The Ruins of Auromia - Session Four: Blood and Hops

After the battle at the Temple to Bellona, there was a celebration. When Accluso, Dova, Forza, Ilaria, Noke, and Sorrel returned to the Cigno that night, they were all very drunk. That did not stop the strange dreams of the forest from returning again. Dova's dreams were more intense that night: she dreamed of blood and murder, and awoke to find herself sleepwalking, standing over Forza with her arms outstretched - whether to seize the magical sword he had retrieved from the Cavaliere Rosso, or to strangle him, she did not know.

When everyone awoke hungover the next day, it was nearly noontime. They went into the common room for breakfast. The publican Ignazio was helping Bartolomeo and Carlotta, the owners of the local home-brewery, to unload a cask of beer, so his partner Valentino served them while they studied an old map of Auromia and planned their next move. Today was the day of the weekly market, so they were keen to visit it as well. Ilaria wanted to gather the ritual materials so that she could summon a familiar spirit, while Accluso was impressed by the beer and wanted to visit the brewery. Valentino asked them a favour. Orfeo, a simple-minded fourteen year old boy who worked at the inn, had not shown up to work yet, and he was not at his mother's home either. Ignazio thought that the boy had succumbed to the dreams and wandered into the forest, never to be seen again, but Valentino knew that Orfeo had been taking the drug that suppressed the dreams. In exchange for a favour, would they mind finding him?

Accluso, Dova, Ilaria and Noke agreed. (Forza and Sorrel were badly hungover and stayed at the Cigno for the day instead.) They started their investigation by talking to Orfeo's mother, who told them that she didn't know where he was either, but that a visiting priest in town had recently chastised him. Was this a clue? They went to the marketplace next, where the group split up. Accluso went to the brewery, Dova and Noke continued investigating, and Ilaria gathered spell components for her ritual. Accluso over-paid for his beer, and then asked the husband and wife if they knew anything about the missing boy. They knew quite a lot, it happened - for they had kidnapped him themselves, so they could murder him in a ritual to improve the quality of the beer. They drugged Accluso's wine and threw him into the basement to be ritually murdered alongside Orfeo later that night.

Ilaria gathered the spell components that she needed to summon a familiar - symbols representing the elements: air, earth, fire and water; and tokens from the kingdoms of beasts: feather, fur and scale. As she made her way through the marketplace, a stray cat began to follow her. When she was done, the cat looked at her, walked off, and then stopped, watching to see if she followed. It led her down to the Albula River, a good place to perform her ritual. There was a barrel washed up on the shore, and the cat began pawing at it. Ilaria investigated, and was disgusted when she found a man's dead body inside it, with bite-marks from a human jaw inside. Someone had killed this man and tried to dispose of the evidence. She thought about what this meant while she began to cast the ritual that would summon her familiar spirit. The cat immediately entered the ritual circle. This disrupted her spell, and instead of summoning a familiar, she tied her own spirit to that of the cat, in effect making it into a corporeal familiar.

Dova and Noke made their way around the market-place, asking people about the priests and about young Orfeo. Dova was on edge after her dreams, and her questioning only alarmed the people with whom she tried to speak. Noke turned into a mouse and entered the dilapidated church to spy on the priests. He met the church mice who lived there and learned that the priests would feed the mice with crumbs from their own meager meals. There was also no sign of Orfeo there, and the mice did not know anything about him. This convinced Noke that Orfeo was not there. It had now been some time since Accluso had gone to the brewery, and they decided to go looking for him. They were joined by Ilaria, who shared what she'd discovered. Suddenly, the brewers Bartolomeo and Carlotta were looking very suspicious. Noke turned into a mouse again and crawled under the door. He found signs that Accluso had been there, including his discarded clothes in the basement, and found some of his blood, but could not see him. The group beat down the door and rushed inside. In the basement, they found signs of a hidden sub-basement level.

The sub-basement was a crude dirt-floored room, sickly with incense and the smoke from two guttering candles on an altar. Orfeo and Accluso were there, lying naked before the altar. Bartolomeo and Carlotta were there too, wearing animal hides and masks. As the three entered the cellar, they found themselves in a forest that was somehow coterminous with the cellar, but much larger. Only in here, Bartolomeo and Carlotta were bestial predators, and Orfeo and Accluso were their prey. And in the sky above, a single new moon shone down at them, only a sliver of it visible, but abnormally large, like an eye watching them. Orfeo screamed and ran, and the two beasts gave chase, bringing him down and worrying at him with a spray of hot blood. But Accluso was a hunter. He fashioned a crude sling for himself from vines and bark. He cut his hands in the process, and smeared the blood over himself like war paint. Then he stalked the two and let fly a stone that smashed into the beast Bartolomeo's head, putting out one eye. Dova, Noke and Ilaria joined him. Dova gave in to her bloodlust and attacked as well, further hurting Bartolomeo. Noke conjured up plant life to entangle the beast-cultists, but instead of summoning vines, new trees burst out of the ground, expanding the distance between everyone. Ilaria used the distraction to create an illusionary copy of Orfeo, and then rescued him. With no prey present, the ritual space collapsed. They found themselves back in the cellar, faced by two half-naked middle-aged humans. Bartolomeo and Carlotta attacked, screaming, and were quickly killed in self-defence. The new moon still stared down at them from the roof of the room, and then it blinked out.

And so Orfeo was freed, and the cultists, who had been responsible for other disappearances, were gone. Accluso claimed ownership of the brewery, with the approval of Vittorio and Ignazio. Noke was growing increasingly worried by what was happening here, but felt like he was starting to understand... something. Ilaria looked at her new cat familiar and wondered how much it knew. Dova stared at the sword that they had taken from the Cavaliere Rosso and knew that one day soon, she would give in and claim it for herself. But for now, the group made their plans. Tomorrow, they would enter the forested ruins of Auromia and make their way to the Palazzo di Morta, which lay a short way inside the eastern gate. There they might learn something about the hourglass that they sought, and perhaps some more clues about what was going on here.

Chat | Cat painting, Cat art, Renaissance art
Image: Detail from 'The Return of Odysseus.' Pinturicchio, c. 1508.

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