Dreams of Dying

Previously, the adventurers, had entered the tower and started exploring the many floors after having found a young Beauclairois knight who was locked in the cellar. Quentin, as he called himself, had entered the tower together with Lord Destan, only to be separated from him and the rest of his expedition as he explored the lower level while they continued to venture to the higher floors. Together, they explored the library where they found much information in the different pages of Atilesceon’s private journal. They learned about his time at the Senhadrim, his personal rivalries, his interests, his research and ultimately about his downfall and the his attempts to serve his master, Mammon, the archduke of Minauros, the third level of Ba’ator. Ultimately, they discovered his bedroom, his workshop, and a portal guarded by a stone statue which attacked them. After defeating the statue, they decided to enter the portal.

Second Day, Third Wik, Æftera Līþa (Pasture Mōnaþ), 736th Year of the Crusade

Each of the adventurers were assailed by the same terrible dream in which they were followed by a dark horse with flaming hooves. Luca was chased through an abandoned monastery, while Quentin was running through a hedgerow maze. Emrys was chased through an elven ruin, littered with human bodies, while James was trying to escape through the sewers. The damp and earthy smell reminded each of them of something which initially set them upon their individual quests which lead them to the Crimson Tower.

With each flash of the nightmare that was riding them down, they saw the future; of places foreign and familiar, in which a new age of fear had sparked violence and drove people to atrocities. Eventually the horrible images revealed that some people became corrupted by the chaos of demonic hordes, while others became corrupted by the cruelty of the infernal legions. Two armies were set to clash, one were beastly and ravenous in their appetite for destruction, while the other were disciplined and methodical in their wickedness. In between stood a small band of soldiers, dressed in steel armour coloured red white and blue, lead by golden warriors with wings of light. This band would be pulverised between the hammer of demons and the anvil of devils.

Then the nightmare was upon the adventurers and thundered its flaming hooves down on them, mortally wounding them. They were each shown what their spilled blood would cause; Luca saw fungus growing rapidly and spreading noxious spores. Quentin saw the hedges around him wither and die, the blight spreading outward with his death at its epicentre. Emrys watch his blood seep into the veins of the marble of the ruins, pulsing angrily until the dead bodies around him opened red, glowing eyes. James saw his blood mix with the sewage and spill down a drain, from which a strange eye stalk rose up to observe him as he drew his last, ragged breath.

Emrys woke up at an elegant writing desk in a large tent. He was holding a quill and the letter in front of him was one addressed to his beloved Lauriel and spoke of being wed after the military expedition was over. The letter then turned into a series of scratching, profanity before ending with a plea to Paladine to let death take him. Emrys did not remember writing the letter nor did he understand the contents. He suddenly noticed his arms were not his own, and when he found a mirror confirmed that the face looking back at him as he peered in it was not his own, but that of a black haired, bearded human man. The tent held a tactical table with a map of what he later concluded was Pinefall, in particular of the north-western corner of Lake Llygad and its strand. There were two beds in the tent, one of which was holding the unconscious body of a man he recognised as the tracker from Isobel’s hut. He could not be awoken. There were armour stands, weapon racks and a shrine dedicated to Paladine. He eventually learned that he was inhabiting the body of Prior Benedict McAllister, knight-captain in the Order of the Gryphon and devout paladin to the Platinum Father and leader of the military expedition to Gwenllygad.

Luca awoke in a modest tent, with a bed, a chest filled with personal belongings, an armour stand holding a beautiful set of platinum gilded armour, like that of the Order of the Lance as wel as a set of weapons, including a shield bearing the lightning struck oak tree of house Ironwood, whom he last saw in the hands of Ser Florianus when the adventurers met him on their way to Pinefall, watched him ramble and wither away to die before burying his remains and using the shield as a grave marker. When Luca looked down at his own hands, he saw a shock of golden curls tumble past his face; he was inhabiting the body of Ser Florianus. Luca was comforted by the fact that Blackstar was still by his side.

For James the wake up was both more pleasant and more strange. He found himself setting at a dressing table in front of a mirror, in the body of a comely, strong woman with long auburn hair and a long neck. Behind him a short haired woman was brushing his hair, using a ivory-handled brush, decorated with mother of pearl, set with soft, white bristles. The tent he was in was enormous and opulent, set with furniture, carpets and decorations. There were three beds and three armour stands, each holding a splendid plate armour gilded with lapis lazuli. One of the beds was large and richly made up, and the armour next to it was adorned with sapphires and aquamarines. The woman behind him had dark rings around her eyes and looked she performed her tasks with a haunted reluctance. A handsome man came into the tent and announced in archaic Beauclairois, which James was surprised to learn he understood, that Tourbillon was saddled and groomed, before starting to don his own armour. James didn’t know who Tourbillon was, but noticed that the man had the same dark rings and tired look about his eyes. By talking to two squires — or écuyer — he found that he was inhabiting the body of Dame Josephine LaValette, a knight in the Order of the Gryphon.

Finally, Quentin woke up in a modest tent listening to the sounds of a melancholic tune being played on a harp outside. He found his bearing and looked outside of the tent to find a military camp filled with soldiers. His tent was standing next to a larger tent, outside of which stood a handsome man, casually playing the harp. He was remarkable, not only for the harp, but also for the way in which he was observing the rest of the people in camp. There was a great sadness in his eyes. At his side was an unusual wooden scabbard, adorned with what looked like living vines, which occasionally sprouted small buds which quickly grew and blossomed into flowers, before withering away. It became apparent to Quentin that the man with the harp was the legendary Ser Estienne d’Epines and the sword at his side was Fleur, the Sword of Flowers. He also quickly realised that he was inside the body of Durand de Palemerin, Ser Estienne’s squire. Looking around the camp, he spotted an enormous tent who was flying the herald of the LaValette family, an ancient house from the time before Beauclair formed as a kingdom. He decided to head there, hoping to find some answers.

The camp was filled with dozens of knights, hundreds of armsmen. There were artillery engines, horses, griffons, tradesmen, teamsters, cooks, and the supplies necessary to support an expedition of more than six hundred people. It was tricky at first, but it didn’t take long before everyone had found each other and was gathering at the tent that Emrys had awoken in. It had a tactical map of the area and it held the unconscious body of the tracker in Isobel’s care, whom they learned was Ser Edrick the Strong.

Astrid was found to inhabit the body of the seven foot tall monstrosity by the name of Ser Gregorian Longshadow. The adventurers had met him in the presence of the Ser Edrick on the shores of Lake Llygad the previous evening, during the clash of the cavalcades. Ser Gregorian was followed around by his squire Patrick, who kept trying to convince Astrid to keep her armour donned, something she absolutely refused.

Emma found herself inhabiting the body of Dame Victoria Greywater, from the eastern black bogs, not a reference anyone had heard of. She had been afflicted by a voice inside her head who was only screaming incoherently. It had given Emma a headache, which she tried to treat with a ritual at the nearby river where she was found by Luca.

At the river, they were witness to a handful of people who had walked into the deep end of the river to be taken by the current. Another suicide happened in front of the commander’s tent, where a dead-eyed man opened his own throat with a knife and bled out while people nearby seemed not to notice. It became very clear that most people in the camp were acting like very strangely. Some were going through what looked to be well-practised motions, while others were acting out of sorts, committing suicide, weeping, screaming, or just sitting still in catatonia.

While talking to one another in the comfort of the commander’s tent the adventurers started to piece together what was happening to them. They quickly realised that they were about to replay the events of the battle at Gwenllygad where the crusaders would be betrayed by the Senhadrim mage Atilesceon. With the help of Blackstar, Luca confirmed that all of their bodies housed a soul, and a faint, secondary soul, which likely belonged to the original crusader. Both Emma and Quentin had been able to hear a voice inside their head and identify it as their host’s soul, but Quentin had not been able to commune with them, and for Emma it proved impossible due to the state of insanity that the soul was in. Quentin shared his suspicion that Ser Estienne was unlike many of the other crusaders in camp, and he was quickly summoned.

Ser Estienne was indeed unlike the other crusaders. He explained that this day had been played out countless of times and that everyone was compelled to play their part, always with the same outcome. As time wore on, everyone’s ability to resist the compulsion to play their part was worn away until most people were nothing but mindless automatons. He explained that he believed that the magic of his sword was what had protected him and allowed him to retain some of his sanity, but that the sword had lost much of its power over time. Eventually, when the magic in the sword had depleted, he too would succumb.

The crusaders, Ser Estienne explained, were cursed to remain in Old Llygad for all eternity replaying the events over and over again. Many people had entered over the ages, some of them managed to escape, leaving the crusaders behind, and some of them had failed to escape and eventually merged completely with the crusader whose body that were inside of. Ser Estienne believed that the curse could only be broken by winning the battle for Old Llygad.

The knight also shared more details about the battle, about the betrayal, and about what was going to happen later that day. This was the original plan; air cavalry would engage the flying demons attacking Atilesceon’s tower, supported by artillery, preventing them from harassing the ground troops. At the same time, the cavalry would charge the demons on the shores of the lake in formation. After the first charge, as the cavalry was wheeling around and preparing for their second charge, the infantry would emerge from their ambush inside the treeline and engage the demons on the shore, allowing for the cavalry to get ready for another pass.

But this is not how the battle played out. Instead of the infantry completing their ambush, they themselves were ambushed by demons emerging from portals that opened up with frightening precision behind them in the woods. The infantry were attacked in the back, routed, and the cavalry went unsupported and therefore found themselves out of position and quickly overwhelmed as they tried to wheel around. Once the demons collapsed the rear guard and overwhelmed the artillery, the air cavalry was doomed, and eventually the entire camp of civilians with them.

On occasion, Atilesceon would change a few things about the battle, especially early on. He would give them exotic weapons, strange mounts, others siege engines, different numbers, different opponents, but the result was always the same; he would look on from his tower and observe how the crusaders were defeated and defiled as their bodies were nailed to the tower walls by the victorious demons.

Lauriel Skycaller, the Senhadrim priestess of Sehanine Moonbow, who was to be wed to Prior Benedict upon completion of the expedition, and who was the one that Atilesceon was obsessed with before his fall, was also called to the commander’s tent for conversation, but her mind seemed too fractured, she was too disturbed, to yield any immediately useful information.

When the bells started to toll, everyone in camp started to get ready for their departure south, along the river, in order to engage the demons on the shores of Lake Llygad. Most of the crusaders remained dead-eyed as they started to move out. James decided not to fly out on Tourbillon, her tempestuous griffon, but instead ride out on horse back together with the rest. The plan was to ride for the tower and try to gain entry.

When the lake finally came into view, it was apparent that demons were already skirmishing on the shore in front of the tower. From afar the aberrant monstrosities looked like a crawling chaos. They came in all shapes and sizes, each defying description in their hideousness. High up in the sky, winged demons were circling the tower, probing its defences. Surrounding the tower was a shimmering dome made of what seemed like a thin sheet of water. At the base of the dome, on four sides of the tower, strange water creatures could be seen fuelling the dome. The creatures were large and closely matched the descriptions given by the Bristlecone villagers of Lady Llyn, the protector of lake Llygad.

Each of the adventurers were deeply shaken by the sight of the demonic horde. The crusaders marched on, the infantry breaking away early to enter the woods and flank from the west while the cavalry rode out in formation and the griffons riders flying in overhead, supported by the scorpion ballistae shooting bolts the size of small trees at the winged demons above the tower.

Both James and Astrid failed to steel themselves against the horror that was about to play out and decided that getting drunk back at camp would be preferable than to stay to watch the crusaders’ inevitable defeat. The realisation that they were trapped in a reality which was playing out over and over was too much for their minds to comprehend and so they turned their horses and fled back to camp. Quentin, disgusted at the sight of such cowardice went in pursuit, while the others merely stood, awestruck at the unfolding carnage.

At camp, Quentin was incapable of convincing James to stand his ground as he relied on Dame Josephine’s abilities to mount Tourbillon and take to the skies. On the back of the alabaster griffin he flew as far north as the bird would take him but soon found himself enveloped in mist, turned around and heading back south. After several attempts he landed the griffon in a nearby clearing and drank himself into a stupor until the horde of demons finally caught up with him as they had with each of his companions. He died drunk and screaming.

Second Day, Third Wik, Æftera Līþa (Pasture Mōnaþ), 736th Year of the Crusade

After each of the adventurers suffered a violent death at the hands of the demonic horde, side by side with the rest of the crusaders, they once again awoke in the same place, in the same position, in the same bodies, at the exact same time on the exact same day as before. The felt nauseous and incredibly shaken by what they had experienced, but luckily they found each other much more easily and Emma managed to perform a divine ritual that calmed everyone’s nerves and they once again felt back in control. They did, however, realise that with every death they would suffer, their resolve to simply comply with the compulsion the rest of the crusaders were under would erode.

They made plans to see if they could talk to the Senhadrim priestess, to find Gorden, the remaining house Sheridan guard that is in camp somewhere, and to search the camp for any writings that would give them a better idea of the situation in camp before the assault. All in the hopes to find a way to defeat Atilesceon, to break the curse that holds the crusaders in its grasp, and to find their way back to Pinefall.

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