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Old Aug 19th, 2022, 02:32 AM
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Conclusion: Homeward Bound

GM - MechanicsThis closing interlude will follow a modified format, playing out as an exercise in collaborative story-telling. Each player will describe one leg of the journey home, told either from the POV of their PC or an omniscient GM narrator (author’s choice). The author will determine how all the PCs and NPCs behave, with the expectation that they’ll respect all the character personalities established thus far. No rolls are necessary—again, with the expectation that the current “vibe” and rules limitations will be honored. Players should feel free to exercise creative license, and are invited to treat the complications and NPC lists below as guidelines, not requirements.

Kindly post in chronological order and DM or OOC Mallothi with any questions.

Principal ObjectAuthorComplicationsAvailable NPCs
Escape Summitstone/WhitebridgeDemonSlayerHow do the animals escape the academy? How do they reach the mines at Mount Myrddin? What convinces Andy to stay with the group?Geoff and his lackeys, Stanley Schnurrhaar the warlock, the two unnamed guards at the academy gates, the unnamed alchemist, Petunia the basset hound
Pay back Rico RattinElanirHow do the Familiars clear their debt? What becomes of Rico Rattin? And what of Brie’s cousins? How do the animals escape the mines/village outskirts to reach the forest?Rico Rattin, Wensley and Dale, Rufus the mine-dwelling bloodhound
Pass the Impossibly High Stone WallNightCheeseHow do the animals get over/under the wall? What becomes of Rocco? How do the Familiars go about reclaiming the Abigail doll?Rocco, Colette the mouse, Niles and Garth the other goblins
Cross Bluewater BeckMallothiHow do the animals get back over the river? How do they reach the Witch’s cottage and reclaim her lock of hair? Where will they perform the ritual?Tolle the troll, Alexa the owl Familiar

Adventure skeleton, Exquisite Corpse RPG

Last edited by Mallothi; Aug 30th, 2022 at 11:05 PM.
Old Aug 26th, 2022, 11:01 AM
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Escape from Summitstone
It was done.

The hated witch hunter, Ulrich von Furchtbar, lay dead on the highest floor of the Academy. His pet geese Bart, the stuff of nightmares, the scourge of all innocent people, the witch hunter's unholy child, lay slain next to his father's now eyeless body. While it had only been a few days, the familiars' quest had seemed to take far longer than that, the hardships they had suffered along the way stretching time beyond what was natural. Not all would return to their peaceful cottage in the woods- without Beau's gentle touch, mother's beloved garden would surely suffer. But now, the brave animals' grim adventure was at an end, their mother avenged, the gruesome ingredients for her resurrection in hand. All that remained was to abandon the warren of man surrounding mount Myrddin, and to return to the soothing shadows of the Sweetbriar forest.

Zorandicus flew through an open window, taking a short pause perched atop one of the Academy's roofs. There, the owl looked down on what they had wrought, and was content. Furchtbar had been the city's greatest proponent of the persecution of any magical being not affiliated with the Academy. Now, he was as dead as his cause. The muckdwellers below were without a leader, and the avians of the city would rise and impose their will on the wretched beings who had for so long thought themselves master of all. Now, united, the winged ones would take their rightful place, and all those below them would cower and beg for forgiveness.

But would the avians be united? Zorandicus pondered the question, and considered how fractured the avians truly were. The Murders of House Khrow, the Gore Gulls who ruled the riverside docks, the Black Wing of the Magpie who claimed the markets as their own... Even the demented Deff Doves of House Pidjoon, who would paint the town white with their poison, urged by their zealous madness... Would they simply abandon their stake to the city and accept Zorandicus as their ruler? They had been quick to bow to him, once they realized his magical talent was needed to combat the mages of the city. But now that the mages had been defeated...

No. No, they would betray him. And so, the white owl made a hard decision. He would leave the city, at least for a time. He would let the Great Avian Houses believe him slain in the battle against Furchtbar, and exhaust themselves in the war that was sure to follow. And only when they were at their weakest would he return, rallying his faithful- the High Sparrows, the Crimson Hunters of House Rhobynn, the scholars of the Rhaveen institute, and many, many others. They would welcome them as their Saviour Returned. And then, only then, would the city finally be in his talons. But for now he would leave, follow these familiars he had gotten to know. Their magical bond to their mistress, so similar to the bond he had severed long ago, intrigued him. To say nothing of the necromantic ritual they intended to attempt! Indeed, remaining with them would make the coming days quite interesting...

But first, the animals would have to escape. The mountaineering paste allowed Brie, Ernest, Brijida and Drops to climb down the Academy's walls, leaving them in the Academy's inner courtyards with the unconscious form of Rocco still tied to Brijida's back. With them were six Wiserats, who had been grateful but moments ago for their escape from the hounds. Now, however, they were panicking, shooting accusatory glances at Brie for leading them down into what seemed to be another trap. For the humans had closed the gates to the Academy from the outside, locking the remaining wizards- and the familiars- in with the ravening canines. Worse, guards were running about, trying to do something, anything, about their current predicament. The steel-clad humans had not yet seen the familiars, but it wouldn't take long until they did. And from a nearby door they could see Stanley Schnurrhaar and Geoff emerge, with the witch hunter's remaining lackeys in tow. Miraculously, they had survived the hounds- though they seemed to sport many a bite mark. The survivors gesticulated angrily at each other, but the familiars couldn't make out their words at this distance.

Brie quickly made use of the humans' agitation, his red eyes flaring as he heightened their confusion further. Gesticulation and unhappy arguments turned to shouting, which then devolved into pushing, grabbing and hurtful words being screamed loud enough to be heard across the courtyard. Now wholly occupied with one another, they did not notice the familiars making a run across the courtyard and towards the sheltering darkness behind a mercifully open door. Almost, they escaped undetected- almost. In the last moment, Stanley turned to see the animals fleeing, and his momentary confusion was broken. His mouth agape during a moment of silence, he then began to point towards the familiars, trying to get the attention of Furchtbar's men.

But it was in vain. Zorandicus darted out from the same door which the humans had just come through, still blowing his silver whistle. A moment passed in which the wizard and Furchtbar's men looked up at the white blur passing them by- and then the hounds were upon them. The screams of agony made it clear there would be no escape for them this time.

Unfortunately, the hounds had also drawn more guards into the courtyard- and while their focus was on the dogs for now, they wouldn't take much more kindly to rats, a rabbit, a cat and a fox carrying a goblin. With but moments to spare, Brijida flicked her tail, launching a spark of fire through a nearby door. Her quick instincts proved to be the salvation of the group- the door led to the kitchen, where plenty of dry herbs and oils had been set out in preparation for the evening's meal. The ingredients quickly caught fire, and that fire spread throughout the small tower of which the kitchen was at the base. Now, the guards had one more problem to worry about, the few who took note of the running familiars considering them an oddity they did not have the time to deal with. Only two guards had the presence of mind to consider that such a motley group of animals might somehow be related to the trouble in the Academy. One of them still had a puffy face from the cat who had triggered his allergies- it seemed like too big of a coincidence that they now saw that same cat darting across the courtyard! Hoping the animals could somehow stop the dogs, the pair followed the familiars, following the tracks of sticky goop they left behind- the residue of the mountaineer's paste, now inert, but still quite bright and easy to follow...

The familiars ducked back inside the building, realizing they were trapped inside the Academy. Then Brie suddenly remembered Colette's words- there was another entrance to the academy, barred by a heavy iron door which could only be opened from the inside! Back then, it had seemed an impossible challenge to open such a door, but now they were actually inside, and they had Raindrops on Roses with them, for whom any gate would open. Emboldened by their new plan, the familiars set out finding the basement where this alleged exit was supposed to be. Down in the dark basement, however, they found a rather vast complex of hallways, lined with cells on each side. From the darkness behind those bars, the familiars could hear pitiful wails, hungry roars and hateful whispers. Then, they heard the guards following close behind- only now did they look back and see the trace of goop they'd been leaving!

The situation seemed dire, with two guards in pursuit, while only thin bars kept back an apparent legion of unknowable horrors. Realizing they were in danger of being captured, Ernest looked back and, remembering the magic Mother had taught him, cleaned the paws of his companions. Through his magic, the old tom removed the last of the mountaineer's paste from, allowing the familiars to continue their pursuit without leaving a trace of their passing. Meanwhile Raindrops of Roses, ever the romantic, felt moved by an especially pitiful wail coming from a nearby cell. With his magic, he unlocked the door to the cell, then followed his companions through the darkness.

The guards, still following the trail, suddenly came to a stop as that trail ended. Cursing their luck, the pair looked around sheepishly. Only now did they realize they had no idea where they were. They were just about to follow the trail back to the entrance, when one of them started hacking and coughing. For a moment, the other guard wondered what had gotten into his friend, thinking perhaps the cat had left enough of its hairs behind to trigger another allergic reaction. Then the unlocked cell door suddenly swung open, and a horribly mangled creature, half feline, half man, jumped out. Its claws and teeth dug deep into the guards' flesh, ripping apart metal armour and skin with contemptuous ease as the cat-man sated its hunger. The guards dropped their torch and the light went out, leaving only screaming- and the occassional sneeze- in the darkness...

Unaware of the horror they'd unleashed, the familiar kept running, and more or less stumbled onto the heavy metal door leading outside. Once again Raindrops on Roses worked his magic, and the door flung open, bathing the familiars in the rays of an early evening sun. They had escaped the Academy- now, all they needed to do was return to the Myrddin mines.

Fortunately, their path would be much easier going forward- most of the city's humans were occupied either with the festival, with cleaning the debris from last night's fires, or with watching the events at the Academy unfurl. None paid much attention to a small band of animals running through the city, and the familiars- now joined by Andy, who had abandoned the silver whistle on the roof of the Academy- made their way to Chez Gygax, and the drain leading to the mines.

Being back in the alley behind Chez Gygax was difficult for the familiars, for it was here that they had lost their companion, Beau. Gentle and shy, the white rat had held the least faith in the resurrection ritual, nor did the desire for revenge hold sway over the kind gardener's heart. By joining the other familiars on their quest, she had sought nothing but redemption- a chance to rid herself of the guilt she felt at standing idly by while men burned her mother alive. In the end, she had given her life in a doomed attempt at buying her friends time to escape the staff of Chez Gygax. Would she be happy, knowing that the quest had succeeded, and that no others had died in its pursuit? This, and many other questions, the familiars asked themselves as they passed through the alley... Until they were roused from their morose thoughts by a familiar growling, and an even more familiar stench.

Out of the back door to Chez Gygax sauntered Petunia, slobbering into the alley, eyeing the familiars hungrily. In their still shrunken form, the large beast seemed more menacing than ever to the familiars. It was clear that the hound, for whatever reason, had been able to shake the call of the silver whistle. Perhaps the dog was simply too lazy to be moved by the shrill tones, or perhaps she had known the familiars would return eventually. Whatever the case, the ugly, pungent basset hound stood between the familiars and their escape into the mountain, adamant to not let them pass her by a second time.

But before anyone could act, the lid of a nearby garbage bin flew into the air, and the bin toppled over. Tendrils of soft, squelching, green vegetable matter emerged from inside the bin, hungrily seeking prey. With an unnatural wail, the animated cucumber created by Beau's magic pulled itself from the garbage where it had been disposed, dozens of wet tendrils grasping for the closest living thing- Petunia. The Basset hound barked and bit at the the tendrils, pulling them apart- but the cucumber somehow kept sprouting more tendrils, each stronger than the last, some smacking Petunia, others binding her paws.

Not waiting to see the result of this titanic, disgusting struggle, the familiars made their way into the drain pipe, hurrying inside, leaving the baying hound and screaming cucumber to devour one another...

Characters: Anchor, Selanet, Aramil, Mhurren, Hazel
Old Aug 28th, 2022, 03:07 AM
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Dealing with the Devil
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Little Rataly

Little Rataly stood literally empty. Every whiskered soul in town had been summoned to the central piazza and of course everyone had come. One did not ignore the orders of Rico Rattin and live. It was as simple as that.

The Don under the Mountain was not amused. His many rat-spies, scattered all over Whitebridge village and hiding in every nook and cranny of the mines of Mount Myrddin, had verified the news - the Familiars were returning. It just so happened that they had chosen to do so at the very moment that Rufus, the Don’s trusty bloodhound, had mysteriously disappeared.

Rico Rattin had not been born yesterday. He knew what that meant. The ungrateful and disrespectful cat-friends -this being the worst insult the Ratfather could think of- hoped to get out of the deal they had made with the Boss of the Ratfia by stealing his “muscle” and making him look weak and foolish. Well, if that was their plan, they had better think again. He was still the undisputed leader of every rodent in the mines, his mines, no matter what the humans thought. Even without Rufus, Rico would have no trouble dealing with little Brie and his odd companions. He would make an example of them!

The squealing and chattering of thousands of excited rodents suddenly ceased when the group of Familiars and their allies entered the cavern that housed the base of the Ratfia in Whitebridge. Despite their alleged success in dealing with Ulrich von Furchtbar, the adventurers looked the worse for wear after the showdown at Summitstone Academy. The goblin appeared to have been beaten to unconsciousness and the comely white rat, Bee or some such, seemed to be missing entirely.

A pity, Rico thought and he sighed inwardly. She was the only one of the lot with any brains. I could see a future for her at my side.

To replace these casualties it seemed that little Brie had thrown his lot with animals even more dangerous than the one-eyed cat he had been known to consort with last time - an owl, a fox and a… bunny? Rico shook his head in disgust. Brie was a traitor to ratkin and he would meet a traitor’s end.

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The Don under the Mountain

"Come no closer!", cried out the Barone of La Cosa Nosrat from his Throne of Laces and raised his paw. Immediately thousands of rats bared their razor-sharp teeth.

"Ulrich von Furchtbar sleeps with the fishes and yet I am no closer to calling this village Ricobridge. Why is that little Brie?"

To his credit the black rat tried not to appear intimidated and sputtered something about his original plan going awry. The fat rat interrupted him by shaking his head in mock sorrow and Brie’s facade of bravery collapsed.

"Little Brie -- you are Mama Rosa’s boy, and I love you. But you have taken sides with those who are against the Family. You show yourself to humans. You set half the village aflame. You steal away my Rufus. You give me a bad name. Tsk, tsk, tsk. I don’t like violence, Brie. I’m a businessman. Blood is a big expense. But there is nothing more precious than one’s honor and you have spat upon mine."

The black cat arched his back and hissed menacingly, the owl started fluttering his wings and calling Don Rico and his men “muckdwellers” and the fox looked daggers at the Ratfather, while fiery sparks danced around her tail. Only the hare tightly shut his eyes with his paws and pretended not to be there at all. It seemed that he was the wisest of them all.

The Don was ready to give the signal for his rats to cut the Familiars to shreds when Brie took a few steps forward and presented him with a piece of wood.

"What’s this?", asked the Capo dei capi, obviously annoyed by the black rat’s attempt to placate him. "Is this stick the artifact of power you have promised me? Don’t tell me that this little thing killed the devil goose and the witch-hunter. Because it insults my intelligence... and it makes me very angry."

How could a piece of ordinary wood slay a deathless bird of war and a fully-grown human? Did they take him for a ratling that couldn’t tell apart cheese from butter? And yet, the rats he had sent with the Familiars insisted that it had! It contained the very power of lightning and thunder, they claimed.

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The Ratfather in all his glory

"Wiserats, bring it to me!", the Ratfather ordered and the remaining Not-so-Goodfellas immediately complied.

Tightly gripping the wand with his large paws, Don Rico grinned maliciously.

"Now I’m gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse, little Brie. I will test this wand against you. If you are right about its power, you and your friends will get fried, a fitting end for being traitors to ratkind. If you are wrong, this means that you are liars and you will all be chewed to death by the denizens of Little Rataly."

Hearing that the Familiars were doomed, Wensley and Dale attempted to abandon them, but the Ratfather would not allow it.

"Where do you think you’re going? I sent you to look after my interests, but you chose to serve a new master. You chose to ally yourselves with cats, foxes and owls. This cannot stand. A rat who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real rat. You will share their fate."

The Don under the Mountain pointed the wand at the Familiars and he felt it vibrating wildly with unbridled power. Electrical sparks flew all around it and the smell of ozone filled the cavern.

Well, well, what do you know! Little Brie was right after all. This is an artifact of great power, power enough to break Buttons Barone and the entire Catmorra. But not before I taste some Whitebridge fried owl…

Electrical currents started running along the entire length of the wood and the wand gave off a powerful humming like that of a thousand buzzing bees. The Ratfather gripped it even tighter and it was only then that he realized that the surface of the wood was not entirely smooth as he had initially taken it to be. A piece was missing. A rat-bite-sized piece…

Rico Rattin’s eyes grew wide with terror.

"Brie, you son of a cat- "

As last words went, those of the Matfia’s Boss were rather unimpressive. The wand exploded in a burst of white-blue light, making the gem-encrusted walls of the caverns glitter beautifully. It was the first time that the rats of Little Rataly had seen the starry sky inside the dark mines of Mount Myrddin. A fitting end for Rico Rattin - the Don, the rat, the legend.

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When the light abated nothing but a faint sizzling sound coming from the charred bodies of the late Ratfather and his closest followers could be heard.

"The tyrant is dead! Rico Rattin is no more. We are free!"

Wensley and Dale were the first to shout the words, but not the only ones. First dozens, then hundreds and finally thousands of rats added their voices to those of the “tyrant-killers” until the whole cavern reverberated with the cries of rodents.

The Familiars would have gladly joined in, but they wisely decided that leaving as soon as possible was the clever thing to do. Perhaps there were rats who already missed the old rat and the respect his name commanded in Whitebridge. Perhaps there were some who would try to take his place. Perhaps Rufus the bloodhound would return home and realize that the paw that fed him was now gone.

So it was that without a word or screech or yip the Familiars left the mines of Mount Myrddin never to return. Had they stayed, they would have seen Wensley and Dale jointly claim the mantle of rulership as the officially elected presidents of the newly founded United States of Myrddinia. For a time there was peace, prosperity and free cheese for all those with whiskers and tails, but eventually the “Terrific Tyrant-killing Twins” grew dissatisfied with the original arrangement as it became clear that power could not easily be shared. Wensley and his “northern” rats faced Dale and his “southern” rats and many horrible battles ensued under the mountain as rodent killed rodent, giving rise to as many heroes and legends as it did to widows and orphaned ratlings.

That, however, is a story for another time.

Andy the owl, Brie the rat, Brigida the fox, Ernest the cat, Raindrops on Roses the hare and Rocco the goblin, unconscious and close to death, still had to leave Whitebridge, passing over -or under- the Impossibly High Stone Wall. The next chapter of their tale would bring them closer to the achievement of their goal, the resurrection of their mother, Abigail the witch.

Will they succeed? Read on to find out!

He/Him - I have taken the Oath of Sangus
Running Dragons of a Broken World: A Dragonlance (Age of Mortals) 5e DnD campaign
Old Sep 4th, 2022, 01:53 PM
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The Impossible High Stone Wall, Part IIBy now the last of daylight left the village, which did not stop the raucous dairy-lovers from their revelry. With the humans distracted by the last celebrations of the dairy festival, the familiars (with Rocco, still unconscious on Brijida’s back) make an expeditious retreat from the mines back to the stone wall. The group navigate the streets furtively. The only danger at this point is a particular breed of intoxicated human, stumbling from a pub or party, both light and ale spilling onto the streets with them. With quick feet and careful eyes, the familiars mange to avoid both stomp and sogginess.

Andy soars above, keeping lookout on the route ahead for any signs of danger.

As the chaos of the village fades behind them, the group grow closer and closer to The Impossible High Stone Wall.

As they trot along the wall’s edge, the sun sets and the moon begins to rise, lighting the path ahead. Raindrops on Roses begins to hum. A deep, throaty sound unlike any typical vocalization for an animal of his size. A song that could be beautiful in melody, had the hare been able to carry a tune.

Ernest, suffering from a severe lack of nap, and becoming rather annoyed with the rabbit’s attempt at song, turns back to ask, “I know that song. Say, Raindrops… is that Johannes Wetrump I hear?”

“Ah yes, Master Cat! The Poet-Prince of Toads, Johannes Wetrump the Ninth, rest his soul. He who bestowed The Impossibly High Stone Wall its particular title. He was a most distinguished and renowned sonneteer. Not just a rhymester of the woods, no. Wetrump was a true laureate of hist time and beyond. One of my greatest inspirations for love of the spoken and written word, was Wetrump! But this song, yes. Its particular tune is intoxicating, particular in the last light of our journey to avenge our mistress! Don’t you recall, the lyrics from that one most beautiful and amphibious mind put to music by, ah… Newtwig von Beethoven, yes? Or was it the other Johannes? Sebastian Barch? The wolf? Ah, I cannot recall now. I would need to hear it in its intended arrangement, a quartet. These adventures and near end of life for my weary soul have left a chasm in my mind that I fear will never be fully repaired. Why, if one cannot recall the difference between the two great woodland composers of the last century, what hope is there?”

Ernest looks over his shoulder, blinks at the hare repeatedly in disbelief. Abruptly, his head meets Brijida’s posterior and the old cat let out a yowl. “What stops us now, Briji?”

The vixen yipped and hopped, her front paws bouncing repeatedly with excitement. “Friends! Goblin friends! Tunnel there!”

Brijida was right. Niles and Garth, true to their word, had dug and escape path below the Impossible High Stone Wall. For this, Ernest the Cat was incredibly grateful. No use of pear-a-shoots meant no, or at least very little, risk of embarrassment.

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The two goblins tumble from the hole, a cloud of mud and dirt emerging with them. They wave excitedly, gesturing to their completed project proudly. That is, until their gaze met Rocco, slung to Brijida’s back like a sack of laundry.
Niles’ eyes grow round and wet, and Garth’s attention snaps repeatedly from Rocco to the familiars, hands on his head as it shakes in disbelief. His friend has met his end not once, but twice in as many days!

Niles put his head to Rocco’s chest, and when he hears a soft yet persistent rhythm, motions for Niles to do the same. At the news that their friend is only mostly dead, the pair perk up slightly, and gesture to the hole beneath the wall, showing the familiars through.

After all of the familiars and goblins are through the hole, Niles and Garth push the excavated dirt back into place. Andy abandons his perch from atop the Impossibly High Stone Wall, and the group begin their short trek to the goblin’s hideaway. Once there, the group is shocked to find no sign of Colette or her companions.

Brie looks to the others. He is weary from the journey and eager to get home to mother, to revive her through the ritual. “Brijida, where are they? The doll? We need the doll, Briji!”

Niles holds up a finger, gesturing for the anxious mouse to pause. The goblin rustles through some ferns adjacent to the hidey-hole’s entrance. After a few moments, his dirt-caked hands emerge holding a doll, with a great likeness to Mother. Collectively, the familiars sigh and screech with gratitude.

There is some discussion as to what happens with Rocco. Brijida, having stayed with the goblins for a short time, can perform basic translation. The goblins fear for their friend’s life, but are unsure when their mistress Colette will return, and if she will even have the magics and skills needed to revive him. The familiars are confident that mother can indeed bring the goblin back from the darkness in which he slumbers, but that requires her cheating death.

They all agree, that some chance is better than no chance.

With Rocco re-secured to Brijida’s back, and the doll clenched in Ernest’s jaw, the familiars trot away from Niles and Garth. The pair wave with tear-filled eyes, hopeful that the group will restore Mother to this world, and their friend will wake.
DMing: Cold Case Crew
I have taken the Oath.

Last edited by NightCheese; Sep 5th, 2022 at 10:03 AM.
Old Sep 8th, 2022, 12:56 AM
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GM - Over the River (Reprise)
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The moon is high and bright when the Familiars reach the rocky banks of Bluewater Beck. The river’s frigid waters rush and babble, nigh on impassible for those without wings to carry them. Having destroyed Birchfell—the only known means of animal passage—on their initial crossing, the Familiars now have no choice but to brave the stone bridge that links the northern and southern sections of the humans’ Forest Road. They approach the bridge cautiously, keeping to the shadowy brush alongside the roadway. Their trepidation, however, proves unwarranted, as they find the bridge standing empty and open. There are signs of mankind—a collection of gleaming halberds resting against the pale stone parapets, overturned wooden stools, and a half-finished card game arrayed atop a wine barrel—but the campfire they find is cold, and the stink of men is faint. Whether the guardsmen had received word that their master was slain, or simply abandoned their post to join the festivities in town is unclear. In either case, the Familiars breathe a collective sigh of relief and move to cross the river.

The animals are halfway across when the bridge emits a harsh, barking objection. "Trip-trap! Trip-trap!" cries the bridge. "Who's that trippin’ over me bridge, eh? Oi oi! I'm comin’ to gobble ye up!" There’s a loud THUMP! from below followed by a long and inventive string of exceedingly profane curses. “Wait a tick! Stay where ye’are! The gobblin’ll commence momentarily, mark me!” From beneath the bridge appears Tolle, the river troll, rubbing an angry-looking welt on his crown with one hand while using the other to hitch up his trousers—freshly patched at the seat with what looks like a scrap of a guard’s tabard. The silk sleeping-mask perched on his forehead slips down over his beady eyes and he stumbles, splashing through the shallows. “Pfah!” he spits. “Why’re bleedin’ bridges always so close t’water?!” He rips off the mask and flings it into the churning brook, then clambers up to face the Familiars, dripping. “By me stars! You lot again!” He throws his gangly arms wide, showering the Familiars in an icy spray. “The ‘eroes return triumphant! Come’n give ol’ Tolle a wee cuddle, then, eh?” Without waiting for a reply, the troll rushes forward and scoops the animals up, one and all, in a great big bear-hug. “Never mind the gobblin’ bit, eh? Just gettin’ meself back into the ol’ swing-a-things now those rotten men-folk ‘ave cleared out.” He gives the group a final squeeze then dumps them unceremoniously back onto the bridge. “Right-o! Down ye get.” He bows so low that his broad, warty nose nearly touches the ground. Still bent in half at the waist, he flaps his outstretched hands toward the underside of the bridge. “Come’n rest a spell at Chateau Tolle.”

Never one to turn down a nap, Ernest pads off without protest. The others are less inclined to accept Tolle’s offer, eager to return home and see the ritual completed. But when the Familiars hear the old tom’s purrs of contentment floating up from under the bridge, they begrudgingly agree to rest until sunrise. They have, after all, completed their objective with days to spare, and none have slept since departing the Witch’s cottage. The animals find Ernest curled up on a smelly—but undeniably comfortable—straw mattress, surrounded by a veritable trove of stolen goods. In the hours since Furchtbar’s legions quit their posts throughout Sweetbriar Forest, Tolle has stockpiled cheese, fresh vegetables, dried fish, and an impressive collection of camping furniture. “Me back-pay,” the troll announces proudly, “fer all me tolls, filched by them thievin’ men-folk!” Tolle seems entirely unbothered by—or is oblivious to, more likely—the hypocrisy of this arrangement. He doles out fare suited to each animal’s preference, and fusses over the blankets they will take for bedding. Once the Familiars are settled, Tolle ministers to Rocco, expressing over and again a deep sympathy for the plight of his “wee coz.” After every creature has eaten his fill and is comfortably situated, Tolle calls for a bedtime story: “Oi, Master Bunny! Yer the chatty one’f the bunch, innit? Spin us a wee yarn. A Tale o’ yer ‘arrowin’ journey, eh?” Satisfied that his duties as host have been well met, and that the injured goblin’s condition is stable, the troll flops down on his mattress, scoops up Ernest, and begins scrubbing the bombay—earnestly—behind the ears.

Raindrops on Roses bounds to the center of the company, rises tall on his back paws, and clears his throat. “Hark, my brave and noble companions,” he begins. “Attend this bloody tale of righteous retribution, and the happily anticipated rebirth of Second Mother!” Quoth the voluble hare:

Sing, Muse, of the anger of Abigail, Witch of Sweetbriar,
Accursed, whose Familiars brought countless pains upon Whitebridge,
Hurled to hell many strong souls of man and goose,
Served them up as carrion for the dogs and all the rats —
The will of Mother being fulfilled — since the bastard Furchtbar, hunter of Witches,
And godlike Abigail first feuded and quarreled.

What creature drove them to fight with such a fury?
Bartholomew, the First Familiar, fueled his father’s ire, and —
Incensed at the Witch — Furchtbar swept a fatal plague through the forest,
All because Abigail spurned the Witch-Hunter’s hateful heart!
Yea! The faithful Familiars approached the humans' stone stronghold
To win their Mother back…

Raindrops on Roses, while pausing a moment for dramatic effect, realizes that all gathered have drifted off to sleep. He sighs, concludes his recitation without fanfare, and joins the others. And so the unlikely band of creatures snooze, piled together beneath Tolle’s bridge. The troll’s rank exhalations—worse for the gobs of goat cheese and flaked fish that comprised his supper—are no match for the animals’ exhaustion. The Familiars all enjoy the deep, dreamless slumber of victorious heroes.

GM - The Witch is Dead, Long Live the Witch
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The Familiars rise with the dawn. Before they depart Tolle’s bridge, however, the troll offers them one final service—to prepare the eye-paste required for their resurrection ritual. The animals have no compunction about mushing up their most-hated enemy’s peepers, but lacking opposable thumbs, the task would prove a laborious and grisly chore. They happily accept Tolle’s offer. The troll sets to the task with great relish, grinding up the gelatinous organs using a river stone and discarded helm as a makeshift mortar and pestle. He hums cheerfully as he works, sweating with the effort. When the paste has reached a suitable consistency, Tolle dips one of his long, knobby fingers into the helmet and withdraws a quivering globule. He regards the paste at arm’s length for a moment, then pops his finger into his mouth. He works his tongue over his pointed teeth in a quick series of experimental sweeps, then smacks his lips decisively. “‘Orrific,” he says matter-of-factly. “Ought not’a done that.” He spits, shrugs, and adds, “Curiosi’y, cats, an’ that.” He winks at Ernest, scraping the paste out of the helm and onto a broad, yellow leaf. He twists the leaf into a tight wad and stows it with the Familiars’ other sundries.

After bidding Tolle a fond farewell, the Familiars set out—at long last—for Abigail’s cabin. As they travel, Sweetbriar Forest comes to life all around them. The sun climbs above the horizon, painting the brilliant autumn leaves with honey-colored light. A cool breeze playfully tousles fur and feather. Other animals move through the trees, and Zorandicus translates the excited chatter of his avian kinfolk: Word of the Witch-Hunter’s demise is spreading, and Sweetbriar belongs to beasts once more. In less than two hours’ march, the Familiars reach the Witch’s dooryard. Though it’s been but days, it feels a century since the animals last laid eyes on the small, haphazard cottage—their beloved home. Any excitement that the creatures feel upon spying their domicile, however, is immediately tempered by the grim realization that Mother’s remains still lay in the garden. In their absence, Alexa has managed to drag a crocheted throw out of the cabin’s open door and over the Witch’s blackened corpse. The blanket’s vibrant coloring stands in morbid contrast to the contents hidden beneath. It would almost seem blasphemous, if the Familiars weren’t so certain that Abigail would find the juxtaposition hilarious. None of the animals dare move closer; they linger at the edge of the property, eyeing the piebald blanket and feeling the renewed weight of their grief, as if for the first time. After a while, Alexa the owl hops out of the cottage’s dim interior and out into the light of the yard, flapping her one good wing for balance. “It’s yooou,” she hoots, her round, yellow eyes flashing. “I knew yooou could dooo it.” With that simple utterance the spell is broken, and the Familiars finally approach their Witch.

After exchanging accounts of their time apart, Alexa leads the other Familiars to the place she’s prepared for the ritual. Not far from the cabin, in a glade ringed by hoary, crimson-leafed trees, the owl has cleared a patch of soft ground that meets their spell’s requirements exactly. Above the little meadow hangs a broad disc of blue, cloudless sky. Come nighttime, Alexa promises, the whole area becomes a verdant well, constructed by Nature herself for the express purpose of collecting silvery moonlight. The Familiars spend the intervening hours readying themselves. Ernest finds Abigail’s hairbrush inside the cabin, tucked away where the animals hid it before departing the woods on their murderous errand. He shudders when he recalls Brie’s suggestion that he eat the hair for safekeeping in his belly. Revolting! Taking up a mouthful now, he has to will himself not to gag. Meanwhile, the selfsame black rat tends to the doll’s other particulars. Brie takes more than a little pleasure in smearing Furchtbar’s eye-jelly over the surface of the totem, using his little paws to work the paste into the coarse fabric. With Ernest’s addition of the Witch’s locks, the doll is complete. The Familiars all agree: Brie and Colette did a fine job with the construction of the Abigail poppet—it is a striking likeness, and captures the essence of not only Mother’s physical beauty, but her singular charisma to boot. When it comes time to dig the hole, there is some debate as to whether the Witch’s body ought to be buried alongside the doll. Their master’s grimoire makes no explicit mention yea-or-nay, and the Familiars ultimately vote to spare Abigail’s remains any further indignity. Winter’s frost has yet to take hold, and the loamy earth yields freely to Brijida’s powerful paws—the vixen makes short work of the narrow pit. Using a pair of the Witch’s favorite slippers as their gauge, the animals verify that the hole is, in fact, two feet deep. Their preparations complete, they rest beside the ritual site and wait for dark.

Night is a long time coming, and moonrise longer still. The Familiars’ anticipation builds with each passing moment, growing into an exquisite, agonizing heartache. Finally, the moon appears, smiling and full, over the clearing. Light like flashing quicksilver floods the dale. Brie noses the doll into the hole. “Someone should say something,” he suggests, glancing hopefully at Raindrops. The hare closes his eyes in moment of solemn reflection, opens them again, then intones: “The old tales tell us that there is a time, beloved friends, for words”—he meets each animal’s gaze, one-by-one—“and a time for valiant deeds.” He plants a paw on the pile of excavated soil. “There will be time enough for words and songs when Second Mother has been returned to us.” Raindrops on Roses flicks a sprinkling of dirt into the crater and steps back, making room at the edge. The other animals each follow the hare’s example, stepping forward to place a paw-full of dirt—even Andy, at Brijida’s insistence. It is done.

The moon rolls across the void. Furchtbar is dead. The doll is buried. The ritual is complete.

Back in the cottage garden, the blanket covering Abigail Fogg’s remains collapses, settling flat and empty against the ground.

The Familiars wait, breathlessly watching the patch of freshly turned earth. Minutes pass. The moon rolls on. Nothing happens. None of the animals speak, afraid that doing so will only confirm what they already know: It didn’t work. The ritual has failed. The pale globe overhead passes its apex and begins descending toward the opposite tree-line. Only when the moon has completely disappeared again does anyone dare leave the clearing. Raindrops on Roses and Alexa depart in silence, retreating to the cabin to search the Witch’s spell-book for answers, clues—any overlooked detail that might offer even the slightest glimmer of hope. Shortly thereafter Zorandicus wings away to a nearby tree, making space for the remaining Familiars to mourn in their own way. Ernest, Brie, and Brijida stand a stubborn vigil by what they’ve come to consider the doll’s tiny grave. They wait for hours, and still nothing happens. Despite their unspoken vow to remain alert, the watchers eventually begin to drift in and out of a fitful sleep.

“Wake up!” Brie scampers over the cat and fox, treading as heavily as he can to rouse them. “Wake up! Look! The black rat points at the shallow mound, fairly vibrating with excitement. At first glance the others can’t even tell what Brie is gesturing at. Ernest yawns, stretches, and approaches the doll’s grave. “There!” Brie cries. Ernest sees it now, too. A tiny, green sprout juts up from the loose dirt. Brijida yips wildly, bounding off to fetch Alexa and Raindrops back from the cottage.

By afternoon, the fragile sprout has shot up several inches and grown four leaves. Come nightfall, the plant has revealed itself to be a vine, and begins creeping through the grass. The Familiars monitor the plant in shifts, watching the vine twist, coil, and lengthen in the moonlight. By the next morning, a pale yellow flower has appeared near the end of the green umbilicus. Over the course of the morning, the flower swells—Raindrops on Roses is certain that it’s a zucchini. A few hours’ more growth and the Familiars all agree that the plant is, in fact, a pumpkin. As the fruit begins to take shape, Brijida notices the two peppercorns embedded in its rind—the doll’s eyes.

The pumpkin continues to grow exponentially. The Familiars wait and watch.

On the morning of the fifth day, the animals are all dozing when Alexa screeches, “IT MOOOVED!” The Familiars fly to the pumpkin, pulses racing. “IT’S MOOO-HOOO-OOOVING!” shrieks the owl. Sure enough, the pumpkin—now the size of a small boulder—is moving. What starts as a barely-visible tremor quickly becomes a twitch, then a violent jerk. Then the great gourd begins rocking from side to side, sending a shiver through its vine and rustling its leaves noisily. “What should we—?” Ernest begins to ask, but the question is cut short by a loud CRAA-AACK! as the pumpkin topples to its side and splits open. A gush of stringy pulp issues forth, spilling over the ground and depositing there a glistening pink form. The pink thing groans weakly and flops over in a splay of long, lithe limbs. Mother! The Witch coughs, spits out a mouthful of pumpkin seeds, and rolls toward the Familiars. They gasp—a collective, shuddering breath. Her skin, slick with pumpkin innards, is soft and supple, like a newborn’s. Her wrinkles have disappeared, the gray at her temples has gone, and the dark tattoos inked over her cheeks and chin have paled to a delicate lavender. Not a one of the Familiars would have thought it possible, but somehow she appears now even more beautiful than they remembered.

The Witch opens eyes that brim with glittering tears. The Familiars’ hearts leap in their breasts. The Witch’s lips tremble. She sobs once, smiles, and whispers, “My sweetlings.” She speaks not in the crude language of men, but instead the soft and secret tongue that she invented just for them. And how else? For no other language—not the heartrending howl of wolves, not even the angelic aria of songbirds—has ever been better suited for expressing love in so few words.

All at once the Familiars rush to meet their Witch, tumbling over pebble and moss to fall into the circle of her outstretched arms.

GM - Epilogue

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CLACK! An acorn skips over the pale cobbles of a Whitebridge boulevard, bouncing three times before coming to rest in the middle of the street. A human girl trails close behind, her mouth drawn into a thin, sullen line. She trudges up to the acorn, pauses to curse at it, then delivers it a swift kick with the tip of her wood-soled clog. CLACK! The acorn flies off. Stupid Ricard. She follows after, kicks the nut again. CLACK! Stupid Randolph. Trudge, curse, CLACK! Trudge, curse, CLACK!

The girl, called “Bean” by her friends and family, is six human-years old, and hunting—quite unsuccessfully—for treasure. Not for gold or silver, necessarily, though coin would certainly serve her purpose; rather, Bean is hunting for anything at all that might be perceived of value by her ten and twelve-year-old brothers, Ricard and Randolph. Her eyes scan the gutter for any worthy leavings as she tags after the acorn. A mislaid flask, a rusty old knife, anything! She sighs. Alas, the Whitebridge Dairy Festival is more than a week gone now, and very little of interest remains for the scavenging. Besides, the boys have already claimed the greatest prize for themselves: an entire crate of unexploded fireworks, overlooked during the fiery mishap at Guild Row. The best Bean can hope for now is to discover something compelling enough to wrest a few measly firecrackers from her brothers’ stockpile by way of trade. Stupid boys!

CLAAACK! Bean kicks harder this time. PING! The acorn caroms off a stone stoop and whizzes into a nearby alley. It’s evening, the sun low in the sky, and the alley is dark with long shadows. The girl watches the tiny projectile disappear into the gloom. Just then, something else catches her eye. There, displayed in the corner window near the alley entrance, is the most sumptuous cake the girl has ever seen. Her gaze drifts to the ornate sign mounted above the establishment’s door. She squints at the gilded lettering, sounding out the words: Chez Gygax. She recognizes the name, though she’s never been inside. Her father routinely dangles the hollow promise of a fancy dinner out whenever begging clemency for his frequent domestic misdeeds. Her mother has never seen the interior of the restaurant, either. Bean is licking her lips, imagining what flavor cake might lie beneath all that silky, powder-blue icing, when she’s suddenly struck with a brilliant, wicked notion. Treats! Yes! Surely her stupid brothers would part with a few smoke-bombs in exchange for such a delicacy. And how would they know whether their dessert was nicked from a restaurant’s window-display or dredged out of the garbage? After all, Bean thinks, chuckling to herself, rich people are forever throwing away perfectly good food. The girl glances over her shoulders to check that the coast is clear, and trots into the alley.

Just as Bean suspects, the alley behind Chez Gygax is lined with trash-carts, all bursting with barely-eaten vittles. The girl giggles as she rifles through the piles, carefully selecting morsels that will appear unmolested to the naive eye. Into the pockets of her apron go sugared biscuits, fruit danish, and even a crème brûlée that—when rid of its blooms of colorful mold—appears entirely intact. The girl is attempting to scrape together a pile of what she thinks may be chocolate mousse when she hears a voice calling from behind her. “My brothers made me do it!” she yelps, whirling to meet her captor. But, to Bean’s surprise, no one is there. Must’ve imagined it. She quietly chides herself for being so jumpy, then resumes her pilfering. A moment later she hears it again—a soft, female voice, murmuring, or humming. She freezes in place, breathless. She turns again—very slowly—to look, hands still hovering over the garbage cart. The alley is deserted. She pricks up hear ears, straining hard to listen. There are words, though Bean does not recognize the language. Try as she might, the girl cannot determine the sound’s source. By some acoustic quirk of the alleyway—That must be it!—the voice seems to be coming from everywhere at once. “EEEK!” Bean shrieks. Something in the cart touched her hand! She springs backward, tucking her clenched fists beneath her chin. Little by little, the voice grows louder.

Despite her alarm, Bean does not find the voice at all unpleasant. The tones are sweet and warm, gold as the failing autumn light. The hum becomes a rhythmic, sonorous drone, rising and falling, commingling with other, high, clear notes. Though the words are unfamiliar, the emergent song’s melody is tender and soothing. A lullaby? The girl can almost see the sound. It appears in her mind’s eye as a rich tapestry of notes, woven by the graceful fingers of the voice’s owner—an invisible woman bent to work at an amber loom. Something in the garbage heap moves. The little hairs on Bean’s forearms stand up, and she feels a prickle at the nape of her neck. She stands transfixed, torn between fear of whatever lies stirring in the cart and infatuation with the ethereal song. The cart rocks softly on its battered wooden wheels.

“Beeeaann!” The girl snaps suddenly back to attention when another voice cries out—this one she recognizes instantly. Mum! The woman calls again, “Bean, supper!” The girl turns on her heels and flees the alley. The secret voice sings on. The mound in the trash cart shivers, and its peak falls away. Out in the street, the woman warbles, “Bee-eeaann! Where’ve you gone to, girl?” The song in the alley swells. A tiny, pink nose emerges from the pile of debris. “It’s time to come in, sweets!” A splay of white whiskers follows behind, twitching in the cool evening air.

Two voices—a witch and a washerwoman.

Two mothers calling their children home.
Adventure skeleton, Exquisite Corpse RPG

Last edited by Mallothi; Sep 12th, 2022 at 09:12 PM.
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