Sunday, September 24, 2006

Conspiracy of Shadows (Season Two, Epilogue)

Having dug Little Alexander from the rubble of the Grey Claw Tower and returned to the hunting lodge the group decide to split up. Little Alexander and Kasper are to travel to Stosz and exchange information with the Order of the Closed Book contact there while Big Alexander remains with Sedziwoj.

The pair travel down river before heading north, over land to the city. The land around Stosz is rich in minerals and ore as well as being good farmland. The city is surrounded by ridges of rolling hills that trap a deep mist within their valleys.

On the trip the pair see many encampments of Rankians, despised travellers in most other countries. Close to Stosz, Little Alexander decides to join one of the encampments for the night and trade news and gossip. As near penniless travellers themselves the pair have little to fear from light-fingered Rankian. In fact when they sit beside the large bonfire at the heart of the camp they see that the Rankian actually seem more afraid of them, making the sign to avert the evil eye.

Little Alexander is determined to find out why the Rankian are scared while Kasper is happy to sit by the fire and watch the Rankian dance, sing and dare one another to leap and somersault over the fire.

The Rankian initially refuse to talk to Little Alexander but finally allow the two travellers an audience with the Old Mother. A wizened old crone that reads their palms and tells their future. The woman tells them that the Sleeping King is pursuing them and they are in constant danger. She also gives them some clues about the location of the Witch Chamber to the south.

Finally the pair are asked to look into a cauldron that the Rankian fill with strange herbs and powders. Little Alexander sees a vision of a procession in the High Church of Tor but the congregation all have the heads of roosters, dogs, cats and other animals. The Patriarch himself has the drooling face of a Jenkan mastiff. Kasper sees a vision of Asig Danaret and Ravanna falling and burning deep into the earth until they enter a vast chamber. There a gigantic demon lies with green and black scales and a pair of huge wings folded against his back. The creature suddenly awakes and reaches out a huge clawed hand to catch the falling fireball. It opens its mouth to reveal an inferno of green flame frame with burnt black flesh and then it eats the wretched lost souls that have fallen into its clutches.

After seeing their respective visions the pair come to and find that they each have a single witchmark under the skin upon their primary hand. The pair are initially horrified and the Rankian explain that they have only made visible the curse the two are under, nothing more. The Rankian then give them each a charm made from a crow's foot and urge them to leave the camp.

Despite it being past midnight the moon is high and full and the pair decide to continue to Stosz and before long the city's famous clock tower is visible in the distance, a guide to draw in the weary travellers.

As the pair reach the edge of town they find several watchmen gathered round a man dressed only in his night shirt. After challenging the travellers the watchmen explain that the man in a sleep walker, one of many in the recent weeks. The watchmen seem amused by the man's antics but the marks in the pair's hand burn when they get close to the sleep walker, who seems to be intent on trying to enter some kind of outhouse. Concerned the pair decide to carry on into the city and gain the safety and shelter of the church there.

Conspiracy of Shadows (Season Two, Session Eight)

The tower begins to shake and down on the lake side Kasper sees the water starting to recede. Little Alexander immediately looks around for Anatoli but Big Alexander confronts Asig, asking him why he looks so pleased at this turn of events. Asig snarls and opens a secret compartment in the desk revealing a black steel staff holding two bright green crystals. He gestures towards Big Alexander and the floor below the priest's feet gives way dropping him to the floor below surprising Anatoli who jumps into the window space. All around them the building is shaking, stone is falling and the temporary wooden scaffolding has collapsed.

Wielding his staff Asig turns to confront Little Alexander and they fight. The falling stones seem to fall around Asig without hitting him but even with this advantage he quickly finds himself at the mercy of Little Alexander's imposing strength and size. As the tower begins to fall apart he chooses to leap from the crumbling masonry into the lake below. With few other choices Little and Big Alexander do the same. Looking down Anatoli sees that the lake is actually shimmering and occasionally blasts of gas rise from the bottom. He decides instead to transform into a bird and fly away from the tower. Little does he realise that Kasper (who had been running up from the lake to the tower) can see him and is horrified to witness this unnatural transformation.

Little Alexander looks around for Asig in the water but he has disappeared and instead he settles for rescuing the floundering Big Alexander. Behind them the tower gives one final shudder and then collapses into a pile of rubble. Kasper, who is closed also sees that the shepherd's huts have collapsed, trapping or killing those inside.

The three (and Anatoli returned to human form and protected from harm by Ravanna) reconvene at the destroyed tower and are determined to enter the ruined structure and descend to the cellars that were previously inaccessible. With Little Alexander to clear the way they soon find a passage in the old cellars that leads via a winding tunnel into a natural chamber within the rock below.

The chamber is illuminated by a steady green glow emanating from veins of green crystal that run through the chamber and in their light the group can see row upon row of witch marks. There is a brief conference and Big Alexander makes the decision that the witch marks must be destroyed. The group set to removing the marks through simply scratching them out with stones taken from the chamber floor. As the first mark is obliterated there is a cry of anger and despair and Asig once again appears charging towards the group. Little Alexander turns to face him and two once again square off. This time however Little Alexander notices that his blows seem to glance off Asig as if he was wearing armour under his robes.

As the fighting continues Kasper and Big Alexander continue to try and destroy the witchmarks while Anatoli considers once again cutting himself and letting blood flow onto the marks to see what might happen. Big Alexander notices Anatoli cutting himself and shouts at Kasper to kill Anatoli before he can do any more harm.

Kasper quickly notches an arrow and shoots, missing in his haste. He aims another which nicks Anatoli, he aims another at Anatoli's heart and fires. The arrow strikes Ravanna instead, as she leaps in front of Anatoli. The arrow pierces her slight frame completely and she falls against the wall of the chamber. As she does so a trickle of blood flows along the arrow protruding from her back and meets the marks on the wall. As it does so the marks flare with a brilliant green light and each one in turn illuminates (including the few that had already been erased or damaged). Ravanna begins to twist and scream as the light surrounds her and she starts to burn with green fire.

Asig, shouts again and pushes Little Alexander aside, ignoring any blows he suffers. He runs to Ravanna and pulls her away from the wall. The heatless fire surrounds them both and as Asig starts to burn there is a terrible screeching sound and the chamber begins to shake and split.

Everyone leaves the chamber in a panic, Anatoli is the last and as he turns to look back he sees the floor of the chamber open up and the burning Asig and Ravanna fall into the cleft, disappearing from view. Green fire burns up from the floor of the chamber in their wake and everyone has to run for the surface as quickly as they can.

At the top the ground is once more shaking and swaying, Big Alexander and Kasper run for safety but Little Alexander turns and faces up to Anatoli as he scrambles for the ground. Anatoli sees that Little Alexander is determined to have a final reckoning but aware of the rushing green fire behind him he decides to run at the priest and transforms himself into a bird at this last minute, nimbly dodging the vengeful priest's stave.

Little Alexander turns to watch the disappearing witch, snarling as he does so. Behind him tendrils of green fire erupt from the ground and there is a moment of silence before the rubble of the tower is blown into the air and the priest is knocked into the air by the blast and covered with rubble.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Conspiracy of Shadows (Season Two, Session Seven)

The Cell travel by sea from Tor to the River Vistula and from there take river boats up stream to the headwaters of the Vistula itself. They enter the ancient refuge of the Vorian era, the hills and mountains that the Vorians would retreat to in times of trouble. In latter days the rolling hills and quiet gullies filled with trees have become a place of spiritual retreats with shrines to the Saints and numerous monasteries and religious houses scattered throughout the area.

The group travel to the furthest religious house they can the Retreat of St. Coboon, which is really more of a noble hunting lodge and community hub that a true religious house. The brothers play host to the recovering Sedizwoj and his large retinue that has been causing Big Alexander so much concern and the others express an interest in travelling the two days further north to the tower by the waterfall. The brothers ask them to take several sacks of goods that they have purchased on behalf of the remote community with them and seeing the opportunity the group agree and ride north.

The tower (or rather the remains of the tower) are visible at some distance, as is the haze of the waterfall next to it. The tower is in an extremely poor state and is slumping on one side leading to the curved “claw” appearance of the tower. A dry stone wall can be seen around it and smaller stone shepherd huts. The tiny settlement is lodged in a niche of stone cliffs that stand to the right of the waterfall.

The group approach and on arriving see that a small trail leads up the bluff to the tower and the stone wall only allows entrance by the base of the tower. Within the wall are two thick walled shepherd huts, some wattle sheep pens and a substantial two storey building the size of a large barn.

The group walk to the large building and are greeted by a surprised cook and her husband but the sacks quickly smooth the way to the kitchen’s hearth and they group are soon brought to share a broth with the lord of the tower Asig Danaret. Danaret is the third generation lord of the tower and its surrounds and he seems a cultured and educated man, unusual in this isolated location. He seems to have an interest in the rocks of the surrounding area, hardly surprising as apart from sheep there is not a lot else here.

The group pose as travelling visitors who are here to see the famous waterfall and Asig promises to take them into the tower (which is a dangerous state) and allow them to fish on the lake in the morning.

The group accept his hospitality and after an uneventful night the two Alexander’s and Anatoli are taken into the tower while Kaspar is taken by Asig’s man servant to the lake to try fishing for trout using the coracle-like boats the villagers construct for themselves.

Inside the tower much of the structure is choked with rubble from the walls of the tower and the internal floors. The tower no longer has much of a roof and many of the internal staircases have fallen in to be replaced by rickety arrangements of wooden planks and supports. Only two rooms are really in any kind of inhabitable condition and both face onto the lake. One of the first storey is bare and plain apart from three votive niches in the back wall and a large window seat with a ledge for sitting an watching the lake. The other (positioned above it) has a large panoramic view of the lake and nearby woods while also having a magnificent view of the torrent of water descending into the lake. Asig uses this room as his study and a fine desk is in place along with a set of improvised shelving and boxes for Asig’s books and numerous parchments. Little Alexander fakes an interest in Asig’s views on geology to distract the noble while Big Alexander rifles through his scrolls. Meanwhile Anatoli is bored and has wandered back to the first room where he investigates the three niches that would have once contained statuettes facing onto the lake. To his surprise he finds a single witch mark cut into the base of each niche. He cuts his hand and lets the blood drain into the mark. The blood pools into the mark quickly and perfectly, Anatoli can hear a whispering as he does this. He hesitates for a moment, considering the possibility of wiping away the blood but then decides to carry his action to its logical conclusion and he pours more of his blood into each of the witch marks. As the last mark is filled with blood the red liquid vanishes from the stonework and an ominous rumble begins.

Conspiracy of Shadows (Season Two, Stay at Drethka)

The two separate groups were reunited at Drethka and despite frustration by the Alexanders at Sedziwoj's showy public lifestyle and Sedziwoj's annoyance at the Alexander's abducting "his" men the two sides were reconciled.

The Alexander's stayed at a sympathetic monastery and sent letters on to Tor regarding their approach and arrival. Sedziwoj meanwhile had Anatoli sell the coins that had been found at the barrow to a Torian collector of antiquities for a high price. This event sparked a most remarkable reconcilation between the two men where some suitable flattery and grovelling by Anatoli ended up in him being appointed Sedziwoj's senschal and being able to hire a travelling retinue.

Both Sedziwoj and Anatoli traded horses and bought a number of hunting hounds (rather like Irish Greyhounds) here and a number of local people were taken on to serve as grooms, valets, general servants, washerwomen and other tasks. In addition to this by the time the group had reached Oldska a number of whores, musicians, players and other dissolute types had attached themselves to the group. Lending a certain carnival air to the proceedings.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Conspiracy of Shadows (Season Two, Season Midpoint)

Note that this post contains notes about what the group did while staying at Tor. This marks the mid-point of the season and the post may be updated and edited as it is not strictly a session report.

The group have travelled far from Jenkaz through Brekaw to Oldaska, then along the Vorain Sea coast to the Holy Union of Voria and finally up the river Tor to the holy capital of Tor itself. Upon arrival Sedziwoj and his loyal entourage take rooms in a local inn where the noble gentlemen succumbs once again to fugue and fever which the local gossips attribute to his exertions with the squalid women who seemed to so amply occupy the boat on which his party journeyed upriver.

The two Alexanders meanwhile make efforts to contact the Order of the Closed Book and are shocked to find many changes within their formerly dusty, small and secretive society. The Order is substantially grown and has many new members and new premises. The two are ushered in as conquering heroes.

It seems the Order has been energised by the news from the White Hills Barony and has been studying a letter from the Cell that was sent on their way to Jenkaz. Witchmarks were discovered in the basements of the castle and the Order has been studying them and the history of the castle. It appears that the castle was one of five that were constructed during the period of the Vorian Empire all by the same architect. The Order suspects that the castles form some kind of ward or mystic symbol across the land. They have managed to locate only one other of the five (and they agree on the general location of only one further, which they feel must be Bravich).

With their studies revealing little additional information the Order are eager for the cell to travel to Oldaska and uncover more about the one location they are certain of. The cell agree to do this as soon as they can while giving out the idea that they will shortly be departing west to try and be part of the proposed crusade against the Solderins.

The group also discover their legal status. Sedziwoj's outlawery seems to extend only to where the King of Jenka can enforce his will and the two Alexanders while the subject of church law investigations, they can likely wait more than a year before any matters come to a point. It seems that while some disapprove of their actions they are still thought of favourably from their Kulzulgrod adventures.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Conspiracy of Shadows (Season Two, Session Six)

Once again Anatoli has to beg and wheedle for his life. This time he manages to persuade Sedziwoj that not only has he helped save Kasper's life but that a local has told him of a secret passage into the mining village, the entrance to the passage being under the mound of earth in the clearing. Sedziwoj is so taken with the idea of making a surprise attack on Beker that he immediately sets Anatoli and Totay to work on clearing the entrance to the passage.

Totay is less convinced by Anatoli's story and asks a few sharp questions but seems happy to go along with the digging for his own reasons. The pair make fair progress but as the light fails work has to stop and the camp turns to thoughts of food and shelter from the night.

Totay and Sedziwoj discuss Kasper who is badly injured and only a step away from death's door. Totay persuades Sedziwoj to let Totay disguise Kasper as one of the mercenary men at arms and drag him on a litter to the mining village. As Sedziwoj, Anatoli and Sergei settle down to their very humble meal of forage Totay drags Kasper's litter towards the distant lights of the mine's stockade. Before he has even left the woods though he hears a voice call his name and then a huge blow knocks him unconscious.

Once they have eaten Sedziwoj, Anatoli and Sergei prepare for the night and being ever vigilant Sedziwoj arranges watches throughout the night. It is during his own watch when the moon is high that something strange begins to occur around the clearing. Once again shadowy figures begin to appear between the trees, moving towards the camp from all directions. Surrounding it on all sides. The fog rising from the ground is lit with blue moonlight and the translucent figures drift through it; indistinct yet urgent.

Sergei sees his father in the crowd of figures and moves towards him, Sedziwoj tries to stop him but sees the shade of his sister through the trees and she calls out to him. Anatoli sees his lost love and it is revealed to be his sister.

Each has a conversation with their spirit and each receives cryptic advice about the future. When they wake in the morning they discover that the entrance to the barrow has collapsed and the way inside is open.

Far away to the north Kaspar comes round to find his litter being dragged behind a mule. Totay is bound and gagged over the back of the mule and behind the litter Big Alexander is keeping an eye on Kaspar's expertly attended wounds.

Realising what has happened Kaspar immediately pleads to be returned to Sedziwoj before the monks get too far away. Unfortunately the Alexander's have decided to press on to Tor and are in no mind to turn back. Totay is furious with his kidnapping by the priests that so recently almost had him captured by the guards of Jenkaz but threatened with another crack to the skull decides there is little he can do except wait for the Alexanders to decide either to kill him or set him free.

The monks take their unwilling companions on a wide diversion north of Jenkaz and then west along the river. They eventually come back to the barge the group abandoned when they arrived and taking it as a divine sign they reclaim it and head rapidly downstream.

Back at the barrow the three explorers discover an ancient stone coffin containing mouldering bones and some weapons untouched by the changes of time. Anatoli takes a spear of bronze and Sedziwoj takes a fine, slender sword. The floor of the barrow is scattered with coins and clay jars scattered round the coffin and the walls of the barrow contain more. Sedziwoj has Sergi gather all the money up into a few of the jars. Anatoli spots a few stone plates covered with witch marks and hides them away before any one else finds them. He doesn't understand them but feels some strange affinity for them.

Having looted the tomb the group gather up the horses of the fallen mercenaries and travel north, skirting Jenkaz to the east. Sedziwoj is angry at Totay's betrayal but does not feel the need to test his ire against the soldiers that still guard the mining village. Instead he plans an escape to Tor. The three find the old flat barge on the riverside, untouched since they abandoned it there. Loading the horses aboard they push off and make for Drethka.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Conspiracy of Shadows (Season Two, Session Five)

Sedziwoj has conceived a plan to kill Beker and leads his retainers along the road to the silver mines south of Jenkaz. Anatoli, unaware of his narrow escape from death, is waiting at the ruined farmhouse. There in the growing darkness he spots his missing fiance dancing across the abandoned fields. He follows her but as he does she seems to glide away into the woods surrounding the fields. As he is about to enter the woods to follow her a man in purple linen robes grabs him and physically stops him from following.

The man warns him about following the "spirits of the damned" and leads him back to the ruined farmhouse where he shares some food with the foreigner and talks about the old rulers and ways of the forest. He mentions that the forest contains the burial mound of a great king who ruled long before the dog men came to the forests and that great riches would be found by anyone brave enough to open the barrows.

At Sedziwoj's camp Totay staggers into the fire light and warns the party that a group of mercenary horsemen have followed them out of the city. He offers to borrow one of the group's spare horses and find out the intentions of the pursuers. He borrows an axe from Kaspar so as to pretend he is a woodcutter.

The next Sedziwoj and his men ride down the causeway to the mines pretending to be messengers from the Chancellor taking a message to Beker. They reach the mine to find a small, poor but well-defended community. They discover that Beker is a habitual drinker at the mine's small taverns and decide to set up in the inn and wait for him to arrive.

Along the mine road through the forest Anatoli has left the ruined farmlands and is heading into the hills. The road is badly churned and the passing of many horses is clearly apparent. Anatoli follows the road until he sees and owl in one of the trees and remembering that the man from the previous night had mentioned that the owl was the symbol of the ancient king he chooses to follow it. The owl moves from tree to tree until a small clearing is revealed with broken statuary surrounding a large mound only slightly overgrown.

The mound is located on a natural shelf on the hillside and from one of the trees on the edge of the clearing Anatoli can get a good view of the surrounding moorland all the way to the hills of the mine and the stone fort that guards the area. He can see a large group of horsemen making their way along the causeway to the mine and decides to walk to the bottom of the hill so he can see what is happening.

In the mining village there is a commotion at the gate and Sedziwoj goes up onto the palisade to investigate. Totay is at the gate making up a cock and bull story about a wager while behind him a troop of soldiers are making their way to the mine and some of the more eager riders are already galloping ahead of the main column.

Sedziwoj sizes up the situation and has Sergei and Marius go and pick up the horses while Kaspar is sent to the gate to see if he can get near to the bracketed bar that holds it shut. Totay is granted entrance and he immediately starts attracting attention to himself noisily and gives a warning that the outlaw Sedziwoj-Koniepole has come this way and that the column intend to take him and bear him to the King.

At this Kaspar seizes the bar on the gate and hurls the heavy beam to the ground and Marius and Sergei appear with the mounts. Sedziwoj and Kaspar mount up and the group ride out of the village and onto the moorland. The pursuing horseman wheel to chase them and Sedziwoj picks off a few with his bow before telling the rest of the group to gallop for the woods before wheeling his horse and giving a defiant speech. A few of the mercenaries gallop past him to chase the others but the majority of the group prepare to capture the foolish outlaw.

With a warcry Sedziwoj settles his lance and charges at the leader of the group knocking the captain off his horse and crushing him beneath his horse's hooves. A crushing melee gathers round him but Sedziwoj fights like a man possessed and opponent after opponent falls before the cruel blows of his hammer. Javelin after javelin misses him in the confusion and even those that hit glance off his armour. The seasoned warriors realise that the only way to bring down such a fierce warrior is the crush of close combat. The close in around Sedziwoj trying to avoid his blows while pulling him from his horse.

Across the moorland Anatoli recognises the rides making across the plan and shouts and waves at them. Sergei and Totay break away and ride for the woods, followed by one of the mercenaries while Marius and Kaspar continue further along the moorland until they realise they cannot shake their pursuers and head for the foothills of the wood. Two riders follow them in. Kaspar quickly dismounts and from behind a tree brings down the first rider with two quickly fired arrows. The second rider, aware of the ambush spurs his horse forward and cuts Kaspar on his arm before hacking at Marius and catching him on the skull killing him instantly. With Marius fallen the horseman slashes again at Kaspar and his sword cuts a bloody gash on Kaspar's neck.Kaspar drops his bow and collapses to his knees and clutches his wounded neck. The horseman turns his horse to deliver the final blow.

Further away Anatoli sees the pursuing horseman and as Sergei and Totay ride past he drives his spear into the ground and prepares to receive the horseman's charge. The rider is confident and prepares to ride around the spearpoint and cut the peasant down. He is too confident though and he fails to guide his horse outside the range of the spear and is instead impaled on it by the momentum of his charge. The spear snaps under the weight of the rider but the man is most assuredly dead.

Totay is surprised and annoyed to see Anatoli again but free of the threat of pursuit all three quickly make their way to where Kaspar and Marius disappeared.

As Kaspar waits for the final blow to come he hears a horse galloping towards him and looking up he sees Sedziwoj charge through the trees and catching the mercenaries sword blade at the last minute. Despite the cuts, bruises and exhaustion of his recent battle Sedziwoj swiftly dispatches this final bounty hunter and dismounts. Dropping his hammer he cries in frustration over the body of Marius. Anatoli and Sergei appear and help bind Kaspar's wound. Anatoli makes a simple wooden litter and drags Kaspar back up the hill to the mound.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Conspiracy of Shadows (Season Two, Session Four)

Stepping back from the chase to the brothel we follow the two Alexander's on their trip to the castle records. The priests are waved past the guards with barely a second look. The castle is humming with military activity but the soldiers are intent on carrying out their duties and the arrival of monks is no concern of theirs.

Soldiers with several of the large hunting wardogs that Jenkaz is famous for guard the inner bastion's gates. Little Alexander immediately steps forward and sets about pacifying the huge brutish dogs, the dogs quickly submit to the monk's stroking and mummery much to the disappointment of their handlers. Little Alexander explains that they are here to read the court rolls and note down the recent judgements in the King's Court. When the guard protests as to the late hour Little Alexander sternly reminds him that given the requirements to be at prayer five times a day there is no better time than now to attend to scribal duties.

Chastened the guard takes them inside the castle and down to one of the cellar vaults that contains the court records and a pasty looking scribe who is illuminating the manuscripts of a new proclaimation on gate taxes.

Little Alexander distracts the scribe while Big Alexander finds the treason trial records and starts making notes on the proceedings. Little Alexander decides to try and look at the Chancellor's financial records for the trial on the pretext of being interested once again in the results of the gate tax. He gets the scribe to take him to the Chancellor's office beneath the bastion while Big Alexander sees whether it is possible to alter or remove the trial record.

In the Chancellor's office one of the clerks is happy to show Little Alexander the gate toll receipts but when Little Alexander expresses an interest in the treason trial the clerk turns cold and advises him not to be to interested in matters of state. Alexander takes the hint and returns to the court records, in their absence Big Alexander has come to the conclusion that the scroll is simply too large to steal outright and in too final a state to be worth altering now. Instead the pair decide to take their leave and return to the Pilgrim's Quarters.

There they meet up with Sedziwoj and crew returned from the brothel. Plans are made to leave the city and meet outside the walls. In the meantime Sedziwoj and his men decamp from the Pilgrim Quarters to occupy one of the empty houses in the Old Town.

In the morning Anatoli escapes from the thatch and bumps into Kaspar who is trying to buy bread. Soldiers are already searching the empty houses looking for Anatoli so Kaspar tells Anatoli to meet the others in an abandoned shepherd's hut outside the city. Sergei trys to warn Anatoli that Sedizwoj is angry with him and has told his men to murder Anatoli. Kaspar and Sergei then return to Sedziwoj and warn him about the approaching soldiers while Anatoli hides in a latrine.

Sedziwoj leaves the house and walks up to the cathedral. During the night meeting Little Alexander told him that his cousin Michal is one of the attending priests there and gave testimony at the treason trial that Sedziwoj had not been seen with his father for many months. Trusting in the ties of family Sedziwoj meets with him in the crypts of the cathedral and tries to get some additional information about the trial proceedings other than what was contained in the court records. His cousin does not know much but does say that the content of the cell's petition was known before they arrived and that a certain clerk in the scriptorium had frequent secret meetings with the cell members. He also tells Sedziwoj that Beker was given an easy post in the guard of the silver mines after his royal pardon. Sedziwoj later contacts the clerk who is a member of the Order of the Closed Book and asks the clerk to write a letter to the head of the Order telling him to expect the remaining cell members in the Holy City soon.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Conspiracy of Shadows (Season Two, Session Three)

The group finally arrive at Jenkaz, approaching along the river using the old boat they discovered in the woods. The city is well guarded and the group are searched and their details noted before they are allowed to enter. Sedziwoj's family livery is discovered but he manages to pass it off as an old affiliation. The two Alexander's claim to be wandering monks who have come to make notes of the current judgements of the King's Court for the use of jurists in the other kingdoms.

The group stay in the old pilgrim quarters next to the cathedral. Sedziwoj decides to "blood" his recently recovered squire in the local brothel and includes the remaining members of his entourage as a compensation for the trauma they have suffered in the dark woods.

On the way to the stables Big Alexander notices something familiar about one of the beggars asking for alms and having given him a few pennies he sends Little Alexander after him. The beggar retreats into the alleyways off the courtyard and reveals himself to be Totay, one of the members of the cell. Uncertain of Totay's story of escaping arrest Little Alexander decides to have Anatoli stay close to his former comrade for the night.

Anatoli decides to sell the holy relics he has brought all the way from Kulzulgrod and Totay eager for a share of the money takes him to one of the few silversmiths in town who also does some gold working. Anatoli makes a tidy sum and Totay asks him to share it. When quizzed as to why Totay wants the money, the toothless peasant replies that he wishes to bribe the castle clerk and discover where another surviving member of the cell has been posted as a member of the King's Army. According to Totay, Beker (the only other survivor) gave evidence against the other members of the cell.

Anatoli refuses to give any money to Totay and says instead that he will go to the castle and bribe the clerk himself. When he approaches the castle gate he is challenged by the guards and decides to say that a beggar has asked him to question them about the whereabouts of Beker. The guards are somewhat suspicious of this explanation and ask where the beggar is. Anatoli then starts to panic and passes off his comment as a failure to speak Valdorian properly and then runs off into the night. He is chased through the city to the brothel where the appearance of the pursuing town watch forces a swift evacuation of the clientele (including Sedziwoj and his party) and Anatoli to hide himself in the thatch of the roof until the hunt is abandoned.

Totay visits Little Alexander, enraged by Anatoli's betrayal and Alexander's suspicion. Although angry he realises that he can hardly threaten or punish Little Alexander and so leaves the Pilgrim's Rooms with a curse on priests and a warning that the watch could soon be visiting.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Conspiracy of Shadows (Season Two, Session Two, Part Two)

Big Alexander finishes treating the captives and Sedizwoj returns from the woods to interogate them. The prisoners are resigned to their fate and seem to answer questions honestly. They are mercenary soldiers who are trying to claim the bounty on Sedziwoj. The bounty hunters rode after the refugees from Kulzulgrod and their leader Abranov Kospotska has ties to the forest bandits so the group rode on ahead of the group to lay ambush to them.

Little Alexander meanwhile continues his pursuit of the bounty hunter leader into the forest. He runs until he realises that the forest has little pattern and that the further he moves from the lighter wood of the old road the more disorientating the deep forest becomes. He pauses and thinks of heading back but then hears a scream and runs through the undergrowth to a slight clearing in the forest. Pushing through the bushes at the edge of the clearing he seems the armoured Kospotska kneeling on the ground, facing away from the monk.

As Little Alexander advances cautiously the bounty hunter turns and Alexander seems that his face has been flayed, skinned to the bleeding muscle. The bounty hunter asks what she has done to his face and pleads with the priest to protect him. As Alexander gets closer the bounty hunter suddenly yells with terror and tries to hide behind him, he pleads with the monk not to let her get near him again. Looking around the clearing though Alexander can see no-one... is the bounty hunter mad? A victim of some hidden ambusher? Suddenly the bounty hunter screams again and his body starts to swell beneath is chainmail, blood seeps through his clothes and his eyes explode in geysers of jetting blood. The earth splits and roots shoot from the gash in the earth to seize the dying man. Alexander tries to hold him back but the man is swallowed by the earth leaving only an outline in the leaf litter. Alexander runs in panic from the clearing back towards to the road. Once out of immediate danger he screws his courage up to return to the scene but as he does so he hears the sound of trees branches splintering and snapping ahead of him and decides not to push the encounter further.

When Little Alexander returns to camp he tells the others that he lost the leader in the woods and dissuades Sedziwoj from trying to mount a counter-attack against the wood men. Instead the group proceed along the road until they encounter a series of traps and snares across the road.

It is decided that the way ahead is too treacherous and instead Sedziwoj decides to lay an ambush for any pursuers. Anatoli decides to take up a position in the top of one of the thick pines trees next to the road. As he waits the branches of the tree slowly close around him until Anatoli realises that the branches are starting to move of their own accord and are pinning him against the tree branch. He tries to swing from the branch but ends up upside down and snared by his legs. He uses his witch powers to set fire to the tree but the animated branches are indifferent to the flame and Anatoli finds himself trapped by branches that are now burning.

Little Alexander and Kaspar notice the commotion in the tree and Sedziwoj sends them to sort out what is going on before the ambush is ruined. When Alexander arrives he notices a woman standing within the canopy of the tree. She is wearing a gypsy dress made of hoops of material overlying each other in a series of ruffs and a veil. Kaspar sees nothing and climbs into the tree, seeing Anatoli's immediate peril from the burning branches he tries to hack the Solderin free.

On the ground Alexander tries to drive away the spirit with prayers and appeals to the saints. He is finally successful and without a sound the apparition is gone and the branches release Anatoli sending him crashing to the ground.

As he does so a pair of mounted scouts arrive and are surprised by the presence of Little Alexander and the very sudden appearance of Anatoli. The scouts turn and flee the scene but the group realise that with the element of surprise gone the only hope is to quickly make their way back to the horses and flee into the deep forest away from the road.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Conspiracy of Shadows (Season Two, Episode Two, Part One)

The travelling party is now quite large. Larsen the scout is leading, followed by the two Alexanders and their mule, Sedziwoj and his squire Sergei are next followed by Anatoli. Lebowski, Mariuz and Kaspar, three of Sedziwoj's father's men bring up the rear.

They swing out east as if travelling to the lands of the Cup Knights. On the way they see that ragged mercenaries (veterans of the war against the barbarians) are keeping a watch on the main roads and crossroads. When one approaches to politely question them Big Alexander deals with the situation, sticking to the story that has been agreed that they are a group of faithful soldiers heading east to fight under the guidance of the friars. The watcher rides off but no-one can say whether he truly believes it or not.

Once far along the trail and away from prying eyes the group turn off the trail and head north and west through the rolling broken forest of Wallvich. Larsen takes the group along the edges of forests and through streams and narrow valleys, anything to make pursuit harder. After some hard riding the group is at the edge of the ancient woodland that dominates Jenka and has reclaimed so much of the country after the devastating invasion so many years ago. They set up camp overlooking the old road into the forest and arrange watches.

On Big Alexander's watch he is alarmed to see a hundred or so burning torches appear in the trees of the woods the group have just travelled through, preceeded by the howling of wolves. As he watches he sees the silhouettes of men and dogs erupt from the trees and quickly alerts his sleeping comrades to the impending danger. Sedziwoj is quick to harness and mount his horse as is Larsen but the others struggle being less familiar with horses, there is no chance to escape the horde bearing down on them.

Sedziwoj wheels his horse and charges the men, as he closes he sees that the dogs are actually snarling wolves. He crashes into the line and as he wheels around three of the wolves leap at him, he is able to bash two of them away but the third lands in his lap and only a degree of iron will keeps Sedziwoj in the saddle.

Behind him Little Alexander sees that the line of figures collapse like smoke or fog, like a bonfire in reverse the figures and torches start forming a cloud around the figure of Sedziwoj. Then as the cloud starts to compress and threatens to swallow Sedziwoj Alexander screams a prayer and charges after him. With the shout fresh on his lips he is awake, having fallen asleep against a tree. The shout disturbs his companions (except Big Alexander who tells him to go back to sleep) but no-one seems to have shared this strange vision. The remaining watches are uneventful.

The next morning the group set off down the old forest road, with the settlements that once lay along its route ruined and abandoned the forest threatens to swallow the remaining road and already small bushes and long grass slow travel along it. Compared to the dark deep forest on either side though the track is easy to navigate.

At midday, with the mist of the forest dispelled by the bright sun, the group encounter a ruined in and rest for a few hours. As they do so two riders gallop past the inn and further north along the road before any can do much but note their passing. When the group move off from the inn Larsen and Kaspar stay behind to watch the inn at a distance and see whether the horsemen are fleeing someone or whether the group themselves are being pursued.

The rest of the group travel on through the flat forest road. The trees seem to have no boundary beyond this narrow pass of fresh growth. In the distance they eventually see what appears to be a naked body lying in the overgrown remains of the road's drainage ditch. The priests remain on the road while the soldiers take into the woods and quickly encounter a broad swept path leading away from the road.

They return to the road and signal to the rest of the group to join them, the analysis is quick. The body in the road has broken many of his ribs and blood still stains his lips, the victim of a fall. The tracks on the road indicates a horse refusing and falling before being dragged through the undergrowth. The wide sweeping in the forest litter indicating that the body has been removed elsewhere with the rest of the effects of the rider. The dead man's partner though seems to have continued through the ambush without breaking pace. It is decided to camp off the road, Sedziwoj is uncertain whether to stop the journey and make after the bandits.

Back at the inn there is no activity and the pair have to ride off before the light fails. However as they ride along the track looking back they can see a pale column of smoke in the air, someone is making camp along the track but it is too dark now to turn back and find out who.

In the morning Sedziwoj has decided that he must pursue the bandits and gathers together his father's men. As he leaves the camp a voice challenges him to surrender or at the least hand over the priests if he wishes to leave in peace. Sedziwoj curses Larsen under his breath, for his was the last watch and despite claims to have been a scout the man has let enemies come practically to the point of warming themselves at the campfire. There is some verbal sparring but the outcome is not indoubt and the bounty hunters and the Koniecpole men swiftly come to blows. Sedziwoj is held by his opponent but in the sharp fray, Kaspar is wounded and two of the bounty hunters are felled. At the same time bandits armed with bows dance between the trees on the edge of the camp firing arrows that force the priests and Anatoli to head for cover. Little Alexander charges into the fight and quickly sets to concussing the bandits with his faithful stave. Sergei is less fortunate and quick and takes an arrow below his left collar bone, a serious wound particularly for a boy.

Big Alexander condemns the bandits for their faithlessness and promises them damnation is fearful terms. As if to accent his words a great wind blows through the forest.

The bounty hunters flee back across the track and into the forest with Sedziwoj and the others in pursuit. Their leader takes advantage of his right to declare the retreat to sprint away, the other is not so fortunate and hotly pursued by Sedziwoj he tumbles over a rise and is impaled on branch that is driven right through his chainmail. Sedziwoj finishes off the alive but fatally wounded man and sees Little Alexander rush into the woods to his left.

Back at the camp Kaspar is leaning against a tree clutching his wound. He looks at the canopy and notices that although the sound of rustling and wind has continued the trees are no longer moving.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Conspiracy of Shadows (Season Two, Opener)

It has been many months since the ragtag group of devil hunters and refugees were forced to flee the city of Kulkuzgrod and make their way back to the passes across the Barran Mountains and back to Wallavich. Hunted all the way by the mercenaries of the Khark and bounty hunters sent by the city.

Now with spring approaching and tempers frayed the group are near the passes. The members of the cell and the refugees are a separate fires but even that cannot keep tempers from boiling over and ill-tempered comments between Little Alexander and Sedziwoj soon escalate into a scrappy duel that seems both protagonists holding their own until Little Alexander manages to crack Sedziwoj's kneecap allowing him to follow up with a number of nasty blows before the Bishop runs in to break up the fight.

Despite Little Alexander's moment of victory, little has been resolved and while Sedziwoj is somewhat chastened he not a man know to forget a slight. This disagreement is certain to rear its head again.

However with their differences put to one side for the moment the group are able to struggle through the pass and the group, cold and hungry make their way down from the forbidding slate-black mountains into the valley that runs into the Little Hills Barony. The refugees quickly turn to foraging to fill their empty stomachs and Sedziwoj takes the opportunity to ride ahead and look for a farm to house and feed the remnant of the Little Kingdom. What he finds are empty farms, fallow fields and two rotting black corpses nailed cruelly to large trees beside the road.

A new banner can be seen flying at the old keep, still ruined and blackened from the sack that started the cell's long journey. The pennet is red and blue split lengthwise, Sedziwoj recognises the colours as those belong to a family from the north in Jenka, strong allies of the king. He rides towards the keep aiming to look for help but as he does a scruffy looking rider in leather armour appears from the woods and asks him to stop.

The stranger identifies himself as a oathman of Sedziwoj's father and quickly informs him that Sedziwoj and the Alexander's have been declared outlaws and that sell-swords are keeping an eye out for their return. He asks Sedziwoj to come to the inn in the larger village in the foothills where there are fresh horses waiting and matters can be discussed in private.

Sedziwoj returns to the group and quickly brings them together and marching down into the valley. Arriving at the village he and the Alexander's hold a quick conference in the inn. It seems that the remainder of the cell have been betrayed and on arriving at the king's palace they were seized and thrown into a dungeon, their evidence of the count's misdeeds disregarded. They were then tried and executed and their bodies hung on the walls of the king's palace. The others were exiled in their absence and condemned to death should they return. Sedziwoj's father is willing to try and help his son but he cannot be too overt for the family must be above suspicion of involvement in the murder of another noble.

The news is grave: Sedziwoj sends the refugees to his father's house in the hope that work or land can be found for them. Bishop Banuch must ride to the Curia to bring news of the fall of the enclave, he promises to try and assist the Cell as best he can.

There are not many options but the group decide that the only thing they can do is try to unravel the identity of the traitor and to do that they have to start with the details of the trial. Travelling to the king's court incognito will be hazardous in the extreme but seems the only way to answer this new injustice.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Conspiracy of Shadows (Season Finale)

The two Alexanders and Bishop Banuch make it to the Patriarch's palace but the mood is dangerous and volatile on the streets. The Patriarch is alarmed by the news the friars bring and immediately calls for his council to assemble with news from the temples and their surrounding districts.

The temple leaders arrive and the council starts with speeches and discussion about the situtation. The two Alexanders also speak trying to save the Little Kingdom from the mob and instead seizing the situation to try and bring down Bey Calan and the Kharks. There is a lack of consensus until a proposal is put forward to send a command to the Sultan to hand over his troops to the Temple Leaders so that order can be retained (essentially asserting the primarcy of the theocracy in the current crisis). All sides agree and Temple Leader en Behendu volunteers to take the message to the Sultan personally, Quanaid proposes to go with him and to immediately take the troops to the Old City and restore order.

Little Alexander still urges the Patriarch to go directly to the people and stop the riot with his personal authority and the backing of the faith. The temple leaders however feel the risk of an assassination attempt is too great. Little Alexander has overheard en Behendu plotting to contact the Kharks but there is little he can do at the moment.

Behendu and Quanaid march to the palace with their bodyguards but Behendu declares that he would like to commander more troops in case there is trouble at the palace and Quanaid agrees to a detour to obtain more men. Behendu takes him to Bey Calan's house and as soon as the gates to the house are shut Behendu denounces Quanaid and Calan's men attack, killing Quanaid's bodyguard and taking the Temple Leader prisoner. Behendu then informs Calan of his plan and tells him to send more men to the palace so the Patriarch can be removed quickly before the betrayal is revealed.

Behendu then continues on to the palace and gaining an audience with the sultan shows him the letter and claims that it is proof that the Patriarch is trying to overthrow the Sultan's rule in the city and that the current Patriarch must be removed immediately. The Sultan agrees, his court filled with agents of the Khark's he is out of touch with the real situation and is easily swayed. The leaders of his bodyguard already take huge bribes from the Kharks to keep the Sultan a virtual prisoner in his palace so they are swift to follow Behendu's orders when he offers them the chance to loot the Patriarch's palace.

Following Behendu and Quanaid's departure the council continues and the Alexander's and Temple Leader Quelkoria (a radical Amdati) both take the opportunity to denounce Bey Calan and ask the Patriarch to allow them to search Calan's house for proof of his degeneracy and involvement with the Count. Swayed now that there is little dissent the Patriarch agrees and Big Alexander and Quelkoria are sent along with Temple Leader Sur to search Calan's house.

They arrive not long after Behendu has left and Calan tries to bluff the group out. However Quelkoria seems to hate Calan as much as the Alexander's do, if not more and Quelkoria's hardcore Amdati followers tear his house apart finding both the Count's wooden box and the imprisoned Quanaid. Caught red-handed in the act of kidnapping a Temple Leader Quelkoria immediately arrests Calan and the group return to the palace with Quanaid telling them of Behendu's betrayal.

Meanwhile back in the Patriarch's palace Calan's black clad warriors are infilitrating the building and slowly disposing of the Patriarch's bodyguard. Little Alexander raises the alarm when he notices strange scars on the arms of one of the Patriarch's guardsmen. Calan's men try to kill the Patriarch but Alexander fights them off long enough for reinforcements to arrive (using a Doom point in the process). As the remaining loyalists clash with the Khark's mercenaries the Bishop runs for the Little Kingdom. It is clear that enclave will fall and the Bishop orders the Valdorians to flee as best they can to the Patriarch's palace. He also tells Sedziwoj that the palace is under attack and that Alexander needs help.

Big Alexander, Quelkoria, al Sur and Quanaid arrive at the palace first and put the Khark's men to flight. Calan is taken before the Patriarch for questioning and confession of his sins. Calan however proves stubborn and warns that his powerful friends will soon crush the remaining theocrats and free him. He also scorns the Alexanders for being as much a puppet as he is only they are even more foolish for being blind to their true masters. The Count's box turns out to be empty but there is no chance to quiz Calan on its contents.

When Sedziwoj arrives with the Valdorian refuges the situation looks positive but swiftly bad news arrives. Behendu has seized the palace and now the Sultan's bodyguard (barbarians from the West with no faith in either branch of Albinism) are marching on the palace, eager for loot. The palace is made ready for a seige and the prospect of sacking the palace brings the hordes of the Slums, the Sultan's army and the Khark's men together. The place is surrounded and despite fierce fighting the situation seems hopeless. Quelkoria demands that Calan be executed for being part of this conspiracy against the Patriarch and with everyone in agreement the Patriarch agrees and Calan is beheaded. His head is thrown into the mob to discourage his men.

The Patriarch, realising the hopelessness of the situation and finally decides to take Little Alexander's advice. The people must believe in the Patriarch and follow his teaching or else the position is nothing more than a figurehead to be manipulated by ambitious men. He asks for volunteers to join him in confronting the horde but refuses those not of the Amdati faith. He urges the loyal temple leaders and the Valdorians to flee through the tunnels and escape the city. Then the doors of the palace are thrown open and the Patriarch and his volunteers march to meet the rioters. While his display of personal bravery does sway many of the commoners an arrow is fired from the ranks of the barbarian troops and the Patriarch falls as a general melee breaks out.

Inside the temple Quelkoria pauses within the catacombs of the palace and announces that he will stay in the city and fight the betrayer until either the faith prevails or he is dead. He smashes into a nearby wall and removes the foundation stone of the palace. Effectively removing the blessing of the Albin until such a time as a Patriarch worth the title again rules there. He asks the cell to take the stone and to return it only when word reaches them that Behendu has been brought to justice. The stone is placed within the Count's box and the cell, Banuch and the Valdorian refugees leave through the tunnels to hide in the marshes surrounding the city.

Behind them the city burns and there are the sounds of a massacre taking place as the Kharks help their new Patriarch to establish his hold on the city.

Conspiracy of Shadows (Season Finale Synopsis)

The Patriarch is dead, as is Bey Calan! The city has fallen to a coup by one of the ambitious Temple Leaders and the cell have been forced to flee the city and return to their own lands.

Season Two will start with the group returning across the mountain passes early in the spring.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Vinegar's Log (Castles and Crusades Session Two)

The stupid halfling managed to not just attract the attention of one of the passing minotaur lords but excelled himself excessively by apparantly giving him his entire share of the loot from our previous excursion. I say apparantly as as soon as it became apparant that the little loser was taking an interest in the Lord Cattle I decide to scarper out the back of the inn with the two new recruits. I have been unable to remember their names as yet (perhaps I could have them paint it on their armour back plates?) but they seem able and easy to blind with the gold made from our encounter with the giant frog.

Anyway with my diminuitive "companion" so rapidly halving our prospects there was no choice but return to ruined castle on the hill, this time in the company of my new mule, ready to loot anything that might raise coinage in the poxy settlement that passes for a village here.

This expedition was much more successful than previously and we managed to butcher the band of annoying goblins that had eaten our previous friends (the dwarf and the other one). Just rewards for such filthy and whiny things.

Even better their chief was found in possession of a plan of attack on the general environment. I have dispossessed him of it fatally but intend to make good its content. Instead of taking the loot to the village why not loot the village and take the resulting lucre to the dungeon?

There were also some chained prisoners that the goblins were in possession of, including an elf. I have high hopes of a reward in returning these two fortunate survivors to civilisation.

The worst aspect of this particular jaunt into the cold and dark was that the goblin's were under the thumb of some sordid, unpleasant and (worst of all) hostile priest of some god or another. He filled the room is unpenetrable darkness and in the confusion made a rapid escape calling for aid as he did so. He was wearing armour that would surely be worth 30 pieces of gold if not more and it's loss still stings me now.

Gloomier still it seems this fellow was seeking aid further into the ruins of the fort and that implies that there will have to be yet more effort expended to extract the next profit from the place.