Tag: Crimson Tower

A Great Sacrifice

Previously, our heroes managed to infiltrate the Crimson Tower and confront Atilesceon and his disciples. The battle was hard fought and some of the company got stuck on a lower floor, which Atilesceon had flooded with a noxious cloud, killing them all. Eventually, the rest of the company brought Atilesceon down. The vengeful spirits of the doomed crusaders rose up from the tower to tear through his body and whisk him out and over the balcony railing into the lake beyond.

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

When quiet returned to Atilesceon’s laboratory, the heroes were overwhelmed with exhaustion. They all found place to rest, their bodies trembling from exertion and the adrenaline crash. They began to take stock of their situation and wonder what was going to be next. They didn’t know what to expect, but the emptiness that followed felt strange. Everyone dealt with it in their own way.

James went to investigate the bedroom below, to see what what could be salvaged from the bodies of Hejduk, Gorden, brother Connal and Ser Fulton. He took some of the ointments and poultices that brother Connal had on him, and took his symbol of Pholtus. He gave the healing equipment to Emma and kept the symbol for personal reasons. He then went back up to search through the laboratory for valuables.

Astrid started pacing around once she felt better, a nervous energy coming over her, and a dark look in her golden eyes. Eventually, she made her way onto the balcony to balance dangerously on the railing, holding her arms out wide like an eagle as she walked along the railing.

When Emrys felt a little better he felt like the tower should hold more of Atilesceon’s personal writings. The heroes had found some when they had first entered the tower, and he was hopeful to find more. He searched the laboratory but couldn’t find any writing that didn’t cover forging, engineering and metallurgy.

Quentin, not interested in scavenging the tower for valuables, went down to the bedroom together with Emma to take care of the bodies of the fallen. He cleaned the bodies and covered them with the sheets from Atilesceon’s bed. He took the shield of Ser Fulton, a kite shield with a wreath of three, green snakes on a white field.

Luca, interested in finding Atilesceon’s grimoire, performed a ritual that allowed him to detect the magical nature of things. What he found was somewhat disappointing; there were no major things that were left undiscovered. He found that the strange scarab-like devices that were attached to the necks of Atilesceon’s disciples were magical, and that the shield that Quentin had found was also magical in nature.

Everyone started making their way down into the study, hoping to find more of Atilesceon’s writing. They found the journal pages that they had read when the first entered the tower, finding some new ones, but nothing new or shocking. The conversation turned to what to do next. They were followed by an invisible Sadwick, who praised them for defeating Atilesceon, but peppered them with barbed comments.

A quick look up in the portal room revealed that the marble archway that they used to enter Old Llygad was dormant, cracked and broken from when Emrys passed through it, disrupting its magic.

Slowly the heroes started to realise that they would have to leave Old Llygad using the Ritual of Returning, which carried a heavy price, especially if they wanted to rescue the crusaders as well. When would they leave? How would they find enough sacrifices? For every ten people returning, one person would have to volunteer as a sacrifice.

The heroes decided to depart the tower, taking the bodies of the fallen with them, leaving Sadwick behind. Emma once again called upon the blessings of the protector of streams to allow them to tread on water and carry the fallen to shore where they met up with several priests of Pholtus who were cremating the last of the crusaders who had fallen in battle. The priests let the heroes use their carts to transport the fallen back to the camp.

Once there, Emrys held a speech in front of the entire camp, heralding the defeat of Atilesceon and calling for preparations to be made for the departure. He would inform the camp the following morning about what would need to happen for their departure to be a success.

Inside the commander’s tent a conversation was held with a close knit group of people about how to prepare the crusaders for the news that their departure would come with a heavy price. The choice was made to rip the bandage off fast and cleanly and not let the crusaders remain in doubt for longer than necessary. Emrys had a difficult task ahead of him convincing one person for every ten to sacrifice themselves.

To everyone’s surprise, Ser Estienne stepped forward and willingly submitted himself to be one of the people to be sacrificed. Quentin, especially, was shocked at the statement made by the legendary knight, but Ser Estienne seemed steadfast.

When Quentin took him aside to talk to him, Estienne explained that he knew that he would not survive the departure from Old Llygad. He had made a pact with the Fleur, the Sword of Flowers, long ago; he would borrow part of her essence to maintain his sanity. Now that the crusaders were saved it was a debt that he would soon have to make good on. Quentin, perhaps not realising just how literal Estienne was being, tried to convince him that there was a future for him, but instead Estienne told him to kneel. Estienne took Fleur and spoke the ancient words and knighted Quentin. He then gifted Fleur to Quentin, fulfilling the young knight’s long held goal.

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

The following morning there was a gathering of knights outside of the commander’s tent. Several armsmen and civilians who had gotten wind of the announcement that Emrys was going to make to the knights had also joined, albeit at a distance. Emrys explained the situation and explained the sacrifice that would have to be made. He also explained that the sacrifice would have to be completely voluntary; one last toll that Old Llygad was to exact from the crusaders. One knight stepped forward, willing to put his life down so that his squire and armsmen may depart from Old Llygad. It became clear to Emrys that he would have to address the civilians as well, and so he did. He gave everyone until the end of the day to decide whether or not they would want to be a voluntary sacrifice for the others.

At the end of the day enough people presented themselves. One of the animal handlers was willing to sacrifice himself so that the griffons may be transported away from Old Llygad, too. Emrys organised for a ceremony, to commemorate the men and women who would lay down their lives.

During this time, Emma and Luca went to round up all of the priests in order to go over the ritual together, making sure that all of them would be able and willing to perform the ritual, including the sacrifice, come morning.

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

The following morning, Emma and the priests lead the volunteers in prayers, blessing them for their service, while Ser Kadagar Ashbeard and his armsmen chiselled their names into the standing stone on the edge of the woods into which they’ve been chronicling all of their knowledge.

The crusaders gathered up their belongings, at least all of that which they could carry, and a long procession was held towards the lake, and south along the shores, passing by the Crimson Tower one last time. The entire crusade made their way to Isobel’s Vale and there the first group, consisting of James, Quentin, Astrid, Ser Edric the Strong and Estienne’s retinue, stepped into the shallow end of the pond to perform the ritual. Estienne was the sacrifice while Luca performed the ritual.

In the meantime, other groups gathered around along the edge of the pond as well. For each group, the experience was much the same. The water at their feet started to radiate with scintillating colours, while butterflies, dragonflies and fireflies started to buzz around. The lights became brighter and brighter, so much as to overwhelm the senses. When it finally died down again, each group found themselves standing at the edge of a pond in a vibrant vale, surrounded by fragrant wild flowers, impressively lush trees and a warm, pleasant breeze in the air.

The pond was surrounded by all manner of sylphs, dryads, faeries, pixies, brownies and butterflies. There were fawns and foxes with strange antlers and fluffy rabbits with remarkable fangs. Satyrs were darting in and out of the shadows, observing the ever growing group of crusaders standing ankle deep in the waters of the pond.

Eventually, a great, white unicorn materialised on the opposite end of the pond. It had an impressive, spiralling ivory horn jutting from its forehead. It stood as tall as a warhorse, and its fur was white and unblemished. Its braided mane, tail, beard and fetlocks were the colour of light honey. When it spoke to the group, its voice materialised in their thoughts like a warm blanket.

It introduced itself as Yathaghera, the Guardian of the Crossing, a servant to Lurue, the Unicorn Queen and the Queen of Talking Beasts. It was charged to protect this crossing by Titiana, the Summer Queen and explained that the crossing between the Feywild and Minauros shouldn’t have existed, considering the Seal of Divine Animus. It could, therefore, not allow the group to pass, together with the crusaders.

It could, however, transport the heroes and crusaders back to Pinefall if the heroes were willing to accept a debt; they would at one point be required to perform a quest for Queen Titiana. They would be bound to this debt, should they accept, and Yathaghera promised that the quest would be a fair one, within the capabilities of the heroes to perform it.

The heroes accepted and once again, the fireflies and dragonflies surrounded them as the water started to radiate colours. When the light died away, they found themselves standing in the noticeably colder waters of the pond. At the edge of the pond stood Isobel, carrying a stack of blankets and towels. Next to her stood a remarkably tall man, dressed in simple clothes that were much to short for him; Lord Destan, back in his own body and awake.

The heroes had finally made it back.

Atilesceon the Artificer

Previously, the heroes had dealt with the fallout of the victory at Old Llygad and in its wake made a plan to assault the Crimson Tower. They got a small group together and made their way across the lake, blessed by Sedna to allow them to walk across water. They defeated one of the guardian elementals, and made it through the protective dome. Inside the tower they found much like it was the first time they entered, but found a small imp named Sadwick who had been stalking them. Sadwick was one of Atilesceon’s companions, but one who was tired of being obedient to the artificer. As they ascended the tower they came across a group of horned humanoids with reddish skin who were Atilesceon’s disciples. Several escaped further up the tower and when the heroes pursued them they came face to face with Atilesceon himself.

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

When the confrontation started, some of their company were still on the floor below, funnelled in a single file by the trapdoor leading up. This caused some issues for Hejduk, Ser Fulton, and Gorden, who were all stuck behind brother Connal who was struck by sheer terror and frozen in the doorway at the sight of Atilesceon. When Luca tried to magically command Connal to move. He did, but not in the direction that Luca had intended. He fought his way down the stairs, through his companions, causing a lot of confusion and chaos; something which Atilesceon made use of when he invoked a horrible, toxic cloud on that floor, which took the four companions trapped there out of the fight.

As James and Astrid quickly engaged Atilesceon in combat, it appeared that any damage he took from their attacks was magically transferred to his disciples, killing them one by one. After the fight was over, it was revealed that each one of them was wearing a curious trinket on the back of their necks, shaped like a scarab, made from a Lyrium crystal with brass and copper finishing.

At regular times, Atilesceon’s tower seemed to act in his defence. Occasionally, an infernal tether anchored to one of Atilesceon’s enemies and transferring some of the damage he was taking into the victim. At other times, the tower conjured up the spirits of the doomed crusaders, and sent them forth to attack Atilesceon’s enemies.

Sadwick kept popping in and out of sight, harassing Emma in battle, but not really moving the needle much. After getting wounded, he quickly turned invisible and departed the scene of the fight.

Atilesceon himself managed to throw high level magic around, noxious clouds, bolts of fire, cones of freezing cold, and turned Astrid into solid gold. All the while he was trying to entice the heroes to tell him what it was that they wanted, that he could get them anything they wanted. His honeyed words had no effect on our heroes; they were determined to defeat the artificer.

And so they did. Eventually they managed to slay the fallen Senhadrim. Once Ser Quentin plunged his lance into Atilesceon’s body, the glamour that he had cast on himself fell away, and he returned to the pallid-skinned, balding man that the heroes had seen on the painting hanging over the fireplace the first time they entered the tower.

Before Atilesceon had taken his final breath, the spirits of the doomed crusaders rose up one final time, plunging themselves through the dying mage, whisking him through the open doors onto the balcony and over the railing, being tossed through the air like a bone in a kennel before plunging into the cold waters of the lake.

An Inevitable Confrontation

Previously, the adventurers, still stuck in the recurring nightmare of Old Llygad, hatched a plan to ambush and defeat the flying demons before the cursed crusaders of the Silver Crusade went to battle. They fought and managed to defeat Baraxxis the Balor, who was leading the flying demons, but not without a heroic effort. It was, however, enough to tip the scales of the main battle squarely in the favour of the crusaders, breaking the curse and liberating them from their torment.

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

After the battle was over and the consequences and ramifications of their win had slowly settled in, most of the crusaders made their way back to camp. When the sun had set over the hills to the west, the crusaders celebrated. Cautiously, around big bonfires with cups of wine. The darkness of a night they hadn’t seen in thousands of years was unsettling and the firelight and wine gave them courage.

The heroes came together to talk about the next steps, confident that the curse had been broken the moment they crossed the middle of night into the next day.

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

The heroes spoke at length about what to do next; about whether they should depart from Old Llygad by themselves or find a way to return the crusaders who were now free from their curse.

They quickly decided that it would be best for them to rescue the crusaders from Old Llygad, but the logistics of that decision proved a complication. While the ritual that they had found in the study on the second floor of the Crimson Tower allowed for very powerful arcanists to return large groups of people, Luca was only able to return a dozen or so people. Even if he were to preform the ritual repeatedly, it would require a volunteer to sacrifice themselves each time, which might be a very high price to pay in order to return more than five hundred people.

Eventually, everyone decided to either join in the revelry or get the rest they deserved. As it became later in the night and the wine kept flowing, some of the revelry turned pretty grim as the fragile sanity of the crusaders began to buckle under their intoxication. Emrys, who had remained awake, used the opportunity to perform a rousing speech to the troops in his guise as Prior Benedict, which calmed some of the more volatile emotions and kept the situation in the camp from spiralling out of control. It was very deep into the night before Emrys would find his bed in the commander’s tent.

When morning arrived, James went out to the battlefield only to find that the apothecaries of Pholtus were there to collect the bodies of the fallen and send them off in large funeral pyres. As James was surveying the scene, he was joined by Ser Estienne, who told him that he had kept an eye on the tower and could report that there had been movement spotted on the balcony. Due to the continued shimmering dome it remained unclear who, or how many people were in the tower, but the tower was definitely not dormant.

Another interesting and unexpected development was that the camp had started to wake up and was getting ready to depart and march north towards Gryphon’s Roost. Now that the battle was over and the curse had ended, the crusaders were eager to depart and put as much distance between themselves and that dreadful tower as they could. It seemed that they were unaware that they were in an alternate reality and that there was no departure; at least by means of conventional travel.

With all of that news it was decided to gather everyone at the commander’s tent and wake up Emrys. Soon, the knights started to gather outside of the commander’s tent, eager to get their orders from their Prior. Inside, however, a discussion was ongoing on how to proceed. The choices were thus;

The heroes could go towards Isobel’s Vale and use the Fey crossing to depart Old Llygad. Another option was for the heroes to ask each of the knights to find a volunteer among their men who would sacrifice themselves so the rest could be returned using the ritual. Lastly, the idea of assaulting the tower and using the portal at the top floor was also on the table.

None of the plans seemed to be ideal. When talking to the knights gathered outside the commander’s tent, the heroes explained the predicament that everyone was in, and why it was not possible for everyone to simply march for Gryphon’s Roost. Consternation and confusion went through the knights. As the hope and optimism died in the eyes of the knights, it became clear that only the thinnest veneer of civility and composure held the group together. They were about to crack and break down. Emma called upon the Sedna, goddess of waters, and a fine mist descended upon the group, soothing and calming their fears. It gave Emrys an opportunity to give another speech to reassure the knights.

It became clear that the troops would be incapable of assaulting the tower. It had been the source of all their dread for such a long time that the overwhelming majority was incapable of overcoming their fear to move against the place. It was also deemed cruel to ask the survivors to step forward as volunteer sacrifices, and so the plan was hatched to infiltrate the tower and see what state the portal was in and whether it could be used to teleport back to the material plane without performing the ritual and without incurring such a heavy price.

Besides, first one of the elementals powering the protective dome would need to be defeated in order to gain access to the tower, and Emma was only capable of enchanting so many people to be able to tread on water and engage in that fight. A group was formed, consisting of the adventurers, Ser Estienne, Gorden, Ser Fulton and Connal, a priest of Pholtus.

The group was significantly smaller than they had hoped they’d be able to take to assault the tower, and as such, special attention was paid to the gear distribution. Now that there was no coming back in case of death, Emma asked whether anyone would have a pristine diamond for her so that she may attempt to bring someone back to life. James rummaged around in his bag and retrieved a collection of precious stones he had liberated from Atilesceon’s study in the Crimson Tower, among which they found a suitable diamond.

The heroes and their companions departed for the tower, leaving instructions for the crusaders to start breaking camp and to await further orders. When they reached the shore, Emma performed the prayers to Sedna allowing the group to tread on water as if it was a solid surface. They approached one of the elementals and engaged it in combat. The elemental sank into the water and disappeared from sight, only to reappear right on top of Emrys who was captured inside and began his fight against drowning. Everyone attacked the water elemental, including Emrys from inside it, until the water dissipated and the golden bracers sank into the dark depths of Lake Llygad. Emrys coughed up enough water to fill a bucket, but luckily was okay and eager to continue.

The heroes and their companions made it to and up the causeway, confronted by the grizzly scene of broken bones and decomposing entrails of the crusaders previously nailed to the tower walls. Like previously, the door to the tower could easily be opened, and the scene inside was much like the ones the heroes had previously seen. The only real difference was that previously, they had seen a large portrait on the mantle above the hearth depicting Atilesceon, which now was nowhere to be found. James quickly investigated the cellar by going down the trapdoor, but found it much the way he had seen it before.

As the heroes started to get ready to go up to the second floor, Emrys noticed that they weren’t alone and began suspecting that someone or something was observing them while remaining hidden from sight. As they moved through the trapdoor leading up, they quickly shut the door behind them, locking whatever it was that was following them on the ground floor. They heard a thump as something tried to open the trapdoor, but with Astrid standing on it, whatever it was that tried to get in, was not strong enough to lift the tall Helmarker.

A whimpering voice could be heard on the other side of the trapdoor, begging for them to open up. When the heroes eventually did, it revealed a small fiendish creature, with the body of a kobold, the wings of a bat and the tail of a scorpion. He introduced himself as Sadwick, and claimed to be Atilesceon’s familiar. He and Atilesceon had a love-hate relationship, and Sadwick was eager to help the heroes mess with his master. He was sick and tired of being in Atilesceon’s service and wanted to be released so he could travel the Astral Sea.

After talking with Sadwick the heroes came to the conclusion that he was relatively harmless, but decided to keep an eye on him. Sadwick managed to reveal that the artificer was in the tower and that he had several “tiefling” followers with him. These tieflings were discovered when they moved to the next floor, Atilesceon’s bedroom, where they found several of them engaging in a strange, morbid orgy. The heroes decided to attack and cut several of them down before the rest fled to the next floor up. When the heroes pursued, they found themselves in Atilesceon’s laboratory, together with several tieflings, as well as Atilesceon himself, who had been looking out over Old Llygad from the balcony.

Atilesceon did not look like the man they had once seen on the portrait, but instead of a tall, grotesquely attractive man, dressed in lavish, opulent clothes. Everyone readied themselves for the confrontation.

Broken Curses and Cycles

Previously, the adventurers investigated the crusader camp, finding out more about the situation they found themselves in and possible solutions. They spoke to Gorden, one of the guards in Lord Destan’s retinue, to Lauriel Skycaller, the Senhadrim priestess, and to Ser Estienne, the legendary knight whose sanity had stayed somewhat in tact because of his mythical sword and its magical powers. The camp revealed some other interesting parties, like the apothecaries of Pholtus, or the dwarven scribes under the leadership of Ser Kadagar Ashbeard. The adventurers also rode into battle together with the cursed crusaders and managed to analyse it before being overwhelmed by the demon opposition and dying another horrible death. When they woke up again, they had a plan to preempt an attack on the demons in the hope of taking away their aerial domination.

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

James hatched a plan to coordinate the griffon riders in a preemptive attack against the demons flying around the tower. Luca and Quentin helped James organise an ambush by convincing the leader of the artillery crew, Ser Wentworth, to get prepared to support the griffon riders, and while Luca convinced a squad of infantry to take up a bow, Quentin convinced Ser Estienne to commit his infantry as archers as well. James ordered half of the griffon riders to hide high in the air, protected from sight by flying against the sun, while he took the other half of the griffon riders to lure the flying demons from around the tower, which worked out splendidly.

The demons eagerly followed James and the griffon riders, but the largest of the demons, Baraxxis the Balor, a huge brute wreathed in dark smoke and a fiery aura, with the head of a bull, the wings of an enormous bat, carrying a fiery whip and an electrified sword. The brute charged ahead and crossed the enormous distance between the demons and the griffon riders in the blink of an eye, suddenly appearing perilously close and hot on Tourbillon’s tail feathers.

The archers and artillery had been set up in the treeline using the cover of the trees as protection. When Baraxxis arrived he immediately summoned two scores of demons who came crawling out of demonic circles which appeared on the ground in front of the archers. They were small and spindly, like a bipedal cross between an insect and a kobold. Without hesitation they fell upon the archers, and Luca was also set upon.

The fight between the adventurers and Baraxxis was violent and long. Early, James was riding Tourbillon, but quickly dismounted the griffon to help Luca and Quentin fight the brute, while Tourbillon went to help the archers by attacking the demons they were fighting. Luca sent bolts of eldritch force into Baraxxis and Quentin kept making charging passes on his horse, while James darted in and out of the battle to strike the enormous demon in vital areas. For a while it looked as if the demons was going to be unbeatable, especially considering that every time one of the adventurers came near the demon, they were burned by its fiery aura and at risk of being entangled bit its whip, or cleaved by its electric sword.

It took everything the adventurers had, including several of the magical potions they had received from Barnaby in Bournemouth, to keep them going long enough. Several of the adventurers were on the brink of death, only to be rescued by the daring interventions of their companions.

The fight saw more than its fair share of miracles. Once, Luca was snatched up by Baraxxis and both of them disappeared, only to appear high up in the air, where the wicked Balor let Luca drop to his death down below. Luca still has no idea how he survived the fall; likely due to a combination of memory-suppressing terror and a possible concussion he received from smashing into the ground. The biggest miracle of all was that through sheer will and determination, the adventurers managed to bring Baraxxis to heel. With one final charge, Quentin rode into the blaze surrounding the nightmarish demon, pierced its body with the lance he had been gifted by Ser Estienne, and brought the demon down.

Unfortunately, the demon had one more trick up its sleeve. As it went down, its demonic life escaping back to the Abyss, it exploded in a roar of fire. Quentin and James were nearly killed if it wasn’t for the fact that Luca was far enough away from the demon to escape further injury and could administer more of Barnaby’s restorative potions. Quentin’s horse, sadly, did perish in the attack.

With Baraxxis out of the fight and the archers having had help from Tourbillon in defeating the wave of smaller demons, the remaining flying demons were no match against the griffon riders and their support. Once they were all defeated over half the griffon riders were ready to fight in the main battle later on. Some of them were wounded but would be capable of engaging. Only a few of the griffon riders didn’t survive the battle, as had a few of the archers.

Soon after the fight, after Emma had seen to the remaining wounds of the adventurers who had engaged in the fight with Baraxxis, the bells started to toll and the expedition moved out towards the battlefield. Emrys ordered the griffon riders to support the cavalry and for the artillery to do the same; after each of the cavalry’s charge, the artillery could fire at will and the air cavalry could swoop in afterwards. Two-thirds of the infantry was to focus on the incoming demonic ambushers, while one-third could move out onto the shore of the lake to support the cavalry.

Crucially, Luca decided to place a magic circle on the location of one of the five portals which were about to open in the woods. It’s powers of abjuration would prevent anyone inside the circle from moving out, effectively nullifying one of the portals. Lauriel Skycaller, priestess of Sehanine Moonbow, used her powers to inflict a magical slumber on the demons coming out of two of the remaining four portals, further stemming the tide. The apothecaries of Pholtus were among the infantry to immediately apply healing and provide support where necessary. Astrid had gotten a hold of Dame Josephine’s flaming sword because James was uncomfortable using it, and she was ready to charge into the oncoming wave, while Emma was ready to unleash her waves of water to keep the demons at bay.

When the battle started Quentin was riding side by side with Ser Estienne in the cavalry. The first charge was a success and as he wheeled the cavalry around, the artillery, air cavalry and infantry engaged, giving the cavalry plenty of time to turn around. The second charge was a success as well. Meanwhile, in the woods, the precautions that the adventurers had taken together with Lauriel Skycaller had almost halved the rush of incoming ambushers. Unfortunately, Lauriel was only half successful and she urged Emrys to come forth and enter one of the remaining portals before the demons came out. Hesitantly, he jumped into one of the open portals and collapsed it.

The strategy had been a great success. The continual charges by the cavalry brought the demons on the shore of the lake to heel. The infantry stemmed the tide of ambushers coming through the greatly diminished portals. Of course there were casualties, many casualties. Infantry, sergeants, squires and knights. Chief among the casualties was Lauriel Skycaller, who was attacked by the demons that managed to break through the enchantment she had placed on them. She was viciously torn apart.

The adventurers all survived, though not without their own cuts and bruises. But more importantly, hundreds of the crusaders survived. As the battle came to its end, many of them did not quite know what to do with themselves. Some of them cried. Some of the laughed. Some of them walked into the lake until the water took them. Many of them just sat there as the sun crept across the sky and started sinking in the west; a sight they had not seen in countless years.

The curse had been lifted. Everyone who was dead would remain so. The battle of the Crimson Tower had been won, and the crusaders would never again be nailed to its white walls.

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.