As the party traveled to the keep and confronted its denizens, Aelita has made quite the journey of her own. From Niel’s directions and supposedly accurate map orientation, she has managed to find herself a perfect spot of nowhere over the mountains from Berem. Not begrudging Niel his lack of woodcraft skills, she had made camp in a level spot, only to be awakened by a noisy ringing in the middle of the night, followed by distant voices and the sounds of steel. She hastily packed, dressed, and made her way down the mountain toward the bell, having to take a roundabout route in avoidance of the steep, cliff-like protrusions of the mountain. About twenty minutes later, a second bell sounded, much closer, and she used this to correct her bearing. This brought her to a sturdy old keep, nestled against the mountain, with only one road leading up to its ancient gate- which, she found, was open. Aelita gathered her courage for what she would find within- the sounds of combat were no more, but there was no telling- she nocked an arrow.
Within, she found none other than her friends, going through the remnants of a battlefield, with dead folks all around. She could could at least a dozen in sight. She demanded to know where the hell they had been, and they wanted to know the same- it then transpired that they had apparently just missed one another. Quidd interrupted the looting that was going on, then, saying that none of this belonged to them, and that everything should be burned, and they should go after those other Brotherhood immediately. The party scoffed at this, of course, but Aelita agreed, saying that she knew about spirits, and they definitely didn’t like being stolen from. Eventually, there was relent, that everybody could take One thing, for the battle ahead. (Grim Quidd is Grim, Dark Quidd is Dark) They rummaged briefly, and Quidd left partway through to try and push that door open- failing that, he called Richard over to lend him some extra strength. The closing of the door had reset the deadly traps protecting the Ruin- for this was of course the very Ruin Aelita had been seeking- and nobody had checked for traps. No sooner did Richard push the doors open than multiple spears thrust upward from the floor and outward from the walls, skewering him and Quidd. Richard would certainly have died if not for the party’s quick reponse, while Quidd was wounded badly, but not life-threateningly. That thoroughly used up all the healing the party had left, so they set watches, and settled in to sleep, and get some well-needed rest. Richard was not at all happy about the possibility that the Brotherhood might escape- neither was anyone else, but lacking Richie’s animalistic single-mindedness, they saw simple reason. Over their watches, each party member more or less looted as they saw fit from the gathered piled- the watches were uneventful save for that of Marten, who elected to venture- alone- into the Ruin below.
Marten took great care to search before and within the door, to avoid any more nasty surprises. To his great interest, he found the interior to be lit. A twenty-foot corridor proceeded into the mountain, before plunging down via a steep staircase. Every thirty feet or so, starting from thirty feet down the staircase, narrow alcoves shed light onto the stair. The alcoves at the top of the stair were empty, explaining why no light had been visible from outside. The stairs were awkwardly small, as if made for tiny feet- perhaps dwarf-built. On both sides of the stair, a piton had been securely driven into the wall, and ropes trailed down each side. Marten searched his way down the first few steps, discovering that the entire sixth step was a trap trigger, though for what, he knew not. Over the majority of his watch, he made his slow way down the stairs- some two hundred-odd feet. Reaching the bottom, an archway let out onto a railingless landing, protruding over empty space. In the reflected light, Marten could see the beginning of a broken stair off to his left, but not much beyond.
Below him, about forty feet down, a level place against he cavern wall was illuminated by a standing oil-lamp- another fifty feet along, there was another one, then another, picking out a careful, treacherous path all the way around the far side of the cavern and looping back to where he could see, suddenly, another light go on, showing four figures carefully making their way around the cavern. They rounded a corner and disappeared from sight, then. Marten lit his bullseye lantern, and examined the broken stair- it seemed to have once gone down to some sort of tower-like construction, but the sections broken out of it were massive- far too great a distance to jump safely. Clearly, there was something on the cave floor which had once been accessible by those stairs, and the brotherhood wanted it badly enough to climb their winding way around this unspeakably massive cavern to do it. He retreated to the surface to wake the next watch.
The party rose the next morning after a night’s rest, and made up a breakfast from the provisions the keep held- salt pork and peas, smoked fish and watery ale. Combined with a Goodberry or two, it was more than anyone could expect so far from civilisation. With that, they made to descend into the darkness below. Reaching the same landing Marten had, they could see a pair of lights bobbing in the darkness far below and ahead of them- the brotherhood moving across the cavern floor, heading in this direction. The lamp-trail they had made last night was long burnt-out, but Marten could easily attest that their trail had been long and rough- there was no way the party could catch them up by the same route the considered the stair, but were sure they lacked a way to traverse it. Just in case, they cast Light on an arrow, shooting it toward the towering protrusion they could see just the top of. It ricocheted off the side, falling down and revealing spire just large enough to hold a spiral stair, rising from a ziggurat-like construction. The arrow stopped after the first few levels, leaving them unsure just how far down it went. This was clearly the fastest way down, but not remotely safe.
It struck the party that they might attempt to climb down the wall vertically- detaching the rope lines which flanked the long stair, they might just have enough to reach the bottom- hopefully. It was worth a chance- they simply had to beat the Brotherhood to whatever it was they were after- though the party had no idea whatsoever what that might be. They gathered the rope, and began the long climb down.
Aside from an attack by a Dire Bat shortly into their climb, the descent was without incident. That was a terribly inconvenient battle, but one from which the party emerged entirely unscathed, thanks to Aelita’s quick thinking and a bit of luck. The Bat swooped in to try and pick Marten off the wall, but missed, and Aelita cast Calm Animals. She spent the next two minutes trying to befriend it with Wild Empathy, even christening it Bruce. Quidd and Richard abandoned the party, and continued the climb without rope- miraculously they made it to the cavern floor without falling. As the bat began to fidget, Marten and Sasha positioned themselves to flank it, then very thoroughly killed it as it became hostile. They then continued the climb- Richard found the Bat corpse on the cavern floor and began to eat it. By any by, the party gathered on the cavern floor- at the same time, in the distance, they saw the Brotherhood come to an archway in the way, preceded by a ring of standing stones. The party shuttered their lights, of course, so as not to draw attention, though the Brotherhood surely knows they’re there.
As they watch, the brotherhood approaches another great stone door, and their Rogue searches it in the circle of their lights, before telling the others to move away. She rigs up a few things, then steps back and they push from a distance, safely out of the way as a Lightning Bolt arcs out from the door, missing them, but striking the standing stones and arcing between them, leaving them glowing slightly with the heat. The Brotherhood proceeded into the ruin, and only then does the party unshutter their light to make their way after them. Before long, they hear the sounds of fighting from within, and a few long moments afterward, they have come to the Ruin.
Peeking in the door, Sasha sees a pillared hall- somewhere over a hundred feet away on the opposite wall is a huge magical-looking circle inscribed into the wall. The Brotherhood is locked in battle with a force of withered, gnashing barrow-draugr, who, despite the long minutes it took for the party to cross the cavern floor, don’t seem to have taken any damage. As the Brotherhood strikes, their blows are deflected with a flash of red-violet light; at the same time, something in the center of that massive circle flashes in time with the blows, apparently helping to protect the crypt’s defenders. The party moves in.
Ignoring all the combatants, the party heads straight for the circle- Sasha at a running charge, while Richard and Marten come around the sides. In the meantime, Quidd comes up alongside the Brotherhood’s Wizard, an adorable Halfling girl in roomy-looking robes.
“You’re aiming at the wrong thing!”
“Little busy, thank you!”
Sasha aimed a glancing blow at the carved crystal skull embedded in the circle, but just missed. Aelita missed a couple arrows, before Quidd thought to use his Baleful Utterance to crack it from the wall. It fell right onto Sasha’s head, before clattering away on the floor. Almost as soon as it left the wall, “V”, the Brotherhood Rogue, attacked one of the Draugr- her Dagger sunk in to the hilt, much to her surprise. Attacks began to hit- what’s more, these creatures, whatever they were, appeared to possess vital organs, or at least weak spots- Sneak attack works. Before the combined might of the two parties, the Draugr fell quickly. In the commotion, Quidd gathered up the little Crystal Skull, which was now emitting steady, red-violet light, strung it on a piece of leather, and put it around his neck, beneath the leather armor he had taken off one of the Brotherhood Members. He then gave the order, “Richard, Kill.”
Richard went straight for the little Halfling Wizard, Claire, charging in to rip into her with his fangs. She screamed in agony, and, panicked, retaliated with a Fireburst, blowing her big combat scroll. It hit Richard, but also Marten. Marten then leveled an attack at Rory, the Brotherhood Archer, saying, “Should have just kept fighting on the same side.”
Rory was so utterly confused that he turned- in combat- to stare incredulously at Marten. “Wait, what- Hold on.” Before turning his arrow off of Marten to shoot another Draugr dead. Aelita rushed in and grappled Claire, very thoroughly. The last Draugr fell to Leo, the big, blond, bearded, Axe-swinging Nordic fellow whom Sasha had been fighting alongside, and Rory called a ceasefire. None of the brotherhood sheathed their weapons, of course, but the party agreed to stop aggressions. Aelita did, of course, refuse to let go of Claire.
Rory: “Would you allow me to heal my friend? She’s hurt.”
Aelita: (Uses her own Lesser Vigor to heal Claire)
Claire: (Sobbing inconsolably in fear and pain) “I want to go Ho-o-oooome…”
The scene then settled into tense negotiations- Aelita was still holding Claire, and Richard was insistent that talking was a mistake, and a trick, and that the party should just kill them all. Quidd insisted that the Brotherhood should have to tell the party about everything they were doing, to which Rory responded with some delightful sarcasm, because seriously, the idea that that was any of the party’s business was hilarious. They asked for the stone, and Quidd failed to convince them that it was anywhere other than down his shirt. In the meantime, the Brotherhood healed themselves some and moved closer to the door- it was apparent they were making sure they could beat a retreat if necessary, as they were still much worse for wear than the party. The party behaved exactly like one would expect a group of snotty and entitled teenagers to behave, in the end- no introductions, demands all over the place, no matter how polite Rory was. To be fair, the demands were almost entirely Quidd- Richard seethed with threatening animosity, Aelita held onto Claire, who was pathetic and adorable, Sasha and Marten remained quiet, for the most part.
Rory tried the high road, though he also made it clear that he knew they were the ones who had attacked his friends in the keep while they slept- he didn’t doubt that they were all seriously injured or dead, because they would never have let anyone through without a fight unless they were friends, and the party hadn’t given the byword. He was negotiating from a position of confusion, and desire to avoid further bloodshed. As far as he could tell, this was a random bunch of kids who had somehow just sacked a keep. He posited that the party didn’t even know what that crystal did, any more than he did- why should they want it? The Brotherhood only wanted it because they’d been hired to get it, by some old woman and her husband who ran a caravan. What right did the party have to come in and kill his friends?
Quidd: “So? You killed those Bandits. You’re the same.”
Rory: “They were lowlife scum, who prey on innocent people.” (Echoing Sasha’s earlier sentiment about Bandits)
Quidd: “And you don’t?”
Rory: “Never. And neither did any of the brave, good souls upstairs. What did they ever do to you?”
Sasha: “One of your friends SHOT me!”
Rory: “You mean, after you attacked them while they slept? Oh, dear me, I can’t imagine why.”
Sasha: “Not them, one of your other friends. A few months ago.”
Rory looked confused at this, as if she wasn’t talking sense. Marten elaborated. “A little stone tower at the base of a cliff?”
Rory’s eyes widened- he said one word. “Nora.”
This was followed by the swift command in Elven (The old one) “Leo! Get Claire and RUN!” Leo promptly bull-rushed Aelita into a wall, crushing her hard against the stone- she dropped Claire. Claire rolled to her feet and drank a potion as Rory and V fled into the darkness of the cavern. Then the party fell on Leo and Claire like wolves- in Richard’s case, literally. Sasha saw Aelita crushed against the wall, and then she saw red, and leaned into it. She charged Leo in Berserk Rage, dealing him a heavy blow. The rest of the group ringed around, cutting off escape. Richard was between Leo, Claire, and the door.
Leo’s chance to act came around- he could see a way out of this for Claire, but not for himself. He took the chance, grabbing Claire up in one arm and diving through the air over Richard to roll into the entryway, then tossing the poor hobbit lass down the hall and out into the cavern, shouting as he did so.
“Run, Claire! I’ll hold the line.”
Axe in hand, face streaked with blood and grime, Leo turned to face the party while his friends fled. In another two rounds, he fell, but not before spectacularly preventing Richard from pursuing the Halfling with a one-handed swing to the face while Richard was in mid-air leap. Almost dead on his feet, he kept his friends alive. Quidd dropped him with a blast to the chest, before the enraged Sasha snatched the Greataxe from his hand and used it to decapitate him, then stood over the body, breathing heavy and wild-eyed to ride out the rest of the rage.
After the echoes ceased to fall, Quidd turned to confront Sasha.
“What were you talking about back there- what friend of his was this?”
“Can we not do this right now?”
“No, Sasha, we’re doing this right here, and right now. WHAT happened to you?”
Sasha then gave a recount of their pursuit of the Bloodless Brotherhood from Berem (Back in Session 17), and what she remembered up until Nora had shot her. After than, she blanked, and came to standing over the body. Marten filled in the blanks, finally revealing to Aelita that the fine shortbow she had been wielding all this time was the one they had taken from Nora’s body, afterward. Nobody said much- the Brotherhood had escaped. One by one, they left the chamber. Quidd took off the skull, and pocketed it. Sasha held onto Leo’s Axe, as if for reassurance that there was something solid at hand in a situation that seemed to be spinning rapidly out of control. Aelita was the last to leave. Turning to survey the scene, seeing nothing, Nora’s bow slipped slowly, numbly, from her fingers. (Slow-motion zoom) She left the room.
The party returned to the surface at their own pace. They found the climbing-line they had used was still in place, save for the uppermost thirty feet or so, which the brotherhood had apparently detached in the hopes of slowing them down. They emerged to the smell of smoke- even in their desperate escape from the party, the Brotherhood had stopped in the courtyard to honour their dead. A large pyre had been built, roughly, out of the keep’s firewood supply, and the bodies of the fallen Brotherhood members laid across it. Those whose weapons hadn’t been looted had been placed upon the pyre with them, along with their shields. The pile of possessions had been cleared of the really personal items, leaving only cups and bowls, and meaningless utilitarian things- these had been people, now dead and burning. Honoured by their Friends.
The party watched, solemnly, uneasy. Slowly, they began to add the bodies of the bandits to the pyre, along with all the remaining loot. Then, they stood and simply wept. Only Marten spoke, quietly to himself and those lost, in Tamekki.
“The only glory remains in those who remember. I will remember you. Pass through the Veil and return to the Weave of the world. Watch and know that I Remember.”