I tried recording this session so I could write about it at my own pace. Too bad the quality ended up being almost intelligible. I’m cribbing a lot of this from Ziggy’s version but I’ve learned my lesson and started taking notes during our sessions myself.
This Sounds Like Another Sidequest
In the interests of not being a plagiarist, here’s some disclosure: this section was pretty much pulled straight from Scott’s blog post from Ziggy’s perspective. I completely forgot about this part.
Once Kel left to take his ancestor’s sword to the Temple of Mother of Lions, McTarly and Ziggy shared what they had learned from Haven’s shopkeeper while Marcenda and Ileasa had been at the temple.
“The shopkeeper I visited mentioned that his caravan of supplies was due to make a delivery over a week ago. Apparently, there’s been no word from them or other towns about a delay.”
“You mean Nosehair?” Knucklebones sniggered.
“Yes, ‘Azhaire’,” Ziggy corrected, “has offered us some better prices on provisions if we can determine what happened with his wares that were supposed to be delivered. Even if you are correct, such an easy fact-finding mission has a great reward, given that he tried to charge both of us twelve gold per potion.”
“Twelve!?” the rest of the group exclaimed in unison, causing Ziggy to raise his hands in an attempt to shush them.
“We got them for less, don’t worry. If we don’t return with news, however, he has assured me that the prices will return to their original numbers.”
“The caravan was coming from Caer Dinevaal,” Ziggy continued, “So, if there are no objections, I suggest that we head off in that direction.
His proposal was met with general approval from the group and so they gathered themselves and prepared for the road ahead. Caer Dinevaal wasn’t terribly far. In fact, it was one of the closest towns to Haven and would likely arrive before the sun set.
What the Bloody Hell?
Koruk led the group as they made their way in search of the lost caravan. Marcenda drew her cloak around her tightly as they walked, less from the cold (though there was a wintry chill to the air) and more in an attempt to bring herself together. While the encounter with the siren had hinted at Marcenda’s true nature, there were all sorts of people who could sense arcane energy. Sure, the cat lady thing narrowed it down, but she could be a very domestic druid for all they knew.
Oh wait, Ileasa knew that Marcenda didn’t know much about magical trees. So much for that.
Marcenda was so lost in her thoughts that she only realized that the party had found the caravan when they’d all come to a stop before it. Or at least, what remained of it. What they’d actually encountered was a clearing where they found the shattered cart, it’s cargo looted or scattered around it. Further in the distance, a small track led up a hill and into a cave.
Schrodinger had been leisurely prowling beside Marcenda but suddenly scrambled to hide beneath her skirts. She looked around to see what had started her familiar when she realized that the party was not alone.
At the mouth of a cave stood a man covered in blood. Or at least, something that had probably been a man once. Open wounds bled down his face from where his eyes should have been. Blood seeped from the figure’s nose and mouth, from unseen wounds (they had to be wounds, what else could bleed so much?) underneath his fingernails. The wind changed and Marcenda nearly choked on the unmistakeably ferrous scent of blood.
The figure snarled at them before retreating into the cave. The party quickly glanced at one another before arming. Koruk pulled his great axe from off of his back, Ileasa pulled an arrow from her quiver, McTarly unsheathed his blade, and even Ziggy had his little rapier in hand. Marcenda felt inadequate as she pulled her small dagger from her boot, but what else could she do?
She, Ziggy, and Ileasa brought up the rear as McTarly and Koruk entered the cave. While the entrance looked like nothing more than an over glorified crevice, the cave opened up as they went inside. Marcenda could make out a line of columns ahead. They weren’t too tall, not quite as tall as she was, but that’s not what made her stop in her tracks.
Perched atop three of those columns were more of the bleeding men. One of them was certainly the one they had seen at the entrance. To his right, the second bleeding figure who was garbed similarly, in torn clothing that had probably been brown once but was now stiff with blood. The third, however, was robed in what have must have been a rich purple hue before the blood had stained it all.
But Marcenda wasn’t the only one who had stopped in their tracks. The entire party looked on, as incredulous as she was. As strange as the sight was, even stranger was the fact that the three bleeders seemed content to remain on the columns, still and quiet and watching them. Marcenda shuddered.
Koruk took a few tentative steps forward but it was McTarly who broke the silence of the cave. He swaggered up to the three. “Gentlemen,” he said amiably. ” My party and I are looking for a misplaced caravan. Would you three happen to have placed what’s been misplaced?”
The purple-robed figure cocked its head at McTarly before strange clicking noises came from the bleeding ruin that had once been its mouth. A fourth bleeding figure appeared from behind the pillars, it didn’t come any further.
Just as Marcenda began to think they could probably just leave and report back that the caravan had been lost, a deep, low chuckle came from behind the pillars. Marcenda wasn’t sure if it shook the cave or not, but she certainly found herself shaking.
“Who dares?” a voice rumbled from the gloom within.
“Knucklebones McTarly,” the swashbuckler replied, striking what he probably thought was a jaunty little pose. “We are here to recover honest Azhaire’s goods that were meant for Haven.”
The chuckle rumbled through the cave again. “They are ours now.”
“And the men?” McTarly demanded, unphased. Meanwhile, Marcenda was gripping her dagger so tightly that she could see her own knucklebones.
Another low rumble. “They belong to us.”
And with that, Marcenda was sure that the cave really was shaking now. Thump. Thump. Thump thump. Footfalls approached them, heavy enough that she could feel every thump reverberate under her feet.
Of course it was huge. It had to be, considering the effect its voice and footsteps had on the cave. She shouldn’t have been surprised as the massive figure came into view, covered in wounds and blood like the other creatures. But unlike the others, that blood ran over an elaborate set of gold plate armor. (It made Marcenda painfully aware that she had no armor of her own. ) It held the hilt of what would have been a massive greatsword to match its massive size, but blade was missing.
Before Marcenda could consider her next move, McTarly was already making his first one. He was so quick that she almost didn’t notice how quickly he struck out at the closest of the bloody minions… only to stumble and miss completely.
The creature didn’t react, but two of its compatriots did, jumping down from their pillars to attack McTarly. The swashbuckler cried out as he was struck, and the battle began in earnest.
You Gotta Give the Other Fellas Hell
As Koruk charged in to defend the hapless McTarly, Ziggy pulled out… his fiddle?!
“Trust me,” the gnome assured Marcenda. His bow began to fly over the instrument, filling the chamber with music. The beat of it seemed to pulse through her, making her feel far braver than she had any right to.
Which was just as well, since the purple robed creature was coming right for Marcenda and Ileasa. Marcenda had to scramble out of the way as the elf shot an arrow at the approaching figure.
Meanwhile, Koruk and McTarly’s scrum was not going as anticipated. Koruk’s great axe sunk into one of the creatures, but it still was maddeningly unreactive. McTarly swung at another creature, tearing a hole in its chest before staggering back in both pain and disbelief.
The creature’s heart glowed within the wrecked cavity that had held the rest of its human vitals. Nothing held it there; it was merely suspended by some magical force. Before Marcenda could examine it any further, she saw that the creature Ileasa had shot continued to advance unrelentingly on the elf, who kept taking steps back to make her shots. Marcenda knew she had to do something before Ileasa ran out of space to retreat.
While Schrodinger gave Marcenda spells every morning during their morning communing, she’d never used more than a few careful cantrips. She had no idea what to cast, but she did have a dagger at hand…
“Ahhhhhh!” she cried out, stabbing at the creature’s turned back. It sunk in with surprising ease, but she was horrified nonetheless. Killing rats was one thing, but this thing had been a man once and Marcenda had never raised a hand against another human before.
The creature turned to strike her, but it turned its back in Ileasa in the process. While it was slow going, the two women slowly began to wear the creature down as it turned to face each successive attack.
McTarly and Koruk, however, were not having nearly as much luck. In sipte of their best efforts, they were quickly being overcome by the remaining bloody minions. One of them, in an attempt to finish them off, plucked it’s glowing heart out and threw it at the barbarian and swashbuckler before falling limply to the ground.
It exploded on impact, covering them both in burning black blood that sizzled over their armor, clothes, and skin. This boiled Koruk’s anger over into a full barbarian rage, his great axe shattering bone and slicing through flesh to fell one of the bleeders. He smiled at his bloody handiwork before pulling his axe out of the bleeder’s nearly severed neck.
Unfortunately, McTarly had been backed into a pillar and was on the losing end of the battle with his foe. Ziggy set his fiddle aside and tossed a potion at McTarly. Though he’d been too clumsy to land a hit earlier, this time he managed the dexterity to grab the potion and gulp it down, ready to attack his foe with new vigor.
Marcenda and Ileasa had managed to subdue their foe, allowing the two to take in the scene. Ziggy rushed in to pluck the heart out of the creature attacking McTarly, throwing it at the last of the minions.
Cat’s Out of the Bag
However, it was right next to Koruk, who took some of the hit as well. He cried out in agony as his berzerker rage ebbed and his wounds began to overcome him. Marcenda, still emboldened by Ziggy’s song, rushed to Koruk’s side. “Curamenor,” she said, laying a glowing hand on him. (Programming note: Alex is forcing me to make up a language for Marcenda’s spells. So I’m bastardizing Portuguese.) Positive energy flowed into Koruk, curing some of his wounds.
Only the massive armored bleeder remained, bellowing in frustration as the last of his minions were destroyed. He raised the empty hilt and a blade of blood appeared as creature advanced on them.
Well, the cat was out of the bag. (Actually, Schrodinger never liked being confined.) If she kept holding back, this thing was going to kill them all. She’d rather be a living and loathed witch than a dead one. The scent of dried roses filled her nose. She has magic. She was going to use it. She felt her fingers crackle with energy as she prepared to cast her first hex. “Sonodorme!” she shouted, waving her hand at the creature.
It staggered, allowing Marcenda to believe that it had worked. Instead, it revealed three gems on its chest. One of them glowed, absorbing her magic. She screamed in frustration, preparing to hex it again. It pointed its sword at the ground, where it melted into a puddle. As Marcenda raised her hand to cast again, it stepped into the puddle and a second of the gems in its chest glowed. It sank into the puddle of blood, and while Koruk tried to run up and strike it down, it was too late.
They were alone.