This description of a session is by Frazer Payne, who was running a Dragon Warriors campaign at the time. (Very retro for our group; we normally use GURPS 4e.) My character went by the name of Sir Lazarus. He called himself that because he believed he had been slain in the course of joust with a mysterious knight at a bridge. The player-characters' patron, a mysterious wizard, brought him back to life, but the magic didn't restore him from the ghastly pallor of death, hence he had a very low Looks score. Arundel was Tim Savin; Katherine was Zelah Meyer; Helsceatha was an elementalist played by Aaron Fortune. I forget the other PCs right now.
Session 4 write-up by Frazer Payne
Silas led his horse gingerly into the icy black pool. Ripples spread too slowly. As he entered, so he also seemed to emerge, so that for a moment he had the hair-raising sense that he was breaking the surface into an upside down world. His companions followed.
They rose out of a pool identical to the one they had entered: circular, with wide steps winding out of the bottomless depths. The steps led up into a great stone hall. Two upper floors and a beamed roof had collapsed to the flag-stones revealing a gloomy sky. A new ceiling, a tracery of tree branches, could faintly be seen through the drifts of mist that hung in the cold, still air.
The pool lay in an alcove against one long wall. To the right, an opening led into a tower. To the left, where -perhaps- the great doors had been, the wall was gone. In its place was dense forest. The forest crowded in through the windows too, vines questing ahead to clutch the dead hall’s stone bones from the inside.
The pool settled behind them. Slowly, a great bloom of silt rose from the depths of the pool until it clouded the surface. Silence boomed.
Lazarus and Uric went to examine the tower. The door was gone, leaving a black hole. Going through, they found stairs leading up. But only six. The rest of the stairway had collapsed into rubble. The wall of the tower had given way too, rent from top to bottom. In its stead there grew a tall fir tree. Its branches had grown into the tower, filling it. Pieces of masonry hung trapped in its blackness.
Lazarus touched the broken stone. It was newly broken, perhaps within the last couple of weeks. This was no ancient ruin but the site of sudden and recent violence. He retreated, thoughtful.
But Arundel dared the climb. He snaked between the branches, working his way higher and higher, until the branches grew so close together that he feared he would have to shirk his armour in order to get through. He was close to the top but could get no further. He climbed out through the gap in the wall, and made his way inch by inch upwards, the forest floor – faint through the mist – far below him. Looking out, he saw that the trees all around were at least a third higher than the great hall.
Finally he reached the top of the tower. Half the floor was all that remained. Gazing from the ramparts, he saw the forest stretched away in all directions.
Resting against the battlements was a mirror. At first glance, its frame was of the most ornate metalwork: iron and copper and gold. But closer inspection showed that the metal, twisted together, was as it might have been when it was delved from deep beneath the earth: lumpen, pitted, meteoric. The mirror was a sheet of polished metal, blackened and spotted with age. Arundel’s reflection was faint and dim. Strapping it to himself, he made his way back down through the boughs and brought the mirror before his friends. Since the hall was perhaps once Glayve’s own, the mirror seemed likely to be the sorcerer’s property too. Curious, each looked into the mirror in turn.
Arundel went first, for the mirror was his prize. At first he could see nothing. Then, faintly, he began to perceive a pale shape moving in the darkness. It appeared to be a maiden, dressed in white, running down a path that led into a black forest. He had a strange feeling that he knew the girl. She was distressed, and seemed to be trying to find a way forward through the trees, even though she was sore afraid of them. He sensed that she was fearful for someone deep inside the forest. Suddenly, the branches contorted, adopting a more fearful aspect. The mirror went dark.
Next, Katherine took up the mirror.
“I can see my father’s farmstead,” she whispered. “The forest is growing around it, encircling it.” She frowned. Her home, to the north of Jewelspider, was a good half a league from the forest edge. What she had seen could not possibly be real. Perhaps this mirror showed only lies or phantoms?
While the others strained their eyes, none of them could see anything in the mirror until it came to Lazarus.
Lazarus saw a scattering of faint lights in a great darkness. “Perhaps it is the night sky,” he thought. Then, one by one, the lights scattered away into the darkness until he was following only a handful. He sensed they were travelling through the darkness together. One by one, each light flickered and vanished until only a single light remained. Then Lazarus sensed that what he was seeing was, in fact, glinting metal. Suddenly it was enclosed be velvet blackness, lit as if by an infernal flame before being engulfed.
Lazarus pondered the vision as his companions made camp. And even though he was very tired, sleep took a long time to come to him.
Silas took first watch. He soon felt quite alone, sitting by the dim fire, though he told himself it was only boredom. He decided to go hunting. Making his way out into the silent forest, he found himself amongst ferns as tall as a man, and dwarfed by trees that would have towered over a cathedral. Venturing further, he noticed that the trees were tallest near the great hall. Those further away were of far more normal growth, though no less discomforting. There was no game to be found.
He returned to stir Uric.
The muddied water in the pool lurched. Something huge had moved just below the surface. The forest seemed to flex, branches swelling forward, vines clenching the walls tighter. The hall sagged. The floor cracked and buckled. The pool swirled again, and silt and brick dust boiled to the surface.
Everyone was awake now. Helsceatha lurched to his feet and clutched the air. Bellowing words of power, he drew his fists to his chest. With a roar, the wall behind the pool bulged and burst to tumble onto the pool. But the stones fell in and disappeared, and did not fill it at all. Quickly, they led the horses out of the hall and into the forest.
They did not know where – or even when- they were. Which way was north? If this was Jewelspider, which was the way out and which would lead deeper into the forest?
Lazarus examined the great trunks of the trees. Moss had grown on one side, while mushrooms grew among the roots on the other. “East is that way,” he announced with confidence, and so they set off.
It was not long before they came across a path leading northeast to southwest. The mist was still thick, but they could hear that a gorge was close to the south edge of the path. Water churned deep below. They walked for long hours, with the path twisting before them beneath the black boughs of the forest. They ached in their bones. Lack of sleep was taking its toll, so, as evening came on they made camp.
“We should get off the road,” said Uric.
“Anyone could track us on this frosted ground” said Arundel. “Even I, with only passing skill, could follow our trail… anyone intent on finding us could do so”. And, dejectedly, the others agreed. And so they got down in the middle of the bleak path and set a watch.
It was during Lazarus’ watch that Freer awoke. He was weak from his wound, his mind wandering, but he talked quietly to Lazarus about the moment when his former friend, Argelise, had dealt him the deadly blow. He talked about the rag of cloth that Argelise had clutched in his sword hand, ripped from Freer’s own cloak. “That token allowed those puppet-making demons able to deliver this blow to me, I am sure of it,” he whispered, looking fearfully at the black-edged wound in his arm. Then he slept.
Helsceatha had a dream. He was low to the ground, running through the forest as fast as he could go, his arms laden with trinkets. He awoke to find his shadow servant had escaped. Quick as a flash he raised the alarm. From his dream he knew where to search, and the companions ran, bleary eyed, into the forest in pursuit.
Lazarus saw a dark shape in the shadow of a tree and loosed an arrow. Running through the frosted ferns, they gathered around the tangle of roots where the arrow had landed. The frost was disturbed, as if some small animal had gone through death throws on the spot, and the arrow lay in the middle, its tip and shaft burned black. Scattered around were the various items that Helsceatha had purloined, with the help of the shadow servant, from Glayve’s cart. Helsceatha bent to pick them up, careful to recover each one.
They stepped out of the forest to see a barren land stretched out below them. Furrowed fields lay, white and silent under the frost. Far away in the mist the glint of lanterns marked a village. They met a young man on the road leading a donkey. He was cautious of anyone who would dare the Jewelspider road, especially at this time of year, but told them about the village of Hecund.
A festival would take place there in two days time, the Fey Lantern Feast. Banquet tables lined the forest edge in readiness. Before long, rich and poor from miles around would gather to feast, and perhaps be joined by the faerie folk themselves. Notaries would venture beyond the forest eaves with elaborate lanterns. Maidens would enter the forest bearing candles, there to learn the name of the man who would marry them. Of course, said the boy, no iron or steel would be welcome, for the faerie folk cannot bear its presence.
In the town, all was bustle. Young and old, rich and poor, were making ready. The streets were alive with the construction of elaborate lanterns for the festival. There was much honour to be gained by having the finest lantern, for only the best were likely to draw the faerie folk forth. Strange, brightly decorated masks were being made from wood pulp: long, gawping fish-heads, cattle muzzles, arched faerie faces.
The companions took refuge in a stable, as all the inns were full.
Lazarus decided to raise some funds by selling the strange, glowing globe that Silas had delivered from Glayve. Negotiations with a merchant were not to his liking. But word quickly spread of his wares. A carriage drew up on the cobbles outside the stable, and a liveried servant called the companions to the door. Lazarus stepped to the front, picking straw from his clothes. The item had drawn the attention of the haughty Lady Grey, eager to find an unusual bauble to light her festival lantern. Her offer seemed good to him, so he sold Silas’ globe too.
Silas was more concerned with the lady’s maid, and before long had negotiated a meeting with her. “This evening, at the back window of the old mill house, where my lady is guesting,” she hissed, and the carriage rolled away.