A week ago off the coast of the Northron Kingdoms, pirates took your ship, The Agatha. You now find yourselves chained in the hold of their vessel, The Bloodstained Bitched, presumably waiting to be sold into slavery. You have no idea where you are bound for and have only been given water and moldy bread to eat. The cramped hold offers only four feet of space between decks, and you are shackled to ring bolts in the floor by your wrists and ankles. Perhaps to torment you, the keys to your chains hangs hang just out of reach on a peg beside the stairs leading to the upper deck. The crew, a mixed lot of humans, orcs, hobgoblins and bugbears, obeys the command of Red Olin, a lean vicious red bearded fellow clad in scarlet robes. You do not see much of him.

Suddenly one night, a terrible storm arises. The timbers groan and crack as towering waves buffet the ship. You can hear screams above as the raging sea washes pirates overboard. A thunderous crack resounds as the mainmast splinters. Then a horrible impact shakes you as the ship collides with something. Screams, the sound of splintering timber, salt water filling the hold submerging you. All goes black.

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Trudging through the swamp, Mirilda thought of First Light. She knew when she left some of all of them may not return. She knew that was the case on any adventure they undertook, but for this rang stronger with the Abyss. Therefore, she met with the Steward prior to their departure.

She loved the people of First Light and wanted to ensure they were protected and treated fairly. Not just while they were gone, that was the Steward’s job, and she trusted him to do that. She was thinking of the future of the community if she or the others should not return. Who would rule on the council in their stead? Althoug she had confidence the Steward, one man should not rule First Light alone.

The Steward had recommended naming the Captain of her guard as her predecessor on the council. Captain Albrek was a good man. He was an excellent strategist and leader, but his focus was on the military only. When he was not fighting a battle, he was preparing for one, even when none were on the horizon. Yes, he was a good man, but he was not right person to replace her on the council.

The man she chose, she met about a year ago. She had gone to the yard to train. The Unchained had been at First Light for over a month straight. Mirilda did not want to lose her edge so she trained every morning when the yard was empty. One morning before the sun was even up, Sergeant Bourgunn was already there yielding his sword against the wooden posts set up for the initiates to practice. He bravely asked Mirilda if she would like to spar rather than training separately. Since she never passed up the chance for a good fight, she took him up of the offer. He was good! But that is not why Mirilda chose him.

The next morning, he was there again. Without a word, they started sparring. This became their morning ritual. Eventually, the silent sparring turned to witty taunting then the taunting turned to insightful conversation.

Bourgunn was the youngest Sergeant in First Light, he was a good soldier and impressive warrior. But even as young as he was, he had a wisdom beyond his years. It was obvious he could strategize, but his wisdom transcended the battlefield. Mirilda was a fair ruler, but she was not wise. She did however recognize wisdom in other. Therefore, her sparring partner soon turned to be her trusted advisor.

Prior to departing First Light, Mirilda officially, but quietly declared Bourgunn to be her successor on the council. It was documented by the Steward and she told the Unchained, however, no one else at First Light knew, especially the Captain as she knew he would feel slighted, but she need to do what was best for the community. As the heaviness of the swamp surrounded her, she reflected on her decision and knew that she left the future of her home in good hands.

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Hope in Hell
I don't know where I am now, but that's nothing new.

I know in general terms; I have come to Hell following the death of my mother. I have come in search of who I am. My poor, sweet mother was the wise woman in our tiny village of Hareswood. When the men would go to sell their cattle in London, I would hear them assuring their wives that it was only a day's journey away and another back, and sometimes I marveled that I had never seen that great and terrible city. Harold Godwinson is the king of England--or was. I do not know how long I have been wandering in this accursed place.

But, to keep my spirits up, I have taken to flying everywhere. It is something that I could rarely do at home, but now that I am in this strange place... When I was young I discovered that I possessed this skill, but Mum cautioned me never to reveal this wonder to anyone else in the village. As a girl of six playing with my little friends I was sometimes tempted but I recalled the nearly-panicked words of my mother and hid my true self from even my playmates. Even so, when their mothers would find out with whom they had been playing, suddenly, for a day or two, I would only see them from across the town square as they were hastily shuffled into a house and out of my view.

And then my horns started to show, and all of a sudden I had no playmates. Oh, I’d see them near the well as I drew the water, or walking along the path toward their cottages at the outskirts of the village, and they would point and make faces and tease, but had their choices been their own I believe that some of them still might have engaged in hide-and-seek or gone down to the river to kick stones with me. However, I could count on the village mothers tutting like hens and hurrying the normal ones, the “right” ones, away from my company. I began spending more and more time alone in the woods around Mum’s cottage.

When I believed no one was around to see me I would float above the trees, and as I grew and became a better hunter (for it was up to me to provide meat for my own supper, as hunting was distasteful to my mother) I gradually got better at simply rising above the treetops and began to flit and fly about. I also discovered that I did not need to carry a bow in order to fell beasts for our table. I found early in my childhood that I had to but gesture and green and purple sparks of arcane energy would erupt from my fingertips, buzzing towards whatever target I had chosen. This nearly became the death of me several times, for as a headstrong and passionate child I could naively wish the destruction of any random thing that disgruntled me in the least, but somehow my mother always managed to find me and calm the situation before I made it infinitely worse.

I remember her soothing tones even now, in the unholy grip of a land that baffles and thwarts me at every turn. I miss her.

I also remember her words—scarce and enigmatic—about my father. In my twenty years, she had only confessed a handful of times about the creature that had given her a child. I say creature, for she did tell me he was not human.

I had heard stories from travelers at their cups in the tavern and snatches of conversations between the village-folk about women they called witches consorting with devils. Sometimes they spoke of children resulting from these unions. By the time she told me my father was not human I’d figured out that they spoke of my mother as a witch and myself as one of those children. I have wondered many times how we escaped the gallows.

Mum died quietly; one morning she did not rise to greet the new day. I had been dreading it, as I had noticed more and more of the rags she held to her mouth as she coughed come away spotted with blood. No one from the village helped me carry her tiny emaciated body to a small clearing in the woods near our cottage; no one helped me dig her grave in the loamy soil as fuzzy shafts of green dappled light danced to the dirge of the wind; no one stood with me over the freshly turned earth of her final resting place as tears dripped down my cheeks and I silently begged the forest to watch over her. The next morning, in the darkness before the dawn, no one came to wish me safety and good fortune as I closed the door to our little cottage with a heavy heart. I knew somehow, in my bones, that I would never see the cottage again. I picked through dewy brambles to another clearing in the woods; a clearing that, even though my mother had never even spoken of the place I knew was where I sprung forth as a thought in the depths of her mind. This was the way I would find my father, I was sure. I reasoned that my mother could not really be one of those depraved women the people called a witch, so my father probably was not a wicked devil like they said, either. She had told me, though, that he came from another world, and this seemed the way I might get there.

I don’t know what I believe about my father now. If these are the lands he came from, I wonder how he can be anything but wicked.

I have wandered alone so far, but at this moment I feel like the tides of fortune might be turning for me. I’ve met a small group of wanderers like myself—or, somewhat like myself. They number five, but only four of them look human to me; the largest member of the group is a fair bit taller than me, well-muscled and well-scarred, with bright green skin. I’ve never seen anyone like her, but as I have reached adulthood I have noticed my own skin taking on a shimmering blue-red tint Therefore, it seems plausible to me that someone might have a greenish tint to their skin (but her skin is more than green-tinted!). Also, her lower teeth extend slightly beyond her lips and carry such a point as to look dangerous, so that it looks like she has tusks like a boar; something like this I have seen, though never of this magnitude, so I am prepared to accept this. But more importantly she seems a likable person, so I am actually prepared to accept quite a bit. In addition to the green giant, one of men is so small in stature that he seems almost not to be real. But he also seems likable, and quite jovial despite the current environs, so I’ve decided I like him. One of the other men is shy and quiet and though he tries not to show it, he almost jumps out of his skin when I speak; even though his ears are strangely pointed and even though I catch him eyeing me cautiously every once in a while, the very first thing he showed me—once they had determined I was not a threat—was the widest, most genuine smile I have ever seen. The last man is also fairly tall—only a bit shorter than me—and garbed in shining plate armor with a sparkling white surcoat. On the surcoat is emblazoned a sun picked out in yellow and gold thread, so bright that it seems to glow in the gloom. His gaze is also cautious but I see kindness and care in his bright blue eyes, and this heartens me as to his character. And the final member of this party is a woman, somewhat stout with flaming red hair in a long braid, with what looks like the same sun inked onto her barely-confined bosom. Although her expression is similarly guarded, I noticed that as I approached the travelers she positioned herself brazenly in front of her companions and I wish to have a friend that will knowingly stand between me and danger. It’s something that I have not experienced except from my mother.

I don’t know how long I’ve been wandering in this damnable place. Even before this, in the village I left, I never had much hope for friendship. I’ve felt alone and afraid for as long as I can remember, and the death of my mother worsened that feeling so much that I have not dared hope to see another sunrise, merely surviving from moment to moment. But now, among these fellow wanderers in the maze of Hell, I find that I have hope.
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A Risk Worth Taking
She materialized slowly through the eclipsing, confusing haze of the rank swamp. It was some time before my eyes were even able to contextualize the corpus moving toward us and discern whether it was humanoid, and then I saw: Tiefling. We tensed and eyed her warily, as one doesn’t always know where one stands with a Tiefling. I’ve not know one intimately, though it’s no secret they’re often wily and mischievous at best, and not unlikely to ultimately journey down a dark path that leads anywhere but redemption. Young and willowy, she didn’t seem to harbor any ill intent toward us, but I was extremely uncomfortable and hesitant to let down my guard. We inquired as to who she was and why she would find herself in a place such as this, and she said she was looking for her father. Apparently, her mother is a woman of healing, but her father is a demon. I am trying very hard to think of a way this could go well.

Mirilda, Boudica, Blaze, Leon, and I exchanged glances and wordlessly allowed her to join us as we entered the crypt. Her telekinetic and flying abilities are, without question, remarkable advantages, particularly since we’ve lost a powerful member of our group. She did not hesitate to enlist in the fight when the wraiths attacked, and indeed, she was nearly killed as a result. To be sure, she is courageous and skillful. There was, though, a tense moment when she was able to secure the chalice, and we realized what a valuable healing tool it was. The immediate assumption on the part of the group was that it should go to Blaze, but she wanted to keep it. It was only momentary, and she very easily exchanged the chalice for a magic dagger Blaze offered, but I could tell it made the others a little nervous. To be fair, she may have been wandering alone for some time, and may have been a loner most of her life, given the typical intolerance for Tieflings, so sharing of resources may be an adjustment for her.

I wonder if my response to Ghyra would be so unfavorable if not for the tragic undoing and loss of Meena, not to mention the near-ruin of Boudica. What if she had first appeared to us at First Light? This place in general, and any hint of evil specifically, have no amnesty in my mind now. I don’t know how to reconcile that reality with the young blue girl standing three feet from me, willing to risk her life on a fool’s errand to retrieve the skull of Acererak.
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Taking a two-year hiatus had been a good idea after destroying the tablet. The Unchained invested their spoils into this Keep and its environs. But it also gave Blaze time to advance the Brotherhood of Pelor and grow its Knightly Order. Since assuming high command, he had named his wing of the battalion “First Light” and divided it into two detachments, “Sunburst”, led by Brother Adler and “The Talons”, commanded by Brother Sonne. She found Blaze standing on the wall, hands clasped behind his back, staring down at his Whitecloaks. The soldiers of the Sun Father sparred below. “You need to make a decision soon,” offered Mirilda, mirroring Blaze’s own thoughts as she casually leaned against one of the wall merlons. Blaze started to speak but she cut him off, “And you can’t name Father Dietfried as your successor, he’s too soft, you know that.” Blaze briefly suppressed a pang of jealously, she literally had an army under her command, while Blaze had a mere sixty men under his direction, although, they were iron-jawed men, with spines of steel, bursting with pious devotion. “We’re leaving tomorrow and...” this time it was Mirilda that was cut off, “What makes you so sure we’re not all coming back?” Blaze uttered. He knew it was a mistake the moment it left his lips. “That!” she points to the distant obelisk seated on the cliff face. “Tas, Arnnfinn, Tor and Aimorel, are those enough reasons for you?” she chided him on. He felt a wave of humiliation as his face flashed hot with shame. He had better make this right quickly. His perfect white teeth began to show as a smirk crossed his face. “What?” a confused Mirilda spat. “Lady Warbane, if I must choose a successor for the almighty council, we might as well have a little fun doing it. Follow me.”

They stood in the courtyard surrounded by his men. Blaze quickly got their attention, although moving amongst them with the mighty half-orc was more than enough to capture their gaze. “As you all well know, the mighty Unchained leave tomorrow on a quest. A quest that will lead us directly into Hell!” The crowd falls completely silent. Blaze continues, “The underworld might be teeming with wretchedness, fire and brimstone, but I will carry Pelor’s brilliant incandescence into the abyss! And there I shall cast out the darkness, for evil cannot hide from the Sun’s glory!” The crowd erupts with jubilation. “And there in the deepest pit of suffering and torment, I shall shout at the beast “The Dawn has arrived, for the First Light approaches!” The Whitecloaks are stoked into a fervor. Blaze walks the line of his soldiers as he talks, “In my absence, I will need a Brother to assume my seat on the Council. The choice has been difficult, but I have reached a decision.” Blaze paused to make sure he makes eye contact with his men. His gaze drifts from man to man finally settling upon Brother Adler and Brother Sonne. The two of them in turn gaze furtively at each other. Blaze bends down and grasps a handful of dirt and raises it into the air, he bellows, “I call for the Ordeal of the Sun!” The soldiers erupt again, screams of excitement, swords bashing against shields. Blaze soaks it up and the hushes them, “Brother Adler and Brother Sonne step forward.” More cheers and hurrahs from the ranks.

The dueling ground is typically sixty feet round. Spectators mix in with the soldiers. The walls around the courtyard are now brimming with onlookers. Blaze turns a blind eye from the coin switching hands as wagers are quickly made. He places the handful of earth between the contestants. The Brothers are allowed a rectangular leather shield and are armed with a suit of leather armor, bare to the knees and elbows and covered by their white surcoats. Blaze preaches above the crowds clamor, “Almighty Pelor, cast your blessing upon you sons, and may the Sun of mercy shine upon them.” He lowers his voice, “You guys ready?” with a smile upon his perfect face. The Brothers nod. They both place the tip of their cudgels into the handful of dirt that Blaze placed upon the ground. Blaze continues, his voice carrying above the gathered throng, “Combat must be concluded before sunset. Either combatant may end the fight by crying out ‘Yield.’ The last man standing wins. I grant you the Sun’s rays to give you the strength to face your trials. Begin!”

There was a knock at the door. Blaze held his old traveling pack and was filling it with equipment for his journey, thinking of when he left Castle Sunspyre and packed then for his journey from the Hrothgar Peaks to Yroc’s Harbor. “Come,” he said without turning towards the door, knowing who it was. Brother Sonne stepped in and snapped to attention. Blaze finally turned at looked at the Ordeal’s champion and winced. Sonne’s face was bruised and purple, his left eye swollen shut. “You showed great courage today Brother Sonne. It was a desperate fight and Brother Adler is equally your match.” Blaze smiled, “Between you and me though, he might be the lucky one.” Sonne looked confused, but Blaze set his pack down, and walked over to his ward. “No boring ceremonies, long meetings and a numb ass seated at the Council table for him,” Blaze smirked. He then placed both his hands on either side of Sonne’s face and in a hushed reverent tone, “I am merciful, just as the Sun of mercy shines upon me.” The bruises and swelling on Sonne’s face all but disappeared.
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The Abyss was full of surprises.

First there had been Boudica’s unexpected romance with Thelyra, then the party’s victory in the tournament. Boudica had anticipated wailing, tormented souls, not mind-numbing sexual ecstasy and jubilant, cheering crowds. There had been a tiny naked woman in a bottle (Pelor rest her soul), the amnesiac princess Rashida, and the hospitable blood fiends. The most pleasant surprise had been encountering an army of Pelor-worshipping soldiers where they had expected to find frost giants.

Other surprises had been less pleasant. After allowing Thelyra to possess her, Boudica should have expected the struggle that ensued, but it surprised her nonetheless. Thank Pelor that Rashida had survived her sadistic compulsions, that Leon had taken her hint and read the Wish scroll. And most unpleasant of all had been Meena’s sudden turn, and her death beneath Mirilda’s axes. Boudica fought back the welling of grief that she felt rising into her chest. It could just as easily have happened to her. The thought made her shudder.

And now there was this strange warlock wandering the swamps in search of her father. She had abilities that had already helped the Unchained, and Boudica could discern no evil intent in her, but she still worried. Boudica understood well the corrupting nature of this place, and the tiefling had been wandering through it for some time. Boudica wanted to trust her, and believed that she would eventually. But not yet. Not until she could be more confident that there would no more surprises.

But there would be. The best she could hope was that those surprises did not drag down another of her companions. She looked at Leon, at his placid expression and crooked, half-smile. He looked as if he was strolling along the clifftops near Last Light, admiring the ocean view, not trudging through an infernal swamp. Boudica had seen him take the dropper to his tongue, watched as he retreated to somewhere else, his eyes glassing and his face softening. Boudica was most worried about him, and she watched over him now as a mother watches her child. He had saved her life and her soul, and she could not let anything bad befall him.

Boudica gazed across the expanse of fetid water and stunted, half-dead trees. Swarms of insects whirled like small cyclones, and the sickly-sweet reek of swamp gas hung over everything. What she wouldn’t give for a breeze, or a spit of ground where her boots did not sink into the water and muck.

For the first time since they had entered the Abyss, Boudica found herself missing Last Light.
Session: Game Session 34 - Saturday, Feb 03 2018 from 6:00 PM to 4:00 AM
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