@Aylaeth: The lady inclines her head politely. "Ah, I see. It's just...well...appearing as you do, and with a pegasus lord by your side and an angel on your head, I naturally assumed you were a High Lady of some Court or government. A visiting dignitary, perhaps. Forgive me. My name is Aduila Jarox, I am one of the Guardians of this part of the Land; druids and rangers whose life's purpose is the care and safety of a lake or woods or other area, and all who travel within it with good cause and pure purpose. Recently, one of our kind has fallen ill, one who is...important to me. The disease is unlike anything I have seen in both its contagiousness and effects. It started...in...I..."
She pauses, then, trailing off, and seems to think better of what she is about to ask. "I...suppose if you are not who I thought, this may not be of interest to you. I shouldn't have bothered you, I'm sorry. I'll be on my way." She turns to leave.
You have heard of the Guardians, and are recalling what you know of them even as Ada'an excitedly begins filling your head with facts; started over four centuries ago during the Ogrekin Revolts...anyone pure of heart could volunteer...blessed by Erastil and Gozreh...give aid to waylaid travelers, medicine and healing to the sick...work without pay, receiving only pure freedom, and room and board whenever necessary in exchange for their sacrifice and work...said to gain passage to the Green Land and the Elysian Fields upon death.
This...Aduila definitely looks the part of a Guardian, that's for sure.
@Min: Verious blinks at you and makes a thoughtful face. He then says simply "No." and with a shake of his head he gathers his scrolls, stands, and walks out the front door.
Tarien Desserou sneers at Verious as he walks out, then sits down uninvited across from you. "Sir. What was that all about? Are you in some kind of trouble? My house has many resources arrayed against the Plane Infernal, if there is aid we can render..."
@Belsarious: Halfling DC18 Will: 1d20 + 12 ⇒ (12) + 12 = 24
The halfling counters your hex with an old ward the likes of which you haven't seen in years, indicating he must be a theurge of no mean skill, even as his age and appearance and dress and manner all keep changing right before your eyes.
"Your magics cannot effect me, elf! Have at ye!" He lunges forward with his sword.
1d20 + 6 ⇒ (1) + 6 = 7
Unfortunately, as far as swordsmen go, this halfling makes a great wizard. His clumsy swing at you is so far off the mark it hits the china cabinet next to you, knocking over dozens of fragile artisan dishes and shaking the whole thing, also causing your would-be assailant to drop his weapon clattering onto the floor. "ACK! No! Whoops!" He looks at the sword lying harmlessly on the floor, then up at you. He smiles and blushes red with utter embarrassment.
@Min: The devil pauses for a long tic, and seems suddenly sort of relieved. At last he speaks. "You have a few options, being just a sub-contractee working through an intermediary; all the Lionhearts you contracted could die, that's one way...you could also simply ask for your money back from the guild, which would hold your contract fulfilled and thus ended, or you could declare your contract ended, thus releasing them from service."
Verious looks at you again, his expression still neutral. "You have to realize; none of this is about you. These contracts were drafted expressly for the protection of the Originating Interested Parties, of which you are most definitely not one."
The troops around Wei look at him as he shouts orders, not quite sure what to do. They look from the monk to their leader, General Sera. She is already drawing her shortbow and gives an irritated shake of her head as she barks "Do as he asks! Aid him! We have to get out of here!" She lets loose an arrow at the same time Azami vaults into action and Tokine uses her Light magic. The general grits her teeth as she watches the crimson-haired ronin execute a perfect longjump only to have her hand slip on the jaw-like door, causing her whole upper body to slip between the doors as the hammer down on her torso. The pain must be excruciating.
A half-dozen troops run up to Wei, each with at least 50' of good, strong rope. They bow. "Great Master, what do you need of us?"
Meanwhile, Tokine and Kyras see Zhongyi's arrow and are able to notice the River Kraken and everything happening on the south bank. Azami, however, is busy trying to keep from being crushed.
Chu has straightened up, but takes notice of nothing around him; not the arrow, the Light, the doors, nothing. Each of the statues has slowly begun to animate, though they have remained on their bases. They open their mouths wide, unhinging their jaws so they drop to terrible depths, mouths opening too wide. There is the impression of screaming. Perhaps this is the reason for the magical Silence?
Each statue then turns to look at Chu, and shoots a pair of energy beams out of its eyes, hitting the advisor square in the face. Instead of falling or defending himself, though, Chu seems to soak up the energy, and then shoots it forward out of his own eyes, to strike the double doors in front of him, which now start slowly to open.
This seems to agitate the river kraken, which begins to move towards the north bank.
Azami takes 6d6 ⇒ (3, 4, 5, 4, 1, 4) = 21 points crush damage.
@Belsarious: "Wh-...you haven't yet been told?" The halfling blanches. "Oh no no no, this is bad. Listen. Belsarious. This is important. I can tell you what you need to know, but first you must do something. You need to make me a cup of tea. In the kitchen, on the cabinet furthest left, is a jar of leaves from the Snow Bud plant. There are not many left so you must get this right the first time. Bruise the leaves, but do not crush or tear them. Warm some water but do not let it boil. Steep the leaves for three minutes. But then -- and this is the most important part -- you cannot give me the tea until I am at least 80, do you under-"
The halfling is cut off then as he suddenly transforms, seeming to reverse age in an eyeblink to the spring of his youth, the wrinkles and liver spots vanishing. His eyes get big when he sees you towering over him. "Who are you here in my house?! Get out! Have at ye!" he draws his shortsword and brandishes it at you.
Sorry, need to clarify a couple more things: this whole area basically looks like a subway platform or tube stop; you all are on raised stone "embankments" and the river is a ways down, where tracks would be, between you. So the normal surface of the water (before it starts churning) is about 8' down, and the cleats are another 6' or so down from there, under the water. So you can't just reach down and grab them.
Also; Wei and Zhongyi and the army are on the south embankment and the others are on the north embankment. So getting to the north wall would require someone to cross the 80' of river.
@Belsarious: "The what?! I don't...I mean, how do you know about these things? That is confi-"
The halfling suddenly stops speaking and blinks. Before your eyes, he ages several decades, gaining liver spots and wrinkles and losing nearly all his hair. The transformation is near-instantaneous and as soon as it's done he points at you, recognition clear in his eyes. "Belsarious! Did you get the Geckos I sent? Remember, you have to return them in the correct order, just like we discussed!"
@Aylaeth: As you are completing your duties for the day, exchanging weapons and procuring goods and the like, you overhear some students talking in one of the coffeeshops about Professor Sundine's bemusement at suddenly being watched over. "He says he thinks he knows where they might have come from, and will one day repay the favor." reports one of the students. His companions shake their heads in wonder.
Then, when you are at the armorer's to get further protection for Tora'an -- the same one Min and Lin visited, as it turns out -- one of the customers approaches you tentatively. She is a lovely human lady, broad-shouldered and dark-skinned, lean and muscular. You'd guess a ranger or druid, based on your knowledge of those classes of people.
"I...hello, my lady?" she inquires tentatively. "Might...I have a bit of your time? If it isn't too much trouble..."
Looking this woman over with your expert eye, you would guess she is some kind of established border guard or patrol. This is no mere sellsword or forest wanderer. Her equipment is in good repair and of high quality. Her bow, armor, and rapier are all magicked. Ada'an reports that he detects none of the telltale dark swirls of evil in her aura, and your own read of her body language (using Sense Motive) confirms this. She seems honest in her entreaties, at least so far.
@Belsarious: From the other side of the door, you hear the same halfling's voice call out musically; "Just one moooooooment, my sweeeeet!" When he answers the door, he is clad only in spats and a broad smile, his eyes closed and lips puckered up in an over-exaggerated pucker. When no kiss is forthcoming, he opens one eye, spots you, screams, and slams the door shut.
He seemed rather younger this time.
Okay, to be clear on the tactical situation here:
Tokine, Kyras, and Azami have one standard action to use before the doors are shut and Chu is trapped in the cavern with the statues. DC17 Acrobatics to get to him before the doors shut.
I look forward to seeing how you solve this!
It is like a dream; a terrible, terrible dream, the kind from which one awakes drenched in sweat and glancing nervously at twitching imagined shadows that cavort just beyond sight.
A number of things happen in this dream, and they are all unpleasant except for one.
Everyone is able to see Chu step forward just a bit -- perhaps 15' -- into the dim threshold of the cavern. Just enough to be able to make out the writing on the guardians without clearly endangering himself. As he is reading the characters on the statues, the eyes of both statues very slowly open, emitting neither light nor sound as they do so. As such, the Loyal Shadow continues to read, unaware that the statues are regarding him with their stone eyes.
Everyone also sees that as he reads, two massive doors begin to slide shut, one up from the floor and one down from the ceiling, like obscene wooden jaws. They move silently and swiftly, far too swiftly.
Wei and Envoy-6 and Sera Zhongyi see a bizarre underwater aberration rise out of the river at the rate a feather falls. The thing seems to have no body, but is instead an endless tangle of hair's-breadth filament tentacles that whip and snap through the air, extending to an alarming 20' reach all around it. With neither eyes nor head, it is unclear what the creature's intent is, but the four companions on the north embankment are utterly unaware of its presence.
The three leaders on the south embankment also hear a collossal *FBOOOOOOOM* from the corridor behind them, followed immediately by strange metallic clacking sounds, animal snarls, and the screams of wounded soldiers. "General Sera! The door is breached! The door is breached!" comes the call.
The single pleasant thing among all this, is that as he meditates upon their troublesome situation, Wei notes a pair of cleats on the north embankment wall. These two wood pylons were well below the water level, and are only now visible because the tentacle-thing has caused even further undulations and water displacement. The cleats are visible but for a moment, but in that moment Wei notes heavily-waterlogged rope attached the cleats. Perhaps there was a bridge here once, but said bridge is now submerged beneath the roaring river?
Perhaps "pleasant" is too strong a word...
In the wagon, the lone mercenary left looks at the elves and Astar and Jorzan and lets loose a fierce war cry, a brief outburst of mush-mouthed Celestial, made no less imposing for its poor pronunciation. It's probably a prayer he learned as a young initiate, by rote, phonetically, being told its meaning but never having any care for the language, just the content.
If you speak Celestial:
The prayer translates to "Gorum bless this blood, bless my death."
With that, the warrior launches an expert series of blows targeting each of you in turn. He strikes all four of you in turn, and the elf across from him falls to the planked floor of the sledge, unconscious and dying.
Outside, the battle cry is echoed by the other warriors, and the one by Kelne growls as he lashes out at the northman. Kelne, however, is prepared for the attacks and deftly dodges one, while his canny defense causes the big mercenary to slip while swinging a second time, sending his final blow well wide.
The last mercenary disappears into the lead wagon.
Round 7, Initiative 18
Nasmarra is up!
@Min: After another drink, Verious answers you, persisting in using Crystianne's delicately raspy voice the whole time.
"Oh, yes. It's required, a certain amount of scrying is, and codified. The number of soldiers is a regiment, or the remains thereof. So if they've been whittled down to platoon-size, that doesn't change anything in the terms. If there were just a cadre, it would still be the same. As for punishment, that would depend on the nature and cause of the breach. We make allowances for many fine gradations of infraction, and have specific violation and penance codes for each. I can list them for you if you have a few days. Well, or you could -- as I said -- pay the scribes' office a visit."
Okay, Kyras' comment is good, but I need to be clear; Kyras, Azami, Chu, and Tokine are all under the effect of a Silence spell. It starts 10' out over the river, near the north embankment. So no talking, no spells with Verbal components (without requisite feats, yadda yadda), etc. Please retcon posts/actions as necessary.
@Wei: Your companions have scarcely reached the other side when there is a muffled booming sound from the hallway behind you. The Black Orchid and the silver-armored gaijin alike vault into action, some of them hustling back and throwing their weight against the door while others pull out short bows and crossbows and ready arrows.
A field marshall barks a report back to the Sera General. "Zhongyi-san! Something is trying to break through. This door will not last long!"
He has scarcely finished speaking when there is a voluminous, ponderous groan, like that of millstones turning, or an immense beast waking from slumber. It echoes throughout the river cavern, but you see no source for this sound. There is a wet slapping noise, but though it is heavy, it is extremely quick, and you cannot see what might have made that sound, either.
Neither Chu nor Azami nor Tokine nor Kyras seems to take notice of any of these things, but then they are barely visible over the wild tumbling and turning of the frantic rapids before you.
@Tokine and @Chu and @Azami: You cross over the churning broil of rapids and over to the other landing. As soon as you cross the threshold of the landing, everything goes completely, utterly silent. You can no longer hear the river, the soldiers, or even your own breath. Landing on the stone embankment you see that the gloom of the cavern is near-total, though Tokine's magic Light seems to mitigate that somewhat. Just inside the entrance, hidden from view by the other side by a combination of the towering, furious rapids and the utter darkness in the cavern mouth, are two ancient statues. Each one seems to have some writing on the chest, but you can't make out what it says from where you stand (see map for current position), but that is due more to the awkward positioning of the statues than the darkness; not even Chu, with his ability to see in the dark, can make out what is written.
The cavern mouth, which is made of worked quarry stone, narrows quickly. The walls angle in at roughly 45 degrees until the opening is just 10' across, and inside the cupola there is a 10' wide wooden door, barely visible in the gloom. The ceiling is a mere 10' high, claustrophobic compared to the much more open space of the river chamber in which you are currently standing.
Aylaeth Brely'an wrote:
EDIT: Oh, one thing comes to mind. I thought we'd be out of here by now. But I am fairly curious as to what the Professor might think of his new guard duty and his first interview with the detective.
Heh. Yeah, frankly, I thought you all would have left by now, too, but since Stormfare is one of my favorite cities in the Land, I have no problem hanging around for a bit longer if you all have business. I'll see if we can't cook something up for Aylaeth, here.
Aylaeth Brely'an wrote:
Oh, and also, while it's long past, if your fingers happen to be itching for RP, we never did finish that scene with the squire's big, rude, misogynist father : )
Hm. I'm not sure I've got the emotional energy for that. Writing those posts really drains me 'cause they're all so fraught.
@Belsarious: In your quest for knowledge about the Everywhen and chronomancy in general, and your queries about the dragonsingers and the role (if any) of ley lines, you find yourself directed to a strange, large house in a cramped student housing district. The exasperated research assistant you queried said you would probably get faster (though possibly not as thorough) answers here, at this sizable but ramshackle-looking house. "Ask for Warden Grace, " you were told, "I wager he'll have a thing or two to pass on."
@Min: Since you do not dismiss him, Tarien does not leave. Instead he motions a waiter over, orders a drink, and proceeds to adopt a casual air, as if the three of you were good acquaintances who met by happenstance in this trendy restaurant and are simply catching up on the latest news. If Verious is at all perturbed by this, the devil gives no sign of it.
At your request for a copy of the contract, Verious nods absently and points to a passage on a scroll. "As a new contractee, bound only by extension but not original terms, you are permitted one copy of the passages relevant to you, as outlined here in Section F, Sub-Clause 12, Lines 188-1073; you may obtain your copy by visiting the appropriate infernal scribes' offices during normal business hours down on the 8th plane beneath B'al'zuv's Diseased Rectum. Be sure to bring appropriate identification." The devil looks utterly bored as he runs through this clearly well-rehearsed and oft-repeated little spiel.
He takes a drink of what appears to be boiling, spoiled milk, and continues. "Conditions;
Verious glances at you. "Clear so far?"
The snow elves in the wagon give cautiously conspiratorial looks to Astar and Jorzan, as if to say Are we, indeed, on the same side?, then press the advantage, landing brutal strikes on the badly outnumbered warrior therein. Meanwhile, outside, the lone snow elf up by Zan takes advantage of her foe's helplessness and ends his life with a brutal thrust of her blade.
Kelne and Justahl get some support from another elf who steps out from cover and drops a well-placed arrow into their nearest enemy's hide while another does the same over by the lead wagon.
Round 7, Initiative 21
Kelne is up!
BEGINNING OF ROUND 7
Mercenaries (Caravan Guards)
AC: 26/14/23 HP: 110
Saves: F/R/W - 10/13/5
Snow Elves (Arctic Rangers)
You all cast about, but there is no material here for bridge-building. It is possible that in the gloomy corridors on the other side there may be items one could use to improvise a crossing, but this side is barren. "This river must be crossed, I'm afraid." Mutters Envoy-6. "We go across, or we go back."
Haven't forgotten about Bel and Mai, just need more time. Prepping for tonight's game with Nurianna and Bardas and Mina right now, among other things.
Aylaeth, you can do your weapon swap, that's fine. I don't feel like RP'ing it, and obviously you can get barding for Tora'an. Normal prices listed, less 10%.
@Damian: There is a pause that holds the weight of the world, and it hangs between you and this boy. For weeks his purpose has been to be at your side, to learn the arts of war first-hand, and all that it means to be a flying warrior in the service of the Inheritor, and of the City of Light; Izmir. Now, to be left in this storm-soaked and dark place on the corner edge of the Land, surrounded by academics and nobles, inquisitors and milquetoast dilettantes, mercenaries and itinerants, far from all he knows, while you go off without his aid...
Brook understands what is happening, and though his heart aches more than any wound or embarrassment he has suffered thus far, he still has the companionship of stout Sarish, and poor, broken Kevin -- brother of the Seer -- and a regiment of Izmirian Paladine and Warbanian Bravos around him. He will endure, and he will make you proud of him. He knows you will be back.
Thus it is he stands at attention, shoulders thrown back perhaps a bit too forcefully, but basically in proper position, and says -- simply and clearly; "No, sir."
The moment is interrupted by a gruff voice across the stables; "There'll be plenty for a good squire like that to do around here. He won't want for attention or duty, that's for certain."
A raspy-voiced, older human female is approaching you. She is clad entirely in black, but elegantly so; like a Lady of Court who has a military background. Her clothes look smart, but are practical as well. Her once-raven hair is streaked heavily with silver and she walks with a slight limp. As she approaches, you note she is surprisingly tall, nearing 6', and strongly-built. Her shoulders are wide, like those of a climber or acrobat.
"I'm Lady Diana del Raina del Covas. I think I might be able to help you, if you will walk with me." She stands a few feet away in a non-threatening posture, but as a seasoned combat veteran it is clear to you that this woman knows how to handle herself in a fight, should you or anyone attempt to overpower her.
Neither of those enhancements you asked about will be a problem in a city of this size, of course.
@Min: "Don't patronize me, mortal." the devil hisses back hotly. "Villicent's spirit endures, 'twas trapped in that silly instrument of his and caged by flame. He'll be released -- in a new form, of course -- once he has paid the price for his failure. He is greatly anticipating tracking down you and your companions and exacting revenge upon you all, you know. What was the turn of phrase he used? Oh yes; 'One appendage at a time.'"" The creature gives a thin-lipped smile. It's not at all clear if it is taking any pleasure at all in the message, the content, or the delivery of same.
"As for the girl, I have no idea. She isn't my problem; you are. I would imagine she's probably unhurt. She has no part in our dealings, anymore, so I am not allowed to use her as leverage, though I hasten to add that those whose problem she is most likely enjoy doing their jobs thoroughly. If you take my meaning." Again the same mirthless smile, more punctuation than emotional indicator.
Before you can respond, a tall, lean man with a shock of white hair atop his head, ice-blue eyes, beautiful pale skin, and an elegant outfit that makes you immediately think he is a noble, sort of materializes at your table. He is looking fiercely at Verious, but speaking to you. "Sir. I know not who you are, but if this...thing has you here against your will, or is seeking to make a deal with you, I would urge you most fervently--"
Verious, who is rolling his eyes in exasperation and making dismissive flapping motions with his hands, cuts off your interlocutor. "Oh for the hate of all mortal things, begone, will ye! This is legitimate business! He entered the contract of his own free will and it's a legally binding extension of an existing Infernal Pact, as outlined in all the relevant subsections of Clause D. Now shove off and let us get this done so I can be quit of this miserable place!"
The white-haired man snarls and neither moves nor takes his eyes off Verious. "What he says means nothing, sir. I can aid you if you seek to fight him. I am just a couple tables away, you have only to shout." He finally turns to look at you. "My name is Tarien, of House Desserou of Stormfare." He stands there, seeming to await some word from you before moving.
You've never heard of this "Tarien" person, but it's common knowledge that House Desserou is one of the noble bloodlines of Stormfare, and part of its aristocracy.
You have not gone terribly far when the distinctive roaring sound of a large river rapids reaches your ears. Everyone looks askance at this, but after rounding a corner what you hear is confirmed by what you see; a massive river is hammering through a channel cut in the stone.
You have entered a low-ceilinged chamber of some sort that is bisected by a raging rapids. You have entered via a doorway smack in the middle. About 200' away off to both the left and the right are cavern entrances that the river is pouring through, moving out of the cavern mouth to your right and slamming into the cave off to your left, moving at an astonishing rate of speed. Clearly this is not a body of water one could easily ford or wade through.
Unfortunately, this river is also quite wide -- at least 80' across. Your entire army is gathered on a just-barely large enough platform, with a small number of soldiers still stuck back in the tunnel. It is, to say the least, a most unpleasant little cul-de-sac in which to be trapped, or "trapped".
"This was not here yesterday." Envoy-6 groans miserably. "This was a trickle. Not even worth noting. How I despise this place!" The black and brackish water smashes and rushes past him, a mockery of his efforts at mapping the underground.
The mass of troops on the old statue base have finally crushed the last of the goblins, and Sera Zhongyi has vanquished the elemental that vexed her. A group of Black Orchid samurai assist the Loyal Shadow in dispatching the elemental that blocks the passage, and your large group is able to move quickly through the door opened by Chu's surprising musicianship. Once on the other side, everyone chips in to close the door, moving in rhythmic counterpoint to ominous pounding sounds coming from 2 of the other four doors out in the room.
The way behind you secured -- as much as seems possible, anyway -- you continue down this new corridor, which is a wonder. Everyone is given pause by the glory of its walls, which are covered in murals and frescoes and carvings and sketches and all manner of artwork. Songs are penned, even, ground into the stones or inked carefully upon their surface. As you move along, you notice that the paintings, while beautiful and striking in and of themselves, are all of musicians making music. Some of the instruments and practices depicted are common, and known in the empire still today, but others are strange or baroque, or even painful-looking; ancient techniques lost to the modern-day artist.
"No one knows, anymore, why these tunnels exist." Envoy-6 gurgles crankily from the front of the party. "They are at least a thousand years old, maybe much more, but there is no record of anyone ever living here. Maybe they were shelter in dark times; the last Necromancer of Vestrille was robbed of his throne millennia ago, and came here seeking a new kingdom. What happened to the royal family of that time is not recorded." The metalclad imperial servant leaves the implications of his last statement hanging in the air. "These tunnels grow, and change, and shift like a thing alive, like tree roots or a labyrinth of old, and therefore must always be mapped with a tireless vigilance. Hence, we envoys exist and are always working. Always..." the thing trails off. It makes a terrible, strangled cough then continues. "Despite the overwhelming presence of the Syndicates down here, things are less organized than you might imagine. It is entirely possible that only some or even none of the enemies we just faced were sent directly by any of the Syndicates to deal with us. The goblins, for example, fear and hate the Plum Blossom. It is likely they thought us to be them, else they may even have let us pass. Though, upon reflection, that is probably too much to hope for."