Episode 20: The Fool's Errand
The party had previously arrived at the Fool’s Errand Inn and Tavern seeking respite from the freezing rain and hail that had dogged them for most of the day’s journey in the black of night, the sun not having risen at all this Wodag. But things were not well at the Fool’s Errand; the patrons were all babbling incoherently, wearing the same maddened smile, and generally behaving in an a weird and disturbing approximation of humanity. The only unaffected patron is a small human girl, who silently pleads with the party not to try to leave or anger the grandmotherly innkeeper.
Before long Ara, Yuna and Keen all fell into a strange catatonia, displaying the same empty grin as the others, gripped by some private insanity. Magnus and Levani resisted the effect, and found that they were able to enact their will and push their way into the minds of their stricken companions. One by one, the attempted to free their friends, but found that any attempt to directly interfere caused psychic damage. Only by encouraging their friends to defeat their own madness could they break the spell.
You sit upon your throne of gold in the audience chamber of your great house. Your clothes are the finest silks, hand-stiched by the finest tailor in a thousand leagues, whose fingers you had removed upon completion of your wardrobe. You are surrounded on all sides by the trappings of vast wealth: great tapestries on every wall, priceless artifacts litter the room: antiques, sculpture, paintings, and gold, so much gold. Stacks of it. Piles of coin litter the floor, the very tilework of which is inlaid with solid gold filigree.
Petitioners are brought to you, one after another; they want nothing but to praise your generosity, to thank you for so enriching their meagre lives. They bring you gift after gift, which you see thrown atop ever larger piles of wealth. You caught a servant with a few coins in a pocket once; you had her beheaded, and her headless body thrown from the roof of the house to the cobbles below, there to be worried over by street dogs and filthy, starving urchins.
Your servants go about the house naked, now, of course. One must be sensible.
You have everything you have ever wanted. And yet, something gnaws at you, some great stone in the pit of your stomach keeps you from sleep. You find you can think of nothing else. A petitioner arrives with a painting of the party sharing a fire in a late summer evening in a copse of trees, but Keen is missing. “How does it make you feel, my lord,” asks the artist.
In the tavern, Levani realizes that with Keen in a catatonic state she can recover the Dragonhead coin he took from Ara. She does so, and when she and Magnus re-enter Keen’s mind, they find an empty audience chamber, the wealth gone, and Keen bereft, retreating further into madness. But when they reveal they have taken the Dragonhead from him, Keen’s anger recovers his senses, and the pull of the mysterious artifact drags him out of his madness.
As you approach the village you realize you’ve been here before. Normally you’re not good with names, or faces, or places, or landmarks, but you remember Riverbend. You remember that farmer – Driebus? Darnell? – and how inexplicably angry he was that you brought his son back, and how he went on about lizards. But there wasn’t this much smoke before, you’re pretty sure. Thick, black smoke and the smell of cooked meat. As you exit the edge of the forest you can see now the village has been reduced to charred, blackened rubble. Every home, every building has burned. Here and there blackened corpses lay upon the ground, pinned by spears or slabs of broken timber. The dirt is caked with dried blood.
In the village square, a great pyre still burns, the bodies of women and children piled high. Before it Manaren is bound to a stake, his belly split nearly in half, entrails spilling out about his feet. His head rises from his chest to regard you with dead eyes. “What god do you serve, that would visit such ruin upon us,” the corpse hisses, “Why would they allow this? WHY? You led this evil here, you abandoned us!”
Magnus, Keen and Levani enter Ara’s mind, and do their best to convince Ara that the village, and the corpses, and the horrid vision of Manaren are unreal, but Ara remains utterly convinced. Manaren repeatedly questions Ara’s faith, his righteousness and his goodness. In the end, Ara holds fast, refuses to be swayed, and the power of his faith destroys the madness.
You are travelling alone on a dry, dusty road between villages. As you round a bend you see a woman staggering towards you, clutching something to her breast. she is withered and gaunt, dressed in rags, and her skin is covered in bloody, leaking pustules. The baby is malnourished, It does not cry but stares at you with sunken, dead eyes. The woman stands, swaying before you, expectantly.
Yuna realizes that despite her wish to help the woman, to heal her and her child, she can do nothing. And so she turns her back on the woman, and sits in the road, tears streaming from her eyes. The spell is broken.
Now free of whatever insanity held them fast, all five members of the party discuss what to do about the people in the tavern, whether to try to save them – those that are real and can be saved – or abandon them to their fate. While they discuss it, Keen reaches out to touch one of the nearby patrons.
Keen’s finger sinks deep into the shoulder of the figure, whose form distends, twists, turns inside out and becomes a writhing mass of bloody pink flesh from which protrude shards of bone, and eyes, and tufts of hair, and many, many mouths, shrieking and gibbering and biting. Magnus attempts to free Keen with a swing of his hand axe, but misses badly and only through his quick reflexes does Keen avoid losing his hand.
Around the party the patrons of the tavern, the floor, the walls, the ceiling all become gibbering, shrieking flesh. The party does battle and slays the horrific creature, despite various forms of temporary insanity being inflicted on them by sheer proximity. Keen is cut down by a vicious attack and nearly killed outright, but is saved by Yuna’s divine healing.
As Ara grants the horror its deathblow, the flesh becomes dry, hard and brittle and crumbles into dust; the party falls through it to the basement and find themselves in a great pit, at the centre of which is a huge irregular lump of what appears to be unrefined platinum shot through with veins of pulsing red energy.
The party guesses this must be a shard of the Heart Of Bahamut, the slain Platinum Queen whose heart Ananus, God of Trickery charged Levani with retrieving. Simply being in its presence risks long-term madness, and indeed Yuna seems strangely affected by it.
When Keen touches it, the shard shrinks down into the shape of an oversized platinum coin with a bas relief of a dragon’s head on it traced in glowing red veins.
Keen picks up the coin, which immediately sinks into his flesh and disappears.
The party climb their way out of the pit, to find that the entirety of the Fool’s Errand not consumed by the Gibbering Madness – the structure, the innkeeper, even the girl – has vanished.
Stranger still, the sun has returned to the clear winter sky as mysteriously as it disappeared. As the party prepares to resume their journey, Levani notices that the face of the Dragonhead coin, which had been blank ever since the explosion in the sky months ago, now has an arrow on it, an arrow which moves. The Dragonhead appears to be some sort of compass, though where it points is as yet a mystery.
Main Quest Progress: Updated
Shards of the Heart of Bahamut Recovered: 1
Long-Term Insanity Gained: Are You Gonna Eat That?
Insights Gained: Some?
Time Spent Roleplaying a Charisma Saving Throw: 1.5hrs
RP Rating: Awesome!
Coda: Madnesses Resisted
You stand before the circular altar of the Trajte ur Flasch. The family surround you in a circle, adorned in the same red ceremonial robes you are wearing. They each hold a torch, which together cast dancing shadows across the stone walls of the ritual sanctum. In your hand you hold the Sacrament of Truth, a vicious curved dagger with an edge licked with magical flame. Atop the altar sits the human boy, Tealis, the wastrel child you picked up from a village square some weeks ago. He has lived with you in the compound for weeks, and has grown to trust you implicitly. You look at the dagger, and know you are to release the child’s soul, a kindness that will spare him the torment of life on this plane, of hurt and loss and loneliness.
Tealis looks up at you with a curious, anxious smile. The family begins a low, whispered chant.
It took some doing but you were able to subdue the hill giant: an adolescent, by the looks of it, not yet fully grown but already easily 10 feet tall and hundreds of pounds. It lies now shackled to the floor of your tower with oversized iron manacles on the wrists, ankles and neck. The whore from the Temple of Freya lies next to the creature, also shackled, still unconscious. On your left the tools of your great work lie ready upon a work table: various arcane apparati and spell components, the first edition of Lorithliani um Eleth’s revelations, discovered at long last at the Library, and of course the refined and liquified residium, discovered in ruins beneath the city and prepared by following Eleth’s procedure, standing ready next to your grimoire.
With trembling excitement you begin the mystical removal of the giant’s heart. The process takes hours to do safely, without damaging the organ. At last, you are ready: ready to apply the residium. One part into the giant’s still-beating heart, suspended above the woman’s open chest cavity, two parts into the woman herself. Then, the binding ritual to insert the heart into the woman.
The human’s eyes flick open, then, and she stares at you, covered in blood, at the giant beating heart floating above her, at her own chest, the ribcage open and skin peeled back, and she screams.