Saturday, November 21, 2015

Garan Fest 3: Evil defeated! A New Champion Exalted!

The third day of the competition was in horseback riding and jumping. Vlad, whose grew up tending apples (along with listening to his grandfather’s prophecies and learning to fashion silver crossbow bolts) had never sat on a horse before. He was eliminated in the first round. (Roquelle and Sir Henry, meanwhile were not inspired to compete at all.)

Rellum, a local tanner noted that Mark seemed to have little interest in either the martial competition or the accompanying revelry and suggested that maybe he was “Some kind of wizard? I’ve known people like you.” Mark tried to put a quick end to the conversation, but the Tanner persisted, advertising his services in “custom covers for valuable books.” Made from dragon hide according to the Tanner. Mark said that he’d think about it and told his friends about the strange man’s offer. Vlad was still nursing a sore shoulder and his injured pride, but Thoric agreed to help find the Tanner’s shop. Asking around they heard that the Tanner was new in town and had taken over the old Tanner’s shop next to the well. Mark and Thoric located the shop, but found it closed. By this time, Vlad was back on his feet and eager to restore his pride. He convinced his friend to visit the festival tents and they cheered him on in a test of strength with a visiting strongman. (Vlad lost.)

Wandering on the outskirts of the festival ground, the party met Oli the village drunk and Februm the village loanshark. Having just received a beating from Februm and his toughs, Oli was grateful for a sack of wine and he told them what he knew about Garanton and the festival. This was very little, but Mark and Vlad were perplexed about one fact he told him—every year, the winner of the competition receives the Mantle of Garan—a black velvet cloak that according to legend once belonged to Garan himself. The same black velvet cloak? How? Oli asked for more wine and passed out.

That evening, they met someone else who also found it strange the same gift should be given away every year. Mikail Vetter, hero of the day’s riding completion was being feted at the tavern—and acting completely miserable. The party followed him out of the tavern and learned the reason for his mood. Both his grandfather and his father had won the mantle—and then gone off to war, never to be seen again. None of the winners were still around today. Only the mantle.

That evening, the party went on patrol with their red moss torches. They talked to some patrolling friars and questioned them about the history of Garan and the festival. The friar extolled Garan’s martial virtues of good words and deeds. Especially deeds. Garan led the uprising against 3 evil brothers who had terrorized the land. As they explained it, the winner of the festival customarily accepted the mantle and then went forth to seek glory and do honorable words and deeds. “Why should a hero spend his days in a sleepy village like this one?” Such heroes would of course be welcomed, but they couldn’t name any who actually had returned during their years at the abbey. But the mantle itself, they agreed, always returned. Taking their leave from the friars, the party went to the top of the hill to check on the arch. The sky was overcast and the arch wasn’t glowing. Reasoning that the shadow demons wouldn’t be a threat, the party called it a night.

The farmers and artisans rise early in Garanton so when Vlad, Thoric, and Mark did awaken, the village was abuzz with disturbing news: a local man had been killed—apparently by a shadow demon—right in the middle of the village. His body was found near the well. But a festival to honor a legendary warrior must go on regardless of portents and tragedy. Vlad went to testing ground to prepare for the archery contest, one he hoped to win. Vlad and Mark decided to visit Rellum the Tanner. The shop was closed, but they knocked loudly, Mark calling out that he wanted to talk about covering his spellbook. Rellum opened the door and ushered them into his little shop to display samples of his work. His skill was impressive and his price reasonable, but his manner strange. Mark did not like the way the Tanner covetously fingered his spellbook. But the distraction gave Thoric a chance to look around the shop. There was one interior door—with a door placed in fronting of it, jamming it closed. When Thoric tried to wriggle the chair free—but ended up cracking it, Rellum the Tanner snapped angrily and jumped across the room to slam the door shut—but not before Thoric caught a glimpse of a small kitchen in which the rest of Rellum’s furniture was stacked on top of a trapdoor. Mark heard a crashing noise from the cellar. Rellum began to scream that he was being robbed. Thoric and Mark agreed they should leave and went to the archery grounds. They told Vlad that they thought that the missing sculptor was being held prisoner in Rellum’s basement. Vlad agreed that he would go with them to check it out after the archery contest was over. But—when the sculptor’s distraught assistant Deidra heard that someone knew where her master was, she begged them to tell her and, after they did tell, went directly to the Tanner’s house to confront him. Vlad and a few other contestants agreed that they would not start the archery contest until the matter was resolved and went with Thoric and Mark to assist Deidre.

Rellum the Tanner refused to allow anyone inside. A friar joined the negotiations and tried to convince the Tanner that the visitors were not brigands. After a brief argument, Rellum cast a spell on his accusers and most of them fell asleep. Those who remained conscious battered down his door. The shop area had been cleared of small, valuable items. Vlad, Thoric, and Mark moved through it into the kitchen, reaching it just in time to see the shutters fly open. Thoric suggested that the Tanner was a magician and had turned invisible—they braced for an attack. When none came, the party began disassembling the pile of furniture and other heavy objects that held the kitchen trapdoor closed. As they worked, a force began battering against the door from below. Each blow from belong knocked the door open a couple inches and shook the pile of furniture. Thoric out the sculptor’s name and were answered by snarls.

Reasoning that there was a shadow demon in the basement, Vlad lit one of his special red moss torches. The others continued to move furniture. The trapdoor was now bouncing open several inches. A black claw flashed out, grabbing for Vlad’s ankle. He knelt and thrust the torch into the shadow demon’s face. The trapdoor slammed down on Vlad’s arm. He let go of the torch and pulled his arm free.

The party heard frantic commotion in the cellar. The shadow demon was no longer battering the trap door, but instead flying around the cellar, screeching and destroying things. Vlad loaded a crossbow bolt. Mark prepared to cast a spell. Thoric and the friar moved the rest of the furnitutre off the trap door. On the count of three, they opened the trapdoor. Thick, pungent smoke came spilling out, followed by the howling shadow demon. Vlad and Mark both hit it with their respective missiles. As the monster emerged, it was struck by the sunlight from the open window and vaporized.

The friar went out to tell Deidre the good news—the sculptor had been found! And the bad news—Rellum the Tanner had turned him into a demon in order to kill local cows and villagers! And the really good news—the demon had been destroyed by the villagers and now the festival could continue!

Vlad and Thoric checked that the basement was empty of any other shadown demons. Then Vlad wen to compete in the archery contest while Thoric and Mark searched the Tanner’s house. In the attic sleep space, they found a book that purported to tell the True and Secret Story of Garan the Ravager. Nothing about good words and deeds. The arch, according to the book, was built by one of Garan’s two brothers in the course of a fierce three-way sibling rivalry that escalated into war. Garan was killed in the battle with his brothers and buried in a secret tomb. Interesting stuff.

Vlad had another bad day, and was eliminated early from a contest that he had expected to win. He rejoined Thoric and Mark and the three debated their next course of action. They discussed visiting Garan’s tomb. Vlad wanted to return to the ravine near Garan’s tomb to recover the weapons he’d left behind so that he could carry his cousin’s body. But Thoric convinced his fellows that they should investigate the arch. Hadn’t Mark and Vlad seen four shadow demons emerge from the arch on a moonlit night? Shouldn’t they investigate it during the daylight hours?

In the daylight, the arch was just an arch, and the three adventurers discussed destroying it, using a hammer to test whether it was vulnerable to normal methods of destruction. It was—but their work was interrupted by a voice warning them of their imminent destruction. 

In the ensuing conversation, the party resolved that the voice wasn’t coming from the arch or from inside the arch, but from behind a bush or in the ruins nearby. And the voice sounded very much like Rellum the Tanner. He told them that instead of destroying the arch, they should learn how to harness its power. While Vlad and Mark peppered him with questions about the nature of this power and exactly how it could be harnessed, Thoric set about looping a rope around the keystone of the arch. Vlad and Mark couldn’t find the Tanner, but they heard him—not only his voice, but the sound of footsteps as he moved from one hiding place to another. They continued to close in on the source of his voice until finally, with a last threat of doom, he seemed to run away. When the sound of his footsteps faded, the three adventurers agreed to destroy the arch. They seized the end of the rope, walked out as far from the arch as they could and pulled with all their might. At first nothing happened, but when they did manage to twist the keystone, the rest of the stones did the work, pushing the keystone out and then tumbling to the ground. There were some surprised shouts from down in the village and a cloud of dust. When the dust settled, the heroes walked back down to Garanton.

That night at the tavern, Mark, Thoric, and Vlad were the heroes, praised for their success in killing the demon and in driving the Tanner out of town. “I always said he wasn’t right.” 

The celebrations were stymied by some disturbing news. The friars had caught someone trying to steal the mantle of Garan. Most people—other than Thoric, Vlad, and Mark—were shocked to hear that the culprit was local favorite Mikail Vetter, descendant of two previous winners! The friars locked Vetter in the cellar of the abbey. Tavern talk turned to Vetter’s strange behavior. Locals and visiting spectators debated whether Vetter’s crime was motivated by his poor performance at the day’s archery contest or whether causation worked in reverse—“I could tell by the way he looked at that target—his mind was on something else. And now we all know what!” Everyone agreed that he was a disappointment to the memory of his father and grandfather.

The night passed without incident, confirming for most people the friar’s theory that the recent threat posed by Rellum the Tanner and his unwilling accomplice the sculptor had been effectively eliminated. But it was a somber morning. Mikail Vetter was tried and convicted of multiple crimes against the village, the abbey and Garan the Mighty. He was sentenced to a sound flogging and exile.

In the afternoon, the completion of the week’s competition culminated in a series of one-on-one combats. Despite his poor showing on recent days, Vlad was still considered a favorite, along with locals Muttal and Ouvrar. Berl an expert archer had earned the right to easy first round contests but wasn’t expect to succeed in hand-to-hand combat against a “real warrior” in the mold of Garan the mighty. The duels were fought with wooden swords and lasted until one of the duelist fell and could not immediately return to his feet. Vlad easily won his first two rounds. Berl the archer also advanced. The other two finalists included Sir Havad and Barre. Sir Havad was the captain of a mercenary company and thus regarded by many as not a proper contender in a completion intended for untested warriors. Barre, one of Februm’s goons was even more disliked. Barre stumbled and was defeated by Berl the archer to the surprise of all and to the dismay of the many punters who had bet against him. Vlad’s success in the earlier rounds was attributed to his quickness, but in his fight against Sir Havad he showed he was also willing and able to sustain some heavy blows and keep on fighting. The crowd cheered to see the heroic stranger defeat the mercenary. Vlad and Berl were permitted an hour’s rest before the final round. The friar’s tended to both men’s wounds and gave them fortified wine for their final battle. Once again Berl surprised many by his ability to defend himself in hand-to-hand combat. But Vlad had more stamina and after sustaining a few solid blows himself, at last forced the archer to yield.

The final duel was followed almost immediately by the victory procession to the Plaza of Garan. The friars led the way with their statue of Garan, draped in its mantle. The procession arrived at the plaza, in front of Garan’s tomb, and the mantle of Garan was presented to Vlad. He was wary at first, but as the joyous crowd draped it over him, he felt encouraged by its presence. It felt strangely familiar, as if it had always belonged to him and he pulled it around his shoulders.

Mark and Thoric, lurking on the outside of the crowd, took a closer look at the tomb. It looked like the plaster seal had been broken, though it was unclear whether the stone door had been opened.   

Monday, November 2, 2015

Garah Fest Part 2 (Vlad and Mihir search for blood moss)

While the rest of the party rested after the battle on the clifftop and helped to calm frightened revelers, Vlad and Mihir talked with one of the friars who told them of a special incense that could be used to drive away. The one ingredient he needed was a special, blood-red moss that sometimes grew in the canyon near the tomb of Garan. Friar Colton told them the way and warned them to be careful—sometimes snakes, wild animals, and more dangerous things could be found in the dark places around the tomb.

The tomb was easy to find. The trail leading there ran through thin woodland and had recently been cleared in preparation for the festival. They passed over the flagstone plaza in front of the tomb and into the rocky canyon beyond. There was no path but Vlad and Mihir followed the walls of the canyon to its end, and found themselves in a place strewn with boulders. Spindly trees grew next to the canyon walls. Vlad and Mihir cut them away and found narrow slot canyons and explored these looking for the red moss.

Instead they encountered two of the vicious-looking pigmen that Roquelle had seen in the reeds of Barrow Creek. These didn’t run away, but attacked with their spears, making a strange “orc, orc!” grunting noise. Vlad dropped his crossbow and drew his sword. The orcs' spears were clumsy weapons in the slot canyon and Vlad killed them both.

Vlad and Mihir hiked back down into the main canyon and then hiked up into another one of the more narrow crevasses. Success at last! Untitled

Vlad and Mihir gathered handfuls of the red moss, moving further and further into the narrowing crevasse.

There was more moss and also more orcs. This time one attacked, while the other ran further up the crevasse and loudly blew a horn. Vlad killed one with his sword and shot the horn-blower with his crossbow. But out in the main canyon, he and Mihir could hear battle cries. They moved quickly down, hoping to exit the crevasse and get back to Garan without having to fight. But they weren’t fast enough. Three orcs met them. Vlad chose a narrow place where he could fight them one at a time. Mihir crouch on a boulder behind and, when an opportunity presented itself, lashed out with his flail. 

The three orcs fell, but more kept coming. One of them thrust his spear through the gap in Vlad’s breast plate ad also pierced the chain mail beneath. A larger orc appeared, wearing metal armor himself. He called the orcs out of the crevasse. Vlad and Mihir pursued them, and killed another two. As the crevasse widened, Vlad could no longer protect his cousin—while the orcs attacked on one side, another two attacked Mihir. A long spear pierced Mihir’s chest and other orcs pounced on him with their long knives, stabbing him repeatedly. Vlad killed one of his cousin's killers and then fell withdrew into the crevasse.

 The orcs did not follow, but stood waiting in the larger canyon, their spears pointing at him, daring him to try to escape the narrow crevasse. Vlad sheathed his sword, and pulled out his crossbow and fired it quick shot at the leader. His shot went wild and in his rush to reload as the leader ran for cover, Vlad jammed the firing mechanism. But as the chief orc cowered behind one of his minions, an especially ugly, white-face specimen, Vlad dropped his crossbow and charged with a war hammer in each hand. He threw the hammers as his enemies closed in and in the momentary confusion, drew his sword and killed the white-faced orc. The others reacted quickly. Vlad was struck by an axe that he fell to the ground. He rolled away from the stabbing spearpoints to regain his feet next to stunted pine tree and made what he thought would be his last stand.

There were four orcs, including the leader. They circled, stabbing with their spears. He slashed at them with his sword wildly, doing his best to keep their blades away from him. He feinted, baiting one into making charge. He dodged the point, grabbed the spear and killed its bearer, trusting his armor to absorb the blows from the orc chief. He turned on the orc chief, sword against sword, Vlad twisting his body this way and that to avoid the spear points. Suddenly Vlad turned and leaped at one of the other orcs, and killed him. The orc chief took a last wild swing; Vlad felt the chief’s sword glance off his shoulder plates, but by the time he turned, the orc chief was running away. One orc remained to guard his chief’s retreat and he was canny and tough. Knowing Vlad’s tricks, he waited, circling and making short thrusts.

 Only when Vlad, exhausted by the combat, stumbled to one knee did the orc charge. The spear point found a gap in Vlad’s plate and the orc leaned in with all his weight to pierce the mail. Vlad dropped his sword to seize the spear with both hands, and then threw himself backwards while rolling his body, throwing his enemy on the ground. Before the orc could regain his feet, Vlad recovered his sword and killed him. Remembering that his cousin Mihir wore a magical phylactery on his arm, Vlad removed his dead cousin’s armor to recover this item. In the course of completing this work, some feelings of sorrow or remorse emerged, and Vlad decided to also bring Mihir’s body back to Garan for a proper burial.

The people of Garan, were duly impressed by Vlad’s valor and startled by the news of monsters camped so close to the village and in the vicinity of Garan’s tomb. Friar Colter was grateful that Vlad had recovered enough blood moss for 10 torches. He would give 5 to Vlad and his companions, and the friars would carry the others on their patrols that night.