The Well of the Halfhollows, Part Three

We had another great session this past Saturday with the play test group for Song of the Pale Stone. Spooky ruins, character drama, and strange happenings met our PCs face to face as they continued their search for Lady Grilea Miren and worked to uncover more of the plight of the Ad’Tai.

Our third session consisted of the following players:

  • Hodjai, “Ji-HO”, the Djenndan fighter, played by @Evan
  • Lemurt, “Lem”, the kahlnissá ghost, played by @Terri
  • Sookta, the Djenndan blacksmith, played by @xSubNuke
  • Ts’uviti, the viantu savant, played by @saelbrin

The adventurers were also joined by two NPCs they have met during their travels–Dezeva, a viantu sage and potion addict who likes to balance on objects, and Dars “The Plank” Mardagin, a human survivalist with a grating Kimenian accent. Additionally, Hodjai managed to find a pet in our last session, named “Dogedan,” who we will soon learn was separated from the group early on in the evening.

The adventure continued at sundown as the group rested just inside the tree line nearly one hundred yards from the entrance to a grand Torlish ruin. What surprised the group was that this ancient structure seemed to show the signs of recent activity. The metal bridge that connects the entrance doors to the opposite side of a great moat was fully extended. Torches lined the outer part of the structure, casting a shimmering light on the dark granite and making the orange flecks of stone dance in the waning light. An odd chanting could be heard, faintly, adding a creepy apprehension to the prospect of having a look inside.

The adventurers began to discuss how they might go about investigating the entrance. It was clear that the only way into the front of this structure was across the extended metal bridge and through the large, iron-bound doors. However, walking across the bridge would certainly expose them to anyone who might be watching the area. Suddenly (and some might say bravely), Lemurt decided to use her agile skills to move quietly across the clearing to the moat. Climbing down toward the water slightly, she reached and grabbed the metal rungs under the bridge and moved toward the structure to peer inside the doors.  Through agility and just plain luck, she was able to make this look easy.

What Lem’ noticed was an entry way that seemed to be inviting people inside. The coast looked clear, so she climbed atop the bridge and began to wave the group over. Hodjai told Dogedan to stay back in the tree line, and the group tried quickly and quietly to move to Lem’s position. They peered inside the great entry doors and saw an empty entrance hall. The floor of the hall was rough stone, much like the outside walls of the structure; in the floor were visible cracks from which an odd, hot air emanated. The chanting was more prominent here. Standing awkwardly at the door for a moment, the group finally decided to file inside. As soon as they crossed the threshold and entered the hall, a loud churning jolt was felt as the drawbridge suddenly began to retract. Within a minute they were trapped in the structure, and poor Dogedan was left in the tree line, far on the other side of the moat.

Three inner-doors faced them here in the entrance hall: one to the north, one to the east, and one to the west. The adventurers began to investigate the room, checking for any further surprises. Unluckily, as Sookta fumbled about searching for other hidden passages, he managed to close the main entrance doors. They locked in place as they closed, essentially locking the adventurers inside the massive Torlish structure. They were left with three choices–north, east, or west. They listened at each of the doors, and after much deliberation finally decided they would avoid the eastern door and attempt to travel north. More fouled luck caused them to break the lock on the northern door, and Sookta finally had to break down the door in a feat of strength. The wood loudly shattered from its ancient hinges and fell inward, revealing a long, wide corridor that stretched far out of sight.

Just as the adventurers were gathering their bearings for what the north door had revealed, they heard something approaching from down the corridor ahead. A short, reptilian creature with long protruding fangs entered the main hall. It wore a scant loincloth, but the rest of its body was covered with a symbols drawn in white clay. The reddish hue of the beastfolk’s scaly skin was surprisingly similar in color to the flecks of orange in the granite floor. One of the adventurers gasped; “It’s a dragonkin!”

The reptilian creature stopped before the group, staring in wonder. The PCs assessed the threat in the beastfolk’s intent, and determined that it seemed to bear no ill will toward them. It simply stood over the cracks in the floor, tossed its javelin onto the ground, and stared. In the background, the creepy chanting continued.

The adventurers each attempted to communicate with the creature somehow, but each time they would speak or make noise, the dragonkin would only respond by opening its fanged mouth in a gaping, almost surprised way. When the communication ceased, the dragonkin returned to standing, staring, waiting. This dance continued for roughly ten minutes, when suddenly the chanting sounds stopped. The absence of the creepy, bitonal chants made the nearly unbearable heat seem almost audible.

But the quieted chants seemed to give rise to another oddity. The dragonkin suddenly pulled a knife from his loin belt and buried it into his own chest just below what must be its sternum. It howled and gurgled as it painfully disemboweled itself before the horrified group of adventurers. Twisting and dragging the knife sideways in its last living gesture, the dragonkin spilled its guts and blood into the cracks of the floor and fell dead.

10-Dragon-Skin_ZoshnaawThe sights and smell of death were nearly unbearable in the heat, but the adventurers needed to look more closely at the creature before them. They managed to convince “The Plank” to take the dragonkin’s javelin and tilt it over. The horrors of the creature’s mortal wounds revealed nothing of import, so Dars turned the creature back onto its face, muttering curses in Kimenian. The only symbol that seemed to stand out to the group was a noticeable design that was painted in white clay on the small of its back. The meaningful symbol was something of which the adventurers took note.

They worked their way through the western door at this point, welcoming a cooler air than the stuffy, death-filled heat of the main entrance hall and the room of the dragonkin’s ritualistic suicide. The floors and walls were more polished here too, though obviously covered in a patina of dust and age. Just as they had begun to explore the corridor in the west in brief, Lemurt returned to the eastern door. She could still hear odd sniffing and scratching sounds from the door, and for some unknown reason–perhaps bewitched by the stifling heat of the room–Lem’ leaned toward the keyhole and gave an audible hoot into the doorway. Immediately dogs began to bark on the other side of the door, and a commotion began to stir.

The befuddled adventurers began to ready themselves for the inevitable battle. Ts’uviti cursed Lem’ openly and “The Plank” rushed toward the center of the room with his trusted weapon at the ready. Hodjai and Sookta waited on either side of the door as the commotion inside seemed to grow closer to the barking dogs. Then Hodjai had a revelation. Since it seemed that whatever was on the other side of the door was headed through no matter what, he tried to mimic an owl hooting. He hoped it would distract anyone inside from thinking there was a threat nearby. Miraculously, it worked. The hooting managed to convince whomever was on the other side of the door that the dogs were barking at an owl, or something non-threatening. There was a sharp scolding sound, a canine yelp, and then the commotion subsided. No one opened the door. The adventurers took their cue and retreated through the western door as quietly as they could. “The Plank” insisted that he close the door behind them, and the adventurers agreed. The group gathered their thoughts in the corridor, the air cooler and the tension subsided somewhat. Still in the background, coming from somewhere, the chanting continued to echo.

The adventurers searched the closest rooms connected to the corridor. A room through a door to the south led to the outer wall of the structure, inside which there was a crack-like window too small for even the viantu in the party to squeeze through. A room north of the corridor contained elaborate tapestries and ornate furniture, but little else. Through a further northern door, however, the adventurers found an odd antechamber lined with reddish torches. The fire burned slowly a darker red than normal fire, somehow seeming to give off less heat than would be expected.

elements-fire

Ts’uviti hushed the party. Calling on his years of training as a professional scholar, he knew the tale behind the red fire. It was the tale of the half god Zoshnaaw. Long ago, Zoshnaaw was a noble of high worth who was obsessed with immortality. He wished to extend his life, to surpass old age and disease and so he set his wisest scholars and sages to the task of granting him eternal life. For years the scholars searched for a way to make Zoshnaaw immortal, to no avail. Finally, while on his death bed, the sages and mystics of the Order devised a way to transform him, using a substance called Vostiar’s Fire. The fire consumed Zoshnaaw, and then became him. The noble rose as a flaming monstrosity and consumed everyone in the castle. The scholars had been successful in creating an immortal Zoshnaaw, but the cost for his immortality was that his fire constantly needed to be fed. Zoshnaaw traveled the countryside burning and blazing everything and everyone in his path. The sages needed to undo what they had done, but they could find a way to stop Zoshnaaw from his merciless conflagration. That is, of course, until they learned to create the red fire. Red fire burns cooler than normal fire; in fact it absorbs normal fire into itself. If the red fire is around, it is around for a reason.

Hearing this, several party members each grabbed a red fire torch in the hopes that it would be useful during their exploration of the ruins. From this antechamber the adventurers traveled west through the door at the end of the room, finding themselves in a granary closet.

It was here where the group was met by four dragonkin, beastfolk who must have heard them enter the granary closet. The reptilians burst through the opposite door, cackling and attacking. A vicious battle ensued, one that severely injured Lemurt and wounded Hodjai. The group managed to overcome and kill the beastfolk, but not without a dramatic struggle to survive. When the dragonkin lay dead, the adventurers caught their breath, let the grain dust settle, and took stock of what had just happened.

Ts’uviti decided he wanted to see what these reptilian beastfolk were made of, and in an odd bit of corpse mutilation attempted to dissect a dragonkin’s shoulder and chest cavity. His task failed miserably, and Dezeva, shaking her head derisively, decided to show Ts’uviti how things were done. With her dagger she artfully carved up another dragonkin corpse, peeling back its chest cavity revealing an interesting dark brown gland. Lem’ goaded “The Plank” into poking the gland with his prized weapon; when he did the squirmy gland popped, smelling foul.

Prolonging this menagerie of desecration, Lemurt removed the dead beast’s loin garments and proceeded to dip the cloth into the glandular fluid and light it on fire. Immediately, the cloth burst into flames as if a blacksmith’s forge had erupted in her hands. The fire flashed up Lemurt’s arm burning painfully and nearly causing her to fall unconscious. If not for the quick action of Ts’uviti, Lem’ would have surely perished. The viantu savant used his newly acquired torch of red fire to draw back the flames that scorched the kahlnissá ghost. The combination of the red fire and the glandular fire was acutely green for a moment, then the fire was out. The unfortunate incident left Lem’ badly injured and unable to use her arm.

The adventurers must decide what to do next. Can they find a way out of the Torlish ruins? Why are the dragonkin here and what is the strange chanting? What is the significance of the presence of red fire, and why do the beastfolk seem all to have the same symbol on their backs? Is there any hope of finding Lady Grilea Miren in this place? Only time will tell!

Thanks to all the players for a great session. There were a lot of inventive and engaging character interactions and ideas that made for a wonderful story. I’m looking forward to our next session!

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Fractalform is the gaming handle of Bret Woods--ethnomediologist, author, and lead developer of Augur's Lore RPGs. Bret is Thing 1 at http://descrypt-studios.com.

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