Runequest Thursday #176 - The Reaching Moon Temple at Moonbroth!

Clint Staples

If you read Runequest Thursday #173, you know that The Brightwater Company was on the winning side of the Second Battle of Moonbroth, in which the Anti-Lunar alliance consisting of The White Bull Tribe (all those who were at the Paps when Argrath led the White Aurochs there and united the disparate Praxian Nomads as well as some Orlanthi and other visitors to the sacred site, into a single force - a bit of an exaggeration, but not too much), The Orlanthi freedom fighters hiding out in the Big Rubble, Sundrinker the Wyrm, Kazakorang the River Dragon, a handful of Humakti mercenaries, and diverse even more disparate elements, overcame the Lunar garrison at Moonbroth, killing or capturing a number of high level Imperial Priests and Officers, and occupied the site. 

This is a significant blow to the Imperial war effort in Sartar and in the River of Cradles. As Theudulf the Learned, whose report you might have read in #173, mentioned. The Lunars cannot allow their lines of supply and communication to be cut and will have to do something to retake the Oasis.

But the seizure of Moonbroth as a military location may not be as significant as the seizure of the Oasis, the turning out of the Red Moon Oracle of Moonbroth, and perhaps most importantly, the destruction of the Temple of the Reaching Moon there.

Why?

Two words - Yara Aranis!

Yara Aranis is the demoness of the Temple of the Reaching Moon, perhaps coerced into the Lunar Pantheon by the Red Goddess during her Heroquest Apotheosis, or possibly the child of the Red Emperor on a potent demon. Yara Aranis is the Six-Armed Horsekiller, the Glutton, Feeder on Horses.  Like the Crimson Bat, she is a harbinger of Lunar power and terror, inflicted primarily upon the frontier peoples who resist Imperial dogma and suzerainty.

But she is also the guardian of the Temple of the Reaching Moon. And where the Reaching Moon goes, the Glowline follows. The Glowline is the ever expanding range of direct influence of the Red Goddess upon Glorantha. In Imperial territory, the Red Moon lights the heavens  and rivals Yelm as a smaller, dimmer crimson sun, but much more immediate within the bound of Empire. The Glowline is the manifestation of the Imperial Light which streams from the Red Moon, and the bounds of the Glowline are set by the network of Temples of the Reaching Moon planted like flags of conquest in all the frontiers of the Empire. Behind the Glowline, Lunar magic is much more powerful, and can include the powering of such sorcerous engines as the Moon Boats capable of transporting hundreds of troops faster than any method short of Orlanthi teleports. The Reaching Moon Temple at Moonbroth was very near completion, and threatened to change the war in Sartar and in the River of Cradles forever.

The Brightwater Company has been in the center of the Resistance movement against the Lunars in the River of Cradles since the beginning of the campaign. Two years of game time, and a few years of real world time, have made most of the player characters staunch opponents of Lunar expansion. While building a settlement in competition with Rausfort, they have walked a fine line between outright hostility to the Lunars, and passive opposition in the form of building alliances and organization, providing a meeting place, and peacefully staking out a portion of the River of Cradles as non-Lunar. They have managed, with a couple of exceptions, to avoid incurring Lunar wrath directly, mostly by remaining too low on the Administration's radar to be worth stamping out. They managed to keep Duke Raus from hostility, even gain some good will with the Duke in exile by saving his wife and others from a virulent plague and safeguarding his wayward daughter once or twice.

Anyway, back to Moonbroth - and Yara Aranis.

Since my players finally pushed for an attack on the Oasis, I needed to detail the layout and defenses, figure out the array of forces on both sides, and take them through an adventure in which they took part in the assault. Was there a big battle? Yes. Hundreds on each side, including a number of heavyweights.

The pickets of the Lunar Impala Lancers, bivouaced outside of the fortress alongside their Praxian Sable Rider allies, were the first to notice the movement of a sizable force of Nomads from the hills to the Northeast down into the valley of Moonbroth. They sent for reinforcements, sure that they could hurt the enemy outside in a running battle, then retreat to the safety of the walls, drawing the impetuous nomads into range of the Lunar siege machines.

Within Moonbroth, the Lunar Garrison had trouble of its own. As mentioned in RQT #173, the Brightwater Company was instrumental in figuring out a way, using shamans of the River Horse, to travel from the Agamori-held caves at the Weis Cut, to any source of water that connected to it. These waters are part of a network of seasonal rivers of Prax, known as the Snakes or the Serpents, run year-round underground through much of Prax, and are the source of many Oases, including the one at Moonbroth. Gathering a dozen shaman of the River Horse and convincing them to contribute to the war effort took time, but the effect was to transport about 150 of the toughest freedom fighters, the Brightwater Company among them, into the fortress to rise out of the Pool of the Oracle. From this central point, over half of the incursion force would secure the gates, while the rest attacked the Administration buildings looking for the Governor and other highly place and powerful individuals.

The Brightwater Company, with a few close allies, were detailed to destroy the Temple of the Reaching Moon. They were in for a surprise.

The Temple of the Reaching Moon, though incomplete, and therefore incapable of acting to draw the Glowline, did have a working Sigil of Binding for Yara Aranis - AND a compliment of priestesses and a runelady of the dread demon on hand to protect it. The temple itself, its grand canopy still under construction was open to the air. The canopy was to be supported by nine columns of Red Lunar Marble imported at great cost from the Empire. At present, the columns reached Moonward like the fingers of a supplicant. The floor of the temple was of local sandstone, but for nine small sigils between the pillars, on which nine braziers burned, and over which nine cauldrons of boiling, bubbling horseblood cooked continually in honor of the Demoness. In the center of the sandstone floor and the ring of nine lesser sigils, lay the red marble Sigil Stone of Yara Artanis herself. Twenty feet across and nearly two feet thick, it too had been carried from the heart of the Empire. It was a fitting home to the Demon fo the Reaching Moon. With it, and sufficient sacrifice, the Reaching Moon Priesthood could summon Yara Aranis to Glorantha. 

When they found themselves under attack, they did just that. The Runelady, Ymra Kaz, allowed herself to be the vessel of her demon, and Yara Aranis could be embodied to aid in the defense of Moonbroth and the Temple.

But the Brightwater Company had recently gained an ace in the hole against Yara Aranis, who they suspected would be the toughest opponent in the fight. In the market of Gonn Orta, the Giant, they managed to gain access to another form of Oracle. For three thousand Lunars, they could open the Book of Secrets: a relic, possibly of demonic origin itself, but variously said to be the troth-book of Eurmal.

  • Tome of Secrets (3000L) This book may not be purchased, but a use of it can be had for the stated amount. A large bronze bound book embossed with runes for Truth, Illusion, Death and Mastery, with pages of ancient vellum. Each page contains a single name, scribed in black ink, and a thumbprint in red-brown ink (blood). Whoever signs his name in the book may ask a question of it. When he seals the query with his blooded print, the Book will drain 1d4 characteristic POW from the questioner, and the answer will print upon the page. There the letters will remain for 1 hour before fading. The book has several dozen signatures and only ever appears to have 1 blank page remaining. (Famous Signatures include: Arkat, Ethihrist, Nysalor, Brion).

One of the Company, thinking of the battle to come, asked how best Yara Aranis could be weakened or neutralized. The cryptic answer told of the demon's all-consuming hunger for horseflesh, and her inability to resist it. Plans were made to transport horses along with the army marching overland. The Praxians allowed this because the guessed something of the fate of the hated creatures. When the army came in sight of the Sable and Impala camps, Sayyid, Priestess of the Annihila, Goddess of the White Moon, was already slaughtering the horse sacrifices at the center of a ritual designed by Wyrmhere Brasshand, the sorcerer of Brightwater and powered by the White Goddess herself (who unbeknownst to many, waited eagerly to transport herself and a portion of her White Lunar forces through a Smoking Mirror created in the Oasis at Moonbroth).

The demon summoned, appeared in her binding sigil, took possession of Ymra Kaz and scenting the air, ignored the burning blood in her temple, instead charging through the streets of Moonbroth for the gates and the greater lure to the Horse Sacrifice.

Great was the slaughter she wrought against those who stood in her way. Fifty feet tall, her six arms wielding the tools of carnage she crashed trough the rear of the Impala Lancers, themselves disordered by the Sable Riders who turned upon them to declare themselves White Bull tribe. Scattinging impala like nine-pins she surged into the enemy, beheaded and dismembered a band of rhino riders in a pair of heartbeats. Onlookers recall seeing pieces of the three ton warbeasts hurled hundreds of feet by the force of her attack. There died Barsun Spiritlance, friend and ally of Brightwater, as he drove his lance into the demon's thigh and spent the last of his power to drain a portion of her strength. The rest of the host gave way as she leapt beyond them following the sacred horseblood. Lunar phalangites and skirmishers wavered as they began to be encircled. When no reinforcements issued form Moonbrothm, they began to retreat as ordered, having accomplished far less than they had hoped

Inside - The River Horse invaders fell upon the Thorakites warding the Gates. The melee was now general. There was fighting in the streets as locals sought to defend their own. The Orlanthi attacking the Gates. Led by Grizelda herself, along with a potent collection of runelevel freedom fighters flew over of through the thorakites, who were missing the magical might of their Seven Mothers Priests. Soon the gates were in Orlanthi hands and they were opened. Momentarily, the Lunar infantry rallied, expecting the long awaited succor. But none came forth. When the Orlanthi Wyvern Riders descended from the dark skies overhead, backed up by the fires of Sundrinker and Kazakorang, resistance crumbled and the battle on the plains was won - until Yara Aranis returned at least.

Within Moonbroth, the fight to destroy the Sigil was in the hands of the Brightwater Company, who were toe to toe with the Priestesses of the Demoness, themselves transformed into smaller versions of her. The fight was hard-pressed. The demon-priestesses were warded by potent magics and in the heart of their temple. Nothing seemed to harm them until one of the Brightwaters toppled a blood cauldron and extinguished the flame underneath it. One of the priestesses immediately turned to oily smoke, destroyed as her spell of transformation collapsed. Then it was a matter of evading the swords of the demon-priestesses long enough to topple cauldrons. Still hard fought, the cuitists were hampered by the need to defend their cauldrons. Slowly, the tide turned in the favor of Brightwater. The last of the priestesses were slain, the last caldron toppled, the burning blood rising to the sky . . .

 . . . where it finally summoned Yara Aranis from her slaughter and consumption of the horses on the plains. Fearful of being dispelled, with powerful leaps she vaulted the walls, strode the streets and toppled huts and houses in her rage and hunger. Those fighting at her feet she mostly ignored, and so they lived. In the temple, the Brightwater Company's attempts to destroy the Binding Sigil were slow going. The Sigil was huge, and powerfully protected. They struck it with weapons and all the magic they could muster, but the sigil was barely marred. As the thudding tread of the demoness neared, they were becoming desperate. 

Wyrmhere, sorcerer-acolyte of Jagrun Khan, called upon his patron for aid, casting power to the skies. The Storm Tiger answered with a roar to split the heavens. Yara Aranis, berserk with hunger, was undeterred. Sweeping mortals from her path in a welter of gore, she charged again, only to be dashed fro her talons by the bulk of Kazakorang as the River Dragon dropped from above. An outlying building in the new Lunar style was smashed, and the two titans rolled and fought, swords and glaive at a disadvantage in close quarters against the claws and fangs of the dragon. Ichor poured from wounds on both combatants. The dragon roared fire into the face of the demon even as she snapped a wing between two of her arms.

Little of this was observed by the Brightwaters however, who bent again to attacking the Binding Sigil, fearful that the celestial roar was all that Jagrun Khan could contribute so far from his shrine on the Zola Fel. But in the next instant lightning struck the Temple of the Reaching Moon, and the massive stone body of Jagrun Khan landed in the binding sigil with a crash.

There are those, Wyrmhere foremost among them, that say that the Storm Tiger came solely at the call of his acolyte, to save his favored servant and destroy hated chaos that he never could have found alone. Certainly this is true as far as it goes. Jagrun Khan did descend like a thunderbolt, crushing the marble, breaking Yara Aranis Binding Sigil and casting her back to the Red Moon, or further, into the Outer Darkness from whence she came. But others say that Orlanth took a hand in the battle then too. Him called Orlanth the Loser by the Lunars who would see his worship eradicated. Orlanth Thunderous, whose priests and priestesses, lords and ladies, fought there for him, alongside allies - Lightbringer and elsewise, against the dread forces of the Red Moon.

Did Jagrun Khan destroy the Binding Sigil? Undoubtedly! But did Orlanth lend his wind and thunder, his lightning and his godly power? How could he not? He was as much attacked by Yara Aranis and the Red Goddess as any there.

With the destruction of the demoness, the second battle for Moonbroth was won. The White Moon goddess, who arrived as Yara Aranis' form was destroyed bolstered the allies in the running battles in the streets as Seven Mothers officers and the Governor fought to turn the tide, then to retreat, but many who were not killed were caught. Phalangites and Thorakites surrendered or fled with the lighter troops, heading for Pavis or back to Sartar.

In case you were wondering, The pdfs are what was rampaging through the White Bull Tribe for awhile, as well as the demon priestesses that faced the Brightwater Company.