Sunday, March 24, 2019

Rise of The Runelords Chapter 13: Trouble at Turtleback Ferry

With Sandpoint cleansed of the undead outbreak, and the conspiracy in Magnimar thwarted, the heroes are about to depart. It feels like it might finally be time for them to part ways, and to return to their lives... until the Lord Mayor asks them for one more favor. If it wouldn't be too much trouble, of course.

The adventure to-date, for those who need to catch-up:

- Chapter 1: Blood and Butterflies
- Chapter 2: Murder and Glass
- Chapter 3: The Sin Pit
- Chapter 4: Tussles in The Tangle
- Chapter 5: The Assault on Thistletop
- Chapter 6: Secrets Behind The Curtain
- Chapter 7: Murders At The Mill
- Chapter 8: Halflings and Ghouls
- Chapter 9: Fox in The Hen House
- Chapter 10: Something Rotten in Magnimar
- Chapter 11: The Crumbling Tower
- Chapter 12: Demonbane

And what would the Lord Mayor ask of the band of strangers who had become the toast of the city? Well, it's an unusual favor, and one that will certainly be filled with peril!

The Silence From Fort Rannick

Varisia is a large nation, and while Magnimar is both powerful and wealthy, it sometimes allows the outer territories to govern themselves unless something truly unusual happens. And while there isn't a panic, there is a noted silence from the town of Turtleback Ferry (so named for the massive turtle shells that have been turned into ferries that play the waters across Claybottom Lake). Normally they receive a regular correspondence from the rangers of the Black Arrows stationed at Fort Rannick, but there hasn't been so much as a peep. And while they could send regular troops to investigate, it would be so much more efficient if this band could assist the great city one more time.

The ferry is a charming place, really. You should go there!
While it's a long journey, and one that's quite far out of the way, there is no denying something strange hangs over the remote province. And when Mirelinda asked her cards what awaited them at the ferry, the blood drained from her face. Seeing the Harrower's expression was enough to convince the others that they should accept, and depart with full haste.

A Cold Welcome

Travel up the river took months, and the chill damp was beginning to settle in over Turtleback Ferry by the time they arrived. A small town barely worth the name, the locals were drab and distrustful, watching the newcomers with suspicion. Even Zordlan, with his silver tongue and glib humor, could barely get more than a few words out of the reticent fishermen and foresters.

"We don't take kindly to your type round here." Elves? "Bards."
What they managed to learn was that no one in town had seen any of the Black Arrows in months. Not since one of the ferries overturned, and killed a lot of people. Was dedicated to sin, that boat, full of vice and gambling. The woman who ran it was a beautiful, red-haired temptress, spoken of alternatively in tones of lust and disdain by those in the bar. Other than that bit of excitement, and the wet season rolling down from the mountain, no one had much to say.

A Lost Cat

Undaunted by the lack of welcome, the companions mounted up the next day, and took the path toward Fort Rannick. They had just crossed a bridge over a waterfall, though, when they head an unexpected sound; an animal in pain, and the strain of a steel chain. Cautious, but curious, they dismounted to see what could be making such a sound.

Get me out of this godsforsaken thing!
In the center of a meadow was a firepelt cougar, it's leg caught in a bear trap. The animal was trying to get loose, but as the companions watched they noticed it seemed deliberate. Smarter than an animal would be. And it watched them, not with a wild wariness, but as if it were trying to plead for their help. That was when Zhakar sheathed his sword, and approached the big cat. Thok came with his friend, though a bit more carefully. Zhakar whispered to the big cat, gently stroking its head while handing his adamantine sword to Thok. The big hunter studied the trap, placing the blade deliberately, before slicing through the mechanism. The teeth fell open, releasing the animal. Zhakar gently laid his fingers on the firepelt's leg, and golden light knit the wounds mostly closed.

The big cat had barely had a chance to put its weight back on its newly healed limb when the trees shuddered, and the hunter came looking to see what was caught in his trap. A hulking, malformed figure stomping into the clearing, malice in his one bulging eye. It was an ogrekin, surrounded by a baying pack of hyenas. One look at the broken trap, and at those standing near it, was enough to put a wicked, hungry smile on his face. He barked a single order, unslinging his ogre hook and siccing his dogs on the prey.

The battle joined, it was a dance they all knew well. Arrows were nocked and released, thudding into the ogrekin's torso. The giant didn't seem to notice as he lumbered closer, swinging his hook and hooting a war cry. The mangy pack surrounded the firepelt, but even with their numbers the cat tore into them. Bones cracked, and blood flew as it attacked with a ferocity far beyond that of a normal beast.

Slavering for the kill, the ogrekin waded in, hook swinging. It took Zordlan off-guard, but Zhakar caught the blade on his gauntlet. The giant hammered him over and over again, and Zhakar returned what blows he could. When Thok approached it from the rear, though, the creature howled in pain as the longspear lanced into its back. Its attention distracted, Bostwick rushed under, his fist smashing into the ogrekin's knee. Unable to fight on so many fronts, the ogrekin soon crashed to the ground. It tried to rise, but the firepelt was on it in a flash, tearing out its throat.

Led To A Cabin in The Woods

Bloodied from the battle, the firepelt barely waited for the ogrekin's body to cool before it rushed to the edge of the clearing. It stopped, looking back at its new companions as if impatient for them to join. Taking a deep breath, and not putting away their weapons, they followed the big cat into the woods.

I don't like where this is going... not at all...
The firepelt led them to what could only be described as a farm. But though the cabin was big and rustic, and the barn seemed quite sturdy, everything else about the place was wrong. It stank of sour meat, and spoiling moonshine. The cat padded to the barn, and pawed at the dirt, looking back at its rescuers.

When they threw open the doors to the barn, two more of the malformed ogrekin whirled to stare at them. With their mis-matched limbs, and dull, hate-filled eyes, it only took a moment for them to react. Swinging their huge hooks, they smashed through wooden railings, and took huge chunks out of the barn door frame trying to reach their foes. Zhakar stepped into one, driving his short sword under the thing's arm. Thok dodged and weaved, using the tip of his spear to push the other back into the barn. The cougar bolted up one of the rickety stairways, streaking for a door on the second floor. Zordlan took the opposite stairway, parrying a thrust from the ogrekin's steel and leaping up higher as he wrenched open the door.

Beyond, in the rear room of the barn, they found a huge, iron cage filled with the black-cloaked members of Fort Rannick's elite Black Arrows. The remainder of the room, though, was choked with thick strands of spiderwebs... and the spinner hung suspended from the center of the room!

Come into my den, won't you?
This new foe represented a unique challenge. The huge arachnid was too far away for Zordlan's steel or the firepelt's claws, but more than able to reach them with it's legs, webs, and venomous bite. Zordlan only realized this too late, as he feverishly tried to parry the creature's attacks, only for its fangs to sink into his shoulder. His cry of agony was what caught Thok's attention, just as he drove his spear through the ogrekin's throat. He rushed in, Mirelinda at his heels, and wrenched open the ground floor door.

As the spider turned her gaze to the Varisian sorceress, Mirelinda let out a shriek. Then, in the next breath, unleashed fire from her fingertips. The flames flickered across the web, burning everything in its path. The spider screamed, panicking as her lair burned around her. Unable to hold her weight, the spider fell, crashing to the dirt, splintering her legs beneath her. Before she could rise, or attack again, Thok drove his weapon into her grasping mouth, stilling the beast.

The barn catching fire, Zordlan hammered at the cage with the pommel of his sword, but the iron refused to give way. Zhakar finally brought down the ogrekin he'd been fighting, then sprinted up the stairs, already drawing his adamantine blade. Cutting through the lock with a single swipe, they began helping the starved and dehydrated rangers to safety. They were nearly across the yard when a hooded figure stepped from the forest, bow in hand. Then, as the barn exploded, Shalelu ran forward, putting her shoulder beneath the lead ranger's arm to help hustle him into the safety of the trees.

Within The House of Horrors

Taking a moment to regroup, the Black Arrows gasped out their story. Fort Rannick had been taken by ogres, as well as some kind of... creature. There had been giants as well, and their commander had gone missing. They believed he was slain, but weren't sure.

The fort would need to be re-taken... but first the creatures who lived in that cabin needed to be slain. The prisoners had witnessed things they could not unsee, and they spoke of the inbred clan that ran the farm. They also spoke of the grotesque matriarch who commanded her legions of ogrekin children. She was a potent threat that would need to be dealt with before moving onto Fort Rannick.

Necromancers... why is it always necromancers?
With the prisoners safe, and Shalelu escorting them back to town along with the firepelt cougar who had found her master in the cage, the others girded themselves to assault the cabin. As prepared as they thought they were, though, they couldn't have known what awaited them behind that front door.

The porch, the front room, and the hallways were filled with deadly traps, many of them left filthy and rusted to inflict greater pain on those who would attempt to invade the ogrekin's home. In a blacked-out chamber, three rotting sons stood at their mother's beck and call. The matriarch lounged atop a bed of filthy rags, stinking of sweat, filth, and corruption. Her undead brood fell beneath Zhakar's flashing blade, and Bostwick's fists stole the air from her lungs before she could cast more than a spell or two. Zordlan's steel silenced her permanently, leaving the obese necromancer lolling in the bed of moldering skins she hadn't left in years.

After the gut-wrenching disgust of the bedroom, the basement was almost a breath of fresh air. The last of the ogrekin brood waited, hook and chain at the ready to defend his home. Though he fought as hard as any of his brothers, and drew his share of blood, he was the one who fell. Perhaps the most unexpected creature of all, though, was the strange plant he'd been raising in the back room of the basement. Something that tried to swallow and digest its foes, while slamming the others to death. And though it did manage to swallow Zhakar, its meal didn't agree with it, driving a spiked fist through the side of its stomach while his companions hacked at its woody body and grasping fronds.

When the last resident of the cabin had been slain, the companions left the same way they'd entered. Mirelinda snapped her fingers, and a spark leaped onto the ragged curtains. They went up like kindling, and the homestead burned alongside the barn.

Only time would purge the stain of what had been there. But fire would have to do for the time being.

Will Sandpoint's heroes be able to retake Fort Rannick? What was the strange creature who led the ogres? Is the commander dead, alive, or something altogether worse? Find out on the next installment of Table Talk!

For more of my work, check out my Vocal and Gamers archives, as well as the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out from time to time. Or, to check out books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, as well as on Pinterest where I'm building all sorts of boards dedicated to my books, RPG supplements, and greatest hits. Lastly, to help support me and my work, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron! Even a little donation can have a big impact.

1 comment:

  1. Huh. Y'all didn't keep the NPCs around? One of them's a Ranger with Favored Enemy (Giant)!