Monday, November 17, 2014

D&D #45: A Dying World

As Percy’s door closed and the train dove back into the fiery lake, The party got a much clearer view of their surroundings. On the other side of the lake, resembling nothing so much as a group of towering stalagmites reaching up toward the dark ceiling far above, is what can only be the city Percy had described. Lights pour out of many of the tower windows, signs of civilization.

Between this shore and the city they could see several boats apparently crossing the molten lake, heading for a dock further along the shore. What at first looked like a bridge across the lake, further along the shore, did not seem to be an unbroken path on closer inspection. Rather, it almost looked like a pillar that had broken and fallen into the fiery lake.

Here and there, on this side of the lake, are other massive pillars, still standing, stretching from the floor to the distant ceiling. These pillars glow a dim red, and look like nothing so much as pillars of dying fire stretching toward the sky. There were other pillars nearby as well, though those seemed broken and fallen apart, just like the one in the lake. They appeared to be completely cold and lifeless.

The party found themselves in a small town wrought of stone, though there was no movement int he buildings. There was nobody in the streets, or any signs of live in the vicinity.

Miles seemed to be curious, slowly getting over his initial revulsion at the sight of the dead.

Dog seemed to be mostly keeping an eye on Miles while walking over to an unlit streetlamp and lifting his leg.

Kirtan seemed to be taking everything in for a moment before turning around toward the party.

“This is it," he said. "We are now officially in enemy territory. Hide your tattoos carefully. If they recognize us, we may not make it out alive. Wear masks if you have to. If anybody asks, we are mummers from another land. We have an artist, an illusionist, a comedian, a musician, a storyteller, and an animal trainer," he said, pointing to Kanaiyo, then John Freeman, then Tyriron, then Buck, then Ere-sat, and finally himself. Then, he looked at Miles. "And you, Ma’ari… if you try anything-”

“Don’t you worry about me," said Miles. "These are not my people. Or, if they are, I don’t want them to be. I can’t imagine my people stooping to- to- …this!” Wave arms around, generally.

Kirtan stared at Miles for a moment, then nodded and continued speaking to the party. “You people have a dynamic already, and I don’t want to take charge if I don’t have to. Better if I act as support, keeping an eye out for danger and covering our tracks. All I suggest is that you act like travellers unfamiliar with this place and ask many questions. If we’re lucky, people will be so occupied answering your questions that they won’t ask many themselves. Other than that, consider myself and Dog at your command...within reason. If I see a reason to break off and go my own way for a while, however, I will. Any objections?”

Buck objected that it seemed like Kirtan didn't like them very much, but otherwise they were in agreement.

They proceeded to investigate the houses nearby, finding them to be strangely unoccupied. The strange part was that, other than the lack of inhabitants, the buildings seemed like they should be occupied: there was uneaten food on the tables, maybe a day old. There was clothes in the closets and utensils in the cabinets, all things most people would bring with them if they had moved away.

Also, there were Ma'ari runes everywhere. Miles, sticking with Kanaiyo and being followed by Dog, freely translated any runes asked of him: above the door to an inn were runes of welcome and good fortune, runes of reinforcement covered the forks, and so on.

Buck and Tyriron, meanwhile, explored a smith (where they picked up a couple of sledgehammers) and some houses (where Buck picked up many sets of underwear, stitched with runes that help them retain elasticity).

John Freeman could find no evidence of a monetary system, even at the inn.

Kanaiyo found a single bit of evidence that suggested a struggle: a bloody spear, resting against a wall in the inn. Though Miles assured him that the Ma'ari are pacifists and never use weapons themselves, the spear suggested otherwise. Kanaiyo used Dog to try and track the source of the spear.

Dog led the party out of town, away from the fiery lake. Eventually they reached the remains of a fallen pillar, behind which they spied a ceremony. A young man, standing before five dead bodies, spoke to a crowd of several hundred, perhaps even a thousand people. 

“...They attacked us," said the young man, "but I believe it was our fault. Or, specifically, it was mine. I allowed you to surprise them, and they were frightened. Next time I will go to them myself, unarmed, and I will try to negotiate with them.”

The crowd began to whisper among themselves angrily. They were clearly Ma’ari, according to Miles, though they were not the beautiful, statuesque Ma’ari shown in histories. Many of them were old, ugly, and broken. They were bundled up for warmth, even though it was not terribly cold here, so close to the lake of fire. Many of them carried spears and shields, though not the same sort of spear that Kanaiyo found.

The young man who was speaking to them, trying to calm them down, was handsome and looked to be in good shape, though his face was marked with grief. Behind him stood an older man, dressed in black robes trimmed with silver runes. Upon seeing him, Miles sucked in his breath.

Eventually the crowd calms, and the young man continued: “I understand your anger at our brethren, but this is our only hope. They may be the only other people left in this world, and we have to work together. We have traveled far and lost many of our people along the way. Our travels must come to an end. If we go forward in force, it will only end in bloodshed. Alone, as the leader of my people, we may be able to strike an alliance.”

The crowd seemed mollified, concerned for their leader’s wellbeing. Eventually, after the young man reassured the crowd a few times, the man in black whispered into the young man’s ear.

“It’s time for the ceremony!" said the young man. "Once it is over, my journey will begin.”

The crowd watched as the man in black began to sing a song over the corpses on the ground. Unlike the singing Miles did when he cast rune magic, this song was harsh, cold, and dreadful. Misty forms rose out of the corpses on the ground, and at a command from the man in black, they parted from the bodies.

Miles seems to visibly shake watching this, and just when it seemed he could take it no more, Buck's plan was put into action.

During the young man's speech, while most everyone else was trying to watch the proceedings, Buck was carefully stringing together the underwear he had found. When we was done, as the man in black robes was performing his ritual, Buck attempted to get a good view of the proceedings... and was immediately noticed. Very quickly, the party was surrounded by armed, dead guards.

The party surrendered without a fight, and the young man asked their business. Buck explained that they were traveling salesmen, and boy did he ever have a product to show them! He demonstrated his invention by taking Tyriron and firing him into the air, using the string of underwear as a slingshot. Tyriron, having been shot 40ft into the air, was missed by Buck on the way down and was saved by Ere-sat's casting of Feather Fall, one of her new rune spells.

The young man was confused, but it was clear to him that these people were, at least, not from the city, and therefore likely not spies. The party had questions, but encouraged the young man to finish the ceremony first.

So, the ceremony proceeded, and the dead rose. First was a dead child, rising and running to her parents for a brief moment of near-life before she was send the the other dead. As it turned out, the vast majority of the young man's crowd was dead.

There were also three soldiers, wielding shields and spears, who lost their lives in a battle with the people of the town after a misunderstanding. They, too, joined the ranks of the dead.

Last was a man dressed in regal attire, who the young man bowed to. The dead king looked confused, and the young man, sighing, stood and turned away. The king had been his father, the young man revealed, and he had died here near the end of their journey.

The young man explained that his people traveled to this place after their kingdom began to freeze when their colossus died. When the party expressed confusion over what a colossus was, the prince pointed to the massive columns. They were conduits that transferred light and heat to the upper levels of the planet. Many of these were broken, though, here near the planet core, and the destruction looked intentional. He had to hope that such destruction was done out of ignorance of the consequences.

His people began to create the dead after a drop in their birth rate caused a shortage of workers. They began to use their magic to simply revive the dead and create a permanent source of labor. This went fine until the colossus died and their realm became dark and cold.

The young man expressed concern that, soon, the Realm of Stone will simply be a planet of the dead.

The session ended when a couple of scouts arrived, reporting that an army had just landed on this side of the lake and was heading this way.

MVP for this session was Kanaiyo, whose investigative instincts led the party to this strange group of necromantic Ma'ari.

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