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.