I never got round to polishing/formatting it correctly, but with a couple of hours to go till the Final 4 reveal, I thought I might share what I'd come up with so as to help people pass the time.
The Plans of Mice and Incubi
Ideas can be more virulent and destructive than even blightburn sickness. When the incubus Rhaesso discovered the intoxicatingly oroboric ideology of Galt’s revolution, he knew that he had found his cause: to unleash Galt’s philosophy on Golarion, and plunge every nation into war. After a decade of fruitlessly sewing chaos in Isarn, however, he decided to take a more direct hand in whetting Galt’s appetite for imperialism: he would prepare the River Kingdoms for invasion.
For three years he explored the patchwork kingdoms, during which time he recruited the services of a doppelganger named Imixx and saved a pair of mist drakes from a predatory black dragon. Finally ready, Rhaesso set out to play Gralton’s hatred of Liberthane’s Lord Parshall to his advantage. Using a cap of diguise to appear like an old man, he insinuated himself into Lord Parshall’s court and soon became a trusted advisor. This allowed him to manipulate Lord Parshall’s eldest son, Sir Hector, into being kidnapped and delivered by Gralton’s Order of Vengeance to the closest Galtian border outpost. A week later his machinations caused a beloved Galtian revolutionary poet to fall into the hands of a Liberthane patrol.
The tension between Galt and Liberthane became excruciating. Rhaesso brokered a hostage exchange with Captain Armien, the leader of the Galtian outpost, and all was proceeding as planned until the PC’s visited Fort Liberthane. That night in his great hall Lord Parshall hired them to escort Rhaesso and his youngest son, Sir Elias, to the Galtian border. The following dawn, however, he stopped them at his fort’s gate and beseeched them to handle the negotiations themselves, charging them with making sure that the hostages were exchanged and war averted. Their reputation and valor, he stated, would prove more convincing than Rhaesso’s honeyed words.
The Bridge of Hope and Ashes (CR 9)
Dawn is breaking when you finally catch sight of the bridge where you are to exchange hostages with Captain Armien. A thick morning mist rises from the East Sellen River, such that its waters and the base of the bridge are hidden. Four men stand at the bridge’s apex, which rises like an island from the fog. One of them is in manacles, his arms held by two others. The fourth stands before them imperiously, hands linked behind his back. In the near distance beyond the bridge stand four more Galtian soldiers, while behind them rises a sharp bluff some thirty feet high.
One square on the flipmap represents 5 feet. North is the top of the map as presented.
The PC’s approach the river from the NW corner of the map. The fog covers the river and the first ten feet of the river bank, including the base of the bridge where it touches land. The fog has been augmented by the mist drake’s fogburst supernatural ability, and thus faintly radiates conjuration magic.
Captain Armien awaits the party on the center of the bridge along with two Galtian soldiers who hold a manacled Sir Hector between them. Four more Galtian soldiers stand fifteen feet from the SE base of the bridge. A single Galtian soldier lies on the edge of the SE bluff, peering through the tall grass at the activity below. The difficulty to spot him is DC 30. A light ballista manned by four Galtian soldiers is set in the bottom SE corner of the map. It has total concealment from those on the ground below.
When the party reaches the base of the bridge, read the following.
Haughty beyond his fifteen years, Sir Elias dismounts from his horse and extends the reins for one of you to take. The elderly advisor Rhaesso turns to you coldly. “There has been a change of plans,” he says. “Secret orders from Lord Parshall. You are to stay at the foot of the bridge and not intervene unless summoned. Do not humiliate us by arguing publically with me.” With that, he and Sir Elias turn to mount the bridge.
Rhaesso casts suggestion (Will save DC 18) while speaking on the party’s public face to command him to remain behind. Rhaesso and Imixx ignore all questions and protests and approach Captain Armien.
Upon reaching the captain, Rhaesso and Imixx do the following unless the PCs stop them:
• Round 1: Rhaesso insults the captain, using bluff +16 to appear to be speaking reasonably
Rhaesso, Demon Incubus CR 6
Imixx, Doppelganger CR 3
Svasha and Shasho, Mist Drake (2) CR 5
Captain Armien, Fighter CR 5
Galtian Poet, Aristocrat 1
Galtian Soldiers (6), Fighter CR 1
Sebi Moncrief wrote:
I'm sorry everyone. My daughter was born a few weeks ago and there's been some complications. I'm sorry I haven't said anything sooner, but I haven't been able to get away until. I won't be able to continue posting for the foreseeable future. Once again, I'm very very sorry about this.
Hi Sebi, the tardiness of my own response is indicative that you have nothing to feel apologetic for.
And congratulations! I hope whatever complications you're having with your daughter are resolving them, but I wish you and your family all the best of luck in this difficult, amazing, heart breaking and heart lifting time. Words can only be inadequate, but we had our daughter a year ago, and those first few weeks/months are still fresh on my mind. I wish you all the best.
As for the game, I think it did the slow fade-away due to it being too slow and rp-heavy. Maybe posting became too onerous, with not enough pay-off to keep up the momentum? A lesson to me, for sure: move things along quicker next time, and throw in more exciting scenes.
If I were to run an AP in the future, would you guys like me to reach out and let you know?
Cawmirth's words immediately cause the seated men to stir and glance at each other when he declares his identity. They shift their weight, mutter and growl, and their expressions darken into scowls.
Kinch, however, remains relaxed at their center, his only movement being to cock his head slightly to one side as he continues to listen, his expression gravely polite. Cawmirth powers on, stating his hopes, and when he finishes one of them men pounds his fist on the table and bolts to his feet.
"Well, look what the Supreme Elect has seen fit to send our way, an olive branch and a nice turn of words just as we're getting serious about figuring out our own solution. You speak reasonable words, Master Cawmirth, but you'll find us needing more than that, and if you know -"
He cuts off abruptly as Kinch raises his hand and sits forward. Chagrined, the man realizes he's not voicing Kinch's position as he'd hoped, and sits down, deflated.
All eyes are on the bearded baker. He studies Cawmirth openly, and then turns his eyes upon Callista.
Kinch's Sense Motive: 1d20 + 8 ⇒ (11) + 8 = 19
"Welcome, envoys. I'm impressed that you braved the crowds below without a number of guards at your back. Your coming up all the way here speaks highly of your ideals. Your intent, as it were. I'll hear you out, at the very least, and give you a 'record of my grievances'. Please, have a seat. You'll find us a hostile audience, but not, I hope, an uncivil one."
He slides his gaze over to the man who had erupted but moments before, and then leans back, heavily callused palm indicating a couple of chairs that Callista and Cawmirth may pull up to the table.
When they've done so, he laces his fingers over his stomach, sits back, and regards them.
"Grievances. Where to begin? In no particular order. How about the war with Taldor, a war that could have been avoided with more tact and diplomacy? We're far removed from the eastern border, but word has reached us of the tempers and foolishness that have cost this nation so many lives. That have drained our own city of its most promising youth, and lowered our defenses to a criminal degree."
A surly nodding and grunting meets his words.
"The war with Taldor is grievance enough, but now it's left us exposed to Cheliax. Who have somehow taken the Iron Keep, and now stand poised to march into the Windburn Vale. Whose oversight and negligence allowed that to happen? And who shall pay the cost? You've no doubt come to ask us to set aside our complaints for the nation's greater good, and face Cheliax with an army made of our women folk, elders and children, armed with sticks and stones and patriotism." He pauses a beat, and his eyes glint with a harsh light. Again the mutter of agreement from those assembled.
"Our taxes are ruinously high. Even as we labor to send gold and goods to the east, our businesses close, our people sink into poverty, and the jails are filling with those driven to crime by necessity and despair."
Again he pauses, and again his companions rumble their discontent.
"Now, you won't debate the parlous state of affairs. I know that much. You're clearly no fool. But you'll argue with me as to our decision to secede. Well, it's a gamble, there's no doubt about that. But we've had to make a decision. Stay with the country that's treated us worse than we'd treat a miserable cur and by doing so risk slaughter, or risk ourselves with a lawful nation that will spare our lives and recognize us an independent entity, much like many of the others that surround Cheliax?"
His question hangs in the air.
Callista's Sense Motive: 1d20 + 14 ⇒ (15) + 14 = 29
Cawmirth's Sense Motive: 1d20 + 13 ⇒ (3) + 13 = 16
Kinch's Bluff: 1d20 + 12 ⇒ (13) + 12 = 25
Though Kinch's words ring with passion and sincerity, something about the very tail end of his argument catches your attention. The briefest flicker as he looks away as he speaks about turning to Cheliax. The slightest change in the timber of his voice. Exceedingly subtle, but which trigger a suspicion on your part that he's not comfortable on some deep and hidden level with his own words or position.
Kinch's words ring with passion and sincerity. He's clearly calm and righteous both, and his disdain and anger are carefully masked under his civil manner. This is a man grounded in a faith that he's doing what's best for his people.
Aurion Thorn rubs his forefinger lengthwise across his lips, eyes growing heavy lidded as he studies Sebi and considers her question.
"Had I the full power of the Supreme Elect behind me? I would not have - well. Nevermind. There is no sense in criticizing the past. But if I could affect the future... I would arrange for a personal visit himself. Should the Supreme Elect appear on the Plynth and address the people, with his greatest knights arrayed behind him, well, that would make an impact beyond any other."
His smile is bitter. "Not that I expect him willing to carve out the time for Alastor. We've never been a priority."
He then follows Sebi's gaze around his home. "Why thank you. I'm pleased that you like it. I did in fact have a hand in its construction; it was my idea to build a vertical residence, instead of adhering to the traditional grounded plan. And why not? With magic and power at my beck and call, why should I not avail myself of its uses? Not all power need bend toward martial use; don't you think the world would be a better place if we focused our energies more on aesthetics and pleasure and less on dominance and war?"
His smile is a complex thing, at once winsome and undercut by his own ironical sense of how naive he must sound.
Agreed. It's a precarious proposition, and one I'd only ever dream of risking on a weekend game. My group has been playing together off and on since high school, and as a result we've all become a little jaded when it comes to standard dungeon crawls and the like. I'm trying to put something together that's high risks, high tension, and will bring them right to the edge of their seats.
One way I'm hoping to mitigate their all turning into glass canons is by having the downed solar on hand ready to cast spells like mass stoneskin and mass heal as needed. That and he has resurrection on hand, plus the artifact Branch of Life allows you to cast resurrection and heal as well.
I'm hoping that will keep the party in the mix long enough to down the bad guys, and then heal and resurrect the members that got killed (there's going to be about 5 or 6 PC's in the group.)
I'm running a rather crazy one-off adventure for a weekend-long game with some old friends, and would appreciate some input.
The PC's are all 5th level, but right off the bat they're going to run into a downed Solar who equips them with Major Artifacts so that they can pursue his quest. I want to them drop a handful of enemies on them that should normally be outside their power level but which the artifacts will let them defeat, even as the solar casts spells each round like mass stoneskin and mass fly to help them out.
How would you guys go about picking challenging enemies for artifact equipped PC's? I'm thinking of giving them the Thorncrown of Blasting, the Branch of Life, a staff of the magi, St. Cuthbert's Mace, the Shield of the Sun, and letting one of them grab the solar's +5 composite longbow of slaying.
Do you think three CR 8 Erinyes would be too tough, if the solar's buffing them and healing them each round?
Sebi and Alysandra
Aurion Thorn listens with polite attention, leaning forward slightly, his glass held in one hand, an eyebrow raised as if in expectation of stirring and inspiring words from Sebi. He nods as she expresses her confusion over the events that are transpiring in Alastor, and then looks confused himself as she suddenly switches tracks and asks to speak of less pressing matters.
"How am I? I wish I could answer that question without referring to more serious matters, Lady Moncrief, but alas, my thoughts bend always toward our current situation. Perhaps it's unhealthy, to not cultivate private goals and hobbies aside from politics, but I find that everything seems petty and unimportant compared to the welfare of my city."
He leans back and sips his wine contemplatively as he studies Sebi across the table from him. "You were chosen by the Supreme Elect for this mission, were you not? He must have granted you certain powers so as to be able to effect change for the better. Would you mind sharing with me what powers he delegated to you, and if you have determined how best to use them? Time is, as they say, of the essence, and perhaps we could coordinate our moves so as to ensure the greatest chance of success."
Cawmirth & Callista
Linguistics: 1d20 + 26 ⇒ (20) + 26 = 46
Blind Oliver and his men gape at Cawmirth as the tengu delivers his speech, their eyebrows rising higher as their jaws drop lower. As one they lean forward, crowding in to hear the scholar's words, though their expressions of confusion and focus indicate a perhaps less than complete understanding.
When the tengu finishes, they blink as if awakening from some idyllic reverie, and glance at each other. Blind Oliver rubs at his bald pate, frowning as he tries to marshal his thoughts.
"I can't rightly say I understood all of that, Mr. Cawmirth, but you're right about one thing. Blind Oliver ain't nobody's pet, especially not those blue bloods down in Almas."
This gruff sentiment is met by vigorous nods from the other men.
"Initiative and independence," says Blind Oliver a little more loudly, clearly trying to recall the gist of Cawmirth's rhetoric. "That's what we're all about, round here. Other than drinkin' and f~+@in', if you get my meaning, miss." He spares Callista a wink here to underscore his point.
"However! We're loyal men, and we mean to keep Kinch appraised of all goings ons that bear on his decision makings, such as they are, such as we can divine them. Which is why I'm going to personally escort you both upstairs, and make sure you gets your audience lickety split. Those hoofbeats you're talkin' about ain't getting much closer without his hearing your words, not if Blind Oliver has his say on the matter."
There's another round of guttural agreements from his fellow guards, who clap him on the back and shake their fists in the general direction of Cheliax as Blind Oliver mounts the steps to the second floor. The noise from below fades a fraction, becoming a muted roar as of the ocean heard from within a grotto, and they step out onto a broad hallway.
More men and women stand about here, but these have the looks of important folk. Wealthy merchants, stern faced patriarchs, a few clerics, several martial types with their weapons hanging from their hips. Conversation slows at the sight of the trio, but Blind Oliver simply juts his chin and breaks the crowd with it as if he were forcing his way through pack ice. Down the broad hall, past open doors wherein groups sit on beds and around desks drinking wine, and to a broad door at the very end before which two more men stand guard.
"Stand aside, Peg. I'm bringing Mr. Kinch some important messengers." Blind Oliver grabs the door handle and yanks it open, and steps forward into the suite beyond.
This is clearly the nicest accommodations in the inn, with the first room being a large living room of sorts. Around the circular table are seated seven men, with Kinch directly opposite the door, smoking on a pipe and nodding morosely as he listens to a strident young man whose tirade cuts off at Blind Oliver's appearance, his finger stabbed in the surface of the table.
"Please be excusing this interruption, lords and ladies, but I've got a couple of folk here who have impressed upon me the utmost gravity of their need to be speaking with Mr. Kinch, post haste. This is Mr. Cawmirth, who's much more than just a mangy bird, and his delightful companion, Ms. Callista."
He then executes a little stomp accompanied by a curt bow, and backs out the door, pulling it closed behind him.
The seven people at the table regard the pair with a mixture of skepticism and curiosity. Kinch blows out an oily blue cloud of smoke and leans back, his chair creaking. Up close his wild gray hair and weathered features cut deep by lines of hardship and strong emotion give him an even more striking appearance of a people's prophet. "Well. Blind Oliver is most assuredly the most enthusiastic guardian of our privacy." His voice is gravely from what must have been a day speaking at the Plynth. He examines the pair with a frank gaze. "So. How can we of service?"
That's great to hear, everybody. As long as we're all on the same page and enjoying the story, there's nothing to be concerned about.
And Cawmirth: a wedding and a new job in Beijing?!? That's incredible. Congratulations!
As for quick and dirty guidelines, how about this: if you ever find yourself writing in an expository style that doesn't require input from the listener, and which runs say over 100 words, we can assume it's going to be a linguistics check.
Checking in with the group here:
How are things going? I'm noticing a big slowdown in posting speed, but I'm not sure that's a problem. We could be simply be hitting our long term optimum posting pace. Or, conversely, you guys could be getting a little burned out or losing interest.
So can you guys chime in and give me a little feedback? Is everything good, or are there any concerns you'd like to voice? Obviously there are no wrong answers, and frankness is appreciated above all else.
Callista & Cawmirth
There are four men guarding the base of the steps. They are puffed up with self-importance, glaring out over the crowd with a combination of self-righteousness and pride. Their leader is a large man, bald but with a fierce brown beard, with arms like a smith and a chest like a rain barrel. He's wearing a canary yellow shirt under a leather vest, and stares down in bemusement as Callista approaches.
She can see him melt right before her eyes, his eyebrows going up and a tentative smile crossing his face before he catches himself and scowls. The other three crowd in close, clearly trying to get a better look at her, but the leader coughs loudly and leans so as to bark in Callista's ear and make himself heard.
"Mister Kinch is in an important meeting. Top level stuff. He's entrusted me with making sure riffraff don't go disturbing him." To mark his words, the bearded man stabs himself in the chest with his thumb. He looks mock seriously at Callista, and then leans in again. "However, you're clearly a fine lady, and thus I might be willing to turn a blind eye if you promise to have a drink with me when you come back down. What's your name? Mine's Blind Oliver."
He grins at her, showing a fine set of strong white teeth. The other three men nod to each other in mute approval of Blind Oliver's tactics and dating acumen. Who then looks past her at where Cawmirth stands, and frowns.
"What are you? Her pet?"
Just a quick description here to make plain the layout of the environs. Lord Thorn's home is distributed over four distinct levels, each about thirty yards above the other. The first is the small gated enclosure below on which you stepped onto the platform. The second level is composed of both a broad balcony into which the platform has slotted, and a flat space cut into the cliff face like an italic capital 'L' like so: L. This is but an extensive and luxurious garden, without buildings. A lip looks out over the void below, while the space itself is cut in a semi-circle into the cliff.
Thorn's Bluff: 1d20 + 14 ⇒ (14) + 14 = 28
Sebi's Sense Motive: 1d20 + 7 ⇒ (17) + 7 = 24
Alysandra's Sense Motive: 1d20 + 9 ⇒ (17) + 9 = 26
Lord Thorn walks gracefully by Sebi's side, and at her compliment he waves dismissively, and shakes his head as if refuting her words. "I do not enjoy this finery, this pomp and circumstance, though of course I'll admit it does provide one with material and sensual pleasure. No, these are but the trappings without which I couldn't execute my function as a man of my station. You must understand how it is, given your lineage; we are born into wealth and power, and certain things are expected of us. If we do not perform as expected, then we are not taken seriously. I'm glad you enjoy my garden and view, but my heart, dear Lady Moncrief, belongs down below, with the people."
His words are spoken with an almost sorrowful intensity, and he turns and glances at Sebi, his expression frank, open, and without guile.
Their path rounds a curve and reaches a small central open space. White gravel covers the ground, and an ivory table carved to resemble a tree supports a sheet of cloudy glass on which silverware and plates are laid for two. Lord Thorn pulls a chair out for Sebi, and then moves to seat himself.
Thorn's perception: 1d20 + 12 ⇒ (6) + 12 = 18
"I'm so glad you accepted my invitation. I have much to ask of you, to learn and absorb. We must work together if we are to steer this city through these dangerous times."
Sitting, he leans back as a servant approaches and pours white wine into Sebi's glass. "The city is a tinder box, and Kinch an arsonist ready to set the world aflame in service to his blind principles. While I must admit some sympathy with his point of view, given what I can only call neglect on the part of the government to our needs, I cannot countenance his folly. Not unless the entirety of the people force my hand. We have to divine a way to persuade him to our side before its too late. But how? Coercion defeats our very purpose. As does kidnapping or arresting him. All those are contrary to our nation's ideals. Reasoned argument? I've considered challenging him to an open debate on the Plynth, but that is an all or nothing gamble. Were I to lose, the city itself would be lost, and I cannot refute certain statements of his. Have you learned how low our garrison is? We are practically without a defense."
Thorn voice has grown impassioned, and he suddenly stops, as if becoming aware of his own intensity. He sits back with a self-mocking smile. "My apologies. This is all I think of, day and night. So please, tell me. How did the Lady Moncrief herself become an envoy for the Supreme Elect? What are your thoughts on our current situation? What do you recommend be done?"
Alysandra picks the perfect moment to step away. Sebi's retreating back is almost gone from view around some bushes when a series of harsh screams from above draws the gazes of the guards around them, who all peer up into the night sky by reflex to try and spot the errant griffin patrol. At that moment and with calm confidence Alysandra steps away, her form shifting and becoming identical to those of the guards, and soon she ghosting down a different path from Sebi and Thorn's, yet one that stays close enough that she can overhear Thorn's words.
To her ears, he truly does sound sincere. She watches the couple sit, have wine poured, and then Thorn leans forward, speaking passionately to Sebi, displaying a mixture of emotions that range from frustration to hope to determination. Alysandra finds a shadowed spot to the side of the small clearing in which to stand, and there becomes motionless and ignored.
From her new vantage point, she can see a small door carved into the cliff face at the very back of the garden, away from the balcony. A servant emerges from the door, puffing slightly, and hurries toward the table, a covered tray in hand.
Otherwise the guards are arranged as follows: six by the balcony itself, and two at either end of the edge where the flat garden ground meets the uncut cliff face.
Sebi and Alysandra
Your group mounts the platform, and one of the guards closes the small gate set in its perimeter fence so that you are safely enclosed. Then, with barely a shudder, the platform begins to lift into the air. It is not a perfectly vertical ascent, but rather steeply diagonal, as it hugs the cliff face smoothly. The great gate and the guards below dwindle in size, and your view over Alastor widens and becomes more awe inspiring as you rise ten, twenty, then thirty yards up in the air.
A broad balcony extends overhead, with a perfect rectangular cutaway toward which your platform ascends. It slots into the cutaway and then stops, and a new guard steps forth to open the small gate.
The balcony into which you've arrived is large, but only perhaps a fifth of the size of the ledge that's been incised into the cliff face before you. A garden has been grown across the rocky floor, with strange and delightful ferns and plants blooming bountifully on all sides of small, white rocked paths. Small waterfalls run down the cliff face above you to trickle down in delicate cascades into pools, and soft, multi-colored balls of light float enticingly between the bushes and through the shadows.
Faint music comes from the far end of the balcony, where a string quartet is playing beautifully, and here and there you can make out guards standing to attention, half hidden in the shadows. At a quick count you can make out another ten or so men.
Aurion Thorn steps forward, a glass of wine in hand. He's wearing elegant evening clothing, richly attired and tastefully subdued.
"Ah, Lady Moncrief. You honor my home with your presence. And I see you have come with a full retinue." He glances approvingly over Alysandra and their four guards. "As is only fitting for a lady of your stature. Come. Your guards may await you here. I have a table set for us deeper within the garden."
That said, he offers his arm in a gentlemanly manner, and smiles.
Callista and Cawmirth
Getting to the inn door takes a fierce combination of tact and determination. Opening the door allows a blast of hot air to emerge as if Callista were prying open an oven. A wash of loud conversation, music, and laughter flows out over them, along with the smells of hot food, sweat, and spilled ale.
Everything is lit a buttery yellow by the burning lamps, and a massive hearth large enough to roast an ox within emits both light and heat across the crowd. A vast bar spans the far length of the room, where people are packed four deep, and a small army of servants rushes back and forth along the bar's interior, as well as running flagons to the packed tables. The spaces between the tables are packed with standing men and women, and all of them seem eager to debate and argue.
"...yes, well then the council can bloody well stick its resolutions up its collective cloaca, because we're not going to..."
"...madness, if you really think about it, for if we revolt, who guards our backs when Cheliax comes for our throats? We need..."
"...and then I told her, ma'am, that's not a baby's arm, that's my very own club of love..."
Numerous chandeliers hang low over the assembled heads, burning brightly and dripping wax, and a band of musicians play a giddy reel on a distant raised platform, the strains of which are barely audible over the furor.
A broad set of steps leads to the second floor from the back of the large common room, and of note is the group of men standing with their arms crossed on the bottom step and blocking all passage to the higher levels. Of Kinch himself there is no sight.
The guard's face blanches as his eyes go wide, and then flushes crimson as he shoots a glance at his companion and the squad of nine guards to his immediate left He opens his mouth to protest, but when he looks back at Alysandra, he fails to say anything.
There's a key second where everybody is watching him, and then he coughs angrily and nods sharply. "Open the gate! We've got important guests coming through. Hurry up about it!"
His companion rushes back to take hold of the gate, and pulls it open in a wide, feathery arc. The first guard then gives a curt bow, but as Alysandra passes him, she catches a glimmering light in his eyes that can be nothing less that detestation.
Cawmirth and Callista turn their sights to the bottom of the city, where it spreads out toward the plain, humble and mercantile in nature, with little to do with the prestigious heights of the Aerie and Thorn Manor. The streets grow broader as they descend, more level, with homes no longer cramming against each other for breathing space but luxuriating in a more normal sense of city planning. Great trees rise up here and there, while overhead the ruinous aqueducts mark dark bands against the night sky.
The pair pass through the city walls, the gates open to allow free passage up and down. The walls band the base of the last of the steep slope, and beyond which the lower city extends. Unprotected. Ribald and chaotic, far from the watchful eye of the Silver Aerie, and without protection. There's more street traffic down in the lower city, a greater sense of life and of fear. The open plain of the Windburn Vale lies just beyond the last few homes, and all who hurry back and forth cast glances in its direction, as if expecting to see the hordes of Cheliax at any moment.
It is easy to locate Kinch. His name is the talk of the town, and people are streaming to the square before which stands a massive inn named The Cask & Flagon. A crowd mills before the inn, knots of people arguing with each other, gesturing with cups of wine in hand, pulling on each other's elbows, turning away in disgust. The inn itself is packed to the gills, with its massive common room on the ground floor so filled that people are standing outside the open ground floor windows, leaning in to get a view of the conversations taking place within. A fan of people mill before the great double doors, and lights burn in the second and third story windows above.
Kinch, the pair are assured, is within.
Dusk has fallen on Alastor, and with it most of the foot traffic has retreated to shuttered homes and watering holes. Gone are the fervent presses of crowds gathered on street corners or assembling in market squares. In their place are hurried footsteps, sidelong and suspicious glances, and a sense of siege, of a waiting for the inevitable to finally take its place on center stage.
Alysandra and Sebi march up the Silver Road with their retinue of four soldiers. They ascend. Below and to the south stretches the vastness of the Windburn Vale, disappearing into a distant gloom that no doubt hides Granthelm out in the center of the plain. Is it fancy, or can distant twinkling lights be made out in the gloaming?
Overhead the raucous calls of the occasional griffin coming in from patrol can be heard, their dark shapes flitting before the appearing stars, their wing beats driving down blasts of cold air. Or perhaps that's just the mountainous chill, growing colder as the party climbs ever up.
For Lord Aurion Thorn's manor is the highest building in all of Alastor. Only the peak of the Silver Aerie commands a more stunning view. The slope of the mountain grows more acute the higher one climbs, such that the Aerie itself is built into a cliff wall which rises up vertiginously overhead. Thorn's manor is embedded in the cliff face to the Aerie's left, its gates just off the Aerie's main square.
Where the Aerie is a dour escarpment, leaden and without windows or illumination, Thorn's home has the appearance of a delicate diadem of lights rising into the night sky. The gates are ornate, spun from dark steel as if by mad driders, and guarded by a detachment twenty strong. These men and women stand with exemplary discipline in three groups: nine assembled in squares three wide and three deep to either side, and one central team of two in the center.
The flanking guards are armed with light crossbows and halberds, while the two central guards wear only longswords at their hips. Each bears an emblem over their heart, that of a figure eight of thorns, with a silver sword slid through each loop, point down.
The gate is an outpost. There is space beyond it for perhaps three or four carriages to park, and then nothing but cliff, all encircled by a high, spear-tipped iron fence. A platform stands stark against the white crushed gravel that fills the enclosure, railed to waist height and ornately carved. No mechanism is evident for its locomotion, but high above twinkle more lights, as if a balcony or ledge awaits them, rising out from the cliff face. Beyond that? A second, and then a third.
The two central guards step forward and bow. Their faces are clean shaven, yet there is something hard bitten about them, weathered and lean, that makes them appear slightly at odds with their finery.
"Welcome to Thorn Manor. Whom do I have the honor of addressing?" He then looks at the guards. "And I'm going to have to ask that each of your men accept a peace binding on their swords while they're on the property of Sir Thorn."
Fahim's perambulations about town earn him little more information than he'd already gathered at the general store; many of the locals are loath to speak to him, though some are persuaded by his loquacity.
In short, he compiles the following facts from five different conversations: If anything bad happens to Rimetusk, the entire village will suffer reprisals from the jadwiga Elvanna once the regional tax collector finds out.
That, and Rimetusk is not supposed to impede legitimate commerce, but he sometimes does to exert his authority.
A general air of resignation and resentment accompanies these conversations, but nobody seems eager to confront the troll in any particular.
Cawmirth's History Check:
Here, Cawmirth's trying to know not just the official reasons given for the war with Taldane, but possible behind-the-scenes elements of it: mercantile interests pushing for the war, individuals with grudges against the Taldanes. Compared with the rest of the country, has the Vale's burden from the war been equal? Greater? Lesser? He needs some points of reference for either shutting Kinch down when it comes to a debate or letting the man know he's right in his grievances, but needs to go about this a different way...
The official cause for the Taldane war as given by the Andoran government is the apprehension of an armed scouting Taldane force that had crossed into Andoran territory. A regiment of fifty armed men were captured by Andoran border forces, and when Taldor demanded their release and refused to explain or apologize, Andoran refused and began holding a military trial.
Tensions ratcheted up as the trial progressed, with Taldane threatening serious reprisals if the men weren't returned immediately. These threats goaded the judge into pronouncing a guilty sentence on the men (some say at the insistence of Field Marshal Jahane, who oversaw these developments), who were each lashed thirty times and turned out on the Taldane border naked to stagger home. Their officer, Corallo Hoam, was accused of crimes against Andoran, and imprisoned for life.
This treatment caused such outrage in Taldor that they mounted a second expeditionary force into Andoran territory far to the north, where a much larger force of five hundred mounted soldiers captured a border patrol of about one hundred men. These were held captive and would be released in exchange for Hoam. The Andoran government, furious, refused, and war began.
However, it's whispered by some that Hoam's original regiment had strayed accidentally into Andoran territory, having lost their way in heavy fog. They were also apparently badly battered having fought a large band of bandits, and were simply trying to make their way back to their city.
The Andoran government staunchly denies this, claiming it's a pathetic attempt at a cover story meant to engender sympathy for the Taldane government.
The Vale, being on the far western side of the country, has suffered little compared to the eastern cities. No doubt it has been drained of resources and men, but it has seen no actual violence. The damage has been indirect; resources have flooded out, but nothing has been returned, leading to a general impoverishment of the city and feeling of growing frustration.
The pen begins to write a response almost immediately.
As I stated, we have a small reserve force that can be deployed to whichever destination you believe needs it most. I will give the command that these soldiers be dispatched with all haste to Alastor. The first force will be led by Golden Legionnaire Sir Dunstan, and is comprised of twenty mounted knights, forty mounted archers, and forty mounted light skirmishers. They will be sent north from Alvis, and should arrive in three days. Two hundred infantry will follow on foot, and should arrive within the week.
Exercise all caution so as to prevent the beginning of a revolt. Neutralize Kinch if you must, but we cannot afford open rebellion in the streets. Of potential interest is that the latest levy of Maester Horn's men was volunteered by Aurion Thorn.
"It depends on his mood, I suppose. Sometimes he will simply deny passage outright if it suits him. As the official representative of White Throne, he has... a certain authority that he wields with impunity. We simply wait out his moods. Sometimes it takes a couple of days, but it's better than confronting him."
Rorim glances at the party moving through the store then back to Fahim with a speculative look. "Of course, if something were to befall Rimetusk, the White Throne would hear about it eventually through the local tax collector. And our town would be most severely punished. Reprisals in this land are meant to educate as much as they are about justice."
The father nods. "Weather is treacherous and prone to changing at a moment's notice, though after the storm that blew through yesterday we should enjoy a day or two's calm. A good time to push in whatever direction you're headed. As for the distance to the next resupply store, that would depend on where you're headed. But any any attempt to cross the river will require using Rimetusk's ferry, which... can require a finesse approach. Transport is supposed to be free." Rorim gives an uneasy shrug. "Supposed to be, at any rate."
"News? There's not much of that to share, fortunately." The father sits on a stool behind the counter and smiles at Fahim. "There's word of Ulfen raids north along the border, but there's always word of that. They day the Linnorn Kinds accept that this territory has been lost to them is the day they shave off their beards. Let's see, what else. I'm sure you're not interested in farming woes. Is there something in particular you'd like know about?"
The father's eyes gleam with an intelligent look.
The interior of the store is dimly lit by the pale sunlight as it filters in through the beveled windows. The room is small, but shelving lines the walls, built from finely carved dark wood. While not exuberantly stocked, the store seems to carry all the basic necessities for life out here in the cold.
A young boy stands behind the counter, playing with what looks like carved wooden knights. At the sight of Fahim, he straightens up, bangs his little hand on a bell, and smiles brightly.
"Welcome to Rorim and Son's Everything Emporium. Here you will find everything that you need, whether it be physical in nature or of a spiritual dimension. My father should be here shortly. In the meantime, please browse to your heart's content, and if you have any special requests, we can place an order for you post haste."
He smiles, proud of his recitation, and a moment later a side door opens and a tall, spindly man enters, adjusting his wireless spectacles. His nose resembles a parrot beak, and the dome of his head seems to have pushed through his hair, which has nestled around his ears.
"Ah, good morning," he says, stepping up next to his son. "How may we be of service?"
Once the group is suitably disguised, the four of you head back out into the city. Where before you drew gazes from every direction, now you feel a comforting sense of anonymity as you make your way across the small market.
There's a subtle sense of a flow to people's direction, as if a center of gravity were pulling them toward a location in midtown. It's easy to fall in step with the locals and move with them slightly uphill, along cross streets, and then finally to a main avenue which spills out into a large square like a river into an ocean.
The square is hemmed in on all side by tall buildings. These have an official air, looking to be wealthy residences, a large inn, what could very well be guild houses and the like. Three storeys tall, with their frames limned by black timbers and with peaked roofs, they turn the square into an auditorium of sorts whose focal point is a massive man that stands above the crowd.
For unlike the streets, the square is flat, dug into the side of the mountain and giving welcome relief to calves from the constant tilt of the city. The far end of the square terminates in a sheer wall that rises some ten yards to where the mountain slope and the city streets continue, and where the Plynth is located. There a figure ten yards tall stands, faintly insubstantial and glowing, gesturing and speaking in a voice that most generals would die for.
The man is wild in appearance. His hair is gray and shoulder length, his beard darker, and his eyes a brilliant blue. His features are rough as if worn by the elements, lined and scarred by a life hard lived. His hands are powerful, his fingers blunt, and his frame radiates an energy that is palpable.
" - for are our lives not worth more than that of mere cattle? What are we, friends, if not individuals, each containing within himself a multiverse of ideas, thoughts, emotions and goals? We are not cannon fodder, we are not expendable, we are not numbers on some far removed general's balance sheet. We are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, each and every one of us deserving a life that is lived on our terms, that is lived according to our principles, that is first and foremost ours and nobody elses!"
Ragged cheers greet these words. The man pauses, hands raised, and then slowly lowers them.
"The politicians of Almas would have you believe otherwise. After all these years of neglect, they will come running to us. 'Sacrifice yourselves for our great nation' they will cajole. 'Die for us. Throw yourself uselessly on the swords of our enemies so that the rest of the country may profit.' Pah! Do they think us fools? That we will believe them when they claim that only now are we important to them? Of course we are! For now they ask for the very last possession we have to give: our lives!"
His voice rises to a shout. "Shame on them! They ignore us while it is convenient, happy to pursue a pointless border war with Taldor at our expense, and ignore the true enemy at the gates! Shame on them! Their criminal neglect has created a situation that need never have come to pass! And now that is has, who do they expect to pay the price? Us! Innocents! Private citizens that never signed up for war!"
A roar greets his words.
"Friends. This is a time of reckoning. Who are we, and what do we stand for? Are we 'Andorans'? Do we lay down our lives for that ideal? What does that even mean? What does it mean to be an 'Andoran' citizen, if we never see any love from the nation's government? If all they do is take, take, take? Or are we citizens of Alastor, are our loyalties first and foremost to our families, our sons and daughters, our neighbors and friends? Do we sacrifice all for distant and callous rulers, or do we rally and seek to survive this crisis, look out for one another, and fight to stay free?"
"Freedom!" comes the roar in response, over and over again.
"Now. We have but one opportunity to take control of our destiny. One chance to define our fate. I say we are not Andorans, but citizens of Alastor. I say we should not sacrifice ourselves for short sighted and murderous politicians, but seize control of our destiny by declaring our independence! Will this path be easy? Of course not! We are not fools. We are not naive! But it will be our destiny that we fight for. It will be our freedom for which we struggle! Damn Almas! Damn the Supreme Elect! Damn his grasping, groping greed! Unite, my brothers and sisters! Unite! Stand tall together, clasp each other's arms and say unto each other, we are no man's slave, we are no butcher's cattle, no, we are free, and we shall stand free, and we shall seize the day and declare ourselves independent and let the rest of this blood sucking nation earn the fate it has deserved! Let Cheliax pass us by! We shall deal with them as best we can, but come dawn a month from now, in one form or another we shall still stand - proud, free, independent - and we shall gaze with sorrow at the wicked fate that befalls those who have sought to use and abuse us!"
The crowd begins to roar it's approval, and high above it all, Kinch gazes down with a grave face and raises his fist in a gesture of defiance. Immediately the crowd does the same, and chants over and over again, "FREEDOM!"
None of the employees react to Cawmirth's scandalous comments, indeed, the two boys with the trays of towels could be automatons from how composed and serene their faces appear to be. When the towels are either used to refused, to hasten away.
Mistress Ling's eyes, however, do widen in surprise at Alysandra's comment. "No illusions, my lady? But - that is the appeal of this humble abode. Would you care but to sample a... no? Very well. I must advise you, however, that our rooms are very simple without the expansiveness gifted by our glammers. If that is not a problem, then please follow me."
She leads the group further into the building, down a central hallway off which some ten doors give access to ten rooms. Each is large enough to accommodate four beds, and each is otherwise devoid of adornment. White walls, no windows, no paintings, no alcoves, no statues - nothing but the beds, each of which has a sample accompanying chest at its foot.
"Please do not hesitate to request any further assistance. Dinner is provided just before dusk in the central garden. You will know it is time when we ring the courtyard bell."
That said, Mistress Ling bows and departs, returning to the front desk.
Having situated yourselves, the group gathers in Lady Moncrief's room. Without prompting, Raghnall positions himself by the door, and sends the other three men to wait within the second room, ready to come running at but a call. In truth, the room would be otherwise too cramped to accommodate all eight.
The group mounts the broad and shallow steps to the covered porch, and then passes through the broad double doors to an airy entrance. The walls are painted a stark white, with black trim outlining the doors and windows. Pale light filters into the room through the broad windows, made diffuse by the sheer white curtains that hang before them. A glass pane covers a shallow depression in the center of the room, in which a complex pattern of white and black stones has been laid with impressive intricacy.
A broad desk is set to the left, black with crimson trim, behind which a Tien woman of middle age stands, her lustrous black hair done up in an ornate bun. She is handsome, her face broad, her lips generous, and she sets down a sheaf of papers as she turns a polite and attentive smile to the group.
"Welcome to the Inn of Iridescent Repose. My name is Mistress Ling. How may I be of service?"
She scans Thorn's note, and then bows at the waist, clasping her hands before her in an attitude of prayer. "Friends of Master Thorn are always most welcome in my humble establishment. Please, be at ease. You have arrived at a home far away from home."
She claps her hands sharply, and a moment later two young men rush into the room, eyes cast down in a diffident manner, bearing trays on which small white towels are rolled and piled. Steam rises from them, scented with what might be eucalyptus.
"Please, refresh your hands and faces. Will you each require a separate room? If so, I ask that you select the where you wish to rest. In the clouds, high above Andoran? In the depths of the ocean, lulled by the currents and visited by curious fish? A forest glade, a castle suite, the heart of a glacier...?"
Raghnall casts a questioning glance to Alysandra, clearly awaiting her decision on how best he and his fellow guards should be deployed.
Let's do the following. *puts on DM's hat*
You guys can conclude your IC conversation here in the discussion thread, and we can rule that this reflects however long is needed to reach such a decision before entering the inn. I'm going to move the group forward, but whatever discussion takes place here will be understood to having taken place before entering the inn.
The group makes its way into town, descending along the narrow ridge to the path and then through the outlying buildings to the central square. There Zaiharahel leads the group to the Rimeflow itself, where the ice troll can be seen staring morosely out over the lead colored water which races swiftly by.
Noting the arrival of the group, the troll turns and stares, curious and wary, but not yet close enough to both hailing them.
The quickest way down to the lower city is also the most obvious: follow the Silver Road as it sweeps broadly down from the slopes of the mountain to where the buildings fan out along its base. It's just past ten in the morning, and the skies are refusing to relinquish the sun; chalky white and oppressive, the clouds hang low and give the day a twilight feel.
The Silver Road widens as it descends, the cobbles ringing with the turning of iron rimmed wheels and the clatter of pony hooves. Yet the traffic is perhaps not as dense as it could be; there's a sense of the city holding its breath, of people staying out of sight, or gathering in public houses, inns, and pubs to talk and listen and argue.
They group passes several such places, so thickly crowded that people are willing to stand by the windows so as to peer inside, or simply fan out around the main entrance and do their arguing there. Voices are occasionally raised, and everywhere people's faces are pale and dominated by large and staring eyes.
You notice that your group attracts a fair amount of attention, though the people who glance your way do their best to appear covert. Most gazes first alight on the four soldiers, and then drift curiously to those contained within the square. The gazes don't seem to be hostile, but rather guarded, curious, and speculative all at the same time. A few people trail the group for a few blocks before peeling away, but none seem determined to follow.
Descending the Silver Road is as quick as climbing it was laborious; soon the grade begins to level out, and the view of the rooftops below is hidden as the homes themselves block one's line of sight. The buildings grow less tightly packed, and as the conversation between the members of the group continues, the Silver Road opens into a large market square.
Half the stalls are closed, however, and few people seem intent on browsing the wares of those that stand open. On the far side of the market rises an elegant building whose architecture suggests a Tien temple; the tiled roof curls out at the eaves, a set of broad steps rises to a covered porch whose pillars also support covered walkway around its perimeter. Done all in black, white, and with crimson trim, it seems at once stark and serene. A sign before it proclaims it to be the Inn of Iridescent Repose.
Sebi Perception: 1d20 + 4 ⇒ (18) + 4 = 22
Cawmirth Perception: 1d20 + 15 ⇒ (16) + 15 = 31
Both parties leave the Aerie, and filter down to the square before the main entrance, where they meet amidst the gathered crowd. Neither Sebi nor Cawmirth notice any sign of pursuit.
Rahgnall lowers the banner of Andoran just before stepping back outside, stowing it quickly in his pack, and the four men form a tight square around Sebi and Cawmirth, their attitudes relaxed even as their eyes betray their tension.
Thorn's Diplomacy: 1d20 + 16 ⇒ (19) + 16 = 35
Thorn listens courteously, his expression sympathetic and compassionate. When she speaks of the bakeries, his eyebrows rise as if he too were imagining this simple delight, and his smile is that of a confidant, of a sympathetic soul, one of those rare compassionate men that can truly understand the allure of such a common delight amidst all the fineries that surround such as they.
"Indeed, I know Alastor like the back of my hand. Kinch himself used to run a wonderful bakery, but - nevermind. Let me see - ah yes. You might enjoy staying at the Amarylis' inn, a delightful establishment called the Iridescent Repose. It is but a block from a wonderful halfing bakery whose name escapes me though the memory of their madeleines I will carry to the grave..." He trails off, expression wistful, and then smiles once more. "I would be delighted to write a letter of introduction letting Amarylis know you are a friend of mine. She is a consummate hostess, but her place is quite popular. My letter might guarantee a room suitable to your station."
Thorn's expression becomes slightly pained when she mentions bringing guests, but he quickly waves away his own objections. "Of course I trust to your discretion in bringing guests who would be a delight to the table and elevate our conversation to the lofty levels in which it deserves to be engaged. However... if you were willing to risk a night without your friends, I am sure we could have much to discuss that might otherwise bore them? I leave the decision completely to you, Lady Moncrief, but I do hope regardless that we have a moment in which to discuss more private matters."
Aurion Thorn gives Lady Moncrief a half bow, his smile genuine and his eyes glittering, even as he glances sidelong at the flowing curtains.
"I am your servant, my lady, and am willing to assist in any manner that I can. I cannot issue a formal summons to Kinch, as he has equal standing on the council as I do, but I can request a private audience. Perhaps together we can reason with him."
Once again he moves to assist her with her chair, pulling it back so that she may stand. "Where are you staying, so that I may send word when I have arranged a meeting? For how long do you intend to stay at Andoran? Would you like me to arrange for meetings with the other councilors?"
Thorn offers his arm as he escorts her to the door, which the dwarf, Kort, opens as they reach it. The councilor turns to face her. "If you are available tonight, my lady, I would be honored to host you for dinner. I hunger for news from the capital, and would be pleased to show you my water gardens. I've spared no expense in their construction."
Maester Horn listens with his customary grave attentiveness, and then gives a nod as Alysandra finishes her line of reasoning.
"To be honest, I've sought to remain removed from the day-to-day politicking of the council. However, your assessments are reasonably accurate. Poolt is a shrewd and canny man. He projects an image of avarice and self-interest, but I believe at heart he is loyal to the Andoran cause. Don't underestimate him. Forsyth, however - well. You can count on his backing Thorn. As for Aurissa, Thorn has indeed courted her favor with the building of the cathedral, but she is devout. As a Pharasman, this means she has little interest in our daily dealings, and has abstained from voting thus far."
He flicks his gaze to Callista, then back to Alysandra. "Keep me appraised, captain, of developments from the capital. My lines of communication are no doubt slower than yours. I plan to hold off for as long as I can, but should events turn chaotic in the streets, I will have no doubt but to show my weakness in marshaling my forces publicly to protect the people."
Indeed, you get a sense of Maester Horn being torn over his inability to show his hand and reassure the populace that they are protected as they should be. You get a keen sense of his loyalty to Andoran, and a hint over how much this waiting must tax a man of action such as himself.
I have to say, I'm a big fan of Cawmirth's gambit. The angle was brilliant. It's unfortunate he has -2 to his bluff, however, and was going up against a consumate diplomat.
I made it a bluff check because he was affecting artless innocence in an attempt to provoke Thorn; his gambit needed Thorn to not realize this for it to work.