29th August 2020
Saturday night has come around again and I'm sitting in the living room, logged into Skype.
It time for the next chapter in Matakishi's Merry Outlaws campaign.
One short week ago, we had retrieved and returned the wedding gown of Lady Chatsworth. In this short week, news of some significant events were bought to our attention.
Firstly a poster had appeared in Billige and no doubt elsewhere as well: A proclamation declaring us as outlaws by the Sheriff of Hexham!
Secondly: A second proclamation had been distributed, announcing the upcoming holiday, 'The Feast of Saint Beatrice' and declaring that at the same time there would be the public execution of Emlyn the carter! Also by the sheriff.
So we had been declared outlaws. The reasoning was beyond us. It must have had something to do with the return of the gown? No good deed goes unpunished!
Emlyn too had suffered at the hands of the sheriff, he also had been declared an outlaw. Today was Monday and his execution was scheduled for Saturday during the feast. Emlyn had to be rescued.
Before we could do anything, we needed to go into Hexham to get 'the lie of the land'.
First though, we headed into Billige and see if any other news had travelled this far south.
It was a short march, but we were stopped in our tracks as we reached the outskirts of Billige. Something was happening in the village.
A loose, trickling procession of carts and waggons was continually plodding its way along the track that ran through Billige and going on their way to the ruins of Drumclog Castle.
They were carrying stone and wood, as well as workers.
A number of makeshift traders and sellers had also popped up, hoping to peddle their wares to the passing carts
We had to use some caution entering Billige now, we might be recognised and it was busier than expected.
After speaking with a villager, it appears that a lot can happen in a short week.
The Earl of Hexham, Sir Roland had gifted the ruined Drumclog Castle and surrounding lands to Sir Clugney, this included Billige and hunting rights in Drumclog Moss.
This was rewarded to Sir Clugney for returning Lady Margaret's wedding gown!
Since we had returned the gown, we wondered what the story was behind this?
These carts that were trundling through Billige were carrying supplies to rebuild old castle. Foresters had also been dispatched to the southernmost part of The Forest of Caucy to gather supplies.
We realised that this 'gift' now gave Sir Clugney more land and possessions than Sir Conrad. It might have represented a shift in power?
We had seen Sir Conrad was more than happy to spit out orders at Sir Clugney when he felt like it. How did he feel about this?
One last thing we noticed was that Osric from Knavesmire was now here and was in the process of constructing a pole in the centre of Billige, it looked much like a maypole.
After speaking with Osric, he confirmed that he was indeed constructing a maypole. He stated that it would make the people of Billige more fertile to provide his lord with more vassals.
Osric continued; he hoped to put Billige 'on the map' and that perhaps some of the traders who set up in the village to exploit the passing trade would stay and make Billige larger. Billige might never challenge Hexham in size, but might grow as large as Wenham.
With that, Osric took his leave, giving us the strange gesture we had seen used in Knavesmire.
There was nothing left to do in Billige, it was time to go to Hexham.
We headed north along the path, forced to avoid the heavily laden carts going south. After a while we came to the crossroad, it was there that we spotted Watt Taylor.
He waved at us and hurried over, loudly and conspicuously commentating that we had been named as outlaws!
Watt was very fidgety and nervous, he went on to explain that Emlyn had been arrested by the town guards, taken to the tower at 'The East Gate' and tortured until he named us.
Watt went on to tell us that he feared that 'he was next', that the guards would come for him.
We assured Watt that we would make sure he was not arrested. Watt decided to accompany us the Hexham, he was as safe with us as anywhere else.
Continuing north along the road, we encountered even more carts heading south, soon we arrived at Hexham.
It turned out that the constant flow of carts heading towards Drumclog Castle had been making their way south through Hexham, the town had become busier than normal as a result.
This did not stop the guards from questioning us and our purpose for coming into Hexham though.
"Trading," was our reply and this seemed enough to satisfy the guards, however they still eyed us with suspicion. We were all carrying weapons of a kind.
I tried to keep my sword concealed in the folds of my cloak, but they still spotted and confiscated it. They informed me that I could collect it when I left and asked my name?
"Derek Bigsby," I replied without missing a beat!
Mopsa tried to steal the sword back, but the guards were on their toes and even before she made a move they were watching her. She decided against trying for the sword.
Hexham was always a busy place, nosily bustling with townsfolk and traders going about their business whilst hawkers plied their wares. The carts rolling through town had only worsened the situation.
We allowed Watt to lead us to his shop, but stopped short of it. Watt's fears had not fallen on deaf ears and we had suspicions of our own.
Taking our time, we scanned up and down the street in front of Watt's shop. Then we saw them, they were nestled in the shadow of a small alleyway and they were watching Watt's shop.
They may have been dressed as typical townsfolk, but they clearly had the bearing of town guards.
Watt lived with his wife and two children in their home situated above their shop. He told us that in his absence 'Malkyn' his wife ran the shop.
Even though we were wanted men, it was unlikely the guards would recognise our faces, we were not known in Hexham. So we sent someone in to speak with Malkyn.
Unfortunately, Malkyn did not provide us with any information that we did not already know.
Upon returning from the shop, we became aware that a well dressed man was speaking with the disguised guards and pointing directly at us with a smug grin across his face!
We had been made, either we had been recognised or Watt had. It didn't matter who right now, the result was the same: We had to run.
And run we did, or at least most of us.
The guards raised the alarm that we were outlaws and townsfolk from the crowds grabbed at us. Calder, Mopsa and Randulf managed to give escape. The crowd quickly caught Watt. I grabbed a nearby cloak and whipped it on, hoping to give them the slip, but alas I too was captured.
As Watt and I were dragged to the town guards, Watt told me that he recognised the well dressed man.
"His name is 'Sadon Lister', Master of The Dyer's Guild," Exclaimed Watt. "I thought he was a friend!".
We were taken to the guards who marched us off to a guard tower. From there we were taken into the basement, relieved of all our possessions and flung into a cell.
The cell had no windows, save for a small hatch in the sturdy wooden door, there was no toilet and the cell stank.
Emlyn was here, sprawled awkwardly on the floor. His face was pale and he looked in a bad way.
He explained that someone had seen us giving the money to him and even though he had given up our names, the guards had still tortured him.
We were probably next.
Unbeknown to me, the others were formulating a plan to rescue us. They had learned that we had been taken to the East Gate and decided to try and disguise themselves to break us out.
They returned to Watt's shop and spoke to Malkyn, she of course agreed to help and had access to a lot of clothing.
Calder and Randulf disguised themselves as monks and Mopsa disguised herself as a nun.
A master plan! What could go wrong?
So a little later, the three of them arrived at the East Gate and spoke with the guard on duty and said that they were here to see the prisoners. The guard looked hesitant, then Mopsa explained that they were her to provide Emlyn with succor prior to his execution.
The guard was convinced, Mopsa always had a way with words.
They were led down the spiralling staircase into the basement and granted access to the cell. On their way in they had counted six guards in total. They also saw Sadon Lister, who was here to receive a reward for Watt's capture.
I was surprised when two monks and a nun entered the cell, I can't say I wasn't happy to seem them.
The guard informed them that he would be outside, they should knock when they wanted to leave and the cell door was locked behind them.
Inside the cell, I was passed a knife that they had concealed.
Time was of the essence, so we hammered on the door to call the guard over, he opened the door.
We ambushed him and he went down quickly and quietly.
Emlyn was too weak to walk properly, so we got Watt to help move him.
We then left the cell.
Next, we called down the other guards, when the first one entered the basement, he was attacked and soon fell to our blows.
The remaining guard backed up the stairs, Randulf lunged for the attack, the stairs were narrow and only two people could fight.
Meanwhile I collected my belongings. I wasn't going anywhere without my 'bawdy poem' and 'needle and thread'!
Randulf had dispatched another guard and pressed the attack, by now the remaining three guards had retreated out of the stairway and into the room above.
Sadon Lister was also here, he fled screaming as the melee spilled into the room.
The rest of us swarmed up the stairs.
Above, one guard faced off against Randulf and the other two reached for crossbows. We charged in and fighting ensued.
Soon enough, two guards were out of the fight. There was one guard left standing and four of us. We menaced him and he knew better than to try and attack.
We turned and fled into to the streets.
Hexham was not safe for us, we needed to leave.
Watt would soon be declared an outlaw, that would put his family at risk.
With as little fuss as possible, we collected Emlyn's cart and horse and put Emlyn on it. Next we went to Watt's shop.
We collected his wife, children and some of his stock and piled it all into the cart.
Now we had to leave Hexham.
Watt simply walked out past the guards, he had not been named an outlaw!
We decided to join the many carts that had been passing through the town. It worked, nobody paid us any attention. We were just another cart carrying goods bound for Drumclog Castle as far as the guards were concerned.
Now that we were out of Hexham, we had to decide our next step.
Emlyn was now an outlaw, soon Watt and his family would also be outlaws.
Emlyn needed convalescence, it did not seem practical to do this at our camp. Emlyn told us that he could trust the people who ran The Three Stoats and a Weasel at Knavesmire.
So we took Emlyn there and used his cart to transport Watt and his family as close to our woodland camp as we could before returning it to Emlyn.
Our band had grown in size by five!
Back at our outlaw camp, we considered our next step.
Sir Clugney had clearly done something unfairly reap the rewards for recovering the gown.
It was possible that Lady Margaret was involved, although it was hard to imagine how she benefited from this?
Going after Clugney or Lady Margaret would be risky, too risky.
Sadon Lister was a different story, his betrayal of Watt had earned him a reward. It was time that everybody should share in this reward.
Luckily for us, Watt knew his exact address, on 'Dye Street' no less.
We waited two days until the Wednesday to allow the situation to calm down before the four of us set out for Hexham once again.
Our previous foray into the town had informed us that carts laden with stone were passing out of the Hexham through the south gate and coming into Hexham via the north gate. This stone was being quarried from a place known as 'The Devil's Cut'.
Entry into Hexham would be easier through the north gate, the guards could ill afford to spend much time questioning or checking travellers entering without clogging up the traffic.
This meant going round to the northern side of Hexham and back up the track to where we had first encountered The Crow Folk. Fording the River Scarmore, we passed the blackened remains of Watt's cart.
From there we skirted the forest until we reached the northern side of Hexham and made our to the north gate.
Unfortunately, even the best laid plans can fail at the hands of luck: Whilst there was much traffic entering Hexham through the north gate, we were still stopped and questioned. Mopsa however stepped up and firmly gave a good reason why we were coming to Hexham.
It was good enough for the guards and we were in!
From there we headed to Dye Street.
It was well named as it was the home of all of the town's dyers and it also Stank!
It reeked of the stuff used to make dyes, the smell was strong enough to make the layman cover his mouth.
Since Sadon Lister was the dyer's guild master, it was the guild house that we were looking for and found.
The guild house was the largest building on the street and was afforded some embellishment as was fit for its station.
The facade contained a sturdy closed door. We did not feel that the direct approach was wise here.
Instead we took an alleyway to the rear, there was a busy courtyard here.
Calder quickly ran off and grabbed a couple of dead rabbits from somewhere and came back, he had a plan.
Calder went into the kitchen and spoke with the cook and convinced them to buy the rabbits. Calder also took the opportunity to give a lengthy explanation on how he had caught them.
Whilst the cook was distracted by Calder, the remaining three of us picked up some crockery - hoping to look like staff as we slipped past and into the building.
Once past the kitchen and into the corridors, the ground floor felt quiet, we could hear voices in the rooms close by.
We discretely searched the floor and it was clear that the ground floor served as offices for the guild.
The living quarters had to be upstairs.
We climbed the stairs and listened for signs of occupancy and heard a muffled conversation, one of the voices belonged to Sadon Lister.
Unhesitatingly, Mopsa walked into the room.
As well as Sadon, there was a man all in black seated in the room, he wore a black hood and an elaborate stylised crow shaped black mask. One of the Crow Folk.
Not recognising her, Sadon assumed that Mopsa was a servant and ordered her to get out.
Mopsa flung a plate at Sadon and it hit him square in the face, shattering.
"By dose," Sadon exclaimed!
We steamed into the room. Randulf leapt for the Crow Folk and grappled him, he was easily overpowered.
I brandished a dagger at Sadon and he stood there silently dumbfounded, holding his nose.
We closed the door and bound the two men.
First we turned to Sadon and demanded he tell us how much his reward had been for turning in Watt.
"One hundred and fifty coins," came the reply. "But the sheriff has not paid it, he is always slow in paying his dues," added Sadon.
Next we asked him where his money was, he nodded at a chest in the corner.
The chest contained seventeen hundred coins, we turned to Sadon and said we would take half - eight hundred and fifty coins, plus the one hundred and fifty for the reward he was due from the sheriff. This was a grand total total of one thousand coins.
Our attention turned to the Crow.
"I am Edward Crow," he proclaimed. "Let me go and we'll remain 'friends'".
Well, that answered my first question. He was one of three crows, the three crow brothers.
We searched him and removed a pair of black daggers, his black hooded cloak had the elaborate mask sown into it. He also carried a staff and some black feathers which we also took.
Finally he had a bag of ninety coins.
We asked him about the money?
"Payment for turning in Emlyn," Edward Crow replied.
We took the coins.
"That was a mistake, we're enemies now and you'll regret that," he said intently, his face darkening,".
Edward Crow had threatened us, we had to decide what to do with him, we considered leaving him, but he would most likely seek retribution against us.
There was a reward on his head and we considered turning him in somehow. But we did didn't know deep the rot went in Hexham, Crow might escape or 'be released'.
Randulf had no patience for this discussion, he went up to Edward crow and twisted his head violently, breaking his neck and killing him.
It might have seemed 'rough justice' and in truth it was: It also true that The Crow Folk killed and tortured indiscriminately.
Last week we had witnessed this first hand when they slaughtered Watt's guards and left him hog-tied above a fire.
So it was that Edward Crow had met his fate.
Finally, I went back to Sadon. I pulled his trousers down and stuck three feathers in his backside.
It was a message, a message to Sadon; to not fraternize with The Crow Folk and a message to The Crow Folk; we were not afraid of them.
There was no longer a reason for us to remain here, we left Sadon Lister bound and gagged, returning downstairs and back to the kitchen.
Quite impressively, Calder was still there talking away about rabbits!
After we slipped back out into the courtyard, Calder made his excuses and rejoined us.
It was not wise to tarry in Hexham, Sadon would not remain bound forever.
We joined with the carts exiting south out of the town and managed to get away unchallenged. Our return to our camp was free of incident.
We had more questions now.
What was the relationship between The Crow Folk, the Sheriff of Hexham and Sadon Lister. How far did this go? Was Sir Roland aware of this?
What was their relationship with Knavesmire, Osric and Sir Clugney?
There were over a thousand coins to be distributed.
We gave the lion's share of them to Friar Nicholas to pass out.
Our camp was growing and the remainder went to its upkeep.
So ended the third escapade of 'The Merry Badgers of Billige'.
The Ballard of Calder Winterbourne 'Mouse Eater'
It is unclear where or when the ‘Ballad of Calder Winterbourne’ originated. No copy exists with provenance earlier than the mid-fifteenth century (and that only a fragment). It is likely that early versions have been adapted by others over the centuries and sections re-written or entirely new text added, perhaps to add contemporary references, incorporate unrelated fragments or cover situations likely to be familiar to new, later readers. There is, for example, an oblique reference to a possible act of enclosure in the prologue, which must either be a poor transcription or later addition to a supposedly ‘medieval’ text. No reference to Calder Winterbourne exists in the historical record and it is therefore likely that, if he ever existed, his story has been greatly embellished or his tale is a combination of several stories combined in a convenient narrative thread.’‘It is unclear where or when the ‘Ballad of Calder Winterbourne’ originated. No copy exists with provenance earlier than the mid-fifteenth century (and that only a fragment). It is likely that early versions have been adapted by others over the centuries and sections re-written or entirely new text added, perhaps to add contemporary references, incorporate unrelated fragments or cover situations likely to be familiar to new, later readers. There is, for example, an oblique reference to a possible act of enclosure in the prologue, which must either be a poor transcription or later addition to a supposedly ‘medieval’ text. No reference to Calder Winterbourne exists in the historical record and it is therefore likely that, if he ever existed, his story has been greatly embellished or his tale is a combination of several stories combined in a convenient narrative thread.’
The Ballard of Mopsa Miem 'Mopsacle'
Rumble rumble in the village
The Ballard of Randulf The Red
Stand and listen gentlefolk
The Ballard of Black Stan
Fine Alice from Billige, accused.
23rd August 2020
It's Sunday lunch time and we're in Vicky's garden, at least we were until the weather threatened to change for the worse and we relocated indoors.
Only half the players were here today and that's okay, because we only planned half a session to finish previous sessions fight in Matt's 50 Fathoms campaign.
Location: The Perdition.
Win was surrounded by Torquemada's mercenaries.
"Bring her to me," boomed a loud voice. It appeared to be coming from a frail old man in a chair? It must have been Torquemada.
It was then that Win felt something strange come over her? She couldn't understand it, but she felt the strength drain out of her limbs.
Rufus had just challenged everyone to a duel.
"Bring him to me too," said the booming voice.
Rufus felt the voice cut deep into his head, he staggered and was sent reeling with the wind knocked out of him.
Meanwhile, Baxter, Terrence and I were rowing away and back to our ships when Rackham burst out of the sea. We asked him if he knew where Win and Rufus were? Rackham replied that they were probably still on the boat. Certainly, we had not seen Win gliding off the barge?
We had no choice but to turn around and row hard for the barge. Shia was pressing the attack, barraging The Perdition with cannon fire and it continued to take on water, it was now low in the sea and listing.
The remaining mercenaries were starting to look worried.
On the barge, Win and Rufus had been powerless to resist their capture. The mercenaries lifted them and bound their arms and necks to the rigging. They were then dropped and allowed to hang, not a quick hanging where they necks would be broken, but a hanging that would slowly choke them to death!
As we drew closer, The Perdition was so low that we could beach the jolly boat on the deck. Looking across the deck. we could see Win and Rufus struggling vainly against their bonds.
I leapt from thee jolly board to the deck. with Baxter and Terrence following a few yards behind. Just behind them was Rackham, also boarding the ship.
I let off a shot and hit one of the ropes bind Rufus, freeing one of his arms.
I fired off a second shot and managed to free one of Win's arms too!
Rackham assaulted Torquemada's inquisitors with his spells.
By now I had closed to melee range, Rufus had freed himself and dropped down to attack Torquemada. He was staggered by strange explosive attacks from Torquemada's chair.
Baxter and Terrence clashed against the mercenaries and Rackham continued his attack on the inquisitors.
Deflecting blows from the mercenaries I pressed my attacks against Torquemada ineffectively, somehow my strokes had left him barely injured.
Terrence forced his way past the mercenaries and laying into Torquemada with his fists. He landed the most fearsome blow imaginable on Torquemada's head.
The old man slumped in his chair and stopped moving. His head lolled and blood bubbled on his pale lips. He managed to say one last thing.
With his final choking breathe he said, "Evil will prevail!".
Torquemada was dead, his inquisitors defeated or hurled overboard. Realizing their paymaster was dead caused the fight to drain out the mercenaries and they ceased fighting.
We signalled Shia and she stopped her bombardment.
We parleyed with the mercenaries; they were stuck here with no way to leave and we needed all the help we could get.
In the end we reached an agreement, if we took them somewhere civilised, they would agree to work for us for several months.
Our strength had been increased by thirty mercenaries.
So it was that we now had the heart of an archmage, we were close to defeating the Sea Hags
22nd August 2020
It's Saturday evening and I'm the living room, logged on to Skype.
Now it's time for Matakishi's Merry Outlaws campaign.
Location: The Green.
We had sent our four Welsh outlaw recruits into the deepest dells of The Forest of Caucy to build a camp for us. We felt it prudent to travel in a smaller less noticeable band.
We we were strolling nonchalantly through 'The Green' when we heard shouts and yells for 'help'. The shouting was coming from the north and beyond some hedges at the edge of the green.
Initially, only Calder warily went forward. Suspicious cries in the wild could be... suspicious?
With some effort, Calder pushed through the hedge, on the other side he saw something he had never expected to see!
There was a small camp fire with a spit roast, tied to the spit roast was a naked man with three black feathers sticking out of his backside!
There were also crows pecking at a pile of naked corpses.
Even though the man did not look too badly burnt, he was understandably yelling for help.
We rushed over and freed him.
He introduced himself as 'Watt Taylor' a clothing merchant from Hexham. Watt had been waylaid by bandits garbed in black whilst travelling to 'Knavesmire'. They had killed his guards, stolen his horse, cart and goods; then left him tied to the spit roast.
Watt had been commissioned to provide a suitable wedding gown for 'Lady Margaret Chatsworth' who was to wed 'Sir Roland Godfrey, Earl of Hexham'. The wedding dress had been on the cart and was now lost.
It had been created at great expense to the people of Hexham, who had donated to the cost. The cost had in fact run to three hundred coins Watt informed us.
Three black feathers were the calling card of a band of violent outlaws known as 'The Crow Folk', as was the black clothing.
The Crow Folk had a reputation for vicious thuggery and were known for their particular cruelty. They were also known for targeting both the rich and the poor for indiscriminate robbery.
Watt told us that after they tied him up, they took the cart to the north-west, the trail left by the cart was quite obvious. This had been less than an hour ago.
While we had been talking to Watt, another cart had come trundling nosily down the road. It was heavily laden, piled high with goods and wares, it was being pulled by a sorry looking horse and a donkey from the rear.
After waving at the driver he came to a stop.
We explained that we had a man here who had been robbed and the driver agreed to help us.
The man was named 'Emlyn', he told us that he had been travelling the road from Hexham to Knavesmire for years, supplying 'The Three Stoats and a Weasel' inn and in all that time he had never been robbed.
This intrigued us.
It would seem that The Crow Folk were the culprits.
They seemed to never attack along this stretch of road thought. It was quite the coincidence that they chose to attack here? They also chose the cart carrying Lady Margaret's wedding dress?
But why would they risk attacking such a heavily guarded target? Surely there would be easier marks? Like Emlyn?
There were many questions.
Perhaps someone had paid them to attack Watt?
Perhaps there were other people who were impersonating The Crow Folk?
Again, many questions.
Regardless of this; we needed to see Watt to safety and then look into matters. Emlyn was happy to give any of us a ride into Knavesmire so we sent Watt with him. We also dropped some coins into Emlyn's hand for his general decency.
Leaving Watt and Emlyn behind, we followed the tracks through the field until they vanished upon reaching a lesser used road than ran north-south.
Scrutinising the road, I saw evidence of a cart heading north recently. We walked north along it until the road ended at a river's edge, with a ford crossing to the other side.
On the far side we saw the cart, it was burning and beginning to billow smoke! Rushing and wading across the 'River Scarmore' we discovered it was empty, there was no horse here, no wares and goods and definitely no wedding dress.
Out of the blue, whistling arrows rained down on us, we had been caught unaware! The Forest of Caucy grew close to the northern banks here, scanning the tree line, we caught sight of figures, high up in the trees, wielding bows and dressed in black.
It had to be the Crow Folk.
Calder, Mopsa and I exchanged volleys with the Crow Folk, meanwhile Randulf charged at the trees yelling loudly! When he reached the closest tree, he began climbing.
During his tussle, our assailants concentrated their fire on him and he took some hard blows.
There were eight of them, when we bought down the fourth of their number, the remainder dropped down and fled.
Calder, fleet footed as he was, gave chase and tackled one to the ground.
We had ourselves a prisoner.
We searched the dead Crow Folk and our prisoner, they were each carrying a larger amount of coins than we would expect.
Perhaps they had been paid?
Other than the coins, they was nothing important or identifying on them.
The prisoner remained tight lipped when we spoke to him. No amount of coercion, intimidation and threats swayed him to loosen those lips. He steadfastly remained silent and unwavering, refusing to give us anything.
It was clear that there was something else that he feared other than us.
In the end we decided to head to Knavesmire with our prisoner in tow.
We turned south and followed the road, it then met the busier east-west road that took us into Knavesmire on an uneventful march.
Knavesmire was a dismal place, hemmed in on all sides by the dim, menacing forest. There was no farmland here and no church either. Other than two rows of small brooding houses that lined the road, there was only the inn, by far the largest building in the settlement.
The Three Stoats and A Weasel must have been full. There was a mob of soldiers in different liveries milling about outside and we could hear a distorted clamorous din escaping the inn's walls.
No doubt this was all due to the wedding.
Approaching, we could see the soldiers were displaying three different liveries.
'Checky or an azure', the livery of 'Sir Conrad Payne, Lord of Wenham Castle'.
'Gules a chevron argent', the livery of 'Sir Clugney Mannerin, Lord of Wedgemore Castle'.
The third livery, 'or a fes azure' we did not recognise, it was not of a local lord.
We also spotted Emlyn's cart parked up close to the inn.
Upon opening the inn's door, we were confronted with a wave of noise and the heat and smell of a crowded inn washed over us.
Inside, it was thrumming.
Here were the retinues that the soldiers outside were guarding, they occupied nearly every table, packing out the inn and running the serving staff off their feet. We could almost feel the floorboards vibrate beneath the soles of our boots!
We did not see either Watt or Emlyn among the crowd.
At one large table we did see several knights marked out by their liveries and apparel.
Sir Conrad was here, by his countenance he seemed to be in charge and appeared to be comfortable issuing orders.
Close to Sir Conrad was a woman, Lady Margaret no doubt.
By her side was another knight, he wore the unrecognised livery we had seen and his face shared many a feature with Lady Margaret and was a similar age. He may have been a relative, a brother or cousin perhaps?
Finally, next to him was Sir Clugney.
Now we needed to approach Lady Margaret, this would not be so simple. We could not simply walk up to her. Instead we watched the knight who was related to her and learnt that he was 'Sir Gaston Chatsworth', brother of Lady Margaret.
It was Sir Gaston's sergeant we decided to approach and explained that we needed to speak to Lady Margaret about her missing wedding dress. The sergeant seemed convinced by this but took us to Sir Conrad.
Once the pleasantries were done, we explained that Lady Margaret's wedding dress had been stolen and we believed that The Crow Folk were responsible.
Sir Conrad stated that Watt Taylor had already given him this information. Sir Conrad then asked if we had recovered the dress?
We replied that we had not found the dress, but we had caught one of the thieves.
Sir Conrad turned to the outlaw and questioned him.
The bandit remained as defiant and tight lipped with Sir Conrad as he had been with us.
It appeared that Sir Conrad was a man of little patience and in no mood to bandy words.
Once he realised that he would get nothing out of our prisoner, he summoned his sergeant and ordered him to. "Take this prisoner outside, cut his hands and feet off and hang him from a tree.".
The sergeant and some soldiers took custody of the prisoner and dragged him out.
Minutes later we heard cheering, screaming and shouting, followed by silence.
The sergeant came in and informed Sir Conrad that the deed had been done. Sir Conrad then ordered him to have the body taken to the castle and hanged outside.
We squeezed into some seats and took a look around. There was a man watching us, a member of staff here. We beckoned him over, he came and stared, we shouted an order for some food and drink, but he just stared.
Another member of staff rushed and apologised for 'Philip' explaining 'he's a bit simple', ushering Philip away.
We managed to order some food and drink, it was surprisingly of a fair quality.
A little later and Emlyn presented himself. He explained that Watt was here and had taken a room and was resting from the day's events.
Watt had our sympathies, the day had similarly taken its toll upon us.
Still, we hung around until evening, keeping an eye out for anything 'suspicious'. After all, this was a village called 'Knavesmire'!
It was then that we saw a tall man, dressed entirely in black leave the inn. This drew our suspicions, so we carefully followed him.
As he passed villagers, they made reverential gestures to him, which he acknowledged.
He then entered a small house.
He did not wear any articles that marked him out as a religious sort, but he seemed to have the bearing of a priest? Perhaps it was the black clothes?
Or perhaps the black clothes marked him out as a member of the Crow Folk?
Now that we were outside, we could see numerous villagers bringing plates of food to Sir Clugney's men. Curiously, no food was being bought to the other soldiers.
Before there a chance to do anything else, the tall man in black exited the house and began heading back to the inn.
We followed, as we got closer, we could see that all the soldiers were cramming at the door and windows, almost climbing over one another to get a view inside. The unruly din of earlier had been replaced with the soft melodic tone of lutes.
It was with effort that we pushed our way through mass of packed bodies back into the inn.
Here it was that we discovered there were two musicians, the twins 'Crispin' and 'Odo', they were renown minstrels. It was said their talents earned them many coins.
It appeared that they had been 'warming up' as we arrived and opened their performance with a cheeky little ditty.
Engerrand Rolfe the Sheriff of Hexham
"Enough!" Roared Sir Conrad, standing and slamming a fist on to the table. "Sing us a different song," he ordered.
After this, the brothers proceeded to sing about less inflammatory subjects!
Their set lasted a while and Calder took the opportunity to gossip with some of the soldiers. The soldiers stated that:
- The events alluded to in the twins' song were true.
- 'The Sheriff of Hexham, Engerrand Rolfe' had gone round forcing merchants to pay up for the gown.
- This was a marriage of state and convenience.
- The tall man in black was 'Osric of The North'.
Calder asked about who was the power in this part of England. The soldiers explained the 'pecking order around here':
'Sir Roland Godfrey, Earl of Hexham'.
Sir Conrad Payne
Sir Clugney Mannering
'Engerrand Rolfe, Sheriff of Hexham'. Although he was actually a 'commoner'.
By now, the evening was drawing to a close and The Twins played their final song.
Dark as night and black as sin
It was quite a song to finish the night with.
It also implied that The Crow Folk were close by, quite possibly living in Knavesmire.
After this, the inn began to empty.
Eventually, the only people left were those who would be sleeping on the wooden floor of the drinking room - which included us.
It had been a hard day and we welcomed the rest.
We awoke to the bustle of activity.
Looking outside, Sir Conrad was shouting orders and gesticulating wildly, the soldiers were packing up their kit. Breakfast was a hurried affair.
We saw as the soldiers hitched up the horses to cart that was filled with valuables and gold. Lady Margaret's dowry; oh to be able to redistribute that!
Lady Margaret made her entrance, there was no hiding the unhappiness on her face, no doubt due to the loss of her dress. The soldiers made her carriage ready.
The soldiers themselves, did not seem like a cheerful lot either. Some of them seemed most unhappy to be taking orders from Sir Conrad.
As all of this was going on, an old woman hobbled in the direction of Sir Conrad, surprised, turned to face her.
Poor lord Conrad,
Conrad retorted with, "For you, not me, Hag!" as a look of fury contorted his face for a moment.
"Take her to a tree and hang her," He ordered his men.
As his men came over, we glanced at each other. Hanging the bandit was one thing, but an old woman...
Randulf stepped up to Sir Conrad and pleaded with him to reconsider.
"She is old and simple and doesn't understand what she is saying," he said.
Conrad looked at Randulf for a long moment and we held our breath.
"Take her," Said Conrad. "And keep her under control.".
Conrad ordered his men to release the old woman to us.
It was now that Osric made an appearance.
It was clear that the old woman was about to repeat what she had already said, but Osric leaned over and spoke in her ear. She seemed to calm down and fell silent after this.
We, along with Osric accompanied the old woman back to her home.
"I was just speaking the truth," she insisted along the way.
Osric seemed to have the ear of the old woman and we asked if he played an important role in Knavesmire. Osric replied that he occasionally advised Sir Clugney on 'spiritual matters' from time to time and nothing more.
Upon our return to the inn, Sir Conrad had mounted his horse and was preparing to lead the newly gathered procession.
Before leaving, Conrad turned to Clugney and loudly ordered him to. "Sweep the area for the gown. Don't bother coming back without it.".
With that the procession headed west on the road for Hexham and a relaxing calmness settled upon Knavesmire upon their exit.
Only the smallest retinue, that of Sir Clugney had not departed. They were a shambolic, run-down looking band of men, their threadbare and faded liveries had seen better days.
Sir Clugney ordered his men to pack up as they're going home. They had no intention of obeying Sir Conrad's orders.
Going to the sergeant, we asked him what was going on?
The sergeant explained that they suspected that Conrad had taken the gown himself and they weren't going to waste their time searching for it.
We also asked him what he knew about Osric. He told us that Osric had come from Scandinavia on an open topped boat he had steered himself.
Soon after, Clugney and his retinue also departed.
The morning was still young and there was time enough to go searching for the dress, since no one else would!
We had a plan! Find The Crow Folk in the forest and find and take the wedding gown. Hexham was close to the forest's easternmost border, so we would travel through the forest to Hexham.
What could go wrong?
Leaving Knavesmire behind, we backtracked to the ford at The Forest of Caucy and crossed to the northern side of the River Scarmore. the cart that was on fire yesterday had been reduced to a pile of blackened wood and ash.
The bodies of The Crow Folk that we had felled were gone, reclaimed by their accomplices.
The forest was lush, shady and remote, tall trees swayed and rustled softly as occasional birdsong floated on the air.
Our search for tracks was successful and we found evidence of movement.
The tracks led us westward, they followed the river's course and skirted along the forest's border with it.
Eventually the tracks turned south and we came to another ford.
Crossing back to the southern side of the river, we picked up the tracks again and continued on.
Soon we lost sight of the river as the tracks took back into the forest.
Deeper went tracks into the forest and deeper became the forest. We lost sight of anything beyond trees and even the sky was hidden from us, save for occasional sunlit gaps that broke through the branches above.
Every careful, quiet footstep seemed like a crashing, thunderous stomp in the stillness.
Warily, we continued following the tracks until Mopsa warned us to stop? Mopsa went forward and revealed a hidden pit trap.
Branches lined with leaves had been laid across a pit and at the bottom were sharpened wooded stakes.
Quickly we looked about us, there were four Crow Folk up nearby trees. They realised that we had spotted them and attacked!
We exchanged bow fire with them and of course Randulf charged a tree yelling loudly. He climbed a tree and pulled on a leg violently. The man fell, limbs flailing and landed in the spiked pit with a resounding thud and a shower of blood.
Soon enough, the remaining enemies were defeated.
There were four corpses and four of us. So we stripped them of their masks and hooded cloaks. With the blood cleaned off of them, they provided us with disguises.
We continued following the tracks and once again Mopsa commanded us to stop. This time she has found a tripwire across the track.
And once again we looked around to find four more Crow Folk. This time they didn't attack, fooled by our disguise.
So for once, we we able to ambush them!
The fighting was over quickly, Randulf only just had the opportunity to charge a tree, yelling loudly, climb it!
The tracks continued on and so we followed.
After a while the trees began to thin out and green leaves above gave way to blue sky. The dense forest melted away to patches of clear ground.
We had found a hollow. More than that, we had found The Crow Folk.
Wooden buildings were scattered throughout the hollow, they were rudimentary but functional. There people working and walking about here, there were homes and sheds with the amenities of a village.
Would our disguises work here?
Only one way to find out.
Trying our best to not make eye contact, we entered the Crow Folk village. The people here paid us no heed, were unaware that we moved among them.
As we strolled through the settlement, furtively looking left and right, we watching the passing people engaged in their day-to-day activities. This may have almost seemed a normal village, but it was filled with people who would kill us given the opportunity. Somewhere in here was the wedding gown.
Our cautious searching paid off. Mopsa had found the dress, it was being kept within a heavy wooden box.
Taking the gown out of the box and leaving with it would be too conspicuous. Instead Mopsa picked up the box and we made to leave the settlement...
Mopsa had barely moved when two men approached us.
We remained calm as they asked what we were doing.
Mopsa casually replied, that we had been told to move the dress.
They seemed convinced, they had no reason to be suspicious. They even offered to help carry the box for Mopsa.
Mopsa thanked them, but explained that she would be fine.
With that, we departed.
We backtracked again. We knew the way now and knew that it was clear of threats, so we made good time. We encountered no problems on the return journey.
Eventually this saw us to the north eastern perimeter of the forest and in sight of Hexham Castle.
We thought it best not to enter Hexham wearing our disguises. We found a suitable spot to stash the garments away until we returned.
Then we turned to Hexham.
The towers and battlements of Hexham castle soared above the town that surrounded it and the castle's curtain wall had been extended to include the settlement. All a stone and brick reminder of its owner's power to the small homes that sat in its shadow.
Lugging the wooden box, we walked through the town and to the castle. Somewhere in there was Lady Margaret, we had to find her.
We were allowed to walk around the castle's ground floor unchecked, but there was no sign of Lady Margaret. After an exchange of coins with a servant, we learn that she is on the upper levels, the way is guarded though.
We sought to find a way to circumvent the guards, but a castle is designed to resist intruders and this was no task, particularly in daylight. Thus, no solution presented itself to us.
In the end, we approached the guards hoping to convince them to let us pass. After all, Mopsa did have a way with words.
We were taken by surprised when the guards told us that we are expected!
We were led to Lady Margaret's chambers, they were well decorated as would be expected for someone of her standing. The chamber was also adorned with all the wealth of her dowry to Sir Roland.
Lady Margaret recognised us as we are introduced. Her misery was easy to see, but a hopeful look crossed her face when we entered.
Opening the box, we showed the gown to Lady Margaret. Helpfully, she asked us what reward we wanted for recovering it?
We knew the gown cost the people of Hexham three hundred coins, so we asked for four hundred!
Lady Margaret did not blanch at the cost. Instead she opened a chest piled high with coins and counted out four hundred of them.
"I'm sure that Roland won't miss it," she commented.
We could not help but notice that it had made no dent to the trove of coins. Perhaps we should have asked for more!
The gown and the coins were exchanged, Lady Margaret's mood was much improved. We bid our farewells and left.
We had four hundred coins, plus the coins we had taken from the dead Crow Folk meant that we had about five hundred coins. It was a sizeable amount and needed redistribution to the needy.
After some discussion, we decided to split the money up.
Half we gave to Emlyn and Watt for distribution to the traders in Hexham who had been forced to pay for the gown.
The other half we gave to Friar Nicolas to distribute to the needy as he saw fit.
So ended the second ended escapade of out merry band.
The Ballard of Calder Winterbourne 'Mouse Eater'
‘It is unclear where or when the ‘Ballad of Calder Winterbourne’ originated. No copy exists with provenance earlier than the mid-fifteenth century (and that only a fragment). It is likely that early versions have been adapted by others over the centuries and sections re-written or entirely new text added, perhaps to add contemporary references, incorporate unrelated fragments or cover situations likely to be familiar to new, later readers. There is, for example, an oblique reference to a possible act of enclosure in the prologue, which must either be a poor transcription or later addition to a supposedly ‘medieval’ text. No reference to Calder Winterbourne exists in the historical record and it is therefore likely that, if he ever existed, his story has been greatly embellished or his tale is a combination of several stories combined in a convenient narrative thread.’‘It is unclear where or when the ‘Ballad of Calder Winterbourne’ originated. No copy exists with provenance earlier than the mid-fifteenth century (and that only a fragment). It is likely that early versions have been adapted by others over the centuries and sections re-written or entirely new text added, perhaps to add contemporary references, incorporate unrelated fragments or cover situations likely to be familiar to new, later readers. There is, for example, an oblique reference to a possible act of enclosure in the prologue, which must either be a poor transcription or later addition to a supposedly ‘medieval’ text. No reference to Calder Winterbourne exists in the historical record and it is therefore likely that, if he ever existed, his story has been greatly embellished or his tale is a combination of several stories combined in a convenient narrative thread.’
The Ballard of Mopsa Miem 'Mopsacle'
Rumble rumble in the village
The Ballard of Randulf The Red
Stand and listen gentlefolk
The Ballard of Black Stan
Fine Alice from Billige, accused.
15th August 2020
Saturday night has come, I'm in the living room and logged on to Skype.
This means it's RPG time! Matakishi is starting his new Merry Outlaws campaign.
In this RPG, players follow in the footsteps of Robin Hood. Robbing the rich to pay the poor, fighting the injustice and corruption that persists in sunny England.
Merry Outlaws is definitely a 'lite' RPG. It runs to just over twelve pages - including evocative illustrations. The rules are well laid out to view on screen and simple to understand.
Everything is handled by rolling one or two six sided dice, the higher the better. When rolled this will produce one of four results that are analogous to; very good, good, fail, and critical fail.
Combat is handled in the same way.
Character creation is as simple as can be roll for (or pick) a personal code, two abilities and two starting items and a weapon.
If a PC has a pertinent ability or some other advantage, they have an edge. Conversely, if a PC has a disadvantage, then they have a setback. This is a advantage/disadvantage mechanic.
Finally we have character progression, this is where the game stands out. Merry Outlaws eschews the usual XP or level-up paradigm. Instead players are forging their own legend through the creation of a ballad!
At the end of every adventure each player creates a stanza - a four-line poem to add to their ballad.
As players continue their adventures, their balled will lengthen. Additionally, as they accumulate stanzas, they will acquire new abilities.
Once a character has ten stanzas in their ballad, they retire.
All in all a short, sweet and simple RPG. Worth trying if that's your cup of tea.
Our merry band consists of:
Calder Winterbourne a.k.a Mouse Eater - played by Mark.
Swift footed and skilled with the bow.
Mopsa Hiems a.k.a Mopsacle - played by Michaela.
Silver tongued and sharp-eyed.
Randulf the Red - played by Kevin.
Handy with both fist and mace.
Wystan Blackbourne a.k.a. Black Stan - played by Giro.
Wilderness traveller, well-informed and keeper of this chronicle.
Bandits lurk in Castle Drumclog
Location: The Green.
Today was Saturday and therefore market day. The summery day had drawn out a fair crowd who noisily ambled and milled around the market, casually perusing the stalls.
Our merry band had come to the market when the sun was reaching its fullest height. Navigating the hubbub, we too sought to peruse the wares.
As Calder stood at the local blacksmith's stall turning some arrowheads over in his fingers, he overheard a conversation between the blacksmith and a priest.
The blacksmith 'Dai' was telling 'Father Hayden' that he was happy to accompany him to 'Billige' for the trial of 'Alice' the herbalist tomorrow.
Dai stated that he was doubtful that she was a witch or responsible for the thefts and it was likely the same brigands who were holding his daughter hostage.
Once the priest had left, we approached Dai and asked about his daughter?
Dai explained that his daughter, 'Blodwin' had been kidnapped by 'Giles The Ghastly' a renowned outlaw with a disfigured face. Giles was now demanding a ransom for her release and he wasn't in the mood to wait.
Dai told us that Giles and his gang were holed at the ruins of 'Drumclog Castle'.
After this, Dai showed us a sword, it was a good piece and Dai said it was the finest he had ever forged. He would gladly give it as a reward to whoever rescued his daughter.
Next, we asked about Alice. Dai said that 'Merick' the miller had accused her of being a witch after sacks of flour had been stolen from his locked storeroom.
Dai went on to say that a lot of stuff had been stolen around the village and it was unlikely that Alice was responsible for all of it.
Alice would stand trial for witchcraft tomorrow, she was currently being held a barn at Billige, guarded by 'Friar Nicholas'.
After thanking Dai, we moved off and had a discussion, we came to an agreement, both Alice and Blodwin needed our help. Randulf had some reservations about dealing with someone accused of witchcraft, but we convinced him to put them to one side.
Tomorrow Alice would be put on trial and the brigands did not seem willing to wait for their ransom. There was no time to waste.
We would begin by freeing Alice and then rescue Blodwin.
We took the path to Billige.
It was typical of a hamlet or village, small and secluded. A water mill sat on a stream that skirted the edge of the settlement and some houses surrounded a pond in what could loosely be described as the village square. In the centre stood a church and nearby was a barn, the only barn in the Billige.
Close to the pond, some workmen were constructing a frame of some kind...
It was early afternoon when we strolled into Billige and in the direction of the barn. We were strangers her and could not help but notice that we are being watched. A gaggle of old women and a band of four ruffians had their eyes on us from different parts of the village square.
Once at the barn, we could see Friar Nicholas sitting in front of the door. Calder approached and politely inquired about Alice.
The Friar confirmed that he was here to guard her and stop her leaving. He also said that he did not believe that she was guilty, she was too young and too beautiful to be a witch.
Calder then asked if perhaps Friar Nicholas felt the need to pray at the church and donated some coins into Friar Nicholas' alms bowl. The friar walked in the direction of the church.
Even though the way into the barn was now unguarded, we could still feel suspicious eyes watching us.
Randulf came up with an idea for a distraction.
He walked up to the ruffians and brazenly challenged them to a wrestling match. The largest of them stepped forward and introduced himself as 'Godric' and eagerly took up Randulf's offer.
Meanwhile Mopsa also came forward, using her talent for public speaking to distract the old women.
As the distractions began, Calder and I entered the barn and found Alice. She was not keen to remain here and did not take much convincing to join us. We left the barn and the settlement as quickly as possible with Alice hidden between Calder and I.
Back at the village square, Randulf was not having such a good time of it. Godric had quickly and easily picked him up and slammed him into the ground.
Randulf shook his head, jumped to his feet and yelled. "Best of three, best of three!"
Godric nodded, he was still up for it.
The second bout lasted a bit longer and eventually went Randulf's way as he got the better of Godric and managed to pin him.
After pulling Godric to his feet, Randulf said. "One win each, call it a draw?".
This was acceptable to Godric, who insisted a rematch later. Impressed with Randulf's prowess, Godric introduced his three friends 'Tybal' 'Cliff' and 'Shawn'.
Randulf accompanied the four of them to their home for a 'quick drink'.
He discovered that the four of them worked as 'foresters', or so they said. To Randulf's worldly eyes however, they seemed more akin to 'poachers'!
During the drinking, Randulf also learned that one of their number - 'Roland' had gone missing in 'The Forest of Caucy', he had disappeared a few days ago whilst managing the forest or more likely poaching!
The four of them were too scared to go looking for Roland. A couple of nights earlier, they had seen ghosts as white as chalk running through the forest, carrying sacks filled with souls!
"Perhaps the ghosts had taken Roland," Godric said.
Or perhaps they were thieves running away with sacks of flour?
Randulf had spend too long drinking and talking, he groggily made his leave. Godric and others were quite taken with their new friend and decided to accompany Randulf. He thought hard, but could not think of a good reason to refuse them.
Mopsa met up with Randulf when he returned to the village square with four extra companions in tow! She noticed all of them reeking of drink.
Meanwhile, Alice, Calder and I had reached the edge of the forest. Alice knew the woods here well as she frequented them regularly to gather herbs and plants and felt safe to be left alone.
By the mid afternoon, we had met up with Mopsa, Randulf and his four new companions. Now that Alice was safe, we set our sights on Blodwin and Drumclog Castle.
It was a short march to Drumclog Castle, coming in from the north, we spotted the ruins on the horizon, it sat on a rise and was silhouetted against the darkening sky.
From this distance, there was little detail, but we could see most of the castle was gone, a few walls and a single tower was all that remained standing.
The land between us and the ruins was quite open, it concerned us that there might be a lookout in the tower. They would easily spot our approach.
Just west of the ruin was a large copse.
Circling round, we made our approach through these trees. We stopped just in the tree line and observed the ruins of Drumclog.
The keep, most of the walls and all but one of the towers had crumbled into mounds of overgrown, grassy detritus long ago. Over the years, much of this stone had been reclaimed and reused by locals. A few 'half-walls' still stood forlornly and some corners of the keep's floor had not yet been entirely overrun by nature.
Only the single corner tower had endured the ruination of Drumclog Castle. We watched it intently for a while and our diligence was rewarded; there was indeed a lookout slowly patrolling the top.
In the twilight's dimness we could see a soft, wavering orange light playing across the lowest parts of the tower wall. There was a campfire at the tower's base. Unfortunately, the ruins prevented us from having a clear view.
We waited until the remainder of the day's light had drained from the sky. In the darkness, the campfire shone even brighter.
We waited until the lookout had walked out of sight and quietly slipped into ruins.
We advanced on the tower and stopped quite close, taking up position in some nearby bushes. The same ruins that prevented us from seeing the campfire now hid us from it.
However, from our new spot, we had a clear view of the tower's base.
Gathered around the campfire sat five men, they were off-guard and relaxed, but their swords and bows were within arms reach. A horse was tethered next to tower.
On the other side of the campfire was a doorway into the tower. We could see no other way in to the tower.
There was no sign of Blodwin here, no doubt she was inside?
As well as the five here, there was a lookout up the tower, that made six opponents.
There must be at least one other guarding Blodwin, that made seven.
Finally, none of the five here had a disfigured face, none of them was Giles, he must be elsewhere, that made it potentially eight opponents.
With the foresters on our side, that made it even numbers, we had the advantage of surprise though.
The foresters were for a direct assault on the tower, relying on surprise to win the fight.
I suggested waiting until later, when they were all asleep before going in.
Cliff pointed out some other bushes to Randulf and explained. "They use those bushes for a privy!". We could wait until they came over and exposed their vulnerability to us and deal with them one-by-one.
In the end, the foresters were too impatient to discuss any strategy and strung their bows. They, along with Calder loosed arrows at the five men.
One man went down and another was wounded. The remaining three sprang to their feet, grabbed their swords and kicking dirt on their campfire.
The rest of us charged into melee.
The four foresters also charged in... straight past the men and to the horse!
Whilst we were exchanging blows with the three remaining men, the foresters had untethered the horse and fled into the night with their prize, whooping and laughing as they did so.
The fight did not last too long, by the end one more was dead and another wounded. The last man fled into the tower and we gave chase.
The chase led us into a chamber which contained two men and two others. A man with a scarred face, - Giles and a young woman who bore a striking resemblance to Dai the blacksmith - Blodwin.
Without hesitation Calder charged in, followed by Randulf. The entrance to the chamber unfortunately proved to be something of a bottleneck, preventing Mopsa and I from providing aid to Calder and Randulf.
Regardless, the fight went our way, by its end, Giles had been killed and the other two wounded.
We spoke with Blodwin and she seemed unharmed, was in fair spirits and desired to return home.
Next, after arming ourselves with the swords and bows of the dead and we gathered up the four surviving brigands, they were hurt, but at no immediate risk, their accents betrayed them as Welshmen.
When asked about the miller's flour, they denied stealing it. Certainly there were no sacks of flour to be found here.
This meant that there were other thieves active in Billige, either that or it was actually ghosts!
Then we had to decide what to do with the brigands, they were offered the opportunity to join our band by Mopsa, who it appears spoke mostly convincingly. All four of them agreed to join with us.
'Owen', 'Dylan', 'Aylwin' and 'Gwyn' joined our merry band, hopefully they would be more loyal than those blasted foresters!
Finally, we took Giles' head, there was a reward on it for three hundred coins which we intended to collect.
We returned to the forest with the four brigands and Blodwin in tow and found Alice. The brigands agreed to stay with Alice while we bought Blodwin back to her father.
It was late when we returned to Billige, the village square was empty and quiet. I had to fight the urge to creep through the hamlet on the way to Dai's home.
When we got there, Dai was overjoyed to see his daughter safely returned. He gripped her tightly and thanked us.
Dai also insisted on gifting us the sword he had shown us during the day and would not take 'no' for an answer.
In the end Calder took the weapon and a fine weapon it was.
We had rescued Blodwin, but it was fast approaching midnight and we had yet to prove Alice's innocence.
Our next objective was to head of to Merick's mill and learn why he had accused Alice of witchcraft.
Merick's mill was situated on the very edge of Billige but not far away. There was just enough light to make out three men as we drew closer. They were 'hanging about' at the water mill and heatedly discussing some matter.
We stopped short and Calder sneaked forward to get a better look at them. Unfortunately, Calder stumbled and scuffed his shoe loudly. The three figures immediately stopped their talk and turned to face our direction and quickly looked left and right.
Calder stayed still as they looked.
After a few seconds, the three of them seemed satisfied and went back to their business.
In front of our eyes, the heated discussion became an argument, then the argument became an altercation.
One of the three was struck hard and knocked to the ground, the other two pounced and wrestled a key from him and headed for the mill.
We ran forwards as the other two headed off. The man on the ground was 'Thatch', Merick's son.
After hauling him to his feet, we asked him what was going on? Thatch told us that "Nothing was wrong, everything was okay.".
It was obvious that something was wrong, why had the other two gone to the mill?
We make a lot of noise to wake Merick and Mopsa loudly sang:
“Here they are, the real witches."
"Come Mr Merick and smack these bitches.”
It was enough to wake Merick who came storming out. At the same time, we prevented the other two from fleeing the mill. They were 'Tom' and 'Hubert', local farmhands.
Merick was furious and questioned Thatch, aksing him was was going on?
Thatch hesitated and then admitted that he was being blackmailed? Blackmailed by Tom and Hubert.
Thatch explained that Tom and Hubert had approached him and said they had seen him murder Roland the forester in the woods a few days ago. They demanded that unless Thatch gave them flour from the mill, they would publicly accuse him of the murder.
It was their word against his, Thatch felt he had no choice but to help them, which he did until his father accused the wrong person and Alice was arrested.
We turned to Merick and told him, here was proof that Alice had not stolen the flour. Merick concurred and agreed to withdraw his accusation against Alice in the morning.
Now we had to deal with Tom and Hubert.
They refused to tell us why they were stealing flour.
Intimidation did not work, they were more afraid of someone else than us?
A different approach was needed.
We told the pair of them that we would blame the thefts on Giles The Ghastly if they agreed to tell us the truth.
It was enough to convince them.
They had been out in the woods a few days ago, when they saw Roland acquire a deer, they decided that they wanted the deer for themselves. Since there was two of them and only one of Roland, they sought to 'relieve' Roland of the deer.
In the ensuing tussle, Roland fell and was killed.
They weren't alone in the woods though, the entire incident had been witnesses by 'Otto The Hermit'.
Otto was a recluse who lived in the forest, he was also known as 'a magician'.
Otto confronted them and as they would later go on to blackmail Thatch, Otto blackmailed them. Otto threatened to turn them in unless the two of them provided him with all the food and supplies he needed.
Unwilling to tangle with a magician and deal with the accusation Tom and Hubert had stealing since then.
So the mystery was solved, but there were some loose ends to tie up.
We considered going for Otto, but ultimately his crime was minor, the real culprits were Tom and Hubert. In the end, we left him alone.
Next was Alice, we may have proven her innocence, but if we didn't return her to that barn in Billige it would simply make her look more guilty and it would all be for naught.
Once again returning to the woods, we spoke with Alice and she agreed to being returned to the barn.
We left Tom and Hubert under the watch of our four new recruits.
Back at Billige, we stepped lightly as we went back to the barn. Friar Nicholas had returned to his post, he had slumped over and fallen asleep. We carefully stepped over his gently snoring form and returned Alice to the barn.
It was late now and well past midnight! It had been a long day and we needed somewhere to stay, we had to be in Billige for the trial.
We called on Dai again and he was happy to put us up for the night.
Sunday had come; it was a cool, misty morning, the low summer sun hung in an fantastically blue sky, casting the longest of shadows and promising to burn away the mist to become a blazing hot day.
The people of Billige soon began to congregate for the church service and of course, the trial... We even saw the foresters proudly riding their new horse to church!
Once Father Hayden had concluded Sunday service, matter turned to the witch trial.
Father Hayden and the congregation positioned themselves outside for the trial. Before it could get underway, Merick made himself known to everyone and publicly withdrew his accusation of Alice, clearly stating that she had not stolen his flour and was not a witch.
Murmurs rippled through the gathered people like a dropped stone whilst Father Hayden considered the situation. He ruled that since there was no longer an accusation against Alice,she should not longer have to suffer the test and was free to go.
Alice was free.
Tom and Hubert were handed over to the authorities and taken away.
When Monday came, we travelled to the larger settlement of 'Hexham' and handed Giles now fetid head and claimed the his bounty.
Upon our return to Billige, we gave out the reward to the people, ensuring the needy got first shares. We even bought the horse off of the foresters at a fair price no less, once they realised it's upkeep would require both effort and money.
So was completed the first undertaking of our merry band.
The Ballard of Calder Winterbourne 'Mouse Eater'
The Ballard of Mopsa Miem 'Mopsacle'
Rumble rumble in the village
The Ballard of Randulf The Red
Stand and listen gentlefolk
The Ballard of Black Stan
Fine Alice from Billige, accused.
9th August 2020.
It's Sunday lunchtime and it's a blazingly hot day in the middle of a classic English heatwave. We're at Vicky's with our picnic blankets in the back garden.
This means it's time for Matt's 50 Fathoms game.
Location: The Perdition.
From Win's position in 'The Perdition's' rigging, she spoke to Califax, holding out Tressa' heart to him and trying to convince him to carry it to Shia. Califax refused, unwilling to carry his former pet's heart.
Suddenly the bloody heart became an actual sparkling ruby, cut in the shape of a gleaming heart? In a moment though, the illusion had vanished and only the real heart remained?
Califax then warned Win that she would need to preserve the heart.
Meanwhile, sailors from below had scrambled up the rigging, leaving Win no option but to surrender.
All of us had been captured; we were taken below deck and put into two separate cells. Win and Rufus in one cell and the rest of us in another, separating the magic users.
Unbeknown to any of us in the cells, Califax had flown over to Shia, in his talons was the Tressa's heart. Somehow, he had gotten it off Win? He dropped it into Shia's hands and told her that it needed to be preserved.
Shia ordered a crew member to bring over a jar filled with salt water and placed the heart into it.
Then Shia and Rackham ordered their ships to begin bombarding The Perdition.
From our cells we heard cannonballs whistle overhead and occasionally strike The Perdition. There was a lot of shouting and commotion elsewhere in the barge.
We tried to look out of the cell, hopefully any guards would have been called away from our cell. Baxter and Terrance started working on the door, trying to break it open. Cannonballs continued to whistle past.
Back at the ships. Shia continued attacking The Perdition, Rackham, in his little shallow-hulled skiff, advanced towards The Perdition.
At our cell, Baxter and Terrance continued to try and break the door open, they had met with some success, the door had been split into two and still required some more bashing.
A cannonball struck the barge close to our cell, shaking it so hard that dust showered us, we also heard splintering wood.
Baxter and Terrance continue bashing at the cell door and finally it broke open, we were free.
We dashed down the corridor we had come from and immediately encountered Win turning the corner. It appeared that Rufus and Win had also managed to escape their cell, although Rufus was no where to be seen?
We could see that Win was stressed, Win told us that she had lost Tressa's heart, it had gone missing from her pocket. We had no choice but to find it before we could leave the barge. We could feel the barge shiver from another cannonball hit.
Win said that she might be able to locate the heart if she was not disturbed and allowed to meditate for about two minutes.
Outside, the attack on The Perdition continued and Rackham sailed even closer. He launched several magic spells at the barge.
So we started looking for a suitable spot for Win to meditate on a boat that was under attack! After a little searching we came across Rufus, he was looting a room he had found to be empty. It seemed a good spot for Win's meditating.
An explosion rattled the entire barge, anything not nailed down jingled, shook and bounced around.
It was slight and almost imperceptible, but we could feel the barge beginning to list.
Win settled down, 'got comfortable' and began meditating. The rest of us stood guard.
Further away we could hear yelling and shouting to 'abandon ship'! Panic was spreading throughout the barge. We also heard voices ineffectively trying to calm the crew down.
Half way through Win's meditation, Califax appeared, began flapping around and making a nuisance of himself. We told him to keep quiet, but he interrupted us and explained that Captain Shia had Tressa's heart! Win snapped out of her trance, glared at Califax and demanded he explain himself.
Califax said that he had seen the heart in Win's pocket and on a whim took it and bought it to Shia. If parrots could shrug, I'm certain Califax would have!
The Perdition was under attack and listing, the crew were panicking and distracted. Now was a good time to try and escape.
As we were escaping, Rackham was approaching the barge. He could see the hull was breached at the waterline and was taking on water. He dived into the sea, swimming underwater towards the breach.
Whilst swimming, he could see people hitting the surface of the water above as they abandoned ship, he could some were swimming and others flailing about as they sank down to the sea bed.
Rackham swam through the breach and was in the hull now.
Meanwhile Shia kept her attack up on The Perdition.
Those of us below deck made for the top, most of us that is. Rufus had decided to linger in the sinking barge, looking for loot.
Once the rest of us reached the deck. It was pandemonium as sailors and mercenaries ran around. Some were diving overboard, others tried to contain the damage being suffered and so on. The was a cacophony of screaming and shouting.
We weaved our way through the chaos, hoping to be unnoticed...
"BE CALM" Boomed an unimaginably loud and seemingly disembodied voice. For a moment, a brief moment, the crew froze, caught in a moment of tranquillity looking around expectantly, easily enough time for us to be spotted unfortunately.
We sprinted, ducked and dodged our way to the jolly boat, throwing caution to the wind as the chaos resumed. Fortune was with us, unchallenged we boarded the boat and kicked off the barge. Then we realised, Win wasn't here, she been separated from us somehow, but it was too late to turn around. Win was still aboard The Perdition.
But Win wasn't the only one, Rackham was now searching below decks for loot, as was Rufus.
After Win had gotten separated from us, she tried backtracking to a hiding spot, but it was to no avail. One of the cardinals on the deck spotted her and yelled out, "Heretic!" and advanced to confront Win.
Below decks, Rackham and Rufus crossed paths. Rackham continued looking for loot, Rufus decided to go looking for the others.
Rufus wandered on to the deck just in time to hear the cardinal menacing Win with an axe.
Rufus stepped up and issued him a challenge. The cardinal wheeled round to Rufus, a smile split his face as he said, "We have ourselves another heathen here.".
Now it was the turn of several other men to step up and join the cardinal, ready for a fight.
8th August 2020
Saturday night is here and I'm logged into Skype on my laptop whilst sitting in the living room.
This means that it's time for the concluding chapter of Matakishi's Wasted Hack campaign.
Location: The Chasm.
It was time to prepare for our trip across the forested chasm floor. We packed our ropes, pitons and climbing gear.
We also prepared for an insect infested sweltering trip as best we could.
The three balloon ladies would have to stay behind, for them scaling the sheer slopes was out of the question. It was also decided that Jasper would stay put. He could look out for them and drive the transporter if need be.
With us on this foray would be D4-VID, Cornelius and the two Chrome Bois, Tombaga and Elinvar.
Our estimation was that the descent to the chasm floor would be a hundred metres. The rope we were carrying barely extended beyond twenty. We would need to climb down in stages.
Our approach was simple, we would secure a piton at the top, then Cornelius - our best climber would climb down and scout out a suitable ledge to temporarily hold us and hammer in another piton.
With the rope secured, the rest of us would safely descend.
The rope would be retrieved and we would begin on the next stage.
That was the plan anyway...
Descending the first stage went mostly without a hitch. But truth be told; we had forgotten to take into account the extreme weight of The Chrome Bois! The pitons barely held their positions.
On the second stage, when Tombaga began climbing, the top piton dislodged entirely, sending him plunging downwards.
Tombaga was forced to drive his cybernetic hands into the very slope itself with his superior stenght to save himself! After retrieving the rope, we continued our descent.
By the end of the third stage, we had dropped beneath the tree line and got our first look at the forest below.
The forest was trapped in a perennial gloom beneath the canopy, only the occasional gap allowed a golden ray of blazing, dazzling sunlight to penetrate. The undergrowth was thick and pervasive here. We could hear the occasional movement of grass and leaves, as well as the chirping of insects and distant cry of birds.
Finally, after the fourth stage of climbing, we reached the chasm floor. Ahead of us was a three kilometre march through an unknown landscape.
From the first step, it was slow, hard going. The ground was damp, soft and a mire, every sinking, sucking footstep a struggle. The air was humid, close and uncomfortable, it buzzed with swirling swarms of giant insects, the ground and trees crawled with them.
There were spores here too, the forest was abundant with them.
We tried our best to avoid all this as we pushed on.
A little way into the morning and ahead of us we heard a loud crashing noise and the harsh sound of splintering wood.
Gripping our weapons, we advanced, not knowing what to expect.
Not knowing what to expect was generally an effective strategy. This situation was no different.
What we encountered, was not what we were expecting to encounter?
It was massive in size and seemed to be some sort four-legged reptile, with a long tail, equally long neck and a small head. It had trampled its way through the forest to reach the leaves and shoots it was currently eating.
It had not noticed or was ignoring us. Either way, it was entirely focused on what it was eating and did not appear to be a threat to us. We briefly considered trying to tame it, but no doubt that would have ended badly!
We decided to leave it be and moved on. Half an hour later we heard the sound of something large crashing through the forest again, this time behind us. We span round and looked back at the way we had come, almost expecting to see something charging us.
But there was nothing. A few moments later we heard bestial screaming, howling and roaring coming through the forest. This continued for a short time before abruptly ending. Something pretty bad had happened back there?
We waited and watched for a short while, nothing came towards us, nothing else happened.
We kept on going.
The ground had been slowly but surely sloping downwards throughout our journey. After half a day's travel we had reached what we surmised was the lowest point in the chasm.
Running the length of the chasm was a wide stream, it's murky brown waters flowing sluggishly. At best this stream could only be described as 'uninviting'.
Our previous 'experiences' with large bodies of liquid - particularly 'murky' liquids had taught us one indisputable fact: There was definitely something nasty lurking just beneath the surface!
No one had any intention of putting one foot into that stream, we needed another way to cross it.
After a brief search we discovered that as its narrowest, the stream was twenty fire metres wide or so.
Agent Pip and Max used their glitch mutations to teleport across without mishap. Useful for them, but not so much for the rest of us. I could teleport at least two people to the other side using my shift mutation, but at the very least this would leave me on the wrong side.
We started looking at the trees, maybe they cold be used? They were mostly over twenty five metres high.
Swinging across them would be impracticable.
Perhaps we could chop a tree down and use it's trunk as a bridge. I wondered how long it would take with my machete?
The cyborgs declared that they were carrying 'chainsaw' attachments, perfect.
We stood back and let The Chrome Bois do their stuff. The noise of chainsaws cut through the forest sounds as much as did through tree trunks. Soon enough there was a loud, distinct creaking noise, followed by splintered and then crashing noises.
As the trunk fell, it triggered a plethora of activity, dislodged insects scuttled away, small exposed creatures fled into the undergrowth and plants trembled and swayed from the impact.
A short time passed and everything seemed still again.
The trunk was long enough to span the stream, so we crossed... cautiously. As we carefully made our way over, we observed movement and possibly bubbling or frothing originating from the water close to the trunk.
Whatever it was, we were having nothing to do with it.
Leaving the stream behind we continued, from now on, the ground would be gently sloping upwards.
Because the chasm was deep and we were travelling under the shade of the canopy, the day's light was failing earlier than expected. Soon it would be dark and we would need to camp for the night.
As we were searching for a suitable camp site, we caught sight of a flickering light in the distance between the trees. It was clearly some sort of fire light.
There was no way of knowing its size or its distance through the forest, but someone else was definitely out here with us.
Should we investigate the fire light or ignore it.
It may be nothing but a waste of time, or a trap? Perhaps it might prove useful?
In the end we realised that if we did not investigate the light, whoever was over there might come and investigate our own light instead.
Heading towards the light, we kept going until we encountered a clearing of sorts.
The forest had opened enough for us to see what was up ahead.
And up ahead was another vast and ancient cargo ship, like those we had previously seen at The Refinery.
It had partially sunk into the ground here, the part of the ship that was still above ground level was blanketed in vines, creepers and other greenery, barely any original part of the ship was visible.
Through the windows we could see fire within and the silhouetted shadowy movement of people.
It dawned on us that this chasm must have existed in the ancient world, otherwise why would anyone have built a bridge across it?
The chasm must have been some sort of water-channel or canal that gave passage to these massive ships during the world before.
We considered sneaking up to the camp fires to get a better look, but felt that this might be seen as suspicious or even worse, aggressive.
In the end, we chose to announce ourselves and Aoxo shouted, "Hello the camp." loudly.
After a few seconds, there was some movement. Emerging from the darkness and almost ghost-like were some humans, painted white and brandishing spears.
They stood there watching us and we stood there watching them. We tried to communicate with them, but it didn't work, they didn't understand us.
Instead, we tried a different approach. Slowly and cautiously I pulled some food out of my pocket. I ate half of it and gave the other half to one of them.
Another man this time painted in ochre stepped forward, he had two circles painted on his wrist. They ate the food and seemed to like it. They both then stood up straight and gave me a salute?
After this, they prompted us towards the old cargo ship. We allowed them to herd us 'on board', climbing up the hulk was relatively straightforward as the vegetation was sturdy enough to provide adequate handholds.
After clambering through the window with the fire light, we found ourselves in a smoky room filled with more people. In the yellow-orange light, they cast giant shadows on the walls and we could see that they were also painted in white. They silently watched us.
One of them wore some old headphones, broken technology from the world before. He approached and began quickly talking at us in some unintelligible language. In amongst all the jabbering, we caught a few words that we recognised, 'radio, captain, crew'. We noticed that on his wrist were three rings?
Aoxo believed that the circles were symbols used to denote rank in the ancient world, the more circles, the higher the rank. The man in the headphones seemed to have the highest rank and it seemed he was called 'Radio'.
Perhaps Radio was the 'captain' and these people were 'crew'?
Was it possible that the original crew of this ship had somehow become trapped down here? That would mean that these 'chasm people' might be the descendants of the crew?
The 'crew' here indicated that they wanted to share their meal with us, we acquiesced and also shared our food with them.
Some of the food ws thrown down a dark hole in the floor. Aoxo tried to surreptitiously glance down the hole, but saw nothing.
After the meal has concluded, everyone has gathered with us in this room.
Radio seems to be concentrated intently, then suddenly said. "Haste makes waste!".
They all cheered vigorously and turned to look at Max expectantly.
We were taken aback by this, hesitantly Max replied, "Hang five.".
Radio concentrated and a moment later booming laughter rose from the hole below!
It seemed that Radio was communicating with someone - or something? No wonder Radio was his name!
Radio concentrated again and said. "'If' is in the middle of life." and turned to Aoxo.
Aoxo replied. "If you can keep your head when all about you, you’ll be a Man, my son!".
There is more booming laughter.
Radio concentrates and says. "The writing's on the wall.". Radio raised an arm and pointed at the indecipherable writing and symbols on a wall here, then he turned to Agent Pip.
"Who you gonna call?", Replies Pip.
Again with the booming laughter.
Lastly, Radio turned to me after saying. "We're not laughing at you, we're laughing with you.".
"Laugh and the world laughs with you.", was my reply.
There was some more booming laughter.
Radio then said, "Heart of darkness." and pointed at one of the people here. There was a brief tussle and that person was grabbed and flung down the hole! It was so quick that it that was almost over before it started. It was certainly over before we could recover from the shock and act.
"The horror, the horror!" Boomed the voice from below!
After this, the crew here quickly settled down for the night, seemingly unperturbed by what had just come to pass.
Soon they were all asleep and the only noise in the ship was the loud snoring that rose out of the hole and from below.
Outside, the night was impenetrable and only the sounds of the forest reached us.
Now left alone, we had the opportunity to see what was down the hole, we didn't want to use lights or flares for fear of waking the crew.
Instead we had D4-VID film down the hole with it's thermal lens.
When we watched D4-VID's footage, we could see the heat signature of a massive creature, nearly the size of our transporter!
We had no idea what it was and little desire to find out. Since it was not part of our objective, we decided to leave it well alone.
Before settling down for the night ourselves, we posted watches. None of us felt comfortable with these people.
Dawn broke and a number of the crew left with their spears, no doubt on a hunt.
As we were getting dressed and packed. We grimly noticed that spores were growing in the creases of our skin. It seemed that we had not managed to avoid them.
Some of the crew approached us with buckets of the white paste that they used to covered themselves. Did they want us to do the same? Did the paste help with the spores? We chose to politely refuse the white paste and made ready to leave.
Before departing, we pointed in the direction of the chasm wall were heading towards. The crew saluted saluted us. We had no idea if they had understood.
We bid them farewell and began our next march.
It was a new day, but it was the same old slog. Soon the forest had swallowed up the cargo ship behind us in its verdant maw, seemingly eradicating all evidence of its very existence and relegating it to memory and imagination, save for D4-VID's footage.
Midday was upon us by the time we had arrived at the chasm wall, we had now reached the far side.
As with our descent, we had to climb out of the chasm in stages. The slopes were no obstacle for Cornelius, so it was a slow climb, but fortunately an uneventful one.
Shadows were beginning to lengthen when we escaped the chasm. The sun had become dim and reddish as it crawled behind the western horizon, in the waning light we could see the original tower, faraway and decorated with spots of winking light in the gloom.
Our journey across The Chasm had not been entirely straight and accurate, but it was close enough. The second tower, dormant and unlit as it was, lay close by.
Tombaga and Elinvar got to work on the generator and a few hours later, the second tower became 'fully operational'. The generator powered up with a rumble, lights winked on and control panels sprang to life.
We gave The Chrome Bois the honour of activating the light bridge. The tower vibrated and thrummed as the power surged, it was almost palpable in the air.
Moments later the humming stopped and wide a beam of light extended out of the ground next to the tower and then continued to extend across the chasm. From the other side, at the other tower, the same occurred.
The two beams converged and connected in the centre.
The light bridge was completed. It glowed eerily in the cool evening darkness with an almost unearthly quality.
Was it safe though?
Aoxo walked along the light bridge and stepped over the chasm, he jumped up and down a few times.
Yep! Seemed safe!
We radioed Jasper and he bought the transporter and the balloon ladies over. When they arrived, Jasper took us to one side and explained that the balloon ladies - as well as himself were showing signs of spore contamination.
The Chrome Bois also retrieved their buggy and returned. They were as curious as us to see The Domed City and had decided to accompany us.
Briefly examining the balloon ladies revealed that the contamination seemed quite advanced. They asked "Are we there yet?" and seemed quite miserable. This adventure was not proving much fun any more.
Everyone was examined next. This revealed that Cornelius had also been extensively contaminated.
We cleaned ourselves as much as possible, but the contamination remained. Jasper said that this not his area of expertise and was beyond him.
The balloon ladies and Cornelius seemed unwell, but under no immediate threat either.
We had no idea on the long term effects of this. Our best option was to reach The Domed City, they may have what it takes to deal with this.
We looked to the horizon away from The Chasm and saw a distinct light that continually winked on and off.
"It's a beacon." Stated the ladies. "We're nearly home.".
The Domed City was close. We quickly agreed that the quicker we reached it, the better. So we decided to drive through the night.
The multi-lane road headed in the direction of the beacon. Even though it was the product of the ancient world, it was in good condition, so our little convoy made good time.
The night was dark and quiet.
Other than the rumble of the transporter's tracks and the dull, low roar of The Chrome Bois' buggy, we drove through the night in an empty silence.
The transporter's headlights were flicked over to full beam, bathing a large swathe of the road ahead in blazing, almost blinding light. From within the transporter, everything outside of those headlights was so black that the universe didn't even seem to exist any more and only sprang into creation as the beams touched it.
A few kilometres into the journey and a faint and dull red hue had appeared, marking out the horizon against the moonless sky.
We had seen this before, when approaching Haven by night, but here, here it was on a much larger scale.
We continued like this for four hours along the featureless road. Then we saw The Domed City begin to rise over the horizon.
Domed City was something of a misnomer.
There was no single dome. Instead there appeared to be one massive dome, surrounded by numerous smaller satellite domes. There were transparent domes too, we could see the lights from within.
Soon we came to a smaller 'slip road' that branched off the multi lane road and veered towards our destination. We took the exit to The Domed City.
For a further hour we travelled. The domes had continued to grow and grow until they towered above us.
We made for the dome as indicated by the balloon ladies and entered unchallenged, the entrance unguarded?
Perhaps they had been entirely protected from the savage hardships of the wastes by The Chasm and felt no need for guards?
Inside the dome, we saw the city for the futuristic wonderland it was. We had to pull over to take it all in.
The streets were well maintained, clean and brightly lit, many walls were decorated with large screens that displayed beautiful women, happily applying make up, all of this accompanied by blaring inoffensive music that was piped along some sort of speaker system that appeared to run throughout the whole city.
The people walking these streets gave us sidelong glances and shuffled away, occasional smirking or laughing in our direction, but always avoiding us.
They were uniformly beautiful and young. We saw no children or old people?
The buildings here stretched up to the dome, adorned with gleaming lights. High above flew hover cars, darting and buzzing between the skyscrapers and unerringly navigating around each other.
The city was a mystery to us, we turned to the balloon ladies and asked them if they knew a place that we could get some medical treatment for the spore infection?
The ladies led us to a medical dispensary. They appeared confident that they could treat the issue. Once we handed some of the remaining cosmetics over, they provided us with pills.
Their effect on Agent Pip was immediate, the rest of us saw no results.
Following this, the ladies led us back to their home somewhere in the city. We had to take the transporter as close as possible, then walk. In our state we were not permitted on public transport.
It was small apartment, high up in tower block, with scant room for all of us. The ladies went into their bedrooms. For them, it was the first time they had seen themselves in a full length mirror in a long time and they saw the full enormity of what the road hogs had done to them and they were not happy.
Meanwhile; exhausted from the last two days and feeling unwell, we slumped down on the floor and making the best of it, went to sleep.
By morning, it appeared that the medicine was taking effect and we were grateful to see that the spore infections were clearing up.
The ladies announced that they had been instructed to go the central dome to see 'Pilot Nimble', leader of The Domed City. They agreed to allow us to accompany them.
Once again we were denied entry to the public transport network and had to make our way to the central dome on foot.
Largest and most expansive of all the domes, the central dome was a sight to behold. As well as the 'usual' skyscrapers and hover cars, the sky was filled with hot air balloons entering and exiting the central dome.
Before we reached our destination, we went past a half built skyscraper. It seemed, when completed, it might be the tallest structure in the dome.
There was however a visible lack of activity or workers on the site, for some reason the construction had halted.
Then we saw a name running the length of a finished portion of the build, the name was ISAAC!
We knew what ISAAC had been communicating with a second settlement, I guess that this was that settlement!
Questions about ISAAC would have to wait. The balloon ladies took us to another skyscraper. Outside on either side of the entrance was a large screen, each one displayed looping footage of women piloting hot air balloons.
We were taken in and up to an office on the top floor. The view was spectacular. We stared down at a colossal maze of concrete and glass stretching up and out, filling the city. We watched as tiny specks made their way their way through the grey pathways.
Pilot Nimble was tall, blonde and beautiful. We were introduced to her and she thanked us for returning the three lost pilots.
Pilot Nimble turned to Betty, Veronica and Sabrina, looked them up and down told them they were too heavy to fly and should report for 'processing'.
Even though we already had an idea what it was, we asked what 'processing' involved?
Pilot explained that the three ladies would be reduced to their component elements; their fat and oil would be used to produce more make up! This was standard practice for any pilot no longer fit to fly or anyone who was 'too old' or 'unattractive'.
We had many questions, but we started with the ISAAC building. Pilot Nimble explained that instructions on the ISAAC building were provided by 'the giant dancing crab' and were received by flying over the crab and recording its drawings.
Recently however, there had been no instructions, so construction on the building had stopped.
We asked what was the building's function? Pilot Nimble did not know.
After this Pilot Nimble asked what reward we wanted for rescuing Betty, Veronica and Sabrina. We asked if we could learn to fly.
"This was not possible.", said Pilot Nimble. "Only women could learn to fly and Agent Pip 'was not the right sort'!". I watched Agent Pip with her tightened fist by her side turning white.
Instead Pilot Nimble agreed to provide us with a fully functional hot air balloon.
I got the feeling that Pilot Nimble did not want us to stay.
The balloon ladies along with us, returned to their apartment.
Whilst they prepared to be processed, we argued with them and tried to convince them not to report for processing.
They could try losing weight and return to piloting, but they said that it would take too long.
They could return to Haven, they would be safe there. But the ladies were not convinced. - They were hot air balloon pilots, what would they do in Haven?
The balloon ladies explained that they had only ever been pilots and there was nothing else for them. They explained how there society worked.
When children were born, they would be classified as 'attractive' or 'unattractive'.
Unattractive children were 'put to work' in factories and the like; until they were too old, then they would have to report for processing.
Attractive girls were trained as 'pilots'
Attractive boys were trained as 'escorts'.
They too would have to report for processing when they became too old.
We were aghast, but the balloon ladies had explained all this in a matter-of-fact way. To them it was entirely normal.
We had failed to convince the balloon ladies that there were other ways to live. They still wanted to report for processing.
In the meantime, a hot air balloon had been delivered to the apartment.
We strapped the bundle to our transporter, we were ready to leave. There was no reason to remain, but...
Before proceeding any further, we had a discussion about our next step. In the end we came to an agreement. The Domed City could not be allowed to continue in this manner.
It was time to instigate some regime change!
Returning to the apartment, we asked the ladies about Pilot Nimble and how she got to become the leader of The Domed City.
The best pilot in the city is given the honorific 'Pilot Nimble' and placed into the position of leadership, they informed us.
Next we asked them, if we could prove that Agent Pip was the better pilot, then she would become Pilot Nimble? The ladies seemed to think that this was the case.
Now we had a plan...
We returned to the central dome and returned to Pilot Nimble's office. She seemed surprised to see us.
Agent Pip stepped forward and announced that she was the best pilot in The Domed City. As proof of this, D4-VID displayed footage of our re-entry to Earth, including Agent Pip's piloting skills. Agent Pip demanded that she was allowed to become the new Pilot Nimble!
Pilot Nimble agreed that Agent Pip's piloting had indeed been impressive. But it was not enough to convince her to relinquish her position.
Agent Pip had held her tongue since the 'not good enough' statement, but this was too much for her!
Gripping her frying pan tightly, she judiciously applied it to Pilot Nimble's head and Pilot Nimble promptly fell unconscious!
We found controls to the city's public broadcasting system in the office and activated it. Agent Pip announced through the system that she was now Pilot Nimble and D4-VIDs broadcast the re-entry footage throughout all the domes to prove it.
It worked, they had accepted the changes. People here existed in a highly regimented hierarchy it seemed. It was a society built on cohesion and compliance. It simply did not occur to them to question anyone in authority.
We were in charge of the city, we could make the changes we needed. Agent Pip was now Pilot Nimble.
Word was sent to Haven and Home: Seek out The Domed City!
So it was that over the coming weeks, people from Haven and Home ventured the wastes and reached The Domed City.
There were those that stayed, understandably unwilling to abandon what they had worked so hard to create.
Even so, they knew that if the giant ants did finally become a threat, The Domed City would be there for them.
This vast and advanced settlement had room enough for everyone and would provide protection from the giant ants if they ever expanded this far.
Life would improve for all people, the folk of Haven and Home would be safe. there were ample supplies and resources here - with the technology to provide even more.
The practice of processing would be stopped and children would no longer work the factories, nor would people be judged for their attractiveness. We would teach them new skills and new ways to live.
The people of The Domed City accept these changes they accepted everything - passively.
We even came to an accord with The Chrome Bois, in exchange for access to the technology of The Domed City, they would help with it's protection if need be.
The Chrome Bois even talked of a 'suicide run' into the giant ant nest! Eager to test the limits of new cybernetics they would create.
We had walked in depths of the C.H.U.D. complex and flown beyond to the heights beyond Earth's grasp. We hand tangled with pig and ant and walked with monkey.
Now we could rest now and relax. Secure in the knowledge that we had delivered the people of Haven to safety.
A safety were some of the harsh realities of the wastes were assuaged and for now at least we could flourish.
So ended the missions of:
1st August 2020
Saturday evening is here, I'm logged on to Skype on my laptop and I'm sitting in my living room.
Time for Matakishi's Wasted Hack campaign
After our safe return from the road hog settlement with the three balloon ladies; we agreed to escort them back to their home, The 'Domed City'. In truth we were also curious about this city ourselves.
The ladies informed us that typically the journey to the city would take about four days by hot air balloon. They could not estimate how long the journey would take over land.
We loaded the transporter with extra supplies, water, camping equipment, and an awning, all for an extended journey. We also included an additional power cell for the transporter, 'just-in-case'.
The leaders of Haven had also requested that we take Derek 19-4-0 with us. They wanted Derek to record some scans of the city. Derek had to ride with us in the transporter. He couldn't take his transport module as it had to remain in Haven for some reason or other.
As a result of this, the available seating space was tighter than usual, it didn't help that the three balloon ladies were not what would be described as 'dainty'.
Fortuitously, both D4-VID and Cornelius did not take up much room
Although ultimately, we had to leave Bradley, the warhound and Crimson behind.
With us on this journey were Jasper, D4-VID, Cornelius and Derek. As well as Betty, Veronica and Sabrina.
The next morning, we set out on a south westerly heading. Our destination; The Domed City.
The day's travel through the bleak and relatively flat desert landscape was uneventful and we made reasonable time. Whilst the transporter wasn't the fastest of vehicles, it was never slowed by obstacles that we met. It's tracks were more than capable of traversing the wasteland here.
The day passed and we set up camp for the night.
A few hours into the darkness and we spotted a meteor shower in the inky sky above. It was a fantastic display of light and we observed the spectacle closely. During the shower, it occurred to us that this did not seem like a typical meteor shower; the meteors were all 'too close' to one another.
Before we had the chance discuss the significance, a flaming meteor streaked overhead, low in the sky. It flew by and struck the wasteland close by with such explosive force that it shook the ground.
We scrambled over to investigate: There was a smoking crater and at its centre was an object. It was clearly man-made and was part of some sort of machinery, it also had a piece of sheet metal attached to it.
The object was quite large, perhaps half the size of the transporter. We tried to have a closer inspection but it was emitting an immense amount of heat, forcing us to keep our distance.
By this time, the other meteors in the swarm had begun plummeting to the ground, their impacts as equally violent as this one.
Searching around, we found another crater. There was movement at this one! Was something emerging from the crash site?
Cautiously, we crept up until we acquired a clear view. The source of the movement were two giant scorpions! They were inspecting the meteor! We had not been spotted, the remains of a third giant scorpion were distracting them, this scorpion had been struck by the meteor and was clearly dead.
The meteor seemed similar to the first one we examined. Man-made machinery covered with a sheet of steel.
Remaining still, we observed the scorpions until they seemed satisfied and burrowed themselves into the sand close by.
Here too, we decided to keep our distance. Not wanting to provoke the scorpions
The meteors continued striking the ground until the swarm was entirely spent, which took until the small hours of the following morning.
We wondered where the swarm had come from? ISAAC's space station was the only answer we could think of. Perhaps the meteors were the station remains, falling to Earth after the explosion?
The dawn sun rose over a landscape now dotted with impact craters.
The craters had cooled enough so that we could finally get that closer look we wanted. Unfortunately, further inspection of the machinery did not provide us any greater understanding of it's function.
We pressed onwards.
Our slog through the seemingly endless and sun-blasted desert continued.
In the afternoon, we passed the remains of a city from the ancient world. It had been half consumed by the wasteland as well as the passage of time. Only the tallest buildings - once known as 'skyscrapers' were now visible. These skyscrapers soared upwards out of the desert like the jutting dead fingers of a colossal buried hand.
We stopped and discussed our next step.
There might be the opportunity to find something valuable or useful, but equally it might also prove hazardous or a waste of our time.
In the end we decided against it, not wanting to add to what might already be long journey.
Moving on; we asked the balloon ladies if they recognised the buildings. They called it 'The Petrified City', a dangerous place to be avoided. They did not know why, but they had been told 'no one had ever returned' from it.
We journeyed on, unhindered for the day. As the sun sank, we camped once more.
Whilst routinely checking our supplies, we discovered that our food supplies were lower than expected. The balloon ladies had been snacking, we had to keep an eye on them!
Later in the evening the balloon ladies approached and asked us about the bathing facilities, they weren't too happy with the response - none! Unused to overland travel, they were perhaps finding it harder going than expected.
As was our routine, we set watches for the night and settled down to sleep. During Max's watch, D4-VID warned him that there was something close to the horizon, several kilometres away.
Max needed his binoculars to see it: It was a light, Max saw it bob up and down for a time before speeding off, headed in the direction of Haven. It was too far and too dark to tell what the light was. Even D4-VID with its superior telescopic vision could not make out any details.
There was no way to determine if it represented a threat to Haven? We considered trying to follow it, but it was kilometres away and already had a sizeable lead over us before we give chase. We had to let it go.
Our expedition continued on its way and soon there was a break from the monotony! Up ahead in our path was a black dot on the horizon, as we continued it became a smear of green. A little closer and we could see it was wide stretch of vegetation.
There was lush foliage here and even trees. As we pulled up at the edge, between the trees we could see a large body of water past the vegetation.
Mindful of the burrowing scorpions we had seen earlier, we entered cautiously on foot, gripping our weapons as we approached the water.
Our caution was of course futile. The balloon ladies ran past and dived straight in, laughing and cheering as they did so.
Well, that's one way to check the toxicity I guess.
The water turned out to be a small lake, a thing of calm stillness, mirroring the sky above and ringed by a thick band of vegetation. The water was clean and potable and the greenery seemed safe.
We were indeed in an oasis in the middle of the wasteland.
The ladies played and frolicked in the water for a while. Meanwhile we refilled our water reserves and collected dates from the palm trees to fill out our missing supplies.
Once the chores were completed, even we felt relaxed in this verdant respite from the harsh landscape beyond.
It wasn't to last though. Our indulgence was shattered by the realisation that something was approaching from the west. At first it was a distant rumble but it soon became the fierce growl of a large engined vehicle closing fast.
A huge vehicle crested a hill and rolled into view. Shaped like a tall vertical slab, it was featureless except for its two tracks and a cab at the front.
It came to a halt next to the lake and out of the cab jumped a man. He immediately opened a panel in his vehicle, pulled out a large tube, dragged it to the water and threw it in.
Returning to the vehicle, he flicked some switches on a control panel and began pumping water out of the oasis.
He then stepped forward towards us and cheerfully introduced himself to us as 'Topper Henly, water merchant'.
He went on to explain that he mainly traded water to the 'Drystone Maggot Men' and 'The Chrome Bois', but traded other items as the opportunity presented itself.
He offered to sell us maggot meat, scorpion meat and even ant meat. We weren't buying though.
Algough giant ants interested us. We asked Topper where he had gotten the ant meat? He explained that his travels had taken him into The Petrified City which was where he had encountered them.
Topper seemed like a font of useful information about the region, we asked him about The Domed City. Topper had never heard of it.
We were slightly suspicious now? We asked if he had ever seen any hot air balloons? Topper had encountered them many times, they always dropped cosmetics down to him. He had no use for them. He had a whole box of them for sale if we were interested.
We had no use for cosmetics.
The three balloon ladies saw things differently.
They were desperate to replace the make-up they had lost in their escape from the road hogs and insisted we get the cosmetics for them.
Agent Pip grudgingly acquiesced and bought them the box.
We still had plenty of questions for Topper and he was happy to chat, it would be hours before his water tanks were filled.
Further south-west of here was 'Drystone', populated by the 'maggot men' who farmed the sand maggots for 'serum'. They were a religious lot, but quite reasonable unless angered...
We asked about serum. Topper said that it is used to make people 'stronger and better'. We asked if it was addictive and Topper had no idea as he never took it.
Next we asked about 'The Chrome Bois'. Topper told us that a day's travel to the west of Drystone was 'The Refinery', the home to The Chrome Bois who were a band of 'cyborgs'.
"What cyborgs like me?" Piped up Derek.
"No..." Said Topper. "Not like you... More 'weaponed up'...
Topper told us that The Chrome Bois were also reasonable to deal with and they always had a demand for serum.
Finally Topper warned us about 'rat-men', they infested the area.
We bid Topper farewell and left him to it and resumed our journey.
The third day came to an end and we camped again for the night.
The three ladies were content to coat their faces in herbal face packs and place cucumber slices over their eyes for the night.
Once again we assigned watches for the night. Once again D4-VID pointed out something to Max during his watch. D4-VID explained that it saw a line of figures in the north-west, shuffling across our view in a different direction and at least a kilometre away. Once again it was too dark see them.
We asked Derek if he could see them with his 'infrared' module? Derek apologised and said his infrared module was currently 'non functional'.
We stayed unmoving and watching, whoever they were, either they didn't spot us or had no interest in us. They continued on their way and melted into the night.
It was not too far away, we would investigate when it was light.
Morning came and we headed north-west to investigate what had occurred the night before.
Easily enough we found some evidence.
There were wheeled tracks and some sort of large clawed footprints? It was something we didn't recognise?
Looking further, we found giant sized rat droppings! Rat-men! Topper's warning came to mind.
It looked like rat-men were pulling carts or wagons of some kind. I wonder what they were carrying?
There was no point in pursuing rat-men, we instead continued heading south-west.
The day had ended as we encountered a dusty road, barely more than a trail that led us into a settlement. 'Drystone' stated a sign on the outskirts.
Rows of mud brick buildings ran along either side the road here as it threaded its way through the settlement. Wires hung from wooden poles, criss-crossing as they went to and from buildings. Light shone out of many of the buildings' windows, there was electricity here.
Signs marked out eateries and bars among the buildings in Drystone. From the far side of town the tall steeple of a large church rose above all else. Well, Topper had said they were of a religious type here
Talking of religion. The townsfolk were a curious sort, dressed entirely in black, wearing very wide brimmed hats which they would touch when they saw us. Even curiouser, was the complete absence of women here?
As we parked up, we noticed some windsail powered vehicles as well as couple of 'conventional' buggies. We weren't the only visitors in Drystone tonight.
We chose an eatery and entered. It was well lit and furnished with electrical fittings. The furniture had a roughly hewn look to it. A peculiar mix of the rustic and the high-tech.
It was quiet with few customers, we had our first look at some 'Chrome Bois'. There were two of them sitting at a table.
One was enormous, made bigger by the numerous cybernetic enhancements he was sporting. The other was missing his entire body from the waist down, it had been replaced by four spindly spider-like limbs.
Derek was very excited, he may have been in love!
As we ordered drinks, I spoke with the barmen who introduced himself as 'Tzadkiel'. I asked him what he knew of The Domed City?
Tzadkiel knew nothing about it. I asked what lay further south-west and he told me that there was only 'The Chasm', vast and impassable, he knew nothing else of it.
This was something new? Could it be that The Domed City was beyond this chasm?
Next we approached the Chrome Bois, their posture changed and they immediately turned their full attention on us with aggressive looks on their faces.
We assuaged their suspicions, explaining that we only wanted to talk. This seemed to satisfy them.
The large one, 'Alinco' did all the talking, his 'spider-legged companion - 'Birmabright' was mostly silent.
Alinco confirmed the existence of The Chasm, unsurprisingly they too had not heard of The Domed City.
We also queried them about serum and asked if it was addictive. Alinco was evasive and didn't confirm anything about serum.
Now that we had learned about The Chasm, we turned to the Balloon ladies and asked them about it?
They told us that they knew The Chasm as 'The Jungle Ditch'. They couldn't tell us any more about it. It was just something that they simply flew over when travelling to and from The Domed City.
Thanks ladies! Shame you couldn't mention this earlier!
The hour was becoming late, should we spend the night in Drystone? The town seemed safe, but there was... something... something... that made us uncomfortable.
We took a stroll around the high street and briefly observed the church seeing men coming and going, it all looked normal enough.
During our little walk, we had also noticed a large build walled off from the rest of the settlement. We had no idea what was going on there. Perhaps this is where they farmed maggots? Or where the women were?
It seemed suspicious, but ultimately investigating it did nothing to advance our cause, so we left it alone.
There was nothing to indicate any risk in Drystone, so we spent the night. The ladies opted to stay in a hotel, along with Agent Pip. They spent the night doing 'make-overs' and whatever occurred during a 'sleepover'?
Derek also spent the night in the hotel..
With them out of the way, there was plenty of room for the rest of us to sleep in the transporter.
All was well this morning, at least until we noticed that Derek was missing!
The Chrome Bois were not around either, had Derek gone of with them?
We went to the hotel and spoke with the manager, Derek was still in his room.
His bed was dishevelled and Derek was slick with sweat, he was writhing in agony.
Then we saw the cause of it.
Derek's right arm was gone, replaced with some sort of flash light. As he convulsed in his bed, a bright spotlight played over the interior of the room.
The manager said that he had seem this before. Derek's pain was being cause by the implant - the flash light.
If the implant was removed, so was the pain. There was no way for us to remove it, The Chrome Bois might know how to do, but the were a day's travel away. Otherwise Derek would need serum to alleviate the pain.
The manager said that he could supply some serum - at a price. We would later find out that the price was exorbitant.
I was unsure of this, we had no idea what the long term affect would be? Why did The Chrome Bois keep taking it?
It would have to be Derek's decision whether to take serum or not. He did not hesitate and instantly screamed for it.
After buying some serum, we had to hold Derek down in order to inject him. The effect was instantaneous and like plugging the plug on a sink, the pain drained away!
Now that Derek was stable, we demanded he tell us what he had done?
Derek explained that after we had all gone to bed, he went and spoke with The Chrome Bois. They agreed to sell Derek the implant and 'attach it' for him. It cost Derek all his credits and some of the food supplies from the transporter.
Once again we had lost food from the transporter! Derek insisted that the food he bartered away were 'his own rations'.
We had not yet decided where to go next, but now the decision had been made for us. The Refinery was our next destination. The Chrome Bois might have the knowledge to modify the transporter to cross The Chasm. They could tell also possibly tell us about Derek's situation.
The journey to The Refinery took most of the day.
The installation was huge. We could see it long before we arrived. It's smoke stacks looming over the horizon.
As the facility came into view, we could see it had towers and structures spread out all over. It sprawled over hectares, reminiscent of some sort out-of-control monstrous metal growth. Oil pipes ran ubiquitously throughout The Refinery, akin to a three dimensional maze. The Refinery was well lit, lights dangling everywhere lending them the illusion of fairy lights.
The power required to run of all this must have been tremendous. We could hear the strain of the generators working before we even reached The Refinery.
The flow of traffic also added to the din. There were raider buggies wildly roaring in and out at top speed, darting and skidding round the slower, heaver trade vehicles that rumbled into the settlement.
We even saw a certain 'slab-shaped' transporter parked up - Topper was here.
To the south was something we had not seen before: Ocean transports from the world before, 'oil tankers' and 'cargo ships' they were once called. The size of them was almost beyond imagination, they were half-buckled under their own weight and half-sunk into the sandy wastes.
Once they would have rode the oceans that flowed through here. Now these wind-blasted steel hulks, stained by rust with slowly peeling paint were colossal carcasses, the desert their cemetery.
The Refinery was also bustling with people, 'chrome bois' mostly - and 'chrome gels' too! Asking some questions we managed to find a vehicle workshop willing to look at modifying our transporter for flight.
The assessment took some time, the chromers came back us and told us it was possible, but it would demand a lot of work.
They would need to fit two sets of thrusters, one set for lift and the other for propulsion. The would have to place a fuel tank in the rear which meant removing half the seats. finally, an additional dashboard would need to be installed in the cab to house the extra flight controls, which also meant removing another seat. This would cost fifty seven thousand credits.
We asked them what the flight range would be. Three or four kilometres probably was the reply.
It was too costly, lost us half our seats and might not have the range required to cross The Chasm twice or even once! This was not a viable option.
Evening had drawn in on us by now and we had to devise an alternate approach. However we noticed that Derek seemed unwell again. The colour had drained from the parts of his face not concealed by his 'implants' and he was unsteady on his feet?
The chromers recognised what it was; withdrawal symptoms from serum.
They went to on to explain how their cyborg implants functioned.
All cyborg implants caused the 'user' constant excruciating agony. Serum was used to alleviate and manage that pain.
Serum itself was acutely addictive, withdrawal caused eventual death.
Even if the implant was removed from Derek, he would require a serum injection a day just to live.
This put us in a quandary: Derek needed a constant supply of serum, to our knowledge only Drystone produced serum. The Refinery traded with Drystone and had sizeable supplies of serum
Our discussion left us with only one reasonable course of action. Derek would have to stay and live at The Refinery.
I'm sure he would fit in here, Derek always had cybernetic aspirations. Where better than here to fulfil them?
Max bought ten days worth of serum and gave them to Derek.
In the morning he would be put to work in the refinery.
"This'll be different to Haven." Stated Derek. "In Haven, people sent me out into the wasteland on strange missions and seemed slightly surprised to see me when I returned?".
In honour of the new direction in his life, Derek changed his name to 'D-REKT'.
We made our goodbyes to D-REKT and left him with the chromers.
Next, we sought out Topper, he had travelled this region extensively and might have more knowledge about The Chasm.
The information he provided was not inspiring. "It's a dangerous place, easier to get into than out of and there are large things down there." Topper told us. He also agreed to help us find The Chasm.
With this on our minds, we retired for the night.
In the morning we found Topper. He was heading out back to Drystone and we should follow.
The day's journey passes without event as our little convoy navigates the wastes and in the late afternoon we had arrived back in Drystone along with Topper.
After restocking on our supplies, we spend the night at Drystone once more, again the night passed without incident.
Morning came and we left Drystone behind, still following Topper as he led us into the unknown.
In the mid-morning, Topper's transporter slowed to a halt and he jumped out of his cab and waved us over whilst pointing ahead to a man-made barrier of some kind that ran from left-to-right as far as the eye could see.
We went over to Topper, he explained that in front of us was a 'multi-lane road' from the world before.
Beyond the barrier was a relatively smooth black surface, although cracked and eroded by time. It was perhaps twenty metres wide and was fairly straight and stretched out to the horizon in both direction.
Topper pointed down one particular direction and told us the road would lead us to The Chasm.
Bidding farewell, we parted ways with Topper. Leaving him to his business again, we followed along for hours until the road simply ended.
We had arrived at The Chasm.
The road went as far a it could go and ceased right at the lip of the chasm. We tentatively stepped up to the edge and surveyed our surroundings.
The Chasm was vast. We had to strain make out the other side, an indistinct horizontal line close to the horizon and shrouded in the hazy distance. We estimated to reach the far side of the chasm was a journey of about three kilometres. The Chasm stretched left and right out of sight, there was no way to go round.
Below us, there was a descent of about one hundred metres to the chasm floor. It was carpeted in forest, a sea of treetops that rippled in the breeze like waves on a verdant ocean. It was impossible to see what lay beneath that canopy, however, flocks of birds circled above the trees.
There were also swarms of insects in buzzing in clouds so large that we could see them from up above. We could also feel the damp warm air rising from below, the humidity must have been considerable.
The chasm walls were vertical and would require no small amount of climbing to traverse.
The balloon ladies commented on how large the 'ditch' was. They seemed more at ease now, more acclimatised to overland travel. We continued looking around, hopeful for an alternative to crossing over.
Close to where the road had ended, there was some sort of tower. With a smooth exterior, it was clearly the product of the world before. There was a second tower on the far side of the chasm, barely visible without binoculars. It was of identical design to the tower on this side.
There was a way into the tower, but there were mushrooms growing around the base and the entrance was thick with them.
Not willing to take unnecessary risks, we donned out respirators before going in.
Mushrooms continued to grow on the inside and as we explored the first three floors, we found them sprouting through the skeletal remains and rib-cages of long dead people.
During this exploration I knocked a few mushrooms that burst response and showered me in a cloud of spores. Luckily the respirator kept them at bay, but my clothes were coated in spores.
Once we went past the third floor, the mushroom infestation ended. The remainder of the tower was free of them.
Finally we reached what could be described as the 'control room'. It was filled with control consoles, button panels, dials and read-outs. All of which were labelled in an unrecognisable language and was undecipherable and none of them appeared to function.
Searching the room, we did find one piece of useful information.
It was a diagram that showed a bridge running between the two towers and no ordinary bridge was it either. A bridge made of solid light! It must have been a wonder of the ancient world.
The diagram also seemed to indicate that both towers needed to be activated to create the bridge.
It required power to do this and it was obvious that there was currently no power running through the control room. Both towers would require power.
There had to be power generators close by for both towers.
We continued exploring, there was no further way up, perhaps there was a way down?
Returning to the ground level, we discovered that there was indeed a way downwards, into a basement.
But our path down was hindered by thick patches of mushrooms. We could not pass without disturbing at least some of the mushrooms. Even though we were wearing respirators, we were hesitant to push our luck.
We needed a way to clear the mushrooms? The answer was straightforward: 'with fire'!
We left the tower and I clean off my clothing.
Taking our flamethrower, Max entered the tower while the rest of stood back. Clearing the mushrooms was a balancing act, If Max used too much fire, it might damage whatever was in the basement.
We could hear the roar as Max burned the mushrooms away, we went down into the basement. None of the instrumentation had been damaged.
After examining the controls, we ascertained that they were extremely complex, possibly they were the controls we were looking for. These controls were beyond our understanding though. Even I, a scavenger could not decipher them.
It needed someone with a better knowledge of technology than us. One place immediately sprang to mind: The Refinery and The Chrome Bois, they were our best bet.
D4-VID filmed all of the controls so that we could show the footage to The Chrome Bois.
'Too bad Derek - or D-REKT wasn't here to light up the basement with his cybernetic flash light arm'!
From The Chasm, the journey to The Refinery took two uneventful days.
Once back in the busy settlement, we asked around for any Chromers who could help us. We were directed to 'Tombaga' and 'Elinvar'.
After they were shown D4-VID's footage, their curiosity was piqued and they seemed confident that they could help us.
Another two unremarkable days and we were back at The Chasm and the tower along with Tombaga and Elinvar in tow.
There wasn't enough room in the transporter for the two Chrome Bois, luckily they had there own buggy. It was dark when we returned, we would examine the controls in the following morning.
Today was the day!
Tombaga and Elinvar went into the basement and began their work.
They toiled for several hours until eventually... dials winked into life and panels lit up. A loud humming filled the air as generator powered up.
Since no bridge appeared, we felt it was safe to assume that the other tower was in a similar state to this one.
One down and one to go. Even though we had watched The Chrome Bois work, we still didn't understand enough about the generator to operate it ourselves.
It didn't matter though; Tombaga and Elinvar were eager to activate the other tower and see the results. They happily joined us as we prepared to cross The Chasm.
I play, I paint.