Monday, August 5, 2013

Sessions 14 and 15: The Monastery of Shadows and the Keepers of the Black Flame.

Having marched for several hours, our heroes find that the air is cold and bitter, but not as cold as they expected at this altitude. “We climbed a long way.” Jimpah says. “Now we are quite high. These mountains remind me of Lhoban. I should have realized the Keepers would choose such a place for their hideout.” After a while, the path joins another one, a little larger, and by proceeding along the latter the party reaches their destination in less than an hour. The fortified village of the Mountaineers is built on a large terrace on the far side of the deep valley you are in now. A steep road is the only way in and, to make things worse, it is flanked by a stone wall and protected by a gate, guarded by sentinels. “A few good soldiers could hold that gate against a large army for weeks,” Jimpah frowns. There is a second terrace several hundred yards above the village. A strange building stands on it, its features completely different from the architecture of the village. There are pagoda-like towers and crammed buildings huddled together to form a structure unique in its kind. “That’s the Monastery,” Jimpah says. “If we want to rescue Karmella, we must find a way in, and it won’t be easy.”

There is something spooky about Monastery that no one can quite define, but after a while everyone understands that the mountain above it keeps it in constant shadow, so that it is never exposed to direct sunlight. It is a place of perpetual darkness, no light comes from its narrow windows, and it seems lifeless.

While our group of heroes is surveying the Monastery, a loud gong from deep within the mournful building echoes through the whole valley. Then, a black cloud rises from it and swoops down the entire valley, like a huge, malevolent hand. “Bats!” Jimpah orders. “Quick, let’s hide behind these rocks! These beasts could be something other than they appear!” The beasts pass over your head, apparently without noticing the party, and then return to the dark domes of their cursed home. A single, twisting passage leads from the village to the Monastery.

The party quickly deduces that there are two ways in.  They can climb the cliff and try to enter the Monastery that way, or they can dress as mountain folk and try to sneak in. Originally, they decided to climb but with nearly disastrous results.  After that, the party donned mountain folk gear that they had taken from their fallen foes and entered the village.  Following the crowd, the party enters a large Common Hall.

The Common Hall is a big wooden hut, smelling of sweat, smoke and sheep’s droppings, but at least it is warm. Long low tables are arranged all around with sheep’s skins to be used as cushions, and many Mountaineers are sitting in silent groups.

After they sit down, some shy Mountaineer women, wrapped in heavy clothes, serve them a hot soup of mutton and mountain garlic. It isn't very tasty but at least it warms their bones. You notice that alcohol is banned from the table.  With a little careful listening, they hear in whispered tones that the Korras will be formerly be named Lord over all of the Mountain tribes.  An hour before midnight, the gong in the Monastery sounds again and the people in the Hall start murmuring. Then, some monk guards, Mountaineers wearing the same armor as Ruman Gask’s soldiers, come in. Their leader, a stocky fellow with a fanatical light in his eyes, speaks to the gathered crowd. “Tonight you’ll witness the power of the Black Flame and of Korras, Lord of all the Mountains. Put on your cloaks and be ready to follow.” All the Mountaineers bow their heads. Then, lifting their hoods against the cold temperature, they make their way to the Monastery of Shadows. Our group quietly joins the procession.

The interior of the Monastery is huge and it is an easy task for the party to separate off from the rest of the procession and being to search for Princess Karmella.  After wondering through the labrityh of the Monastery, the party hears a conversation between an old servant and a young one.

Old servant: “Jinzu, you lazy moron, you are late once again!” Young Servant: “I am sorry, Pelai; I was busy feeding the bats…” Old Servant: “A lame excuse, as usual! Now, take these towels to the Princess, before I have you whipped!” Young Servant: “As you command!” The party hears the young servant walking their way.  The rest of the party attempts to hide while Sylph steeps out of the shadows and asks the young servant Jinzu if he can help her.  Jinzu, a novice of the Black Flame, KNOWS that the woman should not be in this part of the Monastery but at the moment as he stares at her cleavage, the really doesn’t care.  Jinzu tells her that he must take the towels to the Princess.  Sylph assures him that she would be more than happy to follow him to the Princess’s cell and then he can help her find her way back to the main hall. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, Jinzu realizes that he should call the guards and have the woman arrested but he is not thinking with his brain.  Another party of his anatomy is calling the shots by this point.  He readily agrees.  (Sylph can be VERY persuasive.)  With the party following, Jinzu leads the party to the Princess.

After dropping of the towels, Sylph suggests that perhaps they investigate one of the empty rooms down the hall.  With a song in his heart, Jinzu agrees.  Sylph only planned to distract him a few minutes, but, with some very lucky dice rolls, Jinzu turned out to be an exceptional lover and she ended up being distracted herself, multiple times as it turns out.

While Sylph “distracted” the young monk, the rest of the party entered the cell where the Princess was kept after Sul’khaz picks the lock.  They open the elegant door in front of them and stop on the threshold of a large room in semi-darkness. For a moment they contemplate the woman that has cost you so much pain and effort. She sleeps in an enormous four-poster bed. She must be having a nightmare, because she tosses and turns, a pained expression on her delicate face. A thin silver chain secured to the wall and locked around her slender wrist keeps her captive. As the party moves in, out the shadows spring two bat hounds.

At last, the Princess!

Bad dog!

Dead bad dog....
The fight is over rather quickly as the hounds are quickly dispatched.  As Shangor frees his would be bride, the Princess awakes.  “Oh, my Lord,” she murmurs, “you shouldn't have come here. It is a trap!”  After waiting for several minutes, Sylph finally returns with a very giddy look on her face.  Now, they can try to make their escape.

The party had just left Karmella’s prison when the gong is sounded three times. “Something’s happened,” Jimpah says, with urgency in his voice. “We must move on.”  While the party is cautiously crossing a room that they hadn’t seen before, they spot a group of guards coming right their way. There are too many of them. “Come on!” The fat monk says, leading them into the dark corridor. Going on, the passage ends in one of the strangest rooms they have ever seen.

It is a wide, round hall, with tall walls and a sort of gallery, like the ones seen in theatres or Imperial arenas, running along the whole perimeter. But the strangest thing is in the middle of the room: a massive flame, at least five yards tall and made of pure darkness, rises from a fissure in the ground! The flame is erratic and flickering, as if it were about to go out, but it continues to burn without anything visible fueling it. Despite its absolute blackness, you can see people approaching.  They party quickly realizes that they are seeing a reflection of themselves.  As they turn to leave, they are cut off by a large number of monks and warriors.
Their leader is a tall, bald man, with a large scar on his face. He is accompanied by a group of monk guards and Mountaineer Warriors. Despite his rough appearance, Korras, the evil mind behind this whole mess, bears an unmistakable resemblance to Prince Ulesir.

“My hated brother,” he says, “I never imagined you’d be able to wield an axe one day but, when I watched you kill Ruman Gask, you surprised me, I must confess.” He points his finger toward the Flame. You understand you have been spied through the Flame for quite some time. “I thought about sending someone to capture you but, well… you foolishly came all the way here by yourself. So, why bother?” he adds with an evil smile. “Well, brother. Now you are here, and we have a little matter to settle. You see the Black Flame? It is faltering after centuries of perpetual burning. The Keepers, masters of this place, know the reason: once every century it needs a soul, a very specific one, the soul of a Divided Man to keep burning. And you, my brother, are the Divided Man of this century!” Just then the group notices tall, gaunt figures on the balcony, monks hundreds of years old come back for the rite. They are the oldest members of the order and are here for the Rekindling of the Black Flame. They raise their skeletal hands holding stone amulets, like the ones possessed by the assassin on the Blue Arrow and by Ruman Gask, and they point the evil objects at Shangor.  “And now, it is time to die!” Korras says, with an evil smile on his face, while the monks direct the power of their wicked weapons against the Shangor.  The final begins!

Crashing Evil Con.

Evil Con from a different angle

Evil Con from the Player's point of view.
Shangor and Jimpah step up to fight Korras while Hawk charges the monks and warriors.  Sul’khaz summons wolves to attack the old men in the balcony while Katrina begins firing arrows into at the old monks in the balcony as well.  Most of the mountain warriors fire their bows and Sylph is wounded.  As Shangor and Korras exchange blows, sudden both men cry out in pain.  Korras has a surprised look on his face.

“Fool!” Jimpah spits. “The soul of a Divided Man means that two people shares part of the same spirit: in this case you and your brother! The Keepers will sacrifice both of you to the Flame!”“No! It cannot be!” Korras shouts, full of anger. Suddenly, the monks attack the mountain warriors as well, ending their barrage of arrows.

Shangor feels intense pain, as if his very soul was being torn from him, and this is actually what is happening: his spirit is draining away from your body to feed the Black Flame. The strange fire blazes and roars, satisfied for a moment, then it sputters and start to fade again. The Keepers, the guards and everyone else stop, amazed and terrified at the same time. “You live in darkness, and darkness has blinded you!” Jimpah thunders. “You haven’t seen that this man isn’t Prince Ulesir? He is only a double and his soul cannot rekindle your flame! You have polluted it, and now it is going to die!” Terror appears on the Keepers’ ghastly faces! Then, as one, they raise their amulets and point them at themselves. “They want to feed the Flame with their own souls!” Jimpah shout. “We must kill them before they do!”

Leaving the monks on the lower level to fight the mountain warriors, Hawk charges up stairs and dispatches one of the Keepers with a mighty blow from her Medusa blade.   Katrina finishes off another with her bow.   The remaining keepers do not go down as easily.  Sylph moves up to fight the Keepers but is nearly dispatched.  Korras, though weakened, is getting the best of Shangor.  Shangor is bleeding from two wounds while he has yet to score a single one on Korras.  However, before Korras can kill Shangor, the finally Keeper is finally killed.

The fight starts

The monks turn on the mountain warriors

Shangor and Jimpah battle Korras while Katrina fires into the balcony
When the last Keeper is dispatched, the Black Flame shrinks becoming, if possible, even blacker. “Let’s go!” Jimpah shouts, and the party to do so. The Black Flame explodes. You sense a sort of black wave passing through walls and solid objects as if through air. Strangely, you feel nothing. Suddenly all your enemies start moaning and crying desperately: “Help me! Help me! I am blind! I am blind!” This is the call you hear from everyone you meet. In the meantime, the bats fly around wildly. “Let’s leave this cursed place!” Jimpah urges you.  Shangor stares down at his hated foe and leaves him to his fate and the party leaves the Monastery of Shadows for good.

They party travels for a few days to get back to Rusty Lake.  It has become apparent that Princess Karmella is grown very fond of Shangor know that she realizes that he is not Prince Ulesir.  When they reach the Rusty Lake, they see a cloud of dust in the distance. It is a small army coming from Shan’Ammar. Prince Ulesir leads it… well, he is actually in a little well protected van surrounded by his most trusted guards. When the vanguard of the small army meets you, you are hastily sent to the Prince. Many soldiers watch in amazement as the exact double of their lord stands, dirty and battered, in front of them.

Prince Ulesir, seated in his heavily protected litter, shows in his sophisticated way the concern he feels for his wife’s safety: “My dear, when Marduk sent a message bird to say you were in the hands of that evil brute, I had to do something! I gathered my soldiers and rushed to save you!” He adds in an affected tone, before continuing. “I am happy these brave men and women saved your life and they will be greatly rewarded. Now, my wife, take your seat by my side.” Ulesir points at a decorated litter next to his.” Karmella sighs and then, ragged and dirty as she is, she climbs into her rightful place with a sad, longing glance back at Shangor. “My dear, you might want to take a bath before joining me for the dinner!” adds her husband, with a slightly disgusted face.  Shangor just shakes his head….

The party takes their money and heads off for further adventures, all except for Katrina, whose skill both horse and bow has won the admiration of the Valk warriors and their ruler.  She will stay. Thus ends my first Beasts and Barbarians campaign. This group rotates systems and GMs so it is someone else’s turn.  It was a blast and I hope to run it again in the future with this group or maybe another if need be.  I hope you have enjoyed reading the log.  Now, I am four sessions behind with my Crypts and Things game and need to write up sessions for that.