Runequest Thursday #145 - The War of the White Moon, Continued!

Clint Staples

Currently, The Brightwater Company is embroiled in the War of the White Moon, a war that, while a long distance form home and of limited scope, could have lasting consequences for their region, their future, and even the cosmic balance in the early days of The Hero Wars!

 

A few weeks ago, I described how I was intending to handle the Brightwater Company’s involvement in the ongoing War for control of the White, formerly Blue, Moon and the Goddess thereof.

 

One of the things I mention there is the notion of giving the Heroes something smaller scale than a massive battle that could have a magnified effect on the general struggle. In this case, being sent on a mission to swing the break up an alliance of lowlander tribesmen with the Highfolk army that threatens the Army of the White Moon. Together, the Highfolk and their lowlander allies have pinned the White Moon forces, being able to attack both frontally and on the flank of Annihila’s army if she presses forward.

 

So the Brightwater Company has gone along the Causeway of the Nightmarchers to the Champions’ Ground, a mystical battlefield where ghostly warriors of the three tribes (hereditary foes) have fought each night for centuries. There, they are to discover what is going on, and ideally, disrupt it – breaking or weakening the alliance.

 

As I have mentioned previously, the Causeway of the Nightmarchers, the Highfolk and other bits that I have used for the surface of the White Moon, are drawn from Monster Island from The Design Mechanism. So, if you like the sound of this, you should go check it, and them, out.

 

Anyway – The Brightwaters set off on the Causeway, a raised and ancient road through the lowland forest, and one with a bad reputation for hauntings and attacks on those with the temerity to dare traverse it. But the heroes are in a hurry, and the working theory is that the Causeway itself is significant, because of three such Causeways (each sacred to one of the tribes of erstwhile allies) terminate at the Champions’ Ground.

 

After a brief encounter with a marauding hunter on the forest floor, which they befuddled and left, they heroes came upon a massive construct of sorcerous and spiritual energy – the Soul Reaper. This artificial tornado of whirling fire and flailing iron flayed any spirits it contacted, then drew the spiritual energy up into a collection chamber in the belly of the thing – to what purpose, no one knew. A brief but frantic, battle in which several heroes lost temporary power to the Soul Reaper, saw the thing destroyed and the shredded souls within escaped in a spiritual explosion that tore at defenses of the shaman Ughari especially.

 

No sooner had the soul collector been destroyed than the shaman spied a massive ethereal host marching the Causeway, moving in the same direction as the heroes - toward the Champions’ Ground. As it neared, it became apparent that this was a battle host of ghostly warriors dressed in outlandish-seeming wargear, many with obvious apelike imagery.  

 

Rather than fight the ghost horde, the Brightwaters chose to stand aside, paying their respects with downcast eyes. Yet one warrior was not appeased and challenged the sorcerer Wyrmhere to some sort of contest. Slashing with his ethereal war-axe and sucking POWer from the Sartarite in spirit combat. Wyrmhere responded in kind draining some portion of the spirit’s essence in turn. After this brief exchange, the warrior left off and offered his hand in peace, which the sorcerer took eagerly. Then the army of souls set off once more, this time with the corporeal Brightwater Company in their midst, seemingly accepted by these strange and fierce tribes-ghosts.

 

After several miles travel along the Causeway, which the earthly bodies of the Brightwaters found taxing in the extreme, the combined force arrived at the end of the Way, gazing out over a huge triangular field at the juncture of their own and two other Causeways. Within this triangle, a smaller triangle is described by three stone monoliths, each surrounded by a pile of skulls and bones.

 

The monolith directly before them is facing  toward the center of the clearing and they can see only its back. As they approach, swiftly, because the Nightmarchers charge to the fray with a chorus of war-whoops, is carved into the shape of an armored humanoid figure reminiscent of a baboon, but much more heavily built. Its massive arms are thrust forward making of the monument a tripod, its fists subsumed into the earth as though driven there by the rage obvious in its snarling, tusked visage.

 

The Monolith to the left is a giant coiled viper, its mouth agape, each huge fang a spear in length. Massive emeralds, in place of its eyes, glitter coldly in the light the thousand distant stars overlooking the battlefield.

 

The Monolith to the right is topped by a spread of bat-like wings that come to meet overhead. A slit-nosed fanged maw thrusts forward beneath, a long questing tongue outthrust as though sensing the air around it.

 

The center of the inner triangle is dominated by a raised circle of bare stone, cracked and ancient seeming, yet magically potent to those who can see such things. Within the circle caper a half dozen figures in shiny black armor, swinging long forks of the same material in some ritual dance. Ghost warriors of the three tribes war all around them but none move onto or over the stone of the circle.

 

Instantly, the Brightwater Company recognized the High Folk for what they are, Wyrmhere exclaiming that this is some fell ritual of High Folk sorcery.  They charged, along with the warhost that had accompanied them.

 

The heroes are at the forefront, leaping across the line of the outer circle with eagerness for the fray – just as Ughari senses the trap.

 

From here, I would like to offer you the firsthand account of one of the Brightwater Company. Zoe Brightblade is an Orlanthi devotee of mixed Lunar and Sartarite blood, whose player recorded the session’s events as Zoe experienced them.

 

The trick, Zoe decided, was to not over-think things.

Really, it had all been going fairly well, all things considered.

Going fairly well, that is, for an expedition through a portal to a small moon hurtling at alarming speed towards Megasta’s whirlpool, while the armies of the White and Blue struggled for control. An expedition to discover how the High Folk were managing to sicken Sayid’s mentor with chaos and put a stop to it.

The causeway to the Challenge Ground had been odd enough, with its strange jungles and unknown beasts, and then there had been the horror of the Soul Harvester. But the strange men who worshipped the ape god Kanga had turned out to be decent enough sorts. They seemed not to know that they were ghosts, marching to the Challenge Ground to meet the ghosts of the other tribes in honorable combat. Alas, Ugarri’s warning had come too late and they had been shredded by the High Folk’s wards. There would be time to mourn them later.

The High Folk were strong, a challenge both physical and magical, but the Brightwaters had faced daunting foes in the past.

Between them, the Brightwater Company had managed to interrupt their ritual and had been in the process of fighting their warriors. Sayid, ridden hard by the Argrath had punched a hole through their ward to strike down a ritual dancer. Then Ugarri, reeling from the spiritual slaughter of the ghost army, gamely cast his own magics as Zoe sparred with the remaining dancers. And Wyrmhere – his power all but spent –  dived boldly through their number to stop the High Folk priest from completing the dark ritual to enslave the present warriors of the three tribes while slaughtering those of the past. Nothing but the mopping up to do, or so they had hoped.

But then the head of the giant bat statue exploded, and there was a rending, groaning shriek as the head of a larger bat emerged. The head of a giant red bat. The terrible noise came as a shock to even the High Folk, who had paused in their attacks as gape-jawed and astonished as the Brightwaters.

And Zoe knew this to be THE Crimson Bat, banished from Glorantha a decade ago, eager to force its way from wherever it was to the surface of the White Moon.

The Crimson Bat! It could not be allowed here. Zoe felt the outrage in her bones and sprang away towards it with a howl of her own, ignoring the sick feeling at the pit of her stomach. The sick feeling that told her – this battle was likely to be her last.

Chaos vermin the size of dogs were spewing from the bat’s froglike mouth, but as she neared, Zoe saw that the Bat’s head was all that had manifested. The shoulders and furled wings of the statue were cracking but intact. Whether this was because of the interrupted ritual or whether the Bat was still forcing its way in, Zoe didn’t know and did not pause to ponder.

She called upon her stored Stormrider runespell and launched herself into flight, diving for the creature’s throat. Five grisly tongues lashed tentacle-like from its mouth, and its cluster of eyes glittered in the light of her sword.

<This is it. Here is where I die> she thought with the part of her brain that observed things calmly. <If I die bravely enough, it may be that Orlanth will hear me and drive out the Bat.> But now she was weaving back and forth through the tongues, looking for the one shot she might get.

Driving in with a sudden lunge, Zoe gave a mighty cut with her blade. It was a good cut, a mighty cut, a cut that would have carved a horse in two. And while it did leave a mark on the creature’s neck, she was dismayed to see that it was only a mark. There was no real damage. Zoe saw the red moon and stars through its open maw and knew this to be the work of the Red Moon.

Zoe gathered herself to try again. She narrowly dodged the tongues as she dove again for its throat. <Eyes> the calm part of her brain told her. <Should’ve gone for the eyes. Too late.> Her second shot failed to leave even a mark and she wondered, briefly how the others fared, hoped they might escape.

The tongues lashed out a third time and this time she failed to dodge them all. Caught in a horrific fleshy tentacle, she cried out in anguish and cut franticly at it as it pulled her towards its dripping mouth. Zoe cut frantically and was sickened all over again at the torrent of chaotic ichor that spilled onto her.

And then it was gone. Just gone.

The head of the Crimson Bat was outlined for a moment in glorious shining white light, and then it imploded in a wash of that same white light, taking with it its unholy vermin and taint. Even the ichor that Zoe had been drenched in was gone, washed away by Ugarri’s summoned air sylph.

The Bat statue stood, a rough platform where it’s head had been, with Wymhere and Sayid standing in front of a shining portal. Wymhere’s clothes were smoking slightly, and Sayid was shining slightly, with the same light that had banished the Bat.

There would be explanations of course. And Zoe would want to hear them.

But for now, she was alive. Alive. They had fought the Crimson Bat and lived. It was enough.

 

Unbeknownst to Zoe, the Aspirant of the White Moon Goddess, Sayyid, felt the presence of a Smoking Mirror within the statue of the Bat God, and called upon her goddess to carry her there. Together, as Zoe fought the tongues of the Crimson Bat above their heads, the other Brightwaters set about destroying the Smoking Mirror. As Zoe distracted the tongues, cleaving the horrible head, and was gripped by one of the tongues, as she stared into the gullet of the Crimson Bat at the ruin of stars and black space that it had already consumed in its exile from Glorantha, the White Goddess reached through Sayyid and removed the Smoking Mirror, severing the Crimson Bat’s connection to the White Moon.

 

So ended the session.

 

On another note, I was overjoyed to have Zoe be the first among the Brightwater Company to reach Rune Level (Zoe now qualifies for the Status of Wind Lady, but has not been confirmed as such yet), especially since she made it during such an epic confrontation! The other Brightwaters are, themselves very close to Rune Level as well.