Joining for this session were:
-Surprise guest star Phlox (https://whosemeasure.blogspot.com/), as Mockstarch the Pinecone Knight (Fighter)
-Oblidisideryptch (https://oblidisideryptch.blogspot.com/), as Sieur Alastair the Knight
-Renefor (https://falseidolstla.blogspot.com/) as Velasco the Heterodox Monk
The party, accompanied by their new friends of the pinecone knight garrison, make their way back to the tower uneventfully. They're invited in for drinks (fetched by the abrasive squire Fiberbiscuit & Mockstarch) and a meal of stewed vegetables and greasy, tangy beast-meats.
As they break bread they inquire to Captain Skybrush about ways to meet the King in the Pines, claiming to be foreign diplomats come to pay their respects for his wedding. Skybrush explains that he'd only ever met the King twice in his entire life, once when he was knighted and the second time when he was recognized for his skill at arms in a tournament. Mockbrush notes this was the same tournament won by the near-mythical Blackbriar Knight. He also notes that such a tournament is planned at the King's wedding.
Their chat is interrupted by an ungodly chatter from the basement, which renders the knight's awkwardly silent as they ignore it and wait for it to pass. After it does, Velasco presses the Captain for an explanation, reasoning that he wouldn't want to stay in a place with some inexplicable monstrosity. Captain Skybrush relents, and exposits that there's a legend that their world was not the first to occupy this land, but rather subducted another world beneath it, and that certain key locations (such as this very tower) were constructed by the King to seal the denizens of that buried world out of the light. In fact, the previous Captain of the garrison lost his position due to mismanagement of the seal, which Mockstarch recognizes as the basis for the old pinecone song "The Captain's Disgrace".
Thoroughly spooked, the party agrees to leave what's sealed sealed, and I realize that by the end of this campaign I will have enough unused dungeon material to kludge together a megadungeon. A pinecone knight named Irongall vehemently agrees with this course of action.
At this point a heated debate breaks out over party leadership. It turns
out that rather than being equals in brigandage, Alistair considered
the rest of them subordinate to himself, and issues an open challenge to
a duel to anyone who questioned that. Irongall states that he gladly
accepts this servitude. The challenge gets the iconoclastic Velasco
riled up, and despite the vast gulf in their combat experience he rises
to it. The garrison pulls furniture aside to set up an arena, and pick their favourites to cheer for.
The two meet fist-to-paw. Despite Velasco's luck and fury (and some truly unfortunate rolls on Alistair's part) the hedgehog is simply no match for a trained knight (something of a duelling specialist in the GLOG). A cauldron full of stew is tipped over in their melee, to everyone's disappointment. Velasco knocks some respect into Alistair, but in the end takes the L.
Mockstarch too takes her try at Alistair's challenge, this time choosing to cross blades with the knight. The poor pinecone is far outmatched and cloven from groin to shoulder, all but spilling her resinous guts on the floorboards. Brindle, be-shirted mouse and love interest of Velasco, thinks Alistair's even more of a psycho after this. By the will of the archons Velasco's monkish training is enough to stabilize Mockstarch before she bleeds out. As recompense, Alistair offers the almost-halved pinecone succor wherever and whenever they meet again.
|Mockstarch, colourized, courtesy of Phlox|
Thoroughly sobered by this turn of events, the party and the garrison move the table and chairs back to their positions to finish their dinner. Impressed by the seemingly-meek hedgehog's martial fervour, and beginning to believe there might something to this "religion" stuff, Greyboll (one of the knights) asks Velasco to lead them all in a prayer.
It was a bit after that when the conversation shifted to the topic of
pinecone biology & sociology, namely that no one, myself included,
had much idea what was up with all that. I assumed pinecones were hermaphroditic, and that gender would be more of an affectation for them, but apparently the cones are male and the seeds are female? Something like that. Also some debate on whether they're made of wood or more general vegetable matter. This will be the topic of an
Extra Materials post at some point, after extensive research.
After finishing up the party is lodged for the night, to rest and recuperate after the day's violence. In the morning they prepare to head out, gifted rations for the road, or river as the case may be. Alistair, not wanting his horse to become an alloygator's snack, leaves it with Captain Skybrush, who swears to take care of it as if it were his own noble mount. They wave their goodbyes and set out to follow the Countess's trail once again.
This trail leads them by a chainmail-clad python lounging in a tree, who they spot from far enough away to backtrack away from and circle around, though this costs them precious time. Eventually they arrive at an open lake, with a village of shoddy hovels on the far end, and a splinter of darkness blacker than night beyond it on the horizon. The party approaches its dock cautiously, and all but one of the strange fishermen on it retreat inland. The one who remains has no legs (or lower torso) to retreat with.
This fisherman greets them as "wholesomes", and introduces himself as a "lackie", one who's had a part of themself stolen by the Loggerhead. In further conversation the party learns that the Loggerhead does not only steal parts but trades them away as well, but what makes the monster choose one or the other is poorly understood. A famous example of the latter is apparently the Blackbriar Knight, who traded their mangled sword-arm for a strong and fresh one. The village is a place where lackies remain because they're too ashamed or damaged to go home, and it would be best for the party to go on their way.
They continue to the edge of the Severglaives, its rusty-red water appearing black in the shadow of the cliffs that now loomed before them. At their foot is a beach of ash and soaked sawdust. Sir Alistair surmises that the Countess must have sought out the Loggerhead's services, for whatever reason, and that following the trail into its desert might only lead them to their doom or dismemberment. The session ends here, with their next step uncertain.
What might the Countess have traded away, and what might she have gained in return? Will the seal in the tower hold forever? Could the next duel that Alistair fights be before the eyes of the King in the Pines? Find out next time, on Beyond the Bizarre Armoire!