DDC – Pack Tactics

Sunday’s game picked up in the morning after the fight with the werewolves and saw the first of many debates about what to do about those cursed with lycanthropy. The two dwarves captured the previous evening turned down accompanying the group, and instead volunteered to go to a nearby trader and pay to be locked in the cellar for the next few nights. They said that they would do this so that they could not bring harm to anyone. They didn’t want to run the risk of turning in the middle of a fight and making things worse. Reluctantly the group agreed and saw them off in the right direction before carrying on up into the mountains. They knew that as long as they followed the river it would broadly take them in the right direction.

Thorin recalled that there was a guard post at Renald’s Creek, about an hour shy of the Amberhammer Hold. Set among the remains of a gargantuan fallen statue known as the Old Titan, it had previously been the site of a fierce battle between militia and trolls in the Last War, and a presence had been kept there ever since. When they got there however, they found the guards and a group of merchants had been slain recently – the tower breached by powerful claws.

As they investigated, they noticed activity in the water below the bridge and saw the remains of several trolls recombining and growing into one huge monstrosity that in swift motion climbed the bank and strode among them. A fierce battle quickly began as the dire troll flailed its many limbs and nearly killed Kerne and Caeluma. Kerne’s potent magics and Caeluma’s trickery allowed the group to stop the creature long enough to put it down – but they were all battered by the end of it.

The group realised that the promised haven of the Hold was unlikely to be friendly, so they decided to pause to patch their wounds and re-fortify the guard tower. This led to new conversations about the nature of lycanthropy and whether Caeluma would be a threat. In turn this led to the revelation that Valenia had also been infected, and the two nascent werewolves discussed privately what they were going to do. They opted for honesty, and volunteered to be separated for the evening and secured to the best of the group’s ability while the remaining adventurers prepared to defend the tower.

Valenia and Kerne talked at length about the legends of werewolves from their lore – bearing in mind that they were supposed to have been wiped out by the Silver Flame some 200 years ago. Neither knew of a sure-fire way to end the curse but did recall legends that if the original werewolf was slain or cured that the curse would be lifted from all who had been afflicted. They debated that this might mean that Thorin’s sister was the origin of this new plague and what decisions this might lead the group to face.

Caeluma and Thorin also talked at length, with Caeluma extracting promises from him that he would look after everyone and would let Coal know how much they loved him. They also asked Thorin to let Arwan know that Caeluma considered them a better cleric than them. Thorin refused to countenance talk of death and loss, insisting that they would all come through this and put all things right.

Arwan dismissed the praise when told, saying that there was no measure of being “better” in such matters – each had gifts and aptitudes the other did not. Thorin privately shared with Kerne and Arwan that he had already considered that he may have to kill his sister and made his peace with that if it became necessary to save his people. On that somber note, they reinforced the barricades, and waited for the moons to rise.

Howling At The Moons

An amazing session of D&D this evening. We’re all quietly buzzed afterward, and a lot of chatter and gossip filled the chat channel after the stream.

The whole thing picked up where we left off last time. We had the group facing off against a pack of werewolves on the way to Thorin’s homeland under the orange light of one of the twelve moons. Battle was soon joined, and at first seemed to be going well. Thorin held the bridge, raging and striking at anything trying to pass. The rest of the group began to tackle anything that got past him. And then Thorin killed the first werewolf and as it fell it reverted to its original form – a dwarf wearing the tattered remains of clothing in Thorin’s clan colours.

You could have heard a pin drop. And in that moment Caeluma and Valenia were bitten. As another werewolf fell and reverted, Caeluma was bitten again, and in the stress of the battle turned into a werewolf too.

Well, if there was stress and shock before, it was doubled now. Thorin was bitten as well and the group tried to switch to non-lethal subduing efforts to end the battle. Kerne used a charm monster spell to stop Caeluma and calm them and eventually the group was able to subdue two of the original werewolves and knock them out.

The group hurriedly retreated into the shelter of the forest away from the moonlight as Caeluma reverted to their true self with little memory of what had happened. As their captives regained consciousness and lucidity in their original dwarvish forms they began to reveal what had happened.

According to their captives, Thorins father was indeed ill. Thorin’s sister had returned to the Hold with deep mining dwarves who brought news of a cure and they were welcomed in. Overnight however, Hold fell to creatures from below, the night full of teeth and eyes, and Thorin’s sister was revealed as a werewolf who began to infect prisoners with her bite, releasing them into the night to spread chaos and madness across the mountains. The Hold now lies full of death and madness, but no one knows the final fate of Thorin’s family.

And that is where we ended the session…

Cragwar

The Sunday game saw the DDC completing its trip between Marketplace and the dour fortress city known as Cragwar. It nestles in a cleft in the mountains, dominated by brutal fortifications – most notably the thick North to South running curtain walls that could be seen from miles away.

There was no doubt that they had now crossed the border into Breland. The traces of the Last War were still being patched, and there was a grey dourness quite at odds with the bright streets of Windhaven. Conversations were muted, as were many of the colours in common use in the streets. Still, as the main gateway to Breland, it was also a major trade hub.

Most of the population was a mix of humans and dwarves, with a sprinkling of goliaths and half orcs. Thorin recalled that historic battles had been fought against orc and goliath tribes in the mountains – so their presence even in small numbers bored well for peaceable encounters while they travelled.

Arrangements were made to stable their pack animal and cart for a couple of weeks, and ponies secured for the journey into the mountains. They were warned that the roads to the Amberhammer lands were not as widely travelled and certainly not as well maintained as what they had been using.

Of note as well was the presence outside the gates of a large body of armed soldiers and cavalry under the flag of The Silver Flame. The tension between the City Watch and the church knights seemed ready to boil over, so the DDC kept their head down and made haste to leave.

And so, into the mountains and up into chillier temperatures. The howls of wolves in the distance kept them company through the day and they made good time. As the sun set and the full moons rose they came to a wooden bridge that had been set to replace an older broken span. And that’s when they encountered the werewolves.

Considering werewolves are meant to be all but extinct in Khorvaire, this was a nasty surprise. Baying for blood, the werewolves closed on the group despite Thorin’s attempt to hold the bridge and the spells deployed to try and drive them away.

And that’s the cliffhanger we ended on…

Short Story: Run Around

Don’t raise your voice. Improve your argument. Doubtless these are wise words; but when there’s a baying pack of werewolves on your track (again), the urge to swear quite loudly is considerably more difficult to resist. I thought I’d distracted them by diving through the restaurant and it’s kitchen. I thought I’d lost them in the evening crowds around Covent Garden. I’d even hoped that jumping in a taxi and tipping extra would get me enough of a head start to make my trail go cold.

No such luck. The pack had all the tenacity of the hungry, coupled with the anger of the betrayed, and seasoned with that tricky human knack for subterfuge. I’d hoped that I could at least match the latter while outrunning the former. I had hoped to talk my way out of things when it all started heading south, but you know when you get that sinking feeling that the other person already made their mind up? Yeah, trust me, it’s worse when your audience really is hoping you’re going to die on stage.

So let me give you some context here. My name is Dorian Quiller, and I spend an awful lot of time these days choosing discretion as the better part of valour. People ask me to fix things that go bump in the night. Those things are usually quite happy not to be fixed, and believe me I can really relate to that.

This evening had started quite simply, with an email from someone who had obviously been talking with an old client of mine in Southall. He was running an adult learning course in stand-up comedy which usually cumulated in an evening above a bar near Leicester Square where everyone performed material. He was a bit spooked, if you’ll pardon the phrase, by a visit from the boys in blue.

Apparently the worst-rated acts from the last three courses he’d run had ended up going to pieces shortly afterwards. To be more precise, each had been found in pieces, in what had been thought to be animal attacks. What had got him reaching for my email address wasn’t the suggestion that he had anything to do with it; but that when he’d tried and failed to recall anything about performances on the nights in question.

I have no idea how the guy came to the conclusion there was something unusual going on that couldn’t be explained by the presence of alcohol, or how he knew Hari. The offer of a night out in town and the possibility of some half decent comedy wasn’t to be sniffed at, especially as it was a bit of a skint month. I’d left Kay doing online Christmas shopping (yes, I know it isn’t even May yet), and jumped on a train to Waterloo.

Now, when you have a tendency to see what’s really there and are walking through areas redolent with history and heightened emotion, things can be distracting. There are memories of ghosts in window reflections, and the music of the past plays in the tinkle of bicycle bells and engine roars. And of course, Jonah’s venue had at least three ghosts in the audience and a travelling cold spot on the narrow wooden staircase.

The ghosts weren’t the problem. That would have been the rowdy group of students who took over one end of the back row and started heckling the performers. I was backstage, watching for trouble when they started. Heckling is something that any stand-up comedian has to deal with, so at first I wondered if this was a set-up as part of the course assessment. Two things dismissed that thought.

First was the annoyance on Jonah’s face, and as he tried to compere between acts that didn’t improve. Second was the feeling of the air on stage getting thicker, and the increasingly wooden expressions on both audience and performers’ faces. The familiar prickling sensation in my protective tattoos were my best clue. Something or someone, and it didn’t take a genius to guess who, was pulling a Veiling on the room.

Veilings are pretty much what they sound like – hiding the truth from the world. In this case it was making everyone not care about the increasingly bestial and aggressive students now openly jeering and debating who they were going to eat out of the performers. I’ve heard of comedians being thrown to the wolves, but never thought it could be literal in this day and age.

Now Kay will quite happily tell you I have less sense than a March hare when it comes to people in trouble – especially when it comes to women. It’s probably not going to be a surprise then when I tell you that everything hit the fan when they started to advance on the last act of the night: a mid-thirties woman called Shona.

She was stuttering and stammering through her routine despite the mind-numbing influence of the jackal-faced creatures now starting to gather at the foot of the stage. Most of the audience was sitting slack-jawed in a stupour. The rest of the class and Jonah weren’t faring much better. I noted that even the ghosts seemed to have lost a degree of animation.

That’s when I stepped out onto the stage and started talking loudly over Shona. I started with a couple of one-liners in quick succession and then faltered in the face of the frankly hungry expressions on the werewolves. Rather stupidly, I ventured the beginning of a knock-knock joke. Silence fell.

There we were. Comedy club critics, red in tooth and claw on one side; yours truly wishing I’d thought this through on the other. Fortunately I have another talent that helps in moments like these. I lie for a living.

Oh, I’m not talking about spinning tall tales, though I’m told I’m reasonably entertaining when I get going. I’m talking about being very convincing when i need to be. Convincing enough to make people believe the improbable, and to be able to push that suspension of disbelief quickly into the realms of the impossible. If I do it fast enough and well enough, I can trick the universe into going along with things for brief periods.

That’s how I was able to casually reach into my pocket and pull out an ampoule filled with what can best be described as military grade nasal nausea and spray it over the werewolves. It’s a nasty trick, an improbable thing to have to hand, but not so impossible that the universe couldn’t not believe I’d do it. There is a shorter word for this type of trickery and lies: magic.

I wanted them so angry at me that they would forget the comedy club and come after me. Spraying them with something that surely had skunk oil in a porta-loo on top of road kill at a chilli cook-off competition definitely fit the bill. I just wish that sometimes I would remember to stop and think of the end game before setting things in motion.

So that’s how I came to be running into the no man’s land woods out the back of the Sunbury skatepark, having bailed out of the cab a short while ago. The horrendous stink still clung to the vehicle rather than to me – how lucky, I know – and that gave me enough time while the pack chased it another few miles to pick my spot.

When they finally worked out where I was, they came creeping through the hole I’d cut in the wire fence. I’d bent the wires back so it wasn’t easy, and I’m sure the scratches they got getting through continued to endear me to them. I wanted all their attention to be on me. I didn’t want to shout to get it. In short order I had my attentive audience. Their leader, a grey-furred brute, approached but stopped when my hand dipped into my pocket. I flourished another vial, this one emblazoned with even more lurid warning labels. Several of the werewolves flinched.

“If I drop or damage this, you will never get the scent out of your nostrils so back off.” I spoke calmly. I had improved my argument. It would never have worked with wild animals, but that’s the point people forget with werewolves: there’s still a mind in there to intimidate and then talk to.

Now to open negotiations, and prove again to the universe that there’s more than one way to spin a story round on its axis. I guess in some ways this proved to be more of a shaggy dog story than even I anticipated.