Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Frostgrave Campaign Between-Game Update: The Tale of Sister Zandkara

      The Dreams

      Kodak the Illusionist's sleep had become increasingly restless since his last trip into the ruins of Frostgrave.  His waking hours were bad enough, as he still grieved over the loss of his friend, Sister Riessa, on the last expedition into the frozen city; but now his nights were tormented too.  It started as a dream that continued for several nights; he was in the ruins walking through a maze of alleyways and crumbled buildings looking left and right, up and down, always searching.  There were others with him, vague shadowy figures, dressed all the same in red and white, that walked along with him.  Eventually he would come upon the scene of Riessa's dead body again, and there would be the Templar's sword laying in the snow and glowing.  It would slowly rise in the air of its own accord, flat and parallel to the ground and would slowly start spinning like a compass needle.  Faster and faster it would turn until it became a blur; and then suddenly there would be a flash of light, and the Elf wizard would be thrown from his sleep only to find himself laying in his bed, out of breath, in his sweat soaked night clothes.
    For a week it continued, always the same.  Kodak kept it to himself, and assumed it was his guilt and grief working their way through his subconscious.   Surely it would pass he thought, and he tried to busy himself with his daily routine as a way to distract himself.
    Then the night came when the dream changed.  He was again in the city, but this time he no longer searched feverishly though the ruins, but instead he lay on a pile of broken stone unable to move. He was face down, but could crane his neck to each side, and there he saw the shadowy figures again all dressed in red and white.  This time, though, they did not walk among the ruins around him, but instead they too lay on the rocks and crumbled walls  He could see the bodies were broken and at odd angles like so many ragdolls tossed about.  He tried to see more details but the figures were always shadowy to his eyes. Then suddenly the city dissolved around him, and he found himself seated at a table in his Inn.  He could feel himself relax for a moment in the familiar surroundings then his gaze turned downward and upon the table lie Riessa's magic sword, that he had come to call the Sword of the Sisters.  Once again it began to slowly turn like a compass needle, though this time it did not turn any faster.  It spun slowly upon the table until suddenly it stopped and began to glow.  Brighter it glowed  until there was suddenly a flash of light again.  Kodak heard a woman's accented voice call out "Help me!", and again he was pushed awake and lay there taking deep gulps of air.

    The next night the dream happened again; beginning as it did in the city, though this time he was not laying on the stones but was huddled in a dark corner of a ruin.  Had he crawled there?  He could see out the doorway and there were the ragdoll bodies in red and white as he had seen before. His gaze shifted then to his leg, and there was a large wound running across his calf, crudely wrapped in a bloody bandage. His body flinched in surprise at seeing this, and he could feel a sharp pain radiate up into his hip. Then a moment of clarity broke through in is fevered mind, and realized it wasn't his leg; it was too slender and...feminine.  He suddenly could feel himself rise up as if floating in the room, and he realized he could look down and see himself; except it wasn't him, it was a woman...dressed in red and white. He tried to call out to her, but there was a flash, and once again he was seated in the Inn at a table, and there was the Sword of the Sisters upon it. Like before, it slowly began to turn in circles, and then stopped. But this time the Illusionist's mind was clearer and he realized that it hadn't just stopped, but that it had stopped with the tip pointing directly out the door of the Inn and towards the city.  He looked out the door, but again there was the sudden blinding flash, and he heard the accented voice of the same woman as before call out, "By the Light I pray, help me!"
  Kodak was once again shot like a bolt from a crossbow out of his sleep. He sat in his bed trying to recall the events that he had just dreamt.  Still in his nightclothes, he jumped from his bed and rushed to the vault.  He unlocked it, and rushed in to find the sword, still wrapped in Riessa's bloodstained cloak.  He picked it up, and was immediately shocked by the fact that the bundle felt strangely warm under his fingers. Especially considering how chilly that morning was.  He ran back towards the great room of the Inn, and as he went he called out, "Leigh! Leigh!" .  He rushed to the table that the Treasure Hunter, Melilly Ising, had first set the sword upon the night of that fateful day Riessa had been killed. He unwrapped the magic weapon and set it on the table, then carefully folded the cloak and set it on a chair; his eyes never leaving the blade.
     He heard a cough from across the room, and looked up for but a moment to see his Apprentice Leighlyndana, shuffle into the room; her red hair all tangled like a bird nest, and her bedclothes all wrinkled and drooping off one shoulder. She loudly sniffed, and wiped a tattered cuff across her right eye. "Master Kodak, did you call me?", she said with a husky dry voice.
   "Yes!" the old Elf exclaimed, "Come here and look!" and he pointed to the table.  The Apprentice shuffled over and stared somewhat blankly at the table, until she realized that it was Riessa's sword lying there. Her eyes got wide, and she looked up questioningly at Kodak. "Look", he said again, and pointed at the sword.
     They both stared at the sword for several minutes as it lay there motionless on the table. More than once Leighlyndana shot her eyes sideways to look at the old Wizard beside her.  But Kodak's gaze never wavered.  Then, as the sleepy Apprentice covered her mouth to hide a large yawn, her eyes again got wide as she thought she saw the tip of the blade move slightly.  Then there was no doubt, as the whole sword began to slowly spin on it's center point.  "What...?" she said in a hushed voice.
   "The sword is trying to show us something:, Kodak said back in a whisper.
   They watched in silence for a minute more, and then suddenly the sword stopped.  Like in the dream, it was pointing out the door, towards the city.
"I think someone needs our help",  said the Wizard. "And she's in the city."

Part II: The Templar

     She had always heard that when a person is about to die, they relive their life in their thoughts, as a flash of memories.   As Zandkara FeGuar lay there curled up in the corner of the ruin, her mind turned to the house where she was born.
   She came from a small village in the kingdom of Insurikar.  Motherless at an early age and naturally combative, she soon found she had few friends amongst the children her age.  More than one of the village boys who had thought it fun to tease or torment her had gone running home with a black eye or a broken nose.  Her father, Guar, was a simple farmer of parched soil; and his daughter brought him no end of exasperation.  
      As her age advanced so did the level of trouble she found herself in, and by the time she was 12, she had been brought up before the regional magistrate for striking a Captain of the Realm.  Sentenced to a life of servitude in the fabric mills, her father pleaded with the king's official. Only the selling of all his livestock and his wife's few small jewels eventually bought the judge's leniency, and before she was shipped to a fate of unimaginable harsh labor, the sentence was changed to her being committed to a life with the Order of the Lady of the Light; a powerful religious sect with followers and outposts across the known world.
     Zandkara was enraged at her fate; to be locked away in a convent of old hags. Never again to run though the fields of tall harstess grain, or swim in the blue waters of the Obulon.  The priestesses, though, were no strangers to angry young girls who were daughters of the Dark, and their methods had been honed for over 5000 years in how to turn the disobedient towards the Light.  But they also had need for strong arms and willful souls, and though they did not set out to break young Zandkara, they knew exactly how to bend her. By the time she was 15 she had been inducted into the Sisterhood of the Templars of Light, and though just a page to a minor warrior, she was thrilled to be in a world where she was being trained to fight, and her combative nature was admired rather than disciplined.
     How thrilled she had been when after exhaustive years of training and service, she had been presented with her own sword, and assigned her first mission in the name of the Light.  She had done well with that task, and others that followed. Though still young, her name gained some notoriety within the sect.  

       Then, earlier that year, she had been brought before the High Priestess herself and named to be a part of a very important and special mission for her Order.  As she sat in the Council of Light, with the High Priestess, and 11 of her Templar Sisters, she heard a story of a far-off land; in it was a city, Felstad, that was the center of all that was magical in the world, but the city had been lost in time.  A thousand years ago, the Order had commissioned a special banner to be made by the magical artisans of the city, an image of the Lady of the Light infused with magical threads and spells, designed to make all who marched with the symbol almost impervious to death, and unswayable in their devotion. The Order had received word that the banner was completed and had sent emissaries to  retrieve it; but before they could reach Felstad, a mighty cataclysm had struck and the entire city had been lost in a storm of ice and snow beyond measure.  All was buried beneath a mile of white; the city...and the banner.
    Now word had come to the Order that the city was thawing, and it was time for the banner to be retrieved and brought to its rightful home. Zandkara, her eleven warrior Sisters, and one of the Elder Priestesses had travelled many miles through strange lands, and across stranger waters to eventually arrive on the outskirts of the ruined city.  For days they searched the ruins, following clues from old texts written by the original Priestesses who had commissioned the banner.  The city was a haven for Darkness, and they encountered all sorts of vile creatures who had survived in the frozen wasteland.
     Then came the night of the ambush.  As the group settled down in the ruins one starless night, they were set upon by an unstoppable evil.  Men in hoods and skull masks, 30 of them, led by a powerful Necromancer, attacked the Sisters from the shadows. The Templars of Light fought valiantly, but the numbers were against them and the enemy's magic too strong.  One by one the sisters fell to the black blades of the skull-masked men. The Priestess tried to turn the tide, but was brought down by a hail of bone splinters blasted from the Necromancers staff. Zandkara would never forget seeing the Priestesses pierced body laying in the snow, the sightless eyes staring back at the young Templar.  Zandkara herself killed 3 of the skull-masked men, but she was growing weaker.  Under her breath she prayed for strength, and fought on. She came up against a tall broad-shouldered enemy who laughed with wild delight as we swung his sword.  Zandkara's muscles ached. "Lady of Light, give me strength!" She fought the man to a standstill, then suddenly she felt a icy pain in her shoulder and a quick glance showed her there was 3 inches of a jagged sliver of bone sticking from her upper arm. It was icy cold, and she could feel it sucking the strength from her. Her arm was going numb. "Lady of Light, give me strength!" she screamed. Then the black blade of the enemy made first contact; as she lunged forward to strike, the enemy's parry slid off her sword and the edge caught the tip of her nose.  Blood began to run down her face and she tasted the salt.  Then the man's back stroke caught her other arm.  She staggered, and tried to deflect a blow but the black blade went low and sunk deep into her calf. Her leg went out from under her, and she fell to her knees and knelt on the jagged ground.  She spat blood from her mouth and tried to stay conscious. "Lady of Light, give me strength!" The skull-masked man drew back with his blade to deliver the killing blow, and shoved the blade forward with all is might.  But confident in his victory, the man's thrust was sloppy and though the black point pierced Zandkara's mail near her heart, it was at enough of an angle that the chain links torqued the blade to a point that it did not go directly into her chest, but instead slid along her left breast, cutting a deep gash, and then lodged in the chainmail folds under her arm. With the force of his withdrawing the blade, the Templar was pulled forward and fell face down on a patch of slushy snow. She could hear sobbing and shouts in the distance, then they faded gently away as darkness overtook her mind.
Part III: The Lost One Found

     Kodak rushed forward across the ruins; the rest of the party following behind, eyes scanning the surroundings, ever watchful for danger.  As the old Elf had done since they set out earlier that morning, every dozen yards or so, the Illusionist would take the Sword of the Sisters and lay it on some flat surface, and stare at it intently.  Then as he gazed at the sword it would again slowly start to spin, until it would abruptly stop  pointing deeper into the ruins.  The Illusionist would grab the sword and go bounding off in the new direction.

      The wizard rounded a corner and didn't need the sword to tell him he was close to where the magic blade was taking him.  He stopped mid-stride and stared.  Before him was the scene of a battle; there were bodies strewn about a ruin-filled courtyard, and instantly Kodak recognized the red and white clothing he had seen in his dream.  The rest of the Illusionist's warband caught up with him, and they all slowly made their way amongst the carnage.  Conspicuously absent was the bodies of any opponents.  It was just the figures dressed in red and white, and as Kodak looked more closely he could tell they were all women, foreign women for that mater of a dark complexion.    It was also evident to the group, that the battle had happened at least a couple days ago; for the creatures that feed on human flesh had visited the location before Kodak and his party.  Many of the bodies had been chewed upon some half eaten away. It was not a sight for the feint of heart, and Leighlyndana, had to sit down on a broken wall, and faced away; tears streamed down her face.
      Bash, the Man-at-Arms, said huskily, "There are no weapons, Wizard.  And very little of the armor is left that isn't damaged or broken."
      He was right.  Kodak could see anything of value had been taken.  But the normal inhabitants of these ruins, the undead and the wild things, didn't usually loot bodies as well as feed upon them.   Kodak set the sword down on a piece of broken chimney and knelt to look more closely at a young girl laying on the shattered remains of a fallen wall.  her right arm had been chewed away, and her red and white garments were shredded and blood soaked.  Her lifeless eyes, gazed towards the overcast sky. Kodak tried to put the pieces of the scene together in his mind to figure out what had happened.
     His thoughts were disturbed, by the Treasure Hunter, Melilly Ising, "Sir," she said deliberately.  The sword."
    Sure enough, as Kodak's gaze shifted back to the sword, he could see that it wasn't spinning, but surely it had turned itself in a different direction than the way he had set it down.  The surprising thing to the band standing there in the ruins, all now staring at the sword, was that the blade was pulsing now with an internal light, like there was liquid flame within the metal itself; slow and rhythmic like the sword's very heart was beating.  The Elf wizard thought he could even hear it's beating; yes, like a Human or Elven heart he thought, but much a heart that is fading...
    The old Illusionist looked from the sword towards where the tip was pointing.  In the distance, about 25 yards away, was a series of what had been low one story building all adjoined together; like they once had been market stalls or small workshops.  Now mostly reduced to little more than a few crumbling walls. One however still held part of it's roof, rising from the back wall and sheltering nothing but piles of broken stonework.
   Kodak strode off towards the building, the rest following a few paces behind.  He got to what had been the doorway and scanned the ruin.  There was not much to see, mostly piles of stones from the broken walls, a pile of rags in one corner, and pieces of the fallen part of the roof.
  The Elf looked back towards the sword, and then back to where he stood; making sure he had followed its bearing correctly.  Surprisingly, even at this distance he thought he could hear the sword's slow beating heart.  Then suddenly the pile of rags in the corner emitted a short quiet groan, and Kodak knew it wasn't the sword's heart he was hearing.
     Leighlyndana was the first to reach the pile of rags, and she knelt down and began to pull pieces of fabric away, until she let out a gasp.  "It's a person!" she said in hushed amazement.  She worked more quickly to uncover the body lying there, then added "A woman!" 
   Bash knelt down beside the Apprentice, and surveyed what could be seen of the woman's face and the bloody remnants of her clothing. The burly warrior pulled his glove off with his teeth, and reached his hand out and placed it down under the scarf around the girl's neck and pressed his fingers against the cold flesh.  He looked back at Kodak, "She's near death and half frozen, Wizard."  He pulled his hand away, and it was then that he realized that the scarf was red, and the cloth clinging to her shoulders had once been white.  "She's one of them," he added; and tilted his head towards the scene of carnage out in the courtyard beyond.
    It was Leighlyndana who regained herself first and began chanting the words of a Healing spell. The woman's eyes flickered half open, and upon seeing Leigh's face staring back at her, the eyes widened.
"What is your name?' the Apprentice asked.
   The girl coughed,  and through blood caked and parched lips, she said hoarsely, "Zandkara."


     By the time they got Zandkara back to the Inn she was a bit more alert.  She had been given food and water on the trip. And Kodak had done a Healing spell on her as well.  They built up the fire in the Inn's massive fireplace, and sat the young Templar down in a chair by it's heat.  All the Healing spells in the world couldn't shake the bone-deep chill you have after a single night in the frozen ruins, and Zandkara had been there for two.  The old Illusionist had dressed the Bone Dart wound in her arm as well, though a magical injury like that takes weeks to heal; and sometimes the injury never does go away completely. The Elf Wizard and his band pulled up chairs around the hearth as well, and they all waited to hear the strange foreigner's tale.

    Zandkara related her story, though the last couple days were a bit hazy to her.  Kodak could tell she was a brave fighter and had spirit and will to spare.  Despite her injuries and the loss of all her companions, as well as most of her armor and her sword, she still vowed to carry on the quest she had been assigned.  And the Elf could see a fire burn deep in her brown eyes when she also vowed to find and repay the masked and hooded men who had slaughtered her Sisters. 

    A few days later Zandkara sat in prayer in a corner of the Inn where a beam of sun streamed in and across the dusty floor, bathing the Templar in a warm glow.  Kodak sat across the room waiting patiently for her to finish.  The Templar finally stood up, and the old Elf could see there were still unhealed wounds by the slow and deliberate movement the woman from Insurikar used to get up off the floor.
     He beckoned to her from across the room, and she walked over to join him. Kodak gestured for her to sit down. "I'd like to offer you a place in my group here", he proposed.  "It's foolish for you to think you can continue by yourself, alone. And with us, you will have the opportunity to search the ruins on a regular basis, as well as hunt those whom you seek, in the company of a group of trained soldiers and explorers." 
   "I will need to consider this", the Insurikarian replied meekly, adding, "It is a very generous offer."
   "One more thing, " Kodak continued, and reached down by his side and placed the Sword of the Sisters up upon the table where they sat.   Zandkara's eyes widened.  "It sought you out; saved you in fact, " Kodak added. "And like you, it seeks vengeance.  The two of you are...much alike. I think you should have this"  
     The Templar reached out and grasped the sword. The grip felt warm to her touch and a tingle went through her body.  Kodak looked on, and was not certain, but he thought he could see that same liquid light within the sword's blade, pulsing rapidly with the woman's own heartbeat. Perhaps it was just the reflected sun that was streaming in the windows. Slowly, Zandkara stood, and taking the sword firmly in both hands she swung it in slow wide arcs around her head.  She could feel the power the sword contained, and it's own need for vengance.
    Smiling, for the first time that Kodak had seen, she said, still swinging the sword in deliberate and practiced arcs, "They say, 'A man may have many brothers at home, but his true brother...or to be found out in the world.'  I think I have found my true sister.  For that I am grateful.  She stopped swinging the blade, and held the sword upright directly in front of her face, staring at her own reflection in the polished metal.  "I will accept your offer."

   Author's note:  On the Frostgrave Magic Items table (pg. 63), the item for a roll of 20 on a d20 is: "Banner of Courage".  If at anytime I roll this result in the curse of normal game play, The Banner of the Order of the Lady of Light will have been found, and that part of Zandkara's quest will be complete.  She will need to decide at that point, if it ever comes, whether to leave Kodak and his group to return the banner to her home, or stay to complete her quest of vengeance.


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