We played without Weston, so Stauff was sent back to Milbourne to wait for Vasya and Nadia. What happened to the other three may be one of the most significant events of the campaign so far.
After leaving Ingram’s cottage and traveling toward Huntly Keep, the PCs encountered Aidan (and his escorts) who traveled to Milbourne. An uneasy exchange transpired as the two groups passed, trying not to give too much away about their objectives. Crandel was surprisingly tight-lipped. It was learned that Aidan was going to see Darius Carmen to get an update about the status of Skye, albeit the PCs mentioned they had not found her. But more importantly the PCs discussed afterward what Aidan might really be up to. It was a significant change in how they dealt with the NPCs… clearly they weren’t buying into all the of the lies, anymore.
Arriving at the Keep, the PCs discovered a bevy of activity as an architect walked the groups exploring the possibility of expansion and/or fortification. Other laborers worked at general tasks (transport, surverying, etc.) and the guard count was up. Ian approached one of the guards (he surmised would be amenable to a bribe) and started a subtle conversation with him about delivering a message to Luther. Eventually two copper coins emerged and the guard escorted Ian up to Luther’s chamber. Finally, meeting Luther was in sight. However, no one answered and it was clear Luther was not there. Ian took out a few more coppers to get inside the cell and alone for six minutes to leave three letters in Luther’s unkempt and untouched room — it appeared that Luther hadn’t been there for a while.
After a short investigation inside the room, Ian found a map and a secret door, leading to a set of very unsafe and dark stairs going down below the foundation of the keep. Not having the time to investigate, Ian closed everything, left the map, and met his friends outside. A short discussion ensued about where the stairs might lead and the three marched East into the Halfcut Hills (damn TSR naming conventions). After 90 minutes of walking, they discovered a sunken area of earth, about 100 feet in diameter with numerous cave openings. The sun was going down however, and the party determined that staying here was unsafe.
Returning to the keep with plans of sleeping in an abandoned farm, Crandel spotted the strange priest (who served a “twilight” kind of god) from Session 3 or 4. The two walked in silence before Crandel began asking questions of the faith.
This of course led to some irritation for the priest, who quickly found an opportunity for conversion. He offered for Crandel to come inside and learn more, guiding him passed the guards, up the stairs, and into his private cell, which was spartan except for some furniture the typical accoutrement and ritual tools of a priest/monk. He poured some wine for Crandel, adding in three drops of the fishy smelling liquid. Crandel could smell the liquid and recognized it from the tunnels, but was unsure if it was safe to drink, but seeing the priest wasn’t talking yet, he slowly consumed the concoction. As the effects of the brew swirled inside his head, Crandel listened to the words of the priest as he described a landscape he’d never conceived, a frame of mind beyond his comprehension, and a mythology that opposed his understanding of the three gods his faith. The priest spoke of a place of twilight between light and dark, a place the all-father did not want you to know about, a place where one could live forever. As the potion took hold, Crandel started to understand that the axis of good and evil was just another axis in a universe of axes.
And while Crandel was being drawn into the faith (quite effectively) by the words of the priest, Verner and Ian were being escorted into the keep as well. They too were ushered into a cell, this one next to Crandels, and not far from Luther’s room that Ian had already been inside of. Verner and Ian shared similar experiences, albeit, they were seduced with women loyal to the faith to drink from the cup and hear the words of the priest. They experienced similar visions, witnessed a sea under a moonless night, and imagined a giant eye at the bottom of a river bed staring up through infinitely black water.
Crandel was the first one up the next day. Not knowing his friends were inside the keep, he marched down to Thurmaster to seek out his friends. Realizing the barge was already gone, he marched all the way to Milbourne, stopping at Ingram’s cabin, all the while dreaming up an excuse to tell the others for why he was late.
The other two, woke very late in the day and escaped from their cell, sneaking into Luther’s cell which coincidentally had been left unlocked. They searched the room, found the map again, grabbed some candles and headed down stairs into a small storage room. Paintings leaned against one wall, a massive trunk lie against another, and brass and silver odds and ends littered floor. Ian and Verner searched the room and found very little of value, except for some linens and a nice candelabra. Examining the paintings, they discovered a long line of very ugly rulers from the past in Huntly keep, leading right up to some woman who may have been Uther’s mother, if the name matches the rumors. After inspecting the last painting, they found a rough hold in the all wall, tall enough to crawl through, which revealed a 10-12 foot long passage into another tunnel system on the other side.
Quickly, they were able to figure out that the tunnel was part of the orc tunnel system they found before. And after miles of walking underground, with a single candle for light, they found another fork. Estimating where they were, they presumed the left fork went south (deeper under the Thornwood), and the right fork went closer to Milbourne. Heading right, they found themselves at a 3-way intersection that they recognized from before. Ian and Verner established that one tunnel went up into the stairwell where they fought the orcs. The other tunnel led back, north, toward the Rockdale. With their candles running out, they moved as quickly as they could (hard to do with 10-feet of light) to the safety of the tunnel. There they rested and then come sunlight, marched down to stone pillar that had healed them before.
Ian wasted no time in touching the pillar, as pain wracked through his body, trying to wrench the poison from his system. He convulsed, as his psyche worked to undo the “brainwashing” he suffered from the elixir. The headache was awful, his mouth tasted of fish bile, and his limbs were weak. But the control the priest had over him was diminished. Verner followed quickly behind, and he too wrestled with the poison inside of him, his body rejecting it through sweat and piss. And as he convulsed to the ground, now free from the hold of the poison, he knew they’d have to find Crandel and do the same for him.
Gathering their belongings, the pair walked to Ingram’s cabin where they found Crandel, alone, and enjoying some rations from the larder. Crandel was happy to see them, and surprisingly lucid. They men all talked for a while about what they had seen and done, and then argued about the potion they’d all been fed. Crandel believed in what he saw, the other two knowingly understood that the images belonged to a philosophy that did not exist in their notions of right-vs-wrong, good-vs-evil, just-vs-mighty, and so on. Seeing he would not go willingly, Ian threw a cloak over Crandel, and carried him to the pillar (a mere 8-mile walk uphill). They forced him to touch it, making his experience the same rattling detoxification they had to endure. This left them all a little “hungover” and disgruntled with one another. Crandel was especially upset because he now questioned whether this perfect belief system he once embraced was utopian because it made sense or because the potion “made it make sense.”
As they three talked, and walked back to Milbourne, they discussed what they remembered of the priest’s words. Names, places, ideals. Everything vague images and notions. Nothing concrete. And as they wrestled to make sense of it all, one word came to Ian’s mind…