[The story so far]
Session 18 - Tortuous times
"Yes, but what if they don't talk?" persisted Jean, to nods from Aurelius. "I'm sure they will, if we ask them clearly and explain that they're working against Alathea, and that I'm a cleric of hers. They're bound to!" replied Dumnorix serenely. He paused. Frowned. Then went on quietly and casually, with a slight shrug, "And if not. Well. We'll just have to torture them a bit until they do."
Out in the vastness beyond this mortal plane, Alathea shifted uneasily and malignant beings laughed...
[We had two new players tonight. It hadn't started out that way, but they'd been asking to spectate for a while, to see what D&D (ok, we're using Swords & Wizardry, but whatever!) is like. Coincidentally, two of our regulars who play Tybalt and Montagne weren't able to make it, so they got drafted in. And a casual discussion of torture was their first experience. Um...]
The two captured Vespertines woke to find themselves bound to pillars in an underground storeroom. Actually, in two different rooms as the party had decided it would be easier to... persuade them to talk separately. Taking the lead ("It's my goddess' temple they've usurped!"), Dumnorix shouted at the first captive "Tell me your name!" No response. "Name!" The captive looked away. Furious, Dumnorix slapped him hard in the face but, aside from a grunt, the only reaction was a look of defiance. "My turn," said Aurelius stepping forward, staff held high. Instead of using his magic, however, he simply brought the butt of it straight down on the captive's foot, breaking something from the crunching sound and the shriek of pain.
"I can't be part of this," exclaimed Oiseau, cleric of Nikitas, "and you shouldn't either!" he accused Dumnorix who had the grace to look deeply uncomfortable despite his earlier comments. Oiseau stalked out of the room to guard the other prisoner.
Immoral or not, it had the desired effect. "Patrice! My name is Patrice!" shouted the captive Vespertine. The questions followed thick and fast; were all the Vespertines were inside the city, was the temple their headquarters, but as soon as they started to touch on plans or who was in charge, no sound escaped his lips. "He's charmed! He can't tell us what we want to know, dammit!" spat Montagne in disgust. "Erm, we could get him to nod or shake his head?" suggested Tybalt. This was seized on by the others but Patrice didn't seem keen, licking his lips nervously. Frustrated, Dumnorix took out his whistle and blew it as hard as possible in Patrice's ear to disorient him, but the captured Vespertine's cry of pain and subsequent wide-eyed staring showed the cleric had gone too far - the man had been deafened! In defence against the condemnation of the others (either for his methods or for ruining the questioning), Dumnorix suggested that breathing in and out couldn't possibly be covered by the charm and forced the whistle between Patrice's teeth.
Making sure his lips could be seen, he carefully enunciated "One blow for yes, two for no. Understand?" One blow on the whistle. "Jolly good. Now. Are all the Vespertines in Corcelle?" One blast on the whistle... but a strange black mark seemed to pulse on Patrice's neck. "Are you based at the temple?" One blast, but ragged, and black, tattoo-like tendrils started to creep up and across the man's face. "What is your goal?" "Don't be stupid, that's not a yes or no question!" "Look at him!" The tendrils had reached his eyes and temples and he was now choking, the whistling gasps reaching a grotesque crescendo before he slumped forward, the whistle dropping from between his teeth onto the cellar floor. He was dead.
Understandably more concerned about the summoning of Aractheon and the possible end of the world than one guard succumbing to the enchantments of his evil master, they dragged Patrice's body through into the other room and dropped it at the feet of his comrade. "Talk."
"Wait!" interjected Oiseau, "let me see if we can overcome the charm." While the others had been busy with Patrice, Oiseau had found that this guard (he hadn't asked the name - it was easier that way) was also prevented from speaking, despite Aurelius repeating his toe-crunching tactics. The cleric of Nikitas carefully slipped his own holy symbol over the neck of the unfortunate Vespertine and whispered a fervent prayer to his god. "Ok, try now."
"Are you based at the temple?"
"It worked!" "Well done, Oiseau!" "Shh, let's keep asking him stuff, we don't know how long this will work for"
"Are all the Vespertines in Corcelle?"
"Look at his hands! They're going a funny colour!" "Shh, he hasn't noticed"
"Where is Alaric?"
"Beneath the temple."
"Is he alive?"
"It's right up his arms now, they're going purple, and there's smoke rising from that necklace!"
"Are you working for Aractheon?" "Don't ask him that you idiot!" "By Nikitas, the necklace is burning!" "His arms are going black!" "Look at his eyes! The whites are going red!" "His face is swelling!" "Get back!"
The leather thong holding the symbol of Nikitas in place suddenly flash-burned to ash and a tide of black rushed up the Vespertine's face and his whole head exploded with the force of the broken charm, showering the room (and the interrogators!) with gore. Aurelius staggered and clasped his own head in pain as the broken magic battered him as it dissipated.
"I think I need to do some serious atoning," croaked a shaken Dumnorix.
Heading back into the busy tavern after splashing the worst off in the trough in the stableyard, Jacques looked up and raised an eyebrow. "I hope you didn't make a mess." "Um, sorry." "I'll add it to your tab."
Montagne, who had been keeping a table for the rest, as well as an eye out for Hugo Langfort, was beckoning them over. "Strange thing. About half a pint, erm, five minutes ago, those three youngsters with the funny coats and scruffy beards all gave a yelp and clutched their heads, and so did that old guy near the door."
Aurelius went to the youngsters. Magic students it turned out, rather dishevelled and nervous but quickly won over with an old spell book and a promise of revenge against the Vespertines; they'd round up some friends and be back before midnight. The old man was less reassuring. On learning what had caused the magical backlash he looked disgusted, stood, told them they were fools as "whoever set that charm will know exactly where his spell was broken", and stomped off into the night, leaving his ale... which Montagne surreptitiously polished off.
Hugo pushed past the departing mage as he came in and slumped down at the table, waiting until they'd told him what they'd discovered and how they'd discovered it, before speaking. He didn't look too impressed, but seemed accepting of it under the circumstances of the charms - they hadn't meant to kill them. "Right, I'm glad now that I got the Vespertines back off to the temple - told 'em a message had come - and the King's gate is shut for the night anyway, and held by my men. No-one's getting in behind us. You," he pointed at Montagne and Tybalt, "go off to Bertolac's and get some of his carts, we'll need to block the street off if they're really going to come after us. I'd hoped it wouldn't come to this but I saw those spider tattoos you mentioned on a couple of those false-Vespers earlier and started to get the word to those I trust. My duty is to defend the city, even against its own." He was speaking as much to himself as the party, a man acting treasonously in order to fulfill his oaths of loyalty. "I'll have some of my men in the square behind us from a couple of hours before midnight. I'll join them when I can. Now get those carts ready as soon as it's dark." He rose, held Jacques' gaze for a moment, and then was gone into the dusk.
After that it was a flurry of activity. Carts were fetched and, as soon as it was dark, drawn out into the street and piled all around with barrels and boxes, broken tools and whatever lumber was to hand. The Gryphon's ground floor shutters were bolted shut and reinforced on the inside, the regulars all lending a hand - Jacques' pub, Jacques' rules! A few watchmen and interested onlookers started to gather in the square behind the tavern, and the student mages showed up in ostentatiously wizardly robes, but only eight of them - no others had been brave enough to come.
Others had come, however. From the direction of the temple, a host of lit torches could be seen approaching.
"Vespertines!" came the cry from the lookout atop the Gryphon, and men rushed to the barricade. A command to clear the streets "in the name of Alathea" from the Vespertine captain was met with hoots of derision and suggestions of spider-related carnal behaviour. The response was a blast of sickly green flame which splashed across the front of the barricade but did no damage, followed by a few crossbow bolts from the Vespertines that showed they were slightly out of range. Tybalt's response was more successful and drew a despairing howl from the darkness. The defenders then threw bottles of oil to shatter on the road ahead of the barricade, and several began to hurl Black Jacques Specials [molotov cocktails] but the range was too great. Oiseau poured oil down the blade of his sword and lit it in outward sign of dedication to his god; he felt he needed it after his talisman had been destroyed during the questioning. Aurelius ran off down a side street to get alongside the Vespertines but all the doors he tried to gain access to a vantage point that overlooked their enemies were bolted, and climbing the walls proved beyond his skill.
Back on the barricade, the hurled Specials showed a group of Vespertines had crept forward without torches, keeping to the shadows in an attempt to take the defenders by surprise. Roaring a challenge, Montagne hurled first an open bottle of lamp oil at them, and then a street barrow that had a small brazier on it which they were using to light the Specials - the nearest Vespertine was first covered in oil, then ignited by the brazier. He blazed briefly but horribly. It didn't stop the others who soon caught up with and overhauled their late comrade; charging headlong into the barricade...
[I'm finally up to date with game reports - whoop! We should play out the climax on Wednesday evening, which will be the last session before the summer break. Wish them luck! Mwahahahah...]