The World of Tel-Avi

The Sons of Balentyne: Session 2

Sir Fallon stood up in the stirrups and pointed. Sir Richard and Mad Meinhard looked out too, their eyes straining to see what his spotted easily. “More of them?” Meinhard asked, rolling his eyes.

“Yes,” Erika replied from her seat behind Sir Fallon, “it looks like this town is being besieged by more bodaks.” She closed her eyes and cast her vision outward, but kept speaking. “Makalu says there are close to a dozen of the creatures. Several of the townsfolk already lie dead and the others are running…”

“Sounds like we should steer clear…” Sir Fallon said. “Our business is north.”

“No!” Sir Richard interjected, “Our business is with any citizen in need of aid. We cannot allow this plague of undead to go unmet.”

“He’s right.” Erika pulled out her wand of fireballs, “At the least, we need to destroy the villagers bodies or these creatures will overrun the countryside and it won’t matter what your witches do. Self-replicating undead that can kill you with a glance seems like the more immediate threat to the nation’s safety…don’t you think.” Sir Fallon simply harrumphed in reply and pulled out his axe.

“We’re agreed then.” Sir Richard kicked Gray Lady into a gallop towards the town.

They rode into town to find a massacre. Piked heads and ash-streaked stakes marked the edge of town, just as in Almwick, and hundreds of women and children littered the streets, dead without a mark on them. A small swarm of bodaks crowded in central square, seemingly focused on something standing by the crossroads.

“Wait!” Erika shouted, urging the others to draw up there horses. “We can’t take the horses in there…”

Meainhard jumped off Gray Lady’s back, kicked in the door of the nearest home and took a look around. “Leave them in here.”

“And put the blinders on them.” Sir Fallon added, dismounting and leading Mitra’s Gift into the otherwise abandoned building.

A screech from one of Erika’s hawks brought them back to the matter at hand. “He says there is a woman up there…she’s alone but somehow she’s holding off the bodaks…” They ran to the square, Sir Richard and Sir Fallon praying to Mitra for aid as they ran and Erika calling up an aura of cold-burning blue flames around herself.

When they neared the square they herd the woman’s shouts, not of fear, but of rage. A peasant woman, dressed in a smith’s smock stood in the middle of the crowd of bodaks, hacking at them with a smith’s hammer in one hand and a strange black-bladed sword in the other, her eyes blazing with fury, somehow unfazed by the bodaks’ dread gazes. As they neared she swung her sword downward, cleaving one of the bodaks from clavicle to sternum, then bringing her hammer down on its head, the crushing of its skull accompanied by a blinding flash of light that left the bodak’s dazzled and reeling.

Laughing with manic glee at the display, Meinhard closed his eyes and charged screaming into the back of the bodak pack. His blind swing taking the head off of one of the creatures. Sir Richard, his sword blazing with pale gray flames came quickly on Meinhard’s heals, unleashing a burst of holy energy as he neared the bodaks, burning their flesh.

Less headstrong, Sir Fallon and Erika took up defensive positions at the edge of the square, waiting to see how the bodaks would react, and waiting to see how and why this woman was facing the undead beasts.

The bodaks focused their gazes on the woman to no avail. She simply glared back at them, completely unaffected, the retaliated with a fully of blows and slashes, the blade of her sword appearing to turn into a chunk of solid ice. “You guys here to help?!” she called out, as another bodak fell before her.

“Sure looks like,” Sir Fallon said, as he rushed in to join the others. Erika came in close behind him, unleashing a blast of cold, carefully aimed to take out a pair of bodaks without hitting her friends. As she got close though, several bodaks looked her way and she staggered.

“Keep her out of here!” Sir Richard shouted, unleashing another blast of holy power. Sir Fallon nodded, shoved a bodak off of himself, and ran to Erika, shoving her away from the fray.

To Be Continued when I have more writing time

The Sons of Balentyne: Session 1

Erika peered out the window of her room. It was getting dark and the town of Almwick was a bleak, barren place even in the day. The war raging to the south was bad enough, every able-bodied man had marched off days before she arrived, and likely died on a goblin spear at Tarrington Fields. It was worse for the women, children, and graybeards that had remained in Almwick. Her arrival was greeted by locked doors, closed lips, and cold stares, but the signs of carnage were obvious. Three stakes still stood in the center of town, charred corpses piled around there bases. At every entrance to the town was a pike, topped by the tar-soaked head of one old man or another, placards identifying them as traitors or heretics, or both.

She stared out the window of a small house on the southern edge of town in which she had taken up residence to await her friends. She had been here a week, and still no one would speak with her, but no one challenged her when she took a bed in the empty house. The house’s prior occupants were piled outside with the rest of the bodies, the mother burned at the stake and her child trampled under hoof by the rogue witch hunters as they rode away. She watched as the tell-tale dust cloud of fast-moving horses approached Almwick. She listened as the already hushed and frightened town grew even quieter.

Erika stepped out of the house and waved as her friends approached. Sir Richard rode at the head, followed closely by Sister Carthix and “Mad” Meinhard Mott. The three of them, heavily armed, clad in battered plate, and prominently displaying Mitra’s holy symbol and the eagle of the Knights of Alerion were likely not helping the villager’s frightened condition.

“Ho, Sir Richard!” she called as they reigned up, “welcome to Almwick, or what’s left of it.”

The knight pulled up his horse just before the pikes and stared intently at the town. “You certainly picked a dour place to wait for us, Ms. Varning. We came as soon as we got your letter…”

“Yes, Makalu told me you were on your way,” Erika said as a hawk swooped down from the housetop to perch on her arm. “Did you pass the wall on your way?”

“Aye Erika,” Meinhard interjected, “and a sea of goblins as well. Which we should be riding back to put an end to. This place looks bad, but Balentyne was worse…”

“Mott, there are hundreds of knights riding from all corners of Talingarde to deal with the goblins, but there is only us to bring justice for these people.”

“Ms. Varning’s right, Meinhard,” Sir Richard replied. “This was an atrocity the likes of which I’ve seldom seen. Even after so long these implements of slaughter still bear the trace of evil. This was no righteous purge, but base murder and terrorism.”

Meinhard and Sister Carthix dismounted, the mail-clad nun looking around at the shuttered houses. “So what have you learned?”

“No one has been willing to speak with me, but luckily the people have been too scared to move about much, so I was able to find plenty of tracks. At least a half-dozen men rode in on the south road from Balentyne and left by the north. Tracks around the fire indicate that they wore heavy mail and their horses were shod for war. Unfortunately, the tracks end quite abruptly about a half-mile outside of town in either direction. They must be using some magic to mask their movements when afield.” She gestured north and west. “Lhotse, went scouting as far as Longsheaf and found similar signs of slaughter in every village up the river. That’s at least eight other towns that were similarly terrorized.”

“Following the Trasik…” Sister Carlotta looked at the river, “do they seek refuge in Farholde?”

“Yes, they do!” came a voice from behind them.

They turned to see a man stumbling into town, wearing armor apparently taken piecemeal from knights and goblins, his left hand wrapped in bloodied bandages, his belt festooned with crude weapons of all kinds, and the silver and sapphire holy symbol of Mitra about his neck.

Meinhard’s hand went to his blade, but Sir Richard positioned his horse between them. “Who are you Sir, and what do you know of the ones who did this?”

The man laughed, “I am Sir Fallon Nightly, Special Inquisitor to the King, and, to some, the bane of Aldencross. I don’t know for sure who did this, but I can hazard a guess. Balentyne was destroyed by a band of witches, the day before the goblins attacked the wall. I have it on good report that they then left by the river, headed for Farholde…”

Sister Carthix stepped around Sir Richard’s horse, “A special inquisitor? This far north?” She stepped towards the man, “You hand Sir, what happened to it?”

“Sister, wait!” Erika said. “The refugees I spoke with on my way north said that Aldencross was set ablaze by one of Mitra’s Witch-Hounds…”

“That is true,” the man replied. “I smelled the witches when I got to Balentyne and searched Aldencross for them, unsuccessfully. When I reached the town’s inn I found that everyone there had been charmed and had the witch’s stink on them. A fight broke out and I was forced to call on Mitra’s Fire to defend myself, but ended up burning the inn and several of the people there in the process. The charmed villagers chased me from the town, and I assume the witches did a good job of spreading the tale of my failure…”

Sister Carthix looked hard into the man’s eyes, “I feel as if you’re not telling us everything…”

The man shrugged, “Fine. After escaping the villagers I was captured by the goblin warlord, Sakkarot Fireaxe, and learned that he was in league with the witches I was hunting. I also learned that the witches had been tracking me by means of a cursed ring I had been tricked into putting on when investigating a jail-break at Branderscar Prison. I took my own hand and the goblins left me for dead when they marched south…”

“You met the Fireaxe?” Sir Richard looked stunned, “and did not slay him?”

“I was outnumbered, unarmed, bound, and helpless…”

“Argh, that’s no excuse!” Meinhard growled. “If I’d been there I would have torn the blooder’s throat out with my teeth!”

“Whatever Mott,” Erika sighed. “As I said, we have more pressing business. If the people who did this are the same people who destroyed Balentyne, and, as Sir Fallon says, also witches and in league with the goblins, then we have to find them, and fast…”

“North then! To Farholde!” Sir Richard looked at Sir Fallon. “Will you ride with us, Sir?”

“I don’t trust him.” Erika and Meinhard said in unison.

“Trust him or not, we’d best take him with us,” Sister Carthix said. “The fact that Sir Richard has not yet taken his head tells us that he is not an evil man, and having a sniffer might be our best bet of finding these witches in knight’s clothing…”

“He’s on foot. He’ll slow us down…”

“Shot up Mott,” Erika sighed again. “If Sir Richard and the Sister have decided to bring him along, then Sir Fallon can ride with me. Rainier can easily carry the two of us.”

Just then another hawk flew in, shrieking.

“What’s that?” Sir Fallon asked, reaching for the axe on his back.

“Lhotse says there are several creatures approaching from the north. Man-like, shambling, smelling of death and smoke.” Erika climbed into her saddle, and pulled Sir Fallon behind her. “Come, quickly, before these poor townfolk have to face any more trauma…”

Knights vs zombies by tricketitrick
Within moments Erika and her, now four, were racing north out of town following the directions of her hawks. When they saw the things at a distance, she unleashed a blast of flame in their midst, to little effect. “They resist fire,” she told the others.

“Let see how they like steel!” Meinhard said, the familiar blood-red haze of a rage entering his eyes, and he and Sir Richard urged their horses into a charge. Just when they reached striking distance, Sir Richard’s Gray Lady faltered. Meinhard’s mount dropped dead instantly, sending him crashing to the ground. He stood up sputtering and looked at the things…and immediately went pale.

Sir Richard leaped from Gray Lady’s back, impaling one of the creature’s with his lance and shouting for the horse to continue on. “Bodaks!” he shouted to the others, “do not meet their gaze.” The one he impaled pulled itself forward on the lance and began pummeling him with its fists.

Erika dismounted and give Sir Fallon the reins. “Help them,” she said, aiming a lightning bolt at one of the creatures near Sir Richard. The bolt struck the creature and grounded out into the dirt, seemingly doing it no harm at all.

Sir Fallon drove her horse into the fray, pinning one of the bodak’s under Rainier’s body as the horse fell and stabbing into the creature’s foul eyes with a crude dagger of goblin make. The blade struck home, blinding the bodak, but causing Sir Fallon’s own eyes to seep blood. Sister Carthix rode in behind him, her armor glowing like the sun and blasted the bodak’s with a burst of holy energy.

The bodaks screamed and shrank back from Mitra’s holy light, their undead flesh melting away. Enraged the creatures focusing their dread gazes on Sister Carthix. She averted her eyes, holding her holy symbol firmly before her, but her friends saw her waver, her arms fell, by the time she thought to close her eyes, it was too late. The holy symbol fell from her hands and she collapsed, her eyes burning away into wifts of acrid smoke.

Sir Richard and Meinhard screamed in rage and laid about them with a fury. Meinhard cleaving the heads from two of the beasts that Sister Carthix had weakened, Sir Richard pulling out his holy symbol and destroying two with his own blast of holy positive energy. Still, even as they pressed the assault, Erkia could see them weakening. She thought back to everything she had heard about Bodak’s and suddenly remembered that the creatures lacked any defense against cold.

“Duck!” she shouted, as a cone of icy wind exploded outwards from her hands. Sir Fallon dove to the side, easily evading the blast, Meinhard gritted his teeth and shook off the cold, but Sir Richard and the bodaks took the full brunt of the icy assault. Sir Richard fell to his knees, shivering. The remaining bodaks froze in place.

Sir Fallon and Meinhard set about shattering the frozen bodaks as Erika rushed to help Sir Richard and Sister Carthix. Sir Richard was already healing himself, but the nun was dead.

“Burn her body,” Sir Fallon stated plainly. “This is clearly the work of the witches and anything their undead minions kill is sure to come back as such.”

Meinhard and Sir Richard nodded gravely. They stripped Sister Carthix’s body of any useful possessions, then stood back as Erika called up a gout of flames from her hands to destroy the remains of the nun and their undead assailants.

The cleanup done, Erika and Sir Fallon took Sister Carthix’s horse, Mitra’s Gift, and Meinhard climbed up behind Sir Richard.

“If these witches can summon such creatures to their aid, then we must hurry…” Sir Richard said.

And hurry they did.

The Dirges of Apollyon
The Ritual

Wotw2 cover preview 800
Behold our shame that we, the Sons of the Pale Horseman, failed in our darkest hour to defend our prince the undying and ever malevolent Vetra-Kali Eats-the-Eyes. But I have seen it! I have seen the road to repentenance! 666 prayers. Three per day will break the hated Seal. With each prayer bathe the seal in unholy water and intone the dirge.

~ Rinehart Kappelbrenner

Sons of Balentyne: Erika's Letter

Dear Friends,
Messenger hawk
I hope this message reaches you quickly and that Makalu and Lhotse find you in better circumstances than when last we parted ways, for I must ask that you once again join me in facing the evils that plague our land. I write to you from the ruins of Aldencross, where the Fireaxe’s hordes crossed the Watch Wall. Tower Balentyne lies in ruin and our kinsmen stationed there have been slaughtered. Thrice our forces have engaged the armies of the Fireaxe, at Loringsgate, at Ambryl, and again at Tarrington Fields, and thrice have we been defeated. The goblin war does not go well, Mitra Save Us.

Despite all of this, I do not call you to make war on the goblins. Rather, I call you to join me in seeking justice for our fallen kin. I believe that Balentyne fell, not to goblin swords, but to base treachery from within.

On my way north I encountered many refugees from Aldencross, all of whom claimed to have left the town before the goblins appeared. They claim that the town was set ablaze days ahead of the assault, not by goblins, but by one of our own, a Witch-Hound of Mitra. They spoke of horrors visited upon the keep: the Lord Commander and Magister Tacitus both slain and raised as unholy abominations, Father Donnagin slain by the beast that had been the Magister, and other such atrocities, all before the goblins arrived.

Worse still, I arrived here to find the Chapel of Balentyne defiled. A full score of young men and women lay sprawled before the altar, gutted like fish, the floor of the chapel blackened from their dried blood. The altar itself was defaced beyond recognition, carved all over with the pentagram symbols of the demon Asmodeus. I likewise examined the ruins of the keep and found that the gates and siege weaponry had been sabotaged, clearly in lead of the goblin attack.

Worst of all, I heard other rumors on my way here. Refugees from Almwick and Corbridge spoke of raids upon their town by fellows of the Knights of Alerion. They claim that the Knights molested, tortured, and even killed their fellow villagers in the name of Mitra. All of the evidence points towards the same thing. The people of Balentyne were slain, not by the goblins, but by our own, Knights of Talingarde, turned against its people and resurrecting the worship of Dread Asmodeus.

I ride tomorrow for Almwick to continue my investigation and hunt down these traitors. I encourage you to join me with all haste.

Ever Your Friend,
Magistra Erika Varning of Gastenhall

Champions of Talingarde: Side Quest 3 - Epilogue
More Bad Dreams...

Sir Fallon walked north out of the goblin camp. No goblins approached or harassed him. When he was clear of the camp he stopped briefly to re-wrap the stump of hand where his fingers had been. All that remained was his thumb, and, though it hurt, he found that was enough to grip the knife which had taken his fingers. He took the knife in his other hand, called upon Mitra, and caused the vicious blade to burst into flames. The hot metal did more than the crude bandages to stop the bleeding, though he nearly passed out from the pain.

Recovering himself, Sir Fallon continued walking. If the goblin warlord had told him the truth about the witches heading for Farholde, and he saw no reason to disbelieve the cocky beast, then he had a three-hundred mile walk ahead of him. He walked long into the night, until his legs could carry him no farther, then pitches his camp in the lee of a large boulder. As soon as his eyes closed, he heard her voice…

“If it makes you feel any better, the warlord was right,” the girl’s voice said.

“Did you find Branderscar as hospitable as we did? Do you even know why we were in Branderscar? Did you ever even care?” The raven haired dream-girl turned to face Sir Fallon, blood red eyes glittering darkly.

“My cousin was seven years old. Condemend to death because of who our grandmother’s grandmother’s grandmother fucked. Abomination. Monster. Death by drowning, merely for being born. You probably saw her wanted posters in town. Well, before you burned it down…”

“My family has been hunted so the Zealot could cement his power base and eliminate the last scattered remnants of his most powerful political opponents. I’ve been dodging soldiers and witch-hounds like you my entire life, scraping just to survive. How many have you killed? Dozens, hundreds, thousands? Were they all as guilty as a seven year old girl? Guilty of being in the wrong bar?”

“You are a murderer. An arsonist. A deserter. The Lord Commander died a good man, for whatever that is worth. You? You’ll just die. Come, hunter. I shall serve Azmodeus better in death than I ever have in life. The light of Mitra casts shadows deeper than you know…”

Champions of Talingarde: Side Quest 3
F*ck my orders...

As he turned away from the burning ruins of the town of Aldencross, Sir Fallon half-collapsed with exhaustion. The mob chasing him had dispersed, but he had been running for hours, and now, after the brief pause, his wounds caught up with him. He unshipped his great axe and used it to help prop himself as he descended the far side of the hill.

When Sir Fallon reached the bottom of the hill he fished in his pockets for his last healing potion and quaffed it greedily. The potion worked its magic, taking the sting out of his burns and softening the pain from his many bruises, but it was not enough. He was tired, and it felt as if he had a cracked rib. With no other options, he began searching for a place to rest, finally settling on a large hollow log. It was a tight squeeze, but just large enough to hold him, and the best shelter the dark woods could provide.

He awoke with the dawn, cold, damp, and aching, crawled out of the fallen log, stumbled what he hoped was a safe distance away and relieved himself. He then crawled back in the log and fell back to sleep. He was next woken by the sound of his own stomach. He tore into his pack and scarfed down the handful of soggy biscuits that he had grabbed on his way out of the keep the morning before searching Aldencross, then, somewhat sated, passed out again. Three days passed there in the fallen log. At some point he apparently woke enough to catch and eat a rabbit, and to bandage his wounds, though he remembered little of it.

When Sir Fallon finally did wake, he found that the pain of his wounds had mostly subsided, to be replaced by the ache of spending days sleeping in the cramped confines of the hollow log still clad in his armor. He was still tired, and felt as if he may have had a fever during those three restless days and nights, but he at least felt as if he might be able to defend himself again. A good thing too, for he woke to the sound of harsh voices speaking not far away. He could not understand what they said, but knew enough to recognize the vile speech of goblins.

He crawled warily out of the log, staying as low to the ground as possible and keeping a hand on his axe. He wished that he had thought to borrow a sword, or at least a knife, from the keep’s armory, for his axe required considerably room to swing properly and would be of little use if the goblins caught him before he was on his feet and clear of the log. Luckily there was a large rock between himself and the speakers, and the disgusting creatures were too caught up in whatever they were talking about to look in that direction.

Free of the log, he hazarded a peek over the rock and saw not only the two speakers, which were, as he suspected, goblins, but dozens, even hundreds more of the creatures. While not well organized, the goblins were well armed and equipped for a march; clearly a war party. More importantly, Sir Fallon was starving. Whatever the foul creatures carried with them for provisions had to be better than starving to death…right?

Sir Fallon slid his axe back into the straps on his back and picked up a sharp-looking stone, which, while not a proper weapon, would be better in close-quarters. He waited. One of the goblins turned towards the rock and lifted its kilt to relieve itself and gasped, seeing Sir Fallon there. The rock took it between the eyes, stunning it. In a flash, Sir Fallon was over the rock, axe in hand, and the urinating goblin’s companion lost its head. Sir Fallon stifled a laugh as the splash of goblin blood began healing his remaining aches and pains. He punched the urinater, which was apparently female, in the face for good measure, then quickly drug the two bodies back behind the rock, pausing only very briefly to make sure the others in the band had not noticed.

He beheaded the second goblin and found it very hard to draw his gaze away from the lifeless eyes of the creature’s head. Finally tearing his eyes away, he stripped them of their gear, claiming a pair of short, crude swords, a number of strange bag-like projectiles, a skin of what he hoped was water, and a couple hands-full of smelly, watery cheese. At least, he hoped it was cheese as he crammed the milky-white globs into his mouth. While he nearly gagged from the smell and it tasted more like spoiled milk than properly cultivated cheese, the stuff was at least edible.

Sir Fallon re-shipped his axe and removed all his armor save for his breastplate, stashing his boots, greaves, cuisse, gauntlets, vambraces, and gorget inside the log. He then shoved the remaining goblin rations into his pack, took up the two swords, and lit out away from the goblin war party, hoping to put some distance between himself and them before any of them thought to look for the two missing ones.

Sir Fallon had not gone far before he spotted another band of goblins. He routed around them only to encounter another, and another. Within the span of a mile he spotted at least six such bands, each larger than the last. Knowing that so many sightings could not be a coincidence, he found a large pine tree and climbed, and there, on the edge of Lake Tarik, he saw it. A huge encampment of goblins, twenty-thousand strong and arrayed for war. A larger force than had ever been seen in all the history of Talingarde.

Sir Fallon half-climbed, half-fell in his haste to get down the tree. He knew that, regardless of the events of the other night, he had to warn the defenders of Tower Balentye about the goblin horde. Somehow he knew that the events in Aldencross and the massing army of goblins had to be related. It could not be a coincidence that the town and keep guarding the gates of Talingarde had been infiltrated by the forces of darkness just days ahead of this mass of savages.

Unfortunately, he had been so intent on the main force of goblins by the lake that he had not spotted the group that had amassed around the base of the tree. He came down right in the middle of them and was immediately grabbed by a pair of large, dark-skinned goblins, and the smaller, faster goblins quickly deprived him of his weapons and gear. He struggled to escape, but the grips of the two goblins holding him were like manacles of iron.

Sir Fallon was dragged, struggling the entire way and with several beatings, towards the camp on the edge of Lake Tarik. From the ground the camp looked even larger, but somehow less impressive. The goblin army was armed, but only loosely organized. Tents were scattered in haphazard clusters, fires were not banked, weapons lay strewn in piles on the ground, just a little too far from the hands of their intended users. He saw enough disorder that he was sure that, if he could only get free, he could turn it into true chaos…possibly even escape alive…

Sir Fallon was dragged to a large tent on the shore of the lake. While larger than some of the others in the camp, and clearly some sign of status or place of meeting, it was nothing like the pavilions kept by the knights in Talingarde, but rather a makeshift kind of thing of sewn-together bear hides, staked from the outside with crude wooden pegs and ropes woven from animal fur. A banner hanging in front of the tent bore a crude drawing of an axe surrounded by flames. Then he smelled, it. The tang of witchcraft in the air was faint, but smelled very similar to that in Aldencross.

As he was shoved into the tent the smell became stronger. Within was a plain wooden table, bearing a rough diorama of the wall, the Tower Balentyne, and Aldencross. Even the damage from the recent fire was, as best he could guess, accurately represented. Standing behind the table, staring intently at it, was the largest goblin he had ever seen. A great, black beast with shaggy fur and a giant axe strapped across its back. The eyes that examined the table gleamed with the vicious cunning that Sir Fallon had learned to expect from goblins. While filthy, disgusting, and disorganized, goblins were exceptionally bright, especially where it came to spreading mayhem and
destruction. The stink of witchcraft clung to the great goblin like a sickening perfume.

After what seemed like minutes, the large goblin looked up at him and smiled. “Greetings soldier of Talingarde. You arrive on an auspicious day. Tomorrow our great army will storm the gates of Balentyne and conquer your pitiful nation.”

Sir Fallon glared at the goblin and struggled against his captors. The great goblin looked carefully at Sir Fallon, seeming especially intent on his hands, then at the two holding him and, with a wave of his hand, ordered that Sir Fallon be released. The two goblins let go of him and took a step back to stand beside the entrance to the tent.

“I see you serve Thorn’s Girls as well…” the goblin began, holding up a hand bearing a ring identical to the ring of protection Sir Fallon had taken from Branderscar.

The knight, coiled and ready to spring at the goblin, stopped and looked at the goblin incredulously. “What?” he asked.

“Your ring, Sir. It is the same as the one I wear. Perhaps it is presumptuous of me, but I suspect it means that you have met the three lovely girls who presented this one to me.” The goblin smiled. “They are probably watching us right now if you’d like to speak to them.”

Sir Fallon’s eyes grew wide and he reached for the ring on his hand, and, in terror discovered that he could not remove it. He concentrated on the ring and could feel the curse embedded in the item. It must be one of the prisoner’s rings from Branderscar, somehow magically disguised when Aidan had examined it. No wonder the witches had created that storm. They knew he was in Aldencross. He growled and tore at the ring, cursing Sir Aidan and himself for fools.

“I take it you do not wear yours willingly?” The big goblin laughed and stepped around the table. He grunted something to the other goblins, who laughed as well. “What are you doing alone north of your precious wall, soldier of Talingarde?”

“Scouting…” Sir Fallon began.

“Do not lie, Sir,” the goblin interjected. “Scouts from Balentyne always travel in packs and on horseback. I should know, I slew six of them just a few days ago.” The goblin laughed again. “Now let me repeat, why are you here?”

Sir Fallon looked at the big goblin’s ring, his maps, his weapons. He figured he could take as many as a half-dozen of the smaller goblins in a fair fight, but somehow he was certain that this one was more than a match for him. He looked around for an escape route, saw none that presented itself. “Very well,” he said, “I am Sir Fallon Nightly, Special Inquisitor to His Majesty, King Markadian the Brave, the fifth of his name, Protector of the Righteous. I was sent to Balentyne to investigate possible laxities in their soldiery. While there I caught the sent of a witch…”

“Ha! You are one of Mitra’s Hounds?” The goblin laughed at him again. “Is it really true that you can smell sorcery? And yet, you were tricked into putting on one of Thorn’s Girls’ rings?” The tent practically shook under the force of the goblin’s guffaws.

“Thorn’s Girls? You said that before…”

“You smell them, yet you do not know them?” The big goblin leaned back against the table. “They are three of the loveliest females of your species I have ever seen, and believe me, I have defiled a great many of your women. Three girls of exquisite beauty, a blonde, a brunette, and one with hair like fire. And, I may add, most persuasive.”

Sir Fallon fought down his rage.

“Tell me, Special Inquisitor, if I released you right now and promised you safe passage back to Belentyne, would your warnings be of any use?”

Sir Fallon thought for a moment, then sighed, “No.”

“Good, you are smarter than most soldiers. Even at its strongest, Balentyne houses maybe two hundred soldiers. I have a hundred times that many. Even without the girls there to throw open the gates and undermine the tower’s leadership, my hordes would overwhelm the keep within hours.”

Sir Fallon started to respond, but was cut off again. “What? You think that if you return with the knowledge I just provided that you might catch the girls?”

“Yes!” Sir Fallon replied emphatically.

“No! They see your every move, hear our every word. They’ll know where you are and where you are going.” The goblin grinned, “You will never catch them…unless…”

The goblin stood up to his full height, plucked a dagger from the table, and tossed it to Sir Fallon. The knight grabbed the blade out of the air, looked at his hand, and gulped.

“You know what to do. Tomorrow my forces will overrun Balentyne and burn it to the ground. We will slaughter your people and topple your wall. There is nothing you can do to stop it.” The big goblin waved at the map. “By the time we reach the wall, the girls will be gone. Their benefactor will be waiting to pick them up once they signal that the gates have been opened. She tells me that the girls will be taken north to deal with some other task of importance.”

Sir Fallon nodded grimly, laid his hand flat on the table, and began to cut…

Sakkarot Fireaxe watched as the knight, axe across his back and blood still dripping from the stump that had been his hand, and smiled. “That one is formidable,” he said to his commanders standing beside him.

“Then why let him go great Sakkarot?!”

“Because he is no danger to us. Our war is no longer his concern. He has been beaten and humiliated. All he cares for now is vengeance against the witches. He will stand by and let his country burn as he hunts those girls to the ends of the earth…”

Mechanics: Greater Covens
"Certain more powerful hag covens might have additional spell-like abilities"

Base Covens

Fourth pentacle of saturn by iggyzeph d3ga9k8When at least three hags of any type gather, they can form a coven to gain increased magical ability. Any combination of hags can form a coven, but green hags are the most common members of such foul gatherings.

Whenever all three hags of a particular coven are within 10 feet of one another, all three of them can work together to use any of the following spell-like abilities, at will: animate dead, baleful polymorph (DC 18), blight (DC 17), bestow curse (DC 17), clairaudience/clairvoyance, charm monster (DC 17), commune, control weather, dream, forcecage, mind blank, mirage arcana (DC 18), reincarnate, speak with dead, veil (DC 19), vision.

All three hags must take a full-round action to take part in this form of cooperative magic. All coven spell-like abilities function at CL 9th (or at the highest CL available to the most powerful hag in the coven). The save DCs are Charisma-based, and function as if with a Charisma score of 16 unless one of the hags has a higher Charisma score, in which case the spell-like ability DCs are adjusted by that hag’s Charisma modifier.

A coven must be comprised of at least three members. One of which must be a creature with the hag subtype. The remaining members may be any hag, a witch with the Coven hex, a sorcerer with the accursed bloodline, any character with the Eldritch Heritage (Accursed) feat, or a Witchfire.

Creatures with the Hag subtype include: Annis Hags, Changelings, Fen Witches, Green Hags, Night Hags, Pit Hags, and Sea Hags.
Additional creatures with the hag subtype can be found in various 3.5 sources: Bheur Hags (Unapproachable East), Bog Hag (Oriental Adventures), Dune Hags (Sandstorm), Dusk Hags (Eberron Campaign Setting), Hagspawn (Unapproachable East), Marzzana (Frostburn), and Shrieking Hags (Unapproachable East).


BansheeWhen an exceptionally vile hag or witch dies with some malicious plot left incomplete, or proves too horridly tenacious to succumb to the call of death, the foul energies of these wicked old crones sometimes spawn incorporeal undead known as witchfires. These ghostly creatures appear much as they did in life, although the grotesque undead energy that births them makes them appear young and attractive and wreathes their insubstantial bodies in a powerful aura of sickly green flame, a ghostly fire referred to as “witchflame” in local legends.

Witchfires occasionally join or subjugate existing hag covens. A hag coven that includes a witchfire gains the following additional coven spell-like abilities: 3/day — create undead, fire storm (DC 21), nightmare (DC 18), and waves of exhaustion (DC 20). All abilities function at CL 9th, and save DCs are based on a Charisma score of 16. The use of these abilities functions identically to other coven abilities. Such covens must have at least one living hag, as covens of three witchfires gain no coven-related abilities.

Coven Size

Some covens attract more than the three requisite members. For each member that a coven possesses above three, the coven can use its coven spell-like abilities at +1 to its effective caster level (to a maximum caster level of 20th for a coven with 14 or more members). All members of the coven must participate in the casting in order for this increased caster level to apply.

Larger covens also gain additional spell-like abilities based on the size of the coven, as follows:

Coven Size Additional Coven Powers
3 members as above
4 members The coven can Brew Potions as if it had the Cauldron hex in half the normal time, using the Coven’s caster level. Any spell or spell-like ability possessed by any member of the coven can be made into a potion in this manner. As with other Coven abilities, all members of the coven must participate in order to use this ability.
5 members The coven can choose a single 4th level spell from the Witch Spell List to add to the list of coven spell-like abilities, usable at will.
6 members The coven can craft Mutagens, as the Alchemist ability. Any member of the coven can use the mutagen. In addition, the coven gains the benefits of the Feral Mutagen and Infuse Mutagen alchemist discoveries.
7 members The coven can choose a single 5th level spell from the Witch Spell List to add to the list of coven spell-like abilities, usable at will.
8 members The coven can Craft Wondrous Items, as the feat, in half the normal time, using the Coven’s caster level. Any spell or spell-like ability possessed by any member of the coven can be made into an item in this manner. In addition, the coven can choose to intentionally make Cursed Items, reducing the crafting DC by 5. As with other Coven abilities, all members of the coven must participate in order to use this ability.
9 members The coven can choose a single 6th level spell from the Witch Spell List to add to the list of coven spell-like abilities, usable at will.
10 members The Coven can craft Grand Mutagens (as the Alchemist discovery). In addition, all potions crafted by the Coven operate as if they were Extended when consumed by a coven member. In addition, the coven can craft Heartstones and all members of the coven benefit from such items as if they were Night Hags.
11 members The coven can choose a single 7th level spell from the Witch Spell List to add to the list of coven spell-like abilities, usable at will.
12 members The coven can choose one Grand Hex (as the witch ability)
13+ members The coven can choose a single 8th level spell from the Witch Spell List to add to the list of coven spell-like abilities, usable at will.

Covens and Summoning Circles

Summoning circle by stranded alienWitchcraft has long been associated with communing with the dark powers of the lower planes, even more so with covens dedicated to Vorn, Asmodeus, or other dark lords. Any coven containing one or more members able to cast a Magic Circle spell can perform a 1-hour ritual to call a demon to serve the coven. Demons called in this way remain for 1 hour per caster level of the coven, and will perform any task within their abilities. The coven need only make Concentration checks to maintain control of the demon once per hour (rather than once per round). Any demon that becomes free-willed will not attack the coven (but may perform other actions that are detrimental to their designs). A coven can have no more than one demon summoned and controlled in this way at one time (demons that become free-willed do not count against this limit).

The level of demon that is called by the coven depends on the number of members the coven possesses, as follows:

Coven Size Demon Level
3 members Level 1 demon
4 members Level 2 demon
5 members Level 3 demon
6 members Level 4 demon
7 members Level 5 demon
8 members Level 6 demon
9 members Level 7 demon
10 members Level 8 demon
11 members Level 9 demon
12+ members Level 10 demon


Tiadora preview88161 620 48Tiadora, more commonly known as the “Hag Countess” or “Mother of Witches”, is one of Asmodeus’s most loyal retainers. Tiadora is said to be the first hag born into the world and the mother (more realistically great-great-great-great-grandmother) of the various hag species. As a being of ancient power, Tiadora has much to teach budding young witches.

Any witch coven that has had the opportunity to study with Tiadora can learn additional coven powers. The level and number of additional powers are based on the highest level member of the coven (using CR in place of level for covens composed solely of monsters).

Highest Level Additional Powers
1-3 Covens of this level gain no additional abilities.
4-7 The coven can choose a single 4th level spell from the Witch Spell List to add to the list of coven spell-like abilities, usable at will.
8-11 The coven can choose a single 5th level spell from the Witch Spell List to add to the list of coven spell-like abilities, usable at will.
12-15 The coven can choose a single 6th level spell from the Witch Spell List to add to the list of coven spell-like abilities, usable at will.
16-19 The coven can choose a single 7th level spell from the Witch Spell List to add to the list of coven spell-like abilities, usable at will.
20+ The coven can use Fusion (as the psionic power), once per day. The fusion includes all members of the coven and lasts for 1 minute per coven caster level. While fused, the coven can use one coven spell-like ability as a swift action each round, in addition to any abilities possessed by the coven members. This fusion cannot be dismissed, dispelled, or otherwise ended prematurely.
Way of the Wicked: Talia's Recap 2
Fallen Paladin

304The three girls joined hands, and beseeched the agents of Hell for guidance. They determined that there was only one spell caster remaining in the keep, and that the Archons do not leave the temple. They also determined that no one had yet called for reinforcements. Also, the Lord Commander has some secret, and that it relates to his brother’s death.

Talia, Lydia, and Heather quickly turned some of the more … sympathetic … townspeople to their advantage. Refugees fleeing the city spread news of the witch hunter’s role in setting the town ablaze, killing several at the inn. Eager to be rid of the wine from the smuggler’s ship and the deceased clothing merchant’s wares, Talia made use of merchants leaving the city. Their attempts to request a meeting with the Lord Commander were rebuffed. Lord Havelyn was simply “up to his neck in internal matters” — the impending execution of two of his captains.

The town was buzzing. They hadn’t seen this much excitement since the goblins were beaten back from the wall 80 years ago. There were also rumors that Mitra was punishing them for the wickedness of the captains. Talia smiled. It seems the holy light of Mitra casts deep shadows. The church in town was overflowing with refugees and ‘burn the wicked’ sermons. So quick to condemn murderers, and quicker still to call for the blood of the accused. As a tiefling, Talia was abomination – condemned by the church to die for merely being born. As a monster she was condemned. So a monster she became.

The girls went to work planting rumors that Captain Mott was impotent, and that it was through no fault of Kaitlyn’s that she sought to bed another to provide an heir. They had the mob’s sympathy, but not enough to overcome the bloodlust of the self-righteous. They would have their show.

Just before noon, the gates of the keep open. What guards remain after the previous week’s endeavors escort the three bound, naked prisoners to the makeshift stage in the center of town. Captain Mott was led up first, and the guards surrounding him spread out around the platform, keeping the crowd at bay. The Lord Commander strides up and unsheathes his sword. Mott is lead up to the block, head pulled down by chains attached to his stocks. With little preamble, the Lord Commander lops off the captain’s head.

A breeze begins to blow in from the sea, and clouds start to form with unnatural speed as Captain “Zack” is forced down onto the block. Off with his head, and the crowd boos the Lord Commander for not putting on a better show.

As the rain begins to fall, Kaitlyn led up on stage. She’s forced into an awkward kneeling bent over backwards position. Lord Commander goes straight for the knife and tongs. He puts the tongs on the brazier as the rain starts to come down. All of the keep’s guards are having a hard time keeping the spectators away. As hail falls around the town square, the woman screams and the Lord Commander finishes his job.

As the crowd is dispersed by the hail, a group of figures approach the keep to take cover from the sudden storm. The guard is friendly, and lets them pass with little encouragement. The young man with them taps him on the shoulder, and the guard quickly forgets that they were ever there.

Past the initial guard, the girls have the run of the keep. Focusing her mind’s eye inward on the magical sensor, Talia surveys the remaining defenses in the keep. The siege engines, the mechanisms to the portcullis, a heavy iron pot of heated sand over a magical fire. If she just focuses, it’s almost… like … she’s … there. A satisfied smile passes her lips as a great crack appears on the heavy pot containing the molten sand, spilling across the floor of the guard room above the murder hole. The siege engines and portcullis mechanisms meet a similar fate.

The girls make their way up to the Lord Commander’s quarters on the fifth floor of the keep. They swing by the magister’s former quarters to see if the witch hunter left anything behind when he fled the city. Apparently his horse had an unfortunate accident when the stables collapsed, but nothing else remains. A single guard stands outside the Lord Commander’s rooms, and the girls slip back downstairs and dimension door inside. It is a very austere, conservative chamber. There is a stout chest in the corner that radiates abjuration and evocation. No appreciation for subtle traps, it seems. Havelyn’s room is plainly furnished, with millitary issue bed linens. Talia suspects that even his smallclothes are standard military issue. An oil painting of a beautiful woman hangs on his bedroom wall, flanked by half-burnt candles. It appears that a family bible is below it.

The magical sensor slides inside the trapped chest. A small mahogany box with brass hinges, neatly stacked sacks with a slightly larger bag tossed haphazardly on top. A stack of gold bars. Ornate chalices. Several securely wrapped small vials. The small mahogany box contains dozens of military commendations. The large bag contains mixed coinage, and each of the neatly stacked bags contains 100 solids.

The three girls join hands, intent on divining Havelyn’s secrets. The woman in the picture is his wife. She was not unfaithful to him. His brother killed his wife, and it was a crime of passion. The Lord Commander did not kill his brother. His brother was put to death. The Lord Commander sought retribution for his brother’s death.

The girls take the holy book, and see Kaitlyn being brought in to the keep as they dimension door away. They return to where they were staying at Captain Mott’s house. Talia takes the opportunity to earn more goodwill from the townsfolk, organizing efforts to construct shelter for those displaced by the fires. Luckily, wood is plentiful in town.

Meanwhile, Lydia and Eliazar examine the Mitran holy scripture. The first ten pages or so are lineage. It seems that great effort was taken to blot out the name of Lord Thomas Havelyn’s brother, Samuel Havelyn, Cardinal of Mitra. Eliazar recalls the goblin chieftan telling them that Thorne had been a Mitran Cardinal, before he turned to Asmodeus. The Lord Commander’s wife was local, and most likely not noble. Lydia finds out that his wife was a local beauty who left town in the company of the Lord Commander’s brother. Samuel had brought her to a family gathering, where he introduced her to his brother. Samuel was later found to possess a collection of banned books and was burned at the stake for witchcraft. Most people thought well of the commander’s wife, and mourned when she died in childbirth.

The next day, the three witches architect the Lord Commander’s downfall. But how does one make a paladin fall?

Five flights of stairs and five grease spells later, Lord Commander Thomas Havelyn was in the basement of the keep. As he reeled from the fall, Talia called forth the names of fire and lightning. The Lord Commander drew his sword, presumably cursing the dishonor of his unseen foe. It’s so hard to tell with no audio. The three girls appear in the storeroom. Talia quickly buffs them, as the paladin stalks down the hallway. The three girls join hands and sing of Asmodeus, of magic, of power. The bars of force coalesce around their quarry. Talia unleashes fire and lightning. Heather looses arrows. Lydia unleashes curses and lightning. At last, the Lord Commander Thomas Havelyn lay dying. Talia kneels next to the fallen paladin. She takes his hand in hers, wrapping his fingers tightly around her dagger. Barely above a whisper, she offers a prayer to Asmodeus, a sacrifice, and draws the dagger across his throat. The girls see the shining armor emblazoned with Mitra’s holy symbol waver, turn dark and baroque. It seems the gift has been well received.

The girls kneel, unholy energy pouring into the paladin. With a lurch, he rises. The three girls strip his body of the keys to the keep, weapons, armor, and headband. Talia claims the headband, despite the fact that terrible things seem to happen to the prettiest girl in town here. Taking shelter in the secret tunnel between the keep and the ruined inn, Lydia informs the goblin warlord that the Lord Commander is deceased and that the attack can soon commence.

Way of the Wicked: Talia's Recap 1

A dead-eyed servant appeared at the door to Talia’s room. She briefly wonders how long it’s been since their will was their own, and what secrets Thorne kept here that would necessitate such … obedience. Perhaps it was just a show of power for power’s sake.

They have been afforded every luxury during their stay since escaping from the prison. Her uncle may be old enough to have known such finery in the days of his youth before the purges, but this was entirely new to her. Born well after the purges first began, they have been hunted. Scraping to survive. Learning to rob, to trick, to kill. Talia was only a few years older than Raziela when her parents died – holding off the guards sent to flush out the last remaining tieflings in Talingarde.

Talia’s attention snapped back to the present as she and the servant joined up with the rest of her companions. Grumblejack, the ogre they first freed from the chains of Branderscar. Little Raziela, now quite formidable after her training with Teodora in the yard. Her brother, Eliazar, and her two new “sisters”. Lydia was in the prison longer than all of them combined, and still seems a bit … off. The oldest of the girls, Heather, is no caster on her own, but certainly took to the charms and illusions of the coven quickly enough.

Thorne is in his study, opulent as ever. Their new ‘master’ certainly seems to like to hear himself talk. But the contract was signed for Asmodeus, not for him. But he must have some worthiness as a master, for something as powerful as Teodora to bend the knee to a mortal. Blah blah proven ourselves worthy. Time to put our training to use. …Bringing war to Talingarde? Talia’s wandering interest snaps back at that.

Deliver munitions to the goblin chieftan sounds easy enough, and the ship to deliver the cargo is already arranged. A smile plays at Talia’s lips as Thorne tells them to kill the crew and burn the ship. And of course, get a refund for the smugglers’ services before we sink the ship. Eliazar should like that part.

The next part of the plan sounds trickier. Infiltrate the keystone of the watch wall, kill the commander, and let the goblins in.

They also receive sealed orders to break open when the mission is concluded. Talia briefly wonders what would happen if they were foolish enough to open it early.

After their preparations are complete, they go to the docks to meet with the captain. He seems affronted that he is offered weak girls when he was promised guards. Raziela’s pistol at his crotch quiets his objections quickly, and we make ready to sail.

Talia gets used to the rocking of the boat fairly quickly, and the trip goes fairly uneventfully after she and her sisters call in fair winds to sail by and fogs to hide the boat from shore.

At least until the fishmen showed up.

About a day north of the wall, a few approached the boat from an island off the coast. Talia and her sisters quickly caged them, but they summoned water elementals on deck. As her friends and the crew took up bows against the caged fishmen, and arms against the elementals, Talia called forth one of the lesser names of lightning – shock arc. The air and water inside the cage crackled with electricity. After the second, there was a satisfying sizzle, and the elementals on deck were controlled no more, and dove back into the sea.

Unfortunately, Raziela was rather worse for wear, and had to be brought back.

Talia was quite ready to be done with boats when they arrived, and the few things she could think of that were more vile than sailors far from shore was what she’d do to them when their business was concluded. One more thing quickly topped the list when she met the goblins.

Lydia began speaking with the goblins, and their party was led to the goblin warlord’s tent. The three girls passed rows and rows of goblin tents, hordes of leering goblins, and a few great white bears.

It quickly became apparent that the leader of the goblins was also working for Thorne. They planned to march to the valley and await our signal – a hand cannon fired when the keep is secured. After firing it they will attack within the hour. We have about two weeks before the goblin forces are in position. Time enough for the keep to fall.

The goblin warlord keeps hitting on Lydia, and she wisely denied his advances. The three girls head back to the ship and disembark as quickly as possible. When the ship lands near Aldencross, the three girls join hands and sing, caging the entire crew. Talia calls forth the name of lightning, again and again and again, the captain howling in pain and rage and helplessness until finally falling silent. Talia, her sisters, brother, cousin, and the ogre claim the cargo and set the ship alight. Carefully weaving the illusion of merchants, the six prepare to approach the wall.

The six arrived shortly after dawn. Aldencross appears to be a typical northern market town. There are no walls, wooden plank construction everywhere. Like kindling waiting for a spark. On the northern side, people come and leave freely. Several small, well armed bands go ranging. A central notice board has pictures of Raziela, my two cousins, and uncle. The pictures don’t really do them justice. And the bounty REALLY doesn’t do them justice. Talia briefly entertains the idea of the King’s vanguard who their dear lion fought at Branderscar on such posters. In due time.

A score or more off duty soldiers are around the town. The inn seems to be the only establishment that caters to travelers. There are no soldiers there when the “merchants” arrived. There was a small stage with barely clad dancing girls, well endowed bar maids, and a well stocked bar. Securing a room, the companions split up to explore the town north of The Wall.

The gates are closed, with guards stationed at each end. People are queued to have their travel papers checked, and servants constantly go in and out of the keep. It appears that we have our way in, we just need to secure some papers.

The local gossip includes news of a famous theater troupe. The head of the Mitran church here, Father Donnagan, was put in place here after being demoted. One of the four captains is a lush.

Guards in the inn talk about the prison break. None of the prisoners have been caught yet, and the prison is being re-garrisoned. It was a huge embarrassment for the Talingarde army. A solider brags about the keeps defenses while trying to impress serving girls. Talia perks up at the fireball loving magical support. He’ll be first. Anyone who might become wise to their illusions should be disposed of quickly.

Back in their rooms, the three girls join hands and begin to sing. The magical sensor rises and begins to explore the keep. Then they creep over to the next room and charm the sleeping couple, then polymorph them. The two rabbits should keep Raziela occupied while they explore the other side of the wall.

With their travel papers, the three girls appear as the merchant couple – Heather as the wife, Talia as the husband, and Lydia as … a donkey. Due to the long line, the guards can only do cursory checks of each traveler’s papers. A long, boring sermon ensues. Talia quickly grows stiff and bored, picking out which columns would bring the building down the fastest. The three girls slip out to explore the town during the intermission.

When they arrive back at the inn, Eliazar and Grumblejack look like dwarves, are very drunk, and nearly naked. Raziela produces a very detailed map of the keep, including a tunnel from the basement of the inn to the keep.

It appears that the dwarves have been here for several months, and there are detailed notes on the upkeep of the keep’s defenses. The girls once again call forth their magical sensor, spying a very well concealed stone door being opened by the innkeeper. Following him down the mile of well constructed passage to the trap door at the end, the girls spy him carefully sliding it open a hair and peeking at the keep above. Then the innkeeper slides it the rest of the way open and climbs into a storage room in the lowest level of the keep. He takes a case of dusty and very expensive elven wine from the stores. The storeroom otherwise seems to be well used.

The magical sensor travels further into the keep, stopping to explore the mage’s room. It appears that he is working on some sort of ice golem. He clearly knows the scrying device is there. He attempts to dispel it twice, but the girls simply cause it to reappear. He leaps away from the scrying sensor that is nearly up his shorts and goes for his wand, spectacles, and a navy blue robe. The girls steer the sensor out the window, and he feather falls after it. The sensor matches his fall, then zips back up into the keep. The mage stalks off back to the central keep and storms up to the rookery. Quickly switching to audio, the mage Tacitus begins ranting about being spied on again. Angry words are exchange, and they nearly come to blows. The mage storms back to his room.

The girls retire for the evening, and awake to the heavy tread of the dwarves leaving for work. Carefully weaving an illusion to appear as servants of the keep, the six creep through the secret tunnel. The three witches hide the back wall of the storeroom and enter unseen, charming the guard outside of the storeroom when it is clear of servants. They grab bags of grain to take upstairs to the rookery.

There are guards stationed on every landing. One stops them and questions the heavy load the old man that Grumblejack is disguised as. The girls assure him that the bag of grain isn’t as heavy as it looks. The guard stationed just outside the rookery waves them past and shuts the heavy door behind them. They drop off the bags of grain. The three witches join hands. The rooker shrugs off a charm, then a polymorph. He grabs a horn by his desk and sounds the alarm. Grumblejack moves to hold the door shut against the guards. Raziela touches the rooker, unholy energy pouring into him. The ravens are freed, a swirling tempest of claws, beaks, and feathers. Heather and Lydia are blinded, but Eliazar and Talia make quick work of the swarm with fire and lightning. Heather puts an arrow into his chest, and the rooker falls out the window to his death.

The guards manage to kick down the door, three entering with the mage behind them. Raziela crushes the first one’s pelvis with her warhammer, and Grumblejack cleaves the next in two with his greatsword. The three witches join hands, and a solid wall of force encases the magister and the remaining guard. True to his reputation, Tacitus pulls out his wand and launches a fireball in the direction of the intruders. The look on his face as the fireball hit the invisible wall of force was rather priceless. Both mage and guard were reduced to charred corpses.

The girls quickly wove an illusion to hide the bodies and make the rookery look even more blasted. One of the captains and more guards were quickly approaching. Talia threw herself into the arms of the guard captain, and between sobs explained that the mage had stormed into the rookery yelling about being spied on. They came to blows, and it was … horrible. The guard captain seemed suitably enamored with the sobbing girl in his arms, and valiantly promised to protect her. The guards were sent off to chase down the (dead) mage, and the ‘servants’ took the opportunity to go search the mage’s quarters. However, an Alarm sounded and the ice golem came to life. The girls raised the illusion of another book case to stand in, but Grumblejack was stranded over in the mage’s quarters. Hearing the alarm, the guards came in and were attacked by the golem.

Grumblejack slipped out during the fighting, and 15 or so guards later, and the gallant captain looking MUCH worse for wear, the golem was destroyed. Leaving ample time for the bodies to clear out, the girls waited in the ‘bookcase’ and stripped the mage’s quarters. Talia briefly wondered what he needed wolfsbane potion for. Talia produced sounds from above as a quick distraction for the guard at the door to the mage’s laboratory, and the ‘servants’ slipped back to the inn uneventfully. Even more uneventfully thanks to her brother’s Mind Lapse. Handy trick, that.

Back at the in, rumors are spreading that the magister went mad and killed Martin in the rookery and set his golem on the guards. Talia also finds out that her gallant savior is having an affair with the wife of another captain. Heather begins gleefully spreading the rumor that the Lord Commander and the head of the ranger have been performing rather unspeakable acts behind closed doors. A table full of rangers due to head out in the morning are, to the girls’ amusement, not terribly surprised. The pretty maidens (and Heather) encourage their drinking, and soon they pass out, but not before revealing the captain’s favorite spot to camp and the fact that they are going out ranging tomorrow morning. The girls curse the six of Talingarde’s finest, and Lydia makes good use of her jailor’s ring given to the goblin warlord to let them know exactly where the patrol will be camping.

The three witches and their companions awaken to loud banging on the front door of the inn. The sun is still a faint glimmer on the horizon, and they overhear the innkeeper being questioned. Quickly slipping from Clairaudience to Clairvoyance, they see four guards with a freshly drawn wanted poster of the old man that Grumblejack was disguised as last night. Slipping back into audio, the innkeeper says that he saw a man of that description drinking there last night.

Lydia informs the group that the witch hunter from Branderscar is in town, and sees him going door to door. The three girls join hands, and call in a storm to soak the witch hound, his patrols, and foil his senses by saturating the town with magic. How easy is it to sniff out a witch, when the entire town reeks of witchcraft? The girls also set about charming everyone in town.

The girls spy on the questioning of Martin the rooker. All they get out of him is the serving girl Raziela was disguised as. The magister’s body was hung upside down from the tower. Clearly, he needs to be … brought back.

Lydia’s rat creeps up the tower and delivers the touch to reawaken the dead, and the girls taunt the Lord Commander with dreams of an army of witches attacking from the south.
The mage reawakens, burning, and apparently retaining the magic he held in life. A most excellent new toy. An ice storm leveled the acolytes outside the church, and a fireball took out the 20 guards surrounding him. However, skeletons are frail creatures, and it did not hold up long against the Father and Lord Commander. However, the tunnel below the keep is in an interesting spot, and Talia managed to destroy the body of the rooker, finished off the Father as the poor skeleton exploded, and managed a few parting shots at the Lord Commander. He raised his shield and retreated back to the keep. Horns sound and the guards return en masse to defend the keep.

The witch hunter kicks in the door to the bar and notices that they are ALL charmed. He immediately starts punching people. A full on brawl breaks out, and the dwarves jump in the fight. Pity. Rather liked those dwarves. Half the people in the fight are out cold on the floor, as the witch hound’s hand lights up. The dwarf tips over a table, blocking the punch but catching the entire inn on fire. The witches gather up their companions and things and exit through the back.

The witch hunter exits the bar unharmed as fire engulfs the inn. Cries of ‘Murderer!’ and ‘Arsonist!’ quickly rise from the currently rather pro-witch mob. He flees north.

Talia cracks the bar holding the doors shut as the townsfolk flee towards the Wall. The keep is on lockdown, but they are forced to open the gates for the mob. It is still pouring rain, so Eliazar gives the blaze a bit of help to engulf the town north of the wall.

Refugees are being invited to stay in people’s homes on the southern side of town. We get several offers, but take up the dear Captain Motts’ wife. She shows her dear friends some rather saucy letters from “Captain Zack”. Talia goads her brother about learning cure disease after he gets a taste of her hospitality. Exhausted, they all catch up on sleep until the Captain gets home.

The captain looks positivley haggard from dealing with a crazy mage, a crazy witch hunter, the crazy mage AGAIN, the dead Father, and the witch hunter setting the town on fire. The gates are closed, everyone is on double shifts, and the Lord Commander asked him to ride south to call for reinforcements.

Clearly, that won’t do.

Lydia manipulates the Captain into wishing to remain near his wife, and the wife to wish to remain near Captain Zack. Talia sneaks up to the wall and collapses the stables. And then sets it on fire for good measure. Repeatedly. Captain Mott’s wife approaches Captain Zack in the bucket brigade and, well, now they are all off to be executed or worse.

It appears that there are still several lantern archons remaining in the chapel. That won’t do at all. Also, the Lord Commander remains to be dealt with.

Champions of Talingarde: Side Quest 2
The Witch is Back

Sir Fallon was up before dawn to meet with the guards assigned to him. They were a sorry lot, not the worst that the Talingarde armed forces had to offer, but far from the best as well. When they had mustered he took the pile of drawings that the acolytes had made and distributed them, two to a man. He then divided the 50 soldiers, 25 to search the section of Aldencross south of the watch wall, and 25 to accompany him to search the north side.

“Alright men, we have few leads and little time. Our quarry managed to infiltrate Tower Balentyne and murdered several men, so they are not to be underestimated. Always stay in your groups…do not allow yourselves to become separated. You’ve all been here a while, you know the people of Aldencross. Warn them. Question them. We need as many people looking for the perpetrators as possible. If you see anyone you do not know, detain them…And if you detect any threat, sound your signal horns. We need success, not heroes…”

He dismissed the men to their searches, joining the last group out the gate. He sniffed the cold morning air. The smell of magic was weaker outside the keep, faint, but undeniable. The trail inside the keep had run cold as he searched last night. Several guards, though none assigned to him, had the stink on them, but, outside of the rookery and mage’s quarters, their were no concentrations in the tower. That meant that the witches must be in the town…if they had not fled altogether.

The guards spread out once they were out of the keep. They went door to door, knocking, questioning, startling townsfolk from their sleep. They hung the wanted posters at every street crossing, every notice board. Sir Fallon followed, watching them, observing the people that they roused from slumber, sniffing. An hour passed. There was nothing. The town was clean.

And then the rain started.

Just as the sky was lightening a storm blew in, and fast. It had none of the preamble of a natural storm. No clouds moving in. No warning breeze. In just a few minutes the sky changed from a clear spring morning to pouring down sheets of rain. Rain that reeked of witchcraft. Where only a minute ago he had smelled nothing, now the entire city stank. Every drop of rain, every overflowing gutter, every water-streaked window bore the stink of powerful magic. Sir Fallon hung his head in despair and let the rain soak into his boots…he had lost. He wouldn’t be able to sniff out anything as long as this magical deluge lasted. He urged the guards to keep up despite the rain. While he had no chance of sniffing out the witches, they might still find someone who had seen the old serving man from the night before.

It was late evening when Sir Fallon finally called a halt to the search. The guards, sopping wet, regrouped outside the central gate separating the two halves of the town and reported. No one in town had ever seen the man on the posters. Every house had been searched, every person in town had been questioned. The few strangers in town were all merchants, and the guards who had questioned them insisted that they were the most perfectly amiable, good-natured, normal-seeming folks they had ever met.

Only after the last guard had reported did Sir Fallon notice something. Several of the guards, all of whom had reported meeting some of these “good-natured” strangers, has a certain slackness to their features, a slight staring, unfocused quality to their gaze. They had been charmed. He couldn’t smell them, but had found his witches after all…

Sir Fallon questioned the charmed guards, having them recount when and where they had met these kind strangers. After an hour of questioning, he carefully reconstructed the accounts. It seemed as if the witches had been stalking the guards as much as they had been searching for the witches. While the descriptions of the merchants varied, the times and locations of the encounters implied that it was the same three people, working their way systematically through town…and starting from the Inn on the north side of town. The first group of guards to mention them spoke of meeting a nice family of six in the Inn first thing in the morning, just as the storm had started. Sir Fallon dismissed the guards, he could certainly dispel the charms on a few, but too many had been infected. If he was going to cure them he had to find the witches and put an end to their evil.

Fighting the fatigue of having stayed up too late the night before and the sickening smell of a city drenched in magical rain, Sir Fallon ran for the inn as fast as he could. His boots slid in the thick mud and splashed through the deep puddles that made up the streets north of the wall. In many places the water had pooled so deeply that he had to cover his nose to keep from retching at the smell. While his nose had gotten him out of a lot of trouble in the past, his ability to keenly smell out witchcraft now seemed a liability.

Sir Fallon skidded to a stop just outside the door to the inn and shoved open the door to the common room to find the place bustling. While it was not surprising to find the inn busy on such a wet night, he was not ready for the site that greeted him. Wine, ale, and stronger drink were flowing freely and everyone was laughing and carrying on. When he entered their were a few cheers and everyone waved at him…there were even a few random calls of “Norm!” At first he was certain that they had just mistaken him for a local personality, but then he noticed the look. Everyone in the bar, the barkeep, the serving girls, the dancing girls, and every patron had the same slack-faced, glazed-eyed look as the guards. They were all under the witch’s spell, every last one of them.

With a cry of frustration and rage Sir Fallon lashed out at the nearest patron, calling on the holy power of Mitra to undo the witch’s curses. It only took a few blows to cleanse enough people of the enchantment for a brawl to break out. People fled, tables were over turned, chairs and fists went flying. Sir Fallon didn’t care. The entire town had been bewitched right under his nose. The witches could be long gone by now, but they had done their damage. Between the magical storm and the charmed townsfolk he would never be able to find the witches.

He lashed out around him, striking as many people as he could with no thought of defense. The more he could hit, the more he might be able to free. He took blow after blow as the drunken, mind-controlled mob descended on him. But he was strong. The more he hit, the more allies he had. The more he hit the safer the town became.

The fight stretched on for minutes, combatants steadily dropping to the floor or running for safety from the enraged witch-hunter. In the end Sir Fallon found himself faced off against a septet of drunken, charmed dwarves. He had always heard that dwarves were naturally resistant to magic…of course, he’d also never heard of an entire town being enchanted in a day. The thing that always made witches catchable was that they tended to have limited reserves of power. Just as he could not dispel an infinite number of magics, so witches were not supposed to be able to affect people on this scale. But now he had seen it. His powers were spent, and the witches’ clearly were not.

Sir Fallon stumbled with fatigue and took a hard blow to the midsection from the leading dwarf. Sure that this would be the end, he called once more in Mitra—if he could not cure everyone in town, he could at least win this fight. Holy flames engulfed his hand and he threw all his weight behind the next punch…but he wasn’t fast enough. The dwarves upended a table in front of them and the explosive power of his attack caused the old wooden furniture to burst into gleaming life, red and yellow flames licking along its surface.

Only then did Sir Fallon realize what he had done. The place was a matchbox, made entirely of wood from ceiling to floor and everything was soaked in spilled liquor. When the flames reached the kitchen there was an explosion. Flour? Oil? It didn’t matter what had caught, just that it had. The inn filled with fire. He heard breaking glass from above…probably the patrons who had sought refuge in their room escaping through the windows.

He stumbled out into the street to find that a mob had gathered. While people had fled the fight, they had not fled far, and others had come to watch. As the fire spread through the inn the crowd grew. He walked out into the arms of at least a hundred people, the magic-laden puddles of rain and the people’s enchantment-glazed eyes reflected the light of the burning building eerily. Then a cry went up from the people. “Murderer!” they yelled. “Arsonist!” cried others. Fingers pointed his way. Then fists. Then clubs, knives, and pitchforks.

He ran.

As the angry mob chased him out of town, north, towards the cold, uncharted lands north of the Watch Wall he could see the fires spreading. Gouts of flames seemed to leap from building to building as if the fire were a living thing. Where he expected the rain to suppress the fire it did not. Some buildings seemed to ignite without being anywhere near the initial conflagration. By the time he crested the last hill and Aldencross faded from sight the entire town north of the wall was ablaze…


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