CotH – Chapter Four: Defending the Faith

(Note: due to revisiting older locations and flashbacks to the contents of the 2014 Succession Crisis game being a considerably part of this session, old maps were reused for this session! Huzzah efficiency.)

Returning to the party of mercenaries; Arius, Kareese, Azmaranthe, John, and  Ukko made their way by carriage with the recovered Lady Lisandra. Seeking to return the lady to her home in Highchurch on their way to discover the truth about the Blue Army that attacked Barrelbog, they made with all due haste from Jones Landing to Kingsbridge. Along the way, however, a hard rain turned the road to mud and the carriage driver begged for the party to allow him to take the carriage to shelter in an abandoned manor home just off the road. Not wanting to risk a lamed horse, the party agreed and spent a few hours exploring the old castle while they waited for the rain to stop.

It had been picked over pretty well by looters and worn with age, but the party managed to discover a treasure in the basement: a strange mass of bent metal that had been untouched by the ages. Upon working together, they managed to reveal it as a holding mechanism for a Wand of Secrets. Upon using the wand, they also found a Father Token of the Tree inside a hidden wall nearby. Resolving that it was a useful tool, Kareese kept the wand. With the rain ending, the party continued their travels to Highchurch.

The party arrived at the top of the Lowenhill, a massive sloping hill that dominates the Heartlands. At the top of the hill lies the dense and sprawling city of Highchruch. Night has fallen. Few shops are open and Lisandra is desperate to return home. The party naturally decides to stop as a local general store and, after some enthusiastic shopping, corners a pair of street vagrants seeking out rumors of the goings-on of town.

The pair of young street urchins were more interested in hitting on Kareese and Azmaranthe than offering news, but with some persuasion shared that a disaster had struck the town some years ago, with the great castle on the south side of the hill, Faith’s Fortress, the ancestral home of House Baptiste, being sealed against the evils now dwelling within the halls. It’s said that none of House Baptiste blood remained alive in the city, with the only person (barely) keeping order being Lisandra’s Uncle, Lord William Murray-Baptiste. As a widower who married into the house, he could not claim the title, but has visibly done his best to keep order in the streets and has been spending himself into bankruptcy keeping the town guard funded, bread alms going, and keeping the various tasks needing to keep a sizable city operating on a funding that is shoestring at best.

Upon hearing of this ill turn, the party headed to Lord Murray-Baptiste’s home, the former Regalus Embassy of Highchurch, where she was greeted with both shock and adoration by distant relatives and the servants and guards that raised her. Lord Murray-Baptiste ushered the whole party to his dining hall, and listened to their story. Upon it’s completion, he offered the party any amount of gold and valuables to be had in his vault for the return of his daughter. At Arius’s suggestion, the party declined a reward for doing “what was right” with the exception of John Clonter who swiped a single gold coin along with a decorative signal horn for himself.

Kareese asked if Lord Murray-Baptiste would be able to provide a different kind of boon: helping her seek out the murderer of her husband. The only clue she had was his name: Tariq. Lord Murray-Baptiste did not know it himself, but swore he would use all of his contacts to seek out information where he could.

Lisandra asked her uncle about the rest of her family, and he paused in horror, eventually saying:

Lord Murray-Baptiste: “Oh, my dear. I thought… We thought you somehow survived but now I see you were taken before it happened… (he sighs)… The House of Baptiste… is no more. You are all that remain. It happened so quickly. One night. One force of soldiers. Faith Fortress, the ancient citadel of kings, was taken in the night. None survived. Those corpses within walk as the damned now, the source of their infernal state is lost to us. Many have tried to find the source of this curse, but none returned. We sealed the castle gates and gave up upon seeking restoration.

But now… I do not know how long it will last. The undercity in the Lowenhill has had reports of undead ravaging the deeper streets. Without the coffers of your family the city is slowly collapsing. I have done what I could, but at this rate I will not have the funds to keep the city solvent in just a few months, and without the Baptiste name none will allow me to collect taxes.

The darkness grows by the day. I have considered moving the household to the country. Whatever cursed item lies within, until it is taken care of there will be no peace for Highchurch.

And of course the Council of Nobles does nothing. NOTHING! Every plea we send falls of deaf ears. This wouldn’t have happened ten years ago. Even under the vile ones things at least were stable.”

The party discussed amongst themselves about who the shadowy force that took the castle could be, and wondered if it was the same group of people who took Barrelbog. They also searched their memory for any memory of a Boarhardt contract on the castle and could not remember seeing one. Upon inquiring about “the Vile Ones” the Lord Murray-Baptiste offered:

Lord Murray Baptiste: “The vile ones? Lady Blackbriar of Tainstville was once the chair of the council. At her right hand was Vincent DuBious, master of coin- more like master of grift. At her left was an even worse villain, Arden of Adaire as the spymaster general.

Until his death we all lived in fear of assassination, of course that kept the houses in some degree of cooperation, but still. Did you know he once tried to kill the late Princess Enzia? Right in this room. At the time this hall was converted to an emergency hospital after the sacking of Kingsbridge. She would tend to the soldiers day by day, until one day that Yentz villain Arden tried to kill her. His aim was terrible, of course, and he was driven off. But it was a close thing.

Ah, well… bastard finally got what was coming to him. Arden was murdered quite effectively. Some house or other blew up his carriage on parade street in the capital. They found scraps of him all over the streets it’s said. Soon after Vincent stepped down from the council to focus on his business. And Lady Blackbriar, well she’s finally getting whats coming to her with this Taintsville affair going on right now. Ah well.”

Asking for some time alone with his niece, the party retired for the evening in the chambers provided for them, with Arius deciding that he would keep watch outside the door “just to be safe.” As they slept, John Clonter had a memory of the events just after the sacking of Kingsbridge. John lay injured in the Regalus Embassy, in a full body casket, watching the events of the Succession Crisis game unfold from a different perspective. He remembered seeing Princess Enzia in the field hospital, but not as a nurse as was previously reported. Instead she was in one of the beds, with a doctor listening to her abdomen, clearly showing the early signs of pregnancy. Arden made his way through the hall, pulled his gun, but upon seeing Enzia paused. Their eyes met, and he slowly aimed and shot into the wall before staring at her and rocketing out the window. John recalled his dream to the others and Azmaranthe once again asked how long she had been trapped in the Faewild as that event was only a few months ago by her reckoning.

As they considered the dream, Lisandra came into their bedroom and asked them a great favor. She had been crying, but now had a determined look on her face. With the troubles of her people and her house weighing heavy upon her shoulders, she begged the party to do a great favor for her.

She wanted them to lift the curse on Faith’s Fortress so that her and her uncle could reclaim the wealth of her family to keep the city running and prevent further damage to Highchurch. The party could claim any artifacts or treasures they could carry, so long as the curse was lifted. She also sought some physical proof of death of her family members: Her mother, father, and brother Argyle Baptiste. The party promised to see her task done immediately, and before night lifted found themselves infiltrating Faith’s Fortress.

Stepping lightly as they passed under the ancient murder holes of the castle, the party entered the courtyard to find it beginning to show the wear of age. In the stables a single stallion lay rotting, its corpse feeding various small insects. An abandoned shrine to Alethia stood solemnly in the corner of the courtyard, slowly being consumed by creeping vines. A flock of crows were feasting upon a dead servant on the far side of the courtyard, and trying to shoe them away Ukko and John provoked a battle with a swarm of ravens

John: I thought you said crows! I THOUGHT YOU SAID CROOOOWS!

In fighting the ravens, Azmaranth managed to nudge the body of a dead knight in the courtyard, which roused, grabbed a nearby lance, and threw her out of the way as he sprinted across the courtyard to the dead horse with a clearly sinister purpose. Seeing the writing on the wall, Kareese and Arius intercepted and dispatched the knight. The party found a key upon the dead servant and Ukko began his grim purpose in beheading every undead corpse they found in the castle to prevent them from rising again.

With the doors out of the courtyard almost entirely barred or locked, the party made their way south into the throne room where they found the corpse of Lord Baptiste, slain in his throne with not even time to spare to stand. In his chest was an evil rapier, thrust straight through his heart, pinning him to this throne. Around him lay his retainers and corpses of invaders, all dead and rotting. Arius tried to removed the blade from the lord out of respect, and threw the blade away as he could feel it’s terrible taint seep into his hand. As he did, a number of vengeful ghosts attacked the party and were soon defeated.

Ukko, seeing power, tried to use the blade to defeat their enemies and felt it sap his energy, slowly exhausting him. Kareese realized they could not bear to carry it long for fear of the curse’s taint decided to try and break the spell right then and there. She made a great attempt, but the sword was too strong. Taking a deep breath, and concentrating with great resolve, she managed to sever the curse on her second attempt and caused the curse, and the blade, to dissolve into nothingness.

As she did this, the party found a statue with it’s hand outstretched, a octogonal depression in the hand indicating that someone once stood here. The party pondered this while Azmaranthe explained to John what an octagon was.

Exploring the eastern hallway, the party followed broken down doors to the stairs down to the castle dungeons. Leaving that for later, they ended up in a broom closet where they found two potions described as such:

  • Mystery Potion One: The red in the potion’s liquid continuously contracts to a tiny bead and then expands to color the clear liquid around it. Shaking the bottle fails to interrupt this process.
  • Mystery Potion Two: One shifts colors seemingly at random and glows very faintly. It smells of various pleasant smells that change with the color.

The party then found a gallery of treasures, and each took one. Over the course of the evening they completed tasks throughout the dungeon to restore these treasures to their true potential, eventually ending up with:

  • Ghostly Lute: This magical lute may be played as a ranged spell attack action each turn. Make a ranged spell attack against the target. On a hit, the target takes 1d8 sonic damage plus your charisma modifier. On critical hit, the target is knocked prone and becomes stunned for one round.
  • Staff of Wonders +1: This magical quarterstaff +1 also serves as Wand of Wonders with infinite casting amounts. Upon critical hit it has a 1d10 (on critical) chance to cause transform the target into something entirely different. May not work on some enemies.
  • Obsidian Warhammer +1: This warhammer +1 is incredibly heavy and sturdy. Upon critical hit it has a 1d10 (on critical) chance to cause the target to become petrified as an obsidian statue. May not work on some enemies.
  • Heartwood Longbow & Quiver +1: A longbox +1, magical. Will return the arrows fired to their quiver. The critical range of this bow is 19-20, regardless of abilities or class benefits.
  • Greatsword of the Conqueror +1: This +1 greatsword deals an extra 1d4 radiant damage on hit and glows with a faint light (30ft).
  • Blessed Gauntlets of Alethia +1: +1 to unarmed. +1 AC. Magical Weapons. Once per long rest may be used to make an unarmed attack to silence a creature upon successful hit (creature may not cast spells and loses all magical effects upon them until end of combat).

The party found the castle reliquary and within found a ghostly priestess, her features obscured by her misty form. The party attempted to speak with her, but for some reason she was unable to make sound. Instead, she pantomimed some complicated language and then pointed repeatedly towards the statue at the back of the throne room before making a pantomime of a crown with her hands above her head. The party assured her they would look into the matter and the ghost seemed contented.

Exploring through the western wing of the castle, the party found a hall of paintings of ancient Ovidian Kings which they largely ignored, for they were not art lovers. They found the ghost of a servant girl who had lost her cat, and a dining hall where Kareese challenged a bard to the best lute-off in history while the rest of the party served tables. They also attempted to squeeze through a serving window in the kitchen to a bar beyond, because walking around was not an option they wanted to pursue, and inside found the ends of a battle. Tables had been made into a barricade where the last defenders of the castle made their stand. As they were slain, the last living had written a note in blood upon the floor saying that the attackers had spared Argyle and taken them with them to the castle dungeons. Soon after reading this the party was attacked by a rush of zombies which two quick fireballs put an end to. They did find one attacker’s corpse had an insignia of the blue army on its chest, and they grew worried about what they might find in the basement.

Exploring the northwest wing, they found Lisandra’s diary and swiped some of her clothes for Azmaranthe and Kareese. Each found a dress that fit them and would look smashing at a noblewoman’s party. Ukko took a bath with Mr. Sparkles, the duck of cleanliness. Arius and John debated literary theory while they waited for the others.

With the rest of the castle locked to them, they made their way downstairs to the Castle Catacombs.

In the initial chamber they found Argyle’s corpse. He had been ill treated, with scars and cuts all across his body. He appeared to have crawled from the hall to the south were bright flame spouts blocked the path. His clothes were singed and burned and a trail of long dried blood followed him. In his hand they found a letter:

They took us quickly. We invited them in, and why not. The Lord’s Council Army. Our army. But without delay their captain, a Horn Helmed Knight, stabbed my father and laid waste to our retainers. I alone was spared. They wanted the crown. I promised to tell them how to find it. It was hidden in the tombs. They never expected my trap. The ancient traps still worked, great craftsmanship those. But it was not enough. Mother is safe I hope, But they remain somewhere inside the catacombs. I can only hope they will remain there forever. My time is short. The crown is here. If you find this and are a friend to the House Baptiste please! Warn everyone you can. The Council has fallen, and they will kill us all for their own ambitions. My sister…

On his person they found a key to the blocked halls on the upper floors, and retracing their steps found Argyle’s notes on how to disable the flame spouts. While exploring the northeast wing of the castle, they also found the castle brewery where John Clonter solved a riddle, found the missing servant girl’s cat about to be eaten by mastiffs which was resolved to the favor of all thanks to Arius and his quick use of dogfood and animal speech. Arius gained a friend as well, his own personal housecat, which started traveling on his shoulder.

They also found the castle library and Lord Baptiste’s desk, upon which were three letters. First, one from the Boarhardt guild on official stationery:

Hammond, my old friend!

I have missed you so these last two years. I know your daughter’s loss weighs heavily upon your mind. I have sent many to seek where she was spirited off to, but so far I regret to inform you that none of my Guildsmen have been successful so far. Do not despair! If she is on this plane of existence, the Boarhardt Guild will one day find her and bring her to you.

There is another matter I regretfully must bring forth. Rumors are circulating that you have the Crown of the Heartlands. Such a relic is causing many parties worry. Surely some of the nobility will seek it for their own gain. The best option is to hold it in surety against any single nobleman gaining it to make a claim for the throne.

The only force in this nation we can trust is the Boarhardt Guild, if only because we are the only faction with no ability to claim the throne. Please see reason.

Your dearest friend,

Waverley Boarhardt

Lady Commander of the Boarhadrt Guild

Defender of the Realm

The party discussed the letter at length and realized they had never seen a contract looking for Lisandra and, by all accounts, should have given their proximity to Waverley.

Ukko sighed heavily and asked aloud “Waverley… what are you doing?”

They also found a short letter written with a reddish ink:

Lord Baptiste,

I demand the immediate return of the Crown of the Heartlands to the last remaining royal heir. As the only surviving member of royal blood, and indeed the only person with the true blood of the Kinemos Regalum line, the crown should remain in my possession. I trust you will return it to Taintsville immediately.

Now is not the time to dwell on the failed line of Worlen. We must return Ovid to the monarchy that it was born to serve under.

-Lady Morgaine Blackbriar

Queen of Ovid

Dark Lady of Taintsville

Steward of the Lockwood

Reflecting upon the newspapers they found in town concerning the Seige of Taintsville, they wonder to what end the Lord’s Council is seeking. Finally, they found a letter written in a rough hand, as if in a great hurry:

My Lord Baptiste,

I write to warn you that our plans have come undone. I will seek to flee Kingsbridge this eve, but should I not make it I trust this Mailbot will do so in my place. The Crown of the Heartlands must not fall into the hands of our enemy. His agents are everywhere now. I trust not even my own allies at court. My spies are going dark one by one across the realm. And… and…

The children, my friend. They are finding the children.

Move the crown to a place of safety. I do not expect they know of your relationship in our plans, few would suspect our unlikely alliance. But we must move quickly.

I will be in touch soon.

-Lord Arden Gearston-Mills

Baron of Adaire

Grand Baron of the Adairian Hills

Lord Spymaster of the Kingdom of Ovid

The party reflected that Lord Murray-Baptiste stated that Lord Arden was killed, blown up in his carriage as he tried to leave the city.

Azmaranthe wondered “yeah, but was it Arden in the carriage or some other scapegoat?”

With more questions than answers, and wondering why so many people were seeking the crown, the party returned with Argyle’s notes to the catacombs and made their way through the various traps he enabled on the floor. They eventually came to a deep tomb guarded by undead knights. It was the tomb of the early kings of the Worlen line of Ovidian Kings. With some quick talking by Kareese, they entered the tomb only to find out that they needed to know the titles of the ancient kings in order to be able to enter their tombs. If only they paid attention to the paintings in the hall.

Well, with the castle mostly cleared backtracking with pretty quick. Moments later they found themselves looting the tombs of the 5th through 10th kings of Ovid, with Arius gaining a pretty epic royal cloak and the sword of Cinemus Regalus XI. The party also found the Pendant of Horrors used by Worlen the Accidental, though they noted his tomb was empty. They also found ancient blueprints to the Kingsbridge underground which might offer a secret way through the city.

Passing through the last of the traps, they found the remains of the Lord’s Council army mostly dead, with the only survivors of traps and starvation being a pair of walking gun-constructs that nearly killed Arius. With the help of his new cat, the party survived and found the octogonal key needed to enter the secret vault in the throne room.

Inside they found Lisandra’s mother, along with a half dozen servants, having taken shelter in the safe room. Without sufficient food, and with no way out, they all slowly starved to death. Inside they also found the Crown of the Heartlands, the royal crown of the Ovidian Kings. Arius was selected to be the safecard the crown given his noble nature and sweet new Ovidian loot. The crown granted him a minor grace as he carried it, increasing a single ability score by one. As they left the ghostly priestess appeared, solidifying into the image of Princess Enzia. She pointed at the crown, then pointed at her heart, and made a pleading motion. The party promised to bring the crown to those she loved and she smiled at them, and then vanished.

Making their way out, the party opened a vault with a key they found in the safe room and found the royal treasury. They took as much as they could carry for themselves and noted its location to let Lisandra know what was left of her family fortune (which was in the many tens of thousands of gold).
Returning to Lord Murray-Baptiste’s manor, they shared the outcome of the curse along with confirmation of the deaths of Lisandra’s family and, though grim, she was grateful for their efforts. Lord Murray-Baptiste expressed that with the hardships they had faced and the amount of people seeking it, the Crown of the Heartlands could not stay in Highchurch. The party decided to take Lord Murray-Baptiste’s advice and take the crown to Lady Artimage of Carillon, as she was the only noblewoman in the nation with no ability to take the crown for herself given her nature as a revenant. Along the way they decided to continue with their plan to investigate Crownbridge for the Lord’s Army and then use the blueprints to seek a secret passage under the capital on their way to Carillon.

Continue to: Chapter Five: Music in the Mists.