Friday, February 3, 2012

A Week in the Life of a Witch Hunter: Session 1

"...and what do you burn apart from witches?"

As if rehearsed Aidan the Herald shouted his reply to Brother Justice, "More Witches!" The others in their party burst out laughing at the jest. It had been only a few hours since the six companions had left the town of Varyston and the rest of their company behind, but already they had returned to the easy companionship of the road. These men were the vanguard, the chosen elite of the royal army which had been dispatched to retrieve the various vile criminals being held in Branderscar Prison for execution.

"Do you believe what the old man in town said?" Sir Willem asked the others.
"Oh, I never take such warnings lightly." Sir Fallon Nightly said sniffing the air. "I don't doubt that he heard a commotion at the prison last night. I'm sure..."

Just then a deafening roar broke in on their thoughts, followed by a large, tawny-maned lion leaping from the undergrowth on the side of the Old Road, startling their horses and speeding away. Before Aidan could say "What the?!" A giant toad leaped out behind the lion, but quickly turned its attention to the fresh horse-flesh. Brother Justice fired a quarrel after the retreating lion, but the beast vanished back into the forest.

Sir Robert couched his lance and charged the toad, skewering it mightily, but the beast still lived and locked its massive jaws around the throat of Robert's horse, pulling the creature to the ground and unhorsing Robert. Sir Fallon rushed to his aid, cleaving the beast's head off with a single blow from his mighty axe.

Sir Willem knelt beside the horse and examined the wound, "The bite was poisoned, there's nothing I can do for him." Sir Robert nodded gravely and put the poor animal out of its misery. Lord Tristram (called "The Lion") pulled Robert up behind him on his horse and they continued on to the prison.

As they approached the gates of the prison their faces fell. "What the?!" cried Aidan, calling upon his familiar catch-phrase. Before them stood a ruin; towers collapsed, gates broken open, and smoke rising from the burned-out husk of the keep.

Brother Justice made to ride closer, but Sir Robert held up his hand, "Hold Brother. I sense great evil here."
"No sh*t?!" Tristram rolled his eyes at the paladin and pointed to the square beyond the gates, where they could just make out several bodies, arrayed in the form of a pentagram around a smashed statue of St. Dothan the Just.
"Blasphemy!" cried Sir Willem, who charged into the gate and vanished, both the knight and his horse falling, with a great cry, through the ground under the gatehouse. The others approached cautiously, still able to hear their friend's cries of alarm and pain, but seeing no sign of him or the pit where he had fallen. Sir Fallon dismounted and examined the ground. "An illusion," he told the others, and proceeded to strike the ground, dispelling the sorcery.

Beneath the illusion they saw a great pit, filling the entire area between the gates and perhaps 20 feet deep. Sir Willem's horse was dead, impaled on a number of sharpened wooden stakes embedded in ground. Sir Willem himself was mostly unharmed, but was helpless to climb out of the pit in his armor. The party dismounted and Aidan through a rope down to Sir Willem, while Sir Fallon sniffed around. "There were witches here, and recently. We must assume that the prisoners have escaped, but its possible that the witches that made this trap are still inside..."

After a quick vote, the party decided to climb down and traverse the pit to investigate the rest of the prison. Tristram went down first and crossed to secure a rope on the far side. Sir Willem came next, followed closely by the others, and just as Tristram was helping Sir Willem back out of the pit a horrible hissing sound was heard, and a torrent of boiling oil spilled down upon the party from the ruins of the gatehouse. All were badly burned, and as they scrambled to climb out a rain of heavy stones came down upon them, knocking Aidan the Herald unconcious and sending him tumbling back into the pit.

Sir Robert jumped into the pit and healed Aidan. Meanwhile up top, a rain of arrows began to fall on the party, seemingly out of nowhere. The party dove for cover behind some nearby rubble as Sir Fallon charged the nearest wall, punching it with a cry of rage. Immediately the walls of the keep shimmered, wavering like a mirage, and revealed the keep to be whole, intact, and manned by a small army of bloody, animate corpses.

"This way!" Sir Willem called, dropping a _fog cloud_ over the courtyard and rushing into the gatehouse and up the stairs. Sir Fallon and Brother Justice bolted after him and Tristram threw another rope into the pit to aid Robert and the Herald. On the second level of the gatehouse the three knights encountered an equal number of skeletons manning the murder-holes, each covered in flames. Brother Justice waved the others towards the stairs up to the walls and called upon the power of Mitra, instantly turning the three undead creatures to dust.

Bursting onto the roof of the gatehouse, Sir Willem encountered a pair of blood-soaked skeletons armed with longbows. He lowered a shoulder and charged, knocking one off the battlement, but taking an arrow in the shoulder from the other. Sir Fallon, close on his heals came up and planted his axe squarely into the ribcage of the other. Sadly, the beast was not felled, and began to claw at Sir Fallon's face with its bony hands.

Brother Justice came up behind the others and dispatched the remaining skeleton with a disrupting bolt of positive energy. "Careful," he called to the others, "these ones heal." Sir Willem cast a communal protection over the three of them and they ran for the nearest tower, carefully dodging the continuing rain of arrows.

Below Sir Robert and the two bards carefully approached the pentagram of bodies in the courtyard, convinced that the unholy symbol must be powering their undead assailants. Aidan looked at the corpses and raised a hand to stop the others, "Wait. Those are clearly more zombies." Sir Robert nodded and presented his holy symbol, burning the foul creatures with the holy light of Mitra.

Just then a half-dozen slavering, undead dogs burst from the nearby kennel and charged the three on the ground. Sir Robert reacted quickly and stepped in front of Aidan, taking a defensive stance. One of the dogs lashed at Sir Robert with an impossibly long tongue, snaking around his shield to latch onto his face, draining his blood and weakening him greatly. Two others charged Aidan, biting and clawing, but unable to get past Sir Robert's defenses.

The other three charged Tristram, striking him several times with bites, tongues, and their powerful paws. One grabbed Tristram by the leg and dragged him to the ground. channeling his magic into his sword and striking it mightily, and causing a swarm of hungry, flesh-eating cockroaches to spill out. Tristram screamed as the bugs and the dogs tore into him. One dog finally grabbing his throat and tearing it out just as Sir Robert expended the last of his divine power to burn them all to dust.

Aidan conjured a small earthquake to destroy the remnants of the unholy icon on the ground and charged into the ever-growing swarm of biting insects to recover Tristram's body.