Children of Netherhearth
The eve of the siege
After gathering your breath following your flight from the ratkin horde through the Underdark, you made your way to a meeting of the council.
En route, you were met by a crowd including some of your family members. Leo received a fond welcome from Aunt Jibella who is grieving the loss of her daughter, Kali, victim of the filth fever. Varian’s family were horrified at his new appearance, but his father in particular seemed willing to embrace him back into the family. However, Varian thought it best in the long run to distance himself from them, and told them he was no longer the son they knew. Etoh’s family were told the news of his death, and were predictably devastated. Grindle’s family didn’t bother to welcome her back at all. And of course Caitlin and Stanley, while shocked at Etoh’s death, welcomed you all back warmly, including Varian.
Inside the White Tower you gave Brodwyn the Dreamwort from her to take to the Filth Fever sufferers, and then went into the council room to meet Netherhearth’s leaders. You explained to them what had happened to you in the previous days, altering key details so as to leave out Grizelda’s involvement. You had concocted a very plausible account with only subtle changes, and the three of you managed to convince all present (except the Knitting Circle, of course) that your story was true, using a combination of Varian’s confident demeanour and Leo’s impassioned recollections to relay Grindle’s previously constructed highly plausible alteration of the truth.
Magda was clearly upset by Etoh’s death, perhaps feeling she was partly to blame, but supported your tale with a few half truths of her own, claiming that she had mentioned the need for Dreamwort, but hadn’t expected you to act on it so hastily – it seems she, too, is willing to keep Grizelda’s secret for now.
Father Winston was devastated by Etoh’s death and spoke little at the meeting. Without Etoh in your group, you can no longer count on his unconditional support … unless perhaps Varian wishes to once again take up the mantle of a priest of Valleron.
Heimdall, a superstitious and short-tempered man, was disgusted and frightened by Varian’s new form, and suggested that he was now a xilix scout or spy. He also openly questioned whether the three of you were involved in both Etoh’s death and the ratkin encroachment. He was silenced by the others, but his hostility to you three “witches” will now be unrestrained without Etoh’s unimpeachable character.
While not as vitriolic as Heimdall, Hubert still accused you of stirring up the ratkin. However, you pointed out that the ratkin unrest began well before you had even left Netherhearth, and were able to mollify him somewhat with tactical insights you had gained during your ratkin encounters, particularly the need to take out wretches wherever possible. However, like the others, he will be less likely to trust you again without Etoh in the group.
Thom and Quill spoke little at the meeting, but like most people will be less likely to view you favourably without Etoh guiding your actions.
The viceroy was predictably critical of the group’s decision to fetch the Dreamwort, accusing you of rashness and pointing out that Etoh would have been worth several normal people in the upcoming fight with the ratkin. Also, with his thoughts always turned to Netherhearth’s need for secrecy from the Underdark’s denizens, he was very concerned about Varian’s return and that it might lead to the xilix discovering Netherhearth. For the moment, though, he is more focussed on Netherhearth surviving the ratkin horde.
Following your account of your disappearance and Varian’s return, you attempted to convince them of Grizelda’s battle plan to cram the entire population of Netherhearth into the White Tower during the siege. Most of those present resisted the idea, unwilling to leave their homes to be destroyed by the ratkin, and pointing out that it could lead to the death of all the livestock in Netherhearth, which can’t be replaced. This loss would be exacerbated if the ratkin remained in the tunnels after the siege, as they would quickly consume all nearby scrim, meaning that post-siege Netherhearth would be solely reliant on whatever would be left of their ravaged crops.
The argument looked like it was lost, but using an “extrapolation of numbers” argument based on fabricated sightings of large ratkin groups during your time in the Underdark, you managed to convince the council that the first priority had to be surviving the night. In the end, they agreed to leave only a squad of the most skilled soldiers in each village, and to bring everyone else, including the militia, back to the tower during the siege. Grindle also suggested corralling the animals somewhere on the opposite side of the cavern to where the ratkin would be entering – everyone agreed Deepvale was the best place for this. The council also agreed to your suggested pre-siege tactic of holding choke points in the nearby tunnels to whittle down the ratkin numbers.
You spent the rest of the day recovering your strength for the ordeal to come. As you rested, the plan to hold the chokepoints was put into action with some success: over 150 ratkin (mostly gnashers) and innumerable rats of all sizes were killed for the loss of 11 men. Acting on your advice, Hubert also managed to personally kill a wretch, though he and Brodwyn had a close call extricating themselves from the fight afterwards.
As evening drew in, the terrified population of Netherhearth crammed into the White Tower. Then when the Skystone’s light changed to its dim moon glow, the ratkin surged into the cavern with a deafening racket. Watching from the base of the tower, you were initially somewhat heartened by the disorganised nature of the incursion, with groups splitting up, gambolling around and some even fighting each other. However, you were soon horrified by the sheer numbers – Grindle estimated that there were well over a thousand in the main initial wave. Things looked hopeless.
You were then approached by Quill in great distress. His wife and son had not shown up at the tower. He was determined to head out to look for them in their home in Deepknoll, and asked if you would accompany him. After a brief argument between him, the viceroy (who was ardently opposed to anyone going) and yourselves, you settled on a plan of attempting a rescue with the three of you and Stanley, who logically (but fearfully) offered himself as a replacement for Quill.
The four of you started jogging quickly down the path to Deepknoll alongside the river. Soon, you were assailed by the now-familiar stench of wet fur and filth as the first of the regular rats reached you through the grasses, and before long Leo was using his force missiles to kill several giant rats that strayed too close. On the other side of the river, the squad of soldiers assigned to guard Deepknoll, who had sensibly retreated almost immediately on seeing the size of the ratkin horde, were falling back towards the tower in a disciplined fashion with a horde of raktin harrying them. You were surprised to see that the majority of the attacking ratkin were actually females, the young and the old, who were all being bullied into mobbing the soldiers by some slingers and gnashers.
Finally, as you were nearing Deepknoll, you began being menaced by ratkin, too, again most of them ratkin “civilians”. This was encouraging, as if most of the horde you saw were made up of this weaker kind then the siege might not be so hopeless after all. You killed several with ranged attacks causing many to flee. However, soon their numbers were swelling, and finally – at the instigation of a trio of slingers behind them – a large group advanced to mob you.