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.