoulder to keep the party together should anything unexpected occur. 
Eventually the tunnel widens out into a cavern lined with glowing moss that casts a dim blue light; despite their attempts to remain quiet as they move further into the barrow mound the group are a little bit noisey due to not being able to really see where they are putting their feet. Entering the cavern they can hear a faint sobbing and Kron sees a large cage built of vines and local wood, inside he can just see a number of huddled figures; the norsican warrior peers closer hoping that these are the captives from the small village, unable to see the people clearly Captain Benito hacks a small sheet of the glowing moss from the wall, it dims slightly but still casts light. Benito throws the glowing moss into the cage and, in the increased light, the party can see that there are three women and a couple of children (one male, one female) in the cage, all are malnourished and emaciated.
With the light from the moss fading quickly, Ozuchi looks around and spots a second tunnel leading out of the cavern in an eastern direction; Kron approaches the cage, planning to share his rations with the prisoners, recognising that Kron has the look of a norsican raider the feeble people panic and try to scramble away from him despite his attempts to speak softly with them; realising that he isn’t helping the situation, Kron steps back away. Benito suggests releasing them, thinking that they’ll be able to survive on their own, however Kron points out that, in their weakened states, they may be easy prey for the creatures of the forest; the norsican throws some of his bread ration towards the people and slowly, hunger overwhelming their fear, they move forward and start eating the bread.
Ozuchi asks Benito to keep an eye on the eastern exit from the cage, whilst he slices some moss from the wall and begins to wring moisture from it to quench the thirst of the captives, having eaten and drank a little they begin to regain a little of their colour. Captain Benito smells something strange, an odd, smokey, herblike odour drifting down the eastern tunnel that he stands next to, he moves to stand beside the tunnel entrance so that he can be hidden from view should anyone emerge from the eastern tunnel, there is a loud crunch from beneath his feet, and he looks down to see he’s standing in a shallow recess full of human bones. Benito examines the bones and sees they are recent and appear to have be scored by flint tools that stripped the flesh from them; he shouts to the others that the savages may be cannibals.
Horesh removes his hood and steps forward to speak to the bedraggled villagers, they begin screaming and attempting to scramble to the far side of the cave from Horesh with even more violence than their reaction to Kron; Kron and Benito recognise the look of absolute fear on the eyes of the panicked villagers as Horesh backs off. Benito steps forward and, comforted by Ozuchi’s medicinal skills, the villagers engage him in conversation; one of the children (a blue eyed, young girl with red hair & dry tear tracks down her cheeks) runs towards Benito and accepts some food from him, she asks him whether or not he has seen her mother (describing her as tall with red hair). Benito trys to comfort the child, who explains that her mother was taken by “the men” down the eastern tunnel and that the men have been taking villagers down the tunnel at intervals, they have heard horrible noises, screaming and laughter from down the tunnel.
Trying to establish why the people panicked at Horesh’s presence Ozuchi mentions the word Khemri but they don’t appear to respond, Benito asks the young girl why they were scared of Horesh, she apologises and says that they thought he was one of the dark men who have been taking them away; Kron feels anger growing inside him at the thought of these warriors preying on innocent women and children who cannot fight back, he says that there might still be survivors and that, if they were taken down the tunnel, then that’s where the party needs to go.
Kron opens the cage whilst Benito advises the villagers that it might be in their best interest to wait until they return so that they can guide them back in safety; the young girl appears to have taken a bit of a shine to Benito and the villagers agree to wait. Horesh leaves his familiar raven behind, relying on his spiritual link with it to inform him should the villagers face any future peril, and they begin to continue their exploration with Horesh now in the lead.
The herby, smokey smell begins to grow stronger and more pungent as they move further down the darkening tunnel, Kron speculates that perhaps the savages are sacrificing the villagers in some sort of religious ceremony; as the smoke thickens the party pull strips of cloth over their noses, unfortunately the fumes catch Ozuchi by surprise and his pupils dilate as he begins to feel the effects of the strange narcotic fumes come over him, causing the shadows and drips of water to form into dancing, geometric shapes. Benito wraps a piece of cloth around the dazed Ozuchi’s face to prevent him inhaling further fumes as the sound of distant drumming reaches their ears from further down the tunnel.
Benito looks at the others, saying “Should we get ready for a fight boys?”
“I’m always ready, I was born ready,” responds Kron gruffly.
The tunnel splits in two with the smell of the fumes far stronger from one of the tunnels, travelling down it (with Horesh moving a bit ahead) the tunnel opens into a side chamber, there is a flickering fire in the chamber and sat around it are are three savage black, woaded tribesmen; two of them are muscley warriors whilst the third is a scrawny, wiry figure wearing a rams skull atop his head. The thin figure is tattooing one of the warriors with a strange oily black substance being melted in the fire, the design is a strange intricate geometric one.
Horesh heads back to the group and explains what is occurring, he then peers into the spirit world and perceives the spirits of maddening fury that populate the tunnels, he summons a spirit that resembles a skeletal man but with an animals skeletal head and persuades it to aid them in their fight agaist the savages. Kron charges forwards into the cavern, hefting his hammer and growling a savage norse war-cry; in response the shaman reaches a hand into the embers of the fire and blows a handful of ash and dust into the charging vikings face. Briefly Kron feels like someone is exerting pressure on his skull and mind, but he shrugs it off the sorcerors mental attack, leaps the fire, grabs the shaman and crushes his head against the wall with his hammer.
Still under the effect of the fumes Ozuchi engages the warrior who easily evades his inebriated attack but is unable to land a blow on him, Benito swaggers across to the same warrior and, as the warrior swings at Ozuchi, lops his arm off and then slices his throat, the warrior topples dead into the fire. The remaining warrior leaps at Captain Benito but the pirate manages to avoid his attack, Ozuchi attempts to take out the warrior with his stygian martial arts but the influence of the fumes has slowed him and the warrior avoids his attack, pulling a burning log from the fire and swinging at him.
Ozuchi’s komodo dragon spirit and the skeletal figure that Horesh negotiated with earlier grab hold of the warrior as he swings, pulling him backwards and meaning that only a slight blow lands on Ozuchi; Horesh pulls out his twin ceremonial daggers and, being skilled with the ceremonial death knives, delivers a vicious slash to the warriors midriff. As the warrior steps sideays to avoid further cuts from Horesh, Gunnar Kron steps inside his guard and smashes his hammer into the savage’s ribcage, throwing him across the cavern where he slides to the floor dead.
With the fight over Benito searches the shaman and finds that he is holding a long antler/bone needle with a reservoir carved into it that contains some of the thick black substance; near the fire is a carved wooden bowl also containing some of the black ichor, the scent they have been smelling emanates from it; Benito takes the needle and looks at Ozuchi who is slowly starting to recover himself, he asks him to examine the substance in the bowl. Ozuchi believes it to be a narcotic mixture of poisonous berries, herbs and snake venom – it’s a dilute poison that, in the correct dose, causes hallucination and makes the taker immune to pain.
Kron looks over the bodies of the warriors, thinking that perhaps they are from the village and were mind-controlled, one of them does look similar to the locals whilst the other looks vaguely norsican; Gunnar lays them to rest and whispers an apology to their gods since he was forced to kill them and that they didn’t know what they were doing. Horesh uses his spiritual connection with his familiar and finds that the villagers left back in the initial cave still seem to be fine; the group returns to the other passageway and begin exploring it, the wall of the cave begins to become more damp with thin rivulets of water dripping down the walls as they move further down it. The khemrian death-priest realises that they must be travelling underneath the Spiritwood river that rivers eastwards through the Great Forest of Celtia.
As they continue moving Captain Benito gets a strange stomach churning feeling as they draw closer to the Inland Sea and recognises the effects of his curse; the feeling grows as they move down the tunnel, as he mentions his feeling Ozuchi urges them to press on and reluctantly Benito agrees. Kron grunts and says “We have to press on, there may be survivors,” Benito agrees but urges caution, worried about the stability of the tunnel given the weight of water on top of them. As he starts feeling progressively works Benito pulls out the tattoo needle and asks Ozuchi whether or not the stygian medicine man believes that he could safely dose him with a small dose of the hallucinogen in order to counteract (temporarily) his curse.
Ozuchi administers the poison and Benito feels slightly fatigued from the effects, but there is at least some relief from the feeling of nauseous bought on by his curse. The group emerge from a cave mouth into a small, sheltered bay partway up a scree slope on the southeast shore of Celtia where it meets the Inner Sea; a storm is raging out at sea, but the weather in the bay itself is curiously calm, a small ship bobs up and down on the waters of the bay.
Horesh hears the sound of movement from within the bay and peers out of the cave mouth, he sees a couple of the savage warriors herding some ragged villagers towards the gangplank up onto the ship; a black robed corsair beckons for them to be bought onboard. As he emerges Benito notices that the flag on the ship flies the flag of the Black Eye, emblem of Captain Hannibal Hawkins – an atlantean descended pirate who was one of the first to flock to Blythe’s banner and call for Benito’s overthrow. With his knowledge of ships Benito estimates that the pinnace could be crewed by up to 60 men and has a compliment of ten cannons – Benito shouts this to them as they scramble down the slope towards the ship.
The crew of the ship spot the group, the five cannons facing them are craned upwards and fire at them, a cannonball impacts near Benito and Ozuchi spraying them with razor shards of rock that slice their flesh whilst another glances Horesh’s arm causing it to fall limply by his side with a sickening crunch; Gunnar Kron is struck a glancing blow by one of the cannonballs tearing the beach to shreds around him and lets out an irritated howl as he hefts his hammer and continues running towards the boat. The crew on the boat begin to reload the cannons as the group run towards them; Ozuchi sprints across the beach, dodging the two warriors, running into the surf to the bottom of the gangplank, Benito follows after him shouting “Get inside the range of the cannons, they won’t be able to shoot us!”
Kron runs towards the warriors but his anger at the recent cannonball strike causes him to over-extend himself and the savage lashes out, slicing into Kron with a razor-sharp flint knife, whilst Horesh begins to summon one of the spirits of the water, offering it a future favour in return for it’s aid. The two warriors turn on Gunnar Kron, drawing their flint knives, but Kron easily avoids their blows. On the ship Ozuchi knocks a load of barrels over, the cannoneers let out a cry and begin to stumble over the rolling barrels; capitalising on this Benito leaps up onto the railing, cuts a rope and swings across the deck, slicing a mans throat before landing on a barrel and pedalling it across the deck. Stabbing out with his sword, Benito makes short work of the ten cannoneers on this side of the deck, the ten on the other side begin reaching for their weapons.
Distracted by the pain of his arm, Horesh is unable to land a blow on the warrior attacking Kron; as the warrior leaps forward, knife raised, to attack Horesh, Kron leans forward and swings his hammer, catching the warrior in the stomach and killing him. The remaining savage moves to attack Kron but the seaweed and water seems to bubble and come alive around him, pulling the savage back and causing his blow to miss Kron as the spirit of the water makes it’s presence felt. Ozuchi leaps up and swings one of the ships sails towards the remaining cannoneers, as they duck to avoid it Benito snags one of the ropes from the sails and swings past them, slaying four of the cannoneers; the remaining warrior fighting in the surf deftly avoids the blows aimed at him by Horesh and Kron.
The surviving six cannoneers attempt to pull Benito down from the rope he is holding and stab him, but the flamboyant Captain pushes off, swinging the sail back over to the other side of the deck and carrying him away from his assailants; dropping into a martial arts stance, Ozuchi manages to hold his own as the cannoneers surround him, their weight of numbers begin to show however and they slowing start dragging down the stygian medicine man.
As the weight of his injuries are starting to show on Kron, Horesh leaps on the remaining warrior and stabs his knife into the man’s skull, killing him; Kron nods and begins limping up the gangplank.
Benito grabs one of the torches from a now abandoned cannon as he swings back onto the deck and hurls it at one of the robed cannoneers, catching his clothing on fire; capitalising on this distraction Ozuchi dispatches the remaining cannoneers using his knowledge of Stygia martial arts, flipping them into the water. Captain Benito begins looking for the captain of the boat, meanwhile Horesh leads the surviving villagers out from where they have been hiding under the gangplank, he spots a woman with green eyes and red hair and explains that they have freed her daughter; the woman almost faints with happiness and relief.
Suddenly the trapdoor to the lower decks bursts open and a barrel chested man with a peg leg and tattoos across his arms, head and back strides through; Benito doesn’t recognise him personally but, due to the way that the man is carrying himself, he believes him to be the captain of the ship, the muscley figure bellows “You dare to trespass on my ship!”
Ever ready with a witty report Benito snaps back “Well i’m the king of the Scarlet Brotherhood so that makes it my ship,” before attempting to punch the muscular figure, it barely seems to phase him, and in response the man pulls out a belaying pin and smashes Benito in the face, bruising beginning to rise almost instantly on the injured pirate’s face. Ozuchi ducks under the Captain’s arm and jabs the poisoned needle into it, causing him to stagger slightly. Benito uses the pommel of his sword to push the needle further into the muscular Captain’s body, he remains standing, although he appears to be struggling; the Captain swings his belaying pin, it connects with Benito’s head and there is a sickening crunching of bone. Suddenly, from nowhere, Kron launches his hammer towards the mighty figure of the Captain, it strikes his shoulder and drives him down onto one knee; seizing the advantage Ozuchi leaps forward attempting to deliver an incapacitating blow but the Captain manages to roll out of the way.
Staggering, Benito drives his sword through the Captain’s shoulder, piercing flesh and pinning the hulking figure to the deck, knocking him out with a final elbow to the face; Benito nods, satisfied, before pausing to relieve him of a ruby signet ring with a dark imperfection in it (as well as the finger it was worn on).
With the threat removed Ozuchi begins trying to patch up his companions injuries; as he finishes the only injuries remaining are Benito’s patched up skull, Ozuchi’s cut arm and Kron’s bandaged skull. With their pain somewhat relieved the group search the ship and find numerous slaves of various extractions below deck, when freed they all tell the same tale of being taken captive by the Dark Corsairs (as they call them); as a final act of defiance Benito replaces the flag on the ship with his own pirate emblem.