So as you may or may not have noticed, it has been several weeks since my last post. We’ve played almost every week since then, and a lot has happened. Although the original issue of John and the Coven (if that’s Greek to you, go back and read the last post on the campaign) is still very much at large, it is no longer the biggest issue–amazingly–for either Piter or myself.
You see, two weeks after the session I last posted about, Piter died.
And I don’t mean “died” in the heroic sense of going out in battle, saving people or doing something worth dying for. She killed herself. Straight up. Drew her own hunting knife from her belt, and slashed her own throat open. The rest of the party tried to save her, but alas. Piter has spent most of her life in the woods hunting and skinning things, and she knows exactly how to put something out of its misery with a quick slice of a blade. There was nothing they could do.
Understand too, this was not something I worked out in advance with my GM (or myself even). This was action taken that surprised him, I think, as much as everyone else, and action that I knew very well could result in the irrevocable loss of a character I dearly love and wanted to continue playing.
…Perhaps I should start from the beginning.
So, ANOTHER long story short (too late), the forest that is/was Piter’s home was burned to the ground by the human military, to kill an army of orcs who were hiding there in possible preparation for an invasion. Of course to the humans both in and out of the party, it’s just a bunch of trees. To Piter, as someone who grew up among those trees, is an elf, and is the *#&$*&# Avatar of the god of nature (whose name is Ilo–I tell you that so I don’t have to keep typing out “god of nature”), it was an abomination, and an utterly heartbreaking, soul-crushing event. (Especially since she has the Inferiority Complex derangement…yeah. This did not go well for her.)
That was the beginning of the end.
About a week later (following a horrific night of rioting, death, and the dead rising and murdering people in town–another long story), Piter was in the woods trying to assess damage and see what on Ilo’s green Earth she might be able to do to help. Well the day went well–although walking through the charred, blackened woods, seeing the corpses of all of the animals, orcs and possibly others did not put her in the best frame of mind either. Regardless, she settled down after dark to take a few hours meditative rest (Elf you know), and saw a flash of movement in front of her. Which was odd considering that there was nothing living within at least 20 miles give or take.
So she investigates right? As far as Piter can tell, it’s a little girl…and not just any little girl. Long story short again, but it appeared to be a little girl whose soul Piter had saved from a very nasty, very awful lich months before. The girl’s soul had been put into a ring for safekeeping, and Piter had carried this ring until a few days before this, when she began to hear the little girl (Claire was her name) crying, and a powerful wizard told her that something, or someone, was trying to rip the soul away. Piter, being the 4-empathy-having, child adoring elf that she is, was understandably panicked and (through another long series of events), the soul was eventually freed from the ring and put safely to rest. Except that, since Piter has no magic sense at all, all she saw was the ring suddenly crumble, and one of her friends tell her, “oh no, everything is fine now, the kid is safe.”
So once again, not a happy ranger. Especially now, when her, or visions of her, or WHATEVER, start appearing to her in the middle of the (#@$(@* dead and dessicated woods!
So what can Piter do but follow, right? If Claire is in trouble, she has to help. (An aside to say, I swear to god my GM is the most manipulative SOB of all time. He knows EXACTLY how to play both me and my character like a fiddle. And I love him for it.) So she follows. For hours she follows. And eventually, the visions seem to stop. So Piter stops, and looks around to get her bearings.
And realizes that she is lost.
The Elven ranger, who has spent most of her life in these woods, is somehow lost. And none of her skills are able to regain her bearing.
Aside from dealing with the lich and the fallout from that incident, this may be the most terrifying thing that has ever happened to Piter. So she climbs a tree, right, to get a look at the stars–certainly they can at least tell her the direction she needs to travel to get home.
Except that the stars are…wrong. It’s not that she can’t see them, it’s just that they are in no pattern that she has ever seen or can comprehend. It’s like the sky itself is sick, and arranged in crazed constellations.
Piter was nervous before. Now she is scared.
But she’s an elf, a 12-year military veteran with generous combat experience, and these woods are her home, her safe place. She does not lose her head. Not even when she sees a highly disturbing, childlike zombie-thing shambling silently under the tree she has climbed.
She has seen these things before–they are the things that were walking around in town during the riots the night before, killing people and…harvesting them. Well parts of them. Although they had to kill them all to protect people in the city, here there is no immediate threat. Perhaps she can follow this thing. Maybe it will even lead her back to its master. Only, when she comes down from the tree, it is nowhere to be found, nor is any sign of it. No tracks, no nothing.
Close to fearing for her life now, Piter draws the staff given to her by Ilo himself–it is a branch from the World Tree, 10,000 years old at least, and conjures a bow and magic set of bright white leather armor when she needs it. So she summons the bow and armor…but the bow turns to dust in her hands. The armor on her body is dark, twisted and rotted through, and she rips it off with a cry of disgust.
Piter is getting the feeling, more and more, that she is completely and irrevocably fucked. And I, as her player, am hard pressed to disagree, despite knowing that my GM would never simply kill me out of hand. Still, poor Piter is now properly scared out of her mind, with no way to defend herself–and apparently whatever she is facing is powerful enough to destroy, with nary a thought, the most powerful tool and symbol of her god. In the place where Ilo’s power should be greatest and the most irrefutable.
So, with few alternatives–not even the hope for eventual morning, now, since this thing’s power is apparently so great–Piter does the only thing a lost woodsman can do: she sits down. As she was taught on her first day of scouting practice by her father, at least if you aren’t moving, you aren’t getting more lost. So she sits, and closes her eyes, and works very hard to control her breathing. In spite of her fear, she knows that, if she panics, her life is almost certainly forfeit. If she can stay calm, there is a chance she might live. She steadfastly ignores the eerie sounds and shadows, and flashes out of the corner of her eyes around her. She meditates. She sleeps.
Some time later, how long she cannot be sure, she awakes. She is on her back. The first thing she sees is the sky, and literally laughs out loud in relief. The stars are back! They are themselves again! She can find her way home! Still laughing, she says a quick prayer of thanks to Ilo, rolls onto her side to sit up–
–and rolls right on top of the living corpse of Claire that has been lying beside her. The little girl tries to scream, but her mouth has been sewn shut, her eyes are wide with fear and pain and–
–Piter wakes up. Again. Under the same tree. She bolts to her feet this time, terrified of what might be next to her. A moment later she turns around (how can she not), but nothing is there. With not getting further lost now pretty much the last thing on her mind, Piter just goes. Anywhere but this place. She runs.
After she feels sufficiently distant, she stops. Tries to get her bearings, an idea of her location. Still can’t. She looks up.
The stars are no longer crazy. The stars are gone. Not covered by clouds or washed out by moonlight, gone. Nothing but inky blackness above. Piter sits down against a tree in despair. Vaguely, she wonders how it is she is able to see at all–although starlight provides plenty of illumination for her Elven eyes, no stars and no moon should leave her blind.
But she is not blind. Really, she only wishes she were.
And then, as Piter is trying to get ahold on what is left of her mind, the tree she is sitting against…moves. Not just moves, but crawls, as if suddenly covered in insects. Reflexively, Piter jumps to her feet. The tree is…a tree. She pulls a dryad’s staff (long story again) from her pack. This staff allows her, among other things, to communicate with plants. Perhaps the tree was trying to reach out to her? She places the staff against the tree and hears…nothing. But the buds growing on the staff wilt, and blacken and die. Feeling sick, she pulls the staff away, and turns back towards the forest. “What do you want?!” she screams, half mad with frustration and, now, fairly mortal terror.
A laugh echos through the woods. She knows that laugh. It is Baelphren, the lich they defeated. As she realizes this, she feels a cold finger run down her neck. She turns around, swinging a fist and wincing as she realizes that she is about to punch the tree that is right behind her–
–but she hits nothing but air. The tree is gone. So, in fact are all the trees behind her. The same blackness that seems to have engulfed the sky is crawling towards her from all sides. There is, literally, nowhere to go. She can only stand there as it approaches, and takes the ground under her feet, and then she falls.
She falls for a very, very long time. Ten minutes? Twenty? She neither knows nor cares. And as she falls, a small point of light appears under her. She is falling towards the light. She begins to smell fire. Burning flesh and brimstone. She knows this smell. She is falling, literally, into the pit of hell. There are no walls, no handholds, nothing she can possibly do to even slow herself. She screams as she plummets towards the bottom, and her body and soul are consumed by the fires of hell–
–and then Piter wakes up. Under the same tree. In the same part of the woods that, in her mind, she ran away from almost an hour ago. She no longer knows if this is real. She only knows (though it barely registers to her at this point), that the stars are once again pointing her way home. She follows them, and spends the rest of the night working her way through the woods and back towards the city. She arrives at the Northern Gate a little after sunrise. The sun makes her feel somewhat better. Although still shaken, the events of the night are beginning, slowly, to fade, like the memory of a bad dream.
As she enters the gate, she sees an old man. She knows this old man. It is Baelphren, the lich. And he is carrying a screaming child under his arm. He looks at Piter and smiles. She shrieks, throws herself backwards, and both the guards at the gate and the perfectly ordinary old man (who is, in fact, neither Baelphren nor carrying a child of any kind) give her a very odd look.
Piter gets to her feet, shaking abjectly, and makes her way into the city. Is this place real? Are the people real? Who knows? How can she tell? She doesn’t know. She only knows that there is one place–one–she can go that is safe. The Temple of Pelara, the sun goddess. Pelara and her paladins are powerful warriors against necromancy and the undead, and Piter’s closest friend (A PC, Ninat) leads them as their High Paladin. Surely, if there is any help, any hope, it will be found there.
Piter makes her way through the city to the East side where the temple and its followers are located. Although the concept of “happy” is impossible for her to grasp (did she ever feel that way?) the sight of the temple’s shining, golden dome and bright white marble walls makes her smile as she approaches the outer courtyard.
And then it is gone. Literally. Just like that, the Temple of Pelara just disappears.
Piter’s jaw drops and she blinks–and there it is, the Temple of Pelara in front of her, in all its glory.
Alas. This is one thing too many. Piter screams–anger, frustration, fear, all of it coming out in one long cry–and flings a rock at the temple. Then she sits down, in the middle of the street, closes her eyes tightly, and refuses to move. She, or perhaps the world, may be going insane, but they can’t make her watch it.
I’m going to break this up into two posts since this is so long. What will happen to Piter next? Is this insanity induced, or has her mind simply cracked after watching her home and church burned to the ground by the government she serves? And how on Earth does any of this relate to becoming a vampire? Tune in to part two of this post (which I am writing literally as soon as I post this, so you won’t have to wait long) to find out!