Thursday, September 8, 2016

What You Missed - Folkestone Questing 2016


By Ryan "Orion" Welch, with Alex "Tarun" Gorowara and Ian "Tam Lin" Struckhoff
_____________________________________________________________________
After Action Report
Events of 3-4 September 1016 (B.M.R.)
Fulfillment of a Contract Between Hell and the Realms

The morning after Folkstone’s annual feast, I traveled with my countrymen and other adventurers to Respite, which is the Realms-controlled domain in Hell. There, Laird Rel immediately met with General Gile (spelling unconfirmed). As a note: A year ago, Rel had signed a contract on behalf of the Realms with General Gile that promised our assistance in installing him as a Prince of Hell in exchange for his assistance in destroying The Quill. Now, General Gile had information regarding the location of the special ink required by The Quill: a stronghold belonging to the last user of The Quill. The citadel was secured by four locks, and the each of the four corresponding keys were sealed away in various locations in Hell. These locations were not known by us, so we set out to find and conquer them.

Shortly after setting out from Respite, I split off from my group and shapeshifted into a demon so that I could scout areas that more dangerous for a questing party. Learning from my mistakes at the Iron Road skirmish in Fae earlier in the year, I took care to study the behavior of the demons before disguising myself. Shortly after casting the spell, I tested myself by attempting to pass through a roving band of armed demons. I was relieved when I was able to walk by them without raising any suspicions, and having proved the quality of my imitation, I spent the next several hours ranging far and wide in enemy territory. However, because of this, I was not present for the breaking of the first and second seals. I feel that this report would be incomplete without those details, so I asked Tarun Ul-Sikar of Griffindor to help me fill that gap. He provided me with the following information:

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The Volcano: the first seal was in the depths of a volcano. It roasted anyone who stepped too close, including a curious but foolhardy Tam Lin and Grebinar. Luckily, the demons assailing us had what we needed - obsidian tokens. A single token, dropped at the entrance to the volcano, was enough payment to protect one person from its heat for as long as they stayed inside. Around the volcano were written words in a strange language. The letters were common, but Tam Lin recognized it as Old Morporkian. Rosetta noticed that it bore a similarity to the language  of the Wellmen, and I noted that it had a lot in common with the Insectafae tongue. Tam Lin's second-hand education in Old Morporkian let him translate most of it, but the phrases were clearly out of order.

Within the volcano, meanwhile, were creatures of rock who were nearly impervious to our attacks. Magic staggered them, however, and once beaten back into a lava pool they could be destroyed. These were minor nuisances, but proved to be informative. We cleared most of them out, and discovered seven circles: one in the center, and six surrounding it. Tam Lin and I began a call-and-response chant of the Old Morporkian, and experimented with the order after clearing up some small issues, like the sudden death of one of our participants (not naming names, but if it were a different time of month, you'd have smelled his fur burning). With some trial, error, and seer magic, we eventually found the right order (Tam Lin's translations in parentheses):

Mors potest non nocere! ( cannot harm me!)
Ego veni! (I arrive!)
Ego sum nolite timere! (I am not afraid!)
Ignis non nocere mihi! (Fire does not harm me!)

When we stumbled upon the right chant, several of the circles disappeared with a quake that rocked the volcano and knocked us all down. I repeated the process with each of the remaining circles in turn, each one disappearing with an overwhelming tremor. When the last circle was gone, a great golden golem emerged, like the rock creatures that had been harassing us, but more dangerous and less vulnerable. Eventually, he was beaten down, and determined to be the first seal; when he was broken, our work was done. As best I know, everyone managed to escape the volcano before it flared.

Later, in the Spirit Realm - this I know less about. There were undead, some weak, others strong; the strong ones we called reapers, and they could raise the weak with a touch. While the reapers were standing, we were able to enter the spirit realm; when they died, we were expelled. Inside the spirit realm, there were tiny orbs on the ground: souls which had been, in the great cosmic scheme of things, misplaced. We were to carry the blue-tinged ones from one side to the other (placing them in a special depository), and return the green-tinged ones from the other side in turn. This was simultaneously aided and complicated by the fact that dying on one side would merely carry you to the other.

Oh yes, there were spirits inside which were substantially larger than the centimeter-sized orbs, and a great deal more violent. They were threatening enough in close quarters to a spellcaster such as myself, but when they were struck a blow as would kill a mortal, they instead became dancing pillars of fire, incinerating all who came too close. This was something of a problem when there were still lost souls within their reach, or when a particular well-meaning but overexcited adventurer ended up turning one into a pillar of fire near one of the soul depositories. I'm told that his shot with a lightning bolt, while tactically ill-chosen, was an excellent throw. Luckily, they returned to their original states when we were expelled.

After many cycles - there were always more souls, it seemed, until they suddenly stopped - we completed our task and found one of the seals waiting for us in the center, where the wall between portions of the spirit realm had been. We broke it, and continued on our way.

-Tarun Ul-Sikar

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While the main party was working on the seal in the spirit realm, I committed a critical mistake while disguised as a demon. I killed a fellow adventurer for the sake of maintaining my cover, which later resulted in my own death at the blade of one of his countrymen. I won’t say that I didn’t deserve that, and as I watched through the eyes of my corpse, I became frustrated at myself for letting the situation worsen and escalate. Sir Rillan of Invictus saved me from being scalped for my offense and had me raised so that I could speak for myself. With his moderation, I was able to explain myself, apologize, and move on without further conflict.

Shortly before that fatal encounter, I had met up with a group of my own countrymen (everyone had long since realized that the most effective way to accomplish our goal was to split up into smaller groups instead of wandering around as one huge questing party). With my demon disguise dispelled, I ran to catch up with them. I found them off a trail among some tree-sized stalagmites, working to solve a magical puzzle that could grant some kind of small boon. After exchanging information with them, I snuck back to Respite to collect all of my gear that I had left behind when I first shapeshifted. As I was getting some food in the tavern, I heard that another group was preparing a ritual to empower the Banner of the Realms, and that they required a great deal of us to sacrifice into a fire something that had been on our person for at least a year. It only took a few minutes to offer enough (sacrifices ranged from pages of spell books to worn out daggers to Sir Tao’s bottle opener) to the fire, and soon the Baron of Bancroft planted the Banner in Respite. Once empowered, it slowly beckoned the corpses of Realms adventurers to itself.

It was not long after completing the ritual that Warlord Wisakatchekwa flew back to the tavern to inform us of the location of the third seal and to request reinforcements for the battle that had broken out there. I followed him with a group of battle-ready adventurers. As we got closer, I recognized the terrain my earlier scouting, and split from the others to put myself in a strategically advantageous position for shooting the lightly armored demons with my bow.

I was eventually forced to come down off my hill to recover my arrows, and after that I was more or less stuck on the beach where we were fighting (I’m not sure what kind of lake could exist in Hell, but I am very sure that I would not want to drink from it). This third seal was protected by metallic golems that we could move by throwing colored spheres at them. Each golem could only be moved by a particular color, and for some reason the demons that kept assaulting us possessed all of the spheres we needed. By this method of slaughter-throw-repeat, we guided the four golems into circles matching the colors of their spheres. When they were all in place, they came alive and attacked us (surprising someone somewhere, but not here). We easily defeated them in contests of matched weapons. With that, the third seal was broken.

More wandering. More searching. Eventually we found a way to access the fourth seal, and that was by sending groups of four individuals that had certain characteristics through a set of small portals. The requirements of the portals seemed to be random and would change after a group was sent through, but we met a helpful creature that could read the desires of the portals for us. I was in one of the last groups to go, and upon passing through the portal, I found myself in an elaborate labyrinth full of demons. My group quickly caught up to several other groups, and as we fought off countless demons, we eventually discovered three hooded figures wandering the maze that each asked small tasks of us. One shade asked for small parts of several of our souls, another asked for a particular kind of bone found only in the maze, and a third asked us to collect… severed limbs that had been lost in the far corners of the labyrinth. The halls were long and winding and on many occasions I became separated from one group, only to come across another. Sometimes, walls collapsed and revealed whole other sections of the maze, and in these new sections we found other groups that had apparently been portaled into the maze in some other location. In all of this I mean to say: we spent what felt like a very long time in that place and the errands set to us by the shades were challenging. Finally, when all three of these tasks had been completed, a number of greater demons burst from the endless walls and sprinted through the maze. They all seemed to want to throw themselves into a pit of lava at the center of the maze, and given their sudden appearance, we were unsure if this was a good thing or a bad thing. Ultimately (perhaps “instinctively” is a better word here), being as we are, we decided to resist them, but the scattered nature of our party did not lend itself to that end, and several of the fast demons made it to the fire practically uncontested. A few others were challenged by our blades and I know for sure that at least one was slain. Regardless of the manner of their deaths, the demise of those particular demons seemed to break the fourth seal, which happily ejected all of us from that terrible place back to the place with the small portals.

With all four seals broken, we collected the ink for The Quill (with surprising ease). General Gile then came to us and told us that if we were to write him in as a Prince of Hell, we would have to make our way to a center of great power in the plane. As we expected to have to fight our way to that place, we decided to first go back to Respite and spend a couple of hours to eat dinner and prepare ourselves for the upcoming march.

When I arrived at the Chimeron camp, I found that some of my companions had already prepared dinner for all of us. I reveled at the chance to sit down, stretch my legs, and shove more food in my face. You know, because I hadn’t had enough to eat the night before at the feast…

After what felt like too short a rest, the Warlord was rallying us to return to Respite to meet up with the rest of our force. Our numbers had lessened slightly as some were still exhausted from the long day, but we were able to muster a fighting force worthy of marching under the Banner of the Realms. I took it upon myself to carry that Banner as I had several years ago when we marched to the final battle against Mad Tom. Unfortunately, I found that I could not bring the Banner as close to the line as I would have liked because its magic was opposed by the magic of the enemy’s banner. As expected, our march was opposed by many demons who favored the current chaos of Hell and would hate to see the power vacuum closed. The way forward was dark and blocked by many barriers. We suffered heavy casualties and were quickly running out of the last of our combat support magic. With the help of Sir Rosetta, Roni of Thorn Valley, and Gherradyne of Fairhaven (and an entire watermelon), I empowered the Banner with my mystic forge and the divine hearthfire of Vesta; this gave the Banner and aura that would repair the armor of the living in about a minute.

As we pressed forward, breaking the barriers down, we discovered several powerful lights. Finally we came to the shadow demon that was responsible for the barriers, and we engaged him in battle. Of course, being a shadow demon, it was tricky business to fight it in the darkness, so we surrounded it with the powerful lights and beat it into the ground. As it died, the final barrier between us and the place of power. We took several minutes to rest and attempt to restore some of our vital magic. Top Laiko took inventory of our remaining resources and organized a small ritual powered by the dregs of our divine magic. I was neither able to participate nor benefit from that ritual as most of my magic was still bound to the additional enchantments on the Banner, but I was later told that the result was a handful of power potions. Then it was time for the final push.

Under the Banner of the Realms, we marched on the place of power; it was a fortress with high walls and surrounded by a thin forest of tree-like stalagmites. A hoard of demons formed a strong defensive line at the gate of the castle and stood atop the walls with long pikes. The siege that followed was loud with the shouts of commands and the ringing of steel. We finally breached the walls and stormed inside, though it took time and blood. Once inside, the contract that named the Princes of Hell was located, and Laird Rel and General Gile worked out the exact wording of the lines that would make the General a Prince. When it was done, The Quill vanished and at the same time, a second force of demons descended on the fortress. We had worked so hard to fight our way into these walls, and now we had to fight our way out. That battle was not as bloody as the previous one, as we now had the advantage, and we once again broke the enemy line and poured out of the castle. Our objective had finally been accomplished, so we returned to Respite and rested for the night.

As the Hell-sun rose, we regrouped in Respite and made plans to find The Quill again so that it could be “dealt with”. Some people thought that it should be destroyed outright so that it would no longer be able to cause chaos, but others did not like that idea because it meant that the Maker would be destroyed in the process, and during the actions of the previous day, she had proven to be a free-willed being of great power and grace. Soon, most people agreed that it would be worthwhile to try to find some other way to destroy The Quill without destroying the Maker, so we again went out in groups to explore the Hellscape.

I once again went off on my own, as I could move faster than any group. I looked near the locations of the four seals found no sign of The Quill nor any demon for that matter. When I returned to my companions, I found them searching through some hellish underbrush, speaking of maps and treasure. It seemed that the allure of loot had distracted from the search for The Quill, so I returned to Respite to await news of our actual quarry.

The Quill did finally appear, though it seemed to take its time about it. We found it in front of the hut of some mage-demon who had surrounded it with warding circles. As we approached, the mage-demon pelted us with Hellfire and sent his minions after us. We cut them down in waves and kept the mage-demon at bay as best we could, while some of our own mages worked out a way to take down the wards. There were seven in all, and by my recollection they were in this order, outside to inner-most: a ward against the living, a ward against the dead, a weak ward against everything, a ward against weapons, a ward against everything except magical projectiles, and inside that last circle there were two wards side-by-side: a ward against non-infernal and a ward against sentience. The former surrounded The Quill and we never figured out the true purpose of the latter (Magus Tam Lin suggested that it could have been a way for us to prove that The Quill was sentient, but why would the mage-demon set up a ward for that? I suspect it had some other hidden meaning, but we never had the chance to figure it out).

It was relatively easy to pass the first four wards: people could be killed outside of the first circle, given a seed of life, then passed over the ward. Once they regenerated, they could walk right over the second ward. The third ward, the one against everything, was weak and could be disrupted. The fourth ward could be passed if you cast ghost blade on your weapon. The last two wards were more tricky. I won’t bother writing out the entire process, because it involved a lot of trial-and-error, but eventually Vesper of Blackwood tried to scoop up The Quill with a ghost blade-ed throwing mug (basically a weaponized mug, much like a throwing knife, I suppose?) that had been enchanted with blacksmithing magic, rubbed in Hellbloom, and was tied to a magic belt provided by Magus Janus. The whole contraption made it through all of the wards, and after some doing, was able to drag The Quill to the edge of the ward against everything except magical projectiles. Of course, The Quill could not pass this ward. While we were trying to figure out another solution, the mage-demon was slain, which caused the magic of the warding circles to fade for just long enough for us to collect The Quill and get out of there.

With The Quill in our possession, we returned to Respite for the last time. Now we only had to break the chaotic nature of The Quill without destroying the Maker in the process. Many people (such as myself) decided that they either did not have much to contribute to this or had more important things to attend to back in the Realms and started to make their way home. I was later informed by several of my countrymen that those who chose to work on The Quill were ultimately successful. At my request, Magus Tam Lin provided me with written details about those happenings, as he actually witnessed them:

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We spent much of the weekend focusing on how to fill the empty seat among the Nine Princes of Hell, in large part because of Shandar and Rel’s contract with General Guile, on the part of the Realms. However, in that back of our minds was what to do about the Quill itself. Both situations seemed to be stuck in a binary— Whether to place Guile in the role of Prince, or one of the Angels of Elysium. Whether to ask the Maker to sacrifice herself to destroy the Quill, or call on some other god to make a different sacrifice to do so. I was fixated all weekend on finding a third path for each of those, because all solutions seemed unacceptable. I suggested to Rel that we not merely use the Quill to place General Guile on the throne, but to do so in a way that could mitigate future chaos and violence in the face of power vacuums. We discussed a number of options, and in the end, Rel enacted a contract that will allow any member of the Nine to abdicate, by rejoining the Wheel, so long as they name their own successor— Eliminating power vacuums and violent transitions, and allowing them a way out, since many in Hell truly just long to be free from Hell itself.

Later, once we recovered the Quill, I attempted to call upon Antioch to change the nature of the Quill subtly, so it’s repercussions would be interesting events for Arioch to watch, rather than destructive Chaos. Antioch agreed with the plan, but felt that if he enacted it himself, or attempted to explain it to Arioch, the chaos god would be immediately predisposed against it.

In the end, I granted Trend Shadowdragon, a devoted follower of Arioch, and the Maker, the ability to speak with Arioch themselves. Trent took my original ideal and ran with it, and ultimately convinced Arioch to make the Quill a quill of stories, not of contracts. The heroes of the Realms now owe Arioch 50 stories in the next year, as an offering for the Quill.

-Magus Tam Lin

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Other noteworthy events that I could not fit into the chronology of this report:
-Angels from Elysium wanted to have one of their own written into the Prince of Hell position, but this would not make things better because angels don’t belong in Hell and they would have become corrupted
-Sir Gilliam seems to have regained his wings

Conclusions:

Balance has been restored to the plane of Hell and The Quill should no longer pose any danger to that world. It is always good to see that the adventurers of the Realms can still join together and accomplish a common goal without major mishaps. I addition, I personally learned that proper preparation pays off when shapeshifting, but the art of deception has many nuances and I still have a lot to learn about the effective use of the spell, especially when it comes to interacting with my fellow adventurers.

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Captain Orion Mars, Chimeron Militia
Squire to the Knight Protectors of Faerie
Sworn Member of the Azure Guard

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