Saturday, 4 January 2014

Serpents Fall: The Darkness Beneath - Session 2

Horesh leads the group through the darkness of Celtia's Great Forest, following the strands of death energy ahead of him, Ozuchi follows behind, his eyes darting over the varied vegetation of the Great Forest, occasionally he pauses to pluck some herbs and roots that he thinks might help with his healing arts. The trees they pass are huge and ancient, having been there for many years before they were born and will no doubt be there long after their deaths; the ground, covered in moss, rises into a burial mound or Tor infront of them. Horesh snaps out of his spirit-trance as they reach the burial mound seen in his vision, he is momentarily disorientated but is re-assured when Gunnar and Ozuchi tell him that he's bought them to the place where the savage warriors may have come from.

Kron and Ozuchi begin searching the area for tracks and, a few moments later, Ozuchi gives a shout as he spots a concealed wooden entrance to the burial mound covered with moss, Kron congratulates him on a job well done as he pulls the concealing wooden slats aside; the wood covers a tunnel entrance heading down underground at a roughly 45-degree angle, Kron steps forward, hefting his hammer and saying "I'll lead."

Inside, the tunnel is narrow, only allowing them to move in single file but they make there way forwards with Kron leading, followed by Ozuchi, Horesh and with Benito bringing up the rear; the peat laden soil is damp and it is dark and cold within the tunnel. Kron keeps a hand on the wall to steady himself and maintain his position, he has them all place a hand on each other's shoulder to keep the party together should anything unexpected occur. 

Eventually the tunnel widens out into a cavern lined with glowing moss that casts a dim blue light; despite their attempts to remain quiet as they move further into the barrow mound the group are a little bit noisey due to not being able to really see where they are putting their feet. Entering the cavern they can hear a faint sobbing and Kron sees a large cage built of vines and local wood, inside he can just see a number of huddled figures; the norsican warrior peers closer hoping that these are the captives from the small village, unable to see the people clearly Captain Benito hacks a small sheet of the glowing moss from the wall, it dims slightly but still casts light. Benito throws the glowing moss into the cage and, in the increased light, the party can see that there are three women and a couple of children (one male, one female) in the cage, all are malnourished and emaciated.

With the light from the moss fading quickly, Ozuchi looks around and spots a second tunnel leading out of the cavern in an eastern direction; Kron approaches the cage, planning to share his rations with the prisoners, recognising that Kron has the look of a norsican raider the feeble people panic and try to scramble away from him despite his attempts to speak softly with them; realising that he isn't helping the situation, Kron steps back away. Benito suggests releasing them, thinking that they'll be able to survive on their own, however Kron points out that, in their weakened states, they may be easy prey for the creatures of the forest; the norsican throws some of his bread ration towards the people and slowly, hunger overwhelming their fear, they move forward and start eating the bread.

Ozuchi asks Benito to keep an eye on the eastern exit from the cage, whilst he slices some moss from the wall and begins to wring moisture from it to quench the thirst of the captives, having eaten and drank a little they begin to regain a little of their colour. Captain Benito smells something strange, an odd, smokey, herblike odour drifting down the eastern tunnel that he stands next to, he moves to stand beside the tunnel entrance so that he can be hidden from view should anyone emerge from the eastern tunnel, there is a loud crunch from beneath his feet, and he looks down to see he's standing in a shallow recess full of human bones. Benito examines the bones and sees they are recent and appear to have be scored by flint tools that stripped the flesh from them; he shouts to the others that the savages may be cannibals.

Horesh removes his hood and steps forward to speak to the bedraggled villagers, they begin screaming and attempting to scramble to the far side of the cave from Horesh with even more violence than their reaction to Kron; Kron and Benito recognise the look of absolute fear on the eyes of the panicked villagers as Horesh backs off. Benito steps forward and, comforted by Ozuchi's medicinal skills, the villagers engage him in conversation; one of the children (a blue eyed, young girl with red hair & dry tear tracks down her cheeks) runs towards Benito and accepts some food from him, she asks him whether or not he has seen her mother (describing her as tall with red hair). Benito trys to comfort the child, who explains that her mother was taken by "the men" down the eastern tunnel and that the men have been taking villagers down the tunnel at intervals, they have heard horrible noises, screaming and laughter from down the tunnel.

Trying to establish why the people panicked at Horesh's presence Ozuchi mentions the word Khemri but they don't appear to respond, Benito asks the young girl why they were scared of Horesh, she apologises and says that they thought he was one of the dark men who have been taking them away; Kron feels anger growing inside him at the thought of these warriors preying on innocent women and children who cannot fight back, he says that there might still be survivors and that, if they were taken down the tunnel, then that's where the party needs to go.

Kron opens the cage whilst Benito advises the villagers that it might be in their best interest to wait until they return so that they can guide them back in safety; the young girl appears to have taken a bit of a shine to Benito and the villagers agree to wait. Horesh leaves his familiar raven behind, relying on his spiritual link with it to inform him should the villagers face any future peril, and they begin to continue their exploration with Horesh now in the lead.

The herby, smokey smell begins to grow stronger and more pungent as they move further down the darkening tunnel, Kron speculates that perhaps the savages are sacrificing the villagers in some sort of religious ceremony; as the smoke thickens the party pull strips of cloth over their noses, unfortunately the fumes catch Ozuchi by surprise and his pupils dilate as he begins to feel the effects of the strange narcotic fumes come over him, causing the shadows and drips of water to form into dancing, geometric shapes. Benito wraps a piece of cloth around the dazed Ozuchi's face to prevent him inhaling further fumes as the sound of distant drumming reaches their ears from further down the tunnel.

Benito looks at the others, saying "Should we get ready for a fight boys?"
"I'm always ready, I was born ready," responds Kron gruffly.

The tunnel splits in two with the smell of the fumes far stronger from one of the tunnels, travelling down it (with Horesh moving a bit ahead) the tunnel opens into a side chamber, there is a flickering fire in the chamber and sat around it are are three savage black, woaded tribesmen; two of them are muscley warriors whilst the third is a scrawny, wiry figure wearing a rams skull atop his head. The thin figure is tattooing one of the warriors with a strange oily black substance being melted in the fire, the design is a strange intricate geometric one.

Horesh heads back to the group and explains what is occurring, he then peers into the spirit world and perceives the spirits of maddening fury that populate the tunnels, he summons a spirit that resembles a skeletal man but with an animals skeletal head and persuades it to aid them in their fight agaist the savages. Kron charges forwards into the cavern, hefting his hammer and growling a savage norse war-cry; in response the shaman reaches a hand into the embers of the fire and blows a handful of ash and dust into the charging vikings face. Briefly Kron feels like someone is exerting pressure on his skull and mind, but he shrugs it off the sorcerors mental attack, leaps the fire, grabs the shaman and crushes his head against the wall with his hammer.

Still under the effect of the fumes Ozuchi engages the warrior who easily evades his inebriated attack but is unable to land a blow on him, Benito swaggers across to the same warrior and, as the warrior swings at Ozuchi, lops his arm off and then slices his throat, the warrior topples dead into the fire. The remaining warrior leaps at Captain Benito but the pirate manages to avoid his attack, Ozuchi attempts to take out the warrior with his stygian martial arts but the influence of the fumes has slowed him and the warrior avoids his attack, pulling a burning log from the fire and swinging at him.

Ozuchi's komodo dragon spirit and the skeletal figure that Horesh negotiated with earlier grab hold of the warrior as he swings, pulling him backwards and meaning that only a slight blow lands on Ozuchi; Horesh pulls out his twin ceremonial daggers and, being skilled with the ceremonial death knives, delivers a vicious slash to the warriors midriff. As the warrior steps sideays to avoid further cuts from Horesh, Gunnar Kron steps inside his guard and smashes his hammer into the savage's ribcage, throwing him across the cavern where he slides to the floor dead.

With the fight over Benito searches the shaman and finds that he is holding a long antler/bone needle with a reservoir carved into it that contains some of the thick black substance; near the fire is a carved wooden bowl also containing some of the black ichor, the scent they have been smelling emanates from it; Benito takes the needle and looks at Ozuchi who is slowly starting to recover himself, he asks him to examine the substance in the bowl. Ozuchi believes it to be a narcotic mixture of poisonous berries, herbs and snake venom - it's a dilute poison that, in the correct dose, causes hallucination and makes the taker immune to pain.

Kron looks over the bodies of the warriors, thinking that perhaps they are from the village and were mind-controlled, one of them does look similar to the locals whilst the other looks vaguely norsican; Gunnar lays them to rest and whispers an apology to their gods since he was forced to kill them and that they didn't know what they were doing. Horesh uses his spiritual connection with his familiar and finds that the villagers left back in the initial cave still seem to be fine; the group returns to the other passageway and begin exploring it, the wall of the cave begins to become more damp with thin rivulets of water dripping down the walls as they move further down it. The khemrian death-priest realises that they must be travelling underneath the Spiritwood river that rivers eastwards through the Great Forest of Celtia.

As they continue moving Captain Benito gets a strange stomach churning feeling as they draw closer to the Inland Sea and recognises the effects of his curse; the feeling grows as they move down the tunnel, as he mentions his feeling Ozuchi urges them to press on and reluctantly Benito agrees. Kron grunts and says "We have to press on, there may be survivors," Benito agrees but urges caution, worried about the stability of the tunnel given the weight of water on top of them. As he starts feeling progressively works Benito pulls out the tattoo needle and asks Ozuchi whether or not the stygian medicine man believes that he could safely dose him with a small dose of the hallucinogen in order to counteract (temporarily) his curse.

Ozuchi administers the poison and Benito feels slightly fatigued from the effects, but there is at least some relief from the feeling of nauseous bought on by his curse. The group emerge from a cave mouth into a small, sheltered bay partway up a scree slope on the southeast shore of Celtia where it meets the Inner Sea; a storm is raging out at sea, but the weather in the bay itself is curiously calm, a small ship bobs up and down on the waters of the bay.

Horesh hears the sound of movement from within the bay and peers out of the cave mouth, he sees a couple of the savage warriors herding some ragged villagers towards the gangplank up onto the ship; a black robed corsair beckons for them to be bought onboard. As he emerges Benito notices that the flag on the ship flies the flag of the Black Eye, emblem of Captain Hannibal Hawkins - an atlantean descended pirate who was one of the first to flock to Blythe's banner and call for Benito's overthrow. With his knowledge of ships Benito estimates that the pinnace could be crewed by up to 60 men and has a compliment of ten cannons - Benito shouts this to them as they scramble down the slope towards the ship.

The crew of the ship spot the group, the five cannons facing them are craned upwards and fire at them, a cannonball impacts near Benito and Ozuchi spraying them with razor shards of rock that slice their flesh whilst another glances Horesh's arm causing it to fall limply by his side with a sickening crunch; Gunnar Kron is struck a glancing blow by one of the cannonballs tearing the beach to shreds around him and lets out an irritated howl as he hefts his hammer and continues running towards the boat. The crew on the boat begin to reload the cannons as the group run towards them; Ozuchi sprints across the beach, dodging the two warriors, running into the surf to the bottom of the gangplank, Benito follows after him shouting "Get inside the range of the cannons, they won't be able to shoot us!"

Kron runs towards the warriors but his anger at the recent cannonball strike causes him to over-extend himself and the savage lashes out, slicing into Kron with a razor-sharp flint knife, whilst Horesh begins to summon one of the spirits of the water, offering it a future favour in return for it's aid. The two warriors turn on Gunnar Kron, drawing their flint knives, but Kron easily avoids their blows. On the ship Ozuchi knocks a load of barrels over, the cannoneers let out a cry and begin to stumble over the rolling barrels; capitalising on this Benito leaps up onto the railing, cuts a rope and swings across the deck, slicing a mans throat before landing on a barrel and pedalling it across the deck. Stabbing out with his sword, Benito makes short work of the ten cannoneers on this side of the deck, the ten on the other side begin reaching for their weapons.

Distracted by the pain of his arm, Horesh is unable to land a blow on the warrior attacking Kron; as the warrior leaps forward, knife raised, to attack Horesh, Kron leans forward and swings his hammer, catching the warrior in the stomach and killing him. The remaining savage moves to attack Kron but the seaweed and water seems to bubble and come alive around him, pulling the savage back and causing his blow to miss Kron as the spirit of the water makes it's presence felt. Ozuchi leaps up and swings one of the ships sails towards the remaining cannoneers, as they duck to avoid it Benito snags one of the ropes from the sails and swings past them, slaying four of the cannoneers; the remaining warrior fighting in the surf deftly avoids the blows aimed at him by Horesh and Kron.

The surviving six cannoneers attempt to pull Benito down from the rope he is holding and stab him, but the flamboyant Captain pushes off, swinging the sail back over to the other side of the deck and carrying him away from his assailants; dropping into a martial arts stance, Ozuchi manages to hold his own as the cannoneers surround him, their weight of numbers begin to show however and they slowing start dragging down the stygian medicine man.

As the weight of his injuries are starting to show on Kron, Horesh leaps on the remaining warrior and stabs his knife into the man's skull, killing him; Kron nods and begins limping up the gangplank.

Benito grabs one of the torches from a now abandoned cannon as he swings back onto the deck and hurls it at one of the robed cannoneers, catching his clothing on fire; capitalising on this distraction Ozuchi dispatches the remaining cannoneers using his knowledge of Stygia martial arts, flipping them into the water. Captain Benito begins looking for the captain of the boat, meanwhile Horesh leads the surviving villagers out from where they have been hiding under the gangplank, he spots a woman with green eyes and red hair and explains that they have freed her daughter; the woman almost faints with happiness and relief.

Suddenly the trapdoor to the lower decks bursts open and a barrel chested man with a peg leg and tattoos across his arms, head and back strides through; Benito doesn't recognise him personally but, due to the way that the man is carrying himself, he believes him to be the captain of the ship, the muscley figure bellows "You dare to trespass on my ship!"

Ever ready with a witty report Benito snaps back "Well i'm the king of the Scarlet Brotherhood so that makes it my ship," before attempting to punch the muscular figure, it barely seems to phase him, and in response the man pulls out a belaying pin and smashes Benito in the face, bruising beginning to rise almost instantly on the injured pirate's face. Ozuchi ducks under the Captain's arm and jabs the poisoned needle into it, causing him to stagger slightly. Benito uses the pommel of his sword to push the needle further into the muscular Captain's body, he remains standing, although he appears to be struggling; the Captain swings his belaying pin, it connects with Benito's head and there is a sickening crunching of bone. Suddenly, from nowhere, Kron launches his hammer towards the mighty figure of the Captain, it strikes his shoulder and drives him down onto one knee; seizing the advantage Ozuchi leaps forward attempting to deliver an incapacitating blow but the Captain manages to roll out of the way.

Staggering, Benito drives his sword through the Captain's shoulder, piercing flesh and pinning the hulking figure to the deck, knocking him out with a final elbow to the face; Benito nods, satisfied, before pausing to relieve him of a ruby signet ring with a dark imperfection in it (as well as the finger it was worn on).

With the threat removed Ozuchi begins trying to patch up his companions injuries; as he finishes the only injuries remaining are Benito's patched up skull, Ozuchi's cut arm and Kron's bandaged skull. With their pain somewhat relieved the group search the ship and find numerous slaves of various extractions below deck, when freed they all tell the same tale of being taken captive by the Dark Corsairs (as they call them); as a final act of defiance Benito replaces the flag on the ship with his own pirate emblem.