Sunday, June 7, 2020

Of Betrayal and Benediction

Of Betrayal and Benediction
Our online D&D game set in Ravenloft continues.

The Characters
Tekla Vardagen, half-elf warlock
13 Shattered Mirrors, tabaxi warlock/rogue
Tank Orkerson, half-orc fighter
Gnagar the Bloody, kobold monk
Al', drow cleric

Following the map that had been provided by the innkeeper of the Coxcomb, the party arrived at the estate of Leonora Vos under the cover of night. The estate's grounds were heavily forested; the paths became too narrow to drive Bela's vardo along the paths that led up the hill to a darkened shape they assumed was Vos's house--but since there were no lights on in the edifice, it was difficult to tell. There were two rough paths to choose from: one that wound its way toward an object glowing with faint luminescence and one that headed toward what appeared to be a wooden bridge spanning a pond. They decided to leave Bela and Emilia in the vardo at an apiary and walk toward the eerie glow.

The luminescent object proved to be a statue of a bathing woman in the middle of a small pond. The statue was carved from an unusual white stone that mimicked the pale light of the moon. The group noticed that the statue also included a small bird perched upon the woman's outstretched hand. Traveling onward, the party found another statue carved from the same glowing white stone. This massive statue depicted a bearded man crouched on a bed of stones; on his knee was perched a vulture carved of the same strange material. The bird motif reminded the group that the people they had questioned about Vos at the Coxcomb had referred to her as "the bird witch." They had also claimed that she was mad, but harmless...but the atmosphere of her estate was not putting the party at ease.

After encountering the statue of the bearded man, the group spotted a partially ruined stone building. Scouting the atrium of the building with Tekla's dove familiar gave them a sense of the building's layout: inside was a raised dais with statue of a cloaked man (also carved from the now familiar white stone and also including a bird companion), a large circular hole that dropped down into a basement level, and a staircase also leading down into the lower depths. The party decided it was worthwhile to explore the lower levels, figuring that the darkling rose they were looking for might be growing in subterranean depths.

The group discovered a large oak tree growing beneath the circular hole they had found above. They also found signs that the ruins were currently in use: although the chambers were dusty, there were candelabras holding partially burned candles; gardening tools that showed signs of recent use; a library of horticultural books and a hand-drawn map (with a brass acorn atop it that Al' pocketed); freshly cleaned bird cages; and a laboratory with twelve carefully cultivated specimens of rare plants--some of which were revealed to have supernatural properties by a detect magic spell.

They also discovered stairs leading down into a deeper level beneath the ruins. This lower level had been roughly carved out of the bedrock. Following the tunnels in this level led them to signs of ongoing excavation: wheelbarrows, pickaxes, shovels, and a strongbox containing gold coins and a signed contract between Vos and six dwarves that secured their services. They also found the dwarves' secret drinking alcove, which contained several casks of ale and graffiti written in Dwarvish: "This woman is mad. Now we drink!" that had clearly been written while intoxicated. Also uncovered was a deep chasm that had been drilled through the stone leading to yet another lower level.

After using ropes to rappel down, they found the corpses of the six dwarven miners. The dwarves had clearly been attacked, but their bodies evidenced a multitude of different kinds of wounds: punctures, slashes, bites...and curious residue that looked suspiciously like oil paint. The sound of rushing water could also be heard, the source of which was an underground river. Alongside the river's bank grew black flowers...the darkling rose had been located at last!

On the way back through the complex, Al' was unnerved to discover that something on his person seemed to be talking to him. The brass acorn he had taken earlier turned out to be a magical device that allows the bearer to communicate with dryads over great distances. Al' found himself in a brief conversation with Rosalva, the dryad they had encountered in the grove on the grounds of the Convent of Our Lady in the Mists. Rosalva was able to confirm that the flower was indeed the darkling rose and that it should have the power to break Emilia's curse. She also extracted a promise that they would drink mightily again soon.

The party returned to the vardo, intent on affecting a cure for Emilia using the darkling rose, the Feywild waters obtained at the convent, and the grail of Ezra. When petals from the darkling rose and the Feywild water was combined in the sacred chalice, it formed a tar-black liquid. But before they could administer the draught to Emilia, Bela drew a dagger and attempted to stab Al' in the back!

Gnargar's tarokka reading had forewarned him of this act of betrayal; his hand shot out and forcefully grabbed Bela's wrist, preventing the strike from landing true. Gnargar then punched Bela in the face, knocking him unconscious. Using the manacles they had acquired from the bounty hunters who had previously tried to apprehend them, Bela was bound and then roused back to consciousness. Interrogation revealed that Bela was not Emilia's brother; he had been searching for her because he planned on turning her monstrous child into a weapon he could use to amass personal power. He had tried to prevent the party from giving Emilia the darkling rose decoction because he believed that it would remove the curse that had destined her child to be a monster.

What he said matched what they had been told by the Raven Queen; she said that the child had the potential to either bring about a bloody apocalypse or to act as this world's savior. All of this was taken as points in favor of administering the darkling rose to Emilia. Her body violently convulsed and her eyes fluttered open! The thing in her belly no longer writhed like a serpent; the curse was lifted!

Now awake, Emilia was amazed to find herself in Lamordia. She had never seen Bela Drachen before in her life; he was certainly not her brother. She reported that she had been kidnapped by masked figures while eloping with Piotyr, her beloved, but had no memories after that. 

All that remained for the party was to locate Leonora Vos and see if she could help them find a way back to their own world. And so, with Emilia in tow, they made their way to the house now outlined by the moonlight. There were signs of danger, however; the front door had clearly been forced and more paint stains were discovered. Exploration of the house culminated in an encounter in the ballroom: the hated villain Donna Pietra Sangino appeared within one of the landscape paintings on the wall--she had contrived to have her revenge on the party for ruining her schemes in Ghastria! At Sangino's behest, three painted monsters stepped from the frames on the walls: a ravenous maw positioned atop three stumpy legs, a black hound with eyes of flame, and a hideous combination of owl and bear. To arms! Will our heroes survive to continue their search for Leonora Vos and the long-promised return home?