Shadows of Edessa, Introduction and Background

CAMPAIGN Thread Narratives and Introductions

 

The Hallowed Stones of Edessa

        “Magic?” responded the man kneeling over the body, “No, no…there is no such thing.  Theft, my son.  What you saw today was theft.  This is the punishment of the theft of Patra’s holy might, and it’s best to put it out of your mind as to how it was gathered from Him.”

         “Yes, Papra,” whispered the small boy.  He put the shovel down and tried to pick up one of the  Hallowed Stones, but he found it too heavy. “Papra, why do we always choose such heavy stones for the dead?”

         The Undertaker patted his son on the back and picked up the stone himself; He placed it on top of the deceased’s chest.  “No important reason son, but it is the will of Patra, and it is tradition.  We weigh down the body, so that it cannot rise once more on Souen.”

         “Souen?  You mean the night the shadow people return to Theta?”

         “Yes, son.”

         “Papra.  Do you mean to say that the dead CAN rise once more?”

         “No, no my boy,” chuckled the undertaker, his smile shone through the dirt smeared over his face and he knealt beside the boy, “Your Papra is the Undertaker, son.  You are the Undertaker’s son, and will one day take my place.  Today, I will teach you a trade secret.”

         “Yes, Papra!” the boy said, smiling. He loved his Papra and he loved it when he was entrusted with secrets like this.

         The undertaker, kneeling, leaned close dramatically, eyeing his son’s curious eyes. “We are paid to weigh down the dead so that they cannot rise once more. We choose heavy stones and we keep the grave open for the inspection of the family. This gives peace of mind to their loved ones that they will never rise, so they can tell others that they had come to Patra in their lives.”

         “Yes, Papra, I know this”

         “Yes, yes I know you do,” said his father, “But the truth is my boy that they never do.  No one ever leaves their hallowed grounds, no one ever does.  There is only Patra son,  Theta has long since gone. We profit and feed ourselves from their fears.”

         “But Papra, how do you know? How do you know the dead will not come back as the Patrons say?”

         “My boy,” the man smiled, and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder, he pointed to the large pile of heavy stones gathered for the burial. “Where do you think these stones are from?”

         The man chuckled and continued his work, tossing the stones in atop the body, one at a time.  As night settled in, the boy and his father finished up, hiked back to the village to eat their dinner.  In the morning, the funeral procession would begin, and another mourning costumer would pay. 

 

Edessa and the Patral Lands

         On the great risen plains of Edessa, lie the Patral houses. Scattered and distant are these ever changing city states, yet sometimes too close for civility. They each hold their own idea of how best to be a Patriot. And although once they were as a whole body of Patra’s holy might, they lie now stranded and separated, like a vast spider web of connected commerce, mystery, trade and sometimes deceit and war.

While dark canals curl, cross and meander far below, fed from the Great Devourer, the Patral houses rule above, and have for an age. In the name of Patra, the common folk work the land, mine for black rock, and keep the demons they hear of in the Patral Temples at bay through belief in their Twin God and the Patral Saints of yore. All the while these poor souls rise and return to the Earth in their short, haggard lives. Around their endless toil, the angels from a more holy plane  fight a holy war, unseen but to the most devout and pious of our world.  They battle against the darkened shadows of Theta, Patra’s ancient twin. These  shadow demons are the remnants of a great schism that once nearly drove the races of mankind from Patra fully. They  now constantly seed the lands with foul deeds, and subversion.

         Then there are the Hospitalers, a sometime liaison between the Patral Houses, and yet seemingly dark and untrustworthy society of idealogues.  Free to do as they wish by their secret code, the Hospitalers trace their justified might back in a history as an unbroken chain all the way back to the time of Drom. They search, independent of the Patral Houses,  for those who would pervert Patra’s holy gifts.

Yet beyond all the borders of these lands, savages and creatures of untold terror threaten the safety of the common folk. As if the common man wasn’t worried enough about the spiritual war fought amongst them, or the very tangible conflicts between houses, there are still other horrors on Edessa. From the mountain ranges come the hordes of the demon races.  From the Eastern lands come winged terrors and raids from more savage societies, some of which eat the flesh of man in order to gain the unholy power that resides within it.

         From below lie the inhuman races, the Dark Elves, the dwarves and the more sinister Duergar. Others are said to live even deeper, but those stories are not often told or spoken of.  

         From within the borders of the Patral States come other old and some new, terrors.  The dead who rise again, the Undead. And of course the Magi, whose sick and perverted ways steal the holy powers of the common man and especially the divinity of the Patral Priests.  These perverted, warped demon worshipping zealots then slink back to the shadows of the world to make their magics.  A dying breed some say, the secrets of the Magi are still spoken of in hushed tones, and their dangerous wickedness is still a threat to hard working vassals. Their sworn enemy, the Hospitalers certainly do not believe the stories of their demise, and they are hunted, and often accused.  Different lordly houses accuse the other of harboring havens for these demon worshippers.

         It’s not an easy land to be born into, and with no title or wealth, an even tougher place to live. And yet, this is where you find yourself. No connections but what you make, and can claim rightly.  No allegiances but what you make and what is accepted from those you wish to belong. No protection unless you can connect and align to something bigger than yourselves.  What path will you take through the literal and figurative shadows of the lands of Edessa?

 

 

Session 1 Introductory Narrative

Narrative Interlude, Justice or Judgement?

Atop a windswept hill stood the elders, the women and the children of the community of Amador. A woman tied to the post was in the center of the grassy clearing. She was wearing white, and few other noises were heard except her indiscriminate sobbing.  The people around her didn’t speak.  Their ash covered faces were streaked with tears, their eyes squeezed, heads turned toward the man, tall and imposing standing next to the sobbing woman, their hats rustling, brims flapping.  Shirt sleeves and pant legs snapped and shook in the gale, but their bodies didn’t flinch or move.  Neither did the man, whose hat seemed glued to his head, despite the wind’s best efforts to tear it off. Beneath the brim, all was dark. A man without a face.  This was not a time to move, it was a moment when decisions would be made for the community, if it could really be called that since they found the black rock. Above them, a clear sky, not a cloud in sight. Under their feet, flattened grass, a few granite tops of rocks, and pressing down on them were the boots, dozens of pairs alike of Grogue’s men.

Despite the various men at arms in their clanky armor,  there was only the whistle of the wind and it’s effects, her sobbing.  The woman.  Far below, the valley seemed to be merely a painting, the river and farming fields a series of brush strokes. Beyond the hilltop, was the mine of Amador, the black rock mine, which seemed a giant scar in an otherwise picturesque view.

“Justice,” said Grogue, his protruding teeth making a mockery of his otherwise human like grin. It came out as nothing more than a word, slick, yet low, but it had an immediate effect on the woman Grogue was looking at, the very same every person was staring at. The woman in the white dressing gown. The woman whose hands were tied to the Post of Justice. Her eyes blinked when he said it, and her chest heaved in and out.

“Or Judgment?”

A small child from somewhere in the crowd began to cry too; One of Grogue’s warriors turned his head in it’s direction, and as if by some magic, it was immediately silenced.

“Which shall we choose today, eh?”

No one dared to answer. Even Father Faria, the Patral Lord of Amador, who had once spoke to Grogue many years ago on a day like this, and as all knew lost a hand as his reward.

“WELL????” Grogue’s silky voice rose with the wind, “WHAT SHALL IT BE TODAY, AMADOR?????”

“Please, please…,” pleaded the woman’s husband.  “She didn’t mean any harm, she wasn’t thinking straight…please…” It was Dantes, a merchant to whom Grogue used for basic necessities in the village. A self-composed man, you had never seen him like this. It was as if his eyes were willing his wife back to him. He was stretched to the breaking point.

“Dantes, Dantes. Let’s not break tradition, here…,” Grogue walked around the woman tied to the post, he ran his clawed fingers along under her chin, she flinched at his touch.  “You know what this place was like before you invited me here.  You know the way things were?”

He took out an object from his pocket, about the size of a child’s closed fist, it was dark, but speckled with glints of shiny particles. “You know what you want, what you’ve always wanted. Wealth.”

“Wealth, peasants of Amador.  A wealth beyond measure, a wealth that a town like yours could only dream of. And I’ve given that to you.”

“I’ve given you your dreams. Have I not?” Silence.

“HAVE I NOOOOTTTT?????”

More silence.

“The Patral Houses need their Rock.  To protect this realm from the heathens of the isles, from the heathens of the North, from the monsters all around us and from within. And you are paid for this Rock,” he continued, spittle flying from his shadowed mouth, holding the rock in front of the downturned faces of the community,” and stealing from this relationship, hurts US ALL!!!!”

“But she didn’t steal it!!!!!!!!!!” You heard someone cry…

Grogue stopped in mid step.  A subtle smile began to appear under the shadow of his hat, his axe lay motionless at his side, as if at the ready for his use.  A simultaneous crinkling sound as many armored necks turned towards a small child, “Who said that?” said Grogue.

“I did,” you replied…

 

 

 

 

The Lazarus Project

        The little gnome with the scarred hands stepped away from the shiny machine resting before him.  The gnome spoke to a large man standing behind him but never took his eyes off his creation.  Looming over the tiny tinkerer, arms crossed, the tall man was clearly boiling with anger. His face was red, he was sweating profusely and he had an agitated motion to his left leg. The day was particularly hot and humid and this was supposed to be a demonstration, not a fruitless trip to the barren lands. But the gnome’s eyes never left the iron contraption in front of him.

         “It isn’t activating.” Said the tinkerer.  He reached out with his crooked fingers to turn a knob here and then there.  In front of him, a helmet atop a thick suit of armor stood motionless and stopped over as if in a poor display.

         The man behind the gnome exploded with rage and threw the nearest object he could grab from a bench across the room. The wrencher shattered several glass containers, and came to rest on the cave floor. “I can see that Gruer, you sniveling little twerp. We paid you for activation, I rode out here for activation.” His hand went to a small object resting on a belt at his side. “You said you could activate it.”

         “I tried sir, I tried. I don’t think the test subject was ready for what we have put it through.  You understand that you chose..”

         “It is you who doesn’t understand GRUER!  If you cannot make the machine turn on then you are of no …..”

         Just then, a noise came from inside the helm. And the machine, which resembled a suit of armor, fidgeted. Legs began to rise and it did too until it was much taller than either the gnome or the man behind him. It resembled a suit of armor with a  full metal helm atop the breast plate, inside was dark and covered by metallic parts. It’s arms, covered in pieces of metal lay by it’s side. Metal gears and whirling parts turned and spun along it’s legs, but then became silent.  As if alive, it all took one step toward the gnome, wobbly at first, but then sure footed.  It stopped, and the helm atop the armor turned ever so slowly toward the taller man behind him. The gnome grinned in the direction of the helm and clapped with excitement.  The taller man behind him broke into a laugh, “Well, well….”

 With lightning speed, the armored thing extended an arm and moved instantly towards the laughing man. The gnome was knocked to the side like a rag doll as it took  several steps towards his employer relentlessly. The man, who now stepped back in shock tripped over several lab items on the floor, and skidded against one of the many work tables in the gnome’s lab, flailing his arms backward in an effort to stop his fall. On the floor, legs kicking, he fumbled at the object by his belt, but couldn’t seem to loosen it. He began to shout. It all happened so quickly, the metallic thing moving with incredible speed in his direction.

 This man’s look of anger was now replaced by a look of sheer terror as the animated suit of armor bore down on him.  It bent over in creaking and scraping sounds, and grabbed him by the shoulder blade, making the tall man cry out in agony.  It’s other arm picked up a metal bar on the floor while the man squirmed and kicked his feet inconsequentially at the thing about to kill him.   Rising it’s arm above their heads it’s helm positioned itself directly in front of the man’s face, the arm came down swiftly.

         “931!!!!!!” Roared the Gnome, “Command 931!!!!!!”

         Immediately, the suit’s arm froze, the metal bar it held stopping just inches from the tall man’s face. The suit of armor stayed motionless, while the gnome’s tiny feet stepped around it to where he could see his employer.  He bent around the suit’s still upheld arm, and peered in on the man, who was wincing in pain. He still had one shattered shoulder gripped by the thing’s other hand.

         “Master, it works.  Lazuras A127 is yours.”

 

 

 

Kraumpus, Night Devil of Edessa

 

The land was frozen. The night was dark with a new moon and in it’s eerie glow all was glass.  Bushes, trees, and traces of the leftovers from the harvested crops, picked clean and left like skeletal debris upon the soil, dotted an otherwise barren landscape.  All was covered, in white, buried and secret now.   It was still in the fields and shadows beyond them.

They waded through the flurries, stopping to rest when they could.  The snowdrifts from the last storm had piled over all, like white blankets thrown over the trees and hills and round roofed homes of the Edessan farms.  They knew if they stopped too long, they too would be covered over, and so they kept going.  In the summer, these farms fed much of the nearby city-state of Edessa and were abuzz with bees.  Tonight, the land was silent, and nothing stirred. Except the family, moving through the night. A husband, his wife and their young son.  They huddled close to keep the wind off the little one.
A few leagues ahead, in a thatched cottage, waited another family by a fire. Their name was Gibron, a common Patral name.  Named for Patra’s holy warrior, Thron, the father, and the mother, his wife, kept the fire lit and the children warm.  Tonight, they had feasted on stew, from game they had caught earlier in the winter. This year they hadn’t lost any of their hunting share from dire wolves, or winter bears.  Unbelievably, their store had stayed untouched.  Usually, one could count on at least a raid, or two, from the sky lizards or some other creature of the wilds. But this cycle, the angel of luck had guarded over them.

A fine stew it had been too, and a fine evening they had all shared even though their guests had not yet arrived.  They knew, by the winds howling under and around the cottage, that there was a good chance they had turned around.  This night, the Night of the Guardians, the Night of the Saraphims, would be like so many others in homes just like theirs scattered in the Patral lands.  It would be a night to cling close to Patra, to keep the angelic candles lit, to sleep close to the warmth of the fire and to each other.  A night to stay indoors.

As usual, the children didn’t want to sleep.  Even though the stories they were told by the village elders were dark enough to keep them from misbehaving, there were also the morning gifts.  Their Papra would leave his boot outside, and their benevolent host, Patra himself, would fill it with nuts, and dried fruits and if they were lucky even an isle fruit.  It was a bonanza for the coldest time of their winter, and with all that prize, hard to settle in and close the eyes.  Of course, Papra’s stories often were best on a night like this too, and the children knew if they stayed up, they could get a few out of him.

“Why haven’t they come, Papra?” Asked the eldest, who was only a mere 6 cycles.

“They must have decided the storm too strong is all Ralof,” replied the father, “now don’t go getting upset. We knew they most likely wouldn’t make it with the little one.”

“Papra, tell us again how Patra fills the boot!” yawned the daughter, whose head was resting on her mother’s knee. Her small body was laying under the blankets in her lap.

“No, Papra,” asked the son, again through the blankets covering him. “We’ve heard that one enough times already.  Tell us…tell us again of Kraumpus, the Clawed One!”

“No, no,” spoke the mother harshly to her child, “Not Kraumpus tonight Thron! It’s already dark and dreary enough as it is that none of your family could join us.  Tell them of some other story.  I don’t wish to hear about ol’ Kraumpus tonight.  He gives me the chills enough to need two fires.”

“Now Mother, you know you need not fear ol’ Kraumpus.  Nor any soul in our family. We give our offerings to Patra, and we abide by the Patral texts, same as the rest of our kin.  Nothing to fear at all.”

“Well, you don’t need to Patronize me, Thron.  I know we’re as safe as all the rest, it’s the children I fear for.  We’ve had such a lovely night, and I’d hate to see them cry before bedtime.”  She gave a small wry smile to her husband that neither child caught, and with a slight wink she egged him on, just as she had last year, and the one before that.

“Please, Papra!” Whined the children. “We won’t be scared.  Promise!”

“Well, well…” the father muttered, rubbing his beard and pushing a small pillow behind his back so that he was propped up before the fire.  “I suppose, I could tell you about ol’ Kraumpus, a bit, if of course, you can handle the idea of children,”  his hands quickly reached out to grab them both by the ankles, “getting dragged to the Shadowlands!!!!!”

They both screamed, and Papra laughed. Mother did too.

Their Papra, like he always could, knew he had their undivided attention now. The children snuggled deeper into the blankets, but each kept the covers from their eyes so that they could see their papra’s facial expressions.  He always seemed to act out the story, and they loved that part best.

“Long before the Patral houses ruled Edessa, before the Shadowlands below, and even before the great Devourer tore itself into the heart of our world, there was only Patra.  In the void, Patra was peace. There was no death, there was no life.  There was only Him. And Patra realized a mighty thing.  He realized that it would take life to beget life, and so he knew that of himself, he must give a spark.”

The father made a small sphere by cupping his hands, and while he was talking, grinded and twisted the two arms, so that the sphere made of his fingers tear themselves apart. “Patra, in his infinite wisdom and holiness, wanted to impart himself onto the universe, to give it life. But life cannot exist without death.  Light, cannot exist in the void unless there is darkness.  And so, to give the universe life, he gave of himself that which life needed to balance all things. And so Theta was born, and to Patra, he was as a brother.”

“To Patra’s light, he was darkness, to his peace, he was chaos.  Together, the two made the world of Edessa, the Eastern Isles, even the Scorched Lands and when Patra created the sun, Theta carved the Shadowlands so that a world with only darkness might thrive too.  The Twin God of Patra and Theta, ruled the world, and in their creation, the two walked and admired their work. Then came a time when the Twins would take for themselves wives….”

“Papra, we know all this! We hear it read from the Patral texts all the time! Besides, this is the part that’s boring, the marriages and stuff!”

“Oh yes, well, I know,” chuckled the father, so I suppose you want me to get to….” He brought his hands up to his head and stuck out two thumbs from either side to resemble horns, “the good part, right??”

“Yeah,” they both giggled, but the youngest pulled the covers closer around her, and the eldest snuggled closer to his mother.

“Al right my dears, well I will advance the story a bit then.” Papra stopped to wait for a particularly loud howling of the wind to continue. “You see, the story of Kraumpus begins with an angel of Patra.  For you see, Kraumpus was once of Patra, not….”

“Thron, is that the wind?” Interrupted mother.

“It sounds, it sounds like….,” the father began and moved to the cottage door. He turned confusedly to his wife, “Perhaps, they’ve made it after all, Elasa.”

Grabbing his coat, Thron pulled open the door, and immediately a gust of snow blew into the cottage.  The fire was winked out almost in an instant. The children screamed.  But Thron seemed not to notice these things.  He stared out into the night as if he were trying to look through the flurry of snowflakes. While still staring, he smiled reassuringly, “Stay here with the children, Elasa. And get the pots boiling, they’ll be freezing sure enough, especially the little one.”

Thron closed the door behind him.  He couldn’t believe they had made it, and he was sure they were going to be needing attention of some sort.  He quickly barged his way through the new snow to where he had seen the figures silhouetted on the hill where he kept his weather vane.  When he first opened the door, they were there, with the moon behind them. Several figures unmistakably his family. Even in the moonlight he could make them out.  Now, he was knee deep in the drifts making his way past the barns, and a misty gust had gotten in his way.  He made a beeline towards where he thought they would be walking down. He didn’t want the little one hurt by the debris that was under the snow on the side of that hill.

Eventually he rounded the barns and not seeing them yet, made his way up towards where he thought they might now be. No trace of their darkened outlines in the moonlight.  No tracks in the snow yet. He maneuvered his way carefully, knowing each area like the back of his hand, despite the winds blowing snow and ice all around him in swirls.

“Damn the storm tonight,” he thought to himself.  “I just saw them!”

He called out to them, but there was no answer.  Merrily, he tried to shout to them,“You’ve made it!  Elasa will warm you up soon! If you can hear me, make your way to the house!”

But no one answered. He tried to look back at the cottage, but there was no light.  Elasa must still be struggling with the fire, he reasoned.

And then he heard a noise.  Someone stepping in the snow towards him. He stopped.

“Bron? Is that you?”

Another, this time from a different direction, not feet from him through the swirling white.

“Bron, answer me!”

Finally, a third noise came from behind him,  it sounded smaller, like something moving through the snow instead of on it.  Thron turned to see Bron’s child. He was walking haphazardly step by step, his head was down, and covered by his cloak, ice hung from all of it’s edges.

“Bless Patra, boy! Let’s get you indoors, and your mama and papra too!”

Thron stepped closer and embraced the child, he moved his hands along the cloak to wipe the ice away, to cup his angelic face. His hands moved to turn the coat over, stopping at the back of the child’s skull. He paused, puzzled at what he felt there.   The others stepping in the snow came closer and Thron was relieved to see the outlines of his brother and sister in law emerging from the clouds of snowflakes,  “And this must be your mama and your…”

But Thron was not able to finish his sentence for at that very moment, something had clawed his neck, and as he let go of the child, he remembered feeling warmth cascade down his chest.  Reaching up, he grabbed his throat but found it missing. Now only a jagged trench and at the base, was what he assumed was the tube of tissue he used to breathe through, simply dangling over his coat, something warm and gushing pumping out all around it, and all over him.

He knew then he had said his last words, so he didn’t try to speak, but what he didn’t know was that as he died, other sets of claws would rip away at his flesh too, not just the little ones that now belonged to this demon in the snow; The once angelic face replaced by something wicked, something from his own papra’s tales.

 

The Many Faces of Shadows of Edessa:

Panish Thornbush: A truly obnoxious man who writes notation for the Town Criers. Panish has a small secret he doesn’t like people to know about. During fighting in the Edessan Palace takeover, Panish narrates the party’s deeds. But how yellow is his journalism?

Colletta Truland: The competitor to Panish, trying desperately to get the story that she can share with the Crier Guild and earn her way in. She hired Abel to help her sell her wares during the palace festivities.

Arguille: A dockboy who has access to some things the party might need. But they gotta be “cool” to him. “Don’t forget your silvers fellows, these girls ain’t angels, if you know what I mean!”

Asawa Baba: Story teller, old man, A Sarasin slave, imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Or did he?

Jimmy Joe Gooding: The Goodings do a good deed. Always.

Security Guard and his brother, Captain of the Guard: Carmine and Lorenzo, neither considers the party credible in any way. Carmine and Lorenzo are watching you.

Prince of Antioch, Kadesh Throte: The prince was not in attendance, a fact that the Edessan court will use to raise tariffs on Antichan goods.  Perhaps, he has better things to do.

Ormander- Whoever Ormander was, he met a terrible end.  Half goat, half man, he was found by the party in the laboratory below the palace.  What mystery does he hold?

Gronk Bruber-Although they haven’t seen him yet, they know whoever Gronk is, he is not to be trifled with. He has already turned off the Edessan Welcome, the light that guides ships into the Port of Edessa.  Holding the nobles for ransom, he keeps Bowmund at bay until he gets what he wants. But what is that?

Bowmund-Captain of the Edessan Palace Guard, Bowmund was stationed in the grounds when the attack occurred.  He is negotiating with Gronk for release of the hostages, and kept outside by Gronk’s threats.

Thoros-The eldest of the Edici family. Thoros became infirm and gave up rule of the realm several years ago to Xavier Edici. 

Edward Edici-The eldest son of the Regal Edici Family. Edward was killed as a child by Sarasins while the family was en route to the Festival of Patrimony many years ago.

Jibral-The Patron Saint of Edessa. Jibral is the protector. The angel of safety, Jibral often appears dressed in mail, swirling from the ether to confront the enemies of those righteous and mighty enough to call upon him.

Chantecleer-An eccentric elvish chef with a singing cleft. Chantecleer wears a constant holiday sweater that he sews himself which often feature the various deeds of the characters.  Chantecleer can heal if he knows how you feel! But do not offer his soup cold.

 

        He arrived to take some tea and jam.

      I hate your face, it eats all my ham.

     

      A man of metal, A heart of gold

      He moves like he’s super old.

 

      A Blacksmith with a screechy bird.

      He speaks in rather vulgar words.

 

      He tried to offer myself help.

      You cannot cook, you little whelp.

 

 

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