Shadowrun: Dark Ages

A city of two tales...

Tired, hurt and with the crippled King in two the party limped their way back toward Dundee, first returning to Agneses home to collect their horses. As they left the forbidding woods, their spirits were struck another blow as Sir Arthur suddenly spurred his mount to a canter and sped away down the road leaving the party in his wake. Murdo and Fen gave chance but even their swift feet were not enough to catch the powerful horse and he was already on the ferry by the time they made it to the village on the southern banks of the Tay. There, they gave up, knowing that he would be in the Cathedral by the time they made it over the river, and instead waited for their friends. Late afternoon, witht he light fading fast the rag-tag group returned to Dundee and, skirting the town square and the cathedral, they went instead the the University to get what help they could for the King.

Over the following few weeks it became apparent that the destruction of the withered dragonheart had indeed finished the spread of corruption and life in Dundee returned to an uneasy tense approximation of normality. The nights after the part returned to the city saw two more attacks from the possessed cannibal devil-creatures, but the bands were small and the attacks were easily dealt with by the increased guard presence and some some local civic-minded civilians. After two nights, there came the first uneasy night of peace and a few days later the Earl declared the curfew over and the city cleansed of the curse that had plagued it.

The Earl knew the truth, for the party had told him of the events that transpired on Tentsmuirs shores and indeed he met with King Tita before he was taken to meet Hestaby. So to did the Bishop for (presumably) Sir Arthur must surely have told them. Yet it would seem that neither felt that such a strange and astonishing tale of myth, magic and legend should be told. Instead it was proclaimed that the city thanked the heroes of the city guard, the noble families who donated men to help the city, the people of Dundee for their forbearance in the face of trying circumstances, God for delivering them from the devils work – and somewhat grudgingly the Earl even thanked the church for their tireless efforts to protect the immortal souls of those in Dundee, rich and poor alike.

The churches slant on the situation turned out to be somewhat different. In packed church halls throughout Dundee, and not least the cathedral itself, the church proclaimed Gods victory – their victory – over the Devil and his works. They preached to a great many who listened of the victory that faith in God gave them and the priests, monks and nuns extorted people to reaffirm and renew their faith in the lord. The Earls response did not counter the church directly, but the guards were vigilant and the Earl was forthright in his insistance that the laws of Dundee be upheld and that attacks on Others in Dundee would not be tolerated. Indeed, minstrels and bards throughout Dundee were unusually active in reminding the people they played to of the role, the heroism, showed by these people in the aftermath of the Laws eruption. And so a different battle began, a battle not of swords, but of propaganda, faith, whispers and words. A subtle and careful battle for the soul of Dundee.

Over the next few months tensions between the rulers of Dundee and the church rose as the nobles, one after the other, began to take sides. Still, for the everyday folk things returned to a semblance of normality. The winter cold set in proper and thick snows came to the city and the countryside surrounding it. Nevertheless, the workers worked, merchants peddled their wares and, when the silvery tay was free of ice, ships came to the harbour bringing food, drink and other goods from foreign parts. Banditry and piracy, while always remaining, were not so problematic as to significantly hurt trade though prices rose as the cold of winder set in proper.

For the party, Agnes finally met with Aiden upon his return and he spoke with him about her cough. She was seen around the university for a time, clearly in pain, until eventually she was seen no more. Fen returned to the slums where he can still be found assisting people wherever he is able and Orion, although taciturn and terse as ever, can still be sometimes seen frequenting the warehouses and taverns around the docks. Naught was seen of Sir Arthur for some time. It was rumoured that he had unburdened his sole over some dark deeds to the Bishop himself and had been told he could only receive absolution after a long period of isolation, abstinence, mediation and prayer, something the pious young knight had enthusiastically welcomed. Upon his return to society and his cousin he was observed by some to be a humbler man, quieter, somehow more twitch and intense and prone to long period of solitary prayer. He shunned galas, dances, and fancy feasts in preference for the bible, plain food and the company of the Cathedral congregation. Surprisingly, his standing and reputation only grew – in no small part due to the churches good opinion of the young man.

Noted for his part, Struman was granted a rare pardon by the Earl but not before he was stripped of his rank and standing in the city guard and so he was gifted a new start in life. Surprisingly, he and Cid (now calling himself Sod to avoid the attentions of the guard, decided to go into business and, buying a cheap property on the docks, began a pie shop (Bullseye Pies) that swiftly gained a reputation for fine affordable food thanks in no small part to the pair hiring a mysterious mercenary called Douglas who, it turns out, was a surprisingly talented cook. Elara returned to her village in the highlands, seeking to know if Eonan was cured, but also to speak with the wise women of her village of the deal she had made with the Old Man of the Sea and the child growing inside her. For Murdo, life returned to normal – at least relatively. During Sir Arthurs absence he called on Katherine often and she welcomed him warmly – a fact not unnoticed by the nobility of the city. Upon Sir Arthurs return to the household however he chaperoned her often and her welcome grew colder, though whether this was her doing or the presence of her cousin was unclear. Still, an uneasy peace reigned over Dundee as the winter festivals passed and many tales were told in the taverns of Dundee about the ravaging disease now being called the ravening plague, and some even mentioned a role for some of our heros in its end, despite the churches efforts to claim the credit.

Elaras pregnancy progressed fast, and fears grew for her. In mid-January, barely three months after her pact was consummated, the midwifes of the village declared her time was imminent. Fearing for her life, Elara and the wise woman went with great haste to the shore, reasoning that, given the child’s heritage, a birth in the sea might encourage things. This did not go well, as it turned out. As her labour began and the waves washed over her there was terrible pain and the child writhed inside her as if hurting. Draging her from the sea the wise woman was at a loss but with a sudden flash of insight Elara understood – even as water returns to the sea in time, falling first as freshwater rain and flowing through bright streams and slow languid rivers, so must her childs journey be to his eventual dominion; first, he must be freshwater, before he was salty. As the rain clouds broke overhead and the wise woman and her midwifes lay her shivering in a nearly freshwater stream so she gave birth to a boy child, hale and healthy, and surrounded by a myriad of small excited water spirits. She names him Ethan. They returned to her village for a time. Ethan was growing fast, far faster than a normal child and he needed no mobile hung over his crib for he was entertained by water spirits, unseen by any without the gift of astral sight. Elara began to feel a strong draw to return to Dundee, as if the sea there called her too it so it could watch over her and within weeks she had made plans to return and departed. Upon her return to Dundee she was gifted a smallholding just along the north shore by the Earl (out at what would today be Broughty Ferry) and she arranged for a wet nurse to attend her child. And with that she went to the university to renew her acquaintance with her companions, only to find Struman, Cid and Murdo departing for a meeting with the Earls Castilian to discuss matters of great import. Coincidence? I think not; rather Fate – and she joined them for their talk. As it turned out, not the least important thing that they discussed was the disappearance of a young girl from a noble house, only a few days ago…

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Telling the truth...

The party quickly rushed to the king and realised that he was weak, twisted and broken, a mangled shell of what he once was, though he still lived. Murdo lifted the broken child-like form in his arms and, with help from the others, carried him from the beach, swiftly, back to the stone circle. There, the attempted to awake him but Cid and Elara quickly found that his mind had fled the shattered form and was wandering the Astral, far from here. They laid the king with his head upon one of the rune stones and, with the king laid before them, the pair sent their own minds into the astral to find him. For them it took an age, for the watchers it was a matter of less than an hour. They found the kings soul, a timid, cowering thing that mirrored the body it had fled. The spoke with him and reassured him that he was now free of his watery prison. He refused to believe them, fearing some cruel spirits jest or trick. The persuaded and cajoled him otherwise and eventually he agreed to return to his body with them. When he did so he saw that they spoke the truth and that his mortal shell was indeed free.

After some hesitation he tried to slip back into his body, but so long had his mind been estranged from it that the fit was not easy, and only a little ‘percussive maintenance’ from Cid and Elara was able to force the Kings mind back into his body.

The king awoke with a start. Eyes that had not opened in centuries opened to see the light once more, muscles that has twitched and spasmed in silent agony while the kings mind was fled suddenly blazed their signals of pain into his mind. The king screamed, such as his old, unused and feckless vocal chords were able. Little more than an agonized croak in truth, but one that would not end with every breath. Elara and Cid awoke beside him and they and Agnes swiftly went to work to try and alleviate the pain and through a mixture of smoke, herbs, tinctures and magic had some success and, for the first time in nearly a thousand years, the King of the Grey Men spoke to a mortal. He was astonished and grateful, thinking that his was a torment that would last forever, but he tired rapidly and soon swooned and lost the battle with unconsciousness and he slept. He awoke throughout the night. every twitch, every movement woke him in agony, but slowly the pain began to lessen and some rest was had.

On the morrow, the party woke the King as the morning wore on and the forrest mist lifted. The king spoke with them of his imprisonment and his gratefulness at his release. When they asked him about the circle and it’s history it was a while before he answered. Then he told them that there were ways and means of doing these things and that what was needed to reveal the story of the circle was a True Telling; a ritual more primitive than any magic, something from the dawn of time when the beings of the world sat round fires telling tales to comfort themselves and make sense of the world. The party gathered wood, food of all types, fruit, nuts, meat. Spirits were found, buried deep in backpacks. A fire was laid and lit and as the meal began to unfold and the merriment rose an odd thing happened. The light took on a richer, more wholesome hue, the food was somehow fuller, more flavourful, more juicy. The spirit was more fiery but sweeter, and as the King began his tale of the circle it was almost as if the tale lived in each of the parties minds.

An eon ago, when the Fey walked the Scottish hills, when men were yet few and still young, and dragons wheeled in the upper winds; the White Hag of Winter seethed. Seeing her minions fail in destroying the world of the Green Man and his creatures, was wrathful and beset with furious anger. She resolved to destroy the Green Mans power and bring ruin to his creatures, the Fey, the Faries, and all all that was magical and good in the world. And so she hatched a cunning plan to bring about the end of magic, that it might break his power.

To do this she wrought a powerful ritual, decades in the casting. What she could not bring about by strength of arms she brought to be through cunning and brutality. One-by-one she sent envoys with tales of power and riches to the great dragons of the age and lured them to the runic circles of the Fey. Each time they came in the depth of night on he darkest day, obscured by driving rain and dark clouds to claim their treasure, their power, only to find the Hags foremost servant waiting for them and such was her power that she slew them until only one remained. It is said that she butchered them, ripping out their hearts even as their life faded, and buried those still beating muscles beneath the runic circles where it began to corrupt and desecrate all the magics of the world. The desecration was subtle and difficult to see to begin with but the sorcerers of the Grey Men felt the corruption of their power and were greatly afeared! They began to unravel some of its nature and recounted to King Tita their fears surrounding the corruption and the deaths of the Great Dragons, however King Tita was distracted by a great sorrow. His daughter, Princess Mab, had by a few days before sought out the Old Man of the Sea to request he withdraw his waters from around the islands of Scotland that they might join again with the Emerald Isle. Angered by the impertinent request, the Old Man had taken Mab into the deep and held her there in watery misery.

Driven to rescue her, King Tita ignored his sorcerers warnings and instead assembled his forces and led them to the shores of what is now North Fife to confront the Old Man and demand her release. The Old Man of the Sea feared naught – for it was said that he could not be harmed by any weapon of land, sea or air – and would not be swayed by the might of the gathered Fey forces. And so war was bought to the seashore. Ocean Spirits crashed against the Grey Men and both suffered. Seeing the Grey men falter and the King embattled the eldest of the Grey sorcerers called his followers to mighty magic and, even as their bodies burned out from within, he reached unto the heavens and drew down the fiery heart of a star and smote it on the sea with a mighty crack. And that is all the King remembered until his consciousness awoke in the Old Man of the Seas realm below the waves where he was, until this very day, held in great torment – is pain a delight to the Old Man of the Sea; his greatest prize.

Astonished by the tale, the party swiftly reasoned that, if it was true, perhaps the return of magic to the world had not cleansed the circles of their corruption and that perhaps the corruption of the very circle they were stood upon was at the heart of the twisted black trees growing in Tentsmuir and the twisted black horrors that were plaguing Dundee. Swiftly they began to dig and as evening fell they came across the truth. Nearly ten feet below the ground they came upon a rough-edged block of ice nearly three meters on side, glittering hard and cold int he fading light. Within it, a blackened and withered heart as large as two grown men. And as they watched, it shuddered once in a mockery of a heartbeat. Appalled, they swiftly struck out with blade and magic at the block in an effort to destroy the abomination but with little luck. Until, that is, Murdo took up the etched had axe called Oceans Bane, anathema to spirits of water and potent item from legend. When it struck the ice there was a thunderous crack and a mighty explosion that blew him from the hole and knocked the party flying. Amazingly, Murdo survived (just barely) and with the ringing still loud in their ears they crunched their way back to the hole over the fast-melting shards of ice to find the black gone and the Dragon Heart with it. The question now was, had that ended the corruption? Only time would tell….

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The Heirs Bargain

The old man looked around at the assembled group, glancing down disdainfully at the body of the Fey before him. “Well?” Struman and Cid began to negotiate with the creature. They explained that they had summoned him from his watery depths to bargain with him for the life of the old King of the Grey Men, tho they believed was his prisoner still. The Old Man of the Sea was haughty and siamissing, declaring himself above petty concerns and went to leave the ritual circle only to find his way blocked by Fen and, more importantly, Murdo – whose gaping wound in the astral seemed to make the spirit uncomfortable. Effectively forced into communication, at lest for a while, the spirit became cagey and dismissive; at first denying that he had any such prisoner in the inky depths of his kingdom and then saying that even if it were true, why would he trade his prize possession with this rag-tag band? The conversation went back and forth with the party making various offers to the spirit, offers of servitude, of the destruction of the axe they had in their possession that was anathema his his lesser kin, but the Old Man of the Sea seemed unimpressed. They even tried to bargin with the body of Efyl, until they learned from the Old Man of the Sea that his corpse was already claimed by the sea and that his blood was the only reason he was here! Did the party truly have anything this ancient and powerful spirit wanted or needed?

It was then that the sly and cunning spirit revealed his hard. He told them of the seas future. Once his domiain had been a place of myth and legend where the creations of the Green Man, the Hag of Winter or any other beings of the land, were just unwelcome visitors. A mysterious domain full of secrets, dangers and unexplored places – tales that gave the sea power over the hearts of man and lonely places that only spirit would ever know. This is what gave the sea its magic. Powerful and unpredictable, intractable, unforgiving and immense. And yet it was this very mixture of danger, adventure, mystery and the unexplored that was changing the seas very nature. Increasingly man was encroaching on the unexplored seas, exploring its secrets, traversing its hidden currents, and fishing its depths. The Old Man of the Sea told of a time that he foresaw, not long in the future, when man would traverse every corner of his domain with impunity and arrogance, a time when the seas would hold no more mystery and secrets. A time when he, an unrelenting unforgiving force of nature would no longer represent the seas true nature. His time, it seems was ending, and that a new personification was needed, one that represented the seas new duality and mans growing role in the seas of the world. In short… he needed an heir, one that blended man and the spirit of the sea.

At first several member of the group misunderstood, thinking perhaps that the spirit wanted to make one of them his heir, but he quickly dismissed this making it clear that he needed an heir Born of spirit and man. With that revelation, eyes turned to Agnes and Elara who seemed a little taken a back. But the male members of the party were not to be let off so easily, and the Old Man of the sea told them that any of them could be a vessel for his seed, with the appropriate adjustments. So, this, was his price. The question then was, were the party willing to pay it and, if so, who would bear the child?

After some discussion, Elara and Struman both seemed intent on paying the price, though for different reasons. Struman saw it as his duty to protect his city, both by helping to deal with the current crisis but also perhaps by tying Dundees futre to the sea, perhaps granting it some favour from the new lord of the waves. Elara, on the other hand, was driven by a desperate need to do something about the current problem whatever the cost particularly given her current… situation. Knowing that the protecting astral candle that Hestaby had conjured for her had burned out with the effort of channelling the magic of the ritual, she was loosing time to argue. Her anger rising she cast a spell to entangle and entwine Struman and put an end to the argument. The spell was only marginally effective, but the Old Man of the Sea seemed amused and engaged by her fre and drive and agreed to accept her as the vessel for his Heir – the bargain was sealed.

The party attempted to convince the spirit to give up its prisoner first as a gesture of goodwill, but he refused and the party eventually relented. With a bright and bulging moon risen high in the sky, the beach cast in pale moonlight and the soft sound of the gentle surf lapping at the sea shore, the party decided to give Elara a little privacy (at her insistance!) although some refused to go far for fear that the Old Man of the Sea might renage upon his bargain (he was as capricious and unpredictable as the sea, after all!). While the negotiations had been taking place, Fen had left the group and gone looking for Orion, who was absent from the discussion. He found his barely conscious body on some rocks further down the beach, where he had landed after being struck by the powerful sea dragon spirit. To Fen (and Orions) great surprise, he had somehow [ed: cough karma!] survived the attack and had just begun to recover consciousness. Fen helped him back to the group as they made their wy up the beach tot he driftwood fires to away the completion of their bargain with the Old man of the Sea. Discussion was muted and, a few hours later, the a quiet and subdues Elara came to bring them back tot he ritual circle. The Old man of the Sea was smiling an obsequious grin when they arrived and said “Very well, here then, have your prisoner, for what good he will do you. I am done with his torment…”. Even as s=he spoke, two oversized crabs hauled an enormous blue and yellow veined giant clam fromt he sea, its hoary barnacle encrusted shell testament to its life deep beneath the waves.

With a gesture and a creaking groan the creatures shell opened, to reveal a wretched worm-pale twisted form, crunched up inside the great bivalves inners; Almost mummified, the creatures limbs were twisted and bent unnaturally, its skeen, sodden and pruned and rotting int he constant wet also sloughed off its flesh, yet with a wracking caught it spluttered up seawater and took a ragged breath, betraying the the king yet lived.

“The deal is done, now, out out of my way!” the old man said and with that he strode bak into the curling surf, the sea creatures going with him. Leaving out heroes along, on a beach, in dead of night, with an old, waterlogged, mostly dead Fey King.

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Night of the Efyl dead

The ritual was a complex affar. While Murdo and Fen set a break-wall of large driftwood fires between the group and the forest, Struman, Agnes, Cid and Elara began digging into the sand the ritual circle, following Efyls instructions. Orion, meanwhile, moved off back to the treeline to keep guard, having refused to participate in the ritual, despite his magic. Evidently he was fearful that some great disaster may befall the undertaking if he took part.

The others began with a nine-pointed star with the line joining tips of two of the points of the star making a parallel line to the sea – this Efyl termed The Gate. The tide was coming in and Efyl instructed them that they would need to make the circle close enough that as the sea came it it would enter The Gate and lap around the feet of the casters. The lines of the star were dug six inches deep in the sand so that the inbound seawater might be drawn along them by the rituals magic.

Struman, Murdo and Fen joined each point of the star with a line, except The Gate which was to be left open, while Efyl began instructing Cid, Elara and Agnes on their role in the ritual. The diggers then made three sides of a square, surrounding the the star, again leaving the gate open – a second constraint on those summoned. Finally, at every intersection of lines within the star, a two foot circle centered on the intersection was marked. Each mage was told to mark these points as anchors with the symbols of their tradition. Finally, the entire thing was marked with such things as the group had that could anchor magic, chief amongst which were the shards of dragon eggs that various members of the group had pocketed on their last visit to Hestaby the great. These, along with the leaves of the dark trees and totems from Elara and Agnes would act as pins for the barriers.

Finally, at the center-point of the star was build a crude symbolic representation of a closed eye, made of driftwood from the sea, clay fragments from Orion, gathered at the deserted and sorry Castle Dudehope and iron nails from by Cid. Stabbed vertically into the heart of the star like a spear it cast a long flickery shadow on the sand from the fires behind it. All in all the construction took some time to get right and by the time they had finished the last vestiges of the setting sun were only evident by the deep orange and purple uplight on the clouds. The driftwood fires lit everything with an eerie flickering light as Murdo propped Efyl up against the totemic eye. His strength was fading fast now, but with everything ready it would prove enough. He instructed Elara, Cid and Agnes to take positions within in three of the intersection circle anchor-points for the casting. The others he tasked with protecting those within the ritual from whatever the Old Man of the Sea may send to disrupt it – after all, he said, the Old Man was not accustomed to being summoned and would likely be displeased with the idea. Finally he instructed Murdo that he was to play a key role in the ritual. Once the Old Man of the Sea had been summoned he must stand squarely and impassably in The Gat position – his void of magical essence would then effectively bar thee Old Man from leaving, at least for a time. And with that he began the casting. Elara, Agnes and Cid performed their roles admirably and the tides and flows of magic began to fill the astral around the ritual space. As he seawater lapped over the outer edges of the gate and began to fill the channels the magic became pinned and, as Fen flicked his visio into the Astral, he could see great curtains of power begin to coalesce along the rituals lines and the closed eye began to crackle with green-blue electricity. Slowly, every so slowly, the eye began to open, leaving behind it the electric blue tracery of an iris and a pupil.

Meanwhile, Sir Arthur Fergusson had caught up with the group and from the tree-line watched, spy the fires on the beach and the strange goings on and hearing only snatches of of the ritual chanting. Frankly he didn’t know quite what to make of the situation. What had happened to these folks that drove them to this Heresy? He decided to move closer and, surprisingly, avoided the sharp eyes of Orion to make it all the way up to the fires before he was spotted. He saw the ritual, the odd looking creature at its center, the casters mouthing odd, heathen, words in a tounge he didn’t know as magic crackled around the ritual. Finally his eyes met those of Fen, across the ritual. Gazes locke for a second, it seemed that Fen would confront him, but there did not prove to be time.Moments later creatures began to emerge from the lapping surf, crabs, lobsters, fish, urchins, nudibrachs, eels and more. Most were not of a size to cause much consternation but then several larger creatures appeared, and seemed bent on disrupting the casters. Several giant crabs, a massive lobster, a huge spider crab, strange-looking jellyfish, a long dead sailors corpse, all moved with surprising speed up the beach intent on the caster nearest to the gate, the long-suffering Elara.

Fortunately Murdo, Struman and Fen were there to protect them and swiftly intercepted the creatures, destroying them with considerable efficiency and alacrity. Notably, int he battle, Murdo struck out at the creatures with the magical axe Cid had lent him for exactly this purpose and where it struct the creatures it wreaked until devestation. The Axe, known to be bane to spirits of water began glowing a deep azure as cut through the creatures, betraying the not-entirely-mundane nature of the beasts. The ritual continued to build, the central eye staring out to sea like the half-lidded gaze of some hidden giant, and the magic began to take its toll on the casters. Things were going somewhat more easily for their defenders. Three horrid man-sized creatures had emerged from the sea; a massive angler fish with grotesque spindly tall legs and a glowing bulbous growth the size of a head dangling before it, a giant sea snail, thick and fat, and a creature of driftwood, seaweed and rock from the deep. The creatures rushed toward the beach determined to disrupt the ritual but in an astonishing display of competence were cut down or smashed apart in mere seconds by the heroes of Dundee. [[:fen-mac | Fen] confronted the angler fish and struck the glowing orb so hard with his fist that the growth burst with a sickening pop and the creature convulsed, collapsed and was draw out to sea by the surf. Murdo bought the glowing Axe down on the snails shell so hard that it cracked cleanly in two with a loud retort, despite it being an inch thick, spilling the soft squishy insides of the creature all over the beach. So furious was their assault that the creatures barely landed a blow before returning the the ocean that gave them birth. The ritual continued to build. The circles around each of the anchors began taking on a dark indigo swirl shrouding the casters with wraths of shadow and the magic reached out into the sea and pulled the incoming swells of surf into the ritual through the gate and swirling around the feet of the party. Efyl stiffened and gasped in pain as the sea lapped around his propped up form and when it touched the eye the driftwood and iron construction the magic cracking around it cracked an iridescent red lending the now mostly open eye a baleful aspect.

This turned out to be somewhat prescient as, rising ominously from the water was a creature of myth and legend. A mighty luminous sea serpent, of sorts, pale blue with tassels resembling the gills of a salamander framing its head like a mane. The creature was huge, its a head the size of a wagon. With a sinuous flick of its tail the mighty creature curled through the surf, across the sand, and struck out with blistering speed at the drop-jawed heroes. Suddenly realising that they were in a fight for their lives our heroes flew at the creature but it proved as tough to hurt as it was to hit and several of their blows either missed entirely or struck the creatures tough hide but did little to harm it. The creature reared up and opened a mouth the size of a wagon wheel and, from it’s maw through a haze of steam that billowed out into the cold night air, erupted a torrent of scaldingly hot water directly at Fen. Extremely fortunately, Fen’s swift reactions and wary nature allowed him to throw himself out of the way at the last second and the water missed. Murdo flew at the creature with the Axe, which was glowing like a star in the night, but the creature – who definitely did not like to the look of the axe at all – coiled itself out of the way with an agility that belied its size. Struman unleashed a crossbow bolt that glanced off the creatures hid and the situation seemed fire. Fortunately, however, Orion joined the fight. He had seen from the treeline the creatures attack his friends and concerned that he was too distant to help he had previously begun running towards the battle. Now with creature focussed on Murdo and Fen, Orion drew back his bow and muttering incantations under his breath the tip of his arrow began to glow fiercely. He let fly and the arrow struck home, driving into the creatures armoured flesh. A ball of purple flame erupted from the side of the creature knocking it back and scorching its tough hide. This drew the creatures ire and it lashed out with its tail, knocking Orion clean off his feet and sending him crunching into a rock pool further up the peak. Blocked by the bulk of the creature, the other heroes did not see what happened to Orion and his crumpled form lay still on the rocks in the darkness.

With the serpent distracted, Fen used the opportunity to strike the creature a series of swift blown, the magic of his Chi lending the strikes the power needed to damage the mighty spirit of the ocean. Damage it, but not kill it and it now turned its attention to Fen. Once again it unleashed a spew of superheated water only for Fen to narrowly avoid the blast. Murdo and Fen attacked again but to little avail and then suddenly it reared up, seized Murdo in its maw and swallowed him whole! It evidently didn’t like the taste though as it immediately convulsed violently and threw up Murdo across the beach (the axe too, was regurgitated and ended up in a rock pool), leaving his collapsed still form on the beach as the creature writhed. The serpent was badly hurt now but it was closing on the ritual casters. Too late, however for the fighters efforts had bought enough time for the ritual to complete! The last of Efyls life and magic faded from the world, is life force sealing the rituals, the magic within the components of the ritual flared and the cage was complete, the blazing red eye lay fully open and fixed on the sea, calling for the ancient spirit to attend. A heartbeat later the serpent had vanished and standing bent next to the now magic-less lifeless driftwood eye was an old, bearded and bent man. He was clothed in a rag-tag of skins, netting, sailcloth and hemp, with no irder rhyme or reason to his attire. His shaggy beard, eyebrows and hair were all a washed out grey (not white) and moved as if submerged. Seaweed, crabs and other small crustaceans grew from his long hair as if perfectly happy lifting on him. His deep blue eyes held the depths of the deep ocean and knarled hands, looking as much like bleached knotted driftwood as living flesh, grasped a thin bent stick for supporting himself. A rough gravelly voice, that ground like pebbles on a beach or the surf on rocks, said “Well! I’m here aren’t I?! What do you want?”

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The Granite Circle

The battle was over swiftly though it was ferocious and brutal. Despite the bugs swarming over most of the party, distracting and even driving some of them out of their minds, Fen drove forward to engage the creature the bugs were fleeing from, striking her mightily before a thick warm curling mist rose fromt he leaf mulch, shrouding everything in a grey-white blanket and into which she swiftly vanished. Orion and Deputy Sherrif Struman hurled several arrows at the creature and Agnes lashed out at it with lightning in a desperate attempt to get rid of the maddening bugs, striking her before she vanished. Meanwhile, in a furious battle in which all three traded wounds, Murdo (Murdoch) and the other two fought. Finally, Fen managed another blow on the magician even as she unleashed a wave of magic that wreathed each and every one of them in almost unbearable agony. The magic overwhelmed Murdo (Murdoch) who collapsed twitching in unconsciousness even as the twisted creatures fell on him and bit. Cid and Fen grasped their splitting skulls in pain, but fortunately Cid had already given orders to his Earth spirit who, unaffected byt he wave of pain magic, and with great solemnity, bit the twisted mage and, with two mighty gulps engulfed the creature entirely. Despite its best efforts to escape it was unsuccessful ad the spirit crushed the creature to pulp.

Meanwhile, the dark creatures who were attempting to feed on Murdo (Murdoch) quickly found out the way the creatures in Dundee had that his corrupted body did not taste good one bit. They recoiled in disgust only to find themselves swiftly assailed by the rest of the group now that the magicians magic was ended – the bugs vanished, the agony gone and the mist disolved. They were dispatched in short order and Murdos wounds were seen to with hast and some trepidation that the courageous warrior was mortally wounded. He survived and, with a little magic, was revived a few minutes later.

With the battle over, Elara spoke with the figure in the tree who revealed a little of his story. He named himself as Efyl and said that he had been brother to the three creatures the group had just slain before they were twisted by darkness. He said that his strength and magic waned and beseeched Elara and the others to come to where he was, deep in the forest that he might speak with them, help them, more easily. The group made ready to leave and it was then that they realised Sir Arthur was missing. The quickly searched for sign of what happened and found a few tracks pointing to a maddening struggle that ended up with him running away from the group, but the tracks quickly petered out and, with a section of the group untrusting of the warrior and time pressing, they decided to leave him to his choices and to head out to find Efyl. The spirit described his location to Elara with care and with Agneses help they led the groups swiftly through the forest for an hour until they reached a glade of dark and twisted Fir trees, each one old, gnarled and charcoal grey. They were arranged roughly in a circle as the land rose a few feet. Within the circle of trees patches of sunlight could be seen, but the low twisted branches shrouded the scene and left only dappled glimpses of the clearing beyond. Cautiously the group pushed their way through the twisted branched into the verdant glade beyond. The ground was littered with mossy rocks, small ferns and grasses sprouted from every nook and cranny. Arrayed in a segment of a rough circle around the edge of the glade were seven sizeable flat stones. Each was carved from dark granite with hard edges, maybe two and a half foot long, a foot wide, and about 6 inches tall. On the top surface of each were crudely carved runes. On the far sides of the glade was a body. At first glance it seemed to be that of a gaunt child, no more than three and a half feet tall, propped up against a tree wearing a motley collection of clothing made of some kind of hemp-like fibre, leathers, leaves and wooden fetishes. On closer inspection it became clear that the body was not human. It’s face was longer, the eyes considerably larger with well-defined bone structure around the eyes, it’s nose smaller, longer, finer, fingers and no sign of eyebrows or beard.

The approached quietly and as Elara knelt before the body it’s large, liquid green, eyes opened and it greeted her in a language she did not understand, with a soft musical voice. Thye nervously reached out to each other and after a moments silence after their hads met Elara told the rest that Efyl would speak through her. They spoke for nearly an hour and learnt much of this poor creatures story….

Efyl and his brothers were Fey, Grey men from their stronghold on Ben Glass to the north in the mountains now known as the Cairngorms. He spoke of others of his kind there and how his people had been asleep, hibernating if you will, for a long, long time. They had awoken only recently, and they had swiftly discovered that none of them could recall much of their time before the sleep, although most were certain that there had indeed been a time before. They had discovered old ruins, crumbling and overgrown, that they felt a kinship with a sense of place and belonging and they swiftly came to believe that this was their old home, whereupon they set to sorting it out with magic, the aid of spirits and elbow grease. The odd circle of rocks they discovered a few days later, overgrown with vegetation, was sunken in the ground and around it were large slabs of rock and broken steps – perhaps a meeting place, or an amphitheatre? Scattered within the circle were fragments of odd rocks that held a weak magical signature (which they discovered they could sense) had odd runes carved on them. Debate raged about the purpose of the circle amongst those who had awoken. Some thought it held the key to remembering who they were and where they came from. Without more information, however, there was little they could do so they chose instead to disperse into the world and seek out information about the past, their people and the circles.

Efyl and his brothers had travelled throughout southern Scotland. They quickly realised that the peoples of the new world were fierce and distrusting and they learned to travel swiftly and quietly to avoid trouble. Seeking out loners, tradesmen and wise women they began to get clues and rumours about ancient stone cirles and odd stones with runes on. After years, they had gathered several large granite stones complete with runes but had no idea what they were or where they came from. Until one day they came across an old mage travelling swiftly towards Dundee. He was glad of the company for the wilds to the north of Dundee were wild and full of odd creatures and in exchange he told them several tales, including one of an ancient grove he had stumbled on many years ago in the ancient forest of Tentsmuir in Fife. Excited, they left the mages company and swiftly made their way across the Tay near Perth and on to the forest of Fife. It took them almost two years of searching to find the circle. They also found several other stones in the forest, but perhaps the key ind was the granite block within the circle itself. From this they surmised that the stones came from this circle and they reasoned that replacing them might cause the circles purpose to become clear. They had only seven stones, but they put them in place where they seemed best to fit and had planned to set of to find more, but disaster struct. As more stones were placed a dark and fell magic began swirling in the air, catching up the Fey and sweeping through the trees surrounding the circle. Once the malestrom had subsided the Fey discovered the terrible truth as a dark twisted hunger rose in them for flesh; any flesh, raw and bloody, but particularly the flesh of humankind. Efyl was the least afflicted and, with his totemic bond to the Scots Pine trees that surrounded the grove =he was able to channel the sickness in him into the trees to join with their own sickness, and even allowing him to draw some sustenance from the trees to prevent him needing flesh. The link was difficult and tiring to maintain though and left him weak.One unexpected bonus of this was that the trees themselves became capable of sustaining his less fortunate brothers, although in doing so they weakened Efyl. Unfortunately they had already preyed on several denizens of the forest by then including people. Some had even escaped from their grasp, their eventual fate unknown. Even so, it was a blessing. With Efyl weak and unwilling to leave the totemic trees they were tied and it seemed doom was inevitable. All they could do was wait, and hope that someone, someone with pity and love in their heart, found them in time.

The party questioned the creature at length but he knew little of use about the origin of the dark affliction or how it might be broken, beyond that ti was associated somehow with t he circle but that he felt in his heart that the circle was not meant for darkness. As they spoke of his people though, he did recall one thing – an ancient legend, told more as a story for children really, but if it were true it might just be Elara and Dundee’s salvation – although not his. He told them a tale about a war of long ago between his people and the Old Man of the Sea, an ancient cantankerous god-like being and his sea servants. In the tale, the great battle was fought on shores just south fo the Tay, and was fought over a Fey Princess called Mab, who had been kidnapped by the wicked sea king. The tale went that the battle was furious and the Fey were loosing but then, suddenly, in the midst of disaster, they suddenly won! The princess and the mighty Finn, a hero of the grey Men, appeared mid battle and led the retreat fo the Fey forces inland where the sea spirits could not follow. The success was bittersweet though for in the aftermath they learned that during the battle King Tita of the Grey Men had been struck down and, it was said, slain. The body had not been discovered however and it was rumoured that the king had survived, a prisoner himself of the Old Man of the Sea in place of the princess.

It was a long short, but if the legend was true, and if they could summon the Old Man of the Sea, and if they might persuade him to part with King, it may be that the king would recall the time before the great sleep, remember the purpose of the circle and how they worked. He might be able to help them cure the disease, reinstate the circle and… perhaps even return to his people. Magic came naturally to the Fey and summoning in particular and instinctively Efyl knew that with the help of the mages in the party, some powerful magical ingredients, and something suitably bloody to get the Old Mans attention, he might well be able to guide them with the summoning. He also knew he was dying and would soon become one of the dark creatures that his brothers had become. He didn’t want that and so if this long shot might cost him his life? Well, that was mostly spent anyhow and soon would fall. Better to offer some small hope, rather than none at all.

The party (some of them at least) were convinced enough to try and so, lifting the weakening Efyl in his arms, Murdo (Murdoch) and the others headed for the beaches of Tentsmuir as fast as they could. Motivated and with Elaras candle fading, they made it extremely quickly and with little incident and, with the sun due to set within a fe hours they set about making fires and beginning the ritual….

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Fog & Firs in Fife

The party headed east along the coast road of Fife, the views across the silvery Tay and out into the Northern Sea obscured by a low grey haze of cloud and fog. The road quickly became little more than a rutted track but the journey was uneventful until an armed rider was spotted closing fast from the direction of Newport. The party quickly realised that is was Sir Arthur who, having obtained information about which way the group went from the peasants in Newport, quickly closed the distance with the group with his horse. His arrival lead to a somewhat tense standoff between the noble warrior and the rest of the group but, once they were assured of his intent, the frosty atmosphere warmed a little. The group decided to camp where they were since evening was upon them. With the exception of a slightly embarrassing slip in the middle of the dark night by Cid, as he visited the jakes, the evening passed uneventfully. The next morning the day was cold, damp and grey; a fine Fife day. They travelled in relative quiet along the coast road until, shortly after midday, slinking out of the greyness ahead of them, was the edge of a large, wild old-growth forest, packed with Scots pines, Birch, Oak and Yew trees – the Tentsmuir forest.

As they entered the forest thei[Elara[:agnes | Agnes]]r horizon shrunk. The branches of the trees knitted into a roof above them, the leaf mulch and pine needles that carpeted the floor deadened the small sounds of the wild and lent a damp, woody living smell to the world. Agnes quickly took charge and shortly led them off the road and through the forest proper towards her home. She had instructed them to remain on the path she broke for them and not to stray but, as the afternoon wore on a heavy mist began to rise from the warm earth of the forest, deepening the shadows of the trees and making the place feel claustrophobic, cold and a unwelcoming. Agnes, of course, thought nothing of it – it being perfectly normal weather for the damp Fife forest – but some of the others were not so comfortable, and as the afternoon stretched on and Agnes finally called a halt for a break, they discovered that two of their group, Cid Sitron-Blodåre and Sir Arthur, were missing. A swift search ensued that threatened to result in even more of the group isolated and lost, but some clever tracking from Fen and Murdo, a little cleverness from Cid Sitron-Blodåre with a guards bell, a little persistance from Sir Arthur, combined with a little magic from Orion, and they were recovered in pretty short order. Sir Aruthurs steeds were not doing well with the dense forest ground, but they were close to Agnes’ home now and it was agreed that Ages would lead them there and stable them while the rest continued their journey deeper into the forest on foot. At her home, Agnes picked up a few supplies after tying up Angus’s horse. She noticed while she was there that a few bits had been moved – nothing taken, but definitely things moved.

Rejoining the rest of the group Agnes led them further into the forest until, at last, through the creeping mist they came to one of the black trees. The trunk was thick, gnarled and a charcoal black. Above, twisted branches bore a crown of leaves like shadows and below a carpet of fallen leaves pooled like ink on the ground. As they approached the leaves on the ground crumbled softly as they stood on them and several members of the group picked some up, wrapping them in cloth, despite Agneses protestations that they touch nothing to do with the tree. The parties curiosity grew and, after some study, they decided to attempt to summon any spirits that might be associated with the tree. Elara and Agnes began a ritual summoning and a few minutes later the profile of a small, spikey, olive-green figure began to emerge, twistingly, from the ashen trunk. The figures liquid black eyes flicked from Elara to Agnes and back again before it began to speak urgently in a language they didn’t recognise much of. Soft, round and guttural the language sounded exotic and fluid and a few of the group recognised a few familiar sounding words; ‘help’ ‘hurry’ ‘coming’. Worse, the creature did not seem familiar with scots or english. After a few increasingly frantic attempts that seemed to focus on Elara the figure finally tugged a spindly thin arm loose from the trunk of the tree and held it palm out, five twiggy fingers up, inviting Elara to touch its hand. Elara did just that and as their palms touched, with a jolt, the creatures soft sibilant voice echoed in Elaras mind with the words, “Hurry! Prepare yourself! They’re coming!” Relaying this to the group, tensions were suddenly raised and defensive positions taken, even as movement was spotted through the swirling light mist and the tangle or branches. Ever the first to the fore, Murdo was closest to the creatures and two of them flew at him even as his knives flashed out at them. The creatures were small, no more then three feet tall, fine-limbed and spiky. In many ways they resembled the figure half-protruding from the tree, but darker, malevolent, twisted and hungry – a lot like the trees themselves. Murdo almost cut one of them in half even as the tow of them struck and tore at him with thorny protrudances. Fen went on the defensive, while Agnes and Elara hung back by the ritual circle. The others rushed to engage the creatures when a third appeared behind the others. This one moved lithely, using all fours as she swept through the forest before stopping and thrusting its hands into the cursed leaf mulch as the echoes of magic span through the mist – and suddenly the floor of the forest was alive. Insects, bugs, spiders all of them fled from her magic and, in their magic they swarmed over everything in their path. They sought out every nook and crany, got into every chink in armour, and sought out every orifice as they sought to get away, and in their flight and pain they bit, pinched and stung driving the people in their way wild and making it almost impossible to concentrate on anything else. Only Murdo and the two creatures escaped the swarm. Despite this, several of the party managed to act – Agnes summoned a protective water spirit and Cid Sitron-Blodåre summoned an earth spirit, a mossy overgrown tortoise that more resembled a bounder than any living creature, to come to his aid. Fen rushed to assist Murdo and and Arthur tried desperately to form a defensive line in fornt of the ritual.

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The hangover

The the cold crisp light of a new dawn, the city and tis heroes awoke from the terrors of the previous night fragmented and with no clear plan. A short distance from the city square, in the Cracked Cask Inn, Agnes and Elara a’ Tog awoke to something of a hangover. Orion Pendragon joined them after his fruitless night-time ramblings, even more grumpy than usual he was unadvisedly sharp and terse with Elara whose dour mood prompted an unusually sharp reply – everyone was in a fine mood! Cid Sitron-Blodåre awoke in his hovel in the slums, clear headed but bruised and aching, not knowing if it was safe for him to walk the streets. Fen MacBás also awoke in in a hovel in the slums, clear headed and largely unhurt but wondering what was to become of the city and the day. Deputy Sherrif Struman awoke tired, cold and damp in a small dark cell beneath the Earls mansion, the chafing from the manacles still raw on his wrists. Murdo awoke well rested but bruised, battered and aching from the near-death experience the night before. His bed had been soft and inviting then but perhaps he paid for the comfort now. And finally Sir Arthur Fergusson awoke from the comfort of his bed his town house, warm, well rested, and relaxed. The day, and his mission from the Bishop stretched out with promise before him.

Murdo and Fen sought out the others, looking to find their companions and tell them of the evens of the night before. Fortunately a grizzled orcish crone with money in the wealthy end of Dundee is not hard to find and they located the Cracked Cask without too much trouble.As Murdo, Fen, Agnes and Elara compared notes and decided onMurdo a course of action, Orion, frustrated and worried by the theft of his sword and his masters book a few days previously decided to go and check a few smiths shops to see if any had heard of the crimson blade. He visited two in the better end of Cowgate to no avail, although they did point out that they were honest businessmen who had no truck peddling stolen goods. For that they suggested he might like to try the Docks.He returned to the Cask to check up on the othersElara before heading to the docs and found them leaving, to pay a visit to the Sheriff and, if possible, his deputy. Orion agreed to meet up with them later int he city square and, in the mean time, headed out to the docks in search of his lost possessions. Once there he quickly found himself pointed in the direction of the shady character named Duncan, know colloquially as ‘the Duke’. Some urchins (after relieving him of a few minor possession) pointed him to a nondescript looking warehouse. He knocked and was greeted by a large gentleman with more muscle than was good for a man, who told him that Duncan was currently indisposed but that he could wait if he wished – which he did. Inside the warehouse was, surprisingly, mostly empty. Just a small collection of barrels, chests and crates at the far end, deep in shadow, gave an indication of the properties business. After a short wait, which did little to lighten Orions mood, he was shown through eventually to a small run-down room at the back of the warehouse where he was greeted by a small, relatively nondescript rat-faced man with a heavy Dundonian accent. Orion immediately enquired about the whereabouts of the sword and the book whereupon Duncan, ever the shrewd businessman and never one to give his hand away, dissembled and asked for some more information about these items. He shrugged when asked whether he had seen them and said it was difficult to know without details; Where had they come from, how could he recognise them, what were they made from, how old were they etc etc, Orion, clearly getting frustrated byt he course of the conversation began to get angry and even went as far as to threaten Duncans life lest he tell him what he knew. Duncan, pasuing for a moment, with the large gentleman looking behind Orion, clearly deCided that this young upstart was merely high spirited and defused the awkward situation by laughing at the elfs bravado. Even as Orion stalked from the building, laughter ringing in his ears, he heard Duncan call out that he hadn’t seen either item but that he would keep an eye out for them.

Meanwhile, at the city guard house the conversation with the Sheriff proved interesting. They learned a little about the standoff between the guards and the churches men and that the Earl hadn’t really wanted to arrest Struman but saw little other choice in the circumstances. Certainly leaving him in the hands of those thugs was not a pleasent idea. The Sheriff assured them that the earl would find some nobles to stand with him in trial of Struman and that should see the end to it, but in the mean time he would have to be seen to be contained. The Sheriff asked them more questions about the creatures and about how to find them and stop them. He seemed stressed, desperate, almost a little panicky about the situation. They group reassured him that they were working on the problem and had a good lead in mind but that they would need equipment for their journey. They told the Sheriff that Struman had suggested that they might get some equipment from the Guards armoury for their journey. Clearly willing to do almost anything to resolve the problem the Sheriff agreed, and told them that if they wanted to see Struman they would have to speak with the Earl, but he stressed that they must hurry to find whatever solution they had for the plague of creatures.

They equipped themselves with basic but decent quality armour and weaponry from the armoury and headed off to meet Struman. Luckily for them, Struman had received a visit from the Earls Castilian just an hour earlier explaining the Earls position and reiterating the need to find a solution to this problem. The need was so pressing that the Earl had instructed the Castilian to, under a veil of secrecy, release Struman and disguise him so that he might resume his mission. With a wig, some old clothes and a little rouge he was suddenly a different person and they group would have walked right past him had Fens sharp eyes not spotted some similarity of form. They spoke briefly and swiftly in a small alleyway and decided that it would be best not to draw attention to Struman despite his disguise. They swiftly discussed plans and agreed that they needed to travel to Agnes’s hope to find these trees from Elaras vision. They agreed to meet up again on the other side of the Tay, in the fledgling town of Newport. Then they parted company and Fen and the others made a show of purchasing some breakfast and eating it, before heading themselves to the city square, the docks and across the river by ferry.

As the group crossed the square, Sir Arthur watched them from the eves of the cathedral. Morning sermon had finished and he had anticipated that sooner or later thry would make their way through the square and he was not wrong. He did not rush to join them though, instead waiting for them to cross the square and following them at distance. As the crossed the square heading for the docs Cid furtively darted fromt he shadows, wincing as he moved, and met with them. A swift discussion of the night before followed but they all agreed that a more protracted discussion would have to wait for the evening as they had hours of travel in front of them. Heading tot he docs as a large group they hired one of the numerous ferrymen to shuttle them across the Tay. The large ferryboat, loaded down with supplies and passengers slowly poled and steered out into the silvery Tay which was eerily wreathed in a cold grey haar. On the far side, in the small parochial town of Newport our heroes gathered themselves and their supplies and, after meeting up with the disguised sherrif, they headed out towards the ancient forest of Tentsmuir.

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The Fire and the Flood

Deputy Sherrif Struman, Cid Sitron-Blodåre and Murdo (Murdoch) rushed to find the Earl to tell him that they had failed to find a cure – not that there wasn’t hope, but that they had nothing to stop the churches imminent ceremony. The Earl was not happy, but he was resigned to the truth and resolved himself to condemn the young man to die and to side with the church in the cleansing of the slums. He marched tot he ceremony with armed men, dogs and Struman, Cid and Murdo by his side.

Meanwhile, Fen MacBás had rushed back to Dundee and on to his appointment with Kathryn Ferguson. He snuck into the grounds of the Ferguson estate, as usual, but instead of waiting for him, he found Katheryn collapsed in the recess of the rear door. Worried both for her and for his own discovery, Fen quickly checked he and, determining that she still lived, attempted (successfully) to wake her. Awake but shaky, she asked weakly for the apothecaries concoction. Fen was reluctant to give it to her, seeing the apparent effect it was having on her health, but she insisted and eventually he relented. She took it immediately and, standing weakly began to struggle back in to her house. Pausing at the door, she asked Fen a favour, though she wouldn’t meet his eye. Would he would return on the morrow to deliver a package from her to the apothecary? Fen reluctantly agreed. His task finished, he left the Ferguson estate and headed to the city square to witness the churches burning.

Agnes, Elara a’ Tog and Orion Pendragon returned to Dundee and, finding the university largely deserted (with people mostly headed to the city square) they headed out to a tavern for a comfortable night (Ages having extorted some significant funds from Deputy Sherrif Struman in exchange for the promise of her valuable information. They headed to The Cracked Cask where they enjoyed a largely undisturbed, if somewhat drunken beginning to the night. At least until it began to rain.

As the Earl and his retinue enteres the square the crowd was gathering. Deputy Sherrif Struman and Cid Sitron-Blodåre headed into the crowd while Murdo (Murdoch) sought a more distant, higher, vantage point for proceedings on top of the Phoenix Inn. As the Earl stepped onto the wooden platform beset with three large throne-like chairs, the
atmosphere was oppressive. The clouds above were black and pregnant with rain and the promise of a storm, swirling eerily over Dundee. The air was heavy, charged, and wet. The crown murmured uncomfortable and clearly recognising the ephemeral sense of foreboding that washed around the night…

Chanting filled the air along with the scent of jasmine and incense as the bishop and a formal procession came from the cathedral. He was flanked by two of the sacred warriors and the scarlet-wimpled beautiful nun and Sir Arthur Fergusson, but the procession itself was larger, with priests, the choir and lay people in their robes. And to the rear was the last of the two holy warriors the Bishop had bought with him from down south, flanking the creature, shackled and manacled, snarling in wide-eyed madness and hunger at the crowd. The manhandled him up onto the pitch-soaked pyre even as the rain fell and shackled him firmly to the large trunk in its center.

The Bishop, Earl and the scarlet wimpled nun took their positions on the raised stage, each sitting on a throne-like chair (the nuns, slightly lower than the other two). As the chanting finished and the priest benedictions to God waned, the Bishop stood and spoke, welcoming the crowd to come and see Gods justice done, welcoming the Earl for attending to show Dundees commitment to the lord and the justice and the protection of his people. And he began to proselytize. As the sermon came to the end the Bishop called out to one of the waiting priests to light the pyre and burn the sinful Spawn of Satan, even as the light rain began to intensify! Three times the priests tried, but their torches would not light despite the hot braziers and even the pitched-soaked wood of the pyre refused to catch. Indeed, every flame in the vicinity was extinguished by the falling rain – very odd indeed! The Bishops expression darkened in anger and the scarlet wimpled nun swiftly came to his side and they whispered in urgent conversation. The bishop then called out over the crowd that they needed to hear their faith in God. The scarlet wimpled nun fell to her knees in front of the Bishop and he sheld her hands in supplication as he began to prey.

Some distance away in The Cracked Cask, Elara a’ Tog and Agnes looked out on the ominous looking crowd and the intensifying rain and, suspecting magic, switched their vision tot he flickering astral plane, only to be amazed, delighted and not a little awed byt what they say. For every single raindrop – tens, hundreds of thousands, maybe millions – each one was a tiny water spirit, dancing and sparking joyously as they fell to earth, consuming each and every flame that they touched. It was simply a beautiful display of immense magical power. But whom?

Back att he city square, the crowd didn’t know it but a fell magic overtook them as they joined the bishop in prayer – dragging at their spirits, their auras, siphoning their energy. Only Cid was immune for he crushed the dragons gift under his boot even as the magic took hold and it shielded him and protected him. At the culmination of the prayer the nun called out in religious ecstasy and a tendril of pure flame, a thick, burning, twisted whip sprung from her right hand. She stood, a look of exaltation in her eyes and she turned to the crowd – the rain falling on the whip sizzled and popped and evaporate in tiny puffs of steam. She called out to the crowd to witness Gods will and drew back the whip to ignite the fire, but then paused as Cids nervous voice called out over the pregnant silence of the crowd interrupting her. She fixed him with a cool gaze and asked him if he had welcomed god into her life. He verbally dodged and weaved, tried to evade giving the straight answer of ‘no’ but she saw through his simple deception and when he had finished she asked him if he would like the light of god in his life – gesturing emphatically with her whip. The question was rhetorical and she drew back that terrible lash of flame and smote it down – not on Cid, but on the pyre which exploded into an inferno of fire and the poor creatures screaming. As the crackle and pop of the flames mingles with the piteous cries of the creature and the stench of burning putrid flesh the nun gestures with the lash towards Cid and instructed the paladins to arrest the heretic and confine him in gods chains.

Meanwhile, up on the roof of the Phoenix inn, Murdo had had enough of this and, deciding that he didn’t need to watch more sermons and a child burn, he moved to get down from the roof. As he did so however, his enhanced senses gave him pause. Something wasn’t right. The edge of the thermal glow of a sizable gathering of people could be seen cominf from an alleyway nearby, and faint sounds of fighting. This didn’t look good – perhas troublemakes, or revelers drunk before the night had even begun? Either way he decided to investigate. As he climbed down Fen MacBás emerged from the shadows to join him. Softly theymoved to the alleyway only to come across a startling sight. A mass of the dead awaited them, through at first they were squabbling, fighting over something… over someones.. over some corpse. Quiet as the pair were, the creatures senses seemed attuned to something else and as they looked on ten pairs of sightless blood-red eyes turned to fix on them. A moment hung in the air and even the rain seemed to slow its inevitable descent. Then things erupted. Fearing they were outmatched and would both perish Murdo shouted to Fen to flee and raise the alarm, and he charged at the mass or pockmarked at rotting flesh. Fen, however, did not listen. His blood sung at the challenge of battle, the spirit of the wolf that was his totem urged him on and he followed Murdo into the fray – much to Murdo’s astonishment! Things did not go well for the duo. Murdo got in a few good hits on several of the creatures but was rapidly overwhelmed by the weight of numbers of the creatures, who struck him down and then began to eat… They swiftly recoiled however spitting his blood and gobbets of flesh to the ground, clearly unhappy connoisseurs!

Fen survived attacks from the few who hadn’t focussed on Murdo, but after Murdo fell and the creatures distaste as his flesh became clear, their blind-red eyes turned hungrily to him. Faced with this horror and horrible odds, discresion became the better part of valour and he fled, leaving his dead friend behind. The creatures, fast and hungry, pursued. Fen headed initially towards the city centre but then, seeing the crowd and fearing the death and terror the creatures would cause for those gathered there, he turned south trying to lead them away and then hoping to loose them and loop back round to check on his friend. And some did indeed follow him but he was so fast that six of the creatures were trailing and suddenly became distracted by the large crown of yumminess in the city square.

As they charged into the rear of the crowd panic erupted as they tore and bit at the flesh of the living. That was not the only panic however for, fearing the loving ministrations of the mother church Cid swiftly summoned aid to his side in the form of a giant bear spirit, all curled dark smoke and crimson glowing eyes. With hindsight this may not have been the best choice, for the crowd around him erupted with screams and cried of “Demon!”, “Satans Servant!” and “Run!” and panic set in. It did, however, impede the paladins, buying him time for him to tell his servant to get him out of there. It seized him and with him in its mouth the spirit fled, running at first then swiftly leaping into the sky heading west.

Meanwhile, Fen had successfully escaped from the creatures and had headed round to see if Murdo still lived. Astonishingly, when he got to the place Murdo had fallen the body had vanished. A quick investigation showed blood smears, and a dragged footprint heading back toward the square, telling the story of his recovery. Quickly Fen followed, hoping to catch up with the injured warrior. Murdos amazing recovery had come thanks to to blessed rain of water spirits who danced over the wounds of those they fell on, knitting flesh and binding wounds. Although the effect was small, it had been enough to bring Murdo round and getting him to his feet. Brave (some might say foolhardy!) to the last, and knowing the creatures had left and were probably headed to the poor crowd of Dundonians in the city square, Murdo rushed as swiftly as his remaining wounds would allow in an effort to rescue them from their inevitable fate. He was not as fast as usual however and Fen caught up with him even as Murdo charged into the rear of the of creatures who were now ravaging the panicking crowd. Fen joined the fray and spurred on by heroism they began to overpower the vicious hellspawn but were too busy to look up as Cid sailed above their head in the grip of his giant crimson-eyed spirit bear.

The bear and Cid were headed east and moving fast, but things were not going to be so easy. Some way behind, the scarlet-wimpled nun had fixed them with a stare. Her lips moved in silent prayer and suddenly, without warning, the bear vanished – banished by the power of God back to Shaitans realm. Of course, this left Cid with a difficulty, moving hast, 40-odd ft above the ground with no means of support or propulsion. He smashed into the wall of the Phoenix Inn with a bone-crunching thud and slid down, unconscious and dying to the floor. Once again, the healing properties of the rain spirits worked their magic and, miraculously, a few moments later he came too. Even more miraculously, he was not in chains; a combination of panic, ghoulish cannibal creatures and armed men faced off near the front of the crowd causing plenty of distraction for the authorities. Swiftly he slunk away.

At the front of the crowd, as the scarlet-wimpled nun finished her prayer and scanned the crowd, her eyes fixed on Deputy Sherrif Struman and her lips curled in a slight smile. Her voice echoed in his mind “Hello, my love. Its been too long…”. Suddenly, and to those around him inexplicably, he drew and levelled his mighty crossbow at her, calling out to arrest her in the name of the Earl. The paladins were not pleased and rushed to intercept and manhandle the deputy – whose cadre of city guards were equally unhappy with that idea. The Bishop whispered sharply to the earl and then he, Sir Arthur Fergusson, the nun and several priests left the stage and hurried swiftly though the rain back to the cathedral. The earl, meanwhile, intervened in what was becoming a tense armed standoff and a few minutes later had talked the situation down with his usual gruff charisma. Deputy Sherrif Struman yielded to arrest for threatening a servant of God and the church going about her business, and yielded his bow up tot he paladins, however the Earl had refused them permission to detain him themselves, pointing out forcefully that the Earl and his men were the Law in Dundee, appointed by the King himself, and that the church had no right to detain the citizens of this city. If they had a complaint or need of redress they must come to the Earl who would deal with it. And so Struman was lead away in manacles by his own men, even as the crowd dispersed and the pyre burned low – the ashes of the pitiful creature indistinguishable from the remains of the wood from which it was made.

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Say hello to my little friend

Everything became a blur of motion. Sorry yelled. Giggles laughed uproarously. Murdo swore. Violet began shouting at Giggles. Fen dashed forward with a bandage. Elara collapsed and began fitting. Cid rushed to help Elara, as did the newly arrived Orion Pendragon. Fortunately everybody kept a cool head and within a few moments the wound was bandaged and Elara was no longer writing in agony on the floor. There was much shouting, some sulking and a ‘heatfelt’ apology from Giggles. During the chaos Fen noticed that, on the astral plane, some form of energy had pulsed from Violet to Sorry, and in turn from Elara to Violet. A short while later and the group were ready to leave, but a few people decided that they would like to meet stitches before they went to see if she was OK. Sorry wasn’t really keen on the idea, but Struman, Cid and Fen insisted and Sorry took them into the castle ruins to see her. In the dark room, barely lit by the flickering of a small file, Stitches was sat, rocking, in a corner, gently singling “Twinkle, twinkle little star” while playing with her arms. They moved around the room and tried to talk with her but got no sensible response, that is until Cid decided that he might get a reaction by letting a little blood flow and took his knife out to cut himself. Fortunately Sorry stopped him before he made such a reckless mistake. Something he said made Stitches react though and she told them that she was hungry… so hungry, but the reason she was there was that she was that she wouldn’t hurt anyone again. She was twitchy and jumpy, particularly at the sight of Cids knife, so they decided to leave her be. Swiftly the group headed round the mountain, the scenery turning from Scottish lowland wilderness to volcanic wasteland as the move onto the north side of the Law. As they climbed up the now-cold lavaflow, the deepening chasm on the left hand side, the astrally sensitive members of the group quickly noticed the significant number of wards and alarms they were passing through, although they didn’t appear to do anything, at least anything obvious. It was at least the 8th ward before the large stone in Strumans pocket began to vibrate and grow warm. Touching it gently with his hand he spoke with the Great Dragon Hestaby. She was warning him that she feared discovery and that she might have to destroy all those approaching her lair! Fortunately Strumans reassures her that it was a group with him, that he thought they were trustworthy and discrete. She allowed them to enter the mountain; through he door, down the slowly curving descending passage and into her lair near the heart of the volcano.

As they entered her lair they marvelled at the powerful magic that formed a large part of one wall of the cavern, holding back the living lava of the volcano that lit the space with a writhing yellow-orange glow. A few people picked up some of the odd white stone fragments that littered the floor as they tentatively stepped into the cavern. A grey darkness obscured one end of the large space and a deep rolling voice echoed from it, inquiring who they were, and what they wanted. Reassured by Strumans and with the introductions done, Hestaby stepped from the gloom, revealing herself to the party. The discussion that followed was lengthy and at time difficult. Hestaby inspected the sample of Sorrys blood and confirmed that the malady was indeed caused by a living creature, albeit one that was very small. She confirmed that it was a similar sickness to that afflicting Eonan Da -Sgurr, albeing somewhat different, more violent, faster, in many ways. She also confirmed that Elara a’ Tog was afflicted with the sickness. She listened, concerned, as the party related their tales of the situation in Dundee, and in particular of the church and the new bishop. Murdo revealed that he knew the order from which some of the paladins, at least, were drawn; a crusading group known as the Knights Hospitalier. The Knights Hospitalier have a reputation as compassion keepers of their brothers, protectors and a charitable organization, however Murdo painted a far darker portrait. He named them as a group of highly trained killers, assassins devoted to a strict and fundamentalist interpretation of doctrine – particularly with respect tot he Others in society. Not only that, but he claimed that, in the name of god and believing they were angels, they were known to summon, kill and implant bits of demons and spirits to augment them in their fight. Worst of all, it became clear exactly why he knwe so much about these people – having once been a member of the order himself.

Shocked, the party turned to Hestaby for guidance and assistance. She said that she couldn’t openly extend herself to combat this growing threat, but that she may be able to make life a harder for them. It would come at a cost though, if she acted considerably against the church she would be unable to help Elara and that she might not survive. On the other hand, if they preferred, Hestaby could expend more of her power to assist Elara. She was regrettably unable to cure her, but she could buy her time for the party to find a cure, or perhaps a replacement for the human flesh she would eventually crave. Unfortunately, this would limit what she could do to act against the church. The party chose the latter but before Hestaby could perform her ritual another siezure overcame Elara and she collapsed on the floor. As she thrashed about, in a moment of madness or brilliant, Cid decided to see into her deluded mind and see if he could help her at all. He cast his spell as others held her down and he was assaulted by terrible visions as the infection twisted her mind. A gem of hope was to be found though in the madness, darkness, blood and gore that her twisted mind craved, though he did not know it at first. Within the visions were images or dark, twisted trees with spongely bark that bled dark blood when cut – trees that Agnes recognised from her forrest home. Eventually, as Elara recovered, the group decided that maybe this tree was park of the craving – or the source of the infection perhaps, and resolved themselves to find them. Agnes agreed to show them where to find these trees in her home provided Deputy Sherrif Struman agreed to pay for her medicine from Brother Claudius – a price he willingly agreed to (although one he may come to regret!). With a possible solution in hand Hestaby performed the ritual to buy Elara the time she may need and with that they left her lair, though many resolved to return afterwards.

The group returned to Dundee, fragmenting as they went. Fen arrived first, eager to make an appointment. Struman, Murdo and Cid arrived next, followed finally by Elara, Orion and Agnes… just as the crowd began to grow in the city square, gathering around the newly build pyre.

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Out of the mouths of Babes

A short while (and a trip to the butcher) later and Father Christopher returned tot he church. Fen MacBás went to speak with him, to see if he could or would help them and he found a troubled priest. Father Christopher was considerably conflicted.by the Bishops sermon – on one hand he is a Bishop and he was preaching what the mother churches doctrine, the word of God, but on the other hand it felt wrong and hard, without any of the forgiveness and compassion that he saw in Christs teaching. He told fen that he could not go against the church but that equally he would not support and aid in a pogrom red too for so long. Seeing that the priest was in a difficult situation Fen left without making his life harder.

Elara, Fen and Murdo decided that they would pay a visit to Violets parents and see what they might tell them. When they got there they found an empty house and a cold hearth. Outside there was little sign of the way they went and the neighbors knew little of use – It seemed that Violets parents had left earlier in the day and had headed north towards the main road, but beyond that who knows. With night deepening they decided to stay in Violets home and await the morning. As they talked Elara persuaded Violet to take them to see Sorry in the morning, to where they lived.

They left early in the morning shortly after the bells had called the faithful to morning mass, hoping to avoid as much attention as possible. Meanwhile Sir Arthur Fergusson, Agnes and Deputy Sherrif Struman went to the Cathedral for morning mass, and to see the Bishop for themselves. The service was a less fiery and lacked the theatrics of the previous sermon but it was orthodox and pointed. Perhaps most notable was the absences at the morning service – the armed and armored knights and the Nun, the Earl and his family and some of the nobles of the city. The mood in the church was taught, like a bowstring held half-ready to be drawn tight.

While the service ran, Cid Sitron-Blodåre paid a visit to Duncan The Duke where he not only found a place to trade any useful bits he might find, but he also persuaded Duncan to keep and bring to his attention any interesting items he might come across. He headed back up to the town square and met up with Orion Pendragon and Agnes and Deputy Sherrif Struman as they left swiftly after the morning service. Concerned they decided to try and find the others but then realized that they did no know where Elara, Fen, Murdo and Violet were. Cid and Orion summoned a gaggle of small spirits and, leveraging their fast movement in the astral they sent them off to find [[:elara-a-tog | Elara], with her extraordinarily bright aura. They quickly located them, heading north, just about to leave the city, and they hurried after them.

A little less than an hour later, having left the slums, the two groups caught up with each other on the road to the ruins of Castle Dudhope. They swapped tales and the mood darkened; things were getting worse and they had to find a solution. Deputy Sherrif Struman began alluding to a friend; someone nearby who might be able to help them, but seemed reluctant to be drawn further just yet. As they entered the abandoned village that had serviced the castles construction, Violet rode on Murdos shoulders pointing the way. The one-road village felt cold and empty and the group were nervous, but as they approached the castle ruins Violet was excited. She asked Murdo to put her down and said that she would go on ahead and speak with Sorry and that she’d bring him back to talk to them. Somewhat reluctantly, and despite Fen wanting to stay close, they agreed and Violet ran off into the ruins and they waited. While the waited Orion went to circle around the castle ruin and make sure that the area was safe. A short while later, and with Orion still off on his own, Violet returned with a young sad looking boy in tow that she introduced as Sorry.

Sorry was cross with Violet for bringing people here, soemthing he told her she shouldn’t ever do, ust as he said that they shouldn’t have returned to the city, and he was reluctant to talk witht he grown up. But with calm reassurance and no little persuasion the group gradually won some trust from him and he began to talk. He spoke of the others, Stitches, Giggles, Fluffy and Hoods; he spoke of how he came to be this way and when it had happened. How it had felt like he was dying for three days after eating a part of that raw rat for a dare. He told them about how he had run away from home after He told them of how he had changed, got better, but hungered to raw flesh and blood, of how he had killed to get it – vermin at first, rats, cats, stray dogs, but then larger animals and even people. He told them about how sad it made him and how he had fled Dundee to the castle ruins after he parents abandoned him for fear of what he had become. He told them about getting lonely and scared, out here on his own, and how after a few days he’d returned to Dundee to see his friends. He told them how first Violet and then Giggles had agreed to stay with him and keep him company. Of how he had bitten them and told them to come and meet him at the castle after they changed. They had come and things had been OK for a while, but then they’d all got really hungry and had been drawn back to the City. While there they had fed and had also come across some other friends they they had bitten. Stitches had been fascinated by them; Fluffy was just nuts and thought it was cool to have red eyes, but Hoods had tried to pick on them. They clawed and bit her to make her go away. They’d all found them out at the castle a few days later. Sorry had told them all that they couldn’t go to Dundee and for a bit they’d done what he told them, but a few days ago Hoods had told him to get lost and she was going anyway. Fluffy went with her and after they didn’t come back that evening Violet had said she was going to find them (although really he thought she just wanted to visit her parents). He’d told her no but she’d gone anyway. And now he was cross with her. Murdo and Fen reassured hum following his revelations and told him they were trying to help, but that they needed some of his blood to give to a friend who might be able to use it to find a way to make them all better. Reluctantly Sorry had agreed.

While the conversation was going on, Giggles had discovered Orion and was playing at annoying him. Sadly for her he heard the group talking with Sorry and was hurrying to rejoin the group. Left to her own devices the ever-so-quiet Giggles had snuck back tot he ruins and waited for her chance to play a joke. As Murdo tentatively knelt in front of Sorry and set his knife on his palm she say her opportunity. “Boo!” she shouted, as she jumped out right next to him, and despite his training and preternatural speed, he nevertheless started in shock, and the knife in his hand drove right through Sorrys hand and out the other scream. He let out a yelp of pain, even as Giggles collapsed on the floor with side-splitting laughter right next to him….

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