Session3: Rennet’s Cove

The party arrives at Baron Rennet’s manor on the outskirts of the small coastal town that bears his family name, Rennet’s Cove. It is mid-afternoon. The party is received by Rennet’s guards and attendants. Captain Darus, head of the town guard, has just returned from whatever troubles had occupied him and his men for the previous several days. He looks weary and a bruised. But he hears their story and takes Count Moldavia into custody. The party is brought before the Baron to deliver the bad news. The Baron, a powerful figure used to leading with quiet strength, seems deflated by the news. Yet he tries to retain a sense of decorum and professionalism. He thanks them for their service and directs them to bring a sealed letter to his office in town, where his treasurer will see to it that they are paid. He asks them to stay in town, so that they can attend a memorial for the Baroness three days hence. The six adventurers express their condolences, and prepare to take their leave. Before they do, Vongut gives Rennet the glass eye taken from the body of the deceased elder Moldavia. The Baron seems a bit confused by the proferred item, but in his state of distraction he absently places it in the “junk drawer” of his desk. 

Several of the party are suffering from “Echo Fever,” a malady they seemingly picked up at Count Moldavia’s estate. The sound of a heartbeat is consistently beating in their heads. Gré, Litha, Varis, and Vongut are brought in for treatment, along with Jennie and Montressor Wend. Over the course of the next couple of days, the staff at Sir Elkirk’s House of Healing bring their charges back to full health.

Meanwhile, Lachlan and Quintilian have been provided beds at C. Legg’s Boarding House. Quintilian opts to spend most of his time in prayer at the Chapel of Benevolence in the heart of the town. Lachlan spends some time enjoying what nightlife Rennet’s Cove has to offer. He makes the acquaintance of Twilley, the owner of the Golden Eel, a tavern near the shore, touting itself as the home of “Phinneas – Oracle of the Ocean.” Phinneas is an eel living in a huge tank behind the bar. For the price of a gold coin, Phinneas will answer a yes/no question by retrieving an engraved polyhedral crystal from the bottom of the tank. The message on the crystal is reputed to hold the true answer to your query. The opposite facet of the crystal invariably reads, “I visited the Golden Eel, Sea Harvest Row, Rennet’s Cove.” Twilley, for his part, is a friendly, wiry old man, and a one-time mariner. His wooden forearm ends with a functioning flesh-and-blood hand. Lachlan also does some shopping, buying a shield from a local armorer. Rumor has it, that Lachlan was also seen exiting a brothel known as the Porthole.

After their release from the House of Healing, the party members await further word from the Baron, and spend their time as is their wont. Litha spends time practicing her bow along the pebbly beach north of town. Gré makes regular visits to the stables at the Baron’s manor, to see after the care of their horses. While she is there, she sees a small contingent of guardsmen returning to the property with a covered cart. They appear somber, and it is clear to her that these guards had been tasked with retrieving the Baroness’s remains and dealing with the aftermath of the massacre at the Count’s manor.

Varis has taken an interest in the child, Jennie. He asserts that she is his ward. During a visit to Sir Elkirk’s, his intimidating manner is met with a stern rebuke by the Chief of Healing, Lady Kathra.

Vongut, ever curious, has opted to forgo treatment for his fever for as long as he can, wondering how it will progress. He experiences a slow increase in the intensity of the heartbeat, along with a fever, and growing sense of paranoia. He is finally healed on the third day of illness, lest his symptoms worsen. He has many questions as to the source and the nature of not only the illness, but also of the worms and the animated husks of their victims. What connection do these phenomena have to the murderous, delusional Count, whom Quintilian asserts was not always an evil man? Quintilian, in fact, has gone to visit the incarcerated Count. He reaches out with his divine sense of good and evil, and is shocked to find true evil in the man’s heart – a drastic change from the good man he once knew.

Quintilian is also more than a little curious about Montressor Wend’s apparent recognition, so he goes to visit him at the House of Healing. He finds the man forthcoming, but confused, as if coming out of a dream. He tells Quintilian, that he has seen someone like him before. Dragonborn are rare, even overseas in Faerün, but are essentially unheard of here in the Provinces. He says he has seen one like him in his father’s circle of acquaintance. He is unable to elaborate, for he is still feverish and lapses into unconsciousness.

On the evening of their third day in town, they are delivered a summons to meet with the Baron before the lunch hour of the following day.

Session 1 & 2: Masque of the Worms

Five unusual individuals are summoned to the great hall of the Baron Henrik Rennet’s manor. Travelers, vagabonds, explorers, mercenaries… these Strange Folks have found themselves in the vicinity of Rennet’s Cove, and in the acquaintance of the Baron at a time when he is most in need of the specialized services they can provide. He asks them to investigate a concerning situation at the home of the Count Lebrim Moldavia. Count Moldavia had been elevated to his title upon the death of his father several months ago. He held a masquerade to commemorate this occasion, inviting all the local nobles and members of the wealthy class. The Baroness Eleanor Rennet had attended the Masque, representing the Barony while Henrik himself remained home to handle affairs. This was two days ago, and she has not yet returned. This is unlike her, and he is sick with worry over her safety. His guards are occupied with what he characterizes as a “border skirmish” so he asks this group of skilled individuals to go investigate, and bring his wife home.

They set out on an uneventful eight-hour ride that has them arrive at the overgrown, poorly-maintained manor house near midnight. There is a sense of foreboding in the late summer air. They find panicked, sick, dying, and dead horses in the stable, along with the finely appointed carriages of the noble masque attendees. Gré determines that there is disease present and recommends that they keep their own horses away from those afflicted in the stable. They find a terrified little girl, Jennie Alsby, the six-year old daughter of a kitchen worker, cowering under her bed in one of the staff apartments. Lachlan speaks gently to the girl, and coaxes her out. Her mother works for the Count, who is a mean man. The Count’s father had always been kind, even though he had a scary glass eye. She expresses her fear of “the Willowman” who will come for her if she disobeys her mother. And she tells of screaming from the big house. In her fear, she is reluctant to accompany the group, until Varis steps in and presents himself as the terrifying Willowman himself. He commands her to come with him. Almost frozen with fear, she acquiesces.

Gré, concerned with the well-being of their own horses, in light of what must be some form of disease among the stabled animals, stays with them outside the manor. The rest of the party proceeds into the entryway, where they encounter a man laying in a sticky pool of blood and wine. He is very drunk, nearly incoherent, and has lost a lot of blood from a large, circular wound on the back of his neck. He raves about “beasts in the cellar”  – giant worms, in fact – and laughs and calls for more wine. He identifies himself as Montressor Wend, and he is clearly a noble and a guest of the Count. He is dressed in shredded black robes and wears the long-billed mask of a raven.

The party leaves him to his stupor, and moves into the main hall. Here they find a scene of carnage. The floor is strewn with broken furniture, musical instruments, and dead bodies clad in masquerade finery. Rats scamper across tables festooned with spilled, spoiled food. Shortly, the bloodied, broken bodies stagger to their feet, twist their faces into grotesque expressions of rage, and lurch forward to attack. A melee ensues, spilling out into the entry hall. Jennie, in the frightful chaos, flees the house and disappears into the night. It is a brutal battle, but the mercenary crew prevails, sending the bodies back, once again to their bloody deaths.

Following this terrifying incident, some of party members find themselves troubled by the sound of a heart beating in their heads. This is disturbingly similar to a phenomenon described by both Jennie and Montressor Wend.

The tired, injured party members take some time to rest in the main hall, and are joined by a newcomer, a dragonborn paladin from the monastery of Tyr. He was sent by his order to inquire into the well being of the Count. The late elder Count Moldavia and his son Lebrim, had been loyal patrons of the monastery, and well known to Abbot Ferdival, his brother monks, and Quintilian for many years. They tell him what has happened, and they move further into the manor house to do what they came to do. 

Splitting up, one group, including Vongut the Deep Gnome, and Varis the Changeling encounters more dead bodies in the kitchen. These include the deceased mother of Jennie Alsby. Some of them twitch a bit, but none rise to attack. They also explore the library, where they find shelf after shelf of poetry. Investigating a grandfather clock, Varis discovers a fancy dagger attached to its pendulum. He takes the dagger. The pair also relieves the dead bodies of their valuables.

The other group encounters the Count himself in his bedroom. He is stark raving mad. He slaps at his ears and shakes his head. He delivers a rambling monologue that ranges from hysterical to angry to fearful to manic. He talks of unexpected party guests and of his late father whom he insists would watch him through the walls and even in death continues to watch him. There is a five-foot wide hole torn in the floor of room. Lebrim flees down the hole with Lachlan the Genasi, Quintilian, Gré the Elf Druid, and Litha the Half-Elf Ranger in pursuit.

They run through a rough tunnel and find themselves in the wine cellar. The room is strewn with smashed bottles, broken casks, and dead bodies. More concerning however are a pair of huge red worms with toothed maws the diameter of dinner plates. Lebrim hides behind a barrel and babbles while the insatiable monsters rise from their torpor and lunge forward to attack. The party engages the foe, and the battle takes a turn for the worst as dead bodies rise up and shamble forward into the fray. Lachlan is consumed in one gulp by a giant worm, but is freed when Gré delivers a crushing blow to the fiend with her quarterstaff. The absent team members, hearing the commotion, run to join the melee, and their presence, though tardy, turns the tide. The party dispatches their assailants and survives the attack.

Lebrim continues to rave as they lay hands on him and tie him up. They find him casting an uneasy eye toward the wall as he rages about his father and his uncanny spying, even in death. In doing so, he admits to having killed the old man. They find an area of wall which appears to have been recently bricked-up. The mortar has been inexpertly lain and they easily pry the bricks away, revealing the desiccated corpse of the late Count. An eerie, pale blue glass eye peers from his withered face. They pull the body from the wall and pack it into an empty wine barrel, but not before Vongut, a curious soul, takes the mysterious eye. Fearing it to be the source of the malady, which now afflicts him more acutely than it does his colleagues, he hurls it at the stone floor. The orb hits the floor with a “crack!” but upon inspection, it is revealed that the eye is merely chipped, but otherwise intact. All the more curious, the gnome pockets the prosthetic peeper.

The group searches among the ruins of this room and they come upon a body that is most certainly that of the Baroness. Having found the truth they were sent to discover, they prepare to journey back to Rennet’s Cove with sad news for the Baron. But, with the true instincts of mercenaries, they first help themselves to the jewelry worn by the deceased revelers, gaining quite a variety of gems. They also find a scroll on the person of the Baroness herself. Vongut is able to read the arcane runes and identifies it as a spell of “Protection from Fiends.” He takes possession of this scroll.

An argument ensues between Quintilian and Lachlan as to the fate of Count Lebrim Moldavia. Lachlan insists that they should summarily execute the murderous madman who seems to be behind this massacre. Quintilian  a devout follower of Tyr, the god of Justice, insists that this man was not always evil. Something sinister must be at work here, and either way, he must be brought to justice. The implications of hired mercenaries killing the Count, regardless of circumstances, would put them on the wrong side of the law. Lachlan insists that, given the battle for their lives they had just been through, and the evidence of the foul play that took the life of the elder Count, certainly nobody could question that Lebrim may have been involved in the melee and slain as a consequence. Ultimately, the matter is settled and the group agrees to bring the captured Count back to the Barony.

After a bit of fruitless exploration into the worms’ collapsed tunnel, the group delivers just-in-case sword thrusts through the skulls of the fallen, and loots whatever else they can take from the bodies. They mount up their spooked and ailing horses, load Count Lebrim Moldavia, bound hand and foot, into a carriage, and head back in the early morning hours for the day long trip to Rennet’s Cove.

Song of the River

The water is music. A song, flowing along, with familiar passages and themes, but always changing. Sometimes raucous, sometimes placid, but always moving. I manuever my boat through the song, improvising a melody. Sometimes hitting a sour note – the thunk of the hull against a log, the scrape of a stone, the splash of a mis-timed paddle stroke. Sometimes, harmony.

I chiseled away at this composition little-by-little over several months, and then lost interest and allowed it to languish for a time. But, it is finally complete, and has been digitally printed at 20″ x 30″ on an aluminum panel. The light shimmering on the reflective surface gives the image a luminescence like sunlight on the water’s surface. This was created primarily in Adobe Illustrator, with some additional elements drawn in ProCreate on the iPad, and then embellished in Photoshop.

If it Keeps On Raining…

When the water began rising around here, the first thing that happened is all the snakes left their brush-piles and hidey-holes and slithered on up to Whippoorwill Hill. The second thing that happened was Whippoorwill Hill was renamed Whippoorwill Island. There was one house that stood atop the hill, right in the center of town, and it was owned by Nelson Peduncle. Nelson was the biggest asshole for miles around, and so his new living circumstance was greeted with much delight. And frankly, the rest of the citizens needed something in which to find delight, seeing as their town was slowly being consumed by the river.

It was indeed a slow consumption. This was no raging torrent, of a frightening event bearing the full violence of nature. Our flood wasn’t like that. The placid, brown waters of the Rustaukee River simply rose little by little, day after day. One day it lay in its bed, languidly meandering through town as it always had, and the next it had topped over the bank, dampening the lawns in riverside parks, and turning hiking trails into squishier-than-usual affairs. By the next day, fingers of water had extended into the low-lying areas and and then steadily widened out, until getting around downtown became a nuisance. People took it in stride. Those encountering a puddle across their path, removed their shoes, rolled up their pant legs, and waded in.

I feel fortunate to live in a town occupied by such doggedly positive and unflappable folks. As the waters deepened and more streets became impassable, local residents began to refer to our town as “the Venice of the Midwest,” laughing as they sloshed around in waders, and cast lines for catfish on Main Street. Things did not remain easy, as the water levels kept climbing, but somehow it seemed the spirits of our townspeople could not be dampened. Most even took the eventual loss of their homes in stride. Ranch houses and Dutch colonials, having lost their moorings, gently jostled each other as they drifted away downstream. The locals, often floating on rafts or aloft in treetop platforms, jested “well, I was underwater on it anyway.” Those of generous heart, hoped that their migratory dwellings would well serve someone in need somewhere downstream.

These days, much time has passed, and the waters have not receded. We have all gotten used to it. Life goes on, as they say. Many of the young kids these days (those born after the flood) bear names like Gil, Brooke, Finn, and the like. Nelson Peduncle (that asshole) has passed on, but in the spirit of reconciliation, his house has been rechristened “The Peduncle Home for Wayward Reptiles.” In fact, the whole of Whippoorwill Island has been designated a wildlife sanctuary.

No one really knows where all this water came from, or if it will ever drain away and return this town to its original state. But, all in all, I think most of us have come to rather like it. Life is slow. We fish, we gather mussels and snails, we float in the eddies. Our kids swim like otters until they are spent and ready for sleep. We watch the sun sparkling on ripples at the end of the day.