Monday, February 16, 2009

SESSION NINE "Following in the Footsteps of Giants"

Grog continues to take his anger out on the poor, defenseless door of the keep when, perhaps growing tired of the abuse, it miraculously unlocks itself and swings open. Well, perhaps the miracle actually is centered on the person who really opened the door. As the rest of the party stands with weapons ready, good ol' Grandma Gerty emerges unscathed from the tower, with nothing more to show for her apparent murder then a ripped wool tunic and some strange glowing runes on her arm.

To say that the party is stunned is an understatement. They gather around their resurrected companion and rightfully question her as they peer at the new, runic tattoos that cover her right arm up to the elbow. Though everyone is very curious, Gerty puts off their questions with a gruff, "I'll tell you later." Shujen reminds them that if they have any hope of rescuing the villagers they need to hurry. Grog seems the most skeptical of Gerty, mumbling something about walking dead, but they all proceed into the tower and down the spiral stair into the earth.

Everything is damp as they descend the stairs. Ewald and Gerty marvel at the excellent, ancient, Morodos stonework. When the light fades, Rory pulls out his light stone and Grog pulls a torch from his belt, lighting it with his tinderbox. At the bottom of the stairs, a rift in the worked stone has made two passages. Both lead away into dripping, limestone caverns. From just inside the left passage, all of them hear a muffled, weak, moan. Picking up her axe, which she found lying at the bottom of the stairs, Gerty moves quickly to investigate.

They find one of the village captives. The woman has been run through and barely holds on to life. As Tristan and Ewald check further down the passage for signs of the enemy, Grog, Shujen, Gerty and Rory do what they can for her, but soon realize it's a lost cause. She dies without every regaining consciousness. One more victim of Lord Grist.

More determined then ever, the heroes continue on.

For the next half candle or so, they traverse the caverns, traveling through beautiful limestone chambers, climbing sloping passages and descending rough, natural stairs. All the while relying on Tristan's tracking skills to stay on the enemy's trail. soon they hear a strange, rhythmic clanking from somewhere up ahead.

While climbing a particularly steep ascent they hear a rumbling and dive quickly behind what cover they can find as several massive, broken stalagmites come barreling down the passage. It's a near thing, but they all avoid the avalanche attack and charge the two daagar soldiers at the top of the passage as Rory summons a Flaming sphere on top of the enemy.

Between Rory's sphere, Grog and Shujen's swords and Gerty's axe, the two enemies are quickly dispatched and the group continues on.

They find themselves in a GINormous cavern. the clanking sounds are much louder. As they draw nearer, they spy a huge stone and metal contraption built over a massive shaft. An equally enormous iron chain, runs through a pully mechanism above the shaft. It seems apparent to Tristan and Grog that their enemy is descending the shaft on some form of large "lift."

Though their first thought is to somehow break the chain, they realize that the captives would undoubtedly die too if the lift were to fall. The best they can come up with is a means to stop the chain and prevent Lord Grist and the daagar from getting further away. Perhaps forcing them to return and fight. But the chain and pullies are difficult to reach.

Soon they devise a plan. With the aid of Rory's levitation spell, they push Grog (tethered with a stout rope for safety) floating out over the shaft to the chain and pullies. Once in place, Grog slides the enchanted short sword Rory found earlier into the chain. With a grinding clank, the chain lurches and stops. Grog floats, ready to catch the sword should the chain switch directions. After a quarter candle or so, the chain lurches again. Their plan seems to work as it switches directions and the lift begins to rise. Unsure how long the ascent will take, the party readies their weapons and mentally prepares for battle.

A like amount of time passes as they wait patiently. Unfortunately the chain stops again long before they can see their enemy. Grog stands ready to reinsert the sword but the chain doesn't move again. A short time later they surmise that the enemy must have reached another level and is once again escaping. Drat!

Once more with the help of Rory's levitation spell, the group all transfer to the massive iron chain and proceed to begin their climb down the perilous shaft. It is a long, grueling climb during which Gerty tries to explain her apparent resurrection. She tells of how she dreamed of her father's voice telling her, "It's not yet your time girl. Ye can thank the Mother for this gift." She explains that when she woke, her wounds were healed, but she had lost her family medallion. She can't explain the runes that cover her arm. They aren't Durin runes, and no one in the party can read them.

When they reach the giant lift, the group is very tired. Thankfully there doesn't appear to have been another rear guard put in place to discourage pursuit. As they guessed, a large side passage leads off into further caverns. As they take a short rest and food break, Grog decides to check on his little Kudra captive. Unfortunately, the wee creature has expired. It's uncertain whether being used as a living mace and chain in the fight against Lord Grist, or being smothered in Grog's enormous canvas sack killed him. Grog feels very sad for his friend's loss, and regretfully kicks the corpse off the lift.

What passes next are several hours of DarkUrth tracking where even the stalwart Beremian knight, Shujen, begins to doubt the wisdom of continuing the pursuit. Unfortunately, Tristan also begins to have his own doubts, only his center around his ability to find his way back through the labyrinth of caverns and to the surface. To make matters worse, he finds signs that their quarry has split into two groups, and he's not sure which group has the captives.

Weary, worried and hungry, but nevertheless determined, the group continues the hunt, committed to rescuing the villagers, and in Grog's case taking vengeance on the fool giant.

Eventually they come to a large cavern filled with the deafening roar of a waterfall. The water shoots from the high wall and into a river that speeds through the giant cavern and disappears into the far wall. As they approach the river, they spy another large, wall mounted chain that connects to what is apparently a raft. The whole contraption works like a pendulum, with the twenty foot raft anchored to the upstream wall and apparently steered from one side of the river to the other by a massive tiller on the downstream side of the vessel. Of course the raft currently rests against the far bank and can barely be seen through the darkness and swirling river mists by even those in the group with enhanced vision. Still, Tristan is certain the giant passed this way and so the group must somehow get across.

Rory's fabulous Levitation spell once again threatens to usurp his Flaming Sphere in the "most useful" category as they use it to transport Grog and Ewald across the river to the raft. Once there, Grog realizes he's damned near blind this far way from Rory's light rock, and thus it is only Ewald's trusty darkvision that sees the twelve foot, monstrous figure rise up from nearby and begin to lumber towards the raft. Grog's sense of smell does manage to give him an idea of the trouble they face however.

A quick surveying of their situation tells Ewald that they won't be unhooking the three chains that anchor the raft to the riverside before the now bellowing creature attacks (and Gods of Light does it's breath stink!) So once again, in less than a day, Grog pulls his sword, preparing to fight a creature bigger than himself in the dark.

Their screams of rage (and possibly calls for assistance) go unheard by the others over the roar of the falls. Ewald narrowly avoids being knocked into the river by the creature's massive, taloned paw before Grog scores a deep wound in it's belly, taking a shower in it's smelly blood for his efforts.

The creature's scream IS heard over the river's din.

A solid push by Shujen sends Gerty levitating to their aid, torch in hand, as Ewald and Grog repeatedly deal the creature crippling wounds that unfortunately... aren't that crippling. Nearly as fast as they deal them, the creature seems to regenerate, but it does seem to lose it's eagerness for the kill. As Gerty arrives to burn the enemy with her torch, it finally manages to heave itself into the river and be carried off into the darkness.

Muttering over the unfairness of some creatures, they unchain the raft and steer it to the other side, all the while watching for the regenerating monster to reappear. It doesn't, thankfully, and the group crosses the river and continues on. Rory passes Grog a light stone in case a similar situation comes up again. (What are the chances?)

Trekking on a while, Ewald, taking his turn scouting ahead where his darkvision can be better utilized, spies a sentry or sniper, positioned high in the wall of a darkurth passage that most resembles a subterranean canyon. After warning the others, he takes the aid of Rory's invisibility spell and moves ahead, to try and get the drop on the enemy. Despite the danger, the group is excited by the presence of a sentry, hopeful that this means they are catching up to their foes.

Further down the passage, Ewald finds a narrow stairway that leads to the sentry's perch. Quiet as a mouse, he sneaks up on the Daagar crossbowmen and brains him with his trusty axe, then signals the party that the path is clear.

Once again taking the scout position Ewald comes upon a true fortification in the form of a massive stone wall that blocks the path. Within the wall is a heavy stone doorway sized for a giant. Upon the wall's battlements are two heat sources that must be more Daagar soldiers. Before he's spotted by the enemy, Ewald quickly returns to the others, passing on his information.

It seems the party is finally getting somewhere. It also seems they might be using Rory's levitation yet again. But, what lies beyond the wall? Will they find the villagers? Will they ever find their way back out of Aeranos' Darkurth realms? And perhaps most importantly, will any of them actually eat the scary, eyeless, corpse-white fish that Grog caught in that cavern pool awhile back?

Stay tuned...