The Keystone Project

Session 20
Bread: you can slice it?

The sun rises the next day in a cloudless sky, five days before the festival. The mask merchant asks Yamada no Momoko about the tengu and if they will attend the festival… apparently the locals still are talking about the “bird people” who helped rescue the tiefling prisoners from the hobgoblins. Momoko tells the merchant to spread the word that their warriors wear feathered capes and aren’t actually “bird people”.

Maeve Yonge decides to “investigate” breakfast and finds the sweet smell of tofu within the teahouse, and makes a good impression upon the villagers of Atamaishiyama. Zorran returns to Dagna ready to head to the inn and finds the teashop packed to the rafters. He reports that posters are going up and Momoko expresses concerns about low exposure for the festival and the “wrong facts” being spread about the tengu. They argue back and forth and cause Maeve to uncomfortably excuse herself, with Zorran being upset about Momoko talking about deception in front of their “honoured guest”.

While they are having this argument, a troll lunges toward Zorran! He steps to the side and blocks a masked Amaira Ordansdottr, who only startled him and gets a lot of laughter from the others in the room. Momoko explains about the two issues of spreading word, so Amaira proposes going to the Robin’s Roost tavern to spread rumours amongst the cat-girl waitresses.

They are seated by Tabitha and Amaira strikes up a conversation about the festival. When they get on the conversation, Maeve realizes that these people have never seen or eaten bread before. Amaira is amazed when Maeve says it can be sliced, and she and Zorran are equally impressed when Maeve says she can also make bread.

Zorran attempts to regale the room with the story of the costumed humans who rescued the tielfings and goes mostly unnoticed, until he stands on his chair and begins shouting out about the festival, including bread and warriors dressed as birds, despite rumours about the tengu and a boy in South Crystalmere who claims to have been trained by tengu.

Meanwhile, Momoko yells at Aki and gets him to collect feathers to create cloaks for the festival. When the others return, Zorran tells her about the happenings at the tavern and the promise for traditional feathered warriors. After some hilarious conversation, Momoko heads to Atamaishiyama and the other three head to Maeve’s place to meet her inn-mates.

Momoko goes to speak with Bekan Hildesdottr to rent a horse, and he proposes accompanying her messenger through the dangerous forest. Momoko protests and instead she proposes he go with her. When she says nobody goes to the top of the mountain, and yet that is where the shrine is located, he asks why they have a shrine that nobody goes to. Momoko insists upon blindfolding him at certain points of the journey. They make their way to the village and encounter the guard captain, and Momoko informs him of the request for “tengu warriors” to make an appearance. While Bekan goes with the commander to scale the mountain, Momoko has a chat with Okimoto.

Zorran, Amaira, and Maeve head to the Ebenheart Crossing Inn…

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Session 19
Six days until the festival

Yamada no Momoko heads to South Crystalmere to shore up more support for the festival. When visiting one of the farms, the matron spots someone in the fields. Momoko and the matron venture out and encounter Maeve Yonge, who claims to have come from an inn just down the road… but her road used to end at the sea. After some discussion, Maeve decides to follow along with Momoka back to Dagna.

Zorran rides from the Walled City and arrives at Shan Puneko’s dojo to find the proprieter training Amaira Ordansdottr to report that the keystone of the samsarans has indicated a new land has arrived toward the south and have about seven days to connect with it. Shan declines to join them in the search, and notes that Momoko is to the south.

Zorrans asks Momoko’s apprentices to provide some provisions for the trip, and they head out on horse. At about sunset, Maeve spots a horned person ona skeleton horse accompanied by a blue-skinned person. Momoka tells her to stop, since they are “sort-of friends” of hers. Zorran explains the official response squad and the requirement to investigate. Maeve explains the inn where seven women live, including herself. They agree to return to Dagna, and Amaira proposes heading out the next day after obtaining mounts for the other two.

When they return to Dagna, the four of them decide to hit the pub, after passing a pipe-smoking bearded fellow selling a variety of animal masks. Maeve thinks she knows where their keystone is located, and believes it is a receiver.

Inside the pub, five tielfing hunters are singing folk songs. Amaira and Maeve (calling the infernal language “Yemish”) talk about snow zombies before Annick brings them through the crowd to a table. After telling the table about the “dread prince”, Amaira says it’s a good thing that none of the Yemites made it through since they have their own undead castle to deal with…

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Session 18
Festival and training

Momoko continues planning her festival. Amaira decides to train with Shan (mechanically: 5 HP below max @ 3 days per HP => 15 days needed). Zorran seeks out some training of a different sort, exploring a weapon shop.

When Momoko returns after five days, she has a mule loaded with masks. Amaira notices that Annick has been sneaking glances at her during the training. Another five days pass and Amaira has trained up (3.2 HP). Other stuff happened, too!

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Session 17
Monika?

Upon returning to Dagna, the party sees that members of the Sleeping Bear Lodge are still perched on rooftops with their bows at the ready. Amaira suggests stopping for lunch before continuing to the Walled City to deliver the signed contract. To the tavern!

Annick greets the party and seats them at a table, and tells Shan about his progress on clapping while doing push-ups. The special of beef-and-corn stew gets served, and after they take the signed contract to the legal experts at the Walled City, followed by a visit to Mayor Dolorian to deliver an update. Momoko proposes having a festival to celebrate the joining of the new land, and the others tell her about the festivals in Dagna, the Walled City, and South Crystalmere. Zorran says he’ll stay at his place in the City.

Momoko, Amaira, and Shan round up the three main lodge leaders to meet at the tea house in an hour. Faustina Bystrom is displeased to be summoned away from the lodge, but grudgingly agrees. Ordan Freydisdottr is hanging laundry, incensing the carpets and tapestries to infuse them with ritual smokes. Bekan Hildesdottr is off studying Jörmungandr, so they speak to Liefen the deputy, an athletic, wiry fellow.

Momoka explains the situation at the castle and the town of Arven to the lodge leaders. Despite some misgivings from Faustina and Ordan, they all accept the terms of the agreement with Abarthrax. Momoko goes on to talk about her plans for a festival to celebrate the recent joining. Faustina agrees with Amaira about making this the rite of adulthood, and Ordan says it is up to her husband to determine when that is to occur. Everyone agrees on having the festival in two weeks.

Amaira volunteers to go relay the information about the new land and the festival to Elbert Grove. When Shan returns to her dojo, Annick admits that he can’t clap nine times during a push-up, and he meant he could do one clap with a push-up nine times in a row. He fears that Amaira will be disappointed if she finds out.

Momoko travels to Atamaishiyama and speaks with Okimoto about the festival and spends the weekend.

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Session 16

The party wakes up and finds things to be eerily quiet. When they descend to the main tavern room, vacant of all evidence of anyone ever having been present. Zorran inspects the kitchen and finds it in the same state of vacancy. After deciding that the town poses no threat and simply a confusing mystery, the squad makes for the keep.

Upon reaching the courtyard, the bones of the skeletons that were felled the other day have disappeared from the ground. Shan warns the group to not eat the food before they prepare themselves to peek through the doors into the grand hall. Upon entering the feast hall, there is a new robed creature inside repairing the skeletons. When he asks if the party are adventurers, Amaira explains that they defended themselves when attacked. After some conversation, the man in robes pauses the feast and invites the adventuring team to enter to discuss further. He claims that adventurers should attack the skeletons as per “the script”.

He introduces himself as the apprentice to Lord Aberthrax, and eventually reveals that he himself is undead (formerly an elf in life). Amaira presses about Arven, with “conjured entities” as a “vacation attraction” for other “entities” with whom the lordship has dealings. Shan decides to be our “champion”, and the apprentice speaks to “his lordship” in infernal, telling it to combat with Shan with intent to kill. After a few rounds, Shan takes out the skeleton’s “non-beating non-heart” and it falls apart.

The apprentice takes out a crystal ball and beings to communicate with his master. A tall figure with blue skin (not of Zorran’s people) appears! He appears to not be undead, i.e. fully alive. Zorran introduces the concept of joining the lands. Aberthrax says his only conditions to joining are not destroying the town of Arven (nor malign any of his guests) and that entering the castle will result in being attacked by the creatures.

Zorran and Amaira determine that he has no reason to lie to us, and has an air of confidence and lack of worry. Momoko points out that this would make a good defensive point should any future land masses arrive that are unfriendly.

When Zorran tells Aberthrax that they agree to join, Aberthrax brings out a large scroll written in infernal, and Amaira reads it over to ensure it suits the agreement. After further discussion, Zorran hands Aberthrax the keystone to be placed. Following the signing, Amaira asks if the castle is named: it’s not, as it has no import. She asks about Arven, and then Bellamina, the latter of which definitely caught his attention, and other names…

On the way back to Dagna, Shan brings up her concerns about the “souls” living in Arven, and the eternal “Groundhog Day” in which they live. At least with the land attached, they can be helped some day.

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Session 15
Arven, town of mystery

Contingents from Dagna and South Crystalmere meet on the road and head to the Walled City, and descend upon the city hall to discuss the current landmass that has attached itself to the realm. Dolorian welcomes everyone and offers the members Official Response Squad to take the floor. Zorran reports on the haunted village and the castle full of undead, and Momoko and Amaira provide further details about the situation and the wealth of resources. Shan tells them about the “bread”, and Momoko provides a sample that Zorran passes around. Amaira says it is made from something called “wheat”.

The ORS proposes returning to the landmass with a larger force to subdue the undead and attempt to meet with the sorcerer of the castle. In talking about Porthos — the town guardsman — and his dog, Archer, Momoko suggests returning to the town at dusk to see if the people return. Ordan instructs Bekan to show them the dead headless bird, bleeding black like a tiefling. Elbert Grove and Faustina Bystrom (despite a slight from the former toward the latter) agree that the castle is too good an opportunity to pass up.

The troops meet in Dagna to prepare to venture toward the undead castle: six from the Reaving Falcon led by Estarus Gorfasson, four oracles from Dagna, and five samsarans join the squad before they depart, and decide to head to Arven first to see if Porthos and the other villagers have re-appeared.

Upon arrival at the gate, Porthos and Archer are there. Porthos doesn’t remember them, and starts telling them the same stories he spoke about two days ago. When Amaira pushes regarding disappearing during the day, and Porthos says he doesn’t remember going anywhere. Momoko wants to wait until dawn to see what happens to the town of about a thousand people. 20 years ago, something happened at the castle that turned the lord undead, but nobody knows for certain what kind of curse was inflicted. It appeared to not impact the village, according to Porthos.

The party enters the village and decide to check out the Ecstasy of Agony Tavern after a warning from Porthos about the mercenary company visiting the town. Shan notices they are wearing blue uniforms, and remarks on some of the other buildings, including a library and a temple. Amaira notes that the holy symbol belongs to Abraxis, the master of the final incatnation, the demon lord of forbidden lore and magic. This intrigues her, and the four squad members head over to the temple, and Amaira opens the door.

Inside the worship hall is a single room, made up of veined blood-red marble with different colours for each base tile. An altar takes up the back third of the room in the design of brass snakes. The walls are covered in runes written in the infernal language, the basic orisins of divine and sorcery. There are brass snakes on the ceiling as well, and Shan jumps up to grab one. When she points it at Zorran, the mouth opens, and when she lets go, it stays in the same place she left it. They decide to leave this place for future investigation, and resume their walk to the tavern.

About a half-dozen of mercenaries in blue halbards take up a table, and the troops sit down at three empty tables. Belamina introduces herself and takes drink orders. Shan gets her “least sexy thing on the menu”, that looks like a syrupy mess that smells like black liquorice; everyone else tries the local stout or an imported elven wine. When Amaira detects magic, everything appears to be conjured: Belamina, her serving tray, the beer… everything that wasn’t here during the day is a summoned object.

Zorran chats up a hunter in the bar, and eventually gets him to talk about the castle and “his lordship”. His lady wanted to make them more powerful, and sacrificed the people in the castle to gain this power by turing them into demons. The witch-hunter, favoured by the gods, was killed by the demons. The undead put the demons on spikes, and they are said to be still living in the dungeon.

They decide to spend the night at the inn… and Belamina never asks for payment for the drinks or the rooms.

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Session 14
Freeze that bone flute!

As the squad enters the hall, they get swarmed by the skeleton horde of diners and nobles (dressed in the fashions of South Crystalmere) , warriors (dressed like tiefling warriors), “exotics” (dressed like people of the mountain), and bards (singing in infernal), not to mention the lord and lady of the fortress. Despite their best efforts, Zorran falls to the assault, and Amaira rescues him from the floor. Momoko closes the doors while the other three begin their retreat. Shan makes an excellent showing, and also falls just as she reaches the doors. Amaira (fused with Enamund), with Zorran over her shoulder, she picks up Shan [after spending a hero point] and gets behind the doors just as Momoko shuts the doors.

To keep the doors shut, Amaira drops the two unconscious compatriots to hold the doors fast against the might of the skeletons while Momoko closes the bolts. Back out in the courtyard, the headless birds are watching with their chest-eyes as they place Zorran and Shan on the back of the skeleton horse. As they make their way out, Amaira and Momoko see the town devoid of inhabitants in the valley below, and make way for Dagna. The travel goes safely, yet half an hour into the trip, six birds are still circling. Momoko attempts to shoot them down, and they fly higher to avoid attack. The birds follow all the way to Dagna. Amaira takes the injured back to the headquarters and seeks out a medic while Momoko goes to speak with Faustina Bystrom about taking care of the headless birds.

One of the elders from the Raven’s Eye Mystic Lodge accompanies Amaira to help with the healing. Zorran and Shan awaken and all decide a long rest would do everyone some good. Amaira decides to take the skeleton horse to a stables, and gets a concerned reaction from the stablemaster, who reluctantly agrees to keep the undead creature for her.

Momoko asks Faustina for a bow-master, and she offers to find someone who is a distinguished hunter to take care of the flying fiends.

When they discuss the next moves, Amaira suggests collecting up more attackers, and Zorran produces a small branch of a bonsai tree, calling it a keystone. Shan feels unwell to the stomach and excuses herself. With five days remaining until the land disappears, they decide to consult the leaders of each of the settlements to determine the decision on whether to keep the land. Momoko has authority for Atamaishiyama, Zorran returns to the Walled City to deliver the news, Amaira will talk to the elders in Danga, and then in the morning all will have an emergency meeting in the Walled City. Some of the team will go to South Crystalmere to talk to Albert Grove and explain it to him on the way to the meeting.

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Session 13

Momoko theorizes that the magical glow from the well may be this land mass’s keystone. Zorran discretely checks the shard of his people’s keystone (and didn’t tell anybody he has it) and it is indicating another keystone in the direction of the grand hall.

At the entrance, Shan opens one of the 10-foot-wide double doors that presumably lead to the grand hall. Upon opening the doors, all of the other doors start to close on that side as it opens. Inside the grand hall, a feast akin to that of Amaira’s people is happening, with all of the seats inhabited by skeletons dressed in finery. They eat and drink as the food items fall through their bodies, and the master of the hall sits at a throne.

Zorran points out what he thinks is the keystone behind the throne, so Shan sneaks up toward it. Zorran finally discloses that he has the capacity to link the keystone to Momoko and Amaira, so that they can ensure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands if he happens to die. When Shan approaches the throne, the nobleman and his lady wife pay her no attention, and it appears that the skeletons are on a roughly 30-second loop of eating and drinking. The zombies take a different path to keep the plates stocked.

Amaira decides to swipe an ale, and the zombie butler lowers the platter so that she can take it. When she does, three skeletons fix their gaze upon her and begin to draw their weapons. She steps back to Zorran and Momoko, chugs the beer, and asks her compatriots are ready for a fight. Zorran decides to close the door, and once it is bolted in place, the skeletons sit back down when the three had left. Shan emerges through another exit and sulks about being locked in. They decide to check out the other room, and Shan leads the charge into the passageway that leads to barracks, complete with skeleton soldiers laying in beds and sharpening swords. Another room shows a skeleton putting on armour with zombies attending in a smithing area.

The team decides to attack this skeleton, which takes up a shoddy sword and charges at Shan. The zombies ignore the melee and continue their work. The party then proceeds into an armoury and more doors, one leading to the feast hall. Momoko suggests returning to the entrance hall to speak to the zombie butler. She asks to be taken to the sorcerer of the castle, and the zombie leads them into the great hall and goes to the door behind the lord.

The Official Response Squad decides to go inspect the lord’s door, closing the main door behind them. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion, next time on The Keystone Project!

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Session 12

The Official Response Squad continues to explore the castle, and come across a stables with three horse skeletons that appear to be animated. Shan wants to punch them and gets dissuaded by Amaira, explaining that the horses could be used as mounts. Zorran inspects the sturdiness of one of them, and Amaira mounts another to give it a test drive. It responds readily and moves at a steady pace.

Shan pushes in some double-doors to expose a large hallway about 20’ across, sunlight spilling inside now. Momoko pursues Shan in the belief that the latter needs supervision… and having found a zombie in fancy clothing (“butler café”?) confirms Momoko’s concerns. Skeletons in armour attack! After taking out the four skeletons, two more guard the door. Amaira greets the zombie butler, who bows. Shan asks for cake, and it heads off, and then she charges the guarding skeletons. After Momoko shoots a scorching ray at Shan (by accident), they decide to follow the zombie.

The team is led to a kitchen, crewed (not crude) by five skeletons in chef outfits in the process of preparing food. Momoko deducts that they are going through the process of preparing food, without actually cooking it or otherwise preparing for a final product – and the ingredients are all fresh. They decide to step into the kitchen, and the skeletons keep at work. The team then follows a skeleton carrying raw pork slices into a room lined with tables, containing piles of pork, vegetables, and loaves of bread: it appears to be a pantry as though getting ready to serve to guests. About a third of the food is rotten. Shan picks up the freshest basket of pork and some bread. Another zombie inside takes the oldest pork and takes it to another room in the castle, putting it along with pile of rotted food.

Zorran notices boot prints and char marks on the ground, as well as a headless bird flying about that Amaira saw fly from the tower earlier (and the birds had been spying on them the night before). They decide to follow the footprints, and it goes into the keep (hard to follow) as well as to the front, where they go to and from a well.

Amaira draws up some water from the well, and Momoko detects poison and magic on the water and the well: she only detects some magic somewhere down in the well. After further exploration, handholds in the side of the well are revealed, and Zorran decides to descend into the water. He encounters a magical barrier (likely what Momoko discovered), and before he could pull out of the well, Shan fires chi blast into the water, inadvertently hitting Zorran.

They decide to return to the keep’s grand hall.

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Session 11
Surrounded by the dead

In the courtyard, the ORS find themselves surrounded by the dead. Shan gets rushed first by a pair of skeletons and ends up with an arm stuck in one’s rib cage, while Momoko inspires the team with her singing skills. Zorran shows off his scimitar skills, while Amaira synthesized with Enamund uses tail slaps, bites, and claws to decimate the undead.

After a strenuous battle, the party is victorious and defeats the swarm of skeleton soldiers. Huzzah!

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