Iralun – session 8

Failing the escort quest

Our Heroes
– Farshad – A merchant adventurer, small of stature, blamed for more than he should be
– Dhran the White – A farmboy seeking his way in the world, owning his name to a brush with fear
– Juan José – A mercenary and healer from the barbarous West
– Jushuur – A mercenary and ranger, deadly in combat, a half-immortal Perim
– Utana – A noble and agent of the Haraxan magistrate Niralha
– Jalabu – A merchant guard with questionable skills from the far south, who thinks Farshad could be blamed for more
– Gunion – scholar and practitioner of mystic arts, currently studying secret tablets in an unknown location, a half-immortal Perim

Picking this up four weeks after the last session, with the notes for this session written five weeks ago, even after rereading it took a couple of starts to get me on track with it, but we got there

Dhran is still under care of the Temple of Ghalmerha, and Jalabu is still coming to terms with who he is (ie the players are off this week), so Farshad, José, Jushuur and Utana ponder where to go next. Do they flee the city? Do they try to deal with the High Priestess of the main temple, currently hovering over the central square in a corona of Black Fire and predicting the coming of the Dark.

They speak to Teralag, priestess of Ghalmerha, wondering if her Temple would remain safe from the Darkness and bolts of Aslahya, pondering that they might be able to shoot the High Priestess from afar, protected by wards in the Temple grounds.

Teralag was unsure, and reluctant to put it to the test, particularly as even if the Temple is proof against the magic of the Dark, it might not be proof against physical attack should Aslahya take people over and send them against the Temple of Ghalmerha. Instead the group decided to see if there were any clues in the Aslahya’s own Temple of Mamdedmerha or in her quarters.

Hans Holbein's Dance of Death (1523–5) – The Public Domain Review

Once outside, the streets showed evidence of building chaos and fear gripping the city. Soldiers were barring the gates against townsfolk trying to flee, the streets to the river quays were likewise barricaded. In some places the streets were empty, but windows and doors were being reinforced, cavalry were on patrol, and here and there knots of people seemed to be trying to find reassurance from each other. Groups of the desperate even seemed to be considering assaulting the towers of the city walls , to get up to the walls and down the other side.

Trying to build a bit of atmosphere here, things are not going well and there should be a palpable tension, but I did not want to just say “there is a tension in the air that you could cut with a knife.” I wanted to convey that. Occasionally you get an argument about “Are GMs storytellers” which is about how much agency a player character has in an RPG. In a sense though, all players, including GMs, need to tell a story now and again. 

The group skirted the main square north, in order to elude the gaze of the hovering priestess and by a roundabout route came to the rear of the Temple, which seemed devoid of visitors, and only one priest visible, who was nervously standing across the street, seemingly trying trying to work up the nerve to go in. Their resolve was undermined by the apocalyptic ravings and unnerving laughter of the High Priestess Aslanya and the screams of her five victims.

The group approached the priest, learning their name was Garidth, and asked them if anyone was inside. They said no, that all had fled. The group manage to overcome Garidth’s terror of returning inside on condition that they  but agreed to accompany the group and ensure that they committed no sacrilege and to act as a witness to their deeds in the Temple.

They proceeded around the main temple, looking for anything out of place, noting faded grandeur in the wooden pillars carved with stories of Mamdedmerha, paint fading and peeling frescoes, however the holy fires still burned pure blue, unsullied by the Dark, so far.

The Ninth Gate: occult and tarot-like symbolism in the engravings by  Aristide Torchia and Lucifer, plus wider meanings of the movie | David J  Rodger ¦ Science Fiction & Dark FantasyThe main Temple being clear, they went through the robing room to the stairs up to the accommodation on the side building. The first level up proved to be a dormitory, obviously deserted in haste, looking like it had been turned over and ransacked as people fled. Garidth gathers his personal effects, some amulets, a few tablets and a cheese sandwich in a bag.

Heading to the next stairs, Farshad stealthily went up, to be halted by a goat footed figure, stomping about. Farshad, just as stealthily stole back down again. Utana and José readied their bows and, suspecting that this opponent was supernatural, silver arrows. Utana’s first shot skewered one leg of the figure, which reveals itself to be a camel headed monstrosity, mocking the shape of mortals, that then seemed to fade partly into shadow, becoming indistinct.

With an arcane gesture the creature scrambled José’s wits, leaving him useless in the fight, stuck in the spot not sure of who he was, wha he was doing or what a stair actually was for. Farshad tried to slip past the creature, but couldn’t make it, as it stamped about, claws ripping at Utana. Jushuur tried to slap José to his senses, but although he caused him a bit of damage, José was left still out of it, his brains even more rattled. The creature leapt over Utana, trying to crash into Jushuur, but it overshot, it’s back to most of the fighters.

For an old fashioned tactical combat map game, in fact a version of the DQ combat system was published as a stand alone game, the system does have a nice “try anything” mechanic, which works for leaping NPCs as well as PCs.

Frustrated, its barbed tail darted forward, slicing through Garidth, killing him instantly. Another of the creatures appear but, as the first is near death and José has recovered his wits, it is not long before the two are despatched, dissolving, deliquescing and sublimating into nothingness.

Having watch Aliens this week, it was really hard not to turn this Shadow creature into a Xenomorph. I did not entirely succeed.

José laid Garidth’s body, on a bed, as tidily as he could manage,  laying his possessions beside him, except for the cheese sandwich, which Farshad took. After a decent interval, they proceed to the top level, seeing three doors, two plain and one more intricately carved. The two plain doored rooms both proved to be simple, sparsely furnished and  mirror images of the other, a bed, a desk, shelves of tablets and scrolls, a fireplace. The first, however, had a body stuffed into the fireplace, still smouldering, the second had the bed up against the wall and a rope made of sheets obviously used to clamber down and escape to the roof of the kitchens.

Most of the documents were internal matters of religious works of little interest, but on the desk of the second room was the start of a note about how the inhabitant was worried about the unorthodox statements and theology the High Priestess had started to utter.

The final room was a slightly larger version of the first two, with a couple of chairs for visitors and more texts and a few symbols of the Goddess Mamdedmerha,  However amongst those texts were more recent notes that indicated a disturbed mind, fixating on some abstruse obsession, the fresher the notes are, the more worrisome they become.

On the side table, however, was a lead bound book that to most seemed harmless, if perhaps unusual. To José, however, it screamed evil, to a degree that shocked him even more than Teralag was shocked by the knife Dhran carries. No doubt recent mental contact with a, minor goddess, and injury by a weapon of the dark made him receptive to it, but, despite the abhorrence, found himself drawn to it. 

He grasped the hateful thing and it was only with a supreme effort of will that he managed not to try and read anything, save the title, which meant nothing to him “Simartad Signih“. The group debated what to do with this artefact. How could they destroy it, and where was a handy axeman to try and cleave it with his father’s axe? In the end, they gathered combustibles and set a fire, ready to throw the book upon it, yet not one was able to put it into the flames.

This whole “One Ring” thing going on here was unintentional, it was just the way it worked out, but the quotes were there because we are obsessed fans.

After more discussion, they settled on putting it into a box and taking it to Teralag, maybe she would know what to do with it. Outside the streets were still a strange mix of empty and crowded, the crowds attracted to places of exit or potential sanctuary. The crowd outside the Temple of Ghalmerha was getting immense and the armed priests had to shove desperate citizen aside to let the group through to find High Priestess Teralag.

She looks but refuses to touch the book, and tells the group what this “Simartad Signih – The Book of Truth” is. It is a work dedicated to evil and the destruction of the cosmic order. It can only be read in relative safety by those who know the rituals and charms to render themselves safe, and those have been long lost. Tt is said that even then,  no one escapes unscathed, the mind of the strongest becomes corrupted and rendered receptive to evil.. If this item is the source of the evil, then it can only be destroyed by a holy relic. Alas the cheese sandwich Farshad mentions, but does not offer, is not holy enough. There is perhaps only one relic left in all Iralun that is perhaps holy and powerful enough to destroy this book,  the Sceptre of Mamdedmerha, kept in the House of the Children of Memdedmerha, a militant order of warrior-priests.

They contemplated Farshad going on his own to steal away the Sceptre, but decided that they would have better luck with the talents of all the group. Again by circuitous routes  the group headed to the House, only to be stopped by one company of soldiers to their front, and another coming up behind. A lieutenant approached them and told them that the Council of Thirteen demanded their presence. Pleas that they were on a mission from a Goddess went unheard, they were lousy pleaders. To the Council House they went.

The Council House is on the main square, across a lane from the Temple of Mamdedmerha and too close to Aslahya, so rather than use the grand entrance, they went to the staff entrance at the back, most of the troops remaining outside. They were still “guests” rather than “prisoners”, no matter how insistently their presence was demanded, and so they retained their weapons though, once in the Council chamber, they were asked to lay them on a table to the side of them. 

At the far end of the Chamber was an intentionally imposing dias and high table, behind which sat most of the Council of Thirteen and, in front of these,  Erihim, Lord Chairman of the City laid out the Council’s concerns.

‘Several days ago, the Kotharimi caravan arrived in lralun with you forming part of its escort. I hear that it had an “exciting” journey. It left a few days ago. this time without you, but returned after two days: This time with the escort nailed to the sides of the wagons.

“Yesterday. you were poking around Khalkedon Way and carting around Kurrim corpses while Aslanya, the leader of our most holy Temple, appeared on the Temple roof and. after some nonsense about it being Dark, caught fire along with five of our Citizens. They are still there!

“In the panic which followed many of our citizens were killed and more injured.

“You were later seen in her quarters. “s there, I wonder. any connection? Some of our citizens about three hundred in all, left Iralun yesterday evening heading south. However, our patrols now inform us, those soldiers that returned that is, that the heads of our former neighbours now form a ring around the town.

“You were also in the Griffon when a brawl threatened to break out and then just as mysteriously went away, as if by magic.

“You were at the Astrologers when she had her ‘accident’. What is going on?’

“Oh, oh, yes, and you were seen near the Rebel’s Head before it went on fire, leading to many deaths. Everywhere we turn, you are there!  You were in the Temple of Mamdedmerha, where we found two dead priests. One of you is even now covered in blood! What have you to say to that?

The group tried to defend themselves but it was not a strong defence, tales of kidnap did not absolve them, especially when Jushuur admitted that the location of the kidnapped José was that same Rebel’s Head that had had a mysterious and unexplainable fire. Tales of demons that left no trace did not seem to be convincing.

Outside a mob had formed, almost overwhelming the soldiers, and demanding that the group be brought out to be lynched, some rumour that these were the architects of the City’s woes had got out. Hurling insults and rocks, they seemed almost any minute ready to break in. The shock of this allowed silenced the Council long enough for the group to get the gist of their mission across, and the Council hurriedly debated whether or not to trust the group and take a chance that they could solve the whole City’s problem in one go.

In the end, the answer was “yes”, they would be lead out by secret means and taken to the Sceptre. After they had gathered their gear, and swapped weapons so that each left with what they arrived with, the lieutenant led them out the Council House via the cellars and out to the street through another house, and by shadowed alleyways until they reached the doors of the House of the Children of Mamdedmerha and, about to hammer at the gates, there we left them.

Next part kind of assumes something that is not appropriate to this party, so that is going to be interesting. I only hope I am up to the role-playing challenge that it might present.

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