Chapter 06: Mind

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Session Number: 118
Date: Sunday 15 January 2012
Venue: Densial's
PCs & Players:

Arrian? Rog1/Clr10? (Fergus) (kills: none)
Feren? Rog11? (Yeran) (kills: 1 small metallic bug)
Lionel? Rgr6/Wiz1/ArcA4? (Ash) (kills: none)
Rowaine? Pal11? (Craig) (kills: none)
Troll? Wiz11? (Densial) (kills: none)

XP Awarded: TBA

Happy Anniversary, Edmondses!

"How long will it take to chop down this tree?" Face asks Blondie.

"With this?" Blondie says, looking at her waraxe. "I'm guessing a long while."

"I'm still worried about owlbears," Half says. "We were heading into their territory while we were following the tracks, but I'm not sure where we are in relation to that now."

"My offer is still open to climb the tree," Flash volunteers.

The tree is the only of its kind in the area - it isn't unique, but no one remembers seeing one for a good half mile. Bowman pays closer attention to the marks on its bark. They look like scratches, six to eight inches long, with the vast majority oriented vertically. There are also some shallow stab marks in the bark.

"I think these marks are new," Bowman says. "Look, the sap is still seeping out."

"I'm still uncomfortable about killing these things," Half says.

"Shall we try to trap it?" Blondie asks.

"To what end? Only to kill it later? Or to hold it indefinitely? That's not so nice either."

Blondie frowns. "So you prefer not to capture it?"

"Look," Face says. "This thing has less rights than whatever it was we ate for dinner last night. It has the same rights as a chair."

"Does an intelligent chair have a right to live?" Half counters. "It moves and makes choices, it acts like something alive."

"Do you trust Verithna?" Face asks.

"As much as I can, yes! But I will not blindly go around killing just because someone tells me to. I'm far more interested in learning about this creature. If it were up to me, I'd be tracking it back to its source."

"Let's see if it's up there first," Face says. "It might …"

THUMP! A thin branch with a sort of pinecone attached falls beside Face. He looks at it. The branch is splintered at its thick end. He steps back. Bowman trains his bow above, seeing no targets. Flash takes a few steps back, then runs towards the tree. He uses his momentum to spring high enough to grasp the lower boughs, fifteen feet above the ground. He swings himself up to a standing position and continues climbing. At forty feet, half way up the tree, he loses sight of the ground. He looks around, seeing and hearing nothing.

Bowman looks for signs of broken branches above but cannot make any out. Flash continues to climb up to around sixty feet above ground level. The trunk here is around ten inches in girth and the branches less than three inches. He doesn't think he can climb much higher before the branches will no longer support his weight. The foliage is less thick at this level, the tree climbs above the average canopy height. He stops, listening and looking. He doesn't think that anything larger than a small bird would be able to hide up here; indeed, he is feeling rather exposed and vulnerable. He descends twenty feet and has a thorough look. The scratch marks on the trunk stop abruptly and follow a lateral. He indicates to the others that he has spotted tracks, then climbs along the marked branch.

Down below, Face and Half shadow Flash, leaving Blondie and Bowman at the base of the tree. They identify three tree trunks in that direction, around twenty to thirty feet away from the first. They search around their bases but find no sign of tracks or wounds to the trunks.

The bough that Flash follows extends straight out from its parent trunk and intersects with a neighbouring coniferous tree. Its ragged branches seem sufficiently strong to support his weight. He gingerly crosses to the conifer.

conifer.jpg

Flash sees Face and Half below. "The marks and sap lead straight into this tree," he says.

"It hasn't come down," Face says. "No marks."

Flash follows the meandering conifer branch towards one of its trunks, noting chips and slashes in its bark. It is hard to spot the damage and harder still to follow it; the conifer branches are tangled and matted together. He breaks through scratchy branches and makes it to one of the conifer's three larger trunks. He carefully looks around. Nothing in sight. He circles around…

EEeeeeeeeeeee! A bladed metal appendage slashes out at him but his armour turns it. The others below hear the noise - it carries easily - but cannot see Flash. The creature takes another swipe at Flash but misses cleanly. It scrambles down the tree trunk, taking very little care: at one point it slips and drops a couple of feet before a lattice of branches arrests its fall. Small branches and fragments of bark fall to the ground.

"It's coming down!" Flash yells. Face trains his bow upwards. He and Half see something glinting above. Half readies his sword.

The creature continues its reckless descent, reaching the lower boughs and falling the rest of the way with a loud thump. Flash follows as quickly as he dares.

Bowman looses an arrow at the metallic creature; it bounces off its faceted carapace. Half stands ready should it be try to attack him. Face releases his drawn bowstring but his missile flies high. He closes, his bow in his hands. "You stand fast and answer our questions, foul demon of the underworld!" The creature's only reaction is to back away from him, avoiding the others. Flash hangs off a low branch and drops the last five feet to the forest floor. Blondie marches towards and past the creature, cutting off a line of retreat.

Bowman paces to the side, an arrow ready should the creature make a move against his allies. Half holds his ground. Face stows his bow, brandishes his metal-bound staff and moves adjacent to the creature. "I said stand still and answer my question, or I shall be forced to beat you to within an inch of your life!"

The creature moves away and Face makes good on his threat, bringing the reinforced end of his staff down solidly on the creature. It absorbs the blow with little evidence of damage. Flash streaks past both Blondie and the creature, giving the girl a look as he does so. Blondie nods in acknowledgement and moves with her axe half raised, closing the circle around the creature.

Bowman steps closer, the tension on his bowstring evident. Half stands ready, as do the others.

"I said stand still, foul creature of the netherworld!" Face says in common, then repeating it in every language he speaks. The creature makes for the small gap between Face and Flash, but finds them ready. Face whacks it again with his staff. Flash aims a kick at its head but fails to connect. The expected return bite or slash never comes. Instead, the creature breaks the line and scrambles halfway back up the tree's bare trunk, to just above head height. Flash draws a rapier from his belt, steps closer and stabs at the creature but the blade passes between its splayed legs and merely stabs into bark. Blondie closes and swings her axe in a horizontal arc. It connects with the creature, knocking it out of the tree. It lands on its back and lies still.

Face moves closer and slams the butt of his staff against the creature's abdomen, holding it down. It has two body sections about a foot and a half long in total; with legs extended it is about two feet wide.

"Let's tie it up and take it back," Face says.

"You should be careful," Blondie warns. "I slapped it out of the tree, I didn't mean to kill it."

"Then let's tie it up a lot," Flash says.

Face removes his cloak and belt; Flash takes off his belt. They start to wrap up the creature in the cloak, then bind it with the two belts. Face sticks one end of his staff through the belt loops, then nods to Flash and Half to pick it up. The pair each take an end and hoist up the load. Immediately, a sharp leg punctures through the cloak, then another, accompanied by much struggling. The bundle, already fairly heavy, becomes even harder to carry.

"Down, now, but slowly!" Half says. Toether, they lower the struggling bundle to the ground. Flash keeps a hand on his rapier. The creature's legs scramble for purchase as it touches down. Half and Flash hold the staff on top of the bundle, pinning it down.

"Why not let it go?" Half asks.

"For all the reasons we have already discussed," Face says.

Snap! One of the belts is severed and the staff topples to one side. The creature senses freedom and scrabbles about. "EEeeeeeeeee!" it screams, loud enough that ears hurt. Face shoots it with an arrow. Half unsheathes his sword and backs away, leaving Flash holding the other end of the staff. Flash lets go and holds his rapier point a foot away from the wriggling bundle, looking around for some steer on what to do.

Snap! The other belt is ruined. The creature rolls to its feet. Two bladed front legs act like pedipalps and reduce to ribbons the fabric over its head. It tries to move away. Flash's rapier stabs downward and through, into the dirt beneath. The creature slumps and moves no more.

The group pick up the remains, wrap it in what is left of the cloak and tie it onto the staff with the remnants of belt. Flash climbs a tree to get his bearings. He spots the ridge and the group head towards it. They cross then head north back to Verithna's. It is close to lunch time when they arrive.

Verithna is outside, curing leather over a low, smoky fire. The group show her the bundle they carry.

"Put it down," Verithna orders. "Wane, come over here."

"We had some interesting moments out there over the ethics of killing these things," Face says, nodding towards Half. Verithna looks at the half elf. "You are entitled to your belief system and I am entitled to mine, but know that they are not part of the natural order. Now if you will excuse me…" Verithna's attention returns to the motionless bundle at her feet. "It is definitely one of them," she says. She pulls apart the bindings, unwraps the bundle and reveals the creature. She bashes it with her quarterstaff. "Good," she says. "Is this the only one you found?"

"Yes, today," Face says.

"Where?"

The group describe the location they describe. "It was headed in this direction," Half adds.

"Curious and worrying," Verithna says. "It seems I may need to pay more attention to these than I had hoped."

"It tried to escape by climbing up a tree," Flash says, picking up the remains of his belt.

"Hmmmmm. That's remarkably intelligent."

"It did not respond to our commands," Half adds.

"If you told a deer to stop it probably wouldn't either."

"We tried our best to ensure it was still functional when we brought it back," Face says.

"I would not have a functioning creature brought here."

"We were trying to find out what they are doing here," Face explains.

"You will probably find the answers to those sorts of questions more by observing it rather than pulling it apart," Verithna says. "It was heading in this direction, you say? Well, if it was on the other side of the ridge I daresay the owlbears wouldn't have been very happy about that. Maybe I should warn them."

"Could you tell the owlbears not to hurt us?" Face asks.

"It is difficult to communicate that level of complexity, but I will try. Well, the sun nears its zenith. Your part of the bargain is done. Come with me. Will one of you help me with this?" she says, indicating the creature. Half holds the creature by two legs, Verithna by two opposite and they drag the creature into an old firepit. It must weigh close to a hundred and fifty pounds: more than Face. Verithna then leads the group away.

Ten minutes later the group enter a grassy grove bounded by oak trees. In the centre are twelve smooth rocks, large enough that Blondie would struggle to move them. She wonders how such a slight, middle-aged elf managed to do it.

"Here is where I will perform the ceremony," Verithna says.

"Me first?" Face asks.

"As you wish."

"Do you wish me to prepare in any way?"

"No… Just… remember me."

"I'll do my best," Face says.

"Come into the circle." Face steps in. "Wait a few moments."

Ten minutes later, Verithna looks up and says "This should do it." She puts her hands on Face's shoulders and murmurs something unintelligible.

Face feels a pain in the back of his neck - short and sharp - then it goes away as quickly as it came. A sensation, like falling through a starlit tunnel… Flashes, fragments…

…dwarves…
…towers…
…arachtria?…

I am Etella Roulae. I am Troll.

Face's life careers back into his brain. He remembers what he has been doing. He sees his old party members assembled around him, looking at him curiously.

Verithna takes her hands off Troll's shoulders and steps back. She looks at him questioningly.

"Don't worry," Troll says. "We're the good guys."

"How do you feel?" Verithna asks.

"There was pain," Troll says. "Then my memories returned. Now, I'm just kinda pissed off."

"May I?" Verithna asks, indicating Troll's neck.

"Sure."

Verithna examines the back of Troll's neck. The gestures and noises she makes are similar to those she made when examining Bowman, or Lionel as Troll knows him. Troll recognises Verithna's actions as the art of spellcasting.

"Hmmm," Verithna says. "Thank the stars for that, I didn't know it was going to work! I am pleased. So… Who are you?"

"Troll." Verithna looks at him a little oddly. "A dwarf," Troll adds. This does nothing to diminish Verithna's confusion. "It's complicated."

"Shall I continue?"

"Please."

Flash is next. He remembers that he is Feren, that he is a Roielle. He remembers being told that he was in Larellian lands…

"I know where we are," Feren says. "Larellian lands, a very long way northeast of Avarriel, the last place I remember being myself."

"Then we are a long way from home, and answers," Troll says.

"I will continue," Verithna says.

All are cured. Rowaine is last; she embraces everyone as her self returns.

"That creature," Troll says. "I need to look at it." The party and Verithna return to the firepit. It puts Troll in mind of the arachtria; there are similarities, and differences.

"It certainly looks like arachtria," he says, "but it is much smaller than anything I've seen." His eyes widen momentarily. "Verithna, who is the current Larellian leader?"

"Imothell Larellian."

Troll looks at Lionel, who confirms that this is indeed the head of his house.

"Who is the reigning monarch?" Troll asks.

"I believe it is Queen Raewyn Roielle," Verithna replies.

"Her children?"

"I have no idea. Strange questions..?"

"I'm just checking that we haven't moved in time as well as space," Troll says. Verithna seems taken aback. "Oh, this stuff happens to me all the time. Do you know what it was in the back of necks?"

"No. From the looks of it, something had burrowed beneath the skin. It is now dead."

"Is is still there?"

"The remains of it are."

Arrian has a look at Troll's wound. It has scabbed over.

"I could tell what it was not," Verithna continues. "It was not vermin, nor any other natural creature. I was reluctant to do anything to it while it was alive; I didn't know what that would have done to you."

"Might we cut one out?" Arrian suggests.

"Yes," Troll agrees. "We could get Trina and possibly Elondel to have a look. The arachtria, too. Verithna, you had better know about this thing and what it means."

Troll tells Verithna about the arachtria. She has not heard of them.

The party talk about what they last remember, in an effort to figure out their next move. Do they return to the area where they regained consciousness, or to the place where they lost it?

"Who is responsible?" Troll asks, angrily and rhetorically. "The Kanafels? Verithna, might these creatures in our necks have grown into something else, something perhaps able to control us?"

"I don't know."

"We need to get back to Trina," Troll says.

"Perhaps we should refer this new arachtria news to your wife's SpiderKillers?" Arrian suggests.

"Could do," Troll says. "Verithna, may I send people here?"

"You are that worried about these things, these 'arachtria', being here?"

"They all must die."

"Is it something I can handle by myself?"

"Not if you meet one of the big ones," Troll says. "It will be twenty feet tall and will have about a hundred smaller ones at its command."

"Then I must reluctantly ask for your help, it seems, if that is my future."

"I don't know what to tell you," Troll says. "I don't know what is going on, and I need answers. I need to have this little one analysed. Maybe also talk to the Larellians."

"Two things:" Arrian says. "Track down these little ones to their source, and figure out what has been done to us."

"The worry is that what was done, was done on the queen's doorstep, quite literally," Troll says.

"An insider?"

"Who knows?" Troll says. "Who do we trust?"

"Whoever did this is very powerful."

"I have something to say," Lionel says. The others realise that he has been silent since having his memory returned. "I want to be questioned within a Zone of Truth. I do not wish to be under suspicion."

"I can cast that spell," Arrian says, "…but not today. I have no spells to call upon. Troll, do you have any?"

"None."

"Then no Teleport spells to get us places."

"I could summon Harley," Rowaine offers. "Verithna, have you ever seen or heard about a stone flyer?"

"I have not," Verithna says.

"Harley is my mount, a stone flyer. A creature from the elemental plane of earth, although Harley calls the celestial realms her home. In form, she is as a large, winged wolf. Usually, they are of ill intent, so be wary of them, but I can assure you that Harley is on the side of good. Would you agree to my calling her here?"

"I … suppose so," Verithna cautiously agrees. She looks at Wane, who trots over to her side.

"Harley," Rowaine says, her arms spread wide, "come to me!"

Imperceptible smoke coalesces in place and Harley appears. Wane goes mental; it takes a firm hand and firm words from Verithna to control him. Harley takes one look at her mistress, sees the smile on her face, and concludes that all is well. She bounds over to Rowaine and licks her face. Verithna eventually sends the dire badger away, figuring that he might never be comfortable with the stone flyer around.

"So, where are we?" Rowaine asks, tousling Harley's grey fur.

"In my lands," Lionel says, "the northern reaches of the kingdom. A hundred miles north of Isendor, the capital, and some two hundred miles northeast of Avarriel."

Troll paints a mental map. "Trina must be about the same distance away as Avarriel, and Elondel must easily be six hundred miles away."

"With those distances," Arrian says, "we may as well wait until you can Teleport us there. Which begs the question: what do we do with the rest of today?"

Troll's eyes narrow. "Go hunt spiders!"

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