Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Aqueduct : Shadows of Esteren

12/13/2012
The Aqueduct

Shadows of Esteren

Ran a one-shot Shadows of Esteren game for my office mates with three players joining the fun.  Richard asked to try a fantasy game and after narrowing it down to something with a gothic horror feel, I felt Shadows of Esteren was the perfect game to try.  Ever since Mahar and Erich introduced me to the game, I've been wanting a chance to take a stab at running it.  Thankfully, that day came on Friday the 13th of December.


The Cast
Azaz, a Demorthen who lives in the outskirts of Celementine's Valley.   He lived alone, ever since his home and family were razed by what Azaz believed to be the spirits angered by his actions.  He had the Stones of Animal and Fire.  He had a sixth sense on things and was nimble.   Played by Richard.

Sklaer, a Mercenary from a small town. Though he was among those considered noble in his home town, he had become poor for reasons he rather not mention.  He knew Survival and Fighting Arts: two weapons. Played by Ryan.

Tor, a young soon-to-be Varigal who was about to be given his first task by the Chapter House to prove his readiness.  He had fighting arts: Archery, Good sight: Hawkeye, and was Quick.  Played by Jigs.


*

The scene opens in the small city of Ingress where Viktor, an old and experienced investigator, is at the Chapter House.  He had requested for a varigal guide and Tor would happen to be the one available for the job.  Though uncertain if the young man is ready for the job, Viktor sees the fire of enthusiasm within and decides to accept it.   Viktor shares that he had been called to help out as something seems to be attacking people in the darkness of nightfall in Clementine's Valley.   As he adjusts his monocle, the old man gives Tor some funds to purchase the needed equipment for the trip to the Valley, which was to take a few hours down the path at the Southern Woods.  "Are you the son of the Varigal Degor?" Viktor asked to which Tor confirmed, "Yes."  "Then you should do well."

They sadly, would find themselves a few hours later lost in the woods, with Tor admitting soon that he had practiced more his archery skills than his wilderness lore.  The two eventually find the path again and hear the sounds of commotion within.

*

It stood like a bear, towering at nine-feet tall, with a black coat of spindly protrusions extending from its body.  Its six limbs were muscular and jagged.  And its head was like that of a fleshy mantis, with black orb eyes that reflected the faces of those it killed.

What bothered Sklaer as he ran towards the thing to strike it with his short spear, was the utter silence of the scene.  Even with the people running away in terror, and the village militia struggling to overcome the fear that forced them to the ground,  and the poor victims that were crumpling into ripped apart pieces around it, not a single wide-open maw made a sound.

It was almost as if the thing swallowed the screams.

The thing moved, and Sklaer leapt to dodge but he moved too slow.  He crashed to the ground slightly bruised from the impact.  Then the fire came.

And the noises.

The demorthen wreathed the flames around his extended hand, the tongues dancing from a small stone in his palm.  Azaz muttered quite plainly, "The thing hates fire," and though they had never met before he and the mercenary moved to flank the thing between them.

The thing rips itself into two, revealing insectile forms that hid beneath the flesh and fur.

Both Azaz and Sklaer struggle to mentally take that moment in.

*

"An Obos," Viktor mutters as he and the 17-year old Varigal come across a thing dead in the forest.  The investigator studies the markings.  "Obos are infestors.  They enter their hosts and live within them.  But these things take time to breed.  I am tired from the walking.  Can you carry me the rest of the way?  We must hurry to the Valley."

Tor picks him up, carries him, and the two quickly make their way to the valley where sounds of metal can be heard.

*

The Demorthen tries to confuse the thing, throwing fire at its face.  The thing moves to strike when an arrow flies through the air and kills it.  Azaz turns to see a young man with an old investigator by the gates of the town.  He holds a bow in his hands.

The arrow that was launched has killed the obos.

As Sklaer searches the corpses for anything that would be of value, the town's mayor comes to the group to thank them, with a magience weapon in her hands.

"Clementine," Azaz mutters.  Viktor smiles at the old woman with the weapon and its quickly clear to them all that they know each other.  "You can stay at the Nearby Inn," Clementine tells them, but then turns to the mercenary, "And you?"

"He works for me," Viktor interrupts to their surprise.  "We will need an additional hand with weapons to deal with this issue.  I will pay you."  Sklaer agrees, happy to hear there will be money involved.

"Being mayor is no joke," Clementine snarls at Viktor.  "Be glad this isn't your job."

*

At the Nearby Inn, the voluptuous redhead owner named Mosel welcomes them and shows them their rooms.  Azaz leaves to speak with the mayor who doesn't seem to happy to see him come visit.  "I never trusted your kind," she growls but he counters, "You need me."  She hands him some money to pay the group.  Reminds them to settle this as quickly as possible.

The group opts to rest for the night.

*

Morning comes and Viktor surprises them all to already be awake by the time they gather for breakfast.   Viktor had gone around to gather information and has learned that some obos nests were found in the vineyards.  Tiny nests.  Not the kind that would have grown larger mature ones like those that inhabited the bear.

"The vineyards are cleared out leaving only one possible place they may be hiding in." The group stare at Viktor as he explains, "The aqueduct.  The valley has an aqueduct to help them maintain their vineyards.  I suspect there is a nest in there."

The group finishes breakfast and prepares for the spelunking.  Tor quietly counts his arrows and worries if he is truly ready for this.

*

The tunnel they take is filled with water.   As the water continues to rise as they get deeper and deeper, some of them slip and struggle to keep their balance.  Viktor tells them the tunnel should end at a junction room which would most likely be where the nest is hidden.  "What we have to truly worry about is there probably is a queen there.  Obos cannot breed on their own.  They need a queen that should be laying eggs."  The others shudder at the thought.

The junction room is at least ninety feet deep.  The group emerges at the bottom and sees the two metal ladders at the opposite ends that allow one access to the many other pipes in the chamber.  Some pipes leak water, while others seem dry and sealed.  Viktor moves to a slightly raised area and starts pulling out things from his kit.  The others watch as the devices lock into place and slowly become what look like the framework of a tiny shanty.  "I will prepare the means to cleanse the aqueduct here.  The rest of you find the queen and the nests.  They are likely to be at the levels above."

The three stare at the two ladders.  And they unanimously agree to stick to one ladder.

Two flights up, they start to find pipes that are covered with web like filaments.  Cocoon like prisons.  "Nests," Tor mumbles.  Sklaer starts ripping part of his clothes to prepare a makeshift torch with one of his short spears.  Tor ignites an arrow from Azaz' lantern, reminding the others, "These things dislike fire."

"There," Tor spots the pipe with the excess filaments.  The group wonders what to do next.  Tor let's fly an arrow into the pipe.  And the chamber is suddenly arush with obos flying out!

"The mother is in there!" Viktor calls out!  "Good find!  Now just buy me time to prepare the device!"

The things are legion, flying like a swarm of swords!   All three struggle to keep the terror at bay as the things swirl closer and closer.  Only the mercenary's burning spear keeps the things at bay.   Tor's eyes follow the pipe and sees a lower junction of the pipe that lead to it.  "We fill it with oil.  We burn it out," Tor suggests.

Deciding its the best thing to do, Azaz first crawls to the lower pipe and pitches an oil pint inside.  Then he heads back up and throws a second pint of oil into the pipe.  Tor launches a second arrow to ignite it.  The explosion flares out from both ends, with Sklaer being thrown to the floor by the blowback, unconscious!

The mother emerges.  The queen of the obos.  A massive engorged thing of fire and cracking parts.  It screams in anger and swallows the sounds away.  Tor is forced to sling his bow back and starts dragging the unconscious mercenary with him.  Azaz struggles to keep things at bay with his fire.

But the obos are relentless and eventually some break through the flames and rip at them. Tor suffers multiple wounds, with his condition quickly getting critical.  Even Azaz starts taking injuries that are quite bad.  Sklaer wakes up in time to help defend them as they retreat back to Viktor.  Thankfully, it was enough time to get the magience device running.

The shanty activates and unleashes a fan of oil sprayed out from the shanty like a fountain.  Small sparks from lighters ignite the oil and a burning wall of flame rises to block the obos from reaching the group.  They struggle back into the pipes to make their escape.

*

The town cheers as they emerge, seeing them alive is hint enough for them to believe that it means they were victorious.  "Too old," Viktor mutters to the group, "The queen was too old.  It was a few generations old.  Something or someone must have let them grow."   Azaz catches a woman in the crowd who isn't cheering.  He recalls her when the "bear" attacked, and recalled how she seemed to be wanting to rush forward to the scene of the attack.  Like someone wanting to rush towards a loved one.  Sklaer notices the woman as well and separates from the group, making his way to a nearby building to clamber up and try to find the woman.

As Clementine comes forward to congratulate them, the unexpected thing occurs.  Azaz launches a crossbow bolt into her chest!  While everyone stares stunned at what happened, Tor pulls away into the crowd, not wanting to be associated with the demorthen.  He doesn't know why he'd do that, but he does know he's done his job.  As far as he's concerned, he's hurrying back home to Ingress to get away from this crazy place.

Sklaer hears the crowds panic and struggle to make sense of what just happened.  He decides to hide and waits for nightfall to escape.  Azaz uses the distraction to leave, and Viktor is left behind, holding the dying Clementine and with tears in his eyes, whispers to her to rest and that everything will be okay.  She dies in his arms.

*

Days pass.

Tor, now a varigal, still has sleepless nights when she recalls the odd events at Clementine's Valley.  

Sklaer stole away during the cover of night and never looked back.  He still wonders who the other woman was and will never grasp why Azaz had chosen to murder Clementine.  He never mentions his trip to Clementine's Valley ever again to anyone.

Azaz finds himself surprised to find Viktor finding his home at the outskirts, and the old man learns that Azaz mistook Clementine to be behind the nests.  Viktor tells him that he understands and that the town is now safe.  "You are welcome to return," Viktor tells him, "And as mayor I can pardon you of what happened."  Azaz tells him he will consider it.

And in the cover of darkness, a woman visits the new mayor of Clementine's Valley.  Viktor smiles as the woman leans close, kisses him on the cheek, and tells him, "Our babies were a success.  The obos can be bred to protect our valley.  All we have to do is prepare a new batch in the future."

Viktor smiles.
It is good to be mayor, after all.
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