“You all are blasphemers,” Mard declared, gesturing to Rill, Sung, and the rest of the village’s Fighter faction, “ and this has gone on long enough!”
Mard had just called for them to ritually repent, after Rill attacked her while she prayed to the village’s god, Providence of the Sea. Sung, leader of the Fighters (of whom Rill was one), had restrained Rill and apologized to Mard. But holding Sung’s gaze, Mard called out: “Most Honored Speaker Oramir! Surely you will preside over the ritual, will you not?”
The whole village of 40 or 50 lizardpeople was gathered around, waiting to hear Oramir’s response and to see what Rill, Sung, and Mard would do. As Oramir hesitated, Revan grumbled, “What do we care about this village?” Duncan agreed. But Oramir ignored them.
“I have led many such rituals,” Oramir responded. “I will lead one now only with willing participants.”
“Are you willing?” Mard pressed the still-kneeling Sung. Sung was speechless.
“You know, Mard,” Rill called out. “You’re right. This has gone on long enough.” And suddenly, Rill and five other Fighters (who had separated from their faction’s huddle) produced weapons. Rill raised a spear and took aim at Mard.
Stink broke first to intervene and stop the spear, but Oramir was closer. Oramir lunged at Rill, knocking the spear away and was wounded.
Duncan cast a blur sigil on Rill and moved to collect his fallen spear. He found it was a true magic item, surprisingly beyond the capacity of what they’d yet seen in this village. Then Revan cast terror on Rill, who fled from the battle. Duncan expressed dismay that he used such powerful magic now, but Revan only shrugged.
Then Stink approached the five knife-wielding Fighters. “You don’t have to do this,” he commanded. Stink had won admiration especially from the village’s Fighter faction for his triumph over the ogre. And after watching their boss chased so easily from the field, they backed down.
[Stink’s player succeeded on a charisma-based background check.]
One rebellious lizardperson even fell on their knees in surrender. Rill, meanwhile, shook off the terror magic and stood in the distance, looking back on the scene, angry and ashamed.
Guanyin & Glaurung
But Oramir was angry too. He reached out to his god, Guanyin, as he did when he compelled a confession from David Fillion [his background].
[Rather than make a wisdom-based background check, Oramir’s player chose to narrate a random icon benefit he rolled with Glaurung the Dread Savior. Glaurung is the greatest of gold dragons--terrifying in majesty, unattainably pure, instrument of condemnation, judgment, purgation, and fire. Then Oramir’s player rolled a complication: it would be a complicated benefit.]
Oramir’s gods-blinded right eye glowed not with divine light alone but also with a blaze of dragonfire. His voice became terrifying and irresistible. He commanded Rill to return, and Rill obeyed. He pronounced judgment on the whole assembled village. Oramir condemned Rill’s violence, the small rebellion he had led, and the Fighter faction for feeding their contempt. But Oramir also called the Faithful faction to repent. He said, “I am a man of faith and a fighter. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. There’s no reason for you to be at odds with each other. You all must find a future together.”
And the whole village fell together in apologetic grief and relief. Sung and Herk embraced with tears. Mard held Rill as Rill blubbered out a confession. Rill and his crew had been exhuming corpses from an ancient mausoleum in the valley and trading them to a Merchant for weapons.
Oramir, meanwhile, slumped with momentary exhaustion as the god’s and Glaurung’s power left him. But before it left completely, Oramir saw a vision. His god, Guanyin stood, wounded, in a graveyard of the gods. She showed him enough to understand that in this region, gods were dying. Godlings, or small gods, especially. And that, at this moment, somewhere nearby Oramir, a harpy had tried to sacrifice a godling, Whale Bone God. Guanyin herself had given of herself to keep this godling alive. She charged Oramir with saving Whale Bone God.
[Here was the complication.]
The Harpy strikes back
Then Sung sought her husband and infant child, Firl and JeeJee. Firl left, a villager told her, slipped away to pick berries when Rill attacked Mard. At that same time, a lizardman cried in the distance. Then a harpy screamed. And to the west, a lone harpy climbed into the air and began flying northward across the valley, carrying a lizardman.
The party quickly readied themselves and pursued, along with Sung, a repentant Rill, and two other lizardpeople. They rushed down the terraces, across the river, and toward the wilderness mountains on the other side. A sudden tremor rolled through the valley. Undaunted, they followed the harpy screams and lizardperson yells into a narrow, winding ravine. The cry of infant JeeJee echoed off the rock walls.
Revan went up along the upper ridge of the ravine. He invited them, but the lizardpeople refused to be alone with him. The rest of the group wound through the ravine.
Soon the harpy came into view. It was far away, perched on a chunk of crystal from the obelisks where the party had first awoken in the valley. The crystal hovered a foot or two off the ground. Beneath the harpy, sprawled on the crystal, was Firl and beside him, JeeJee.
With a scream, the harpy gouged Firl’s face with its claws and crushed his skull. As life left him, the ravine was convulsed by an earthquake. Revan just avoided falling into the ravine with falling rock. Stink barely avoided being swallowed by a fissure that opened at his feet. When the quake ceased, a large 20-foot diameter rift had opened behind the harpy. A distinct briney, fishy odor began to fill the ravine.
But Duncan had already cast a vengeance sigil on the harpy, and when it attacked Firl, he teleported to it and attacked it, but missed. Oramir moved closer and blasted the harpy with javelin of faith. Wielding the magic spear he recovered from Rill earlier, Duncan attacked and missed again. Revan hit with death’s gauntlet. Stink moved to engage the harpy. And the lizardpeople approached, much slower than the PCs despite Sung’s fear for her family.
Just then, a pungent chaos beast slorped out of the rift beyond the harpy and its makeshift altar. And Duncan smelled an odor he recognized but was far out of place: the Iron Sea--it’s hot saltwater smell.
[I asked Duncan’s player, “What is distinctive about the smell of the Iron Sea, compared to the Midland Sea?” Because seafaring is part of Duncan’s background. He said, “Heat. It’s hot.”]
Then the harpy dispelled the spectral death’s gauntlet arms. Hurting, it spread its wings, took hold of JeeJee, and began to rise into the air. Stink lunged for JeeJee, but was too slow. Oramir, bent on saving the infant, ran at the harpy and slammed it with a double-strength javelin of faith. [Crit!] It dropped from the sky, as JeeJee fell from its grasp. Oramir dove, injured himself, but saved JeeJee from harm!
With the harpy down, Duncan marked the chaos beast with a sigil and charged it. But he missed with a barrier strike. Perhaps he was distracted. He had begun to hear a rising chorus of whisperings, low and overlapping. He couldn’t make out the words, and no one else could hear anything.
From the top of the ravine, Revan hit the beast with death’s gauntlet. He also saw into the rift beyond the beast: chaos glorps! In moments, three glorps emerged. Then Stink attacked a glorp. Meanwhile, Sung rushed forward to Oramir and took JeeJee. Two of her companions joined her in mourning and relief. But repentant Rill plunged into battle next to Stink. He drove a knife deep into the same glorp! [Rill critted!]
The chaos beast ignored the spectral hands raking it and instead lashed out at Duncan. It missed but popped free and engaged Stink. Then Oramir hit it with a javelin of faith. Duncan missed the beast again, this time with a keen blade! Revan hit the damaged glorp with death’s gauntlet, which immediately freed itself from the magic’s grip. The other two attacked Stink. Stink slashed at the first glorp again, knifing it twice. And Rill slashed it and killed it! [Another crit!]
Now hurting, the chaos beast swept away the spectral hands. Oramir hit a glorp with another javelin of faith. Duncan, out of spell attacks, stabbed with the spear and missed again. But in missing, wounded it badly. Revan missed the glorp with a ray of frost. Then a glorp scored a deadly hit against Rill. [It critted!] The other hit Stink. Rill, fuzzy-headed after being walloped, missed badly. [Fumble!]
The chaos beast attacked Duncan again and missed. Oramir blasted the last glorp. And Duncan at last hit, taking down the chaos beast. Revan used deathknell to finish off the last glorp--thereby confirming to his companions that he had indeed, most likely, killed Sung and Herk’s dog.
Whale Bone God
When the fight was over, the group rested and searched the harpy’s lair. They found many shredded baskets that presumably had once held the village’s grain offerings. They also found a couple handfuls of gold scattered among bones, rusted pieces of armor, and bent and twisted weapons. Stink managed to find two useable swords and piece together a whole suit of light armor.
Under Firl’s body, on the obelisk-crystal altar, Revan found a large bone. “I pick it up,” his player said. “Revan is drawn to bones.” “It’s heavier than you’d expect.” I responded. “It’s freshly scarred with burns and scored and chipped.” “Whale Bone God!” said Oramir. “Revan, you are drawn to this bone more than any other bone.” Reluctantly, he handed it to Oramir, and as a whisper on the wind, Oramir heard the words, “Thank you.”
Oramir found the harpy alive. It was in rough shape: laying on a crushed wing, taking shallow breaths through gritted teeth. But it answered questions.
[Before the battle, Oramir told the group he wanted to take the harpy alive. I obliged.]
Oramir wanted to know about Whale Bone God and the harpy’s role in the death of the other godlings. Gasping and wheezing, the harpy said it tried to sacrifice the godling to bring the sea monsters, but it couldn’t kill it. It had never tried to kill a god before. And the harpy didn’t know anything about this one. But many gods had moved through the area, fleeing from the north and east.
Stink asked, “Why did you terrorize the lizardpeople?” “This is our valley!” the harpy asserted.
“Why did you bring the sea monsters?” “To kill you!” it spat.
“Why did you want to kill us?” Stink didn’t come out and ask it, but he seemed to suspect the harpy was part of the plot that had kidnapped the group and left them here. Bitterly the harpy answered, “You killed my sisters!” “Well, I guess that makes sense,” Stink said, seeming satisfied it was unconnected to the mysterious wizard who stole the Orb of Leafblood from them.
The lizardpeople departed. Rill shouldered Firl’s body and returned to the village with Sung, JeeJee, and the others.
When they were done questioning it, Revan killed the harpy. Then Oramir performed a cleansing ritual to purge the harpy’s defilement from the obelisk crystal. Stink wanted to return the crystal to the obelisks but agreed to wait. Duncan wanted to explore the rift.
into the rift
The chorus of whispers grew louder as Duncan approached it. Standing and peering into the utter darkness, he heard the whispers resolve into words: “The sea beneath your feet welcomes you home, Eärendur, Servant of the Sea.” And Duncan remembered a latter stage of their ill-fated elven mythquest, when he and his companions fought and killed Gûlrymsúl. Each fought as one of the Astaldalim, mythic elven heroes. Duncan fought as Eärendur.
Revan cast sickly darklight into the rift. It revealed little. A cave-like tunnel of rock. But as they stood at the opening, they could feel air moving, like breath, in and out, in and out. The smell of the sea was strongest here. They hesitated, because they wanted to visit the obelisks and the mausoleum before night fell. It was mid-afternoon now. Agreeing not to spend too much time, they began their descent.
The way was rough over newly broken rock. In some sections, the downward slope was gradual. In others, it plunged in sharp, short cliffs. After 30 minutes, they saw no end in sight and no change in the rock. The movement of the air was more pronounced, however; so also the smell of the sea. Since his sword was stolen, Duncan carried blue flame in himself, his hands. As they descended, he noticed that flame intensifying, becoming brighter and larger. The whispering became louder in his ear only but since speaking clearly--“The sea beneath your feet welcomes you home, Eärendur, Servant of the Sea”--he heard nothing distinct. The group considered turning back, but curiosity got the better of them.
They did not stop after 60 minutes either. At 90 minutes, they guessed they had descended some 1,500 feet below the surface. Hearing water below, they pressed on. After about two hours total, they came to the end of the rocky tunnel.
They found the sea. It was rough, with 10-foot swells despite a lack of wind, and it was hot.
The whole length of it, though it was freshly sundered rock, the rift tunnel’s diameter did not deviate from roughly 20 feet across. At the bottom, it flared outward only slightly. The sea was only five feet below the group. Some 25 or 30 feet out, the rocky ceiling almost met the water but not quite. Instead, it formed a ceiling, worn smooth by the rough sea--except where the rock was newly broken.
questioning a god
And as they puzzled over it, Duncan told the others he had no doubt this was the Iron Sea. It seemed impossible! They didn’t know exactly where they were, but the lizardpeople had told them the shore of the Iron Sea was a four-day journey away. They wondered: Have we passed through some kind of portal? Have we gone to another world? But all their senses, magical and otherwise, told them no.
The sea beneath them was dark, hiding unknown depths and answering none of their questions. So Revan laid Whale Bone God on the rocky floor. “We might as well try to find out what this thing is,” he said. Revan and Stink asked the godling questions. Oramir--a Speaker [holy one cleric]--cast and interpreted divination tokens. Duncan looked on, mostly in silence.
“Where are you from?” North.
“Why did you come here?” To escape.
“To escape the gods dying?” Yes.
“Who is killing them?” The answer was hard to interpret. Undeceived? Unblinking? Seeing? No, the first was best. Undeceived.
“How did you get here?” Birds. Animals. YOU.
“What do you want?” Resurrection.
“Resurrection?” To resurrect resurrection.
“Can you transport us to the coast of the Iron Sea?” Weak.
“Can you calm the water here?” Weak.
“What will make you stronger?” Prayers and offerings.
“How can we help?” Prayers and offerings.
Then Oramir suggested he could perform a ritual to honor--and hopefully strengthen--Whale Bone God. But it would take 15 or 20 minutes. Revan and Stink were in favor. They looked to Duncan, who shrugged and nodded. As Oramir completed the ritual, Revan noticed the very edge of the water. In an arc closest to where they were, the sea was utterly still. Beyond the arc, it was as choppy as it always was.
“We should go back up,” Duncan said. The others agreed. Stink produced from his pocket a handful of the grain the lizardpeople had given him. He burned it and reverenced Whale Bone God. “Thank you,” Stink said. Revan tied a strap around Whale Bone God and slung it over his shoulder. And talking with each other about wanting to visit the crystal obelisks where they first awoke in the valley and the mausoleum where Rill’s crew had been exhuming ancient corpses, they began their ascent.