Session One Hundred Forty-Three - January 6, 2018

Wherein the ongoing story of the FtF campaign may be found ...

Session One Hundred Forty-Three - January 6, 2018

Postby Matt » Wed Jan 31, 2018 1:15 pm

Nuzyael 23, 733

The arrival of the Kaldoric embassy to Azadmere at Naniom Bridge is greeted by a concerted attempt to extort a toll from the Queen’s own ministers. After the Mangai representative repeatedly tuts, blusters, and stonewalls, insisting that no exceptions to the Guild levy can be suffered, a knight from the Order of the Lady of Paladins manages to wearily explain the nature of the embassy, assures the tollman that no mercantyler is hidden amongst the party, and the matter is finally settled. The Laranian knights depart, having served this sole useful purpose in their brief sojourn with the party.

As it is still too early for caravan season, a compound to the south of the bridge is available. This is where travelers typically stay. The guest house, however, is also empty and is made available to the embassy. Waymaster Arton of Ceynah, pretending that the dustup about the toll had never happened, welcomes the party and orients them to the settlement. The largest building contains a warehouse and workshop, there is an inn with administrator’s quarters. The latter is where the guesthouse is attached. Two long rectangular buildings are the stables and the smithy. They settle in.

Nuzyael 24, 733

Rain begins to fall in the morning and continues for several days, stranding the travelers at the bridge as the roads wash out and become impassible ahead. Jorlak takes the opportunity to apprise the Baron in greater detail of the waypoints on the journey before them, including their traversal of territory in the ranges of the Taelda tribesmen, whom he describes as not generally dangerous unless interlopers become a particular nuisance to them. Jorlak explains that tribesmen will sometimes emerge to barter with travelers, in which event the embassy is to leave the negotiations entirely to Jorlak, who is familiar with the vagaries of Taeldan dickering.

The first leg of the journey beyond Naniom Bridge, he explains, is to a place called The Fork, so named due to a road branching southward from the juncture leading down to Vemionshire. Three Valley Gap is the next waypoint, followed by The Bridgeway, which Jorlak describes as the terminus of the “easy” part of trip, the road thereafter becoming a trail heading steeply into the mountains.

Kazona Lodge, located on a narrow ledge, is locked during most of the year but opened for caravan season, while the Guthe Ford is liable to be trouble. Jorlak hopes the crossing is not clogged with debris, suggests that running a rope across may be necessary if the current runs too swift, and hopes that the ford is not so deep as to prevent the horses from passing.

Bungalek, the most dangerous spot, sits right under the predatory eyes of a gargun complex. He says the best spot to aim for is Mule Jack Leap, which passes one under an old gargun watchtower where the odds of attack are very hard. He reminisces about Old King Gravy, who didn’t attack anyone so long as they provided him with mules or horses to eat, but fears that such negotiations may be too much to hope for these days.

Surveying the Baron of Ternua over the brim of his tankard, Jorlak shrugs. “It should be safe beyond that point, all the way to Zerhun.”

Nuzyael 25 - 29, 733

The rain continues through the 28th of the month, finally letting up by dawn of the 29th. Jorlak declares that the 30th will be the first feasible day for travel.

Nuzyael 30, 733

Several hours after dawn, with a clear sky and no hint of rain, the embassy pushes off. They find the trail in poor shape, the horses quickly becoming mired, so the party proceeds at foot speed throughout the day. Leaving Naniom Bridge, the terrain quickly becomes more hilly. The path of the Silver Way itself is clear and fairly graded, flat in spots, or perhaps flattened. A small mountain looms to the south of the trail. It takes much of the day to arrive at The Fork, at a location Jorlak calls Kuzha gap, a small valley between the mountains. The promised road, Vemion Way, winds southward. Jorlak explains that sometimes small caravans will wait here until joined by larger ones for protection, the smaller parties being mostly Kaldoric caravans carrying grain to Azadmere and returning with iron, silver, weapons, gems and jewelry along with the Silver Caravan. The group establishes a campsite in a fairly lush meadow, where the grateful horses graze. On one side of the camp, where the Silver Way continues northward, is a stone statue of a dwarf known colloquially as Digger, pointing the way to distant Azadmere.

For the journey, Lord Ewen establishes five nighttime watches of two hours each, with two persons on duty during each watch. Arva of Kerryn and Sir Hogan Mindar take the first watch, followed by Sir Baris Tyrestal and his squire Kalas. Cekiya and Sir Ritzar Martaryne make for an odd pairing in the dead of night, Lord Ewen stands watch with Mellori and Sergeant Denyl after that, and then Goreg and Sir Reklan Pulgarty man the predawn shift. The arrangement comes off without a hitch, and they all pass an uneventful, moonless night at The Fork.

Peonu 1, 733

A thick fog shrouds the morning as the travelers decamp from The Fork, proceeding along the Silver Way toward Three Valley Gap. After a few hours the trail begins to incline more steeply upward and they come to a stream at the top of the rise. Jorlak calls this rivulet the Ghaz, and advises that this would be a good spot to water the horses.

As they continue along, the trail is fairly wide with fields hemmed in by misty woodland to either side. They hike through the Jaza Pass, the air growing perceptibly cooler, and find their eyes returning to isolated peaks looming to the south. They eventually come along the three valleys formed by the river: Rozilka, Belima and Uzo. By nightfall they arrive at the actual Three Valley Gap campsite, a wide swath of pasture as yet uncropped by the horses of travelers who will inevitably arrive later in the season. Jorlak warns that this can be a possible ambush site for bandits, and they take especial care in arranging the two-man watches to cover likely avenues of attack.

Sir Baris and his squire Kalas are on duty during the second two hour watch. Sir Baris, ale-deprived and dyspeptic from the travel rations, is somewhat gloomy and uncommunicative, posted morosely at the periphery of the camp and absently examining his axe from time to time.

“I can’t hold it any longer,” Kalas hisses in his ear, startling the knight. “Um, we’re not supposed to go alone, Jorlak was clear about that.”

Sir Baris rubs his eyes, groaning. “How far do you need to go?”

Kalas considers the shadows beyond the sleeping forms of their companions and shrugs. “I don’t think I will go very far…”

Sir Baris gestures him ahead with mild irritation, and stumps across the field after his squire. He takes up position several strides behind as, judging from the spattering sounds, Kalas has begun to relieve himself.

Sir Baris peers into the sky, his eyes drawn to the sliver of moon above. The wings of an enormous bat block out the crescent, black upon black, dropping fast toward his face. He registers the buffeting of downbeats as he throws himself sideways, hits the ground and rolls, and comes up fending with one arm and swinging his axe wildly before him. Somewhere in the darkness Kalas emits a sharp, strangled cry. His invisible foe somewhere out of reach in the churning air above him, Sir Baris casts about and locates the dim, flopping figure of his squire, britches tangled around his ankles, a second airborne bat-winged humanoid figure thrusting and thrusting at him with a spear or sharpened stake.

“To arms, to arms! We are attacked by bats!” Sir Baris bellows, still blindly waving his axe above his head as he staggers toward Kalas. The whole camp is aroused into instant clamor, cries and oaths rising into the night air to contend with the winged figures above. Arva, alert, heart pounding, can occasionally see shapes, at least a dozen of them, descending and climbing, withdrawing now as the camp brandishes their weapons, and from time to time can hear them, hovering as if to strike, jabbering in some alien tongue.

“Aw, shit, I wasn’t expecting Yelgri,” Jorlak cries. “We need to protect the horses!”

Lord Ewen orders the group to form a defensive, outward-facing square around the horses. After some half-hearted swoops and feints from above against the bristling weapons of the party’s square, the Yelgri lose interest and retreat in the direction of the distant treetops. Slowly the group relaxes and takes stock.

Silent, gazing down in mute dismay, Sir Baris stands over the motionless form of his squire Kalas. The boy’s face, frozen in pallid agony, is disfigured by a gaping hole in his left cheek. Judging from the amount of black liquid soaking the ground, the exit wound must be somewhere at the back of his head.

Jorlak shakes his head in disgust. “Nasty creatures, looking for a free meal, but they will taunt you. They make crude spears, knives, live in small bands, and hunt if they’re hungry. Never heard of them this far west, though. When they are a problem, it’s usually in the mountains.” He gestures to the south. “Unless this is a new colony from Mount Juzar.”

At Sir Baris’s doleful insistence, they all gather sufficient rocks to pile atop poor Kalas’s corpse, lacking implements or means to either bury him or to carry his body with them. Recalling his words spoken on the event of his squire Quinn’s death, Sir Baris invokes some halting sentiments in the style of the followers of Sarajin. After a suitable silence, the group prepares for the remainder of the long evening still ahead of them.

Cekiya whispers to Ewen that she can yet hear the wingless people moving out there, flying away from them. The Baron nods. He orders each watch doubled, delineating a new arrangement, four guards on each, and the others attempt to return to a semblance of sleep. At one point, the middle watch catch a faint sound of the harpies chattering thinly in the air above, but they never come back in close enough to be seen.

Peonu 2, 733

In the chilly predawn hours, it begins to rain hard. Jorlak advises staying put for the day, as he doubts the party can make the next camp by nightfall in the heavy downpour. By the end of the day the rain lets up, and the Baron institutes double watches for the second night at Three Valley Gap. While standing her watch, Arva hears the flapping of wings up high amidst the low clouds, but the Yelgri decline to attack the well-armed party again.

Peonu 3, 733

As daybreak finds the weather overcast but not raining, Jorlak advises starting for Bridgeway. As they depart Three Valley Gap, Mount Juzar is visible to the south, as is another mountain further southeast. Between these two peaks, the travelers can see little flying forms larger than birds wheeling and weaving in the air. Sir Baris, pondering his most recent squire’s fate, glares over his shoulder at the distant, dancing forms for a time. Jorlak reminds them that this is the last leg of the “easy bit,” which causes the Baron to grimace as the foreleg of his horse sinks up to the fetlock in the sucking mud.

By late afternoon they finally arrive at Bridgeway camp. Looking back west to survey the track they had taken climbing up through the afternoon, something discernible as a road, albeit muddy, is visible, but nothing of the sort appears to ascend from the camp, supporting Jorlak’s contention that the challenges mainly lie ahead. He points to a break in the trees in the distance, where the Old King’s Road, used by the Taelda and running parallel to the Gola river, leads to the site of the Guthe Bridge. This span was deliberately destroyed by the Khuzan centuries ago when they were concerned with the potential for ambush during the migrations. The loss of the bridge has forced travelers ever since to resort to the hazards of the Guthe Ford. In the distance to the southeast, the mountains are crowding closer together and the path ahead is on an increasingly upward grade.

During the evening, nothing untoward occurs. In the distance to the north, the sound of drumming filters through the chilly night air. Jorlak agrees that this likely is the Taelda, and reminds them to let him do the talking should an encounter occur.

“They are only interested in trading, but we have nothing to trade,” he grins, scratching his nose. “They will be okay with that, but it needs to be handled correctly.”

Peonu 4, 733

The early morning is overcast, but no sign of rain darkens the sky. The embassy starts along the trackless path, which disappears at times into tangling vegetation. Jorlak keeps them aiming for the gap between the Kazo and Kalikhar peaks, where Guthe Gap straddles the center. The trail switches back ahead. Around midday, as they clear the gap between the two mountains, they find themselves joined by a small, swift river which runs parallel to the trail along its right bank. Towards middle afternoon, a branch of the waterway they have been following, the Kazona, spills across the ledge of their narrow path and tumbles down into the depths of the gorge below. It appears easily fordable, and on the far side the winding trail rises steeply, although it appears traversable. According to Jorlak, the Kazona Lodge is up that way.

Those at the head of the line make their way successfully across the ford, and then turn to survey the progress of the horses and baggage picking their way across the churning, icy stream. Suddenly the voices of Sir Ritzar and Sir Reklan, out of view around the bend and bringing up the rear, ring out as one.

“Alarm, alarm, we are beset!”

Before they can recross and render aid, the front of the column is beset as well. Leaping from cover, shrieking in their high, guttural tongue, a dozen or more grimacing, snarling gargun, four feet in height, frenzied blurs of matted fur and bristly limbs, their crude, curving blades flashing, fall upon Goreg and the Baron at the head of the line, neatly springing a trap upon the party as it awkwardly straddles the ford. Arva spins and splashes to the rear, while Cekiya snakes her way ahead to join Lord Ewen in the front.

Everyone at the rear of the line has dismounted, meantime, with Sir Reklan and Sir Ritzar in immediate danger of being overwhelmed and flanked on either side by a swarming mass of growling, blade-wielding orcs. Sir Baris, rushing back to join them, is almost overpowered by the stench of rank, wet fur and feces which hits him in a rolling wave. Eyes watering, he bellows, “Men, with me!”

Sergeant Denyl, casting a scathing glance toward the knight, nevertheless drawls at his men, “You heard Sir Baris!” Two of the soldiers, gagging, fall in line forward with the Lord of Selepan, engaging the orcs crowding the rearguard knights, while Sergeant Denyl remains several paces behind, reaching around for his bow while ordering one remaining man to stand in reserve and the other to hold the horses.

Sir Baris, shield forward, barrels straight in, hacking lustily with his hand axe. A stocky, thick-thewn gargun, bristling with mangy fur and proud, scarlet boils, howls in delight and dances adroitly past the whistling axe, sweeping a falchion-like mankar under the shield and ringing the armor on the knight’s chest. Sir Baris whoofs a bit as breath is driven from his lungs, and takes a half step backward.

Feeling the need to rally the troops, Sir Baris cries, “Stand fast, men! We can do this!” The orc cackles with pleasure, showing a mouthful of yellow, pitted incisors. One of the Thardan men coughs laconically: “Who is he talking to?”

The gargun with the boils flings himself at Sir Baris like a monkey in heat. The orc leaps and cavorts before Sir Baris in a driven frenzy, raining blow after blow upon shield and armor with the rust-streaked mankar, while the knight labors in vain to lay his axe upon the pinwheeling flurry of limbs and fur and flashing blade. Chips and splinters of wood fly steadily from the edges of Sir Baris’s shield as he repeatedly blocks the crude, pummeling blade while lunging again and again at the fiend with his axe.

Throughout the contest the knight is aware of one arrow after another whistling with metronomic regularity from behind him, dropping orcs in mid-leap as they hurl themselves toward the defending humans. To one side, Sir Ritzar has just cloven one gargun in the skull, driving it backward into the crowd of orcs pressing toward them. Sir Reklan, meantime, seems to be making grim, efficient work of the encounter, lopping off the arm of one orc and then a leg, at the knee, of another, limbs and twitching corpses accumulating at his feet as he coolly plies his blade. One of the Thardan men cuts cleanly through a flashing mankar with his short sword. All of the other gargun, it seems to Sir Baris, breathing hard, are moving rather slower than his.

Sir Baris lurches clumsily with the axe and then gets his shield back up in the nick of time to block the crazed mankar hacking and hacking away at him. Then, with an arm-numbing crunch, the left half of his shield cleaves completely off. Sir Baris curses foully and casts it aside. The orc, eyes starting, steps back and gargles in delight, shaking its head back and forth violently. Ropes of yellow spit fly from its mouth. It launches itself back at the knight.

Up at the front, Jorlak and the one Thardan soldier have seized the horses in an attempt to corral them inward and keep them from harm. Across the stream at the head of the party, Lord Ewen is trading blows with a large gargun wearing armored mail and a belt adorned with severed human hands. The big orc wields a larger mang, the blade flexed in a wooden frame, as well as a weird shield edged with long braids of hair. The orc, its snarling face disfigured with livid scars and leaking blisters, appears to know some rudiments of Harnic, hissing something about “feasting on flesh” as he fights the Baron. When Lord Ewen delivers a sturdy blow to its chest, the gargun staggers but stands its ground. “Human!” it crows. “Tasty meat!” Another exchange of blows and the orc manages to parry the Baron’s powerful downswing with the blade of the sturdy mang.

Cekiya, attacking a gargun with leather armor, leaps and cleaves downward. Her short sword rings but doesn’t break on the downswing against a parrying mankar. Sir Hogan shatters the weapon of his orc and he presses stolidly forward. Goreg, enthusiastically laying into his gargun, inflicts a long, wicked cut across its rib cage. “Blood!” the creature exults. “I see you are educated,” Goreg observes dryly. His next sword blow shatters the orc’s mankar. Somewhere to their rear, Mellori on horseback surveys the orcs. Cekiya, reconsidering her line of attack, rips through the abdomen of her gargun, eviscerating the leather armored orc. Dying, it swings its arms wide in triumph and cries “Guts!” before toppling backward.

The manic gargun assailing Sir Baris manages a grazing upward cut which slices a thin, broad slab of flesh from the side of the knight’s neck, leaving it flapping and dangling from the hinge of his jaw. Sir Baris staggers, roars, and sets about matching the creature now blow for blow with crazed abandon.

Lord Ewen, glancing at the number of gargun threatening to overwhelm their position, fears that extended sparring may cost them the day, and decides to change tactics. He risks a blast of power directly to the chest of his large foe, and surprises himself as the resulting puissant force of the blast punches through the orc’s armor, abruptly imploding its chest. The orc dies instantly.

At that, the host of gargun at the head of the column emit a horrible howling, and break and run. In their haste, some in front of Lord Ewen actually tumble over the side into the ravine, while the rest safely flee. Observing the rout, Lord Ewen swiftly severs the orc king’s head and, holding it aloft in evident distaste, marches it across the stream to where the rearguard is still locked in melee.

“Behold your King!” the Baron of Ternua thunders in a carrying voice, striding to Sergeant Denyl’s side. The sight galvanizes the remaining gargun, who instantly scatter, some discarding their mankars as they flee in fright. Shieldless, having just suffered another stinging blow to his left arm, Sir Baris is enormously relieved to see the fiend in front of him give a short, cunning snarl before turning tail and scrambling away as well.

In the aftermath of the ambush, the group takes stock, counting themselves fortunate to have suffered no losses.

Jorlak, conferring with the Baron, shakes his head, troubled. “These were not Gargu-Viasel, these were Gargu-Hyeka. There are different types of Gargun. The ones from Fana are Viasal, so ... these are not from Fana. I haven’t seen Hyeka for several years.” He pauses, surveying the distant mountain peaks. “A lot seems to have happened over the winter, my lord. I would have expected Viasal to be watching us by this point. If they were watching, and didn’t join in the attack, it means one of two things: they were watching to see what happened, or somehow the Hyeka have driven the Viasal out of Fana.” He meets the Baron’s gaze. “I think we are going to have to face the Viasal.”

Holding the large flap of bloody flesh hanging from his neck in place, Sir Baris speaks up. “This is the second time we have run into creatures who are not in the place where they should be.”

Jorlak shrugs, irritated. “Your guess is as good as mine. I’m a caravan master, not a seer.”

After a brief conference, they decide to retain the gargun king’s trophies, and push the remaining bodies over the cliff’s edge. They complete the remaining short climb to the lodge which, to Jorlak’s astonishment, is unlocked. The door, made of rock, inset into the adjoining rock face, responds to Jorlak’s half-hearted push by creaking slowly inward. The party can see that the face of the rock has been marred by clear signs of failed attempts over the years to crowbar open the portal, and a delighted Jorlak explains that he has only known the lodge to be open during the regular caravan season.

Inside, the complex boasts four rooms and a staircase leading upward to a gallery which functions as a watchtower overlooking the trail. The lodge is largely empty save for one room containing crates and boxes stocked with food, water, and other basic supplies.

“The brethren of the forest do have a key, and would have been the ones to open it,” Jorlak says. “I would not expect them to know of our caravan, however. But they apparently did,” he adds doubtfully. When they ask the caravan master about the “brethren,” Jorlak becomes evasive and appears unwilling to betray what he knows.

Mellori offers to attend to Sir Baris’s neck wound, but the knight is initially reluctant. The second time Cekiya quietly offers to embalm the knight, however, an unnerved Sir Baris relents and beckons the Deryni over. The knight attempts stoicism, “Tis but a scratch”, he jokes, but when she lightly touches the wound Sir Baris barks a scream and recoils. She waits for him to subside. “Now, be quiet,” she admonishes softly. She passes her hand over the injury, murmuring to herself, “... it’s all here, that’s a good thing ... lets see if we can move it along ...” After a few more moments of intense concentration, with Sir Baris cringing apprehensively and Cekiya looking avidly on, Mellori shakes her head. “I’ll have to do this the old fashioned way.” She retrieves some supplies and starts stitching the wound up, Sir Baris flinching and suffering her ministrations without the benefit of even small beer.

Lord Ewen tries to object read the lock on the door to see if any magical means was used to open it, but is unable to determine either way. They decide to post their nighttime watch from the upper gallery, and settle into the comparative comforts of the lodge.

Peonu 5 - 15, 733

Before dawn on the following day snow begins to fall heavily, causing Jorlak to cancel any travel. The snow, steady and virtually unheard of in Peonu, continues for six interminable days and nights, and then turns to rain.

Surveying the downpour, Lord Ewen, Sir Baris and Jorlak consider the situation from the stone gallery above the lodge. The caravan master is resigned to their confinement in spite of the Baron’s obvious impatience. “There is not much point in moving. We have plenty of food, and if we went to the ford now it would be too high to cross anyway...”

Sir Baris, the taste of ale a distant, beautiful memory, grumbles and gestures at the rain pouring down outside the lodge. “If this is magic, we are being delayed! What if they are delaying us to get their forces into place?”

Jorlak looks perplexed.

The knight tries to explain. “I mean, whoever is responsible for all of that snow, and the creatures being in the wrong place ... Too many things are happening for this to be a coincidence!” The knight eyes Lord Ewen. “You know, magic stuff. Can you do anything, find out what is causing this?”

Lord Ewen, turning on him, is acerbic. “And precisely who is this foe you imagine to be thwarting us, Sir Baris?”

The knight doesn’t answer, but only turns, his uneasy gaze sweeping the rugged, miserable landscape surrounding them. The other two silently contemplate the sheets of rain for a time as well, each preoccupied with his own thoughts.

Somewhere unseen, the thin cry of a bird of prey can be heard over the low rumble of thunder, indeterminate and ghostly, lost in the gray and white distance.
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