Six Kingdoms

Session 11/7/10
Some light is shed dimly

The enemies defeated, the party found a man chained to a bed in the room near where the last foe had fallen: Neville Sainte-Bayard, the kidnapped husband of the innkeeper Sylvie.

 

Neville is in no condition to talk at any length, even after some magical healing.*  He does reveal that he overheard a man matching Chenault's description talking about a meeting in Saint Francis Square.  The chest in the room belongs to the same man.  He also knows that the man took rooms in the City.    

 

They open the small wooden chest that rests against the wall.  Inside they find a variety of small items, some money, and a letter.  The letter reads

 

Du Mort- 

 

Go to Chalon at once.  House Ducharme's new wunderkinds are investigating the loss of the Rosary.  Avoid them if possible, but make sure they find nothing.  The innkeeper will have to die for a certainty.  There are several of our aumenti at the farm with her husband, including one hunter.  Use the aumenti if you need assistance, and make sure the man dies.  Clean out the farm.  

Return to the Acra when you are finished, Neph watch over you.  

 

The companions now had a name to put to the monsters who had occupied Neville's farm: aumenti.  The word translates rather poorly from Peninsular as "augmented ones," and Morgoth suddenly remembers reading a cryptic reference in his copy of the Lemegeton to "Rituals for Bynding the Disparate Spirits of the Otherworlds Within a Man's Humours," and surmises that this may refer to a process of augmentation. 

 

Such rituals, he informs his fellows, invoke otherworldly spirits into the flesh of a human being, transforming them into something superhuman, or perhaps more accurately, metahuman.  He speculates aloud about the effects that infusion of otherworldly spirit into a man on that man's soul.  Certainly, such an augmentation should not be undertaken lightly, and there is no doubt that the church would consider it a heretical practice.

 

The letter contains other interesting nuggets to the discerning eye of the party.  "The Acra" was an ancient fortress built by the Templars in the Holy Lands that was cast down by the slave-warriors of the God-Kings of Oestera.  It hasn't existed in over a millennium.  

 

"Neph," too, is an interesting word.  The context in the letter suggests that Neph is a being who can guard, like perhaps a pagan god or a guardian angel.  Morgoth also makes a connection with a scriptural passage here.  During the Great Revolt in Heaven, there were not two factions, but three: Eru's adherents and the adherents of his Ancient Foe and those who stood apart from the war.  This third group fell as surely as the second when the Revolt was defeated, but according to some purpose of Eru's or perhaps as a mercy for not taking up arms against Him, were merely cast down to Earth rather than cursed to abide in Hell.  Possessed of the free will of the Fallen, some occasionally came to be masters over the men of the Earth.  Others bred with their human chattels.  On rare occasions, such matings would produce strange and powerful, sometimes monstrous, offspring.  The scriptures refer to these beings as the Nephilim, loathing both their fathers the Fallen and their human mothers.

 

Of course, ancient scriptural references aside, no one has a reliable report of anything resembling a Nephilim in modern times.  

The party has several dilemmas now.  What is this Neph?  Where is this Acra?  Who is making aumenti and using them to steal Church relics? 

 

With many questions but few answers, the party gets some rest and then heads back into Chalon.  They nose around Saint Francis Square and begin investigating inns to see if the key that they found on Chenault / Du Mort opens anything.  After a few days, they try the inn directly across the street from Sylvie's Honeyspring Inn, a place called the Emerald Lancer.  Sure enough, the key found on Du Mort matches the door to a room that the innkeeper is just about to clean out for non-payment.  

 

The party finds another small trunk in the room with a few changes of clothing, some more money, some knives, a clerical collar, the rayed sun holy symbol of the Church, and a small vial of sulfur.  The trunk also contains another short note, in the same hand as the first:

DM-

The courier's name is Jean Cadet.  Lons-le-Saunier, August 5, Wind Dancer.  Bring everything you find to the Acra.  

The trunk also contains a list of 8 names that Bernardine is surprised to recognize as a list of Inquisitors that are based in or near Chalon. 

*In the Six Kingdoms campaign, near-death experiences often have a long recovery time, particularly when either the damage was not purely hit point damage (such as resulting from deprivation) or when the nearly-dead person is an ordinary human rather than a classed individual.  In Neville's case, it was both.   

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Session 11/1/10
Shackles

Dawn finds our heroes moving quickly through streets still mostly empty, bearing the body of an unconscious assassin, bound hand and foot.  Those that do seem them abroad quickly make themselves scarce in the presence of the resolute group of men that have obviously just been in a battle.  

 

At a loss for places to go, the companions go to the house of a solicitor recommended to them by Cyril.  The solicitor grudgingly admits them when their intimate connection the Countess, his employer, is revealed.  

 

Upon being fully apprised of the situation, the solicitor tells them that he believes he can make Bertrand's problem go away if they are able to obtain a confession from Sylvie's actual killer.  The killer is understandably reluctant.  

 

He gives his name as Guillaume Chenault.  Although Chenault is unwilling to give any information about his employer or the purpose in killing Sylvie, he does agree to sign the confession if he is untied and released from the custody of the party.  

 

Morgoth agrees, engaging in a bit of clever wordplay by fully intending to do both of those things, but not in that order.  Guillaume signs the confession, but when Morgoth's treachery becomes apparent, he fills the room with a murky darkness and almost slays the old scholar.  With Morgoth unconscious, Chenault attempts to escape the solicitor's house, but he is severely wounded, bound, and disarmed and can't effect his escape.  He is slain.

 

Before turning his body over to the authorities along with the tale of his death in an attempt to escape, the party discovers a small brass key cunningly hidden in a boot compartment.  They have no clear idea what it opens, however.  

 

The written confession and some smooth-talking from Etienne are enough to clear Bertrand, if barely.  

 

After a well-earned rest, the companions set out to find a weaponsmith who can identify the maker of Chenault's distinctive weapon – a slightly curved longblade with wicked serrations along its convex surface.    After several tries they speak to a swordsmith named Ernest Bayol who is able to identify the blade as fine Toledo steel.  He also shows the party a maker's mark that they can use in Toledo to try and identify the smith.

 

They return to the inn and try Chenault's key on the innkeeper's strong box but find that the key is too large.  It doesn't seem to match anything else in the inn, either. 

 

Stymied on their attempts to locate more information about the Rosary by Chenault's death, they head to Sylvie's farm and apiary outside the city to see if they can find any more information there.   

They find more than they were bargaining for at the farm.  They enter what appears to be a quiet, deserted farmhouse, but they are no more than a few feet into the building when a man leaps around a corner into the narrow hallway where they stand.

 

He is not just any man.  He is shirtless and well-muscled, but is covered on every inch of exposed skin with burn scars in whorls and geometric figures and infernal invocations.  A palpable heat radiates from his skin, and rather than speaking he opens his mouth wide and belches scorching hellfire.  Bernardine takes the brunt of it, crying out.  The templar, daunted but unbroken, surges forward and through the left door, pursuing the man into a dining room.  

A second emerges from a parlor on the right, while three more block exit back out the front door, again breathing fire into the hallway.  The heat scorches the walls and sets small items of furniture on fire.  Valerius steps to the Burned Men outside the front door, using the narrowness of the hallway to prevent them from flanking him and overwhelming with their numbers.

 

After a few moments of this, two of the three Burned Men out the front door begin to sprint with inhuman speed around the outside of the farmhouse, racing for a back entrance of some kind.  Valerius shouts a warning, and the blind friar Cedric moves through the dining room and past Bernardine who, his face transfixed with wrath, has grown to the towering height of eight feet.  

 

Moving into the kitchen just beyond the dining room, Cedric hears the heartbeat of another Burning Man just as it leaps from concealment.  His mace flies up and deflects his attacker's leap, smashing the man into a wall instead.  He can smell the dust as the wall crumbles under the titanic force of his blow.  

 

Etienne blocks the back door as best he can, but is quickly forced into a full retreat back towards the front of the house.  He and Cedric have bought enough time, however, for Valerius and Bernardine to dispatch their foes, and the party makes short work of the remaining enemies.  

 

They hear a bone chilling howl from upstairs.  Bernardine leads the way up the stairs in a rush, finding the top landing blocked by a man even more hideously transformed than the Burning Men.  This one also has some sort of ritualistic tattooing, but his flesh has assumed a deathly gray pallor and Bernardine feels a ball of ice in his stomach that says that this creature is truly unnatural.  

 

With a mighty shout of wrath, he strikes the creature, cutting it from collarbone to hip bone and throwing it thirty feet backwards into a wall where it expires noisily.   

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Session 10/24/10
A respite ends

Having rested and recuperated for over a month, the party swung back into action.  Their cursory investigations into Black Eye Marcel yields little fruit.  

Etienne insists that the party not leave in search of information about the missing Rosary of Saint Willa until after the Summer Solstice has come and gone.  The Midsummer Festival in Coronale is legendary the world over for its flowing wine and beer, its plenitude of music and art, and for the debauched behaviors of the citizens.  Needless to say, these things are all very important to Etienne.  He performs on June 23 and 24 to great acclaim.

On June 25, the party sets out for Chalon to investigate the disappearance of the Rosary.  The journey through the heartlands of Couer au Soleil is uneventful, and they arrive on June 30.  Chalon is a picturesque if small city sitting on the western foot of the mountains.  The city is also the ducal seat of House Burundy.

They make their way to the Honey Spring Inn, where Vignon had been staying when the Rosary was stolen from him.  Entering into the charming common room, they immediately note three knights-templar, immediately identifiable by the clean white tabards with the red shield icon on the breast.  They are greeted by Sylvie, a matronly and efficient innkeeper.  They can't help but notice dark circles under her eyes and the way that her clothes hang off her.  

They secure lodgings and talk to Sylvie about the night that the Rosary was stolen.  She recites the details of the theft as if by rote, having told this story to every passing Templar since it was stolen.  The party gets a private dining room, talking late into the night, and resolving to make further inquiries of Sylvie in the morning.  

Late that night, however, Bernardine wakes to the sound of a scream.  Grabbing his blade, he pounds down the stairs in his smallclothes to find Bertrand standing over Sylvie's body as it spills its lifeblood on the floor.  He has a dagger in his hand, and he says

"It's a mistake!"  Before everyone can wake and assemble, one of the servants has fetched a constable and Bertrand has been arrested.

Bernardine quickly gathers the rest of the companions, and they begin to track the murderer.  Morgoth invokes a cantrip that allows him to see magic, and between Bertrand and Bernardine's skill at reading the ground and Morgoth's skill at spotting residual magic, they soon trace the killer to a rather seedy wine sink.  Walking in the front door, the companions see that there are over a dozen hard men drinking, with no indication which of them is the killer.

Etienne thinks fast, yelling from the doorway, "he's right over there!"  A man in the back of the room leaps to his feet, ripping a jagged black sword from a sheath under his table, and battle is joined.  

Before the man has even drawn blood, his weapon begins to drip dark blood on the floor.  Unfortunately for the companions, Etienne's tactic also has resulted in things degenerating into a general brawl.   The assassin bides his time while the Bernardine, Cedric, and Valerius wade through the toughs in the bar.  When they finally break through, he blurs into motion with superhuman speed, severely injuring Valerius almost immediately.  

Thet battle teeters back and forth.  Valerius falls and Bernardine teeters.  Morgoth heals Valerius, who takes his feet.  Etienne is almost beaten unconscious by a drunk dockworker.  Morgoth shrouds himself in a sanctuary ward and moves calmly through the battle, tending injuries and restoring the fallen.  With a half-dozen of the toughs down, the rest decide they want nothing to do with fighting the formidable companions.  

The weight of numbers finally begins to catch up to the assassin, and he tries to escape.  He calls on Cedric to assist his escape, calling him "my brother," but Cedric knocks him unconscious instead.

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Elsewhere, Part VII

October 31, 1224 J.R.

 

Friedmann Rickert knew himself to be an adept of modest talents but a scholar of the first order. It was precisely these talents that had led the Sons of Trismegiston to appoint him Chief Archivist. The position was everything that he had hoped it would be, filled with long days and endless nights translating and cataloging the texts that flowed into the Archive from all the Earth. His brothers in the Sons would say that most of these texts were dross, composed of documents like inventories of long-lost armories or commentaries on philosophical texts that were themselves lost in the mists of time. Not Friedmann, though – his mind seemed made to sort these documents into frameworks that illuminated a shadowy past.

 

These thoughts and others flitted through his head as he toiled over a scroll from the Eastern Caliphate that was either a collection of children's stories or a record of the names of the Ifrit; it was too early to tell. Blowing gently on the last few lines he had written, he stood up and knuckled the aching small of his back. The candles on his table had burned low and he found himself hunching over the faded vellum that composed the whatever-it-was that he was reading.

 

Arching his back, he felt the satisfying crack that seemed like it must be so loud as to rattle the shelves. It took a moment before he realized that the shelves had indeed rattled, and that it was not his back at all. Focusing his senses outward, he could feel the powers at work – the Citadel was under attack. He scooped up his component pouch and ran from the Archive.

 

 

Hyssumar stood with his brethren, facing down the so-called Sons of Trismegiston. Though they had some strong adepts, they were poorly trained for this kind of battle. Coruscating lights and balls of fire and bolts of lightning assailed him, deflected by his carefully constructed ward of transferred opposition; summoned creatures of earth and fire and wind beat their fists ineffectually against his pattern of the secret pact.

 

The Sons were not so skilled at deflecting the attacks of Hyssumar's circle. Vanguti resorted not to coarse evocations, but to devilishly subtle invocations, with Sons suddenly freezing and then burning without the forewarning of evoked fire or ice. Ezre the Unweaver used her evanescent dissipator to destroy their wards in a blinding backlash of magical energy. Thoun the Binder wielded the befuddling consumption the way an attacking army wields a battering ram, splintering the minds and the gifts of those who opposed them.

 

As a result, the Sons' superior numbers availed them not – 11 adepts became 9 became 5, and their attacks slackened as they desperately sought to shore up their defenses against the Circle. Another graybeard arrived on the walls and joined the battle.

 

 

Friedmann left the calmness of the Archive and strode into a nightmare. The Strength of the Sons standing on the low Citadel wall. Gerold and Johann and Stinswich were obviously dead, victims of powerful energy attacks; Ingeborg was babbling nonsense words, rocking on the ground; Amalia and Reinhold's eyes were wide, their mouths open in silent screams.

 

Friedmann shifted his vision into the magical spectrum and saw the truth. There were only four attackers, but the air was already heavy with residual magic, and none of their enemies was so much as seriously injured. They were protected by wards of infernal complexity, thwarting both attacking spells and summoned minions. The woman was probing at the last-ditch defenses of the Sons, looking for a point to unravel, while one of the men was in the midst of a calling of great spirit of wind. The swarthy man wearing an eastern headdress of some kind was practically cackling the words that maintained those wards. He looked at the fourth man, saw what he was weaving, and cried “Run!” Too late.

 

 

Vanguti watched with satisfaction as he unleashed his most deadly spell, the sanguinous perforation. The remaining Sons didn't even have time to scream before they were torn apart by the invisible iron razors that slashed to and fro in the defined area of effect.

It was a good day – a rival was destroyed and the Archive was theirs.  

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Elsewhere, Part VI

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

“The evolution of the adept towards some kind of apotheosis is a highly personal one that is unique in each individual, based on their gifts, their temperament, and their talent for synchronizing the two. One cannot teach an adept how to shape reality; one can only help him cultivate the proper mental state that he can discover it himself.”

From Chapter One of Will and the Art of Shaping, by Magister Magnir.

“A sense of morality is not a tattoo; it is a shirt.”

Ibid.

Magnir's construct of the mens arcana is a useful one; a magical consciousness that sits astride the consciousness in the way that the superego sits astride the ego. Just as the ego is a balancing point between our survival instincts and our higher senses of morality and community, so is the mens arcana a balancing point of a higher order. It is the place where the adept can find the crucible in which to destroy himself a thousand times and where the only imperative is transcendence.

-Magister Manhue's afterword to Will and the Art of Shaping, date unknown.

July 19, 1224 J.R.

Grandmaster Guillaume-Thibauld de Vichiers stalked down the corridors of the Prelate's Palace in Tiberium, gritting his teeth and ignoring the incessant prattling of Father Bendert. Bendert was expressing the Prelate's great sadness about the attack in florid Soleilan that was nevertheless heavily accented by his Almanian heritage. The words sounded foul in his mouth, and not just because of his accent.

Brother Guillaume had been angry about the loss of the Rosary of Santa Willa, was furious when that woman lost the Star of Michael, but those angers were sparks beside the bonfire off his fury at what had happened next. The Armory of Solomon, sacked! Numerous relics under the protection of the Temple, under his protection as Grandmaster, stolen. Three of his Knights of the Circle of Silence slain there on the floors of the grotto, the wards breached.

And yet despite the overt violence of the attack, this had been an inside job. Formidable though the Armory's protections were, both magical and mundane, its greatest defense had been secrecy. There were few who even knew that the Armory existed, and among those who knew it existed, those who knew its physical location could be counted on a man's hands.

“Father Bendert,” Guillaume interrupted suddenly, turning on his heel to face the man who, despite stopping quickly, found himself just inches from Guillaume's face. Though Bendert was the taller by several inches and was a man of some importance, he shrank back in startlement, his mewling cut off midstream.

“Urm,” he stuttered.

“Where is Father Vignon, Father Bendert? I would like to ask him some questions about the Rosary.”

“Urm,” Bendert began again, “he has not returned from Coronale, Grandmaster. The last I heard, he was staying at the Church of the Ninefold Virtues.”

“No, Bendert. He left the Basilica some time ago. Why hasn't he returned here? Is he acting on the Prelate's orders?”

“Grandmaster,” Bendert temporized, “surely you know that I cannot discuss the counsels given by the Prelate's inner circle, nor can I reveal his orders to us.” Father Bendert spoiled any show of resoluteness by inching away from Guillaume.

“Listen to me, Bendert,” Guillaume hissed, stepping forward into his face, “the Prelate, God bless him, can surround himself with all the sycophantic priests he wants. That is not my concern. When his sycophants start losing relics that are under the protection of the Temple, however, I don't give a shit about propriety. I will find the Rosary, and the Aegis, and the Star, and if I have to string every last damn one of you kittens from the walls of the Prelate's palace by your heels to do it, I will. Do you understand me? Now, where is Vignon?”

Bendert was white as a sheet. Good. “I swear, Grandmaster. I don't know. I know he has family near Chalon. Perhaps he is visiting them?”

Chalon. That damned place kept coming up. Time to go.

August 3, 1224 J.R.

Sister Jousseleau leaned back, luxuriating in the bath. The accommodations in the Basilica of the Southern Sun were adequate, even if they lacked the comforts of her own apartments in Coronale. Still, there were things that needed doing, and Sister Jousseleau was nothing if not committed to duty. Of course, duty was difficult to meet when it was not clear what the duty was.

She turned the problem over in her mind like the spinning wheel in her room at the Abbey of Epsee in bygone days, spinning information into action like she used to spin wool into thread. Usually the why of something presented the hardest question, but this was not a usual situation. No, she knew the reason why these Nephilim were stealing relics and reservoirs of all sort. They did it for the same reason that most adepts do anything: to increase their personal power.

No, it was not the why. It was the who. Who are these Nephilim? Is power the end in itself or were they an arrow aimed at some other target?

The easy answer would be to say that these questions didn't matter, and that so long as they were stealing from the Council and the Church, they had to be stopped. That was true, as far as it went. It was imperative that the thefts be stopped. Even if the Rosary were the last object they stole, though, they would still have the Star of Michael, one of the greatest weapons in the Church's arsenal and one that might allow a sufficiently powerful theurge to do many things, impossible things.

Hence, she found herself here, in Lons-le-Saunier, putting yet another relic into play in hopes that the Nephilim would make a move. When they did, she would spring her trap and see if they were both a match for the physical might of a dozen templars and the cooperative magic of some of the best of the Sisters of the Sainted Sisterhood. She smiled, sliding her head beneath the warm water.

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Session 10/16/10

June 15 1224

We woke this morning with three possible things to do, all interesting and all very exciting.

I.             Jean-Jacque approached Sword Master Valerius with a request.  Upon hearing of our success with the Countess’s mission, he had asked us to escort a Catalan Diplomat to meet with the King of Coeur au Soleil, at his field encampment in Almania.  The journey would definitely be full of excitement and adventure for the others, and give me a chance to continue my study of the land and complete my maps.

II.          A notorious murderer escaped from justice a few weeks back and was believed to be hiding somewhere in Coronale. Jeremie Clavet, the magistrate from Coronale who is in line to become the high judge when the current high judge retires, asked us to help with his search and capture the murderer.

III.        The Rosary of Santa Willa, said to be a true relic of the Seven Sisters, was stolen from Father Vignon while he slept in his rooms at the Honey Spring Inn, a roadside travel lodge located in Shalom.  Sir Bernardine learned of this theft from his Templar brethren.

As it turned out, Etienne refused to leave during the festival. Anything that would need doing and required his presence would have to wait until after the festival activities.  Brother Cedric was advocated leaving him behind to proceed with the investigation of the relic’s theft, but both Thomas and Bertrand would have stayed behind with Etienne.  It was decided to do what we could here in town, and wait for the young entertainer. Brother Cedric was not pleased with the delay.

 

The missing prayer beads belonged to Santa Willa the Humble.  She was said to have stopped a war between Oksandr and East Almania.  Sir Bernardine agreed to escort us to the Templar Chapter House in hopes of finding out more information on the theft, its former carrier, where the relic was being taken and who else knew of its transportation and travel route.  Unfortunately, of all the Templars to run into, Francis Delorge was lounging outside as we arrived.  Francis Delorge, an ambitious Templar and wannabe Inquisitor, confronted us immediately.  Throwing insult after insult at Brother Cedric and me, he literally sent for his horse so that he personally could take me and put me to the Question.  Francis Delorge is convinced that since I mastered religious theory and basic divine Theurgy faster than any priest he knew, I therefore must be somehow linked to the devil and his demonic influences.

Delorge is a very old and prominent family which gives Francis power and makes that power dangerous.  I will double my efforts to remain out of his sights in hopes he finds something else to sport at bullying.

We are saved by the intervention of Sir Jacque Labrousse, the head of the Templar chapter house who spirited us away to his private chamber to discuss the relic’s theft.  He did make a point of warning us not to antagonize Templar Delorge. We learned from him a number of useful facts:

I.            The missing relic was called the Rosary of Santa Willa

II.          It has seven beads, each having a different power it can impart to the true believer who carries them.

III.        The relic is said to be fashioned from a curious purple stone, opaque and hard like a child’s marble but more roughly cut.

IV.        It is reported to have the ability to grant absolution to a sinner for any Sin.  Sir Labrousse knew of three individuals it did this to, but apparently, not without cost.  These three, upon receiving absolution, gave away all of their worldly possessions and joined various branches of the church and monastery.  It was also said to be able to do the following:

1.    Heal disease

2.    Make its bearer immune to poison

3.    Enhance or gift Theurgic ability.

V.          The Prelate of the Church of Eru ordered Father Vignon to bring the relic to Coronale.  He was to take it to Sister Marie Jousseleau who sits on the Theurgic Council as Prime Theurge. 

VI.        Father Vignon works in the house of the prelate and serves as his personal messenger.  He was poisoned causing him to sleep through the theft and a total of 20 hours.  Father Vignon was an “accomplished Theurge”. 

VII.     A select group of individuals knew of the Relic’s transport, carrier and route:  The Prelate, The head of the Templar Chapter House in Shalom, the heads of Lons-Le Saunier, the Prelate’s staff, the Theurgic Council (at the very least the Prime Theurge).

After hearing all that Sir Labrousse had to tell us, we decided to search out Father Vignon.  We learned from Sir Labrousse that he was currently residing at The Church of the Nine Fold Virtues (the Basilica).

 

Surprisingly, Father Vignon, a short, slightly portly silvered haired man, agreed to see us, and provided us with the following facts:

1.     The box that carried the relic was a Theurgic prepared box.  On it was a dweomer that would sound a loud alarm if it was opened without the proper pass phrase.

2.    People in the Inn heard the alarm but didn’t know what to make of it, the poison kept Father Vignon from waking. No one saw anyone or anythinggoing into or leaving either Father Vignon’s room or the Inn.

For us to continue investigating, we would have to leave for Chalon, where the relic was last seen.  We decide to find out what we could about the escaped murderer instead.

 

June 16 1224

We made arrangements to see the Magistrate, squeezing between two of his previously scheduled appointments.  We learned the following:

I.             The murderer’s name is Marcel Melard, known as Black Eye Marcel.  He was last seen in the doc area just last week.

II.          Melard kills his victims and eviscerates them, leaving messages using their entrails taunting other people and future victims. 

III.        There was no discernable pattern to his murder locations, the messages or in the victims he chose.  We asked for a list of victims, their murder locations (or where their bodies turned up) and where they were last seen.  We also asked for a list of guards on duty when Marcel Melard escaped the Bastille.

 

We weren’t able to speak to the Magistrate for very long, but he promised to have the lists sent to us as soon as he could.  When we returned to the Ducharme Estate, a letter was waiting for us from Father Vignon.  He wanted us to come and meet with him at our earliest convenience.  We left straightway.  Father Vignon learned that there was another sister on the Theurgic Council who was very envious of the Prime.  Sister Valentine thinks herself a more talented and accomplished Theurgist compared to the Prime, but was not as politically savvy.  Currently Sister Valentine serves as secretary to the Prime.  This might be motive.

 

June 17 1224

The lists arrive from the Magistrate:

1.      Murder One

a.    Victim:  Sailor 

b.    Location:  Docs

c.     Message: none

2.     Murder Two

a.    Victim:  Cooper 

b.    Location:  Guild Hall

c.     Message: none

3.     Murder Three

a.    Victim:  Metalworker 

b.    Location:  Near Docs

c.     Message: none

4.    Murder Four

a.    Victim:  Mason 

b.    Location:  Tavern

c.     Message: none

5.     Murder Five

a.    Victim:  Courtesan 

b.    Location:  Alley, other side  of town

c.     Message: none

6.    Murder Six

a.    Victim:  Beggar 

b.    Location:  Stuffed in barrel, near Docs

c.     Message: On the floor of nearby warehouse

7.     Murder Seven

a.    Victim:  Soldier 

b.    Location:  Roof of Stables

c.     Message: none

8.    Murder Eight

a.    Victim:  Courier 

b.    Location:  Nailed to a tree, message pouch gone

c.     Message: none

9.    Murder Nine

a.    Victim:  Drunkard 

b.    Location:  wine cellar of a tavern

c.     Message: none

 

 

 June 18 1224

 

With Etienne taking himself out of the picture, Sword Master Valerius and Thomas take on the job of combing the taverns in search of information.  I was quite amazed at the quality of information and efficiency in which they were able to attain it.  Some of the information, however, was either not quite accurate, or disproved as rumor.

 

June 19 1224

Thomas and Sword Master Valerius went out to try to find more information about the murderer.  Again, the information was not as useful as we would have liked, but they did stumble upon something noteworthy.  A dozen soldiers dressed in the King’s Livery were seen heading south in haste on horseback.

 

June 20 1224

The tournaments began today.   Valerius found out that the men from yesterday were the king’s guards.  The diplomat we were asked to escort was kidnapped!  We all felt terrible, but with Etienne refusing to leave as it were, and Thomas and Bertrand staying behind as well, we saw we had little choice. There are mixed feelings in the group. My hope is that the schism is repairable. 

At the tournaments, I saw Rossi brother and his mother, a dark raven haired beautiful young woman.  I joined them and they were courteous in offering me food and wine.  I noticed that the others in the stands were giving them a wide birth, the closest a good ten feet away.  During the fights I caught a glimpse of something powerful and forbidding about her. She is more than her appearance portrays and I understand now why the other observers kept their distance, whether knowingly or not.  Jean-Carlo fights the student of one of the five great sword masters of the land’s, Ignacio de Vega.  Jean-Carlo demonstrates incredible speed and strength, but in the end, Ignacio de Vega’s student’s skill is too superior for him to overcome.  Jean-Carlo’s younger brother was extremely bored with the competitions and obviously did not want to be there.  Jean-Carlo won all his matches save this one.

June 21 1224

Girard Thibault d'Anvers student is beaten by Brice Desnoyers (a nobody), who also later beats Ignacio de Vega’s student’s.  This is a surprising upset at the tournament. 

 

 

June 22, 1224

First day of the festival. Brother Cedric starts to fast.  The winner of the Joust, Sir Theophile Bowmont, from the Deutchy of Chabon.  Long brown curls…. It is said by the women who attended that he is quite dreamy.

I found an interesting book at the market.

View
Elsewhere, Part V

May 18, 1224 J.R.

Thomas cursed.  "Damn it man, if your going to fleche, don't gallop at me like a bull!  Approach with a measured stride, then the back foot crosses, like so!"  He hit the man harder than was probably warranted, but really, how many times did he need to be shown the proper footwork?

The man, to his credit, nodded and stepped back into the crowd of onlookers, rubbing at his injured shoulder.  

"You," Thomas ordered.  "On the piste.  Show the rest of these dogs the sequence."

The man stepped forward.  He looked nervous.  Thomas's lip twisted in a sneer.  "En garde."

The man struck a guard position and advanced.  Reaching the correct position, he executed a passable fleche, which Thomas parried en quarte, with a riposte, which the guard parried in turn.  If this were a gentleman's duel, right of way rules would dictate that the guard get the next pass.  Thomas had a harder learning in mind.

He launched a lightning fast series of strikes, touching the guard in the shoulder, then the bicep, and then the hand, causing the man to drop his foil.  Looking at his dropped weapon, he never expected the hilt punch that lifted him off his feet and knocked him backwards.

"You fence so pretty," Thomas said, "but you're fooling yourself if you think the rules of fencing will apply when pirates board your ship.  They'll tie you up so their friend can hit you from behind with a belaying pin.  They'll attack when it's your turn.  In short, they will try to win, and no notion of civilized dueling will save you."

Thomas looked again at the man, now holding his nose shut with his left hand while he flexed the fingers on his right.  "The lesson is concluded," he said.  "You – go see Master Manhue and make sure nothing's broken."

It was a sullen group of marines that dispersed.  Thomas looked up to see Valerius standing with his father, both of them with disapproving looks on their faces.  Thomas snarled and stalked off to the barracks.

May 23, 1224 J.R.

Morgoth picked up again what was probably one of the most valuable finds in the trove of books that the Countess's people had unearthed for him.  He lightly ran his fingers over the embossed red leather cover of the slim folio.  Will and the Art of Shaping, it was titled, by Magnir Eskatonia.  The previous owner had obviously either taken very good care of the book or had never opened it, as the spine and the pages alike were in pristine condition.  He flipped again to the foreword, seeking again to puzzle out what it meant.  The foreword was written in the Peninsular tongue, unlike the rest of the book, which seemed to be written in various other magical languages.  he read.  

The work of Magister Magnir has become a vital primer in the shaping of old realities and the creation of new ones.  The young adept should study these techniques for cultivating multiple, often contradictory truths before he can truly become what the Magister called "Veskad Solipsis," a true shaper.

Nevertheless, the student must also understand where Magnir failed.  Magnir's technique of "many minds" must be practiced carefully and in moderation, lest the novice Veskad Solipsis fall into the "catatonia loquessa," the quiet madness where his nightmares incarnate.  

This was, without a doubt, a very valuable book for the cultivation of the mens arcana, but Morgoth didn't fool himself.  Magnir's first chapter, most of which was still largely incomprehensible, was notable primarily for the deep heresy that ran through it, suggesting as it did that the Sainted Sisters themselves were shapers.  Possession of this book alone would probably be enough to put him on the stake.  Other than the casual heresies of the first chapter, very little of it made any sense, stringing together comprehensible words in a form of the draconic language, but often grouping words that made no sense.  What did the Magister mean when he said 

Erekos dam'ivat telora; en telora quasis decisis.

"The novice must grow ends; in ends say transformation"  would be a word for word translation.  It could be idiomatic.  In Soleilan, one could say that he "had a good time," but in Catalan and Peninsular, descended from the same root languages, it was said that he "pasó un buen rato."  It meant roughly the same thing, but literally translated into Soleilan, it was "pass a good while."  Draconic, though, was a much more hidebound language – it was a dead language used for the invocation of arcana, and it was difficult to say how new idioms would come to be.

Fascinating. 

*

May 28, 1224 J.R.

The dreamer slept fitfully.  For over a week, he had dreamt of a beautiful golden-haired woman yoked to a plow.  She plowed great furrows from the Earth, and where she passed, there was a verdant burst of crops.  Meanwhile, a man sat on a shaded porch, watching her work and growing fat off her labor.  He had a cruel face with eyes that seemed to shine unnaturally from under a straw farmer's hat.  

This was not the only odd dream, just the most frequent.  He dreamt of a small pyramid, seemingly made of crystal; of a virtuous knight with a flaming blade who split open to reveal that his innards were made of centipedes and maggots; of a trio of women, two young and dazzled by something out of his sight, and one old with her eyelids sewn shut with thread that was impossibly black; of a white stone monument slowly crumbling in a dark night.  He dreamt of a great black mountain and felt fear.  He dreamt of a silver-feathered swan and felt relief. 

*

June 21, 1224

Louis Véron stretched out on the hilltop on his belly, looking down into the camp below.  There were five tents, with two small cookfires, so probably between six and ten people all together, hardly a match for a dozen of the King's Sun Guard.  The camp was quiet, and had been for the half an hour that he had watched it.  There were no sentries to speak of, just a single man sitting in the small circle of firelight.

Louis had seen enough.  He raised his right hand, making a fist.  He would lead seven of the Sun Guards into the camp on foot and attempt to parley, while the remaining four remained mounted, with two moving quickly around to each flank.  If a fight developed, the enemy would be encircled and could be defeated in detail. 

Having waited out the prearranged thirty count, Louis stood and strode confidently down into the camp, most of his men on his heels.

"Ho there!" he yelled.  The man at the campfire stood up quickly, as if alarmed, and reached for a weapon that he was not wearing.  "No need for that!" Louis continued.  "You are surrounded and utterly outmatched.  We desire the return of the Catalan Gastón María de Pilar Manzanares; if he is unharmed, I will request clemency on your behalf."  

"Clemency?" shrilled a voice that did not come from the man near the fire.  His hand going to his rapier, and his eyes raking over the camp, Louis was able to make out a stooped figure emerging from one of the tents.  "Clemency?" she asked again.  It sounded like an old woman.

"Oui," Louis said, relaxing.  "There is no need for all of you to go the hangman."

"What do you know of the hanged man?" the old woman asked, removing her hood.  The flickers of the firelight revealed an old woman, her eyes sewn shut with black thread.

Louis heard his men begin to scream.  As he drew his blade, he turned to look at his men.  All of them had fallen to their knees and were wailing madly, blood pouring from their ears, nose, eyes, mouths.  He turned back and rushed at the old woman, in time to see another female figure step from the same tent, removing her hood.  Where the first woman was old, this one was young; her face was unblemished where the old woman's was spotted with age.

Skidding in his tracks, Louis realized he was in love with this woman, realized that he would forswear every oath, realized that he would even give his life if she so much as crooked her finger.

The old woman turned to the young woman.  "Well done, Amalia.  Here is quick passage!  Prepare him – we will use his soul to send a message to He Who Dazzles."

View
Session 10/8/10

April 8 1224 (evening)

After securing the Nuns & Blacksmiths, and questioning the young woman Simone, we use what remaining light we had to make our way to Blamont.  After a few hours, we decided to camp off the road.

 

 April 9 1224

Today was a long tedious day.  Tending to everyone’s wounds was more involved and tiring that I would have first imagined.  It was one thing to look after a group numbering just short of a dozen, but an entire different thing to look after almost three score.  Although rigorous work, I have never felt more alive and motivated!  Although my knowledge base is called upon every now and again, it seems my extensive training as a physician is what is needed most.  I will sleep well tonight knowing I did all I could to help everyone.  Perhaps I CAN make a difference, even if it is in small ways like today.

 

 April 17, 1224

We arrived in Blamont today.  The Nuns found solstice at the Cathedral and we made arrangements for the Blacksmiths to return to their families around the country.  After speaking to Dennis Broussard, we learned that no other shipments or iron came.  Dennis was able to connect with Louis Guerrier, the candidate Countess Ducharme wanted for her next Factor, but Louis declined the position (something about the call of the sea being too strong).  Monsieur Guerrier did promise to secure a replacement and word was sent straightway to the Countess.  Guerrier’s recommendation was Monsieur Bruno Delarue who would be in place and active by the first of the year.  We maked arrangements with Dennis to purchase the iron from the Nuns and acquire it for House Ducharme.  Dennis arranged a dozen wagons and a team of men to leave for the Abbey.  Because Simone was wanted in Blamont for horse thievery, Etienne stayed with her outside of town while we secured clothes and other provisions for her.  We decided not to tell her father any specifics of her rescue or her whereabouts.  He did not seem to care one way or the other.

 

 April 18, 1224

A curious thing.  Sword Master Valerius stumbled upon an interesting bit of information.  Sister Ana Marie, one of the surviving nuns from the Abbey in Cluney, left the Cathedral shortly after being returned.  One would have thought she would have instead rested with the rest of the nuns after such an ordeal.  I recognized Ana Maria the instant I saw her at the Abbey, but the political and social complexities of her history did not sink in until after the Sword Master mentioned her disappearance:

Sister Ana Maria was once known as The Duchess Ana Maria du Burundy.  She, with her entire estate and province, attempted to secede from Couer au Soleil in the aftermath of the marriage of the Dauphine Adelaide Ninette Badeu to Crown Prince Berndt "the Bear" of the Principality of Utrex in Almania.  Duchess du Burundy (Ana Maria) notified the King of her attention to establish an independent principality to be ruled by her son when he came of age.  She succoured the Albionian throne for aid. The Albionians, eager for access to a mainland port and the trade benefits of freedom to dock without paying the exorbitant Couer au Soleil import taxes, issued The 1197 Proclamation, putting Couer au Soleil on notice that the Principality of Burundy was under its protection.

 The King, of course, was not eager to see Couer au Soleil disintegrate into a loose union of warring principalities, and summoned the Earl Marshal to muster the army.  In response, Albionia invested the Principality in force.

The Battle of Long Shadows was the decisive battle of the Burundian Secession war.  The duchy of Burundy is located in Northwestern Couer au Soleil.  .  Berndt's marriage to the Dauphine placed him in line to inherit the throne of Couer au Soleil, which he did in 1207 J.R. 

 The Duchess was aggrieved for two reasons.  Her late husband Duc Eugène Louis Burundy had served as Earl Marshal of Couer au Soleil in various conflicts against both Almania and Albionia.  Moreover, he was the Dauphine's great-uncle, and their son Bertrand Eugène was both a suitor to the Dauphine and the third in the line of succession behind the Dauphine and Honoré Matthieu d'Estaing, heir to the Grand Duchy of Estaing. 

 Etienne asked around and discovered Sister Ana Marie had changed out of her Nun’s Habbot in favor of a recently aquired leather divided riding skirt, shirt & cloak and disappeared  during the late evening.  She was traced going to the Old City to see Hurbert Vigion, a noble Ecuyer.  There is some kind of political plotting occurring here, but I am unable to piece it together just yet.   

Concerned that the Ducharme team may run into problems, either from the remaining Valkries,  or from the Wilds, we reprovision ourselves and made for Cluney, deciding to assist with the procurement  of the iron. 

 

 April 19 1224

We caught up to the caravan around 3pm today and decided to forge ahead to the Abbey.  It will take the wagons another 6 days to make it, and only three for us.  We decided to beat them there and make sure the iron stayed secure until their arrival.  The black veins in the road and the chasm are all gone.  Only I could detect the residual magic from before… and only barely.

 

 April 23 1224

The last few days had been relatively peaceful.  We made good time on the horses and arrived at the Abbey early morning.  Nothing seemed to have been disturbed and appeared to be exactly how we left it some fifteen days ago. We set up camp and waited for the caravan to arrive.

 

 April 25 1224 

The wagons arrived today.  With the ten guards and twenty men, it only takes us the remaining day to load the wagons.  No sign of trouble; good! We will set off for Blamont come morning.

 

 May 3 1224

We arrived back in Blamont.  The trip peaceful and uneventful.  Tomorrow we plan to head back home to Couer.  I am surprised to admit, but the Ducharme estate has felt more like home than anywhere I have been for the past 20 years… it will be good to be home again.

 

 May 4 1224

We headed out early morning for home. 

 

 May 5, 1224

I think I may have solved the conservation of mass, force and energy error in the partial arcane writ I stumbled upon those many years ago.  It came to me when observing a simple lightening bug tonight as we camped.  I will have to find a mundane means of testing my theory in the next few days.  I believe it is completely possible to conjure elemental material from a realm which I will call “The InBetween” for now.

 

 May 8 1224

Simone seemed to be adjusting to traveling with us.  She excels in needle point and baking.  I also have her balancing and maintaining our expenditure logs. She took to her tasks without complaint.  I have high hopes for her.  It will take her some time to fully mentally heal, but at least the nightmares are not waking her every night these days.

 

May 11 1224

We arrive home!   I knew I would be relieved to see the homes and buildings of the estate, but I didn’t plan on just how strong those emotions would be.  Curious.  Perhaps this old man will find happiness after all, despite all that he has lost and sacrificed.

 

 May 12 1224

 We met with the Countess formally, and gave a full report, both written and oratory.  I will make a note to allow Etienne to give the oratory components in the future… he seemed absolutely beside himself when forced to take a second seat as I was relating events he was not privy to. For some, the stage is always one step and a performance away.  At the end of our dinner and meeting, the Countess invited us all to The Ducharme Garden Party.  There will be many dignitaries attending so she asked if we would all be there to represent House.  Etienne, of course, was asked to entertain.  The party was scheduled for the night of the 15th.

 

 May 14, 1224

The Countess has asked that I serve as the Ducharme Physician.  Apparently she was aware of my training from the beginning, but lacking an Advisor at the time, she felt it more expedient she fill that position and simply rely upon the church for the assistance they provided.  Since she added these new duties to my others, she insisted on a formal promotion.  She was far too generous with her accommodations.  I am sure Cyril will see to it that all of her upgrades are put in place regardless of my humble reservations.

 

 May 15, 1224

The Durcharme Garden Party was today, held in the formal gardens between the main manor and the first gate; the grounds were breathtaking! Servants moved about the area with trays of food and beverage.  Cyril, in his preparations, had out done himself once again.  There were few individuals at the gathering that I had not at least heard of… the eclectic group of partiers were prominent citizens of Coronale and the surrounding lands.  A few of the note worthy were:

Paulin Minaut  a 50ish Northern baron from Sancres.  He's overweight and gouty, but actually seems like a pretty nice fellow.  He was recently widowed.

 Jérémie Clavet  a middle-aged magistrate from Coronale who is in line to become the high judge when the current, elderly high judge retires.  Clavet first gained his position when many of the Burundian magistrates were purged from the administration in the wake of the war of secession. 

 Maxime Nason - Grand Master of the metalworkers' guild in Coronale.

 Sir Jean-Jacques and Carole Tailleur.  Jean-Jacques is a knight of the Royal Order of the Sun, Coronale's most prestigious knighthood awarded for for valorous services.  Jean-Jacques was knighted for acts of valor in the Almanian campaign in 1215 J.R., but took a serious leg injury that same year.

 Germain and Marie Minot.  Germain is one of the King's most important ministers – the contrôleur général des finances (finance minister).  Marie is a lovely sandy-blond haired woman who is reputed to have several lovers outside her marital bed. 

 Aline Métisse is perhaps the most famous courtesan in Coronale.  Rumors have tied her at various times to the Comte du Orlais and to the Crown Prince, as well as numerous lesser aristocrats and wealthy bourgeois. 

 Lionel Devereaux - one of the nobles ecúyer of Coronale.  He seemed unusually inquisitive about the circumstances of our recent adventure.  An overall “slimey” person.  I do not trust him.

 Giancarlo and Massimo Rossi - the sons of the Venn ambassador.  They are about as different as two brothers can be.  Giancarlo (25 yrs old) is flamboyant, personal, and friendly, while Massimo (23 yrs old) is restrained, introverted, and prickly. Massimo was staring daggers at me all afternoon.  I wonder what that was all about.

 Ira Yalisaveta Batalova   the teenage niece of the Oksandr ambassador to Couer au Soleil.  She is possessed of a transcendent beauty that can best be encapsulated by the phrase "ice princess," with silvery blond hair, ice blue eyes, and nearly snow-white skin, tinged with pink.

 

 May 16, 1224

I had an uncertain feeling all night, but it still came as a surprise when I was woken from my slumber an hour before dawn by a banging at my door.

 

Valerius, sometime before, had been awakened by Sword Master John Rouleux.  Valerius proceeded to gather Brother Cedric, Etienne, Bertrand then me. My heart all at once sank to my stomach and leaped to my throat when I learned the nature of the emergency.  It was Simone. She was missing!  We had Bertrand track her and were able to find horse tracks.  These tracks originated from the stables and headed down the hill.  Nothing unusual about the sets of horse tracks, then, for some reason, in hindsight I would say my growing fear for the young woman’s well being, I cast detect magic. The tracks were infused with residual Conjuration magic… so strong it was, that I had no difficulty picking it out.  There was a faint, shoulder height trail of residual Enchantment in the air that followed the same trail as the tracks. The Enchantment was weak, and was quickly dispersing.  The tracks from the stable originated from where Lionel Devereaux's horse was stabled during the party.  I knew that man could not be trusted!  Why oh why did I not watch him more closely!  He was just too interested in Simone during the party… in hindsight, unusually so.  The entire stall where his horse was stabled was suffused in the residual conjuration magic.  For this residue to be so strong, in theory, it would mean that this "animal" was most probably a magical creation of sorts as opposed to a summoned creature.  We questioned the stable boy who remembered the animal quite well:  "Grey like a storm cloud with a black mane.  Devereaux called him by name… Hurricane.  It was three hands higher than your average warhorse.  Devereaux insisted only he handle and feed his steed."

 

 Simone was gone, and taken right underneath our noses!  Some, however, were of the opinion she left with Devereaux of her own volition.  The bon fire, where the two sets of horse tracks (only one with magic residue) disappeared, also had some type of magic, too foreign for me to place. That magic faded shortly after it was discovered. 

 A thorough search of the estate did not turn up Simone, the missing guest or his thought provoking steed.  Her trail was cold and no other clues presented themselves to us on her extraction/disappearance.

 

 June 13, 2010

Its been four weeks since the disappearance of Simone.  I have been busy providing remedies and medicines for the estate and its occupants.  I have also had time to make significant progress on several personal projects.  I have an unusual feeling about today, a feeling that hit me the instant I woke this morning.  I fear today may bring even more surprises as the hours come to pass.

View
Session 10/3/10

March 30 1224

As watches were called that night, I discovered myself restless and unable to find sleep; the rest of the day’s events kept playing over and over in my head and I was a helplessly captive audience to its retelling…

 

 With the last of the Iron Masked Maidens defeated, we were able to turn our efforts to those they had captured and enslaved… Nuns!  What kind of monsters would put helpless nuns to the task and bit the way these creatures had done here?  There were merchants as well, all chained up and forced to mine ore and load them in carts to be hauled away in several wagons.  The inhuman horror of it all!  Etienne went to work immediately, removing the chains and manacles from around the prisoners’ feet using a collection of strange yet effective lock working tools.  We were able to save all that were there.  The victims were malnourished and overworked, but thankfully none were found with any other life threatening injury. 

 

I set about collecting clues from these mysterious masked creatures, three masks forged of black iron and three disfigured and desecrated holy symbols, stolen from the crypts days before.  Hopefully, if we can understand how they were created, it might give us insight on how they can be defeat yet saved.  Although the outsides of the masks were smooth, the insides appeared pitted and decayed, showing, in my opinion, advanced signs of alchemic reduction.  My gut, however, told me it was just pure evil that caused the pitting; science would likely not help me here.  It was clear the masks were composed of un-worked iron, but each had signature marks of the woman’s face they rested upon; marks that indicated the masks were molded to each woman’s face while still searing and hot! 

 

We gave the survivors food and water, and were able to coax a few details about their abduction from them.  Apparently a witch wearing a black iron mask with eyes of crimson flame attacked the Abbey.   Clothed in a scarlet robe with a mane of dark hair she was said to have brought bewitched men enthralled by her power with her.  These nuns were from the Abbey of Cluny which was known to house some eighty to one hundred nuns.  It was then that Sister Josephine, one of the calmer and collected nuns, identified the three women behind the masks we had slain. Just as we feared, they too were former Cluny nuns.

 

As we readied the survivors for travel, deciding to take them to Kuln, we made a quick search of the mines and found nothing of interest.  The journey back to Kuln was uneventful and we delivered the Nuns to the safety of the Cathedral and retired ourselves with the merchants at a local Inn.  We gave the horses and wagons we took from the mine to the merchants to help get them back on our feet and paid for an extra day stay to help them get their business in order.

 It was an arduous journey and from the looks of things, it was nowhere close to being over yet.  At least I will rest well tonight.

 

March 31 1224

We rose early this morning, renewed supplies and headed back to Leopold Siegler’s estate to investigate the manor.  The house was ransacked and its occupants murdered.  We searched the estate thoroughly but turned up no useful clues.  Brother Cedric oversaw the construction of a funeral pyre so the dead would have some semblance of a decent burial.  He is a good man, Brother Cedric, and has a warm soul… he genuinely cares for the people and their need to have a proper burial and eternal rest.  I am glad to know him.

 

Bertrand’s wrist is worse.  There is no magic and no medical reason for the affliction.  I treated it for the itching, but there was little else I could do. The discoloration is definitely a tattoo of some kind.

 

Disappointed that our investigation of the manor turned up fruitless, we decided to travel back as long as light prevailed and camp on the road. Once we arrived in Kuln, we meant to resupply and head out to the Abbey of Cluny.  We will suffer this witch and her murderous acts no longer!

 

 April 1, 1224

We made it back to Kuln safely.  It looks like rain was in the near future for us.  Perhaps the bad weather will blow past us during the night.  I caught one of Etienne’s performances tonight.  He is quite the talented entertainer, a master, I might venture to say.  Youth.  This one it is certainly not wasted on.  He makes the most of everything he is given or takes.  Bravo!  Brava!

 

 April 2, 1224

We set off for the Abbey today.  The skies are not as dark as I thought they would be.  Perhaps the weather did indeed pass us by during the night.

 

 April 6, 1224

We arrived at the road to the Abbey mid afternoon and decided to head to the Abbey, scout the situation and then determine if we need to call in reinforcements.  We didn’t make it there today, so we camped off road.  The night passed uneventfully.

 

 April 7, 1224

We traveled a good part of the day without incident, then, around twelve noon about half a day’s journey from the Abbey, we noticed black cracks in the road;  medium sized irregular fissures that spider-webbed about the road’s entirety.  Brother Cedric and Sir Bernardine, with a quick prayer to Eru, cast about their senses for the presence of magic… and there it was…the sound of Brass Bells.  I too, used an ancient writ designed to detect and analyze the constituent components of magical phenomena.  I discovered strong Evocation magic with a descriptor of evil emanating from these black cracks.  The foul magic was strongest on the road, but also seeped up from the very ground around us.  Etienne decided to track back to see how far “Hells Magic”, as Brother Cedric put it, went.  Somehow, the nature of the magic obscured its presence from us originally.  Etienne went as far back as he could while still maintaining sight of us on the road, a good 2 minutes away,  and still, he found the ominous cracks of darkness.  We decided to press on; traveling off the road with everyone on high alert… it wasn’t long before we saw them!   Four white clad women wearing masks of un-worked black iron sat confidently on the backs of their six legged pale white horses several hundred yards up the road.  They seemed to be just sitting there, waiting for us to arrive.  All at once they moved down the road on an intercept course for us.  Farts and Fritters!… they saw us too!  They closed no more than 300 yards then one of them dismounted and plunged a fiery red sword into the ground.  The earth fell away with a tremendous roar, collapsing upon itself to create a seemingly bottomless chasm.  Up from its mist filled depths rose the howls and wails of the forsaken and all that was unspeakable.  A thick caustic looking green mist hung low in its bowels.  It too was waiting, thirsting for something… anything to venture into its folds and quell its eternal hunger.

 

 Suddenly black forms with reptile like wings descended upon us, flying over the chasm with ease to attack us where we stood.  They numbered five, and they looked like gargoyles.  Fortunately, they were not…Heaven help us if they were!  Their bite is poisonous so we take care to avoid that attack as all costs.  We fight furiously, hacking, slicing and hammering away at these unholy creations until there is nothing left of them. Unfortunately, Cedric succumbed to the poison of an attack, the vile substance robbing him of his strength.

We proceed to the Abbey, cleverly navigating the chasm’s narrow earthworks, only to be ambushed by three Masked Iron Maidens.  They struck from the concealment of darkness, choosing Etienne, Thomas and Valerius as their first targets.  Etienne took a nasty trust square in his chest from a black iron sword and fell from his horse.  Valerius and Thomas too suffered wounds from the deceitful attack, but thankfully, years of martial training and a warrior’s instinct saved them.  We heard brass bells then felt their foul magic roll over us as it did in the battle before.  The temperature dropped several degrees and we found it difficult to move quickly and precisely.  Slowed to such degree, with the increasing cold numbing our extremities moment by moment, the Iron Maiden’s sorcery robbed us of any advantage alacrity and natural born speed gave us on the battle field. Sir Bernardine moved up to the one that dropped Etienne but it deftly avoided his blow.  Thomas served a nasty blow on the one that ambushed him as Bertrand moved in to flack with our fearless Templar scoring a blow of his own.  Valerius attacked masterfully as well, but his wounds were so grave that the mere effort sent him crashing into unconsciousness.  Again, our warrior and warrior priests were unmatched in skill and determination and together banished the evil iron clad women.  After some minor healing, we moved to a small hillock and camped for the night.

 

The night passed uneventfully with the exception of Bertrand’s nightmare.  Sir Bernardine decided to wake him from it when it seemed he was trying to strangle himself, not that he was using enough force to have succeeded.  Tonight we would need all the rest we could manage.  Tomorrow we would assault the Abbey of Cluny and take back what the witch and her minions had stolen.

 

 April 8, 1224

We woke to a cold breakfast and struck out early for the Abbey.  Noon came and I began to worry; we had not reached the Abbey yet and I was concerned that we had somehow slipped into the Deep Wilds again.  As it turned out, half an hour later, we found the path to the Abbey just where it should have been.  There were two ways down into the small valley that housed the Abbey; a precarious path that lead straight down or a more winding path that lead around.  We decided to go around and discovered, from our hiding places, six men, chained and manacled in three sets of two.  These men were set to a task of smelting and forging iron ore to iron sheets.  Deciding to come back to them in case they were enchanted to attack us or sound an alarm, we slipped into the Abbey and found a secret trap door covered by debris. After several minutes of clearing the debris, we opened the door and descended to find two dozen malnourished and frightened nuns.  Apparently, when the Abbey was attacked, they secreted themselves in this hiding place, but were unable to escape when the debris fell on top of the door above.  We gave them food and water, and had them wait for our return.  There was a witch about and she would answer for her atrocities! It would be safer for the nuns to stay secreted below when the battle would eventual occur.

 

 We moved on, picking our way through the ruined abbey, finally reaching the main temple area.  It too was in ruins, the benches knocked over and broken, several columns sundered and the entirety in disarray.  Brother Cedric, concerned the alter may have been desecrated, moved quickly to the back area to check its condition and was surprised by the fourth Masked Maiden, hiding behind a veil of sorcery.  She lunged with her hell sword of brimstone fire and Brother Cedric moved to dodge.  Both devil and vessel-of-god moved with an unearthly speed but in the end, Brother Cedric was not quick enough.  The hell sword pierced the Brother’s chest exploding fire and angry embers that sought to consume him.  Sword Master Valerius moved to his aid but was presently ambushed by a second invisible assailant, the witch herself.  Her attack struck true, as a volley of vicious rays of fire from her hell spawned eyes caught our Sword Master in the chest.  The rest of us moved to counter attack.  There was no chance to parley with the witch, her actions clearly drawing a line in the sand. The battle was one that legends were made of.  Valerius delivered a series of expert strikes from his duel blades, but unfortunately was struck again by hell’s fire, this time from the brimstone sword. Unable to fight off the assault he dropped to the ground in a burring one man pyre.  Bertrand and Thomas moved to engage the iron masked maiden but could not contain her. Etienne used his Mask Magic on the witch, but with a well placed hex, she defeated his attempt to seal her power and make it his own.   I conjured a small area of water vapors in a meager attempt to provide some protection from the Hellfire the witch seemed to wield with cruel and devastating mastery. I knew as I finished the basic arcane rite its magic would not be strong enough; the witch’s sorcery far out matched any arcane defense I would be able to muster.  With the Sword Master down, Brother Cedric burned within inches of his life and Thomas and Bertrand ineffectively engaging the Maiden, things looked dismal indeed.  It was then that Sir Bernardine, Chosen Warrior of Eru, saved us all.  Thrusting his blade through the Mask Maiden’s chest he called upon the power of Eru.  Golden flames of heaven swirled like a raging river through the Templar, his anger fueled with the wrath of Eru would not be denied.  In a brilliant explosion of golden flame, the Maiden was consumed as the holy fire licked angrily upon the Templar’s blade, its hunger for evil quite evident to all who beheld it. Turning his steely gaze upon the Witch, who, at present was using her own blade, this one forged of witch-fire, to ignite the temple tapestries (an effort, I believe, to slay us all, including herself) Sir Bernardine closed with her in a few confident strides.  His visage spoke volumes that the rest of us and the whole spiritual world heard clearly…”Thou shall not suffer a witch to live!”  The witch’s sorcery, in a desperate attempt to ward off the imbued Champion of Eru, rolled off of her in waves of hate, but her power would find no purchase on Eru’s Angel of Wrath.  And so Sir Bernardine ended it. Taking the final blow to her head, the witch crumpled to the floor, her sorcery failing within moments of her unconsciousness.  Sir Bernardine, cut quite the figure, standing over the witch’s body, eyes full of fire and lips compressed into a tight line; Eru’s wrath would not be denied.

 

 As Etienne moved to the witch, I moved to put out the fires before they consumed more of the abbey.  I altered the previous application of the mist rite and it proved extremely effective in dousing the flames.  Etienne noticed the change in the woman behind the mask.  She too, like the other transformed nuns, was a puppet and prisoner of an entity not yet uncovered. “You are safe now.” We heard Etienne whisper in the girl’s ear.  He smoothly removed her mask to reveal the face of a young and frightened girl; it was Simone, Dennis Broussard’s missing daughter!

 

View
An Intermezzo

[Meta note: this entry is gathered from an e-mail thread that occurred between game sessions.]

 

April 8, 1224

<u>Email Content: Simone</u>

The backwards thrust of a blade of pure eldritch fire cut into the heavy velvet curtain that hung just inches away from the Scarlet Clothed Witch.  Its heavy material gave away like butter to the blade’s witch-born fire, as angry red and violet flames burst from its thick folds to run along its length and width.  Unchecked, this fire would prove the undoing of our team’s valiant rescue attempt.

                Undaunted by the fire our fearless Warriors and Warrior-priests closed in on the Witch.  Even with her fell magic rolling off her in waves of hate, she could not stand against the masterful and holy onslaught our team mustered against her.  Catching a final blow across the back of her neck, she crumpled to the ground, the witch magic failing her and her strength depleted.  Etienne was the first of us to notice the change in the woman behind the mask.. a prisoner, it would seem, but different from the many we found twisted and controlled behind other masks…. this one was savable!

                “You are safe now.” We heard Etienne whisper in the girl’s ear, his voice carrying so all could hear it the way that only a master entertainer could affect.  He smoothly removed her mask with a trained flick of his wrist while supporting her with the other.  It was uncanny how the young man could mature with such alacrity and show such sagacity in a moment, then revert back to the hubris of youth in a blink of an eye.  The mask fell away to reveal the face of a young and frightened girl and Sword Master Valerius gasped.

                She wept.  “I have done such horrible atrocities.”  Her voice was strangled and shaken; tears flowed freely from her distraught and repentant eyes. 

                “Simone?”  Valerius said. 

The young girl looked up to his verbal coax, confusion joining the gauntlet of other emotions riding her expressions.

A look from us all passed to the Sword Master, then back to the girl, the revelation made clear as a new perception took hold of us all.

                "Do I know you?" she tearfully murmurs.  Despite Morgoth's timely extinguishing of the burning curtain, the light is warmly lit by the flickering golden flames that dance still on Sir Bernardine's blade.  He cuts quite a figure, his eyes full of fire and his lips compressed into a tight line – an angel of wrath.

Valerius executes a quick courtly bow, trying at the same time to reassure the terrified young girl with his smile.

                “Forgive our manners m'lady…  I am Lucius Valerius Avitus, one-time servant of Tiberium, and most recently in service to Her Excellency the Countess Liriana DuCharme.  My companions and I were sent to investigate recent happenings in Blamont, when we learned of the disappearance of Simone Broussard from her father, and swore to do whatever we could to see her safe…  I assume you are the young lady in question?”

Etienne shakes his head as the sword master attempts to flash the girl a smile while clearly gritting his teeth through the pain of his wound. His bow is awkward due to the wicked gash in his side, and he's still dripping blood on the ground. Etienne steps to his side, "I can see Eru's plan so clearly now. Let my enlightenment fill your body and soul." he says, playing the role of the newly converted. I confess, I preferred the look on Brother Cedric's face when he thought the ability was being stolen from him.”  Etienne does his best to mimic the monk's prayers which grant him a healing touch, and reaches out to Master Valerius. The healing light glows briefly as Valerius’s flesh knits itself back together.

Simone looks around, as if still slightly disoriented.  Her face is smudged with dark iron powder, with two muddy tear tracks running from her eyes down her face.  Combined with her bright green eyes, she looks a bit comical – or would, had she not nearly slain several of you just moments ago.  Perhaps unconsciously, she edges closer to Etienne as she haltingly answers. 

"Yes, I am Simone Broussard."

Valerius smiles again… this time mostly to himself…”I'm touched by Etienne's concern, and the healing that he delivers is truly is wonderful…  But I was raised as both a fighting man and a philosopher, by some of the greatest sword master's in all the world…  mere physical pain is no more of a distraction to me, than thirst would distract a camel from the Caliphate.  Still, the fact that he reacted so quickly to tend to my well being, proves to me that my sword is valued… and thus it is that I smile…  but the moment is fleeting, for I would not wish the youth to think that these are not serious matters, or that I do not value his aid.”

                The Sword Master looks again to Simone, and suddenly he realizes that his blades are still drawn, and so sheaths them quickly, without even needing to look at the scabbards.  He slides the deadly weapons home… and with a gentle voice he says, “Simone… I'm sure that what has happened here was terrifying…   but if at all possible, I need you to be brave for just a little bit longer…  If we are to put an end to the evil forces that have acted both against you and against this Abbey…  in order to make sure that you are safe… we need to know what happened to you, and how you came to be here…  Do you think you can do that for us?"

Although it appears that the danger has passed, Sir Bernadine remains vigilant.  He allows the tip of his sword to droop only slightly as he scans the room for more of the demonic women.  He doesn’t seem to notice Simone's obvious anxiety as he mumbles under his breath about demons lurking in every corner…

Simone looks confused by Valerius's question.  She looks to Etienne.

Etienne slides his mask off, and gives her a look of understanding. "Its all right, Simone, just rest. It’s all right, now." He smiles, "Therese has been worried sick about you. Let's get you home."

Simone nods, the tears not flowing quite as fast now.  "I'm just so tired," she says.

Etienne says a quick prayer…something about the sainted sisters…and a healing glow accompanies his touch, mending some of Simone’s wounds. "You've been through a lot. We won't let anyone else hurt you."

For a moment Valerius looks truly sad, but his gaze turns to Etienne and hardens to steel mixed with regret (a new alloy!).  "I'm sorry Etienne, but we can't take Simone home… not yet… not until we know that it will be safe for her, and safe for this Abbey….  and much as I hate to cause Simone any further pain that the memories might bring… she is still our best witness to what took place here…. we need to know what she knows… we need to know what happened… so that we can end it, and make everyone safe…I'm sorry Simone, but can you do that for us?  Can you help us end this nightmare?  Can you tell us what you remember about what happened to you, and how you came to be here?"

“We also must find the stable boy” Brother Cedric adds.

"I can't be certain…” Valerius continues, ”but given that Simone is here, and that there were ‘men under an enchantment’ brought here to work the iron… I predict a fairly good chance that we might just find Rufus chained outside with the other men working the forge…   But perhaps that is another mystery that Simone can help us solve…" and with that, Valerius tries to give Simone another encouraging smile… as if talking about something simple might help get things started for her.

"Rufus is dead," she says in a leaden voice.

Etienne pulls her in toward him protectively, wrapping his cloak about her shoulders. "Time is something she needs, and something we can give her. No one will stay at this abbey, and no one can make the journey to Blamont alone. Give her some time."

"Before we go…” Valerius counters, “we need to know if there are any other masked women, or other monsters, in the Abbey…"

Etienne looks to the trembling young girl, "Simone? Do you know if there is anything else we need to be wary of here?"

"I think the monsters are all gone.” Simone replies. “The other monsters.  We have to get away from here before they return!"

Etienne looks to the others. "Agreed. We need to get these people to safety."

"Very well,” the sword master agrees reluctantly, “let’s go bring the Nun's up from below and tell them that we're escorting them out…. they can gather up anything they might need for the journey to Blamont, including any relics that the Abbey might have possessed before we go… that way they cannot be used in any rituals… and while the sisters are doing that, we can go free the men in the courtyard…Does that sounds like a good plan to everyone?"

Morgoth’s deep tenor voice echoes slightly, originating far back toward the entrance of the room. “Well, the upper floors look pretty structurally unsound.  We’ve walked through the whole ground level, except for the rectory portions that are completely gutted and collapsed.  Overall, there may be some habitable rooms upstairs, although I am not certain how to reach them.  Other than that, the bell tower is the only place we haven’t looked.  Based on its appearance, it might have a narrow wooden ledge up there, at best – highly unlikely to house fugitives. I don’t see why we can’t retrieve the others and prepare to leave.  Sir Bernardine? 

"What is creating these monsters if not Simone?” Sir Bernadine replies, his sword still aglow with angry golden fire. “Perhaps we have more work here."

"This wasn't Simone's doing." Etienne interjects quickly, "And while I agree there is undoubtedly more to be done, it's likely not here, and it’s certainly not now."

"As you say,” the Templar replies gruffly, reviewing the grounds in his mind trying to think where more prisoners might be being held.  After a moment of silence, he continues "I concur, Morgoth.  I doubt prisoners are anywhere that we have not seen.  The architecture suggests it unlikely that there is more basement than what we saw, the upstairs is largely inaccessible and unsound to be sure, and the belfry couldn't hold many and would be hard to reach given the poor conditions of the prisoners.  I believe we have seen everywhere prisoners are being kept.  My only other concern is whether there are secret chambers used by whoever is responsible for this."

"If there are secret chambers anywhere within the Abbey,” Valerius comments, turning from Simone to address the Templar, “ most likely one of the sisters will know of it…  so let us start there as I suggested… and while they gather what little they can for the journey, we can go free the men in the courtyard."

Morgoth walks over to Brother Cedric. “Brother Cedric.  If I may, I would like to examine the mask taken from Simone.  May I?”

Cedric hands the mask to Morgoth.

Morgoth wraps the mask in a large swath of canvas and places it carefully in his shoulder satchel. “Come child.  Let’s get you cleaned up and make sure you are unharmed; some ailments take more than magical healing to mend.” Morgoth gathers up the girl from Etienne in one grandfatherly sweep of his robed arms and ushers her from the room.  He glances briefly over his shoulder as he crosses the doorway into the hall. “Sir Bernadine, Master Bertrand.  Would you please be so kind as to secure the Nuns below their freedom?  I am certain they are ready to leave this place for an alternative shelter.  Sword Master Valerius and Master Thomas, I believe we have some gentlemen that need freeing outside.  Their forced employment is at its end for the time being.  Would you see to it, please?  Etienne.  We will need some way to transport all of the nuns below.  In their condition I don’t believe they will travel well on foot nor on horseback.  Please see what you can find around the Abby stables and courtyards outside.  Perhaps there is a large wagon we can hitch up to our spare horses in order to make the journey less arduous for these unfortunate men and women.”  With a gentle squeeze on her shoulders to reassure her, Morgoth ushers Simone out the room.  “Brother Cedric,” Morgoth calls back, his voice echoing from the hallway as the pair’s footsteps clearly indicate they are moving quickly to the outside, “it would be wonderful if you would join me, please.”

"Good plan.” Sir Bernardine follows Morgoth and Simone closely, sword at the ready. “Except that I must insist that I stay with you, and send Brother Cedric down for the nuns.  Eru has dictated clearly that I accompany you, I believe to protect you, and I would not ignore his direction."  With his sword still out in case of unexpected opposition in this god-forsaken place, he steps towards the entrance, hoping to signal everyone to move.

“Yes, of course.” The scholar’s voice echoes from outside the hallway, rapidly receding.

Etienne stares for a moment after the elderly scholar, who disappeared out the door.  "I didn't know he could move that fast."  he murmurs to himself before turning to the others, "While I respect Monsieur Manhew's…er…experience…I think I'd be better able to help by releasing the men from their chains. Though someone should find something to help transport these people. With all the iron they've gotten here there are bound to be some wagons." Etienne heads for the door, but looks back before he moves through it, "We should all take our cue from Morgoth's haste. I, for one, would rather not be here if 'monsters' do arrive." With that said, he heads out to work on unlocking the men's shackles.

Morgoth ushers Simone to the horses where he can make use of his various supplies: extra water skins, blankets, towels, medicines, herbs… etc.  He unrolls a small wedge of fresh mild cheese and a quarter loaf of sweet-bread from his saddle bags and gently presses it into Simone’s hands.

“Here, eat these.  They will help you feel better.”  His nod is genuine and encouraging.  He continues unpacking a water-skin and a glazed ceramic cup.  With the deft hands of a man who makes tea at least five times a day, he opens a small wax packet taken from his robes, sprinkles it into the cup and adds the water.  The pre-ground mixture of herbs dissolve instantly.. the therma-root component warming the drink just enough to be noticed.

“Its Dew-berry tea, my dear.” He hands her the cup. “It’s quite delicious and compliments sweet bread oh so nicely.”  It also has an ingredient that will calm her anxiety.  In heavy doses, about ten times what is in the mixture, the Tilia Vulgaris (also known as lime blossom) will act as a mild sedative, so efficiently so, that it used by midwives on their patients that are expected to have a particular painful child birth.  The Scholar brushes this fact along with the optimal growing condition, temperature and watering cycle for the herb from his mind as it tries to railroad his thoughts.

Throwing a blanket quickly on the ground he invites her to sit, specifically with her back towards the Abby and Sir Bernadine.  “Don’t be shy now… the cheese is excellent and the bread quite divine.  You’ll need your strength for the ride home.”

After a few moments, Morgoth tries to get her talking.

“I know your father is quite worried about you, Simone.  Why did you leave Blamont?”

Simone eats rather stoically with a grimace on her face and evinces no pleasure at the food or the tea.  As Morgoth reaches to clean her face, she shrinks away from being touched.

She takes a few moments to compose herself.  A struggle plays out across her face, and despair seems to win. "I had to," she finally answers, "before I hurt anyone."

“Are you still injured?”  Morgoth says, looking for any aliments or physical injury that may not have been healed by Etienne’s spell.

The Templar silently tears his eyes away from scanning the area, and scrutinizes Simone critically.  After a long moment, he nods slightly and returns to keeping watch.

Not seeing an answer coming soon, Morgoth reaches in his pack for his Healer’s kit.“With you permission, Simone, I can treat your other injuries, make sure they do not get infected and apply an ointment that will speed your recovery.”

Simone nods curtly.

Mogoth proceeds to treat her as promised and once done he replaces the Healer’s kit back in his pack with a barely perceivable sigh.“Simone.  You said you ‘had to leave Blamont before you hurt anyone.’  Did you have the mask you were wearing while still in Blamont?”

"No…" Simone says uncertainly.

“Did you hurt Monsieur François Durand, Simone?”  Morgoth pays particular attention to how she initially reacts to the name.

"Yes.  I made him suffer, and then I killed him."  She replies.

Morgoth raises an eyebrow.  “Did you have good reason to make him suffer, and then kill him?  We found his headless body.  Was that also your doing?”

"What would a good reason be?" Simone replied coolly, only a fraction of the sorrow and fear still clinging to her voice.

                Sir Bernardine turns back towards the girl, eyes narrowing dangerously, "Perhaps a better question would be, Did you do it of your own volition, or were you under some form of control? "

Morgoth nods his head agreeing with Sir Bernadine.  “Yes.  That is a much clearer question.  Please answer the Templar, Simone.”

"Are those my only choices?" she replies, with a trace more control and perhaps a hint of anger.  "I am either a cold-blooded murderess or under some supernatural influence?  Despite my best efforts, I've hurt a lot of people, but him?  Him I don't regret."

"Then what was your reason for killing him?" Sir Bernardine counters gruffly.

"That he deserved it?" Simone replied.

“Did the late Factor hurt you, Simone?” Morgoth says soothingly. “Is that why he deserved to die?

"Yes, he hurt me.  If that were his only transgression, he would deserve a more painful death than he got, but a man capable of that… who knows what he'd done."

Morgoth looks to Simone with genuine empathy. With a slight nod of his head, he decides to let the topic of the late Factor rest and revisit for more specifics later… its either that or let the Inquisitors proceed down that road… it most likely will come to that.  Morgoth hopes that is wont. “Tell me about the Mask, Simone.  Where did you get it?”

She sighs, shoulders slumping.  "I made it."

"Why?" Sir Bernardine asks.

"Why," she says, "why.  I think I was possessed by the Devil."

Sir Bernardine’s face goes flat, as he barely controls his annoyance at Simone’s flippant response.  "Simone, let me be blunt.  We are trying to understand what happened here, and why.  Could you please explain?  What compelled you to do all of this?  Were you acting alone or is there another grander party?  Why and how did you create the mask?"

 

 

Elsewhere:

Arriving at the trapdoor, Valerius will knock upon the trapdoor a few times so that the nuns will know that someone is coming, and then proceed downstairs… using one of the lanterns or torches from the area up above…

                "Ladies…. you may relax, and rejoice knowing that Eru was with us… the witch with fiery eyes, has fallen, and we believe that all of the masked maidens within the Abbey have been dealt with.  However, until we have uncovered all of the villains behind this tragedy, I don't think it's safe for you to remain here…  so we're going to escort all of you to the Cathedral at Blamont, once we've freed the men out in the courtyard.   However, before we do that, are there any special things that you will need to gather up and take with us to Blamont?"

At this moment Valerius notices that Etienne didn't come along, but rather proceeded directly to the courtyard…  The Sword Master whirls around quickly hoping against hope that Etienne is simply at the back of the group… "Etienne!  Ahhhh!  Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo…pathice Etienne… MERDA!"

 Then realizing that he's standing in front of a group of nuns, Valerius instantly blushes a color much closer to the shade of sunset than his normal tan complexion… He bows quickly…

"Ummm… <Valerius blushes again> “Please forgive my momentary lapse ladies… it seems that one member of our group has gone off on his own to free the men in the courtyard, and I would not see anyone go unescorted in this place…  If you could please gather your selves up and come with us directly… we're headed to the courtyard… although I'd like you to remain just inside the building as we go out into the courtyard to assist our friend in freeing the men in the courtyard… Quickly please!"

 

 

 

 

And Elswhere yet:

Etienne steps out into the area where the men are working. They seem not to notice him, or if they do they don't respond. He looks back over his shoulder expecting Thomas or Valerius, but they don't appear. ‘Perhaps we shouldn't split up’, Ettienne muses briefly, but then shrugs. “I'm sure they'll be along.” Etienne continues toward the men with a smile on his face.

"Gentlemen, I am Etienne Vallaint! Take heart! The witch has been vanquished, her minions defeated, and we…" He looks back over my shoulder, "…er, I am here to rescue you!" For a split second he worries that they might still be entranced, but they throw down their hammers almost as one.

"Get these chains off me then, lad!" A large older man with a balding head exclaims.

"As you wish. Let's have a look at them…" Etienne agrees, a bit of the “stages coming out in his actions.

Valerius and the rest escort the survivors to the courtyard, and it becomes apparent that Etienne is not only safe, but well on his way to freeing the captives, Valerie visibly relaxes.

He turns to Thomas & Bertrand and says quietly, "why don't you two check the courtyard or ask some of these men, and see if you can locate those wagons that we discussed? Please try to stay within sight of the courtyard if you can… that way we can both reinforce each other, should there still be any danger."

Valerie then turns to the older nun who seemed to be guiding the others…" Forgive me sister, but I am obvious not as familiar with your Abbey as you are…  are there any other places that we should search for survivors or captives?"

"…we'll do our best to make sure you get safely home to your loved ones, Jean." Etienne continues with the man whose manacle I've been unlocking, "There!" He exclaims as it comes loose, "You are once again a free man." Etienne moves to the next man and begins working on his lock. They're all identical and not particularly well made, so freeing the men has gone quickly. There are only two more to go when he hear movement behind him and looks to see the others enter the courtyard. "Ah! And these are the men who vanquished the evils in this abbey!" He says gesturing over his shoulder, "Stout warriors, every one!" Etienne continues freeing the last two men and speaks with them, encouraging them to get some of the wine the other men have been passing around.  He then returns to the others, wiping the dust off his legs as he approaches, "What kept you?" He shakes his head and waves the oncoming response away, "Regardless, there's something you should hear." Etienne turns toward the men, "Henri!" A large older man with a balding pate comes over, "Tell them what you told me, about the tower…"

Henri nods and clears his throat, "Well, I overheard that witch talking and she said something about a 'tower of iron'." his accent marks him as Almanian. "Whether she was talking about an existing tower or not, I don't know, but the plates we've been forging could be used to build such a thing. In fact, they could be used for little else."

Etienne steps in and claps him on the shoulder, "Thank you, Henri."

The man nods and looks to Etienne and the others, "I should be thanking all of you. I have hope to see my family again. After what we've seen…" he looks down, his eyes distant, "…our thanks." He heads back to the others.

"These men were taken from their homes”, Etienne explains after Henri was out of ear shot “and from what I could gather they were brought here across what some of them described as a hellish terrain." He looks at the others, "I don't think they came by road or even untamed lands. They all come from different places. From Northeastern Couer to Western Almania, and everywhere in between. They were forced to forge the masks…" Etienne pauses and looks over his shoulder, making sure none of the freed men are within ear shot, "…and were also forced to watch the red hot iron being forced onto the faces of the youngest of the women. The poor girls were apparently violated in other ways as well." He shakes his head. "There are horrors rising in these lands, gentlemen." He looks to Cedric, "I hope you are right about your god. I've a feeling we'll be needing him."

“He is always with us.” Brother Cedric replies. “Proof is in the fact that your celestial thievery works on me; his humble servant.

“I have the feeling that we'll have plenty of time to debate that point in the days to come." Etienne quips flippantly as he looks around, "Where did Morgoth and Bernadine take that girl off to?"

Valerius turns from the sister that he was speaking quietly to, and answers Etienne, "I believe Morgoth said something about tending to her ailments with means other than healing magic… so I'd assume he went to his horse to get out his various herbalist supplies…He IS quite skilled in that regard after all. If you just wait a few more minutes while the sisters finish gathering up the rest of their supplies, we can all go back to the horses together, and find them."

"Perhaps we should take a stroll around the grounds first.” Etienne counters smoothly. “The blacksmiths said that three groups of wagons left a couple of weeks ago. As far as they know, there are no others, but they've been chained to the forges." He looks to the piles of iron, "And we should really do something about those. If all this was about getting those iron sheets, we should make sure that they aren't rewarded for their troubles. Or more specifically the trouble they've caused."

"I actually had a very similar idea Etienne” Valerius agrees smiling, “ although short of attempting to destroy them, I doubt there's much we can do without going to Blamont first to gather supplies or reinforcements…  There's so much here, that we would probably need at least a dozen wagons to move it all… and even if we attempted to destroy the plates, they would still be here as iron scrap, and able to be reforged…  no, I think the best option is to see if we can make arrangement in Blamont to remove the iron… that will deny it to the Enemy forever”. Valerius turns to Brother Cedric, as if only now noticing that he stayed to debate theology with Etienne, rather than going with Morgoth. "Brother Cedric, since you are blessed by Eru with the ability to see enchantments, is there any way that you could use your gifts to determine if this iron has been in any way tampered with or corrupted magically?

 

Looking over the makeshift iron foundry in the courtyard, and the ruined state of the Abbey, Valerious seems to come to a decision internally, before turning back the sister who had taken charge of the survivor's. "Sister?  Is there someone here who will be taking charge of your order? … or at least this Abbey?  I have an idea, but I don't want to seem too presumptuous, so I'd like to talk it over first with someone from your order first…"

"I'm not sure who will take charge of this ruin," Ana Marie says serenely, and you are once again impressed with her bearing.  "What is your idea, young man?"

"What happened here is no doubt a great tragedy, and nothing can replace or repair the lives that were lost.” Valerius begins. “But at some point the survivor's, your fellow sisters, and these men here, will need to attempt to rebuild their lives.  Whether you wish to do that here, or in another place, is entirely up to you.  However, one side effect of this tragedy is that your Abbey has come into possession of a large quantity of iron and iron ore.  Now, while I won't claim to have any expertise as a merchant.  I wouldn't be surprised if this iron ore could be sold to one of the merchant houses in Blamont for a fairly large sum, even after transport and recovery costs are factored in.  In fact, in that very vein, I happen to know of at least one merchant house that recently had a one of their iron ore suppliers raided by the same supernatural forces that attacked your Abbey… in fact it was those attacks which first alerted my friends and I to what was going on here, and eventually led us to your Abbey. 

 There's a part of me that finds a certain symmetry in denying the iron to The Enemy; replacing the iron shipments lost to the merchant house that first alerted us to the problem; and providing your sisters, and the other survivors with the funds to start rebuilding… all at the same time. I can make no promises, but if you and your sisters approve, I could at least make some inquiries towards seeing if my plan would be possible…"

Ana arches a slender eyebrow.  "My, aren't we an ambitious young man?  Go ahead – see if you can make it work.  Eru knows the sisterhood will need the money to rebuild and re-sanctify this Abbey."

A small smile crosses Valerius's face, and he nods his head in thanks to the sister…. "I appreciate the complement sister, but I there are still many potential obstacles to be overcome before I can be sure that my plan will work.   I also think that before we leave here, we should do what we can to render the iron plates unusable for their originally intended purpose.  That way if any supernatural forces still remain, and they happen to come here before a salvage crew can return to claim the iron…  they will not only find little of use, but have no reason to remain."

"I leave that to you," she says.  "I doubt any of this lot will be able to help you much in that respect."

Valerius nods once more to the sister, before turning to the courtyard and calling out…"Henri!  I need your advice and perhaps your assistance for a moment…. I have a task which I think you will appreciate."

Henri looks around at the other men and nods.  "Not that we're ungrateful sir, but that's the work of days, not minutes or hours.  We'd all just as soon be away from here." 

Etienne leans in close to Valerius, "There's also the matter of 'monsters' that may return. These people are in no condition to weather any sort of attack." He adds in a more hushed tone, "We should leave as soon as possible."

"Henri…” Valerius continues. “I’m not really concerned with trying to transport the iron or melting it down into bars at this point…. I just want to damage as many of the sheets as possible, as quickly as possible, so that they won't be usable to construct this "iron tower.  All we need to do is hammer it out of shape, or get the coals as hot as we possibly can, so that they damage the sheets…  whatever you can think of to damage as many plates as possible, as quickly as possible…   If nothing else, I suggest we stack as much wood as possible in and around the plates and set it on fire… I doubt any of the maidens will be able to salvage the plates if they are buried beneath a bonfire.  Will that work?"

"Aye, that might work, lad.” Henri answers, his face screwed up in thought”Wouldn't probably do much long term damage, but they might have to fix em up a bit if they warped.  Don't suppose you fellas could help us?  They're damned heavy and we've been working hard already." 

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