GM Jeff amerigoV
Life is developing into somewhat of a routine in the village of Ashton. Hollister, the nominal mayor and owner of the Fat Boar tavern, tends to most squabbles or need for ‘the word of authority’. Sir Maurice is finishing his fancy house in town and spends much of his time attempting to exert his own influence over the good people. He can often be found in the Fat Boar trying to convince Hollister to back him in whatever his latest plan for growing the village is.
A few days ago, a troupe of Vistani arrived at the village, setting up their colorful tents between the Gray Ranger’s Barn and the town itself. They were quite a spectacle with the truly amazing feats of acrobatics from the Flying Wandinis (an unfortunate family of midgets), the antics of the somberly painted ‘clowns’, the strong men, and the tent of the Fortune Teller, Madam Eva.
Kaval had been in Ashton long enough to settle into a routine with the rest of the squad. Without Kmon to cook, they’d been given to the tender culinary mercies of Widow Ellen and her daughter, Newt. Kaval wasn’t sure about the others, but he certainly thought that Widow Ellen was a pretty woman, widowed young. He caught himself being extra polite around her, but it felt awkward. He’d never had a woman to teach him how to behave any better than a soldier or a Gryphon Guardsman.
Eventually, all of the Gray Rangers were lured by curiosity to the Fortune Teller’s tent, asking questions about their lives and receiving flowery and confusing answers. Kaval didn’t waste time pondering it too much though at times, certain phrases ‘sprang’ to mind.
He was pondering one of the fortune teller’s remarks when Lou elbowed him into attentiveness.
“Gor, look at that kid!” she nodded to a Vistani teenager with a blue and red striped shirt who walked casually up behind Hollister and with a deft hand and knife snipped his coin purse from his belt.
Nearby, Mandikar saw that Sir Maurice had seen it too. Sir Maurice had been agitating for days for the Rangers to make these Vistani move on. ‘They’re distracting people from the task at hand. How are we going to attract a new caravanserai with this rabble everywhere…’
“Hey!” barked Kaval, pointing at the youth. “Come here!” He didn’t expect it to work, but he found it best to make guilt obvious by giving the accused a chance to flee. A quick grin played over his face as he remembered his favorite parts of being a Gryphon Guardsman: the respect of the law-abiding and the fear of the criminals. It was probably what attracted him to the Gray Rangers.
The youth bolted for the woods. The other Rangers were roused and ran in pursuit. Kaval whistled for Thane, mounting him easily in stride and thundering after the youth. He caught up with the others but could only go a little further ahead on horseback as the kid was smart enough to go through rough terrain and not the easy game paths.
Kaval slid from the mount with a quick ‘stay here’ to Thane. His foot caught in the stirrup, sending him lurching against a tree with a thud before dropping to the ground. Without pausing he ran after the youth.
Although the Rangers had made a point of exploring the Ash Woods, they didn’t know it like the local woodsmen did. They crashed through brambles, slid through streams that wandered to feed the nearby Tser River, hopped over or ran into the stones and boulders that littered the Woods.
They caught up with Rashid and Hargen who were standing near the river. They quietly pointed to another Vistani encampment on their side of the river, obviously where the youth had run to. Across the river was a low cliff on top of which were the ruins of a stone tower.
“Archanon’s Tower,” whispered Hargen. Legend said that the ruined tower had once belonged to Archanon and when he Ascended, it and many other towers that were his exploded. Kaval didn’t find much sense in that, but he didn’t truck with Ascended if he could help it.
Not wanting to lose their momentum and presumption of authority, Kaval led the others to the encampment. They were noticed quickly and a portly Vistani came out of his tent, all smiles.
“Can I offer you a drink, some food?” he offered easily. Kaval had heard that to some people it was an insult to refuse hospitality so he nodded. Lou, ever the more glib of tongue of their squad, stepped forward.
“We witnessed a crime perpetrated by a Vistani boy. We’ve followed him here.”
“Really? Can that be true? I hesitate to believe it,” feigned the portly man. “How can you be sure?” Lou proceeded to describe the event and the boy in great detail. The man’s face became resigned.
“Romo. That boy has had his troubles. I’ll go fetch the purse for you and we’ll just forget about the whole thing,” he said, hustling to one of the other tents.
The Rangers looked at each other. Although they’d been given guidelines about handling the worst the Wildlands could throw at them, the “Law” was left up to quite a bit of interpretation. The Vistani returned with the coin purse.
“No,” said Kaval instinctively. “He’ll give back the money, apologize to the Mayor, and do a day of work for the village tomorrow.” The Vistani seemed pained but Kaval’s hard look got him to nod in agreement.
The next day, the pickpocket arrives at dawn covered in bruises. The Vistani don’t tolerate failure well. Kaval took pity on the boy and set him to work doing things for the village that didn’t exactly require him to shovel shite.
The Vistani themselves realize that their time is done in Ashton. Over the day, they push to sell their last trinkets as the pull up stakes. Madam Eva is nowhere to be found and a woman of her gigantic size would be difficult to miss.
By dusk, the Vistani have left but not without a final crime.
“Newt is gone!!” wailed Widow Ellen, clinging to Kaval’s shirt. “We’ve looked everywhere!” The Rangers quickly decide to check the Vistani camp by the river, hopefully before the scum disappear entirely.
They ride the western road and turn up the little used side road that followed the Tser River into the woods. It wasn’t long before they were at the campsite. There were small fires around the campsite, enough to see that they were in the final stages of packing their tents into their brightly colored covered wagons. Up on the cliff across the river, there is the glow of a fire up at the ruined tower.
The Rangers move to act in pairs with Lou remaining with the Vistani who began to speak with them. Finding no sign of Newt in the camp, Kaval declares that he and Hargen will check the other side of the river, just to be sure.
“No need, I’m sure she couldn’t have gotten across the river. Not a small child as you say,” dissuaded the Vistani with increasing intensity.
“Well, that might be, if we hadn’t taught young Newt to swim last summer,” bluffed Kaval as he made to cross the ford in the river.
(Violence ensues ending with the Vistani lying unconscious or cowed into submission.)
Convinced that Newt is up on the cliff, Kaval takes to his faithful steed, Thane, and rides up the dangerous switchback trail along with Mandikar. At the top they see Vistani guarding the ruins and chanting coming from inside the ruins. Kaval is ready to ride in, sword swinging to try to disrupt whatever is going on, but Mandikar holds him back, counseling that they wait a few moments for the rest of the Rangers who are running up the track. Kaval agrees but with a small curse.
Reunited, Lou sneaks over to the ruins, deftly climbs the outer wall, and peers into the open space inside. What she sees curdles her soul. She flings a knife at some enemy and the others, horses safely tied up nearby, charge into the fray. Kaval and Hargen deal with the lookout while Mandikar pushes in further, dodging a cowardly attack from the shadows. Rashid gets to the wall and begins to rain down arrows on the Vistani thugs.
The scene inside the ruins is ghastly. Some sort of priest is lying upon the ground, Lou’s knife in his head but his mouth still moving emitting a ghoulish chant. Four young girls are standing around a swirling portal of Darkness, their small voices contributing to the chant.
Kaval disarms the lookout thug and with Hargen’s aid, strikes him down. Mandikar keeps two others at bay until Lou leaps from the top of the wall to take them both down. A bit more struggle and they too fall to the ground, dead. Kaval rushes forward and heaves the dead priest’s body into the portal, making it flash and throb but the chant continues and a form begins to take shape in the portal.
Lou’s sharp eyes spot movement in one of the areas of the tower that still has a roof. Kaval charges in followed by the others to find Madam Eva in her true form of a giant hideous serpent. She cackles and taunts them until they cut her down. Even dying she taunts them… “Stop the gate and you’ll kill the girls… you must let the gate open to save them. heh heh cough heh.”
Kaval runs out to the gate and moves to grab one of the girls, not trusting the words of an evil serpent creature. The other Rangers join him and as one, they pull the girls from the gate. The girls scream and fall limp, not breathing and the gate itself dissolved before the monstrosity on the other side can get through.
Kmon’s healing potion is able to save Newt’s life, but the other girls are dead.
Rashid slices off the head of Madam Eva as they begin the grim process of catching the remaining Vistani and bringing the dead back to Ashton. There are thoughts of cutting the vile Vistani down where they stand, but they agree that the town needs to feel justice is being done. They tie up the captured Vistani and march them back to town, the bodies of the girls across their horses and Newt held in Kaval’s arms.
Dugger: “Give him a cookie.”
Jo: “I’ve been ‘making cookies’ with these two guys.”
Dugger: “My turn to stir the butter!”
“Vistani all look alike.”
“It’s no fair. You’ve got a pair of ‘golden bennies’.” – Big Dog to Jo, glancing at her chest.
“We have spirit, yes we do. We have spirit, how ‘bout you?” – before a Spirit check.
“Number one rule of combat: Always protect the one with boobies!” – Dugger
“I thought the first rules was never get involved in a land war in Asia.” – G-$
“Well, yes, right. But the second rule is to always protect the one with boobies!” – Dugger
Jo: “Aw, I miss.”
Kramday: ”...but you have a gang-up bonus, right?”
Jo: “Oh yea, I hit!”
Jeff: “One benny to the rules lawyer.” (tossing one to kramday)
Jeff: “That’s your final action?”
G-$: “Yes, that’s my final action.”
Jo: “Damn, I’m out of bennies. Oh, hell…” (half-flashes the GM and Big Dog)
Jeff: (flips her a benny)
Big Dog: (flips her a benny too)