Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Wolfbang and the Song from the Tower

After a couple quiet days in Gold Hill, Chickie told Wolfbang that he had decided to stay a bit in Gold Hill. Following some conversations with Brau, he had come to understand that he was risking his lif to little purpose. While Wolfbang may be destined to do great things, he, Chickie, was replaceable. Not completely replaceable. Not replaceable to himself, and that was why he was choosing a new life, assisting Brau in the Divine Workshop. He was going to become an assistant blacksmith. Wolfbang protested- he did value Chickie’s contribution to the group’s efforts. But Chickie was sure: “This is where I need to be now.” The conversation was interrupted by a deputy’s announcement on behalf of the Head Constable, summoning the following individuals, should they be in the vicinity of the Gold /hill trading post or at their earliest convenience, to the office of the Head Constable for Gold Hill and the associated domain, one druid named Wolfgang, Gerilynn, Priestess of Raud, Vulpio. And that’s all.”

The constables were in a serious mood, following the lead of the Head Cobstable, who introduced the party to “Falcon, probably my best seargent, probably the one man who knows this area better than any other man.” Falcon had gone on patrol that morning with a group of eight men. Unlike the other seargents, Falcons liked to lead his patrols beyond the main road and well-traveled side paths, to seek out traces of hidden threats before those threats manifest themselves as something larger and more dangerous. That morning, he’d taken his men off the track completely, into the forest above Topher’s orchard. They were ambushed by beastmen, armed with swords and crossbows, armored for war. His lightly-armed scouts were outmatched, and those few who returned alive were lucky to do so. He needed a new group to return to the forest, to retrieve the bodies of his fallen men and to find out where the monsters were coming, why they had come. He had heard stories about some brave newcomers, about their success against evil and powerful foes. He wanted to ask them, as a group and individually, Wolfbang, Gerilynn, Vulpio, to lead a group of deputies on a scouting mission. After a little negotiation, all three agreed. By mid-morning, they had set off, in the company of seven deputies.

They followed the path past the Buseys homestead and reached Topher’s orchard. Topher offered them a taste of his cider and they lingered until early afternoon. Beyond Topher’s the track disappeared in the forest, and they wandered on the edge of the trees, not certain what they were seeking or if they actually wanted to find it. Vulpio stumbled upon the dead body of one of the monsters described by Falcon. It looked more muscular and powerful than the average man and had a green tint to its skin and features that looked not just ugly, but evil.

Gerilynn found heavy tracks that she reasoned were those of the monster’s comrades. These led deeper into the forest and higher into the rocky hills. As they climbed, the party glimpsed above the trees the top a ruined tower. They fell silent, listening to beautiful, unearthly singing that seemed to come from the top of the tower. Gerilynn urged caution, but few of the others heeded her. The laggards picked up their pace and two deputies sprinted ahead of her. She hastened to follow. As the group reached the tower, those who arrived first circled around it, searching for a way up. On one side they found several vines and began to climb. Gerilynn used her magic to hold Wolfgang and Vulpio in place and she did her best to persuade the deputies not to climb the vines. They didn’t even seem to hear her. All but two scaled the tower. They climbed with remarkable agility and soon reached the top. Despairing of what else to do, Gerilynn, with difficulty, followed them.

As she had expected, the source of the beautiful music was a vicious-looking creature, a woman with talons and wings of a vulture. The deputies stood around, mouths gaping, entranced by her singing.

Gerilynn attacked, calling on Raud to smite the foul creature with a hammer of righteousness. The bird-woman was struck by the spiritual hammer, and attacked Gerilynn, tearing the priestess with its talons as took to the air. Gerilynn realized she could not survive a fight alone with the creature and began to climb back down the vine. The bird-woman made another swipe at Gerilynn as it returned to its nest on the top of the tower, but did not otherwise hamper her retreat.

Back on the ground, Gerilynn freed Vulpio and Wolfgang from the transfixion spell she had placed on them. Free to move their limbs once more, they both rushed to climb the vines. Happily, they were, compared to the deputies, not very good climbers. Gerilynn climbed after them and pulled them down. After multiple falls onto the rocky ground, both men finally regained their senses. Giving up on the bird-woman’s still enraptured audience at the top of the tower, Gerilynn, Vulpio, and Wolfbang, plus the two strong-willed deputies who had not climbed the tower, returned to Gold Hill.

They gave a report to the Head Constable but did not claim any reward.

Wolfbang and the Bears

Wolfgang, Gerilynn, Vulpio, and Chickie continued to explore the Gold Hill area. They came upon other remnants of the area’s past. These included a dilapidated barn infested with giant bees and a once ostentatious, now ruined graveyard haunted by skeletons, zombies, and likely worse things. Nahnyuk forbade Valu from leaving the homestead. And he instructed Wolfbang to sell his donkey, intimating that ownership of domesticated animals compromised a man’s own wildness. (Wolfgang did tearfully sell the donkey at the Gold Hill trading post. Chickie bought it back.)

During the weeks they lived on Nahnyuk’s farm, they learned that he never harvested more than a frugal sample of his grapes and honey, though with proper equipment he might have a very profitable operation. Valu had explained that it was “for the bears.” People at the trading post—Brau, the traders, the constables—all confirmed that Nahnyuk never sold his harvest. One evening, near the end of the season, when the grapes were beginning to fall off the vine, and when the warm, still air was thick with their, sweet, winey smell, half a dozen black bears lumbered out of the woods, and through the briars to feast. They began in the vinyards, tearing down the vines as they devoured the fruit, crushing more feet than they consumed. The bears moved from the vinyards to the apiaries. As the invaders knocked over one of the hives and began shovelling honey and bees into their mouths, Nahnyuk scolded the onlookers, urging them into their huts. Wolfbang and the others listened to the buzzing of angry bees and the triumphant humming of the ravaging bears. When the sun set completely and darkness settled over the homestead, the bears finished gorging themselves and returned to the forest.

The next morning, Nahnyuk set Valu, Wolfbang, and the others to work. They righted the overturned hives, and they replaced broken vine poles. The sun was hot and the work was hard, but they were motivated by a sense of purpose. (Except for Valu, who was especially sulky and often absent.)

Late in the afternoon, the bears returned. There were more this time, and they were more deliberate, finding a tangle of half-wild grape vines that they’d missed the first time, and thoroughly tearing apart the hives. Again, they stayed until nightfall.

The next morning, Nahnyuk gave the same instructions to repair the bears’ damage. Or, as Gerilynn saw it, prepare another feast for bad-mannered guests who took no notice of proper table settings. So instead, first chance they got, Wolfbang and his friends followed Valu’s example and slunk off, certain they could find another way to spend the day.

So they returned to the ruined graveyard! On a previous visit, the party had encountered walking skeletons. These macabre constructs stood as guardians on the column-lined processional that bisected the graveyard. The party had fought and destroyed several of these on the day before the bears’ first visit; all were happy to discover that these bones had been laid to final rest at last. Other skeletons, from the other side of the graveyard, were driven away when Gerilynn presented the holy symbol of Raud. While Gerilynn held the skeletons at bay, the rest of the party approached a large tomb at the east end of the graveyard. There was a door in the tomb and the door was open. The party entered, Gerilynn still warding the skeletons. When Vulpio, Chickie, and Wolfbang entered the dark vault, zombies emerged from all sides. The living intruders raised their weapons to defend themselves against the undead attackers. Gerilynn turned to present her holy symbol to these new enemies—the zombies clambered back off the walls and into their individual tombs.

But now the skeletons, seized their advantage and began to advance across the graveyard. Gerilynn instructed her friends to prepare to fight the zombies, and as the skeletons neared her, she turned on them once more, calling on her faith in Raud to keep the walking bones away from her.

This time her friends were prepared to fight the zombies, assailing the animated corpses as they emerged from their cubicles. Showing neither fear nor pain, the zombies sustained the blows without flinching; those not destroyed clubbed the party with their rotten limbs. When the zombies pressed too hard, and Chickie and Vulpio had both suffered solids blows, Gerilynn once again turned her back on the skeletons and once again sent the zombies into hiding.

The skeletons moved much faster than the zombies and the party had but a moment to catch their breath before they had to face the zombies once more. Spot the dog and Wolfie were called into the tomb to assist their human companions. Spot, like a dog, gave all. He was killed by the last and largest of the zombies, just as the walking corpse was sent to its final rest by Vulpio’s crushing war hammer.

Gerilynn healed the party’s wounded, and all prepared to meet the skeletons, gathering rocks, fragments of headstones. The skeletons approached close enough to be destroyed by a volley of thrown missiles.

The party’s reward, if any, wasn’t found in the tomb. A rusty axe was their only trophy. Wolfbang observed there were other large burial monuments, but Gerilynn firmly opposed any thoughts of further exploration. They had all been injured by the zombies, Gerilynn was exhausted from warding the undead powers, and unless they returned immediately, they wouldn’t reach home until after dark.

So they returned to Nahnyuk’s homestead. The bears were there, and their bacchanal was bigger, louder, and more destructive than ever, but the party paid them little attention, collapsing into sleep before the party ended.

Did the ursine rampage go the whole night? Surely no, Vulpio was later say that once during the night he was awakened by the pounding in his head and heard nothing outside the hut. Nevertheless, it was bears and not headaches that awakened the party in the morning. They were close, very close. The crashing sound was that of a stone wall collapsing. They were not overturning beehives, but breaking into a hut. Valu screamed. Geriynn emerge in time to see a huge black bear, standing on its hind legs, tall as a grizzly, and holding Valu to its body. Gerilynn rushed to attack it, but two other bears blocked her away. As the others—Vulpio, Wolfbang, Chickie—emerged from their huts, Nahnyuk, standing in his own doorway, ordered them back inside. Vulpio ignored him and attacked the bears that had attacked Gerilynn. At first the bears simply avoided his blows, but after Vulpio’s war hammer connected solidly with a bear’s snout, they both attacked him with ferocity, swatting him back and forth with their claws until he fell to the ground. Meanwhile, the large bear carried Valu nto the forest. His screams became more distant. Gerilynn did not follow, but instead tried to help Vulpio. The bears relented and followed the larger bear into the forest. Gerilynn tended to Vulpio. He was battered, but not seriously wounded.

Nahnyuk did not offer any explanation for the bear’s behvior. He was subdued and showed no interest in repairing his homestead or in rescuing Valu. 

Gerilynn convinced the others that they should track the bears. They put on their armor, ate a quick breakfast, and set off. Gerilynn found the bear tracks easy to follow nd the party made their way through the forest for several hours, generally in a westward direction. In the afternoon, near a large briar patch, they met a man. Big and tall, with a thick black beard, this man was as wild as Nahnyuk in appearance, but he met the party with a clear gaze and understandable speech. Yes, he had seen some bears, and he thought he knew which way they had gone. He led the party north, first down the ridge toward the road, then across the road and up the ridge toward Gold Hill. Here, as dusk was falling, the stranger announced that he had lost the trail. “But normally, if bears do things, it’s for a purpose.”

The party spent the night at the Inn. Brau agreed that if Valu had been taken aay by bears he must be very frightened, but could give them little practical advice. A few off-duty constables overheard the conversation, and waited until Brau had returned to the kitchen to give their own advice: “Be careful what you tell that Brau woman, everyone knows she’s a witch.”

The next morning, the party reported Valu’s disappearance to the constable’s office. The deputies promised to send out additional patrols.

The party returned to Nahnyuk’s homestead They found Nahnyuk in his hut, and his bed, dead, and looking very peaceful. Chickie and Vulpio made a report at Gold Hill, and soon returned with Brau and one of her acolytes, plus the Head Constable and several of his deputies. Wolfbang and Brau conducted a burial service. Someone remarked that the land on which Nahnyuk had been living belonged to the Constable. The Constable assented, and announced his plans to “turn the plan to productive use—but no need to talk about that right now.” He assured Wolfgang & co that they continue to stay on the land “for the time being.”

The next day, Gerilynn convinced the otersthat they should resume their search for Valu. /they followed the same westward path that they’d followed the day before, This time, when they reached the briar patch, they stayed to investigate, and came across two berry-stained bears lounging in the sun. Wolfbang sent the others away and spoke to the bears. They knew about the boy and knew that he had gone with the big bears. The big bears lived on the top of the high ridge. They didn’t know why the big bears wanted to take Valu.

The party spent another night at the Inn. Wolfbang didn’t like the idea because of the deputies’ rumors about Brau. He was out voted, but he didn’t sleep well, and when he saw a cat in his room, his screaming woke up the others. Two of Brau’s assistants came running. Meanwhile the cat had disappeared. The assistants assured Wolfgang tat plenty of cat roamed Gold Hill and sometimes they wandered into guests’ rooms to beg food. After the sleepy assistants returned to their quarters, the cat returned, and showed himself to be Jaroo. Resuming human form, an impatient Jaroo suggested that Wolfbang should leave the bears alone and instead consider the question of who would guard the grove in Whitkey? Deflecting questions from Gerilynn, Jaroo assumed the form of a lizard and scuttled off into the shadows.

Gerilynn was not yet ready to give up. Remembering the briar patch bears’ information that the big bars lived on the high ridge, she suggested that the party venture into areas they had no yet explored. Besides the main path that led from Gold Hill back down into the valley, there were other, more narrow tracks that led higher into the hills. Choosing one of these, they travelled for about an hour until they came upon a sprawling homestead and a pair of goat herders, surrounded by their goats. These men introduced themselves as members of the Busey family. They did see bears from time to time, but did not see any bears traveling with a bear and had no interest in discovering where the local bears made their home. They showed little interest in conversation until Chickie mentioned their combat with the evil magician. The Buseys showed restrained interest in hearing more and invited the party to one of their houses for lunch.

The party joined their hosts for a simple, but large meal, during which other members of the extended family visited to hear about Valu in the bears. No one pretended to have any useful information. In time, the Busey clan revealed that they were concerned about the disappearance of one of their own. A young man named Hem had long shown that he had little aptitude for any of the tasks associated with keeping goats. Instead, he had studied ark magic and recently apprentice himself to a traveling magician. The Buseys were glad to know that the magician himself was dead, and said quick quiet prayers of thanks when they heard that in the midst of the fighting, Gerilynn had spared the lives of at least two of the magician’s compatriots. Based on his description, one of them may have been Hem. Maybe he would return one day or maybe he had heeded Gerilynn’s advice to go away and find a better life.

But the Buseys wanted more than hope, they wanted closure. Three men of the clan asked the arty to take them to Whitkey and show them where the battle took place. The party agreed.

There was little to show. The body of the magician as gone. There were no other dead. The party didn’t tell the Buseys about the wolves who laired in one of the ruined houses and who had scavenged the magician. Nevertheless, the Buseys were grateful to the party. Thy took their leave, promising to be on the lookout for Valu.

The party stayed in Whitkey, reasoning that they could not remain at Nahnyuk’s place indefinitely. Some of the buildings looked habitable. One of the most stable houses was at last ruled unsuitable because it was so dark, being thoroughly overgrown with vines and twisted trees. The inn, Gerilynn discovered, had a weak floor. She crashed through it into the cellar and was attacked by rats the size of cats. Wolfbang let a rope and Chickie came to her aid. Moving to the outskirts of the village, the party noticed the ruins of a tower on top of a rocky outcropping. They climbed the outcopping to investigate and found a hole in the rubble. As they began to light a torch to investigate, a greenish, clawed, undead thing burst out of the hole and attacked them. It as both faster and hardier than the zombies, and most terrifying of all, its toxic touch caused near instant paralysis. Both Vulpio and Gerilynn soon found their limbs frozen. The undead thing suffered wounds from Wolfbang’s spear and Chickie’s axe, but it seemed to barely bleed. Then Chickie was caught by a clawd hand and he too was frozen. For a moment, Wolfbang considerd flight, But then Wolfie clamped his jaws around the undead thing’s leg and pulled it to the ground. Wolfbang took this moment to plunge his spear through the undead thing’s chest and pin it to the ground, holding it there until it stirred no more.

Wolfbang draggd his friends down off the outcrop. After an hour or so, they recovered from their paralysis and they all returned to Gold Hill for the safety of the Inn.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Wolfbang and the Beekeeper's Prophecy

Wolfgang resented Jaroo’s strictly-worded advice, but after some prodding set off for the Southlands. Although Danderion and Fernac slipped away to find their own fortunes elsewhere, Gerilynn agreed and Chickie begged to accompany Wolfbang in his journey. What’s more, Gerilynn had heard that a warrior she knew, one Vulpio, was staying in a village not far from Hommlet. Vulpio, for reasons he wouldn’t explain, joined the young druid in his journey south. Vulpio had a dog named Spot. Spot showed proper deference to Wolfie and the two canines became friends.

For several days, the new companions had no known destination but “south.” The steadily deteriorating road passed through farms and orchards into pastures and rangelands. There were no inns, only barns for their nights’ rest. Theirs hosts and the few people they encountered on the road had never heard of a village called Whitkey.

The party made their way ever southward over brokenlands and foothills. They slept rough, and badly. Wolfbang did not fully trust Chickie to stand guard.

After several days of overland travel, they reached a rough road. It cut east and west, but the party decided that even if it didn’t take them where they wanted to go, it least it might take them to a place where they’d meet other people.

The first people they met were a large group of armed men who identified themselves as constables. The constables did know of Whitkey and even the beekeeper, but advised the travellers that they should check in with the head constable “before you just go wandering around.”
The party agreed to accompany the constables to “Gold Hill,” a played-out gold mine whose tunnels now contained a tavern, an inn, a blacksmith, and a trading post—as well as the Head Constable’s office.

The party enjoyed a hot meal, some wine, and a good bed. The innkeeper, a priestess of the order of St. Cahsey of the Divine Workshop, gave them a warm welcome, asked polite questions about their reasons for being in Gold Hill, and told them a little about both Whitkey and the beekeeper.

According to Mother Brau, Whitkey’s last inhabitants left nearly a decade ago, “long before my time.” It predated the discovery of gold, and did not survive the sudden influx of fortune and fortune-seekers. Now the gold was gone, and families were returning to area. They kept goat and sheep in the high pastureland. And the Matofaa family had apples.

“And then there’s Nahnyuk—and his bees. If he’s the one you’re supposed to meet, I’ll let you meet him with an open mind. Everyone around here knows about him, but none of us really know him.”

The next day they followed Brau’s directions. She had advised them to avoid meeting the magician who had recently camped at the crossroads. The party heeded her advice, taking to the woods when they saw the circle of tents.

Their path brought them onto sunny, rocky hillside. They did not encounter the wooly old man they’d expected, but an odd boy of about 12 who was initially very excited, but then disappointed when he leaned that they hadn’t come to talk to him “about the prophecy.”

But then he did take them to Nahnyuk who was everything they’d expected and more. He was, old, hairy, and pungent, and spoke in a belligerent roar that only Wolfgang could ken any meaning besides undiscriminating disdain.

Nahnyuk kept not only bees, but also sheep, and grapes. He instructed them to build huts for themselves, pointing at his own and the boy’s as models. These were constructed of timber, dry stone, and mud, with thatched roofs. He spoke to Wolfgang only, using a combination of druidic language and some other tongue with its own grammar and vocabulary, and punctuated with growls, grunts, and punches.

The boy, whose name was Valu, was more sociable, though his main interests were “the prophecy,” himself, and the connection between the two. He was excited to learn that Wolfbang knew Jaroo, and told them that “druids visit here all the time to talk about the prophecy.” He was part of a druid’s family himself, being the child of a couple who had tended the sacred grove in Whitkey. They had been killed when he was a baby, “and that’s when everyone in Whitkey ran away.” According to Value, he too, was learning to be a druid and, as proof, he made Wolfgang glow purple.

He knew little about the prophecy. There was a “relic,” he said, hidden in the grove. And he was supposed to find it when the time came.

In between tending Nahnyuk’s bees, sheep, and grapes, Wolfbang and the others made jaunts around the surrounding area. Nanyuhk’s closest neighbors were the Head Constables extended family. Wolfgang showed great restraint in ignoring the taunting of the HC’s teenaged sons.

One day, Valu convinced Wolfgang & co. to accompany him to Whitkey. It soon became clear that he had little idea how to get there and had rarely gone more than a mile from Nahnyuk’s hillside. Near the magician’s encampment at the crossroads, they met a man chopping wood. He begged them to meet his boss, the magician. The magician, a man dressed in blue and black robes shd great happiness to see them, especially Valu. He asked his new visitors to sit and drink with him, and gave orders to his assistants—various other scruffy-looking men, in addition to the woodcutter.

The tea was bad and the meeting was short as the magician moved with clumsy directness to his point—he claimed to know something about the prophecy and wanted to talk to Valu in private. Gerilynn allowed this, but didn’t allow them to go far. She watched the two talking on the edge of the woods, but gesticulating with wild excitement. After a brief conversation, Valu returned to thank Gerilynn, Wolfgang, and Vulpio for helping him find the magician, and then to dismiss them, explaining he didn’t want to go to Whitkey after all. He wanted to stay in the camp and talkto the magician.

Was he sure? Yes, very sure.

So instead the party went to Gold Hill. They ate lunch and talked to Brau about their plans to go to Whitkey. She gave them directions—return to the crossroads and follow the main road west.

When they reach Whitkey, they had little time to explore as they heard a boy screaming. They followed the sound of the screaming to the other side of the village and met Valu as he was running up a path from the woods, chased by a heavily armored man wielding a sword

Gerilynn stepped in to stop the man with the sword, Wolfbang, Chickie, and Wolfie ran with Valu, and Vulpio and Spot ran down the path.

Vulpio encounter the woodchopper they’d met at the crossroads and the two engaged in a brief melee, ending in the woodcutter’s death. Another of the magician’s assistants, dodged Vulpio and ran up the path to attack Gerilynn, who was fighting the man in armor. The surprise attack to Gerilynn’s blind side gave the armored man the chance he needed to continue his pursuit of Valu. Valu, for his part just ran and ran, not answering Wolfbang’s questions except to so sob, “They killed them, they killed them!”

Vulpio heard the magician in a clearing at the end of the path, shouting, and knocking over statuary. Vulpio crept in for a closer look and, waiting until the magician’s back was turned, rushed into the assault him with his war hammer. The magician fell to the ground, and rolled away, fumbling into his robes to retrieve a potion. @After drinking the potion, he soared into the air.

Gerilynn soon got the better of the thug who attacked her but, instead of killing him, gave him a chance to save his life. Expressing his gratitutde to be free of the magician (“I never knew what a wicked man he was,”) the ruffian threw down his spear and ran away.

Wolfgang tried to guide Valu threw the abandoned village, but a wrong turn brought them to a dead end, pinned between a ruined inn, a massive thornbush, and the armored man with the sword. Wolfbang, wielding his staff, prevented the man from getting to Valu.

Back in the grove, as the magician rose into the air, Vulpio lifted his crossbow but before he could take aim, he was engulfed in a cloud of noxious green gas and he fell to the ground coughing.

Gerilynn arrived in the village to assist Wolfbang in his combat against the armored man. He fought fiercely, but was now greatly outnumbered. Again, Gerilynn gave him a chance to save himself, demanding only that he throw down his weapon and run away. This man wavered. The magician passed over them. Thinking fast, Chickies pulled out his dagger and threw it at the magician. The blade found its mark and the magician crashed into the millpond, dead.

The armored man ran away.

The party regrouped. Valu understood that he had been tricked. The old coupe who tended the grove told the magician that they knew of no relic. His temper was short and he ordered his men to kill them. The party also searched the grove and found no sign of what the magician had been seeking. They retrieved the magician’s body and found nothing out of the ordinary on his person.