The Alliance of the Crimson Tunic
Think of the Children Part 1
‘Twas the night before Thursday and all through the house, Not a PC was stirring – unusual for this house!
The dwarves were nestled all snug in their beds, While visions of strong ale danced in their heads
When out in the town there arose such a clatter, The all sprang out the door to see what was the matter
Away to the square they flew like a flash, Kalhevki nearly forgot to tie on her sash!
The screams of the mothers rang in their ears, While Furin winced at the noise and too many beers
Okay, enough of that nonsense. The above verse can be summarized quite succinctly in prose: Everyone was comfortably asleep in the middle of the night when every mother in town suddenly began screaming. I mean, seriously, do these women have any common courtesy? People need sleep, y’know!
Anyway, the party soon arrived at the town square to find pretty much everyone else there. Turns out every child under the age of 16 years had suddenly vanished without a trace! Some of the houses appeared vandalized, with every window on the exterior walls shattered outward; the town guards, in a desperate attempt to make some sense in all the chaos, initially overestimated the number of such houses: while initial estimates put the houses with the broken windows at around 25% of the total houses affected, in reality it was fewer than 1 in 10.
Despite missing Grundin and the newcomer, Angel, the ACT immediately launched an investigation. They searched many of the affected homes, and interviewed several of the bereaved parents. The only common thread they could find was the suggestion of a missing wall-hanging in each house with broken windows, however in each case the homeowners offered plausible explanations, ranging from them being sold or given away to theft by rabid wererabbits, for where the missing items had gone. (Okay, in hindsight, “theft by rabid wererabbits” maybe isn’t so plausible, but at the time it sounded good!) The ACT had several of the homeowners placed under house arrest, however they were later released without charge. (Many of these people feel they were unfairly victimized and are considering legal action against the ACT, including the possibility of filing a class-action lawsuit for wrongful imprisonment and mental distress; no legal documents have yet been filed, however.)
After a couple hours’ investigation and numerous illegal imprisonments, the ACT was just as clueless as the days they each clawed their way from their mothers’ wombs. (“Hey! That’s not true! We knew there was teleportation of some kind used to get the children out!” “Yeah, congratulations, you learned that a skill eladrin learn before they can even walk was used. The drunk on the street coulda told you that!” “Yeah, but, we made, like, skill checks and stuff…” “Can I continue telling the story now? Or should I make you roll a saving throw versus death with a -10 penalty?” ”...I’ll be good…”) Empty-handed, they returned to the town square to find the mayor attempting to calm a crazy old woman. Brendan recognized her as Agathis, the crazy old human who lives in a ramshackle old shack outside of town. The Alliance attempted to intervene to help the mayor calm the old woman, and she in turn convinced the group that she knew who had taken the children and why. Crooking a single, long, ancient, withered, barely-more-than-mere-bone finger she gestured them to follow her to her home. On the way, she was taken aback by Kal’s apparent open-mindedness to her ramblings about there only being one true god. In more than 80 years she’d never been taken seriously by anyone, so she wasted no time in impressing upon Kal how all the “so-called gods” were in fact pretenders or, even worse, pure inventions created by mortals who sought the prestige and power of founding a new church.
Upon reaching her home, Agathis pressed a book, Generic Scriptures of a Monotheistic Cult in a Polytheistic World, into Kal’s possession, insisting that the younger woman take the time to read it. The party finally got Agathis back to the task at hand, at which point she told them about the lillin, the demon-like spawn of Denosia. Denosia was the first being created by the universe’s creator, Eldash, who happens to also be the “one true god, these others are just pretenders. You shouldn’t be wasting your time worshiping them, you should honor the one who created you! You-” “Agathis! The children!” “Right, right sorry, as I was saying…” Eldash demanded that Denosia be obedient to him, and in turn he would give her dominion over the world. She refused, however, insisting that she didn’t need to bow down to anyone else. Eldash let her be for a while, turning to other creations, like men, in whom he instilled competitiveness so they would try to best each other in their worshiping of him, and then tried his hand at women again, this time making them more demure to better bend their will to his own. He tried both several times, with varying mixtures of traits, and from those early people sprang forth the many races of the world. Satisfied, he then returned to Denosia, offering her dominion over the world and its new inhabitants, if only she would bow down before him; again, however, she refused, insisting she could build her own dominion and never need to bow before anyone. Enraged, Eldash cursed her, decreeing that each day 100 of her children would be slain until she agreed to bow before him. Still she refused, and refuses still to this day; and to this day 100 of her children die each day.
Agathis tells the party that Denosia is the one who has stolen the children. She plans to turn them into lillin so that they will die instead of her real children. She also provides the missing piece of the puzzle, the reason why some of the houses had their windows shattered while others did not: The homes of the worshipers of Eldash had hung on their walls icons of Eldash and were therefore under his protection. Denosia has become powerful enough that, if she were to focus her will on a direct act, she could overcome this casual level of protection and shatter Eldash’s wards; the breaking of the glass was nothing more than a mere symbol, a gesture of spite at Eldash and his followers that she was here, and a reminder of her great and terrifying strength.
She then informs the party that the ritual that will turn the town’s children into lillin will take 48 hours, and another 24 hours after that their transformation will be complete and (probably) irreversible. (“Wait, how does she know that?” “You really do want to make that saving throw, don’t you?” ”...I’ll be good…”) The clock is ticking – the children are already almost 4 hours closer to their fate. Agathis takes the party back to one of the houses of an Eldash worshiper, and reverses the portals in one of the children’s rooms that the lillin had used to snatch them away. The party steps through and is in a pitch black tunnel.
Deducing that evil lairs are always built in the deepest parts of the deepest lairs, the party determines which of the two directions is down and heads that way. Unbeknownst to them (but knownst to us), Grundin, Angel, and a newcomer to town who happened to arrive right at the same time the children disappeared but for some reason is not under any suspicion despite the eagerness of the town guard to obey orders from people who really don’t have the authority to give orders to place bereaved parents of vanished children under house arrest after interrogating and intimidating them, all arrive in the house after being told that the party had just gone in that direction. They catch Agathis, explain that they were part of the party and needed to follow after them, and get her to reverse the portals again. Not knowing up from down in the dark tunnel, they pick a direction at random and go that way.
Meanwhile, the bulk of the party arrives at the end of the tunnel. Seeing no way past the solid facade (but not trying to see one either), the party turns back. “Rats!” exclaimed Cedric. “The breadcrumbs I’ve been dropping as a trail! They’re gone! What vile creature of darkness could have done this? What evil from the Shadowfell could have encroached upon this mortal realm to suck up my breadcrumbs? What sort of trickery is at foot here? What-” “Cedric! It’s a cave! There’s rats and bats and other small, harmless critters in here who would love an easy snack!” “Oh, right. Wait, omnivorous bats?” “Well, sure, far more species of bats eat fruit and greens than eat meat. Far fewer are the stereotypical blood-drinkers.” “Fascinating! But it’s pitch black down here – we can only see because Kal’s glowing – not in the pregnant way – so how do bats not run into things?” “It’s an ability called echolocation. Bats emit a high-pitched squeak, then listen for the sound to bounce back – just like an echo.” “I see – fascinating! But what about the rats? How can they see?” “Well, rats-” “Guys! The children!” “Right, sorry, let’s go.”
Okay, now that we’re back on track again, the party retraces their footsteps, and shortly past their original entrypoint they are set upon by a viscious ooze with a nasty ability to snuff any light source, as well as an apparent thirst for the very life essence of the mortal coil. It’s a tense and costly battle, but eventually the party prevails, despite Cedric’s best efforts. They decide after that that they need to rest; it is at this moment that the party is rejoined by the other three, who came running back down the tunnel at the sounds of battle.