Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Session Forty-One: The Nun’s Priest’s Tale

Magnus and Jim Recover

Jim, having been tended to by Pierre, wakes up. He’s glad to hear that the battle is over.

Magnus, too, comes around, and is trying to figure out why his head hurts and why there’s sand in his eye. He impatiently waits for Renee to until him and then demands his knife. The rest of the company points out that Renee has it. Renee, reluctantly, gives the knife back to Magnus.

Sir Jean-Marc

Once he gets his breath back, Jean-Marc tells the company about what happened to him since they parted ways (or, less charitably, since he was admitted he was an impostor and ran away from them). He did not get far before he was thrown by his horse, Ambrose, struck his head on a rock, and blacked out for a long time.

While unconscious, he found himself in a dark place being addressed by a strange figure in a yellow robe. The figure told Sir Jean-Marc many “secret truths” that he only half-remembers, but which he recalls were terrifying to hear.

Sometime later, he awoke in the forest. He wandered around for a bit, trying to help the commonfolk, before he was eventually set upon by a dozen of the Chaos cultists. He was eventually brought low and imprisoned in the cells beneath the fighting arena. He says that this period of time was very hazy, but he does recall that the cult wanted to feed him to something they called, “The Mouth of Khorne,” but were afraid to do so because of a mark he bore.

Sir Jean-Marc shows this mark to the company. It is a scar on his chest, over his heart, and looks exactly like the one that was on Renee and Sir Henri. Pierre says he can remove that without a problem.

The Mouth of Khorne

The company hears a clattering sound from behind a pair of imposing double doors. Investigating, they find a circular chamber that has the look of a slaughterhouse, with human and animal body parts casually strewn about. The room is dimly lit by several braziers, which surround a large iron cauldron caked with blood and rust and radiating foul magic.

One of the braziers was recently knocked over by two terrified and hogtied people. The company frees them, and learns that they were about to be sacrificed, cut up, and thrown into the cauldron along with the animal parts. They were spared when the fight started, and accidentally tipped over the brazier trying to free themselves.

The company inspects the cauldron and finds that the inside contains a residue of blood, rendered fat, and other fluids. They surmise that the cult was using this cauldron, along with human and animal victims, to create their beast man army.

Magnus announces that he is going to “try something” and thrusts the tip of his magical dagger into the side of the cauldron. The thick, albeit rusted, iron offers no resistance, and Magnus quickly saws out a ragged circular chunk from the side of the cauldron. As it clatters to the floor, the company feels the fell magic in the room rapidly diminish.

Like This. Kinda!

Escaping

The forest arena and ruins are now deserted. The crowd seems to have been a mix of people looking for a good time, who fled when they saw they were taking part in a Chaos rite, and cultists who ran away after seeing the company’s battle prowess and the emergence of the manticore.

The company makes a quick search of the tunnels, the arena, and the ruins on the hill above. They find Sir Jean-Marc’s armor as well as a letter in one of Gillian’s apron pockets. It is once again from the mysterious “Q” and speaks of the company’s recent victories against Chaos in Colmar. The company is disturbed to discover that it seems that the four Ruinous Powers and the Horned God of the skaven are allying for some great project. They discuss their part in all of this, and of the intentions of their yellow-clad “patron.”

Too exhausted to deliberate further, the company finds the wagon that bore them to the pit fights in the first place and leaves with the still-sleeping Andre and the freed prisoners.

The Letter from Q to Gillian

Epernay

The company returns to Epernay at dawn, to find that their deeds seem to have preceded them. They recount their recent misadventure to Henri the innkeeper and the pilgrims that are early risers. The pilgrims insist that they don’t mind staying another day in Epernay while the company recuperates from their latest battle.

Sir Jean-Marc is surprised and delighted that they have, at last, found the pilgrims.

Frieda rushes into Sabina’s arms and apologizes that she didn’t accompany her to help with the cultists. Sabina says that, honestly, she was glad that Frieda was here, safe in the inn, because the battle at the pit fights was “just fucking awful.”

Meanwhile, Jim and Jules have a much more platonic, but no less heartfelt, reunion. Jim insists that he’s fine, and that he’s proud that everyone said he fought well. The two squires then take turns to try and fill Sir Jean-Marc in on all the weird stuff that’s transpired since he went away.

The company then eats, bathes, and passes out for several hours. Sir Jean-Marc himself thoroughly befouls a bathtub to get himself clean, goes through gallons of hot water, and pays the inn a sizeable tip for the service. He then goes under Pierre’s knife and has the hideous mark removed from his person.

A bit later, finally feeling refreshed, the company heads out into Epernay on various errands. Most go to the shops and marketplaces to purchase equipment and essentials. Andre returns to the landship to get it ready for the next leg of the pilgrimage. Sir Henri, Sir Jean-Marc, and Magnus visit the local temple of Verena to learn more about the mark and the entity associated with it.

This is briefly stymied when, once they have been escorted into the temple’s library, that only Magnus can read. The two knights wait while Magnus pores through old texts and, in at least one instance, passes out on top of a pile of temple books. Once he wakes up and resumes study, his investigations bear fruit. He learns the following:

  • The mark belongs to a lesser Chaos power worshipped by a small cult in Bolgasgrad, which is presumably somewhere in Kislev.
  • The mark is traditionally a double-sided Y symbol, but it is always drawn incorrectly, with parts added or removed.
  • The Chaos power is known as the “Chaos god of Chaos,” whose worshippers have no hierarchy and no strictures.
  • There is mention that the power is fickle, and cannot be relied upon by the other Ruinous Powers. There is mention of the power, for instance, helping Khorne foul the plans of Slaanesh, only to help Slaanesh to get revenge on Khorne.
  • There is a final mention that this Chaos power is related to another lesser power known as Necoho, who also has a cult in Bolgasgrad.

Sir Jean-Marc, Post Cleanup
That Evening

The company gathers for dinner at the inn and hears what Sir Jean-Marc, Sir Henri, and Magnus (mostly Magnus) discovered at the temple. They all agree that this information means that the “wishes,” the monk, the Yellow Knight, the strange marks that keep appearing everywhere, and similar events are all related to this Chaos power. They are still unsure why this power has taken an interest in them or what, if anything, its ultimate goal is.

Magnus is ultimately persuaded to give up his magic knife to make everyone more comfortable. He, somewhat reluctantly, gives it to Jim, who promises to look after it.

The evening passes otherwise uneventfully and everyone goes to bed.

The only incident of note is that Renee is awoken, in the middle of the night, by Sabina and Frieda sharing a very intimate moment in Sabina’s bed. Renee replies by splashing an ewer of water on the amorous couple. Frieda squeals and hides, while Sabina’s reaction is not recorded here. Eventually, the three women go to sleep.

To Saint-Ouen

The next morning, the pilgrimage packs their things and gets ready to board the landship. They find Antonella and Andre conversing pleasantly and feeding one another cherries.

Frieda stays far away from Renee and refuses to make eye contact with her. The others notice that she seems perpetually rosy-cheeked today.

The company gets underway and is soon heading eastward down the road to the small town of Saint-Ouen. They are forced to stop when the landship throws a track. While Antonella makes repairs, the company and the pilgrims help gather fuel and water for the ship before settling down to a roadside lunch.

While eating, a score or so children come walking up the road from the direction of Saint-Ouen. The company is unnerved that the children are traveling without adult supervision or protection, but do not give much a voice to these concerns. The children, for their part, say that they are traveling to sing the praises of their Lady to any who will hear it. It takes very little urging from the company for the children to launch into a beautiful song in Classical. Andre mentions that this is the same song Chauncey sang back in the tavern in Epernay.

The children continue their journey and, once the track is repaired and put back on the landship’s wheels, the company resumes theirs. Henri the innkeeper soon mounts the bow of the landship and, though he is rattled by the ship’s passage and the noise of its steam engine, tells the tale of the Grail Virgin of Saint-Ouen.

The Grail Virgin of Saint-Ouen

It is well known in Bretonnia that there are youths who are the special vessels of the Lady. These youths wander the land, often with knights as their protectors, preaching the word of the Lady and following her will wherever they went.

In olden times, the area around Saint-Ouen was wilder than it is now, and, as it was close to the wood elfs demesne in the Quenelles, was absolutely rife with heathen and heretic alike.

There was one Grail virgin who came to Saint-Ouen to spread the word of the Lady. It was often her custom to walk the countryside, singing beautiful songs of the Lady’s grace and mercy. This so angered the heathens that lived and worked beyond Saint-Ouen that they plotted her death.

They came upon the Grail virgin when she was alone and unprotected, beheaded her, and hid her corpse in the belly of an ancient and rotten tree.

Those in the town who served the Lady well went out in search of her, but could not find her. The folk that they encountered offered little help to the search, as they were heathens and were secretly glad that the Grail virgin’s proselytization had at last been silenced.

It was then that the searchers heard the Grail virgin singing, her voice carried on the wind by a miracle of the Lady. They followed the song to the tree and found the Grail virgin’s head, decapitated but still singing.

Enraged at the great crime that had been done, the searchers took the Lady’s vengeance against the heathens of the forest. When they were done, they bore the Grail virgin’s remains back to the Lady’s shrine in Saint-Ouen.

The Grail virgin’s head is now on display in the shrine, above the altar of the Lady. It no longer sings, but it is perfectly preserved and still has the bloom of life upon its cheeks. 

 

Friday, January 6, 2023

Session Forty: The Nun's Priest's Tale

"Oh Heck, That's Right," Said My Players During the Recap

The Manticore

The company, having never before witnessed such a fearsome beast, stands in shocked terror as the manticore spreads its wings. Jim and Maurice are completely overwhelmed and flee back up the stairs, only to find themselves hemmed in by more of the cult’s pit fighters. Jim falls under a hail of axe blows. Maurice flees across the arena, preferring the open space above to the manticore’s lair below. He peppers his attackers with arrows as they pursue him.

Several of the company realize, despite their fear, that the manticore is hungry, injured, and gravely mistreated by the cult. Garnier, Andre, and Sir Henri spspsps at the manticore as if it was a big housecat, and try to persuade it to attack the cultists instead of them. They are aided by Pierre, who nearly tears off the rearmost cultist with a shot from his crossbow, spraying blood everywhere.

The manticore, realizing that the company bears it no particular ill will, and realizing that its tormentors are nearby and smell delicious, attacks and devours the wounded cultist. Sir Henri and Garnier force back the cultists that they are fighting, so that they are within reasonably easy reach of the manticore.

Andre and the Bedraggled Prisoner

Andre once again has a strange moment of dissociation, where he feels himself psychically linked to the bedraggled prisoner who helped him escape the cultists’ cells. He sees himself, as the prisoner, engaged in pitched combat with several cultists and beast men. Not quite knowing how, Andre “loans” some of his strength to the warrior, whose situation seems far more desperate. He watches in satisfaction as the prisoner fights on, slaughtering his foes.

Realizing that Maurice and Jim have retreated up the stairs, Andre follows, only to find Jim unconscious, bleeding, and surrounded by pit fighters, and Maurice fleeing across the arena. He calls down to the others and Magnus, hearing that Jim is unconscious, grabs his magic knife, foams at the mouth, and comes roaring up the stairs.

This turns out to be fortuitous as Andre, significantly weakened by his psychic link with the prisoner, is unable to pierce his foes’ defenses. Magnus, terrifyingly, has no such trouble.

 The Battle Continues

As the manticore polishes off the cultists, Sir Henri sees several reinforcements, led by the cult’s high priest and sorcerer, charging toward them. Fortunately, the manticore, its anger and appetite still not sated, rounds on them, giving Sir Henri a chance to rally the others. The company splits into two fronts—half go back up the stairs to support Andre and Magnus, while half go down the corridor to defeat the approaching cultists and aid the bedraggled prisoner.

Once Sir Henri gets close enough, he realizes, to his utter shock, that the prisoner is none other than his old mentor, Sir Jean-Marc Dubois. Seeing that Sir Jean-Marc is fighting with a stolen shield and blade, he grabs his mentor’s recently recovered war hammer and tosses it to him. There is a dramatic slow motion shot and a heavenly choir as Sir Jean-Marc snatches his hammer out of the air and lays all about him, smashing in the heads of the remaining cultists.

Sir Henri, momentarily distracted by his actions, is nearly seared by a chaos bolt thrown by the high priest. A shield bash and a mace strike later, and the cult is, effectively, beheaded.

The manticore, still enraged, bounds up the other steps to the surface, stinging and mauling cultists in its wake.

Magnus

"Blood for the Xanthic Lord!" Um...What?!

Back in the arena, the remainder of the company quickly finish off the pit fighters, while Pierre successfully stabilizes Jim. Magnus, enraged, wielding his knife, and having no further foes to fight, turns his anger on Sabina. He begins screaming barely comprehensible nonsense, about the “Xanthic lord, he commands me! I understand why she served. The bloodshed. It is glorious! I will finish what they started. Yes! Yes!”

His rampage is only stopped when Renee nets him. Pierre pauses in his ministrations long enough to huck dirt in Magnus’ eyes and help the others bring him to the ground. Garnier and Maurice tentatively kick Magnus about the head and neck, hoping to calm him, but fearful that he will remember that they had done so.

It is only when Renee wrestles the knife out of Magnus’ hands that he finally goes quiet, staring off into space.

Andre, who is leaning against the arena doors, exhausted, quietly confides to Garnier that he is very tired and promptly falls asleep on the bloody sandy floor of the pit.

Friday, December 30, 2022

Session Thirty-Nine: The Nun’s Priest’s Tale

The Fights Continue

Gillian asks Magnus and Jim—having won the adulation of the crowd—to fight a second time. The duo accepts and goes down into the pit to get ready.

Maurice, increasingly suspicious of the proceedings, slips off to take a walk around the keep area. He sees a number of people in cultist robes stride up from below and make their way purposefully to the amphitheater. The cultists are led by a robed man who is surrounded by a thick swarm of flies, and who reeks of death and offal.

Concerned what this might mean for his friends, he returns to the company to warn them.

Shortly after he arrives, Gillian resumes her position beside the amphitheater and announces Magnus and Jim’s return to the pit. The crowd, already bloodthirsty, goes berserk at Gillian’s words. The rest of the company now fears for their companions’ safety.

Their fear becomes well justified when Gillian’s introduction of Magnus lists some very personal details and achievements, including that he is the oldest of five children, that he is the slayer of a knight of Khorne, and that he is the warlord of the Cult of the Stranger.

Several members of the company attempt to curse or rise to defend themselves, only to find that they are magically immobilized. Gillian, cackling, orders the arriving cultists—previously seen by Maurice—to escort the company into the pit so that they can die with Magnus and Jim.

Garnier, who had stepped away from the company to establish a separate vantage over the proceedings, is undetected by Gillian and is, therefore, the only one not affected by the spell.

The Jig is Up

Meanwhile, Andre watches as the double doors at the end of the hall open, and a sweating, exhausted looking cultist pokes his head out into the tunnel beyond. Gillian’s lads indicate that they have three more people ready for “the procedure” and ask which one they should hand over first.

The cultist squints at Andre and says, “well, him, obviously. He’s one of the cultists of the Stranger, and his Mark of Tzeentch is backwards and painted on with makeup. Seize him!”

Andre takes advantage of the momentary confusion to flee down the hallway of the cellblock. Seeing no easy way to escape, he uses the keys he has been given to lock himself in one of the cells. This baffles the captive who is already in the cell and enrages the cultists. Andre retreats to the far side of the cell as the cultists attack the iron bars, to no avail.

Just as Andre thinks that he might be able to hold out long enough to be rescued by the company, he sees a massive, horned beastman lumbering up the hallway.

Oh Good. Beastmen.

 The Arena of Death

Those of the company that were magically paralyzed are tossed into the center of the amphitheater to join Magnus and Jim. Gillian casually dispels the spell that binds them and, as the company gets to its feet and readies its weapons, orders the doors on the north side of the arena open.

The company looks on in revulsion as perhaps a dozen beastmen come roaring and snarling into the pit. Wielding axes and hide shields, they seek to butcher the company to the last.

A man in the crowd stands up and announces himself as a member of Epernay’s Town Guard. He demands that Gillian stop the fight and proclaims that everyone participating in this blood sport is under arrest. The cultists fall upon him and tear him to pieces.

Garnier hefts his spear and runs along the outside of the amphitheater, before leaping in and joining his friends. He turns and hurls his spear at Gillian, only to have it be deflected by an invisible barrier.

Andre’s Vision

The beastman has little trouble bending the bars, opening it wide enough for the other cultists to get through. Andre, realizing there is no escape, readies his weapon and prepares for the inevitable.

Just then, Andre feels a strange sense of dissociation, almost as if his consciousness has been fractured. At first, he perceives a “nowhere place,” in which he surrounded by countless individuals. Andre doesn’t recognize any of these people, and yet at the same time knows that all of them are, somehow, different aspects of his true self.

Andre focuses on one of the individuals, the haggard-looking prisoner he had briefly encountered earlier. As if in a dream, he watches from the prisoner’s perspective as he slowly rises, removes his rope belt, and goes to the door of his cell. With everyone in the hallway focused on Andre’s cell, it is easy for the prisoner to reach through the bars and garrote the beastman with his belt.

As the prisoner begins to scream, “for the Lady! For Bretonnia!” Andre snaps back to himself. Andre realizes that, as the cultists are briefly distracted by the prisoner, now is his best and only chance to escape. He unlocks the door, slips through the frenetic melee, and runs for the stairs that lead up and out of the complex.

Although several of the cultists give chase, Andre is faster. He reaches the surface, only to find that the rest of the company are fighting for their lives in the amphitheater. He rushes forward to render what aid he can.

Pictured: A Hot Mess

The Battle Continues

Maurice, having seen Garnier’s spear deflected by magic, knows that only holy power can penetrate Gillian’s shield. He ties his pilgrim’s badge from the shrine of Saint Maxense to one of his arrows and fires it at the emcee. Gillian seems amused that Maurice would try such a foolish thing, but her confidence quickly gives way to screams of terror and rage as the badge arrow pierces her shield and her cheek, sending her reeling into the arms of the crowd.

Maurice attempts to follow this up with a second arrow dipped in manticore venom, also bearing a pilgrim’s badge. This one, alas, shatters on Gillian’s defensive barrier. By this time, Gillian recovers, and calls upon the Winds of Magic to hurl a bolt of raw Chaos at Maurice.

“Die, thrall of Zuvassin,” she screams, as her bolt strikes Maurice in his chest. He is blown off of his feet and slides across the bloodied sand.

At this moment, Andre arrives on the scene and gets into position behind Gillian. He draws the envenomed needle he took from the herbalist’s shop in Colmar and, with a vicious stab, plunges it into Gillian’s shoulder. The poison does its work with horrifying speed, and Gillian soon falls, her enchantments broken, clutching at her seizing heart.

Andre joins the others in the amphitheater and finds that they have acquitted themselves well against the beastmen. Most are dying or already dead, and only Maurice and Sir Henri have sustained any injuries of note. Sir Henri is pleased to see Andre, but is even more pleased to have been able to protect his squire, Jim, from a gruesome death at the hands of the hordes of Chaos.

Jim, for his own part, has acquitted himself very well.

The crowd of cultists seems not to care that the company is winning, so lost are they in their own frenzied bloodlust. Several of the company, most notably Garnier and Sabina, suggest that they get away from the ruin and the amphitheater as quickly as possible. Andre refuses and quickly describes what he saw in the complex beneath the keep. He insists that the company remain and free the cult’s other victims.

Grudgingly, the others accept.

Into the Beast’s Den

The two doors at the north of the arena are still open, and lead down a large passageway into the side of the hill. The company enters the passage and runs to the far end, where they find themselves in a large room with heavy gates blocking off entrances into smaller side rooms. The air is thick with the scent of straw, musk, an animal spoor, and the company can see numerous creatures padding around on the far side of the gates, fangs bared.

Several cultists are also here, both surprised and horrified to see that the so-called “Cult of the Stranger” is charging  them.  One of the cultists demands that they release “the beast” from its pen. Other cultists are dubious at this strategy, but seeing the company charging them with weapons drawn, reluctantly obeys.

A lever is pulled. Chains rattle. A gate falls back. Leaping into the room, fur bristling, acidic saliva drooling between clenched jaws, black wings spread wide, is a manticore. It raises its scorpion like tail, and the company sees that its stinger glistens with lethal venom.

All that Manticore Venom Had to Come From Somewhere...