Session Fifteen: The Lotus Downs
You ever been to the Lotus Downs? Beautiful little valley, not far from here. Quaint little village right in the middle. Used to be part of Meridia, but not anymore. Maybe it’s time to pay them an official visit before Duke Redborne decides to snap them up?
Travel is slow, the river is broad and many of the surrounding environs are still flooded after the previous month’s storms. The group has to stop and resupply several times in small villages and rural homesteads. At one point, Anabul finds that a curious monkey has made off with the few coins that he had managed to save up.
The Lotus Downs are the lowest point in the region, a bowl-shaped valley surrounded by rolling hills. The lowlands are wet but not swampy, full of clear-water ponds and rivers that are coated in flowering aquatic plants.
The village itself is fairly small, no more than two hundred people. Upon approaching, the group hears raised voices; a large man is yelling at one of his neighbors, threatening to report him to a group of Witch Hunters that has been operating in the area. Upon sighting the Daughters of Rojukan, the man mistakes them for said witch hunters and calls them over.
The man introduces himself as Mr. Dauterive, the local miller. He claims that the other man is a cultist of Moloch and has been sacrificing local children to his dark god, and that he won’t let him take his daughter, Safana.
Anabul quickly falls into the deception and plays along, pretending to be the inquisitor’s eunuch man servant, who is negotiating on his master (Liam’s) behalf. He agrees to question the suspect, and Mr. Dauterive encourages them to torture the truth out of him.
The other man invites them into his home and has his wife prepare biscuits and lemonade for them. He is well-dressed and mild-mannered man who goes by the name of Phineas, and works as the local tailor. Lucia questions him and finds that he was once apprenticed to the Starspools of Meridia.
He claims that people have been disappearing without a trace around town, most of them children, but a few adults as well, a member of the militia, a pair of wood-cutters, and several housewives. He assures the party that he knows nothing, and when asked who the first child to go missing was he tells them that it was Peregrine, the glass-blower’s son.
The group then goes to the glass-blower’s shop. Anabul stays behind to watch Phineas and snoop through his house, while Nightsong spends her time with the bees in a nearby apiary field.
They find Peregrine’s parents shoveling sand down by the river. They tell the party that their son went out to play one morning and never returned. Over the past two months many children have similarly disappeared without a trace, most while out playing in the fields, but also a few from their beds at night. The only children who remain in the village between the ages of weaning and puberty is old Widow Henderson’s bastard Chim.
Liam goes to find the town sheriff and discovers him sleeping on his office porch. When he is awakened, he is momentarily startled by armed strangers in town and goes for his whistle, but Liam calms him down. He introduces himself as Claude, the sheriff, mayor, town clerk, and owner of the only gun in town.
He claims to have done everything he can, but there is simply no evidence for him to move on. Liam asks why he doesn’t go from house to house or start interrogating the supposed cult members, and he says that he is trying to keep it calm, the last thing they need is the town turning upon itself or forming a lynch mob. Liam accuses him of being cold and complacent, and wonders what will happen to the town without children? The sheriff says that there will be more children, and the he is himself expecting two, one with his wife and the other with his mistress. Liam leaves in disgust.
The party regroups and Anabul presents his findings, a suspicious looking book which he can’t read. Lina is able to identify it as one of the lesser Keys of Solomon, a tome which details methods for both warding and binding demons.
That night, the Daughters of Rojukan have dinner at Mr. Dauterive’s house. The miller is pleased that they are investigating, but a little disappointed by their slow progress. The group asks how he knows Phineas is a devil worshipper, and he replies that it is just gossip, one of his wife’s friends claims that he tried to induct her into a cult; few things can stay secret in such a small town. When asked what the town’s priest had to say about the issue the miller says that the town hasn’t had a priest in almost twenty years, since the old church burned down with the preacher in it. He ruminates that it was right about the same time that Phineas traveled to Meridia for his apprenticeship, and that there could be some connection.
They sleep in the Miller’s barn that night, after they promise that they have no interest in his daughter. The next morning, they seek out Widow Henderson at the edge of town. She is an unpleasant woman in an ill kept house, with long orange hair going gray. When asked about her son, she says that he is an evil seed and constantly in trouble. He father was a handsome and well-dressed stranger from Meridia who seduced her with promises of wealth and life in the big city shortly after her husband passed away, and then left her with the rotten child. She doesn’t know where he is, and then asks the party for a handout to compensate her for her time. They leave.
They find Chim sitting on a fence overlooking the cemetery near the burned-out ruins of the church, claiming that it is the most interesting place in town. The cemetery itself is strange, with lumpy ground and broken tombstones. A single tree grows in the churchyard, toppling several headstones, and is of a species much larger than those native to the region. The mediums in the group can see the shadows of hanged men dangling from its branches.
When Chim is asked if he is sad that the other children are gone, he tells them that he is actually glad, that they were always mean to him, throwing rocks and making fun of his clothes, telling him that his mother was a witch and his father was the devil. The young man tries to keep his foul tongue in check, and when asked about why he stays in town he says that he is just taking care of his mom until she passes and he can make for the big city.
He doesn’t have any information on the disappearances, but when asked if there is anything interesting around town, he tells them about a really neat hole behind one of the hills.
The group hikes out into the hills and finds the hole. It is about ten inches in diameter, almost perfectly round, and too deep to measure. The group prods at it for a while but is unable to decipher its nature, and are about to leave when they hear a voice coming from it. At first, they think it might be one of the missing people, but it only sometimes seems to answer their questions, the rest of the time it merely spouts out cryptic and vaguely threatening nonsense. They soon realize it is their own words echoing back at them, albeit not in the same order that they were spoken.
The group then decides to check for more holes. They find that the region is crisscrossed with caves, but that most of the entrances have been collapsed some time ago. Liam spends the rest of the morning attempting to excavate one only to find that it is too difficult to explore without significant spelunking experience.
When the group returns to Mr. Dauterive’s house they ask about the Chim and the hole. He tells them that Chim isn’t as bad as people make out, and says that he occasionally even gives the boy handouts. He also knows of the hole by reputation, Dougan’s Hole, after an old inventor who used to run experiments on it, like hooking up a phonograph to it and getting messages from far away in time and space.
Liam decides to stop skulking around and demands to search Phineas’ house. Phineas reluctantly agrees, but at one point Liam notices the man hiding something from him and has Anabul recover it; a jeweled holy symbol that undoubtedly belongs to the fallen angel of wrath. Liam confronts him directly and Phineas refuses to budge, instead sending his wife to get the sheriff, while Liam sends Anabul to get the rest of the party.
When the sheriff sees the adventurers gathering outside of the tailor’s house, he sends his deputy to round up a posse incase the situation escalates. When Liam comes out to talk to the sheriff, Phineas locks himself inside. Claude attempts to talk Liam down, but Liam instead gives an impassioned speech and turns the majority of the town against him. He calls to his deputy to arrest Liam, but the young blonde man named Gareth steps aside. The sheriff curses the town and throws down his star, but keeps his gun and stomps away.
A moment later, a tall man in an expensive velvet robe walks out from the crowd, leaning on an ornate cane. He is an ugly man, with a pronounced unibrow, a flabby frame, and long curly hair that was once black, but his voice is rich and commanding. He takes Liam’s hand in a hairy handshake and introduces himself as Mr. Langstrom. He thanks the party for everything they have done in ferreting out the culprit and tells them that Phineas is released into their care.
Phineas tries to ask the town for support, but everyone he turns to simply looks away.
The group leaves with their prisoner and his wife, but once they are out of town, they tell him that they don’t think it’s over, and give him a change to talk in exchange for his freedom. He confesses that he was indeed the leader of a cult of Moloch, but they are a legitimate church. They help the community, and never sacrificed anything larger than a pig. In fact, their last prayer was for Moloch to watch over their town and bring their children back to them safe. He further says that Mr. Langstrom is happy to see him and the sheriff go, as he is the richest man in town will basically the run the place in their absence, especially without the church of Moloch paying off people’s debts to keep him from repossessing their land. He will be able to prey upon the populace like a wolf among sheep.
Phineas further chastises them as the real savages, persecuting legitimate folk religions in the name of unity. The would-be witch hunters demand he provide them with a list of names of his fellow cultists and then take Phineas back to Meridia, where they keep him under arrest at their family compound. When the Daughters of Rojukan return to the Lotus Downs, they enter the village under cover of darkness.
Liquade knocks on the miller’s door and is greeted with a meaty fist to her jaw. Liam interposes himself between Liquade and Mr. Dauterive, and the man pounds uselessly on his armor before falling into sobs and shouting that they broke their promise.
Lucia immediately intuits the situation and asks to see Safana’s room. There are no signs of a struggle, and she appears to have left willingly. Liquade tracks her path to a secluded willow grove near a lagoon. As she investigates the scene her pet bunyip slips beneath the surface and begins to hunt the local waterfowl.
Liquade is able to surmise that Safana snuck out to meet a boy, and that the two of them were dragged off. She is unable to follow the trail, but does see several signs of a struggle including gouges in a log that appear to have been made with a military pick and a print from a small clawed foot.
The next day, the group investigates the old burned out church where Phineas claimed to have held service. They do indeed find an altar and the remains of sacrificed livestock. They also find a strange cellar door. Anabul unlocks it and they see a long musty staircase descending from view. They travel down the narrow passage for a long time, far longer than the staircase could possibly be, until Anabul starts complaining about his allergies and says he won’t be able to make the return journey.
They make a mark in the wall and go down another fifty yards before returning. They find the mark where they left it, but after only a few hundred steps they emerge into the light. Lina and Kithicore are not able to detect any magic in the area.
Lina uses psychometry to get an impression of the area. She gets a vision of a man in the robes of a priest of Ares surrounded by concentric patterns composed of flower petals. He performs a ritual where he attempts to steal the fiery breath of a shadowy dragon and take it into himself. A moment later he bursts into flames and the fire spreads to the rest of the church, and a tall figure composed of wispy orange fire rises from his unworthy flesh, sees itself begin to burn out, and quickly races across the western sky.
The Daughters of Rojukan question some of the supposed cultists whose names were given to them by Phineas. They are reluctant to talk about first, but fear of exposure loosens their tongues and they corroborate the tailor’s story. When asked about the cellar, they say the group is very lucky. Normally it is only an old root cellar, but when the arch-devil is watching it stretches all the way down to Hell. They frequently prayed that Moloch would come up and bless them with his presence, but he never did.
They attempt to question Mr. Langstrom, and though the wealthy man is talkative not a lot comes out of the conversation, although they do grow a little suspicious when he excuses a monstrous yawn by claiming he was out conducting business late at night,
The group begins to despair as to ever finding the missing people. Mr. Dauterive invites them to the village pub to have a drink with the locals and relax. While there, he gets roaring drunk and congratulates Gareth on becoming the new sheriff, and tells him that he will have him as a son in law once Safana is found.
Despite being the subject of the toast, Gareth quickly finds a way to slip out when nobody is watching, and Lina follows. She pursues him quietly through the cornfields out on the edge of town before he gives her the slip. Lina seems lost, or perhaps cursed, as she passes the same scarecrow half a dozen times. Then she notices that each time she looks the scarecrow is a little closer, until eventually it is standing right beside her, and when she jerks back it nimbly leaps over the fence and moves to wrap its sticklike fingers around her throat. She manages to slip away and wreath herself in flames, which causes the golem to recoil. It then leaps backwards, bounding across the field with an impossibly tall gait, almost like a puppet on strings. Lina fires several bolts of flame after it as it disappears from sight.
The rest of the group soon notices Lina is gone and sets out after her. They are able to quickly locate her in the burning fields. As they approach, Liquade begins to choke on the smoke and has a fit of coughing and sneezing. Anabul hands her an elaborately monogrammed handkerchief. After she is breathing normally, she looks at it and sees, among other symbols, the family crest of the house of Redborne. When asked where he acquired such a thing Anabul claims that he got it from Dame Iolanthe.
They soon meet up with Lina and she tells them what happens. Liquade is able to track Gareth to an old dilapidated manor house on the hills at the edge of town, a place which the locals told them once belonged to the local governor when this village was still a vassal of Meridia.
They send Anabul inside and, in one large and drafty back room, he sees Gareth and three other young men from the village meeting with Mr. Langstrom. They appear to be performing some sort of ritual that looks to be as much a fraternity initiation as a religious rite, and overhears the name Skoll amongst their chanting.
Anabul reports his findings and the rest of the group bursts in, ready for anything. Mr. Langstrom mutters “Not now,” while the four younger men turn and make feral grins that eventually become so wide their heads split open to reveal the jaws of wild wolves within. A moment later, Mr. Langstrom sighs and joins them, his body bursting out of his clothes to reveal a massive salt and pepper colored wolf.
As the warriors prepare to do battle with the werewolves, Lina feels a tap on her shoulder and turns to see the scarecrow grinning at her. Liam moves quickly and bashes its head in with his hammer, sending straw flying, but the scarecrow’s only reaction is to hum the melody to “If I only had a brain,” before continuing the fight.
Puma rolls about on the floor with the werewolf that was Langstrom while Anabul and Lucia do battle with the cubs. It is a long fight, for their wounds heal almost as quickly as they are inflicted when struck by non-silver weapons, but their inexperience eventually allows the humans to strike killing blows, returning their surprised corpses to those of the men they once were.
After Lina manages to catch the scarecrow on fire and put an end to it for good, Liam turns to Langstrom and brings his hammer down upon the alpha’s head. As it recovers from the powerful blow, the rest of the warriors descend upon his prone form and cut it to pieces.
The group ransacks the mansion but finds no clues as to what the wolf pack was up to or where they might have taken the missing people, and Liquade says that their tracks didn’t match those found near the place where Safana disappeared. Anabul does, however, find a few valuable art objects to make off with.
In the lowest basement they find a heavily locked metal disk on the floor, which Anabul springs open. Shadows pour outwards in a solid mass like ink dropped in water. Then they begin to coalesce, phantasmal figures that grab at Lucia with icy claws. Weapons do nothings against the shades, and Liam works to put the heavy lid back in place, but the shadows fight him. Lina and Liquade find that the shadows are as resistant to their magic as they are to physical attacks, they have no spiritual presence at all, and instead Lina conjures a flaming blade for Lucia to defend herself with.
Once Liam manages to close the portal, Anabul locks it in place. Lucia is able to banish the darkness, the shades fading away as they reach for her and stroke her hair. She is left stiff and numb, her legs feeling as if they were deeply asleep, but she struggles on.
As the group returns to town, they hear the sound of crashing stone and screams, and they hurry as fast as they are able.
When the reach the village, they find a giant sinkhole has opened in the center of town and emerging from it is a warband of morlock raiders, hairy gray skinned humanoids with wide pallid eyes. They are busy capturing fleeing townspeople. Behind them is a massive Sarmatian, an enormous snail-like creature the size of a rhinoceros, with a slimy alligator like head and claws emerging from its armored shell. A fortified palisade has been built atop its back, and from within a half dozen morlocks launch sling bullets at anyone who escapes from the perimeter.
Lucia charges directly towards the great mollusk while Anabul and Liquide fire upon its riders. Puma and Liam work to chase down and subdue the morlock raiders and free their captives.
Anabul and Liquade are quickly knocked unconscious by heavy stones to their head and Puma falls back to guard their bodies. Lucia is able to slay most of the howdah’s inhabitants before the carnivorous slug brings its jaws down on her sword arm and takes her out of the fight.
Liam moves over to keep its attention while Lina works to defeat the monster, but its slimy bulk resists her fire. A tense few moments pass as Lina’s mana and Liam’s stamina grow shorter by the moment, but eventually she is able to harness the energy within her amulet to ignite the creature with balefire.
As their massive war-beast dies and fills the air with the stench of its burning flesh, the remaining morlock raiders lose their nerve and retreat back into their tunnel, leaving the town damaged but whole.
The heroes do what they can to help rebuild the town as they recuperate. At a town meeting they agree to talk their house into sending a company of soldiers and miners to garrison the town, protecting it from both the morlocks and Duke Redborne’s men. Hopefully they will even be able to give chase to the morlocks, destroying their camps in the region and potentially even rescuing some of their captives that still live in slavery below the earth.
On their way back to Meridia, the Daughters of Rojukan stop to resupply at a small trading town. While there they see a group of tough looking men tying a scared looking townsperson behind their horses, preparing to drag him behind them as they leave town.
Lina tells the men to stop, and they identify themselves as the Society of the Evil Eye, the self-same witch hunters that the people of Lotus Down had heard were in the area. She tries to intimidate them with fire, but the men claim that they know how to deal with sorceresses, and wouldn’t be opposed to giving the people a free demonstration of their skills.
Lucia asks what they are doing, and they claim that the man, Jessup, was a carpenter who offended the local fey by cutting down one of their sacred groves. He promised them five stones of platinum for their protection, and once they had dealt with the fair folk and returned for their payment, he confessed that he didn’t have the reward. Now, the witch-hunters plan to execute him in a brutal display of what happens to those who refuse to pay.
Lina is able to negotiate for the man’s life, paying the witch-hunters half of what he promised as well as a favor to be named later. When Jessup is freed, they tell him that under Meridian law he is now their slave, and he can start repaying his debt by helping repair the damage the morlocks inflicted on the Lotus Downs.
Upon returning to Meridia, the girls’ parents explain that they set Phineas free, that they can’t believe their children were impersonating church officials to take free men prisoner. Phineas has, presumably, returned to the employ of the Starspool clan.
Some days later, the party is sold a map which purports to lead Rojukan’s secret treasure. They find that it leads to Nightsong’s grove. When questioned, she says that she has no knowledge of any treasure and the group concludes that the nymph herself is the treasure. Upon questioning, she confirms that Rojukan was the friend she was talking about, and claims to have seen him within the past several weeks and that he will soon return.
Somewhere out there in the wild lands is a sword. A real sword. A weapon of unimaginable power that was ancient when the world was new.
You see them giant insects in your travels. Mean cusses, manargus I think they are called. They hide their hives well, but they are all over the backwoods. Used to be a lot more of them, or so they say. But I don't worry, because I know the trick to keeping safe. The simple household object that can kill them dead is... (the sailor passes out into his drink and cannot be revived).
Ever hear of a place called the Swinging Gorge? No? How about the Screaming Gorge? Same place. Terrible deep ravine, with an old bridge hanging over it. Back in the old days, 'fore your fathers time, the Dukes used to hold public executions there. Of course, one can't show that many people that kind of pain and terror and expect them murderer’s ghosts to just flit away. ‘Course its haunted. Why wouldn't it be?
This one turned out to be a lot more stressful than I anticipated. I intended this to be a fairly typical site-based adventure which was inspired by urban legends of the American Midwest, primarily those of the Skin-walker Ranch and Stull Kansas. The idea was for the players to explore the town, talk to the locals, kill some monsters, and then stop the Morlock incursion.
The players, however, decided that it was a murder mystery and were eager to "solve" the town, and grew increasingly frustrated when the answers weren't forthcoming. I actually got to the point where I had NPCs flat out telling them they should investigate the burned down church or the abandoned manor, only for the PCs to respond with "There's no time for that! We have a murder to solve!".
This was compounded by the fact that three of the five players had been up all night playing video games, and were both in a bad mood and periodically kept falling asleep at the table and missing important information!