An interlude to "catchup" an old friend into the adventure:
After defeating the Blood Wolves, Fathak stayed around the other Orokan tribes just long enough to collect a reward, standing in for the rest of the Swans. After parsing out Beta's share, he took a ride from one of the swans, the real ones, who stayed around long enough to drop him off near Kaergot, where they sensed the other members of the order roughly were.
Once in Kaergot, he did a little searching, but couldn't find them. He did meet a lovely, Fommish ship captain's wife however, who distracted him for nearly a week. Turning dalliance to profit, he managed to meet several lesser Kaergot nobles during the week of festivities leading to the princess's birthday, and get a lead on buying a captaincy on a swift Fommish patrol ship.
Now he has spent a bit of his gold on noble costuming and has been invited to the grand birthday celebration at Frostwyrm Keep, where he hopes to talk up Lord Durmhelm MacBran, High Admiral of the King's navy.
His contacts in the underworld, along with a fine nose for trouble, leads him to believe that all isn't right in the city. There are rumors that murderers on both sides of the law or looking for a group of Syvani and their henchmen. The description of a female Syvani forester leading them has been mentioned and Fathak has his suspicions that this may be Rowen.
Knowing the danger his friends are in, he decides to spend money hiring a shady sorcerer named Halfhand to do a finding spell on the swan pendant. The spell points the way to an actors guildhall in the rich quarter of the city.
With only a few hours before the grand feast at the castle is set to begin, the spell led Fathak and Halfhand to the gates of the Guildhall of Master Redwine. Parting ways with the sorcerer, Fathak knocks upon the doors…
Back to our session…
After having been smuggled into the city of Kaergot by Gowen and Trenton, the group is introduced to Master Redwine, an aged, flamboyant theater owner and consummate actor. The guildhall is in a state of hyper activity, with actors and stagehands getting the last bits ready to take up to the castle for a royal presentation of the grand play, The Saga of the Northmen.
While Master Redwine is somewhat sympathetic to their cause, he is hesitant to put his troupe and career in danger. As the group tries to persuade the old man to take a chance, Fathak's presence at the door is announced. After the surprise wears off, Rowen and the others ask Redwine to let him in.
Fathak offers up the reward poster and his story. To Redwine, he offers up the money from the Orokan tribes as payment. Moments after the transaction is finalized, a patrol of city guards show up at the door. Redwine has the group led to a secret room where they wait, hoping the man can be trusted, and taking the opportunity to fill Fathak in on the current adventure.
After seeing the guards off, who he feels sure were tipped off by Fathak's hired sorcerer, Redwine tells them of his plan to sneak them into the castle…
Two candles later, two Actor's guild wagons rumble up the road toward Frostwyrm Keep. Rowen is expertly disguised as one of Master Redwine's Neran servants. Khabsha, also disguised, has taken the place of Redwine's Orokan stableman, Morka. Taen is simply well hidden inside a trunk, Graham has donned the garb of a stagehand and Cinder is a Syvani most cleverly disguised as a Neran actor, dressed as a Syvani, complete with fake pointed ears over real pointed ears. Fathak plans to meet the group inside the castle.
A bit later, the group has successfully made it into the keep. Much to their chagrin, the rumors concerning the anti-magic field appear to be completely true. Once within a spears throw of the outer castle wall no magics function. Thanks to some previous planning, Cinder did call his elemental, Digger and sent the creature into the keep through subterranean means. Though he loses his magical connection to the creature, it does remain.
The entire inner courtyard is full with party goers and feasters. The Great feast hall as well, though they soon learn that many of the greater nobles have yet to arrive. No one sees Laird Talis, nor the Princess Iyala or King Ironcrown. While Rowen and Graham quickly mingle with the plethora of servants, Khabsha stays close to Master Redwine, and Taen flits among the rafters, staying hidden but listening and watching for clues.
Cinder plays his part to the hilt, brandishing a fake Syvani blade and barking promotions for the coming play. He uses the role to get closer to the nobility. Fathak hob knobs with the rich and influential. He spies Digger in a nearby drain grate and sends him off to see about finding a means of breaking the anti-magic runes
Through conversations had and overheard they learn the following bits:
- Nobles of higher rank will not appear for a an hour or two.
- The Lady Brightwing is kindness incarnate. All of Kaergot loves her.
- Such hatred of an entire race is never to be born, but of all, the King would have his right to it. His lady murdered by the Elfane slavers and his daughter taken slave when but a child. It is good that he has found a measure of peace with the Lady Brightwing.
- Laird Talis? I hear he recently fell foul of a plot to ransom him. It is said that he was rescued by none other than the King's High Bard, Dags MacRowd.
- A nest of Syvani assassins was found hiding in the city just two days ago. The Kings guard put them to death, but their female leader is still on the loose.
- The Princess must finish her Crossing Over ceremony before attending the feast. It is a women's ritual held in the Castle Chapel.
The Crossing Ceremony
Old Beornian custom symbolizing the daughters crossing into womanhood by crossing water in a specially prepared boat and then being blessed by the priestesses of Nedra. A male protector is chosen when the child is born that acts as the young womans guardian and escort - her Iron Guardian that protects her during her symbolic crossing.
Cinder spies Master Embraster, Archmage and head wizard of the Heldjin Tower of Wizardry, whom he briefly met when visiting the guild tower. Having not found Talis, he decides to take a risk, revealing his presence and mission to the man.
While Master Embraster chooses not to reveal them, he also remains wary, knowing that such plans could backlash horribly. He does tell Cinder that Jory Talis is the Princess Iyala's ceremonial protector in her crossing over ceremony. Before distancing himself, he suggests that the King may not be the target.
With what Cinder learned from Archmage Embraster, the group convenes backstage. They decide that the Princess is more likely the target, along with Lady Brightwing, with her political ambitions toward mending fences with the Syvani.
The King and greater nobles finally arrive. Lady Brightwing then departs to attend the Princess's ceremony.
Fathak and Cinder work on informing the King and his friend, Sir Angus Mur of the plot, while Rowen, Taen and Graham make haste toward the Castle chapel and the Crossing Ceremony
Khabsha stays near Cinder and Fathak, ready to provide aid if needed.…
Many things happen quickly now.
Taen flies over the chapel pond, where the ceremony is set to take place. Dozens of noblemen's daughters line the edges of the pond. The Princess stands next to a boat bedecked with flowers. Jory Talis waits on the far side, with several Wicalas of the Mistress and his two squires flanking him.
In Rowen's role as serving girl, she gives the guards at the chapel gate a written message for Jory, claiming urgency. The guard calls an acolyte to pass the message.
The Lady Brightwing approaches the chapel.
Having finally convinced Sir Angus and the King, a bevy of royal guards led by the Captain of the guards and followed by Sir Angus and the King himself rush toward the Chapel.
Taen, seeing disaster near at hand, decides to approach Jory to tell him of the danger. Unfortunately, the sudden appearance of a Faelinarie in the chapel grounds sends people into a storm of fear and excitement.
In the chaos that ensues, a fight breaks out between Jory's two squires. Guards rush into the chapel grounds and bustle off the Princess and Lady Brightwing. Jory screams for calm as guards scramble to capture Taen.
Jory's squire, Orin informs his lord that the other squire pulled his dagger and was attempting to stab Laird Talis. In the struggle that followed he was forced to kill the man.
The acolyte with Rowen's message manages to deliver it belatedly.
In the aftermath, Jory is whisked off to a safe room in the castle and away from anyone of import. The princess and Lady Brightwing are likewise protected. The Swans are brought together before Sir Angus and the Guard Captain, where they reveal the entirety of their story. They are informed that in the morning, they will be brought before the king.
In the candle after, they are summoned to Laird Talis's rooms by Jory himself. They are met at the door by Squire Orin, who thanks them for protecting his lord before excusing himself to tend to other matters. Inside, Jory thanks them, and informs them that the King's surgeons are making plans to attempt to remove the Nightfire from his belly.
When they ask him if he had any suspicions about Squire Cedric, he claims that Cedric had been his friend and squire for years. "If anything, he would have thought that Squire Orin would be the danger." Eyebrows raised, they ask why. Jory replies that Squire Orin was a recent replacement to his retinue after his original choice, Squire Donovan became sick. Orin, it turns out, was suggested by Master Olifson, a nephew to the castle Steward.
With sinking hearts they realize the danger. They rush after the squire, led by castle guards. Across the castle, in the Princess's rooms they find three guards dead and Orin on the balcony, the princess unconscious and draped over his shoulder. Taen is first to the balcony, but unable to fire her bow for fear of hitting the Princess.
Squire Orin disappears over the edge, apparently having jumped to his death, but moments later he is seen flying off on a Forest Wyvern. Khabsha wastes little time in blowing the Swan Horn as Taen takes off in pursuit of the quickly dwindling wyvern.
Running to the parapets the others meet Vaesh and Cyrilla along with a small party of Windrider reinforcements mounted on Hippogryphs. Only Jory's cries keep the castle guards from attacking them. In a hurried conversation with the Windriders, Vaesh orders four of the Syvani to give over their mounts and the Swans and remaining Windriders take to the sky in pursuit.
Meanwhile, Taen has managed to tail the Wyvern from a safe distance. She follows it to an old, abandoned rock quarry several miles from the castle. Once she's certain Orin is staying put, she hurries back to find the others. Thus forewarned, the rescuers approach the quarry shortly thereafter, landing and planning a safe distance away.
The quarry is a Durin industrial site, and is both wide and deep, filled with a murky lake. The building in which Orin has holed up is a sturdy, two story, granite one, with slate roofs and iron shutters and doors. It sits on a pillar of quarried stone, surrounded by scaffolds and cranes, and only accessed by two rusting iron suspension bridges. The wyvern rests atop the roof and no light can be seen from within.
Making their plan quickly, for fear of what might befall the princess, the group decides to split into two elements. Cinder, Graham, Khabsha and Taen will fly their hippogryphs in low, landing on the sliver of stone on the buildings edge, Taen's daggers, and their cloud of silence, being used to hopefully remain undetected by the resting wyvern on the building's roof. Rowen and the Windriders will remain outside and at a distance, waiting for Digger to make an entrance that everyone can use.
The first part of the plan goes well. Cinder's party makes it to the foot of the structure undetected. He sends a Whispered Message back to the others to follow in three minutes. Digger is able to excavate a hole through the unworked stone beneath the side wall of the building. Once through, Taen pops her head up from beneath a tattered rug. She spies two crouched and resting Spider Fiends, Dessicated and spindly Nerans with black, multi-faceted eyes and wickedly sharp, poison stained daggers. Taking them by surprise, they are quickly taken down. Together the group explores the first level. Between Khabsha and Graham, two more fiends are ended before they are able to open the front doors, and motion from within that Rowen should follow.
As carefully as the first batch, Rowen flies her mount right through the wide doors and dismounts. With spell silenced daggers still active, they make their way to the second story. There Cinder incinerates another fiend before they step through the main door of a large room. Unnatural darkness covers the room, and only the vaguest outline of a figure near the floor can be seen.
Fearing the unnatural darkness and what might lurk within it, Khabsha calls bright holy light to the entire room. Revealed there is the Princess, unconscious and chained by cruel iron manacles inside a quick but effective circle of magic. Squire Orin is caught staring into a crude, full-sized mirror, magically conversing with a dark robed figure looking much like the figure that attacked the party in the dockyards of Neued. Two more spider fiends lurch to attack as Orin cloaks himself in some form of shadow armor, and reveals a glaive made of shadowy substance.
Rowen, Graham and Khabsha rush to protect the princess as Taen and Fathak occupy the spider fiends. Orin lets fly with some form of shadowy barb of energy that Graham avoids with a deft spin. He is then hit with Cinder's burning blast of eldritch fire that tears away his shadow armor and chars the flesh of his shoulder and side. Fathak pins a fiend with two daggers before slashing the beast with his trusty blade, Matilda. Taen's arrow finds the other beast, and Khabsha's hammer. As Orin tries to right himself Graham skips in with a heavy sword blow made with such precision that it's several moments before anyone realizes the fight is over.
As the upper diagonal half of Squire Orin's torso slides wetly from the lower portion to the floor, and the last fiend is destroyed, an oppressive weight is lifted from the area. The wyvern screams it's freedom from the rooftop before disappearing into the night and the Swans free the princess and return to the castle.
The events of the day, having been both heroic and memorable, go a long way toward re-establishing diplomatic ties between the Kingdom of Fom and the Syvani Tuaths of the region. In the immediate aftermath, Cinder convinces Master Embraster to Fargate the Swans and a contingent of the King's soldiers to Castle Talis, in hopes of having a word with the estimable Steward Margos Olifson. Alas, they appear to be too late, and Olifson's body is discovered in his bed, minus his head and having suffered multiple stab wounds. While the Swans remain suspicious, there's no proof to be had that the old steward was indeed the Shadow Master behind everything. If he was, he covered his tracks expertly. Following Swan custom, the cremation of Olifson's body is thorough.
Leaving the company of king's soldiers under the command of a recovering Dags, the group returns to the capitol with the help of the Windriders of Birchwood Hall. They are greeted by King Ironcrown with a heroes welcome. Vaesh introduces you to the Syvani Lord of Birchwood Hall, who has been invited to the feast by the matronly yet beautiful Lady Brightwing.
Finally, the Swans are able to rest and relax as honored guests of the King himself. They are rewarded with gold and jewels enough to make even Fathak happy. Taen eats enough fine food to actually sate her... briefly. The gifted in the party are afforded actual time to study and reflect upon their crafts, Graham is rewarded with a fine suit of armor and beautiful new sword and Fathak gets a fine, fast ship to captain, Gods save the sailors of the north sea!
In their hearts, each knows that the clarion call of the hero will sound again, but for now, life is good.
Remember when I claimed "The Shadowed Tower" was going to be a one-shot? heh.
Thanks to all my players for a great adventure. All in all, I'm pleased with where the Aeranos RPG is headed. Anyone out there not in our gaming group, who is interested in trying out Aeranos Roleplaying, send me a note. I'm more than happy to pass on a copy of the rules in exchange for feedback. With the exception of the damn spell list, it's mostly complete.