Hope. Folly perhaps, but we won a significant victory when we recovered the Sword of Valor. And our handling of the sudden appearance of the Woundwyrm at the ceremony left us feeling confident in our abilities, but a little concerned about the ease with which the enemy infiltrated our supposed stronghold. But our new mission is a clear sign of Hope. An alliance with a dangerous yet powerful leader would change the balance some, and put the crusade back on the offensive, instead of constantly reacting to Demonic incursion. We could take the fight to the Demons. Hope indeed, however tenuous it is.
We head to see the scoutmaster, Generla Guy “Eagle” Bluford – he will give us what information he has on the potential location of our… target – the Mammoth Lord Karringor Half-Face. Word has it the General earned his rank the hard way, working his way up the ranks from that of an enlisted commoner. Now into his 50s, he sports a thick grey mustache and still wears his dusty, old traveler’s hat from his days as a field scout. Rarely seen without his pipe, Guy speaks with a slow, exacting gait, taking his time to think through each question and his response. He has seen a lot in his time and his eyes tell of a man who still sees everything – something I am most familiar with.
He wastes no time and gets down to business. How best to get there? Going around the Wound would take too long. Cutting across the Wound through the Sarkorian Steppes would be quicker, but would still take too much time. Magic teleportation would seem the quickest, but the magic of the Wound would serve to distort our destination possibly sending us hundreds of miles off course. It seems there is no good option, but General Bluford offers a risky proposition – something he speaks of from experience.
The earlier crusades made use of Rifts – demiplanes between the Abyss and our world – to travel and redeploy quickly. It has been some time since they were utilized and those who knew how to navigate and still survive are a rare commodity these days. He knows of a man named Beltran Ravenkin, who his sources have spotted living in the Sarkorian city of Gundrun in the southern Worldwound – not too far to our Northwest. The man lost his wife Bonnie during one of the crusades and has stayed there since. If we could convince him, he would be the best chance to reach the Mammoth Lord quickly while using the rifts
So with little choice, we agree to seek out Beltran. The General instructs us to provision ourselves and our mounts, then meet him at mid-day and he would expedite our journey to Gundrun. When we return, he leads us to a nearby stone. On the way he explains that Gundrun still has some value to the crusades in the flow of information. The crusaders agree to let it be, to not harass the Sarkorians and in exchange the receive intelligence on the movement of Demonic forces. Once we reach the stone he instructs us to each place a hand on it, and we are instantly transported to a new location.
We are still touching a stone, not the same one but one nearly identical, and find ourselves in the forest. Taking a moment to catch our bearings, we find ourselves in a gnarly forest. I notice the remnants of several overgrown trails leading away from the stone, but one that is more regularly traveled, heading off to the Northwest. I reason this is the path we should take, and the rest agree. We lead the horses until we clear the forest then mount up with Gundrun visible on the horizon.
It evening when we arrive in town. The place is pretty run down, clearly suffering from years in the Wound. We spot the lone inn and tavern in town, and head toward the neighboring stable. Entering, there is nobody inside – no attendant. So we stable our own horses and head for the inn. The tavern level is busy, being dinnertime, a loud bustling Sarkorian tavern with music off to our left side. The tavern is shaped like an “L” with the bar just across from the entrance.
Entering I quickly scan the crowd – musicians to the left, several tables full of eating Sarkorians, a pair of curious figures to the right of the bar and a single cloaked figure with his head down in the back corner and a tankard in front of him. That would likely be our man, drowned in the sorrows of his loss. The Barkeep spies us, a man with one arm, and I move toward the bar and ask for an ale and what’s on the menu for dinner. He deftly handles the tankard and keg with his remaining arm, and mentions it sounds like they’ll be having a horse meat special. I ignore the comment and start a conversation that is quickly overcome by my companions ideas on how to handle this situation… much to displeasure.
Lucius is next, he had taken slightly more time to observe the room – relying on his Inquisitorial powers to survey the room. As he approaches and orders a drink he subtly signals to keep an eye on the pair of curious figures. I acknowledge and notice Lathander drink something from one of his custom vials, then he follows in – brazenly asking for the strongest drink and claiming he’ll drink anyone there under the table. This sees the crowd quiet slightly as his display and draws a raised eyebrow from the barkeep, but before they can react further in walks Aldrick.
I don’t know if I’ve ever really described Aldrick in his full regalia. Lucius can command a room through intimidation, Renli through his words and deeds, but Aldrick relies on something more raw. He is fully adorned, far more than anyone in the room, and it is obvious to even the most unskilled and drunken eyes that this man is one who demands attention and respect, and is likely carrying a large purse. At least those who don’t know him think that… my respect only goes so far as his abilities and assistance are concerned. I take no regard for the lavishness of the Asmodean, but in this case… it seems to have caught the attention of the room.
The barkeep engages him quickly and politely, clearly trying to impress Aldrick into spending a fair amount of coin at his establishment. Aldrick quite easily plays the part… too easily… and begins to engage the barkeep back. In the course of conversation the horse meat comes up, and Aldrick strongly advises the barkeep that would not be a good idea. The barkeep is only slightly fazed, but agrees to keep our horses safe for the time being. But then he makes a mistake – in my opinion – asking for Beltran by name. It’s a shame, as this could have gone down quietly, but that was not to be…
The barkeep became adamant, denying the presence of Beltran. The tavern began to quiet again as the exchange continued, with Lucius adding a few choice words, but Aldrick had enough. He mutters a few words and suddenly the bar is turned into hell on earth. Great, never mind flaunting his religion, he actually has to bring us right into hell. The tavern is filled with shrieks and crys, fully terrified by Aldrick’s spell. The barkeep cowers, and Aldrick again demands to know where Beltran is. The barkeep gives him up, pointing to the lone robed figure. As if I had any doubt…
Aldrick tells the barkeep we will use the back room and that we are not to be disturbed. On the way we collect the unconscious Beltrain and Aldrick dismisses the spell as we leave the main tavern room, returning it to normal. I linger for a brief moment to see people returning to normal, then proceed into the room with the rest. Inside Aldrick is casting another spell, and suddenly Beltran wakes up – his head cleared of the drunken fog.
I take a position standing just inside the door which I leave open a crack, listening back across the hall as Aldrick and Lucius begin to… interrogate Beltran while Lathander checks his condition. Beltran is still hung up on his wife and is indeed drowning his sorrows. He tells us the tale of how his beloved Bonnie was lost during the crusades while rift-walking, likely stuck in the Abyss forever. Lucius and Aldrick realize we might be able to recover her, and Aldrick begins to broker a deal to get the man to help us. We would assist Beltran in finding his wife if he assisted us in getting to the Mammoth Lord. Beltran ponders for a while, insisting we find his wife first to keep leverage, but Aldrick eventually convinces him, pulling out a quill to draw up a contract in blood. At that point Beltran is convinced, knowing Aldrick’s faith will not allow him to break that contract.
As the conversation continues, a growing commotion catches my attention. I slip out of the room – apparently unbeknownst to my companions – and slide across the hall to the entrance to the tavern and peer in. One of the curious men from earlier is standing there on a table, inciting the crowd against the southerners. Aldrick’s error was becoming clear, as his arrogance was now starting to work against us. I take my bow out as the crowd is starting to get rowdy, shouting in agreement. As the man continued to a crescendo, he builds on the Sarkorian distrust of the southerners, and shouts “Remember the Red River!” As he does he turns enough so I can see his face. But it is not his face, it is a familiar bronze mask, and I can now see a pendant from his neck… with a symbol of Baphomet on it.
I did not hesitate, striking from my as-yet unknown position I loosed 5 arrows before anyone could react. But my aim is slightly off, and while they take down the man on the table it is not in the manner I desired. He lets out one last cry “Revenge the Red River!” as he topples off. The frenzied crowd surges in my direction, the other curious man – cultist of Baphomet – inciting them further to point of bloodlust. From behind me I hear the door open – the cries of the dying man and the roar of the crowd has alerted my companions to trouble. I manage to drop a half-breed from the surging mob as they approach, and then my companions move up as the mob reaches the doorway.
It is Lucius first, bellowing as usual, but this time effectively intimidating the entire mass with his burning judgment. As they began to cower Aldrick starts to chant, and a calm sweeps over them. Lathander throws a healing concoction to restore the health of some who had suffered under Lucius’ fire. Just as it feels the crowd has calmed and the situation was coming under control, the cultist pushes through the Sarkorian mob and breathes a green gas out of his nose which quickly spreads to cover several of us. Lucius is frozen in his tracks, as is a nearby tiefling.
I shift my fire to the cultist, and Lucius manages to free himself from his hold. He gets angry, slaughtering the frozen tiefling then stepping up and landing a blow on the cultist. After a firebomb from Lathander, the cultist begins to transform, turning into a Gorgon and trampling through our ranks. By now the rest of the mob had been shaken from its calm by the combat and surged, but their poorly aimed blows did little damage.
Fighting continues, some of the bar staff come around the back after us. We can’t quite get to the Gorgon, so Lucius and I start clearing the masses. Aldrick and Lathander manage to cast a spell and bomb the Gorgon. Lathander’s bomb finishes the job, but he also shouts “Revenge the Red River!” Damn, this will not end until we kill them all. The thinned masses surge in further, striking Aldrick. A barmaid surprises Lathander, shattering a beer mug over his head. Almost comical if not for the lethal nature of this combat.
We keep thinning the horde rapidly, killing most but knocking out a few. With a spell Aldrick finally reduces the number standing to one. Lathander steps toward the wounded Sarkorian, pleading with him to stop, to help him find those still living so he can begin healing them. The Sarkorian gives him a look, and almost in slow motion raises his earthbreaker and slams it down on Lathander’s head in a mighty blow. Lathander collapses to the ground in a heap as I drop the Sarkorian in a hail of arrows.
Aldrick rushes to Lathander’s side, checking for signs of life. After a brief moment he declares the man dead, turning and rising. But no sooner does Aldrick stand than does Lathander sit up – alive. Aldrick looks briefly shocked, but brushes it off quickly as Beltran catches all our attention, wailing in shock at the carnage that has ensued over the last few minutes. Aldrick calms him with a soothing word as I move to the door we first entered.
Night had fallen, but it was almost bright as daylight. Torches lighting an ever-growing crowd, and among them I can see more cultists, inciting them. There must be more than a hundred – and their ranks continue to swell. Some throw torches at the bar – enough to set it afire. I relay what I see to the rest of my companions. Aldrick moves alongside as Lucius guides Beltran upstairs to gather his things.
Aldrick shouts to the crowd, trying to pacify them, but it is no use. Even his devil-tongue can’t overcome the chants of the cultists. I had enough, and drop a few cultists. But instead of quelling the crowd a few young Sarkorians charge the door. Aldrick thinks quickly and causes a small tremor, knocking them to the ground. We hear a commotion from the back hall – where we had left Lathander. We head back, Aldrick sealing off the doorway with stone to cover our retreat.
While we were dealing with the crowd outside, Lathander had found some of the Sarkorians in the hall still had some life in them. He spent some time healing them, reviving a few – the Barkeep, his son and another grizzled Sarkorian. The Barkeep, on seeing his dead wife, began to lose it. The other Sarkorian grabs his axe, enraged. Lathander tried to talk him down, promising to revive her in the future.
At this point Lucius comes down the stairs, seeing this, and shouts down the old man. “Enough blood has been spilled this night!” But the man is unfazed. He pushes the young boy aside, calls on the protector of Gundrum and ceremoniously slits his throat. But his body does not fall, it remains standing as it pulses with demonic energy. It transforms into a beast demon, “I am Chaaor, and now you will die!”
I hit the doorway in time to see a bomb from Lathader land on the demon followed by Lucius exchanging blows with the demon – both landing solid strikes. I waste no time as I pump a full volley into the beast. It cries out it agony, demonic energy pulsing again then exploding out of its body as it collapses in a heap. Lathander is knocked down in the blast, as are the other two Sarkorians. Lathander quickly gets back up, but the Sarkorians are finished.
By now the building was beginning to come down around us. Our options were slim with the crowd growing outside. Beltran had the ability to magically teleport us to the stables for our horses. We quickly decide that is the best course of action. He grabs the contract of the back table, and in an instant we find ourselves there. Two young Sarkorians are freeing our horses right in front of us. They panic and run out the stables, leaving the barn door wide open for all outside to see. Beltran suggests an alternative, and again we quickly agree. We teleport again, away from the crowd halfway across town.
Beltran leads us through some alleys to a ruined area of town. The din of the crowd dies off in the distance, but we can still occasionally seen the glow of the fire. We soon come to a dry riverbed with an island across the way – ruins of a massive estate eerily visible. Beltran is confident the townsfolk won’t cross the river – they are afraid of what is on the island. He indicates that is our destination though, and it is the house of the founding clan of Gundrum, Clan Riversoar. We cross the riverbed and approach the ruins, hopeful for a place to recover but not yet sure we’ve found it…