Escaping the Madness

Previously, the adventurers found themselves inhabiting the bodies of several crusaders caught inside of Atilesceon’s recurring dimension in which the same hellish day in which the crusaders suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of a demonic horde. They found that all of the crusaders were compelled to act out the same battle over and over, and for most it had meant their minds were destroyed. The fabled knight Estienne was one of the few who had some semblance of sanity and he explained many things. When the battle started the adventurers found themselves unprepared for the chaos and fear that washed over them, and some fled, while others futilely participated in the battle. Whether they fought or fled, it made no matter as eventually the battle played out as it had so many times before and the crusaders were defeated and their corpses nailed to the walls of Atilesceon’s tower. After their defeat they once again woke up in the same position, at the start of the same day.

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

The adventurers quickly gathered at the commander’s tent and let Emma perform her ritual of calmness in order for everyone to put their terror of what happened to them to rest. The first thing was to keep Gorden, the house Sheridan guard who had accompanied Lord Destan and the only one of his retinue to stay behind in Old Llygad, from committing suicide. Quentin went to find him and after explaining what was going on saw the relief on Gorden’s face. He eagerly came along to talk to the adventurers.

Gorden managed to share a few important details that filled in the blanks and confirmed several suspicions. Quentin was indeed part of the expedition until being separated from the rest inside the Crimson Tower and he was genuinely relieved to hear Quentin had survived. He also explained that under Lord Destan’s command they had penetrated the tower in Old Llygad in search for the Ritual of Returning. They had found the tower richly adorned, filled with wealth and opulence, with many curious servants.

Lord Destan and his group had performed the ritual on a spot in the woods to the south east of the lake, which the adventurers recognised as Isobel’s Vale. They had gotten Patrick, squire to Ser Gregorian, to be their volunteer in the ritual. Luca remarked that it was inconsistent with what they learned from the Bristlecone villagers, who had found Jenna, Robart, and who the adventurers now knew to be Ser Edric, to the north of the path leading to Hunter’s Hollar.

The ritual went awry, and Gorden could tell something was wrong. At the same time the demons were closing in on the vale. Attempting to complete the ritual, Lord Destan commanded Mark and Gorden to protect him, but Mark lost his nerve and charged through the opening portal. Jenna and Robart were transformed back to their own bodies as they headed through the portal, but that is where Gorden died.

Afterwards, when Gorden awoke once again, he found that Mark, Jenna and Robart were no longer in camp, and that Lord Destan, presumably still in the body of Ser Edric, was unconscious. He spoke with Ser Estienne and decided that if the ones who escaped survived and managed to call for help, he would have to survive enough iterations with his mind in tact. He decided the best way was to commit suicide before each battle for as long as his willpower would allow and before the compulsion had him in its grasp. Quentin was deeply shocked that Ser Estienne would suggest such morbidity and he started to mistrust the nature of the fabled Knight of Flowers.

When the adventurers explained that they were sent by house Sheridan and that Mark, Jenna and Robert made it back, Gorden was incredibly relieved and immediately willing to help the group with whatever they needed. Quentin decided to wilfully lie to Gorden and tell him that his companions made it back safely.

In an attempt to rouse the unconscious form of Ser Edric, James attempted to perform some of the magical powers that Dame Josephine was rumoured to posses. Strangely, he had the innate ability to perform these spells, even though he himself had never studied on how to perform them. He spread the fingers of one hand and concentrated for a moment before a jet of flame burst from his hand, severely burning Ser Edric, his clothes, his bed linen, and several items around him. But it did not wake him.

Inspired by James’ attempt to access Dame Josephine’s gifts, Emrys called upon the Platinum Father to heal Ser Edric’s wounds and found himself a perfect conduit for His divine energy. A halo formed around his head and his hands glowed with radiant energy which flowed into the blistered form of Ser Edric, stitching together the badly burnt skin and smoothing it over, leaving him perfectly healthy, albeit in tattered, burnt clothes. James then took Edric’s hand and found an identical burn mark on Edric’s palm as he had on his and the same as the Edric he had seen in Isobel’s care. James carefully gave Edric some water to drink to see whether he would have an involuntary response, which he did; Edric slowly drank little bits of water. James then began talking to Edric while holding his hand, lying to him about the state of his family. He was trying to provoke an emotional response from the unconscious man, which he received when a light frown came across the young knight’s face.

The conversation between the adventurers quickly turned to what to do next. From the time of their wake up, until the time the bells tolled and the march to the tower began, they only had five hours, and there was a lot for them left to discover. Ideas were raised, from storming the tower, to letting devour all of the crusaders, to finding a way to reach out to the demons and forming an alliance for freedom. The consensus became that the best way was to break the curse and help the crusaders defeat the demonic horde. For that, the adventurers needed more information and see whether they could change some of the details of the battle. In particular, they were interested to know where the ambushers came upon the infantry and where it was they were coming from, the thought being that they were already in Old Llygad, and could possibly be preempted or obstructed before hand.

Emrys and Quentin made their way to Lauriel’s tent to talk to her about some of the confusing things she said the previous day. Along the way, Quentin shared his concerns about Ser Estienne. He felt that the knight was behaving strangely and Quentin was starting to mistrust him. He hoped that Emrys would keep an eye out for any signs that Ser Estienne was not the ally they thought he was.

They found Lauriel in reverie to the Moonmaiden inside her tent. Many things became clear to Emrys during his conversation. He learned about the mysterious Sehanine priestess Mohiam, who had been granted a vision by the Moonmaiden about an unfathomably complex mixing of different human and elven bloodlines to produce a prophet who would be able to permanently restore the Seal of Divine Animus. Mohiam was the leader of a cult who were all working towards the goal of mixing the right bloodlines in order to find this prophet. From what Lauriel explained, some of the things each of the members was required to do seemed almost random; introducing people, deposing leaders, uplifting nobility, ordering assassinations, starting wars…

She herself had been tasked to start a new tribe of elves called the Aen Adhar, the children of the moon, of which Emrys was a product. She was only known to them as “Moonwhisper”, a name Emrys had heard all throughout his childhood. They were taught just enough about the prophecy to do what Mohiam needed them to do. Over centuries the Aen Adhar turned into a magireligious cult that Emrys so despised.

Quentin learned that Lauriel had been given a second task; to improve elven-human relations by marrying Prior Benedict McAllister. She would then use her influence to prevent Dame Josephine LaValette from strengthening her house and allowing it to unify the tribes of Celticia, now modern day Beauclair, and found the first kingdom on the continent. Instead, the house was deprived of their legendary daughter, which left it influential, but not dominant. With the help of Mohiam’s followers, house LaValette would be manipulated to one day become the royal house of another kingdom; now known as house Valois, the ruling house of Lyria.

Upon his return to the commander’s tent, Emrys took a moment to tap into the divine connection that prior Benedict held with Paladine and extended his senses to feel out the corruption in the hearts of those inside the tent. Intent on only getting a measure of Ser Estienne, Emrys found that the only really dreadful thing in the tent was Blackstar.

In the meantime, Luca had gone to speak to the priests of Pholtus, who he felt would be better served among the infantry on the battlefield, rather than be held back at camp to tend to the dying and wounded coming back from the battle. What would come back for them from the battlefield was death, and if Luca could convince them to join the infantry, they might make a difference. Luca found the priests in a large tent preparing ointments, poultices and potions. He spoke to one of the priests who would acknowledge him and wasn’t simply playing their part in the story of their horrible defeat. Luca managed to convince the priest to commit his order to march with the infantry. The priest raised his hands to the pale sun in the heavens in supplication and began instructing the others on their new mission.

Afterwards, James and Luca decided to search the camp for anything out of the ordinary. James was going to pay special attention to any correspondence he could find, as well as any items that might be magical. Luca was mostly interested to find more interesting people, and hopefully some that, like Ser Estienne, had retained some of their original vibrancy and could hopefully shake off the effects of the curse.

Near the edge of the camp, close to the treeline, Luca stumbled upon a camp that was made up of mostly dwarves. They had set up their tents around a large rock that was jutting out of the ground, and they were all chiselling away at it under the direction of one dwarf who was dictating to them in the dwarven tongue. Near them stood a squire with the same dead eyes that the others around camp had shown. She was helping the dwarves by handing them hammers and chisels when they needed them. Luca saw that the young knight wore the herald of a noble house that looked familiar to him; the head of a red stallion. Unfortunately, he couldn’t put his finger on where he had seen it before, nor whose house it belonged to.

Luca quickly came to learn that the dwarves had taken to recording as much information as they could in a very complicated form of dwarven shorthand. His attempts to read it were for naught; he would need more time to study the runic script the dwarves were using in order to make nor tails out of it. He found out that the dwarves were under the leadership of Ser Kadagar Ashbeard, and that the woman was his squire.

James had found many different letters, both personal as well as strategic, which gave him the impression that the crusaders had set out their expedition with the full conviction that they would undoubtedly succeed in their mission. He also learned that there were many other conflicts that the crusaders were involved in, and that the fighting had spread to every corner of the continent. During his search, he also came across a very unusual looking robe and a beautiful brooch in the shape of a scarab, which lit up with curious symbols when he held it.

As James was planning on returning to Luca with the robe and the brooch, he heard the bells toll and the camp got ready to move out once again. The adventurers had decided that most of them would go on to support the infantry, including the priests of Pholtus, as well as Lauriel. Luca gave Ser Florian’s battle lance to Quentin, who would use it by joining the cavalry. And lastly, James would take to the air on the back of Tourbillon, taking Hejduk along with him in order to survey the battlefield from up on high.

The battle started and the cavalry set in the charge against the demons on the shore, while high overhead the air cavalry were engaging the flying demons. Due to a lack of Dame Josephine’s involvement in the aerial battle, the demons slowly took the upper hand. But it afforded James a good view of the surroundings. While Quentin was thundering his horde alongside the cavalry and the rest were laying in wait with the rest of the ambushers, James could see that the tower was quiet and that there was no other activity right before the rifts started to appear in the tree line. This meant that the demon ambushers were not laying in wait somewhere and they could not preempt the ambush itself.

Three portals opened up in the woods through which hundreds of demons came pouring forth. Emrys, in the guise of Prior Benedict, kept the moral of the infantry in check and commanded them to aid the cavalry and follow the original plan. He then used the divine might of the Platinum Father to disrupt several demon’s advance, and then used the strange magical pipes to send several of the smaller demons scurrying. Luca used the power of the Lyrium crystal he carried with him to keep some of the demons at bay, while casting bolt after bolt of eldritch energy into the incoming onslaught of demons. Astrid could be seen darting through the forest with incredible speed, attacking the demons with a frenzy and a fury that was unmatched by anyone but the most wicked monsters on the battlefield. Emma called upon the power of Sedna to conjure up a powerful tidal wave, which held the demons at bay for a time. Lauriel, strengthened by the adventurer’s steadfastness, created a shimmering symbol made from the purest moonlight, which exploded in devastating energy when the demons were almost upon them, felling many of them.

In the meantime, the infantry, supported by the priests of Pholtus, had engaged the demons on the shore and managed to allow the cavalry to make their pass with minimal casualties. The cavalry managed to wheel about unhindered and set in a second charge, clashing into the ravenous demons once more. Quentin’s lance scored several piercing hits.

That’s when the adventurers holding off the ambushers were overwhelmed. The infantry was quickly caught between the hammer and anvil of the demons but fought valiantly to allow the cavalry to continue their charge and make an attempt to wheel about once more. During their third charge, the cavalry was overwhelmed.

From up on high, James saw all of this unfold and saw that the demons were making their way towards the artillery in order to support the flying demons. He set Tourbillon into a dive to keep the flying demons off his back and see if the elementals that were fuelling the protective dome around the tower would react to his presence. As he soared past, with the demons in tow, the elementals tried to take a swipe at him. He managed to get away unscathed but noticed that some of the demons trailing him weren’t so lucky. He decided to keep doing this to see how many demons he could get taken out like that, but eventually ran out of luck and one of the elemental heavy limbs crashed down like a tidal wave and he and Hejduk died, too.

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

The adventurers once again wake up feeling completely shaken to their core. They notice that with every death a piece of their resilience is lost and they can feel their willpower waning and the curse of the compulsion taking hold. Everyone gathers at the commander’s tent and Emma performed her ritual of stillness to calm everyone’s emotions and steadied everyone for the day ahead.

The conversation quickly turned to the successes of the previous day. Even though the battle was lost, they had learned several valuable lessons and quickly started to come up with new ideas on how the battle could be won.

While Luca performed the ritual of identification, using one of Isobel’s pearl earrings, on the jewellery the adventurers had retrieved from the Crimson Tower, James went to retrieve the unusual robes and the curious brooch for Luca to divine the properties of. Luca found that the jewellery was imbued with several magical properties which would greatly benefit the wearer, but there was a dark side to the set, which would leave the wearer weak willed and compliant. When Lauriel’s saw the set she screamed and nearly lost her sanity. She explained that it was a gift from Atilesceon to her, which she refused. Luca quickly surmised that the purpose of the jewellery was to protect Lauriel, keep her healthy and beautiful, but also make her subservient to Atilesceon.

A plan was formed for a preemptive strike. James ordered Ser Wentworth, who had been in charge of the artillery, to move the artillery just outside of camp and start preparing for a preemptive attack. He then moved on to the griffon riders and spectacularly convinced them to join in the attack. Quentin rallied a squad of archers and got Ser Estienne to commit his armsmen as archers as well.

It was not easy to pick up, but there seemed to be the slightest sliver of hope in the air.

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